The Stigma Helmet

“I knew all those teachers were out there,” ShamanGal said to me, “But somehow, they never made it into my head.  It took years for me to be able to see, hear and open up to them.”

While she is feeling upset over wasted time and effort, over the self-destructive behaviour she replaced her trans urges with, I’m more interested in the process that blocked her openness to the kind of lessons and changes that she needed.

There was a world where trans was getting more and more mainstream and a mind which kept ignoring those messages.  What sat between her and her possibilities, blocking her opening?

The stigma helmet did, that’s what.  It’s the helmet that is designed to blinker us, to keep us looking in what others tell us is the “right” direction.  It’s the helmet that is designed to stuff our ears to stop us hearing the siren songs of possibility.  And it’s the helmet that is designed to damp down our dreams to the ones that others will approve.

I imagine the stigma helmet as a big, wet tower of white foam wrapped around our heads.  And it grows every time it’s fed a story about the punishment which comes when we try to do something outside its comfort zone.

I have been reading about the Twitter attacks on Laura Kate Dale that came after her mocking by a Microsoft hired comedian, for example, and they can feed my own stigma helmet.  I understand them to be attacks on me, too.

The stigma helmet works to try and cut us off from choices that we have been trained to see as risky and weird.   It ends up spinning us into ways to burn off the energy that we hold, just to make sure we stay cut off from our possibilities.

In many ways, the easiest way to categorize transpeople is by the armour we end up wearing.

But the stigma helmet defines us all.



Sensation Or Success?

Amy Bloom, in Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude, lays out her case against crossdressers.  She finds them immersed in the erotic in a way that makes her queasy when they are about in open society.   That Eros may be fine in private, but in the wider world, it seems a bit off to Ms. Bloom.

One myth I always refer transwomen to is The Red Shoes: On Torment and the Recovery of Soul Life,  told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.   Ms. Estes talks about the costs of substituting the commercial and stimulating for the authentic and profound, using the story of the girls whose quest to replace the handmade shoes she adored with purchases ended up losing her her soul.

This is a big challenge for every transperson.    We are denied the call of our heart, denied our soul life, and that leaves us in torment.   We then, often, try to replace that empty space with the erotic, filling our lives with the commercial style of Eros.

This diversion into Eros often makes us feel and look twisted, as Ms. Bloom and Ms. Pinkola-Estes point out.   Stigma thrives on that twisting, because it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.   “Transpeople are stigmatized because they are sick,” the wisdom tells us, but the very fact of being stigmatized denies us a handmade life and ends up twisting our soul away from the authentic to the commercial.

“Oh, I only do it for the show,”  “It’s just a hobby,” “I want to be a fuck sissy she-male,” and many other trans tropes are based on this denial of the essential and clinging to the commercial.

For transpeople, holding onto rationalizations is like holding onto chunks of wreckage in a dark sea of normalcy.   Since they seem to be the only thing that keeps us afloat, we don’t find it easy to let go of them.

In the end, this comes down to a basic choice for transpeople: are we engaging in trans expression for the success, the striving for authenticity, or for the sensation, the engaging in the erotic?

Like any binary, this choice is false on some level.   Every woman, for example, feels passionate about her expression at times, even if her sexy choices are authentic expressions of her own nature.   Those are great shoes, oh yes!

But it is the choice that lands transpeople in the sickness.  Ray Blanchard’s AutoGynePhila concept was based on the idea of trans impulses being a fetish behaviour based on an idealized femaling of the body.  Blanchard always looked for the erotic component in trans expression to dismiss some people’s expression as less than authentic or real.

I call a model based on sensation the tourist model.   To me, it mirrors the goal of someone spending a week in Orlando.  They may want to be thrilled and enervated by novelty and diversion at the Disney parks, but they want to return home essentially unchanged, the same person as when they left.

I call a model based on success the traveller model.  To me, it mirrors the goal of someone spending a month in India.  They want to experience something out of their comfort zone, wish to see the shared world in a new way, and return home with new insights and experiences that transform the everyday experience of their own life.

When I see someone trying to move from a model of trans as sensation to one of trans as successful transformation, I often see struggle.  The ego wants to resist engagement in the new that might demand change, because resisting that engagement through venerating sensation has been the strategy that has kept them stable and in denial for so many years.

Change is fucking hard, especially change beyond the normative and conventional.   Can we really let out rationalizations go and leap?

For transpeople, holding onto rationalizations is like holding onto chunks of wreckage in a dark sea of normalcy.   Since they seem to be the only thing that keeps us afloat, we don’t find it easy to let go of them.

This is true even if we know those rationalizations keep us ego driven, fear based, mired in sensation and denying success.

Ah, stigma.

Performance Truth

If you want to start a fight between TBB and I, just bring up the idea of gender being performative.

This is, of course, a disagreement between performers.

To TBB, performative means put-on, focused on the mannerisms, applied to the outside like a costume is out on.   She sees performative as the opposite of authentic.

To me, performative means constructed out of bits we have found in the world, an expression created like a collage, using pieces of borrowed expression to create a unique way to communicate ourselves in the world.  I see performance as an attempt to communicate the authentic and the desired in as true & authentic a way as possible.

What this really means is that I am a method actor, and TBB is not.    I need to trust my choices, while TBB feels that acting is a kind of working of a costume.   For her, authenticity just “is” — you either are authentic or you are not, and while you are acting, you are not — while for me the goal is a kind of authentic performance that meets a number of goals, including a communicating character, conveying continuity, showing style and effectively getting me what I want and need in “the scene,” which is usually building relationships.

Do you build your character from the outside in or from the inside out?   It’s always a key question in performance.  The key question for transpeople, though, is if trans is about concealing your biology & history, or is about revealing your heart.

“You should talk in put-on fruity voices as much as you want to,” she tells me when I suggest that I need support in performance, “even though I tried that and it just ended up looking ridiculous on me and creating barriers between me and the others in the room.  They knew I was putting on airs, but they just played along.”

I have seen her in this mode.  She asked me to not accompany her as a visible transwoman because my presence might tip off others to her trans status, which would be bad.   She was claiming a performance much as Dame Edna Everage claims a performance, where everyone else in the room knows Barry Humprhies is under the frock, but it is never discussed.

This is not a unique kind of performance in trans circles, where we have to be very suspect about connecting with other transpeople we meet because we have no idea if they know they are visible as trans or not.  We don’t want to queer their performance because they will blame us for breaking the illusion, even if the illusion was all about suspended disbelief to start with.

ShamanGal started a new job about four months ago, and her choice was to keep quiet about her transgender history and biology.  She wanted to be accepted as a woman, so she decided to make her past invisible, to put on a front of normativity based mostly in silence.

The problem she has found is that it is hard to keep her body silent — she may be tall and thin, but she is also a bit angular — and even harder to keep her missing girl training from being revealed.    At least one woman at work has hinted that she has figured out ShamanGal’s secrets, but until SG chooses to surface them, they will go unspoken.

TBB eventually came to the choice to open her trans history soon after she joined a new workplace.  This was hard for her, felt like a risk, but in the end, let others understand and respond to her choices in a more authentic way.

Notice that I didn’t say that TBB was being more authentic in her expression, I said that her outness  allows others to be more authentic with her, more honest in reflecting their experience of her.  They no longer feel the need to tiptoe around what they know or suspect, rather they can openly discuss their own experience.   This means they don’t have to feel like they are tiptoeing around TBB, rather they can be more relaxed.

To TBB, this feels kind of like she is surrendering the woman mask she bought soon after she transitioned, the one she wore like a costume which came with a fruity voice and all.   She is no longer applying a facade of external womanliness, which makes her think she is no longer claiming woman.

TBB works in a world where the appearances and externals of womanhood just don’t apply.  Nobody on a working ship wears cute skirts and high heels, and any makeup applied is soon devastated by weather and physical work.  It’s a hair-up, t-shirts and jeans kind of workplace.

Still, there are women in that androgynous space, and they are seen as women.  It may be most obvious on a night in port when they pull out the dress & heels, let their hair down and do themselves up, but it’s always true.

“I’m surprised at how much the crew accept me as a woman,” TBB tells me.  “They joke that my boss and I banter like a married couple, always include me in the women’s activities, and when I wear a dress out to dinner, I get compliments.”

To TBB  this means she is being authentic, but to me, this means her performance of a woman’s role is coming from the inside, not the outside.  She is trusting her woman choices and having them affirmed, rather than believing that woman is something you put on, like Spanx and a wig.

I hear echoes of Martin Luther King.  “I dream of a day when people are judged by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin.”   I dream of a day when people are judged by the content of their hearts rather than the shape of their birth genitals, where gender is seen as an expression of who we know ourselves to be rather than something that comes with your genitals.

The performativity of gender doesn’t make it false, any more than the constructed nature of language makes the ideas and feelings we express with it false.   Every time I sit down at a keyboard my goal is to make choices that authentically express a voice, even if the only way I can do that is to press one of 26 keys in a different order.

Maybe that’s why TBB and I see the performance of gender so differently.  I come to it as an artist, who always lives on that observer/participant bias, and is always considering what choices she can make that will both be effective and authentic.  TBB comes to it as an attempt to live a life the best and most authentic way that she can.

In the end, I suspect my more considered, “method” approach and her more intuitive approach are really not that different, even if they create great semantic arguments that sometimes leave us feeling unheard and erased.

We both agree that the only way you can find your centre — the centre of the performance to me — is to push the pendulum wide, to over shoot, and then to dial it back to the power zone.   If you never do this, if you are always timid & creeping up on expression, you will never find your real groove.

To me, considered performance is a goal to fuller, more interesting, more nuanced and more effective communication of truth.    I am all about the choices that refine and finesse an authentic expression.  I am the one who will try on five variations of outfits before I go out, for example.

To TBB, authenticity is all about making your choices more clear and centred, more from who you really are and less from some attempt to put on airs.

In the end, I’m not sure that those approaches are all that different.

Raw Exposure

Part of me wants to apologize for the posts in the last few weeks that detail the really challenging emotional pieces of walking in the world as trans.

But another part of me thinks they are a real, clear and relevant series of posts on real challenges that many transpeople face everyday.   Whatever we want trans to be — liberating, joyous, affirming, authentic — it is true that to be visible as trans in the world has a cost.  If it didn’t, well, trans acceptance wouldn’t be such a struggle.

For me, I lost my parents in the winter, did some exploration in the spring, survived the summer, and now, in the fall, I am trying to be more out there, more exposed and accessible, trying to get back on the grid and take charge of my own life.

That peeling back the convention to show and act from my nature in the world leaves me raw and exposed, tender and tense.   That’s what has irritated me and stirred up such basic feelings, ripping open the deep seam of transfear buried in my heart from so many decades of living with stigma.

It’s not the first time I have felt these things, of course, which is why I have language to describe and detail them in a way most newly out transpeople don’t have.   My metier is travelling through the spiral of experience, going deeper and higher, and using the connection between my brain and my emotions forged in an Aspergers family to document the experience.

My newly-out experience has been raw and bracing, leaving me highly sensitive to the struggles of being trans in the world once again.  Reopening those wounds again means I am close to the edge, an edge that so many people would rather not come close to, as it lies on the edge of the abyss.

Maybe I can figure out how to be out and not raw, how to come back to joy and delight in opening new connections in the world.  That would be great.

I still have a ways to go in opening such deep feelings and having no place to share them but this blog, so I suspect it is going to be messy for a while.

Messy and beautiful, I hope.

My Biggest Learning

I first came into a gender support group in 1984 at a TGIC club meeting at the old Club 145 in Schenectady.

Here’s the most important thing I have learned in nearly thirty years of being in gender support venues.

You gotta meet people where they are.

You can’t meet them where they should be, where you expect them to be, where they need to be, where you think would be right, anything like that.

They are where they they think they are.  And they are there because that’s where they need to be, even if I know where they think they are is really a bit twisted, a bit off, a bit temporary, a bit crap.

I may know where they really are, which is not where they think they are, but that means nothing, because they are where they think they are, even if they know that where they think they are is nowhere near where they are going to end up.

People come to trans community not to be a finished human, but because they have work to do.  Remember I said that trans is a transactional state, a transactional identity, not a desired or fixed one.   Trans is the place we travel through on our journey to ourselves, that liminal zone between, not some destination where we always wanted to end up.

Transaction comes from the same root as trans, which means accomplish, drive or carry through, the same root as transportation, movement.

That’s what I know about every person who comes into the trans world; they are a moving target, going from there to someplace else, and right now, right now, right now, they are where they are.    They are exactly where they need to be right now, doing exactly the work they need to do, from which they will learn what they need to learn and then move to a new place, a new understanding.

My job to support them, to be there for them, to understand them is to meet them where they are, and maybe be able to offer them something they need to move forward in their own personal journey.

I may think that they are an idiot, or they have their head up their ass, but I have learned, though painful and challenging experience, that it’s not my job to impose my knowledge, thinking or expectations on them.   I know that if I try and do that, they will reject it.

One of the first articles I wrote for Transgender Tapestry was in 1994, called “Safe Spaces.”  In it I talked about how important it was that we create safe spaces for transpeople to open up, to see themselves, to feel the possibilities that they have been denied for so long.

How do we become a safe space, how do we get people to open up and show us (and themselves) the person they could be if they just left the prison, dropped the shackles and become new?

Easy: we meet them where they are.   We don’t impose our knowledge or expectations or assumptions or worldview on them.    People gravitate towards people who they feel can help them learn and grow, and it seems to me the first step in that process is finding someone who will be a safe space if they stumble a bit.

I was in the caregiver space for a long time, and I found that people who liked to say “Stop whining!  You have the privilege of taking care of your parents,” didn’t really support the challenges of caregiving.  It’s the same in motherhood too; as divine a calling as it may be, it’s not without downsides & challenges.

Being a safe space can be a pain in the ass, of course.  People in gender support usually imagine I am just a few steps ahead of them, because they can’t imagine where I actually am.  But I couldn’t tell them where I really am if I tried, any more than I could tell a 13 year old what it’s like to be 53, because they just don’t have the experience to understand.  That is a very lonely truth for me, but it is a truth.

My response to your note is simple: you aren’t taking me where I am.

Instead, you are telling me where I should be, where in your worldview I am failing to understand,where I just don’t understand how it really is.

You seem to reject my own expression of self as something not worth engaging, not true, not sincere, not right.  That doesn’t feel safe to me because you aren’t meeting me where I am.   Is it possible that other transpeople you care about have the same experience of you?

You tell me about bras, about the cute story of a mother lying to a girl who was being sentenced to a lifetime of them, by telling me I didn’t understand, that you find bras confining and uncomfortable.  I accept your experience there, but do you accept my experience of having a rash where my breast forms hold sweat against my skin?   Do you really think I don’t know the challenge of dealing with a body and a woman’s presentation in the world?

“What more do you really need to know than she says ‘My name is Chelsea and I am a woman?'” asked a friend about the person charged as Bradley Manning.   That’s where she is, and with a long term in a military prison in front of her, she won’t be able to move far from that for a while.

It’s exactly the same for transwomen who are committed to being men in their family, who need to stay where they are to meet the multiple demands of their lives.   It’s the same for so many transpeople, maybe for all of us; we are where we are because it is where we are, and we can only move forward in our own time, in our own way, in our own context.

My narratives, my stories, resonate with many transpeople.  I told you that Who The Fuck Wants To Be A Tranny?” is the hit single on my blog, and you reject that concept, saying that being a tranny is bold and cool.  Yes, but what of all the people who have affirmed that post?  Are they all wrong and missing the point?   Or does that post just reflect where they are at the moment?

My writing is the explication of moments.  A friend suggests that I split the blog into good, positive posts and sad, negative ones that people might find whiny if they don’t have the context to understand them.  She knows many will just apply their own worldview and want to tell me where I should be, tell me that where I am is wrong and self-indulgent and crap.

Those people are exactly the people who I need to reach as a wounded healer.  And my message to them is simple: I am where I am.   My wounds and my power are not somehow separate things, they are two sides of the same coin.  Every gift is a curse, every curse a gift.

I am not broken OR brilliant, I am broken AND brilliant.  That’s the transactional truth of human lives, beyond binary thinking, beyond one or the other to continuous common humanity, messy AND beautiful.

My message is this: they need to meet me where I am.  And when they can do that, they can meet others they care about where they are.  And maybe, after doing that long enough, they can meet themselves where they are, free of the woulda shoulda couldas that bind up so much human love and possibility.

The transwoman known as ShamanGal in my blog is struggling so hard to deal with her inner critic, her ego, which always works to seek comfort rather than truth, to venerate fear rather than love, to sabotage change rather than engage it.  She needs, needs, needs to meet herself where she is, and I put a lot of time and energy in to model that for her, to help her get to that point where she can listen to others and herself without imposing expectation.  To get to that point where she can meet them where they are.

Rachel Pollack reminds me that the maxim in AA is to tell someone once about AA and then let off.  That’s recovery knowledge based on the understanding that you can only meet people where they are, and if they aren’t ready to hear, well, they aren’t ready to hear.

“When the student is ready a teacher will appear” doesn’t mean teachers don’t exist in the world all the time, it means it is only when we get there and open our eyes to them that they become accessible to us.  Teachers can’t meet us where we are, we have to meet them where they are, so they can help us take the next step.

I know, I know, I know that so many non-transpeople want to take snapshots of transpeople and think they have captured them.  But trans is a transactional state, which is what makes Kate Davis’ film “Southern Comfort” so powerful; we see the transactions and see transpeople moving through time and growth.  By meeting them where they are across the arc of a story, we see their lives and realities as journeys.

Robert tells how he was a little girl, a tomboy, a wife, a lesbian, and now a man, and transpeople know that each of those identities were real and potent when he held them, no matter how contradictory they might seem to nons.  People had to take him where he was at any moment, even if the idea of a man with ovarian cancer just seemed like something that would freak out even trained medical personnel.

People don’t live their lives for you, for you to judge or assay or correct or idealize.  They live their lives for themselves, and if you don’t understand their life in their context, do you really understand it at all?

We have no obligation to defend, justify or even explain themselves to you, so if we do choose to share with you, that is a gift.  If you want people to trust you with their most intimate secrets, their fears and fantasies, then you have to show them you are going to take them as they are, not judging, controlling or erasing.

For me, the more trans narratives I take as they are, the more I hear, and the more I hear, the more I can understand what people are trying to say to me with the symbols they have at hand right now.

As Ms. Rachelle reminds me, it  is often tough to just witness someone elses struggle rather than trying to correct and fix them, tough to let them feel the pain rather than trying to lift them.  We want to help, want to point out the alternatives, but that can only come after we have engaged and acknowledged someone’s very real experience and very real feelings.

A quote:

The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.
George Bernard Shaw, Man & Superman.

This is what, after consideration, I want to share with you, the most important thing I have learned in three decades of being with people who are in a trans state:

You gotta meet people where they are.  If you don’t, you won’t really meet them at all.

That’s the most amount of wisdom I can offer.   And that’s what honouring queer means to me.

Now yesterday, when I got your note, I started to write about where I am, about what I know of the trans experience, and I’ll leave that stuff below, because it’s real and true and might have some value.   But it won’t have any value if you can’t accept it as where I am, instead, wanting to tell me where I should be.

You gotta meet people where they are.  If you don’t, you won’t really meet them at all.

That’s what I have learned, painfully and slowly, in my own transactional gender journey.

And I offer that learning to you, just in case you are in a place where you can use it.

Continue reading My Biggest Learning

One Shot At A Toilet Answer

Public discussions about trans almost always degrade into fears about usage of public bathrooms.  This seems, to many people, to be a legitimate way to surface their fears around relaxing sex based compulsory boundaries on gender lines

One attempt to answer that issue:

If I thought for one minute that changing laws to allow transpeople in restrooms would endanger our children, then, yes, I would have qualms.

The problem is that the people we want to keep our kids safe from are predators. People who behave like that don’t follow the law.  If they did follow laws, we wouldn’t have to worry, because laws about sexual violence won’t change with any change in restroom ordinances.

The people who respect the laws are transpeople who just need to have a safe place to do their business and leave.

Criminalizing those legitimate users doesn’t help keep our kids safe, I don’t think, because, sadly, those with criminal intentions are going to do what they want to do whatever the law says.

Yes, we need safe bathrooms, but they have to be safe for all people who are willing to be civil, appropriate and discreet in their use of public facilities.   We can’t just decide some people don’t deserve safe facilities under law because we fear the lawbreakers.

Lamb And Lioness

Many might assume that when one comes from their feminine energy, they are more meek, self-effacing, compliant, and quiet.

If you look at women in the world, though, that certainly isn’t true.  Lots of women, especially mature women, know themselves as powerful people in the world, standing strong and fighting for what they want.   They don’t take that power in a masculine way, they take that power in a feminine way, conscious of style, determined of spirit, collaborative and considerate but firm and in charge.

I certainly have seen the misconception that feminine somehow means powerless and undemanding in the trans world, where I have been accused of masculine behaviours when I knew it was just my inner diva emerging.   And I have seen it in women’s groups, where some wanted to demand that trans women surrendered their voice to the group, as it was the group that owned womanhood.

In my life, the part of me that is compliant, self-denying and compromising is definitely the side I show in my most androgynous times.   It is in that mode that I am playing small for the comfort of others, serving them, trying to placate and defer to them. I damp down the power of my emotions so as not to upset, challenge or distress others.

My androgynous mode is my service mode, my own energy neutered down to serve the needs and desires of others.  I used to talk about it as “concierge mode,” where I do what others needed as a gracious servant while submerging my own needs, feelings and desires.

Today, after some lovely affirmation in the form of chick chat, I could feel the difference.   The scared, denial focused, playing small attitude shrank, and in its place I could feel the feminine energy of power.

Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick, needs to be my mantra, calling forth the fierce femme inside me.    Shoulders back, tits high, and meet everyone with a calm, focused smile that tells them that no matter how pretty you choose to look, there is steel underneath.

My strongest side is definitely my feminine side, so when I come from there I come from my power base.

It’s my androgynous side that learned how to take guerrilla power, expressing the feminine while hiding it in plain sight.   I knew that people were always less threatened by a shabby looking guy like shape than by a sharp and potent woman of trans experience.

The problem is that you can only do so much in leading from the middle, trying to stay hidden and non-threatening while shaping the process.  At some point, you have to get out front and be not just the bringer of wise questions and focused work in the room, but also be the one in the front with a voice that energizes, motivates and makes the hard choices.

People need me to be brave enough to be amazing so that they can feel brave enough to be more themselves.    They need to see me be bold and smart so they can feel safe enough and empowered enough to bring out more of the best of themselves.

For people who want to know me as that androgynous facilitator, though, bringing this fierce femme diva energy will be a challenge.   So many of those people assume that transpeople are really abject, and that we just have to be nice to the guys who want to dress up, tolerating their indulgences.   They assume our trans expression is just a sign of sickness and weakness, not the possibility of us coming from a power place.

I understand the wounded healer role.   It has always been true for me; I am pierced by the spikes, I am a powerful daughter of my mother in the sky, and I am both at the same time.

My lamb side, though, isn’t some sweet, fragile, dainty thing who folds her hands in her lap and averts her eyes from those around her, never making a fuss.  My lamb side is my androgynous side, bound up in service and subjugation to the cause of care and service.

My power side is a lioness, a mother ready to take care of her cubs, a warrior ready to beat down those who might try to silence and oppress her.  Callan , in Gaelic, is a feminine name meaning “powerful in battle.”   I didn’t know that when the name chose me, but I have learned it since.

And you know what?  I’m kind of scared of her.   I fear she is like Pandora; once I let the box fully open, she’s just not going back again.  How will I hide and pour oil on the waters if my diva power is in full sight, telling everyone how much of a fierce bitch I really am?  Won’t she just alienate everyone?

Well, maybe not.  Maybe some people are going to love a powerful woman of trans experience who stands up and boldly claims her own feminine power.   Maybe she will get more traction, more affirmation, more support and more love than a bland and hidden concierge.   Maybe she will actually smile more, wiggle more, play more and love more when she comes from her own feminine power centre.  Maybe.

After all, people can’t see your heart if you hide it under a layer of gender-neutral camouflage rather than showing your style and passion to the world.   Not seeing it may have been the point when I was playing small for my family, but somehow, that has stopped serving me any more.

The ultimate trans surgery is pulling the stick out of your own ass.   For me, the trick to that is repeating my mantra: Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick.  I need to do that to remember that people see me as a chick — a mature, confident, self-assure and potent chick — and that it works better for me and for them when I make chick choices rather than making the choices of a over-wary, over-sensitive and over-controlled androgynous person who is trying to keep their trans nature out of the way.

If I’m going to take power in the world while presenting as a woman, then I need to do it in womanly ways.  I need to be bold enough to smile, strong enough to walk up to people and start conversations,  confident enough to be the centre of attention, assured enough to speak my truth with grace, and happy enough to be open to love & connection.  Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick.

My strength is my strength, and it doesn’t lie in well balanced and deliberately un-tittilating androgyny, no matter how much my family wish it would.   I may have learned to modulate my expression, but waiting until people are ready for me to be big is a wait that keeps me small.

I need to believe that some people will get the joke, will see the beauty, will be attracted to the brilliance of a candle no longer hidden under a bushel.

My trans nature isn’t my broken side.  My broken side is the bit that needs to hide, centred around the shame and fear when I fail to be nice and keep my nature hidden.  My broken side is the bit that learned to comfort and placate my family.

But my feminine energy?

Powerful and intense.

Can I trust that?

Possible Practical

I just exchanged e-mails with a smart, straight woman who feels angry because a friend of hers is getting distant, not wanting to share or address challenges.    She’s upset because she really misses this friend and the relationship they had, because the friend is so much more fun and interesting that most other women.

Of course, the friend in question is a transwoman, who is in her first year after transition.   Things are going well for her on some levels, but in other ways, she’s doing the situational blindness that we so often need to help us focus and survive the challenges of a transgender life.

From my vantage in this basement, the amazing thing about this conversation is that this gal gets the whole idea that transwoman have something to share, that they can be fun and interesting, and that when they aren’t there, you can miss them.

This is something I understand in the abstract, of course.  I think that I am fun and interesting and a good friend, and I sometimes wonder why other people don’t figure that out.

“Hay!” I imagine them saying,  “you are so smart and funny and interesting.  Do you want to come to my house for dinner?”

Needless to say, this doesn’t happen at all while I hide in this mildew laden basement, but it’s nice to know that for at least one person, it happened.  I want to hear the whole story, of course, to have a conversation with real eye contact about how this magic came about, but chick chat doesn’t really work well in e-mail.  That’s one reason I suspect that femmes aren’t well represented on the internet; we really, really like full bandwidth conversations, sunglasses off and everything.

In many ways, my life has been a theoretical exercise.  “Well, that’s true,” I would admit, “in theory anyway.”  I have spent my time not engaged in the practice of life, but rather in the theory of it, understanding how things fit together.   It’s kind of a guru thing.

One problem, I suspect, is that mastery of theory makes me seem much more worldly than I actually am.  People assume that if I understand the theory, I must understand the practice well.   Either that, or they assume that because I tend to expound on theory I must be a real pain-in-the-ass when I end up expounding on their life choices.

My challenge, now, of course, is to move from the theoretical to the practical.  Theoretically, of course, I should be a great success because I am smart, funny, interesting, insightful and engaging, but how does that actually work?

I had a lovely conversation with some college students at the Startup gathering.  It didn’t create me any good connections, but it did remind me that I can give good chat.  I tend to listen close, make connections, have something to offer, and be a bit witty at the same time, so those are all good things, right?

Still, my experience on the blog is a bit challenging.   It’s not like I get lots of people here wanting to engage me.    Of course, they are all doing their own work, and the tradition of the internet is simple: you only speak up when you want to tell someone where they have their head up their ass.  A few people, though, have had the courage to use the contact page provided, and have found me a whimsical and useful correspondent.

The theory is simple.  I should get some business cards printed up, start schmoozing and build a network of people who have met me.  Theoretically, that’s the only way to actually meet people who think I’m cool and fun and interesting and who might want to invite me over for dinner.  (Just for the record, I will bring a casserole.  You don’t take care of partners and parents for so long without being something of a cook.)

I need to believe it’s worth it to put theory into practice, that there is really a chance that success exist in the world for someone like me.   Well, actually, that success exists for me.

My correspondent proves that connection is possible, even if they did have to reach out to a trans-theologian to get some theoretical insight on why a transwoman might stick their head up their ass and dismiss a strong friendship.  (We need our blinkers and don’t have long training in how to be a good girlfriend, I reminded her.)

I’m a good value friend and coworker, at least in theory.

Now, is that true in practice?   Or will, I, as so many people do, just fluff the execution?

Execution will make or break an concept.  Or at least, that’s the theory.

Fucking Amazing Or Fucking Dead

I’m in a bad place, sinking in an ocean of shit, in a sea of stigma that comes from the everyday drag on people who visibly cross the gender boundary in this heterosexist culture.

I went through all the shit posts, or at least many of them.  Heavy Shit, Binary Shit, Complicated Shit and Lonely Shit only exist as titles, all real and all true kinds of shit that I swim in.

I even reached out for help from some kind people who want to help transpeople in distress before they go over the edge.   I didn’t get help, though.   As TBB has said, if I end up going, well, it’s not like I haven’t done the work in spades.  Hard to help someone who has already tried to help themselves for decades and knows the edge intimately.

Being trans in normal reality, well, it is swimming in shit.     That’s because normativity is about stigma.   A reply to the doctor who was at the screening on Thursday

In my experience, when you open transgender issues up to a general audience, things always get scattered.

And sadly, unless you deliberately stop them, they almost always end up in the toilet too, that tiny stage where the fears that keep us terrified by gender difference always play out.    “But what if there are no rigid gender boundaries to protect people?   Won’t we all be victims?”

You and I both know that predators don’t need social change to protect them, that they will act badly whatever the rules.  But transpeople are vulnerable and do need that change.

Evil or sickness is always going to do what it must.  But to predicate our society on stopping that evil or sickness by creating thin boundaries is to cast those who need to be beyond those boundaries into evil or sickness.   Do we really want to create more evil or sickness in the world?   Maybe, just maybe, if we live in a culture where we don’t have to compartmentalize and deny our own nature, there will be less twisting of people into predators.

But that’s the way of stigma, the way of the ego: any fear will do to demand compliance and protection, even the canard of “men in the women’s room.”

In the mundane world, trans is wearing, grinding, a case of how much armour can you carry, how much fear can you fend off.     That is true.

I was really struggling, really wanting a way out of that struggle, the struggle I have been in for so long, the struggle that keeps me small and hidden in the world.

And then, I saw the answer, clearly.

I’m either fucking amazing or I’m fucking dead.

I either transcend the mundane or I drown in it.

I either lift myself above or I get sucked below.

I either go above the world’s expectations and fears or I am killed by them.

Don’t confuse Lady Gaga with Stefani Germanotta

Lady Gaga is a warrior, the pop star tells Elle magazine in its October issue. But Stefani Germanotta? That’s a different story.

“Wait a minute,” you’re probably thinking. “I thought Stefani Germanotta is Lady Gaga?”

Yes and no.

As Gaga explains, “I am – Stefani is – a perpetually tortured artist. That’s why I changed my name,” she tells Elle. “I can’t be her in public. She would be a mess!”

The Mother Monster, on the other hand, is cool and calm under pressure – so unfazed she doesn’t even realize when it’s there.

“What are you talking about, pressure?” Gaga asks. “I’m great under pressure. I’m a warrior. I’m Rocky, round 12.”

She can probably credit that toughness for helping her survive in the industry, seeing that for every fan she’s attracted, there’s someone else who’s a critic.

“Everyone is so cynical,” Gaga says of the detractors. “I can’t purely love my fans, or share an honest story about my past, without someone asking me if I really, truly struggled. Do you know how much dirt I ate? Do you know the men I had to crawl through, the people that disrespected my body, my mind, my heart?”

Gaga gets it.  If she is just a mundane person, just who society tells her she is, she can’t do what she needs to do to save herself.  And she can’t do the magic that helps others lift themselves, either.

I’m either fucking amazing or I’m fucking dead.

That does seem like a terrifying and isolating call.   In the past weeks, I have had people close to me explain to me that reality is reality, and people don’t transcend it.  Instead, people just slog at it, balancing the grind with as much dreaming as they can get away with.

This, though, is the universal lesson of the leap.

A bit of advice
Given to a young Native American
At the time of his initiation:
As you go the way of life,
You will see a great chasm.
It is not as wide as you think.
Joseph Campbell

All growth is a leap in the dark,
a spontaneous unpremeditated act
without benefit of experience.
Henry Miller

We must walk consciously
only part way toward our goal,
and then leap in the dark
to our success.
Henry David Thoreau

When in doubt, make a fool of yourself.
There is a microscopically thin line between
being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on Earth.
So what the hell, leap!
Cynthia Heimel

Half the failures of this world arise
from pulling in one’s horse as he is leaping.
Augustus Hare

The most dangerous thing in the world
is to try to leap a chasm in two jumps.
David Lloyd George

Unless we lift ourselves out of the mundane, we will never be all we can be.

Unless we leap from here to possibility, we will never feel our connection with the universe.

Oh, God, I am so scared.   But am I brave enough to live boldly rather than die, slowly or quickly?   Do I learn more from being fucking amazing or being fucking dead?

The essence of normativity is the essence of death, trading our energy for the comforts of compliance.   We shrink ourselves to try to feel connection, forgetting that separation from the universe is impossible.

Transgender is about pure transformation, or it is about nothing at all, as somebody once said.

I’m either fucking amazing or I’m fucking dead.

I either transcend the mundane or I drown in it.

I either lift myself above or I get sucked below.

The hardest thing about trans is doing it alone.

The worst part of having success is
to try finding someone who is happy for you.
Bette Midler

The shit exists and will always exist.

The only way to not lose yourself in shit is to rise above it, even as people around you try to express their shit, their fears, by throwing shit, by throwing fear at you.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions.
Small people always do that,
but the really great make you feel that you, too,
can become great.
Mark Twain

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson,  A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles

I’m either fucking amazing or I’m fucking dead.

I either transcend the mundane or I drown in it.

I either lift myself above or I get sucked below.

And yes, that prospect is utterly terrifying to me.

Swimming For Home

So, if a trans life is swimming through shit, all kinds of shit, how do you stay moving?

TBB just spent a bundle on components for a kit plane.   She was so happy when she got the last piece, though not because she bought a plane.  She is happy because she bought a dream.

This was vital for her, especially because, as her kids have both left college, her family is fraying some, with no clear indication when or if it will come back together.    Her children need to claim their own lives, so TBB needs to reclaim hers.

It will take her at least two years to have everything set with the plane, but even that timeline invigorates TBB, incorporating everything from the focused and meditative work of building to the dreams of flying to come.

If you are going to swim through shit, you need a destination, a dream, a hope that motivates your choices.   You have to want something so much that you can handle being exhausted and swallowing shit.

That’s one reason the first year out as a transperson can be so potent.  Your dreams are still new and fresh, not yet dimmed by reality and spattered with shit.   And your excitement and joy at being free to do what you dreamed keeps you enervated and high, juiced enough to not feel the wear and tear, not be overwhelmed by the shit.

Don’t waste your enthusiasm and idealism, Garrison Keillor tells young people.  It will get you far towards building someplace to grow on.  For many transpeople, though, that youthful energy was spent building structures of denial, in learning how to sabotage and destroy our own passions and dreams.

To keep swimming, you have to believe that there is something to swim for, something, well, if not wonderful then at least refreshing.   For me, that means that I have to believe that eventually, if you endure long enough, somebody will get the joke and share it back with me.

I sit in the moment, and cast about for a hope, for some event or thing that I look forward to enough to keep swimming towards it.  Is there an audience out there that will get the joke, a lover who I can take care of and who will take care of me, a smart conversation that leaves me feeling stimulated and validated, or even just some lovely surprise which leaves me wanting more?

All of those are possible, yes, but in balancing probability against the resource I have left, well, the stamina just doesn’t seem to stretch to the blessings.  I’m sure a few will want to dispute this, will want to give me some of their hope, and that is a charming offer, but I suspect that they need it for themselves, and encourage them to use all their hope to make a better world for themselves and others.

My inner experience of the world is simple.  “I know, I know.  You want to hurt me.”  Hurt me for control, hurt me to silence me, hurt me to justify me as the sick one.   That’s not a reasoned, well understood thoughtful version, where I rise above the way others treat me to understand it it context, rather it is the gut experience of a child who has always been identified as the problem.

My recent experience is the same kind of denial from others, those who can’t imagine any other possibility than for me to modulate who I am to be some kind of naturally “authentic.”   The world demands I focus on my constraints rather than on anything else.   One of the most depressing parts of Trans: The Movie was that even our big stars are broken and crippled, abject freaks and marginalized.

Desire is the driver that keeps us swimming, especially when we are stigmatized and swimming through shit.   Once we desire, we can take charge of our journey, take ownership of our life.   Without desire, though, entropy overwhelms us, taking us back to the universal home.

Ah, blessed entropy.

isn’t it a kind of home?

Blame Shit

Whose fault is it?

How can we determine the cause, so we can know who to blame?   I mean, someone or something must be responsible, right?

Usually, of course, the finger gets pointed at the person is somehow different.   The one who seems to break the rules, to flaunt convention.   After all, aren’t they they most likely ones to have stirred the shit?

The big advantage of convention is that it is always designed to cover up the shit.  When my sister-in-law decided to clean up the kitchen here, she made sure that the outside of the microwave was lovely and shiny while leaving the inside untouched.  It was the shit she could see that needed to be eliminated, not the shit in the works that could possibly gum things up.

If you can’t see the shit, it must not exist, right?   So the blame never goes to people who don’t process their own shit, who just bury it, the blame goes to people who reveal the shit.

This is, of course, the essence of stigma, the social pressure against actually showing the fact that humans are born between piss and shit, and that we all have our own shit to deal with.

I have written a lot about being a phobogenic object, a phrase gifted to me by philosopher Jake Hale.   People fear when they are exposed to me, that’s true.  But whose fault is that?   Do I have some magic ability to create fear where none exists?   Or do I just let themselves open up to their own fears, whatever they are?

As I have said many times before here, I was the scapegoat, the target patient for my family system.  My nickname in the family was “Stupid,” at least until 8th grade when it turned into “Stupid, Oh The Shrink Told Us Not To Call You That,” for a while before it ended.

I know, for example, that when I get upset during a phone call from my sister, my choosing to end the call is not seen as a sign of distress, rather it is seen as a sign of me being obstinate and unreasonable.  Why can’t I just do what other people would do, what she wants me to do?

The essence of stigma is to assign blame to those who stir up shit.   Those of us who are trapped in the system might explain that the problem is really all the shit that people hold, all the expectations and fear, all the assumptions that shit unseen is shit nonexistent, but that’s an awful hard sell to people who value their comfort over their enlightenment.  They don’t want to hear that we didn’t cause them pain, we just revealed where they are not healed, they want to shut us down.

It is not sick to be sick of sickness, the wise ones tell us, but when sickness is the norm, being sick of it just seems sick to many.

I’m a grown-up, and I know that any solution for happiness that depends on others changing to something more comfortable and useful for my just by force of my will is an unreasonable and unworkable solution.

You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.
John Morley

Yet, assigning blame to those who cannot be silent is the basis of much normative expression.    The Emperor looks grand in his new clothes, does he not?

It’s my own fault that I feel like my life is swimming through stigma.  After all, who else’s fault could it be?   We make our own choices, and if you made the bed, you need to lie in it.  If I just didn’t make it so hard for people to love me, didn’t push them away with my own porcupine queerness, well, then I would be much happier.   Why the hell do I have to shove my own nature in people’s faces?  Can’t I just be who I am quietly?  Isn’t that enough?

I understand the way people defend and stabilize their own lives by demeaning, diminishing and blaming others.   That’s the way that normativity works, using stigma to enforce silence and denial for the comfort of others.

I’m just really sick of swimming through shit.

Love Shit

“Love,” I have been told.   “Love is the answer.”

I know how to make other people feel loved.  I just take care of them, attend to their concerns and their needs, listen to them and engage them.  That’s what makes people feel loved, entering their world and being who they need you to be.

In my experience, though, this is almost never a two way street.  Somebody wants the relationship to work, and someone else enjoys it working.

As a transperson, I know the kind of knots we twist ourselves into to get and keep relationships.  And I know them well because that is how I kept my relationship with my family for so long, by keeping myself small and attentive to their needs, so much so that I ended up erasing myself.

The problem is that the cost is to be who someone else needs me to be is so high that it destroys my own momentum and blossoming.   I keep getting pulled into their failure and having to shrink myself to take care of them.
Because  they can’t be there for me, as they don’t have the energy, stamina or skills to engage even their own stuff, and because I don’t want to have to destroy them by confronting them with truths that just overwhelm them, I end up having to play very small, and that’s very bad for me if I want to break out of the patterns I have with my family.
I know how easy it is to crush people who are always on the bloody edge, living from emotion to emotion with no reserves. But I also know how much coddling them costs me.
Love isn’t the solution here, because that just plays out the same patterns of caretaking I had with my parents, and doesn’t get me anywhere near  my own love and passion.

It crushes me in order to not crush them which is the old, old, old, old pattern of swimming through their shit in order to try and get a little bit of what I need.

After all, if I really loved them, shouldn’t I just do what they want and need me to do?

“Love is very different than hope,” says one person who has faced her own dark times.

It’s true that when you feel loved, you can feel less lonely, which means you can hope a bit more that you will be seen, understood and valued for your own unique gifts.

But when loving relationships are reduced to the obligation to swim through someone elses shit, well, that kind of love raises more questions than answers.

Other People’s Shit

I listen.

I listen to and understand other people’s stories.

I have learned how to interview people, to remember what they have told me in the past and ask good questions based on that information.

I listen closely to answers and ask thoughtful and relevant questions.

I comprehend and integrate new information quickly, so I am always an engaged and thoughtful listener, actively creating safe space where I can draw out other people’s thoughts and feelings in a way that makes them feel heard, understood, valued and cared for.

People love it when I listen to them.   They love it because I really care about their shit, really help them get their shit together and communicate it well.

But my shit?  Well, my shit is hard and challenging.  It’s already been thought through, so there are no easy answers.  And the emotions are potent and large, so they are hard to engage.

I’ve always been the smart and sensitive one.  To others, that has always meant that I have an obligation to help them with their shit, but they don’t really have an obligation to help me with mine.

After all, I have proven that I can enter their world, can understand their worldview and challenges, can offer enlightenment and compassion, so if I can do that, I should, right?  And since they haven’t proven that, well, their obligations are different.

“Fine,” I said to a lost friend.  “I will write a piece from your partner’s viewpoint showing her that I understand her concerns, that I have heard her.”

“That would be great,” she agreed.

“And she can write a piece from my viewpoint, showing me that she understands my concerns, that she has heard me.”

“That’s not going to happen,” she told me.  “You know she can’t do that.”   Shit.

There is an old rule in communications that no one can hear you until they are sure you have heard them.   They need to feel understood before they can move on to considering your points.

That’s a rule I know how to honour.  I always make sure people know that I have heard them, that I get their point and their position.   My discussions almost always start by outlining our points of agreement, trying to find common ground.

But it is almost never a rule that people honour with me.   They don’t acknowledge and validate my views, because they just don’t have the chops or intent to do that.  After all, if I understand them, isn’t that enough?

I’m empathic and compassionate, thoughtful and aware, able to enter other people’s worlds, other people’s shit.  I make safe and warm space for them.

But do they make safe and warm space for me?    Well, you know, I am big, smart, emotional.  Too big, too smart, too emotional, too queer, too intense, too overwhelming, too complicated, too incomprehensible, too sensitive, too scary.

When others act out at me, I need to be compassionate and understand their actions are about their shit, but when I get upset, it’s just because I am full of shit and need to get over it.

When my sister calls, she gets frustrated because I ask her what she wants, what she needs, what she wants to do.   Of course, in the end it always turns out she has an agenda, and she just wants to soften me up before she hands me her shit.   She has taught me that she is not a safe place for my shit, that it gets ignored, like when I told her it was a bad week and she needs to press on with her shit.

I’m sure that many people will tell me that they are willing to deal with my shit if I just package it better, but I find that to be a fraud.  In the first place, they think that because they aren’t queer they don’t have any obligation to package their shit nice, and in the second place, if my decades of learning to be clear and graceful with my communications haven’t packaged it well enough, then nothing can.

I get the notion that my shit stirs up their shit, and they just haven’t done the work to face, engage and manage their own shit.  They don’t have the practice and discipline to make themselves into a safe space for other people’s shit.

Just because I have done that work, though, does that mean that all their shit has to be my shit too?

What does all this mean?  It means I not only swim in a sea of my own shit that no one else want to help move, but I also swim in a sea of other people’s shit that they need help to process.   It’s all about their shit, no matter what shit I have to manage, because to them, everything is about their shit.

My experience of my life is that I swim in shit.

And I see no hope of that changing.

Incomprehensible Shit

You know, blah, blah, blah, blah.

That’s right, really blah, blah blah!

When I am talking to someone face to face, I can see when they stop understanding what I am saying to them.   Sometimes their focus wanders off, or their eyes look quizzical, or sometimes they even get angry at me, like I am somehow wasting their time.

When I tried to lead the workshop for the students at Pride Camp this summer, that happened when I stated my premise.

“I just went off at thirty miles an hour and I have completely lost you, haven’t I?” I asked, and the young person just showed doe eyes and shook her head yes.

In writing, though, there is no way to adjust on the fly to the compression of the reader.

And, in reading, most readers don’t really feel an obligation to understand the way that they would in face-to-face conversation.  Instead, they want to skim for bits that interest them, that catch their attention and address their immediate concerns.

That is particularly true for material readers get in their in-box or in web searches.  I have had people on mailing lists tell me that they might appreciate my work in a book, but in their e-mail, my stuff is just too much for them.   Our mail is personal, our internet time limited and focused, so entering another person’s mind and heart is a way big ask.

Nobody Reads Your Fucking Blog” goes one Ephemera button, and I know it to be true.   Even the people who do see it don’t actually read it, they just skim it for their own reasons.

What does all this mean?

It means that when I, as a transperson, walk into a situation, my only assumption can be that people aren’t going to get what the fuck I am talking about when I talk about my life.

I can go to the sweetest support group, the most loving church, the kindest counsellor and all they will hear when I share my story is incomprehensible shit.   My experience and my thoughts are not normative, so trying to fit them into a normative context is like slicing off my tongue to be better understood.

This is another degree of the shit stigma makes us swim in, the shit of our own internalized policing, the shit of other people’s fears, and the shit of our own stories that accumulates around us because no one can actually pick them up and engage them.

The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all,
is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.
Lorraine Hansberry

The loneliness that comes from having others find your stories so incomprehensible that they have to oversimplify beyond meaning to fit their own comprehension is wearing and destructive.

But, as I have said before, blah blah blah blah blah blah.    That’s why I am so blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Head Slam

So, in the movie, the mother of a transperson who ended up committing suicide said, with a very serious tone, that she saw her child actually hit themselves in the head.

I laughed loudly.

I have hit myself in the head so hard and so often that I sometimes wonder if it has caused lasting brain challenges.

A friend was once there when I did it, and she was surprised by the force of the blows.  “I could feel them from across the room,” she told me.  My sister hates when I do it because she feels like I am hitting her as I pound my own skull, well, because it is always all about her.

My mother, especially in her last year when my father was in the hospital, often wanted to hit herself in the head.  “Just take a baseball bat and knock me out,” she would ask of me.

In the movie, the father of a young transgirl had finally come to the understanding that the reason his child had acted out, against others and herself, was because she was in so much pain and she had no other way to move beyond it.

My life has been a study in denial, in forcing myself to do the proper thing.  I used my head to enforce this discipline.   When my head started to fail and the feelings started to overwhelm me, I pounded it to try and get the focus back, to highlight and punish my failure.

I just had to hang up on my sister when I realized I had to pound my head again.  She failed me desperately as the executor of the estate, and now she needs me to help clean up her mess.  Her approach is so mushy and insensitive that she expects me to take up the slack, to help fix the blunders that almost destroyed me.

I felt the frustration, pain and sadness of her not hearing me, her not being able to be there for me, and for the first time in a long time, I felt the need to pound my head again.  She is demanding I be who I used to be, because she can only be who she is, and that is a gateway to hopelessness and pain for me.

I am expected to do the work without my family doing the work for me, to deny and tough it out without any opening or respect.

Slam, Slam, Slam, Slam, Slam.

It hurts, so it hurts.

Hopeless, Helpless, Denial.


All The Shit

I was working as a contract employee in IT at a big company where I was not loved by many of the rank and file staffers.  They found me a bit smart and challenging, which they tended to find threatening.

I was training one woman and she was getting my approach.  When I sent out an e-mail with a series of points to be considered, some needed to dismiss and mock it.

“I started to defend you,” my co-worker said, “because your mail made perfect sense to me.  But then I thought better of it.”

I got it.   By defending me, she would lose credibility with other staff members she had to work with everyday.   Standing up for me was just not a good career move for her.  I didn’t blame her.

Most of the shit I deal with in the world doesn’t come from people who hate me and want to damage me.  Most of it comes, instead, from people who like me and want to support me, but in the end, can’t find a way to pay the price of that support in their lives.

Every transperson has had the experience of being told that they were okay in society, but what about that other person who could be identified as trans.  Weren’t they just too out, too challenging, too rude, too weird, too freaky, too unhooked, too perverted, too sick?    How can anyone support trans if it means supporting people like that?

This threat plays big in trans life.  We often see people across the room who are doing transgender in a whole different way than we are, and we immediately try to move away from them.

We don’t want people to associate us with that kind of transperson, don’t want to be forced to defend their choices, and most of all, don’t want to see our own expression and challenges reflected in them.    We have enough trouble getting up everyday with our own burdens and our own blinders, so having to carry them too just seems too much.

If we have trouble standing up for other transpeople who seem to cross that boundary into being “just too queer,” how can our loved ones stand up for us and others like us?

I’ve seen more than one parent of a trans child snub other transpeople, focused on their child’s challenges.   In their focused vision, they just can’t imagine how understanding and supporting transpeople like them can at all help their child.  It’s just too much work, isn’t it?

My family was more than willing to accept my narrative of transgender for twenty years, from the early 1990s until now unless I actually made them do the work.

People know that if you won’t fight with them, you won’t fight for them, and in the end, that’s what every transperson needs and wants, someone to be there and fight for them, someone to help take the continuous pressure of swimming through shit off for a bit so we can feel safe and cared for.

Most people’s lives, though, are about them and their challenges, not about serving others.

As transpeople we know that whenever we express our challenges in the world, other people will make it about themselves, about their emotions and thoughts and concerns.

This means, of course, that we don’t just have to carry our own fears and challenges, we have to also carry the fears and challenges of others.

In other words, when we share our burdens, we end up being expected to also carry the burdens of others, the burdens that they believe are caused by our “choice” to express our queerness in the world.   We get blamed and we get dumped on for making their lives harder and less pleasant.

So, instead of having allies who can fight with us and for us, caring for us, our shit gets thicker and heavier and harder to swim though.

We get allies who want to simplify and clean up trans so it is easier for them to explain it to their audience, trying to sanitize and package us rather than to embrace and fight for all of who we are.

The real destruction of transpeople comes not from people who hate us and want to attack us, rather it comes from people who love us but because they don’t do their own healing work end up dumping more on us, drowning us more.

It’s hard to get angry and motivated when people we love turn from us because supporting us would just be too much work and a bad career move.

Usually, what we end up doing is swallowing our own queerness and trying to play small so as not to put the ones we love too much in the firing line.  We internalize their fear and discomfort, which becomes the basis for more self-loathing and acting out against other transpeople who just seem too queer for us to stand by.

It’s this vicious circle of stigma that keeps it so potent.    It’s not just us in the firing line, rather it takes our whole family hostage and threatens to hurt them for our actions.  That’s not something we want to take responsibility for.

Our family doesn’t get the same benefit from us being out as we do.  That makes it much easier for them to be swamped by the fears and opinions of others, much easier for them to expect that we will cut back to make their life easier.  TBB is clear that the best part about her GRS was that it finally stopped her family from begging her to give up the whole public transgender thing.

We are tethered to those we love, so society taking them hostage with stigma is a direct attack on us.    We understand why they make things harder for us, out of an assertion of deep caring and profound fear for our well-being, but we also know that taking on their fears at all just makes the shit we swim in heavier and stinkier.

When others who care for us, be they friends, family or other transpeople, can’t stand up and fight for us, can’t find the time, energy or space to do the kind of growth and healing to make safe space for us, but instead just play out their own damn fear and expectations, instead just blame us for adding to their burdens, the shit gets worse.

And we end up swimming in the shit more alone and more exhausted, more likely to drown.

Swimming Through Shit

I was always crap at rotary breathing.

That’s the technique you use in the pool where you turn your head to the side, take a breath, and then turn it back down into the water for the next stroke.

Somehow, I could never quite get the coordination right, which left me with a yellow ribbon pinned to my swimsuit — the “guppy” ribbon — for almost all my time at the Y.  No 25 yards with rhythmic breathing for me.

I went to see “Trans: The Movie” tonight.  It was at a social change film series.  There was a panel afterwards with the producer, a local doctor who supports transpeople and a transwoman (the transman was scheduled, but unavailable.)

Hated the film.   Hated it.  Lots of medical shots, including in-vitro fertilization (with frozen sperm) and delivery shots of Christine McGinn and her partner’s baby, and the big finale was having Oprah get her audience to woo-hoo at how much of a freak Christine was, a lesbian woman who fathered the baby she breast fed!

I connected with the two femme partners, Christine’s partner Lisa and the partner of a newly out FTM, because femme lesbians make sense to me.  Of course, being a femme myself, I know I could never score one for a partner, although a few have tried to talk me into being butch for them because I have so much training for it.  Not gonna work, gals, sorry.

And I really liked Chloe, who made a choice to have a final rendezvous with a shotgun.  All the people around her were all bummed out, so the movie tried to make it about their loss.  Winners write the history of wars, and survivors write the history of suicides.   The music kept trying to tell me how sad the story was, but we need to be able to make our own choices.

A question was asked as to why transpeople are the targets of so much violence, and the panel just didn’t have an answer.   So I raised my hand.

Gender is a very coercive system, I explained, or at least compulsory heterosexist binary gender is.   We let children bully other children into conforming to gender roles, authorizing stigma and abuse for any of those who don’t properly follow the rules.

When people feel bullied into a gender role that doesn’t quite fit them they feel stress.  And when they see someone mocking their sacrifices, someone who is boldly revealing something they have learned to hide and deny in themselves, well, the system of bullying they experience makes them think they are entitled to bully that person.

After all, “they are asking for it,” aren’t they?    They could be decent and proper, but instead they put their own perversion out in the open, and “they deserve what they get.”

People who pick on transpeople are acting out of their own internalized gender policing, destroying what attracts them, just like they try to destroy their own queerness.

This is the same basis as homophobia.   There has even been a study; you can look it up.

This is the point that none of them got, that the movie doesn’t even start to get.

A trans life is a struggle against stigma.   We are taught the stigma early, so early we learn to be our own police, our own jailers.

The way stigma works is to make everything harder, to try and inhibit people so they don’t have the standing or energy to threaten the status quo.   Everything is made harder, with leaps of fear and danger ladled on.   We are always waiting for the “third gotcha,” always ready to self-inhibit so we don’t seem like we are “just asking for abuse,” seem like we “deserve” all the abuse people can pile onto us.

Living in the world as a transperson is like swimming through an ocean of shit.    Every stroke is harder than normal, every breath is fraught with danger.

Sometimes, we get a burst of energy, lifting us up for a while, but that cant last forever.  Eventually, we choke again, going into another struggle period.

Some people can handle this better than I.   I suspect they were the ones who had no trouble learning rotary breathing, who had the coordination to compartmentalize well and only breath when they are out of the shit.   Jamison Green says we have to be able to give transpeople hope, that our destruction is the lack of hope.  The lack of hope that the swimming through shit will ever end, say I.

I suspect this is why some transpeople deny the title of woman even to transpeople who claim it, because from their experience, they know that living a trans life is swimming through shit, through stigma, forever.

It’s hard for me to tell kids “things get better,” as the Trevor Project asks, because I know lots of transpeople for whom things don’t get better.

Sure, if you do the big final death there is no chance for another rebirth here, no chance for a new lesson or new delight, wasting the possibilities of life.   I always tell people to do something crazy if they think they want to kill themselves; after all, what’s the worst that can happen if they take a bus to the next big city or start hooking?  Sure, maybe they will die, but they were gonna do that anyway, and maybe, just maybe, some new possibility will pop up.

Try, try, then try again.  Change your strategy and do something new.  Try.

But don’t think you are not going to end up swimming through shit.

All humans have to keep swimming, sure, but unless they understand the stigma of gender or other stigma, they can’t understand how thick the shit can get.

And too many people are so struggling with the shit that when they see someone trying to get out of it, they will act out to hurt and destroy them, so everyone knows that this shit is real.

I’ve been trying to get my head above.   But when I see things like “Trans: The Movie” and hear so called experts speak, then share my own insights, even getting a hand for a point I made on why there are so few trans leaders (because no transperson wants to be trans, they want to be themselves) but get no contacts,  when I have to struggle with fools and creeps, then I know one thing.

It’s wicked lonely to spend your life swimming in shit stigma.  Wicked lonely to be a long lost tranny swimming in shit.   Painful to have to keep breathing, keep your head above the shit for so long, so long.

And we all get tired eventually.

Cutting Off The Edges

On Grand Designs (S13E03), a very linear architect and a very curvy art director teamed up to build a house in York for their family.

He knows to build big smart sheds for commercial use and her brain is trained in ways to maximize emotion and function.

His big structure of glulam wood beams and steel fixings was lovely, full of considered details.

Her interior design was much more resonant with me.  She planned colours around an abstract painting of the moors she would want to be walking, made her kitchen the hub of the house — the “mothership” she called it — designed to keep everyone connected and to maximize the efficiency of what she needs to do.

“This is a one leg kitchen,” she announced, banning the guys from her work zone.  “I can stand here and make 22 bacon buttys while keeping one leg in the same place.  Sink, hob, dishwasher, implements, all right at hand.”

There are two sides to functional design.  One is imposed structure, designs that maximize the system and demand that humans adapt to that structure, and the other is organic structure, where you understand how humans work and then adapt the structure to that human behaviour.

This split is not a binary, of course.  Every good design has to have both sides, efficiently designed structures that consider materials and mechanics, and considered spaces that consider humans needs and emotions.

The architect husband admitted that when his designer wife was explaining how the interiors would be, he had trouble understanding, but once he saw them, he knew they were brilliant in creating a space to grow and nurture a family.   They had plenty of tension between them, but always with respect and grace.

This fabulous balance, created by merging the masculine and feminine, the yin and yang, not in one person, but in one couple, is a very important idea in human nature.  Great human creations, be they buildings or families, are never the result of one person, but the creation of teams, groups, tribes, families.

It’s this vital organic tension that makes me get a bit suspicious of the idea of androgyny or genderqueer roles.

The idea that the idea should be people who are whole, complete and balanced inside of themselves, not needing partners or networks to balance with, seems a bit imposed and structural to me, a masculine notion, rather than being organic and feminine.

I have seen a China all dressed in Mao suits and the 1980s where businesswomen all tried to wear power suits that were masculine with a touch of flair, and those models of androgyny sure didn’t seem to me like they honoured the feminine.

People have told me that androgyny is edgy, but to me, it feels like androgyny cuts off the edges.   I sense that on the feminine side, where the pull to less intense and stylized femininity  tends to dismiss women who find their expression in the very feminine, but it is also true on the masculine side, where men are often found to be wrong for too masculine behaviour.

As a woman, I know that the masculine likes to aggressively claim spaces, and it’s my sense that is happening with androgyny.   The masculine is more valued than the feminine, since the masculine is more rational, argumentative and structured.   Tempered masculinity is not the same as femininity, because femininity is real, not just the absence of masculinity.

It is my experience that anyone who says that there is no real difference between women and men is a man.   Women have to be trained to know and value difference, differences between children, between power and so on, but men don’t have to do that as much, often imposing their own structures over everything.     What doesn’t fit for them just gets erased, a little feminine noise to be ignored.

Any movement that seeks to diminish gender, to venerate individual androgyny rather than the tension of mixed and diverse relationships, seems to me to dismiss the whole whole of human community building.  We have built great things by being in relationship, not by being great individuals.

I want to see people be powerfully and uniquely themselves, with their own special knowledge and vision, then come together in respectful and dynamic relationships to build great things.  I have no interest in liberating people from gender, only from compulsory gender that demands your biology is more important than your heart, because to me gender freedom is the freedom to proudly be gendered, not the freedom from gender.

The notion of gender as part of the balancing act of human communities is exciting to me.    I want to be back and involved in that tension, speaking with my own unique style and substance to affect the direction and destiny of our shared world.

I don’t need permission to be more androgynous.   I have that down, own that, even if some don’t believe it when they see my choice towards the feminine. They may assume that choice comes from a lack of exploration and enlightenment, but that assumption is just as oppressive as the observer-biased assumptions others hold about their expressions.

I need to come more from my feminine side, my own womanhood.  Women are the mothers in the world, empowering expression and understanding, and that is my role, too.

The way for me to become more centred is not to keep cutting off my own edges, my own edginess, rather it is for me to trust those edges and go towards them, knowing my voice will add to the balance and tension that moves our human culture forward.

Sometimes, to be edgy, you have to go to the edges rather than learning how to be more neutral and balanced.

And I hope my communities support me in that.

Taking The Weight Off

ShamanGal (SG) went out clubbing with a girlfriend and her pals.  The last time she tried this,  SG started talking about dating women and questions were asked and things all got a bit uncomfortable.

This time though, SG and her pal decided to play a little game.  The other women had met her as a boy a few years ago, and thought he was attractive.    Tonight, though, neither SG or her pal would tell them about previous meetings, and they would see if anyone made the connection.

None of the other gals ever did recall the history.  This was kind of a surprise to both SG and her pal and they laughed about it afterwards.

“Oh, no!” SG realized.  “I gave that one gal my number, but what if she tries to put it in her phone and the contact from two years ago comes up!  It’s the same number!   If I call her I might be outed!”   They both laughed at the thought.

Now, SG hadn’t planned this as a strategy, but the game worked well.

It gave both SG and her friend reasons not to disclose history, making them partners in crime.

It expressed the joy of having a performance partner, someone with you who knows who you are off stage, so you don’t need to include tells and hold back, and you have someone to watch your back, always something that makes performers feel safer.

But more than that, the game gave both of them a new understanding of how SG is seen by others.   SG and her pal may know the history, and that may colour their expectations, but with people who don’t know, SG doesn’t come saddled with those expectations.   Both of them now know that SG can just be seen as a woman in the world, something they didn’t have a shared understanding about before.

I was thinking about this tonight as a I went to a networking event for entrepreneurs who are focused around a local technical university.

In that room, people saw me as a woman, and expected me to have woman skills, the confidence of a mature, well put together woman.

I had a conversation with a group of students, just to warm me up.  It’s always better for people to see you in conversation, interacting with others, rather than just playing with your smartphone.

I was rusty though.  I chatted with a woman about the food, but forgot to do the introduction thing, sharing names and details.   Still, having been seen tonight means people will be more open next time.’

People see me as a woman, even if there are tells that my biology might be a bit different.   In gender terms, that means I advertise myself as competent at woman skills, able to act as a woman in social situations.

I was a woman in that room tonight, even if a woman with a trans history.  That means other people saw me as a woman, taking me at my expression until they had a reason not to, just like those other women saw SG at the club.

I know that people who have a history with me won’t see me in the same way as people just meeting me as a woman.  Unless and until they get the same kind of experience as SG’s friend did, seeing for themselves how others see me anew, they will always be ready to saddle me with their old assumptions and expectations.

I have enough of a challenge to relax and trust my own woman choices, after policing them for so many years, that the added weight of a scene partner who can’t commit to being new and present in the moment, or a critic who wants to review the past rather than the present is just too much for me to carry.   I just can’t carry the weight of other peoples rationalizations, theories and fears when I need to be smiling in the moment.  I own the practice, but I also have to own The Moment.

You are never a hero in your own hometown, where people think they already know you, or think you just aren’t special or better than the average.  People who meet you anew, though, well they are ready to take you as you come, and they expect you to make the choices that are appropriate for the way they see you.

In that room tonight, I was just another professional woman in a room full of people who were doing startups, building businesses by being The Crazy Ones, as the host explained when he played that spot as an introduction to the event.

If you are playing a new role, you have to commit to being in the moment.  That’s the point of all my discussion about practice; practice helps us get out of the moment so when The Moment comes we can be more present in it.

SG and her pal decided to leave history in at home to see if it would intrude on the present at the club, and both were amazed to find out that it was the moment that counted, not the past.   It turned out that stick up the bum wasn’t needed after all, that defence was just impairment.

And I just have to remember that when I smile at someone across the room.

Light and free and present, with the past only as prologue; it’s how to be beautiful and potent in the world.

Venturing Out

Congratulations, Sir!  Let me shake your hand!

You picked me out and decided to tell others about me!  You are doing a wonderful job alerting your community to the fact that there are transpeople about!

Let me pin you with this lovely ‘Tranny Police‘ badge, so that everyone can know that you are a real tranny spotter, always on the lookout for transwomen!

I have deliberately been venturing out of my basement this week.  It’s expensive and a challenge, but it seems like an important step.  I need to build some stamina and endurance for putting up with the irritations and requirements of the big world if I have any hope of getting the rewards from it.

Fortune drew me back to Becca at the MAC counter.   I first met her this spring, when we talked about people we both knew.

This time, the discussion was about foundation makeup, and she gave me a few samples to take home and try.   TBB says that for her, it was all about getting the hair right, both the hair on her head and the hair on her face.   I shared my challenges with Becca, because if you can’t be honest with your MAC gal, who can you be honest with?

It was her exuberance for my appearance that really warmed me up, though.  She assured me, without any prompting, that I looked great, perfect for fall in a melon top under a black jacket and a print black skirt with tan bits and melon coloured dots.  She liked my hair and my makeup; she was very affirming.

“I wouldn’t want to be a size 0,” she told me, “even though it’s tough when I stand next to my size 0 model.  I mean, I’m a MAC gal, and that brings high standards, but I would never want to be a size 0.  A size 8, maybe, but not a size 0.”    I appreciated her support, but standing in my size 22 jacket, I knew she only had her own vision.

I got clocked in a WalMart when I was blocked getting to look at the Just My Size bras.  There was a man of colour there with a woman who was looking at bras and he clocked me.

When I circled back to see if they had moved on, I heard him whisper to her, pointing at me, trying to get her interested in what he saw.  She was only interested in passing, as she had bras to shop for.

In that moment, a flash of insight came to me clearly.

The people who clock non-obvious transwomen are the people who find us attractive in some way.  That’s why they are twigged, and that’s why they subject us to heightened scrutiny.

Your choices are about you, and the choice to get excited about seeing a transperson is a choice that tells more about the observer.     Miss Rachelle knows that from her experience, it’s people who have their own gender issues who want to bring up our gender difference.

I looked directly at this fellow and smiled a sly smile, knowing he had revealed more about himself by his excitement than anything he revealed about me.    What websites are in his browser history?

I kept moving, and actually found another good value fleece to buy, a $12 leopard print quarter zip in grey and black, muted but much more stylish than just plain black.

One day, one moment, one step at a time, eh?