Travelling Monks

“The people listen to the travelling monks, but not to the local monks.”

ShamanGal’s father was born in China, so he remembered that proverb when introduced to the work of Brené Brown.   Apparently, it’s only four characters long in Chinese.

I took it to mean the same thing as “No one is a hero in their hometown.”   Experts in perception tell us that we quickly get habituated to the conventional, not examining it, so it is the novel, the outside voice, the different that we notice.

That’s a fundamental part of business communications, too.  Staff get used to internal communications, but when they hear the same message in different media, they perk up their ears.   That’s why the head of Scandinavian Airlines knew he had to get on the mass media to get the attention of his employees.

Our job, says Joseph Campbell, is to tell the old stories in new language.   The fundamental wisdom about human nature hasn’t changed in centuries or in miles, but because we have found ways to fade those messages into the common noise of culture, those messages usually get lost in our consciousness.    We go for the comfortable instead of the challenging.

The trouble with man is twofold.
He cannot learn the truths which are too complicated;
he forgets truths which are too simple.
— Rebecca West

One of the best ways to tell the old stories in new language is to find the deep wisdom inside of our very personal experiences.   Truths that have been lost in the background of our own history often pop into sharp relief when we find them in the story of another.

Put it before them briefly so they will read it,
clearly so they will appreciate it,
picturesquely so they will remember it, and, above all,
accurately so they will be guided by its light.
— Joseph Pulitzer

In the end, all we have to offer is our own experience and understanding how the big shared world looks from where we stand.    Our contribution is never absolute truth, as the only absolute truth anyone knows is that “All is nothing, nothing is all,” which is true, but doesn’t really move the discussion forward, but rather the contribution of our unique experience of the world.

The gift of seeing the world through the eyes of another is the gift of illumination.  What is taken for granted, understood as obvious and has become invisible to people around here suddenly becomes clear when seen in contrast through the different viewpoint of another.

To come into relationship only to speak and not to listen is to maintain the structures of our own ego.   Hearing the stories of others, taking in their experience, offering empathy for their feelings, and glimpsing their truth makes our own internal landscape more clear, showing us what to value and what we need to lose because it blocks our growth.

I know that people can see me as a travelling monk, my experiences different to theirs but my stories still resonating with them.   I know that by always being ready to engage other travellers I have met along my path, I have come to know myself better, taking that inner journey.  I know that these two things are the essence of my illumination, being enlightened by getting clear and offering light that clears the space for continuous common humanity.

Repetition isn’t a bad thing, as I was reminded just this week, just another way of stating the obvious in a way that grounds connections, another lesson I learned by opening to other travellers.

We can no more see our own heart than we can see the back of our own head.  We discover our own heart by seeing it reflected in the hearts of others.   That’s what travel does, open opportunities for that reflection, be it our own travel or sharing the stories of travellers who pass our way.

When we see ourselves in the stories of others who we first thought were not like us, we see ourselves in a new way, even as we know we are the same person we always were.

Old stories, new language.  Unique personal experiences, deep shared wisdom.

Thank you, travelling monks.

Lots Of Loss

The printer is dead, with that characteristic grind and thump that usually means a broken plastic gear.   No more paper is going to come out of it.

The Sony e-reader is dead, the one I bought for my mother, it’s e-ink screen permanently stained with a messy stain.   I miss reading my books.

And my sister has started coming over here, trying to figure out how to clear out the house so we can liquidate it to cover the estate obligations to my brother’s family, equal partners in the loop now because she chose not to follow my mothers instructions to change the will in favour of me, the person who cared for the parents full time for a decade.

The weight of loss is falling on me this year.

In my mind, I know that loss can be freeing.   We can’t both go backwards and forwards at the same time, so letting go of the old is the only thing that lets us move forward.   Loss is inevitable but suffering is optional, based in the mourning for our hopes, dreams and expectations.   Letting go and being in the moment is the only way to open our heart and mind to the new.

But loss, you see, well, it always feels like loss.

Leaping into an unknown and fraught future when you are carrying the burden of past choices and broken dreams, well, that’s not so easy.

Maybe that’s why kids are so good with growth, because they see their hopes coming true, understanding that mastery and good things lie ahead of them and only their past lies behind.

But when it feels like your best days are behind you, and they were pretty messed up to start with, a wasted life, well, hope and joy become hard to scrape together.

I know that in my future, the only certain thing is loss.   I find that knowledge daunting and oppressive, even as I know that any challenge also brings opportunity.

A whole house to lose, a whole life to mourn, a whole body that feels beaten.   The old is smashed and gone, and all I can bring forward are the knowledge, insights and stories it has left me with.

In the end, though, what do we ever really have other that we carry within us?   Human lives are full of stories of loss and recovery, of destruction and reconstruction, of death and rebirth, stories where growth and healing and success only come after great loss.

Still, as I look out on all that is going to be ripped away from me this year, my experience of loss is profound and sad.

Wondering if I have yet another, better rebirth still left in me, well, that only seems like a natural question.

Constantly Fatigued

This week, JPL’s Rovers celebrated a decade on Mars with Opportunity still alive and kicking, maybe even kicking up a “jelly doughnut”.   This is a feat of both planning and adaptation.   Scientists not only had to create a structure that would do the job, they also had to find strategies to deal with the vagaries of life on Mars, from arthritic actuators to surprising dust.

“The amazing thing is that these vehicles go through an amazing temperature cycle every day, the temperature change from night to day is greater than the change from summer to winter,” Jon Callas, Opportunity’s project manager, said. “They are constantly fatigued by this – it’s kind of like going from the Sahara Desert to Antarctic every single day without a change of clothing.”

Andy Warhol said that he thought men who live as women had the hardest time of all because they have to deal with both the challenges of being male and the challenges of being a woman.

“I’ve seen females being women, males being men, females being men and males being women. And I think the hardest of all is males being women, because they have to do all the boy things, like shaving and all the girl things like heels.”
— Andy Warhol

I’m not sure anyone else would link these two quotes, but to me, they both resonate with my experience of life.

Yesterday, I went from a very warm lunchtime at the improv theatre, where I got to sit with another “Miranda” and find connections in our experience of the world over to a very cool afternoon around my sister and her balloon clown boyfriend who expected me to be the brother who fixes tech problems.    It was a couple of hours of struggle to get her phone reset, all the time feeling like I was in a deep freeze.

I was gracious and appropriate, but when I got back to the basement here, I shattered like a drinking glass that went from a hot dishwasher to a cold drink without a break.   I tore off all my pretty clothes, washed my face and retreated to my cozy gender neutral  outfit, all fleece and shapeless.

Some transpeople don’t mind being seen as a guy while they express their trans nature.   It is important to them to both be the dad and show themselves, for example.

That wasn’t my choice.  I chose to wear my androgynous jeans and polo shirts if I had to play that role, a role that I feel erases my heart, putting the cold stress of son and brother onto me.   That concierge mode was doable if I kept my heart on ice, staying in the zone, but the idea that somehow, I could easily switch between torrid and frigid was just too much for me.

Warhol and Callas are right, though.  It is the huge swings in temperature that are constantly fatiguing, and the swing when someone regenders you in a moment is a stress that I don’t take well.   In fact, after all these years of going from the warm feminine to the cool masculine, the stress fractures are more pronounced, as visible as the cracks in the glass on my sister’s cell phone.

When the empathy leaves and the expectations descend, I feel the freeze come in, feel the crystals in my heart start to form and the tensions rise.  I just want to run and hide, getting  away from the pressures.  That line between men and women runs like a latent fracture through my heart, and under stress it is all I can do to keep it together.

I know that in any moment, someone can decide that my biology is more real than my choices and choose to impose their views and expectations of manhood on me, freezing me in an instant.   Just like those little rovers, I have to be ready to go from the desert to the arctic in a moment, without a change of clothes.

And that’s why, just like opportunity, I am constantly fatigued and need to be ready to shatter (and then put myself back together) at any time.   Is there any wonder why I often choose to play it safe?

Human Hearts

“If you aren’t working to integrate your life,
you are working to disintegrate it.”

I wrote that back in the days when I was trying for aphorisms.

Brené Brown talks about the work of Bessel van der Kolk who deals with the experience of trauma.  He has found that trauma survivors either deny that the trauma had any effect on them or become consumed with the trauma.   In both cases, though the trauma ends up defining their life by controlling their choices.   The goal of trauma work must be integration; the trauma did happen, but it doesn’t have to define your life.

This goal is common to everyone who does trauma work, not just people whose trauma is rooted in being shamed and abused into denying their knowledge of their heart to conform to compulsory gender expectations.

The last thing Performance Guy and I spoke about this week was the commonality of the human journey.   Whatever the reason you have to start to deconstruct your assumptions — illness, abuse, addiction, shame, breakdown, trans, whatever — the process of going inward, examining yourself and then building a more self-actualized life is always the same.

That is the reason that we can recognize wisdom when we hear it, because we always knew it.   Joseph Campbell showed that humans across time and across cultures all came to the same essential truths, all found common beliefs to become more centred and healed.

There is only one human nature, and we all share it.  My own struggle has never been about the uniqueness of my experience of trans, it is is about the commonality of the human journey to claim authenticity in the face of social pressure.

“In societies where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous, common humanity.”    I knew that was my mission statement when I first heard anthropologist Anne Bolin say  it almost twenty years ago now.

TBB has recently reconnected with an old friend who took 11 years going around the world in a sailboat.   She says that as the child of an alcoholic, her instinct was to run.   When she got halfway around the world and wasn’t free, she understood  that the real journey she had to take was the inner voyage to the heart of her own soul.    Now that she is back, she can see that TBB has had to so the same work, recognizing a fellow traveller.

Kat left a lovely comment on this blog, talking about how her choice to be an actor, and now to be a teacher and coach was a choice to enter into hearts.   I understand this as the journey of the empath, the person who seeks understanding by actually becoming another person for a moment, going inside them and walking in their shoes for a bit.

This was the essence of curious Kat’s journey to wholeheartedness, her journey into her own heart and towards her power as a healer.

She wants to know if I understand how much my journey feels resonant to her, a journey toward the essence of the human experience, a journey to the universal knowledge of the human heart.

“Too hip for the room,” has always been my lifemyth, leaving me, as I told Performance Guy, in a search for “people who get the joke.”   When I saw Kat perform recently, she gave me the compliment of saying that she is always better when there are people in the room who “get it.”  I returned the compliment by revealing more of my name story than I usually would when she asked the table, trusting that she would “get it.”

Humans are like ice cream.  We are each essentially unique, with our own special flavour, but we are also fundamentally the same, made out of the same basic stuff.

This is the core of empathy work, becoming comfortable enough with our own darkness to be able to sit quietly with another humans darkness.   It is the centre of awareness, finding the connection between all.   And it is the heart of enlightenment, seeing clearly our own scars in a way that helps us map the human heart.

If the experience of trauma is common in all humans, then what in humanity is foreign to us?

All I know is that it is when someone is vulnerable enough to share the most precious details of their life they open a channel between my heart and theirs.   And that is a good thing, just as long as it doesn’t bring up the blocks between me and my own heart.


Conceal Reveal

Do you think that transpeople are trying to hide their biology to fool other people or that they are trying to reveal their heart to connect with other people?

That’s a question I would ask when doing outreach over a decade ago now.  If you read this blog at all, you know what my answer is to that question, know what I strive to do everyday.

The problem, though, is noise.   Any communicator knows that if they want to get others to pay attention to the important points they have to not clutter their communication with distracting details that detract from the core message.

Practically, this means that trans expression always has a component of concealment, not for any reason of deception but just to help people get the main message quickly & easily, with a small amount of noise.

Everyone does some version of this minimizing, of course. We understanding the problem of TMI — too much information — signal that distracts from rather than enhancing communication.  Media celebrities know this, working to create a maintain a consistent image that supports quick identification and effective message discipline.

For transpeople, this is big challenge because to the conventional viewpoint, our messages can easily seem contradictory and crazy making.  “Does Not Compute!  Does Not Compute!” ends up playing, leaving many people fall back on convention, choosing to believe in the “truth” of our biology rather than the direct evidence of the choices that reveal the contents of our heart.

Producers of media on trans know this problem.  “Southern Comfort: The Musical” drastically oversimplified the story of the original “Southern Comfort” film in a way that erased the truth of my friends.  When pitching “TransAmerica,” Felicity Huffman had to tell people that it wasn’t a depressing transfilm, it was fun!, consigning many transpeople to the sick pile.

We want to be authentic, honest and forthright, but then again, we also don’t want to make noise when it’s not really going to give much benefit.   Sometimes that means just not speaking up, other times it means not sharing our more complicated stories.

This always leaves us being very conscious not just of safety margins, but also of choices that might just cause confusion and separation.

For example, I, like many transwomen, wear a wig, or, as we prefer to say, my hair isn’t really attached.  There are many disadvantages to wearing a wig, like summer time.  Wearing wigs, though, is conventional among women of colour, who find it easier and more elegant than working with their own hair.  They know that the big advantage of wigs is that you can change your hairstyle easily and make a dramatic difference.

That convention, though, isn’t understood in all communities.   Orthodox Jewish women, who wear a wig — a sheitel — usually try to show their hair as naturalistic as possible, working to blend in.  And for most American communities, wig wearing is only a party or performance thing, is always a mark of artifice and not authenticity.

As a transwoman, is it easier and less noisy to give a consistent appearance, or should I be more open about my appearance and take advantage of the possibility of change?

The Legendary Barbara, who bought her first wig from Montgomery Wards when she was just  14 and then wore it to ride around on buses, once told me her plan for going full time.  “I bought the same style wig in a  bunch of different colours, so can I can look the same.”   I chuckled at this plan; most women change their hairstyle much more often than they change the colour.

As TBB will be glad to tell you, the key to being taken seriously is the hair, and she knows it’s not just transpeople who understand this.   If anyone understands that style communicates it is women, but too many of them only think of fashion, following the trends or failing to be camera ready.

The choice of what to keep silent, what to conceal, in order to more effectively reveal the most important messages we have is always a challenge.   Giving too much information, trying to explain the whole circle in one burst, rather than a series of snapshots over time, can just inhibit and disrupt communication rather than further and enhance it.

I know that I can err on the side of safety and on the side of focus.   That may make me seem more cerebral rather than more playful and more vital, which are often the energies that engage other people.

I know that to reveal myself in the world I need to be able to conceal parts of me.  In order to get out important messages, I have to silence other messages.   To achieve key goals, I have to say no to other goals.  To hold onto what what is crucial, I have to let go of what is not.

In every moment, I use my acute situational awareness to decide what to reveal and what to conceal, what to play up and what to play down.  While there is no perfect choice, I do know that we can always do better, always get more clear and more effective.

My goal is always revealing my knowledge of my heart, being authentic and open in the moment.

My challenge is always knowing what to I should  hide l to do that as effectively as possible.

Shame Dancing

Often the phone will ring and I will hear a voice from the left coast bleating “Callan, Callan, help me!”

In these moments I know that ShamanGal has gotten herself back on the ledge again.

Like all transpeople, she had to find a way to destroy the calls of her heart, a way to keep her nature hidden in the world.

Her choice was just to amp up the conventional way that we enforce compliance to gender expectations in this world.    She just chose to amp up the shaming, creating an internal policeman who “is one of the strongest I have ever seen,” according to a long time gender therapist.

Her ego has turned into a high pressure salesman, the ego using phrases like “you deserve” and “you are entitled” to push her into making a fast decisions.

Those decisions, of course, are all about avoiding loss and discomfort.   “What if?” is the game of the ego as it amps up the fear to keep her small and defensive.

The ego’s ask is simple: avoid authenticity and vulnerability like the plague, instead following the rules, denying the heart, in order to fit in and chase vagrant desire.  Just twist yourself into a pretzel so you don’t have to lose what you should have had, whatever the cost.

“Don’t you deserve the princess dreams you had as a kid?” it asks.  “All you have to do is go out with that rich guy who sets off your alarm bells and you can have a great time!”

“Didn’t you have a hot time with her five years ago?  Why would you tell her that you are now out as trans?   Imagine how awful it would be if she rejected you after that!”

“Did you see that?   He was flirting with another girl, a girl who flirts back, so he didn’t give you the attention you wanted.  You know that’s because you are nothing but a damn transperson, don’t you?”

“Look how imperfect that person is!  You would have to expose yourself to be with them, and what would it get you?  They are just a blind alley!  Let it go!”

The ego wants everything to be about us, justifying fear, when the truth is that the vast majority of what other people do is about them and their own concerns.

At a party, other transwomen were astounded that SG got such a good job.  How did she manage it, others wondered?

She couldn’t tell them that the hardest part was getting over her own damn self, getting her ego out of the way so she could be in the moment.   She may know that the best moments of her life are when she feels safe, seen and intimately sharing with other women, but when she is alone again, shame still rears its head to convince her she is not enough and never, ever, ever will be.

She can now often recognize when her shame gremlins are lifting their heads.   Her world turns binary as they demand quick, hard binary answers to hard questions.

“Should I be a people pleaser?  Isn’t that just a way to self destruction?  Shouldn’t I stand up for myself and say fuck you to people rather than compromise?” she asks

A life where you only please others is hollow life indeed, I agree.   But then again, a life where you never please anyone else sounds lonely and empty too.

The egos call is the demand to cut losses, to play safe.   The call of the heart, though, is to chase the wins, to dare greatly, to let go of the “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” and focus on the now.

The heart, needs time, requires patience.  That’s why the ego can play it’s quick-fix game like a home security sales pro, demanding a quick and expensive response to magnified fears, working to pull us down into the swamp before we float up and float free, closer to the knowledge our creator put in our heart.

Does being a grownup, accepting compromise, mean the end of our adolescent dreams of popularity and entitlement?   Should we allow ourselves to be shamed into trying to achieve the impossible so we can stay small?

ShamanGal spent yesterday remembering a rich older woman who courted her when she looked like a beautiful boy but lashed out when SG told her she was going to live as a woman.  “Deny that sick desire!” came back the letter.  “Go and serve the world in the Peace Corps, find new ways to deny your heart by doing something good, but do not destroy my vision of you!”

How do we confront the shaming messages that others impose on us, the words that feed our own fears?

The way we choose to confront our own inner shame demons is, in the end, the way we choose to engage the world.   The three common responses to shame are connected to fight, flight or freeze, lashing out at others, running away or beating ourselves up.

It is only when we can engage our own shame with grace that we can engage the actions of people who want to shame us in the world.   As long as we can be sent into that shame dance, that race of a dog chasing their own tail so they spend their energy and focus staying static and small, we lose the power to grow and open in the moment.

The only way to cut the web of should, to confront the dragon with “Thou shalt” on every scale, is to be able to face down our shame demons, say “thank you for sharing,” and then follow our heart.

The shame dance is much like the pee-pee dance we do as children.   It addresses the symptoms but doesn’t solve the problem.  Only letting go and moving on will do that.

If you aren’t cool with your own nature, how the heck can you expect anyone else to be cool with it?

And if you can’t face down your own shame to embrace your own lovable nature, your own intrinsic worth, and the knowledge of your own heart, how can you ever expect anyone else to make you feel loved, worthy and seen?

Situational Awareness

What’s the key to being an awesome Big Kahuna surfer riding the banzai pipeline?

The answer is situational awareness.

To succeed, you have to be aware of what’s going on around you and inside of you at all times.   That knowledge of what is happening right at this moment and that knowledge of how outcomes changed in the past when you changed your choices is the key to being successful in a moment full of instantly changing variables that you can’t control.

And surfing is far from the only discipline where excellent situational awareness is the key to mastery.

When I talk about my experience of the world with Performance Guy, he is astounded at how much I read and consider situations.  His concern is that I am making judgments about other people, judgments that stop me from connecting with them.

To transpeople, though, the world can easily feel as dangerous as a huge, crashing ocean wave, ready to engulf and drown you at any time.   If you don’t understand the risks people experience by being visibly trans in the world, you don’t understand anything about transpeople.

What we all share is being pounded by social pressure to follow expectations rather than the knowledge of our own heart.   What we know is that when we step out of convention, we take the risk, the risk of people feeling entitled to attack us because they see us as wrong, sick and degenerate, and the risk of being misunderstood and hurt by people who want to help us but don’t really understand our hearts.

I have said in the past that the best way to categorize transpeople is by the armour they choose to keep themselves defended in the world.

ShamanGal has been looking at the defences of transpeople around her.   The gal she met on Sunday walks in the world with a  “Fuck You!” swagger, refusing to try and please anybody, which makes her stand out, while the gal she was trying to me Saturday gets her eyebrows waxed in Beverly Hills by the same esthetician who does Meagan Fox as she works hard to please the social expectations for trendy feminine beauty.

There is a whole range of choices we make, from hiding under a normative veneer, saying that our trans expression is only a hobby, to hiding in the closet at the end of the rainbow, staying small by locking our crossing story away.

Learning to be trans in the world is first and foremost about how we choose to protect our heart from the bumps and slashes of a world that wants us to stay hidden and unchallenging.   At the end of Hedwig And The Angry Inch, drag show tradition may be followed by Hedwig walking out the door naked, but they aren’t really going to get very far in the world that way, are they?

The less normative you are in the world — the more you are off the white, christian, upscale man archetype — the more you understand situational awareness as a required talent.  Women, for example, know that other people can be big and dangerous, so they have to keep defences available, whatever they choose those defences to be.

The ultimate trans surgery is when we pull the stick out of our own ass.  That is the moment we stop being controlled by our armour and start making choices with our own heart.   If we can’t move, we can’t be wholehearted and vulnerable in the world, can’t be open and compassionate in the moment.

For me, the solution to being both defended and open  — point 9 on my 2002 manifesto — is a very high level of situational awareness.

I know that I stand for the possibility of transformation in the world, stand for the truth that we can move beyond convention and the expectations placed on us to grow, become more centred and come from a higher place.    I stand for the truth that change is not only possible, that change is required as we learn to open to the world, and I need to always be open to that change.

That means I have to always hold open, in every moment, the possibility that you will change.   I have to be like the tailor.

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

That holding open my heart is the essence of what Brené Brown calls vulnerability.

For example, I may know that my sister has hurt me very badly in the past, but that doesn’t mean I can never open to her again.   I have to hold open the space where she can mature, grow and change her choices, rather than casting her out as a bad person, an abuser, never again to be trusted.

I may know that there is a good chance that she will hurt me again, but also know that she loves me and has the best intentions in her heart, even as she gets bound up in her own stuff.

The truth of this world is simple: people get bound up in their own stuff.  People see things in their own context, not in a broader vision.

To transpeople, we often see this when people are forced to pay attention to us and their assumptions of normativity are shattered and they reassign our gender in a heartbeat.  They can easily feel tricked or manipulated at that moment, choosing to defend their own comfort over our truth.

I know that people around me only pay attention to and work to understand what they choose to pay attention to and work to understand.  They grow and heal in their own way and in their own time.   Sometimes, that resistance to change means they act out, trying to erase challenge, and sometimes, the object of that acting out is me.

How can I stay defended and open at the same time?

My solution has been to develop acute situational awareness, sensing my environment and modulating my choices to fit the moment.

Performance Guy is surprised by my level of assessment of social situations.   It was only when I explained how risky trans expression feels in the world that he began to understand that my reading wasn’t about judgment, but was about finding a style of defence that allowed me to feel safe enough to open my heart in to people who usually don’t get the joke, people who don’t yet own their own darkness in a way that lets them engage mine.

I have taken apart the defences I built unconsciously as a kid, that attempt to cloak myself with words that manipulate, and create a conscious approach to the world that lets me stay in the moment while not putting what limited resources I have at risk.

Yes, this leaves my choices constrained a bit too much, but as Brené Brown says, vulnerability is not something you can learn by yourself.   It always takes people you can build trust with to help you expand and open your heart.

By their armour you shall know them.   That is true of all humans, and transpeople, who have to move against the conventions and expectations of the world to claim the knowledge of their heart are no exception.

And my armour?

Acute situational awareness.

Cowabunga, dude.

Emotion Real

The answer is as simple as getting over my own damn self.

As long as I hold onto my own pain and emotions, as long as I am not in the moment, as long as I carry my history and experience as a burden and not as a gift, as long as I let my scars control me, then I will continue to get the same old results from the same bound up choices.

The problem, though, is that I don’t want to let go of my own emotions.  It feels like that is what I have been required to do forever, submerge my feelings as part of the duty to do what is required in a world where other people haven’t done the work to be safe with my experience.

If I can’t discharge my emotions, my struggles, my frustrations, can’t share my joy & pain but instead am obligated to modulate myself down so I only emit tiny spoonfuls at a time and stay centred when even those are rejected, always having to get over my own damn self while others don’t even know who the hell they are, well, that doesn’t feel safe or fair or even life-affirming.

If my job is to understand and process your emotions, to respect and honour them, to show that I have considered them, listened to you so you will listen to me, but you see none of that as your job, because my emotions are not real, too weird or just not in your vision, well, that feels like shit to me.

It’s probably not reasonable for me to expect you to embrace and engage my feelings, to enter into my darkness when you have not entered into your own.   But when the demand to be reasonable means I have to swallow my own feelings, well, that feels pretty damn bad.

The right choice may be as easy as getting over my own damn self.

It’s just that damn self is real and messy and emotional, beat up and scarred, broken and battered, beautiful and sweet.

And I love her.

Shut Up And. . .

Sometimes, not very often, but sometimes, I enjoy some rum in my Coke Zero, or maybe a glass of wine.

When I do have a nice drink, the wall around my heart tends to soften.   That’s when the Mary Chapin Carpenter songs come into my head.  Sometimes, when I’m sad it will be “Too Much To Expect, Not Too Much Too Ask,”   and sometimes her cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses.”

Recently, though it has mostly been “Shut Up And Kiss Me.”

When I wrote about The Lost Girls way back in 1993, I understood their commitment to party therapy.  Long nights, various intoxicants and safe spaces lead these people who had lost their girlhood to break down the walls they built around their own hearts, to open themselves up to new experiences, and to see themselves in a ragged, ripped and real way.

And yes, there was a lot of kissing involved.   I remember one night at the End Up when. . .  Well, another story for another time.

But as I listen to Brené Brown go on about Vulnerability, about how it is only something we can learn to do together, not by ourselves, I think about those Lost Girls in the context of their search to open their hearts, their quest to find their own vulnerability.

While I was named an honorary Lost Girl, I wasn’t in SF often enough to really experience the long term effects of Party Therapy.    Instead, I had a partner who, when I said that I had done work on my own and needed to learn trust, wondered why I couldn’t do that by myself.

It’s a long time since then, and my PPP gets smaller and smaller.  I don’t dream of sweaty trysts or vigorous orgies, but I do have to admit, after being alone for so long, chilly and untouched, making out a bit is still something that moves me.

But as that bit of warm inebriation dissipates while I go out into the world to face everyday challenges, I know that I have to put my heart back behind the walls again.   There isn’t much tenderness out there for her, I have found.

I ended up going to the theatre this last week.   It was nice to be around other women who also were a bit dressed up for an evening out, though all of them I saw were not attending alone, having a partner or friend to watch their back.   In the improv show, a couple of performers — married in real life — ended up in a clinch, her pulling him in sweet and sexy, but for me a reminder of what feels denied to my heart.

Heck, even the girls on Take Me Out have someone to hold hands with when coming down the stairs in their pretty heels.

I will admit, just to you, that I kind of like that passing urge to just have someone shut up and kiss me.   It reminds me that I am not quite completely dead yet.

But that hollow feeling when you realize the odds of someone coming around the Trans-Wall, the smart wall and any other wall are way too low to expect that safety to actually that happen?

Not so good.

Modified Man

This is what I knew when I first came out as trans, near thirty years ago now.

There are no magic sex changes.  The effects of puberty cannot yet be reversed.

Sure, we can intervene with hormones and surgery, but those have limits.

“You were never, uhh. . .” said my sister, searching for words.

“Never slight of build?” I offered.

“Never slight,” she agreed.

I knew when I came out that my body wasn’t one that could be easily femaled.  And since then, I have come to understand that any attempt to pass as being born female bodied is going to lead to failure, separation, discomfort and shame.  Just this week I heard Brené Brown say that the biggest generator of shame in society is the attempt to cut ourselves down to “fit in.”

Gender theory teaches me that male and female are birth sex, like in all mammals, but man and woman are gender roles, constructed by humans and based in choices, not biology. I knew I couldn’t be female in this lifetime, the best I could do is make the choices of a woman, choices that reflect my own knowledge of my own feminine heart.

In a binary culture, though, we have been taught to believe that biology is truth, that someone’s body tells us more about them than their choices.

When people who believe that, then, identify that I was born male, am male bodied they then decide that I can never be a woman.

The best that I can be in their eyes is a modified man.

And that breaks my heart.   That gives me no hope for my heart ever being seen over my biology and history.

I’m really OK when someone calls me male.  I know that is my birth sex.   But when they call me a man, to me that means they are erasing and negating all my choices, all my expression, all the work I have done to come to self knowledge and to own my own womanself.

If the best I can ever be seen as is as a modified man, well, that offers no hope.

TBB chose to do all the body modification work that might help her be seen as female in the world.   She even worked to support people going through genital modification, most of whom hoped that bottom surgery would change everything for them.    After all, if it is so highly guarded by therapists and doctors, it must be magic, right?

It’s not magic.   And many of the things we transwomen do for magic, like pumping up our curves with illegal and dangerous liquid silicone not only put us at risk but also show how desperately we will struggle to try and have our heart and our choices seen in the world.

I went through this twenty years ago with a now famous therapist in the gender world.  She liked the “man with something extra” construction, but I told her that if she wanted to be my ally, however she saw me, she had to call me “she,” to help hold open the space and possibility of transformation in the world.

She dismissed me until one night, as we both stuffed envelopes at the local LGBT centre, another woman referred to me with masculine pronouns.   She then got that she set that expectation, and it was brutal and limiting.

Sometimes, when all people see is a modified man, TBB wonders why she had body modifications anyway. Do they just leave her looking like a freak?   She recently greeted another aviation enthusiast at a bar and got the response, “Behave,” and felt the tension, felt the resistance, felt the call to play small and disappear, but she pushed through it, did the work to get past what she calls the Trans-Wall.

If I know that many people, if not most people, will end up seeing me as nothing but a modified man, then I know I have to constrain my choices in the world.  I know my safety margin is thin and i need to stay defended.

Ogres know that humans are very dangerous to them, especially humans in fear and in crowds, but humans assume that it is the ogre who is dangerous.  They expect that solitary different individual to come out and calm them, that freak, to own their own internal fears.   This is a mammoth ask for transpeople, one that can easily leave us hiding like anyone cast out as an ogre would.

Modified men are scary, always something else.   We may be told that we are magical, that we should be proud, but that is outside of real life.   In the movie “To Wang Foo,” a townswoman tells Vida Boheme “I don’t see you as a man.  I don’t see you as a woman.  I see you as an angel,” to which the movie character says “That’ll do,”   but a real transwoman has to wonder if at the next rest stop she would be expected to do her business in the little angels room.

I heard Amy say “Good night , sir” when we parted on Friday night.  That reminded me how many people see me as a modified man, a guy-in-a-dress, how many people hold my biology as paramount over the choices of my heart.

I know that there are many transpeople who would tell me that is a result of my failing in doing enough to fit in, in not cutting myself down enough that my biology and history is not visible.  I also know what I knew when I first came out; cutting down my biology is an impossible task, and cutting down my story is a shame venerating one.

Many would tell me that being a modified man should be enough, that I can find social acceptance and value in that role, that I should be a man with pride.

Sorry.    That feels like my heart is made invisible, and if my heart is going to be invisible, then why not just make all of me invisible?  Click, click, poof!

If the best I can ever be is a modified man, then I can’t get the love and belonging I need, because I can’t trust my own choices, can’t feel my feminine heart in the world.

And that is hope destroying.

Knowledge Of The Heart

If I had to tell people one thing about trans, just one thing, it would be this:

Transgender is about the knowledge of the heart.

Transgender expression is someone trying to tell you what they feel, trying to show you their heart.   Even if their expression contravenes some other “facts” you think you know about them, they are working to tell you a truth about their heart.

Now, there are lots of other layers to trans expression.   Hearts don’t just show themselves, nor do they exist in a vacuum.   Hearts need defending and hearts need developing; we aren’t born wholehearted.

There is also lots of explication around this call.  “I want to show you my heart, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to get partners, retain status, stay safe, tell a joke, whatever. ”

For those who see trans expression as kind of intellectual exercise, though, as something put on, as something essentially ironic, as some kind of symbology, as some kind of sickness or abjection, as some kind of silly play, as some kind of “fuck you” move, as some kind of canard, as some kind of play for titillation, well, they miss the underlying truth.

Transgender is about the knowledge of the heart.   It’s about being willing to move beyond conventional, compulsory, assigned gender roles to express something so powerful that we will be crushed if we keep it inside and hidden.

I know, I know.   This heart thing isn’t often how transgender appears on the surface.  We learn early to defend our hearts, to contextualize them, to keep them safe.  Heck, many transpeople even think they keep their heart hidden with clever compartmentalization, even (or maybe especially) hidden from themselves.

And trans is easy to confuse with systems of social structure that keep us constrained, easy to conflate with medical theories about why some of us are this way, easy to get lost in creation myths that try to contextualize the presence of transgender hearts.

Still, transgender is about the knowledge of the heart.  It may be about exploring that knowledge, or even about denying that knowledge, but transgender is about the knowledge of the heart.

In the end, this is the underlying request of every transperson in the world: see and affirm my heart.  Don’t get stuck on my biology or my history, don’t pin me down with your expectations of who I should be, don’t even get confused by how much I struggle or how much I stay defended.

See and affirm my heart, please.  Be safe with my tender essence, beating below all the fol-de-rol of a human, social life.

Don’t get fixated on the energy it takes to walk through walls, to cross boundaries many see as solid.   Don’t see my expression as some kind of mask, the reality underneath complying to your conventional and comforting understanding of binaries.

See and affirm my heart, please.    Transgender is about the knowledge of the heart.

And, while you are at it, maybe I can help you open to your own knowledge of your own heart.    Maybe together we can affirm each other, affirm those parts of us that beat with life and so easily get hidden under the demands to fit in.

Transgender is about the knowledge of the heart and that is the poetry that underlies all our rationalized actions.

I show you my heart and I am vulnerable, tender and exposed.

But when someone shares with you the deepest knowledge of their heart, isn’t that the best time to meet them with deep empathy and deeper love of our shared & precious humanity?

Scavenger Style

Performance Guy sometimes gets a bit frustrated that I don’t meet regular coaching expectations.   It would make things simpler if I had a goal he could help me set priorities for, rather than just being committed to working the process.

“Do you think that I don’t get anything out of our sessions?” I asked him

“No!” he replied.  “I see you work through the ideas, process them immediately after.”

That’s my experience of life.  I know that I am not going to get everything I need in one place, handed to me on a platter, so I have learned to be an expert scavenger, picking over every scrap of human connection I have to get the most I can out of it.

In everything, from my wardrobe to my therapy, I haven’t had the luxury of a big pocketbook that offers one stop shopping.  I let my heart lead me, checking the racks for hidden gems that move me, be they clothes or insights, and then I combine and collage them into my own personal style.    I make the connections myself.

This requires mess, of course, because it means you have to not throw lots out, create false over-simplification, because a bit of junk today may be what ties everything together tomorrow.   That is mess you have to own, of course, because an idea you can’t bring to mind again isn’t going to help anyone.

Love — both the capacity to love and the belief you are deeply lovable — and Belonging are irreducible needs of humans.   If you don’t have those, you break, says Brené Brown.

My scavenger style applies to these areas too.  Love and belonging are not in rich supply in my life, so every tiny bit I can scrape up needs to be processed for the warmth and connection that I, like every human, so desperately need.   My life is lonely and off the grid, so I can’t afford to waste an iota of what emotional support I get.

I may have clear vision about moments of disconnection between myself and others, but that never stops me from searching for the moments of connection and treating those instants as embers that need to be cherished and expanded to deepen relationships.

A subsistence diet, though, is just that, one that allows survival but doesn’t create thriving.   It’s brilliant that I have learned to eke out growth by wringing out every bit of nourishment I get, mental and emotional, but it has never been a strategy for soaring.

Living on crumbs and sweepings of love, understanding and belonging is something I had to learn to do early.   It has been a key survival strategy, one that I executed well.

But scavenger style, well, not really a base to conquer the world, is it?

My Shame, Your Shame

Love — both the capacity to love and the belief you are deeply lovable — and Belonging are irreducible needs of humans.   If you don’t have those, you break.

People who believe they are worthy of love and belonging handle shame better.
Brené Brown

There is no doubt that I have the capacity to love, and I have done the work to understand my underlying belonging.   A Course In Miracles (ACIM) uses the words love and fear to work with these concepts, teaching that separation is illusory, that we belong to the universe and to humanity all the time.

The key block to getting the belonging we need is the attempt to fit in by assessing and acclimating.

When we try to fit in, try to get approval and fail, we feel shame, but when we try to be ourselves and belong we just feel disappointment and sadness.   Approval is not just a poor substitute for belonging, it is often a barrier to finding belonging.

Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self acceptance and the barriers we bring to love are the barriers we bring to loving ourselves.
Brené Brown

I learned early never to put my ego on the line by trying to fit in.  I have been comfortable enough with my idiosyncratic nature to not put my shame on the line by trying to be one of the crowd.   I don’t find my failure to fit in to any group shameful.

Instead, I assume that I won’t fit in.  I assume that any approval is temporary and conditional, because it is.  I have learned to be conflict averse, gracious and appropriate, not to gain approval but to avoid too much disapproval.

Authenticity Mantra:  Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Just stand your sacred ground.
Vulnerability Mantra: Just show up and let yourself be seen.  Be real.
Brené Brown

I do both of these things well.

I stay small not to avoid shame, but to avoid disappointment and sadness.  I know that I can be of use if I commit to to doing for others,  know that trying to fit in is pointless, know that my belonging is greater than any individual human can touch because my mother in the sky defines my belonging.

What I also know is not to expect empathy, understanding or compassion.  I expect that there will be blocks to the sense of other people that I belong and they believe in those blocks because they know that I don’t fit in.

This makes me believe that love is not mine to have. It’s not because I am not lovable, rather it is because I don’t fit in, so other people’s shame and ego will be challenged by my presence.

Putting your identity on fitting in is a bad thing, as Ms. Brown says.   It leads you to make inauthentic choices and feel shame when you tried to fit in — tried to pass — and failed.  This is the centre of those “imposter” feelings that haunt so many of us, those feelings that we are irredeemably failed people, not worthy of what we have.

Holding your identity on not fitting in, though, also has its challenges.  It leaves you alone in a basement, leaves you making safe and very constrained choices, leaves you avoiding being too pushy.  When you assume that you won’t fit in, can’t fit in, then you stay at a distance.

If you don’t ask, you won’t get.  I don’t ask.  I just assume other people won’t get it.

I know how to open my heart, how to be vulnerable and to work the process.

The barriers I hold to love coming are around my being “too hip for the room,” around the sense that somehow, I will never fit in.  While I believe that I am lovable, I just don’t believe people will love old porcupine me, don’t believe they have done the work to meet me in empathy.

Compassion is knowing your darkness well enough that you can sit in the dark with others.  Compassion is not a relationship between the wounded and the healed, it is a relationship between equals.
Pema Chödrön

Ms. Brown believes that compassion is spiritual commitment to empathy, but uses the quote to remind us that turning on the lights, correcting, is not essentially empathetic.

I know my own darkness well enough to sit in the dark with almost anyone.

I just assume that others haven’t done the work to know their own darkness and sit with me.   I assume that if their darkness is too much for them then my darkness is way too fucking much for them.     The boundaries of their own comfort are the boundaries of their safety for me, the boundaries of where they will feel challenged enough that their shame will be stirred up and they will freeze, run or act out.

I assume I will have to modulate myself to them to avoid stirring up their own feelings, their own shame.   I assume that I have to delicately negotiate their minefield, leaving me conflict averse in the way my family taught me.  I figure that I am “in your face” enough by my very being, by my very bringing of light, that pushing it just will freeze me out even more.

We live in a shame based culture, Ms. Brown tells us, where identifying what we should fear and who is to blame is common currency.  We consume shame based entertainment where someone has to be humiliated so someone else can win.  We value young people who act out more than mature people who come with grace.   Our politics and news are laced with shame, laced with fear and blaming.   We find it easy to write people off as unworthy, teaching young people that unless they are famous they are not enough.

I know this.  Other people’s shame based behaviours are my minefield, because other people’s shame based behaviours are the source of all stigma that is dumped on other people.    This is especially true around gender roles.  It is even true inside the gender communities, where we try and shame those who make choices that we find shameful in ourselves, unleashing our internalized shame policeman on the world.

Standing my sacred ground, as Ms. Brown suggests, is standing against shame.  Not my shame, mind you, but the shame encoded in others, the shame whose name most of them even refuse to speak.  I live in their scarcity culture, just like I lived in my mother’s, and it is all so terribly, terribly wearing,  so wearing I sometimes think it isn’t worth the effort anymore.

I find that a hard, hard fight.

Empathy For The Devil

The solution for shame, says Brené Brown, is empathy.

And empathy is a vulnerable choice, because it requires opening our heart beyond our fear.  You can’t choose between joy and comfort; if you can’t tolerate discomfort, you will never be able to feel joy, because joy makes us vulnerable, and can often cause negative reactions.

This video is worth the three minutes.

Shame is the fear of disconnection.

Trans is the promise of disconnection.    The messages that fuel shame are absolutely gender related, as Ms. Brown says.

This is Ms. Brown from 2009 before she was more elegantly packaged in TV style.  I find it very potent on the culture of avoiding negativity and on the shame built in to gender expectations. (25 minutes)

If people are programmed to feel shame around the gender expectations put on them, then those who mock that shame, those who deny those sacrifices, will be beyond empathy.   How can anyone feel connection with those people?   Maybe we can feel pity, sympathy, but how do we feel empathy?

Shame is powerful because we don’t speak about it.   Transpeople speak about gendering based shame by their very presence.   By showing continuous common humanity, we reveal the price of shaming that controls us by threatening disconnection and separation.

We know that as transpeople, we make many people uncomfortable, even though that discomfort might be on levels they can’t speak about, buried deep below a polite response.

Uncomfortable people can’t be empathetic.   Empathy requires vulnerability, an open heart.  Only people who have done the work to own their own vulnerability can be empathetic, and if we touch something deeper than the work they have done, they become blocked to us.

People who feel uncomfortable in areas they haven’t processed often choose to blame those who they see as “creating” those feelings, though the truth is that the most we can do is help unearth feelings.   Violation of comfort, though, is very often seen as evidence of external attack rather than revelation of internal torment.

We end up having to do the shame work not just for ourselves — a massive job right there — but also for those around us.  We are forced to negotiate their fears, which leaves us playing small and safe, much less that we can be, avoiding the stigma, the shame others feel justified in slamming us with.

After all, they were shamed, told they were less than, not enough, broken, unworthy when they violated gender norms, so shouldn’t we have to take the same kind of attack?

It’s so easy to feel shame.  I really, really wanted to be the son my father wanted me to be.   I remember that when I was nine, I saw him have to eat his ice cream cone quickly to get us on the road and understanding how he had to forfeit pleasure for service.  That was a background lesson about the obligations of being a good man.

I  destroyed my life and my health trying to take on those responsibilities and failing.  That is someplace shame exists for me.   I knew I could never take on the cultural expectations of being a good girl, small, pretty and obedient.   Shame, shame.

I have been taught that no matter how much I explicate my own experience, I should not expect a vulnerable, empathetic response from others.  Instead, I am asked to give empathetic, vulnerable responses to others, and then negotiate their discomfort, even as they find themselves unable to negotiate my discomfort.

Why?  Because nobody can have empathy for the devil.


Brené Brown source video after the jump.

Continue reading Empathy For The Devil

Shame, Gender & Stupid

It’s been a very Brené Brown night.

ShamanGal was in real pain last night.  When I read her a positive piece she wrote the night before she could barely recognize the words as her own, she was so distant from them.

I knew she needed help and somehow, I caught on the shame she felt.   I did my first shame work in the 1990s with John Bradshaw, author of Healing The Shame That Binds You, starting with the old video, now on YouTube  (Part 1, Part 2)

Today, though, the woman talking about shame is Brené Brown.  Her TED talks, starting with TEDx, became big enough hits that she is now working with Oprah to give on-line classes in shame, empathy and vulnerability.

When Ms. Brown easily talks about shame in a gendered context, the shame that we use to enforce gender norms.   Originally, she didn’t study men, but once that door was opened, she began to see how the expectations women placed on men placed shame on them, forcing them into formal roles.

Guilt is when you feel you have done something wrong, but shame is when you feel you are wrong, stupid and a failure.  Shame is deep, corrosive and toxic.

I have done the shame work, and according to Ms. Brown I am doing the right thing for shame resilience, reaching out for empathy, for others who share this same emotional burden and who we know are not sick or toxic.

Elements Of Shame Resilience

1) Recognizing Shame & Understanding Our Triggers
2) Practising Critical Awareness Of The Roots Of Shame
3) Reaching Out, Telling Our Story
4) Speaking Shame

Going through her work, though, I was struck by how much of the training in shame I still carry, and struck by how others in my family still continue the rituals of shaming even though they might want to move past it.

I carry all the guy shame, which in many ways is the hardest shame to shed because much of that shame is about not being strong enough to resist the emotions.   If you are ashamed to enter the emotions of shame, you can never process the emotions of shame.   When others get disgusted when you share your emotions, the cycle continues.

I also enter all the gal shame, those lessons of being too much, too big, too assertive and too demanding.

That mix is wicked tough.  Shame triggers trauma, that fight or flight response.   When I walk into a space, I know exactly how I have failed, and I also know that I shouldn’t expect any empathy, because I know how people deny empathy to those who are just too whatever.

I have learned to manage this shame cycle, but I have not learned how to transcend it.  Poor ShamanGal still doesn’t know how to manage her own shame, starting with just being aware of it before it engulfs her.

It’s been a long, sleepless night going back to this work, but I know it as critical.  You cannot be courageous enough to be vulnerable until you are beyond the shame of knowing yourself as a failure, as Ms. Brown reminds us.

I know how stupid I am, what a failure I am because I spent my life not just being shamed into gender norms (and the queerer you are, the more you are shamed) but also because I had a mother who was so enmeshed in her own shame that she burned it onto her children.

There is no free lunch, no life without shame, as Ms. Brown says.  But we can become resilient and start to hold onto our own value.

It’s still a challenge for me, still a swamp for ShamanGal.

If You’re So Smart…

A question my mother would ask me often was “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

I’m smart, witty, have a great memory, integrate new information very quickly (learn wicked fast) and offer possible solutions that deliver a new viewpoint on shared problems.

In other words, I’m not only fun to play with, I also am a valuable asset to the team, even if I am idiosyncratic, intellectual and creative.  Truth be told, I’m probably more valuable because of those reasons, offering a whole heapload of diverse thinking in one package.

“You know how to charm an audience,” Performance Guy told me after seeing me in a meeting.   I know how to read people and meet them where they are, that’s true.

Much of that skill, though, is a skill of modulation.  I need to synchronize my speed to the room, need to actively filter what I offer so I don’t overload the audience, need to shape my communication to their context.   My charming is about reading the audience, not about just being myself, about concocting a performance that delivers rather than just letting myself rip.

The challenge with making art is always the mix of flow and polish.

My sister makes prints, Performance Guy does Improv Comedy, and I write but we all know that if we are too stifled, not fluid enough, then our art will also be stilted and awkward.  Usually if my writing isn’t flowing well, I toss it away and start again rather than trying to hammer a draft into submission.   We all have to work with the medium, not torture it.

That ability to be fluid, though, comes out of a mastery, an ability to control the process in conscious ways that consider the technical needs and the considerations of the audience.   Just throwing shit doesn’t make quality work, but forcing the work like grinding sausage doesn’t make engaging, full of life work.

I write by finding the voice, but I also write by polishing the work, changing a word here or there to intensify meaning, to make the text more supple and beautiful.

The question, though, the question that Performance Guy asks me is a variant of the question my mother would ask me, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

“You are so sharp, with so much to give, so charming,” he says, “and we here find your work very valuable, why can’t you find some organization, someone who will reward you for your contributions?”

Work is my salvation, my joy.  To me, work is love.   I wrote in “What You Need To Know About My Transgender” that I understand my own transgender nature in the context of work, about the work I need to do in the world.   I still tear up when I hear Mac McAnally’s song “It’s My Job.”

TBB thinks it’s that damn Trans-Wall she knows so well that is the big limiting factor.  Between wasting my most productive years, leaving me hurt and sensitized rather than confident and potent, and blocking off much of the audience, well, that’s a tough barrier to cross.

As a “too-person” I hit a number of those walls in the world.   My intellectualism, my intensity, my memory, my insight all mean that when you need someone at your side in a fight I’m great, but when you want to pull a bit of slight-of-hand, a bit of jiggery-pokery, you’d rather have me out of the picture.

To put it another way, if you are committed to healing, to improvement, I’m great to be around, but if you prefer comfort and ease, well, I’m too challenging to have about.

How do I handle this?   I modulate.  I turn myself down, read the room, go invisible, play guerrilla.  I have learned the tricks to slipping my views in with a bit of sugar so they go down better, have learned to affirm and flatter before I enlighten and reveal.

The trick is simple.  I read other people’s worlds and then slip into them, modulated with the power of thought and the techniques of performance.    It lets me be effective, but it also leaves me wary and tired, always having to be doing the translation and limiting.

Now, the smarter people are, the easier it is to connect with them.  When I was with my mother in the hospital she thought I was there because I liked dealing with smart people.   While fast thinkers, professionals who know how to do teamwork are more fun than those without those skills, I was there to take care of her, was there from love and duty.

Maybe you have figured out the limits of this modulation technique.  What is too much attenuation?   How much limiting is too much limiting?   How much compartmentalization is too much?  Isn’t trans just too fucking much for the world?   I have certainly found it too much for many rooms I have been in, rooms where nobody got the joke.

TBB understands the Trans-Wall.   I understand the limits of the Potential Partner Pool, the PPP.   If you are 18, fit, gorgeous and not too smart, everyone loves you.   But the farther you get away from that baseline, the smaller your PPP is.  Hell, once that same 18 year old hits 40, they will have a lot fewer admirers, and that’s just age.  Add intellect, healing, queerness, health and so on, and your PPP gets small.

There is no one, not even me, who doesn’t think there are people out there who value what I have to offer.  The challenge, though, is the number of people who would value it — the PPP — and the limits of my own resilience, enthusiasm and robustness.   I’m not 30, fit and vigorous anymore.  I’m not naive and trusting anymore, if ever I was.   My fire is well banked, down to embers and ashes.

I know that relationships are relationships, and I know the basic tricks of attraction.  People like other people who can play the roles they have written in their head.  Sure, smarter people enjoy a greater amount of surprise and challenge, finding delight in a bit of that, but they have limited energy, lots of work to do.  A great exotic restaurant is fun once in a while, but comfort food is what most usually want.

I suspect that’s the reason this blog never hasn’t gotten much of an audience in the last eight and a quarter years.  The diet here is variable and intense, not mostly familiar, easy and comforting.    The counter tells me I’m already at almost 1100 words and I know that means of the few people who start this entry, most will be gone by now, no matter that I am expressing myself as concisely and gracefully as I know how.

“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”  “If you can charm an audience, why don’t you have an audience?”

Learning to live outside the conventions and expectations of society has a price and has a power. 

I know how to offer the divine surprise, the question that opens walls and makes connections you haven’t seen before.  Few people though, are looking for the divine surprise, because it’s not something you can schedule or shop for.  

And while some people understand the value of the divine surprise, wanting and needing new perspectives and techniques, most want comfort, clear rules, defined patterns and easy conventions.   Even the best only want divine surprise in small doses, little pills of enlightenment.

I learned this, and that’s why I learned to modulate.  Only give them what they can handle.

The problem with that technique is that it leaves me cloaked, never let me shine like a beacon in the world. 

If I never shine like a beacon, I never draw those who want, need and love divine surprise in their lives.   I never draw my audience to me, never build my own space, never am the attraction that hold inside.   I cede to the Trans-Wall, never appear to the wider audience, taking their shit, so the people in my small PPP find me.

“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”  

One answer is that I modulate the riches inside of me that I share with the world, that divine surprise that brings delight and enlightenment.

For me,  the challenge is the return of the gift.

I have stumbled, searched and found enlightenment, done service and growth, found my own prana.

What I have not done is to blissfully bring that gift back into our shared world in a way that opens doors, makes connections and multiplies joy.

If the world wanted what I had to offer, they would have it already.  My lesson is simple: the only way out of hell is through.  You have to dive into the blood, sweat, tears and shit you have created in order to learn to find the light in your life.   There has got to be a pony in here someplace, as the old punch line goes.

This is where the divine surprise exists, not in conventional thinking but in what we are told is shit to be hidden.   Our divinity is not in how we follow the rules, our divinity is in how we follow our hearts.

The lesson of transpeople is the archetypal lesson that we need to break loose of convention, slay the dragon with “Thou Shalt” on every scale, before we can move beyond expectations of fear to actions of love.

That lesson doesn’t fit anywhere on a job application.   That lesson, though, can be valued and cherished by those ready to open their eyes and see in a new way.

“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

One answer has to be because have been boxed into playing by other people’s rules, pounded into learning to modulate rather than to shine. 

I have tended those I love, modulating myself down too much.   When your own family doesn’t understand the costs and requirements of being rich, the obligation to break the rules and shine, they can’t affirm those choices.  Like so many, they want the reward without having to pay the price of acting boldly and visibly, moving beyond convention and comfort and shattering polite expectations.

My brilliance  — my smart — comes not from something that fits on a resume, my brilliance comes from the divine surprise of transcending it.   And the only way get rich from it is to make it visible in the world is to make it visible in the world.

And that, at this stage in my life, when I live in the mindset of scarcity, seems like a very heavy lift indeed.

Beyond Trans-Wall

“You are going to get shit.   Just being a visible transwoman in the world, you are going to get shit.

Like Laura said in [Trinidad: The Movie] we are other people’s hell.  Some see us and they get crazy, like all the nice rules which make their world make sense are being broken.  We are hell to them, Shiva, destroyer of worlds, tearing apart everything they want to believe is good and holy.

That’s what I call the Trans-Wall.  It’s that wall that goes up when you show up and someone decides you are not worthy of respect or dignity.  It’s amazing how many people would rather live in mediocrity and denial than engage humanity and live in healing and excellence.

Sometimes, though, sometimes, people will spend the five minutes to get over the Trans-Wall.  They will decide to care less about what their friends will think, decide to give you a chance and make a decision for themselves.

It’s those people, those relationships that you take all the shit for.  They are the reason you are out there.  They are the ones who get it, the ones who are worth the shit.

Nobody is going to believe that you are real until you force them to do it.  They will all want to believe that trans isn’t essential, that it’s some kind of hobby, something you can control, until you demand that they do the work and engage who you are.   My family, I told them for years, but until I got my genitals surgically altered, well, no one really understood how real trans was to me, how serious I am about it.   Why couldn’t they just believe me and do the work?  Because of the Trans-Wall, that’s why.

You are never, never going to look as good as you want.  You are never going to be young again and never going to be female.  Your bones are your bones, your baldness is your baldness, your skin is your skin, your voice is your voice.   You are always going to show your history, your biology.

But unless you face the shit and also show your heart, show it with determination and conviction, well, nobody is ever going to see it.  Nobody.

The magic happens when people take the five minutes to look around their own Trans-Wall and see your heart.   And they can’t do that unless you show it to them, show them it is real, show them how fucking real it is.

That’s why you have to do it, have to go into the world and be hell and take the shit and look at yourself in the mirror and see all the imperfections & tells, because if you don’t do that, nobody is ever going to see who you really, really are.


And that would be a tragedy, for you and for a world that needs more of what you have to offer.”

Finishing The Story

I’m just so tired.  I’m tired of remembering it that way. Aren’t you tired too?

Now we all have our sad tales, but don’t you want to finish the story, let it all go and have a life that isn’t dictated by the past?

Life is a harsh sentence to lay down for yourself.

Those we love can be redeemed, maybe not in life, but in imagination because that’s what we storytellers do.

We restore order with imagination.

We instill hope, again and again and again.

Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks (Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith)

This is the turning speech in that film, the one where Disney convinces PL Travers to let him work his magic on her story.  After this speech, she wears brighter colours and writes again.

I’m struck by the phrase “finish the story.”

It’s very hard to finish a story if you still see yourself as being in that story, if you still see that story as acting upon you.

The Disney estate and the Disney company produced Saving Mr Banks in part to control the image of Walt Disney, to show him as human again.

There is no way they could have done this film, this story while Disney was alive.  Then, the story wasn’t finished, couldn’t be let go of.  Order couldn’t be restored by imagination, because the story was still playing out in all of its influences and complexity.

We need distance and context to finish stories.

My father was in my dreams last night.    A friend is going through challenges with her dad; Tuesday he was operated on for Bladder Cancer and Thursday he was back in the ER.   I offered to go and help, but she said that they need to do this together, and that of all people, I should understand.

I do, of course.  It was an intense decade for me.

For that matter, it’s been an intense life for me.

I have the sense that I need to be able to write stories that I can finish, stories with some order, resolution and hope.

But my stories, well, they certainly don’t feel finished.

And that leaves me in the thick of them, all messy and unresolved.


Listening As Telepathy

I don’t think that there is any skill more important to a human than the ability to listen.

Listening is the way we learn in the world.   It’s not the only way that we learn in the world — visual experience is important, as is the experimental process of trial and error — but it is the way we learn from other humans.  Even reading is basically a form of listening, listening to a voice that has been captured in text.

When we listen, our job is to take cues and enter them into our own understanding of the world.   We expand our knowledge by converting the symbolic representations of ideas — words — and the context of those symbols — grammar and expression — into concepts that we can engage.

The efficiency in which we can do that work determines our success at listening.   Our success at listening determines our success in the world.   It is impossible to lead, to be a parent or be an artist without knowing how to listen, to give a three examples.

I love, love, love good listeners.

Bad listeners, I have found, are the ones who try to squeeze what I have to say into their own context, their own belief system, their own worldview.    They listen to what affirms their own expectations and reject what doesn’t.

Great listeners, on the other hand, treat listening like telepathy.   They work to understand what is being said on its own terms, working to enter into the meaning that the speaker is shaping.  They intend to see through the eyes of another, to expand their own vision by understanding other perspectives.   They soak in information and feeling like a sponge, able both to mirror someone else’s point of view and integrate that point of view into their own knowledge.

The better you get at listening, the more you can get from doing it.   This comes at the cost of being subject to the transformation of your own views by new insight, rather than being centred in didactic and intransigent belief systems.   Great listeners can never be fundamentalists holding on to an orthodoxy, rather they are people who embrace the ambiguities, contradictions, twists and shimmers of life.

Great listeners, you see, are people who are fun to play with, people who get the joke.   When great listeners communicate together, they listen to how others respond to what they say, getting more and more effective in communicating, building shared ideas and visions.  They tend to delight each other with surprising insights and twists, making connections across minds that crackle like sparks in the room.

Every listener has limits, of course.   We only have so much time, energy and mind to share with others.   We have our own needs and priorities.  Beyond that, we also have the limits of our understanding.  Some of these are differences in our experience of the world that are hard to bridge, hard to communicate, but some are the unhealed areas we hold.

When we hear something that brings up our own stuff, it’s easy to get defensive, easy to ignore or reject that viewpoint, easy to believe that the speaker is trying to hurt us.   In that case, we often try to silence what is too difficult or challenging to hear.

This is why great listeners have to be great healers, able to face their own fears and pain to take in what they are offered as it comes.   We learn to hear what someone means by what they offer rather than the hurt that comes with it, learn that when our own stuff comes up that is our responsibility to deal with, not something to blame on others.

To be a great listener, the first person we have to listen to is us.  If we can’t engage our own thoughts and feelings, we can never get clear enough to engage the beautiful and powerful views that others can share with us.  We never learn new ways to share our own ideas and experiences, which means we can never fully own them and are just a captive to our own feelings.   There is a reason why a key part of recovery programs are learning to listen to others so we can learn to listen to ourselves.

I don’t think that there is any skill more important to a human than the ability to listen.   Getting good at listening is getting good at taking what this world has to offer us, getting good at expanding our mind and heart to search for beauty, love and excellence.

Great listeners are great growers, able to be in the moment, to take the best from what is offered, to work together to shape shared possibilities, and to keep making the most out of what life gives them.    Rather than throwing away what doesn’t fit their expectations, they accept the gifts of others to make their own world a richer place.

Listening, listening to others or listening to ourselves, is hard.   And getting to the point where you can listen close enough to appear telepathic is very hard, though the more you do listen the better you get at it and the more you expand your capacity to listen.

But I can’t think of any more rewarding investment in this world than learning to be a great listener.  How else can you actually have the privilege of seeing the world through other people’s eyes?

How else can you actually have the privilege of seeing the world through your own eyes?

A Wasted Life

As transpeople, we were taught early to deny the callings of our heart, taught to deflect our desire, taught to suppress our passion.

We were taught that if we didn’t do that, there would be a horrible price to pay, taught that we would be abused and humiliated,  taught that we would be separated from everything normal, left as abject, taught that we would cast out and denied the love we needed.

We were taught that other people had the right, no, the actual obligation to shame and taunt us if we didn’t strive to appear normative.

Wherever we looked for a home, we found it difficult.

In the lesbian and gay communities, we learned that those who couldn’t easily be boxed up, those who put into question the neat binary of sexual orientation that was easy to explain to your parents, were belittled and diminished.

When we looked for solace to women’s liberation, where first wavers said that people needed to be removed from the boxes of compulsory gendering, needed to not be defined by their genitals, we found new theory that worked on identity politics, separating people into boxes of oppressor and oppressed.

Pick a gender, stick to it, people cried.  Pick a sexuality, stick to it, people demanded.

But how could we know what fit us if we always suppressed our own nature, always denied our own heart, always walled off our own life force?  How could we harness our own energy if we had to compartmentalize it off, had to keep a facade, had no place we were safe to explore ways of being grown up, potent and trans in the world?

This demand for denial of our nature is at the heart of one of the biggest pains that every transperson has to engage.   Once we do come out, once we do start trusting and displaying our heart in the world, once we do start breaking down those compartment walls,  we have to face it.

Why did we spend so long wasting our life force?

Why did we spend so long wasting our life?

The costs of denial, either unconscious and compartmentalized or conscious and linked to service become very clear to us once we start owning and valuing our own heart.   The cost to our body, the price we paid in wasted time and energy, the shattered bits of failure we created because we were unable to really put our heart into anything, well, they pop out at us.

We see our life as a wasteland, full of failure.   The place we invested in, the structures we were taught to build just crumbles around us.   Our efforts to build on top of the false ground of pretense are revealed as a horrible dissipation of the limited energy and gifts we got from our creator.

Of course, this is the way of stigma, which installs a policeman inside of us so we spend our time and efforts fighting our own nature.   Stigma wants to retain the status quo by forcing those who would challenge the norms to expend their own life force fighting stigma rather than standing for change in the world.

Every human has some view of where they missed opportunities, where they made a less that optimum choice in the world.

For transpeople, though, we have to view a landscape of deliberate self-sabotage, a waste ground left from our own vicious and cunning attacks on our own heart.   And when we do that, it is always when we have come to the understanding that we have even failed in that war, the knowledge that our heart has survived no matter how much our ego tried to demolish and destroy the parts we feared were too queer, too freaky, too powerful.

We always end up having a clear view of a wasted life.   If we can show our heart now, why couldn’t we have shown it back then?   How much destruction and ravage did we endure, how much devastation and decay did we bring on ourselves, all for naught?

This is the price that every transperson pays.  Whatever energy they spent trying to kill off their nature to fit in, for however long, ends up being exhausted and dispersed, time and treasure not just sent down the drain but used to destroy the possibilities we were born with.

Every transperson knows that squandered life force, knows the scars from our own internal battle that left so much of us damaged and destroyed.   We know the broken relationships, the sabotaged jobs, the physical damage, the shattered dreams.

The trick, of course, is to scour that battlefield for the hard won lessons, to get what we can from that devastated life and to use that knowledge to choose again, to choose better, to help others not have to go through the same thing we have.   Our life wasn’t lost if we can take learning from it.

No amount of learning, though, gets us our wasted life back.  No amount of wisdom can eliminate the crippling scars, can restore the lost time and energy.

We each have to deal with the effects of a wasted life, that failed attempt to deny our nature and be what other people demanded of us.

And that hurts.