“My experience, at least, of people who have been tortured, of people who have been imprisoned, is that they are an aristocracy I can’t reach. They’ve been, they’ve visited such terrible places of pain and humiliation that I hope to God I’ll never go there.
“They possess a human map, they possess superior knowledge. In that sense, they are an elite. They may not know it, they may not feel it, but they have visited such hells of human pain that we cannot imagine it unless we have been there ourselves.
“And so, in that sense, you have to look up to them. I mean, I have talked to ex-Guantanamo people and other people who have been tortured at one time or another and I feel a terrible humility before them. So, in that sense, they are aristocrats.”
John le Carré, interview with CBC “Writers and Company,” aired 10 October 2010
When you sit around a meeting table, what purpose, what interest are you trying to serve?
At Sunday’s meeting, I deliberately sat away from the conference table, in a chair along the wall. It’s an old technique of mine, a way to be less challenging and threatening to others in the room.
When Deborah Tannen, who has done important research in gendered patterns of communication, asked two teens to talk about something important in front of a video camera, she took a quick look at two boys chatting. They were sitting akimbo to each other, not head on, and without much direct eye contact. In her first pass, she dismissed the conversation as not being important. But when she took a deeper listen, beyond the body language, she heard the boys talk about deep and important topics.
When men talk, they often need to avoid direct confrontation so that they don’t feel like they are in conflict, Tannen realized. That’s a technique I learned. Of course, I know women do the same thing, but they use vocal tones and pleasantries to remove the confrontation. “You can say ‘Fuck You!’ in so many nice ways!” a woman born female told me after allying herself with me in a meeting. Yeah. I have learned to defuse confrontation in many genders.
The reason I do this, though, is usually because of the purpose, the interest I try to serve in meetings. Unless it’s my meeting, I rarely come in with an agenda, with something I want to achieve. I don’t have a personal hobby horse or axe to grind, no pet project or underlying goals.
Serve the process is my usual goal. I want to help the process of consultation, focus and consensus building occur. I’m not there to serve my needs, I’m there to serve the process, to facilitate the group dynamic. I really am not invested in the outcome, but rather in the way people come together to create shared interests and commitments.
This makes me valuable in meetings. The Chaplain who attended that last meeting saw my contributions as valuable, short and strong comments or questions that demanded group attention and engagement. I helped shape the outcome without owning the outcome, helped empower the group to address the important issues.
She wanted to see me at the table, wanted me to be more active. She didn’t understand why I held back, worked with some distance.
I remembered a trans group in the past who loved video. I went to one of their meetings and was the only participant outside of the three organizers. I decided that I would help by sitting with the camera over my shoulder and interviewing them. I lead them through questions about their organization and focus. By the end of an hour and a half, they all felt that they understood their own organization more, and that I was a good interviewer.
I was committed to the process, not the outcome. And that means often keeping my mouth shut, even when I disagree or could offer other solutions. My service isn’t to some lofty goal or deep desire, my service is to the journey to enlightenment, to revelation and empowerment.
My experience, though, is that usually I am the only one in the room with that goal. That kind of service to the group isn’t what people come to meetings for. They have their own personal desires, needs and agendas. They also have their own personal fears and need to control the process, not to surrender to it.
When others aren’t willing to open to the voyage, my role in facilitation is always limited. I can only move things so far. That’s the way most growth happens, of course, one step at a time, a slow progression from where we are now to where we need to go. I know that helping people move a step or two is a big deal.
Chaplain wanted me to keep coming to these meetings, as she saw my value to the process. “Spending two hours of people playing out their own agenda just so I can contribute my two minutes of focus can be very taxing,” I responded. She understood, but really still wanted me to help.
I went, because that was my process for that day. Maybe I will go again. I’m not really bound to any outcome. That’s the point.
But I ask you again, when you sit around a meeting table, what purpose, what interest are you trying to serve?
Do you have an agenda, an outcome in mind, or are you willing to be open to and engaged in the process?
Can you get to service?
In the last meeting of the local Trans Advocacy group, the organizer read a letter to the editor from a local paper.
Transkids were on Katie Couric, the writer said, and that was awful. These poor kids shouldn’t be exposed, their parents shouldn’t let them make queer choices about their life before puberty, and by the way, anyone who makes a choice to express transgender is not right, because they don’t understand the truth of how sex and gender really works and are just indulging their own sickness. Beyond that, the media shouldn’t be so politically correct to give these people a platform and the state shouldn’t be considering a non-discrimination act that would make speaking up about this truth a crime.
The consensus of the meeting was clear. This was transphobic speech, which some wondered why the paper would publish, and needed to be rebutted.
As for me, well, same old, same old.
The writer saw some kids they thought were being allowed to endanger themselves and the parents were enabling a wrong-headed notion. If the kids could just be kept on the straight and narrow until he desires and peer pressures of puberty and adolescence kicked in, the kid would probably come to their senses.
And the reason this was happening was because those people queering the sex-gender system, those TGLBQFU people, are forcing the media to take them seriously, rather than being stigmatized, ostracized and forced to the margins like they should be. They are even getting the government into the act, and that will limit all good people who just want to enforce the right and proper way of dealing with queers.
When I look at anyone’s fear based speech, I look for what they fear and what that tells me about them. ACIM reminds us that we always choose between fear & separation and love & connection. When people speak for either fear or love, they tell me who they are, what they value, where they live.
On the last espisode of The New Normal, one of the two expectant gay dads gets back into the Boy Scouts Of America. He loved being an Eagle Scout, and is great with the kids, teaching them what he learned from men about how to be a good man.
He is outed, though, to BSA leadership, and as an out and avowed homosexual, he is removed from the Scouts.
The parent who did that comes and speaks to him. “My boy loves you and you are great, but I want my kid to grow up normal, and that means I don’t want him looking up to people like you.”
The show left it there, with no rebuttal. A story choice, I am sure, because a strong response would have lessened the character’s emotions about the removal.
My rebuttal takes from the work of Leslea Newman, who wrote Heather Has Two Mommies.
“When I was growing up, I looked up to, respected and even admired hundreds of good men who were avowed heterosexuals. They offered a great role model of a heterosexual family to me. But even being exposed to so many strong, heterosexual role models didn’t turn my love into heterosexual love. And I am sure that even if your son is exposed to strong homosexual role models, it won’t ever change who he is inside either.”
That’s fine, as far as it goes, but the real answer is quite a bit messier. Kinsey had a scale for hetro/homo desire from zero to six. If you were zero, you would never engage in homosexual relations and if you were six you would never engage in heterosexual relations.
What that means, of course, is that most people interviewed turned out to be somewhat bisexual. A one might only accept fellatio in a stressful circumstance, and a five might have tried a woman or two over their life, but threes and fours, well…
The old plan was simple. Dump stigma all over the sixes and you might be able to scare the threes and fours into normative heterosexual relationships.
The conservatives are right. Accepting queer behaviour, making it mainstream, will result in more queer behaviour, more people who experiment and and may make non-normative choices. That simple.
And they want their kids and grandkids to have a normative life, if at all possible. They would call it a “normal” life, of course, but there is a wide variation in normal in any population, so the conventional expectations are just normative to me, not normal.
The truth is that they aren’t alone in this fear.
While the professional organizer wanted the idea that the non-discrimination act contains provisions against hate speech (it contains provisions against hate crimes, which are actions, not speech), they weren’t so sure they wanted anyone to get into the messy area of trans-kids.
See, the statewide group doesn’t yet have a policy on how much parents should be supported in their care of children who express as trans. It’s one thing for a person beyond the age of agency and consent to make decisions about their life, but children? What if parents are exerting some pressure on the child? What path has been shown to create a good outcome? No one knows.
No, they understand why people are a bit queasy and divided about children being able to demand gender protection and even medical intervention. They understand why it’s an emotional and a hot-button topic and why it can create fear in people that makes it harder to push their non-discrimination agenda.
One person at the meeting was peeved that bathrooms are always made an issue by those against trans rights, especially when they aren’t an issue in reality, with virtually no reports of people posing as transgender to find prey in bathrooms.
“They said that the ERA and equal rights would lead to a bathroom crisis,” this person said. “That hasn’t happened. That’s preposterous.”
Except that Minnie-Bruce Pratt, the femme partner of Leslie Feinberg, in her powerful book S/HE talks about her experience fighting for the ERA and how she dismissed the bathroom question. And she also talks about how she eventually came to understand that removing barriers is removing barriers, that equality is equality. She saw that yes, bathrooms needed to be opened, and in the end it is a non-issue.
One challenge for queers is that we don’t just have the obligation to call for the dismantling of conventions that prop up the structure of heterosexist compulsory gender conventions, but rather we have the obligation to replace them with something new that serves the purposes of gender, and the key purpose of gender has always been protecting children and other vulnerable people.
That’s one big deal with the push for marriage equality. Lesbians and Gays are saying “We want to take on the family values that are designed to support and protect children.” They are signing up for the conventions that enforce family life.
Now, some fear that this cheapens the true meaning of family, while others feel it reinforces and extends that meaning.
But the people out there shouting that conventions need to be respected for the protection of the children, well, they have a point.
Now, I don’t agree with the idea that fear based compliance to norms, based on the avoidance of stigma & oppression, are the best way to empower people and communities. But I do agree that people should feel some obligation to respect not just law but also some kind of social norm, some kinds of convention that support graceful, functional communities that support vulnerable people, especially children.
We can’t just be for tearing down every norm. We have to also have to be in favor of making good places. I just want our norms to be based more on love and connection than on fear and separation.
So that’s why I don’t get all crazy when someone speaks their fears.
I just don’t want social and legal policy to be based on aggrandizing fears, the fears of anyone from the very conservative to the politically correct.
I want social and legal policy to be based on considered respect, empowerment and connection. For example, a transperson marginalized by society can never get a good job and become a productive member of society, so employment non-discrimination brings them into connection with the community where they can be assimilated, rather than separating them to where they have to work on the margins of propriety and law.
I understand fear. I think it needs to be surfaced to be addressed. Love can create connection and respect in the face of fear.
I don’t want my world to be limited, proscribed and constricted by the fears of others. I don’t think fear is a good reason to silence, marginalize and disempower anyone.
Even people who still fear people like me.
One of the classic questions to ask any transperson is how they got their name.
I remember one woman, who was on her own quest, telling me about her name, and then she gave the second name she chose, Sophia.
“Ah,” I said. “That makes sense. Sophia, the feminine of divine wisdom, like St. Sophia church in Istanbul.”
I could almost see her blanch over the chat connection. We choose names and we find meaning.
As I have said, I used my birth name when I first came out. I was a guy in a dress.
Eventually, though, that didn’t feel right or representative to me, so I started writing down names on sheets of paper, trying them out. I grew up in Boston, so I had lots of powerful friends named Ann, and I liked that name, but I wanted something gender neutral. This alone set me apart from crossdressers who wanted as girly as name as possible for their “second self,” usually two together, like Penelope Leigh. I remember one large woman born female who worked with transwomen who had a very gender neutral name. She laughed when people mistook her for a CD. “If I had chosen my own crossdresser name it would have been a lot frillier than the one my parents gave me!”
It has always been rude and disrespectful in the gender world to ask for someone’s “real” name. Part of that is allowing some privacy, but more than that it is an honoring of the reality of the calling we each feel inside of us. The name our family gave us is just our family name, not the only real name for us, who have worked so hard to discover and claim our own reality. We open the space for our own transformation by finding another name for what many wanted to make invisible. And when someone who is on a gender journey does choose to share their birth name with me, I know it is always a gift of trust, with them knowing I will respect their story and that I won’t assume that just because I know what their parents called them I know some essential truth about them.
The first time I used Callan was at my first Southern Comfort. I felt a bit uncomfortable, because my transgender journey was a search for truth. I spent a long time trying to work out the challenge of people deciding that I was telling the truth when I lied about my trans nature, and deciding I was lying when I told the truth. I wrote a lot about that.
I still have to use my legal name some, but I tend to use just my initials, so it is more gender neutral.
The name Callan is something I have grown into. The web wasn’t so easy in the early 1990s when I chose it, so I didn’t do the whole baby name thing. Since then, I have found pages like this: http://www.sheknows.com/baby-names/name/callan which made me blanch.
The Celtic for Callan? A feminine name meaning “Flowing Water.”
Why yes, I do that.
The Scandinavian? A feminine name meaning “Powerful In Battle.”
Why yes, I do that.
And as I have grown into the name, people use the diminutive. First that was Callie, but it evolved to Cali.
Cali? The Hindu goddess associated with empowerment? The destroyer and creator of worlds?
Why yes, I do that.
Name something and you own it. And for me it is owning wisdom I didn’t know I had.
We know things we don’t know we know, but if we trust that knowledge it can lead to enlightenment.
And that’s what’s in my name.
When TBB and I brought The Drama Queens out of retirement for IFGE Toronto, we were called to the banquet stage by surprise. Or at least a surprise to my character, who had transitioned, fully identifying as a woman. TBB though, was her crossdresser self, changing into a platinum blonde china girl wig and sequins to take the stage by storm. I had to explain, though, that I could no longer participate in mocking women, in rowdy hi-jinks, because my consciousness raising group had agreed that such performance lacked dignity and was inappropriate as long as anyone was suffering anywhere in the world.
We battled on stage, with all the requisite weapons used between transsexual and transvestite, until TBB finally got me to look into the spotlight, see myself on the big screen and hear the audience laugh. I finally couldn’t resist anymore, so I threw back my shoulders, lifted my chin, and together we recited our mantra: “We have no act! We have no talent! We are …. The Drama Queens!”
Today, I passed that gift on. A leader of the local Transgender Advocates, the one who stopped me in the middle of an old joke to tell me that ranking oppressions was not useful, outed herself in the meeting. She was talking about some theatrical protests she wanted to do about the state Gender Non-Discrimination Act, and said “I mean, what queer activist hasn’t wanted to be dragged out of a building by the cops?”
I saw the light in her eyes as she said that, a devilish gleam.
After the meeting, which was all agendas and action items and concern for every abject class of people imaginable, I took her aside.
“You have the universe’s permission,” I told her, “to be a Drama Queen.”
She smiled. Back beyond all that forceful political correctness, was something that runs deep in real trans expression: the heart of the imp, the jester, the truth-teller. The rage that drives the raging outrageous fun of drag is something that some of us feel like we should hide, but that’s just not right. After all, the heart of trans is not class based oppression but rather the truth of the individual journey to self-actualization. If that journey if that runs through the shimmering pool of theatrical magic, well, that’s where it goes, right?
Not everyone got this. The meeting was a bit late starting, so I pulled out the old aphorism, “If it’s not late, it’s not fabulous!” A few enjoyed that, repeating it later, but the one of us who has the heart that bleeds the most for the plight of all groups was a bit uncomfortable. “I’m on time! What is it if it is on time?” “Earnest,” I replied, and they took that answer with a big grin.
The professional organizer, who has been on the job for two years, told the story about a woman at a recent Trans-Rights Open Mic who talked about her time as a medical school vagina model, offering her not-so private parts for training of tomorrows doctors. He enjoyed the story, especially about how she decorated herself for holidays.
“Yes,” I agreed. “That’s her experience of being queer, and she felt safe sharing it. It’s amazing how transpeople — well, at least visibly trans people — move the goalposts of individual expression so that everyone feels safer sharing a bit of their own wildness.” It didn’t seem to be an idea he had engaged before.
For me, the challenges are basic. How do we do the consciousness raising to help transpeople take their place in the world? How do we move our own role and our own stories? There was some chat about a viral video project, and I just imagined asking people to fill in the end of this statement: “I wish that transpeople ________________”
However they answer would be enlightening, from “I wish that transpeople would feel safe enough to give their gifts to the world” to “I wish that transpeople wouldn’t corrupt our children” and everything in between. Short, pithy, and easily edited into a compelling video, with surprising supportive answers and useful negative ones. We need to get the fears about transpeople on the table before we can address them, and we need to get the hopes and love for transpeople on the table before we can embrace them.
A retired hospital chaplain was there for the first time tonight, supporting everyone including her son who recently came out as trans. She and I connected, on the grounds of theology, of caretaking and just on the grounds of being a grown-up who has learned to be a parent.
“I don’t know much about trans people,” she admitted.
“You know what they need,” I told her. “It’s the same thing that all those families in the hospital needed: someone to listen to them. It’s really easy to be shamed into the closet, and that leaves so many of us stunted and a bit twisted. We need to trust people can hear us.” This made perfect sense to her, having seen the people in the meeting, and having dealt with thousands of people in her life.
When asked about why fewer people come to these meetings — the first had over twenty attendees, this one only seven — the glib answer was given that “some people don’t want to do the work.”
I think every transperson wants to do the work in front of them, but their most important work is finding a path for themselves. Unless an enterprise seems to be reflective and empowering, it’s not worth facing down the challenge to be there, with so many other demands.
I knew what my job was there tonight. It was to listen and reflect, to entertain and empower. These bold and brave young trans warriors can use seeing themselves through other eyes, to be valued for their earnestness, their queerness, and even the drama queen hidden behind the politically correct front.
There are so many challenges in the world, so many inequalities, so many problems to be solved. I can’t debate that, not at all.
But it seems to me that a group calling themselves trans advocates shouldn’t be looking at all the inequity and suffering around. Instead, they should be out and advocating for transpeople, and the most fundamental part of that seems to me to be making sure that transpeople are heard and reflected in the world.
We need to make sure transpeople feel they have permission to be the best them they can be in the world, and we need to do that my making sure the world is more affirming and supportive.
And we need to do this not just for transpeople, but because the more transpeople are empowered to be potent and unique individuals, the more the goalposts are moved and others around them feel safe to express their own unique and potent human nature. To support the beautiful diversity of humanity, beyond fear and political correctness, is to create love in the world, human connection not just at a surface level but deep down where our creator have us a each unique spark.
That simple, and that challenging.
Somehow, I suspect that a playful drama queen sitting at the centre of the meetings will be much more welcoming, enjoyable and empowering.
And I say that, maybe, because it takes one to know one.
The New York Times had a video of Judy Kuhn singing Loving You from Sondheim’s Passion that made me cry.
Not because of of the performance, or the song, though both are beautiful, but because it’s intense display of emotion, of unbridled (and unreciprocated) love remind me of what I lack.
All my life, I have been the visceral one in the family, feeling things strongly in my gut.
And all my life, I have had to be the cerebral one in the family, processing emotion into thoughtful and appropriate communication.
Aspergers is a challenge of disconnect, of having your own rich inner life while not really being able to enter the lives of others.
Like the child of any immigrant, very early it became my job to translate between worlds for my parents. I needed someone to come in to my world and help me understand how to be who I was in the world, a smart, intense, trans kid who had x-ray vision and spoke in tongues. I just knew it wasn’t going to be either of them who could help. And when, in eighth grade, I was sent to the shrink — fourth and sixth grade had just been in-school counsellors — I told them I would go if they agreed to help my parents too. They ignored me, of course, dismissing me like a kid, but I even at 12 I had done so much translating for them that I knew they needed help, knew I needed to get them help.
My life became sketched with the word”overwhelming.” Too smart, too intense, too emotional, too weird, too overwhelming, too whatever.
My feelings were just always too much for others to engage. I had to encapsulate and contain them, had to manage and marginalize them, had to package and play them down, had to limit and lose them. That was my job, it was made clear to me, because nobody else knew how to help.
And now, alone again, there are so many feelings that I just know I have to move past. I have done all the damn enlightenment work, know that the cause of suffering is not being able to let go and forgive, that holding negative feelings always hurts us more than it does the people we are angry at. I know that we have to focus on what we can change, not what we cannot, and that means history is just history, and does not serve well as a burden. From my youngest age, I was required to process emotion and deal with the now.
But when I see the intense, raw, expression of emotion in the song, it taps into all those emotions that I have always had to swallow and never been able to share.
I know how many times people have betrayed me, not taking responsibility for their own actions, their own choices, their own refusal of growth. It was my job to get past their denial of healing, just like I told bereavement counsellor, I knew how to deal with my family by just doing all the work. I had to do the processing to stay connected and functional no matter how much I knew they were acting out against me, how they were breaking promises and dropping me on my head. They would tell me that they were doing the best that the could and I had to take up the slack in their failures, I had to be more responsible and enlightened, I had to be more forgiving and understanding, I had to take one on the chin for the team.
After all, everyone knew that I was the “stupid” one. Yes, everyone knew that I was the queer one.
I just had to take it because they were going to heal at their own rate and in their own way, and that was that. Any stress, discomfort, pain or failures, well, I was the one who had to clean up that mess. I was the one who had to make it right.
And often, in that responsibility and stress, I failed to fix things. To me, knowing no one else was going to pitch in, that just meant that I had to work harder, stress more, dig deeper, deplete myself. It’s still very common that I feel shame over mistakes I made decades ago, feeling the humiliation that my mother would deliver, feeling the demand to do it correctly or be seen as a failure. This whole failure teaching that my mother held so dear still permeates my choices and makes me less prone to take a chance, to try something bold and audacious. It’s not good, being caught between the obligation to fix things and pressure to be perfect. My analysis paralysis has deep roots.
The message to me was simple: If I was just somebody else, everything would be fine. I was essentially flawed, and only my hard work could make me small and appropriate enough to satisfy the world.
And the most important part of that message? I wasn’t to feel bad about being unloved and unlovable, wasn’t to be upset that people found me too challenging, wasn’t to feel abused by the demands made on me to deny huge parts of me, wasn’t to feel battered by the pressure and social stigma, wasn’t to be hurt by people silencing and rejecting me. I was just supposed to be big enough to understand that they were right and I was wrong, and I had all the obligation for change and denial. I just needed to accept that I had no recourse when people made demands of me to be more normative, more compliant, more assimilated, more caring about the fears of others than about my own needs. My family explained to me their limits, and if I pushed them beyond those limits, I was wrong, not them. They were not willing to back me up when they felt I did something that embarrassed them, even as I needed to support them in any of their actions because they were right, proper and not queer.
I learned. I learned. I learned. And I was, according to the hospice nurse who supervised my mother’s case, the most dutiful and loving caretaker she had ever worked with. I learned very early how to take care of my parents, and even when friends told me to leave them, as Dinnerplates did when I was 18, I didn’t do it. I knew they needed me. I spent the last decade of my life protecting my father from my mother’s demands, helping him take care of of her. I served, I served, I served.
TBB wants me to know that being out, like I was yesterday for the vernal equinox, well, it means bringing everything out, including the emotions you have buried for decades. “I was very angry,” she told me, “and I wasn’t the only one to feel this. The requirement to hide has costs.” I told her that I understood this is the work I have to do.
I just don’t know how to be both an out trans woman and the person who lived in denial to serve my family at the same damn time. The two roles seem utterly in conflict, almost completely at odds. I have no problem being a woman who gives of herself to take care of others — in fact, that seems right to me. I just can’t be the person who grinds away in silence to keep my family comfortable by my own invisibility and denial.
It’s like singing “I Am What I Am” at the top of my lungs and being interrupted so I can go and clean the toilet for someone who feels that my obligation is to be in service to them. Just like the Roman Catholic church wants to say that just having homosexual desire means God demands that you live a life of celibacy, so many people believe that just having a transgender nature means God demands you to live a life of denial in service to the comfort of those around you.
It’s not like What Not To Wear, with family saying “We believe this person deserves to have a better life by being reminded to take care of themselves and make the most of their beauty.” Women get honoured and rewarded for the sacrifices, but transwomen do not. Instead, they get asked for even more sacrifice, more and more, never enough. Others feel free to demand we turn ourselves inside out for them, always demanding we do the work. That’s one reason I have often sent Mother’s Day messages to transwomen close to me, so they too can feel honoured, valued and respected for the part they play in supporting and shaping the next generations.
I listen to a song that speaks of the emotional life of a woman in the world. And I remember the obligations I felt, that I feel in the world.
I feel sad and resentful. And I don’t think anyone really cares, that my obligation is still to swallow and deny my own feelings, to transcend them so I can always be the big one, negotiating others fears and needs to maintain their comfort.
And that feels, well, bad.
It falls to me to create a reliquary for my parents.
What are the objects that encapsulate their lives? That reunion ID tag with the 1947 graduation picture of my 22 year old father on it, well, that’s a definite. But what else? What is so potent that it carries their lives, and what is just something they touched and used, but doesn’t really have their imprint on it?
It’s a challenging task. And it leads me to try and understand a bit about veneration.
This isn’t a culture that worships ancestors. When we think of people talking about the deceased, usually we think about someone who is wailing at loss, claiming unfairness, showing their own distress and emotion.
The most formalized kind of memoriam is that we have given to those who have fallen in the wars for us. That has always been the promise we made to soldiers: you put your life on the line, and if you lose it, we will carry your name and memory forward with pride.
We don’t do that so much, anymore. In the US, Armistice Day, 11/11, didn’t turn into Remembrance Day as it has in the Empire countries. Instead, it has become Veteran’s Day, to honour the living and active who served more than the dead who we have to remember. That just feels a bit off to me.
My brother had one last chance to be his mother’s son by taking time to remember her on the evening of her death. Instead, he chose to be his wife’s husband by making sure the family schedule wasn’t disturbed by something as trivial as the death of his last parent.
I don’t think he is at all unique in this choice. We live in a culture that doesn’t allow time for reflection or consideration, and certainly doesn’t value veneration of anything but the present. Our attention is squeezed from every side, because getting out of the flow means we might become less than driven by the marketing messages that drive us forward, always forward, without much awareness or pause.
Valuing where we come from, the line of humans that we come from, is the chance to value the essential and eternal lessons that we can learn from human lives. The tradition of humans having sacred spots and sacred rituals isn’t about routine, rather it is about creating milestone moments where we can feel we are repeating what our ancestors valued, and creating touchstone moments for our descendents to value in their lives. We walk in the same place as the elders, and that means that they walk in us.
That is an old human tradition, part of who we were from the days of hill forts and round houses. St0nehenge was constructed as the scene for these rituals, where humans who understood the magic of birth and the ever-presence of death played their part in the life of the world. This veneration of the circle of life, this worship of where we came from before we entered this world and where we go when we leave it is woven deep into human nature.
Making space, in this culture and in this family, to value the essence of my parent’s lives, well, that seems quite a challenge. I was so tired and so stressed that I barely got through the eulogies, but even then it was clear that my brother and his family had no impetus to speak for my parents, to speak for their memories, to speak for the dead. And now, the challenges of a pressure filled life has moved them down the road.
It falls to me to create a reliquary for my parents. To gather what is important and to dispose of the rest.
But in this culture, do we have any time or energy left to care about the ancestors and what they offered us?
TBB and I agree that not everyone in the interlocking communities around trans are in the same place. We each have different areas of interest, different levels of commitment and different degrees of experience.
That’s one reason why I don’t like to blithely say “the trans community,” as if there is only one. We have people who love drag, people who can only get out one weekend a month, people who are struggling with addiction issues, people who haven’t come out yet, and on and on, and while there is overlap between us — interlocks — we aren’t just one group.
TBB was very, very happy to identify as a crossdresser. She even gave speeches explaining why crossdressers are worthy of respect and dignity. Now, many years after transition to full time life, she still feels that protective instinct.
I never, ever identified as a crossdresser. I rejected the classic Virginia Prince model — “Now I’m Biff! Now I’m Suzee!” — from the start, which meant that when The Prince and I met, there was always a bit of a battle, but for The Prince, battling was key to identity. My first stab at identity was to be a guy in a dress, and I used my own masculine given name only, and let my male body show. My goal was some kind of centring, some kind of balance, a kind of androgyny, not some kind of flip-flop switching back and forth. Personally, I always found the SSS CD model kind of creepy, with the idea that if you told your wife that your trans expression had nothing to do with Eros, even while your eyes lit up, she would believe you.
That said, I always understood the need for people who were born male and living as men to try to compartmentalize their trans expression because they valued their families, their kids, their wife, the career that supported them and so on. Coming out is still hard, and the journey to getting a degree of grace and compose presenting as a woman of transgender experience is still wicked hard. That’s why I came up with the concept of “crossdresser years,” noting that the amount of time people were out was directly related to their growth and maturing. A CD who attended one conference a year, for example, would stay more into fantasy than one who did regular education sessions around their area.
TBB, though, is very sensitive to any possible slight to those people who are not yet far in their journey.
“I understand that I have trouble spending time with first graders anymore,” she told me. “It’s just like any eighth grader. They have moved past that and find the old stuff boring.”
The difference between TBB and I, though, is that I am very interested in what the difference is between first graders and eighth graders.
TBB doesn’t think she has changed much over the years she has been out. To me, that is both true and untrue. It’s true she is who she always was, that her essence hasn’t really changed. It’s also true, though, that her expression has changed as her priorities have changed, and that experience has shaped her current consciousness. She is now more aware and sensitive to the challenges of women and transsexuals than she could have allowed herself to be when she identified as a crossdresser, and deliberately created walls to limit her expression. I see that clearly, but then I am looking at her from outside, not with her own eyes.
You have to swing the pendulum wide to find the centre. For so many people who are just starting exploring the nature they have been shamed into hiding, they put up real barriers to expression so they don’t possibly go to a place that might lead them into an expression they know would be unacceptable to others. That means that there are many places they just can’t let themselves go, many ideas they just cannot engage at the point they need to be at.
To me, that means it’s not just like first graders who don’t have the experience of eighth graders, it’s about people who willfully keep themselves back in order to defend the status quo. That choice to hold onto the conventional may be understandable, but it means that I know they have to silence me to stay in place.
My experience of transpeople, of everyone in the world, actually, is that I connect with the travellers, who know themselves to be on a journey that will change them, and not with tourists, who only leave their home for a bit of a thrill, grabbing a little novelty and excitement and then working to go home unchanged.
I know many transpeople born male who embrace growth and maturing but who never will live full time, who see their expression as part of their journey to a more integrated and actualized self. I also know many transpeople born male who only want to indulge their own Eros and come home unchanged, who see their expression as strongly compartmentalized, not something that affects their core identity. It’s that compartmentalization that I find a bit creepy, because it can easily lead to aberrant and unbalanced behaviour. Let’s face it: I’m a connection gal, in favour of integration and not separation.
To resist growth and transformation and hold onto the status quo by dismissing and compartmentalizing the challenges life hands us means we are always rejecting others who make choices and hold ideas that we choose not to engage at this moment. Whatever group we think we need to link with by defending their own dogma against the challenge of the world, we resist the possibility of personal enlightenment and actualization.
That’s why I think TBB’s idea of going through the grades in school has real limits as a model for trans expression. We aren’t all going through the same curriculum; life has its own lessons for each of us, and we each have our own destinations.
I understand why everyone needs to grow and heal in their own time, in their own way. What they are not ready for, they are not ready for. And that means they can be frustrated with me not holding their view, not really able to believe that I once tried the view they hold now, but found some limits to it and moved on from that view.
It’s people who feel the need to compartmentalize and destroy challenges they don’t want to engage who are difficult for me. They can’t respect and honour the journeys of others which challenge their own status quo, and so need to lash out at them. They resist their own growth and thereby limit the growth of the interlocking communities around transgender.
Everyone needs to start somewhere, no doubt. And we each proceed on our own path and at our own pace. That’s both frustrating and true.
It’s just people who resist growth by dismissing challenge so they can keep their own compartmentalization who get me a bit crazy.
No matter what grade they are in.
I left the broom at the coffeehouse. I only paid a dollar for it, so it wasn’t really worth wading through the crowd to collect it.
I spent a day out, which was actually good, and planned to meet someone at a Trans Open Mic that was happening tonight.
TBB was encouraging me to perform something there, something unscripted and as potent as when we went on stage as The Drama Queens (We have no act! We have no talent! We are… The Drama Queens!)
I wasn’t so sure.
TBB has really gotten into the whole “the ultimate tranny operation is when you pull the broomstick out of your own ass.” It’s gotta be ass for her — no butt or bum substitution allowed.
I’m glad she likes it, but I also know that she’s been hearing the line for five years, at least, and she has never responded to it until recently. My writing is like that. It makes absolutely no sense until you have that experience under your belt, and then the same text that was just blah-blah is suddenly bang on. It’s why I have to be really aware when people tell me what resonates and doesn’t resonate with them, as it usually tells me more about where they are now then about the strength or clarity of my writing.
I bought the broom, though, so I would have a prop. It wasn’t a wasted trip, mind you. I got some CFL bulbs two for a dollar, a bottle of shampoo I need and two pairs of eyelashes. I love eyelashes. Later in the day, I even got a J. Jill black dress on clearance, just across from where I bought my first ever skirt around 25 years before at the Zayre store. It was a Jordache, black pleather, and of course, it needed to be shortened, so I hemmed it with some gasket sealer adhesive. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
When I saw the space and the crowd though, small, young and granola crunchy, I was pretty sure the bit wasn’t going to fly. Add to that the fact the signup list showed serious overbooking, and I just knew it wasn’t my night.
Now, it’s not like I won’t be represented. My friend asked, last night, if I wasn’t going to be there if she could read something of mine. That was out of left field, but I said, sure whatever she wanted. She chose “Hello From Hell,” the piece I wrote for a MSW class training therapists. It was interesting that she chose that, because on Monday night, a lesbian CSW was passing out business cards to network. I spoke with her, and she asked if I had come in to do a class with Arlene when she was training. I had, in 1996, 17 years ago, and that was the only time I ever read “Hello From Hell.” Seems like a sign.
I had a drive back after I left the event, so it gave me time to consider what I might have done for that crowd.
My first thought was to do a bit TBB and I did at a Virginia Prince Lifetime Achievement award ceremony we hosted, where we played the world’s oldest crossdressers, a kind of mix of The Two Thousand Year Old Man and Tim Conway. TBB did this backward pratfall in a chair that just grabbed the crowd, so I forgave her for missing a punch line. Spackle, Spackle.
Still, I’m not sure that ancient history mixed with slapstick was something I could have carried off alone, so better.
It’s old stage practice that when you have a crowd, pander. Wait, that didn’t quite sound right. Give the people what they want and expect. Yeah, that’s a better way to say it.
So I started composing a poem for the occasion:
Everyday the world wakes up anew
Yesterday left behind, Tomorrow not quite here
A new day, A new us
Time to choose again
from all the human possibilities.
Everyday a new beginning
to slip from convention and claim
expression most authentic
choices most empowering
life most beautiful
love most breathtaking
Everyday is reivention
for those who move beyond fear
escaping social pressure
to be a potent self
flying beyond the norm.
Everyday is fresh and full
another chance to go beyond
another chance to find the harmony
another chance to become new
another chance to claim beauty
Everyday is laced with magic
magic in our hearts that lifts us
magic in our creation that energizes us
magic in our world that connects us
magic in our spirit that makes us fly
Everyday is a fresh generation
a claiming of the divine
a threading of possibility
a shattering of expectations
time to choose again
from all the human possibilities.
“Let me paint the view for you,” TBB — who now might want to be known as Sabrina — said to me last night.
“I’m at an outside table just behind the bridge. We are travelling east just off the shore of Puerto Rico, and I’m looking back west, across a placid shimmering black sea, with the lights of the island shining to my left, the stars of Orion above me, and the quarter moon hanging brilliant in the sky, shaped like a huge bowl.
“This weekend will be my third here, another time to ride out on my motorcycle through the lush foliage and countryside attractions, like the fresh food DiFazio and I enjoyed last weekend, two gal pals on a bike. This weekend it’s a SCUBA excursion, and dinner with a gal I met the first weekend I was here, who works as an exotic dancer.
“My son is graduating from college in a few weeks, and my mother is doing fine, though the dementia is just starting to take hold. I’ve got some money in the bank, and I feel valued where I am. In fact, I recently got a call to offer me a promotion onto another boat, which I passed on.
“But what I feel here tonight, is a little bit lonely. I look at the moon and think about what I have done with my life, the cycles where I created something amazing and the cycles where I tried and failed, and the cycles where I took care of my family and myself. I feel the cycles changing again, and I want relationships, want to work with people to empower each other to be better, more amazing.
“I know I did good, and I am proud of what I have done. I lead in a way that made people feel that they could do it themselves, and they did, and that’s great. But I do sort of feel bad that I wasn’t as involved as I could have been, because I chose to put my family, my wife and my security first. That was the right decision for that time, I guess, but the amount I feel opened up as I let go of those constraints, those shackles, well, it’s amazing and liberating. I lost my family when I transitioned, but winning them back has led to a new and deeper relationship, with my kids, with my mother, and now, after nine years, even with my ex-wife and my brother’s family.
“Somehow, I feel it’s time to get engaged again, to do something where I connect with the world and bring all of me to bear.”
To me, the amazing thing about transpeople, even though the episodic nature of our lives, filled with turns and struggles and incubation, with time in the wilderness, is how we link things.
“In a culture where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity,” goes my mission statement.
For TBB, that commonality and connection was missing a bit in the world of gender crossers, so she created what became the biggest annual conference in the world as a place where everyone of them felt welcome and empowered.
She created a link, she did, between TV and TS, between MTF and FTM, between the intellectuals and the partiers. And because I was linked to her, I felt the connection between the wild, revolutionary gender outlaws and the tamer, evolutionary gender explorers, who valued their families but also needed more.
It wasn’t about assimilation or individuality for her, it was about honouring the balance that each individual made for themselves. And that means it was about honouring the links that each of us made as transpeople to connect the wider web, to share a continuous common humanity that celebrated connection by valuing unique expression.
Today, the truth that opening our heart unlocks the best of us is profound in her. She has struggled to get that sick out of her
butt ass and found a rhythm & flow that connects her with herself, her creator and her world.
And that’s Sabrina.
“One challenge with transmen,” I told the GenderQueer (GQ) activist and the academic on Monday, “is that they can easily be invisible, so they like to woodwork, as James Green says, to blend into the woodwork.”
They looked at each other askance, sharing a moment again agreeing on how stupid I was.
“Not the transmen I know,” the GQ sniffed.
Yeah. I believe that.
For most people, there are very few benefits involved in identifying as transgender. If you identify as a gay man, you get to sleep with other gay men. If you identify as a lesbian, you can talk about your partner and your life openly.
But you don’t really get to have any desire benefits from identifying as trans.
That means, of course, the only people who identify as trans tend to be those who have to identify that way because their trans is visible anyway.
That means that the only time people identify as as trans is when their trans is visible anyway, like crossdressers who keep their mouth shut when not showing trans.
So, by definition, the visible transpeople are visible. The GQ activist is right: the transmen s/he knows are out and visible.
But does that mean that there aren’t a population of transmen who do want to assimilate, who do want to blend into the woodwork?
No, it just means that the GQ doesn’t engage this population. In fact, many of them may give a wide berth when they see the GQ coming, just because they don’t want to engage that visible and activist side of trans, the genderqueer part.
I know that I am out as transgender. I am out because my body won’t easily assimilate, and I am out because I need my voice to speak of my experience, my history.
But if I could have assimilated as just another woman in the world, one whose history and biology weren’t so queer? If I could have chosen where I wanted to make my stand on individuality, rather than having it thrust upon me?
Well, yeah. That seems like a quite appealing notion.
There were/are a huge swath of women who worked hard to enforce this dream of dissappearing. They called themselves “Transsexual Separatists” and their key demand was simple: They didn’t want to be included in the transgender idea. To themselves, they were not crossing gender boundaries, rather they were born women who had a birth defect they fixed and were now perfectly female and woman. They had made the blood sacrifice at the altar of Dr Biber, and they now deserved to be assimilated, for any difference to be erased.
Transsexual separatists were furious at the transgender movement for co-opting and colonizing their own truth. They are NOT gender variant, they are gender normative, and any person who stands up and makes statements about transpeople must NOT include them. Ever.
Differential diagnosis was their grail, the magic of deciding who was a true transsexual and who was not. True transsexuals had no choice about genital reconstruction, for example. And true transsexuals always called genital reconstruction surgery “sexual reassignment surgery,” SRS, because they wanted to honour the magic of it, and not the detail that it could never change chromosomes or most secondary sexual characteristics.
Vehement transsexual separatists were always the one who found it hard to assimilate even after their surgery and wanted someone to blame for that failure. They blamed people who refused to agree with them that surgery was a cure, those who demanded that biology and history did count even after that. They didn’t get their magic, and those who didn’t believe it in must be the ones who stole it.
The most vehement transsexual separatists, though, were the ones who believed in the magic of “the blood sacrifice” as New Women’s Conference (NWC) doctrine called it, but for some reason, could not get surgery for themselves, due to costs or health issues. These bitter people had to work even harder to enforce the magic by silencing those who might ever challenge it, often learning to slam anyone who would offer a transgender viewpoint that might marginally include them.
To do this, they needed their own creation myth, and the most common one was an assertion of intersexuality, an assertion impossible to prove or disprove without agreement. On Monday night, the academic said that they were sick of intersexual people wanting to hold themselves as separate from trans people. I do understand a difference, if only because there is a major difference in the life experience of someone who has been identified as different from birth and who had to deal with the feelings of their family and the experience of going though puberty and adolescence with a hidden challenge.
In the end, I agreed with the academic: “I’m trans, but not bad trans like them,” is a mark of the profound stigma that still surrounds trans in the world. To support people who make choices that we would never make for ourselves, especially if the world sees their choices as reflecting on us, well, that is the damn hard part of being trans. I don’t want to be obligated to defend everyone else who identifies or might be identified as trans, but in the end, I know that if I want them to support me, I need to support them, at least up to the boundaries of mutual consent.
The problem, though, is that even when we think we are being open and out and supportive, the limits of our own choices are haunting.
That’s why, when I talked about woodworking transmen, I was dismissed on Monday night. To these very out transpeople, the choice to assimilate was just wrong, and not one that the people they hung out with would ever make. How could I be so stupid as to believe that transmen would ever make that choice?
I believe that because I have been through the wars and have deliberately tried to engage and embrace as many trans narratives as I can find. I have written from the viewpoint of others, so I understand how their belief system works, how it has to work. I honour not just crossing boundaries but also respecting them, not just working to standing out but also working to fit in.
I have felt people dismiss me because my experience and view doesn’t agree with theirs. It’s the oldest trick in the world, the attempt to erase challenge rather than engage it, the attempt to defend personal reality rather than to find common ground.
And when I get that crap from people who are demanding that I accept their position while failing to engage mine, well, I just don’t like it.
Lots of people want to be an author, with a published book on the shelves and press attention for themselves.
Many fewer people actually want to be writers, staring at a blank computer screen and having to fill it up with insightful and moving words, then structuring those words into products that can be marketed with benefits to people at all levels, from booksellers to publishers and so on.
People want to have written and published, not to do the hard work.
It seems to me that this is also true of leaders.
Lots of people want to be seen as a leader, to be in a position to tell other people what to do, to have the respect and authority that comes with leadership. They want to speak for the group.
Many fewer people actually want to be leaders, trying to find consensus and motivate others to pull together to achieve shared goals and dreams, dealing with the messy, messy truth that every human comes with their own set of challenges, and when put together, these challenges interact in very challenging ways.
I went to a local LGBT business mixer last night. I couldn’t really connect with the femme women I want to pal with, and the gay guys are doing their own thing. That left me with the transpeople. There was a transwoman who told me she bought her first wig at Montgomery Wards. There was an academic transman who had never heard of transsexual separatists. And there was the genderqueer transperson who wants to lead a local activist group.
I told stories, but ended up getting challenged for an possible breach of political correctness. I needed to be stopped the moment it appeared that I might be ranking oppressions, a sin in the world of Women’s Studies where class-based oppression is always, always the theme.
This is the person who, in the first meeting of the coalition, was very, very interested in media training. They want to speak for the trans community, but they don’t want to listen to other transpeople and create inclusive language. Rather, they want others to participate under their own rubric.
How do you explain to someone who wants to be seen as a leader while clinging to their own mindset that leadership either has to be compelling or inclusive? That you either have to be so appealing that people want to line up behind you, or you have to speak in a way that makes others feel that you speak well for them? That leadership, in the end, requires service to a group, not just declaring your own superiority?
Just telling people where they are “wrong” isn’t really engaging. Re-Education may have worked for Stalin, but it took a lot of coercion.
To lead, you have to give people a reason to move their position and come to a shared one, and then to work to create that position in the world.
The easiest way feel superior is to just dismiss anyone who doesn’t agree with you as wrong. And for transpeople, who need to have a strong belief system to justify their non-normative choices in the world, dismissing others, trying to remove their standing to challenge you, is the easy position.
Sadly, though, it’s not the leadership position. To lead, you need power, the power to get others to agree with you and work towards your shared goals. Get them on your side, or get them to a place where your side and their side are the same side. Make them feel empowered, make them feel like investing in you is investing in themselves.
It might seem like a good thing to be king, but to be the leader, you actually have to deliver the goods.
And that is the hard part.
My sister had an art opening last weekend. It was in a gallery that is part of a reopened museum, so local dignitaries came by to participate.
The local congressman saw her work and liked it. He was interrupted for a greet, but came back and followed up, expressing empathy for the challenge of losing two parents. He touched the scarves she printed, and then worried that he shouldn’t touch.
He actually engaged her work, and that felt good to her. That attention was energizing, and it is definitely not something she gets from her long time friend, the balloon clown.
I have been supporting the balloon clown with a new phone for him, a used smartphone on Page Plus. It’s really his first foray into using a computer. He was here Saturday, after I found a billing problem and had support re-initialize the phone, and then updated all the software and changed his voicemail to Google Voice, to give him transcriptions, visual voicemail and more. He failed. Put it back, now.
Watching someone shut down because they decide that they can’t understand what you are saying is one of the most frustrating things that I have to go through. Once, I went to an old guy who decided he couldn’t understand, so I told him a simple story, and he couldn’t get it, but when I told his wife, who knows nothing about computers, the same story, she got it. She wasn’t blocking, hadn’t decided in advance that I was incomprehensible.
Balloon clown runs his phone like he runs his mind. He deletes everything. Actually holding some old mail or texts just seems like a problem, not a way to have bits to connect in the future. He knew he couldn’t ever possibly understand, so why even bother trying?
I remember when I did a procurement for a microcomputer. I had a tech explain to me about the ‘nix implementation on a specific machine, a very technical discussion about how they used vforks rather than forks and so on. I didn’t understand the explanation, but I went back to the committee, warned them not to stop me or ask questions, and just repeated what he had said to me all in a rush. They laughed when I finished, impressed with the performance, and our internals guy said he understood the message. I didn’t understand, but I knew enough to carry it to someone who did.
“What meaning does that hold for you?” a counsellor asked me. “I don’t know,” I replied, “but enough that I brought it back to here.” The only way I survived the boundary breaking hell of taking care of my parents was to commit to working the process, even when I didn’t understand the outcome or like the demands. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I do a lot of off-line processing, just accepting the experience and then holding the data until I have time to work it through.
My big lesson for last Saturday was that I felt empowered when working with someone who worked to open to me, to hear and engage.
My big lesson for this Saturday was that I felt frustrated and enraged when working with someone who worked to close to me, to decide I was just incomprehensible noise.
“You are 4G and I am 1G,” clown told me. Just for the record, he meant I was 4G and he was 1X. Ah, CDMA. Ah, Balloon Clown.
My sister had a pro, one of 435 serving members of the US House Of Representatives, actually engage her art and her life for a while last Friday, and it was memorable and potent. It wasn’t just a rote display, it was real curiosity, and it felt good.
I have been watching the people who put on the StartUp Weekend in the area and how they engaged our project and my sharing.
On the first night, I sat with a college student who was doing marketing. He loved the Twitter.
“Five words,” he told me. “That’s all you have, five words.”
In an information economy, attention is the ultimate currency. We built our pitch to be engaging, so it compelled attention. The judges responded. And I have seen the trailer. The film crew obviously loved our filled whiteboard, packed with lots of bits of data, so many ideas and facts, that we pulled from to build our winning pitch. Attention built from deep thought, not just slogans.
But the organizers in the last week, well, they are more twitter than curiosity. They want what we used to call the “net net,” the quick code that goes bang in people who have decided that awareness is overrated, that attention is not really feasible, that bang is all.
Opening to nuance is just something that most people have decided is not worth their time. Bang or throw it out, and don’t keep around what you can’t instantly understand, even if that lack of understanding is based on your internal blocks to awareness and growth.
I know why I don’t promote this blog, why I have never promoted this blog. This isn’t a bang, bang, tweet, twit kind of thing, it’s much more like a serialized memoir that demands engagement and attention to get how my considered and thoughtful retelling of story illuminates your life and your view of the world. I am, no doubt, a process queen, valuing deep curiosity and profound engagement. I love the taut epigram, sure, but believe the best only come out of hard-won knowledge, not the limits of a 140 character edit box.
Open your mind and heart.
That’s the slogan I value.
I wrote this to a correspondent, and thought I might share it here.
For me, maybe the hardest part about being trans is having to be a woman without ever really having a chance to be a girl.
I watch pop TV shows and I see a few things. First, I see people age, people I first knew as young and who now are old, and I know that process must have happened to me too.
But I also watch the girls and young women on TV play out their own explorations and stories. They learn how to be in relationship, with other women, with men, with everybody.
That exploration seems to be a big void in my life. Gendershift requires a new adolescence, finding new ways to take power in the world, ways that honour both potency and vulnerability, but if you are doing that while people see you as an aging adult rather than as a kid, you lose both the indulgence people have for puppies and the peer group who also need to play at growth, who need to experiment. We also go at the second adolescence without the exuberance and innocence that lets kids try something, fail and bounce right back.
That’s the effect of stigma, of course, freezing us out, and I know it will change as kids get to explore what it means to be a transperson in the world as a primary adolescence, rather than having to do one shtick and then coming back to try and unlearn that and do it all again in a new way.
If you have figured out anything about me, it’s how much I love the voice. I may not be able to shape my body, but I can shape my language, both styles and stories. It’s why, when I meet someone, I will as often as not ask them to tell me a story. It’s really not important what story, because while I do remember details, I’m much more interested in their approach to situations, and to the themes they hold in their life. What delights them? What do they find funny? How do they defend themselves? When we open our mouths we reveal ourselves, not just revealing what we want other people to see, but also revealing much we want to conceal.
What does this mean for my adolescence?
It means I loved speaking in tongues. I would try new voices to say new things. I would experiment with just taking a new approach to the world, having fun with it. After all, the first adolescence is all about play, trying on new looks and attitudes and behaviours to see how they work for us, then taking the best bits to create a new collage of expression. How the hell are we gonna become new if we never try new things?
I used to have dozens of e-mail addresses. I would joke that on the internet you can’t change your shoes, but you can change your address. And these addresses would let me play with different personae to respond to different challenges.
The most important thing to me, even more than seeing how others responded to these voices, was seeing how I responded to these voices. It’s like this note; I am writing to myself as much or more than I am writing to you. I want to hear what I have to say about these challenges, hear my own themes and priorities. I talk about it as “seeing the back of my head,” which one can only do with a mirror, though seeing the inside of my head (and my heart) is more like it.
The point of the old site was explaining myself to other people, back in the day when it was important to know what I thought, to put out a contextual framework for trans. The point of the blog, though, is to explore myself, to say what I need to say. It’s my art, my Greer Lankton statement: “It’s All About Me, Not You.” That’s why I never put tags on it, never tried to follow a pre-defined structure to communicate what I thought I wanted to say. I just said and that’s it. Very Julia Cameron “The Artists Way” kind of stuff.
Now, I had fun with the voices. I had a number of runs on Usenet. Jim Fouratt went through this whole thing of negating transpeople because they didn’t stand up as gender variant and instead wanted surgery as a cure, so I played with that. By the end, with The Golden Penis I was challenging the whole transsexual separatist mindset that was a big thing in 2000. People lashed out horribly, but my underlying message was clear: If you don’t want to be one of the transpeople who are seen like that, well, don’t act like that.
That kind of play and rehearsal was really important to me, even if I would have rather been able to play in character. I just didn’t have the space locally
I’ll attach something from February 1993 about one version of this play that I only touched a tiny bit. (The editor of the local newsletter boggled, as it was the first FAQ style piece they had ever seen. The style wasn’t common even then.)
So, how do you play? How do you pull on a new experience and find a bit more of yourself?
So the local Trans Advocacy group is putting together a survey to determine what the needs of transpeople in the area are. Good on them.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of surveys. To try and quantify things that aren’t easily quantifiable, like quality of life for transpeople, or even just transpeople themselves, well, that’s hard. I always make the point that while it’s easy to reduce a population to statistics, it’s impossible to then “rehydrate” those statistics to say anything about individuals. For example, we can determine that statistically, males are taller than females, but we all know male bodied people who are around five feet tall and female bodied people who are over six feet.
Still, surveys have their place, no doubt.
The question that got me, though, is this one:
In order of priority, what do you think should be the First priority for group resources?
__ Legislative advocacy
__ Other political/legal advocacy
__ Social Gatherings
__ Collaborative events with other LGBT organizations and/or non-profit organizations
__ Other (please list) ____________________________________
Now, I know I am old, but when I think back to other civil rights movements, like the struggle against racism, or the women’s movement, or even gay liberation, there was one requirement that came before all the action.
First, there was consciousness raising. Good old CR. We needed to understand our struggle, what we wanted, what we needed, what our challenges are before we started moving. We had to create a shared consciousness, first within the group and then amongst our allies.
To me, this is the fundamental work. It’s one reason I did activism even when I knew the outcome was doubtful, because I knew that working together with other transpeople, with different histories, different ethnicity, different class experiences and even more differences was going to help me raise my consciousness and understanding of what we shared, and what made us different. I had to get comfortable with fighting for the rights of people who were making choices I would never make in my life. I needed to find common ground and solidarity with others who weren’t really like me but with whom I shared a struggle.
Startup Weekend, caring for my parents, all that, is about one thing to me: working the process. And that means that the priority has to be the empowerment that comes from consciousness raising, from sharing enlightenment, no matter what the ostensible goal of the group might be. Deeper understanding isn’t just a nice by-product of working together, rather working together has the basic goal of developing deeper understanding. And developing that deeper understanding creates empathy and empowerment, the strength of being heard and affirmed, the empowerment of being supported in creating change.
My response to the first public meeting of this group was how much the stories and lives of transgender people seemed put to the background to create goals and consensus. Though the room was full, I didn’t feel like many transpeople were actually present. Now, I know that there is only so much you can do in a two-hour business meeting, but my suggestion to create forums where people could share their stories, a technique I had seen motivate communities in the past, or my suggestion to use visibility to turn public events into trans-positive spaces were passed over quickly.
Transpeople are doing CR work every time they are visible in the world. We teach about what being trans is, what it looks like, what it means. But so few of us have any shared vision of trans, beyond our own very real and very present struggles. Few shape their own narratives to be inclusive and expansive, so that we can fit many diverse expressions of trans under the same umbrellas.
I know there is work to be done. And I know that doing work together creates shared understanding.
I just think the fundamental work is consciousness raising, and the work for specific change comes out of that growth.
One of the big differences between our pitch and the others at Startup Weekend was that ours contained considered and conscious performance.
While I was at the centre of that performance with a minute and a half script as Caroline, two other teammates had written their performance as script, and Chris had included deliberate transitions in his segment.
That performance resonated with the judges, and we know that because of their praise of my voice.
I watched the What Not To Wear episode where they helped a transwoman, and Clinton got it. “For other women, bad fashion choices are just silly, but for you they can leave you exposed.”
What does this mean? It means that our performance has to be more considered and conscious than those who are normative, because failing has a greater set of risks for us.
It is very tempting to see transgender expression as a kind of negative expression, with a goal of erasing everything that will twig our status as non-normative. This is the underlying idea behind trans as concealment. “I was always a woman, always female, but with a birth defect, and anyone who would point out a birth defect is just a rude and horrible person. ”
TBB, who worked for a long while in Trindad, CO, sometimes chuckle about the transwomen who believe that genital reconstruction surgery will change everything, that erasing the penis will somehow change who you are. Do they believe that somehow, problems on the flight into Trinidad will magically disappear on the flight home? Sure, GRS may make you feel more congruent, and it may give you confidence to commit to change, but that simple erasure doesn’t change you.
TBB says the best part of her surgery was that it finally silenced family members who kept telling her to give up gender transition and go back to making her feminine nature invisible. But she also says that the best part of her transition was when she gave up trying to conceal her biology and her history, and finally opened up about herself, which helped all of her open up. “People wouldn’t want me as a manager before, because I was a bit volatile,” she told me, “but now I am centred in my authenticity, they tend to trust me more.”
This was a hard lesson for her to learn. She did have friends who told her, for example, that she couldn’t be seen with other transwomen, because now she was a woman and needed people to see her as that. This is an outgrowth of the truth that it is always easier to pass as being born female if you stay away from other transwomen, because one being read tends to get everyone read. Of course, this is also a component of stigma that stopped transwomen from gathering, organizing and supporting each other, because if we fear that others will expose us, we will lose our power to connect to change the world to make it easier for kids like us to find healthy expression.
When Dr. Pickering at a local college wanted to help transwomen find their voices, he initially wanted to do what they asked him to do: find a voice that was passable as that of one who went through puberty as a female. Of course, that was the imagined goal, to make the truth of history and biology invisible, to erase what people found as noise so the message was easier to get out.
I told him, though, that was a futile quest. When the goal is passing, then being read is failure, and failure disempowers people. Each one of us has a “passing distance,” where if you get close enough our biology and history is visible, and, really, we want that to be true. We want to be able to share our story and our experiences, although, as gay and lesbian people can do, it would be easier if we could only share them when we wanted to and not with every yahoo at the mall. For many transwomen who went through puberty as a male, though, our bodies can’t lie, and our bones, our adams apple and other bits make our passing distance much greater than we would wish.
What does that mean?
To me, if my trans expression can’t be all about concealing my history as being born male and being raised as a man, it instead has to be about revealing inner truth in the world with confidence and grace.
That may not be what I want, but as my mother in the sky keeps hitting me over the head to learn, a life full of bitterness about what should have happened, about how people failed us, about pain and sorrow, is a life that doesn’t empower anyone to be the best that they can be. That pissed me off, too, but, well, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can change and the wisdom to know the difference.
What did that mean for me in the pitch session on Sunday night? It meant that I had a lot more experience with conscious and considered performance than the majority of participants who never had to consider how they could communicate themselves in a way past the conventional and routine.
That performance gave us a leg up in the competition. And it works other places too. Bereavement counsellor said yesterday “I feel like I was there. You tell the story of that weekend so well. But then again, you know that.”
I don’t always know that. I need to remember my considered and conscious performative exposition that gives me a special place in the world too, at least when I use my experience to powerfully express my own vision of the world. I need to remember that my voice can resonate with people, just like it resonated with the judges, as long as I stay centred in my hard won confidence and truth.
Which, I admit, is easier said than done.
“You two were gone for the evening,” said one of my teammates at Startup Weekend, “and a coach came by, so we did the pitch. We agreed that somehow, it didn’t come out as well as when you or Chris did it.”
The essential human skill is communication. Language is the greatest gift your parents give you beyond life itself, and language is something we continue to learn all life long. Anytime two or more humans want to do something together, something beyond the capacity of a single individual, language is required. And even when we work alone, we structure our understanding by putting it into language in our head, using language as a storage medium for things that aren’t just kinetic.
This weekend, language was the key to everything that happened at Startup Weekend. Nothing could have happened without it.
To me, that came down to two areas of skills.
The first is a skill in consuming language. How quickly and efficiently can you process meaning out of the symbols you are given? Can you juggle lots of factors, from vocabulary, to context, to tone of voice, to body and facial expression, to references to extract meaning?
A huge part of consuming language is being able to hold a model of another person inside ourselves that we can use to determine not just what we would mean by their communication, but rather what they actually mean, what they are trying to communicate. Communications that we don’t grasp are easy to discard as just noise or filler, but discarding them means we can never extract information that we don’t already expect to hear. It is the ability to process even the bits that seem garbled at first that allows us to really get deep meaning and communicate effectively.
The second skill area, of course, is producing language. How can you use symbols and other tools to transmit meaning to another person?
It just makes sense that the better you are at consuming language the better you are at understanding language, then the better you are a producing effective language. Simply put, you have to be a good listener before you can be a good talker.
I know I was born with gifts that help me communicate. I was identifying specific voices on the radio by the age of two, and was reading Time magazine by the age of four.
But my joy always is consuming language. It’s one reason I have a penchant for British media, since language over there is valued down to local colloquialisms and literary references in a way that America seems to want to homogenize or to dumb down. I love hearing a new construction, a new phrasing, because the more vivid and textured the language I consume, the more vivid and textured is the language I can produce. I know that people who don’t always stretch their range of understanding limit themselves in their communication skills.
I often save language for later, offline processing, just to try to extract more meaning from it. This process, consuming at a slower speed, seems to me to be a key technique to get better at processing language in real time, as it happens. It can be amazing to go back and reread something you read in the past to see what meaning it holds for you now, how you can either have a deeper understanding of the author’s meaning, or how your own understanding of the meaning can be affected by your new experience or attitude.
Part of my history of writing and speaking in voices is connected to this drive. I understand how messages are related to voice, and when I want to communicate something, a voice can help do it quickly and well. Playing with different voices lets me stretch and extend my communication, and more than that, it’s wicked fun.
The biggest reason Chris and I could mentally pivot so quickly this weekend is because we listen in high definition. That means we not only were quickly able to squeeze meaning out of communications, but also that we had been doing it all our lives so we had a broad and deep base of understanding and context to draw from to create connections.
And because we listen in high definition, that also means we could speak in high definition. We knew how to create language quickly and elegantly, and we also knew how to monitor our audience to adapt the communication to heighten their intake of meaning.
I don’t know how to teach people richer skills to extract meaning, which means richer skills to encode meaning, in a plain and simple way. Practice, practice, practice is the only solution I can think of.
I do know that I pack my communication with meaning. I want high resolution communication, so I use high bandwidth. Every word has meaning to me, and I will often go back and change just one word or two to better convey meaning.
I know that this is sometimes a pointless effort, for as Anais Nin said, we don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are. The only meaning most people can apply to my words is meaning that they already understand, just dismissing what they don’t understand as noise. They don’t want to see the world through my eyes to give them a broader perspective in their own life, rather they just want their prejudices and expectations fed.
To communicate better, we have to listen better. And, at least to me, that means listening to people, ideas and voices that we don’t usually hear. We have to get beyond the parochial to find the universal, have to stretch our understanding to better communicate ourselves.
And communication seems like the fundamental skill, and one well worth valuing and investing in.
But then again, I love words and stories.
At the Living With Loss group last night, we were asked to consider what we would wish for others who are grieving, what blessing we would make to them.
Peace seemed to be the official answer, but I went in a different way.
Patience I would bless them with if I could, yes, because time is required to gain context.
But my blessing? L’Chaim. To Life.
It is so easy to get fogged by death, to focus on loss.
But each of our loved ones had a life that had value. And to us, they lived a life that has value, because we still carry it with us. We carry it with us in the memories of their vitality, and we carry it with us in the lessons of their death. They touched people, and we know that profoundly because they touched us.
And, lest we forget, we have a life, still. We have the power to wake up and to feel the sunshine and to hug people and do great things and to become newer.
Their life has value and so does ours, and finding a way to hold on to that even in the midst of enormous grief seems vital. I know it was something my mother could not do after my father died.
If you can only say one prayer, “Thank You” will suffice. Gratitude, for lives that have been lived, gratitude for lives we still live is the foundation of moving forward, at least to me.
But in the Living With Loss group, well, this is hard stuff to say out loud, because for most it is a place where they can hold onto their grief. It’s very important to have a place where people can go and gather in the shared understanding of loss, since so much of this culture creates a cultured ignorance, a cultured denial of loss. People do need safe space to share their despair and desolation, no doubt. But any group that doesn’t value the process of growing through loss, doesn’t hold a glint of sunshine for the future, doesn’t honour life as well as death, well, that feels too constrained and claustrophobic for me.
If the experience of death doesn’t help us value the experience of life, what else can it give us?
There didn’t feel like there was space to talk about engaging life last night, to say, with meaning, L’Chaim! There felt like a need to venerate loss, to be silent in the face of others continuing grief, even as they resisted the lessons that loss can teach us about valuing life.
Which is why I don’t think I’ll go to Living With Loss (Imagine! Living in the title!) again.
Bless them all.
“When you unlock your heart, you unlock everything,” TBB wants to tell me.
Her experience is that the more authentic she became, the more she stopped blocking her trans nature, the more she blossomed and became seen as authentic, the more she was able to be present, and the better she got at life. The ultimate tranny operation has always been the toughest: pulling the stick out of your own bum, letting go and trusting that you can flow free.
I went to the first day of Startup Weekend hiding in plain sight, in my androgynous jeans and polo, no polish to my appearance. “Why don’t you have a nametag?” someone asked. “Lack of buy in,” I replied.
I went for a simple reason. I wanted to see if I was still smart. A decade of being a full time caregiver to my parents, which ended a few months ago with their deaths, took a lot out of me. I may have been a smart person who did startups in my prime, but I felt way past that prime now.
I also knew that I like being around smart people with a short thinking radius. My brain fires fast, and having people who can keep up with the twists and turns of a sharp conversation lets me feel alive.
The best startup businesses have one thing in common: they are empowering, pulling the best from each member of the team to create the best outcomes possible. Every scrap of energy that people can deliver needs to be valued, encouraging more and deeper contributions to the shared goal. It is that very feeling of being used well that lets you wake up invigorated, ready to come back the next day and offer more. Startups demand diversity, because the more people bring to the team through their unique skills and viewpoint, the stronger the shared effort is. The solutions just get more considered and more creative.
From his death bed, my father’s instructions were clear. “You have spoken for your mother. You have spoken for me. But now you have to speak for yourself.” That was his message, though his actual words were more strained.
Could I trust my voice? I have never had a problem trusting my relationship to my creator, my mother in the sky, but my relationship to others, well, that has always been tougher. How could they see past their prejudices and expectations to see who I knew myself to be?
That’s why I was in mufti that first night. From the start, though, I could keep up conversations, with a salesman, a student, with the techie from Microsoft.
I got on a team about an app that would help enforce medication compliance, especially in seniors. From the brainstorming session the first night, we realized that validating compliance was too big a hurdle to handle without dedicated hardware, which was beyond our scope. We went to a phone based reminder system, but the problem was how to avoid the clinical coldness of robo-calls.
It was my suggestion that we make the calls entertaining. I gave examples by doing some of the Jonathan Winters style characters that have always been a part of me. And the idea was born.
That night, I tossed and turned in bed, my mind racing. So much to process.
But I had the product concept by the morning. Caroline Calls, an engaging radio style reminder service for seniors and the carers who love them. Caroline was at the center of the brand, a friend on the phone, whose automated calls would contain entertaining content and valuable reminders. Caroline was a gracious and thoughtful caregiver, who called to help your parents, funny and concerned.
I pitched the concept the next morning — “I always feel better when Caroline Calls!” — and the team bought it without question.
The young programmer and the advertising guy had other obligations, so we were down to myself, Tom, a blue-collar retiree who liked to watch Shark Tank and imagine himself having a hit product, Avani, the college student who had the first idea, Marc, who knew he didn’t want to sell insurance all his life, and Chris, a savvy guy who had done startups and understood the process well.
Since Chris and I had the experience, we lead the process, and since we both understood the culture of startups, we were collaborative from the beginning. From the first night we knew we could easily spark off each other, easily keep up with each others pivots, and that meant we knew the other had our back, which is a key to being able to take the leaps required to get as far as possible. We both knew technology well enough, both had the scars of failed startups. We would toss things back and forth, adding value in the handoffs, creating a kind of mind meld to hold a shared vision, which we shaped in our own ways.
As we went through the day, Marc and Avani kept up with the process of creating brand, product, and business plan, learning quickly.
Avani joked that she tought of Caroline as Mrs. Doubtfire, and I suggested we get Chris a wig for the pitch. “No,” she answered. “You should be Caroline. You have all the voices.” I just mumbled “It’s possible.”
Coaches came through all day, and we trade off going through the idea for them, answering questions and developing the ideas. Avani and Marc would take the market research, Chris the business plan, and I had the brand and product piece. Our favourite coach was the product manager, because he got the whole picture fast, reminding me why I had become a product manager in a past life. He validated what we told Marc, that it wasn’t following the rules that got the win, it was doing it the best way while ticking the boxes.
It’s really easy to get down into the details and lose the big picture, which loses everything. I realized that was the problem with so many support relationships, that rather than recontextualizing and seeing the forest, they looked at details, becoming obsessed with trees. For me, this weekend had to be about seeing the big view once again, the possibilities I hold, not the picky bits, because it is only big connection that can lift us out of the mud.
One of the coaches, a mature plus-size woman, seized on the market, but to her the key was to use the portal to support caregivers. She had to deal with this with her mother, and she needed someplace to turn for information and energy to take care of her failing parent. Having been through many caregiver support groups, I saw the need, and how Caroline’s voice could reach out to assist carers watching their loved and loving parents decline.
It was clear that the character of Caroline was at the center of our product and our brand, and if we wanted to be at all successful, she had to be present in our pitch. Chris offered to have his wife, who does voiceovers, record a script, but that was a lift and not as present as we could be.
The product & branding piece was my responsibility, and I promised I would handle it. Somehow.
I knew why I wanted to remain somewhat hidden when I came to this event. It was because I knew I would need to use my voice, and I was afraid I would feel inhibited and constrained if I felt the need to be at all convincing as a woman. My voice was tenuous enough that first night, and if I throttled myself even more, well, that wouldn’t be good. I had spoken for my parents for a decade. Could I really speak for me?
That night was a struggle. I knew that I had to bring Caroline to the pitch. I knew I could do that. I also knew I had to get past my damn self to do it, which was possible, but not at all easy. Would these people who knew me from a day and a half of work know me when I showed my prettiest face?
In the end, it was musical theatre that helped me. I was going through some Jinkx Monsoon videos and found her performance of “Show Off” from “The Drowsy Chaperone,” an energetic number I loved since I heard Sutton Foster’s Broadway version. And Deborah Lippmann said that when I had a chance, “I Hope You Dance,” which had caught me before the weekend. So even though it had been almost a month since I hauled myself out with my best face on, I knew I had to do it. I put on a black dress, a pair of my mother’s shoulder pads, my big shaman dichroic medallion, grey burnout velvet scarf, black tights and fake uggs and got in the car.
I pulled in and parked right next to my team member Marc, who had also just arrived. A guy’s guy, I decided not to engage him in the parking lot, but to get some breath first.
I entered the classroom we had claimed as ours and he didn’t recognize me. Until he did. We chatted a bit, him admiring my courage.
“You know,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if I liked you. But now I know. I do.” Somehow, looking like a woman snapped things into focus for him, and suddenly I made sense.
“This is an important part of me,” I told everyone. They got it quickly. This wasn’t an act I put on overnight.
“I realized that Caroline was about me,” I told Chris.
“Yeah,” he replied. “That was pretty obvious yesterday.”
I had been giving Caroline the power of voice. Now I could also give her presence. And to the team, it just made sense.
We went through the day, and while there were times I would just sit in the back and be silent — “Are you a member of this team?” the organizer asked — I did find my voice. One of the coaches, the mature plus sized woman came back through and afterwards Avani asked if I noticed. “Yes,” I said, “she was checking me out.” I was in her zone, and therefore possible competition.
The only creepy time came when the ad-man dropped back in. He had told his friend who did voiceovers about my idea on Friday night, and he came up with a minute call from Lieutenant Columbo that was where we were when he left, but we had come so far from. “I like your voices more,” Chris said. “They are much more playful.”
He asked about the guy with the grey pony tail. My team caught my eye, but I said nothing. When he got it, got a bit wild, coming back to have his picture taken with me, but feeling the need to pound hard on my back to prove he wasn’t gay. I’ve watched Mad Men, and know that I’m not the first woman to have to tolerate a creepy ad guy. One of the challenges of internalized phobia is that people often feel the need to destroy what attracts them, so we need to know that the more they pound us the more attracted they are.
The team had my back, even if they weren’t quite sure how. They knew that I had brought Caroline and that she was the heart of the product. They knew I brought the heart.
The film crew came by while I was out of the room. I stayed out until they left. They came back in and asked for a representative to speak to the camera. I looked for someone to volunteer, and when someone else did, they had to be more clear. “We want you,” he said, pointing at me. “I’m not really interested, thanks,” I told him.
“They figured out that I am different,” I told the team as he left, and they understood my choice not to be the curiosity, just to be another team member.
We finished the presentation on schedule, even as everyone around us was running late and puffing hard. Some of the coaches thought we should have more panic, as it showed commitment, but we replaced that with working smart and honouring family, so Chris could go back to spend time with his family as they stayed at his parents house, and Marc did the same. We knew success is as much about knowing what to let go of, knowing what you say “no” to, as it is about sweating. Diluting your energy is not a way to succeed, but focus is.
We were the seventh to present out of ten, and our steady pace meant that we had lots of time to sit in the back of the hall and wait. To me, that meant I had lots of time to question my voice. Could I carry this off?
We got our shot and Chris started the pitch, managing our slides from his laptop. Avani talked about the market and Marc talked about the competition, and then he introduced Caroline, our product, our brand.
I stepped forward and started the script. Kate Bornstein has said that as a transwoman, people don’t immediately hear her, because they have to get over the shock. Would that be a problem for me?
I couldn’t worry about that. I only had a minute and thirty seconds in our five minute presentation to sell the product. Just step up, let the energy loose and do it. Boom.
Chris had focused on the slides, not the script, so he needed a cue to remember the clock, but we finished big and stepped to the microphone.
There were a panel of three judges who would question us, two women and a man.
The first thing the venture capital gal from New York said was “It’s so refreshing to see a pitch about a market for maturing people.” Then she followed with a note directly to me. “I love your voice! It’s great!”
I kept breathing.
We answered the questions the way we did everything, as a team with everyone pitching in. Many teams didn’t do that, leaving one or two spokespeople, but we knew that startups have to be about empowering people to bring it, and we did. Our presentation was sharp and energetic.
We waited for the results. One guy congratulated me, but I didn’t engage him as much as I should. And the salesman I sat with on Friday night came to congratulate me, wanting to talk about the product, not about my difference. Amazing.
The top two teams won with ideas their originators had brought to the event, both twists to enter existing markets.
We had nothing like that, coming to the weekend bare and going in a completely oddball direction.
And we came in third out of ten. We made the podium, as Marc said.
Marc took the lead when we came onto the stage. He went to shake hands with the judges, so I followed him.
As I greeted them, now both women said to me, very clearly, “I love your voice.”
I felt blown away by the universe, but kept standing. I even posed for pictures, not something a woman of size, let alone a transwoman of size does easily.
My voice resonated with these smart, successful, mature women. And my voice sold the product, this idea of a wise, kind, funny woman who helps with education, support and reminders.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I went to Startup Weekend. Other people may have been committed to products, but my only commitment was to the process, to follow it where it led.
And, for me anyway, it lead to me.
I have known for some time that my challenge is to become product, to get out there as an expert, a destination, a guru. I just wasn’t sure that product was going to connect with anyone.
It connected with my team, though. It connected with the judges. I became present, unlocked my heart and raised my voice and I got it affirmed, big time.
I know that whatever anyone does, they bring themselves to it. The themes in their life thread through everything they do, from art to relationships to life. I just couldn’t imagine how my themes would play out in this business oriented event.
The ethos, the culture, creates the opportunities. And this weekend, I lead creation of a micro culture, which left everyone in the room feeling smarter and more empowered. That is possible.
I called TBB to tell her the story. “You talked for ten minutes straight,” she told me. “You haven’t done that for years! You sound so happy!”
I called my overnight post “Super Collider” because what I feel is energy, which is better than happiness, at least for a compulsively thoughtful person like me, who can often feel isolated and get bogged down in analysis paralysis. And my title for this one was “Higgs Boson,” to review what was released in me by that energy. As I look at the New York Times website in this moment, their headline is “Chasing The Higgs.” More synchronicity?
So many things in my life, from the connection of the church around the death of my parents to a local misusing my address to sign up for Facebook seem like moments of synchronicity, pulses of energy to move me forward.
When you unlock your heart, you unlock everything.
And what I might have unlocked is the ability to trust that my own voice is engaging and compelling in the world, even as others tell me all the little reasons it will just create noise.
Unlocking my voice, knowing people can like and value it without getting bogged down, well, who knows where that will take me?
I just, I guess, have to commit to the process.
Startup Weekend. A standardized experiential learning process that encourages entrepreneurship. One is happening around here, so I struggle and make it, though drab.
An idea for an app that enforces pill taking for aging boomers is transformed — by me — to a radio show on your phone, hosted by your friend Caroline, who helps remind you.
One smart guy across the way just keeps up with me, and we hand off, leading the project to one that a smart coach says is the best developed and considered of the seven running.
And the female college student who had the original idea says she sees Caroline as Mrs. Doubtfire and we need to bring her to life. And I should play her. She sees something and it’s appealing. It’s a joke to her, but I just mumble “It’s possible.”
It’s clear that I hold the soul of the project, the energy of the idea. It’s my idea, anyway. What does that mean?
A coach who looks most like me, a larger woman who favours hip black outfits comes in and says the idea is too small, that she had an aging mother and she needed help with the whole megilla, and why can’t we do a full service shop where she could get all she needs to help with caregiving? She would pay, she would pay big.
I come back to the house and hear that my aunt died the day before and I am again reminded life is short.
And I struggle with the whole idea of “being” Caroline today for the pitch.
I record a long note to TBB to work out my ideas. I tell her how I feel sick, how this has limits, all that. How do I bring any energy in the context of a tight five minute business pitch where lots of technical questions have to be answered.
And then, I say, well, let’s just try. So I throw on a a wig and one of my favourite dresses and scarves and suddenly, in the mirror, I see that it really isn’t that hard for me to manifest.
I go to the computer and potz with Tumblr, looking at the new Jerrick Hoffer/Jinkx Monsoon stuff. She’s on Drag Race this season and is hot right now. I actually wrote for IFGE Tapestry and Holly’s Genderquest as Jinx Slidell when I wanted a pen name.
And I find new YouTube uploads of performances of Jinkx from 2010 at Sylvia Stayfomore’s Bacon Strip. So I download some, and then go back. One looks interesting, in black and white
And it’s Jinkx doing “I Don’t Want To Show Off” from “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which Sutton Foster did on Broadway, and which I love, love love. It’s a song about saying small and manifesting big, big as you bloody well can. Energy everywhere.
And I’m in my dress and scarf and my heart is pounding and I feel the energy.
And I remember being told at a big product launch by the pro from Regis McKenna, that if anyone was going to make it fly, it was going to be me.
An energetic feminine persona with Robin Williams energy, has a radio show and is a friend and helps you and your parents with caregiving.
Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang.
I wrote down the presentation in the voice bit to TBB because while I knew I could play Caroline — play Callan — I knew that this presentation, this audience offered little time to bring the energy. Five minutes, five people who want to speak, tough, even though I know that my creation of character is at the heart of the brand, at the heart of the pitch, at the heart of the buy in.
Now it’s 6:30 AM, and the sessions start at 9, with a run through at 3 and pitches at 5
And I have to understand what.
So, I guess I should play “Show Off” again, either version, or both.
And see what I can take from this damn damn damn
…It’s like the joke about the man who has been notified that his house is going to be flooded and he needs to get out of the house. He says no I don’t have to, God is going to take care of me. Then the flood starts to rise and a sheriff comes along and tells him to get out. The man says no, God is going to save me. So, the floods continue to rise, and he climbs on top of the house. A boat comes along and he’s told to climb into the boat. He says, no, no , God is going to save me. Finally, a helicopter comes along and they lower the net to rescue him. The man says, no, no, God is going to save me! Well, the man drowns and goes to heaven. When he gets to heaven he says to God, “why didn’t you save me?” God says, “I sent the sheriff, I sent a boat, I sent a helicopter, what more did you want me to do?”