Just The Good Bits

ShamanGal, well, she learned to compartmentalize her feelings.   For someone who knew from a young age that they had a feminine heart but had to seem like a good boy, it was the perfect strategy.  After all, all the other guys were compartmentalizing their feelings, so why wouldn’t that strategy work for her?

The plan was simple.   The only way she would live as a woman was if she failed at manhood.   If she was in a gutter, covered with vomit and urine, that would be the sign that she failed and it was time to transition.

The reality wasn’t that simple.  She kept pushing the envelope and failing in new and different ways.   Getting fired, ending up in hospital for another orthopædic surgery, going back to live with Mom, all sorts of failures that started to have a cumulative effect on her body and her life.

Eventually, she realized that there was no other choice but to transition.   The one thing she was sure of, though, is that transition didn’t mean surrender.   She didn’t have to stop compartmentalizing her feelings, didn’t have to let go and let God.

All this changed when she got a good tech job as a woman.    She realized in the first few weeks that she could play the same, tough, ballsy, I don’t care game she played when trying to look like a guy, or she could actually ask for help, actually surrender.

The job has been going great for six months now, including overseas trips to clients and lots of great girlfriends in the office.

When I see her number on my caller ID, though, I know that things aren’t going so well.  I answer to hear her “chasing her own tail,” spinning round in her mind as she tried to take back control of her life by putting everything back into compartments.

“If this is true, isn’t that false?  Why is the world so bad?  When I see failure, doesn’t that portend failure for me?   Should I tell or should I stay compartmentalized?  Do I have to stand up and scream, or is just being present enough?  I’m so confused!”

My response is the same every time.  I can offer a bit of spiritual wisdom, but while I know how to say it in a polished way, the truth is that she really knows it already.

What I have to do is hit her and stop the brain spin, end the pointless argument and demand that she actually listen to her heart and engage her own feelings.  She knows what feels good and what feels bad, but her ego wants to argue away those feelings rather than surrender to them, wants to put them in nice pigeon holes, make binary answers, celebrating fear uncertainty and doubt.   She knows how to cripple herself with old tales of terror, leaving her unable to trust her own nature.

Once I get her to listen to her heart, I remind her that the key part of growth is getting over her own damn self, to surrender Dorothy, to do the ultimate trans operation and pull the stick out of her own ass.

She needs, though, to find a way to talk herself off the ledge.   She has found laughter works sometimes — watching a “Katie KaBoom” cartoon in her head, for example — but often the ego spinning is too much to stop.

She knows that actually feeling her feelings is the only way to find and trust her heart, and knows that whenever she tries to manipulate and control life gets uncomfortable very, very fast.    Still, her brain has so much training in compartmentalization that the urge remains, even if trying to cut apart her own spirit always causes her pain and suffering.

“I’m OK feeling my feelings,” she told me, “I really am.  The problem is that there are so many of, good and bad.  It gets so confusing!”

“Can’t I just feel the good feelings?” she plaintively asked.

I laughed.   The perfect solution, just voiding the laws of emotional physics.

“Sure!” I joked.  “Just take the good parts of your feelings, and while you are at it, just take the good parts of being a woman, and heck, why not include the good parts of being a man, too?   Why should anyone have to suffer through downsides when they can just compartmentalize them away?”

She groaned.

It’s the solution so many people have tried, just eliminating the bad feelings by papering them over.   Usually, the technique involves stuffing the dark holes with something; shopping, food, booze, sex, drugs, whatever.    When feeling your feelings is too much, just stuff them, trying to maintain control by compartmentalization.

ShamanGal knows that the brilliant and happy moments in her life are when she makes a heart-to-heart connection with another person.  That doesn’t stop her, though, from latching onto the bad moments, starting a spin in her head, trying desperately to box up her own feelings and put her ego back into control.   Surrender still feels terrifying, and her own damn self doesn’t always want to be got over.

When we try to just take the good parts, we miss the messages that we need to grow, to mature, to develop.    Avoiding discomfort is the call of the ego, trying to keep us feeling under control, out of the need for transformation, and staying stuck.  The transpeople ShamanGal sees who are stuck, well, they are all avoiding discomfort and all consequently trapped in their own tail spin.

The only way out of hell is through.  Engaging even the painful bits is the way to process them and find new and breathtaking good bits.

That means, of course, tearing your compartments apart, walking through walls, finding connection and integrity.   It means accepting yourself and others as a whole person, not just a construct of your mind.

Surrender, Dorothy.   Get over your own damn self.  And become new.

That’s where the good bits are.


I was searching through the Usenet archive for a “Generic Usenet Reply” I did when I came across this poem I wrote in 1998.

It very much still applies today, as the division between “break the system” and “work inside the system” activists seems to get wider and wider.


Callan Williams © 1998

I am the shock trooper
of the transgender revolution
Assaulting the entrenchment
of heterosexism ground
with my own neutered body
boldly out and queer
both woman and male
now neutered and emasculated
demanding the world
accept me for who I am
accept us for who we are

        I am the guerrilla
        of the transgender revolution
        behind the lines of normativity
        in the offices and courtrooms
        surprise revelations on
        expectations of heterosexism
        Looking as normative as possible
        but in my mind and heart
        I carry the message
        accept me for who I am
        accept us for what we are.

You sell out your truth
just to make your life easier!
Be bold and in their faces
Take the knocks and blows
savor the intense suffering
that comes from being queer
comes from being out there
where freedom is found

        You make our job harder
        we can't open the hearts of people
        when they fear an assault.
        Learn to fit in
        Learn to gain standing
        And you will find
        people with a welcoming smile.

I wear my medals boldly
Show the scars of my battles
Always ready to fight
strike against injustice
strike against normativity
bold words and actions
Standing alone
In my war
To make people free

        I keep my scars private
        And come from my love
        Ready to connect
        With those who see me
        As just another human.
        Standing together
        With friends and allies
        In the middle of the group
        where minds are changed.

You cripple our fight!
Taking all the credit
Blunting the blows
Challenging herculean efforts
with the drip drip drip of your words
Why must I fight you
When we should fight together?
Why do you choose to be the enemy
By becoming like them?

        You cripple our fight
        By demanding fanaticism
        Ignoring the truth
        that many jut want to fit in.
        Why must I fight you
        When we should fight together
        Why do you choose to be the enemy
        By attacking people like me?

This is a holy war
for the freedom of our lives.
I stand martyred
on the bloody ground.
You live nicely
in a comfortable home
mocking the sacrfice
of people like me.

        This is a process of education
        for the hearts of others
        I stand as a teacher
        in the midst of the crowd
        while you live on the edges
        playing out your martyrdom
        living out some sort of shame
        which drives you to kill
        those who can love you.

The challenge we face
        Is working together
Finding common ground
        Which honors us all
Those who fight with their queerness
        Those who teach with their normativity
Both taking a part
        in the revolution that comes

Stand up for ourselves
        Accept the love of others
Demand our own freedom
        Embrace the freedom of all
Crash down the walls
        Build bridges of understanding
Celebrate the individual
        Celebrate us all.