Opposing Twists

As anyone who knows me can tell you, in my freshman year of college, Colleen and I did big multimedia presentation on the Plymouth Cordage Company, going into the company archives at Harvard and walking the old ropewalks just north of Plymouth Rock.  I can go on about the shipments of manila fibre, and the postwar change to synthetic rope and cheap sisal twine, about the challenge of building immigrant communities around a mill, the brahmin ownership and so on.

The premise of ropemaking is, of course, the opposing twist.  You take fibres and twist them against each other to create long and reliable strands to do all the work that rope has done in the world, from raising sail to driving equipment.    My grandfather knew this when he built a machine from old Ford parts to twist binder twine into rope on the farm, the kind of engineering ingenuity I was taught to honour.

In listening to a history of WWII, I was struck by how twisted Hitler’s thinking was.  He could always find a new reason to believe he was right, that he was touched by destiny.   Twisted thinking has always been a hallmark of humans, of how we screw ourselves up to find the answers we want rather than engaging the real challenges that face us.

The world, I suspect, is based on the same premise as good rope: opposing twists.   Twist a fibre or idea in only one way and it leaves the strand weak, with no strength to take weight or shock.   But twist the same with others twisted in the opposite direction, left hand/right hand, and you can build a strong and durable cord.   Twist those cords together and you end up with powerful rope that can do important and valuable work in moving and controlling what we need to move forward.

TBB noted that my writing tends to cycle back on itself.  I set out a premise, then I go around the idea to look at it from all sides, tying the views, including the unusual ones from different viewpoints back together, coming back to the premise.   That circling around is my own version of building opposing twists, building the rope stronger by twisting and untwisting, right and left, rejoicing in the tension between strands rather than trying to eliminate it.

I remember one at a trans group meeting when I was responding to someone’s argument.  “You are going around the point!” said the person who was challenging me.  “Just wait,” said another person.  “She will soon get back and tie it all together.”    How can you tie things together without having enough rope, and how can you have good rope without trusting opposing twists?

I know that I need to create a new life.    I know that life demands that I be more out there, more assertive, easier to see as product.

That’s hard for me, because I am the kind of person who has always thought she has to make her own rope, laying down the opposing twists in my own life.

Ropemaking, though, doesn’t just happen on an individual basis.  In fact, for most people, ropemaking is a social experience.    We come together with others who have their own twists and together, as a couple, family, office, community, village, corporation, tribe or nation, our opposing twists come together to make a strong, resilient and durable structure, a rope that ties us all together, snaking through human nature.

It’s not my job to always hold all the opposing twists inside.   It’s my job to play my part in a bigger society, letting my unique twists play against the twists of others, to build a better and stronger future.

Rope is a beautiful thing, elegant and almost alive with the plants that gave it life, with the hands of the ropemaker, and the extended energy of the people who use that rope to make things happen.

And it’s beautiful because it takes all the opposing twists and makes something much more than any single bit could deliver.

Just like in building a better world, a better future for all.

On & Off Stage

One of the most challenging bits about becoming your own product is that there is no “off-stage.”

When you are playing a role, people don’t expect consistency on and off stage.   The cast and crew know that who you are on-set isn’t who you are off-set.   You have the support of the rest of the production to really stay hot and bring the energy, because you are all together making this pretend world and all together being yourselves around it.

That’s not really an option for people who have a public role that they have to fulfill, as the story of Paula Deen reminds us.    She understood who she had to play in front of the camera, or even in the dining room of her restaurant,   but still believed that when she got to the kitchen, or when the doors were locked, she was off stage and that she could be someone else, a private self who was more good old gal than Gordon Elliot and Food Network would ever let her be.

I remember being told how to lie in a Gifted Child Society class when I was a kid, one of those extracurricular things I was taken to in New Jersey.   Always make sure, the teacher said, that your lies have weight, that they line up with the facts, like garage receipts, otherwise they will come a cropper.  If that was true in 1964, it’s certainly more true in an age of cell phone cameras and tweets.

That’s one big reason I eschewed pretense.  I wanted honesty and integration in my life, and that’s what I worked strongly toward.

The problem, though, is in the subject of apparent transformation.  We may know that the transgender experience isn’t really transition, but rather emergence of something that was buried, as Arlene Istar Lev reminds us, but that isn’t the way it looks or feels.  It looks and feels like becoming new, not just bringing previously hidden facets of our character to the surface and polishing them.

It looks and feels like leaps are required.  And a leap into a public persona feels like a tricky one indeed.   We have to break old tethers and become new, not just on-stage, but on-stage and off.   There really isn’t much place to have a secret and hidden life anymore.

That scares me some.   Fake it ’till you make it sure, pretend you are the person you want to be, perform your best and considered self, sure, but for me, that means not being stopped by the pain and blood, by the wounds that taught me my lessons, by the introversion that let me cling onto reasonable and rational like twin masts in a roiling gale.

There is no off stage, but then again, being limited by my history and biology means being stuck beyond transformation, the transformation that I need and need to speak for in the world.

Claiming a potent performance seems key, but that also means leaping, not just scraping everything into some segmented and compartmentalized story.


After the jump, some other thoughts on Deen’s choices.


Continue reading On & Off Stage

Reasonable and Rational

I faced a lot of crazy growing up.  My mother’s narcissistic crazy, my father’s asperger crazy, my family’s dysfunctional crazy, and of course my own transgender crazy.

It’s a crazy world out there.

And so my go to, my tent pole, my stability had to come from somewhere.

That somewhere was the whole notion of reasonable and rational.

I knew that the feminine wasn’t going to work for me.   Showing that side only brought grief.

So I clung to the only stable thing I could find.   The ways of science and engineering.

My father was always distressed that I never became an engineer.  He always believed that if I could just learn to go slower and be more deliberate, I could make a better life for myself.  I knew that Christopher Robin needed to go Hoppity, Hoppity and so did I.

For me, an examined life seemed to be the only choice.   My emotions were sabotage, so I needed to manage them.    My mother’s emotions got her out of control and self-centred, my father’s emotions were incredibly constrained, and my own emotions were just wrong and sick, or so everyone told me.

Reasonable and rational.

It turns out that the transwomen I tend to connect with the most seem to be the ones who also saw science as saviour.    Like me, they did things like playing at the science museum, spending their adolescence at MIT, and learning to love computers.  Nerds, in other words.

You don’t have to be a man to do science, but then again, science has never been a domain that values the feminine.    It is, in the end, a pretty gender neutral place, as located in the head as it is.

I never became a full engineer, writing code or anything else.  Instead, I lived in the liminal space between.  I made my own degree in technology communications, and claimed the space of product manager, between the technical and marketing, between product and user.    This is the way of the shaman, of course, building bridges/erasing barriers, and that connection I needed to build in my heart was the source of the connection I built in organizations.

Slow cold thought and fast hot performance, I did both in a mix the experts said shouldn’t exist in humans.  Oh, well.

Clinging to reasonable and rational was always a touchstone for me, something to hold onto in a crazy world.  There is no place for the pretentious in the world of science, where the facts are supposed to tell the story, so I trained myself to drive the pretend out and hold onto the facts.

The problem is that not everything in life can be reduced to facts.  Our flights of fancy and imagination can move us past the mundane and conventional.   We can leap beyond the expected, creating the breathtaking and awesome.

I will never lose all those decades of holding on to reasonable and rational.  I’m old, and my mind is pretty well wired up.

But to claim my own magic, to become new and create a new life, I can’t let myself be constrained by the reasonable and rational anymore.   There is no logical extension of where I am that makes things new and better.  A leap is required.

And that leap has to trust my own raging and outrageous possibilities, beyond the mundane and known.

I fear the pretentious because my comfort has always been the reasonable and rational.  It’s just that the reasonable thing seems to be to curl up and die.   And while that solution is reasonable, it’s not very life affirming or spiritual.

It isn’t being reasonable and rational that makes a human.   Being human is much more about the heart, about who and what we love.   Follow your bliss, indeed.

At some point, one has to let go of the mast that kept you stable and just dive into the crazy.  We need the eggs, don’cha know?

It might have been better to do it when I had more life left, when I wasn’t carrying around so much accumulated wisdom that helps me see the crazy coming from miles away.   But this is the hand I have been dealt.

Thank you, God, for showing me reasonable and rational behaviour.

And thank you too, for helping me learn how to let go of it a bit and live.

A little bit, anyway.

Duty As Dream Destruction

So much of the 1990s were consumed with me thinking about lying and truth in the cause of transgender.

I’ll admit, some of the outcome was useful.   That’s the thing about my particular brand of introspective therapy.  It takes for bloody ever, it’s draining and excruciatingly slow, with me following my path of slow thinking and fast performance, but it leaves a useful residue of considered thought in writing.

But that struggle has been on hold for a decade of vitality and health, so much of which is gone now, as I did my duty towards my parents.

Now, when I come back to the struggle, I find that the big block for me was the issue of pretense.

Back when I was about 25, in the 1970s, and I was doing a daily TV show, I had a relationship with a dancer.    It was intense and potent, and very lesbian; her next lover, and they are still together, I think, was a butch woman.

She pushed me to catharsis one night, the night I realized how much I was surrogate spoused by my mother.   I recently saw Jo Frost on episode 4 of Family S.O.S. help a teenage boy who was being erased by his father and having his mother transfer the demands that her husband wasn’t satisfying onto him.   I felt for that kid, just like the scapegoated boy Phil McGraw helped on Oprah because I knew that experience.

My parents didn’t believe much in dreams, in possibilities, in fake it ’till you make it.  They were balloon bursters, my mother deliberately, with her failure cycle, and my father causally with his enabling and aspergers.

Performances had to be very flat and non-challenging around them.   I somehow wonder how I got the ability to improv and get buckets of laughs in my 8th grade musical and my 9th grade play, but I lost that live performance drive soon after that until I had to stand in the front of a seminar room.   My TV shows were compelling, but earnest, that magnetism I had scaring me down to dull.  Lost to duty, again.

And that was all wrapped in my fear of pretense.

I didn’t want to be caught pretending to be someone I am not.

The problem is, though, that I still don’t really know who I am, or at least know who I can be.  Maybe my dreams really do mean I can write amazing stories, maybe I really can be seen as beautiful.

To have to be who others think you are is such a horrible waste of potential.

But if you can’t imagine more, can’t try on a character that doesn’t exactly fit and see if you can grow into that, where is the possibility of magic?

You are who you pretend to be, so be very careful who you pretend to be, says Vonnegut.  Wouldn’t it be great if we encouraged each other to pretend big and beautiful, rather than smashing each others dreams?

Do we really have a duty to fit into the boxes that others have created for us?   Is truth being required to squeeze into the shape of who our parents and teachers and peers tell us we are?

Everyone around us has their own agenda, their own fears.  They try to shape and control the world around them to get what they want, what doesn’t scare them.  Is our duty to do what they expect, to do what calms their fears?

Ask TBB about how the fears of her peers came out when she announced her transition, how they told her she would fail, but how her knowledge that happiness was possible even if passing wasn’t kept her afloat and growing.

I need a new life.   And that life has to be untethered from past duty.   That duty will always be part of my life, of course, but it can’t define my future.

Moving past my fear of pretension, my habit of letting humility and clarity force me to play small, seems vital to moving beyond what I had to be to what I can be.

After all, every gal is entitled to her share of drama and glamour, right?   A bit of performance and pretense, beyond the mundane?  Maybe there is even still time for me.  Maybe.

Possibility only exists in places where room is left for dreams, in places where all the imagination isn’t squeezed out in service of fear and the status quo.

Possibility only exists when we don’t completely sacrifice ourselves to duty.  When we serve our own dreams, we have more to give to others.  Your success is a gift to the world.

Is transformation beyond history and biology possible?

If it is possible, it can only be because we dream beyond expectations and make those dreams a reality in this world.

If it isn’t possible, then why I am still hanging around?

Is every gal is entitled to her share of drama and glamour?

Am I?


I have spent my life trying not to appear pretentious.

I have also spent my life trying to play small.

I suspect that these are two sides of the same coin.

Pretentious: “Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.”

What’s the opposite of that?  “Attempting to remain invisible or unchallenging by affecting lesser importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.”

Which is the worse error?   is it worse to be too arrogant or too self-effacing?  Is it worse to be too ambitious or too meek?

If we are not full of ourselves, are we empty of ourselves?   Which is worse?

Should Baby put herself in a corner?

I need a new voice.   And I know what it is, the full Kathleen Turner.  That throaty laugh I have spoken about.

But I fear that it is too pretentious, too much of a pretense.

But if we can’t aspire to be more or different than we are now, if we fear being seen as pretentious, can we ever transcend the pull of the conventional and diminished?   Can we ever play big, claim our own power?

I know that whatever my new life is, I can’t be playing down the importance, talent, culture, etc., that I do possess.

Sure, I need to stay humble enough to not dismiss real challenges and insights that others may bring.    That’s how we connect and learn.

But fearing being seen as pretentious just keeps me small.

And that doesn’t serve me, or my world.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

I was talking to a transwoman yesterday who was concerned that people would ask her if she had bottom surgery.

(We used to just call it surgery, before the rise of transmen, but you could always tell transsexual separatists who didn’t want it called genital reconstruction surgery (GRS) but rather sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) as if somehow, genitals were all there is to body sex.)

“So what do you say when someone asks you?”

“I say something like ‘Do you fuck your wife?'” she answered.

Oy.   I get the premise of this answer, but it’s so aggressive.

It’s our tone of reply when we get put in a pressure spot that tell people how comfortable we are in our own skin.  And it’s our own comfort that takes the tension out of interactions.

Kids know this.  If they find a tease that gets under another kid’s skin, they will push on that over and over, just to amuse themselves and the crowd by making the other kid squirm.  Don’t squirm and you disarm them.

What do we want to tell people about surgery?   I want to tell them that they have no right to know.

In his book, A Whole New Life,  Reynolds Price talks about the way that people thought they had the right to know about his cancer, to ask intimate questions they would never ask of people who were able bodied.  This intrusion was seen as caring, but he experienced it as gawking, as the entitlement of the normies towards freaks.

So I think of answers that go to that point, but don’t make me look touchy or uncomfortable.

“Did you have surgery?”

“Why?  Are we going to end up in bed together soon?”

Answer flirtatiously and let them face their own questions.  And if they say “Maybe,” you can just say “Well, we can talk about it on our third date,” with an impish smile.

“Did you have surgery?”

“No, I don’t want to be rude.  Let’s talk about your genitals first!  Are they normally sized?”

Or maybe get to the heart of it with a classic etiquette response.

“Did you have surgery?”

“My mother told me I should only discuss what’s in my panties with a doctor or a lover.  Are you one of those?”

I think the basic premise of this answer, that genitals are only important when they are important, and not in the wide world, is real and important.  Our gender isn’t about our genitals, it’s about our choices, and getting surgery doesn’t change who we are.  Just bopping a male over the head and giving him GRS will not make him a woman, nor will hormone changes.  My father was testosterone free for the last twenty years of his life after treatment for prostate cancer, and it didn’t change who he was.

I once told a nun “I assume you haven’t shown your genitals to anyone but a doctor since you took your vows, and you’re still a woman.”

We are not defined by the shape of our pee-pee, we are defined by the shape of our heart.  That’s my argument about non-consentual gendering, and I’m sticking by it.

I’d really like every transperson to follow the don’t ask, don’t tell code about the current shape of their genitals.

I know that’s not going to happen, because many transsexuals feel that they spent a bundle on their genital modifications and that should give them the right to brag about them.  After all, why pay as much as a new car and not be able to show it off?

There are still many transsexuals who believe that there must be magic in GRS, that it really is a sex-change, and they will be treated differently on the plane ride home from it than on the plane ride before.    TBB saw a lot of this when she worked in Trinidad taking care of post-op people.

You get GRS to support your own changes, to reflect the changes inside. Surgery can be empowering, supporting a move to deeper change.  TBB has often said that the best thing about her surgery is that it stopped family from trying to convince her to go backwards, untied the tethers others thought they saw, making it clear she had made a leap.

It’s true that some see GRS as the point where the doctor signs your body as being officially transgender, giving some medical credibility, but should we really let the medical profession own the whole idea of who we are?  Shouldn’t we own that ourselves?

And every transperson should know that aftermarket genitals just aren’t a functional as original equipment, be it a hole or a pole.

As long as some need to brag, then a refusal to answer about surgery will be seen as an admission that you didn’t have surgery, and that’s a bit sad.

But in the end, it’s our tone of reply when we get put in a pressure spot that tell people how comfortable we are in our own skin.  And it’s our own comfort that takes the tension out of interactions.

And that’s why I suggest that ladies and gentlemen just don’t talk about their privates in public.  Share them only with intimate companions, not by wearing a too short skirt.

Your genitals don’t define who you are, your choices do.

Tell your doctor everything.  Then they can help you better.

And with a lover?  Then choose to be hot, whatever you are rocking at the moment.

But in the office?   Gracious, confident, comfortable and discreet is always a good choice.   Don’t ask, sure, but you don’t tell.  Show others you had the ultimate trans surgery, pulling the stick out of your own ass.

That’s the choice that supports gender liberation.

A New Life

“You are talking like it’s over,” TBB said to me.   “But it’s not over for you.  It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

My life was over when my parents died.   That is for certain.   My life was so enmeshed with them for so long that once they were gone, my life crumbled.

But TBB is right in quoting Yogi.  It ain’t over ’til it’s over.   Truth is truth.

So if my life is over, but it’s not over ’til it’s over, where does that leave me?

It leaves me needing a new life.

I’m certainly not the only human who ever faced this challenge.  Illness, death, divorce, unemployment, so many other life challenges destroy the lives of humans.  And they have no other choice than to make themselves a new life.   Most of them, do, they succeed, and often they find that new life more considered, more fulfilling and more joyful than the life they lost, even if the slog to transform is hard.

Miss Paige called me once after oiling up a a newly purchased piece of cast iron and putting it in a slow oven.

“I’m just too old,” she said to me, “to have to be seasoning new pots.”  I know that feeling.

But it’s not over ’til it’s over, and when you need new, you need new, no matter how worn out or whipped you feel.

My siblings don’t really understand this.  The parents lives impacted them, sure, but their lives go on, pretty much as normal.

In fact, the idea of radical reformation, of needing a whole new life, scares them, much as it scares so many people in the world.  Who the hell wants their life shattered, and then to have to pick up the pieces and make new?

For me, the challenged is enhanced because I have had to deny so much of my life in the cause of duty to family.   That’s a worthy cause, indeed, but that duty makes habits and fears that are very hard to get past.    It sometimes feels like going forward with a new life is a betrayal of what I have done before, making it less.

I know, on some level, that this is not true.

Even my father, on his deathbed, made it clear time and again that after speaking for him and my mother for so long, now I have to speak for me.   Kate B says, after reading some bits of mine, that she is very happy to hear my voice again, and even the judges at Startup Weekend wanted me to know, know, know that they loved my voice.    “I could listen to you for hours,” one therapist told me, “but I know that wouldn’t help with the pain I see in your eyes.”

But a whole new damn life at my age, at my state of health, after all I have endured?

It feels impossible.

But it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

And it ain’t over yet, apparently.

A new life.


We Are

(i wrote the first part of this after a long conversation with tbb, as we talked about some tender spots we both have, but i knew it wasn’t full.  then natalie wrote this morning and i needed to reply, and i saw how the two ideas were the same idea (after the jump).  i really need to see occurrences like this as a sign i am doing the work i need to do so i feel less trepidatious about the future, but that’s one of my own sore and well defended spots.)

We are at the centre, as TBB reminds me, two things: our tender hearts and our tough defences.

Sure, there are all those other bits swirling around that make up our identity; our heritage, our duty, our priorities, our culture, our education, and all those other things that make up a complete person.

But at the centre of all that lies a beating human heart, a potent human spirit, and just outside of that pulse is the defences that we build to keep that heart safe and functional.

You can’t have one without the other.   And you can’t have a relationship with someone without engaging both bits, both the tender heart and the tough defenses.

Both bits are engaged in the central struggle of our lives, the struggle between being ourselves and being functional in the world, in society.  That’s one reason I hated the end of Hedwig, because while getting naked may be a great stunt, walking naked in the world isn’t any kind of practical position. Continue reading We Are

Makes You

Ms. Ava was struggling a bit when I called.

“I spoke to my brother,” she said, “and my father is in town.  It’s Father’s Day, and I need to go to dinner there at 2:30.”

“What’s the challenge?” I asked.

“I don’t know what to say to my father.  I mean, I want to talk about the changes in my life, but I don’t want to make it a big thing.”

“What does your father know?”

“We spoke at Christmas.  He told me that I had to do what makes me happy.”

“That’s not an unreasonable thing for a parent to say,”  I agreed.

“But what do I say today?”

“It’s so easy for us to show the challenges we face, and when we do, our family often wants to tell us that if our path is too painful, maybe we shouldn’t follow it.  You know, like ‘Doctor, Doctor, it hurts when I do this!’ ‘Well, don’t do that!

“Maybe you should tell him what you are doing that makes you happy.  Maybe that’s a good place to start,” I suggested.

“That makes sense!” Ava said.  ” And maybe it would be good for me to remember what makes me happy too.”

My parents always wanted me to be happy.   The problem is that they didn’t want to be confused and challenged by me, wanted to be comfortable.   My mother wanted everything to be about her, and my father wanted to be able to understand things, and me acting from emotion was hard to get with Aspergers.

They are gone now, moved on to another plane, whatever that is.   They don’t need the kind of attention and caring I gave them for my whole life.

But I suspect that, wherever they are, they still want me to be happy.

On this Father’s Day, i know that’s what my late father would want.

Follow my bliss, and let the family see me get clear, even if the work is hard and ambivalent.

Because in the end, you have to do what makes you happy.

Right, Dad?

Observer Bias

It’s our survival technique, the approach we took to surviving the hard times of our lives, that defines us.

It defines us both because it makes sense of the experience of our life and because it reveals much about our essence, about the kind of person we are.

My survival technique is glaringly obvious.

I learned to observe my life rather than to live it.   I see my life in context, analyzing and dissecting it, as a strategy to handle the pain and challenges I have faced.

On the participant/observer axis, I skew way towards observer.

Everyone needs to live on that participant/observer axis.   We need not just to do stuff, we also need to consider what we do, not just to choose, but to make better choices.  We need to learn by understanding context, learn from our failures and, if we are smart, learn from the failures of others.

In therapy, the big challenge is usually to help people live a more examined life, to see patterns and habits.

That’s not my problem, of course.  I already do that.  And it’s why I am so damn useful in many situations where people want to heal or grow or succeed, because I can help ask the questions that illuminate the challenges.   I think well.

I have said many times that I feel like I have lived my life backwards.  I learned my survival strategies very early, with challenging parents and a nature that I was taught I had to suppress.    Most people lived and then learned strategies.  I learned strategies and then tried to learn to live.   My girl instincts needed to be submerged and channeled, not to be explored, sadly for me.

That means that my youthful exuberance was very constrained.  I didn’t learn to try, to risk, to explore, to take a shot.  Instead I learned that  analysis paralysis would serve me better, cautious and considered limits to what I did.  Keep myself in a box, I did.

And trying to learn participant energy when other people are leaving it behind is very tough.

Being a keen observer is always what people liked about me, at least when they wanted to understand.  But being a keen observer is always what people hated about me, at least when they wanted to just get on with life without too many damn uncomfortable questions.  There are always things people would rather not see about their own survival strategies.

Trying to explain my challenges as a too intense observer to others is a challenge, because it’s not a problem that the majority of people have.  They haven’t turned themselves into a highly tuned instrument ready to suss out new situations, carrying a load of knowledge and a way wicked sensitive gut where the visceral is always a gateway to the intellectual.

Observation was my strategy for survival, though.  Think it through, make connections, come from duty and not desire.   Observe, observe, observe, observe.  Explicate, explicate, explicate, explicate.

Observation tends to lead to a reactive life, though, waiting for the next train to pass.  When you know the risks, you know the risks, and with a little creative thinking, a penchant for always worrying about possible disasters to come, analysis paralysis is easy to find.   We live “The Hamlet Syndrome: Overthinkers Who Underachieve.”

An I am observer and visionary because of what I had to survive?  Or has surviving so much just honed my natural instincts?  Does it matter?  Probably not.

But being an observer has always set me apart.  I needed to be set apart, yes, just to survive, but being set apart from from other people and from my own desires, well, it’s lonely.

Probably too lonely.



Dead Butterfly

There was a big dead butterfly at my feet as I got out of the car to sign the paperwork that authorizes my sister, who has regularly failed me, to do stuff she failed me on.

Not a good day.

I know she is doing the best that she can, that she wants to help, but it certainly doesn’t feel like she understands anything about my experience of the world.

Me and the dead butterfly.  I always told her that one of us had to make it out of here alive, and it wasn’t going to be me.


Barry Humphries says that he could write everything that Dame Edna Everage says, but that it would take a lot longer than just having her say it.  Instead, he just lets her go, and acts as an inner censor when she is going too far.  (In case you don’t know, Dame Edna was created and is performed by Mr. Humphries.)

Why can Dame Edna be so much more fast, sparkling and witty when she is on stage than when she is on a keyboard, on a script?

Because the magic of human relationships is interaction.  We get in the moment and we let fly, never quite knowing what will come out of our mouth next. We get feedback, something captures our attention, a notion comes to us, we intuit something, and bang, our conversation goes in a new and unexpected way, one that would be almost impossible to script.

That’s my experience sitting in this dumpy chair in this ragged basement tapping on this beat-up keyboard.  I can get there, but without the surprise and spark that come with real interactive relationships.   I end up worn down rather than invigorated, end up seeping life rather than sipping life.

I go out and have a tiny bit of interaction and then I bring that back and share it in text.  I’m used to patching together the small bits of interaction I do have and making the most of them.  I replay, replay, replay, replay, squeezing what I can get.

I once told a partner that I was learning to trust myself, but that I needed to learn how to trust others.  She suggested that I learn that by myself.  Oy.

But do I get everyday interaction that exists in my world and not in the world of others?   No.  I do go out to find connection, but it’s on their terms, their context and not mine.

That interaction is missing for me.  Leaving me alone. And lonely.


S. Kristine James wanted to promote the Richard Doctor session on Virginia Prince at The Empire Conference, so she said “This is the person who invented the word transgender.”

No.  The research shows that by the time The Prince started using that kind of word in the early 1980s, groups like Renaissance Transgender Association in Philadelphia and TGIC in Albany were already using the term Transgender.

I personally heard The Prince talk about it.  “Transgenderist!  Transgenderist!  It’s describes a person who crosses gender but not sex!  Not a transsexual, but a transgenderist!  But never transgender!  It’s not a modifier, an adjective or adverb!  It’s a term!  Transgender no, Transgenderist, yes!”

Why did The Prince create that term?  Because they knew that the term crossdresser no longer described them, and the word transsexual would never describe them.  No genital surgery for The Prince!  But wanting to be seen as a woman, not just a man in a dress?  Heck yes!

Kristine said that there was quite a ruckus in the care facility that Virginia ended up in.  They had the paperwork; The Prince was a man.  And they knew how men should dress and be addressed.  Not The Prince, though.  Not after 40 years of battle on that front.

Crossdressing is about changing your clothes, for whatever reason.  Rudy Guliani was known for crossdressing on stage during his years as mayor, for example.  But he never wanted to be seen as a woman, never want to claim womanhood, never wanted to experience the world as a woman or for the world to experience Rudy as a woman.

The Prince wanted that.  More than crossdressing.  If anyone was an advanced crossdresser, it was The Prince, but they wanted more.  They knew it wasn’t just the dress, the vestments, the clothes that they wanted to change, it was their gender, even if they were clear that they couldn’t change sex.

I spoke to a gal who was on the registration table for The Empire Conference.  She could be classed as a crossdresser, I guess, living mostly as a man with primary custody of her kids, including a ten year old girl.  She isn’t full time, and her dress is still a bit shiny and candy colored.

“I watched the crossdressers come to the conference,” she told me, “at the sessions and the gala, and it’s great that they had a place they feel safe to dress up.   It’s just that I already have a place where I feel safe, and it’s called the world.”

She’s not totally gender shifted, but she knows that her expression is about gender and not about clothes.  Not a crossdresser, I would say, but a transgenderist.

Transgenderist.  That’s the term The Prince claimed for an expression that wasn’t just changing your clothes, but instead, expressing a deeper gender identity.

Just not transgender, never transgender.  At least, not to The Prince.

The Right Answer

The right answer is almost always a pain in the ass.  That’s why we so often ignore it when it is staring us in the face, when it is glaringly obvious to everyone.

The wrong answer is easy.  It’s the answer that is in favor of the status quo, the answer that is the most comfortable.

The right answer, though, is almost always the answer for change.   And that’s hard.

Now, answers aren’t right just because they are change answers.  Change for the heck of it isn’t always right, because often times the wrong answer is trying to change what is challenging us, tempting us to turn away from real challenge to novelty and diddling.

Most times, what we need to change is our attitude, our approach, our mindset.   A miracle, says ACIM, is when we change the way we see things to embrace the miracles that already exist. A miracle is a moment for learning, for turning more towards the sacred, be that engaging conflict or letting go of our own expectations and desire.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away, said Phillip K. Dick.   Right answers are like that.  They don’t go away after you dismiss them, rather they just keep coming around again.  That’s why trying to escape a clearly right answer is usually a futile gesture.

We see the signs, the portents, coming up 53d street, as they say.   But we ignore them, bury them, because to acknowledge them would be to acknowledge the requirement for change, which just seems too hard at this point in our lives.

There are right answers, and the right ones keep coming back.  Keep demanding we do the hard work of letting go of the comfortable, whatever that is, and risk the new.

The right answer is almost always a pain in the ass.

But the only way to get rid of that pain is to acknowledge it, work with it, move on and change.


What’s Left

Supported my sister in doing a craft fair today.

It was good for her.  She connected with customers and artists, people valued her work and paid for it, she enjoyed the day.

She called me to talk about the day.

She has a real high right now.  She feels great.  But that feeling will be gone tomorrow when she has to wake up for work.

She has some cash in her pocket, or at least in her payment account.  And she has neat objects she traded for.  But the cash will be gone in a week when bills come due, and the objects won’t be new then either.

The only things that will last from today are the lessons she learned.  The lessons about what customers want, the lessons about running a business, but most of all the lessons about how she can be successful and happy doing what she loves.   Those will still be vital a month, a year, a decade from now.

I suggested she get a book and write about today so those revelatory stories, those enduring lessons won’t be lost, so they will be there when things get a little more dull.

Because today she feels like a success and a star because she was one.

And the lessons tell her how to be more of one in the future.

It’s the stories that endure and inform our lives, if only we let them.

Lost Smile

My parents first great grandchild came this morning.  They told my father that they were trying and they told my mother a baby was coming, but they both had to leave before.

Sister hauled me to the birthing suite.  I still have very tough responses to being in a health care setting.  All those details.

They were treating baby like a doll, saying what every expression meant, what this twelve hour hold child was thinking.  That made me uncomfortable, as I was wondering what this child was here to teach us, assuming I had a lot to learn, not that I already knew everything about it.  The assumption and entitlement of normativity: you will be like us, baby.

I imagined the smile on my father’s face if he was there to see the baby.  Children always brought out the brightest beams on him.  He loved them.

He smiled that way, ear to ear, when he saw each one of his children after they were born, I’m sure of it.  Pure delight.

And he smiled that same way up to almost the very day he died.  Such a blessing.

I’m so sad I never gave him a grandchild.

But I thank him for everything he gave me and the rest of his family.

Thanks, Dad.

Money And Politics

Went to “Trans Night Out” for Pride last night.  I was really hopeful that an old friend who listed herself as a “maybe” on Facebook would be there, but even many of the people who listed themselves as “definite,” like staff from the local Pride Center didn’t show up.

It reminds me how weak the area is.

A gal who has been cleaning the Pride Center for years and is about to graduate in accounting, said she wanted to get better in everything.  She wants to go from cleaner to board member of the Center.   An admirable goal.

I talked about the role of the board, and she listened, because a decade in NA has taught her to listen.  That’s one of the key lessons of recovery, the ability to learn from others mistakes and successes by listening well and using that listening to inform your life.

There really are only two functions of any non-profit.  One is delivering services — spending money — and the other is keeping the organization growing — making money.  There are lots of variations on this theme, of course, like motivating volunteers and such, but in the end, it always comes down to gathering resources, which usually means money, and then distributing those resources.

The board’s job is on the gathering resources, making money side of the operation.  Sure, there are also goals like representing diverse clients and such that are important in the creation of the board, but that doesn’t change the role of the board in helping make the operation a success.

She thought about this and then thought that maybe she didn’t want to be a board member after all.   I told her that she needs to figure out what her fight is, what her mission is, and do that.    There are so many projects that can be beneficial and useful, but the key is to do the one you choose well, with passion, vigor and quality.   In the end, being all over the place, a dilettante, usually doesn’t make an impact or a difference.  Know how to make the most of the energy you put in and be excellent.

We also spoke about her relationship with therapists in the area.  She hasn’t found many of them useful in her journey.  One can write good professional letters, which is good.  Another can tell her about the trans experience, but she now knows she can get that information in many places.   And the others, well, she likes the opportunity to meet transpeople she can learn from, but she doesn’t find the therapists empowering or all that healing.

It reminded me of what one of those therapists said to me years ago.  “A client told me that another therapist said they were cured, but you don’t do that.  You need to maintain the income stream.”

Michel’s Iron Law Of Oligarchy: Soon after an organization is founded its primary purpose becomes to sustain itself.   And if you have a business, you need to sustain it with revenue.

The local trans activist for the Pride Agenda is following his girlfriend to Los Angeles.

I asked if they were going to fill his current position.  Note that I didn’t ask who they were looking for, because I knew the position was fragile anyway.

“I don’t know,” he told me.  “That’s why people have to call in and tell them that it is important that the Pride Agenda keep a trans activist on staff.”

We talked a little of his experience and he said that he hadn’t understood how difficult it was going to be to be a transperson at the Pride Agenda.   Oh, yes.

I wish I had gotten more details, but I can imagine the pressure.  The Pride Agenda is responsible for distributing millions of dollars in  social service aid to organizations across the state.   This is the golden handcuffs that the power players use on them, binding them to the politicians while they are also supposed to be advocating for change.  They do serve an important purpose in connecting potential voters/contributors in a key segment to the government, but their client is just as much the pols as the voters, a neccessary go-between.

That’s why the Pride Agenda needs independent activist groups to move the goal posts, to stand up and scream, because that helps them balance their obligation to the pols.

At the rally for a bill the Governor wants, supporting women, some local activists waved signs and shouted for support of the gender rights bill, which this Governor supports but has not put on his legislative priorities.

Those activists were noted  and the Pride Agenda got a call from the Governor’s office about why people were queering that rally.  They said it wasn’t their people, that they didn’t organize it, that was a constituent group that needs to be addressed.

One little step in the dance.

The GENDA bill will be passed on meta issues, when the pols decide it should be passed.  Sure the two senators have come out for it, but they don’t have to vote for it, and lip service to trans rights helps cover harder votes that are challenging to the Lesbian & Gay agenda.

I saw Joe Salmonese’s suit when TBB challenged him at SCC.  Nice suit, great shoes.  The trans community didn’t pay for that suit.

The interaction between power and money, between money and politics is deep, abiding and unbreakable.

Which is why I have to have a good relationship with money if I really want to have any relationship with power, which is why any transperson has to have a good relationship with money if they want a good relationship with power.


The number of times in the last decade when I though that if I stopped concentrating I would collapse into a puddle of my own pain, hurt and frustration is uncountable.

But whenever I faced another crisis that affected the people around me — my father, my mother, my sister — I knew I had to stand and take charge.   I learned to be the carer early, animated by love and by duty.

Inside, though, was the puddle.  And now, all that huge, buried reservoir lies just under my skin, ready to be tapped at any time.   I may have my strength back, as much as possible after my neglect of my own health, but there is so much swirling underneath, sloshing about in a way that always threatens to knock me off my tortured feet.

All I need to see is that southern peaches are back in season, at .98 cents a pound and all those peaches I peeled and cut and took to the hospital, day after day, week after week, month after month come back to me, the duty and the love, of course, but also the exhaustion, frustration, fear, pain, stress, and damage are also right there, in that peach that needs to be bought and left to ripen, like my feelings.

Draining that reservoir is very challenging.  I haven’t yet been able to crystallize it nicely in finely pointed text, haven’t been able to take that massive narrative full of moments of abject love and horror and turn it into prose.

I have searched for bereavement groups, but their experience mostly isn’t of the kind of stress I took holding up a family through tremendously trying times.   They have lost loved ones, yes, but they didn’t end up taking the burden in nearly the same way.   And if people who have had loss can’t come near this raw lava from inside, then what hope do I have of anyone who hasn’t gone through this understanding?  The obligation to package it in a digestible way just seems awesome and awful, seems less than useful to help me process and unpack that huge vat that threatens to unend me.

And so, I know that puddle I wanted to turn into last year, so many times, is still in me, big and wet and messy and hurting, always threatening any balance.  I kept the outside together for my family, to do the work required no matter how much it cost me, but my family in many ways didn’t do their part in keeping it together for me.

There is no place for me to turn into a puddle, like Odo in the arms of Lwaxana.  “Shouldn’t I have all of this and passionate kisses, passionate kisses from you?”

A puddle, a sea, all wet, if I stop concentrating.



You cannot manage your own baggage unless you are able to unpack it.

To edit what you carry, you have to be able to be able to bring it forth, examine it, and then decide what to do with it.  Does it go on the shelf, into the trash, or back in the bag?   Can it be combined with anything else, re-contextualized, or polished in ways that allow it to be more useful?

We carry what we carry for many reasons.  It may inform us, it may connect us to the past, it may be unconsidered, it may be what we need to share with others.

You can’t live in two places at once.   To never unpack is to have to live in the past as well as in the present.  The challenge is to be able to make smart decisions about what we carry with us, which is the difference between wisdom and baggage.  Is choosing ignorance better than choosing to be weighted down?  Another balance.

A person must have a certain amount of intelligent ignorance to get anywhere.
Charles Kettering

Beginner’s mind is great, without baggage and open to new possibilities, but do you really want your surgeon to live just in that place?  Or even your plumber?

Without being able to unpack what we carry, we can be broken by our burden.  Disassociative Identity Disorder is a problem of not being able to unpack.  You can’t unknow what you know, even if you don’t know it consciously, but you can bury what you know in a way that breaks you.

“You can’t unpack here!” so many tell us.  “We don’t want your stinky ugly problems here!”  They want us unburdened so we can be what they consider to be properly responsive to them and their baggage, but they don’t want to have to help us go through our baggage.   Our baggage reminds them of what they stuffed away in the corners of their own cases, the mouldy bits that they don’t want to have to unpack.   So we have no place to unpack, to get all our shit into the light and repack it in a useful and lighter way.

The challenge isn’t between no baggage and too much baggage, the challenge is having the right amount of baggage, enough to carry the wisdom but not so much that it crushes you and the people around you.   If you can never unpack, though, you can never get the balance right.

So much to unpack.   But, as I have said before here, no one to say “you know, that would look better if…”  Dump the stuff out of all the plastic bins that have been stored under the porch, in the basement, sort it and then pack it up again.  Unpacking without air means not being able to process.   Unpacking without sunlight means not being able to see.  Unpacking alone means moving the mess about, not releasing it.

A burden shared is a burden halved. It’s when we can unpack and put ourselves around the room, or wear ourselves on our bodies that we begin to evaluate what we hold by utility, but as long as the crap is just stuffed in the baggage, it’s just a weight.

You cannot manage your own baggage unless you are able to unpack it.   And you can’t really unpack it without help.