Muffin Top: A Love Story

There is much to like about Muffin Top: A Love Story.   Lots of smart funny women, starting with director and co-writer Catherine Michon and continuing through Melissa Peterman, Marcia Wallace and so on.   It feels a bit like a collection of comic bits, but it is an essentially empowering movie

Ms. Michon feels good about a transgender character in the film who has “a great perspective on female beauty.

The character is played by a born female woman, Dot-Marie Jones, but all her dialogue is looped, her own voice replaced by male voice.

In this voice, the character ends up sounding like a drag queen, a gay man who is a fashion stylist.   She doesn’t sound like any transwoman I know.

Characters are just puppets of their authors, doing the bidding of the story.  I understand why Ms. Michon wanted to get a drag voice into the tale, but because they had to appear on a talk show run by a second-wave academic feminist, they had to be woman-identified and have gone through hormone therapy which made them horny.

As a transperson, though, the character grated on me intensely, appearing false and rude.  It felt completely disrespectful, a conflation that serves to offend both gay men and transpeople.

Transpeople are not props that can serve the story without any basis in real lives.   The women characters in the story all represent archetypes that feel real and connected, even if they do act in a comedic way.   I have little belief that Ms. Michon does know gay men who would respond as the trans character does, but I doubt she knows many transwomen who would.

Even if she considered hiring a transwoman to play the part of a transwoman, the actress would probably have some integrity wanting to bring some realism not in the part.  With an composite character, a born female woman and a male voice actor, trans is completely unrepresented and is instead erased.

I wanted to like the movie.  I liked many parts of it.  But that empowering transgender portrayal?   Not trans in any way that I know, and clearly rude, disempowering and nasty.


Precision Power

Where your precision is, there lies your power.

To master something requires precise control over it.

When I look at Megan from my local MAC counter, I am in awe of the precision of her maquillage.   I used to dream of being able to paint my own face with that kind of artistry, but eventually I had make a choice where I wanted to put my own focus, my own commitment to mastery.  Doing faces, I realized, was not going to be my thing.

It is easy to talk about beginners mind, open to all possibilities as a kind of ideal state.  We don’t want our surgeon, or even our plumber, to come at work with beginners mind.  We want them to have a master’s mind, so precise and understanding that they can handle any nuance easily and with grace.

That middle space, between beginners mind and master mind is where so many of us get stuck.   It’s easy to be fluid and creative if you have no expectations and it is easy to be fluid and creative if you have achieved mastery.   If you are somewhere between those points, though, struggle is pretty well guaranteed.

I suppose that is the reason that people often advise you to go backwards to beginner, getting loose, rather than to struggle going forwards to master, gaining potent skills.

There are an almost infinite range of skills that we can focus on, gaining the kind of precision in our execution which allows us to be fluid, spontaneous and in the moment.  We don’t become a master at all of them, but we do achieve some level of mastery.

I will never be as much of an artist as Megan, for example, but I am significantly better at my own makeup than I was when I started all those decades ago.   It’s just that while I know what to do with my face, Megan has learned what to do with a whole range of faces, leveraging different bits of excellence to bring art to many.

Once upon a time I imagined a whole series of transgender merit badges, allowing each of us to focus on our levels of mastery.   I have Drag I, for example, but will never hold Drag X, like the amazing Jinx Monsoon.   On the other hand, she will never have the Theology X badge that I hold.

Getting through the messy bits between beginner and master requires developing the discipline to practice precision.   Precision is power.

The fundamental techniques of committing to achieve mastery are very much the same across the board.  That’s why people who own their own mastery can much more easily see, understand and respect others who have also achieved mastery, even if in a very different area.    Masters in one area understand what it takes to own new skills and can make choices as to where to focus their energy next.

For people who have never achieved mastery, though, those who stick to the beginners mind, mastery can seem like an oppressive and impossible goal.   Instead of applying themselves, they end up complaining and trying to find short cuts.  This is one reason that when I was hiring I always preferred people who had achieved some kind of success because if they knew how to do the work once, they could do it again in a different area.

The path to precision is hard and challenging.   Owning the knowledge and the skills to be ready to handle any surprises is the only way to be fast and fluid in execution.   It takes real time and effort to achieve that ownership.   Beginners mind is not a shortcut to excellence, even if it is required to open yourself to learning.

Where you achieve precision, you achieve power.    A fine touch is the only way to stay loose and in the moment.