Giving Voice

“Can you really just tell a story and create images inside of other people’s heads?”  I asked

“Oh, yes.  It’s easier than you think,” said the old man with the television valise.

It was a strange moment my dreams from last night.

That was followed up by an article in the New York Times about Apple’s in-house training programme where they specialize in teaching Apple style.   I have never been a huge fan of Apple because they often seem to venerate style over substance, but the elemental Jobsian lesson that style is a powerful tool to build a following.  Simplification does creates an elegance that makes it easy and desirable to brand yourself with those products, even if is always at least a bit reductionist, creating over-simplified and limited solutions.

I am very much aware that the biggest challenge for people in connecting with me is the fact that they see my work as abstruse, over-complicated, too twisty and just plain baffling.  I know that Janet Mock isn’t wrong when she conveys the wisdom of herself and her editor: to communicate with people about transgender issues, you need to be at third grade level.

This is why I have never, ever tried to cultivate an audience for this blog.    It is a place where I speak at my level, work to explain myself as clearly and fully as I can, not a place where I try and make my concepts and knowledge easily accessible to a broad audience.

To get what I need, though, to make a dent in the world, to gain people who want to follow me, that is what I need to do.   I need a different voice that tells compelling stories people want to hear more of, a voice that builds visions of a different world in people’s imaginations, one where they see themselves and their possibilities in a different way.

I know that in one-to-one conversations with people, my language is quite different from what I use on this blog.   I am looser, funnier, punctuating with characters, voices and stories, reflecting back what I hear in a way that lets people hear what they are saying in a whole different context.   I take tangents, moving the conversation around the point at hand so we can come back to it from another direction, looking at it from an new and enlightening angle.

My approach is all about meeting the other person where they are, rather than trying to express where I am.  I’m really good at this, as you have to be to be primary caretaker for people with Asbergers all your life.  When I focus attention on other people, they feel seen, heard and valued, feel cared for even as I ask just the wrong question that sheds light on dark spots of their understanding of themselves.   And I do all this with a sly wit that the universe uses on me, humour takes the sting out of a-ha! moments.

That approach doesn’t work well in writing, though.   Marianne Williamson was first known for her presentations on ACIM, which were followed by a Q & A session.  One of these was even mocked in Sex And The City.   A publisher wanted her to create a book, but she told him she had no material.  He had the perfect solution: just transcribe her presentations!   Great idea, but when the verbal play and process was reduced to text, all the life went out of it.   Devoid of her voice, nothing hung together, all the twists and backtracks and asides shredding into insensibility.

Words that seem like three dollar clunkers in writing, arcane, erudite and heavy, become part of my poetry in speech, their meaning evident and their sound continuing the flow.    People who know my voice can hear it in my writing, but in my experience, few who just read my writing can imagine how playful and personal my voice is.   My text comes alive when voice is added.

Target had the Samson Q2U recording pack for $59 in store, and when I saw it marked down 30% to $42, I thought about it.   On the visit when the price had dropped to $18, though, 70% off, I knew it was meant for me, so I brought it home.  It’s basically a high quality USB and XLR microphone, heavy metal that feels like an old and comfortable Shure, bundled with accessories.

Like any transwoman, I have always felt unsure about my voice as a woman.  i don’t sound like what I want to sound like; I just don’t have the vocal hardware for that.  Heck, some transwomen have even had surgery to raise their voices.

What I do have, though, is the effusive comments of two women judges at my first big out just two months after my parents died where I ended up presenting as a woman.    They loved, loved, loved my voice on the PA system.  Astounding.

It is so very, very hard to hear yourself as others hear you.   For most people, the first time they heard their own voice on tape, they often recoil.   Voice is performance, and all the nuances of that performance are often not considered.

I remember telling one of my staff that one way she could be more effective was to use her voice more strongly in meetings, as it is the one of the few tools we have.

“But I can’t sound like you!” she said.

“Nor would I want you to,” I agreed.  “But you can listen to women whose voices you admire, maybe broadcasters, and learn from how they use their voice to communicate, to cajole, to convince, to connect.”

In the internet world of podcasts and videos, being effective with your voice is even more important.    I listen to authors not primarily to hear their content, but to hear how they use their voice.   I watch television shows to observe women expressing themselves in the world.

When I went to the transgender voice training introduction at St. Rose, Jack Pickering and I chatted.  “I tend to use voice to talk about tone production,” he told me, “but you use voice as expressing meaning in the world.”

As a kid I used to do voice skits on the school PA system, much like the later “radio plays” another boss commented on.  Then, though had a “thousand voices” as Faria the drama teacher said,  I had trouble staying centred on one, instead getting drawn into the voices around me, shifting quickly.

“You have spoken for your mother.  You have spoken for me.   Now, speak for yourself,” as my father told me many times from the delirium of what was to be his death bed.

Can I really just tell a story and create images in people’s heads?   Do I have the style to carry my substance, to draw people into a new vision?  Can I stay in my own confident and feminine voice, no matter how easy it would be to just give people a voice they expect?

Can my voice be heard and valued in the world?

Emotions Mine

“I was worried about mine fields,” says my sister, explaining why she hasn’t kept me informed about estate issues over the last year and a half even as she has informed my brother.

She wanted to encourage me to speak, but when I started to share my experience, she teared up, was obviously in distress.

“Don’t worry about this,” she told me.  “It’s about me.  I know that I feel challenged and ashamed when I hear how you experienced my actions towards you, and that’s my stuff.”

One minute it’s her stuff, but the minute before it was about my instability, my being a “minefield.”   Apparently, the mines I risk detonating are ones that are already inside of other people, but when they go off, well, it must be my fault.

One of the scariest images in movies is when a character speaks in a voice that doesn’t match what we would expect from them.   In “The Exorcist,” when Linda Blair emits the voice of a demon, for example, we are scared.

It’s very strange when a rough and tough cowboy acts like a girly girl, to give another example, strange and oddly terrifying.

When someone male bodied has feminine emotions, well, that can easily freak other people out.

I was taught this lesson early.   And I was taught what I had to do when I felt upset or emotional.

It was my job to man up.   I was the one who had to eat their own emotions, to keep them in check, to make them appear to go away.

If I didn’t do that, if I let the “wrong” emotions slip, then the way others reacted to me was my fault, my problem, my responsibility.       If a mine went off inside of them because I showed some dissonance that freaked them out, well then I was to blame.

One of the key lessons of girlhood is learning how to deal with your emotions.  When do you need to hide them, when do you need to share them, when do you need to let them out and vent, when do you need to release them before they blow?

These aren’t the lessons we teach boys.   To man up they need to learn to wall off their emotions, to be tough and stoic, to keep them down and always away from view.   Women are allowed to be emotional, but men are expected to be stable and frozen.

For transpeople raised as boys this raises a whole set of challenges, because without being trained from an early age how to manage emotions, how can we learn the techniques required while not looking like Katie Ka-Boom, an emotional adolescent girl?

It’s just easier to stay manned up, even if that does keep our own feminine hearts locked away in the cold, cold place.

But it is not easier to become a good, integrated and actualized human being if you don’t learn to actually feel and process your emotions.   It is impossible to be empathetic to others if you can’t be empathetic to yourself, impossible to be vulnerable and open enough to connect with others if you are not open with yourself, impossible to learn to drop your defences if you haven’t unwired your emotional triggers.

For transpeople with a feminine heart, one of the deepest and most overwhelming emotions will always be the pain of having their heart denied and abused in the process of people trying to teach us how to man-up. Everybody takes the social pressure of the compulsory gender system, but, in my experience, few people can understand how much that pressure torments, tears and breaks transpeople.

My sister really wants to be there for me, really knows how much she fails me, but she also knows that she has never had to do the kind of work I have had to do to both own my own emotions and keep them under control in the world.

She saw me be manipulative and defended, shaped by my mother’s emotional acting our.   She was a bully, but only to express how desperately frustrated and unhappy she was, how much she felt disconnected from other people.   “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” goes the old saw, but our mother was never happy and she needed people around her to experience her pain.

I tried to teach my sister how to engage our mother in conflict, to stand up for herself, but to her, that just added to the way she was torn.

There were times I did get angry, but because of my body, those were seen as the actions of a testosterone fuelled rageaholic rather than responses to the distress of a feminine heart trapped in the gendered expectations imposed on a male bodied teenager.

“You really, really worked to connect with me, to reach out and rebuild bridges,” my sister told me yesterday.  “I really was defended from you, but you spent years and years coming back and teaching me that it was safe and kind to open to you.”

“I was really just struggling to become an open and whole human being, walking through my emotional pain and dismantling my own walls,” I told her.   “It wasn’t about you.   Healing my relationship with you was just part of my process.”

I had to excavate my own emotions from under all those layers of pain, struggling to become to be safe space for myself (1994), and that made me safe space for others.  That work was very hard and very costly, so the vast majority of people, especially those who didn’t have to go through recovery never do it.

Their emotional territory is still riddled with unmapped and unmanaged minefields.   And many of those mines are triggered when someone they perceive as male bodied and big expresses emotion.

Men have to learn to defuse emotion, to not create conflict.   The classic example from Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation” is of two boys she taped in a conversation she initially dismissed as not intimate because of their body language.   They didn’t look each other in the eye, instead sitting on the oblique to each other.   When she listened to the content, though, it was potent and vulnerable.

Tannen’s take away from this was that men need to learn not to let emotions flare into conflict, because conflict can be so potent and destructive, while women learn to go right into emotion, because emotions can be a bonding and effective force.  This understanding was the root of my “When gender shifting, how do you power shift question?” at the Southern Comfort Conference 1994, a question that I still struggle with

I know that people don’t see an objective form of me, rather they see me as facets that reflect back at distinct angles.   When another facet appears, I appear to shape-shift, which can often make my communication appear more dissonant to them, dropping walls that they haven’t yet seen as permeable and connective in their own life.

When that happens, mines can go off and it is easiest to blame me for those explosions, especially if you haven’t, as my sister has had to face, come to grips with the fact that your experiences and emotions are all about you, are inside of you, and not about what you feel triggered you.

My long and rich memory is my blessing and it is my curse.  My sister knows how hard it is for her to be there for me, understands why I can’t just put my emotional weight on other people.   Their mines can detonate at any time, making them unsafe, and usually leaving them blaming me for that explosion.

Why do people fear and hate transpeople?   The answer is simple: we make visible emotions and challenges that upset them, emotions and challenges that they feel should stay submerged in the world.   By making us invisible or stigmatized, they avoid having to do their own work around the pain of being forced into a system of compulsory gender pressure to conform.

I have had to learn to stay centred and gracious, keeping my own emotions in check, because I know just how much any sudden movement from me can trigger a mine in the room and how the shrapnel can be targeted at me.   I am left being pedantic rather than creative, separate from the flow of the group..

When your life is shaped by the obligation to negotiate minefields even as you know that those mines are in the emotions of others and far beyond your direct control life is hard.

When people choose not to engage you, not to enter your world, not to open empathy for you, choose to avoid your emotions because they can feel their own unhealed bits being stimulated, it becomes very hard to feel safe and cared for and loved in the world.   It can easily make you feel long lost and profoundly lonely.

It certainly doesn’t make you feel loose, validated and playful.   It makes it very hard to bet on tomorrow, hard to have vision of how your life could possibly be better.

Taking my thoughts and emotions and turning them into dried lumps of writing that most people find not worthy of deep engagement may be a very effective process for self-understanding, but it certainly isn’t affirming or emotionally satisfying.   I know that, like all my sharing, my text is more going to bring up people’s own stuff than it communicates mine.

My emotions are mine, but my experience is that your emotion are mines.


Beyond Objective

If you see the highest calling of a scientist to drive out ignorance and fallacy, replacing them with a sure and consistent view of the phenomena of the world, then why wouldn’t you see your calling to be ridding humans of any belief system that you cannot define as objectively evidence based?

A world where understanding is subjective, driven by deep seated belief systems, can seem terrifying to someone whose values are staked on a commitment to objective and rational view of what is real.   People are often motivated to rail against what they fear, so fearing a world of subjective views that do not align with what you consider to be objective reality is a very human response.

I understand how comforting it can be to believe that the world is understandable on a logical, categorized and rational level.    That belief can make us feel that we, as humans, have the power to comprehend and even control our world, snatching it from the wild and scary unknown and making the world subject to our own mental power.   Understanding the world completely would allow us to drive out superstition and fear, and more than that, it would give is the power to silence those who challenge us with pure and crystalline facts.

A world without gods should be a world that man can conquer and own, a world where it is the smart who rise to power, not those who can marshal emotion through potent stories.   A world without gods is a world where the human brain is god, extending understanding to comprehend a complex but objectively knowable world.

There is only one big problem with this model, this calling, this worldview.

The human brain has always been and will always be based in the subjective.   Objectivity is only something we struggle to create in our mind, not something that is naturally part of it.

This starts with perception, the fact that every human experiences the world in our own way.

It continues with the ways we can communicate that perception, which are limited by the shared cultural references we have learned.   There is a reason that scientists have to be trained, because until we are indoctrinated in the shared language and conventions of the discipline, we cannot participate in the shared quest for what we call objective knowledge.

I love the struggle to attain some level of objectivity, to create some shared concepts and constructs that we can agree on.   I know this to be a good thing, so I am always looking to what others share to help me clarify my own understanding of our common world.   When I get to experience the perceptions and ideas that others share, I get to see my own experiences in a new way, teasing out the threads of connection between us.

I have no illusion, though, that somehow, if I can just drive out the irrationality of deep seated and atavistic beliefs I can achieve some kind of perfect rationality, some kind of crystalline objectivity which will erase all the mysteries and magic of the universe.

I am human and I have a human mind, brain and emotion and experience all bound up into a bundle called me.    My own creation myth isn’t that I am just a package of ultimately comprehensible genes, rather that I also contain some kind of spark, some kind of acorn that seeded my spirit, which still is within me.    Sure, I have worked very hard to be rational and smart, looking for what is objectively knowable, but that doesn’t stop my experience of the world from being very subjective, driven by what I have come to call my feminine heart.

i know that in many circles, this belief in the unknowable, the spiritual, in the godhead is very, very unfashionable.    I believe it is unfashionable and loudly rejected with screens full of attempts at logical argument because the notion that anything in the universe, anything is the human experience is beyond logical comprehension is just plain terrifying to many people.    These people need to hold onto their own tenet that the universe is understandable and they do that by rejecting anything that cannot be quantified by what they find to be valid evidence.

“If we can’t agree on it, it doesn’t exist,” they want to tell us, “so you have no standing to hold onto it, no matter how much you feel it informs or enlightens your experience of the world.”

The history of science is the history of conflict, men fighting for the truth that they call objective against others who fight for their own objective truth.   Over time, common understandings have been built, and the result of that is a much broader and more useful set of shared knowledge of how the world works and how humans can use and control that function.

I’m really please this has happened, and I hope it continues to happen.

The belief, though, that because that process has gotten us this far in shared understanding it can somehow be used to quantify everything in the world, well, we aren’t there yet.  Sure, we have moved beyond mythic, folkloric understandings of the way the world works — floods aren’t directly caused by God crying, for example — but we have not moved to the point where symbolic stories are still needed to carry the understandings of our own subjective human experience and cultural knowledge.

I am in awe of the power of stories.    I understand the power of belief.

The belief that only objective understandings can save us from the fear of the human spirit, though, seems to me to be more a wish than a fact.   It is the vain hope of people who want to keep the truth of the subjective at bay, rejecting subjective reality and substituting their own  reality, one branded as pure, holy, non-suspect and objective.

just because you use scientific buzz words to explain yourself does not make your explanations scientific or even objective.

We are human.    The quest for objective, shared understanding is a useful tool in moving the culture forward and I delight in both the process and the rewards it has brought us.

I just think that believing that quest should drive out subjective and potent understanding is a form of wishful voodoo.

Bet On Tomorrow

The essential human behaviour, the one that lead us away from the trees, the one that lead us to populate the world, the one that lead us to build a rich and complex culture full of art and architecture, the one that got us to the moon and spread computers across the world, is very, very simple.

We bet on tomorrow.   We took our resources — our capital and our smarts — and invested it in tomorrow.   We believed that tomorrow could be better, that tomorrow would be better, and we put what we had on the line to make that happen.

We borrowed to build buildings we couldn’t afford today, for example, betting that they could help make our life better enough to more than pay for themselves.

We start businesses, betting that we can build custom by delivering what people need and are willing to pay for.

We even have children, understanding that no matter the enormous cost of raising them, they are the best we can do to create a better tomorrow, betting that giving them the gifts our parents gave us will be very rewarding.

In the most challenging times we face as humans, the only thing that can get us through is betting that if we spend the resources that we have in our pocket today, tomorrow will better.     An investment is just a bet we believe we can help along using our smarts and our sweat.

I see people bet on tomorrow all the time.   TBB is does all she can for her children, loves learning to fly and building a plane, is working hard to create a new structure that will help her and her staff do their jobs better and more effectively in the future.    She knows that if she uses her resources the best she can today that she will get benefits from that effort in the future, maybe direct benefits or maybe just lessons in that point the way to better choices.

TBB bets on the future.   “It was hard to spend over $3000 for the first visit to Electrology 3000, knowing that even that would only clear up to 40% of my facial hair, that I would still have to spend 60% more to finish,” she told me.   “But when I look back on it now, it was a the best investment in my future.”

It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one
than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.
— Whitney Young, Jr.

It is better to bet on the future, because if you don’t, you can’t be ready to reap the rewards that are possible there.

The traditions of my family don’t include betting on tomorrow.   My mother’s greatest gift to her children was her failure cycle: want something, fail to achieve it, feel sorry for yourself, become incapacitated, want something, fail to achieve it, feel sorry for yourself. . .  The cycle went on through her whole life, resisting change by being upset that other people never made her happy.

When I was eighteen an older friend told me that I had to break out and break away from the failure cycle.  “Go across country,” he suggested, “trusting that you are smart and capable and attractive, making successes as you go.  Learn to believe in the possibility of tomorrow rather than just creating bigger and bigger failures that keep the expectation of failure growing.”

All those decades ago, he told me that I had to learn to bet on tomorrow, had to learn to make choices that would open possibilities for growth and success rather than just waste my life.

Education is what we get when we don’t get what we want.   My success has been in extracting the lessons of a broken life, learning from experience in a way that makes me more clear about context and directions.   It’s not a bad thing to have a conceptual understanding.

But what I still haven’t mastered is something that is so simple, so integrated into the human spirit that people can’t imagine how to share it.     I haven’t learned to bet on tomorrow, haven’t learned how to believe that better is possible if you spend what you have today.  My practical belief is very limited, very fragile.

I can give you a list of factors why that happened; certainly, being the long lost child of Asbergers parents and facing massive social abuse around gender expression taught me to play small, to attenuate myself in the world.   Add to that the demands of being concierge to dying parents, and I come to this from a very authentic and very scarring place.

Still, I have learned from scarcity, learned how to hoard and modulate.  This doesn’t stop me from encouraging others to commit, to make choices to put themselves out there, to bet on tomorrow, but it does mean that I have never built a good support system that can break through and convince me to do the same thing.

I need to believe that my old experiences are not the only predictors of my future, need to believe that better is possible, need to make the leap to bet on tomorrow.

Betting on tomorrow is the only way humans ever have figured out to make the future better, to create something new and valuable.   It is the essential human behaviour, the one that let us build incredible things and cultures.

And betting on tomorrow is the only way for me to create new and better, too.

Continue reading Bet On Tomorrow

One Off, One Of

Every human on earth is a unique individual, each made of the same fundamental stuff but with their own essential character.

To be trans in this culture is to walk away from the gender expectations assigned on you by dint of your reproductive biology.   Transpeople say that they aren’t defined by their genitals, rather they are defined by their heart and the choices that they make.

Every transperson knows that they are trans.    The experience of being stigmatized into hiding your own nature, being shamed in an attempt to force you to make normative choices or pay by being ostracized is carved into our understanding of the world.   We know that many want to define birth sex as definitive, as a real way to separate people.

To express transgender in the world is to be willing to be your own unique self in the face of massive social pressure.   We know that we are standing as an individual, standing queer.

What we don’t want, though, what nobody wants, is to feel isolated, disconnected and unsafe because we are seen as falling into the no-man’s/no-woman’s land between the genders.

We know we are trans, sure.   But we also know that on some deep and true level, we are one of the gang, just another human.

For feminine hearted people who were born with a male body, who went through puberty as a male, maybe the most profound experience of our childhood is never being able to just be one of the girls.    It’s awful difficult to be confident and gracious walking as a woman in the world if you were forcibly denied your own girlhood.

Women teach other women how to be women.  That’s how gender always works, a collective and shared experience passed from mother to daughter, from girlfriend to girlfriend.   We learn the power of our expression by expressing it, learn how to master that power by sharing our experiences with other women, seeing ourselves through their eyes, passing techniques back and forth, getting feedback on how we can be seen more potently in the world.

TBB knows how to be an appropriate transperson in the workplace.   She even has the delight of having a trans elder, another transperson who had the same rank in the same organization, now retired, to share dinner with.

She knows how to play safe, to not assume that people see her as one gender or the other, just that they see her as a professional.

This week, though, she went to dinner at a married friend’s house, and another woman, a lesbian,came by to talk about appropriate clothing for her corporate assignment.   All of a sudden, they were talking clothes and presentation and being seen as a mature woman in the world, sharing tips, and all of a sudden, TBB knew she was included as one of the gals.   She was inside the giggle.

The story was so powerful, so rare, so delightful, that she wanted to share it with me, wanted to relive that moment, wanted to hold that light once again.

ShamanGal and a workmate were waiting for one of the guys to deliver some data when they started talking clothes.   Her co-worker’s blouse was great, but how did she wear a bra with it?   When a demonstration was offered, the guy turned to look, but her co-worker said “Hay!  Girls only!”

The guy, though, feels the need to keep ShamanGal in the guy category, needing to make sure that other co-workers who treat SG as a woman know that she is trans.   The problem for him, though, is that they know, but they still see her as a woman.   They value her choices and expression over whatever shape her birth genitals happened to be.  He, well, he can’t do that yet, maybe because he needs to remind himself not to be attracted to SG’s long, slim legs in high heels.

More and more, ShamanGal is trusting that women see her as one of the girls.   Being young and fine boned, that’s easier for her than for some of us, but she still struggles with it, knowing that experience of seeing her gender shift in someone’s eyes and feeling them go cold and scary.

We know the deal.  Being trans means being beyond gender, being hung out by ourselves, being at risk.  This has been well explained to each of us, many, many, many times.

I’m cool just being Callan.   I know that I will always be trans, whatever my expression.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t need, need to be one of the gang, need to get the affirmation and acknowledgement that can only come from others who share our hearts and share our world.

It doesn’t mean I don’t both crave and need the kind of validation and feedback that helps me be more confident and powerful in the world, helps me be a more polished and graceful feminine hearted person in the world.

There is connection and joy in being seen and valued for who we are inside, beyond convention and social demands.    There is growth and beauty being inside the shared giggle, the one women raised as girls take for granted.   It’s very hard to let go of the old without being assured that the new can be more authentic and kindred.

We each need a shared identity, an affirming space, a community.   Some get that through the device of identity politics, defining a group by political beliefs, by knowing who they are in opposition to; knowing their oppressors and enemies.   This never worked for me, as I am a bit too damn queer.

That moment, though, when you feel like you are seen, respected and valued, understood and affirmed, when you are safe, though, that feels great.

I know that I need it.


Thank you.. I wanted to tell you I needed to imagine to myself what you might do with regards to my dad when he was getting a bit upset when things got overwhelming and I was so overwhelmed too..
It helped.. To go onto a different mode for him as helper.. To put that face on.. Normally I have been fortunate to be able to be pretty much myself with him since my mother died.. But this week that wasn't working for him.. And therefore not for me either.. So I told him we had both forgotten to go with the flow.. He laughed..
(From my sister's friend)

How do you gain the trust of people who have limited Theory of Mind (ToM)?

You have to become predictable.

This is the call of the caregiver, taking care of children or seniors or anyone else who is facing life challenges that consume them.  Their life is about them, so your job is to get out of the way when you are being nurse or mom or manager.

I call this Concierge Mode.  I had a style that worked, not a boring style or one without personal flair, but one that was always focused on serving, be that entertaining or comforting.

My sister still loves it when I take care of her.  It feels safe and comfortable, because I am there for her in a predictable way.    She knows how much my parents came to trust me with their very lives and she knows how much of myself I had to put on hold to take that responsibility.

That’s something her friend is having trouble doing with her aging father, even if she did it with her students.   And its something that my sister has not mastered, leaving me to be slammed and jarred by her breaches of my trust.

My role for the past year and a half has been being compliant and and unchallenging to her, attenuating my life to keep her comfortable and functional.   She gives very little indication that she understands what is going on inside me.

I know how to be consistent and predictable, an iceberg, as a former partner said; solid and safe, even though I do tend to move around a bit.

To claim myself back, though, I need to be able to break out of that predictability and become new.

To be a woman is to make the choices of a woman.   My training and habit, though, is to make the choices of a gender-neutral caregiver who modulates themselves to be predictable for others.

To continue to be as reasonable and predictable as the persona I developed to care for others is to lock myself in the same box that has kept me struggling for decades.

Credibility in world comes when your choices match your assertions.    That’s what people read as authentic, some essential truth that runs through your entire presentation.

I cannot both make the choices of a predictable, rational, attenuated caregiver and also make the choices of a transwoman claiming her own space in the world.    As I told Ms. Rachelle years ago, I cannot both smash through the walls and also clean up the pieces after to make everyone comfortable.

I’m pleased that my sister’s friend learned some technique from me that helps her and her father deal with the medical challenges we face as we get older.   I’m happy that I mastered that technique to give my own parents a large number of good days.

Being predictable, rational and attenuated, though, is a strait jacket that I know how to manage but that doesn’t let my heart show itself and expand.

One of the biggest cliches I grew up with is that transpeople are just self-indulgent, following their own Eros, unpredictable and irrational.    I took that on board, working hard to use my own discipline, my aesthetic denial to become solid and predictable, even as my hidden heart wanted to wink, giggle and dance.

In the end, I suspect that I, like everyone else you will ever meet, am just human.

My experience, though, is that people want something other than that from me, something predictable.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.

And those choices aren’t always predictable, even to her.

Belief As Brand

Special-K used to be just a crisped rice & wheat cereal.  Just a single product, simple.

Today, though, Special-K is a brand.  It started with more flavours of cereal, then extended to nutrition bars and pastry crisps, to meal replacement shakes and protein water, to crackers and crisps.

Marketers figured out that once customers knew what a brand stood for — what the belief structures behind it were — that other products that embodied those beliefs could easily come under the umbrella, quickly signalling their own values by wearing the known brand.

If a brand is a set of beliefs and values, quickly communicated, that consumers sign up for when they purchase a product.   This is why consumers end up owning brands; products that they decide well represent the values they think the brand means succeed, products that don’t, fail, as the developers of New Coke found.   Coke turned out to be much more about traditional values than about a flavour profile that worked better with HFCS.

Since we now live in a world of brands and branding, there are many, many people who believe that individuals need to be able to brand themselves to create success, using all the marketing strategies of positioning and value statements, shaping the belief structure and then continuing to develop the product — the person — to more fully and effectively meet those branding beliefs.

In this world, we don’t reinvent ourselves, we rebrand ourselves, defining our beliefs and values in a new way, then reformulating who we are to deliver on that label.

The big problem with branding, though, is that it is nowhere near as easy as it seems.   Every product in the dollar store has some kind of branding slapped onto the package, often created like the exercises in packaging assigned to art students.   How hard can it be, many people think, to brand a product or to brand themselves?   It’s just a bit of bullshit, right?

Dollar Tree knows that it isn’t that simple.  They buy up old, out-of-use brands to apply to their products, for example buying the Breck brand for in-house hair and baby products.   Why do they think it is worth the money to buy brands rather than just have interns make them up out of thin air?

It turns out that we respond to brands with depth and history.   We want to have brands that resonate, that for some reason, either past remembering or depth of knowledge, make us feel like there is more than just a label to the brand.

Great brands are great brands because they have substance, because they are not just a paper thin veneer popped on a generic product.   Great brands come out of great products with great histories because the values and the beliefs have clarified and made rich by the process of focusing on quality.    As much as Google creates the future, its roots of a few guys in a garage building an elegant and useful product still live on in its every successful venture.

Deciding what you should believe, what others want to hear, can only create a tinny pitch until you have the texture and tone that offers credibility.  That depth can only come from the real experience and traditions of creating mastery, not from making the label prettier.

You can’t just create a brand and then grow into it, but the process of defining your brand by assessing what you have to offer and what you value can help sharpen your own communication and your own choices.    The process of developing and defining a brand makes product choices more crisp and the process of product development makes branding richer and more clear.   They work together.

In many ways, transgender emergence includes the process of rebranding, taking knowledge, truth, values and beliefs that were previously hidden and putting them out front.    Combined with the process of development, shedding non-productive choices and replacing them with choices that more effectively represent and deepen what we offer, this give us a basis for becoming new, for dropping what doesn’t work and mastering that which is more effective and resonant in the world.

For me, it’s time for a rebranding.   I need to take what I believe & value and turn that into new choices, both of clear expression and of decisive action.

Rebranding always comes with resistance, because people are accustomed to the old brand, the brand they know and love, even if that brand has become moribund and is no longer growing in the world.   It even comes with resistance from inside, because we are familiar, comfortable and even fond of the way we have done things before.

To take what we believe, to get that clear and crisp, and then to turn those beliefs into a clear brand that we in turn use to shape our future choices, revealing ourselves as integrated and credible, then iterating what we learn back into strengthening our brand is a very newfangled way of self-development.   It is creation for culture where attention is the most precious commodity and where brand awareness is the drivers of most people’s choices.

The way we express belief today is by developing and consolidating brands.   That branding is not separate from becoming better but is part of the same process.

I need a rebranding, one that supports new choices and beliefs which transcend doubt and facilitate creation.   Happy brand, happy choices, happy me.

Being Belief

Whether you believe that you can, or you believe that you can’t, you’re right.

Henry Ford understood that attitude is at the centre of our ability to achieve.   Doubt depletes motivation, doubt removes that strength of persistence which is at the core of all achievement.    Once you think that it can’t be done, the probability of you doing it falls precipitously, down to around zero.

If you really believe it can be done, you will take the time to analyze why others have failed, why you have failed in attempts to do it, question what could have been done better, then come up with considered, new and innovative approaches that offer more possibilities of achievement.

If you really believe it can be done, you will make the tradeoffs and pay the costs required to achieve, rather than holding back, deciding that you are throwing good money after bad.   It may not be able to be done at a price you can afford after all, but if you believe it cannot be done, then you can never consider what the possible price may be.

I’m pretty clear about what I believe I cannot do.   What, though, do I believe that I can do?

In the end, your choices are shaped by what you believe you can do.

The doubter is wise, the believer is happy, as the old Hungarian proverb goes.

My job in the world has been the doubter.  I doubted for my family, I doubted myself to maintain the status quo. I doubted for my people to explore and communicate the boundaries of the trans experience.

I have chosen doubt for a million good reasons, not least of which is that I am very, very good at it, showing a theological bent from an early age.

I have a birthday coming up, though, one of those rollover birthdays where a digit resets to zero, a birthday that marks me as old.

Maybe it’s it is finally my time to wear purple, to act on my beliefs rather than my doubts, to reach for some kind of unfettered happiness.

It is a joy to find someone who believes in you, but there is a reason that Bobby Morse’s character in “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” sings “I Believe In You” to a mirror.   In the end, you gotta believe in yourself because people tend to reflect your own beliefs rather than to lead them.

Whether you believe that you can, or you believe that you can’t, you’re right.

Can I believe that happiness exists in the world for someone like me, as scarred and battered as I am?   Or do I continue to vest my identity in the really brilliant and useful doubting that has defined so much of my life?

My beliefs have been bounded and constrained by the beliefs of others.   Thought forms gather strength by the number of people who sign on to them, as Rachel Pollack reminds me.

If our beliefs shape our possibilities, how do we own beliefs in the modern world?

That’s a good question for the next post.