Expository

I believe in meaning.

My life is full of moments, tiny moments that only happen once.   Those moments may be interactions with other people or they may be moments of my creation, making choices, or they may be a little of both.  I can hear someone elses story, I can create my own story, or we can share a bit of story.

What I do, what I learned to do very early, is to listen hard for telling moments.   These are moments when meaning is revealed, when a nugget of truth surfaces, when a jewel is uncovered.

Those telling moments lead me to make connections, to expose the seam of truth running under the moments.

I have been told that I see these telling events very quickly,   More than that, I integrate the tells into my understanding quickly, shaping my choices.   I have learned to be in the moment, not dealing with canned expectations but responding to what is happening now.

A key part of this process is the willingness to accept that my current working assumption is wrong, doesn’t fit the moment and needs to be corrected.   I have to be able to be open to the question, doubting my own understanding so that I can tune it as needed.   After doing this for years, though, your own internal models of how things work end up getting pretty refined.

When I write, even when I write fiction, my themes come out.  My choices expose my worldview, my concerns and my priorities.

It is said that every character we write reveals a different part of us, for how can we ever separate our self from our creations?   I may have that Jonathan Winters talent of speaking in tongues, but I need to be able to invoke those voices from somewhere inside of myself even if they take positions that don’t reflect my own introspection.

I have learned to hold contradictory beliefs, able to hop from chair to chair to speak different parts that each make up part of a more whole view, knowing that unless I can understand multiple points of view I cannot understand the depth and fullness of the moment.

The notion that meaning is exposed in all of our choices, even in choices we believe we make to conceal or diminish meaning, choices we make to deceive others or deceive ourselves, is a tough one for many people.   They deliberately do not want to be exposed, do not want to illuminate the dark corners of their nature.

If you want to engage your own healing, I can be very useful, but if you want to stay where you are, I can be very challenging and disquieting.   It is not hard to tell that I collect telling moments which hold meaning and reveal patterns, seeing through the façade to depth.   Being exposed can often make people want to squirm.

To me, hearing the voices is embracing the meaning that they hold, even when that meaning is not nice, politically correct or intended.   Moments that reveal twist and contradictions are often even more telling than those which contain pretty truths, for they give us the insight to reshape understanding.

I have low levels of latent inhibition, leaving me open, vulnerable and tender.   What I get in return for that is high levels of perception, having patterns and meaning exposed to me quickly.    I am introspective to a fault, my gift and my curse.

Opening to meaning the way we get clear, effective and better.   We cannot shape the process by making different choices unless we see the meaning in that magic moment between stimulus and response, the only moment where choice really exists.   Breaking the habits means making new choices and making new choices means understanding when a new option is possible.

You cannot drive out darkness.   You can only bring light.  Catching that flash of light in the moment when it happens opens us to understanding how to expand that light, how to take 10 seconds of brilliance and extend it to 20 seconds, then to 40 seconds and so on.

For me, the telling moment, the moment when you stumble, when things change for an instant, is worth examining.   In that moment, the bell rings and a koan is revealed, a question worth study and understanding.  You may find twists or you may find clarity, but they both can open the path to better choices grounded in a deeper knowledge of meaning.

I believe in meaning.  Even in the face of dysfunction and concealment, meaning is always there, ready to enlighten us if we are willing to stop and open to it.    To be afraid of meaning is to be afraid of revelation, afraid of exposing truth and authenticity.

For me, the telling moments that expose meaning are the jewels in the world, offering us the only keys to unlock what we are seeking.

And that means that they are very meaningful.

Curiosity, Normative, Pedestal

Reynolds Price, in his book “A Whole New Life,” talks about his frustration with people who met him after he became a paraplegic and seemed to think that his health was an open subject for curiosity.   They would ask intimate questions about his body that they would never think about asking of normative people, feeling entitled to their intrusive curiosity, about their attempt to create a separating taxonomy, because he was now a public freak in the world.

Carol Queen noted that whenever queers write a book, straight people always assume that the content is about them.   They believe they are normative so they can understand anyone else through their own experiences.    I use the allegory of describing how an exquisite Pot de Crème au Chocolat tasted in Paris and someone responding “I understand completely!  I always get the chocolate pudding at Sizzler, too!”   They have missed my story by replacing it with their own.

Whenever someone calls me magical, courageous and an inspiration to them, I get concerned.    I can feel them putting me up on a pedestal and removing my messy, challenging humanity in the process.  Jennifer Tomlinson notes that “while it may be tempting to provide effusive praise, I think it’s also important to communicate understanding and validation of a person’s core identity.”

Treating transgender people as if they are curiosities, are simply normative or are on a pedestal are three different ways that people deny understanding and validation of our core identity.

These aren’t the only ways to reject our reality and substitute your own, but they are ways that still invalidate our core identity while believing that you are being considerate and gracious to transgender people.   We learn very early that people who do any of these things are dismissing our identity and are not safe space, learn that a gotcha is possible at any moment with them.

As transpeople, we grow up in a world that does not understand the reality inside of us, a world where we are told that reality is wrong, perverted, and invalid.  We scrape like hell to shape an inner reality that both is connected with the world and represents the deep knowledge of who we know ourselves to be.

We know that our reality is fragile, though, easily punctured.   If it is too self centred and tough, it isolates us from others, but if it is too flexible and permeable, we can get overwhelmed by challenges from others who project their reality onto us.

The reality of others can easily be tough and hard, often tracing their identity to projected birth sex differences that we see as illusions.   We are defined by the shape of our heart, not of our genitals, but that doesn’t play in binary, reactionary and compartmentalized expectations.  It is easy to be angry at someone who sets out to hurt you, much harder when someone hurts you our of their own unconsidered and well-intentioned reality.

People have their own realities and can easily believe that seeing us as are curiosities, as simply normative as on a pedestal is a good and reasonable thing, better than seeing us as threats, fear objects worthy of being humiliated and destroyed.   They want to be there for us, want to be considerate allies, but have little idea how their own internalized assumptions tend to erase and hurt us, denying us understanding, validation and safety.

We do not surrender our dignity and privacy because we are different, do not need our narratives to be reduced to some lowest common denominator, and don’t exist as brave angels out to heal the world.   All of those assumptions take away bits of our precious humanity, the heart we have fought so hard to reclaim and own in the face of a world that wanted to homogenize, silence and erase us.

Keeping our own battered and tender reality together is hard enough when we feel safe, seen, understood, valued and cared for.   When we feel we are just players in someone elses assumptions, even what they consider benign expectations, we lose potency quickly, our agency sagging with stigma and another goddamn “gotcha.”   The history is too real and too present.

Queer, the valuing of the individual over grouping assumptions, is hard, and we have to claim it for ourselves before we can give it to others.   I am always moved when someone finds me queer enough to feel safe entrusting me with their unique story, believing I won’t  dissect them, erase them with assumptions, or only want to hear what I believe are the good parts of their story.  They need to believe that I respect them before they will open up.

I am not here to inspire you, to satisfy your curiosity, or to fit into your expectations of gender.   I am here to struggle to be me, to be human, messy and spirited.

That is my fragile and beautiful reality.

Heart Leak

There are moments when I feel smart, competent, grateful and engaged.  I am, as anyone who reads this blog might suspect, always thinking.

It is when I try to gear up to take action that things tend to go pear shaped.   I get a bit of what I need to get done, but pretty soon I flutter to a stop, depleted and lost.

I strive to fill my heart with power, but holding onto that energy just seems impossible.  I have a heart leak, any power and momentum I build up lost in the attempt to pump, like it squirts out through a crack or a faulty gasket.

The oh so solitary facts of my life has caused the pump to run dry too many times, leaving it fractured and eroded.  Priming the pump, getting it restarted is always up to me, but my own agency has been stolen by those around me.   I live not only at the mercy of my disrepair but also at the expense of their own brokenness, their own inability to be present for me in a way that I have been present for them, deeply damaged by their own failures to carry out their commitments.

The pressure builds, but as soon as I try to engage it to do work, the energy bleeds off just as I bleed off from long-term wounds. I collapse, punctured in the heart, falling into a pool of my own sadness.

That hissing puncture isn’t new to me, but it has gotten louder and more destructive over the years as the blowouts spread and the energy declined. Choices must be made as you face loss, and when the choices are added to a leaky pump, motion becomes stilled.   There is no one to fight for anymore, no one to fight with.

I am “so out there,” as I have been told, and out here, we learn to putter along on what we have, as leaky as we are.  Being beyond desire is massively freeing, but it is also dauntingly removed, removing the drive to stuff the leaky holes with desperate needs.   I end up simmering down, more observer than participant, more theologian than evangelist.

Every humans has needs, has to play their part in the system to receive them.   My leaky heart makes that very difficult as I cannot muster the wherewithal to engage those requirements.   They slip out of my fingers and my status gets worse, sliding away in a plume of vented possibility.

Getting back onto the grid, feeling like I can take chances without risking the limited energy available to me, being able to carry through with projects rather than being depleted quickly seems to be an important requirement for keeping a social, connected and human life on track.

My heart is leaky, though, losing force in a wash of exhaustion, disconnection and fear. Fractured, I seem to be, with so little left that forward pressure just doesn’t hold.

Thanks For Yes

It is Thanksgiving in the US, a time to share what we are grateful for.

TBB has always liked being the centre of attention more than I have.   She enjoys being seen, whatever the reason.

I just  don’t have the NYC out-there vibe she has, that willingness to be a bit of a ham or a parade float.  My low levels of latent inhibition, my early training taught me more of a hit & run guerrilla approach, wanting my statements to be heard while staying personally invisible, as silly as that sounds.

Last week TBB was sitting in a departure lounge at LAX.

“I’ve been here for two hours,” she told me, “and nobody is staring at me.   I miss the old days!”

Her amusing cry that she has become too invisible in the world, so different for the big blonde transwoman, is a sign of the huge change in transgender visibility in the world.   We are now much less scary freaks when we appear in cosmopolitan settings, instead becoming more “So What?”

The world, it seems, is getting used to saying “Yes” to transpeople, or at least saying “So What?”

My local school district is contemplating making plans for transkids at the high school, with designated gender neutral one-user restrooms.   This is a conservative, Republican enclave, and like so many other social changes, the challengers can’t understand why the voters aren’t in a bigger uproar over the changes.

I went to a Transgender Day Of Remembrance event planned and run by people who don’t identify as transgender, full of people who don’t identify as trans.   They chose to stand up for transpeople against violence all on their own, following the sweep and growth of understanding.

My sister hired a transwoman to work for her putting out merchandise at a department store.  People were a bit ragged with pronouns at first, but things settled down as they began to know her.

Transgender, it seems, is just another way people are.  OK, yes, so what.   Transgender.

I used to yell out loud that transgender people are not trying to lie about their sex, rather we are trying to tell the truth about our hearts.   It was a huge and vital statement.

It seems like, with increased media visibility and a change in how we accept lesbian and gay people generally that message has gotten through.   People are who they are and they can’t just change.  Their expression isn’t rooted in illness, rather it is centred in the the truth of their creation, in their own authenticity.

For people like me and TBB who grew up in a world where we learned to police ourselves with fear, this is a huge change and still difficult.   We have the scars of oppression carved deeply into us, so telling our stories is still intense and challenging.  We know how much denial and abuse has cost us, how much womanhood we lost.   We know that little UPS Stores in the Bible Belt can still be dangerous and damaging to us, know that we can still have our gender stripped from us and be left a freaky man-in-a-dress.

For younger & hotter people like ShamanGal, this “So What” attitude has opened doors and created possibilities that she never could have imagined when she first put herself in the box, declaring that being openly transgender would only come if she was broken and in the gutter first.   She worked hard to make that outcome happened, but instead she blossomed.

TBB recently got very, very high marks on her job evaluation, acknowledged for her mature grace in knitting together a crew.  She knows that a key to that success, knows that was has changed for her, is that she finally was able to knit together her life.   Instead of being angry and upset, closeted and bipolar, she can use that big heart of hers to empower and lead other people, contributing so much more to the world than she ever could have when she was split and ragged.

I have recently been pushing myself to go out into the world more.    I am always surprised when nobody screams and runs or points and laughs, just the same way that TBB noticed when she wasn’t seen as a freak in LAX.    I have always understood the theory, but the practice, well, the practice was best left to others.   Still, there have been moments where I almost forgot my fear and just walked as a woman, a transwoman in the world, moments where, as TBB has said “I realized I was just loose and happy and that scared me!”

“Sure.   Trans.   So what?”

It is such a change in the world that I haven’t really internalized it, but I am very, very grateful for it.    Personally, I still feel the need to hear people tell me “Yes,” something I struggled with for a year and half, because just not saying “No” isn’t quite the same as saying “Yes,” especially to someone who grew up with so much no.   I always scrape for affirmation and feedback.

Still, the world has very much stopped saying “no” to transpeople in the ways that it used to.   We exist as more than freaks, exist as humans.   So many more possibilities are open to transpeople coming out today.

And for that change, I am very grateful.

Beyond Saying No

All my life, the basic advice about transgender expression has been the same: If there is any way you can swallow, suppress, deny or can the desire, whatever the price, that is always the best choice.

The advice was simple: Just say no to transgender.  Just say no.

That advice acknowledges the cost of being visible and trans in the world, the costs around falling out of the system of desire, of credibility in the workplace, of the stigma and stress of being seen as queer.  It acknowledges that we can’t simply slip between sex/gender roles, that history and biology do count for something, and we can get stuck in no-man’s/no-woman’s land, stuck in the battle zone of gender enforcement.

It does not, however, take into account any costs in denial, compartmentalization, disintegration, anger, stress, touchiness, fear and so on that come with the attempt to conceal or kill off the nature of your heart.

Those costs were by definition hidden deep within you and not on the surface, so they were easy to mark as invisible and therefore irrelevant.   Just saying no to transgender was supposed to be easy, simple and cheap, at least for those who advised it.

When I started to emerge, oh so long ago now, my goal was to become more androgynous and integrated, bringing my feminine energy into balance in my life.  The plan was to be more gender playful but to remain man-identified, because I knew that between my big body and my desire towards women, I was never going to easily pass as someone born female.

Through the decades I realized that my nature was much more feminine than masculine and that passing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.   My internal identification and understanding shifted, even as my expression often stayed in what I saw was an androgynous zone.   Recently, the importance of showing myself in the world has become more clear and that is my current challenge.

The notion that unless transgender ripped its way out of you, like an alien emerging from your chest in a movie, you should just grin and bear whatever was inside of you in any way that you can may have left the world unchallenged & comfortable,   but it also left many transpeople broken and suffering.

We learned to live our lives with lowered expectations, having our own power and agency disabled and leaving some of the best and most potent parts of us mouldering in the swamp of denial.   Our energy went to policing, modulating and suppressing our own nature rather than to allowing our strengths to blossom in the world.   Instead of having the chance to find balance and grace, honing who we are in a healthy way, we had to hold onto sickness and fear that would serve us in staying small and hidden.

It seemed to be the proper and kind thing to do to ask us to keep our own perversion and sickness hidden, making “normal” choices that kept us far from the heinous sin of being unmanly or unwomanly.    After all, we expressed the notion that our nature caused us suffering, and any cost to swallow it would be borne by us, so why not ask for normalcy?  No, why not demand normalcy, the normalcy that they complied with, the normalcy that made people feel unthreatened,  the normalcy of ease for them, whatever the cost to us?

Shouldn’t we be able to inhibit unholy desire?  Wasn’t that best for everyone?

The answer, of course, was no.   It was not the best thing for transpeople to have to learn to break their own heart and try to poison their own essential nature.

We could not say no to our “bad” emotions,  to our “bad” nature without also saying no to our “good” emotions and our “good” nature. Without actually feeling, engaging and processing our own energy, not just walling it off, we could not own it, not use it, not become integrated, actualized, vulnerable, whole-hearted, integral and authentic.

Just saying no to transgender was a suicidal, crap idea.   It cost so many of us so much of our precious time and energy to stay in denial, to try and kill off our own heart.  We broke ourselves over the binary gender system, thinking we were doing the honourable thing, the smart thing, the rational thing.

So many paid so dearly for their attempt to silence and destroy our own nature, to just say no to the truth that was so clear in their heart.   They tried to say no and ended up saying no to full, happy and connected lives.

How do we find a place for transgender emergence and growth in the context of a complete life?    Running from one closet to another as quickly as possible is clearly not a good solution, as no one can thrive in a cage.

After so long saying “no” to trans, lowering our expectations rather than raising our sights, change is due.

Broken Early

The mind is an amazing thing.   It is so adaptable, such powerful wetware, that it reconfigures, changes to meet the needs at hand.

I knew someone who had a stroke and I was able to understand what happened.  Firmware controllers for basic tasks, like walking, had blown out in the brain, but they were able to emulate that processing in the main brain.  With training and work, they were able to simulate what the controllers did, but at the cost of attention and focus.

When they were tired or had a lot to process, their basic functions were impaired in a way that they would not have been if they were still run from the dedicated controller bits.   The emulation program had to compete for resources, adding stress and challenge to basic tasks that would be easy without the stroke damage.

They liked this explanation, feeling it represented their struggle, and were surprised when even non-technical people understood it.

When the basic firmware of the brain is flawed or broken, we have to emulate those functions in the higher brain and there is always a cost for that.

Reading about Harry Harlow’s mothering experiments with rhesus macaques I was reminded of this notion.   Harlow noted that when he took his monkeys away from their mothers and raised them in a nursery setting, they ended up being “strange.”    They didn’t have basic social connection skills.

Pushing the question of the role of mothers — the role of love — in the development of mammals, Harlow deliberately raised some animals in isolation.   The results were shocking.   “Total isolation . . . for at least the first six months of life,” Harry Harlow wrote, “consistently produces severe deficits in virtually every aspect of social behaviour.”

Isolated monkeys failed to initiate or reciprocate social behaviours like play or grooming, failed to engage in normal social behaviours, showed abnormal levels of aggression, and made horrible, inattentive parents.

While there was some recovery when these isolated monkeys were reintegrated, there was never full recovery.   The damage was permanent.

When these monkeys raised without love and affection were afraid, they often showed self-harming behaviours, calming themselves by hurting themselves.

The injuries from ineffective and distant mothering were deep and profound.    They were not fixable, but with effort, they could emulate some of the broken basics in the main brain, but always at a high cost that was revealed under stress.

I know the limits of having parents with Aspergers later in life when I had to fight with them, learning to be manipulative in order to defend and protect myself.  I know how I had to use my big fast brain to create survival strategies in the world, emulating in software the deficits I realized I had in firmware.

I don’t know, however, at least on any rational and logical level, the cost of having Aspergers parents in my first years when that firmware based on love and trust should be laid down.    I have no words, no stories for the challenges I experienced as an infant, before I had language and structured thought to try and get or substitute what I needed.

I do know how much these stories resonate with me, how I have slammed my own head and imagined being kicked to calm myself down.  I know how much behaviours and attitudes that others seem to take for granted are always hard work for me.   I know how much things others see as easy slip away from me, causing stress and pain.

What are the costs of maternal deprivation in my life?  How has trying to fake, to vamp, to substitute what most learn early from healthy interactions cost me over time?   Like any curse, it is also a gift, as I suspect my own meta consciousness, my own fast and furious analysis comes from the same place.

I never played well with others, never easily fit into social networks, never found social interactions easy.  I played alone and I still do, hermetic to the last, much like my younger sister, and maybe even like my youngest brother who paid a lot to become assimilated as an extension of his wife.

The mind is an amazing thing. It is so adaptable, such powerful wetware, that it reconfigures, changes to meet the needs at hand.

I thank my mother in the sky for the power of my brain to fill in the gaps from my history from the general store of cycles.

But those gaps, those gaps, those gaps, well, they still make me sad, still leave me disconnected and still seem to cause me pain.

Gendered Eyes

Gender is never a solitary pursuit.

Sure, we all have some inner sense of who we are, but the development and expression of that sense is always in the context of the social system of gender.   The symbols and behaviours in that system shift over time and place, shift between race and class identities, shift between ethnicities and cultures.  Gender expression that is appropriate in the court of Louis XIV at Versailles wouldn’t be appropriate in a Hooters in Tulsa, for example.

We teach each other how to do gender, that imitation for which there is no original, as Judith Butler called it.   Gender expression is always relational, judged on how effectively it advertises who we are, how effectively it makes the connections we want to make.  Gender expression needs to communicate who we are and what we are trained to do and needs to fit together with the gender expression of others to create links.

Learning to be gendered in a culture is learning to see through the eyes of other people.  We hang with people like us — are homosocial — and learn how to be one of the group, assimilating ourselves by finding our version of the shared behaviours.   We interact with people not like us and see how they respond to us, learning how to change that response by reshaping our own gender presentation.

The truth of gender is primarily cultural, shaped by the relations between people and studied by social scientists.  Gender exists around reproductive biology, helping to control procreation and child-rearing, defining the roles of mommies, daddies and relatives, but every culture has layered its own needs and desires onto the gender system, needs that are romantic, economic and political.

Humans are social animals so gender is a social system.   A “wild child” would never learn gender, having no need to and no way to do so.

For transpeople, whose journey is strongly solitary, moving to claim an individual identity over the assigned and compulsory group identity, this shared acculturation is always a challenge.  How do we learn to see with the eyes of those we wish to be when we are not accepted in their circle?   How do we take on shared vision when we are locked out of the sharing that would teach us that way of seeing?

Gender policing comes with separation.  Systems of gender always separate people by reproductive biology and then formalize interactions between those groups to limit the possibility of unauthorized and premature procreation.  The need for these separations is reduced with the availability of reliable contraception, which is one reason that gender has changed so much in the past 50 years.   Breeding pressure is also off, as there is little economic incentive to have more children, and this always opens up gender, as Gilbert Herdt notes in Third Sex, Third Gender.

Women are people who make the choices of women.  While women’s choices of dress and ornament may be their most visible choices, they are far from the most important choices to define and shape the woman gender experience.   Engaging the stories of other women, sharing experiences and viewpoints, coming together over needs and beliefs is at the core of how women create a shared and powerful identity.   Sisterhood is indeed powerful.

Learning a new gender role without immersion in a group of others who also work to embody that gender role is almost impossible.  Doing gender alone gives a flat view without the depth that sharing views from around the circle gives.   Alone we don’t have the perspective which shapes and refines our presentation and choices in the world.

Polishing gender expression, finding that balance of tame connection and wild individuality that lets us be effective and graceful in the world always requires the feedback between observer and participant, between us and them.    For transpeople, who always end up spending time between groups, this is a real challenge.

Changing our mind always means seeing the world we share in new ways, seeing through the eyes of others.    And those eyes are always gendered.

Experts

In Annie Hall, Woody Allen imagines dealing with a pontificating professor with whom he shares a line by pulling out the ultimate expert to dismiss him from behind a theatre poster.

Many of have the same dream, the magical ability to pull out an expert on demand, someone who has the standing to discredit our opponents and validate our beliefs.  ShamanGal has even asked for the ability to pull me out of thin air to tackle her battles, but knows that she has to learn to fight for herself.

As transpeople we have our own hearts telling us a truth, but “because I feel it!” isn’t enough to confront and change the world.   Someone recently found my blog with the question “How do i know that I’m supposed to be a shemale?” revealing the struggle we all face in understanding and explaining the difference between a healthy, holy inner call and a twisted, destructive illusion.

To help clear our own understanding and to explain & justify our choices to others, we look for experts.  Who can help clarify and defend our own transgender desire and the choices that we make based on it, to us and to those around us?

In a world where the scientific is venerated as the pinnacle of sensible, informed thinking many look to scientists, doctors to help elucidate the phenomenon of transgender.   We look and what comes back is very little.   Transpeople are thin on the ground and there just haven’t been that many studies that offer much comparative analysis of transgender.

Because transgender is a phenomenon of desire, the only real thing to study is the strength and shape of that desire.  All we know that we struggle to fit into the compulsory gender roles assigned us by dint of our reproductive biology, that we need to transcend them.   What does that mean?

I remember a young gal in Toronto who had to deal with the infamous Clarke Institute, home of Ray Blanchard.   She was worried that she screwed up her life too much to get permission for medical support in changing her gender and her body.  It was, however, exactly those screw ups that got her the intervention that she wanted, the intervention she needed.

The criteria simply came down to this question:  Is there any way that they can continue without intervention?  Are they capable of mustering the willpower to function in their assigned gender role?   If so, then that’s what they should do.   If they are not capable, if they are at risk, then yes, medical support is indicated.

The question was never about thriving, about integrity and authenticity, about empowerment and release, rather the question was all about surviving.  If you had the willpower to survive, no matter what the inner cost to you, no matter how much you would have blossomed with support, then you stayed put.

How else could they measure the breadth and force of the transgender desire inside of someone?   The only tool they had was measuring it against the coping skills to stay in place, then using that balance to decide if you were really trans or just a fetishist.

So many people who studied transpeople found that we were broken, impaired, dysfunctional.    Usually, that behaviour was linked to transgender desire, creating a thesis that the transgender urge was linked to other mental problems.

The harder question was rarely asked, at least until people started looking at intervening with trans children at an early age.   Was the brokenness of transpeople more associated with the transgender desire or was it more associated with the costs of having that urge, the price of social pressure and denial?    Did transpeople start out broken, or were we broken by a system that deliberately set out to break our spirit in order to keep us in socially approved sex/gender boxes?

As a transperson, you can guess my view on that question.   For many researchers, though, that brokenness was seen as justification for attempting to destroy the transgender call, because clearly it was associated with sickness and perversion.  Pushing people to remain normative kept them from the worst, so that was the preferred treatment.

I have met many transpeople who see their genital reconstruction as a kind of official medical authorization to make gender choices that suit their heart.

“See, I went through the medical guidelines and a doctor agreed that I was sick, that I had ‘gender dysphoria,’ and went on to correct that birth defect.   He made me a woman with that operation and now you have to respect me as a woman, not like those transgender perverts who aren’t real transsexuals without a doctor carving authorization into their body   His slices confirm my gender!”

These people were looking for experts to justify and defend the choices of their trans heart, separating themselves from fake, dilettante, perverted trangenders who only are in it for the erotic gratification, for the jollies.

It is so hard to look at someone who is struggling with trans, expressing it in a way we consider an ugly or vulgar and understand that the difference between us and them is not that they are bad and we are good but rather that the difference is that we have done the work to sort bad from good, smoothing and cleaning our own choices and they still struggle.

I understand the desire to find experts to rationalize and justify our own transgender choices in the world.  In the end, though, barring some astounding breakthrough in brain mapping that does not appear close at hand, the only thing any expert can do is look at the narratives and choices of transpeople, finding patterns in them.

As long as transgender is a phenomenon of the heart, based in the deep and unyielding knowledge that inside we are who we are, it can only be observed by looking at the choices that trans hearts have their owners make.   We then have to sift out those choices, understanding what is a response to brutal social pressures, what is just normal human family challenges, and what comes from a transgender nature.

The expertise in explaining transgender in the world comes from the lives of transgender people as captured in their choices and their narratives.   That means that we will always own that expertise even if non trans researchers are the ones who look for those patterns.  The clearer and more connected we get with our own story, identifying commonalities and connections, differences and divergences between us and other transpeople, the more we are able to contribute understanding to the world.

This is a frustrating truth to those who crave scientific explanation and justification of their own trans choices, wanting a perfect differential diagnosis that allows them to assert their own true transness against the false trans of people who we think express trans in an ugly and vulgar way.

The new age movement has given us a host of pseudo-scientific claptrap, from people who read DNA to tell you past lives to others who use quantum theory to prove that the brain is capable of telekinetic change.   The language of science is reassuring because it seems authoritative, even when the thoughts behind it are far from strong, well reviewed science.  Couching our creation myths in scientific sounding terms does not make them less myth and more science, no matter how much we wish it so.

I love theory and I love theology, the threads in the stories of humanity, I just work hard not to mix them up.  

I wish I had an expert to pull out at will. My own understanding comes from a time two decades ago when we had even less discussion about transgender, comes from a struggle between now and then to gain a context that I share today. There were no experts then and really no experts now.

Our expertise comes from the lives, the stories, the choices of transpeople in the world.  We are are own experts, crowdsourcing an understanding of what the a transgender nature means.   We are the subjects and we are the observers, because, in the end, they are our transgender hearts.

Lllies In The Snow

This year marked the 15 anniversary of Transgender Day Of Remembrance (TDOR), started in 1999 by Gwen Smith in the Bay area after the murder of Rita Hester in Boston in 1998 and the associated vigils.   I helped with putting together some of the materials at that time.

When I read that there would be a candlelight gathering in a city where I used to live, I decided to go.   I didn’t really expect to be the only visible transwoman in a group of 25 or 30 people.

The event was put together by the people at Schenectady Pride, lead by Michelle Rivera-Landers.    These non-trans people wanted to stand up against violence, wanted to speak out about the abuse and terror they saw against others who were just trying to live the truth of their heart.  Chad Putman even choked up as he talked about the stalled progress of getting transgender civil rights into New York State law.

I was moved to see all of these people coming out on a cold and snowy November 20 to remember the transpeople who lost their lives, the transpeople who face fear everyday.  Taking a moment at the end of the event, I thanked them for coming and told some of my history coming out in their city.

I went on to tell the “Third Gotcha” story, explaining how transpeople who have been pounded into the closet for years feel the minefield around them, full of people who believe that transpeople are fair targets for abuse, asking for whatever they get and even people who are in so much pain over their own sacrifice to fit into the system of gender that they want to destroy and erase those who mock that sacrifice, those who offend their belief system.

Thank you, I said to them, thank you for coming out and standing as allies to transpeople.

My sharing was rewarded with hugs, a phenomenon shared across the country where non-transpeople have their heart opened by the list of violent murders of transpeople and then want to physically affirm transpeople near them, unable to hug those who died.

Driving home, I thought back fourteen years to March 23, 2000 when a transperson I knew was violently murdered just blocks from where I lived in this same city.   I knew her as Stephanie, small and vulnerable, but in the papers she was he, a man named Frankie, a man who used to dress up in a skirt & heels and frequent nightspots, who ended up with their throat cut at 4:30 AM, just after the closing time of bars.

As a small community of transpeople in the area, we struggled to understand what happened.   Had Stephanie brought on her own murder by her choices?  Should we stand up for her?   So many closeted transpeople wanted to stay away from what they saw as a morally ambiguous event, somehow believing that distance would isolate and protect them, keeping them safe in their compartments.

I knew that was not an acceptable choice, that we must stand against violence, holding attackers responsible, not their victims.  It was hard to gather enough of us for a remembrance at that time, but now, 14 years later, a group of people had come together of their own accord to stand up and I was lucky enough to see that change happen.   Such an amazing shift in understanding and support of people like Stephanie and I, such a more affirming world.

At that time, I wrote about our small event.   I include that here:

Lillies in The Snow
9 April 2000

Who expects it to be 67° one mid-April day, and the next day to wake up with 4″ of snow on the ground?  Then again, who expects to wake up one morning to find the most recent murder of a transgendered person was just a few blocks down the street in your quiet, historic residential neighbourhood?

Today, we gathered at the house where Stephanie was killed, her throat slashed at 4:30 in the morning, left in a pool of her own blood.

The snow blanketed everything, a heavy frosting glued to tree branches creating a canopy above, and the ground enshrouded by a blanket of new, pristine snow.

It was into this snow that the spray of purple lilies Karen brought fell, lying there spent, splayed out, their vibrant note of spring slicing though the lush, barren white.

My feet were frozen from standing there, the wind whipping off the river, not 200″ away blowing ice particles in my face.  I stood there alone and waited, cold seeping though the toes of my boots, looking at the door where Stephanie last entered, and last left on a gurney.

Here it was, spring, and the universe chose this weather on the day we selected to gather and honour Stephanie.  Only three people attended — myself, tall and all in black, Karen who came later, after feeling the arrows of disdain and hatred in the supermarket, and Denise, who not only plowed but had to be towed out of a ditch just to make it.  Karen & I stood as the snow fell, talking about how Stephanie hadn’t been circumspect enough, protecting herself, and how so many transgendered people were too circumspect, unable to even try to be here.  Which is the greater flaw, trusting too much or trusting to little?

We learn to hide, we transgendered people, specifically because we fear what happened to Stephanie will happen to us, because we fear the kind of stares Karen got when going to buy flowers in the supermarket will happen to us. As we hide, though, we disconnect from the world, let them assume we are ashamed and shameful, which makes it hard to stand up and say “We care that this nice person was murdered.  We stand for her memory as a transgendered person.”

The snow continued to fall on the lilies Karen left in the blank snow, the snowflakes melting to form drops of dew.  We walked to the river to place flowers and notes upon the water, and then held hands for a moment of prayer.

On the note I wrote, I wrote “l’chaim” — to life.  May Stephanie now have the kind of life where she can bloom, and may we remember in the face of even the harshest snowstorm that covers up the green, that life is to be lived while we have it.  To bloom as flowers in the snow is hard, but in the end, it is the blooming that counts, that writes our own identity against the enveloping white.

I took one more look at those purple irises in the snow as I left.  There they sat, as temporary and ephemeral as any living thing, but still proudly marking the life force we knew as Stephanie.

Petulant

Petulant (adjective): childishly sulky or bad-tempered.

Sometimes, I feel my lower lip come forward as my mouth turns down into a scowl.  My eyes narrow and I drop my gaze, looking up at someone or something that has displeased me.  I want to snarl, to express my distemper and displeasure, want to stamp my feet and scream out “No! No! No! No! No!  It’s not supposed to be that way!”

I feel myself becoming petulant.  I don’t want to do what is required, don’t want to have to just be the grown up and do the right thing, don’t want to have to put my own will aside to be appropriate and gracious.  I want to be petulant, sulky and childish.

In my family, there was never any room for me to be particularly petulant, as my mother owned that wilful behaviour.   I had to deal with her petulance from a very young age as hers would always have to be bigger, more powerful and more broken than mine could ever be.   No one had ever made her happy and all of her life she was childishly furious about that grievance.

And as a transperson, the urge to be petulant had to be denied as part of a bigger denial.  I most wanted to be petulant about resisting the obligations put on me by the expectations of gender, wanted to hold my breath until I turned blue unless I was allowed to wear the dress I really wanted to wear.   We all figured out from an early age that kind of petulance would get us nothing but severe crap.

I know that my unresolved petulance often bubbles up in me.     It only happens when I am alone, taking a moment to explore my emotions.  Once I feel that familiar squint as I start to pout, I feel the decades of denied petulance roiling within me.

This bubble of frustrated and denied petulance seems to be a common occurrence in transpeople whose childhood wishes were smashed and torn apart.

I know of one transperson who let go of the grown up name they called themselves to take on their new wife’s assigned moniker of Petula.  I knew that this was the wife’s way of dismissing the transgender expression as just petulant, childish and indulgent.

Other transpeople have their own petulance rear up whenever they are faced with the challenge of having to be the grown up.   They feel like they were denied their girlish desires, that they are entitled to be attended to.

For example, one transwoman who has to work with a group of much younger and less responsible co-worker bridles at the thought that she has to be the one to lead, to instill responsibility, to hold others accountable.   How is it fair that she has to be the grown up when her own girlhood was denied to her?

I know that in my emotions, my own deep seated petulance is a block to me doing the work that I know I should do.  I put my own childlike desires on hold for so long to serve my family that now, when that demand for denial has been released, my own petulance gushes to the surface.

“Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, Me!”  I want to cry out, though I know that on every sensible level, no one is there to care for that hurting and broken little girl.   I know how to be the grown-up, know how to be the mommy, but not for that sad and frustrated child deep inside whose girlhood was smashed in the name of discipline and order while she served a petulant parent.

When transpeople get together it is often this petulance that forms the biggest barrier against coalition, against taking care of each other.   We can’t all have it our own way, can’t all have those raw and petulant places inside of us soothed.   Somebody has to be the parent and ideally we can all come together in that mature space.

I understand why so many transpeople feel petulant, feel sulky and bad-tempered over having their childhood impulses ripped from them by a world that called them sick, indulgent and despicable.   I understand why this petulance is a block to healing, a raw place that is real, torn and hurting.

Everybody wants the right to be petulant sometimes, to be listened to, catered to and soothed.   We don’ t want to have to always come from a rational and balanced place, want to be able to go to that pure and childlike emotion.  Maturity just means that we learn to put aside those petulant moments for appropriate times when we have someone there to tend to us, doing the grown-up thing most of the time, not that we lose the emotion.

For people who never had that intimate caretaker who valued the call of their heart, who never had those moments of being valued in childhood, that bubble of petulance never gets released.   It just gets passed over and denied, leaving it to grow, fester and purify inside of us.   We can’t just make it go away and we can’t just let it out, instead having to find some practice, some balance that will help keep us in stasis.

I feel the pull of petulance inside of me, but more than that, I see how the pools of petulance keep me and others like me angry, frustrated and crippled.

That reservoir of petulance isn’t the problem, it is just the symptom of broken and infected childhood dreams that we don’t yet have any way of healing.   It is the emotional body of the crushed child still impacted within us, that unmothered, unseen and unloved piece that only we can access.

Trying to stuff that petulance with whatever we can grab never gets to the core of it, never really lets us bleed off the buried pain.  The only way out of hell is through it.  We do need to become our own healer.

Still, everyone needs a safe space to be petulant and loved now and then, for we are all children of the universe somewhere.

Disappeared

In many dictatorial states, people are “disapeared,” abducted out of sight.

Today is Transgender Day Of Remembrance and while the transpeople who have been murdered around the world are crimes to be acknowledged, I’m thinking of the transpeople who have just been disappeared.

There are so many reasons why transpeople disappear in the world.   We are taught to make our own nature invisible at any cost to avoid the danger, stigma and abuse that comes with any transgender identification. We get very good at that disappearing trick, much to the detriment of both our own health and to societies development.

As I have pointed out, no young child dreams of being transgender.   We may dream of being pretty or strong, fluid or determined, but our imaginings are of being someone who is seen and valued for who they are inside, for what they bring into the world.

It becomes obvious to us, though, that to show our heart we have to be what is identified as transgender in the world, crossing from the compulsory gender role we were assigned by dint of our birth sex to claim our own expression beyond convention and expectation.   We don’t want to be transgender, but we do want to be authentic, true and congruent.  Transgender is just what we have to be to do that.

We understand that to be who we dreamed of we have to make part of us invisible.  Usually we start by making our heart invisible, struggling to succeed at the assigned role while venting our transgender nature through activities like drag or crossdressing, “just as a hobby.”

The next big dream is the dream of transsexualism where we hope that we can reshape our body so that our transgender nature disappears.  We really want to believe in the magic of a “sex change,” a way that we can get our heart and our body aligned in a culturally acceptable way.

Both of these dreams are exhausting.   To disappear part of us, be it our nature or our puberty takes an enormous amount of effort.   We end up being tired, frustrated and shattered by the amount of effort it takes to hide in plain sight.

Every transperson in the world knows the cost of disappearing and the cost of being visible, and every damn day they have to balance those choices and pay those costs to exist in the world.   We have to decide what part of us we want to try and kill off for the comfort of others, disappearing it deep into our darkest recesses.

We live with the bear in the closet, that ego voice which holds all of our fears and polices our choices, working to keep us small and invisible.   Every day a little death, every day another denial.

For some, this choice is a real matter of life and death, as showing themselves can allow others to believe they have permission to destroy queers.  For others, this choice is a matter of honour, respecting commitments made when we were trying to fit in.   For all of us, this choice is an expensive one, keeping us having to lie and deny, especially to ourselves.

We understand that when we reveal ourselves people who have bought into simple, binary gender feel entitled to get crazy.

They may take it upon themselves to decide what part of our expression is real and what is a lie, removing the truth we struggled so hard to own in a blink.

They may decide that what they see as our contradictions gives them the right to mock, humiliate and torment us, defending their abuse by saying that we asked for it by crossing lines that they see as solid.

They may use the excuse that we need to be disappeared to protect children, trying to keep their kids away from even the possibility that being outside of compulsory gender boxes might be tolerated.

Worst, especially if they see part of themselves in us, some part they have tried to erase, something that attracts them, they may want to destroy us, attempting to disappear us in the same way that  they have tried to disappear their own transcendent nature.

There is no surprise in understanding why transgender people  work so hard and so destructively to disappear themselves, responding to the messages of the world that not being disappeared is just an invitation to pain and destruction, a call for others to disappear us.

There are transpeople in the world who have refused to disappear, who have faced the abuse, not only to tell their own shimmering truth but also to open up the world for others.  Unless transpeople are visible, we cannot be a force in the world to make the world safer for others with hearts like ours.

On this Transgender Day Of Remembrance, though, I want to remember all the transpeople who were disappeared over centuries of dangerous oppression, all the transpeople who are still disappeared today, and all the transpeople who feel the scars and costs of having to be disappeared in their soul everyday.

Transpeople have been disappeared for too long, being asked to throw their own hearts on the too hard pile for the ease and comfort of those who benefited from  firm separations between genders.

In cultures where gender is rigidly bipolar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.  Transpeople remind us that we are all just fundamentally human, that each of us have a right to shine in the world without the fear of being destroyed or disappeared.

Let us imagine the transcendent nature of humans shining out from under the shackles that try to disappear that beauty, imagining a world where people will be judged by the content of their character rather than on their reproductive biology.

I remember all the people who struggled to shine in the world, who still struggle to shine in the world, hoping for a world where those tender hearts can appear and be celebrated.   When they appear to us, let us hold them as offerings to a universe that transcends simple conventions, a universe fuelled by deep connection and by love.

Wherever you are, however hidden, know that your nature can never be quashed, that it still appears to your creator and to us.

You appear beautiful.

Problem

My problem is that I need a problem.

That’s what the marketing experts tell me.   I need a problem that other people can identify with, a problem that they decide they have and that they want to solve.

Once I have that problem, defined by me, I can then be the only one with a good solution, which I can then sell to them

It’s like Listerine creating the problem of halitosis, which they then proceeded to solve.

To me, this is the classic Chinese Warlord approach.   If you create the chaos, only you can cut through it.   Over the years, I have been chosen to challenge many of these chaos makers, frustrating and infuriating them as I unravelled their power.

People care about problems.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  People care about solutions, especially when those solutions are quick, easy and apparently effective.  Solve my problem?   Why, yes, I’ll take a dozen!

Nobody buys a drill because they want a drill.  They buy a drill because they need to make a hole.   Now, they may have a different approach to the problem — I want easy, I want status, I want pink — but they all have the problem of needing to make holes.

The huckster in a medicine show knew this.  Make the list of problems long enough and eventually you can get everyone for a customer, especially if the bottle gives you a nice warm, relaxed buzz after drinking it.  Smooooth.

When people meet me, on the blog or in person, understanding what problem I am working to solve is a quick and neat way of deciding how much attention and effort I am worth.   They have little interest in rambling, don’t really care about my narrative, aren’t just cruising for surprise bit of enlightenment that might turn up.

No, people want a bit of a solution that might help, ease or even just entertain them.   Identify a problem that they understand and you can catch them for a moment.

To pick out a problem, though, means that you have to carve out some deliminators, create some bounds.   For someone who believes that the way you do anything is he way you do everything, believes that if you are not working to integrate your life then you are working to disintegrate it, cutting out just one problem with an easy, step-by-step solution seems to be counter-everything.

Without a clear problem, though, people have no handle on why they should be interested in anything I have to say.    What benefit can they possibly get from pushing through all the preachy text I end up generating?   Doesn’t it just add complications and challenge to their lives rather than simplifying and making their life easier?

In the marketing view, problems, you see, are just springboards for solutions, the same way that questions are just props that allow you to offer answers.   It’s the resolution that counts, not the inquiry, the climax, not the foreplay.   Stimulation without a finish is just a tease, a pointless and frustrating exercise.   Answer the question, solve the problem, blow the wad, get ‘er done!

People don’t search the internet to find more complexity.  They want explanations, conclusions.    They need satisfaction, and quickly, so that is all they seek.  Not my problem?  No answer? Move on!

One of the easiest problems to solve is for people who just need affirmation that the answers they already hold are correct.  Most people are always looking for new ways to bolster their own deeply held beliefs, new language and anecdotes to express what they know to be true in the face of challenge.  Tell them what they want to hear in an entertaining way and you satisfy them quickly and completely, keeping them coming back for more.

To build an audience, quickly give people the problem that you can solve for them, the problem that you share, the problem that you transcended.   That’s the hook that they have been trained to look for, the code they use to see if your work is worth their precious and very limited attention.

For me, having a problem is a problem.  I don’t solve problems, I work the process.   That may have limits, but as a femme, It’s what I do.

And that, it seems, is a problem.

In Tatters

When you build a gender from scratch, starting at the beginning, you have the luxury of creating it out of whole cloth, fluid and seamless.

Your gender education goes along with your growth, layering experience into the warp of your life.   You have the support and context to create the right levels, one year building on each other.   You are first, for example, a sweet girl, then a tomboy, then you are a romantic in love and then you have a period of exploration where you experiment with a whole range of possibilities and parties before you enter the demands of an adult.

For transpeople, though, we end up having to tear apart the gender we have built, needing to rip out the parts that do not fit us, then have to replace those parts with other bits of gender expression we have created later.   These additions are never as strong, never as graceful and never as seamless as a gender expression that was formed through phased, supported experiences.

Our gender ends up being in tatters, ragged and threadbare.   There are bits that don’t fit that we couldn’t figure out how to replace with new, and gaps where our elegance stops to be patched with fear and terror.    Like a model who looks good from the front, in the places where you shouldn’t see, our gender is held together with safety pins and clothes pegs, gathered and cinched, gapped and torn in the best way that we can make do.

Since the transgender journey is such a solitary one, we don’t have the kind of feedback and shared creation that most people have when constructing a gender expression.   Most people around us have already gone through what we need to do, can’t imagine building a life out of time and linearity, miss the costs and challenges in reweaving a life.   They see our shabby patchwork, full of holes and scabbed in bits and it baffles them.

Every transperson understands the cost, the loss of being denied gendering which fits their heart along with their peers.   They watched people around them doing the work that called them but were instead struggling to get into a gender that didn’t fit them, a gender that required massive amounts of denial and hiding.  Being shamed into the closet, we lost the opportunity to grow in a healthy progression, binding our heart rather than blossom in it.

For many of us, we will never have the opportunity to experience our gender expression in a relaxed, safe and healthy way.   Our bodies bear the marks of our puberty, leaving us visibly trans in the world and always waiting for the third gotcha.   We can’t just assimilate into a gender that fits us because there is always a trap, someone who can’t value the shape of our heart over the shape of our birth genitalia.  We try to weave new and then feel our work ripped apart by a world that clings to binaries, to convention, to limits.

Every gender expression has appliques and repairs, but most start with whole cloth.  Transpeople are patchwork dolls, having remade ourselves in the best way we know how, but always suffering from being created out of time and process, from being stitched out of what we can find, from having gaps or bits that will never smoothly fit into our design.

We create a life that is always in tatters, never quite complete, always in need of recreation and mending.  It is, though, still our own handmade life, full of character and the kind of direct ownership that only a bespoke expression can be.   Rather than struggling to fit into an off-the-rack gender expression, we have to make our own, for good or for bad.

Usually this means that parts of our creation are breathtaking, perfect and elegant, while other bits are torn, tattered and raw.   It is the best we can do, never perfect, but always a brave attempt.

Gender is always collage, taking bits from all over, but when you have to do it out of time, not weaving it in order but having to go back, pick out the wrong and kludge in the better, always facing the limits of retrofitting a life, tatters are sure to be part of the work.

Analytical Face

People who are unconscious of their own performance are not conscious of the work that goes into creating a performance.

They tend to see other people as just “normal,” a code for simple, without context or sweat.  To them,  normal things just happen, easy and simply.

This is taking the world at “Face Value,” only looking at simple surfaces rather than understanding what is going on beneath.

Those who are conscious of the choices they are making have some capacity to understand the meta, the underlying motivations and effort behind the choices of others.

I call this stage “post-therapy,” using the term therapy to describe the process of unpacking and understanding our own unconscious motivations and habitual patterns.  We mostly do this work when we understand how our automatic choices are not serving us well, how they are limiting or hurting us, how they reveal pain and wounds that need healing, how those choices need to be changed.

Therapy isn’t something you can contract out.   All a clinician can do is help you with the process of revelation, help clear the way for growth and healing.   Only you can actually change yourself by changing your perceptions and changing your choices.   I am the prime contractor in my own therapy, using all sorts of others to help over the years, in sessions, books, workshops, and more.

Like many comedians, the Marx Brothers rarely laughed when they heard a new joke.  Instead, they analyzed it, often making comments like “That’s very funny.”  Analysis was their primary orientation to comedy, just like Freud called therapy “analysis.”    Great mothers do the same thing, learning to analyze people around them rather than just taking them at face value, a truth that has saved many upset children from a whooping.

You cannot build quality and precision without building understanding.   Having taken things apart to know how they function helps you keep them running and optimize them.   Until you understand the inner workings, they are just magic to you, like how a car is just doing its normal thing when it starts and runs.

Not taking things only at face value, though, going deeper, is always revelatory.  For people who don’t want to have to face revelations which might be uncomfortable or challenging, staying on the surface often seems a good plan.   They actually resist examining their life, believing that somehow, a deeper understanding will just complicate things and remove the magic, refusing to understand that whether you are aware of it or not, life is always nuanced, complicated and magical.

It is impossible for me to take the world at face value.  It has always been like that for me, partly because of the way my mind works and partly because the challenges I faced, like my parents Aspergers and my own transgender nature required me to analyze and understand what was going on below the surface.    This blog is nothing but my own attempt to understand, explain and share my own meta view of my world.

For people who do take the world at face value, resisting deeper analysis, my work, my struggle, my nuance and even my courage and brilliance is invisible.    They cannot afford to see it because it might mean that they would have to see their own depths.  It is often easier to cover or break a mirror than to look into it.

The unexamined life is usually the reactive life.   We react to our triggers in a habitual, routine way rather than taking the time to consider our response.   We stay negative, not using our freedom to change, instead continuing to dance to the tune we learned so long ago.

A store called Syms used the tagline “An educated consumer is our best customer.”  They are gone now, just a remembrance of a time when considered choice was more important than impulse.

Attention is the most precious commodity and today, for most people, that is stretched to breaking.   In the New York Times, Grace Helbig notes that in her YouTube videos “I cut out a breath between sentences. People have such short attention spans, you have to be quick.”

I know why I feel erased and invisible in a world that mostly rejects analysis and instead takes everything at a perceived face value.   I know why I feel disconnected from people who feel compelled to stay at the level of small talk rather than looking at connections and implications of their own choices.

I am not just who I am in this moment.  It took me an enormous amount of work to own my own life and my own gender as well as I do today.   My goal isn’t to make it look easy, to never let them see me sweat, as so many performers work to do when enchanting an audience.   I am this aware and healed because of my wounds, my scars, not in spite of them.

This approach has not built me an audience who looks forward to what I choose to share next.   I don’t even have an audience of healers who see the nuance and the work and find some bits of insight and utility in what I share.

Being aware and conscious of my own performance, though, makes me feel connected to both my continuous common humanity and to the thread of divinity that holds the shining bit in all of us.   In fact, it allows me to see where humanity and brilliance always intersect in the best choices we make to take care of our world, our community and our children.

We are much more than our face value in any given moment.  We are complicated, complex, nuanced and shimmering creatures, full of blood and shit, of magic and light.

And I am grateful to have the attention and energy to be part of that truth.

Female Impersonation As Practiced By Women

 Lypsinka even overpowers Lypsinka. Mr. Epperson’s creation is in part a portrait of a woman being devoured by her own image. You see, Lypsinka has never been just an act of female impersonation, not in the traditional sense. She deals with female impersonation as practiced by women, particularly by women who are expected to be laminated in glamour on all public occasions.
— Ben Brantley, The Wasp Goddess, Imperious, Vulnerable and (Gasp) Unmasked
John Epperson Returns, in ‘Lypsinka! The Trilogy’, New York Times, 16 November 2014

Great review of an amazing performer.

“I do not call myself a drag queen,” says John Epperson, also known as legendary performer Lypsinka.“I don’t like that term. I think of Lypsinka as a woman. [Lady] Bunny thinks of herself as a drag queen. Bunny reminds her audience that she’s a man in a dress, and I don’t do that.”
http://www.nextmagazine.com/content/read-his-lips

How do we play into and/or play against our gender role?   Every human choice has a cost, and the choices we make around gender presentation are no different.

Sometimes we don’t acknowledge the cost, sometimes we camp up around the cost, sometimes we consider the cost and sometimes the costs just show through cracks in our expression.

As Lypsinka, John Epperson plays with those costs in an intense way that performers who don’t attempt “realness” never do.   Real and unreal merge, forcing much more intense and brilliant revelation than we pass over everyday.

Amazing.

Lypsinka on YouTube.   Astounding.

Scales Drop Away

“The hardest part about gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea occupying that niche. As long as that niche is occupied, evidence and proof and logical demonstration get nowhere. But once the niche is emptied of the wrong idea that has been filling it — once you can honestly say, ‘I don’t know’, then it becomes possible to get at the truth.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

Getting openhearted first requires becoming openminded.    Most defences are defences; they keep out the good with the bad.

For me, one of the first steps to enlightenment is simply the ability to say “I’m wrong.”  That simple acknowledgement that your current level of understanding is imperfect, flawed, in error is the starting point for opening your mind, your heart, your world.

This is not that difficult for children who no one expects to know everything perfectly.   It is much harder for adults who are supposed to be fully-baked, authoritative, expert.

Dropping the walls you built to defend your tender heart and your vulnerable spirit is, as Mr. Heinlein says, the hardest part of becoming new.   It’s not just because it leaves you exposed and tender, it is also because to drop those barriers means you have to question just how much keeping them up has cost you in limits and pain.    We are invested in our defences more than it is comfortable to admit.

Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.   Death is required before rebirth, just as winter always comes before spring, clearing away the last year to create space for new growth.

Our expectations of how things should be and of how things are shape our lives by shaping our choices.   Those expectations end up having us reject and ignore whatever doesn’t fit into our current worldview.   Rather than being grateful for divine surprises, we become threatened by them, believing we are entitled to what we know and expect, entitled to our own vision of normal.

It is our vision of normal which limits us, of course.  What we know for certain must give way to testing in order to slice away the jewels from the tailings, the truth from the conventions.  To achieve the exceptional and unexpected, we must try the absurd and astounding.  Being playful enough to risk failure is a key to breaking through old, musty habits.

The world doesn’t change, we do.  A change in our perception is the real miracle, opening us to new possibilities, new choices and new connections that were blocked from us before.

When our life has been built around resisting change, around doing what we know others expect, around staying fixed and entitled in our worldview, transformation always comes hard.   We have learned not to be grateful for revelation, grateful for insight, grateful for revelation which shows us where we have to become new.   Pain is a signal of distress so when we stuff it, ignore it or otherwise refuse to engage it, we reject the gift of awareness.

Dismissing the call to change by arrogantly holding on to old patterns of entitlement, refusing to see a bigger picture, or not valuing other viewpoints keeps us stuck.   Dismissing the truth of others around is a rude luxury that maintains the illusion of our correctness and allows damage to happen as we deny and avoid the lessons that are in front of us.   We can laugh and resist, but in the end, resistance is futile.  Adaptability is required because change always wins.

We are obligated to always be questioning that which we take for granted, that which we assume and that which we base our choices on.  Everything needs to be tested as we learn to drop the pretense and hold onto the essential, let go of the superficial, easy and placating while clinging to the deep, potent and enduring truths.  We need to become both smart and stubborn. stubbornly holding on to only that which passes our smart and open minded testing while letting go of the rest.

Letting the scales drop from our eyes to more clearly see the truth requires letting our illusions, our fantasies and our wishes also drop away.   We cannot receive divine and surprising gifts while also tenaciously clinging onto our old expectations, defences and habits.   Removing the broomstick from our own butt and learning to flow in the moment allows us to become new, to celebrate change and to experience deep connection that we have not felt before, with our heart and with others.

Our resistance to change, desperately holding on to old ideas and habits in the face of new situations, depletes us.   Our growth renews us, giving us pride and satisfaction as we successfully reveal our integrity in co-creating ourselves afresh with the universe.

How can I possibly put a new idea into your heads, if I do not first remove your delusions?
— Robert A. Heinlein, “Doctor Pinero” in Life-Line (1939)

 Becoming new requires becoming new.   The first step in that process is always seeing things in a new way, seeing possibilities and gratitude rather than seeing victimization and entitlement.

Letting go of old habits, old expectations and old defences may be hard, but can you really keep the same old same old and also expect new and empowering results?

Funny Separate

Amy Schumer joined Jerry Seinfeld on a ride to get coffee and the conversation turned to interacting with civilians.

For both of them, comedy is easy but interacting with the everyday world is hard.

Ms. Schumer understands that in the context of dating, where her work is a challenge for men.  Her life is defined by people who are hot like she will never be, so she struggles to be a smart, funny truthsayer in the face of social expectations, always reading and breaking.

Mr. Seinfeld has recently said that he is on the autism spectrum and that is reflected in this episode with disclaimers and tricks to talk to people at a meet & greet, which they both find difficult.  “Basic social engagement is really a struggle. I’m very literal. When people talk to me and they use expressions, sometimes I don’t know what they’re saying,” he said to Brian Williams.

He understands that “as a comedian, the world has a transparent quality to it.  You spend all your time trying to cogitate.”

Both of them understand the challenge of engaging people who can’t see the irony of the world, who miss the nuance,  who don’t get the joke.

Mr. Seinfeld notes that he often wants to go full metal jacket on people who don’t hear what he says, having to remind himself that they are just nice people who are doing the best that they can.   They just don’t engage the world like a comedian.

I know that I have had performers who loved it when I was in the audience because they knew I would get the joke not just on a ha-ha level but on a meta level, not looking for the laugh but for the enlightenment.  The laughs are just there to make the vision easier to take.

I’m funny but not on a ha-ha level.   I’m funny because I am sharp, cutting away convention by revealing irony and rationalization.  That’s why I understand how the laugh is easy but everyday life is hard.

If you ever feel that way, take a look at Amy Schumer”I’m wondering what it’s like to date me.

And yeah, everyone knew that Ferrari was like dating a hot guy; sexy, but bound to give you nothing but agita.

The Best

We bring to the table the best that we have to offer.

It may well not be what other people are expecting, and it almost certainly won’t be what other people are bringing to the table.   That is the power of diversity; everyone has their own strengths and their own power, their own gifts.

Of course, that means that everyone has their own weaknesses and their own challenges, their own limits, too.   The lesson of a finite life, of a human life, is that everything has a price, a trade-off, a shadow side.

Anthony Bourdain has made his secret as a travel host very clear.  “I am first and foremost a good guest,” he says, “ready to graciously receive what people have to offer.  If it is genuinely the best that they have to give, I genuinely accept it.”    Sure, he also love creating with style, tasting the best of culture and assimilating that into his writing, but even that starts with open receiving of what is on offer and then using what resonates with him in his own work.

People don’t bring what we expect them to bring, what we want.   They bring the best of themselves and give us the chance to partake.  Over time, we may well get comfortable with their style, looking forward to another opportunity to enjoy Aunt Mildred’s Ambrosia Salad, but there is no way we can acquire a love without first tasting the unknown and new.

We bring to the table the best that we have to offer.

Other people get to make a choice to receive it gratefully, moving beyond what they know, expect and are comfortable with to open themselves to the new, or they get to choose to turn up their noses, walk away, pass over it and go to the familiar and unchallenging.

It’s easy to see where other people have failed to meet your expectations.

It’s more gracious, though, when you leave your own expectations behind, move beyond your own entitlement, and see where people have worked hard to bring out the best that they have to offer.

Everyone has limits.  By graciously receiving the best that they have to offer, we affirm their possibilities and quality rather than rejecting their differences and modesty.   By graciously receiving the best that they have to offer, we encourage them to open more, to offer more, to grow more, to heal more, to mature more, to be more of what they have inside of them.

We bring to the table the best that we have to offer.

Often, the best we have to offer is simply gracious and grateful acceptance of what others offer to us.  That acceptance, that embrace of what we are not yet comfortable with encourages us to open more, to offer more, to grow more, to heal more, to mature more, to be more of what we have inside of us, too.

Two Years Today

My father died two years today.

Last year my sister and I went to the hospital where he spent his last five months.   I wanted to be there before I had to be there, to let the ripples calm down.   This year, Arlo is playing a concert locally, so she’s out.

My brother couldn’t even come out the day my mother died.  Standing beside her body, his wife said that the kids have school tomorrow and he was gone.

Distance is supposed to help you see your life in context, allowing the emotion to subside.

For me, distance ends up revealing the amount of emotion I had to put aside to do the work that needed to be done for my family.   It’s like the aftermath of a great flood; the water subsides and reveals the scope of the devastation.

It also reveals the scope of damage left on my siblings, unable to do their family duty in a responsible and gracious way.  They both show the scars of growing up in a loving but emotionally disconnected family.

Two years of isolation after a lifetime of taking care of my parents from a very young age really has shown up how much I missed using the smarts and energy that I was given for a broader purpose, how much I gave to keep others safe and as happy as possible.

I’m proud of what I did.  The amount of loss though, is tough.

At  a “Mourning Tea,” a pagan ceremony of remembrance before Samhain , I got to speak about my experience, something I really haven’t got to do much.

I mourn not for my parents, who had a good long life, with lots of “one more good days.”

I mourn for the part of me that went with them, the years and years, the massive amounts of energy, and all the things that I had to say no to so that I could take care of them from a very young age.

When you take care of children you are investing in a future that will grow to outlast you. When you take care of elders, you are paying a price that will never be returned to you in this lifetime.  It is the right thing to do, sure, valuable and honourable, but at a high cost.

Life is loss.  My parents had someone to make sure that they had one more good day, right up until the time that there were no more days left.  I don’t have that same kind of support.

Two years, today.  Many more years than that before.

Amen.

Mom Vault

It’s astounding what mothers learn to carry with them.  She always seems to have a wipe and a snack, a safety pin and a pen, a pain reliever and a hug.

Most kids learn early that if they have anything they need to keep, from a permission slip to a trophy, all they have to do is hand it to Mom and she will take care of it, making sure it is kept safe and secure.

That doesn’t just include physical objects.   Tell mom a story, let her be a part of it, and she will somehow press it into a scrapbook, sometimes a real one, sometimes just a virtual one, and keep it tenderly.   Moms keep photos and clippings, artwork and ribbons, artifacts and moments.

When things get lost, you can always ask Mom where they are.  Rosanne joked about a uterus being a magical finder, but the person who keeps a map of our house, of our lives, is usually Mom.

When we get lost, too, we can go to Mom.  With all the bits and pieces in her vault, most Moms know how to take our confusion & frustration and put them in context, helping us find our way again.   She holds our story without being lost in in, a close observer who can help bring out patterns, remind us of strengths, and set us on our way again.

Since she is also our training dummy, the one we learn to act out against, her vision can often be frustrating.   While she may understand that our current mood will pass, it is our damn mood of today, and we get to feel it intensely, thank you very much!

I am aware that much of what I do for people I care for is to hold their stories for them, keeping them safe, to give them back to them when they lose them.   I know the song in their heart and when they get too involved to step back and remember it, I can give context, help them come off the ledge and come back to core values.

This is habitual for me now and I have become quite good at it, just like the mom I always dreamed of being, the mother I identify as.

For me, though, I have never found someone who can easily do the same for me.   When I am lost and scared, away from my centre, there has never been a vault for me to go to, to feel safe in, to regain my bearings and my strength.

When I say that I can walk into other people’s world but they have problems walking into mine, that’s what I mean.  I am told that my own story is overwhelming, weird, too intellectual, too complicated, too queer and so many other things.  Instead of getting support, I get eroded by other people’s fears and limits.

Of course, I have learned to take care of myself, but there are severe limits to that process.  Just like the couple who agree that only one of us can be crazy at a time, when I get crazy, emotional or burned out, all of us are crazy, emotional or burned out.   How do I care for myself with observer energy and willpower that I just do not have?

My mother was never able to do the crucial roles of giving encouragement and context.  Instead, she offered chaos and narcissism, her own fears and disappointments laid thickly over anyone around her.  We had always failed her because we were stupid, lazy and rude, unable to satisfy her in what she considered the most obvious ways.

I certainly have worked hard to capture my own experience, creating a vault both in writing and in my mind.  Capturing the milestones of my life is an important part of my process, but like anyone else, those events are more accessible when they come from a voice outside of me.

Learning to hold my own Mom vault has been a key part of learning to care for the people in my life.   Because I didn’t have a strong model for doing it, because I was told that it was the wrong job for someone like me, I struggled mightily to make it work.   I did it in my own way, and that is part of the reason it is so difficult for others to do it for me, I know.

Moms carry so much for the people they care for, always ready to pull it out and give it back when it is needed.  I am proud and satisfied that I know how to do that, too.  I just wish that I had more of that caring for me.