Just A Hammer

Sometimes, “Fuck You!” is not the best answer.

ShamanGal is in a better place than she was six months ago.   She is valued at work — she was out of work two years after transitioning — has made girlfriends there, and has really rebuilt her relationship with her mother.

“Maybe all those quotes my father taught me about balance and harmony bringing happiness weren’t as stupid as I thought they were,” she laughs.  “Maybe discipline really does bring rewards, freedom and happiness.”

“So what was your mantra before, through most of your life?”

She doesn’t have to think very long.  “Fuck You!”  she offers.

“And if I had told you that ‘Fuck You!’ wasn’t always the best answer in life, what would you have told me?” I ask.

“Fuck You!” she chuckles.

Yup.   It’s so easy for transpeople — for anyone, really — to take a negative, counter argument to life.   We see all the crocks and flaws in everyday life, see how it demands discipline and assimilation, and see how all the bloody sheep just follow along without thinking.

We reject that conventional life and all that comes with it, boldly flashing our middle finger to demand that the world get off of it and do things our way.

The problem is, though, that we have no idea what our way actually is.   We haven’t done that work to construct a functional and positive notion of family and community, all we know is that it isn’t damn working for us, so “Fuck You.”

“I know a transwoman who is about 6′ 5″,”  I told ShamanGal.  “She had a big plan for transition, facial feminization surgery, genital reconstruction and all that, because she knew she had to pass.   But after she got all that, you know what happened?”

“She was still 6′ 5″?” SG says.

“Yup.” I agree.  “She felt like a failure, was so hurt and angry that she was just furious at the world.   She said “Fuck You!” and demanded that society change around her, rejecting assimilation and convention.

“Now what would she say if I suggested that “Fuck You!” wasn’t always the best answer?”

SG knew this answer.   After all, her classmates at university had decided that she knew how to keep her middle finger flying more than anyone else in the class.

“Fuck You!” SG replied.

“Right.  When the only answer you have is “Fuck You,” the only answer you have is “Fuck You!””   When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The path of growth is always deconstruction then reconstruction, death then rebirth.  But if we never let go of the explosion, we never make it to the new world.   It always seems like the new world escapes us, even as we don’t understand how saying “Fuck You!” to everything just pushes everything away.

Even when people try to offer us their hard won knowledge that was created from reconstructing a life, “Fuck You!” keeps us down.

There will always be a “Fuck You!” component to transgender expression, a need to reject the unconscious assimilation and get out from under the expectations and assumptions that we carry.  We need to deconstruct our world, throw a few bombs, become the Shiva in our own lives and maybe in the world.

But we also need to respect and maybe be the Brahma and the Vishnu, the creator and the protector.   We need to build new, or at least respect those who do.

We need to understand that “Fuck You!” isn’t always the best answer.

And if “Fuck You!” is your only answer, or even just your go to answer, that truth is hard to embrace.

Partnership Obligation

I started writing this post to talk about the obligations of becoming product in the world, being in relationship with people who sell product, including publishers and producers.  People buy what they know, what they feel comfortable with, so to work with people who sell, you have to deliver what people will buy.

This weekend, I have been responding on a transgender list to someone who wants power in the world but refuses to do the hard work of building organizational power, refuses to assimilate in any way.  They claim they don’t want to wait for others to give them scraps of power, but the only power they are willing to make is “non-organizational” power, the power of the gadfly to make organizations do what the troublemaker wishes.

In other words, they refuse to do the hard, thankless and messy work of the parent, building community and coalition that empowers others, taking care of the details and paying the bills.   Instead, they want to stay the child, squalling in the back seat, demanding to be given power while refusing to take responsibility.

I’m sure they don’t see it that way. They see themselves as virtuous and radical, throwing bombs to destroy oppressive structures, trusting that anarchy will rush in to rebuild better and more liberated structures afterwards.

I’m sorry, but the feminist revolution is almost over and Audre Lorde lost, as brilliant as some of her insights were.  Who won? Hillary Clinton, as pragmatic and compromising as she is.  I’m cool with that outcome.

Well, here is my essay on the obligations of building community:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

When we go into partnership with one or more other people, we have some level of obligation to meet their expectations of us, just as they have some obligation to meet our expectations of them.    You give something to get something.

That’s just the deal in human relationships.   We trade our strengths to take care of each other, offer our own capabilities to lift the entire family, team or company.   We do our part and others do their part and together we create synergy, creating something that is more and better than the sum of our parts.

On a personal level, this exchange is understandable, even if challenging.  We need to listen clearly to what others need of us, to how they have seen us let them down in the past, and work to be better partners, coming through and delivering what they need from us.

On a corporate level, this exchange can be more baffling.  When we are just hired to follow instructions, comply with the rules, the exchange is relatively simple, even if sometimes less than pleasant.   They want more for less, and we want the same.

When we are expected to deliver our own creative product to the organization, the exchange gets more complicated.    In that case, we have to follow the system’s rules, consider the expectations & fears that others hold to pressure us, and still stand up for our own understanding of what is right and effective.

In effect, we have to deliver product that is uniquely and effectively ours while also meeting the expectations and demands of others.   Is this an unreasonable ask from any organization?   No, it is not.  Is this a hard thing to deliver for any individual?  Sure is.

Being a manager is an act of service to the people who work with us.   It is the obligation of  the parent, the one who takes responsibility to lead the group in a way that both sets and achieves goals, but also fosters the growth and development of each individual so they can take their place and contribute more.

Everyone has these challenges.   That’s just the way human relationships work.

(and if you want my notes on organizational power, just ask)

Too Much Damage

The problem that Buddha was trying to solve by finding Nirvana, Karen Armstrong writes in her history, was not the problem of rebirth, rather it was the problem of redeath.

In a culture where death was early, messy and very visible, it was clear that a new incarnation did not only mean a new life, it also meant a new death, and that was horror.

I understand the challenge of rebirth, of transcending and becoming new again and again.

But do you understand the challenge of redeath, having to die over and over again?

I went through my history with TBB last week.   Her take away was clear: “Too much damage.”

Both she and I have learned the price of living with a strong vision.   When we challenge others, they often find power by casting us as the abuser and casting themselves as the victim.   We are the porcupines whose barbs pierce and reveal, so we need to be removed, isolated and stigmatized to keep us away from their tender rationalizations.

People often tell us to “just be ourselves,” but for someone who is routinely slaughtered because who they are challenges the status quo, well, that injunction is ludicrous.  Is there any wonder we feel aligned with those transpeople who have been killed?

The question isn’t how many times we can be reborn, the question is how many times we can be redead and still claim life.

The Buddha wanted nirvana, to be released from the cycle of life and death, beyond suffering, desire and self, because continuous redeath was just too horrible to endure.

It just causes too much damage.


If you really want to know someone, don’t look at their words, look at their priorities.

If you really want to know yourself, don’t look at your words, look at your priorities.

Our priorities — where we actually allocate our limited resources of time, money, energy, focus, passion — reveal what we really value.

We all have long lists of things we want to do, things we should do, things we would like to do, things that would be nice to do, things that we believe in, things that we should believe in, things that would make us popular, things that would make us successful, things that would be good for our family or community, good ideas, good plans, good things.

Our lists are so long that they tell us very little about who we really are.   It’s only when we put our money where our mouth is, when we allocate the limited resources we have, that we know what we really value.

The most common challenge for any life coach is someone who has lots of dreams but little focus, little momentum.   The challenge is to turn talk into action, to move from excuses to solutions.

Most of us set our priorities in a less than conscious way.   Becoming conscious about the priorities people actually set is becoming aware of real, deep, potent motivations, cutting through the wall of words to discover the truth beneath.

Are our choices made out of fear, out of outdated expectations, out of habit, out of prejudice, out of inertia, out of denial or deflection?   We can’t know that until we know what our choices really are, and our choices are always about the priorities we make in allocating limited resources.

We may be spirit living a human life, yes, but living a human life we are.  That humanity means that making a choice for something is always making a choice against something, that we are always working in a finite world where we have to let something go if we want to pick up something else.

“Can you really be happy if you have to let your dreams go?” ShamanGal asked me.  We never really let dreams go, we just let them slide down the priority list, knowing that we value something else more than that particular dream.   Dreams are just that, dreams, and dreams never really make us happy.   Dreams, unless they motivate us to change our priorities, are just distractions from the world, a kind of fantasy.

My sister has always held high aspirations for supporting me, but her priorities mean that she rarely has the time, energy, focus or mindspace to act on those aspirations.   I have had to come to the understanding that while she is loving and means well, she probably won’t come through.  Her friend knows that her focus is very short, and when something is out of sight, it is also out of mind.   Her priorities are shaped by short-term expediency rather than any deeper understanding.  Having my financial future at her mercy leaves me battered.   Having fewer resources makes setting priorities much harder, as you tend to scrimp, making no choices.

Priorities are always about making choices and making choices is almost always about compromise, balance and bargaining.  We can’t choose between taking care of others and taking care of ourselves, for example.  We have to find a way we can do both, setting priorities that meet both needs in part while not completely fulfilling either.

In the end, it is what we shop for, what we save for, what we trade for that shows what we really value beyond the wall of words we put up about what we think we want, what we think we should want.

If you really want to know someone, don’t look at their words, look at their priorities.

If you really want to know yourself, don’t look at your words, look at your priorities.

What do you value enough to make a priority in your life?




Happy Place

I just want to wear a dress and be happy.

I have said that to myself many, many times over the decades.

Wearing a dress is something I own now, at least as well as it is possible to do so at my age, weight and state of health.

But being happy, well, that’s something that still tends to escape me.

I know how to feel safe down in my bunker, avoiding the mildew and squalor.   Alone with my thoughts and feelings, I can become selfless and create communication, write as if I were free, as long as I hold no expectation that people will understand and engage what I share.

Safe isn’t the same as happy, though.   Satisfying isn’t the same as happy, either.   And while holding no expectations may be the spiritual approach, letting go of dreams isn’t likely to make you happy.

None of those are particularly useful when you feel like you have been slapped and need to regain your centre, your confidence, your faith, your composure.  At that point, you need a happy place, somewhere to go where you can feel affirmed and refreshed, restored to a balance that lets you be present and gracious in the moment.

Everybody needs some affirming place where they feel safe, seen, valued and happy.   And those who face marginalization and stigma in the larger world have even more of a need for someplace outside of it where their happiness lies.   In communities of colour, for example, the family table and the religious gathering always provided a happy place where the pounding and diminishment of the world can be countered with affirmation and delight.

For transpeople, though, we are on a solo journey, and those community rituals are harder to find.   For us gatherings can almost always be challenging, even gatherings with people who share our label and our challenges, because they are engaged in their own struggles, often against ideas and beliefs that we need to own.   Our belief structures don’t come out of shared experience and growth, they come out of a personal journey.  We often understand our beliefs as negative, knowing who we are not, knowing what we need to reject and run from, rather than knowing who we are and what we need to embrace.

To be trans in the world is to have to make a deal with the devil about what we deny about ourselves to get what we need from the world.  Stigma works to force hard choices, so we have to learn to cling to our own rationalizations to keep us functional in society, have to reject what challenges those rationalizations to stay in place.

This simply means that we don’t have the same development of shared community values that groups who come together, in families, as neighbourhoods  or as lovers, end up having.  Going to other transpeople to share a happy space is usually not a productive choice, as our identity props crash against the props of others.  When all we share is abjection and not transcendence, when all we share is pain & loss and not success & celebration, then happiness is not the core value.

My own happy place was never in my home.  My family didn’t have expansive and inclusive happiness.  My mother was always bitter because no one made her happy, while my father’s happiness was simple basic and non-inclusive.  He was happy because he lived in his own world, away from many realities, including the values, understandings and challenges of his own children.

The happiest places I have ever found have been in shared endeavours with others.  It is when we form a team, working towards a common goal that I feel safe, understood and valued.   My happy place is not a deserted beach or a sylvan glade, it is a great meeting where everyone contributes to success and everyone shares satisfaction.

Maybe that’s because when people are working together, smarts are valued in a way that they are not in many other human gatherings.   It’s easy for people to be anti-intellectual unless they can directly see a benefit to having someone sharp on their team.

When people actively work together, there are no right answers, only the process of creation.   The most important thing to build is a shared understanding, shaped by sharp questions that pare away assumptions and creative thought that creates a common vision.  It’s that shared understanding that help people work together in harmony, getting on the same page and pulling in the same direction.

When people resist change, though, pushing their own dogma and preconceptions, even as they say they want innovation and transformation, meaning only that others need to change to meet their own expectations, then the old answers always get in the way of the new questions and new shared understandings are never built.   I live in the questions, not the answers, and old tropes rarely have room for me in them beyond shackles and stereotypes.

Those moments when we are beyond history and expectation, beyond hierarchy and convention, those moments where what we share is so much more important than what separates us, well, those are the moments when I am in my happy place.

My safe place us where I am alone, creating my own words that attempt to share my experience, my understanding and my vision of the world.

My happy place is where that sharing is honoured and valued as part of a process where people come together to make new products in the world, to take new power, to create new enlightenment.

TBB is clear where her happy place is.  She is happy when she is on a journey, moving forward.   And when she shares that journey, her happiness is multiplied.   This is something we share, though her journeys are more often physical and mine more often mental and spiritual.

I know where my safe space is, travelling by myself.  And I know where my happy place is, when that journey is shared.

That’s just not as easy to invoke as imagining I am on a beach somewhere.  To me, though, it’s a whole lot happier.




I put my $20 on the counter to pay for gasoline.

The gal stopped restocking cigarettes and said  “Move to the next register, please, sir.”

Bang.  Slap.   Ouch.

There was no need for her to use a gendered honorific at all.   A simple “Move to the next register please,” would have been fine.

Actually, there was no need for me to have to pick up the bill.   She could have been nice and just asked me what I wanted, a simple $20 on pump 10.

But she felt the need to slap me.  She felt the right to slap me.  For all I know, she felt the obligation to slap me.

She had to tell me that she knew I was a liar, a pervert, a bad-thinking deceiver.

She had to tell me that she knew the real, sanctified truth, and whatever I showed in the world, she knew I was a “sir,” even if she spit the word out like a bug that flew into her mouth.

She felt the need to slap me.  That was her version of customer service.  She needed to dismiss and demean my presentation and affirm the holy primacy of puberty, the idea that somehow, my genitals defined me more than my choices do.

She must have had some assurance that slapping me was the right thing to do.

After all, she had been taught in school that shaming & stigmatizing people to enforce gender norms was not only permitted, it was encouraged.

And the odds are that her family and her church told her that they owned the truth of God and were empowered to impose it on others.

Now, this isn’t the first time I have had to deal with a slap like this, someone dismissing and demeaning my gender presentation.   And odds are, it won’t be the last.

I know how to handle it.

The first question is to decide if it is worth making a fuss over.  I have faced down some clerks with a gimlet eye after they did it and they backed off, but making a fuss is usually counterproductive, because the worst way to affirm your gender is to demand people acknowledge it.

Beyond that, it’s about how we handle it.

Was there some way that I failed in my presentation?  Should I just have worn more lipstick, or maybe less?  Should I have changed my hair, my clothes, gotten surgery, done something?

I have been out long enough to know that none of that would matter much.  Puberty marks a body, and my bones were truly maled.

For a woman who looks like me, I look pretty good, well put together and polished.   That is the essential challenge every woman faces, getting to the understanding that they are always going to be a woman who looks like them, and the only thing they can do is look good for a woman who looks like them.  Short & curvy or tall & stocky, young & fresh or mature & seasoned, whatever the facts of how you look, that’s what you have to work with.  Say the serenity prayer and move on.

Maybe I could have been more invisible.  It’s amazing how many people dress to be invisible in the world, to just blend in.   For women in their teens that may mean being invisible to the male gaze, but for women over a certain age, it means being invisible to the female gaze, other women who are always judging and often harshly.

Women, as Deborah Tannen reminds us, are much more “marked” than men, displaying many more communication signs.   That marking shows how we blend in as one of the crowd or how we stand out.   I have often told transwomen that the best way to be invisible is to appear powerless, as looking good, self assured and well put together can draw both scrutiny and disdain from other people who feel challenged by power.

But I was going to a business meeting and didn’t want to look abject.

In the end, all I could do was to try to put her slap in context.   I knew it told me much more about who she was than about who I was, as I have spent decades doing the work to understand gender, the cultural attitudes around gender, learning about who I am and learning to own my own truth.

I knew she was being rude and oppressive, acting from knee-jerk reactions, being defensive and self-righteous.   I knew she hadn’t done the work to know herself, know the world and know about the power of the human spirit over biological essentialism.   I knew she was acting from a low and unconsidered place, so the best I could do was bless her and trust that she would mature or not, healing in her own way and her own time.

All that is lovely and grown-up of me, the obligation of the smarter and more gracious person to tolerate deliberate rudeness.

She may have been acting out her own fears and prejudices when she slapped me, but in the end, the simple fact is that I am the one who got slapped, I am the one who had to deal with it.   She felt social permission to stigmatize and slap me, and I had to take the blow and be the bigger person.

This is the power of The Third Gotcha, that key lesson of stigma that we always have to be on the defensive, ready for the next time someone just chooses to slap us.  It’s why we cannot relax and just slip into some pretty expectations that people will treat us with grace and consideration.

Others may not be able to understand why we have trouble trusting, why we are always tensed and ready for the floor to slip out under us, why we stay armoured, defended and with a broomstick up our ass, but a few decades of socially authorized stigma, well, it will develop those habits in a person, then go on to blame their failure on their essential nature, not on damage from the abusive stigma they got because of who they knew themselves to be.

I got slapped by a clerk in a convince store.

It’s something I should just dismiss and ignore.

But that slap is, as every slap is for people who have been marginalized and feared, a sharp reminder of a past full of stigma and abuse, full of prejudice that others feel is socially authorized or even sanctified.

It brings up our own stuff, from our desire to fit in to our own feeling of being unsafe in the world.

And we just have to rise above it.  For transpeople, we have to rise above it not as a family or a community, but as individuals walking and individual path in the world, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps as it were.

And that clerk?

I am sure she believes she did the right thing in calling me out as a liar, someone whose deviant and twisted expression just shouldn’t be tolerated by right thinking people.

I am sure her choice just reaffirmed her belief that there is sickness in the world and good people like her have to do what they can to impose their real truth over an indulgent and perverted society.

All I wanted to do was pay for $20 worth of gasoline.

The stigma, shaming and abuse was free.








Keep digging and digging and digging until you find the core, the bedrock, the solid heart of what you think and believe, the nugget at the centre that informs all of your identity.

Somewhere under my concierge caretaking, under my love of business, under my theology, under my Jonathan Winters shamanic shape shifting, under my history, under my transgender nature lies a stone I hold on to that defines me in the most profound way.

Under it all, shaping my expression, is the deepest bit that defines my identity.

I am an outsider.

I grew up in a family of outsiders.

My mother always had trouble making new friends, her Aspergers limiting how she could empathize with others, giving her stories with no point, and doubts about everything.   Her mother taught her one key lesson, as I said in my grandmother’s eulogy; this is a tough world and you need to expect failure.  My mother never believed she could win, never believed her family could win, and always believed that the world and her family had failed in their duty to make her happy.

My father was a farm boy from northern Alberta, speaking Ukrainian until he got to school.   His mother called in a doctor, during the depression when money was very scarce, because she worried about him spending time in his own world.  The doctor used a pocket watch to check his hearing and declared him healthy, but his own world was where he spent his life.  It was a world full of love and hope, and we were privileged to be inside of it, but when I had to try and explain the other world to him, explain why the experts weren’t engaging his engineering papers, well, that was always a slam.

These were my models for how to be in the world.   A woman full of anger at a world that didn’t cater to her, and a man who loved but was unable to take yes for an answer, unable to hear and see the thoughts and emotions of others.

I was told early that these weren’t good models for me.

At 17 I was encouraged to get out of the sadness of my mother’s house — the “worst place to spend the holidays” my older friend said — so I could break the failure cycle and get that thriving was possible for me.

At 28, a friend told me that trying to play the farm boy just didn’t suit me, that it was too limiting.

But I was adultified early, and I knew my parents needed me.   They died when I was 58, having spent a  decade of my life taking care of them full time, the last eighteen months being about death.

I was a lonely kid in a loner family, lost to my parents who couldn’t connect with or understand my world.

I was an outsider.   I am an outsider.   That definition is written bold across my heart, a thousand, a million times over.   When it comes to the slug on this blog, “the loneliness of a long lost tranny,” well, lost and lonely are much deeper than transgender.

I see the world as an outsider.  I can figure out what other people are thinking or trying to express, sure, but it takes work and brainpower.   I learned to survive my parents through brainpower and seclusion, and those habits are wired deep into my consciousness.  I see the gaps, the twists in thinking. I have controlled my own desires and impulses.

I operate in the world as an outsider.   I have not learned to depend on the kindness of strangers.   I have learned to be wary of others, to distrust them.  I have learned to isolate and hide, even in plain sight.

I”m not one of them, not one of us, not one of anything but me.   It doesn’t matter how much I want that feeling, the amount I don’t trust that feeling is always stronger and sharper.

When I was taking courses at McGill in Montreal, one gal said “You are Canadian, aren’t you?   I noticed that when ever you talk about Americans or about Canadians, you always refer to ‘them.'”   My liminality, the state of being in the doorway, always an outsider was visible to her.

Missing out on building trust as a child is like missing out on building language; the brain and heart are never prepared and open in the same way again.

Who am I if I am not a wary outsider, living in the liminal space outside of expectation and assumption?

Who am I if I am not my parent’s child, holding a powerful iconoclastic outsider legacy?

Who am I if I am not an eccentric crackpot boldly claiming my own unique individuality, marching to my own drum?

Who am I if I am not a trans shape shifting shaman, emerging from the shadows and disappearing back into them again?

Who am I if I am ensnared by dreams of becoming assimilated by sacrificing my outsider status?

I have been an outsider taking care of outsiders for a my entire life.

And that really leaves an imprint on someone, you know?


Just Something

I want Heidi Klum to be wrong.

On Project Runway she intones that in fashion, you are either in or you are out, and then names the next person to be out.

That binary, well, it feels confining.

I know where trans is nothing.   I have lived in the wider world, gone to work, moved about learning to hide.

I know where trans is everything.  I have been in the interlocking communities around transgender where fear and oppression are always the topic, where we get immersed in trans.   The world is seen through trans eyes, big and binary and refusing.

It’s this binary, the binary of the marginalized that makes me crazy.   Trans is everything or trans is nothing, everything or nothing, everything or nothing.

Marginalization sets binary boundaries on polite society.   “In or out, In or out!”

Marginalization forces people to pick a side, to defend a position, to follow the rules or break them.   “In or out, In or out!”

Marginalization purges mainstream language and understanding of marginalized thoughts and understanding.    “If society wanted the gift, they wound already have it,” Joseph Campbell tells us about the last part of The Hero’s Journey, the return of the gift.

My entire quest for the last twenty years has been to find language to communicate my transgender experience in effective ways.   I shun cliche and binary, reject abjection and victimization,  demand connection and empowerment.

I haven’t had any raging success at this, even if some have found words and ideas through my work.    Too many are caught in the binary, transpeople trying to use notions that others hold or then to just drop trans discussion from their world, normies wanting a quick handle on those poor trannys, blinkered by binary expectations.

I want to live in a world where trans is just something, a part of us that is out but doesn’t dominate our lives.   I want to be able to go into trans spaces and talk about success, empowerment and business, I want to be able to go into normie spaces and talk about transcending binaries, transformational identities and shimmering queerness.

I don’t want to have to be rejected in both worlds because I don’t just buy into the binaries they have created.   I don’t want to be that abused.

The burden of taking transgender away from a marginalized status, a status of either nothing or everything.    We need to build a place where trans is just something, not our defining characteristic, but not an invisible characteristic either.

This takes away the normie idea that trans is something odd, sick, deviant, and for them.   It also takes away the trans idea that trans is something marginalizing, abusive, sick, and broken.

There is so much to lose by trans inclusion.  We lose the idea that people are one or the other, this or that, that those other people are to blame, that we are the victims and they are the oppressors, that they need to change before we can be successful in the world.   We lose the idea that we can force children into binaries without hurting them, that we are safe from individuality if we police norms, that different means sick and rejectable.

I’d love to lose all that, even if others want to cling to it.

To have to run between transgender being nothing and transgender being everything is to be stuck in a cycle where we can’t build trans experience into the shared life of the community.

And that just feels like a huge loss for everyone.


Getting To Playful

I get performance anxiety.   PA, I call it.

My brain races, my breathing gets shallow and rapid, my pulse increases and every muscle in my body tightens up.   It’s part of the same autonomic response of fight or flight, the same stress that just makes you crazy when you feel under threat.   It stops me sleeping, makes me tight and crazy.

When I feel PA, I just want to do my old trick and turn invisible, to disappear from the situation, hiding so I can switch into observer mode until I understand what I can do.   I’m a good observer.   That’s one reason I need to always give myself permission to become invisible, because if I felt both threatened and trapped, I’m not sure that I could handle it.

The problem is that being tight and panicked is very rarely the way to give the best performance possible.   Brett Butler’s trick for auditions was simple, at least in concept: go in like you have just been onstage killing for the last fifteen minutes.   Go in hot, in other words, loose and free, relaxed and clicking, confident and limber, bouncing like a a joyous cat who owns the damn stage.

To be your best, you need to be in the moment, and the moment is not in your head.   If you are stuck in your head, your heart and muscles and spirit can’t get through and do their job, and they make performance.   If they didn’t, great performances would just be people sitting stock-still in chairs droning on about brilliant thoughts.

In the end, people respond to vitality over virtue or rumination.   We need to respond to the life energy people put out,  from appearance to words to language to smile to movement and so on.

What people respond to is play.  It may be the interplay between two people, the wordplay of great writing, the playfulness of wit and energy, or other kinds of play, but when we get to play, we get others involved and activated.

I have proven in the past that I am good at play.    What I haven’t proven is that I am good at getting to play, or at staying in the play zone when my PA kicks up again.    I was first told that I needed to trust my own possibilities at age 18, that I needed to stop creating failure around me, but that pattern was a gift from my mother, and she made sure it was regiven all the time.   Playing wasn’t valued at home, but pressure and doom was.

One of the most powerful components of play is that play doesn’t require control over the outcome.   When children play, they do their best, but they allow themselves space to fail, to try, try and try again.    This lack of attachment to outcome – the “what the hell” component — encourages risk by not focusing on the prospect of failure but focusing on commitment, inspiration and being in the moment.

Ask any athlete if fear of failure contributes to their performance and they will tell you no, that fear can give them the yips.   It is confidence, grace and experience — practice — that loosens them up gives them the edge to make the play.

So, if that’s the theory that explains why PA only somewhat a useful thing, good to remind us to practice and to keep the energy up, bad when we actually have to perform, how do we get beyond PA?

How do I get to playful?

I suspect that any child could answer that question.

You get to playful by playing.

You goof around, act silly, let loose, and just generally play.    Not everything you create is going to be good, but getting to creative is always good.

You play and you play and you play, and playing enough gets you a level of mastery of play that gives you confidence and lets you play even better.

One of the big challenges of being playful is to get other people to play with you.  If you are going to play by yourself — and believe me, I learned to play by myself a lot as a child — it can be a lonely and unrewarding exercise.    As a transperson, I understand this profoundly.

What does a child say right after they say “I won!  I won!  I won?”    Easy.  They always say “Now you try it!”   To them, play is a path to ownership and success, which is always better when shared.

In this world, it is easy for the spirit of play to be knocked out of us by the earnest and dreary expectations of everyday life.     Once things become too serious — when nobody gets the joke — the spirit of play is doused by the attempt to “take things seriously.”    When we are trying too hard to fit in, to make others think we are solid, constant and one of them, play tends to be shoved far to the back of our possibilities.

To live without play is to live in a defensive posture, always knocked back and always feeling the weight of expectation and the tension of failure.    To live without play is to live a small and fearful life, never moving beyond a shrinking comfort zone to try something that might be creative and amazing.

Today, I know that I need the blessing of play in my life.    I need to be loose and free and trusting of possibility, open to risk and open to life.

May I let go of all that performance anxiety and embrace the childlike possibilities of creating a new connections, new creations and a new world out of mastery and imagination.

May I trust that the vibrant spirit that connects all of us connects my playfulness to yours, allowing us to create a shared space where magic can happen.

May I always be reminded that the spark of imagination is the only thing that can make us laugh together, giving us both the resilience to endure the blows of a human life and the energy to dream and create something better between us.

Today, may the spirit of play work through me, leading me to surprises that delight and enlighten, that reveal new connection and new possibility.

And if I can’t manage that, may I at least become invisible.