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.