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.