Immoderate

I have no doubt that the most fun times I have ever had are when I could just trust my instincts and my skills and let fly.

It is when I feel the need to modulate myself, to dial down the energy, to be appropriate and balanced that I feel constrained, trapped, frustrated and defeated.

The problem is that I always feel the need to modulate myself.  I know that too much information makes other people uncomfortable, that too much thought makes them feel challenged, that too much energy makes them focus on the noise rather than on the message.

This is the essence of my lifemyth, that I am too hip for the room: if I don’t modulate, I keep people at a distance, but if I do modulate, I keep myself at a distance.

I do understand that my modulation is problematic because I will tend to modulate myself to lower levels than other people might be able to tolerate or even enjoy.  I will play it safe, handing back because I don’t have any good, external feedback to help me understand how I am playing in the room.   In my experience, even people who encourage me to let loose often feel challenged when I actually do.

One of the traditions of my people is outrageous, over-the-top performance, filled with material which challenges the conventional & comfortable through parody.  By taking things to the extreme, we celebrate the intense and reveal the limits of the normative.  We usually call this kind of performance “drag.”

I put together an act years ago where someone pushed play on a boom box, starting a Barbara Streisand anthem and I came out and started to lip-sync to it.  As the song played on, I got discombobulated, finally leaving the stage and coming back with a huge sledge hammer.   I lifted the hammer and smashed the boom box to smithereens, tiny bits flying all over.

“Whew!”  I said to the audience of LGBT people.  “For a moment there, I thought I was a drag queen!”

It played on the stereotypes around transgender expression, about how those tropes constrain us, either having to fall into them or stay far away from them to connect with others in the world.

The moments when I am not thinking about modulating myself to be seen as appropriate in the world are few and far between.   I modulate my enthusiasm, my passion, my crying, my frivolity, my joy, my love.  It’s hard to count all the ways I moderate myself because those areas are already and habitually moderated, without safe space to unpack and explore them.

To be immoderate, living in the world beyond my own internalized self-policing in moderation, feeling that there are some spaces where I don’t have to moderate myself, seems like a joyous thing.

But does that seem possible to me?  No, not really.

Moderation in all things may seem like a fine motto, but exuberance and safety sometimes, well, it seems very vital and very human.

Hermit Habit

One of the oldest monastic traditions is that of the hermit.   It is a life “being alone with God, not just for your benefit but for the benefit of the church and the world.

The hermit is the classic guru on a mountain top who chooses communion with the universe over conventional society.   People come to the hermit to share in the experience.

The vast majority of people, though, don’t really understand this eremetic calling.   They may be hip enough to go to an ashram, but a hermitage seems beyond any comprehensible sensibility.

Lots of people want to be an author, to have a book out that shows them in a good light, to be able to use that book as a platform on which to campaign, giving lectures, going on talk shows, getting approbation or at least notoriety.

Many fewer people want to be a writer, a modern ink stained wretch fighting carpal tunnel while facing a blank screen.    You know how to write, don’t you?  You just get out a blank sheet of paper and open a vein.

The writer’s urge is essentially hermetic, based in the demand to listen to the voices you hear in the universe and capture them for time.  You cannot simultaneously be in the world of chatter and also be in the world of your own creation, telling your own stories and understandings in a distinctive, compelling voice.

The process of writing is meditative and poetic.  Stephen Sondheim talks about crying after he has written something that moves him, or, maybe more precisely, about crying after being able to capture something that moves him in writing.

My calling has been essentially monastic and very individual.  My practice has been centred around discipline and ascetic denial, focused on becoming more righteous and closer to truth.   My life has been working to be of service, on basic levels and on higher ones.

I am a hermit, not because I don’t need human connection but because I need connection to the spiritual even more.

The Roman Catholic church position on homosexuality has been consistent.   It is possible to have homosexual desire, but it is a sin to act on that desire.   Gay people are required to a life of celibacy and denial if they want to be right with God.

While the church also demands celibacy from priests, they are able to make that choice when they take their vows, usually after a period of exploration of their own desires.

Gay people aren’t allowed that choice, aren’t allowed to explore.  Their celibacy is required, imposed against their consent if they do not want to be bold sinners in the world.

My experience of my life mirrors this notion.   My own celibacy was enforced, without a period of exploration in my formative days, a time when transgender had no sanctioned presence in the world at all.

I learned to deny expressing and exploring the passion of my heart in the world as a very young person, without the ability to learn the power of my own Eros.  That time was lost.

Unlike other transpeople, though, who made other choices, I did have a nature that suited the monastic life.   I did have the chops for theology and denial, for service and for exploration.   That is an unusual thing in the world.

If I lived in another time, another culture, I might have found a religious order that venerated special gifts like mine, might have been taken in and found community with shared beliefs and goals.   There were places where gynemimetic shamans were valued as part of the leadership, offering connection and healing past opposites.

In my time, though, the only life that seemed open to me was the hermetic life.

And so, even with my regrets from the exploration of vitality that I was denied, I learned the habits of a hermit, as incomprehensible as that is to most people.

That, I suspect, is calling.

Open To Community

No one person can hold the entire world in their vision.

We are only human, after all.

Humans come together to share.   We share the work, we share the warmth, we share the stories, we share the knowledge, we share failures, we share the successes, we share everything.

What do we want as humans?   We want the gifts we offer to be valued, want what we value to be valued by the wider community.  We want to feel seen, understood and respected, finding people with whom we can share, both sharing our life with them and sharing in their lives in a productive way.

We trust that know what we value, what we respect.   Oftentimes, though, the way we know this is by knowing what we dismiss, what we stand against.   This is a form of negative identity definition, which is always simple, easy and wrong.   Knowing what you believe and being able to express it is the basis for finding connection with other people, rather than just simply being able to find difference between you and them.

In that great, archetypal mythic adventure story, Sex And The City, each of the four women lead with a different kind of passion,  Samantha starts with physical connection, Charlotte with emotional connection from the heart, Miranda with mental connection  and Carrie with spiritual connection to art and beauty.

It is these differences which make them such a powerful community.   Each one of them needs all four kinds of passion in their life.   Together, they support each other with respect and value for what the other women bring, even if that kind of gift is not what they bring.

This notion, that you have to be confident in who you are and what you believe to be open minded and open hearted enough to create community is at the core of queer consciousness.    The ability to listen, learn from and just value the unique gifts of other people is the foundation of creating space where you can be heard, respected and valued.

Community is sharing.

No human community can thrive with only one sort of person; a world solely composed of Mirandas would lose all the richness of diversity that benefits even Miranda.

Human communities that come together based on rejection, on a basis of us vs them, quickly become communities that are designed to limit diversity, especially diversity of thought and belief.  If there is only one right way to think, well, then what can you do with people who think wrong other than convert or shun them?

For me, creating community is about creating connection on the basis of respecting and valuing others who are not like us.   The only way that can happen is when we know ourselves by what we have to offer rather than knowing what we despise, what we reject, what we find corrupt.

This is why I have spent so long building my own belief structures so they acknowledge, respect and value the stories and life experiences of others.   I understand that the golden rule is simple; do not to to others what would be hateful to you.  I hate being dismissed, devalued and rejected, so I need to be open minded and open hearted to others.

No one person can hold the entire world in their vision.  Other people see the world in a very different way than I do, and when they share their vision with me, they offer me a gift.

And that gift of sharing is the basis of community.

Dig It

It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.

Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.

The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for.

The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center.

You find the jewel, and it draws you off.

In loving the spiritual, you cannot despise the earthly.

The purpose of the journey is compassion.  When you have come past the pairs of opposites, you have reached compassion.

The goal is to bring the jewel back to the world, to join the two things together.

— Joseph Campbell, “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living” (1991)

The point of the stumble is the point of possibilities.

But those possibilities only pay out their treasure if you do the work to go deep and uncover it.

When I stumble, when I hear the stories of someone stumbling, when I feel the click as I read a book or hear a lecture, I know that treasure is close.

I take that point of transition and create a kōan, a story, dialogue, question, or statement to be meditated upon.

The kōan marks the place for me to dig for treasure, flags the abyss that I need to enter to find the jewel.

Like a paleontologist,  I have become quite proficient at the steps of excavation, from seeing the signs to digging deep to sharing my discoveries.   This is the source of mastery, which comes along with the price of mastery, years of hard work and strain.

Teaching moments are like buses.  If you miss one, the next one will be along soon.  The universe is more than happy to keep giving us the same lessons over and over again until we are ready to learn them,   When the student is ready, a teacher will appear, not because the teacher hadn’t been around before, but only because people heal in their own time and their own way, so teachers don’t enter their vision until they are ready.

Jewels are not rare in the world.  The willingness and skills to step out of your habits, to leave the routine and dig for them, to struggle to process the ore of pain and frustration which holds the jewels, well, that is rare.   It seems so much easier to muddle along, to do what everyone else does, to judge and shriek rather than to get messy and go deep.

Digging requires going beyond your comfort levels.   You may already know you love cheesecake, but trying the pâté may be what you need to try to face your fears, transcend your assumptions and bust down your expectations.   It is impossible to know what will come of the exploration until you make it, for if lessons only delivered what you expected them to then there would be no enlightenment, no growth.

When you start seeing the patterns in the abyss, you start to see the veins that shoot through all of life, the cracks that go everywhere to keep blindness and comfort present.  Those don’t go away just because you can now see them, because you are now awake and aware.   You just have the tools to understand them and how they affect you.  Your awareness doesn’t change the world, it only allows you to make more conscious choices in it.

The status quo is maintained when people stay where they are expected, when they are carried along by normative currents rather than choosing to drop down and look deeper.

When people stumble, they want to look cool, to not be embarrassed by their own clumsiness, to not show weakness.   They gloss over it, defend themselves, try to forget the stumble rather than taking that moment of gawky truth as a sign that they have fallen onto a bit of essential truth.

The excavation of revelation may indicate where they have missed the mark in the past, where changed understanding, attitudes and choices are required and we are taught to resist change, especially change that we can’t easily explain to others.

The return of the gift is always the hardest part, because if society wanted the gift, if society valued the gift, they would already have it, rather than burying it away and protecting its discovery with fear.

In the end, the purpose is always moving past the pairs of opposites, the judgment of good and bad, to see connection, which leads us to compassion.   Bringing the details and the divine, the carnal and the celestial, the everyday and the eternal together is how we touch the continuous common humanity that binds the world together.

When you stumble, there lies the treasure, if you have the heart and the skills to dig for the jewels the universe placed there for you.

Just dig it.

Packing Up

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes.
— Walt Whitman

In this country we encourage “creativity” among the mediocre,
but real bursting creativity appalls us.
We put it down as undisciplined,
as somehow “too much.”
Art doesn’t come in measured quantities:
it’s got to be too much or it’s not enough.
—  Pauline Kael

You can have it all, goes one old aphorism, but you just can’t have it all at once.

For me to exist in the wider world, I have to figure out what part of me to pack up.   Too much is too confusing, especially in a world where nuance has been mostly shrunken to Twitter levels, 140 characters being the limit of  understanding in one bite.

This is the obligation of packaging, neatly parcelling your message — neatly parcelling yourself — into packets that are both attractive and consumable in easy gulps.   Pack up the “too much information” to leave a package that fits comfortably into a nice normative consciousness.

Not personally having a normative consciousness — theologian, low latent inhibition, queer, all that — the only way I can even try to understand what the normative will get is through analysis and struggle.

ShamanGal called me in a tizzy this week because a girlfriend had told her on the phone that she thinks too much and that she should just cut it out and she would be happier.

“Callan!” she said to me on the phone, “why do I over think everything?  I mean, it’s just something that I shouldn’t do, should I?  It gets in my way, right?  If I keep overhinking everything, won’t my life always be a mess?  Help me!”

I suggested that maybe, overthinking is just how her brain works, like the “Hamlet Syndrome: Overthinkers Who Underachieve” book describes.

“But it’s not a good choice!  And when she said it, I knew it!   I feel so ashamed, like she just told me that I’m too fat!  How can I fix this, how can I control it, how can I think about it in ways that help me take charge of it by fitting it into nice boxes?   How can I rationalize my overthinking?   Help me!”

I laughed.   “Don’t think of it like being fat, something you might be able to control.  Think of it like being tall.   Your life would be easier if you were 5′ 3″ like your mother right?”

“Maybe,” she averred.

“So what are you going to do to,  shrink five inches in height?”

She got the point.   Your blessing is also your curse.   No one would say she looks like a model if she was shorter, even if it would make it easier to get less scrutiny in the world.

Her friend suggested that ShamanGal’s overthinking is just something she could pack up, could put aside.    It isn’t, any more than she can put her history and stories as a transperson aside to make herself more easily understandable as a woman.

“A woman was talking to me about her teenage daughter,” ShamanGal told me, “who was practising woman power by being one of the mean girls at school.   She said ‘You remember what it was like in high school’ but of course, I didn’t.

“That’s part of a painful gap in my experience, a lost girlhood.   I didn’t bother telling her that, though; it would have outed me and just lost the thread of what she was saying, but I felt that loss in my heart as she assumed my normativity.”

ShamanGal put away her queerness in that moment in order to be nicely packed up and make the conversation smooth.

Packing up is sometimes impossible for me — my brain is what it is, for example — and other times feels like loss as I swallow my own journey to become less challenging, easier to digest.

More than that, I am bound to get the whole packing up thing wrong sometimes, playing it too safe in packaging because of my assumptions about what will be hard for others to take, or taking too many risks and pushing too many boundaries  because of my assumptions about what others are able to take.

I sit in a house filled with stuff that needs to be processed, either thrown out, packed up, or polished for display.   I sit here very alone, without other eyes to help me see my world.

I understand the need to pack up parts of myself to be more effective in the world, but I also feel keenly Pauline Kael’s truth: “Art doesn’t come in measured quantities: it’s got to be too much or it’s not enough.”  After decades of experience, I feel the “too much” put down in my heart.

I also get the failures lurking in packing up, the playing it too safe, the being too bold, the  analysis paralysis that lies between those errors.

Do I contradict myself?  Very well, I contradict myself.   I am large, I contain multitudes.

And to be more effective in the wider world, some of those multitudes I have to pack up.

Hard and painful, that.

Shabby Chic

When someone who went through puberty as a female rolls out of bed, tosses on some yoga pants and a t-shirt and leaves the house, no one will question her gender.

When I, or other transwomen like me, want to avoid questions about our gender, it takes some work.   We need polish.

Part of this is that I haven’t had the resource to female my body.   That can make a difference, no doubt, but for big-boned gals, not the ultimate difference.

Every woman has to dress her own body, creating line and flow with good choices, but for transwomen the there is more to lose, as Clinton Kelly noted when they coached a transwoman on What Not To Wear.  For women who went through puberty as a female, the worst that can happen is that people find them unattractive or sloppy.  For transwomen, we can get branded as “really” liars.

I remember Oprah on a makeover show lecturing the bigger gals in the audience about presentation.  “People are going to examine you more closely,” she hectored, “so you need to make sure that you are always well put together.  No worn shoes, no bad teeth, none of the little imperfections that stay little on petite gals but get huge on a larger woman.”   Oy.

I love shabby chic fashion, the eclectic remnants of dramatic looks.  I know of one gal who deliberately painted herself up in dramatic 60s eyeliner and then washed it off to go out, the residue remaining being the perfect blend of glamour and decay.   It’s that whole motorcycle jacket with chiffon with vintage pumps look, the hair pulled up but with bits coming loose that signal both style and substance.

One of the first things we decide when we see another woman in the street is how hard she is working to be pulled together.  Sometimes we decide she isn’t working hard enough, hasn’t polished herself up for the occasion.

More often, though, our first read is of people who are working too hard.   If they look uncomfortable and over packaged, we wonder what they are trying to hide, wonder who they are trying to manipulate.   Those are the “too matchy-matchy” women we read as having their clothes wear them rather than wearing their own clothes.  For many crossdressers it is easy to read their clothing as costume, just surface deep and not really showing who they are because it is just working too hard to aggrandize their own eroticism, working to too hard conceal their daily lives.

This is why shabby chic is such a powerful look for women, allowing us to express our own dramatic and bold feminine style in a slightly ragged way that also shows our humanity.  Sequins and jeans, leather and lace, tulle and leggings, a blend of the ephemeral and the earthy you can wear in the world.   This can be part of the magic of drag, stylized creations that blend the feminine and the masculine with high drama, humanity showing between the angles and the curves.

Not having a network of girlfriends to offer eyes on my expression, I know that I tend to play safe.  Becca at the MAC counter, someone who understands the queer power of art,  changes her eyeliner and I can find a lesson for myself there, but that is very little nourishment,

And so, I don’t trust my own shabby chic, pulling back from more revelatory and bold expressions.   Better safe than sorry.   Or maybe, sorry is enough,

Ass Immolation

In the movie “When Jews Were Funny,” Alan Zweig asks comedians about their experience of being a Jewish comedian.

When he asks some old school comics — Shelly Berman, Norm Crosby, Jack Carter, Shecky Greene — their answer was unanimous and dismissive.   They aren’t “Jewish Comedians.”  They are just comedians, like any others.

The younger comics don’t get this separation.  To them, being a Jew and being funny is just what people are, just what they learned as their parents pointed out who was Jewish on the Ed Sullivan show.

Zweig can’t see the point in his subjects rejection of the label “Jewish comedian.”  After all, they are Jewish, they are comics, it’s that simple, right?

But to the guys who fought their way up in that time, it’s not simple.  Not at all.

To them, their comedy careers were a path to wider success, to social acceptance, a path to assimilation.  Their goal was to break out of the ghetto, to not be Mickey Katz playing the Catskills, but rather to go mainstream, to break big, to get on the Sullivan show.   They knew the in-house Jewish comedians, and they knew they weren’t them.

Today, being Jewish isn’t such a big deal anymore.  The assimilation has come, and Jewish is just a flavour, not a barrier.  You can be Jewish and mainstream; no big whoop.

That wasn’t the case when these guys came up, though.  Assimilation required cleansing, required denial, required putting part of you in the closet so you didn’t spook the midwest.

Zweig doesn’t get this because he never experienced the ghetto, never faced the kind of broad-based antisemitism that lead to films like “Gentleman’s Agreement.”  He has never ever felt himself an outsider fighting to get in.   The idea is incomprehensible to him.

Outsiders know the cost of assimilation as a price to be paid, as a fight to be fought, in a way that people who never had to struggle to assimilate will never understand.

And transpeople?   Well, we are definitely outsiders, outside something most people see as a fundamental and very real split between the sexes in the sea of gender that they swim in and take as the only possible normal.

Is there any wonder we struggle so much with assimilation, with how to shape our expression so as not to frighten the rubes?  Pick a gender, stick with it, people taunt, unable to imagine the experience of being both and neither at the same time, unable to fathom the price of assimilation.

Today’s Jewish comedians live in a world where being Jewish is just something, not the one thing that defines you.  They feel no need to break out of that stereotype because the old chains have been broken by people who worked hard to smash the box that made “Jewish” a basis for prejudice & discrimination.

I know that the fight is important for those who come after us.   They will never need to know the price we paid for assimilation, and, as Zweig points out, will also never know the distinctly different culture of the ghetto, the humour that binds and lifts those who know themselves to be outsiders.

But the fight is still the fight, and for those of us born in the decade when Christine Jorgensen came back from Denmark, the struggle is on our skin.

Assimilation, well, it’s still a struggle.

Fun House Modal

The basic idea of a carnival funhouse is simple.   You don’t have any idea about what is about to happen around the next corner, so whatever it is comes as a surprise.

Is it a jumping clown, a burst of wind, spinning floor plates, stairs that keep moving as you try and walk on them, a light coming on to reveal a surprise or some other trick that awaits you?   You just don’t really know, but you know that whatever it is it will be designed to disorient you and throw you into a kind of adrenaline event.

This experience is a treat for people who find the everyday world predictable and boring.   It lasts a short amount of time and you know that whatever thrills they have in store for you, you will be safe in the end, because no carny wants to kill rubes who still have a few bucks to spend in their poke.

One of the hardest things to explain to people who haven’t experienced life from the perspective of a transperson is how much our lives feel like that all the time.   We get told that what other people think isn’t important, but that moment when your gender shifts in someone’s eyes, that instant when you see someone get freaked out about how spooky or challenging you are, that flash when everything around you changes, well, that’s like getting whacked in the head.

What does this mean to us?  It means we always have to be ready for the “third gotcha,” always have to be prepared to switch modes in a heartbeat to deal with a bang.  It means that we learn not to completely let our guard down because we know we may need to switch from vulnerability to armour in the blink of someone else’s eye.

I live in a binary, either/or culture where people want to be able to judge what is “real” quickly.   This means I live in a world where trans is almost never Just Something, but is rather everything or nothing.

My life is therefore very modal.   I end up having to focus on one mode of being while putting other modes in the background.  I end up having to reveal part of me while concealing other parts of me, working to give observers a consistent expression that doesn’t make them feel like they are in a funhouse, therefore consigning myself to that role.

I end up having to play a safe centre, always ready to jump, rather than immersing myself one way or the other. People will see what they see, and if that misses all of who I am, well, their vision still lays the ground for my experience.

While this modality is very typical of transpeople, having been trained to negotiate the no-man’s/no-woman’s zone between the gender poles, I do understand that it is far from perfect,  but finding support for some kind of consistency that doesn’t reflect the shimmering facets of my history just seems almost impossible.

For the vast majority of people in the world, it seems very, very simple to be embodied, to be fixed and solid.   After all, this is their only experience of the world.   They haven’t slipped through walls all their lives, haven’t seen through barriers, haven’t had to live a modal life between and through worlds.

They can’t imagine how being fixed in the world can feel like a trap, like it only respects and honours one mode of who we are.   They often feel our connective function to be challenging and disquieting, revealing things that would stay neatly segmented away if we just were fixed in boxes like they are.

I know that being diffuse in the world is being without impact.   By focusing effort on one point we change from open light to a laser beam with the power to burn through.

But I also know that being diffuse in the world is a delight, living across and between the appearance of solidity and standing for continuous common connection.

Transpeople solve this challenge with modes, switching between ways to be present.  That does give us some solidity, but it also creates waste and discomfort, always having to make part of ourselves invisible, having to decrease our vibrational frequency, having to work to conceal what would be seen as noise but is just part of our trans nature.

I remember the phrase from Tracy Kidder’s Soul Of A New Machine when some engineers wanted to find an easy way to maintain compatibility with earlier systems by having the new machine change modes.  The chief designer knew this was a way to handicap the system, to not let it run seamlessly with full power.

“No mode bit,” he decreed.   Switching modes was a kludge that sacrificed the future for compatibility with the past.  No mode bit.

In this world though, where people really want to think in terms of one thing or another, in terms of fish or fowl, in terms of duality, mode bits are the solution many transpeople have found, leaving them to disappear and reappear as they force themselves into boxes.

I understand the call.

I also understand the pain.

Suck It Up

I have proven that, when required, I can suck it up.

Ten years full time taking care of my parents?   Oh, yeah, I can suck it up, burn everything, do the self-denial, toughen up, show the discipline, make it happen, keep plugging, come through.    I have that skill.

I know how to go into my head, figure out the right thing and then do it.

But trusting my heart?   Being happy?  Indulging my own art?  Letting loose and dancing?

Not so much.

Is there a way to blend my own self-expression and my own capacity for heads-down work?   Is there a method to being both blissful and driven?

My life has split service and expression for so long that they feel alien to one another, like two separate modes of life.

I know how to suck it up.  I know how to transcend.

I don’t know how to integrate those expressions.

 

 

The Comfort Of Certainty

I love great preachers.   The best of them really touch my heart as they create a smooth and graceful testimony, pulling me along with stories and wit.   I love the ride, wherever they want to take me, from warm caring to fire & brimstone on a divine rant casting out the demons seen in the world.

I used to enjoy watching televangelists as they spun their sermons out, delighting in their rhetorical tricks and smooth delivery, delighting in the flow of their absolute faith.

Now, that doesn’t mean I turned my brain off.   I still hear the tricks they use to gloss over facts, how they just pop out unfounded assertions as facts and move on, never acknowledging doubt, only on any anecdote that supports their case.   My smarts rear up a bit at that point, knowing power of selective engagement, only accepting inputs that support your case, but I still get the emotional satisfaction of the plea.

I wrote a few days ago about why artists make horrible missionaries because they need to ruthlessly create rather than to repeat.   The process of creation is always the process of doubt, of living in the telling question rather than in the certain answer.   Who, What, Where, Why, When is the dogma of the creator, the karmic questioning of a restless soul rather than the dogmatic polish of one who is sure they know the answer and just want you to get it too.

Still, I understand the religious urge in people, the peace and comfort that comes from the beauty of ritual.   Old school churches vested their ritual in liturgy and art, in music and architecture, but the American way was to vest ritual in preaching, in the music of the human voice and the architecture of rhetoric.

To me, watching Oral Roberts or Jimmy Swaggart was like going to a cathedral.  It wasn’t the tent or the arena they preached in that was sacred, rather it was the preaching itself that carried you away.   As an auditory person with a feminine heart, I understood this transfiguration, why a profane preacher in a public event felt possessed of the spirit as he poured out his passionate words.

Feeling a part of something larger than us is wonderful.   It is why so many volunteered for Extreme Makeover Home Edition or on building Neolithic monuments over the years and worked harder than they would have worked for pay or for themselves.

Demanding allegiance to doctrine to feel that connection seems only to use that impulse to build organizations.  We may have to pay for the religious experience somehow, pay for the tents and the TV time and the travel and all, but Michels tells us that quickly the key goal of any organization is to perpetuate itself.

I have come to believe that the key difference between atheists and believers is not the presence of God, rather it is the presence of an interventionist God.  I have written about why many preachers feel the need to reject evolution to maintain the belief in a direct, interventionist God.   Atheists, on the other hand reject the idea that somehow God can directly help or punish us, reject the idea that there is a God who concerns themselves with the details of an everyday human life.

An interventionist God becomes a tool for preachers to use to demand compliance and offer rewards without any real proof.  A universe with spiritual modalities cannot be used that way, even if it still offers us a sense of being connected to something greater than ourselves.

Still, for me, being swept into the majesty of great and energetic preaching is a delight, even if their twisted logic and unfounded assertions often set off alarm bells about manipulation beyond clear thought.   The emotion and vitality of a confident and certain preacher lets me feel their energy, rather than just evaluate their arguments.

I understand the comfort many get from the certainty of their message, even if I know that comfort is both false and dangerous.  But it is another reason that being a missionary just comes hard to me, because certainty has never been in my heart.

Whole Enchilada

We live in a time where the expectation of personal customization runs rampant.  Have it your way.  Roll your own.  Order à la carte.  Install your own skin.   Only take what you want.

That idea can tend to lead people to expect that life is a pick and choose kind of experience, one where you can take only the bits you desire and leave the bits that you just don’t fancy.   It can lead them to believe that they can get the good parts without paying any costs for them, get what they want without any downside.

The notion of an ideal life without trade-offs, a self-selected life without the requirement for compromise, a designed life where we only have to get what we want without paying the piper is a fraud.

“Every gift is also a curse,” I said to Performance Guy.

“Maybe we can work to eliminate the bad side while keeping the good side,” he suggested.

I laughed.  “If you cut the coin in half, do you really eliminate one side of it?  Or do you just create two coins both with two sides?”   He saw my point.

I have seen many transpeople who have a theoretical view of gender in the world.   They want to design their own gender expression before they manifest it.

These sketches, of course, all follow the same pattern.  They keep all the bits they find desirable and good while eliminating all the bits they find challenging, oppressive, costly and bad.

A therapist once told me that she told a transwoman client of some of the costs of living as a woman in the world, including challenges in the workplace.

“Well, that won’t apply to me,” the client said, waving off the comment.

“Well, then maybe you won’t really be living as a woman,” the therapist thought.

In the end, immersion is immersion.   If you want to get into the role, you take the whole role, or you don’t really take the role at all.

Staying in the hypothetical and imaginary is fun, but the real world is shaped by real choices which always bring real reactions and real responses.   We become constrained by the laws of earth where all is connected and every choice for something is a choice against something else.

The best part of that constraint is that it helps us become real, become connected and become profound.   The only way to achieve mastery is to try and fail and try again, getting smarter and more competent with every choice.   The actual is always richer, more nuanced and more powerful than the hypothetical because the actual has to exist in many dimensions, has to carry the tool marks of its creation, has to be embodied and manifest.

“A girlfriend called me last night,” ShamanGal told me, “and she just whined for a half hour about what had gone badly this week.  I could never have imagined that I would have to sit through that when I imagined being a girl, but then again, I couldn’t imagined I would have liked it too.  It felt good to be there for her, felt good to let her share, felt good to know that she would be there for me when I need to vent.”

She is learning, bit by bit, the costs and the joys of becoming real rather than hypothetical, of owning the whole life of a woman rather than some kind of edited claim that comes from a distanced view of what is good and what is bad.   By surrendering judgment and letting go of prejudice her life becomes real and therefore much more full of vulnerable and vital truth.

It was The Velveteen Rabbit who taught me that surrendering to love could make us real, and The Red Shoes that taught me that owning my own messy passion was much better than trying to substitute nice commercial passion that will eventually force us to dance their tune.

For me, the thing that LGBT people used to share is the experience of being shamed into the closet.  We had to fight to get out into the light so we could get the feedback and exposure we need to separate good from bad, to grow healthy.    To think we can judge the good from the bad without actual experience, just based on the way we think life should be, seem to me to be a path to crippling ourselves before we even learn to walk proud.

You want life, you get all of life.  You get the whole enchilada.  “Life is a banquet and some poor suckers are starving to death,” TBB likes to remind me.   We starve, of course, because like some children, we only want to eat what we judge desirable, what we think we should like, rather than exploring, tasting and feasting on what is really offered to us with gratitude and gusto.

Reality is a wonderful thing, even if it is beyond our expectations, our imaginations or our desire.  Only by engaging it rather than just trying to pick out what we judge to be the good parts can we actually get a whole life out of it.

Every coin has two sides.  Every choice has a price.  Every gift is also a curse.  Every action comes with a lesson.

Thank God.

Come Out Queer

When I signed up for trans, when I chose to self identify as a transperson, I signed up for queer.

It was at that moment, back in the mid-1980s, that I stopped trying to be normal, or at least to appear normal, and chose to acknowledge myself.

What was the first thing I was told at my first trans support group meeting?

I was doing it wrong.

I came as a guy-in-a-dress, engaging in gender play.   My own hope was that I could stay stable in my assigned gender role but just be more androgynous.  I didn’t think I could be ambiguously gendered, as I knew I didn’t have the body for that, but I could own more of my own feminine heart through wielding feminine symbols.

Back in the 1980’s, feminine symbols were rather extreme, big hair, eyeliner, shoulder pads, platform shoes, all that, but that seemed fun and potent to us back then.   It was a time of contrast and extreme in fashion.

Walking into that meeting and using my given name, not trying to appear femaled, but instead letting the body I went through puberty with be obvious, well, that seemed like the honest thing to do.  I was a product manager in integrated software back then, and integration was my grail, that kind of actualization and integrity that comes from embracing the ambiguities and contradictions of truth.

My quest for a decade was how to be trans without deception, how to focus on revealing myself as whole rather than concealing one part of me or another to fit into a predefined role.

That was the core of queerness to me, that standing proud as an individual, unique, quirky, not tailored to fit in one box or another.   I wanted to move beyond the social pressure to conform to the personal expression of the essential queerness and connection of all people.   We are all fundamentally the same and all essentially different, so let us celebrate both our continuous common humanity and our bold, personal specialness.

But in that first support meeting, they told me I was doing it wrong.   Their first question was if I was a transsexual or a transvestite.

Transvestites, you see worked to assume a kind of role, with layers of dressing and a femme name, and I wasn’t doing that.

Transsexuals worked to reject gender and blend in, planning how they would disconnect from their past so they could show their true nature, and I wasn’t doing that.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to help me be a proper TV or a proper TS, explaining what I was doing wrong and what I needed to do to fix it.  They wanted to tell me, in other words, how I could be more comforting and less challenging to them.

I rejected all that shit.   I let my freak flag fly, embraced my own queerness.  That choice shaped all my actions in the community, where I worked to affirm people’s choices rather than correct them.

Learning to embrace  took work on my part as I saw other transpeople whose expression squicked me and they had to remind me that my discomfort was my issue, not theirs and I had to work on my own feelings and thoughts rather than changing them.   My growing up and getting clear was about engaging the lessons others offered me, not about separating the world into those who were doing it right and those who were doing it wrong.

For me, the transgender journey was a walk away from the pounding of social pressure, way from the demand to fit in by appearing normative, away from the threats to be separated and cast out unless we denied our nature and modified our choices for the comfort of the community.  That was the kind of abuse and oppression that I saw as the problem.

To have people leave behind the demands to actually explore their own heart and mind, to create a new and integrated way to be in the world, well, that was the heart of the transgender journey as I saw it.   It still is.

My fight has always been against the groupthink of imposed identity politics, the demand that others do the right thing or get ostracized, the pounding of others to fit into assigned roles.    I did that in the 1990s in coalition building retreats where I asked the basic question if our goal was to build a strong LGBT voice or to build strong LGBT voices.   The goal to me was obvious.

It never mattered to me who thought they had the right to demand that others surrender their voices to the official doctrine of the group.   I have seen many, many people with many positions take that pose and they were all wrong.   That was my position on the first day I came out as trans, and it is still my position today.

Recently, the legendary Jayne County got suspended on Facebook because she used queer and reclaimed language to offer and inclusive invitation to an event.   I have certainly done  that and been punished for it, but I know that unless we have the freedom of language we do not have the freedom of thought.   Silencing other people for their word choice may seem simple, but all it does is obscure belief and understanding, not erase it.

And a letter has been passed around to be signed by hundreds of transpeople who consider themselves cool and proper to attack  a few transwomen for expressing their views in public.   To me, this seems like an updated slam book, a junior high school thing where kids who consider themselves cool get to pound on uncool people for challenging and flaunting the norms that the cool kids sacrifice so much to conform to.

The first point in this slam is that these transwomen do not speak for the community.

Of course, that is correct.  What one person speaks with absolute, inerrant authority for all other transpeople?   None of us have that power, nor would we want it, because all it would lead to is being attacked by people who believe we are wrong.

When I came out as trans, I came out for queer.  I came out to celebrate and value the power of the individual standing against the social pressure to be normative which forces people to deny and damage their own beautiful hearts.

From my first trans support group meeting, I was told how I was wrong, how I had to modify my behaviour to fit in, to follow the norms, to do it right.

Over the last 30 years, I have pissed off lots of people who wanted me to agree with them or to be silenced, but I didn’t take all this shit to stop speaking my tiny shard of truth just to placate them.   I may try to be gracious in my language choices to help facilitate communication and connection, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love reclaiming words and concepts to help reclaim pride and expression.

My basic trick is simple: I speak for myself.  I don’t make any claim to speak for others even if others have chosen to believe that somehow, my words should reflect their expression and not my own.

I speak for myself and delight when other people speak for themselves, speak boldly proudly and queerly about their experiences in the world, when their share their own tiny shards of truth.   When they do that, they expand my vision and my understanding of our shared world and that is a wonderful gift.

Anyone who wants to get together with the other cool kids to demand that people surrender their voice to the group, that they follow the accepted trans expression or be silent, well, those people are resisting queerness, resisting the glory of empowering individuals to speak their own queer truth in the world.

Over the decades, I have come to understand myself as a woman, come to appreciate assimilation and the power of the shared knowledge of women.    I have come to know that the real power of women, too, is not to surrender their voice to the group, but to speak boldly for their own personal shard of our shared truth.

When I signed up for trans, I signed up for queer.

Amen.

Execute

In the end, success in life isn’t about who comes up with the best ideas.

Success is about who, in as many moments as possible, chooses brilliantly.   Life is about execution, not about concepts.   And I say that as a gal who loves concepts.

Knowing the concepts may well help you to make better choices.  As Eisenhower is reputed to have said “Plans are useless, but planning is crucial.”  No plan ever survived its first encounter with real life, but failing to plan is planning to fail.

That’s why generals understand that usually every campaign falls or rises not on long term strategy or up close tactics but rather on plain old logistics, on having the power to execute your visions.  Successful plans must always be deeply grounded in the realistic and the possible, not in the ideal and the desirable.

The only way to make brilliant choices is to learn from the choices you make that were not so brilliant.  Understanding failure not as a stopping point but rather as a teaching moment lets you sharpen your understanding, lets you hone your skills.

The only moment we have the power of choice in the world is the moment between stimulus and response.  Once we make our choice, the effects from that ripple out into the world beyond our control.   The only way we can affect what happens is to choose again, to use the next moment to make another choice that magnifies or modifies our last choice.  Choose again.

At the heart of all success in the world is brilliant execution,  excellent, precise, considered, professional, polished, wholehearted execution.   The better you understand what can be done, the better you get at being able to accomplish your plans, the more success you have.

The mark of an amateur in the world is not starting from am understanding of the real situation and the present resources that exist to execute any plan.   It’s easy to sit in a room and blue sky the world, imagining best case scenarios that someone else should make happen to get to your dream goal, but once the rubber hits the road, those plans always sputter out.

Unless you are allocating the resources, unless you are paying for it, it is always the people who actually do the work who shape the results.   Telling people what to do, what the ideal result and process should be is just a little fantasy trip unless you are supplying the muscle or the cash.   This is a challenge in community engagement where people want control without buy-in, want to tell others the right things to do without contributing the resource to help make it happen.

The minute you zoom into the future you zoom into a world outside of your control.  No one riding a surfboard needs to imagine how they will show off to their friends after the ride, because the moment they do that, they lose focus and pretty much ensure that their ride will end with a splash.

What can you do in this moment to head towards a better outcome?  Sure, knowing what good outcomes might be is a nice thing, but the choice to be made is now, the next move, the next step, and the responses will not always be what you might expect.

How do you execute with confidence, grace and competency that will leave you proud of your choice right now?  How do you be open, aware and humble enough to see the results of that choice and alter your next choice to be more effective?

Mastery is never a theoretical thing.   Mastery comes from having a deep enough understanding of the situation and the possibilities to make choices that appear brilliant and instinctive to others.   Mastery is the synthesis of lessons, of huge amounts of success and failure, that allow us to be in the moment executing with excellence and humility.

When we are caught up in our own challenges, our own fatigue, pain and scars, it becomes very hard to execute at a high level.  We become bound up in our humanity, tripped up by our frailty.    We end up choosing to serve unspoken or unhealed needs rather than serving some idealized success.  After all, nobody has infinite resource available in this world and any choice for one thing is a choice against something else.

Our choices are shaped by our priorities, which are always present but often not explicit.  Because we can no more see our own hearts or minds than we can see the back of our head, one of the only ways to understand what we think and feel is by studying our own choices to determine our deep and hidden priorities.

We succeed at what we value most.  That success is always rooted in our choices, defined by the way we execute in each moment of our life.    Success isn’t based on how brilliant our ideas are, rather it is shaped by the choices we make.   And the choices we make are completely based on what we value enough give attention and effort towards, what we set as priorities for our limited and usually diminishing resources.

Choosing not to be in the moment with our choices but rather to run ahead of them into our own fears and expectations takes away both the power to make better choices that are more effective and the lessons we can learn about ourselves from understanding the choices we do make, understanding why we make them.

Success is about choosing well.   Choice is power, and respecting that choice is not always rational or to plan is the only way we can own any control of our own choices.

Because in the end, our life is defined by what we choose to execute on, not on what shoulda, would or coulda been true.

Artists Make Horrible Missionaries

The artist’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts,
for two forces are at war within him —
on the one hand the common human longing
for happiness, satisfaction and security in life,
and on the other a ruthless passion for creation
which may go so far as to override every personal desire.
— Carl Gustav Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul [1933]

I’m a horrible missionary.    I hate going out on the stump to create an impact other people’s memory by repeating the old well honed and effective performance.

It is exploration that is a blast for me, not affirmation.  Doing the same polished shtick over and over again to get audience affirmation doesn’t seem really attractive to me.  I’m primarily a writer, not a performer, more interested in ruthless creation than in gracious repetition.

I can perform, of course.   All writers are performers on some level, managing voice or voices in text.  And I did lots of live television,  helping people tell their stories, plenty of presentations, conveying information to a group.

But is my delight in transporting an audience over and over again?   No.

My delight is going someplace new, unknown, coming up with new connections and sharing them.  For me, creation is the joy, even at the cost of comfort.

 A musician must make music, an artist must paint,
A poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.
What one can be, one must be.
—  Abraham Maslow

[Artists] love to immerse themselves in chaos in order to put it into form,
just as God created form out of chaos in Genesis.
Forever unsatisfied with the mundane, the apathetic, the conventional,
they always push on to newer worlds.
— Rollo May, “The Courage To Create

Perhaps there’s such a thing as a well-adjusting artist, someone who is constantly adjusting himself.  But there is no perfect tense to an artist, no well adjusted artist — they are not finished.  An artist who is perfectly finished is probably done.
Similarly, Wilde was not, for example, a homosexual — he was not a badged thing.
An artist is always in the process of changing.
—Stephen Fry, novelist and star of a film about Oscar Wilde.

The defining function of the artist is to cherish consciousness.
— Max Eastman

Artist as Guide:
The popular idea that the artist’s primary motivation is to communicate with others is false.  The first necessity of the artist is to communicate with himself in order to establish a reconcliation of the various forces in his own psyche.

The end product, when successful in the achievement of this goal, will enable others to communicate with themselves.

This transference is the appeal of art.
— Davis L. Smith, 196

Great craftspeople please an audience.  Great artists challenge themselves.

And they make horrible missionaries.

Listen. Repeat. Ally.

You want my simple formula for being an ally to transgender people?   Easy.

1) Listen.
2) Repeat.

Transgender people are not a class of people all trying to share their own identity.  We are each an individual trying to claim and express our own truth in the world, a truth beyond what convention assigns based on reproductive biology.

Our power, our truth is in our story.   If you want to be an ally to us, your first obligation is to actually listen to our story, to hear it and engage it.  There is a reason my first opening to any new transperson is usually “Tell me a story.”

Our story isn’t some theoretical discourse.   Our story is a very personal tale of deep self knowledge, a fight against stigma and denial, and a struggle to build a true, healthy expression in the world.   We don’t need to be challenged to carry the full responsibility for the choices of every person who you might define as trans, we need to be supported in owning our own story and our own choices.

When you listen to our story, you can get those truths.   You can learn the details of our lives, the challenges we face, and the hard decisions we have to make to respect both those around us and the truth in our own heart.

In fact, it’s only through those details that you can find out what is real about any transgender person.   We have had to break the mould to be ourselves, had to walk away from expectations placed on us to be boldly ourselves.

Listening, really listening to individual transpeople is just the first step, though.  The next step is to repeat those stories in the world, to pass them on.

When you share the stories that transgender people entrust to you, you open up the space for free and authentic expression in the world.   You show others that transpeople are not beyond understanding or comprehension.   Your telling their stories lets others see the humanity and beauty you see in the transpeople that you know and care about.

One of the biggest challenges for any transperson is facing the challenges and questions about transgender from those who see the non-normative as a curiosity, something to entertain and amuse them, something about which they feel obligated to pass judgment.   We don’t need more judgment, even yours, rather we need more understanding of the human cost of being trans in the world, both of being trans and out or of trans and closeted, as both have a high cost.

It is only by telling the stories of transpeople that you can experience for yourself what they feel everyday facing these attitudes.   By standing up for transpeople, making their stories heard in the world, you both make things a bit easier for them and begin to understand their challenges.

If you want to be the ally of a transperson, it is simple to start with their stories:

1) Listen.
2) Repeat.

All of my support of other transpeople begins with these two steps.   I know that we each have a profound and individual story, that my story is just my story, not the right way to be trans in the world, and I know that if I want others to be my ally, I have to start by being an ally to them.  How can I expect them to hear me if I can’t listen to them and repeat their story in a way that they affirm?

All of what I want from an ally begins with these two steps.   Having someone else listen and then stand up for my stories, help negotiate breaking the ice and developing understanding, giving credibility and empathy with others by sharing my stories, well, that seems to be a great start.

Being an ally starts with suspending what you expect to hear, with letting go of your own preconceptions to listen to trans narratives, and then continues with repeating those stories in the world, first back to the people who were vulnerable and open enough to share them with you, and then to others whose hearts and minds can also be touched by them.

1) Listen.
2) Repeat.

If you want to stand with us and make space for us to grow in the world, just start there.

Legos and Ramps

When I look back at the last twenty years of my writing, much of it available on-line, I see a ramp.

It’s me going through that spiral of enlightenment that takes one simultaneously deeper and higher, the kind of sacred immersion that lets you see personal details so close up that they reveal themselves to be the building blocks of universal experience.

It’s me getting closer and closer to the infinite, which lets patterns emerge and reveal their forms, truths that other people can identify in their life even though they have no words for them, having never been immersed enough to clearly outline their shapes.

The few other people who follow my work often comment on how they see their own challenges in it, on how they wish these ideas were out in the wider world so they could use them to explain their own struggles to others.

This ramp, though, is just like the process that built it.  It isn’t one seamless thesis, taut and whole, rather it is created with thousands and thousands of little bits, ideas stacked like pebbles,  words shaped like waves, concepts built like geological formations, built up here, removed there.

It is a ramp made of mental Lego bricks, placed together over two decades, one by one, a bit at a time.   The shape is ramshackle and erratic, full of jagged edges and switchbacks, constructed not from a plan created of whole cloth but rather from the experiences and lessons of a lifetime.

How do you invite anyone to climb such a ramp?    It isn’t the destination of the ramp that was the point, rather it was the process of building it, the revelations that come from the serendipitous and hard won connections made, the ways it mirrors and illuminates the challenges of the world in bits of created language.

“So,” people ask me, “tell me quickly what you write about.”

I build a vast ramp to understanding created out of bricks that, like adobe, bind together sharp thought and mushy emotions to reflect the revelations I struggled with on my journey though life.

It’s a great thing, my ramp, and for those who have the time and will and capacity to study it, I have shared everything I hold dear.

But I have no illusion that many people at all will want to study it.  They have their own constructions to build, their own routines to follow, their own challenges to battle.

This is, of course, the essential challenge of the return of the gift, as Campbell describes of the the quest of the hero.   How do you come back fundamentally changed and explain that change to people who have never taken that quest and fought those dragons with “Thou Shalt” on every scale?

I have a packet of essays from my journey, a literary construction of the ramp I followed, to get deep and get transcendent at the same time.   I am very proud of my hard, wearing, costly work, very centred in my own understanding and construction.

But do I think anyone will believe it is beautiful and attractive enough to admire it, to want to examine it, to engage the twists and turns?   Well, maybe a few will, someday, but they will only take what helps them on their journey of building and move on.

And this leaves me in the same world with everyone else holding a story, owning a ramp, that just puts people off as queer and ugly, leading to someplace they couldn’t possibly go if they want to be part of good and polite society.

Can I simultaneously stand at the top of the ramp, exploring and being where I have worked so hard to get and at the bottom of the ramp, cajoling others to take the first step towards a new a transformative understanding?  Can I both be the graduate prof and the elementary teacher?

I have to admit that I find that duality very hard to achieve.  To get pulled down to the base level every time I face someone who wants to reject the big, ugly ramp being built next door is the kind of wearing process that fundamentally creates the abuse of stigma.  I may know how beautiful my ramp is, how strong and functional it is, and how it is the work of calling that leads me right past gender to enlightenment, but fighting the ugly fight everyday will just wear you down, take up your resources and bruise your heart.

TBB would remind me that other people’s concerns are none of my business.     She is right, of course, you need to just live your own life and let your freak flag fly.   We need to make the most of life, it isn’t a dress rehearsal.   Still, everyone has neighbours, everyone needs community, everyone is just human.

Everyone needs.  And women certainly need.

Welcome to my magical ramp.   It explains itself, not in the bricks used to construct it, but in the meaning that they hold inside.

I am the shadow my words cast.
— Octavio Paz

You just don’t get it?   You want me to simplify it so it doesn’t require accepting gifts from outside the norm?

I don’t know how to do that.   And I’m fairly sure that I don’t have the strength or the will to find a way to make it easily palatable.

But isn’t it pretty?

Oh.

Entitlement Gap

What is a healthy level of entitlement in the world?

What is a healthy level of entitlement for me?

Am I entitled to anything?

I watch people around me and I often see what I think is an unhealthy level of entitlement.  These people are so self-centred that they just push themselves into wherever they want, losing any sense of boundary or community in their own tunnel vision.

These people are entitled to what they want so they feel free to roll over anyone and anything to demand it.  It is ugly and ungracious behaviour.

Too much entitlement, the kind that leads to too much blindness to the world around you, is not good.

I suspect, though, that too little entitlement is also a problem.

When you don’t stand up for your place in the world, when you cede the social space to other people, when you feel the need to shrink and hide to be appropriate in the world, well then I suspect you also have an unhealthy level of entitlement.

My history is clear.  I have been taught to put others first, to step back, not to stand up for myself.   In my family, you never complained, because it was always seen as more embarrassing and inappropriate to challenge anyone publicly than to just swallow something that was just not good.    Since I was the target patient, I was often pounded down for my standing proud, often taken to task for my bringing any attention to the family.   It was made clear to me that I am the asshole.

It’s easy for me to rationalize choosing not to enter entitlement based on my very negative response to those people who just are rude enough to ignore others to get what they believe that they deserve.    They make entitlement look bad and nasty.

Entitlement, though, isn’t simply a bad thing.  Just like any other human attitude, entitlement needs to be kept in balance, part of a holistic view of the world.  If we only stand for ourselves we miss the point, but if we never stand up for ourselves, well, we also miss the point, fall out of balance.

What I am entitled to enough that I am empowered to stand up and fight for it?

For me, that’s not a long list.  I know how to fight for others, especially my family, but fir myself, well, I don’t feel entitled to make a fuss and demand anything.   Garry Marshall used to tell his young performers on the Happy Days to act like they belonged where they were.  I am unsure I belong anywhere at all other than at the keyboard.

The part of me I feel least entitled to show in the world is my playful imagination, my dancing creativity,  my flirty flamboyance, my swirling beauty.   My feminine nature, in other words.    My heart was clearly on the not entitled to express list.

Sadly, that isn’t all that is on the list.  I am too smart, too fast, and too observant.   I see too many connections, too many unclear thoughts, too many bits of attitude that comfort rather than clarify.   I have learned that people usually don’t want to see what is clear to me, that anything obvious to me that they are dissembling about is usually hidden for a reason, not just because they haven’t glimpsed it yet.

Being a shining beacon in the world, one who people remember, who they can’t take their eyes off, also makes you a shining target in the world.   Kids throw bricks at streetlights so they can feel like their acts go unobserved in the same way that people try to shut down observers who seem like they are seeing those parts of us we don’t want to face.

I have learned that people accept me treading gracefully in their world, but that I am not entitled to demand that they enter mine, not entitled to expect them to see though my eyes.   That is just an unreasonable ask, too much entitlement to assert.

It’s not that I am at all ashamed of who I am, though I do know it may read that way.  It’s just that I have been trained to believe that I am not entitled to put my own stuff in anyone’s face.  I know that doing that makes me responsible for their reaction, if not in an abstract, theoretical way at least in a practical, public way.  I become responsible for their fears.   I can’t stand where I have gotten to, instead I have to think about going back to tranny basics and being the one who is gracious and measured enough to let them play out their own fears.

After all, I’ve been identified as trans for well over a half century now, with therapist visits in 3d, 5th and 7th grade, I’ve been out and going to support groups for thirty years, since the early 1980s, and have been verbally out to my parents for twenty years, since the mid 1990s when I did a keynote at Southern Comfort Conference. I have worked through lots of issues over the decades.

Such a long history in my life,  but still, every time someone new sees me, they start from the beginning again, because they have to do the work in their own head, have to get over their own damn stuff.   Every time someone encounters me for the first time, they drag me back into their fears, into their ignorance, into the miasma of crud.

Having to start from scratch with every new and squicked observer drags me three decades back into the mud in a heart beat.   My sister thinks that being pulled back into someone elses fear may be “inconvenient.”   Little does she understand the price, the burden.

Being hauled back in an instant to an attitude that plays small because I feel denied entitlement leads to behaviour is a problem if I want to make my voice heard, if I need to create a space for myself in society.   I need to be able not fear appearing imperious and cut through the noise to take my rightful and appropriate place.

What is a healthy level of entitlement in the world?   What is the right amount for someone with decades of mature experience, or the right amount for someone just newly out in the eyes of another person right this moment?

Am I entitled to assert who I know myself to be, or do I have to cede that I am really my reproductive biology?

Am I entitled to show my heart, or do I have to respect the opinions or ignorance of others?

Am I entitled to just act, or do I have to leave space for the fear and beliefs of others, especially the ones they hold for their children?

Am I entitled to be smart and mature, or do I have to remain isolated and abject for the comfort of others?

Am I entitled to feel safe in the world, or are others entitled to put me in my place in whatever way that they wish because I asked for it?

Am I entitled to be seen as myself, or is being tolerated as a freak the best I can ever hope for if I don’t keep my transgender nature hidden one way or another?

Or is any sense of entitlement I might have just rude and misplaced, just me setting myself up to have to walk through the world in armour?

What is a healthy level of entitlement for me?

 

 

Extrahuman Experience

At a freethinker gathering last weekend, one gentleman suggested that people go to mega-churches for entertainment; theatre, music, and so on.

The experience of gathering for worship, though, has never been a purely cerebral event.   It is a relatively new and relatively small idea that rational discourse should form the heart of any service.

We gather to remind each other that being human isn’t just about blood & sweat, about piss  & shit, about mud & muck.   We remind each other that humans can transcend the menial & the routine to create great and transcendent moments.

This is why worship has always contained ritual, music, theatre, poetry, stories and art.  It is why churches have stained glass windows, illuminating human imagination with sunlight and carrying lessons we consider beautiful and valuable.   From tribal masks to Gregorian chants,  evoking a sense of wonder that we can miss in everyday life has always been part of our coming together to celebrate something higher.

While I love freethinking, the opposite of stuck thinking, the notion that rational thought is the only way that humans can lift themselves out of the swamp seems very parochial to me.

We can’t just rationalize our way out of being stuck, can’t solely open our minds.  We also must open our hearts and our spirits, feeling the energy of beyond and creating the celestial out  of earth, fire, air and water.

To expect others only to engage and respond to rational thought is denying the energy of imagination and play that has created art and magic through all human time.

It may well seem easier to police thought than to police expression that touches something deep and visceral in humans, but thought alone will never rescue us from the mundane and everyday.

Worship has always been about coming together to be reminded of the extrahuman possibilities of life, to celebrate the transcendent truths that can lift us above our animal functionality.    We may celebrate stories, learn lessons about new ways to make better choices, be refreshed and invigorated by art & music, or just be safe in the company of others who also acknowledge the goal to be more centred and spiritual humans in their life, to stand with them to create sacred space and caring.

Not every coming together has to celebrate doctrine, and in fact most don’t.   Many events may be quite secular, outside of churches or even belief, just moments out of time to connect with our shared better nature.

Gathering to celebrate what lifts humans into creators, to affirm the fact that we have and we can come together to change our world and build community, to honour the struggle for truth, beauty and grace, well, that seems important to me.

It is much more than entertainment, and much more than just rational discourse.

It is humans coming together to reach for something bigger than their bodies, bigger than their biology, bigger than themselves alone.

And that, at least to me, is magical.

Judgment Cool

“Give me the strength to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s easy to see the serenity prayer as part of a struggle to see the world as it is.   It is a request to support our surrender to realities in the world, whatever they are, facing them with will and grace.

To see the serenity prayer, the surrender prayer as I sometimes call it, as a call to let go of the luxury of judgment,  well, that is often much more difficult.

Judgment is the system society uses to demand assimilation.   If you don’t act like us — if your choices aren’t cool, like ours — then we judge you to be a failure, judge you a freak, judge you not worthy of being connected to other cool people like us.

The path of the adolescent is the path of judgment.  We empower kids to judge each other and create social pressure for compliance with the norms of society, forcing kids to come into line or face the judgment and the price for being uncool and therefore undesirable and essentially unlovable.

A key part of this process is giving our own ego the mandate to judge us harshly, so that it can help us avoid discomfort by demanding that we do everything we can to be accepted, to fit in with the others.  This is the ego who becomes police, enforcing playing small with the power of fear, with the fear of being shamed and shunned.

If you fear that somehow, deep down, you might be a freak, someone whose humanity is unique and bold, and you feel the need to keep that in check, it is easy to get addicted to judgment.

The opposite of surrender to what is real and present in the world and in us is judgment about how things should be, about what is cool and what is unattractive enough that it should be separated and minimized.

Once we learn to approach the world with judgment, our ego wins.  We spend our energy avoiding anything that might not be cool rather than spending our life force being present and enthusiastic in every moment, even the moments that might be corny, geeky or revelatory.

Getting hooked on judgment is learning to deny vulnerability.    Vulnerability is trusting that we can expose our self as we are, fearful and struggling and a bit twisted, and people will see, understand, value and connect with our essential humanity.

If we fear too much that we are going to be judged, we can never never connect on a deep level, and if we know how strongly we judge others, it is easy to believe that others will be as shallow and as judgmental as we are.

It is easy to get hooked on judgment because it is easy to rationalize the judgment.  After all, what could be wrong with just knowing what is cool, with choosing only what we know others will also find attractive?   Isn’t that just the way humans have always worked, letting desire shape their choices, going after that we judge to be nice and leaving behind that judged as icky?

Judgment breaks down the world into easy binaries, into false opposites.  Good or bad?  Attractive or ugly?  Cool or dorky?   Once we split the world in half it is easy to dismiss what challenges us as being on the wrong side.    Since we already have judged the right answer, all we have to do is find a way to judge others who challenge that answer in order to find a reason to devalue and dismiss them, to judge them of being unworthy of our engagement.

Judgment plugs our ears from listening and blocks our eyes from seeing what is around us, even what is in our own heart.   Once we only accept what is acceptable though the filters of our judgment, the truths can become invisible.   All we care about is how to fit the new situation into the binaries we already hold, bleating out “Good or Bad?  Beautiful or Ugly?  Up or Down?  Help me know what to think!”

Judgment stops us from going to unknown places, even unknown places in our own mind, because it stops us from going anyplace that we haven’t already judged acceptable and cool.   If we judge that our thoughts and feelings are not worthy, how can we ever engage and embrace them, even if they are what can ultimately free us?

One of the key spiritual teachings is that rather than working to have what you love you need to learn to love what you have.   It is only by seeing the value beyond the surface judgment of cool that we can begin to see what we really should be grateful for in the world, really have a base for growth and healing.

If judgment is your habit, though, and you have learned to justify judgment as just good and valuable discretion, it becomes simple to decide you are suffering when you don’t have what you judge as cool.   You can easily dismiss what you do have, no matter how good and precious and abundant it is, just because you indulge in the judgment of only embracing what you think you should have, only accepting what is cool enough to feed your own sense of entitlement.

Judgment is a way to shift the obligation for satisfying your own needs, shifting your personal responsibility for your own choices, onto others.  After all, if they just did what they should do, just did the right and the cool thing, well, you wouldn’t be suffering where you are now, would you?

If it is always the failure of others to deliver properly, to come up to your judgmental expectations of them, then how can you possibly ever find your own perfection in the world?  Doesn’t their failure to meet your standards justify your blowing your top at their crude and messy stupidity?

“Give me the strength to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The serenity prayer, the surrender prayer, is prayer that asks for help in engaging in the world without judgment.   It is a prayer that we can embrace the world as it is, that we can accept ourselves as we are, and then work from there to make our life and our world a little better.

As compelling as the idea of judgment may be, as much as we are taught that judgment is our entitlement, allowing us to separate ourselves from “those idiots,”  as much as we have internalized judgment as the proper and justified way to engage the world, all judgment does is separate us from the world as it is, denying us the true connection, growth and affirmation that waits for us when we get clear and vulnerable.

Judgment is the crutch of the immature who need to reject the world in order to keep their own comforting separation from it.   Holding judgment stops us from the firs step to growth, accepting what is, blocks us from really seeing and hearing what is, even stops us from listening to our own inner voice, replacing it instead with what we think we should believe.

The world as it is holds beauty, challenge and possibility.   We as we are hold beauty, challenge and possibility.  Judging that world to be too ugly to accept is what really keeps us separate from our own heart, our own divinity, from the love and beauty and tenderness that isn’t cool, but is profoundly and beautifully human.

To embrace healing requires rejecting the cool habit of judgment.  For many of us, though, as much as we have internalized that ego judge, that is still a surrender too far.

Bad Human

“Have you ever seen the show Amish Mafia?” someone asked me

“It’s amazing,” he went on.  “They cheat and they lie and they fight.  It shows they are really human!”

Is showing that we actually engage in bad behaviour required to show that we are human?  I am willing to believe that even the most righteous and well disciplined Amish person is still human, basically because I never met anyone who wasn’t really human.

When a mythmaker wanted to repopularize King Alfred, he reissued a hagiography written by one of his courtiers.   The problem was that the story was a little too positive, too glowing, so he added in a story from another source which told of the king being berated by an old woman for letting the cakes burn by the fire.

Every British schoolchild now knows how King Alfred burned the cakes, just like American schoolchildren know how George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and did not lie, another mythical event.

We seem to want to know where other people have weaknesses, otherwise we think they are hiding something, that they are just too good to be true.

It is one thing to want to humanize someone by proving them flawed, though the need for that still escapes me, as everyone is human, but it is another thing to create TV shows dedicated to showing people acting badly and then justifying that spotlight by saying we are only proving that they are human.

Aren’t they human too when they do the boring, gracious, measured acts that build community and create safety?

We live in a world where sitting in the living room and watching others act badly has become a guilty pleasure.   We rationalize our viewing by saying that it just proves that people really are the ratfinks we always thought they were, but secretly we are delighted that their bad behaviour takes us off the hook for our own unhealed and untranscendent choices.

When our choices are seen next to the well edited and wild videos of others acting badly, we can believe that we look angelic, even if we still act out regularly.

Is the only way we can prove that we are really human to act in bad, self-centred and thoughtless behaviours?   Is ill-considered and vulgar crap what distinguishes real humans from phony ones?

We live in a world that loves the lowest common denominator.  Everyone can laugh at a good fart joke, but appreciating the sublime wit of a sly syllogism?  Not only do some people not get the joke, but they can also feel angry that anyone would make a joke they don’t understand, can feel like that kind of thoughtful jibe is so offensively challenging that they have permission to act out in an attempt to cut the other person down to size.

George Washington lived by a canon of rules for civility and decent behaviour.  Would having video of him getting drunk and puking in someone elses tricorn hat make him really human?   Or would it just let us dismiss any pressure we might feel to follow his lead in living the life of a good human on good behaviour?

Isn’t the point of touches of humanity in historical myths that we too, as frail and fallible humans, can work to achieve greatness?

I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of Amish Mafia.  Proving that even a few of people in a most devout and ordered culture have lapses doesn’t really prove that everyone’s devotion and discipline is really just a fraud, even if if their bad behaviour does entertain you and make you feel self-righteous.

I don’t believe that anyone needs to prove they are really human, or that the fact that someone is making mostly good choices means that they are a fraud, hiding something.  I trust that they are just human and that they puke and shit and bleed just like any of us, even if they decide not to let that mess define them.

We are not humans living a spiritual life, we are spirit living a human life.  The human part is real, fragile, wounded and hurting, is erotic, sweaty, intense and tired, all that.

But sometimes, the spirit is strong, too.

And that is also human.