So What?

It is impossible to understand the world of women without understanding the world of girls.   Much of adult life is just high school played out in different ways, and for girls, much of high school is a game played for power and status against other girls.  Boyfriends are tokens, beauty is charmed and secrets are currency.

For women who weren’t raised as girls, this game is often hard to understand or even just hard to see.   We never learned all the tricks and pitfalls, learned all the signs and warnings.

ShamanGal came out to one of the women at work.   She did it over dinner after an intense bout of shared shopping, by dropping the hint that she had a secret she found hard to share.   Her friend found this tease irresistible, immediately starting to pry and acknowledging that a good shared secret would bind up the relationship.

That was great, and they have been girlfriends since.   But when SG started talking about telling another friend, there was some hemming and hawing.  “Well, since I have been hanging out with you, people have asked, and so, well, uh, she might already know.”

One of the five other gals at work is trans and she was surprised by that revelation?  That was just too juicy a secret to keep to herself.    She got power by sharing a secret.

A secret shared is a secret out, and SG felt like she had lost control of her own story.   All the standard shit started to come up, starting with the traditional sense of failure we often have when we find that we was not passing as being born female after working so hard at it.   That shame of failure, even after we have outed ourselves and let someone inside our passing distance, well it still stings.

SG quickly realized that the control she felt she lost was only illusory anyway.   She never had control over what people thought of her, never knew exactly what people knew and what they were thinking.

And SG shared her story consciously and for good reason.    TBB notes that authenticity is good, but to her, honesty is vital.    We both understand that once you start to lie, even by omission, you have to keep the lies up while they get bigger, more fragile and harder to manage.    It’s hard to build intimacy in a relationship built on lies.

TBB understands that it’s one thing to have your genitals cut off and reconstructed, but another to have to cut off your story, to have to live with a reconstructed history.   To TBB, not being able to talk about the children she lost and fought so hard to get back, about her parents and her brother, about her ex and her romances just doesn’t seem possible, so honesty is the easy and effective way.

Once people see us as queer, though, things can get strange.  They may not stand up for us as much, may feel the pressure from others to separate from us.    They may throw us out of the inner circle and into an outer ring of marginalized people who can be sacrificed if the need arises.   Watching your gender change in the eyes of others when people realize that you are “really” male is a very upsetting experience, and I tell you that from firsthand experience.

SG had to figure out what to do next.  Who knew and what did they think?  How could she take back her own story?

Her friend was hesitant to help, hesitant to implicate herself in the disclosure.  Yet, if people did start treating SG differently, she wanted to know, wanted to do something.

Should SG get the managers together and demand a time to present her story to the entire workplace?  On one hand, that felt good, a chance to stand up and demand.  On the other hand, would forcing co-workers into her story open them up or just make them more entrenched?   If she made her story a big deal, would that help or hurt her acceptance?

What sign should she put up in her cubicle?     She liked my “Telling My Truth Through Glamour”  and I suggested the old button that Riki Wilchins had pinned to her purse: “Take A Transsexual To Lunch.”   After all, if they wanted to indulge their curiosity and have us open the kimono, we at least deserve a meal out of it.

The sign that she eventually decided on, at least the last I heard, was simpler.

So What?

I have a trans history.  So what?   It’s what she wants her co-workers to say, after all, that SG is trans, but so what?

“So What?” is not any easy thing for transpeople to learn how to say.

We have been told for most of our life that our transgender nature is a big fucking deal, so big and so disgusting that we have to keep it hidden from people if we want them to treat us well.

When we are around other transpeople or therapists, trans is a huge deal.   So many other transpeople want to tell us why we (and they) will fail horribly if we are visible and transgender.    We have seen people twisted and battered by a trans life, know the scars we hold inside and how even the slightest threat can inflame the fear that stigma pounded into us, and people often demand we play out their fear by staying small and abject.

And there are guaranteed to be people in the world yelling that transgender is a huge deal, that it is against God’s will, that it is sick and deviant, that children should be protected from transgender sin and perversion.  The backlash against the bill in California that supports the rights of transkids feels very, very personal to us after a life submerged in stigma.

We know that being out and trans is risky, that it can marginalize us and make us vulnerable to others.   We know how being transgender has created out burdens and shaped our stories in a huge and profound way.

But in the end, we have to claim a life.   And the best slogan for that claim is simple: ” I’m transgender.  So what?”

“So what?”   Give up the attempt to control and defend,  to pass or stay invisible, to rationalize or justify, to explain or convert and just say “So what?”

I’m trans.  So what?

Now, can we get on with our lives and get the work done?

Beyond Caricature Constraints

Even Housewife Megastar Dame Edna Everage knows it, or at least her onerous manager Barry Humphries does: performances have constraints.   When Edna’s voice slips into the baritone, she loses the audience, as she has found over the years.   Edna, though, is caricature.

Every performance has boundaries beyond which we lose our audience.   Most of us don’t really know where those boundaries are, because just don’t go there.   Because we see our behaviour as “natural” rather than as being a performance constructed out of bits and pieces we have collected, our choices aren’t conscious and exploratory, rather they are habitual and routine.  We know what we have made to work, and we see no need, or maybe even no possibility of transforming.

Change, though, requires change.  One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get different results, as the old saying goes.

And change, then requires us to explore the constraints of our performance.  Where are the limits of what can be effective for us, with our body, our experience, our thinking and our nature?

More than that, what are the real limits on effectiveness, beyond the expectations, assumptions and traditions imposed by those who know us?   They may hold us by tethers that they and we find hard to break, pulling us back into expectations, but can we move beyond those expectations and make it work?

Authenticity lifts constraints.  When we can get to transferring truth rather than just the conveyance of caricature, people will accept our choices as offering something real and resonant.

This takes owning truth, because owning our own truth centres us in our actions.   When we have ownership, our choices come from inside of us, radiating from our core, rather than just being part of the costume or mask we have slipped on.   There is an genuine integrity when we own our truth and revealing that truth moves people.

Doing the work of healing always means the same thing: getting to the point where you own your truth so you can own your own choices.   This ownership puts us in a place where we can come from a positive place, accepting challenge, rather than leaving us defending the surface performance where we feel the need to reject challenge and to try and silence challengers.    “Thank you for sharing” is always harder to say than “Shut Up! Shut Up, Shut Up, Shut Up!”

For some, the notion that authenticity lifts constraints rather than imposing constraints may seem counter-intuitive.  If you define authenticity as the one true way, then it should limit you to that fixed, firm and unalterable truth.

Of course, it does do that, but the problem is that truth itself is unspeakable.  The best we can get is shadows of it, facets of it, pieces of it, performances of it that always only reveal it in part.  Human truth doesn’t just cover a lifetime of moments, it covers all lifetimes of moments, and that is just too much truth to be exposed in one moment, one symbol, one choice or even one performance.

Dame Edna resonates with audience because she tells the truth, but they know that she isn’t telling the whole truth.    They know that there is more to her performer, yes, but they also know that no performance can tell the whole truth.   There is much more to reality than any of us can grasp, grasshopper.

The flexibility of our performance in the world is determined by how much our performance comes from deep truth.   If we are using masks or caricature, we are always at risk of revelation when the mask slips, even a bit.  But if our performance isn’t bolted on, but comes from deep inside, the revelations that come from slips can show even more truth, sometimes more than we intended to show.

Still, people who need to hold onto their own view of truth and project it onto others may never see what we reveal.

Every performance holds truth.  Caricature performances hold controlled and limited truth, a kind of façade, mask or costume we put on.  Authentic performances hold a more open and vibrant truth, revealing connections and insights that are not in our intentions but deep in our heart and spirit.   Pretending is pretense, but real is real.

They may be truths that some reject or deny because they challenge their beliefs, but if a truth is resonant and essential enough, it will transcend any challenges and get into the hearts and minds of the audience.

Authenticity removes the constraints on performances because they become less about concealment and more about revealing something deeper.  Naked is, even if we are talking naked soul, naked heart and naked smarts, is naked.

While sometimes I write blog posts because I know what I think, sometimes I write blog posts because I need to know what I think, need to hear how things sound when actually asserted.  Sometimes.

Visible Authentic Potent

I don’t like to be a polarizing force.

I stand for common continuous humanity, for connection and not for separation.

I almost always start my contribution to a conversation by identifying what we hold in common, what we share, where we agree, and then moving on from there, because I know that it is only when you feel heard and respected that you are willing to engage me openly.

This attitude describes the way I learned to take power in the world, honestly, openly and focusing on building from commonality, not by dividing and conquering.

I know this isn’t the way all people take power in the world.  Some people love being polarizing, creating a binary us vs them, good vs bad, progressive vs conservative kind of energy.   They stand for what they stand for and thrive on opposition, believing that it only proves them right, only makes them more of a crusader for right.

That kind of take it or leave it, my way or the highway power just isn’t for me.   I love community building, circular empowerment, coming together.

I also know that gender shift changes the way that we can and should take power in the world.  That was my first question at my first gender conference twenty years ago, in 1993, how does power change with gender shift?   It has been the focus of much of my understanding since then.

Maybe we need to shift our power between being seen as a man or a woman, who take power in different ways in the world.

Or maybe we need to shift our power to being a visible transperson in the world, learning new ways of trusting taking power, always on a kind of a tippy floor.

My way of taking power in the world has been the way of the guerrilla.  I stay invisible and only pop my head up to say what I know needs to be said, to do what needs to be done.   I don’t really participate in formal power structures, being the queer that I am, rather I shape and direct them from the shadows, asking just the wrong question at just the wrong time.

I know how to be sly and pinpoint, popping in to deflate earnestness, pomposity and oppression and then fading back again.    I come out of nowhere to be funny and insightful, turning the light on, then vanish, my own little magic trick of envisioning.

This mode of power mirrors my own strength, the the strength of doubt, the power of living in the question and not the answer.  I come as a searcher, not as an expert, here to work the process alongside of others to create new and effective results.    I work to cast light and create new, removing the overblown expectation to find the strengths that lie beneath.

There is, to me anyway, a certain kind of joy in being invisible, because it allows me to speak in the voices that move through me, that Jonathan Winters energy I knew I had before I was five years old.   “Radio shows” pop out of my mouth and give a new way of seeing a situation, moving the viewpoint around the room, illuminating the world in a new way.

This is the power of a shape-shifter.   One reason I appear smart is because I choose when to speak up, when to become visible, only speaking from my own deep knowledge and not from any need to gain, establish or propagate power.   I don’t try to whip it out and show how big it is, in other words.

I love this power of the shadows.   I know this power.  I am good at this power.

But the rewards of this power are limited.   If you stay invisible, people don’t value you, and you spend a lot of time at their mercy.

I have known for decades that my style of power had to change, whatever that means.

I often get queasy at the world “authentic.”    It’s not because I don’t think we shouldn’t try the best we can from truth, because clearly I do.    I search for truth and true expression all the time.

Many people think that truth is something that can be written down on a piece of paper.  “Look at your birth certificate,” they might say.  “The truth is all right there.  Name, gender, everything.”

To me, truth is something that we can never symbolize all of at one time, because truth is beyond our puny power to capture in a snapshot of symbols.  Truth is shimmering, vibrant, scintillating, spiralling, turning and twisting, revealing itself through facets.    We are like the blind man and the elephant, all with one piece of the truth, but no one with the hole.

For people who like to believe in the fixed and immutable, this is a very troubling concept.   It is, maybe even, a polarizing concept.    If we aren’t the only people who follow the one true faith, if others also hold pieces of the truth, then is our truth wrong?

Those who believe in truth as fixed and knowable tend to venerate standing and résumé.   They want to believe that if they know who someone is on paper, they know who they are, and anyone who makes claims beyond their résumé is a fraud, a liar, a deceiver.

“Who am I anyway?  Am I my résumé?  That is a picture of a person I don’t know.” sings Paul in A Chorus Line.   (FYI, Paul is the one who worked as a female impersonator.)

I spent years trying to understand the issues around transgender and truth.  Was I lying about who I was to express my own understanding of my transgender nature?   Is sex and gender immutable and fixed, so that what is on their birth certificate tells you everything you need to know about someone?  Is truth something fixed, immutable and knowable?  (Just in case you are wondering, it’s not.)

I learned that my shape shifting was always a search for truth, that contradictory, ambiguous, translucent, beautiful, and twinkling truth.  I learned to love truth, especially when it popped me upside the head and gave me a breathtaking new vision of connection and understanding.

Here, you see, is the problem.

I don’t like being a polarizing force.  I strive for connection.

But the very idea that truth is unknowable, always presenting new facets to us, true in a million different ways to a million different eyes, the idea that authenticity is not fixed and immutable but something need to express through performance, well, that idea is very, very polarizing.

The idea that truth is always revelatory is the power of change agents, those who threaten the status quo, those who value knowing over seeing, those who take comfort in their own “perfect” knowledge and see challenges to their understanding as challenges to their own identity.

People can only learn what they are willing to learn, and those who refuse to even open the question because they desperately need to stay fixed where they are won’t learn until they have change explode their rationalizations.

To stand up and be visible as a transgender person is to be visible as a change agent.   And to be visible as a change agent, not just be a guerrilla who stays invisible and pops up out of the mist to reveal that the Emperor has no clothes, well, that is a very polarizing thing.

Yet, this is my next challenge.

I need to stand up and lead change in the world.   I need to give people a chance to stand up and do the right thing, getting behind diversity and supporting the possibility of transformation and growth that exists in every one.

When you stand up and give people a chance to love you, you also give people a chance to hate you.

As someone who has been told that they were stupid, wrong, worthless, perverted and sick since my parents first caught me putting on girl’s clothes over a half century ago, that’s a very exposed position.   I have been well and truly trained to stay small and unchallenging, and I have all the scars to prove it.

And yet, and yet, and yet, my challenge is to do just that.  To stand up and give people a chance to join with me to make something good happen.    To be polarizing and let the haters hate and those who want to sign up for change and diversity and trust and community to stand together.

“From what I have seen, it is the smartest people in the room who are drawn to you,” Performance Guy told me last night.

“Have you ever considered that that same transgender nature and queer journey of yours is something that others can value and find attractive, not just find uncomfortable and offputting?” he asked me.

Can I really stand up and polarize a room for good?

I have learned that the trick is, as it always is, staying in the moment and working the process, being present and engaging what is, merging the moment and the energy, everything that people bring into this instant to make something new.   Process queen I am, by golly.

“You don’t have a posse, do you?” Performance Guy asked.  He is used to working with a cast that can keep up the momentum, watch his back, give him a moment when he needs it.

I, on the other hand end up having to work alone, without a net.   It’s hard and scary work, and my only defence, past my wits, is my ability to become invisible.  It’s hard to be invisible with a nice manicure, as I noted on Monday.

If I want to get out of this basement and back into the world, if I want to get tyhe rewards I need including cash, if I want to connect with other people and maybe be a bit less lost and lonely, I need to be visible in the world, showing myself and trusting that people will see, value and honour what I have to offer.

I hear attitudes about transpeople have changed a lot in the decade I have been in this basement.  We are almost mainstream now, even if we still have the same scars.

It was hard to learn how to take power from the margins, but I did.

Now, I have to trust that I can take power from the centre, visible to the world, and that people will see the authenticity that exists deep inside me rather than being demanding I conform to their truth.

I need to trust that being polarizing can help make connections, as I bring together people and help break down barriers to change and transformation in the world, help people see and celebrate the feminine alongside the masculine, help celebrate our continuous common humanity.

And all I have to do is resist my fight or flight instincts and stay visible, present and in the moment, no matter what comes up for me.

Oy, that sounds hard.

 

 

Rhetoric Over Content

When in doubt, sacrifice the queers.   After all, they are the ones who are deviant, different, the ones who won’t follow along, the ones who won’t sign up, the ones who are just asking for it and who probably deserve whatever they get.

I saw that happen in a meeting I went to recently when some suggested that removing protection for gender variant people would help pass a trans rights bill in the state.  After all, they didn’t understand gender variant people and they were trans, so who else would trust giving rights to them?

I know how it feels to be seen as too queer, to be seen as the one who has forfeited the protection of good, decent and upright people by my own choices.  I was in the lobby of the Senate when a bill that protected the rights of gays and lesbians but not of transpeople was passed.   We were just too queer to get that inclusion, but we shouldn’t worry; our day would come soon.   It’s been twelve years; not that soon.

These people just bought into the rhetoric without understanding how it affected people like them.  “Do they want us to throw out the queers?   Fine, we can do that, because no one will see me as too queer!”   Think again, honey.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin-Niemöller

There were other rhetorical flourishes that made my skin crawl.

One person argued that there have been no dangerous incidents in places where transpeople are supported in using gender appropriate bathrooms, but then went on to say that she could be killed if not permitted to use the proper bathroom.

There are no incidents reported of transwomen being killed over bathrooms, either.  If you want to deny the other side the use of fear to get what they want, why are you permitted to invoke fear to get what you want?   Just because you are right and they are wrong?

So many politicians who identify as Christian have no problem attacking opponents in ways that they would hate being attacked.   They seem to justify this violation of The Golden Rule with the argument that their opponent would do the same if they could.

Jesus never said that the ends justify the means, and that someone else playing dirty lifted any moral obligation that you have to follow your professed faith.

In any case, the justification is usually just rationalization around their belief that if their belief is right then it is holy, and any opposition to them is not just wrong, it is evil, and there is no bounds to what the righteous must do to oppose evil.  In the blessed cause, the ends always justify the means.  Just ask any Crusader.

I really believe in The Golden Rule and believe that evil has to end with me.   It is my responsibility to do the right thing, even if others choose to make low blows.   In the end, it is only my actions I can control and only my actions for which I am accountable.

One person in the meeting went off on a lovely rant about the responsibilities of other people.  Her primary target was legislators, but once she got on a roll, she spread out the responsibility to many, being sharp about what other people should do.

While her energy and rhythm were compelling, her content made me cringe.

It was the rant of a preachy preacher, assigning responsibility and blame to others, identifying their failures as the cause of all evil.

This kind of rant is the basis of those separations that so many use to oppress, the separation between normal and too queer people, the separation between good and evil, the separation of the victims and the responsible, the separation between the just and the villains.

It’s fun to preach, but when that preaching becomes about separations, when the rhetoric overcomes the knowledge, it just creeps me out.   Sure, it may seem like fun to fight fire with fire, but in the end, everyone gets burned.  That’s why water is the symbol of baptism, cleaning, calming and connecting all of us.

Even the gal who wanted to share her lgbT diversity curriculum fell into the trap, talking about differences between us.

When the question is who we cut off, who we sacrifice, who we separate, the answer will always be wrong.

It is only when the question is how we all take care of each other, lifting each other up and affirming connection, how we can acknowledge that we are all in this together, that we can find the right answer.

Shape Shiftless

I don’t wear nail polish.

It’s not that I don’t like nail polish.  I do like it very much.   I love shine and colour.   And being a transperson with big hands, nail polish can help them look better proportioned.

Nail polish takes time and practice to do properly.   A manicure isn’t something you can just toss off quickly and make it look good.   When done well, it should look like the paint on a luxury car, smooth and solid, shining and deep.

When done poorly, though, a manicure can look like a badly painted trailer that someone has bodged up with old, cheap enamel and left out in the rain.  Not a good, professional, classy or stylish look.

I always hated having to take off my nail polish at the end of the night so I could try to look like a guy again the next day.   People did note that I left traces on my face, tiny signs of what I wanted to claim.    But putting my finger into that foam sponge soaked with remover and seeing it come out merely tinged with pink rather than bright and shiny always made me sad.

My nails today, even though I haven’t had polish on them since April, are just a frayed mess.   I don’t eat a lot of dairy products and I do have physical work to do, like moving boxes and such.

I never know when I am going to have to deal with my family or neighbourhood and make my trans invisible.   A lovely, colourful  manicure just doesn’t work with my androgynous camouflage, the one I use to keep my head down and stay small.   And taking my time to do my nails just to have to take it off again is seriously depressing.

Jared Leto has been doing the press for “Dallas Buyers Club” where his role as Rayon, a transgender woman with AIDS has been widely praised.    Much of the chat has been about him staying in character throughout the filming.   In other words, he didn’t have to take the nail polish off every night.

Leto has been quoted as saying he couldn’t imagine any other way to do the role, that switching back and forth would require more effort than he could muster.  His director said that he wasn’t sure to expect when Leto got off the plane in a dress, but that they soon figured out that he was a she, and that she was nice.

Immersion is magical.   Context switching always has a price, multitasking always demands a cost in overhead and loss of focus.  It may create a shimmering image that the sophisticated can see as beautiful, but one that also confuses people who expect a normative kind of solidity.

The ability to become invisible, like Burt had on Soap, is impressive but eventually very costly.  Focus is the hidden driver of excellence, as Daniel Goleman reminds us, and switching states — the natural habit of a shape shifter — tends to make us lose focus and momentum.

How important is holding onto the ability to be ephemeral, to shape-shift?  How much does it cost?

Every organization from six to 60000 people
needs a Brahma, a Vishnu, and a Shiva
– a creator, a preserver, and a destroyer.
And you need those tensions simultaneously….
The problem with the average-size corporation
is that eventually the preservers take over and stagnation sets in.
You need to protect the Shivas, the destroyers.
Tom Peters

When all of those roles fall to one person, things can get flippy fast.

I have learned to live off the grid, away from having a fixed public persona, and so I shy away from anything that ties me one way or the other, like nail polish, a beautiful manicure.

When you lock down a shape-shifter, do you kill her?   Or does becoming manifest make her even more powerful, able to lift objects and lead possibilities?  Does losing the ability to vanish take away her power of the surprise magic, or does it allow her new potency? How important is misdirection and camouflage, and how important is standing and solidity?

These are hard questions for someone trained as a guerrilla and chameleon, for someone who fears the cage to answer.

But damn, I do love great, beautiful painted fingernails.

“that condemnation and judgment I got — that was important”

[Jared Leto] stars in “Dallas Buyers Club” as Rayon, a heartbreakingly vulnerable but business-savvy transgender AIDS victim.

“As soon as I got out of the van [the first day of shooting], I had my high heels on, and I was in it,” says Leto. “I was in character every day I shot.

“It’s not a new thing [this kind of immersion], but it was essential. There was too much to lose if I didn’t do it.”

Leto even stepped out in costume to a Whole Foods near New Orleans, where much of the film was shot.

“I got some … distinct looks,” he says. “One look was, ‘What is that?’ Another was, ‘I don’t know what that is, but I don’t like it.’ But that condemnation and judgment I got — that was important to the role.”

Pros And Trans

When the pros meet the trans, there is bound to be frustration on both sides.   And because I am on both sides, it is a challenge for me.

New York State does not have protection for gender expression in law.

We do have protection for sexual orientation, passed some twelve years ago when the Empire State Pride Agenda cut a deal with Republican governor George Pataki to get it through the Senate.

We do have Marriage Equality, passed two years ago when the current Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo worked with a group of business leaders to sway a few Republicans to break ranks and get it though the Senate.  My local state senator was one of those, but he lost his seat in the next election to a conservative challenger who fueled the voters need to punish him for that action.

But GENDA remains stalled, passed in the Assembly but a few votes shy in a State Senate that just imploded last year with many senators charged with crimes, some senators leaving the Democratic caucus to vote with the Republican minority, and general messiness.

And this coming year is an election year when the Conservative party has a platform plank to grant no more “special rights,”  and GENDA is the target of that defence of their voters.   Voters fear their children being queered, stolen from the faith, and politicians feed that fear to keep the voters activated.

That’s very frustrating for those of us who keep coming back, trying to sway those votes and being given hurdles to meet that are just moving targets designed to keep us from satisfying them.   Get more cities in NY to pass gender protection, get him to agree, get more support, whatever.    Nobody wants to be against transpeople, they just want to be against “special rights” that stir the fears of right wing radio talk show hosts.

And so, in an undisclosed city there was an undisclosed meeting of which, according to the ground rules issued at the beginning,  I would be unable to blog the details.   Strategy sessions need to stay confidential, it was announced.

All I write here is my own understanding of how transpeople work together with political professionals, never disclosing any of the details of that undisclosed meeting.

Politics, especially at the scale of a state as large as New York, is a glacial game.  You don’t turn a battleship on a dime.  It takes time, money or both to make changes, because every change moves something in the huge interconnected web of government and the organizations who treat with the government.

Transpeople, well, we are few and far between.

There are very few benefits to publicly identifying as transgender, which is why we often choose to stay hidden, concealed as hobbyist crossdressers, drags and butches, passing transsexuals, or just closeted dreamers.

Gay and Lesbian people have to come out somewhere to meet new partners, have to be in relationship with others like them to get the connection they need, but that’s not the same for transpeople.

Transgender is, in the end, a very individual journey to a unique self.   And the start of that journey is always knowing who you aren’t, rather than knowing who you are.  That makes us touchy, because a reactive identity is always reactionary, on some level, marked with statements about separation rather than finding connection.

Add to that the overwhelming price we pay to face the stigma that supports gender normativity, the abuse, separation and isolation we suffer when we make people feel threatened and challenged walking away from norms and you get some hurting people who don’t hold much of a shared identity.    Our only connection is that we know that we are all hurt by a society that fears anything beyond the heterosexist binary to which they cling.

Transpeople are cats, very individual, but more than that we are abused cats, all coming with the heavy scars and armour created by a life outside the norms.

Trying to tell people about that life is very hard.   People outside that experience just don’t have any context to understand the depth and duration of the pain, and people inside the experience are bound up in their own viewpoints, their own challenges, their own pain.

We know that pain, harassment, challenge and abuse has shaped us, so when we don’t get what we need we often think that acting out that pain against others will influence them too.

Politicians in New York State have a number of things in common.  First, they are essentially political creatures, with political thinking guiding their actions.  The higher up the pecking order you get, the more true this is, because the way you move up is to be more political.    Second, they know that their base is in the mass of voters, not in the gadflies and crackpots who bang on about their cause.   Pols have learned to have a thick skin in facing these hecklers.

Politics is a retail game.   Barney Frank used to say to transpeople that they were wrong to target the top federal politicians just because they had the power.   Pols, he would tell us, are influenced by what is around them, so making change at lower levels, where change is easier, sets the ground for change up the chain.

When you are a small band, though, retail politics seems daunting.   Much easier just to bang on the points where you see the power, no matter how hard and deep that power is entrenched.

Because transpeople have so very little benefit in publicly identifying as trans, it becomes very hard to get them together into organizations and groups.  The hidden ones are still hiding, and the mature ones have decided that they don’t need the drama of all the coming out turmoil back in their assimilated lives.

This leaves the activists out there, trying to get action.   But because they are still claiming the way things should be, very few of those newly out activists really know how to lead, because leadership is service.

Some activists , for example, have high ideals about creating non-hierarchical organizations that follow dogmatic principles and believe that food and drink are the way to get people activated, to be their friends.    But these same activists don’t see how their dogma makes them judgmental and stops them from actually making the connections that create robust and flexible networks across class, race, age and other boundaries.

In the end, what transpeople want is what everyone wants.  We want to feel seen, heard and valued for our unique contributions, want to feel understood and cared about.  We don’t want to feel lectured and dismissed because we are insufficiently abject to be holy.    If we want to build organizations that help each other, we need to engage people from across boundaries to offer what they have to lift the entire group.  That is the basis of community, these shared goals and resources.

Inflicting our own internalized pain and drama on others does not help them connect with us.   It just baffles them and drives them away.  Our struggle is real, but acting out that struggle on others does not build connection, especially when we start separating between good transpeople like us and bad transpeople like them

Any meeting about legislation is going to be an essentially political gathering.   There may be lots of real, serious, concerns about how to build robust community between transpeople across the state, how to empower and lift individuals, but meetings about political issues are not the place to address them.

“Right idea, wrong room,” passed through my head often.   The problem, though, is that there are so few rooms where people come together to share and lead about all the range of challenges faced by transgender people across the state, across the country and across the room.

I really like professionals.   I like people who are good at their job.  When the local gay & lesbian centre had a building bridges workshop, I didn’t stand up as trans as my primary identity, I stood with the business people.  I love how organizations bring people together to solve problems, create the new, serve others and lift both workers and consumers.

This was obvious to me when I see that I dress like a woman who understands political action as work rather than like activists whose expression is very individualistic.    I don’t feel a need to tell you what pronoun you should use for me — my expression does that — or claim transgender privilege in contributing to the conversation.

Professionals who want to help transpeople have learned to be compassionate and receptive to what transpeople value.   Transpeople who work with professionals haven’t so much learned to be understanding and receptive to the real concerns, needs and demands of professionals.

To build organizations and structures that grow and thrive, professionalism is required.  Social justice is great, but to lift people, economic justice is also needed, and that comes from a professional place, building and contributing to businesses and organizations that create jobs, dignity and wealth.

In a recent training for trans leaders, the HRC helped them learn to tell their stories.  One of the key pieces was teaching them to stay on point, to keep on message, to focus on the story and not get distracted.   Narrative works well when polished into effective tools that change mind and create connection, but it takes a professional attitude to create those tools from our stories.

We are hurting people with a complicated message that others just don’t get.   Learning to approach the world past our own pain and mess is very hard for us, which is why it is so hard to simplify ourselves into a slogan, as some ask of us.

In the end, though, learning professionalism, service alongside others with a shared objective seems to me to be the only way to lift our community and ourselves.   When we just want to tell others what they should do without having to take on the obligation to actually do the work and show success, it is easy to be bitter about what we are not getting.   It’s easy just to stay a princess and demand that others do what we want them to do, rather than to own our own professionalism and make real change.

Transpeople have relied on allies for a long time while we were too scattered and too shattered to be professional enough to build the organizations and structures that we need to help each other.   Now, some of us can recognize the need for owning our own organizations and our own power, but the challenge of getting transpeople to come together is still great.

I don’t know how to live in a world where people say “Screw pragmatism!  Listen to me!”  I don’t know how to make an impact with people who love their dogma more than their successes.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was someplace transpeople were empowered and powerful, a place where we could seed the generation of new trans leaders to go out and really make an impact on a wider world?

I suspect the only way we can make that happen is  for transgender and professionalism to not be at odds with each other.   Until transpeople value professionalism over dogma and acting out, we can’t have the best of both worlds, the diverse vision of transpeople and the shared service of professionalism coming together.

And that leaves me right where I was at that workshop 15 years ago, standing with the pros and not the trans, feeling split one more time.

Change Agent

The PowerPoint is a lie.

People know what to put on the PowerPoint.   That’s where you put all the right words, the high ideals and valiant morals.   The PowerPoint is where you say what you know that you should say.

“We are committed to constant improvement and bold change, embracing new and diverse ideas that challenge old thinking so as to take this organization into a future where we serve our customers in new, innovative and more effective ways.”

What the PowerPoint really means, usually, is that we are committed to slow changes in the status quo that don’t really threaten to upset the organization in any significant way.

People who are really committed to brave and remarkable change rarely are the people who give long and boring PowerPoint presentations.

“It’s hard for me not to be seen as a change agent,” TBB tells me.

Yeah.  Someone who has changed as much as she has in her life, changing the gender assigned at birth to one that fits her heart more than her reproductive biology, well, most people see that as a big change.

TBB is looking at a new job in the organization where the spec says that they want someone who can change the way that they do business, bringing bold and effective innovation.    She knows that she could do that job.

But the way that the job requirement is written, the resume test is the key to filling the position.  And that test demands someone who is powerfully, absolutely grounded, for decades, in the status quo.

The last innovator they brought in ended up just keeping the seat warm, counting down the days to retirement.     They had no real incentive to shake things up, and their long experience in another organization didn’t bring new and creative thinking, it just brought another set of expectations, assumptions and risk avoidance behaviours.

It is hard, as TBB reminds us, for transpeople not to be seen as change agents.   And while the celebration of change is written all over the PowerPoint templates, well, the reverence for the status quo is written deep in the souls of the staff.   That reverence is how they got their job, with a commitment to serve their boss, and how they keep their job, supporting whatever the little voices tell them to do.

Risk is, well, risky, and most employers value people who don’t risk going against the expectations of the organization.   Rules, standards, procedures, conventions, all of them are to be followed to the letter, or life gets difficult.

Sure, the PowerPoint says that the organization wants creative, entrepreneurial people who take ownership and create innovative solutions, but we all know that’s a lie.   It’s just what they are supposed to say.

It is hard for visible transpeople not to be seen as change agents.  And while we all know how to give lip service to the need for change, when change actually happens, it is scary and unsettling.  I suspect that makes visible transpeople scary and unsettling too.

Still, there are places where change is really valued.

It is those places, I suspect, where a visible change agent, one who owns bold change in their own life, is going to be valued.

And those are the places where people don’t easily sit through big PowerPoint presentations filled with lies.

Those are the places where change means active process, not just lip service.

Home.

WNTW

I teared up while watching the last episode of TLC and BBC America’s “What Not To Wear.”

Sure, I liked the bitchy honesty of Trinny & Susannah, but letting the American program morph into something more touchy-feely was a great idea that lead to ten years of celebration.

At its heart, the US “What Not To Wear” was a celebration of feminine empowerment, giving women permission to be stylish and playful in their lives, acknowledging that fashion is not simply frivolous, it is women expressing their own potency in the world.

The key lesson was “If you can’t shine, just the way you are, in your body at your age and weight, then you can’t own your power in the world, and that means you can’t help yourself and your family succeed.”

Women always came in stuck in a style that no longer served them, if it ever did, and were helped to see themselves in a new, fun, beautiful way that sent them back out in the world with renewed confidence and grace.

It was an emotional journey to let go of their past and claim a new future, but Stacey London and Clinton Kelly made it easier with lots of laughter to help them face their old self in secret footage and the 360, let go of what didn’t serve them into the trash can, struggle a bit and then claim the new, the invigorating, the empowering.

This year Stacey and Clinton even helped a transwoman find a new expression, acknowledging that for most women the wrong look just made them look less than nice, but that for transwomen, the stakes are higher.   Still, we need to feel confident in our own expression.

In her first years at sea, TBB wouldn’t pack a dress into her kit, knowing they saw androgynous expression on the boat, but now she knows that when she does put on a dress and lipstick, it makes people around her smile, and they give her the standard salute: “You look nice!”   It turns out that people appreciate it when we brighten up the place a bit.

A few of my favourite quotes from the final season:

“You are a whole person.  You can’t feed just part of you.”
Clinton Kelly, What Not To Wear, 6 Sept 2013

“There is nothing apologetic about this outfit.”
Stacey London, What Not To Wear, 4 October 2013

“Someone [Neale Donald Walsch] said ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.'”
Stacey London, What Not To Wear, 20 October 2013

What Not To Wear was a playful celebration of the power of life inside women, helping us claim that power by claiming our own personal expression that mixed understanding of social expectations, personal style with lots of colour, texture, pattern and shine.

I liked seeing the feminine celebrated by empowering women in the world to express their own skills and style, to communicate both who they know themselves to be and who they know they can be in everyday life.

And seeing women whose lives were transformed by a team that helped them own their own femininity, well, that was always hopeful for me.

L’chaim, WNTW.   To life, to all the lives you touched, of women on the show and women who learned from the show how to feel good about owning more of their life in the world by owning their own beautiful expression.

Losing Balance

Weebles, it is said, wobble, but they do not fall down.

Humans, on the other hand, fall down all the time.  We are often in the process of falling.

To walk we have to lean forward, lose our balance, and begin to fall.
We let go, constantly, of the previous stability, falling, all the time, trusting that we will find a succession of new stabilities with each step.
The fullest living is a constant dying of the past, enjoying the present fully, but holding it lightly; letting go without clinging and moving freely into new experiences.
Our experience of the past and of those dear to us is not lost at all,
but remains richly within us.
Robin Skynner

Balance isn’t ever a static thing.   If it were, we would be more like trees, magnificent but with virtually no forward motion at all.

Creating balance in life is a dynamic process, like being on a surfboard riding a wave, or being on a bicycle and moving forward.    We lose our balance and then we gain it again in a new attitude.

If we are not willing to surrender our current stability, we can get stuck, but when we do surrender that stability, we can get keep falling, trying to control our process but getting lost in the wobbly range of possible choices.

Balance is less about what we say “no” to, the position we know that we need to leave behind, and more about what we say “yes” to, the position that provides us the next bit of stability that moves us a bit in the direction we need to go.

It is easy to get lost in that moment of motion, not seeing any possibilities that seem sure, confident, useful or even possible.    When we get lost in that process of falling,  we can easily start to spiral in, chasing our tails in a desperate search to avoid past mistakes, to find a way forward that doesn’t feel like an old trap, one that has ensnared us in the past.

This creation of uncertainty that inhibits action, binding us up, is often a function of fear.   Our ego wants to avoid discomfort, and a lifetime of training has taught us that inaction feels safer than choice.   Choice is risky, dangerous and scary, while inaction is self satisfying, inhibiting and doesn’t threaten pissing others off.   The status quo is easy to justify while change is easy to resist, so stasis feels comfortable even if we are digging ourselves into a pit by spinning round in our head or in our life.

What happens when we tie ourselves in knots because we cant envision a new possibility, a next step that can move us forward?

We fall down, of course.  And then we have to pick ourselves up and start again, losing momentum and pushing through any bangs and bruises.  The challenge feels magnified.

The marginalized in this world know what it is like to have barriers placed in their path that don’t seem to allow a direct next step.   We understand the challenge of being stopped by all sorts of blocks.   We understand the cost of having to pick ourselves up again after we have been tripped up to start again.   And we understand that there are some who just hope our progress will be impaired, our challenge thwarted by these impairments thrown at us.  That’s the way that stigma and marginalization works.

It’s one thing to know how to retain balance by keeping momentum up, by avoiding getting knocked down, but to do that, you have to depend on gyroscopic forces that keep pushing you back to the centre line.

If you want to be able to turn sharper corners, to get off the easy and standard route, the most important thing you can do is not to avoid losing balance through limited motion, but instead to learn how to regain your balance after a stop, how to get back up after you fall.

And the secret of that trick is to avoid spiralling in with fear and shame, just digging a hole in the ground.   Rather than turning energy into tight loops, we have to be able to regain momentum after a spill, even knowing, knowing, knowing that we are bound to hit another wall and fall again in the future.

This faith in momentum to create balance in our lives,  a faith that motion will propel us towards more equilibrium,  is very hard to learn for those whose experience is being sabotaged by society.    We know where we have hit potholes and speedbumps in the past, and so we tense up, always expecting that “third gotcha.”

Losing our balance is a key to being able to move forward, as Dr. Skynner reminds us.   Momentum can help us find new and better stability.

But for those of us who need to learn to change direction, who don’t go down the conventional path, who hear the sound of a different drummer, being willing to fall down and then start moving again, rather than just chasing our tails and spiralling where we were knocked down, feeling safe by staying put.

Moving forward is the only way we can find new and better stabilities, new and better ways of being in the world,

The only way we can move forward is to be willing to let go of the past, trusting that what we have learned there will stay with us and inform our next steps, making us more centred and grounded.

The only way to gain balance is to lose it, then change in a way that lets us gain it again.

And that is true even if it often feels better to just hunker down, play out our fears, and find reasons not to get up again.

Humans are not weebles.  And I thank God that means we can fall down, for falling moves us towards learning and growth.

No Big Whoop

ShamanGal is delighted.    She came out to a friend at work and it turned out that transgender, such a huge deal to her since she was small, such a defining element of her life, is no big deal to this friend.  In fact, her friend doesn’t think other people even need to know that SG is trans, because she didn’t until SG told her.

ShamanGal is dismayed.       She came out to a friend at work and it turned out that transgender, such a huge deal to her since she was small, such a defining element of her life, is no big deal to this friend.  In fact, her friend doesn’t think other people even need to know that SG is trans, because she didn’t until SG told her.

If we tell you that we are trans and you think it is no big whoop, is that a victory for us, because you accept us as normative, and that’s great?

If we tell you that we are trans and you think it is no big whoop, is that a fail for us, because you have no idea how enormous a life force being trans is, no idea the kind of battering that transpeople get growing up in this culture?

When people accept trans with no drama, does that value our shining essential humanity, or does that devalue the real pain and challenge in our story?

Maybe the point is that once people are in relationship with us, they will slowly learn our story, slowly become sensitized to the real struggle of growing up trans in a heterosexist culture.

Maybe the point is that once people are in relationship with us, the challenging and unpleasant parts of our story will just be excised out as we assimilate into their world of immediate and present concerns.

One reason transpeople don’t work hard to pass is because they don’t want to cut off their story, a story of being bruised and battered in a way that profoundly shaped us.

One reason transpeople fear the world is because some won’t get over our trans nature and let us participate and give our gifts in the sharing of everyday life.

Trans is a big whoop for us, and if you don’t understand why, you don’t know us.

Trans is a big whoop for us, and if you think that is all there is to us, you leave us crippled.

If you take my life so lightly, do you understand how heavy it was for me?   If you treat me as a heavy, how do I own my own lightness?

Are the details of a trans life just too much information, not something that has to be shared everyday?

Are the details of a trans life profoundly important in shaping our choices and our fears in a world where trans expression is still marginalized and stigmatized in ways that are hard to understand unless you have experienced it?

I suspect the answer to all of this is “Yes,” so finding the balance between understanding and moving past it is always going to be a challenge for people who were shaped for decades by having to live a transgender life.

Fear Of Calling

If there is one thing that irks me about the current polarized political climate, it is people who claim that because God backs their beliefs, they are blessed, good and right, so the anyone who challenges them must be demonic, evil and wrong.

This is the basis for so much ends justify the means behaviour, so much of people refusing to work together and compromise, instead demanding that they own the one right way, and their opponents have to come to Jesus for any common ground to be found.

So much bad has been done in the name of God through the centuries that I understand why people are suspicious of those who claim they are acting in God’s name, under God’s warrant.

I spent decades doing the work to understand this.  In my understanding, there is a big difference in doing the work of the church and doing the work of the divine.

Those who have been destructive in the name of God seem to be preachy preachers, who use God to justify separation, us versus them, the blessed versus the unholy.   They preach on how others need to change in order to become sanctified.

Those who have been constructive in the name of God seem to be teachy preachers, who use God to reveal connection, how all things are linked, how respect and understanding get us closer to the divine.  They teach how we have to change to embrace connection, looking inside to see where we hold barriers to connecting with the universe.

The reason I have struggled with this so strongly for decades is because my own trans nature has been classified as unholy and a sick deception by others.  I needed to figure out how to tell what is holy and what is true using the shared knowledge, rather than just the teachings of one church or another.

It’s easy to say that you feel a calling.  Understanding if that call is from the ego or the divine, from the devil or from God is much more difficult.

What is calling from the Godvoice, what is blessed destiny, and what is just indulgence and fallacy?  How do you claim that you are acting from calling and not be tossed away as deluded and dangerous?

Almost everything you do will seem insignificant,
but it is important that you do it
Mahatma Gandhi

What Gandhi knew about calling was that no human was required to be perfect, or even able to be perfect for that matter.  No human is divine; we are all human.

What is required though, is that we play our part in the process, refuse to be silenced, adding our voice, our energy and resources, and do that which we are called on to do.   We are each part of the community, of the nation, of the race, and as such, we have a part to play, even if it seems insignificant.

Inherently, our part won’t be to be balanced and inert, rather our part is to add our own dynamic, moving the centre, changing the balance, strengthening and moving the world into a future that we had a tiny part in creating, no matter how insignificant we saw ourselves to be.

Sometimes all I can do when asked for help, for example, is to use my skill at search engines — I started when AltaVista was owned by DEC — and find a resource that escaped others, which moves the process forward, as I did when the doctor asked for help this week.   It seemed insignificant to me, but she saw it as important.

Resisting calling because it might be ego and sickness expressing themselves is resisting the opportunity to learn and grow from making choices that were not perfect.   “And the trouble is, that if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more,” as Erica Jong wrote.  Risk is the only way to find growth and risk is the only way to find success.

Now, all that is lovely theology about calling.   It all gives good reasons to own that song in your heart that your creator gave you, and only you, to sing.

But when you have learned to silence that inner voice, when the world has told you it is just wrong to act on who you knew yourself to be at age five, at age eleven, all your life, when you have sacrificed so much for so long to play along, well, theology is cold comfort indeed.

There are many tricks to defeating calling, and most are clad in goodness.   We get our bliss quenched as being unholy, not spiritual or of the ego, for example, when that usually means that it makes others uncomfortable by stimulating their own fears.   We learn to be self-policing, self-sabotaging, self-defeating.

Make no mistake, though, calling must be defeated to keep transpeople in the closet.   And the longer we have practised defeating calling, the more entrenched we are in our own fears of it.    Fear of trusting calling becomes one of the core principles in any closeted life, giving us the wherewithal to play small.

To reclaim a life and the power that comes with it, reclaiming calling is key.   Reclaiming calling, though, means overcoming the deep, internalized and profound fear of calling.

And once the infection of fear has spread through your soul, calling is hard to reclaim, and even harder to own.

Say It

Don’t make me say it.

I don’t feel safe saying it.

All my life, I have been isolated and put down and shamed and abused for saying it.

People feel threatened and upset when I say it.  It freaks them out, gets their hackles up.

It’s just pretentious, arrogant, and stupid to say it.  It makes me sound immodest, full of myself, deluded, stupid when I say it.   It just shows that I don’t have respect or humility when I say it.

Saying it is not apologetic, contrite and remorseful about what I have put others through, not being discreet.

If I say it, I am not playing small, so I will be like those fools and blowhards who are just full of themselves, trying to pretend that they are more than they are.

Saying it is demanding that others engage my own warped and twisted beliefs about myself when they have the perfect right to decide that I am wrong and sinful.  My agenda shouldn’t be their agenda.

Don’t make me say it.

I don’t feel safe saying it.

I know how to serve.  I know how to meet people where they are.  I know how to hide myself, how to be a guerrilla fighter, taking power while staying hidden.

I know how to play small and not scare the horses.   I feel safe playing small.

Why can’t I just stay hidden and have people come to me?

Please, don’t make me say it.

I don’t feel safe saying it.

If I say it, people will know that I am challenging, threatening and full of myself, so darn confident that I am probably just egotistical.

I tried to say it so many times, and so many people told me I was wrong; my teachers, my friends, my community, my family, my parents.    Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

If it’s been wrong for so long, how can it be right now?

I beg of you.  Please, don’t make me say it.  I don’t feel safe saying it.

= = = = = = = = = =

Performance Guy just had trouble understanding why I didn’t want to say it, why I couldn’t say it, why it hurt to even come close to saying it.

At least he did until I showed him some of my scars.   Family inflicted, society inflicted, self inflicted, all in the name of keeping me small and unchallenging.

I told him from the start that I needed to learn to trust my performance, to trust that if I say it, someone will hear.

It was hard for him to understand why I didn’t trust my performance, why I couldn’t just own what I knew to be true in the the abstract, theoretical voice I find it so easy to use.

Owning my ______ is terrifying to me.  Because whenever I tried to own it, I always felt I got whipped like a cur for my uppity infraction.

So this is the dance of the seven veils.  How can I stay hidden while also being exposed?   How can I play small while also being big?

You can never, ever, ever meet your natural audience, the one that will celebrate you, if you stay hidden from them to placate the haters.  Never.

That’s a bold statement from a smart theologian.   And I don’t want to have to name them don’t want to have to say their name.   After all, they hide like a vampire, avoiding the sunlight in their own mildewed bunker.

I don’t want to say their name.  I don’t want to say that they are _______, that their knowledge that they can be big and potent in the world is not just some sick figment of their imagination that they have to hide, rather it is a gift from their mother in the sky.

I don’t want to have to cop to this secret, the one that acknowledges the disconnect between knowing and doing, between assimilation and understanding, between permission and providence.

No one is going to give you power.  No one is going to come to you and say

It’s alright honey,
you go and lead,
you go and be challenging,
you go and be a mover and a shaker,
you go and crash the old to create the new,
you go and make your vision manifest in the world bright and bold,
you go and do what I can’t imagine,
you go and act on what terrifies me,you go and leap beyond any of my knowledge or expectations
you go and bring a new light into the world, illuminating in a new way
you go and raise your voice, shake our assumptions
you go and be huge and brilliant

Waiting for permission to be ______ from other people is waiting for a blessing that can never come from them; it can only come from the relationship between you and your creator..

I am watching a local transgroup struggle with the denial of hierarchical power, trying to use models that devolve responsibility to the group, to organize an anarchy that fears individual power and leadership as paths to inequality and ego and yet create change in the world.

I am watching trans communities play crabs-in-the-barrel, where more effort is put into taking down those we see as getting ahead of us than in creating liberation and celebrating success.

I am watching transpeople live circumspect lives, never even attempting to take the power inherent in structures, even gendered structures, because they feel unsafe and unworthy.

My first question at my first trans conference almost twenty years ago, to three panellists including TBB, was about how, through gendershift, we can still take power in the world.  And today, my own _____ is still something that I don’t want to have say out loud.

And when Performance Guy pushes on this empty space, the space that waits for blessing, the space that was deliberately broken to justify my playing small, being of close and personal service to my parents rather than big and bold service to the world, well, I feel myself tearing up.   I just can’t say it.

One of the women in my first class tells me this time that she doesn’t know what I do, but she and another guy wish they could work for me.   They want me to lead, want to follow where I lead.   She says this with no prompting.

The smile on my face masks the tension in my gut as I accept her awareness.   To accept her position, I would actually have to lead, actually have to own my own, you know the _____ I can’t say.

“You spoke for us.  Now you have to speak for you,” my father repeated in his final weeks as he was failing.  Even he knew it was time for me to take my own _____.

The blessing exists.  Can I accept it?   Can I accept my own _____?

Performance Guy pushed me to tell my deepest secrets, the bits I hide deepest down.   They aren’t stories of sexual desire or twisted love.   No, what I hide deepest are the moments when I dream of success, of acceptance, of triumph, of adulation, of connection, of being ______.

I told him my taboo ideas, ways that I could be strong and potent in the world.  I revealed marketing ideas, product claims, brand slogans.

And he said, and he said “That’s great!”

Oy.  The limits of any supporter is the limits of their own internalized fears.  So many fear success and _____ in their lives, deeming them unhealthy and unspiritual.   But when someone says “That’s great!”  it’s hard to keep playing small.

He made me reveal my deepest dreams.

On one hand, that makes me feel empowered, like a future is possible.

On the other hand, my own worldly _____ terrifies me.  If it didn’t, wouldn’t I have manifested it by now?

Please, please, please, can’t I just have the girlhood that I was denied?  Where are the people to take care of me?   Can’t you see my scars, my damage?  They are real, real palpable and weighty.

The only way out of hell is through.  No backing up.  No shortcuts.  Onward and upward.

To claim it, first you have to name it.

Even if just the thought of saying it out loud makes you well up with decades of denial & emotion.

Unimaginable Happiness

There is a big Halloween party this weekend at the Armory, one of those huge post-civil war buildings that are a world in themselves.  This party has four floors of fun, costumes required, four years of history as a great party, all that.

It’s $30 cover, and then drinks on top of that, plus accessories. For example, my tube of Duo is almost dried up.  I have been trying to decide if it’s a useful expenditure of my very limited resources.

I know that I wasn’t much of a late night person even in my youth, and like all of us, my endurance and stamina have diminished as I have gotten older.   TBB could only stand one night partying in Key West, even though the drag queen star invited her back as an honoured guest.

As an introvert, parties were rarely my thing.   I don’t work the room awfully well.  “I always wanted to go to an orgy, but I was afraid I wouldn’t think of anything to say,” as the old joke goes.

And it’s not like I have some close friends to go with, who can provide support and companionship through the evening.

But, on the other hand, it is local, and it might be a place to meet some smart, cool, fun, performative, queer people in the area.

So I fall back to trying to model the evening, trying to figure out what kind of interactions would be worth my time and treasure, trying to figure out how likely I would be to enter them.

I’m trying to imagine how the evening might go, in other words.

And there is where the trouble lies.

The things I want in my life, the things I need in my life, the things that will delight me in my life are the things that have not yet happened to me.

I need the things that I can’t yet imagine, the events and opportunities that surprise me in lovely or stimulating ways, the interactions that open up new possibilities for me, the moments that are beyond my current imagination.

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein

We can’t become new by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created our current life, either.    We have to open to new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing, new ways of being.

Think about the best moments of your life.  Could you have predicted they would have been the best moments before they happened?  Unless they were conventional milestones, like weddings, births or graduations, I suspect that they were unimaginable before the possibilities opened up.

That’s just the way life is.  You want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.  Plans never meet the first encounter with the enemy.  Planning is vital, but plans are useless.  How can we imagine all the amazing possibilities of a wide and wonderful world?

I can’t imagine where any future happiness for me will come from.   That makes it really hard to have hope for positive change.   My future seems mostly to be scarcity and pain.

It is what I can’t imagine that I need to hope for, those surprises where life turns on a dime, this time for the better.

How, though, do I allocate scarce resources to be available for the unimaginable?    How do I get myself in the right place at the right time when going anyplace at all seems such a burden?

The lovely thing about popular culture is how stories are mostly designed to have a happy, or at least a sweet ending.  People can watch stories about threats, danger and destruction because they have been taught to expect that things will come right in the end, that it will all turn out well, that conventions will be affirmed.

As a queer, I don’t have that expectation.  I don’t carry the assumption that life is fair, just or even fun.   In my world, people don’t end up where they are supposed to be, they end up where they are.

I have done A Course In Miracles.  I know that a miracle is a change in perception where we learn to be more clear, more enlightened, more aware, closer to understanding.   Miracles aren’t about getting what we want, they are about learning what we need to learn, because in the end, it is awareness carried through story that defines the content of a life.   Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional, as the old Buddhist proverb goes.

To live fully, though, you still have to put yourself out there.    Do it anyway, as Kent M. Keith would remind us.  If you don’t do that, you don’t open the possibility for the magical, the surprising, the delightful, the transformative, the possibility for the unimaginable to enter your life.

The only time you cannot fail is the last time you try, so keep trying.  Once you are out of the game, there is no possibility of another laugh, another open heart, another love.

But we are not just spirit and full of possibility, we are also flesh and blood humans born between piss and shit, living in a finite world where resources are limited, entropy reigns, and things die.

I need unimaginable happiness, delight that cannot be seen at my current level of thinking.

That makes allocating scarce resources very challenging.   There is a reason people get more conservative, less profligate and risky as they get older; we have less left to lose, and every loss can feel major.    We have learned how hard it is to recover from a failure, from a fall, knowing that even if we have a panic button, putting ourselves back together is costly.  We have used up many of our nine lives.

Still, less left to lose can also be freeing.  What is the worst that can happen?  That which is going to happen anyway, even if we hoard and husband all we have?   Take the chance; what have you got to lose?  Do you really want to call it quits without using up all your chips?

And so I look at the party this Saturday night and have to make a choice.  Do I use what I have to put myself out there, or should I keep what I have and use it in a way that is more probably going to get me a good return with less risk?

This is, of course, the problem I face everyday.

I need, need, need the unimaginable to happen in my life.

And the best I can do is to make choices of where to spend myself based on what I imagine could happen.

It’s a challenge.

Doesn’t Understand Hate

“If fascinates me how many people are obsessed with their homophobia.   Why should they hate people who mean them no harm?  It’s like hating red telephones.”

Stephen Fry, opening to “Out Of There” BBC, 10/14/2013

If Mr. Fry doesn’t understand why the embrace of gender variance, the end of compulsory gendering is such a threat to people who rule by dint of separation and to people who have been forced into their own gendering in a way that hurts them, then he has no place hosting a two part series on being out and homosexual.

I would argue that their aggressive fears are misplaced and we need new models of gender that don’t punish same sex or same gender attraction with gender based stigma, but I do understand why this is a topic that people can get crazy about.   And I understand why fanning the fears that fuel this craziness is useful to those who use separation and fear to support their own power grabs.

But I bet that Mr. Fry doesn’t even understand that homosexuality is a form of gender variance rather than transgender being a form of sexual orientation.

Shouldn’t it be as simple as Mr. Fry suggests, that fears over dropping enforced gendering are just craziness?

Doesn’t matter what it should be.  It is.

Investment

TBB is working hard at a weight loss programme, starting with using an food logging app that lets her understand and control her calorie intake.

This push is part of an investment in her future that includes becoming mistress of “Second Chance,” a Kitfox airplane that has previously existed as parts in garages and storage units.  TBB has been collecting the bits and expects that it will take a year and a half or more to have it assembled and flight ready.   Flying lessons are part of TBB’s routine now, a commitment to fulfilling a long time dream.

She has worked to convince me of the wisdom of weight loss.  Neither of us are getting any younger, so taking control of what we can to maintain health, the greatest gift, is a smart choice.  Her suggestions to me come out of care and concern, and I appreciate them.

TBB wants to invest in her future.  She has hopes and dreams of new horizons and new joys.

Since my parents death and my sister’s choice not to carry out my parent’s instructions on the disposal of their estate, my ownership of my own life and my future have seemed more like burdens than possibilities.

I seem to have so much to burn and archive and so little left to grow and achieve.    Dreams are not something I can easily indulge in while I work hard to not spend what little funds I have, strive to conserve rather than to invest.

Instead of dreaming of new flights, I wonder if I can ever get past the corrupt foundation of my life, if my own smarts and broken body can ever get over the empty and broken bits of a life spent in service and not in building a family, a space, a career, a reputation, a nest egg, a future.

TBB’s commitment to her dreams is inspiring and joyful.   She invests in her own future.

My investments though, in understanding and insight, don’t seem nearly as prudent.

Invest in your own future.  It’s where you are going to spend the rest of your life.

Yet, like so often, that’s not a maxim I could take on for myself.

Icebreaker

Icebreakers don’t actually break ice with the sharp prow of the boat.

Instead, they push themselves up onto the ice and the weight of the reinforced hull pushes down on the ice to open up a channel.

It is a process of throwing themselves forward, breaking open the way, then throwing themselves forward again.

Needless to say, a ship designed as a icebreaker needs a number of features.   It has to have powerful engines for its size so it can repeatedly climb onto the ice, and an extra strong body to handle the bashing and crashing that inevitably comes as the ice tries to close in and retake the gap it was forced out of.

And since icebreakers operate alone and in dangerous conditions, not only is great maintenance required, but they have to be very self sufficient, able to survive when stuck or to get past failures.

It’s a tortuous existence for an icebreaker, always having to be exposed in a dangerous place, crashing up onto the frozen sea and coming down again, breaking open a way for other ships to follow.

Visible transpeople understand this process.

We push the boundaries in any space we enter, immediately discovering where the hard and soft points are in the room, revealing resistance and possibility.

We take the pounding at the edges, offering a direct target for anyone who who wants to stop forward movement and offering a fresh open channel for people who want to follow into the future.

Everyone checks out the room when they come into it and sets their own personal queerness knob.  If the queerest person in the room is a 4, well you gotta keep it low.  But if someone in the room has dialed the number up to 7, well, then you can even get a way with a 5 or 5.5 and not have to be the icebreaker.

Jeanette used to watch this phenomenon in rooms full of gay men.  Her flamboyance opened the way for them to reveal themselves in ways they wouldn’t do in more normative rooms.

This process of moving the goalposts, resetting the norms, is one that conservatives have been using to great effect in the political realm.   For it to work, though,  you don’t just need icebreakers, you also need people who are more assimilated and normative to fill in that space behind the ice breaker, consolidating gains and providing support.

Icebreakers need the support of the entire network.   Without support, they are just out on their own, being bashed and battered to break new pathways, wearing down without replenishment or rescue.

So, support your local icebreakers, eh?

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

 

It’s The Meat

ShamanGal’s spiritual adviser wasn’t moved by the empowerment she felt dancing at a gay nightclub last Saturday night.

“Would you have felt the same way dancing at home, alone in your bedroom?   If not, weren’t you just acting in a carnal way, to attract men?  Is that really empowering and spiritual?”

When spiritual advisers make a binary — dancing alone is spiritual, dancing at a club is carnal — I find that hard to take.

Clubs are a kind of cathedral to queers, it is true, designed to mirror and amplify our own energy, with music, lights and community.  They create a safe space that liberates the ecstasy inside, pumping us up for unleashing power.

For queers, the basic lesson from liberals has always been simple: We don’t care what you do in your bedroom, but why do you have to make a show of it in public?   Isn’t that just un-spiritual, indiscreet and rude?

The shared experience of all queers is being shamed into the closet.  Even those who had “no problem” with our nature often demanded that we keep it in our pants, make it invisible, hide it from the children, deny it in public.

“Why do you have to have a Pride Parade?” I imagine that spiritual adviser saying.  “Isn’t that just venerating the carnal over the spiritual?  Wouldn’t it be better if everyone just marched in their own bedroom?”

One of the fundamental spiritual tenets of many beliefs is that our spirit becomes incarnate for a reason.   We enter flesh, living a human life, to experience the finite and separation, being forced to make choices that reveal ourselves, that offer lessons to inform our spiritual nature.

Transpeople have learned that until they bring their nature into the carnal side of life, exploring it in the world of flesh, they cannot grow or develop into full people. That which stays hidden and denied also stays static and twisted, never really having to integrate into a full and blossoming life.

The closet is not a place of spiritual growth and never has been.  It is only being in community, with all that means, that allows us to really have the mirrors and lessons that help us divine good from bad, blessed from cursed, self from ego.

Relationships may play out our own twisted ignorance, but it is through that playing that we get the insight into where we must grow, what we must let go of, and what we must polish.

I learned to be spiritual and cerebral very early in my life.  The carnal was denied to me, from a mother who didn’t know how to be present and tender with a child, from a father who didn’t enter emotion, from a world that demanded my transgender nature be denied and hidden.

In SATC terms, I went right to Miranda & Carrie, missing Samantha & Charlotte.

And that gap in my experience still haunts me today.  I own my voice, my mind and my spirituality, but my enforced denial of emotions and carnality, my joy in romance and desire, still create a hollow space inside of me.

I know that most spiritual advisers want to tell you that you have to let go of desire to find something higher, something more grand, something more celestial.  This is truly the path of enlightenment, of maturity, coming to detachment and awareness.

But for those people who never learned attachment, who had to deny their own carnality, well, for us just learning to detach will just leave us empty and hurting.

There is a reason that queer clubs celebrate carnality, and that reason is because people shamed into the closet need to learn to celebrate incarnation.  We need to be in touch with our own humanity, those messy bits we were told we had to learn to deny to be anything other than a pariah in the world.

For me, personally, I am at an age where the flesh is getting weaker, where most people have to let go of their carnality and find something deeper.   We can’t just be young and fresh anymore.

Not having owned my own desire and desirability when I was young leaves me with big gaps in my own human heart.     I took the spiritual and intellectual route and something is missing.

Becoming selfless is a great and venerated goal, but achieving that goal without loving the self underneath ends up being hollow and inhumane.    You end up feeling alone and isolated, empty and unloved.    There is a profound loneliness, a deep sense of missing connections, of lost opportunity.

Humans, it is said, are more prone to regret chances they didn’t take than risks which turned out badly.  It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, in other words.

And when people who think they are supporting us tell us that carnal desire, our following our bliss in the flesh and not just in the spirit is rather unholy, sick, or twisted, they miss completely the experience of a trans life, shaped by denial and stigma, rather than by indulgence and connection.

“Thank you,” she said, “but do you think I am pretty?”    Those are the words of someone denied the essential human comforts of the flesh, the nurturing, skin contact and desire that not only affirms us in the world but also teaches us who we are and the power we have by putting is in real, present, out relationships.

When we have gone through the fugue state of getting ready for an evening, leaving a pile of less than perfect clothing on the floor, gluing on our lashes and pumping our hair as big as it can go — the higher the hair, the closer to God — then we enter a hot club full of pulsing music, tasty drinks and other who are open to the heat, we affirm part of ourselves, part of our power and part of our humanity.

To be trans in the world is to be forced to live in detachment, the detachment that many spiritual beliefs venerate.

But to achieve detachment without ever really being attached is to be less than human, less than alive, and less than divine.

And that “less than” can really eat away at a girl.

Your Life

Only you can tell people about your life.

The best anyone else can possibly do is share lessons from their own life.

Maybe some of those lessons are going to be based on observations of you, but they are our observations, coloured by our experience of the world, shaped by our priorities and bounded by the range and depth of our vision.

You may see flashes of things you feel and understand in the communications of another, sure.   The way we learn to see our hidden heart is to see it reflected in choices others make that compel or repel us, or maybe to examine our own choices.   Their choices aren’t your choices, even if their choices illuminate your own choices.

Our experience of our life is shaped by the forces we feel putting pressure on us.  “We do an improvisational musical,” a director told me, “45 minutes created on the spot.   I tell performers that if they feel that everyone else is pushing them to do something, they are probably the protagonist.”

We have to create our own life, making the best of where we have been, what we have learned, who we are and what unfolds before us.

To many, this is a terrifying thought, because it requires them to not just accept but also to embrace who, what and where they are in life.   The cost of our past choices aren’t going away, and the future will always be uncertain, demanding choices of us that will not be perfect in the moment.    There are no Mulligans, no do-overs, only the chance to choose different, choose again in the future.

In the end, there are no shortcuts in life.  Every choice changes the direction and outcome of your life, maybe a tiny bit, maybe a huge amount.   That makes looking for shortcuts really looking for diversions, ways to divert ourselves from choices and ideas that scare us, that look daunting or too hard.    In life, there are many bridges we all have to cross, no matter how much we delay or defer those choices.

When I was hiring people, I always looked for people who had made successes in their past, no matter how small or how different than what I needed from them.  I knew that those people had a much better chance of making another success than the people who accepted a life of mediocrity, those who hadn’t yet learned to work hard to invite success into their lives.

Successful people know how to focus and commit, know how to sacrifice comfort for something bigger and better.    They know that they can’t just wait for success to fall into their lap, can’t just dream of someone coming to give them what they want, but they have to write their own story, own their own choices, create their own life.

Success demands that you work with what you have, and not moan that you don’t have what you want to have.    God grant me the strength to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.

I don’t have a crystal ball that will predict your future.  I just have my own experience and hard won understanding that lets me make a good guess on how choices will turn out.  I can see the elephants in the room, in other words.

And I can’t tell you how to shortcut your life.   You see the mountain in front of you, and you just have to get over it.

I always wanted staff who could learn from their own mistakes, yes.

“He’s great! ” I said of one staffer. “He never makes the same mistake twice!  Of course, he is always finding new ones.”   To me, that was high praise, because as long as he got smarter everyday, he also got more seasoned and valuable everyday.

More than that, though, I really wanted staff who could learn from other people’s mistakes.   This is the mark of a really sharp person, one who is actually open to RYFM — “reading the friendly manual” — or tapping into the knowledge that exists in the world.  The wheel has been reinvented many times, so having an understanding of what has been tried before can really help improve outcomes.

It’s a smart thing to look for people you can learn from, however they share their stories and wisdom.

But in the end, your life is your life.    Only you can tell us about your life, only you can shape it into what it can become, a co-creation between your nature, your world, your history and your choices.   Only you can decide which mountains you will climb and cross and how you will do that.

The privilege of a life time is being who you are.

And the challenge of a lifetime is being who you are, too.

Long – Lost

There is nothing that is more destructive than longing for something which you can never have.

There are so many things to long for.  I want a girlhood, I want connection, I want safety, I want intimacy, I want love.

But they all come down to one thing, I fear.

I want parents who see, understand and value me.

And that is never going to happen.

Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child.

Hell, who am I kidding?   I always feel like a motherless child.

“I told my Nana that I might be trans,” a seventeen year old said to me in the workshop I gave at queer camp.  “”You are beautiful as a woman, and you will be beautiful as a man,’ she told me.  ‘I will love you any way.'”

Not my experience of the world.

I am so lonely because the foundations I built my life on were fractured and fragile.

Sure it’s great that all the intellectual work I did to shore them up, all the bodging and patching and dutching left me with a useful structure to quickly understand and elucidate the human heart, but that doesn’t stop my life from being built on sand.

I know, I know, I know that being a wounded healer is powerful and good, that my wounds have opened up my eyes, offered me enlightenment and the ability to help others see and heal.

But that longing for foundational love haunts me.

I watch representations of families, from “Three Day Nanny” to “Stuck In Love,” and I know that no matter how much I tried to make my family work for the people around me, no matter how much I gave everything I had to make family, it never really worked for me.

It was my service that was understood and valued in the end, and even that went unrewarded when my sister dropped the ball.

“Please,” I begged when they told me I was to go to counselling at the age of twelve, “please help my parents first.”    Nobody was going to do that; it wasn’t the family that could be broken, it was me.   Target patient, I.

My parents are dead now, almost a year.  I did everything I could to take care of them, duty beyond valour according to professionals.

And I am still profoundly lonely in ways that leave me unable to be present in the moment.   Instead, the pain comes up inside and I run.

There is nothing that is more destructive than longing for something which you can never have.

Queer people, we have an injunction to create our own families, much like Mrs. Madrigal did in her house in SF.

Somehow, though, I felt how much my parents needed me, and I invested in a family that would never have someone like me as a member.   I didn’t build my own family, and that leaves me, well, crippled.

It’s not too late, it’s never too late, possibilities always exist if we shift our dreams with work, serenity and wisdom.

But it doesn’t feel that way to me.    That hollow place is weak and profound.

I can’t claim a future if I am always haunted by my past.  I can’t be in the moment if lost moments cripple me.

I have the wings to fly.  I grew them myself.  But the roots, well, they were always fragile, friable.

There is nothing that is more destructive than longing for something which you can never have.

No matter how much I feel the loneliness that comes from being a lost child when I should be standing proud and owning my own power.

And I have to let go of that dream, one piece at a time, to move forward.

A hollow voice says “plugh.”