gotta be

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.


Hello From Hell
Callan Williams        Copyright © 1996

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?