My song for today. Deborah Lippmann from Nightingale, featuring Savion Glover.
And she sells makeup.
“Authenticity,” TBB says. “That’s the key. People can tell when you are authentic.”
Can they? Over 40% of Americans think that Olive Garden is a “quality source of authentic ethnic food.” No Italians were polled.
I recently responded to a post on Natalie’s blog about coming out. For her, the breakthrough was being full-time, almost two years now. For me, though, I said, the breakthrough was when I forced myself to stop lying. And the first person who I had to tell the truth to, was, of course, myself. That was really, really hard after years of both deliberate and cultural blindness, much of it simply the result of not having shared language to express what I needed to express. I think that over the years I have done a tiny, tiny bit to offer that language so that transpeople today are less silenced, and for that I am humbled.
It’s my sense that people have limits in understanding authenticity, the limits of the conventions they hold, but they sure as hell can smell discomfort and deceit. They have a sense when something or someone is hinkey, is trying to create a false impression.
Olive Garden doesn’t try to lie about what they are, they are an Italian-American joint, inspired by Italy, sure, but constructed purely for American palates and American expectations. Is that authentic, ethnic? Sure, if the ethnic people you know are third or fourth generation Italian-Americans whose mom used Ragu on the pasta.
The truth? You can’t handle the truth. Or at least, the odds are, you don’t really want to handle the truth, especially where the truth challenges your beliefs. You have enough challenges in your world that you really don’t want or need the challenge of other people’s truth shoved in your face. Truth is complex, messy, contradictory, ambiguous, difficult. Those blind men all knew the truth of the elephant, but that didn’t mean they agreed.
But lies? Those you don’t want.
One of my oldest statements is “Transgender feels like the choice between lying about your soul and carrying that burden or telling the truth about who you are and being told that your body says you are a liar. Tell the truth and be called a liar, lie and be accepted as true.”
The world often puts us in situations where people want us to lie to them or be stigmatized, but if that lie is discovered, we are blamed for it. It’s like “straight men” who date transwomen getting angry at their partner if she is read, because it reveals something about them they want to keep silent. Lie to me, baby, lie to me. Tell me what I want to hear to keep my own illusions fed, and know that you are to blame if my illusions ever crack.
Ms. Rachelle has said that she felt an obligation to be judicious with her feelings after transition, especially to her family. She knew that if she showed any ambivalence or disappointment or struggle, they would push against the choices she knew she had to make. The whole truth would just show cracks they would pick at, and that she couldn’t have.
I’m looking at an event this weekend that is designed to be taxing, and I have to figure out what truths I tell there. I know I won’t lie, but will offering complex and queer truths mean I get more connection or does it mean I generate more noise and struggle?
Authenticity, I guess is the key. The question is if I can fake that enough to come across as truthful.
Do I have the footwork anymore?
My taking care of my parents, that quest I was always going to lose, was a triumph of just one thing.
Everyday, through sheer force of will, I got up and threw myself into challenges I never would have attempted if they were offered to me objectively. I broke my own boundaries, my own spirit and my own body just to get done the work that had to be done. Love and duty? They demand willpower.
Andy Rooney said that he missed World War II. He liked the sense of everyone pulling together to achieve a goal. It seemed right and harmonious to him.
There is a real joy in pushing limits and creating triumph, sure.
But how many people were broken by that war, how many people expended all of their will and never came back? The people who ended up in graves certainly were broken, and maybe the ones to ended in hospital. But the full extent of people who shot their will and ended up shattered, well, I suspect we can never really know how many millions that is.
I was in the doctor’s exam room by myself for a good twenty minutes yesterday. And all that time, I just wanted to bolt. Too many memories, too much stress. It just required so much willpower for me.
In the end, the challenge was pointless. He eliminated a few possibilities but doesn’t know what is causing the continuous and draining pain in my feet, and certainly can’t treat it. Take some NSAID and come back in six months. Good luck.
I know how much willpower is a requirement of everyday living.
I also know how little willpower I have left.
Is that related to a lack of shared mission? Maybe.
Is that related to not yet being able to let go of a mighty experience? Maybe.
Is that related to an absence of momentum? Maybe.
Is that related to me just being plumb wore out, shattered and broken? Maybe.
But I know that willpower is the only solution.
And I know that my tank is dry.
A parishioner of a local church that has chosen to connect outside the local, conservative diocese thanked me for offering my perspective on a “Welcoming Congregations” list.
I liked the sermon, so I told him:
I was able to see the homily today thanks to the Public Access TV, and I must say that I was impressed.
Starting out by calling the local Bishop a dualist, and by challenging the validity of dualistic thinking, be it the duality of good vs evil, or the more modern sick vs well was strong.
As a transwoman, the struggle against dualistic thinking has been at the foundation of my challenges. The quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
has been vital to my coming to an understanding of self.
To me, the natural extension of the themes of today’s sermon was how the fight between good and evil is always, always inside of us. My trans nature was defined as evil by those around me when I was growing up, and I was told to never bring it forth. My struggle was a struggle to bring forth my nature in a way that did not bring forth evil, whatever that was. I needed to find boundaries that affirmed the nature my creator put in queer people while still keeping a moral and holy centre.
How queer is too queer? How queer is not queer enough? Those are the questions I struggled with, exactly the same questions everyone struggles with, though they put it in another way: How wild and individual is too individual? How tame and assimilated is too assimilated?
In my experience, the challenge isn’t about avoiding choosing evil, rather it is always about the strength to do good. The example of the Nazi who was offended at a pledge to not steal, but not offended at his participation in the brutal murder of Jews and others, seems to me to be an example of someone who let his assimilation erase his personal responsibility to do good, who surrendered his conscience to the group because to stand up and face them just demanded too much wildness and offered too much challenge.
As a transperson, I know what so much of the world has demanded of me, assimilation to a set of norms and conventions. And I also know that if that means not bringing forth what is inside of me, that means destruction.
Now, I struggle even inside of the LGBT communities to get people to move away from the duality of assimilation vs queerness. How do we stand up for people who make choices we would never make for ourselves? How do we know if those choices are evil or blessed? It is a challenge I have had to find answers for.
My own mission statement came from an anthropologist. “In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar,” she said, “rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”
Yup. They remind us of the failure of imposed dualities, so many of them, and they remind us of how we each have a range of possibilities within us.
It was an interesting sermon, as far as it went.
In any case, thank you for making me aware of your church and allowing me to share, via my television.
Gawd, I admit it. I love theology, or at least real theology and not apologia.
(Going to the public access website, I found a digitized version of a pamphlet I wrote & produced 35 years ago, in 1978. Yeah, weird.)
Do you want to know a secret?
Alright, but only if you don’t tell anyone.
During the decade I took care of my parents, I was acting as (gasp!) a woman.
I was the dutiful daughter running the house, taking care of the laundry (and there was plenty of that) and the cooking, and all the other tasks one has to do to take care of aging parents.
My sister said that my parents never would have been able to stay in their home without me. Absolutely true, but I didn’t think about it that way. I just did what was needed.
I know, I know. I wore my uniform of jeans and a polo shirt, and in winter a quarter-zip fleece. Not anything pretty. But I’m not the only woman who has worn that kind of uniform everyday.
It didn’t matter how I was seen, or at least it only mattered to me. It mattered what I did. What mattered was the role I took. And that role, well, it wasn’t a guy role. It was a woman role, no doubt about that. And I was, well, proud of that.
My sister bought some beef stew at the deli last night. “It wasn’t as good as the stew you make,” she told me. I was proud of feeding my parents everyday, if that was making dinner or making choices from a hospital menu. People were always fed, always felt like there was something special for them. Proud.
I made a joke to TBB just after my parents died. “I’m gonna go out to a bar, find some loser, bring him back here and take care of him.”
My identity, my pride is wrapped around caretaker. And that’s because my identity, my pride is wrapped around woman. I’m not the best looking woman out there, and may even be the worst. But I know how to take care of the people I love.
Now, I have to learn to take care of me. Hard.
Never waste a good question, I always say.
I can spend days chewing on a good question, even if bereavement lady doesn’t understand how I both trust my relationship with the creator, if not with creation, and squeeze every scrap of support I get for all I can wring from it.
The question asked at the Living With Loss group was simple: “So, what would feel good for you anyway?” Good question.
I automatically limited that question: “What possible thing would feel good for you anyway?”
I know that being younger, fresher, prettier and getting a childhood do-over aren’t really options. The distress in my feet, for example, probably isn’t going anywhere, no matter how many doctors I chew through. (Next appointment is on Monday.) And that means all my shoes are out of the realm of possibility, breaking my heart.
I also know that my relationships with other people will always be limited by where they are. People have to face their own challenges, be that health or enlightenment or struggle, and they can only meet me where they can meet me. I have reached out to many in the six weeks, but have gotten limited response, and that’s just the way that it is. People need to be engaged in their own life and their own healing.
The therapist who offered me the lobotomy said that I would often explain why people made bad choices, but then I would go on to explain why they had to make those choices, which he noted was unique among his clients. I am able to put myself in the position of others with empathy and compassion. Was that because I so often had to understand my parents with their own Asperegers limited emotional understanding? Maybe.
Still, I have learned to squeeze every scrap of support I get, because I know those monents are rare, precious and to be valued.
Of course, I am a compulsive thinker. And for me, opportunities that engage my mind seem to be the only ones that offer any hope of escaping despair.
I doubt, for example, that a massage would do much more than remind me how my body is far from a comfort to me, how it always has been far from comforting.
Return on investment. How do I risk the little energy & resource I have to get the return of “feeling good?”
It is, indeed, an important question.
I have been to two sessions of a “Living With Loss” support group at the local Cancer Society.
My experience is different than most of the widows and mothers who populate the group, but then again, everyone’s experience is different. I’m clearly the one with the most recent loss.
What I got picked at last night is my defence strategy.
“Yes, you are right in theory, but…”
I understand the concepts. But I don’t feel like I have the energy to make them work.
When I was a kid, I had a similar reply: “That may well be true, but you certainly don’t expect me to admit it, do you?”
Now, I was also valued for the support I gave others, the “reframing” of their challenges. I know how to recontextualize, to think of challenges in ways that look more towards love and miracles than towards fear and loss.
I get the idea. Sure I should get out there to make connections, should take advantage of support options like massage or yoga, should write out the damage I carry from my life. But it seems too hard, too challenging, too impossible.
Someone yesterday found the post “Interesting Damage,” maybe because Ron Jeremy got out of hospital yesterday, but the idea there, that maybe the best we can do in this life is to have interesting damage is still potent.
Well, potent in theory at least, anyway.
You couldn’t live with yourself if you weren’t extreme. Neither could I.
I like being extreme, even if it is harder than shit to get through life.
I have always laughed at people who think they are extreme because they dye their hair purple or wore a different fashion. People on motorcycles think they are extreme because they wear leather. Who the Fuck Cares?
We are extreme because we show the world exactly who we are, and demand they deal with it.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I know you wouldn’t either.
Remember You’re Powerful and Beautiful
But [Connie] Britton analyzes those setbacks for subtext. In a scene in an early episode [of Nashville], in which [Rayna] Jaymes takes a long walk with an old flame, Britton deliberately resisted some lines in which her character expressed fears about being old. “Just drawing on my own experience, I never — I never — personally reference myself as old. I don’t think of myself as old, but I certainly would not say that to a man,” Britton said. It starts to become obvious, as Britton talks, how much of her own Southern upbringing (she was raised in a close-knit family in small-town Virginia) feeds into the characters she creates. “I might have a conversation with some girlfriends — what are we doing about the lines around our eyes — but to a man? There are certain things — it would just be demystifying and disempowering,” she said.
Connie Britton Is A Late Bloomer, NY Times Magazine, 17 February 2013
I understand that impulse completely, the feminine impulse to be mystifying and powerful, holding your own with others.
Charm, allure, glamour. Never really seemed like options to me. And that meant that my fundamental question, that question I asked Holly, Renee and Sabrina at my first session at my first Southern Comfort Conference, is still a challenge: How do transpeople take power in the world?
In Paul Williams, Still Alive, Williams speaks about how his performing helped move him from “different” to “special.” To him, being different wasn’t so good, but being special was.
There are human cultures where I would have been identified as a teen and my gifts would have been valued and amplified. To be inducted into an order with mystery and power, well, just not my experience in the world. It’s slightly different today, as there is an order out there, but sadly, it’s pornography based, catering only to the fantasies of men who desire she-males. Maybe there was another one, the order of drag queens, and maybe I could have found that at Jacques, but I didn’t feel I fit there, either.
To go from baffling & strange to mystifying & powerful sounds like a lovely thing.
I think I just missed the window.
I have talked about my need to have a new voice, a new way of expression, if I want to move beyond the limits of my own life.
I was fascinated to read this transcript of Anna Deavere Smith talking about her process of speaking in voices for her performances. She speaks about how entering the voice of someone changes so much about her during those moments.
The performance they discuss is here:
The interview is full of interesting ideas, but a quote that resonated with me:
Not, I wouldn’t call it constraining it was very demanding, because [Phil Pizzo] is able to speak in paragraphs. He has that particular kind of intelligence that he can speak in a long paragraph. He speaks like he writes. You know, some people are able to write like they speak, but he speaks like he writes, so if I am not careful; where the challenge is, the performance can seem like an essay because he is able to speak that way.
I know that I have traces of that syndrome.
People who know me can read the Callan writing and hear my voice, but people who don’t know my voice often can’t imagine that that my text can ever be fluid and engaging.
Ms. Smith had to embody someone like me for a few moments, because she thought what he said was important, but she knew that she had to be careful with the performance because it could seem less than fresh and authentic in the moment, could seem like an essay.
She uses four people (or more) to help shape her performances. I have, well, me.
Me and all my paragraphs.
I may known I am a vulnerable human who needs care, but if others think I am just an essay, well, that’s a problem. “You already understand the problem, and that’s the hardest part of finding a solution.” Not for me it isn’t.
Yet, not speaking in paragraphs isn’t really me.
“The thingt makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is the thing which inevitably makes you lonely.” Lorraine Hansbury.
The local “Welcoming Congregations” group asked for 500-700 word pieces for the LGBT newsletter under the title “To Be A Blessing.”
Here is the draft I offered today.
Callan Williams, Copyright 2013
We were about to pass the peace at an interfaith service being held under the auspices of the local LGBT center when the pastor next to me suddenly realized that there was someone across the room he needed to speak to. In the middle of the service he got up and walked away from me, just before he would have to shake my hand and offer me the peace of his lord.
I was in a workshop at another event and a pastor said that she needed some LGBT people in her church, but, she made clear as she pointed at me across the table, not as queer as I am. I was just too much for her church, she decided.
At a PFLAG meeting the chair talked about her son being gay, but she noted that it could have been worse. He could have been transgender. Some women in the room who knew my history just looked at me, knowing that truth would out.
I went to a church and talked to the pastor after the service. I said I was glad I wasn’t the only transperson in the room. He looked at me oddly, and then I knew that he hadn’t noticed the transman in the back of the congregation.
It’s more than once a pastor has asked me to attend their church as token, maybe to encourage those not yet strong enough to stand up and express their own gender difference, but sometimes just to show the flag.
When you walk into a new place as a transwoman, you can’t assume anything about how welcoming people will be.
Even people who have the intention to be welcoming may have no idea about the challenges of a transgender life. no idea how to connect with and respect transpeople.
The transgender experience is essentially different than the lesbian, gay and bisexual experience in a number of ways. Identifying as transgender isn’t about the people you love, instead it’s a personal journey to expressing something that you know inside. And it’s a complicated journey too, because you both have to stand out and be a unique individual and have to learn how to assimilate, how to fit in as a member of a group. For many transpeople we want to be able to blend in, don’t want to be identified as different. That’s one thing that makes connecting with transpeople hard, because you can’t assume they want to be out and visible, nor can you assume they want their unique history ignored.
I had a pastor who had trouble with my trans nature ask me what made me happy. I told him it was the same as what made everybody happy. He though everyone wanted something different, but I just said “I want to be seen and valued for the unique gifts I bring to the world.” He thought a moment and said “Yes. That’s what everybody wants.”
Virtually every transperson, except maybe for the very young, has had the experience of not having the childhood they would have chosen for themselves. We missed the support growing up, the socialization that valued who we knew ourselves to be. Instead, we felt pounded into performing a role that didn’t fit us, that just hurt.
To welcome transgender people, you need not to just welcome their current presentation, but also have to welcome the struggle they made to get to this point, welcome the struggle they face tomorrow and in the future. We may seem grown up and together, but the knocks of our experience always lie under the surface. We work very hard to fit in with normal expectations, but it is impossible to live a transgender life and not come out very tender underneath.
There are very few congregations where transpeople can just slip in and sit with the other transpeople in the room. We are alone, even in a room filled with many caring people.
Just because we can stand up and be boldly who we know our creator made us, expressing across gender boundaries to reach for some kind of continuous common humanity, doesn’t mean we are ready or willing to absorb the fear and disquiet of others.
In the end, welcoming transpeople, and welcoming their struggles, is welcoming not just brave warriors who show strength, it’s welcoming humans who are the same as you.
Callan Williams recent writing can be found at https://callan.wordpress.com
I went to the grief group — “Living With Loss” — and I had a few minutes to speak about my story.
There wasn’t enough time to tell the whole story, obviously. My life, a decade of taking care of my parents full-time, the last year and a half with them in and out of hospital, even the aftermath (two months today for my mother), well, no whole story would fit the time.
Instead, I just talked about some challenges that I faced.
It felt like I was pulling big pieces of debris from under the hood, still hot and smelling of burned grease, and just dropping them on the floor with a thunderous crash, the clatter of broken machinery.
How can I be surprised that people don’t know what to say when faced with a pile of shattered, twisted metal?
My parents lives have to be put in garbage bags. There are a few pieces that will be valuable, a few as keepsakes, but mostly, well, garbage.
It’s my job to clear up. And that means combing the debris for stories before I dispose of it. It means making sure that the real remainders of my parents’ lives, their stories are stored properly, kept and valued. Turning that old brown cotton bole into the tale of a trip to Turkey that my mother cherished is just one tiny piece of a huge archive to be secured.
My brother and sister can’t really engage the stories. They are consumed with the challenges of their own lives. “In an information economy, attention is the ultimate currency,” and so many of us are just skint.
I know how to walk into other people’s worlds and enter their story, to help them get a handle on it. People love it when I do that, when I serve them. But entering my life, to engage my story? Not so much.
So I have to figure out how to do for myself. But there is so much story to pack up. Too much story.
there are just some days when it seems a little more important to believe in magic.
a bit of magic from disney: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTLySbGoMX0
a younger me reminding me about the importance of magic: http://callan.transpractice.com/text/sp_sc95.html
remember: pink and pretty belongs to you, too.
For the last decade, and especially the last eighteen months, my obligation has been simple: just do what needs to be done to make sure my parents were safe and comfortable.
The way I did that was simple. I just ate all the damage I took. Whatever emotion or stress or intensity had to be handled, I just did it, whatever the cost.
That was just an extension of my history, starting when I was a kid. I was the “stupid” one, the queer one out, and I was very clear that the expectation was for me to consume my own difference and be compliant. It was just the right thing to do to abuse me into compliance, to try and prune me back to be more normative, “for my own good,” of course.
To come out of a burning commitment to love and duty and into having to recover myself is to come into engagement with my own damage.
The choice I seem to have is to either rise above that damage once again, or to be destroyed by that damage.
I know, on some theoretical level, that is a false duality. Every human is damaged and every human rises above.
But I will tell you that split feels very, very real to me.
The choice between denying myself to serve others, keeping quiet to keep the comfort of others and of speaking the intensity, passion and intelligence of my own soul, possibly serving a higher purpose by singing the song my creator taught me feels like the difference between night and day, a huge duality, one or the other. But I know on some deep level that binaries aren’t really true, that it’s never one or the other, it is always all.
The central lesson of my journey is to remind people of our continuous common humanity, of the love that ties us together. But the central lesson of the world is about walls, about us vs them, about fear that separates, and when I scare people, even a little bit, with my “extreme” behaviour, well that often lets them build walls to separate themselves from me.
Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Their knee-jerk destruction is not about me, it’s about them. I know the right thing to do.
But I am human, and years of abuse, knowing or unknowing, nasty or well intentioned, has left damage. I may understand why people act out against me when I trigger their fear of the “extreme” but that doesn’t mean I haven’t ended up getting battered, being damaged.
You can suggest that if I had been in less denial, been more visibly out by transitioning earlier, living as a woman, that some pressure would have been relieved. But that’s only a hypothetical notion. It means my parents wouldn’t have gotten the care they did. And many women who transitioned have also found challenges to stay defended in the world. Nevertheless, while I wouldn’t ever tell anyone to do what I did, it is done. Done.
I need to move on. And that means finding a way to live somewhere between my damage and my strength, somewhere between my loss and my possibilities. I can’t just keep denying myself, because I don’t have the strength of will to keep that up. I can’t just surrender to my damage, because that will deny me the potential of life.
I know that my damage, my scars, are part of my character. It shapes me, for good or for bad. Like everything else, it is both a curse and a blessing, a weight and a gift that I need to learn to use. Grant me the strength to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.
Am I too damaged? Can I handle more damage? Is there a strategy that allows me to share my damage and also to move beyond it?
Damn if I know, at least tonight.
Went to the church where we had the services for my parents on Sunday.
I liked the scripture, Exodus 34:29-35 about Moses coming down from Mt Sinai and veiling his face because it was shining from his encounter with God, then revealing himself, and 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2 which talks about the obligation to not be like Moses, but to have an unveiled face, seeing the glory of the Lord shining from us. And I liked the homily, a call to participate in the joy of the church, to be present and serve. They were all lessons that spoke to me and my obligation to enter my own extreme energy, not to try and hide it behind a veil.
But there was a “Living Gospel” drama where a fellow told a story as Barrabas, the insurrectionist that the Jews let escape crucifixion rather than setting Jesus free. There are only a few lines about him in the Gospels, and the function of the story has been seen as showing that it wasn’t the Romans who chose to kill Jesus, rather it was the Jews who let off someone fighting Roman rule instead.
With such little text in the Gospels, you have to make up story to talk about Barrabas.
A resurrectionist story might be that Barrabas was the first person saved by Jesus’ sacrifice, and that he learned lessons that gave him a new birth, a new life. This supports the notion that it is the rebirth that is the important part of the Christian story.
They chose instead to take a crucifxionist view, so their Barrabas, still dressed in prison jumpsuit and do-rag acted as witness to the crucifixion and explained how it was the worst death of any human ever. This is a common convention in some Christian theology, though the ability of some humans to inflict cruelty is great, and there clearly have been more gruesome deaths than crucifixion in history, deaths with more suffering over a longer period.
It’s just a story, sure, but what amazed me is how riled up I got at this theological story that I found cheap, easy and misplaced. It reminded me how much I care about stories, how meaningful they are to me. Enough to get passionate about.
I went to a “Living With Loss” group last night, and while the group engaged challenges that most people could comment on, like what to do with airplane tickets that had to be used up, or how to manage memorial art, they did not reach out to engage the shards of my story I offered in the short time I took to speak. No one came over to shake my hand and invite me back. I’m used to being “extreme” as my sister calls me, my lifemyth always being that I am too something for the room.
“It’s harder the second year,” was wisdom on offer last night, “because then you are not so numb.”
Yeah, the numbness lifting and the engaging of emotion is hard, very, very hard.
The world likes the veil, but the call is to remove it and shine.
It’s just that then comes the passion, the feeling and that is not something other veiled people are ready for.
I trust my connection with my creator. I don’t trust my connection with others in the world, even if they are also parts of my creator.
Does my passion, my intensity, my extremeness have a place in the world?
I walked out this morning to go to bereavement counsellor and had to step over the Christmas wreath lying on the doorstep. The wire tie I had installed years ago to keep my mother’s wreaths up on the hook had just given way, broken.
I didn’t look good this morning, just couldn’t do it. I got dressed to go the LGBT business mixer on Tuesday, but couldn’t make that, either.
Bereavement counsellor said it’s time to cut down the sessions, to transition to other support. Not a surprise, even if much of the grief is just kicking in now.
That’s the message of the fallen Christmas wreath, the one I put up to make my mother happy, even without the white memorial bow she wanted my sister to tie on it.
It’s February. It’s time to start taking them down, time to start getting myself up. Time for a new voice, as I said Tuesday.
Therapy is all well and good, understanding the motivations, but Life Coaching is the new mode, identifying and achieving goals, staying focused and accountable. Life Coaches help you get past the fear and make the best decision you can.
It’s time for me to be my own Life Coach.
TBB got my note and called, offering some life coaching for me. She had many practical suggestions, like clearing one room at a time so I feel some accomplishment, and checking out what workshops are available at the department of labour.
“I walked into lots of rooms where there was a chill in the air when I came in,” she told me, “but with a bit of time, people warmed up. And that made me feel safe and better about myself. I’m a transwoman who walks in this world, and I know that every day I have to win people over, but I also know I can do that.
“That’s what I want for you. I want you to know that you are so charming, so sweet, so smart and so engaged that you too can win people over. You can warm up a room.
“And when you are out of that basement, out making community, you will feel better, and you will be giving again.”
I have always trusted the relationship between me and my creator, my mother in the sky. But my earth mother had the fear wicked bad, so the relationship between me and the other people in the world always felt tenuous and shaky.
The most important thing I need to believe, I told TBB, is that the gifts my creator gave me can be seen and valued by others in the world, especially after all these decades of digging for them, of polishing them up. I need to believe in power and possibility.
I know how wounded and broken I am. I also know how gifted and strong I am. I know how connected I am to the universe, I know how lonely I am in this world.
It’s amazing how much momentum there was in the last year and a half of my parents lives, when we mostly lived on hospital schedules. Now, I have to find and sustain my own motion, my own momentum. Challenge.
It’s February. The wreath fell. It’s time to start cleaning up, time to get a new voice, time to become my own life coach, make choices that rise above.
God, that seems like so much impossible work.
But if TBB can do it, well, the possibility is open for me.
The first post stored on this blog is from twenty years ago today, February 5, 1993. The blog was started in November 2005, but I did seed it with some older material over the fullness of time, as they say.
In the 1970, I wrote trans fiction for Female Impersonator News out of Belmar NJ.
In the 1980s, I was active on Compuserve HSX100 and then HSX200 “genderline” back to the days when cross gender handles were required to be marked TV or TS. In the late 1980s , I started writing for the TGIC newsletter.
In the 1990s, I built my website, originally on AOL but now copied to http://callan.transpractice.com/. And my participation on newsgroups dates back to about 1995.
That’s over 35 years of trying to write about my transgender experience, through writing about fantasies, writing about challenges, writing about what we share, and writing about the details of a the struggle to answer the key question: How queer is too queer? How queer is not queer enough? To put that another way, more general, the question is How wild and individual is too wild and individual? How tame and assimilated is too tame and assimilated?
And still, and still, and still, I find that communicating that in the world is a challenge, because it’s not a gift the world wants to have. If they did, they would have it already.
All this writing exists as evidence of my stagger under the weight of stigma. I stagger round and round building understanding, rather than swagger around in a world that supports and values my expression. The spiral is very clear when I go back to look at my writing, the cost clear when I try to make a bold choice to be more visible.
Working at something for twenty years, though, or thirty five years or whatever, that has to have some value, eh?
I have been feeling like I need a new voice instead of the one I have been using in this blog since 2005.
I’m differently constrained by my love & duty than I was when my parents are alive. There are a number of abandoned drafts in the last week, one talking about living with ghosts, the ghosts that my family carry, one about how those who don’t understand the experience of being marginalized have trouble being our allies, and some on the whole challenge of what the hell is my new voice anyway. Or maybe they are all about that.
Thursday I went to the Trans-Advocacy group but they had changed the location of the meeting without me noticing, so no one was there. I met the counselor, who has some background in trans history, and I remembered that I too have a deep background. She suggested the local trans e-mail list, for example, and I noted that I started the first list in the mid-1990s, maintaining it for years. All those bits and bobs; hosting the Virginia Prince Lifetime Achievement Awards twice, sitting across from Salmonese, drama lunch with Riki and Kate, all that. Been there, done that, ate the t-shirt.
And stopping at the MAC counter at the mall, the gal behind the counter knew the people I knew there in an historical sense, and wanted me to come by and play some boring February evening. I have history, I have depth.
I was talking about the first time I spoke with TBB. She was on a panel with Holly Boswell and Renee Chevalier about TV, TS, TG: Which are You? I asked a question about how they took power in the world as a transperson, and got three different answers from three people very important in my life. It’s not the answers that are important though, it’s the question, a question I still struggle with today: How do I take power in the world as a person of trans experience?
What do I say? What do I want people to know about me? How do I want to present myself? How do I want to be presented?
I spent a long time in the nineties working around the challenge of what it would look like to be a mature transperson in the world. A lot of it was around the theme of being a parent.
To me, being a parent is primarily a role of empowerment. Sure, there are basic needs to be met, but the most important part is to help others take their own power in the world, one step at a time. The high expectations of others are both the best and worst thing in the world, because they both make you have to struggle to get better, but they also affirm your basic worth, ability and power.
TBB gets this about her best efforts, where she encouraged others to lead, to own their own value. They may now brag about what they did rather than how she put them in place to succeed, gave them a push and a possibility, but in the end, she knows that she did the parent’s job of empowering them.
I may well be a tenuous, scared transwoman with the scars of being forced to deny my nature all over me, may well carry the pain and rage of marginalization, of being pounded into compliance, being shamed into the closet, worn and broken from years of denial, but hell. As Tony Sheldon said about playing Bernadette on stage in Priscilla the musical, Terrance Stamp may have chosen to play the pain of a woman born in the wrong body for the movie version, but Mr. Sheldon didn’t want to have to do that for three hours every night. The suffering is just too wearing to carry 24/7.
So I need a new voice, one that is positive, empowered and empowering. And I need to believe that isn’t erasing the truth of my family, of my life, and the truth of so many other trans lives that are laced with struggle. “Your success is a gift to the world,” says the affirmation on my phone, and even if the word makes the counsellor blanch a little bit, it is only our success that offers the gifts we can then give to others. I spent my time finding ways to communicate the challenges of a transgender experience, now can I find ways to communicate the power of it?
For me, any power I have is centred around my identification as a parent, as a mother. I may have been the child in this house, but for the last decade I was also the mother, taking care of my charges through thick and thin. I am femme, and my power is maternal. If I could have had a baby after surgery I would have had it decades ago, no matter how I would have looked, and when I told a mother this, she said “You would have been a great mother.” Yes, I would have. Yes.
TBB talked a bit about how she sees me tonight, as a shaman. Her definition of a shaman was very conceptual, like a priest who keeps the sacred books. I don’t see being a shaman that way, rather I see the role as one who unlocks magic, magic rooted in deep understandings of connection. Shamans empower people to be better by being better connected, by trusting that connection can give them the feedback to become better by becoming more harmonious with human nature, with the divine seed inside of us. Joseph Campbell reminds us that the point of myths is not abstraction of human knowledge but integration of human understandings into our actions. The stories inform our choices and help us see the bigger picture, help us find context.
To me, that’s a key power of the parent, to open up the vision, seeing beyond the moment and valuing the shared stories of the ancestors. Parents, maybe especially grandparents, offer big thinking to the world, away from small ideas where order is more important than brilliance, where defending the safe is more important than breaking the boundaries, where the lowest common denominator is the enforcement of fear. Love and duty and being more aligned with the divine inside of us are important values. If we can make miracles by seeing how we hold fear and ego and parochialism, especially miracles with some wit and joy, well, that seems to me to be a good thing.
In the end, enlightenment is enlightenment, whatever path we take to it. That’s why Campbell found such resonant themes in myths across human cultures and human history, because the truths around connection have seemed to resonate with humans. The revelation always is that there is just one human nature and we all share it, no matter how much we want to shape our own nature to get what we think we want. It’s hard to be authentic when you are struggling to deny connection, especially the connections between parts of your own nature, as TBB remembers experiencing in her own closeted life.
One really hard thing about trying to get out from under the bushel and let your light shine in the world is that people all see that light in the way that makes sense to them. They don’t see your story of struggling to bring light to darkness, rather they see where both where they need light and, yes, sadly, where they need to hold onto darkness. People can only easily see what they have experience seeing, and to get them to see beyond means they have to work to be more open and engaging, which is a challenge. Learning to enter into the stories of others isn’t easy, and that means if we are going to hold our story open to others, we have to leave it open even as they misunderstand, fight and struggle with our story. As I have said, it is a challenge to hold open the space for the transformation of others, as that will always involve bruising, but holding open the space for transformation is the only way to create change in the world.
One thing I need to learn is to trust that when dense bits of theology like that last paragraph spring from my fingertips, somebody can actually engage them, use them as seeds for their own understanding and still see me as a human with needs and silliness. I have the experience of writing potent summaries and having others assume that means I am dry and intellectual, and not really interested in finding new ways to do pretty makeup. It’s not human or spiritual for us wounded healers, it’s both, always both. Spirit living a human life doesn’t mean denying humanity, even the lighter, wittier and more beautiful parts of human expression.
Where is the voice of a wounded healer? How do aging (maturing?) transwomen take power in the world? How can we both be true to our unique story and our common connection? How do we speak for transcendence and for the reality of struggle? And how do we shape that voice in a world that has no models for such voices?
My next challenge, it seems.
note to tbb:
all my life i have wanted two things.
i want to fit in and not be lonely. yes.
i have wanted to be myself.
when that therapist i saw in eighth grade wanted me to tell her who i wanted to be, i refused to fall prey to the only damn test she had to see if i was trans. no rambo/bimbo duality for me, even at age twelve.
i told her that i wanted to be myself. and no matter how hard she tried to get an answer, i didn’t move off that.
it was decades later i found joseph cambell saying “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” that is such essential wisdom, though, i knew it clearly as a very, very young theologian.
in the end, when push has come to shove between my two desires, between the essential desire to be tame, to be a well assimilated member of the group and to be wild, to be boldly and profoundly my own unique self, the answer has always come out the same: i want to be myself.
i want to be a beautiful, lush woman, yes. i miss my girlhood, my young womanhood profoundly. i ache looking at other women living through the stages i missed.
but that’s not coming back, not for me, not this time around. just isn’t.
sometimes you suggest that i go back and start from a beginning to fit into some defined role. therapist, teacher, whatever. it’s not a bad idea, but it really isn’t a place i can afford to start anymore.
at the hospital the chaplain came around and liked talking to me because, well, i talk like a theologian.
i have known for some time now that there is only one place i carry power in the world. when i did computers, i had this title, but i always knew it was bigger than that. i am, sad to say, a goddamn guru.
it’s the first day of february and last night i talked to two women who had some understanding of history, of trans history, of makeup history.
i felt like an elder, a wise person, someone who has been there, someone with value, someone who has something to offer other than just ripe freshness. i listened to them and engaged, hearing them.
and that feeling left me centred and empowered, not as skittish as someone trying to be someone they aren’t.
now, this makes me a bit sad. i really crave being young and hot and fresh. i ache for it.
but whenever the choice came down to being someone to fit in — mutton dressed as lamb, for example — or being profoundly and powerfully myself, i have always come down with the same answer, the sammy davis jr answer: i gotta be me. i gotta be me. what else can i be but what i am?
that was a joke, or at least a point with humour, and that’s the point: when i am in that zone, i am much more loose, playful and funny.
callan is a fucking guru. and that is her power, every damn day.
the piece i offered as followup to the counsellor i met last night. it’s still dead, bang on, seventeen years later.
Notes For Clinical Issues in Sexual Orientation for MSW Candidates Class
Hello From Hell.
What is hell? It is the feeling of being separate from others, cut off, isolated. It is the sense of being humiliated and shamed because of who you are.
Hell is the place you go when you face the belief that you are unlovable. Hell is the place you go when you believe you are so odd that no one can love you.
Hell is the place past what you think others can understand, can grasp, can accept.
Transgendered people have been to hell. We walk through a wall between men and women that most people see as inviolable, as solid, as sacred. Something in our soul drives us to transgress. And that makes people uncomfortable.
The nail that sticks up gets pounded down. Every TG person has been pounded by the system of gendering, the stigma and the fear, the forced shaping to become what others think is supposed to pretty and attractive.
Heterosexual or Homosexual, there are rules of desire. Gender is enforced by affection, love, attraction — and the denial of this human affection.
All this leads to the creation of a false self, a facade to satisfy the expectations of parents and partners, teachers and chums. The hell of having to try to kill our essence to be accepted.
TG people live in the hell of feeling shame, feeling that we are somehow defective and sick, hiding behind a false self built to satisfy the culture.
The most ironic thing is that the only way to leave this hell is to plunge into it. The route to heaven is go beyond our own hells.
Walk down your own path of strangeness, and find both your uniqueness and your connection. Go down the dark pathways of your queerness to find the light of your essential humanity.
We must go to hell.
I have been to hell, the seven unnamable hells. I have walked into my own madness to find my own sanity.
I have tried to talk with clinicians about my trip to hell, about my personal, complex, bizarre hell. Talk about those transgressive, separating parts of me. Talk about the line between insanity and function, between normal and strange, between assimilation and wildness.
Needless to say, they blanch. The rock solid foundation of gender, of relations between men and women, are powder soft in my life. My history does not predict my future, and simple rules are inadequate. I must break the rules to find my own stability and my own joy.
How do other people face that? How do they understand? My own personal hell includes being too hip for the room — watching people glaze over as I speak my truths. My overwhelming sprit overwhelms my attempts to fit in — and scares others.
The truth is that there are more realities than any one of us cares to admit. What is real for you — or for your mother — may not be real for me.
Are you ready to go to hell? Are you ready to face the strange, the challenging? Stare at the ugliness of those twisted by the attempts to kill their own nature, those who have been shamed into soul suicide?
Looking into hell in the eyes of a transgendered person will be looking into your own hell. You will see the hells that torment you, the parts of you that you have shut down when you faced them, the echoes of others who have hurt and shamed you.
To embrace transgender is to shake the roots of identity in each and every person. “He or She?” is the first question, and when the answer to that is ambiguous, all other answers are ambiguous too.
To embrace transgender is to embrace the full circle of humanity in each and every one of us. “In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender transgression remind us of our continuous common humanity.”
Transgender is hell, the hell of separation, of isolation, of stigma, of humiliation.
Transgender is heaven, the heaven of connection, of diversity, of the circle of life, the embracing of our entire soul, our full spirit. It is the heaven of being authentic, in touch with ourselves, the universe and all the people in it.
It is this path through hell to heaven that we must walk. Few of us have been able to find guides who have been to hell and know the way. Many smell the sulphur and run, trying only to patch up the false self, rework the facade.
I have only one question for you. Are you ready to go to hell?