Wrong, Wrong

Everyone is doing it wrong.

Nobody is perfect.   We all have emotions, twists and habits that make our own choices less than absolutely the best possible choices.   We are all human, and nothing human is perfect.

It is easy to look at someone else’s choices and figure out where they could be doing it better.   It is easy to point out where they are doing things wrong, at least from your point of view.

The hard thing is figuring out how you can help them do better.

Sometimes it is as easy as offering a better, more efficient technique, having them quickly get the benefits offered, and then watching them change their behaviour and start to achieve a new level of mastery.    They may see the problem, understand the benefit and be open enough to do it differently in a rapid and gracious way.

Most of the time, though, it’s tougher than that.

Opening the space for new often means removing the old habits, the stubborn expectations and traditions we fall back on.  We have been doing it the same way for so long that doing it a new way just feels really weird.   We resist change until we can see real, significant benefits that convince us to do the hard work of letting go and doing it a new way.

It takes at least 21 days to make a new habit, some experts say, and that means one time change doesn’t really get the work done.   We have to keep at it.

Other times there are real emotional blocks to change, blocks we don’t understand and can’t just sweep away but very much cripple our ability to transform.    These blocks are deep rooted, making us tremble or making us cling to choices that don’t serve us well.

As easy as it seems to tell people where they are wrong, just telling them will usually not help them get over themselves, change and become new.     In fact, if they feel too threatened or challenged by our telling them, we may just end up strengthening their resistance to change, leaving them more entrenched in their current choices.

Until they believe that we understand and respect them, believe that we are being considerate and kind when we offer our own viewpoint, they have no reason to open to what we offer.

If you want to tell someone else how they have it wrong, one of the best ways is to tell them how, in the past, you have had it wrong too.   Opening up the path of compassion requires connecting with them not from a place of imbalance — “I’m right and you’re wrong!” — but from a place of caring wisdom — “I struggled with something like this, so let me share what I learned.”

This is coming from a place of positive support rather than a place of negative judgment.  When we tell other people how they are doing whatever they are doing wrong we set up barriers between them and us.   When we share how we had some hard lessons found ways to do it better, we offer possibilities and encouragement that a better way is possible.

Today I will often start responses to other people with the phrase “You are correct…” and then go on to tell them where we agree, what we both think is right.  I want to create common ground and I want to affirm that they are not wrong.   I want them to know that I heard and respect what they offered.

Once I do that, then I can go on to talk about how I see the situation differently, where we diverge.    Just telling them that they are wrong doesn’t really engage them, but sharing what I have found to be correct, where I have ended up and why, lets them see through my eyes if they choose to do so.

Every human is wrong about something.   None of us can ever be totally correct, ever be perfect, ever be completely objective, ever be without emotional investment.    Even you — yes, you — are wrong about some things.

Telling other people where they are wrong, though, has very limited utility.   It is much better to tell them where you found that you were wrong, what you had to do to correct those crocks and how things are better now that you are not quite so wrong.

You were doing it wrong.   You got slapped enough times to learn how to do better.  Show the compassion to others that you wanted when you weren’t perfect, embrace how tough change can be, and lead from the front rather than just critique from the rear.

Anyone can tear things down.  It takes a mature human to help build things better.  Not perfect, mind you, but better.

Right?

Beyond Wretched

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, to save a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

It’s just not socially correct to share your own wretchedness in polite society.  People don’t want to hear that once you were lost, they want to know that now you are together, found, and have your eyes open.

That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) started as an anonymous organization.  To create safe space to work on, to reveal, to celebrate transformation they had to create a space where that wretchedness was only shown to other people who understood and who would commit to keeping the secret.

The world has changed since the first days of AA and now recovery is much more often spoken about.   In some spaces, like confessional TV shows, revealing wretchedness and your transformation away from it is even seen as good entertainment. Public figures need to show their contrition and testify before we give them any social absolution.

Going to a recovery meeting is an exercise in revelation, revealing both how we are lost and how we were found.   Narratives of struggle, some still fresh and still raw and some mature and healed up some, provide the identification, the insight, the lessons, the encouragement and the support at the heart of encouraging the very hard work of moving beyond our own fears, pain and wretchedness.

It becomes crucial to value not our success but our everyday work to leave behind wretchedness and become new.   One of my favourite stories is about a guy who chose to go to AA with a six-pack of beer, drinking it during the meeting.   The only thing anyone said to him is “Good to see you here.  Come back anytime.”   They knew that scolding and judging wouldn’t help him, but that anyone who chose to come to a meeting, even drunk, needed to be encouraged.

You can’t be gracious about others wretchedness until you can become gracious about your own.  If you think that you are better than others because you hide your past, your fears and your challenges better then you are not healing, you are just snooty.  Looking down on others who are still struggling with what you have locked away leaves you in denial and judgment.

I know that what I want to share as a transperson, what I need to share, is not just the fact that I can look good and together in the moment, but rather my journey, my truth, the history of my transformation.  If the only success I can possibly have is to make my story and my hard, hard, hard work invisible, then it is always going to feel hollow.

We learn that people who push too hard to get us to disclose our story are usually unsafe, just looking for reasons to dismiss us or to treat us like a freak, even if a holy freak worthy of a pedestal.

It is the people who we can tell have made the journey to healing who we can trust with the messy facts of our everyday struggle to be both assimilated and queer, both our ragged history and our embodied present.  Our story is always ongoing, so finding safe people to share it with helps us keep grounded, have context, and keep the gift by passing it on.

In the deep dark, hidden spaces of transgender sharing look for places where sharing our complex, twisting, nuanced and very human story is appreciated and valued.   As humans, we are always broken and messy even as we are always transcendent and divine, so sharing that full arc, rather than just trying to deny and hide it so as not to squick people, trying to set ourselves apart from others still struggling, is the only way to keep healing.

Empathy and compassion for others, especially when we see their tender and beautiful hearts in the story of their wretched choices, is how we learn to have compassion and forgiveness for ourselves.   By blessing the possibility of others healing, we bless the possibility of our own healing.

It’s great that transpeople can be in this moment in society, being taken just as they are now, their gifts being graciously accepted by others.

But it is also important that there always be space to honour, respect and value the hard work, immense struggle and long journey they are still on.   To become integrated and whole we need to not have to compartmentalize off our past but to have space to hold and share it.

We can be transcendent and very beautiful in the moment and the truth of that transcendence has to be valued.

We are human and wounded, flesh and spirit, full of blood, shit and spark, and the truth of that fullness has to be valued too.

How will we ever help society become less wretched unless we continue to do our own work of vulnerable, open-hearted healing?

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, to save a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

And what we end up seeing, I hope, is both the wretchedness and the grace inside every human, even in us.

Death, Death

It would be my father’s 90th birthday today, and today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death, exactly one month after my father’s.

The story of taking care of them, of being my parent’s child is one that I seem to be unable to share.   I haven’t found a way to make it accessible, easy for other people to engage, because, in the end, it is about death.

In the movie “Take Care,” her two year experience of taking care of him through cancer isn’t on display, rather it only exists as a dark shadow to the accessible experience of her healing from orthopaedic injuries suffered in a car accident.  There is a clear expectation of a happy ending.

I was thrown out of a caregivers support group because I was too clear on what the inevitable ending is in life.   My challenges were just deemed too hard, even for professionals and others facing the same challenge.   Imagine how hard they are to convey to people who don’t feel any need to see.

Death and rebirth thread through my life.   You cannot understand transgender emergence without engaging death and rebirth, even if that whole understanding is distasteful and repugnant to most.  Everybody wants to go to heaven, you see, but nobody wants to die.

My own experience of taking care of my parents for a decade was one of death, slow inevitable death and breaking moments of death where my heart broke again and I had to go on.   I had to find solace and joy everyday.

“Sure, we are all born to suffer and die, but before you go, try the pâtè. It’s wonderful!”

I wrote when I was 17.   Even then, I understood.  Everyday death, everyday suffering, everyday wonder.  Thank you, God.

Death is always the prelude to rebirth, though not always in a form that makes any sense to us.   I remember a tarot reader expressing confusion to the legendary Rachel Pollack about why she got a positive reading for a person who was close to death.  I suggested to Rachel that the reason might be that physical death would lead to something good that we cannot imagine.   She agreed.   None of us knows what comes after physical death, but that just means that none of us knows what comes after physical death.  No one knows.

Engaging the process of death and rebirth, of shedding and becoming new is vital to me.   There is no room for new life without new death, for it is the junk we hold onto which keeps us from being reborn.    Doubt is the knife that opens the space for life.

I’m not really surprised that I have trouble finding people to engage my story, as laced as it is with death, but I’m not really happy about it, either.   It is very wearing, especially over the long, long, longer term.

 “Sometimes I think that the artistic life is a long, lovely suicide and I am not sorry that it is so.”
— Oscar Wilde, letter to Harry Marillier

To be creative without death is impossible.

The question is never, ever if death is required.  It always is.

The question, rather, is if rebirth is possible one more time.

On this day, for my parents, it wasn’t.  Bless their souls.

Love, Cali (the destroyer, the empowerer, liberator of souls)

Identity Shedding

I like that moment central to danger when you become so thoroughly concerned with acting deftly, in order to be safe, that only reaction is possible, not analysis.
You shed the centuries, and feel creatural.
Of course you do have to scan, assess, and make constant minute decisions.
But there is nothing like thinking in the usual methodical way.
What takes place is more akin to informed instinct.
For a compulsively pensive person, to be fully alert but free of thought is a form of ecstasy.
Being ecstatic means being flung out of your usual self.
—   Diane Ackerman, “On Extended Wings

The best part about erotic stories is the power of identity shedding, the power of that moment when someone “shed(s) the centuries and becomes creatural.”  It is this peeling back which allows us to engage ecstasy as a participant rather than just as an observer.

As participants in society, holding obligations and responsibilities, our identity encircles us in layers, wrapping our creatural senses in history, knowledge, tradition, defences, expectations and much more.   We carry what we carry, and no matter how often we unpack and repack our baggage to toss out the trash, we always have a burden.

That moment when we feel safe enough, protected enough to drop those burdens for a moment and meet someone else in a naked and exposed way, we leave behind those layers of identity and are released to ecstasy.

It is hard to imagine dropping those layers without some external force, either a force that we trust, like a gracious and dominant master, or a force that coerces us into that shedding, like drugs or a captor.   One or the other of these forces appear in most erotic tales.   Other tales usually end up using the device of an alter ego, another identity we assume that is disconnected from family and other obligations and so can delve deeply into the erotic without the complications of holding onto propriety.

We want to get outside of ourselves in order to get inside of ourselves, get outside the corsets that shape our behaviour and defend us and get inside the passions of our blood.

Which part is more really us, the gifts of our experience, of our learning, or the heat of our desires, raw and uninhibited?   Not being a binary person, I suspect that the answer is both.   Construction and conflict is at the heart of the human experience, which is why being forced to leave it behind leaves Ms. Ackerman so ecstatic.

I see a need in my life to shed identity, to feel the energy of possibility again.

I also, however, feel the need to construct identity, to find new public figure who I can embody and express.   Add to that a need to carry forward the results of the hard work I have done in creating understanding that at least some others find valuable when I share it, and to carry the obligations of my family, the process of shedding identity to become more vibrant ends up being a really challenge, especially to do alone.

The fantasy of shedding identity, to be seen, reflected and admired for my own ecstatic heart, is truly seductive.   I understand why the go to dream in this society is to be unbound and unburdened in a way where we can become creatural, connecting with ecstasy and feeling the pounding of our own heart.

I just can’t imagine how that would work for me, though.

Anechoic

You’re not supposed to give people what they want, you’re supposed to give them what they don’t know that they want yet.
Diana Vreeland

Humans need echoes.   We need to cast all of our stuff into the world and then see which of us comes back to us.  It is the world that sorts out our stuff into resonant and boring, the world which gives back the gifts that stimulate and engage other people. Without that feedback it is hard to get a sense of what you have that people don’t yet know they want.

That doesn’t mean, as Ms. Vreeland notes, that market testing for what people know they want is a good or useful plan.  Who knew that they wanted a smartphone before they even understood what they were?   Someone has to hold the vision, commit to the new and different.

I share in a vacuum, though, a kind of anechoic chamber where almost nothing comes back to me.  It is a tough place to feel reflected.   While it very much helps me hear my own voice, it does not feel like a safe space for tears, for joy, for dancing.

People get a little crazy when they are sealed in an anechoic chamber, without echos.  The record time inside is said to be only 45 minutes.  

My challenge isn’t a lack of noise in my life, for I get opportunities to reflect others, get media.

I know how to speak in a way that echoes back.  I understand the advice.

You have to meet the people where they are. 

People aren’t going to come to you, aren’t going to find you out of the mist, aren’t going to leap to meet you.    You need to develop relationships with people and let the networks develop, let the image of you in the world flower, grow.

If you want to be seen, you have to be on their wavelength.   Vibrate too high or too low and you are just part of the background noise. 

People have to believe that you hear them before they can ever start to hear you.

I know, I know, I know that if I just do what others want and only what they want, just service them, just take care of them that they will like that.   Of this, I have no doubt.

I do doubt, however, that doing that will get me anything that I need or want.   Meeting people where they are means leaving where I am, means modulating, attenuating, slicing, packaging.  It means entering their world.

My challenge is a lack of echoing back of my own voice, the kind of feedback that clarifies, strengthens and cleans my own swirling & declining energies.

There is a new movie out called “Take Care,” written by Liz Tuccillo, which is a romantic fable — a “chick flick” —  that asks the question “Who cares for the caregivers?”   Frannie needs caretaking after a being hit by a car. She took care of ex-boyfriend Devon for two years while he went through cancer treatment so when her friends & family can’t really be there to care for her, she guilts him into taking care of her.

While the movie takes a conventional trajectory, reminding the leads and the audience that intimate connection is the foundation of relationships, it satisfies as a fantasia for so many caretakers who dream that somehow, they will get taken care of too.

Frannie lost a tooth because she put off her own dental care for him.   Others have lost more than that.

When do I get to be weak, when do I get to be angry, when do I get to be sad,  when do I get to be in pain, when do I get to be scared, when do I get to be crazy?   “Can’t you just do that on your own?” I hear people saying.  I feel like I have proven that I cannot, and not for lack of trying.

When do I get to hear my own echoes?

Fictional Transgender

I have been thinking about what I would say to a writer who feels compelled to add a transgender character to their story.

Fictional characters are puppets of their author, limited to what the author knows, though as writers we often find we know more than we think when we channel another voice.  In the end, characters have to serve the needs of the story, which means they have to be dumb enough to not resolve the plot too quickly and simple enough not to baffle or confuse the reader.    Fiction is different than real life because it has to be comprehensible and satisfying to the audience for it to be successful.  Real life can easily be more baffling and complex than you can imagine.

This obligation to serve the story, which in turn is an obligation to serve the author as they attempt to serve the audience means that transgender characters are always bound by many constraints.

Justin Vivian Bond and many others remind us that this is why transpeople have to share their own stories, because we have the understanding, nuance and need to have them heard.  For example, the film Undress Me, written by and starring Jana Bringlöv Ekspong  captures a breathtaking  moment in the life of one transwoman, one that feels powerfully real to me.

The first thing I would want to know about a transgender character is the shape of their armour.    Every transperson in the world has had to learn to defend their own transgender heart and they do that by shaping their own protection.

Every transgender person has a passing distance, a range at which they appear reasonably normative.   Retreating to that passing distance is the way that we protect ourselves.

We may seek to pass as the sex/gender that we were assigned at birth.   For crossdressers and drag queens, for example, they know that they don’t pass as female or woman, so they pass as men, straight men or gay men, making it clear that their transgender expression is just something to be worn on occasion.    This choices keeps us fixed in the system of desire, able to court straight women or gay men, and fixed in gender role, operating in the world as a man.

We may seek to pass as the sex/gender that we have claimed.   Transsexuals often work to female their body as much as possible, not only with hormones but also with plastic surgery, tp change features from their genital appearance to the shape of their face.  They do this in order to extend their passing distance, to not be seen as transgender.   Even then, though, we still have a passing distance, with tells like voice, bones, limited genital function and historical markers revealing our transgender journey.

We may seek to pass as queer, living behind our own uniqueness, a kind of special creature who invokes their own bold brand of expression.   We build our own façade, hiding in plain sight.   This is the edgiest form of expression, created on sheer will and charm, and it is a form that every transperson has to invoke at some time or another when passing as normative is unavailable or unrewarding to us.

The shape of our armour defines the shape of our lives.   Every transgender life is unique.   No transperson breaks out of their assigned role in order to become another interchangeable member of the gang of trannys.   We engage the struggle to claim exploration and expression of our own nature in the world.  We start with a very individual dream of who we want to be and that expression becomes even more individual as we go through the enormous challenges of emerging as transgender, facing the resistance, the flaws of a second adolescence, and the navigating the minefield of the world, waiting for the “third gotcha.”

So much of a trans life is shaped by desire for relationships, just the same way as so much of any human life is shaped by that desire.   For most people, gender expression is about advertising who we are in an attractive way so that we can connect with others.  This might be social connection, wanting to achieve standing with other women, for example, or it might be romantic connection, wanting to attract partners.

For example, transsexual women need to choose if they want to have their genitals reshaped and then have to compete with women born female while having the disadvantage of having a trans body or if they are willing to keep their birth configuration, having a unique offering but being limited in the people who will be in relationship with them.

Politically, transpeople are always bisexual.   That doesn’t mean that we have some kind of generic bisexual desire, but it does mean that our partners always have to be somewhat comfortable with their own bisexuality, because we will always be trans in bed.  So many partners have had to question their own desire when they found out that their partner was trans, a difficult challenge in a world that reveres the binary.

To understand a transperson, you need to understand what they want, what they are willing to do and what they are willing to give up to get it.

For example, in one scene of  “Dallas Buyers Club”  Rayon admires the breasts of a cocktail waitress and expresses a desire to look like that.  Yet in the movie Rayon never attempts to look busty, though implants, silicone pumping or even breast forms.  If she — and the fact that nobody, not even her female doctor identifies Rayon as she is a problem — wanted breasts she would have them.   The director, however, wants her not to have them, so as to be seen more as a freak and a skeleton, so he wins over the character every time.

Crossdressers want relationships with straight women, and so will go to extremes to stay located as straight men.    There was even started an organization which threw out transsexuals and homosexuals in order to keep up the pretense that their crossdressing was not at all sexual, not connected to their own Eros.   This was a clear lie, but it did reveal the very important truth that they valued family connection over desire.

For many transmen, staying grounded in the women’s community that empowered them remains important.   This, and the limits of phalloplasty may keep them from easily assimilating completely into manhood.

This challenge of desires which end up conflicting in the world is central to the experience of being transgender.   Every choice we make has repercussions so the routes we take are usually broken and crossing, episodic and fitful, full of leaps and twists rather than being smooth and straight.

What does your character want so much that they are willing to brave transgender expression to find it?   What is their defence, the shields they put up to protect their tender, battered transgender heart?

And, of course, like any other human, you need to know what they have lost.  Humans are shaped by loss, which always shapes our longing.   The transgender experience of loss starts very early in life, with the forcible denial of the callings of our heart in order to try and fit into compulsory gender roles.   We have families who find transgender expression baffling and shaming, so we learn to surrender our desires and try cheap but standard substitutes which often compound the loss with damage.

Once you understand those things, both how they craft their outside to get what they need on the inside and how they are shaped by loss, you can start to immerse yourself in the real life choices that transpeople have always had to make to balance tame social connection and personal, wild expression in the world.

Trans is a transitive identity, full of change, of deaths and rebirths.  Real trans narratives are always complex and convoluted, passing through spaces society sees as walls and barriers.  That is what makes them powerful and difficult, raw and ragged with humanity, not just sweet novelties to add spice to a tale.

The truth of transgender is obvious to us when we see it, even if we know that every character serves the needs of a story, gives only one glimpse into our shared world. I believe that shimmering truth is why transpeople resonate with people in the world, which is why it is very, very important to work to get it good.

Gridless

I know why I stepped off the grid.

Disconnection is required to do deep evaluation.   You cannot both be playing the game and analyzing it at the same time.

Participant and observer are two fundamentally different viewpoints.  One requires fast thinking, the other slow.

Everyone finds their own pattern to switch between those approaches.   Some people never really move into observer mode and stay shallow, others switch quickly between modes by never going too deep, and some of us get deep to the point of what can be called analysis paralysis, becoming lost in contemplation over action.

The unexamined life is not worth living.   A disconnected life is not worth living.   Everyone needs to find their own balance.

For me, the call to the meta life came early.  It came because of the way my mind works, remembering much and seeing connections, it came because I needed to understand a family that didn’t do meta, it came because my gender identity and desire were queer in a way that I had no models to enact in the world, instead finding stigma and shaming.     Theology and doubt came easy to me, introspection and thought are my heartbeat.

I was only barely on the grid, barely part of the community from the start.  My stance in life was primarily that of an outside observer, sitting on the edge of the circle, searching for ways to reveal to others what they did not yet see.   In an organization full of action people, this role was valuable, even if others resisted my insights.

My experience as translator for my parents, concierge, bridging between their inner world and the external was good for them as I understood how to engage them and give them one more good day.

I know why I stepped off the grid.

What I don’t know is how to step back on.

I need to change my stance to include more action, more interaction with the world.  I have things that need doing, the avoidance of which gives me stress, leads me to bad and sad results.

When you talk to someone who is a good observer, versed in the meta, they can give you a picture of where you are, help create a road map to offer next steps.

When you talk to someone who is good at action, though, they often come down to simple phrases like “Just Do It!,” “Beginners Mind” or “Don’t think meat!” They do not understand how much meta you carry around, how much you value that thoughtful and considering stance, how that deep thought carries your identity and your emotional vulnerability.

I learned to stay tender and aware, finding my strength in that aware space.  The answer for me will never be to become compartmentalized, callous, or increase my latent inhibition to slough off abrasions and bruises.  The power has to come from someplace else, like the delight in performance, the rewards of connection or the joy of play.  I have used up my willpower grinding out a life and caring for others and need a new source of salvation.

I need to be touch and fast, instinctive and resilient, to create new space for me, for my needs, and for those who want to be there for me.   I need to be able to engage on the fly, to accept the new, rather than just processing it.

I need to not just do the theoretical but to do the practical, too.  Yet, coming up gives me the emotional bends.

And I have been having great trouble in finding support and resources to help me do that.   For most people action is just action, not something that they consciously have to push themselves to do, and interactions are just interactions, not something that brings up powerful feelings from deep inside of them.

Their burden is introspection, which is why they resist it, not action, which makes them feel alive and connected to the world.  My burden is action, which is why I resist it, not introspection, which makes me feel alive and connected to the universe.

Places where introspection and action come together are often called churches.  We go there to reflect, to connect to something deeper, to take a moment to consciously understand who we can be, who we want to be.  By sharing something inside and acting from grace rather than impulse, we find ways to deal with loss and engage healing beyond fear and stereotypes.

I haven’t found such a place and I don’t know how to make one by myself.

I know why I stepped off the grid.  I know how much I gained from hermetic isolation and reflection.

I know how important it is to remain connected to the grid.  I know I don’t serve myself by isolating from that which is required or which can assist me.

But getting back on, doing the work, is hugely difficult for me, the action blocked by deep emotions.

And that is a  big problem.

Emotional Support

Every transperson needs emotional support.

That’s true of every human, of course, but transpeople face emotional challenges different than their family of origin, different from their peers.  In fact, those challenges often include having to help those around them negotiate the emotional issues that this culture builds around transgender issues for everyone.   We don’t just have to do our own emotional work, we have to help others do theirs, work that they don’t have the same incentive to accomplish as we do

In a gender system designed to enforce pair bonding and procreation, ownership is split between the gender roles (which are in turn linked to birth sex).   If you want a complete life, you have to come together with a person of the other gender to form a unit.

In the very traditional form of this model, before the changes after WWII, men got property & money and women got family & emotion.   Men had pressure to have a family life, including a partner to “service his needs” and women had to find and keep a man to support themselves and their children.

The needs of men included emotional support.   Emotion was not valued in the realm of men’s power, but every man had emotions, needed emotional satisfaction and guidance, which he learned to farm out to his wife.   Owning emotion was one of the ways she kept power in the relationship, creating the tenor of the house, as in the phrase “If mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy.”

For many transpeople who went through puberty as a male and who identified as a crossdresser, this meant that they ended up dumping the emotional burdens of being transgender in this society directly onto their wife.  She had to deal with all the feelings, the secrecy, the guilt, the shame and the Eros of crossdressing.

There was a whole industry to support the wives of crossdressers, including events like the SPICE conference where no transgender expression was allowed by anyone to try and make a “safe space” for spouses.  I did some writing to support those partners.

My real work, of course, was to try and explain to those crossdressers why they had to take responsibility for their own emotions if they wanted to be responsible for their own transgender expression.

This was not something they wanted to hear.   When I asked them about going to a therapist, they often told me that I sounded like their wife.   Yes, well, there was a reason for that.

You cannot engage your own femininity and your own womanhood without also engaging your own emotions.  Women connect in the realm of feeling and have learned to be the mommy and the wife, emotionally supporting their children and spouse.   The world of desire is where much of our power lies, as Audre Lorde explains in talking about the uses of the Erotic.

There is an old saw about men in therapy: You need to spend the first year convincing them that they actually have feelings and the next year convincing them that they won’t die if they actually feel them.   Brène Brown talks about this brilliantly when she talks about the one imperative we shame men over: they have to be strong at all times.

Processing internalized shame is at the heart of getting clear about transgender, as it is the heart of getting clear about so many emotional issues in this world.    And getting clear about emotion is the only way to become balanced, open-hearted, integrated, actualized, and all those other things that reduce suffering and bring us peace, opening us to bliss.

Getting emotional support about transgender is very difficult.   The amount of time that I and other transpeople have spent educating clinicians on our dime and then still running into their emotional limits, their inability to enter hell, is enormous.  Even people who want to support us end up placing us on pedestals, replacing our story with their own expectations, or treating us like test subjects.

In this culture there tends to be resistance to actually feeling your emotions, as Brène Brown talks about, a resistance to engage “bad” emotion that leaves us disconnected from all of our emotions.   To feel anything, you have to feel everything, and that means doing the work to process your emotions, to be able to manage your feelings with wisdom and grace, not just for yourself but for those who you give emotional support with the power of your empathy.

Having grown up in a family with two parents who had the kind of mind that Dr. Asperger described I know that effectively processing emotion can be difficult for reasons other than cultural.

If emotions can be so overwhelming to neurotypical people that they avoid engaging them, imagine how much more challenging they are to those whose minds tend to move away from emotion.    I had to learn to help my parents process their feelings using the circuits I built to process and control my own feelings as a child, the kind of mental monitoring of emotion which still is the foundation for me being able to elucidate visceral subjects in clear language, like I do on this blog everyday.

When you go into the community of support for Aspergers, you find many parents who are just frustrated as hell at their inability to engage and control their kids, who they often see as “broken.”   The cost of engaging and servicing someone who is not neurotypical is very high, very draining.

There are, though, spaces where adults who know they are not neurotypical share their challenges and their strategies to engage and own their own emotions, no matter how difficult that may be.   They know that even if they don’t have the standard firmware, they can learn to be responsible for their own feelings rather than just being overwhelmed by them, just asking others to support them.

I know how hard it was to have to learn how to manage my own feelings without the social support of others who had the emotional chops to engage the challenges of my life, smart, transgender and the child of Aspergers parents.  I had to do it alone, struggling hard, and that therapeutic work left me a wounded healer, able to help others but still scarred and torn.

Our own struggles to find healing always give us the tools to help others, even if they leave us battered and lonely, without the kind of emotional support networks that we need to be nourished and cared for.

The only way out of hell is through.   You have to enter your own emotional space in order to name it, claim it and own it.   We are the prime contractor for our own healing, and while we can use all the subcontractors we can find to help, in the end, the job of our emotional healing is our responsibility alone.

I understand why people resist engaging their emotions, instead just acting our on them.  Even today I am desperately struggling with emotional blocks that I know are massively crippling me but that I don’t have the will or the support to get over anymore.

This resistance is why people seek “special relationships” that they want to believe will bring them someone or something which will heal them with an outside force rather than having to go inside and do the bloody hard work.  It is one reason that they find this emotional and thoughtful blog to just be “gobbledygook.”

The gender system is changing to support the idea that we each have to be a whole human, coming together not in dependence or independence, but rather in interdependence.   Rather than deliberately breaking and disintegrating ownership, forcing dependency, we ask people to be whole and healthy, open minded and open hearted in the world.

This means having to do the work to not be thrown about by emotional hot buttons, means learning to use that moment between stimulus and response to make considered and healthy choices rather than just habitual and rough knee-jerks.   Each one of us has to take responsibility for our own thoughts and our own emotions, no matter how uncomfortable or challenging that work to move beyond comfortable habits and judgments might be.

You are only young once, but you can be immature forever if you don’t do the work.   Nothing in your life will work unless you do, processing your own wounds and your own possibilities.   That change in you only comes with a change in your perception.

Each of us has real blocks to doing the work, has real reasons to be hurt and angry, but if it is to be, it starts with me.   I am the only person I have the responsibility of changing and healing, even as I support others, so I have to clear out my own hell, rather than rationalizing by blaming others, rather than searching for a “special relationship” that will fix me from the outside.

We all need someone to hold our heart sometimes, all need emotional support.  That support, though, isn’t to replace our responsibility to own our own emotions, rather it is to give us insight, courage, permission and nourishment  to help us do our own emotional healing, no matter who we are or how hard that work is.

The gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are.   You must enter your own hell, kill the dragon with “thou shalt” on every scale, tame the bear in your closet, and find your own higher self.

Wholeness, in the end, is a good thing.

Concealment Refuge

I have always been of opinion that consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
— Oscar Wilde, “The Relation of Dress to Art. A Note in Black and White on Mr. Whistler’s Lecture

I dress as a woman for a number of reasons.

The first, at least for me, is that I believe that my choices make much more sense as the choices of a woman, as the choices of a feminine hearted person.  My understanding of the world, my affiliation, my desire, my priorities all are much more in line with that of a woman than that of a man in this culture.

Woman gender symbols express this knowledge more clearly.   Women always are marked by their choices in appearance and showing my choices not only reveals more of who I know myself to be, it gives a more full and relaxed context for others to see those choices.

The second is that I know that expressing the feminine nature in my heart is part of my work in the world.   In cultures where gender is rigidly bipolar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.    That’s my mission statement, so being visibly trans in the world is one of those rituals that reveal, venerate and even celebrate connection.   My clothes are my vestments.

The third is that I like looking pretty.   Who wouldn’t want to be able to wear makeup and other adornments?   Well, maybe men wouldn’t so much, but then again, I don’t identify as a man.

I have no problem with being seen as a trans woman in the world.   I do, however, have a problem with being seen as “really a man,” really a “guy-in-a-dress.”   That feels like an erasure of what I communicate with my gender expression, so I work to stop that happening.

Often transpeople assigned as male at birth or soon thereafter have been seen as essentially men, but because of their trans expression, as men with something extra.   This is the essential call of the “bigendered” label, that these people are men with a some dose of femininity thrown in.

I understand this call.  My original plan was to increase my range of expression by being more androgynous, more playful with gender, more gender queer or gender fuck.

As I came to understand myself, though, I realized how unlike other men I was, how much that acculturation never really stuck.  As I explored the culture of woman I began to see how much it reflected and resonated with me, bringing my nature and worldview into focus, opening my heart and removing the angst.

I didn’t want to appear as a man with something extra because that does not reflect my understanding of myself.  I understand myself as a woman with a different history and biology, an immigrant to woman, woman in vision and choices.

The big problem is that I know I live inside a very essentialist, very binary culture.  A woman born female expressing some balance of masculinity would just be seen as having a healthy balance, owning a bit of androgyny, but when I express that balance, I know that my gender can shift and people see me as “really a man.”

This binary culture means that I am much more concerned about concealment of my biology and my history than I want to be.   I tend to avoid using the full range of my voice, for example, just to avoid an appearance that might be jarring and off-putting to others around me.

In her drive across country, TBB felt much safer at a hip restaurant in liberal Bend Oregon than at a family place in Georgia where Christian iconography abounded.   In Bend she got loose, listened, laughed and relaxed, while in Georgia she touched up her make up before she got out of the car, kept her voice modulated and heavily minded her manners, wary of someone who would decide she was not welcome.

What we end up trying to do is cover ourselves in a small and false consistency so that we have less chance of frightening the horses.   We know, as Mr. Wilde knew, that consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative and that many, many people cannot imagine in their wildest dreams that the truth of your heart is more important than the truth of your birth designated biology.

These people like the comfort of simple and consistent rules over the creativity of real and abounding hearts and often have no compunction in asserting their consistency over our creative expression of our truth.

What we end up trying to do is cover ourselves in a small and false consistency so that we have less chance of frightening the horses.   We know, as Mr. Wilde knew, that consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative and that many, many people cannot imagine in their wildest dreams that the truth of your heart is more important than the truth of your birth designated biology.

These people like the comfort of simple and consistent rules over the creativity of real and abounding hearts and often have no compunction in asserting their consistency over our creative expression of our truth.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

I worked very hard to own my own womanhood.  I will always own it in my heart, in my private spaces.  To have it removed by those unimaginative people who demand a refuge consistency just feels like crap, which leaves me working to conceal, either concealing my gender or concealing my biology and history.

I don’t like working so hard to conceal, to lie.  I like opening up, telling truth even when it is complex, nuanced or appears contradictory.

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement.
But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
—   Niels Bohr

The amount we have to conceal to appear consistent in order for our truth to be accepted by those who have limited imaginations is always a challenge.  These people like their small minded refuge, using their own short stick to judge the reality of others. ‘

I know who I am and what I want to express.  I also know that my worldview has popped more than a few fuses in other people in my time.   I try and attenuate, modulate, conceal and diminish what others believe to be contradictions in order to navigate in the world.

And I find that difficult.

Beyond Binary

There is nothing wrong with having a feminine heart in a male identified body, having a masculine heart in a female identified body or having a different than conventional combination of reproductive biology and soul nature.

In this culture, though, having that mix makes you be identified as transgender.   Being thus identified is just a pain in the ass.

We live in a binary system where male and man are culturally linked, female and woman are linked and compulsory expression choices are enforced on you based on your reproductive biology.

Not all human cultures have used this heterosexist system.   Other, less agricultural or marketing based cultures have had other gender models, such as not deciding the gender of a child until around puberty and their nature has emerged.   That’s not so easy when the emphasis is on breeding or on other ways of creating humans to serve the economic machine, but it has happened.

No kid imagines being transgender, imagines being forced to have to traverse the cultural divide between gender roles, either for a time of emergence or for their whole lives.   They imagine being pretty or strong or graceful or tough or whatever else kids dream of becoming.

We find, though, that in this culture, if those dreams aren’t normative for our assigned gender that we have to crawl through hell of being cast as transgender.    Conventions say that it is all about the genitalia, that somehow the difference between having an innie or an outie casts us on one side or the other of a huge wall.

Even gay and lesbian people find it easy to sign up to the idea that genital configuration is a profound and defining separation.    They often resist people who find love and passion based on something other than separation by reproductive sex, resist anyone who identifies as “bisexual,” even that being a word that is rooted in a binary view.

We know that wall is just an illusion, but many of us still play to it.  Instead, we may say that hormones that are the dividing line, though how we had a feminine heart before we ever took hormone pills we can’t really explain, nor can we address how there were transpeople long before hormone pills were available.   For me, transnatural as I am, I know that it is my heart and my choices that define me, that reculturation, changing my habits, my approach, the programs in my mind changed everything.

In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.   That’s been my mission statement since the first moment I heard anthropologist Anne Bolin say it.

There is no essential problem with having a feminine heart in a male identified body, having a masculine heart in a female identified body or having a different than conventional combination of reproductive biology and soul nature.

Having to be forced into a transgender life in a doggedly binary, heterosexist culture where the belief that reproductive sex is a fundamental and obvious marker of crucial difference between people is a real pain, something to hate.   I never wanted to be a tranny, I wanted to be me, true to the nature my creator put in my heart.

To be transgender in this culture  is to be cast as different, weird or sick.   Some people think they are kind by just defining transgender people as abject, broken, or putting them on a pedestal, as if their tragic story made them martyrs for the cause.

We learn that to get what we want we have to play along with the cracked views of us, creating sad stories to rationalize our behaviour, accepting medical oversight to get what we need, playing along with bleeding hearts who see us as abject and brave.

We learn that people focus on that crossing rather than on what we have to offer, judge us that crossing because it makes them crazy to imagine the binaries that comfort them with walls are not real.

Remember, I am not saying that I hate having what I call a transgender nature.  That’s just who I am, how I was made.   I am saying, however, that being forced into a transgender role in this culture has been painful and damaging as the heterosexist gender system tried to pound me into normative binary expectations with shame and abuse.

The interlocking communities around transgender almost never come together to support expression beyond binary constraints.    Instead, they tend to enforce other kinds of imposed binary orders, like transvestites vs transsexuals, oppressed vs oppressors, assimilated vs creative, sexual vs asexual and so on.   It is very rare to find a space where transcendence is valued over compliance with a defended and heavily policed group identity.

This is rooted in the identity politics of the binary, us versus them, building power bases based on opposition instead of coalition, based on separation rather than connection.   We have all seen how that notion plays out when red vs blue defines American politics.

One woman, sick of dating people who didn’t reveal their nature easily, decided that transgender people have it easy.  Once we disclose as trans, she decided, the assholes are weeded out instantly, leaving only the people who have done the work, who have come to healing.  The lonely price of that truth was not something she, as an attractive, powerful woman could really comprehend.

The price we pay isn’t the price of having a transgender nature.  The price we pay is the way the dominant culture casts into the no-man’s/no-woman’s space between gender, being seen as sick or freaks or brave or  perverts.

I am a child of God, perfect and imperfect as she made me.  I am also a child of this culture, living under great social pressure, crushed by pressure that was designed to break me, and stuck without permission to be me in a world that really, really wants to enforce big bloody simple binary separations on everyone.

I am not this or that, I am this and that, just like every other human on earth. We all cross some boundary and we all have learned to hide some of those crossings to create an easier, more comfortable and less authentic life.

Having a transgender nature is a gift from my creator.  I believe that.  It gives me power, power that many cultures recognized by valuing trans shamans as healers and connectors, tapping into the continuous common connection of creation.

Being cast as transgender in this binary obsessed culture, though, has lead me on a really, really, really rough and lonely journey.

Disempowered

If there is a thread in my life, it is that my own disempowerment, based in an experience of disconnection, continues to grow and engulf me. My own agency continues to diminish rather than to grow.   This becomes a downward spiral. almost impossible to break.

I know that this is about attitude and approach.   I come from a family where disempowerment was the norm.   I am firmly in a population where disempowerment is the norm.   I live in an area where disepowerment is expected.

Over the years, I have worked hard to help others around me feel capable, strong and empowered.  I have encouraged them to be playful, creative and committed, believing in their capacity to make change in their world.   I have worked to give them courage, based in the belief that they can get what they need, if not what they want.

This kind of reflection of the best in people is the only way I know to give them the power to take risks, make connections, and have their own value fed back to them by the community in a nourishing, healing and lifting way.    Believing in them is the only way I know to unlock their potential, to get them stronger and healthier.

Affirmation that others see you as potent and not abject is the way we move beyond our own brokenness.  Belief begets belief.

I have not been able to find the kind of reflection that I lack.   I am stuck in a disempowerment spiral, connecting with other people over sickness and not strength.

And that just makes me more incapacitated and disempowered, not less.

Hard Gender

“Oh my God!” women would sometimes exclaim, “He is prettier than I am!”

“That’s because I had to work so hard at it,” I would explain, “while you just got the gift of being pretty.”

“There are no ugly women, only lazy ones,” said beauty icon Helena Rubinstein.

For most women today, especially around here, polishing their performance as women just wasn’t socially acceptable.   We didn’t have finishing schools, beauty pageants, coming out events.  They aimed for a look that they call “natural,” which isn’t really natural but is played down, blending in rather than standing out.

I got beauty books when I was coming out and I quickly learned to skip the first half.   That was where they had all that blah, blah about beauty coming from the inside, about valuing yourself, about posture and skin care, about attitude and engagement.   I didn’t need that crap, I needed the makeup lessons in the back of the book, learning what to do with my Flame-Glo palette of purples.

My goal was an amazing mask that I could paint on, an exterior paint job that would turn me into a different person, someone who looked like a beautiful woman.    Cover me up, I imagined, let me hide behind a face full of makeup and that is all I needed.

It turns out that the people who wrote those beauty guides, though, actually knew a thing or two.   You really can’t show outer beauty without having inner beauty.   Real beauty actually does come from within.

Dammit.

I worked very, very hard to earn my womanhood, harder than you can possibly imagine.   Most of that work was on the inside, having the ultimate tranny surgery: pulling the stick out of my own ass.     Transgender really is about revealing the truth of your heart, even to yourself, and not about working to conceal your history and biology either through clothes (transvestism) or body modification (transsexualism.)

To appear as a beautiful woman first you have to be a woman.

There is actually a world of women’s culture, which, sadly, is usually unknown to transwomen.  They have almost no understanding or interest in what it means to grow up as a woman in this world. To most of them, woman is just the shadow of manhood, so rejecting manhood makes them women.

Being a woman is, to most transvestites, primarily about what you wear on the outside and not about the choices you make, choices based in the internal cultural identity of being a woman.

That makes no sense to me, of course, but I have no way to explain to people who are not immersed in womanspace what being a woman really is, what it really means.   They really believe they know all they need to know about womanhood, while women who have been raised as women know that there is so much more than they can ever know about the experience of being a woman in the world.

“For it is surely a lifetime work, this learning to be a woman.”
— May Sarton

Woman is not about clothes or genitalia.   Woman is about connecting with other women, about doing the work of women in the world.   Gender is part of the poetry of expression, not doing different things but instead doing them with a different approach, a different attitude, a different balance.

I have heard crossdressers explain that you should never wear a skirt to the mall.  Their logic is that since most of the other women at the mall are in jeans and a top you will stand out too much.   They neglect the fact that there are always women in dresses at the mall, coming from or going to work, because they always wear skirts, or just because they like them.   Some women can wear anything and look great.

The difference, of course, is that those women are wearing their outfits from the inside out.   They aren’t looking for a disguise that lets them blend in, like picking out the right camouflage pattern from Cabela’s, rather they are dressing from a sense of comfort.  They are women wearing their own woman’s clothes, not deceivers skillfully infiltrating an enemy camp.   They own their own womanhood rather than just trying to wear it on the outside like a blind.

Owning our own feminine, womanly beauty means owning our own feminine, womanly self.   That process requires clearing out all the blocks you have to feminine, womanly choices, letting go of your old defences — that broomstick up your ass– so you can learn to flow, open, and wiggle in your own feminine way.

I worked very, very hard to earn my womanhood, harder than you can possibly imagine.  Harder than the women who take their own expression for granted, seeing it as “natural” and “unaffected” just because it was constructed without conscious and considered choice.

Comfort, authenticity really do count towards an easy, graceful and integrated presentation that reads as honest and compelling.

No matter how simple that sounds, you really do have to work at it, do the tough work clearing out the crocks and opening to truth.

Doing gender well, doing human well, is hard.

Finding Permission

“My role is to offer people permission: to be catered to individually, to treat themselves to something beautiful, to be important, to feel better.”
— Betty Halbreich “I’ll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist

Ms. Halbreich is head of the Solutions department at Bergdorf Goodman in NYC, where she helps women express their personal style through direct consultation.    Her book is a glimpse into her life and a window into how she enters the lives of women as they transform to help also transform their appearance.   They need external change for so many reasons that are expressions of the phases of a woman’s life, reminding us how the outside just reflects the inside rather than replacing it.

She deals with mostly rich and powerful women, women who can afford to shop at Bergdorfs.   Even these women crave the permission she gives them, wanting to trust her expert eye and deep knowledge.   I am sure that most readers of her book will imagine a the luxury of having a relationship with her, imagine how wonderful it would be to have that kind of permission delivered on a regular basis.

In the world, though, waiting for permission is just a crippling mistake.   No one can give permission for the choices that you have not yet manifest.  They can’t imagine the possibilities like you can, can’t see how your choices will be shaped and polished by the process of becoming.

They can’t even give you permission to be who you are in front of them because most of the time, their own vision and fears tint their perception of you.  If they have to sign off, to give permission, then they want changes to make you more like their vision of you, more in line with their expectations of the right way to do things.

How many of us while looking for affirmation are really looking for permission to be beautiful, important, better?   Can anyone actually give us that permission, or do we just have to do it for ourselves?

I was writing about trans for about a decade when I wrote a 1994 speech for Holly Boswell that I really needed to hear her give.  I needed to hear her give permission, permission to be transgender beyond binaries, permission to shine, permission to be free, permission to be happy.

Holly was committed to The Transgender Alternative in the face of binary revering crossdressing and transsexualism, so I looked to people like her and the amazing Kate Bornstein for permission.  In fact, I offered a fantasy of Kate doing baptisms at Coney Island, ritual permission to be reborn into our own queer and shimmering nature.

At a local TDOR event, a gender soft person came up to me after, wide eyed and kind of lost.   I could see what they needed, though I could only give a bit of it: permission.  They wanted permission from me to break lose of the current them, still connected to a support system that held to the conventional, and find a new possibility, a new invocation.

I understand this urge just like any woman who visits Ms. Halbreich looking for permission, looking for the affirmation to go beyond habits & conventions and embrace the new.  Even if my head knows that no one can give me permission to be myself, knows that my creator gave me that permission when I entered this world, my tender and feminine heart still craves it.

So much of my caring for other people is about reminding them of the connections threaded through their life, connections that reveal they already have the ability to transform, to create the new and the beautiful.   Supporting their successes rather than the failures their ego mind often jumps to is supporting their possibilities, their ability to become new and better in the world.   Affirming their power is reminding them that they have the permission to try, to fail, to transcend, to blossom.

So many communities seem set up to deny permission to others, to make them jump through hoops that are too small for their heart.   Permission is only given to choices that fit the group think, not to choices that develop and grow the individual.

For parents, learning to give permission to children to try the bold and the innovative is often a very hard thing, but it is the key to creating families that value growth over compliance, families that create better for the next generation.   Saying “Yes!” to children even when our own fears flare up is not easy, but it is the only way to support them in being the very best that they can be.

Without permission to try, even though failure is possible, we don’t have permission to go beyond our current level of skills and comfort, don’t have permission to find out just how high we can soar.   Isn’t that one of the key roles of a “life coach,” repeatedly giving permission to be bigger, bolder, more audacious and more powerful?

The desire for permission is wired deeply into us, as Ms. Halbreich notes.  We need to be tame, part of the group, well seen and affirmed.   For me, who missed that process as a child for many reasons, that need is still there in a profound way that isn’t obvious to those who see my maturity and boldness.

Waiting for permission, though, is a dead end, as I also know.  We need to be wild, our own unique self, authentic and creative.  I know how to take permission for myself, though only in my own hermetic life.  I don’t feel the same permission to boldly be me in the wider world, in “polite society.”

I was taught that the private realm needed no permission, but the public realm did.  Is there any wonder why transpeople work so hard to try and pass in the world on the permission slips of others, or why they zealously guard permission they believe others are colonizing, like transsexuals who want to believe they paid for permission with their “blood sacrifice?”

I know, though, that no one is going to give me that permission to enter the world.   They not only can’t imagine that I need it, they wouldn’t imagine that they have the authority to give that permission, because, after all, they are still looking to have permission to stand out more than they do.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
— Marianne Williamson, “A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles,” Harper Collins, 1992. Chapter 7, Section 3 (Pg. 190-191).

I know that it is part of my work to give people permission to let their light shine in the world.  I also know that no one can give me permission to enter the shared, normative world, removing my fears with their own authority.  As a human, I have permission to be a part of society, just as my creator made me.

Still, I wish the process of shared permission, of an encouragement and affirmation round-robin was more available.   I will say “Yes!” to you if you will say “Yes!” to me, encouraging moving beyond small to transcendent.

Well, either that or have enough money to get an appointment with Ms. Halbreich.   I could use some amazing clothes that fit and flatter, but I could use the permission even more.

Diminishing Desire

One of the most important practices I had to master in finding my centre, my clarity, my integrity and my peace was diminishing desire.

When we desire something intensely, we are often willing to go off balance to acquire it.  We end up rationalizing, abandoning morals, manipulating others, breaking rules and generally violating the golden rule, treating others in a way that we would not want to be treated, in order to pursue our desire.    We seek sensation over sense, instant gratification that we know will leave us wasted rather than happy.

Whatever we desire we often justify our unbalanced rush because once we get whatever it is we desire, we will be happy, healed and ready to be centred.   It may be attention or money or a job or something that brings us status, but whatever it is, if we just possess it, all our bent drive will suddenly go smooth and humble again.

Of course, that is just an illusion.   Nothing external will ever fix us, make us better.   There are no “special relationships” as ACIM calls them, no magical people or objects that remove our own obligation to mature the thought system which is the foundation for our choices.

I know how manipulative I was in the quest to get what I desired, the respect and attention that I craved.   I also know that until I found someone who short-circuited that manipulation and made me face my own ego rather than trying to stuff the hole inside of me I was not growing and healing, not untwisting and becoming centred.

This is at the heart of  Clarissa Pinkola Estés The Red Shoes, the way that our essential desire is take from us and replaced by commercial desire which lures us to binge but never really offers nutrition and growth.

Until we are proud and healthy in what we do for love we will never be ready to really open to love, past our walls of shame and fear.   An open heart requires an open heart, not some manipulative, cheating short-cut, no matter how much our ego — our bear in the closet — tells us that we are entitled to as much as we can grab, whatever the manipulative tricks we need to pull.

A human life without desire is an empty thing.   Many who want to diminish the weighty pull of desire in their lives do so by opening to what they see as a more spiritual desire, like membership in a church of some kind or other, allowing others to decide what desire is sanctified and which is base.

Desiring what we think we should want, though, often blocks us from receiving what is really out there for us.   Commercialized desire is about chasing expectations and images, about angling for status,  but the soul life is about trusting the feeling our heart, opening to the love around us.

Staying centred by diminishing the pull of desire, by detaching, by wanting what you have, by gratitude, by humility, by discipline, by grace, has been very important to my own practice.   Instead of trying to play other people I get to hear my own voice, owning my own integrity and authenticity.

So many of my own emotional triggers were connected to a sense of neediness, a sense of lack that I believed I could fill with something outside of me.   As I explored my own emotions, entering into them rather than trying to skirt around them, I found that to be the kind of person I wanted to be I had to get clear of those illusions and learn to rely on myself, learn to love myself.

As we learn to love ourselves we also learn better how to love others.   We can be present for them without feeling our own buttons pushed.   Becoming better is becoming better, either just for ourselves or for those who we are in relationship.

Everyone feels the pull of desire and will feel it throughout their lives.   The question, though, is what we are willing to do to attempt to satisfy that pull, what cheap, unwholesome and desperate choices we will make to try and not have to look inside of ourselves to start healing those needs.

It is not the needs that damage us, not the emotions, it is the choices we make based on those feelings.   Do we stay disciplined and honourable, finding balance, or do we get needy and manipulative, rationalizing what we know are bad and destructive choices in the name of desperation?

I know that I had to choose to just let desire be one part of what drives me, keeping my emotions in balance with my mind, my creativity and my transcendence.   I had to diminish the pull of desire to find my centre.

I want to be be open to whatever comes, ready to embrace the surprises that are well outside of my expectations but still hold tremendous gifts and satisfaction for me.   I don’t want to have to pander and shill, twisting myself into knots and dancing like a chicken on a hot-plate.    I want to feel stronger everyday, at peace with myself, rather than feeling more and more ashamed of my own choices as I become more desperate and more rationalizing.

That’s why I chose to diminish desire and why doing that has left me much more focused and centred.   I am not more lonely, but I am much better company to myself and also, if anyone chooses to open to me, a much better partner to others.

In the end, getting clear and centred is just what I found I desired most.

PAY ATTENTION TO ME!

I do know that there are people in the world who crave attention.      They want to be in the spotlight, making sure that everyone is tending to them.

People use lots of different techniques to grab attention.   Some become abject, the broken one who needs to be tended to, some become cute, some become the clown, some become an actor, always on stage.  Others become authoritative, pronouncing their absolute truth with the surety of a God, while others become seductive, showing themselves as sensuous and worth the effort.

As for me, well, attention terrifies me.   In my experience, whenever someone was oaying attention to me they were looking for a way to hurt and silence me, bullying me into compliance.   Others wanted to put me on a pedestal or dissect me, casting me into a part in their own internal movie that would always lead me to discomfort and grief.

My solution was simple.   I learned to get people to pay attention to what I said, to the product I was offering.  Even then, I refused to pander to an audience to keep their attention, giving them what they would lap up, instead giving them the best I had and then letting them take or leave it.   I have never tried to build an audience for this blog, for example, instead just doing the best I can.

I know that this choice means I have no basis to complain about the lack of attention I get from others.   Attention is the most scarce and valuable commodity in a information economy so most people have very little to spare.  In fact, they are usually in attention deficit with their mental energy spread too thin to do much others than habitual or rote responses, a situation that marketers really like.  It’s much easier to manipulate people who have a very, very short attention span and an almost as short memory.

When I talk to someone, I know that they are going to talk about what is important to them for as long as I am willing to pay attention.   They like the attention from me because they have learned that I am both smart and caring, really working to understand the lay of their land, the parameters of their world.  I point out connections that even they miss, which makes them feel seen, understood and valued.

For me, though, trying to break through and have them pay attention to me, really listen, engage and understand, then offer insight, affirmation and support just usually seems more trouble than it is worth.   That is just another futile goal that would waste my time, frustrate me, and make me feel sad when it fails.

I have very little interest or even ability to oversimplify my life so it pushes the buttons most people use to get attention in the world.   I am not entertaining, not cute, and while witty, am not a clown.    I know that my worldview is complex and nuanced,  thoughtful and measured, know that most people just aren’t good at engaging it.  They want me to be able to respond to simple solutions.    When they offer one and I discuss how I have considered it and and found it limited, they chafe as if I am dismissing them.

I have learned to resist attention, affirming it in a

Does all this cerebral claptrap mean that I don’t want or crave attention?   Of course it doesn’t.   I would love to have dinner with a fascinated and charming person sitting across from me who hangs on my every word.    I just don’t see that happening.  I need attention and encouragement to get over my own sticky blocks, ones that set me up for failure.

For success, I need people to pay attention to me.   My habit, though, built with the experience of years, is to duck attention as a dead end or even a prelude to danger.   This is not something new, of course.  I learned not to play for attention and not to trust attention when I did get it a very long time ago.

I do believe that I have valuable things to offer the community.   I don’t believe that they will get the joke, embrace the gifts, value and honour what I share.   I believe they are focused on their own issues and as long as I can help solve their problems they will like it, but if I raise problems that they don’t want to address or need help with my problems, well, they have limited attention.

I know that other people can’t imagine why I duck attention while they crave it.  I am baffling to them and that is just one of the reasons.

I need attention.   I don’t trust attention.   I don’t want to have to shill to get attention which in the end will have little value.

Pay attention to me, please.  I have been asking politely for decades, offering you attention first.    But I know you have your own issues, your own limits, lots of demands on your attention, know that you have to heal and grow in your own time and in your own way.

So, if you can’t pay attention to me, it’s fine.

It’s fine.