Burning Off

Sometimes I get upset about the prurient, salacious and incredibly reductive coverage of transgender issues in the media.

I know how complicated and nuanced they really are, know how much compassion is required to engage and understand the real challenges of a transgender life.

It is hard for me, yes, but I do understand that a blood letting is required around transgender.

The pain and stigma and freak calling is so strong around trans that there is no way to engage the real, tender issues until we burn off the fear and disquiet around transgender issues.

Until we get the cheap and nasty slurs, jokes and dismissal out in the open where it is visible to all as the toxic crap that has hurt so many transpeople over so many decades, we can’t move on.

The hidden snark needs to be brought out into the light so good people can see it as the bullshit and venom it really is.  We need to lance the boil around transgender, drain the pus, allowing the issues to air before we can heal.

Even as I write this my belly churns, tensing for the onslaught of crap and viciousness that is coming out of dark spaces all over the world.   It brings up the shit every transperson learned to internalize, attacks all of us, reducing our real lives to ignorant comments trying to destroy our legitimacy.

It has to come,though.   We need to get through this period to get to the other side, a place where trans is just trans, where the diversity and breadth of trans lives can be seen and valued, rather than having is all dismissed as weird, freaky perverts.

It’s like breaking the sound barrier, crashing through that wall that keeps the realities of trans hidden.   The shards will go everywhere, but afterwards, the freedom will stay around.

A smaller version of this has had to happen in every trans life.   To mature and own our own truth, the simple truth that trans expression has trans meaning, no matter how much we want to rationalize it, we have to do this release of fear and prejudices in our own life, letting go of expectations to find truth.

A huge blood letting is coming.   The beginning of it has been visible for a while.   It is going to be a nasty time but a liberating time.

Everyone heals in their own time and in their own way.  I suspect that is true of societies too.   Upheavals have to happen, shit has to be released and processed, before breakthroughs can become a part of everyday life.   It’s just part of the process.  This too will pass, as all things must.

That doesn’t mean it is ever easy or pleasant through, especially for tender, feminine hearted people who have always had deep empathy for suffering and loss.

We vs. Me

“Those people are phobic!   They hate people like me!   It’s all a problem with institutionalized isms!”

When we meet resistance, it’s always nice to believe that the problem is the internalized attitudes of other people, that this resistance is common to all people in our group or class.

If we don’t believe that then we have to start looking at how much they are resisting us as an individual, how much our choices are causing the problem.

A “We” approach moves responsibility onto others, giving us an external rationale for lack of success.

A “Me” approach requires personal responsibility, demanding that we look at our own approach & efforts, look at how we can change them to be more effective, removing or overcoming resistance.

There are certainly biases in the world, people who come with preconceptions and prejudices which add resistance and raise the bar for people they don’t see as like them.

Complaining about those biases, though, will never change them.   The only way to change them is to show that they are wrong.

In the women’s movement a joke went “The only way for a woman to succeed is to be twice as good as a man.   Fortunately, that’s not hard.”   At least it wasn’t when men got jobs on entitlement and not real competence.

That wasn’t enough for Bella Abzug.  “We are not fighting for a female Einstein to be recognized as easily as a male.   We are fighting for women schlemiels to have as much opportunity as men.”

The way that group identification get destigmatized is for members of that group to become visible as valued, successful and normal members of society.

Individuals have to do the “me” work, getting good, to get the “we” work done, changing opinions and attitudes about the entire class.   Whinging about how they need to change only marks us as whingers; participating and making a difference changes the world, one small step at a time.

It may be disquieting and discomforting to have to fall back to “me” space, taking personal responsibility to reshape your choices in order to overcome resistance, but there is no other way to own your own success in the world.

Everyone wants more than they can possibly have.  We each have to make trade offs, deciding our priorities and choosing where to focus our efforts.  Other people will have things that we would like to have because they put their energy somewhere different than we did.

When we see someone else who can be seen as like us who has something we desire, we have to choose an attitude.   Are they the exception that we can dismiss, as we know the problem is really resistance to people like us as a group, or are they the examples that give us hope, proving that with enough work that possibility is open to us too?

One key social justice belief is that injustice against one of us is injustice against all of us, that the failure of the one is the failure of all.  I believe, though, that the converse is also true, that affirmation of one of us is affirmation of all of us, that the success of one of us is the success of all of us.

This is not often respected in so called support spaces, where only pain and resistance is valued and the discussion must be kept at the level of the most abject one of us.   For me, the only cure for being broken is to become healed, and unless that is always a possibility to be honoured, we never help others take personal responsibility for their own lives.

It’s so easy to fall back on the “we,” to decide that it is the world that has to change, not us.   It is so easy to stay in oppression models, seeing the world as us versus them and refusing to change until “they” do.   It is so easy to rationalize our own failures as failures of the system and resist doing the personal work as a kind of righteous martyrdom to a failed society.

Those who helped make progress in changing the society, though, came from the “me” space.   They stepped up, got focused and responsible, changed their choices to become more effective and made a real difference in the world because of that.  They didn’t turn their back on those who were still struggling, rather they offered hope and the possibility that even the schlemiels have dignity and opportunity in the world.

“If it is to be, it is up to me,” as Robert Schuller used to say.  We don’t change the world for people like us by complaining, we change it by doing the best we can to affirm and embody possibility, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.

As TBB reminds me, the only thing in the world we can really control are our own choices.  In the end, we each only play a small part, but we play our part.

Whatever you do in life will be insignificant. but it is very important that you do it .
― Mahatma Gandhi

You count, but only if you boldly do your own work rather than waiting for others, complaining they they haven’t done the work.   Individuals taking personal responsibility is the only way we create social responsibility.

Change the world by changing your choices, by seeing possibility and going for it.

They, after all, are us.

It’s Complicated

For transpeople, our permanent status is “It’s complicated.”

There is always a part of us that is on the flip side, making us not really simple.

In my life, I have learned the very hard way that “It’s complicated” isn’t really the best icebreaker.   Heck, it’s not even the best ten year report.

What we end up doing is working hard to make it look more simple.  We take parts of ourselves and bring them to the fore and then put other parts in the shadow.   It’s what we have been trained to do.

Our whole expression becomes wrapped up in the challenge of not seeming to be all that complicated, trying to appear accessible, understandable, even simple.

But it’s complicated to do that.

How much do you work to keep the complicated parts invisible?

How much do people see that concealment and get a little uncomfortable?

How much do they get confused and put off by the noise when you show more than they can understand?

How much do they see nuance as contradictions, see complexity as lies?

How much is too much information and how much is not enough?

It’s complicated to figure that out.   And it is especially complicated to do that on your own, without smart friends to help you find good ways to be complicated and comprehensible at the same time.

Me, well, I’m complicated.   I’m not tricky or twisted; I am straight forward and well illuminated, open and honest, authentic and smart.   But I am still complicated.

The expectation that transpeople will work to simplify themselves has always been difficult for me.   I spent years on the subject of lies and truth; does concealment equal lying? What is truth, anyway?

The answer, as you might guess, is complicated.

I hate the moment when people feel the need to pin me as one thing or the other, when they decide that complicated must be contradictory.   Once they impose their simple mindset on me they end up erasing real truths, real work, real feelings, real me.   That feels very, very bad.

The moment that complicated equals too challenging, equals needs to be erased and silenced, equals scary and ugly, that moment is hurt.

The current push in my life is to speak up, to be more visible and less guarded.  I have something to offer, but as long as I am self-policing, trying to modulate and simplify my expression, I don’t share.

I have content, something to offer.  What I have to offer, though, is complicated.  I have learned not to expect people to get that, even if I find that plowing into complications is the only way to really understand patterns, the only way to really find simple.   The only way out of hell is through.

I want to share, I need to share, but I don’t need the slam of being reduced and diminished because I am too complicated.   I have had a whole mess of that pain in my lifetime, thank you very much.

When things are complicated, I am a great person to have around.  I cut through the noise, get to the core, create focus while offering encouragement and support.  I help healing.

When you  are resisting complication, though, channeling simple by being reductive, I am really unpleasant to have around.   I show the cracks, ask the just the wrong question, throw light in the corners, check the trash and generally just pull back the covers.   I challenge simple.

The world can use my voice.   People can value it.  But it’s complicated.   I’m complicated.

Can complicated be enough?   Do I really not have to work to hide something or other to keep standing, to keep my dignity?   It usually doesn’t feel that way; my standing always feels tenuous and sketchy.

In the midst of complicated lies the simple.   “In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous, common humanity.” We each are, in the end, just human.

I have worked hard to be clear and comprehensible, true and trustworthy.   That doesn’t mean, though, that I am not complicated.

Is complicated beautiful?   Or is complicated just complicated, leaving everyone to surface it and just see what they want?

Learning to show more of myself is complicated.

But then, for someone who had to enter the complications that society tried to erase at a very young age, what isn’t complicated?

I am who I am.   And that is complicated.

Maybe that is enough to show.

Fishing Through Garbage

“You have to be willing to let things slide off your plate,” one woman entrepreneur said.   Another agreed, saying that if you are choosing what slides off, you are doing well.

“But once those things are in the garbage,” she warned, “don’t try pick them up again.   Make the choice, get the focus, pick the master to serve and move on.”

That is a very sensible plan for someone in action.   Keep your focus and your momentum, make your choices and don’t keep agonizing over them.   The past is passed, the future is where the possibilities lie.

For someone in contemplation, though, it doesn’t quite work that way.

I spend my life picking through the garbage, examining the residue of choices made and the outcome of choices not made.  I am a gleaner, fishing through what most people see as waste to find the insights, the losses, the jewels.

Business down the mainstream, focusing on the 80%, is the way to make things work in a big, developed economy.   That leaves 20% behind, though, the diverse, the different, the outliers, the queer who don’t quite fit into the conventional wisdom.

There are plenty of really good lessons and wisdom that get thrown in the trash everyday.   You can learn a great deal from looking at difference rather than focusing on consistency.  The traditions of those who live on the edges, examining and valuing the unconventional are strong and powerful.

While efficiency comes from simplification, innovation grows out of mess, the collision of ideas and memories which spark together to offer new ways to see.

I understand why many want to just throw things out and move on/

In the remainder, though, what is left behind after the easy and simple pickings are made, lies the surprising and wonderful.

Owner Space

In developed countries only 18% of women are confident that they can be a business owner, but in underdeveloped countries the number is much higher than that, said a woman entrepreneur at a panel last night.

She saw that as a problem with women’s confidence in developed countries. I see that as a benefit to smaller scale economies.   The distance between business owners and others is much shorter in those places.   Women can know and see people who own businesses and can see themselves doing it.

This is why microlending is so powerful in those economies, because women there have a strong sense that they can own a business, that they can own their own choices, that they can lead.

Women who start businesses, even in this country, tend to just start small and make it happen, leaving more men to create big business plans that dream of empires, going to ask for investment capital.   That also means that women owned businesses tend to be smaller and more flexible, reflecting a woman’s priority to balance her life.

The problem in developed countries, as I see it, is that we raise kids up in a conformist, consumer culture.   Instead of teaching kids that they need to own their own lives, we teach them to be good shoppers, following the rules and the complaining if they don’t get the outcome that they want.

Owner culture isn’t understood or valued in huge and developed economies in the same way it has to be valued in smaller and less developed ones.   In those. consumer culture dominates, leaving us to complain that we didn’t get what we thought we should when we bought into the games they taught us in school.

Learning to own your own life, your own choices and your own power is so damn hard.   One woman on the panel last night said that she wants to convince girls that they don’t have to play small, don’t have to succumb to pressure to so the nice things, announcing that she was a powerful woman.   In the next sentence, though, she rolled that back, admitting that she wasn’t really that powerful, that she worried and such.

In small, human scale cultures, we understand “and.”   She is powerful and she is vulnerable, an owner and a person.   In larger, compartmentalized cultures we demand specialization, changing the paradigm to “or.”    Are you a woman or a business owner?   Are you emotional or an entrepreneur?

This vision of separation does not serve us, especially as women who have so many different roles to play in the world.

One woman told the story of a candidate her husband was interviewing, a man who could only take the job if he could work a four day week, taking the other to care for his children and his wife.   Her husband just responded badly to this, saying that we are powerful executives, not caretakers, astounded at the chutzpah this guy had in asking for this.

She told her husband that anyone with this clear a vision of priorities and commitments would probably be a good hire, and wondered why this fellow couldn’t both be a good executive and a good husband & father.   He was hired, and he is rocking.

Her husband had to face one of the big challenges of owner culture: owning his own assumptions, expectations and biases in a way that he could examine and change them.  He had to examine the situation as it was, not as he would have it be, and make the best choice he could.

Owning your own happiness and your own choices, not just expecting to be happy with what you can get off the shelf is a central component of entrepreneurship.  We have to walk into mixed and messy situations and make the best of them, finding the best in us, in our partners and in what is at hand to create better solutions for everyone.

Creating an owner culture is not easy.   It requires not only that we own our own choices but that we understand the level to which others own their own choices so we can create coalition and collaboration with them. They are going to be human, fallible and with their own priorities, not canned product that is either what we expect or is to be thrown out.

If you think facing your assumptions and then changing your choices to make them more effective in the world is stupid and just for wimps, you can never enter owner culture.    Owners have to build satisfaction across relationships, not simply demand it as what they are due, what they paid for.    That magic trick of both being confident & authoritative while also being engaged & responsive isn’t easy, but it is at the core of being an owner.

Owners are always real people, which can be hard for people raised in a consumer culture to understand.   If you see owners as “them,” you will never be able to feel comfortable and confident in your ownership of your little piece of the economy, of your bit of our world.

Teaching that ownership is not only possible but that it is desirable and exciting is hard when people believe that they are just consumers, only able to complain if they don’t get what they they want and they need.

In more human scale economies this is easier to understand, but if we want our economy to more reflect and celebrate humanity over a big business separation between owners and consumers, it is vital to help people move to owner space.

All They Can

People want to be taken care of. They want to be serviced, attended to, want to have their hand held and their brow stroked. Most see the world through their needs, turning everything either a reflection of them or a blank spot, invisible because they don’t see how it is relevant to them.

They spend what they have — their money, their time and, most valuable of all, their focus & attention — on their own priorities. They have little left over, so when their is a sudden demand, like a health crisis, they feel their world crack.

I’m a good care giver. I know how to enter their world and make it better, helping them with reflections, focus and more. I have the discipline and compassion to help them move past their own nose and hear their own voice more clearly, have the skills to translate between the wider world and their inner world.

It has taken a lifetime of practice to build my kit of helping tools.

I learned to have a rich inner life very early, a place to get away from the service I had to give to my parents, service I gave them for nearly six decades. I had to move past my own needs & desires to gain context & discipline.

I learned to shape and develop that inner life by asking questions, questions that came from really engaging the stories of others.    Where others lead lives of action & reaction, I lead a life of examination & contemplation

The fact that I have built my kit so well and so thoroughly is both what makes me compelling to other people and what sets me apart from other people.

I know how to listen deeply, know what kind of questions and techniques can cut through the noise.   I also know how to communicate that in a clear and witty way.

The way I got to that place, though, is very incomprehensible and very distant from their experience in the world.  They see the insight and the strength, but don’t see the messy challenge that drove me into that practice.

I made many choices that they would never, ever consider making, choices that they would fear making, so to understand them they would have to get out of their own mindset and glimpse into mine.  That’s a lot of work that they have neither the time, energy, skills or incentive to do.

People want to be taken care of, want to be entertained and helped.   They see how I might be able to do that for them, see the results of the tools I bring to the table.

They see what they can see, what they want to see, what they are able to see.  If they see me as valuable, then I am valuable.  If that makes much of me invisible to them, then I am invisible.   If that makes me challenging to them, then I am challenging.

The invisibility of the closet is a queer thing.    Even when you have emerged from it, that invisibility lingers in the minds of observers who not only don’t quite understand what they are seeing, but who also have no time, energy or incentive to make the effort to see more clearly.

Expecting more than other people can give is a set up for disappointment.  They give what they can and the best you can do is drink their milkshakes.

Needing more than you can find, on the other hand, is a set up for loneliness and isolation.

Who can you expect to get the depth of guru?   Good question.

Chasing Air

Transgender emergence, at least in my experience, is a process of stripping years of defensive armour to bare our stored pain and reclaim the tender heart deep inside of us, then building a new expression that navigates between deep personal truth and social effectiveness in the face of massive ignorance and stigma.

Somehow, I don’t see that process as being helped by being made the theme of a tabloid oriented “reality” television show focused on image and drama.

What happens when you get what you have always dreamed that you wanted — passing at the doctors office, say, or being in a circle of women who value your voice?

At that moment does everything fall into place, healing you completely, removing your hurt and transforming your life into happiness?

Or does getting what you dreamed would fix you just make you understand something deeper and more profound in your life?

Americans delight in the notion that if they just had the one thing they always dreamed of — wealth, fame, a perfect partner, whatever — their life would finally be full of happiness.

This quest for the next, new desire is the stuff of “reality” television, because even while we revel in the schadenfreude  of seeing others grab for things that fall short, dropping them on their face, we continue to aspire to have the things they have, somehow believing that for us, it would all be different.

Becoming focused on what we desire tends to just hide the hollowness of our life, at least until we get it and then realize that the magical object hasn’t made us happy in the way we dreamed.   Often, it just dances our feet off.

We do the best we can in the world and if we are lucky, our work consumes and delights us, letting us create something of which we are proud.   We achieve mastery and find surprise, every day a sweet, sour, salty savoury taste of what we need to survive.

There is no magic talisman,   The meaning comes not in the object of focus, but in the chase.

If you believe that the chase for transpeople is mostly external, about clothes and surgery and passing, then you have to look to find those for whom those objects created satisfaction and meaning.

My experience is that the chase is mostly internal, mostly about finding and recovering the jewels we have always had inside, about going into our own hell to reclaim the soul life.   It is about finding ourself, not about the images and objects of our desire.

Seeing that external moulding being venerated just makes me even sadder than I usually am.

Sweet Sharp Broken

I am horrible at sweet small talk.  I like content, especially meta content, looking at process and meaning.

I have learned to play nice with others, but I do that by not filling the room with my voice, by larding my offerings with compassion and wit.   I learned a long time ago that the best way to be seen as smart is to only speak when you have something valuable to add.

Being my parents primary and then full-time carer for decades meant I had to be there for their small stuff.    There was laundry and cleaning and cooking, chats and videos, all that.

My relationship with sweet is very conflicted.

I am smart and sharp, always have been and probably always will be in this lifetime.   I worked hard to hone my edge, using it to cut away rationalizations from truth, to reveal connections and bedrock.

Smart and sharp have had to work for me, while people saw me as a man, when people saw me as a transperson, when people expected me to take on the burden of their fears.

I dressed that up in curmudgeon guise, deadpan jokes that revealed the sweet heart inside, much like Bogart taught me, but as Brené Brown notes, I knew if I looked like a guy I had to find a way to not be seen as weak.

My heart, my sweet tender heart, under all that performance, has always been broken.  A smart trans kid growing up in a culture where we were erased with parents who didn’t have the emotional skills to get past themselves, scapegoated and denied, out of the mainstream and in their own inner world, well, you can see how being that lost might be lonely.

The message was simple: it was my fault that I was queer, so I had the obligation to negotiate the fears and assumptions of other people, to be strong and kind and empathetic while they did whatever the best was that they can muster.   All I had to do was all the work and accept whatever I could scrape up to nourish myself.

I have gotten the same message in the last week from a young performer who I hoped would be encouraging, from a gal who was running a salon, but didn’t want to go to the question of if gender was constructed or essential, and even from a woman who found me challenging to her identity of being the smartest woman in the room, so she chose to deny me woman.

To be sweet, they believe, is to be harmless, to be abject and compliant.   How can you be sweet and also challenge the status quo, also confront their assumptions and their fears?

I have learned to live with a broken heart that I have to keep hidden under wraps because other people need the forces which broke it to stay hidden and unspoken in the world.

My obligation as someone too queer for the room is to be gracious and kind to others who are doing the best that they can, to only use my smarts, empathy and insight in a way that helps them and not in any way that might possibly scare them.   If they are scared, then it’s my fault.

My broken heart has always been something I have had to take care of alone.   No one is going to be there, even after the enormous cost of taking care of my parents.    I was even asked to leave two different caregiver groups because I was scaring those with easier burdens.

Do I want to be sweet, pretty and taken care of?  Sure.

But the obligation I have learned is to be strong, defended and isolated even as those around me need to be taken care of in ways that don’t upset or challenge them too much, as they heal in their own time and their own way.

Becoming inoffensive and unthreatening is not a possibility for me.   That means I have learned that being sweet is also off limits, something I have to deny myself, something that will be denied to me.

Using my sharp mind, I have figured out guru, have found the voice of the wounded healer inside of me.

But my sweet broken heart?


Always Right

The customer is always right.

They aren’t always right, of course. Many times customers have their head up their ass just like any other human.

Because they are the customer, though, they have something you want, something you need.  They help pay the bills.

Unless they feel heard, respected and satisfied, they aren’t going to buy.  Or at least, they aren’t going to come back to buy more, aren’t going to talk you up and bring their friends.

A customer who feels wronged won’t be a customer for long.  They won’t be a customer anymore, right?

This is the key to business.   If you aren’t giving the customer satisfaction and delight they choose not to be your customer.   You have to meet them where they are and give them something they value, not just what you want to give them or what you think they should want.

The art of developing wants and values in customers is a key skill in serving them.   They may not understand what they could want when they walk in the door, may need a little help in defining their wants.   As long as they feel like they got something of high value when they walk out the door, they will be satisfied.

Nobody opens a business to satisfy customers.  We always open a business to satisfy the needs of the owners.   That may be getting money, it may be working with things we love, it may be building an organization, or so on.   Everyone has their own needs.

Focusing our efforts on satisfying customers is the way business people meet their own needs.  That’s the fundamental rule of the market, finding ways to satisfy those who have resources to spend so that we can get the resources we need to meet our needs, our wants and our hopes.

For our own selfish reasons, we need to become selfless, learning to believe the customer is always right and needs to be satisfied by us, no matter what it takes.   We need to let go of our woulda, coulda, and shoulda and listen to what the customers are saying that they love and hate, so we can give them more of what they want, less of what they don’t, and get in front of them to shape their wants and values in a smart way.

It is important that we give them the best of us, important that we offer something that we can deliver with excellence, important that our love and passion for what we offer shines through and keeps us motivated and enthusiastic, but in the end what pays the bills is satisfying customers.

The customer is always right.

If you have a problem with that, be like me.  Just don’t have any customers, any audience.

But then you better be able to scale your own needs and desires back too.