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.