Coming Together

This is the week it all came together.

Short dated, highly reduced, thick cut bacon, artisan bread on sale, a deal on a big beautiful head of romaine lettuce, some generic mayonnaise and luscious tomatoes grown on the flood plain of the river just a mile or so from here.

This was my week for Bacon Lettuce and Tomato sandwiches.  This week they were affordable, outstanding and memorable.

If you only have time to say one prayer, “Thank You” will suffice.  Gratitude is powerful.

Thank you for perfect BLT sandwiches.   And thank you for the time when Rikki and Kate both went for BLTs — Jewish gals, you know — when we ate together at that coffee shop.

Thank you for the call from that collector who wanted the oxygen concentrator back and reminded me that I don’t have to duck every authority challenge.

Thank you for marked down beef bologna, for a caring call from TBB and for ShamanGal reminding me who I used to be, letting me crystallize the lessons of my life by sharing them with someone who needs the support I never got when i was her age.

This is the week the perfect BLT came together.

And if that can happen, well, maybe, just maybe, other perfect things can come together for me in the future, too.

Thank you for my life, for love and learning and for the chance to be delighted.  Thank you, mother in the sky.

Thanks.

So, Are You Bisexual?

ShamanGal has a problem that I never faced.  Being young, slim, beautiful and with her own hair, she passes well.

All this means that she often gets guys hitting on her.  What should she do or say to manage them?

She doesn’t want to give them her history, because she finds that this often affects the way people see her, the “really a guy!” idea clicking in.

But neither does she want to lead them on, to get to the point where they might be surprised, feel fooled, cheated and upset.

She needed a queer strategy to handle this.

“I’m bisexual,” I suggested that she tell interested parties, “and I couldn’t possibly ever be with anyone who isn’t also bisexual.

“So, are you bisexual?”

ShamanGal saw the brilliance of this strategy immediately.   It is only guys who have come to grips with their own bisexual nature who can form a healthy relationship with a woman whose biology and history are bisexual to the core.

Plus, it is a credible barrier that a woman born female might use to make sure she had open minded and mature partners who owned their own sexual nature.    To be outed as bisexual doesn’t make you less of a woman.  In fact, it may make you more alluring.

Will this limit her potential relationships?  Sure.  But it will limit them much less than the choice to be completely abstinent just so she feels safe in the world, a world where she always knows the third gotcha is waiting.

Too often we don’t take the time to breathe and create new strategies that help us get what we want and need in the world, like feeling safe and still engaging with people.

That’s what queer strategies are about.

 

 

 

 

What’s Your High?

“He doesn’t abuse drugs and he doesn’t abuse alcohol,” said the detective. “This is his high. This and trying to beat the police.”

I just read that passage about a man who stole antique silver in the New York Times.

Does everyone have a high?   Not necessarily something illicit or illegal, but something that gets us out of the everyday world, that gives us a kick, that lets us feel energized and excited.

It made me start thinking about what my high might be.

Clearly, writing well is a kick for me.   Ms.Rachelle, who knows her stuff, recently called one of my pieces “exquisite.”   I hold on to that.

But writing, well, it’s a very solitary and interior thing.   Sometimes I write for an audience, like when I need to respond to a note from ShamanGal, but mostly I write in a less directed way, just trying to express myself in the best way that I can.

I can see the work I need to do ahead of me.   That is big and scary.

What I have more trouble seeing is the highs that are ahead of me.   As I used to ask in the old days, “Where are the wins?”

Facing a future with big challenges to overcome, big burdens to lift, but no expectation of highs to energize me, buoy me up and help me move forward, well, that’s a crushing vision.

Is there any question why I have wicked performance anxiety (PA) when all I can seem to imagine are the potential lows and not the possible highs?

I have done the work, moved beyond the ego, let go of desire, and released my expectations, instead committing to working the process.   Those are all the right things.

But damn, like every human, I still need to get high now and then.

Or, at the very least, imagine that highs are still possible and still coming.

 

Power Positions

Remember Stuart Smalley, Al Franken’s classic character from SNL?

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me,” Stuart would affirm into his mirror.

Why did Stuart do this?  It was because he knew he should believe that he was good enough, smart enough and liked, but somehow, he also knew he didn’t yet believe that.   He needed to put out his claim to the universe, to try and assert a power position for himself.

This is the fundamental belief of all positive thinking, that your beliefs about the world create the reality you take from your situation and therefore control your choices, so it is only by changing your beliefs that you can change your life.

In other words, changing your mind may not immediately change your situation, but changing your mind does give you the ground to change your choices and change your situation for the better.   Changing your perception and attitude towards the world is the way you can change your life.

As long as I believe that I am unknowable and unlovable because I am too whatever, believe that love and joy will escape me and all I will get is a demand to change to make me less challenging to others, my life will be defined by those beliefs.

It was important to me to create positions that leveraged what I believed to be my strengths.   Those strengths seemed to be monastic self-denial, wicked smarts and more empathy than any one person should have.   That’s how I created my concierge persona, a smart, funny and dedicated caregiver who impressed even the most hardened medical personnel.

The problem is that I know that was my lowest level of service to the world.   It supported the dreams and needs of others at a basic level.   It didn’t let me offer the best and the brightest gifts my mother in the sky gave to me.

My father knew that.  As he lay dying, he would tell me that I did a great job speaking for him and his wife, but now it was time that I spoke for me.  That was his last message to me, and he repeated it over and over, wondering where I was in the universe even as I sat next to him, holding his hand.

The problem, of course, is that those best and brightest gifts I was given are profoundly queer.   “In cultures where gender expression is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”  Lots of people think those gifts are actually sickness.

My life has been shaped by doubt, not by belief.  I have lived in the questions and not in the answers.   I am no Margaret Thatcher, so assured of the correctness of her own beliefs that I feel entitled to steamroller the rest of the world.

On one level, that’s good.  My shaman magic has always been the question that opens eyes and shows assumptions to be illusions, usually accompanied with a story or two that shows a broader, clearer, brighter or more encompassing view.

On another level, though, that’s bad.  Too much doubt can easily lead to analysis paralysis.

The question for me now, now that my service to my parents is done and dusted, is who the hell am I after the concierge has been retired?

When I look into the mirror, what do I say to myself as affirmation for making bigger, more personal and less sacrificial choices?

More than that, when I meet someone in the world, someone who I might want to work with, to share with, to trade with, to connect with, what do I show them about who I am?

It’s hard for me not to think about this challenge in marketing terms.  What is my Rosser Reeves Unique Selling Proposition?  What is my Ries & Trout brand position?  How do I oversimplify myself to make a space for a queer & challenging person like me in their mind?

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”   That may be Stuart’s affirmation, his attempt at changing his mind and his world, his claim at a power position, but it’s not mine.

I need a power position, though, to shape my thinking, my view of the world.   I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror and affirm my knowledge when doubt comes to visit me and analysis paralysis seems ready to set in, pulling me back into my own contemplative and isolated introversion.   I need to be able to look at others and assure them of who I am, because, as someone said, they will believe it after I do.

Any position statement, like any mission statement, should be clear and sharp enough that you want to yell it out at people who miss the point.   Simple and strong, ready to refocus you in a blink.

I need that position because right now, I am deflated.  All the air has been knocked out of me and I have to re-inflate myself into whatever my new shape is, whatever my new position dictates.

“I’m   _______________, I’m ______________ and doggone it, people ___________ me.”

I am what I am, sure enough.   And moving forward will help me understand more of what can work for me and what cannot.

But I change my world by changing my belief of who I am, and when I believe in that, others will too.

Just not so clear right today.

Power Persona

Billy Batson used to say “Shazam!” as a call to the wizard to invoke his transformation into Captain Marvel so he could face tough challenges.

I used to call out to denial to invoke the persona I needed to face the challenges in my life.  Boom, I did that and a sly, witty, crusty character would appear.

That character changed over time, a little bit.   The more I did my therapy, the less likely I was to scowl, or to fill the space with explanations.   I became a bit softer, a bit warmer, and learned to step back from ego and self-expression.  I learned how to fade into the background, how to support and serve.

The name of that last persona was “Concierge,” ready to assist at any time of the day or night.   Go, monastic denial, go. Serve and only serve, even if it destroys you.

Now, though, I need a new call to invoke a new role.

I need to lead.

That means I need to want.

If I don’t have a vision of where we could and should go, how can I get us there?   If I don’t invoke and fulfill my own desires, how can I stand up and stand out in the world, getting others to pay attention to me and share my dreams?

One of the most fundamental pieces I wrote around fifteen years ago is a poem called Look At Me.  It is a window into my thinking as I alternately want the attention of others and as I want to duck that attention.   That poem is still potent for me, still one of the clearest invocations of my experience.

I have spent more than a decade in the don’t look at me part of that cycle.

Now, though, I have to invite attention, invite scrutiny and by doing so, invite engagement and connection.   I have to get back on the grid, but not behind the old curmudgeon face, or even the potent concierge one, but as something more naked, more revealed, more in service to a higher calling.

I need a new power persona, with a new invocation, that takes in all my skills and training to create a new space where I and others can come together to take care of each other, where we can get what we need.

And I need that persona soon.    If I don’t have her, I will have to go back to old armor, and that will feel wrong and constraining.   It will feel like a step backwards.   But if I don’t have some kind of power persona, I let others control my life as I remain mired in my own pain and sadness.

I worry, of course, about the excesses of any position.   The slippery slope argument is one of the most specious in human dialogue, because anything can be taken to excess, but if fear of excess means we don’t do anything, nothing will get done.   The challenge for everyone is to find balance, extracting the best out of what we do and not taking it too far, into zealotry, excess, or even blind habit.    Just because a position has potential downsides doesn’t mean it must never be explored, unless we have a commitment to powerlessness.

How can I be a transwoman without walking in a bubble of self-centered armor?  How can I be a producer without being a manipulative turd?   How can I be a shaman without being a new age stoner?  How can I be a theologian without being a dogmatic idiot?  How can I be a leader without just being an ego player?  How can I be pretty without being ludicrous?  How can I follow my heart without being stupid?

What is my new power persona, and what is the call to invoke it?

Shouldering

“I can see by your shoulders,” said the modelling consultant as she reviewed a gal’s first photo shoot, “that you were not as confident as I expected or would have liked.”

She got some gigs to help her learn, but she didn’t get the contract, at least not now.  All because her shoulders seemed to give her away, seemed to reveal weakness in some flash moment test shots, reveal some lack of owning the space, owning her presence, owning her beauty.

“Sincerity, kid, sincerity,” the old pro is reputed to have told the new salesman.  “Once you can fake sincerity, you can do almost anything.”

My boss, the president and CEO, announced to our Regis McKenna PR rep that he had named my colleague a vice president.   She looked to him and me, only three of us in the board room, and asked him who knew this was going to happen.

“Only me,” he replied.  “I told her during the cab ride here.”

She focused on me.  “But they knew,” she said, indicating me.

“No,” he said, as I nodded in agreement.  I hadn’t known.

She assessed me coolly.   “That was good work, that reaction,” she told me.

She was right.  I didn’t like her much, because she didn’t get the joke.  And I damn well wasn’t going to give her anything.  So I stayed cool, without a flicker, as Ted delivered his news.

I knew I got no power from looking ignorant.   I was powerful only as far as I had the knowledge.  And she, being a flack, was more impressed with my performance when she knew it was a performance.

Fake it ’till you make it.  It’s in the shoulders.  Once you can fake authenticity, you can do anything.

My life has been a sequence of knowing, not knowing, performing, and not performing, over and over and over again.

The second most important thing in taking care of my parents, after fighting my own fatigue, was performance.

I had to modulate myself to communicate with doctors and staff, but most of all to communicate with my parents.    When dealing with AS people, Aspergers people, communication needs to be clear and focused.   You need to know your audience well and play to them.   It’s not free and open communications, at least not for me, which is why I was so good at not showing emotion when my boss made that announcement.

The most frustrating times for me were when I couldn’t get my own emotions down and modulate my performance properly.  It was frustrating for me, because I was in a vacuum, and it was frustrating for others, because I was noisy and disquieting.

When I did Startup Weekend, my other senior team member, Chris, was clear: the challenge was to present Vaporware as if it was real.   That was our winning trick; our product seemed real and professional, even if I only invented it the morning before.

In other words, our shoulders didn’t give us away.  At the very least, our presentation was more confident than other teams.

“When you believe it, others will too,” TBB told me.    She knows.  I have seen her perform her magic in a bar, winning over patrons.  She knows how to work it.   But last Friday, she didn’t feel like doing that again when those gals threw darts at her.

It’s a burden to always have to be shouldering the expectations and fears of others.

But it’s the shoulders that tell so much.

Perfect Shell or Perfect Heart?

ShamanGal sent me a note about a girl she knew at Chinese language school who was brilliant and perfect, a high flying achiever.   In the end, this “perfect” woman took her own life.  This story is a reminder to ShamanGal not to continue beating herself up because she doesn’t meet some definition of perfection, an old habit she wants to leave behind.

I responded:

Do you want to hold your humanity on the outside of who you are, or on the inside?

Do you want to work hard to submerge your queerness under a veneer of perfect or normal, or do you want to let it be on the surface and keep what is within strong and potent?

There are lots of reasons people choose to look right on the surface and keep their own human quirks buried, but it’s usually to meet the expectations of others who are so shallow that they can’t see the depths of humanity.

Demanding denial to show a face you believe others will love means that you can’t love the messy, human you at your heart.

Listen to yourself, gorgeous.  Breathe and listen to your instinct, your wit, your heart.

Yes, that will let you listen to others, but more than that, it will remind you that you aren’t worthy of destruction, either in pursuit of surface perfection or in pursuit of peace, of exhaustion and madness ending.

Throw off the shackles of perfection that others can easily understand and trust the depths of your mind, spirit and soul.

There is magic there, gorgeous.

As always, I know that when I feel called to speak to others, I need to listen very carefully myself.

 

Poses

Andie MacDowell is just so incredibly good at being Andie MacDowell.

I’ve seen her on the new Hallmark Channel series Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove, and that amazing Andie MacDowell-ness is all there; the head tilt, the looking through her lashes, the modulated tone of concern, the growing smile, the toss of those dark corkscrew curls.

In 1983, when she was a model, she showed her style in Calvin Klein Jeans ads that always stopped me when they came on TV.   “Someday, someday, we’re going to see Atlanta,” I remember her purring, talking of her friends, Dot and Earl.    I would always lock onto that advertisement whenever it played.

Ms. MacDowell was a model, and her acting is an outgrowth of that endeavour; she still wears clothes incredibly well and knows just how to pose.  Like many an old fashioned Hollywood movie star, she works in projects tailored to her like a beautiful suit, being beautiful, charming and seductive, though this time as a concerned judge who breaks courtroom procedure to help relationships.

Being Andie MacDowell looks very good on her, so she has honed and polished it for years.  Good on her.

I have spent decades forging this mellow, deliberate, measured voice, controlled and modulated.   It works for me, sort of, though not nearly as well as Ms. MacDowell’s extremely well polished shtick works for her.    Her poses came out of a youthful beauty and were polished by many of the country’s best directors.

My poses were forced out of engagement with Autism Spectrum (AS) parents every day.

My poses were forced out of a demand for gender neutral presentation as I crossed and recrossed that line.

My poses were forced out of a defensive stance. ready to defuse the third gotcha I knew was coming, the darts that would be hurled at my tender scar tissue at any time without warning.

My poses were forced out of a move past desire and desirability, a surrender of my own passions so I could control and modulate my expression.

My poses were forced out of a training that I was too intellectual, too smart and too fast for most people to keep up with, too much for people to get.

My poses were forced out of restrictions on my fantasy, my imagination, and the Jonathan Winters style voices that always ran through my head.

My poses may be natural to me, but they aren’t forged out of being the best and most compelling I can be, rather they were forged out of working inside of the restrictions I felt, working inside of the fears of others.

My dreams are creative, playful and clever.  But my waking life is modulated and constrained.   This blog is always modulated and constrained, no matter how many leaps I make here, and it still is a tough slog for people to engage.

TBB sees this in me, and she wants to encourage me just to leap more, just to go out and be playful.  I’ll work the process when it appears to me, but much too often, opportunities don’t appear to me, so i stay in, play it safe, continue to be modulated and constrained.

Ms. MacDowell, a few years younger than me, isn’t learning any really new poses at her age.  Instead, she is working what she polished, doing what she knows to work.

That’s not my challenge.   My challenge is to find some new poses that break through the modulation and constraint I have learned over my decades on earth.   I have to make work for me what never worked for me in the past, have to break the constraints I felt forced to follow.

Can I ever break the bounds of my own habits, ever learn to move beyond my own small selection of poses?     I suspect I need some new perspectives to do that; a director, an editor, a coach.

Then again, I’m not sure convention will ever look good on me, will ever really work for me.

Strike a new pose.  It’s not something most people my age have to worry about.

But it is my challenge.

 

 

 

 

Darts

TBB had a lovely time at the skeet shooting range.   She had a lovely chat with a woman warrior, a soldier who, when she heard TBB’s son is going for Naval Aviator training, knew TBB was a proud mom.  And the women who accompanied their men, a mom and her soon to be daughter in law,  had a laugh with TBB too.

But when TBB went into a biker bar after, just because she wanted a nice cold schooner of Budweiser draft, the two haggard barfly women at the end of the bar started whispering.

They could tell that TBB was “really a guy,” and that meant they got to mock her.    They didn’t care that she was a proud parent of a service member, or that she has done great and small things in her life, they only cared that “he” provided a laugh to the dried up biker chicks sitting at the end of the bar on this Saturday afternoon.

They put themselves up by putting TBB down, and TBB felt those darts in her skin.   She knew she could win over the bar if she put in the effort — she’s done that so many times before — but it wasn’t worth it.

But why should she have to feel that demand just because she wanted a cold beer on a hot afternoon?   Why did she have to feel the darts just to get what others take for granted?

It’s rarely the big, dramatic swoop that breaks transpeople.   We don’t usually get taken down by one nasty slice, one traumatic injury.

Instead, it’s the darts we feel in our skin everyday that just sap our energy, just break our stride, that leave us feeling unsafe and profoundly lonely.   One gotcha at a time, with almost no support system that can understand the cumulative effects of a life lived as target for anyone who want to feel sanctimonious enough to put down a queer freak who dares to enter their vision.

TBB was looking at pictures today and found an image of a New Years Eve event she held.   There were college friends and high school friends, but as she scanned the faces she tried to find one who was still around for her after her emergence as a woman.   There were none.

Her brother still has childhood friends in his circle, but TBB doesn’t.   Just another few darts in the skin, another few tiny scars that add up over the years to a real impairment.

People who have never felt the lash of stigma may not understand this.  Studies show that people of colour are much more likely to feel a less than gracious gesture, like a waitress plopping a plate down in front of them rather than placing it gracefully, as a sign, as a message to them, while people who didn’t experience racism will ignore the gesture.

We become sensitized to others after suffering the whip and being left with scars, usually from people who are more than happy to tell us that their treatment of us was “for our own good.”

They think we need to know that what we are doing is wrong, sick, weird and unacceptable, so helping us see the error of our ways is a kindness.  After all, we are just asking for their scorn and disapproval by our own actions, at least in their eyes.  We “had it coming” and “should have known better.”

All those darts thrown at us, even the ones we feel when they weren’t aimed at us but hit our scar tissue anyway, they are the cost of a trans life.  And because we all feel this way, when we try to find help in healing, we often only end up getting a dose of another person’s fear and pain, get blame rather than healing.

Maybe we could raise the consciousness of those around us, but too often they don’t want to have to engage our own pain, don’t want to leave their comfort zone, so they leave us instead.   To enter the experience of a trans life isn’t something most people are willing to do.

It’s great when people are nice to us.  But it’s too easy to think about how the nice people would react if things got a bit challenging; would they still stand by us?

Or would we still have to feel the darts alone, still have to be treated like a phobogenic object, still be saddled with the obligation to win over people who don’t feel any requirement to stand up for us?        Would other people’s fears still be labelled as our fault?

Negotiating other people’s fears has always been the most difficult part of trans expression for me.  They want to believe their fears are about me, not about them.

That leaves me stuck with darts, thrown in my direction.

It’s those darts, however small, that can take people like me down.

Second Act

Damn experience.

You’d have to be a fool not to learn from experience.   And the deal with a human life is that everyday we trade enthusiasm and exuberance for experience.     That may not be the deal you want, but better than trading life energy for nothing, right?

The problem is that when you have a lot of experience, you know what to expect from most situations.  And your estimation of that expectation is going to get to be pretty accurate.

Add that to the diminishing energy and health that always comes with aging and you have a potent combination.   You want to husband your resources, not risk them on a flyer that’s unlikely to pay off with a good return, and you have a good idea what won’t pay off for you.

The problem, though, is that you can never be in the right place at the right time if you don’t go anywhere at all.

TBB has been seeing this challenge with her trans friends.  They are slowing down and pulling in.  They don’t really want to take the risk again, don’t want to have to fight.

This is a particular problem for transwomen, because just to be out in the world for us is to have to push through stigma and resistance.   There are few people who just get our experience, who we don’t have to educate about translife, few whose ignorance, fears and prejudices we don’t have to negotiate.

We know most people don’t get it, and worse, we know that no matter how much energy we put in, they are unlikely to get it.  For example, the idea of going to a therapist just makes me weary, because I know how much backstory I would have to convey just to get them to a point where they can understand where I am coming from.

It’s far from a simple thing for transpeople to be out in the world.   How can people desire to be around people like me if they never met anyone like me, never even imagined anyone like me?

We are unconventional, and when others our age are relying more and more on convention, that is exceptionally challenging.  After all, others our age are tired and experienced too, often unready or unwilling to open to new ideas, new people, new possibilities.

At the same time, we are farther and farther from the experience of young people.   They may want our support in their lives, but they have their own story to build and are not going to enter ours and understand our experience in a meaningful way.

In Blown Sideways Through Life, Claudia Shear tells the story of again meeting a transperson she knew at the answering service as a sassy, sharp, stylish woman.  Now, though, after a stroke, she is back living as a man, being invisible.   If so many women turn invisible as they age, turning to sweatshirts and polyester pants as a uniform, why should it be a surprise that many transpeople also just surrender to comfortable invisibility?   How can we even think about holding open the space to be strong, let alone bold and cutting edge?

It pains TBB to see her friends surrender to entropy just because they have less energy and more life experience.   And it pains her a little, too, that she understands their stories well because she is beginning to feel the same forces in her life.

How, she has be wondering, can we help brilliant transpeople have a second act?  How can we empower them, make them feel seen and valued, connected and committed, ready to open to life, take a flyer and get a surprise?

This is especially potent to TBB because her big creation, the Southern Comfort Conference, did exactly that for a wide range of transpeople almost twenty five years ago.   She knows the effect of caring for each other, of empowering people to be and do more than they ever dreamed was possible.   She encouraged dreams and creativity, and when people came together in that space, they invigorated and lifted each other to go back and live a fuller, more dramatic and more potent life.

What do aging transpeople need? TBB wonders.   She has tried before to make a trans hometown in Trinidad Colorado, creating a place where we could come and come together, but that dream didn’t play out the way she wanted it to.

How do we transpeople transcend our experience and our aging to have a second act?   And how can we support each other in doing that?   How do we believe in our dreams enough to take another leap?

It’s an important question.

Holding Open

In classical etiquette, one of the most basic things we can do for another person is to hold the door open for them while they pass through it, hold open the door while they move between two different places.

It’s a simple action, sure, but it takes what all etiquette takes, an awareness of the needs and challenges of others and a considered willingness to extend ourselves.  to take a moment to make others lives a touch easier and a touch more gracious.

One of the biggest challenges in any trans life is the obligation to both hold open the space for change and to transform at the same time.

Stigma is the wet cotton wool of society, the thick mat of social control, woven out of the expectations, assumptions and fears of others.    Stigma wants to keep us in our place, wants to enforce the status quo, wants to defuse and deflect challenge, maintaining comfort.

The obligation to both face stigma and to become new at the same time is what makes transformation so damn hard, what keeps people down.

One of the biggest challenges I have in everyday life is to hold open the space for change.  That doesn’t just mean holding open the space for my own change, it means holding open  the space for change in the world, holding open the space for change in others, holding open the space for change in you.

If I walk into any situation with the assumption that change is impossible, that people are just who they are, that it was always that way and can’t be changed, then I make it much, much harder for people to step through the door to a new choice, a new attitude, a new vision.

The easy thing to do in the world is to stay defended, to not be open to possibility, to not make yourself vulnerable to disappointment and hurt by not expecting change.    The hard thing is to be vulnerable, exposed, and ready to welcome transformation and growth.   The hard thing is to trust in people’s willingness and ability to move beyond where they are now to a new vision, a shared vision where we hold open space for each other to grow.

I have told the story of the therapist who used to call me “he” all the time.  I told her “I don’t want to tell you how to see me, because that is your prerogative.  But if you want to be an ally to me and other transpeople, as you say that you do, you need to call me by my asserted pronoun, because that is the only way to hold open space for transformation in the world.”

She passed over my words until we were together working for the local gay and lesbian centre and another woman referred to me as “he.”

“She called you that pronoun because that’s what I called you,” she told me.  “I limited the way she could see and understand you, closed down the space you need to have.  I didn’t get that when you told me, but I see that now.”

If you want to be my ally, you have to hold open the door, hold open the space for change, just like I have to hold open the door for you, hold open the space for you to grow and change.

That seemingly simple thing of holding open my mind and heart so you can have the breathing room to become new is one of the most difficult things I do, but it may be the most important.  I know that other people change and heal in their own way, in their own time, and I can’t push you into getting it, into becoming new.   I just have to affirm your own possibilities and hold open the space.

That always means I have to be aware of you have to be gracious enough to give some of my attention and energy to your movement too.

Etiquette isn’t really a big thing nowadays.  We live in a very self-focused society where attention is the ultimate currency.   People don’t have time, energy or intention to be considerate or gracious.   Often times I will slow to let someone pass in front of me, for example, and find the people behind me pushing past me, following their own agendas rather than helping created shared space for movement, for transformation.

I do understand why this happens, how society demands a go-go-go dynamic where stopping to hold the door open for another often means you are going to be run over by the flow, means you are going to be seen as a fool for enabling the slower and weaker to move in their own time, their own way.  Getting it done, winning is the goal, not being considerate and gracious to those who can’t keep up, can’t fend for themselves.  If they get run down, well, they should learn the lesson, get with the program, stop holding things up.

Parents can understand this challenge well, if they take a moment, knowing that holding the space open for growth and transformation of children is vital to helping them have space to become the best self they can be.   And it’s certainly supposed to be at the heart of all therapy, encouraging transformation by holding open space for healing.

But too often, we want to constrain others with our own fears.   That’s especially true in the interlocking communities around trans, where so many people are resisting change and transformation in their own lives and so project that fear and resistance onto others so they won’t be challenging.  It’s the old “crabs in a barrel” problem, where others pull us back down so no one can easily make it to the next level.

My job is to hold open the space for others to change, to hold open the door for the possibility of growth and healing.

But whose job is it to hold open the space for me?   How do I both hold open the space for transformation and become new at the same time?

I grew up in a family on the autism spectrum, where people not only didn’t have a good awareness of their own emotional state, but that left them with a deficit in  understanding the emotional state of others.   Reading cues, helping others open up, supporting others in their own growth just wasn’t something that people without the insight of empathy could manage.

I was with my sister tonight.  In conversation over dinner, I made lots of space for her, opened to her worldview, her stories, and reached out to hold open space for her expression, growth and understanding.

I didn’t get any of that back.     She knows, on some intellectual level, that I really need transformation, that the being person I was while I denied myself to serve our parents for a decade came at a very high cost for me.

But she is unable to hold open the space for my transformation, unable to be gracious enough to help by holding open the door while I struggle through it.

My biggest challenge in the world is holding open the space for others to grow, transform, become new.  I have to go into every situation with the best expectations of others, exposed, vulnerable, receptive and open, even if my long, tough history as a transperson and as the child of an AS family has left me with serious scars that can easily bind me up.

I hold the door open for others, not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because I need them to move forward so our shared world can move forward.

But who holds open the door, the space, for me?

Homelife

TBB needs a homelife.

The kids are grown, off on their own work now.  Mom is still around and facing health challenges, but she is becoming more someone to take care of than someone to take care of TBB.  And friends are thin on the ground, between the area losing energy and TBB spending so much time away at sea, making it almost impossible to maintain old networks and build new connections.

She needs a new life.  Someplace where she can have a friend to go out with, activities to engage in, things to engage and stimulate her.   Her work family is great, but they are only a work family, held together by proximity and not shared affiliations.

I feel for her, I do.

But as I sit here, in this basement, I wonder if I ever really had a homelife.

The people I remember are all work colleagues, no matter what relationship I had with them.   And those memories are very old now, even if they are still in the front of my mind.

My family has always been work to me.  My parents and my brother and sister have never been safe space for me, never made me feel protected and taken care of.  It has always been my job to do that for them.

And I never built a home for myself and my own family.  I was too involved in my parents family.  Neither did my sister, for that matter, though she did try.

TBB notes that I don’t tend to tell stories on our phone calls.  Part of that, of course, is that I tell my stories on this blog, which she receives are more formal and cerebral messages, but the other part is that I have no other stories.  I live alone and apart in a way that most people just could never tolerate.

“You played alone a lot as a kid, didn’t you?” one friend asked me in freshman year of college when she was taking childhood growth & development.

I did everything alone.  Sometimes my life felt like the forbidden experiment, the one where you raise a child without any social inputs just to see what in childhood growth & development is nature and what is nurture.    Of course, I did have lots of social inputs, it’s just that they were challenging ones, ones that affirmed rational thought and caretaking.

It’s no wonder why my parents wouldn’t accept any other carer than me.  I was the only one with decades of training.   It’s why I knew how to get my mother out of bed with a performance of “Hello Dolly!” a trick that astounded her aide.

Now, nearing the end of my sixth decade, I have the challenge of building myself some kind of homelife, transcending my history and creating something new.

Seems kind of a heavy lift from where I sit.   The amount I don’t know about making a home, building connections, trusting friends, being part of a network is vast.

I know that TBB will find a new homelife.  I know this because she has done it before and will do it again, because even with her losses she retains the skills.   And I also know that however much kids work to create separate lives and learn to create their own homelife in their twenties, your parents are always your parents, there in the fabric of you.

There will be new chapters for TBB because she has the habits and has invested well.

For me, though?

Heavy lift.

Pulling The Carapace

The therapeutic process is basically non-directive.   There are two reasons for that.  One is that therapists find longer relationships with clients to be financially beneficial; the more sessions, the more billing.

The other reason is that people heal in their own way and in their own time.   “You can lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her think,” said Dorothy Parker when asked to use the word horticulture in a sentence.  People just need to have ownership of their own growth, and it’s generally not useful to just hit them over the head with revelations they are not yet ready for.

When people finally find me, though, and reach out to me — the contact form here really does work — it usually means they are ready for some growth.  I have long been the grad course in transgender; you have to have mastered 101 to even understand what the hell I am saying.

That’s the lovely part about ShamanGal.  She is locked in a fight between her enlightened nature and that tough ego that drove her guy shell for so many years, an apocalyptic battle of emergence.    She is wicked strong on both fronts; strong will, strong insight, so when they clash, it’s a real doozy.

What this means is that she can really take a licking and still get up afterwards.   I have the luxury of being very, very directive with her and she can take it, seeing the conflict and rejoicing in it.  She wants the fight, she needs the fight, she has to engage the fight, and therefore I am useful in turning the lights on full blast.

Most people, well, too much light blinds them, scares them, makes them scurry for the darkness.  That’s why I know that even though ShamanGal doesn’t yet have the skills, she has the chops for shaman; death and rebirth in a minute, facing down the fire and walking through hell.

ShamanGal was distressed at a party with people she knew before transition.  The host went around and said thanks to every guest, in a loving way recounting his relationship with them.     The problem was that when he got to ShamanGal, he used her boy name, and referred to her past life.  This was embarrassing and she got huffy.  How can she stop people seeing that part of her?

“Do you feel safe around these people?”  I asked.

“No,” she told me.  “They are so good looking and accomplished that I always feel insecure around them.  I feel like I don’t belong; they are so far beyond me.”

“So you keep yourself defended around them, eh?”

“Yes. ”

“How is that different than being around Amy, who you call your big sister?”

“I always feel safe around her.”

“Does she see your gal heart or your guy defences?”

“Oh,” ShamanGal said.  “I get it.  Of course, when I feel threatened I get my hackles up and defend myself, and my defence habits are the ones I learned as my boy shell.”

“How can you be receptive?”  I asked

“Receptive is such a nebulous concept!” she answered, and I knew I was talking to the shell again.

ShamanGal wants to buy a shiny new car, perfect for track days.  Some part of her really thinks she deserves this.

The problem is that every sign she gets is that this isn’t the right purchase for right now.  Amy says it’s an ego thing. Her trans mentor, the one she ran from when she first met them but who returned to her life 14 years later, says that ShamanGal doesn’t have to run down every defence over again, try every fight again, that she can use her knowledge.  Her guru suggests that she has been though that cycle before.  Her boss tells the story of his heart condition and what he has learned to value in his fragile life.   Her parents talk about what they have seen in the past.  Even the insurance guy doesn’t return her calls.

When she tells me all this, I laugh.  Sure, I hear the petulant child whose ego just wants what should  satisfy, but I also hear the shaman underneath who knows the messages are piling up, even if ego doesn’t want to be receptive.

“Why are you laughing?” she asks me.

“We all have to have our own relationship with our mother in the sky,” I tell her.  “Some people see her as mellow and nature like, others as a wise nana with milk and cookies.  My mother in the sky, though, is a wickedly funny woman with a great sense of humour who always makes me laugh while she sticks the scalpel in to cut away the false and pretentious from the genuine and loving.  I laugh to take the pain.”

ShamanGal gets it.  Dropping that guy armour, pulling that broomstick from out of her ass, well, that’s hard work.    She fights and resists it, because feeling naked, exposed, defenceless and exposed just is wicked hard.

“I feel so alone and sad!” she calls back to tell me.

“So, do you want to be a guy in a dress or do you want to be a woman?” I ask her.

“You know the answer to that.  I want to be a woman,” she answers.

“Are women more or less emotional creatures than men?”  I ask.

“More,” she answers with a sigh that tells me she knows she is beaten.

“Then if you want to be a woman, do you think you are going to have to learn to deal with your own feelings?”

“But it’s so hard!” she wails.

“It’s one of the most important parts of womanhood,” I tell her.  “Not every woman wears heels, but every woman has to manage her own feelings.

“Women have lots of strategies to handle feelings.  Why don’t you learn some of them?”

ShamanGal gets the point.  But that carapace that she carried for so long has made her feel safe, even if every time people see it, they see her guy self.

I get the point too.  My sister sees my armour, because she isn’t a safe space to expose emotion.   With a family full of Aspergers, I never had that safe space.

But my decades of learning to live with this can help me lift ShamanGal’s journey.   That’s good, I guess.

Even if it is far from the standard therapeutic process.

Not A BFD, A Life

The problem with living a trans life is living a trans life.

It’s not about being trans or not trans, not about who you love, not about how you present and what you wear, not about some kind of moral or demands, not about big, high-falutin’ things.

Every human life is just a sequence of choices where we do the best we can in any moment.  It’s that simple and that complicated.

TV producer Don Ellis had to make an announcement when they started to live as Dawn Ellis, and because they were in the media, it was a Big Fucking Deal.  And when Dawn Ellis decided to live as Don Ellis again, well that had to be another BFD.  Ellis blamed “transient global amnesia” for their behaviour.

You can see a panel on this process here, on Huffington Post Live.   It’s very reminiscent of the Mike Penner/Christine Daniels brouhaha of a few years ago, which ended sadly.

I saw Mx. Justin Vivian Bond perform yesterday at Out In The Woods.  V performed a number of songs, including The Golden Age Of Hustlers by Bambi Lake.   It’s a sing about the intersection of lives, an observation about a group of people at a certain place and time, making a series of choices that were the best choices they can make at the time.

Bond is fascinating to me, the energy that sweeps through Kate Bornstein’s first play “Hidden A Gender” though Kiki and Herb to a relatively recent coming out as transgender.  Today, when I see them, I see both the claiming demands  of a newly out transperson in pieces like their blistering, scathing assault on a basically positive New York Times review that didn’t honour V’s new assertions of self — Have I Been “Hate Crime”-ed By The New York Times? — and the wisdom of a fabulously eccentric and brilliant transperson who has let go of the fictional fantastic life of Miss Kiki DuRane and is now living the real fantastic life of Mx Justin Vivian Bond.

There is more there, too, of course, because Mx Justin Vivian Bond is neither any one bit of their history or the claims & assertions they cast in front of them like an icebreaker to make room for transformation in a world where being trans is still a BFD.   They aren’t a symbol or an icon or anything that grand.

They are a person making the best choices they can to live a life that includes trans in this world.    And, luckily for us, their life is not over yet, so they get to make many more choices, and some of them, will involve JV sharing some energy with us, and that will again be a joyous and ecstatic treat, even as, behind those moments, life goes on, for us, for JV.

Every damn choice that a person who knows they are trans makes is a tiny bit of a long and complicated trans life.   The choice of who to date or who to stop dating, the choice of where to work or when to leave, the choice to share their life with someone or have a child, or even just do something that make create a child, these choices are really, really, really just parts of a trans life.

So why are some choices just taken for granted and some choices a Big Fucking Deal? Why are some choices just passed over and others so tough that they demand a huge palaver, an enormous weight to lift, a massive exertion of force that breaks everything?   And when we make a choice that seems to go against whatever BFD choice we made, well, that’s another BFD, not just for us but for every other transperson who also needs to make a BFD choice, or who has made a BFD choice.

Face it: living as visibly trans in this world is hard.    Heck, even living invisibly trans in this world is hard, no matter if you are living in a claimed gender or an assigned one.

And living as trans is hard because being trans is still seen as a BFD in this world.

You are or you aren’t, say some, as if your choices today prove if you are a true tranny or not.   The political issues, where binaries are enforced even by LGBT groups — you are or you aren’t, no messy bisexuality here that might make people question the BFD statements in my life — are just choking for someone who just wants to figure out how to live a good life.

We make genital reconstruction surgery (GRS) a BFD, protected by hurdles and barriers.  The reason we do that is to make sure that people who choose GRS really understand the choice they are making, that they don’t think it’s just something casual to try.

The problem with this approach is that too many people then think that if GRS is such a BFD, it must be magical, potent.  Get that and everything changes.   Life snaps into order, and being trans will be less of a BFD.

That’s not true, of course.  The only thing GRS changes is your body.   That may well give you standing and focus to change your life, but any life change comes because you create it, not magically from surgery.

TBB is clear: the best part about her surgery is that people finally stopped trying to tell her to make more normative choices, stopped demanding she sit down, shut up and wear something appropriate to her crotch.

There is such a huge damn cost to just exploring who we are that finding balance in a trans life is almost well-neigh impossible, because too many choices are such a BFD.

I was recently talking about transwomen who knew they weren’t men, so they assumed they must be women, but after they rushed to claim surgery and self, they found that role didn’t fit, either.  Then they had to come back to find queer space, even taking exogenous testosterone to male up again, at least a little bit.

The solution to not having marriages where one partner comes out as trans and makes a nasty explosion is to encourage people to explore and own their own nature before they take a marriage vow.    The only other solution is to demand that people never grow and be authentic after they made the choice to marry, and not only is that never going to work, it’s just bad for people, for families and for the world to constrain people in constricting gender roles that don’t fit.

Every transperson is different and unique, with their own needs, desires and situations.   They make the best choices they can to serve all the different components and demands of their life.   That’s all they can do.

The choices of a trans life are the choices of a trans life.  Every damn one of them, no matter how small, no matter how reactionary, no matter how claiming, no matter how sad, no matter how joyous, no matter how conventional, no matter how politically correct, no matter how queer.

And they need to be honoured as the best choices we can make in the moment.

But when they become a BFD, some kind of political test that is seen as either affirming or denying the worldview of others, then they become choke points.

And who the hell needs to be choked?

You can argue that every choice we humans make is a BFD, that we should be more conscious, more considered in all our choices.   I certainly agree with that argument.

When only queer choices are a BFD in the eyes of the world, though, then we back people into corners when they make such a choice.   No wonder then we need such claiming to get in or out of that space, be that claiming new pronouns or “transient global amnesia.”

The problem with living a trans life is living a trans life.   It’s just hard to find a balance.

But when some choices are a BFD, well then it’s well-neigh impossible.

Spooky

OK.   I’m not neurotypical.

Of course, that’s why the documentary is called Neurotypical, because the one thing everyone in it can agree on is that they are not neurotypical.   What they are, though, well, that is something they can debate endlessly.

It’s the same with transgender.  All the umbrella term means is that we know we are not normatively gendered, know that gender roles chafe on us the way they don’t on the “cisgendered.”   (Yes, that’s not a term I use.)

We know what we are not from a very early age.   Knowing what we are, well, that takes a lot of work, and a big part of that is because society just doesn’t have names and a taxonomy for people like us.    We don’t grow up finding people like us and knowing what they call themselves.  We don’t have people who have being like us down to a skill and can pass on the tricks.

In fact, there are many transpeople who know they aren’t the gender assigned at birth, so they run as fast as they can to the other gender box, often including genital reconstruction, and then they find that doesn’t fit them either.   The next step is to back track, finding a middle ground in which they can be comfortable.

I went to the local Adult Asperger’s Peer Support Group tonight.  There were about 20 people there.   Tonight was game night; Scrabble and pizza.

There was one other new person there tonight.  Bill is a recent retiree, he was of Ukrainian descent, wore khaki cargo pants and a twill shirt with button-down pockets.  He had silver glasses, his grey hair was gone on top but flowing in the back, and his beard was a bit scraggly.

In other words, from facial features to dress, he looked just like my father.    Oy.  He had the name of my father’s oldest brother, though.

Most of the attendees were young and boisterous.   They liked to talk, a lot, but not so much to listen, and they weren’t going to pick up social cues in conversation.   You know, just like my father and mother.

I talked with Bill for about an hour.   Well, that’s not really true; I listened to Bill for about an hour.    His retirement a year ago has thrown him for a loop, as all his old work habits and the boss who would set his priorities are gone now.   He worked twelve hours a day, which made work all the structure he needed, but on his own, his mind jumps, hyperfocusing then getting distracted.

He knew he isn’t neurotypical, but he is trying to work out just what he is and what strategies can work.  His psychiatrist has him on a new-fangled drug for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and his behavioural psychologist is trying to create some goals, but is having trouble pinning down one area of focus.

ADD is something I have chased down in myself.   The name is a misnomer of course; it’s not a disorder, just the way some brains work, and those with ADD are just as likely to hyper-focus than to be unfocused.   Teachers, though, find people who get bored with routine assignments, instead getting lost in their own thoughts, their own engagement with specific stimuli as someone who needs to be fixed.

My best years in school were the ones where teacher allowed me to help other students; that could engage me.  My worst years were the ones where I was given assignments that bored me and my parents, lost in their own world, had no idea how to teach me to focus.

Bill really appreciated that I understood his experience.   He and I both find that for most men an ideal topic of conversation is one that everyone is equally ignorant about, for that allows people to contribute without being challenged, as no one knows what they are really talking about.   We both tend to offer information to conversations, which is rarely appreciated in a world of small-talk.

Everything goes through Bill’s mind, which worked when he was younger, but now, as his excess mental capacity is diminishing with age, that strategy isn’t working so well.   He needs to think about every detail, not relying on autonomic subroutines, and that is becoming more and more wearing to him, more and more draining.

I was able to offer clear suggestions to Bill.   For example, maybe a phone that chimes on the half-hour would be useful, so when he hears it he can deliberately think about what he should be doing in the next half hour.   And I suggested that mental discipline, mental gymnastics can never hurt.  I learned this the hard way, writing until my fingers bleed.

Bill didn’t jump at these suggestions.  He needs to think about them.   That’s good.  I have found that anyone who agrees with me right away probably has no idea what I am talking about, and is likely to just agree with the opposite viewpoint tomorrow.

But what did I learn tonight?

Well, I was reminded that my experience of my brain is definitely not typical.   I know how to live in my brain, have experienced the drain & isolation of being compulsively pensive, am prone to hyper-focus and cerebral tremor, leading with my brain, and have spent years learning techniques for mental discipline.

Then again, I’m trans, and have known that in some way since I was five, the same as I knew I could speak in tongues like Jonathan Winters.  Those certainly aren’t signs of a typical brain either.

But what are they signs of?   It’s easy to know what you are not, hard to know what you are.  After all, there aren’t many words for the exceptional, other than maybe freak.

Do I have the emotional distance of Aspergers?  No, I don’t think that I do.  My sister, who misread the phone call I made to her after the event, seeming to mix up my being freaked out with my being invigorated, well, another story.

Tonight, though, was spooky.  My father’s younger doppelganger showed up and I took care of him.   Did I have a sense he could engage my story, was curious about me?  No, I did not.

This is one of the oldest lessons I know.  People love it when I prove I know how to enter their world and take care of them where they are, but someone who has the capability and desire to enter my world and take care of me where I am, well, that’s a thin possibility, and getting thinner by the day.

Do I need to be around people who I can help but who can’t help me?

I don’t think that I do.

Even if they look just like my dead father.

ThroughLine

Like many writers, I start to write by collecting ideas, snippets, experiences, images and so on.   It’s hard to imagine how a clean desk kind of person can be a writer; I need clutter around me, all the little artifacts from my life, as a source.

In this ephemera, I look for connecting threads, ways that the bits and bobs interact in interesting ways.   Do they show the same view from different angles?  Are they both effects of the same forces?   Do they compliment or contradict each other?

It’s really, really important for me that everything I write be grounded in real experience, mine or the experience of others, and I rejoice not only when these experiences show similarities, but also when they show differences, because those differences are what eliminate simplistic assessments and demand deeper understanding.   It’s easy to throw out challenges to our beliefs as being baseless, without credibility or standing, being wrong, but when we do that, our own assessments are without a firm base, lose credibility and standing, and stand a very good chance of being wrong.

I go back through all the fragmented thoughts and I work to find a through-line, a way to hang a set of them together in a way that is engaging and enlightening.   I want people to be able to follow my process.    I used to write kind of the one page essays for trans newsletters that are collected on my old site, and one friend told me that she rarely understood them the first time she read them, but on second reading they became “of course” documents.  She needed to know where she was going before she could follow the throughline.

I have been unable to unpack my experience in caring for my parents in their last year and a half.  This has been both hard and baffling to me.   I usually can make art quickly, taking the baubles of story and threading them together quickly and effectively.

ShamanGal has really been enjoying her last month out as a new working girl, one of the women in a technical workplace.   It’s been so good that she wonders why she never did it earlier, why she kept beating herself up for so many years.  Why didn’t someone tell her that this kind of joy was possible?

Of course, it wasn’t possible until it was possible.  She had to be ready to have her perception shift, to let go of the past, to see the world as new.

My lifemyth, as I have said here many times before, is that I am too hip for the room, that people won’t understand me, that no one will get the joke.

Like any lifemyth, this is true and untrue at the same time.  It certainly has elements of truth in my life. I have certainly scared and challenged people, certainly been too much of whatever for many.

The untruth of lifemyths, though, is how they become self-perpetuating.  We see what we are sensitized to see, we experience what we are habituated to experience, we believe what we have learned to believe.   This is what makes them constraining and limiting, a prison we carry with us, one grounded in truth but grown in expectation.

The last few days, though, have been tough for me.   It was that film from PBS POV, the documentary NeuroTypical, where people on the Autism Spectrum (AS) talk about their lives that started me off.

The story of The Ugly Duckling was about a swan trapped in a family of ducks.

My story is about a child trapped in a family of AS people.  Of course no one ever understood me, of course no one ever got the joke;  I was loving people who couldn’t understand emotions and didn’t get the nuance behind most jokes.

How could I ever learn techniques to effectively communicate myself to the world when I always felt obligated to be understandable to people with AS? How could I ever loosen up, be fun and emotional, connecting with people, if I always had to mimic AS to be heard in my family?

From my snippets: A beauty pageant coach, Michelle Strom, told a contestant that “Answers don’t win, personality wins.”

I knew she was right when I heard her say it, but it felt so very wrong to me.  Why?  Why did that simple line make me so twitchy, so uncomfortable?

Because in the neurotypical world, she’s right. People respond to personality.  But in the AS world I was trained to operate in, personality is nothing, and only answers count.  Everything gets processed through the brain, and that squeezes the personality out of it.

The throughline of my experience with my family has become clear to me.  It is the experience of being forced to be the bridge between AS people and the rest of the world.

And it makes the roots of my lifemyth clear.

Like ShamanGal, I wonder why I couldn’t get this before I destroyed myself in taking care of my parents to the end.  Why does everything, especially my feet, have to hurt so much?

But then I communicate with my sister and I know why.  She still needs me to enter her world and could no more enter mine than a camel can enter the eye of a needle.

Women aren’t very useful unless we have someone to love, even if we also hate them.  And the people I loved were my parents.

And I did my duty in that relationship, a duty that so many friends over the years could never comprehend, that so many thought I was a fool for doing.

My story is the story of someone who loved their AS parents, to many faults.  That explains my experience in the hospital with them, explains my own crocks and blindness.

Could I have understood this before all the damage?

Sure.

But I wouldn’t have been who I am then, either.

Receptive

“Well, I just couldn’t take the passive role,” said a guy talking about relationships.

“Do you really want a passive partner?”  I asked.   He didn’t think so.

“I prefer the word ‘receptive,'”  I offered.  The women in the circle smiled and nodded their heads in agreement.  They understood that their role as women wasn’t to be passive, but to be receptive to their partner, taking the energy and returning it magnified and feminized.

ShamanGal has been feeling this in her own life.  It’s when she comes to a gathering prepared and open, ready to receive and return whatever energy comes her way that things get exciting.  That’s a very feminine posture.

The only problem is that it isn’t the posture that has been habitual for her.  Tuesdays are difficult; this last one she dreamed about buying a big, powerful, precision, luxury metal appendage, searching them out on the web at lunchtime.   Doesn’t she deserve a strong and potent automobile to show her power and control to the world?

Maybe that transfer of power habits from masculine to feminine will take some time for her.

It’s really easy to fall into the notion that being a transwoman in the world is something you have to fight for.    You need to have dreams and goals and battle to make them come true, to make them manifest in the world.   You need to want what you want and go out and get it with gusto.  You need to grab your own power and thrust your own power into people’s faces where it cannot be denied, no matter how pink and pretty it may be.

Somehow, I was never able to believe that the right way to be a transwoman in the world was to make a war plan and carry it through, damn the torpedoes.    I always thought that this was why so many transwomen I knew seemed to clank when they walk, always in armour and well bloody defended.

I knew, I knew, I knew that my power has always come from being receptive in the world, from opening to process and following where it leads.  I knew I needed to feel connection to others, like my family.    There is no way I could have been the one in my family who tended to my parents for their last decade unless I was the tender and patient one, ready to enter their world, to be a bridge, to be receptive and responsive to their needs and the needs of people around them.

This knowledge is why I didn’t just man up and make the changes I saw so many other transsexual women making, the forceful changes that seemed to satisfy their own desires but isolate them from the desires of others.

Sure, I needed a man-front to get through the world, but I took mine from Bogart, the guy with the tough exterior and the tender heart.  I learned how to create a wall of curmudgeon, a cranky kind of academic cuss who grumbled and surprised, a wall that was my own tough exterior to defend my tender heart.

So many of us tend to come out when we no longer have the energy to run the macho force field generator and live our lives at the same time.   That doesn’t mean we always get to being receptive, especially if we can’t find a way to open ourselves to others, to let them enter us, to be touched and moved and transformed by them, to feel connection on a deep, internal level.

Callan, I discovered long after the name found me, is the feminine for “strong in battle” in Celtic.  But the way women fight battles is different than the way men fight; connection and smarts are always a part of the game, because brute strength alone will never succeed for us.

Walking in the world with only our femininity to protect us, well, it feels very much like being naked for someone who not only has not learned the habits, but more than that has been taught that showing their femininity will only bring shame, humiliation and abuse.   There is a reason so many transwomen stay so armoured, the broomstick they found to protect them — mine was curmudgeon — still firmly up their bottom.

You can’t battle your way into being a woman.  Instead, you have to surrender to it, releasing your manhood, letting go of old defences and finding new ways to use your receptive self to connect with others in relationship; friends, co-workers, family and even lovers.

How do we learn to trust our own femininity when we never learned to trust our own beauty, our own family, our own hearts?   Instead we learned to create a shell around them, learned to pass as one of the guys, feeling separated from being one of the girls.

How do we learn that being defenceless and vulnerable, open and receptive, actually looks good on us, actually works for us?  How do we trust that the people we have been taught are our abusers can be our allies if we just expose ourselves to them, just trust them?

Being a transwoman in armour, controlled by our own broomstick, well, that’s a reasonable choice.   I quite understand why many people take it, not letting go of the defences they built up over so many years, their habits and techniques.

But I know that option won’t work for me.  I know it was never going to work for me.

I need to trust in something, in my own heart, in my creator, in my mastery, in my world, something, to let me go out without fighting and be potent and receptive at the same time.  Be a girl, a woman, a mom, a grandmother.

I may be powerful in battle, but that doesn’t mean I need to be trapped in armour.  Being too rigid, too bound up, too constrained by my own demands means I am not flexible and balanced enough to work the process, to be open to the connections and surprises that have always, always, always brought me my greatest bliss.

There is no roadmap for me, no expectations and milestones.  All I can have is the knowledge of my own heart and faith in the ability to make good choices that lead me forward to connection.   The road will twist in ways I cannot now imagine, and there will be my joy, if only I can open to it.

That still feels, well, terrifying.

And maybe a little exhilarating, too.

Mind Matters

I watched a film called Neurotypical, from the PBS POV Series.  It’s narratives from people on “the spectrum,”  the range of brain types that are called autistic, from autism to Aspergers.

There are many bits in my family that are echoed in the film.   My sister used to pull her arms up in front of her when she was getting hugged, like the woman in the film who found the definition of High Functioning Autism, crossed out that term and gave it to her husband.

“How much is this like me?”  she asked, wanting a percentage.  “28%?  56%?”

“100%,” he answered her.

I was moved by the young gal in the who didn’t like that the character with Aspergers in Grays Anatomy was the only one on the whole show who wasn’t going to have sexual relationships

“People with Aspergers can have relationships,” she cried.  “Just because Temple Grandin doesn’t, that doesn’t mean none of us can!”

But the most resonant note was from the fellow who explained that the way his mind worked, he always did emotions with the rational part of his brain.  He knows what they call him, but what do they call people who do rationality with the emotional part of their brain?  His wife laughs at this; she knows he means her.

I don’t know where I fall on the spectrum.  But I do know that there are very few places to discuss the challenges of growing up as the child of “Aspie’s” as some call themselves.

It became my job to be the translator between the world and my family, and when they didn’t like what the world was saying, well, that was my fault.  Kill the messenger, eh?

But up until the end, I was called upon to be the bridge between my parents and the medical people who were caring for them.  And those medical professionals were really happy to have me there, be they doctors who took care of my parents for years before I intervened or speech therapists who just met them.

I know that having to live in a spectrum world taught me a different way to approach the wider world.  I used my rationality to parse my emotions, because that was the only way I was taught to handle them by my parents, who just didn’t get my feelings.  Spectrum people, well, empathy isn’t what they are good at.

Is my mind different because I am genetically disposed to being somewhere on the spectrum, or is it different because I had to learn how to live and work with, had to learn to care for spectrum people from an early age?   Maybe both, who knows.

But I do know it affected me.  And I still see it affecting my siblings.   It makes me sad, which makes me uncomfortable for them to be around.  My emotions are hard for them to process; they’d rather have nice rational discussions.

My transgender nature, though, that’s not really rational at all.

I heard a bit of a podcast by some gals selling a “Feminine Power” programme to women.  One of their selling points was that goals and vision boards and such are all very analytical masculine tools, trying to impose a structure on things.  Their program goes with the intuition and opening, getting you in harmony with your inner knowledge, and opening pathways.

I know that I tried to do trans as a Lego set, constructing gender with blocks, but that just didn’t work for me.  Sure, it let me write nice, powerful, thoughtful essays that people who thought like men could understand, but it didn’t let me flow and wiggle.  I needed to get to narrative and personal experience of the world to start opening my own pathways.

A doctor friend of TBB’s once told me that unless my parents had dementia, they could understand transgender if I insisted.  I knew that not to be true; they were spectrum people.   My sister does understand trans rationally, having been around me for decades, but she has trouble with the emotional part, so to me it feels like she dumps ice water on me when I need to trust emotion.  She just feels very unsafe.

It’s the emotional part, though, that I need to trust if I want to break free of the constraining mind habits that I learned to deal with spectrum people.

And watching this film, Neurotypical, I realized again just what I am up against.   My years of training, my family’s understanding, all mean I just don’t have the skills to just trust my emotions without having them filtered through my brain.  That may mean that I can write about what most people just feel, but it also means trusting my instincts is hard and tiring for me.

I know that being on the spectrum isn’t an illness, it’s just the way some brains are wired.  And I know that whatever I am, I’m not typical anything.  As the people in the film say, and as all the frustrated parents of spectrum kids will tell you, it’s hard for typical people to understand people whose brains are different, because when you are centred in emotion understanding the rational is hard.

But that is my history and my reality, both coming from a spectrum world and knowing I have to engage the emotional to move beyond my current limits.

Hard.

Exhaling Deeply

Anyone who has ever worn a corset, or even a pair of tight bodyshapers, knows the feeling when you pull them off.   Your skin tingles from the air, and all of a sudden you can breathe deeply again.

When we are all tight laced, our breathing is constrained, shallow.  Not only can’t we fill our lungs deeply, we can’t clear our lungs fully, can’t exhale deeply all we have taken in.

We corset ourselves for many reasons, but they usually revolve around a role we have to play.  Maybe it’s glam chick for the night, maybe it’s just the custom of the day, maybe it’s to straighten our spine and give us support, but whatever the reason, we decide the discomfort is worth the result.

TBB celebrated her last child’s college graduation this spring with a big family gathering in the New York City area that included a trip to the revival of Pippin, her favourite show and a Naval commissioning ceremony.

If you have ever seen the film Trinidad, you have seen TBB and her kids.  And you saw some of the flak she took for allowing her kids to continue seeing her as their father, even after transition.

TBB knew, though, that whatever she needed to be in the world, she was the father of two kids who needed a father.  And through plenty of drama, family members turning against her and trying separate her from her family unless she followed their expectations, TBB fought to reconnect with her kids, to be there for them.

“I loved that time we spent together in Colorado,” she tells me.  “We were really there for each other.”

Now, though, the kids have gone onto their own lives, and like lots of women her age, she is feeling the effects of the empty nest.  She put her life into those kids, and now they need to separate from her, with no guarantee that they will ever return.

That corset of fatherhood is loosened now, and TBB is feeling quite naked without it.

Now, she is breathing deeply once again, and more than that exhaling deeply.  All the emotions that she kept inside are coming up in her breath, as the reason for staying constrained is now removed.

That’s a tough time for her.  Will she ever have that kind of focus, force and connection again?   Or is she just a dried up tranny, who used all the energy she had to make sure her kids got the best start she could offer, and now has nothing left?  With her babies gone from the next, who will ever be there to make her not feel lonely again?

TBB is a loose woman now, the structure she maintained no longer being useful.  Things are coming up for her now, all the knocks she took, all the fights she lost, all the indignities that were foisted on her that just had to be tucked down into her Spanx so she could keep on with her role as father.

Of course, TBB isn’t the first woman to feel this emptiness.  The arc of a woman’s life is usually a series of chapters; her mother’s daughter, her friend’s pal, her teacher’s student, her husband’s wife, her childrens mother.   At some point, when that service to others is over, she has to let go and figure out who she is to herself, what her possibilities are.

So TBB is feeling that restraint she has worn for so long being ripped from her body, feeling flabby, old and alone, all her breath lost, with a pool of residual pain.

Will she ever breathe deeply again?  Will she ever be back in shape, back feeling the kind of love she gave to her children?

I firmly believe that she will.

But this weekend, TBB isn’t so sure.

 

The Queer Strategies

The local “Pride Center” is having a retreat for youth this month.  They are still scraping for programming.

We are looking for workshops that contribute to the lives of LGBTQA youth. This may include (but is not limited to): Advocacy/Education, Understanding Intersecting Oppressions, and Wellness/Self-Care.

Those are the top three things these kids need to learn to contribute to their lives?  “Understanding Intersecting Oppressions?”

That Women’s Studies model seems to have really serious limits to me.  Unless we can understand what kind of constraints — oppressions — that the system of gender puts even on normative white christian men, the people who are often seen as being at the top of this pyramid of oppression — we can never understand how everyone is bullied by social convention.

What I think they need to learn are the strategies for being queer in the world.

How do you construct a persona that is both wild and tame, both bold enough to be uniquely you so you can be authentic and mild enough to fit into others needs so you can get what you need?

How do you actually enter your own hell to question, challenge and deconstruct all the habits and assumptions you ended up with while also being a well assimilated member of the group who makes others feel safe & comfortable?

We need our jobs and our friends and our sex partners and our grades and our family, and all of those require that we meet the expectations of others. And we need our own voice and own style and own breathing room, and all of those require we not be bound up in the expectations of others.

This is the challenge of creating a persona, being both authentic and assimilated in our own way.   How queer is too queer, too bold and wild, how queer is not queer enough, too too meek and tame?

And more than that, how do we learn to embrace others who make that balance in a different way than we do?  The others who identify like we do, but just seem to be too much of a flamer or too much of a normie?   How do we find a way to support their queer choices even if they are choices we would never make for ourselves?

For example, as a trans-femme I know that people often see me as too mild, because they never take the time to understand my wild heart and mind.

I suggest that queer theory, which venerates the power of individual choice, rather than venerating the power of group identity and oppression, is a key to acknowledging and affirming others as unique individuals, to affirming yourself as a unique individual with your own mix of wild and tame choices.

The Six Responses to challenge in the world — Conceal, Concede, Confront, Convert, Clown, Calm — are important strategies to consider in facing everyday life.   Each one of them can be useful, especially when alloyed together.

That’s what I would want to tell queer kids if I had an hour and a half with them.   Just my old training in elementary education coming back, I guess.But I doubt they would want to hear from queer old me.  That’s something else coming out, I fear.