People Like Me

I have published at least one post everyday in May.

I have the sense that June is going to be different.

I’m just going to clear out my last post.

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Imagine you have the best pot of chocolate you have ever eaten on the left bank of the Seine.

It’s so dark and rich, you let it melt in your mouth because you can taste the flavor of roast hazelnuts and cassis melt on your tongue with a sensual pleasure unlike anything you have ever experienced.   You understand why people line up to pay six euros for this tiny cup, because it is like nothing else you have ever experienced.

And you’re back in the states, trying to tell people about this incredible, transformative confection.   You use all the words you can find to convey the experience of consuming it, the range of delight, the play of flavours, the astounding texture, the freshness and the richness.    You really want to share this with a friend.

They listen to your description and then they reply.

“Yeah,” they say.  “I like chocolate pudding too.”

And you are deflated.

It’s not their fault, you understand.  After all, they only have their experience as reference, and they really tried to go to an experience as close as they can get to what you are describing.    Their frame of reference is their frame of reference, and that’s all they can bring.

But you want to share, need to share.  And they just aren’t in a place where they can get it.

Shared experience brings shared understanding, brings shared intimacy.  That’s why people who have been together for years have such a close relationship, be they siblings, partners or even just work mates.

In our culture, there is some kind of shared experience of being a woman.   I see it when I watch Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central.   It’s about the experience of being one of the girls and being in relationship with the boys.     Even though every woman approaches her own role uniquely, she can understand the shared experience of being a girl in school, at a party, in the workplace, whatever.    Even though I haven’t had those experiences, I have worked hard to engage and respect those shared experiences by engaging the narratives of other women, building an understanding as any immigrant builds an understanding of their new land.

The experience of being trans in the world, though, well, in my experience it can only be shared with those who have actually eaten that particular pot of chocolate.

In other words, I need to share it with people like me, because only people like me have experience with what I am trying to convey, only people like me can connect with the intensity and challenge of the experience.   I certainly have run though words to try and express the experience in the best way I can, probably millions of words in the last twenty-five years, but no amount of words can ever convey the experience to someone whose best possibility is to assume that my experience must be like their experience.

This failure of shared experience is a continuing struggle for me, the thing which keeps me lonely and isolated.  If I don’t believe we can find shared experience to connect with, why try anyway?

The traditional trans solution to this is simple.  It’s to talk about trans using the common shared experience that already exists, to use existing concepts and tropes to express our experience.

If I could have expressed my experience, thoughts and emotions with conventional language, I wouldn’t have had the kind of struggle I have had in my life.  It’s the problem of the return of the gift; if they wanted it here, they would have it already.

I know that we are expanding the shared experience.  Gay men and lesbians can be visible today in a way that they never were in the past because we have added shared language and experience to the culture that allows them to express their own meaning.   But that language only evolved because they needed to create their own language with people like them, needed to share experiences with others like them, and then that language could become more mainstream.

And I know I have a teeny-tiny little piece of that work to do.

But I also know that I need to share with people who understand my experience in a shared way if I want to continue to extend my own expression.

I am awfully good at being an audience for other people, using my bank of personal experience and ingested narrative to really hear and reflect their stories in ways that help them understand and own them.

But finding a place to share the depth of my experience, well, that often seems as elusive as the ability to describe that divine pot of chocolate.

Faith and/or Belief

It has been made clear to me that I don’t understand faith.

I don’t understand how to defend and protect identity terms that others consider valued and sacred.    I am willing to challenge and move beyond identities that others hold as sacred, no matter how much they cover a multitude of sins.

T.M. Luhrmann has an essay in the New York Times that says Belief Is the Least Part of Faith.  In it, Luhrmann makes the point that people who hold faith as an intellectual exercise miss the point of how faith operates in many churches.

In researching her book When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God she came to the understanding that the only way to understand those church goers is to “sidestep the problem of belief.”   In other words, parishioners often attend a church not because of the doctrinal beliefs the church holds, but because of the experience of being in that church.  To understand the behaviour, you have to sidestep the belief, this anthropologist tells us.

I can’t disagree with her assessment of why people go to churches.  It is the experience of what faith delivers to them that makes it sacred and powerful.

But neither can I “sidestep the problem of belief  — and the related politics” as she suggests.

If I can’t challenge the beliefs held by a church because those beliefs are not really the essence of the experience of faith for many of the parishioners — notice that in this model I am not allowed to call them believers — then those beliefs become unchallenged.

I am a theologian, dammit, not an anthropologist.  And that means I explore belief.

Even if those beliefs are not at the core of faith for many people who attend the church, they are at the core of the church.

I have no problem acknowledging the experience of faith, the quest for some kind of experience of solace and empowerment.   And I understand that for many, belief structures are not only not the core of their faith, but are often irrelevant to it.

I just have a huge problem with saying that experience means that belief cannot be questioned or challenged.

No sidestep for me.

I know that I make some upset by questioning belief structures that have the same name as the faith they hold so close and so dear.  They want me to know that their faith isn’t about belief, it is about something much more powerful and more present to them.  It is about key experiences and terms in their life that have saved and empowered them, made them closer to the experience of joy, as Luhrmann says.  Those need to be held sacred, they say, for themselves and for the others who can be saved by them.

But dammit, I’m a theologian.

I acknowledge and respect the experience of faith beyond belief.

But that faith can’t put belief structures beyond discussion, no matter how sacred they are to any individual.

Because my faith is in the question of belief, and how it informs and transforms our own stories.

I’m a theologian, dammit.

Andrea Adams

I went to a party last night.   It was a group of LGBT people and their allies gathered together at a bar in Hometown, U.S.A.

I went because the guest of honour was a transwoman, Andrea Adams.   It was her birthday.

And they wanted to celebrate her because she built a bridge.  The Bridge, actually, and as an organization it made a difference to their lives.

As Andrea was getting her own social services credentials and funding sources, she had a stroke.   And she has been sick again since.

I haven’t seen her since before all this happened, many years ago.  I had my own family to care for.

Her partner rolled her into the bar last night, and she sat, looking broken and hurting.  She smiled when she saw me, remembering me, and that was good.

I sat next to her, even as she had her first sip of wine and then spat up, requiring her partner — they have been together since they were both gay men — to get towels to clean it up.  Her right hand wasn’t working, and she was very difficult to listen to.

She felt sad that she couldn’t remember much about me, that there was so much that was missing from her life.  I held her hand and stroked her back as members of the crowd, a group that had come together because of her efforts, came over to tell her how much of a difference she had made.

She found a way to tell what she wanted me to do:   Take care of yourself, she told me, and value every day.

Her words reminded me of my father on his deathbed, telling me that I had spoken well for him and my mother, but now it was time to speak for me.

We have our heroes in the trans communities, the people who got out there and made a difference.   They weren’t big deals in big ways, but people who just reached out past  the boundaries of gender and identity to build bridges and make community.

Andrea is one of those people.  And the people she brought together gathered to celebrate her birthday last night.

She left early last night.

But she left a legacy and lots of good work for the rest of us to do.

Thank you, Andrea.

Gender Play

Gender Play.

That’s how I identified when I came out.

I knew I wasn’t a transsexual with an urgent need to change my body.  I had figured out the limits of what we could do with a male body already, so I knew there was no way I could get pregnant or change my big bones.   Remember, I read Harry Benjamin’s The Transsexual Phenomenon when I was 17.  There wasn’t going to be any magic sex change for me.

I knew I wasn’t a transvestite in the Prince school.   I knew I didn’t want a Second Self.   I was working on integrated software at the time, and integrated was what I wanted to be.  Remember, I first heard Virginia Prince on the radio when I was 14.   I knew a split life wasn’t going to work for me.

So I went to my first gender group meeting with a spirit of gender play.   My goal was to become more open to expressing the feminine part of me, to find some way to get more in balance.

I wore what might be called gender fuck or gender queer today.   I didn’t shave my chest, didn’t try to pass as female.   And when people asked my name, I gave them the name my parents gave me.   I was a guy, a guy in a dress.

To me, it was gender play.  It was exploration, fun.   My goal was to  take the next step in my gender journey and see if being a guy who can express feminine was good for me.

In the end, it turns out it wasn’t.  I remember steps along the way, like the first time my then partner saw that the woman part of me was real.  That was the end of that relationship, though it took awhile.

Or when my name came to me, after months of scribbles.  Callan was deliberately gender neutral.   But the first time I used it was in 1993 at Southern Comfort Conference, when I met TBB and she pulled me on stage.  In fact, in the first session I attended, one of the three panellists was there when I first came out as gender player, and I identified me to the audience as guy, guy-in-a-dress.

She told me later that I had helped her understanding of gender some, because I refused to play into the binary.    The binary of man/woman, sure, but also the binary of TV/TS.   I opened her eyes to more possibility.

When I first met Kate Bornstein after doing my big speech at IFGE 1995, she asked me when I was going to have surgery.  When I said that I didn’t think I would have surgery, she started talking about Miss Vera’s Academy for Crossdressers.  I told her that I didn’t think that would fit, either.     The Gender Outlaw, whose book I gulped down in the parking lot of the bookstore right after my order came in, still believed in the TV/TS duality.   Since my speech had called for the end of the Benjamin/Prince models, I didn’t.

Miqqui Gilbert, who I helped with a nail polish stain at her first conference, once called me a crossdresser when she explained of my idea of “crossdresser years,” the idea that the more out you are, the faster you grow and develop.   I wrote and told her that I never identified as a crossdresser, and she went off about being sick of people and identity politics.  Well, in this case it was she who assigned me an identity, who played identity politics, but that wasn’t something she was going to face.

I respect people wherever they are on their gender journey, because I know that any step out is always hard.  But the people I respect most powerfully are the people who respect others, whoever they are.

I was speaking to one young woman who told me that her father transitioned just as she was hitting puberty and I felt so bad for her, because I know how much a girl needs a man to push off of while she is trying to find her own womanhood, and two nascent women in the same house must be a killer.   She was here, though, understanding and ready to respect.

Too many transpeople of any identification have a negative self-definition.  They know what they are not, but not what they are.

SSS, for example, knew that they weren’t gay and weren’t transsexuals, and told everyone that those boundaries were the only way that wives could accept trans behaviour.   Telling wives that trans expression wasn’t erotic, though, well, that wasn’t something they could easily believe.

Transsexuals often got negative too, ready to tell the world who was and who was not a true tranny.   Somehow, it always turned out that they were, and the people who challenged their gender solution in any way were not.

I had lots of areas where I had to learn.   My biggest challenge was to not be a “balloon-burster,” not be so critical that I deflated the dreams of others.   Transpeople need aspirations, need hope, and even if they never get to the place of their dreams, that dream has to sustain them through change.   I didn’t know it all, and magic was possible beyond the realm of the probable, so I had to let dreams take flight and encourage even the improbable dream as a way to support the magic of hope and dreams.  I may have known what I saw, but the important thing was always what was encouraging what was in someone else’s heart.

I know lots of people who identify as transvestites, as transsexuals, and many who have even identified as both.   I know that they are each on a journey to self-awareness, even if today they bound that journey with the limits of their stated identity.  I know that they all deserve respect and dignity, because I know they are all challenged humans and all have a mind and a heart that can open.

As a queer person, I have to hold open the space for transformation.   I need to know that whatever someone is today, change is possible.   That is often a burden when I want to write someone off because they continue to act in ways that hurt me, but it is my sacred obligation.     Whatever you call yourself today, it is your essential humanity, that divine spark that comes between piss and shit, that makes you real and worthy.

To me, the way we grow is to go beyond the boundaries we hold today, to get that the separations and divisions aren’t real, but constructs of our mind, of our culture.

And I do that through play and exploration.  How do I push beyond, get a deeper understanding, become new?

Did I know I would end up in this basement today when I went to that first gender group meeting?  Hell, no.  I had no idea what shape my journey would take.

But I did know that adding more binaries, more dualities wasn’t an answer for me, so if I needed to move beyond man/woman, transvestite/transsexual wasn’t going to help with that.

What do kids say right after “I won!  I won!  I won!”?   They say “Now you try!”  To them, play is a way for everyone to try, explore, own and achieve mastery.

And that’s why that scary dark night when I walked into the bar, the only thing I was sure of was that I had to be free to play with gender. I had to try something new, explore the possibilities, own my own heart and achieve some mastery over my life and expression.

Gender Play seemed the only way for me.

The Devil Made Me Do It!

A couple of friends of mine went out to a bar.   It was a boring night, but soon an eager fellow came in.

He was travelling from Charleston to Montgomery, but had told his wife he arranged his trip with an overnight in Atlanta.

As soon as he saw the two transgrrls at the bar, he came over to buy them drinks and chat them up.

Soon, they had agreed to take him home.

Once there, they put him in a wig, heels and makeup.  He was happy.

Then he started making out with one of them.

Next, he got her on the bed and entered her.

He was taking some time, so the other gal, seeing that rump bouncing up and down, decided to “put on a raincoat” and enter him.   Voilà, Lucky Pierre!

The fellow started squealing.

“Your friend is turning me into a faggot!  Your friend is turning me into a faggot!”

Stopping in town to go to a gay bar didn’t turn him into a faggot.   Buying drinks for two transwomen didn’t turn him into a faggot.  Going home with them didn’t turn him into a faggot.  Putting on womens clothes didn’t turn him into a faggot.  Making out with one of them didn’t turn him into a faggot.  Sodomizing one of them didn’t turn him into a faggot.   No, it was only taking a penis up his own poop chute that crossed the line.

We draw our lines so personally, don’t we?  “Sure, I shove gerbils up my ass, and that’s normal, but he shoves guinea pigs up his butt, and that’s just sick!”   Somehow the line of normal exists just past where we stop, doesn’t it?

TBB sometimes feels I don’t respect crossdressers enough.  I reply that I very much respect transpeople whose presentation is episodic because of family obligations, but that yeah, crossdressers often squick me.

Being trans and exploring your nature, even with the constraints of having to hold onto your birth gender role for good reasons, well, that’s always something to respect.

Being a crossdresser who wants to be forced into some kind of titillating situation to get his rocks off, well, that’s sometimes not as easy to respect.     I’ve met lots of crossdressers whose constraints don’t only limit their choices, but also limit the way that they can see other transpeople, assuming that if they are just in it for the thrill and can’t change their birth gender, no one else can either.

There’s an old saw in therapy:  “The first year a man is in therapy is about convincing him he actually has feelings, and the second year is about convincing him that he won’t die or lose his manhood if he actually feels them.”

Too damn many crossdressers don’t want to do the work of engaging and understanding their own emotions, of taking responsibility for their own choices.  This also means that they cannot understand or respect those people doing the work, instead just seeing them as a someone like them.

Ms. Ava has been out in the world of crossdressers for a while after attending gender conferences.   The truth of classic gender conferences is that the majority of participants are crossdressers who want a a bigger closet for the weekend.  Obviously this is not true of newer academic, health or youth focused conferences, just the old style ones.  There may be room for the activists around the edges, but the bulk is weekend wankers, working still to compartmentalize their life and not to integrate it.

When Ms. Ava gets around these people, she often wants to follow and not to lead.  That’s not what I suggest to her.

The key thread through crossdresser fiction is simple: someone makes them do it.  There is a force that pushes them to “be a faggot,” be that force an encouraging woman, a scheming woman, an old crone with magic, out of control technology or whatever.  The responsibility for their erotic pleasure is pushed out onto someone else, so they have no control over having their precious manhood breached, their sensations and feelings activated, their own masculinity surrendered to the feminine.

As Flip Wilson’s Geraldine character used to say, “The Devil Made Me Do It!” a perfect crossdresser mantra.

So where is the position for women in this world of crossdressers, even trans women?

Why, it’s to make them do it, of course.  Eve and the devil had a pact, you know?  We are supposed to “turn them into a faggot,” into someone who isn’t required to hold onto masculinity with their fingernails.  It’s the same challenge for therapists who have to make men confront their feelings and then make them get over the fear that engaging their feelings will destroy them.   And it’s a very uncomfortable demand for the partners of crossdressers.

Ms. Ava and TBB understand this.   Crossdressers tell us what they desire all the time if we just listen.  The problem is that they don’t listen to themselves. They aren’t going to do the work, they are going to resist the work, unless someone makes them do it.   And women who are willing to take responsibility for forcing crossdressers to engage their own desires can often be rewarded handsomely for the work. Just ask Miss Vera.

“You need to wear a butt plug to dinner tonight.”

“Really?  Do I have to?”

“Yes!”

“Well, if I have to….”

The devil made him do it.

I respect people who take responsibility for their own feelings, desires and needs.   It’s damn hard work, I know, and I get why it would be so lovely to be able to palm off the responsibility for challenging choices to someone else.  It’s just I think its not a healthy or fair choice to put someone else in charge of your own choices unless that’s a defined power swapping relationship and you acknowledge your slavery.  Otherwise, it’s just topping from the bottom, without consent.   I believe that you should treat your devil like the professional she is, reading your mind and forcing your choices.

To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can turn you into a faggot without your consent.”

And, in the end, we each own our own devils.

Instant Memoir

I long ago figured out my style in dress.  It’s preppy meets art, traditional basics with a dash of color and play added in.   My basics tend to the clerical black, to be sure, but the art is important.

I just figured out the style of this blog.  It’s Instant Memoir.

Just take the literary structure of Karr or Didion or Angelou and mix it with the host chat of Regis.   I always knew he had a great story when he started to draw a map, and could never miss days when he and Joy had just come back from holiday somewhere.  Those were whoppers, those stories.

I grew up as a TV kid, ending up hosting my own daily studio magazine format talkshow, with interviews and demonstrations.  I venerated broadcasters like Jean Shepherd who would tell stories into the night.   I loved the intimacy that comes from ephemeral and evanescent stories, told fresh and fast.

Instant Memoir should be a contradiction in terms, because who the hell takes the time to consider their life all that quickly?   But then, shouldn’t my whole damn life be a contradiction in terms, ol’ transperson I?

In the past people have told me that if they read my writing in a book they would probably enjoy it, but in their inbox it feels rather raw and intrusive.  Too much to process when they are just trying to get through a pile of notes.   It’s the first draft of history, but as polished as my experience lets it be.

This is my chat show and this is my story, episodic and well threaded, fresh and considered.   Some may consider me an essayist, and that’s not bad.

But to me, it’s Instant Memoir.

Hot, Hot, Hot, Hot, Hot

Just had the report from TBB.

  1. Son is doing great after family get-together for his graduation from TBB’s alma-mater, and doesn’t yet have a date to report for training as a Naval aviator.
  2. Gal TBB met at motorcycle ride is still calling and texting, looking forward to TBB getting back home to spend time together, with maybe even a first kiss.
  3. Captain on the other boat was impressed and hopes TBB puts her name in the hat for the Chief Engineer job, as TBB really got the crew moving forward.
  4. The crew on her boat really missed her while she was off, especially one woman who pulled out her heels to say how excited she was to have TBB back.
  5. Sushi, the famous Key West drag mom, recognized TBB in the club and was thrilled to have her & her friends as guests, comping them to come back tonight.  Not only did TBB and Sushi exchange contact info, TBB also got a chance to sing.  TBB chose to do a number made famous by (wait for it) Ethel Merman.

Whatever is going on in this basement, it’s great to know that one Drama Queen has had a very good few weeks.    It’s easy to remember that the suffering of one of us is the suffering of all of us, but it’s also important to remember that the joy of one of us is the joy of all of us.

Thanks for living large, gorgeous.

Ms. Ava

Ava knew who she was in high school.  Back then, she called herself Carmen, was young and pretty, and showed the world she was a girl.

But things got difficult.   Am intense Latin father, a troubled Irish mother,  financial pressures, so many pressures.

So it was just easier to be a gay boy in beauty school.   She met the love of her life, and they have been together, in some form or fashion, for over thirty years.

They are roommates now, tension between them.   Her roommate misses the man he fell in love with, but Ava knows that was no man, that was a screwed up façade.

The crash came.  A shaman gave her the gift of being centred as her business crashed down around her and the façade shattered too.   There was failure and rejection and new exploration

Ava’s life was always backwards.   As a child, dyslexia haunted her, trying to translate the world’s right and left into her own flipped understanding.   The struggle to fit into a world that seemed topsy-turvy was always too much, but she got through it by relying on the kindness of others, a sweet, shy gay boy who knew how to listen and gave great hair.

Now, like many women her age, being a part of someone or something else is no longer enough.   She has to claim her own power, the power that kept her connected to the heads and hearts of clients and friends, the power she had to both hold and deny.

That doesn’t mean she isn’t filled with longing for the days she lost, the days when she could have been a pretty girl playing with all the guys.  The woman in the mirror often isn’t pretty enough for a girl who wants to be loved.   And the changing of a once intense sexuality feels like a loss she may not be able to endure.

Ava is beautiful, but her story is shattered.    And a fractured story makes it hard to build a future.   Between the tethers to her past and the faults of her experience, she has trouble finding solid ground.

She has struck out inside the gender communities but found few handholds.    Transfans and crossdressers don’t want to be men, but the don’t want to be women, either, and their fantasy partners have to be with them, stuck somewhere in the middle.  Ava isn’t a creature for closets and fantasies, she is a woman for the world.   It’s impossible to be that inside a gender box, but outside that box, Ava needs stories and strengths that feel impossible to her tender experience.  How can she both be brave and broken, a woman with a boys name on her credit card, a gal with a bisexual roommate, all that?

Models are scarce for Ava.   The transsexual path demands she deny her sexuality, sexuality that has always been the way she explored the world, but the transgender path demands she deny her womanhood, something that feels wrong.  “I take so long to warm up nowadays,” she tells me, “and the transfans don’t understand that.   They don’t understand me, because they never had to learn to listen like I did.  I don’t feel the intimacy, the passion, maybe because they all have to keep it so boxed up.”

Ginger Rogers, it is said, did everything that Fred Astaire did, backwards and in high heels. Now that Ava has the heels, her backwards experience of the world is beginning to make sense.  Her heart wants to dance, but the other part of her backwards experience, having to reclaim a lost girlhood so many years after her youth, make that challenging in the world.

Flirting with guys on Craigslist is fun and enjoyable, but it doesn’t replace the experience of being a girl on the town waiting to find a solid man who wants to build a solid relationship.  But with a fractured story, Ava doesn’t yet feel strong in the wider world, strong enough to break the tethers of a hard fought lifetime.

If you can’t trust your story, you can’t trust your power.

There are so many reasons why our stories are difficult.  We bring so much to bear, have such a twisty path, and know that any story which demands we sever important parts of ourselves, covering them with even a lovely façade makes us twisted again.   It’s the kinks in my story that leave me believing I am too something for the room, a big transwoman with an x-ray brain, and it’s the fractures in Ava’s story that leave her believing that happiness eludes her as a woman without a girlhood.

I see Ava, beautiful, stylish and brilliant, and know her power will attract what she needs.   When Ava sees Ava, she sees the twists in her life, her losses and her struggles, the challenges that haunt her, and can’t imagine that she will ever have the grounding to be loved in the way that she needs.

So Ava plays and explores and leaves her light under a bushel because she feels her story is too fractured to trust.

And she reminds me that I do the same thing.

Untethered

Be bold, be free and claim the truth of who you know yourself to be.

It’s an easy recommendation.

It’s an almost impossible choice.

Humans, you see are connected.  We are tethered to each other in oh, so many ways.

And the tethers are tender.

So many transwomen this week talking about the reasons they can’t transition, why they can’t just cast off into a new life.

The reasons we give are complex, full of fears and threats.   It’s just so much easier to believe the negative signs that trigger fight or flight reflexes than to believe the positive signs that beckon you forward another inch or two.

We do go forward, bit by bit, because going backwards is impossible in any life.  We are like battleships with no easy reverse gear, so to change course we have to swing wide.

We go forward, that is, until we reach the end of our tether.  And then things get weird.

We are tethered to the people we love.

That’s human love, of course.  Twisted, ambivalent, ambiguous, failed and full human love. Love that has informed, energized and enraged us for years.  Love that brings crisis, confusion and comfort.  Just regular old human love, it is.

We love our parents, we love our children, we love our siblings, we love our exes, we love our friends, we love.  We are human.

And we are tethered.

Sure, the fear feels real when we start to do something new.   It feels like the fear of horrible things that may lie in front of us, horrible stories that resonate with us.

But the deepest fear isn’t the fear of the new.  The deepest fear is breaking the tethers to those we love, the fear of losing the old and loved.

The love stories we tell are often stories of dysfunction and heartbreak.   They are terrible stories of pain and struggle.

But they are love stories.  And love, even love that dare not say it’s name, well, love is what tethers people together.  The opposite of love is not rage, the opposite of love is disconnection.   And if we were disconnected we would not be tethered.

Humans need love.  Humans live for love.  Humans live on love.  We love being tethered to those we love.

But how do we be bold, be free and claim the truth of who we know ourselves to be if we feel tethered?  If we know that being untethered would make us less than human, would make us not who we are?

I feel the need to follow my bliss.  So many of us feel the need to follow our bliss.

But the need to hold onto the tethers that connect us to those we love is also real and profound.   They may be assholes, but they are the assholes who love us, the assholes we love.  We are, after all, spirit living a human life, with a tender human heart.

As transpeople, we are tethered to people who can’t know the real us, the us we had to suppress and hide.   And when we start the struggle of emergence, the tethers get very, very strained indeed.

It’s not owning the future that we fear most.  We fear losing, losing not just our loves, but our losing our expectations, our desires and our dreams.   Our brain may know that change is well nigh impossible, but our heart, well our heart holds the hope that only love makes unbreakable.   It may be twenty years, but my hopes with her still haunt me, though I know it was over years ago when she couldn’t go forward with me, couldn’t support me in emergence, couldn’t enter my world.

We all have these tethers.   We look for reasons the future is frightening to escape the need to break with the past, look for the scary so we feel justified in staying tethered to those we love.

The bridges love built are in us, deep within us, and the person those we loved needed and wanted us to be is bound deep in our psyche.

We may know who we are inside, may know that making new, bold and brave choices are the way to claim a more actualized, more harmonious, more authentic self.

But doing that means we have to sever the tethers that hold us to the people we love.

The old transsexual system had a plan for that, where you broke with your old life, went to a new place to become a new person, then came back to find out what connections survived.   “If you love something, set yourself free from it.  If it comes back to you, it was meant to be.”   Or something like that.

But for people who aren’t twenty, who have a life and loves, that’s not so easy.

People tell me “I know who I need to be, but it scares me,” and then point to all sorts of noise, all sorts of thirdhand fear, all sorts of bad stories, all sorts of critical voices and horrible possibilities.

People rarely tell me “I feel the connections of a life of love so strongly that I fear breaking my old choices and losing what I have worked so hard for, losing those I have loved so much for.”

Isn’t it just smart to fear the future and just crazy to want to hold onto love that has caused us pain?  Isn’t that “the right thing” to believe?

I don’t think so.  I know that in my life, the second is much, much, much more potent.  Love is always stronger than fear, even imperfect human love.

I am tethered to people who make me crazy, who fail me and act out against me.  I am tethered to people who hurt me and cannot support my possibilities.  I am tethered to people who cannot own their own bliss, let alone mine.

And I love them.

What is life without love?

How do you let go of habits and behaviours that tether you to the ones you love?

How do you become untethered?

Very carefully, I suggest.

Now A Lesbian!

This article in the NY Times got me crazy.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/style/cynthia-nixons-embrace-of-political-activism.html?pagewanted=all

I love Cynthia Nixon — after all, I’m a Miranda, head first —  but now she has to be a lesbian, because lots of the Gay And Lesbian world got crazy when she suggested that the sex/gender of someone you partner with might be a choice.

Bisexual?  No.  Queer?  No.

Was heterosexual, now a famous lesbian.

Where is the space for people who are nuanced, whose identity isn’t about some easy binary separation?

Not in the NY Times, or at least not in NY Politics, apparently.

Save Me

NBC is out with a wacky new show called Save Me that stars Anne Heche as a wife and mother who isn’t doing well — lots of booze and bad behaviour — then chokes on a sandwich and wakes up a prophet of God!  A CAT scan shows she has a brain abnormality associated with holy people, she senses information and suggestions she couldn’t know, and she even seems to be able to produce crazy special effects, like lightening!  She can even perform a song she never heard before in church, where she has never been before!

You ever heard that old line “People who think that they know it all are really annoying to those of us who actually do?”

Yeah.  It’s like that.  A prophet is just someone who knows that walls are illusions, even the wall most people think separates humans from the god voice.  Those walls being erased creates a lot of buffeting, a lot of exposure, a lot of challenge, but it also creates a lot of connection, a lot of insight, a lot of enlightenment.  The only reason prophets have so many answers is because they live with so many questions.

There is no place to go and get your official designation as a certified prophet.  As Niels Bohr said, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”  Prophets are going to have profound truths, but that doesn’t mean that they will concur.

If the old testament tells us anything about being a prophet, it tells us that the road to revelation is always an intense one, because opening the pathways between all things means stripping away the comfort of convention.

“How could God do this horrible thing?”   Because God is God, and she doesn’t see boundaries like you do. She lives in a much bigger picture.

And that’s no sitcom.

Parentless

I have OK days and I have worse days.

And the worse days are always informed by family.

But the OK days are not good days because of the lack of family.

I sent a bit of a rant to TBB.   She answered

You sound like a Mother.  Hmmm, I wonder why?

I started parenting my family very early.   They needed taken care of, my self-pitying mother, my aspergers father, my lost siblings.

And I continued that until I watched my parents die at the end of last year.

Now, my birth family continues to not know how to take care of me, because how do you take care of a sibling that is also a parent?   How do you engage that challenge, the challenge of having to face all your childhood stuff?

I’m a bit lost without someone to take care of.

I’m a bit lost without someone to take care of me.

I’m a bit lost.

My life has been animated by duty.

And what it’s animated by now, well, that’s not so clear.

I lost my parents.  And I lost my parenthood at the same time.

The remnants of it continue to block my relationships with my siblings, who have been unable to identify anything that is really mine.

Being beyond middle aged and lost is not a rare place anymore in this country.

Is there another act for me?   Can I bring forth the stories I still have left to tell?

I have OK days and worse days.

But good still feels too far away to see, especially on worse days.

You Are Doing It Wrong

The one constant of a trans life, the one thing that carries through all of our choices, is simple.

Someone else always wants to tell us that we are doing it wrong.    And no one can agree on how to do it right.

Following the rules, the norms, the traditions, the conventions means that it is possible to do it right.  This has always been the theme of human life, the pressure to fit in and do it the right way.   In high schools, for example, we let kids gender each other by allowing them to taunt and marginalize deviants.   Social pressure is just the way we know how to help kids do it the right way.

There are no fixed conventions, though, about the right way to be trans.

Just being trans, claiming your own expression and identity beyond the role that was assigned to you by dint of your reproductive biology, is seen by many to be wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.  According to them, any choice you make is, by definition, sick and fraudulent.

But it doesn’t stop there.   Transsexual separatists will tell what you need to do to be a real transsexual, crossdressers will tell you what you need to do to be a real crossdresser, transfeminists will tell you what you need to do to be a real transfeminist and on and on and on.   They want to control the words we use, the ideas we offer, the viewpoints we take so their identity constructions are not challenged. The clout of identity politics isn’t focused against those not like us, rather it is always turned against those who are kind of like us but who are doing it wrong, those who have not surrendered to groupthink.

How do I tell a grown-up transperson?  When they can say “I would never wear what you are wearing, but it looks great on you!”  When they can be positive and support others in what they are doing right, not just be negative and tell people what they are doing wrong.

The most important thing you have to do as a transperson in this world is to really consider your choices, really be aware of them, be sure they are the best choices you can make at this moment, be sure that they are right for you, and then make them boldly and with confidence, being absolutely sure that someone is going to tell you that you are doing it wrong.

You have to do this because you can be sure that almost everyone is going to tell you that whatever you do, you are doing it wrong.

No transperson has the luxury of just following the crowd, just fitting in and becoming one of the pack.

The truth is that no human really has that luxury, either, but most people haven’t had to face it.  Each one of us has to both be part of the group, upholding tradition and convention, and be uniquely ourselves, offering our own special gifts and making our own individual choices.   We are all in this alone, as Jane Wagner said.

But for transpeople, that truth is stark and brilliant.   We need to face a world that wants to tell us that we are doing it wrong and still claim our own heart, still make choices that don’t just go along, but stand out as being based in our own truth.

And that means we have to know what the hell our own truth is.  We need to be centred in our own self-knowledge, be comfortable in our own skin.

And doing that when it seems like everyone is telling us that we are doing it wrong, and is willing to punish us for our violation of their expectations & rules, well, that’s wicked hard.

Most people have never taken the time to consider the received rules, the common understanding.   They just follow out of habit and reflex.

As transpeople, we don’t have that choice.  We need to understand the twists so we can defend our own choices, if not to others who may not understand anyway, at least defend them to our own inner voices.    We need to be able to face not just the fear of others that leads them to scream when they believe someone else is doing it wrong, we need to be able to face the fear inside of us and hold onto choices based in love and understanding.

As transpeople, enlightenment is required.   Any human may have the need for enlightenment, especially when they feel shackled by common convention or fear, but we cannot live our lives without it.

“I may be doing it wrong, but I am doing it.”    A powerful mantra for transpeople.

If you need to march to your own different drummer, you can be sure that others are going to tell you that you are doing it wrong.  If you challenge the conventions and beliefs others use to defend their choices, you can be sure that others are going to tell you that you are doing it wrong.  If you touch a fear that others have not engaged, you can be sure that others are going to tell you that you are doing it wrong.

It’s your job to know what’s right, what’s right for you, what’s right with your creator, what’s right for the world, and then act from that knowledge, getting better and more clear as you go.

And that’s never wrong.

Not Consistent, Pure.

One lovely thing about transpeople is that we don’t confuse consistency with integrity or authenticity.  We are not straight-line people.

It is not necessary to prove that we have always been exactly this way for us to show that who we are now is true or authentic.  Instead, it is the twists and turns in our journey that show the power and intensity of it.  It is the way we have tried on various ways to be on the way to finding our own essence that shows our quest for purity.  By going through many challenges and fires, we have been on a path to find out what is at our own core.

In Southern Comfort, Robert talks about being a daughter, a wife, a mother, a lesbian and a man.   There is no sense that any one of these identities negates the other, but rather that they validate each other, showing how hard Robert tried to be what was expected of him, how he did the work, still knowing that his essence was central.

TBB often wants to chat about future possibilities, but we both know that if her past predicts anything about her future it says that her future will be full of unexpected twists and turns, essentially unpredictable.

In trans lives, the inconsistency of expression and role are really just the path we take to find consistency of the heart.  I once asked a partner if I was reliable.  She thought for a moment and said “Yes, you are solid and reliable, but you are like an iceberg.  You move around a lot.”   I am grounded in my heart and mind, but not in my position.

Normal, to most people, is a sense of consistency, a notion that it will ever be thus, based on some notion that it always was this way.  While it may be easy to prove that neither of those notions are correct, rather they are just the product of tunnel vision, it still means that when change comes, they feel betrayed, cheated and bereft.  When their normal is shattered, they shatter.

“You are used to your normal being shattered, aren’t you?” asked the chaplain in the hospital as we stood at my father’s bedside.  Yes.   In my world, change is the the way of life, and the only constant is what I carry with me in my heart and my mind.

One role of trans-shamans in cultures across cultures is to be the ones who help negotiate change, standing in the doorways between what was, what is, and what might be.   When you know barriers that others see as real to be illusion, instead holding onto the connectedness of all things, you come at the world with a different and often useful viewpoint.

And the way we negotiate change is to hold onto the thread that weaves through the world, hold onto the thread that weaves through our own lives even when others find them jumpy and episodic.  We know it’s always us in those pictures, always us in those stories, even if our shape shifts a bit in the viewing.

We don’t confuse consistency with purity.  Instead, we see the changes in our lives as essentially revelatory, exposing more of our facets, more of who we really are.

Because, isn’t the privilege of a lifetime going through the hero’s journey and being who you are?

The Parent Thing

The local GLBT center showed the film “Southern Comfort” for movie night, and as it was dull and rainy, I thought I would go.   Lola and I were chatting through those days, and I know Maxwell and met Robert, so it’s a very personal film for me.

Southern Comfort is also the best film I have seen to date on the realities of a trans life, because it lets the story and people evolve rather than trying to fit a framework.  Kate Davis could afford to do that with her DV camera over time, and it shows.   The film feels like home movies put together by an auteur, and that makes it very intimate — the theme of Robert and Lola’s relationship — and very honest.   It’s impossible to make an intimate portrait of someone who doesn’t yet know how to be intimate with themselves and others, no matter how much they want attention.

Real intimacy is incredibly potent, but as I watched the film, I saw that the root of intimacy for Robert was clear.  The foundation of his intimacy was the role of the parent.  Robert had been a mother to his children and continued that to embrace his grandson, great-grandparent, grandparent, parent and child altogether.

When you do it right, there is no intimacy greater than the parent, because as a parent you have the entire life of a vulnerable person placed into your care.  You wipe their bum and check their sores and listen to their stories and help them find language and watch them grow and all those simple and complicated things that make up the sweep of humanity.

And when you know how to hold someone’s beating heart in your hands and feel that trust and responsibility, you have the chance to grow and blossom as a person.  Parenting, when done right, is both extremely selfless and incredibly fulfilling, a gift of service that nourishes you.   And as Robert’s relationship with Max showed, it’s also almost impossible to explain to someone who doesn’t understand the power of being a parent.

Lola found her caretaking integrated with her trans expression through her experience with Robert, as Robert treated Lola like a tender living creature who just needed encouragement and support to blossom.    Everyone has something to offer, as TBB and Kristine would tell us, and parents know that, know that bringing out those special gifts are the blessing of a lifetime.   It’s wonderful to know that all the people in this film blossomed in the fertile garden of Southern Comfort Conference, first imagined by TBB when she visited IFGE 1989 and knew she could bring this kind of cross-pollination to the great Southland.

Robert’s legacy continues today, from free respectful clinic visits for transmen every year at SCC, to 150 medical providers gathering at Empire Conference a few weeks ago to better understand how to support transpeople.

But the possibility of transpeople knowing the role of the parent, understanding how to care for and nurture the best that can come from the others in their life, well, that legacy is a bit more difficult to pin down.  To be trans is often to be out of the communal exercise of parenting, of helping people grow and blossom.

So much of my writing over the past two decades has been about these themes, the four types of intimacy and the power of parenting, because they really do seem to be the heartbeat of the relationships that make us human.

And it was good to have a few new people exposed to that power again last night.

Thanks, all.

(Aside: Southern Comfort and Hedwig were on the film festival circuit in the same year, so at Berlin, John Cameron Mitchell pulled Lola Cola up on stage to honor a real-life Hedwig.  Ah, the connections.)

Your Inner Merman

There is no business like show business.

Not even for The Drama Queens.

TBB called tonight.  She had the privilege of having her family around her as her son graduated from her alma mater, and took up his commission in the Navy.  It was a great time, but it put her out of synch with her ship’s sailing schedule, so she is doing two weeks on another ship as a fill-in, meeting her ship next week.

It’s been a tough week there.  The old chief is leaving the boat, the new chief is a fill in, the juniors want to show off, and the ship was in port, with most of the crew going home every night.

Usually, TBB just has to prove four things to get over the scuttlebutt that a transsexual is coming aboard.  She just has to prove that she is competent, excellent, human and charming.  That’s usually not hard for her.  What’s the old Bella Abzug mashup?

“To get ahead, a woman has to prove she is twice as good as a man.   Luckily, that’s rarely a problem.  The feminist revolution isn’t about making sure that a female Einstein is recognized as easily a male Einstein, it’s about making sure that a female schlemiel has the same opportunities as a male schlemiel.”

But when there is lots of other drama going around, it’s tough for TBB to get standing to show her stuff.   The girls see her as old, the boys are trying to show who has the biggest member, and everyone is apprehensive about change.  Things change this week when they are on a cruise, and everyone is locked in the same big floating tin can.   As an extrovert, TBB really needs company, not like me locked in this basement, and so an audience will be life blood to her.

TBB is being seen as other, not one of us, without standing to perform at her best.  Why is she other?  Because she is new, because she is short-time, because she is a woman, because she is a transsexual, because she is older, or some other reason?  The answer is, of course, that all those reasons are in play.    But I got to talk about all the stuff I wrote  this week about the experience of otherness, and it all resonated with her.

Just understanding otherness isn’t enough.  The challenge is how to get past it.  Regular readers of this blog (both of you) will know the answer I was working with this week.

Performance is performance.  When you’re hot, you’re hot, as Jerry Reed sang.  And part of the job when talking to TBB is to bring back that heat, get her laughing and performing, so she feels the energy surge through her, the energy that is so easy to be buried.

“If they offered to have you do a one person show at SCC,” I asked her, “what songs would you have in your act?”

She had to think about this.  On Karaoke nights, TBB often does Sinatra, but he’s not really a perfect fit.  Ol’ Blue Eyes is a very cool performer, but TBB is a very warm performer, wanting to touch the audience.  She’s much happier with some Jerry Herman, like her performance of Hello Dolly!, a performance I had to channel in my mother’s last week to get her into the shower.

We thought about Sophie Tucker, maybe, The Last Of The Red-Hot Mamas, but she wasn’t it.

No, the answer to unlocking the energy was simpler than that.  It’s unlocking your inner Merman. Ethel, that is.

In a story on Theatre Talk, a friend of hers talks about seeing her at curtain call for Gypsy when she was going through her third divorce.  She looked down, with maybe the saddest face ever, until she stepped out into that spotlight, and then she blazed with the light of a thousand suns, filling the theatre with her energy.

Ethel Merman was not always Ethel Merman.  But when she was hot, well, she was blazing.

Bert Lahr used to tell the story of when he and Ray Bolger and Jack Haley used to goof around between shots for The Wizard Of Oz, and director Victor Fleming would get upset that they lost focus.  But Fleming was used to Hollywood stars, not vaudeville troupers, so when he called action, the energy level soared instantly.  Bang.

The experience of being the other, and the experience of being in the deep freeze where nobody supports your inner Merman.

There is a little bit of Merman in every one of us.  That may not actually be true, but if there is one thing The Drama Queens believe, it’s when you say something potentially stupid, you gotta commit, dammnit.  Go big or go home.

Stay hot, babe.  The world needs your Merman.

9/10/11

September 10, 2011 is one of the worst days in my memory.

Sure, the next day, 9/11/2011 was pretty bad too, especially after Bush gave the terrorists just what they wanted and went to war with them, but that wasn’t nearly as personal to me.

My birthday is on the tenth of September, and on that day, my sister decided she wanted to take me to see Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

I didn’t want to go.  I had already seen the film, and while I enjoyed the comedy and music, the ending left me cold.  It was the standard ending for a drag show, where the performer pulls off their wig, showing you “who they really are beneath the illusion.”   In the film, Hedwig walked naked into the street, maybe an interesting symbol, but not the basis for any kind of life.  I mean, where would you keep your keys?

It’s not really a trans-positive ending, though since John Cameron Mitchell identifies as a gay man and not a transperson, it’s not surprising he would choose that old drag trope.

But saying that I didn’t want to go wasn’t enough.  It had been decided.  So I trudged down to an empty theatre with my sister, her then husband and a woman who would later try to beat me into compliance with her idea of how I should behave.

The good part about Hedwig is the rock opera bits.  I can still put on “Wig In A Box” and get both teary and invigorated.

I was there, the only one dressed up, watching and waiting for the energy to flow.  But my three companions who hauled me to this event against my wishes for my own good, well, they were sitting like stones.  Not rocking out, but stone cold rock hard.

No playing, no laughing, no swaying, no nothing.

It felt like I had been ordered to expose my heart, and then they had chosen to immerse it in liquid nitrogen, freezing the beat and making it so cold it could shatter with a touch.

It was a bad, bad night.  And the worst part may have been that they thought that they were doing something nice for me.   I hated it.

I need to follow my bliss, need to have others affirm and reflect that bliss, letting the heat rise.  Instead, I just felt naked and chilled, much like Hedwig walking into the street at the end of the film.

It sucked, big time.

Then, of course, I woke up to the World Trade Center bombings and called Rachel Pollack so she could watch the second plane go in live on TV.  A chill ran through the entire country that morning, and while I prayed for peace in the world, others prayed that their God would Bless America.  Hard decade.

Very few people understand what a tender and bruised soul we reveal when we show our naked trans heart.  Very few people share the experience enough to take that beating and battered heart and hold it safely, so it can beat a little stronger, so we can feel a little more vital and free in a world that has tried to quash us.

And that night, 9/10/2011, was just a night when I felt a bit more unsafe, a bit more scarred, a bit more scared.

It was a bad night for me, followed by a bad day for the world.

And yet, my mother in the sky asks me to try again, asks me to trust again.

Bliss, don’t fail me now.

Throaty Laugh

I saw Gillian Anderson in The Fall, the new BBC/RTE co-production where she plays a stylish London cop on assignment in Belfast, a kind of more glamorous Helen Mirren from Prime Suspect, and suddenly I wanted one great pair of outrageously expensive sunglasses.

Or, more precisely, I wanted to be the kind of woman who wears classic style, like those amazing sunglasses.

I have lived in austerity consciousness for so long, a life of self denial, where there was never, ever room for style.

I live in an area where style is devalued.  On one hand, that’s good, because there are few poseurs and shops only succeed with reasonable prices, but on the other hand, it means that what we have a chain stores, and the plebeian ones at that.

My family traditions are for cheap and serviceable.  My mother would rather buy three pieces of crap than one good piece.  Her shopping goal was never to look for the perfect or even the exceptional, but rather to look for the discounted, whatever the quality.

My style is changing.  I think more about the investment pieces, the signature accessory, and the notion of a uniform than I ever have before.  I want to be sure of my look, sure enough that I can focus on the content of my presentation rather than on my appearance.

Sadly, though, my family traditions are not changing, which makes for a gap between possibility and practice.  My sister hasn’t even found time to help measure my pupilary distance (PD) so I can order great sunglasses online.

But aspiration is the heart of growth, and the aspiration to be the kind of woman who has fabulous sunglasses and a confident, throaty laugh, well, a girl can dream, can’t she?  Even if she hasn’t dreamed in a decade. . .

 

Spiritual Bypassing

Thanks to the lovely Erin for sharing a concept I had never heard of before: Spiritual Bypassing.

http://www.realitysandwich.com/spiritual_bypassing

I never heard of it because it isn’t really my problem.  I don’t use spiritual practice to bypass the hard stuff, to get around the difficult feelings and heavy lifting in my life.  I tend to plunge right in, knowing that “there must be a pony in here somewhere!

But I do know people who have run from me just because I am too prone to shovel the manure, which offends their delicate spiritual sensibility.   Personally, I can’t figure out how to find the jewels without shovelling the shit, but that just seems not pretty and not spiritual to them.   That’s why I often feel unsafe in overtly spiritual settings, where beauty and tranquility is valued over sweating and grunting and bleeding, all of which are vital to my spiritual process.

I’m not sure I need one more reason for people to find me too challenging, even people who think that they are spiritual, but I know it was happening anyway.

Now I have a name for it!

Thanks, Erin!

Have A Good Day!

Went to the mall, just to get out of here.  Took my time, breathed, sat a little.  It’s a little too late for black tights and uggs, but I made sure to include some bright summer colours.

I was feeling pretty good as I was leaving, feeling my hips roll as I walked.  That little femme wiggle.

And then I heard someone say, “Have a Good Day!”

I took a moment to figure out what was going on, realizing it was one of those half-good looking Sears salesmen saying it to me.

A nice man chose to wish me a good day.  Sure, he does it to dozens of gals everyday, but today I was one of them.

I smiled.

Why not smile?  After all, the universe decided to wish me to have a good day.