How can TBB not know that she is a star?
She recently had a couple of dinners with one of her old frenemies. They were in a documentary film together a few years ago when they both were working in Trinidad Colorado.
The friend is an very accomplished doctor who loved being a big fish in a small pond, both geographically and culturally, serving the trans community. In her mind, TBB was playing a supporting role and not really doing it all that well, as TBB had her own vision and her own energy.
After watching the film again recently, though, her friend had a different view.
“You really were the star of that movie,” she told TBB.
Yeah. TBB has always had megawatt star power.
That’s not something she can easily agree with, though.
What makes a star? The most useful definition I know is functional: when a star is on, you can’t take your eyes off of them. Their energy just compels you to watch, to engage, to connect.
TBB was already the star of Southern Comfort Conference when I arrived. Everyone knew that she had the spark, even as they saw others doing the work.
Why were others visibly participating? Simple. TBB would focus her star power on them, tell them that their idea was great, that they were great, and that they had a big part to play in the success of the conference.
TBB wasn’t in it for the glory; she already had the star power.
TBB was in it for the mommy. She knew she could empower others to be better than they thought that they could be.
Other people really did play their parts, parts they and others around them understood. That was great.
But TBB was playing her part too. It’s just that other people didn’t understand what she was doing, didn’t get how hard she was working, because she, like any great star, made it look effortless and natural. A star never lets them see her sweat.
To them, TBB was just having fun. The magic happened without her seeming to strain or make a point of it, just flowing in a way that made it invisible to all but those who knew the work and energy it takes to be a star.
The first day I met TBB at SCC, with just an hours notice, she pulled me up on stage to co-host a talent show in front of 450 people.
I knew a few things. I knew that this was a great opportunity to go beyond my own comfort zone, knew that my over-thinking and elaborate preparation routine had to be thrown out, and I knew, knew, knew that TBB was going to have my back and make it safe for me on stage.
I knew she was a star. I wonder what she knew about me.
Tonight, though, as I telephonically joined her table for dinner overlooking the Sound in Seattle, I reminded her of what her frienenemy had said to her; she was the star of the movie they shared, bringing an energy her friend didn’t value at the time, an energy that was even threatening in the moment.
TBB had trouble agreeing with our assessment.
Why doesn’t TBB know she is a star? People around her see that star quality in her, feel that energy. They all assume she understands how powerful and attractive she is.
Almost none of those people, though, have grown up with star quality of their own. They don’t understand the cost of shining in the world. Growing up a star and as trans? Even more inconceivable, even less comprehensible.
TBB learned early to use her power for good, making the honourable choice and putting others first, leading with family and empowerment. Unlike others who craved stardom and chose to hog the spotlight, TBB took her inner light and shared it with others, bringing them into the glow.
The worst part of having success is
to try finding someone who is happy for you.
— Bette Midler
Ms. Midler knows the price of being a star and search for support. Trying to find people who aren’t threatened or challenged by your power is almost impossible. Others can’t see the power and the price, can only imagine that somehow you are bound by the same constraints that they are. Between envy and ignorance trying to find someone who is happy for you, who can really help you burnish your brilliance rather than hide it is well neigh impossible.
The star as wounded healer, performing at a personal price, luminous because of a huge and broken heart is not an uncommon archetype in the world. Burning bright always has some cost.
TBB finds it hard to acknowledge her stardom because she needs to fit in, in technical spaces, in workplaces, in communities, in family. Being big and bright isn’t a way to make people comfortable even if it is a way to enervate them. Star power separates you, even if your goal is to illuminate and empower the lives of others.
It’s been over two decades since she pulled me up onto that stage with me and I still see the star shining through under the sweet transwoman, even if she resists going there.
It’s hard to embrace your own star power and it’s even harder to embrace the star power in others, that terrifying and thrilling energy that makes others incandescent with life. To cheer for the power you just see as both magical and as coming at so high a cost to the star is hard.
“Your work will shine more freely after you are gone,” TBB tells me. “The audience will catch up with you.”
Why can’t TBB easily accept her own stardom?
Probably for the same reason that many others also swallow their star power.