Make It Harder

What is green, two inches long, covers the ground and is full of cement?

The answer is grass.  I just put the cement in to make it harder.

While that is a schoolkid joke, there is wisdom in the koan.

I was reading the website of a rural life coach who lives up north.   She was burbling on about her successes, being fired from the bank, finding a new job, then finally starting to do the coaching she had trained for.  She found a place for an office, then saw an unfulfilled need from other artist tenants, someone to run their computer presence, and that is going well.   She rejected one house and another one opened up, perfect and good.

She has manifested a new job, a new house, a new job, attracting success her own beliefs, creating a life she wants.

It can’t be that simple, part of me says.   What about life, the universe and everything?   There is so much resistance and challenge, so many forces of fear and dismissal.

Her desires are simple and conventional, yes.  She is very clear on what she wants, nice and mainstream.

But she is building a good life for herself and her family, finding ways to help others and get the rewards that satisfy both her spirit and her bank account.

Why can’t owning my own life be that simple?   Is it just because I put in cement to make it harder?

My resistance to simple and easy is not in the world.   It is inside of me.  It is the result of my experience and my vision.

That doesn’t mean it is not real.   My experience as a very smart person who grew up with two Aspergers parents and was challenged to find a way to put their own trans nature in context is very different than the experience of a sweet gal growing up in a small town.   My life created a body of work that does hold some value, even if that value isn’t at all mainstream or conventional.

Grass, though, doesn’t grow lush and strong when it is poured full of cement.

I carry something of value that comes from how I stand out of the normative, but holding on to that means I have trouble getting what I need from the normative world.  Letting go of it, though, means devaluing my life experience.

Any support system that doesn’t understand, affirm and value the truths and lessons of my experience is going to just distress me.  I may know that I need to put those old bits down to move into a new, simpler life, but that isn’t the same as being asked to just throw them away as just so much junk.

One powerful thing about recovery meetings is the ability to come and share the truths that we had to put in the trunk to get on with a more balanced life.    In that space, we can unpack the trunk a bit, pulling out the old stories and have them really heard. We can listen to the stories of others that keep out life in context, both how far we have come and how much that truth still resonates within us, even if it isn’t revealed in our everyday life.

I look for others who can hold my story with grace and dignity before encouraging me to move on and create new ones.

In my experience, this is a very hard thing to find.   Most people can easily tell me what I need to release, but they don’t have the texture to know and value why I hold it in the first place.

Letting go of the cement that makes it harder is important to me.   Devaluing and rejecting that hardness, though, is not the way I can move forward.

Life is that simple, yes.   It is also that hard.   That’s why we each need support to keep those pieces in context.


So, what brings you in today?

I seem to be getting colder and colder, moving farther and farther away from any hope of human connection.

And you see this as a problem?

I do, yes, I do.

So what are you doing to move closer to human connection?

I look and I look and I look for opportunities to connect with other people.   Events where someone might see, understand and connect with me,

Sure.   That makes sense.   How do these work out for you?

I find that I can usually connect with other people, enter their world and offer them something that they value.

That’s great.   What is the problem there?

I also find that they have trouble connecting with me, not being able to enter my world and offer me what I need.

Have you considered the idea that you are expecting something that no one else can give you?   Are your expectations too much?

Obviously I have considered that idea.   I learned a long time ago to be grateful for any crumb or scrap of engagement that I get, to suck everything out of every moment.

Why do you think people have trouble engaging you?

One some level, they think I am a crackpot, too intense and deep for them to engage.

And why would they think that?

I am smart and fast, able to express myself in a way people find overwhelming.   Once they become overwhelmed, my communication becomes noise to them, just so much static, so they assume I have gone off the deep end.

What do they do then?

Mostly, they just move on.   A few try and help by suggesting I come back to the shallow end where the other people are, that I connect on their terms, but that feels very hard for me.

Do you think you are a crackpot?

I grew up with crackpot.   My father was a crackpot engineer, always angry that they didn’t understand what was obvious to him, and my mother was just a crackpot, having trouble getting along with other ladies.

I was trained in crackpot, sure, but the very fact that I can fluidly enter other people’s worlds, understand them and offer useful views, suggestions and information to them tells me that I am not really a crackpot.   My crackpot parents could never do that.

Most people, though, are scared of crackpot, avoid it.  They want to be one of the gang, not some idiosyncratic iconoclast who speaks ideas that no one else wants to hear.   They want to play along to get along, want to feel connected.

I don’t have that same training.  I see my following my own path, marching to my own different drummer as honest, valuable and a real honouring of my creator.

So, you don’t fear crackpot, but you still feel isolated and malnourished because people see you as one.   Why don’t you just ease up and come “back to the shallow end” as you said?

I have been deep for so long that I feel like I drown in the shallow end.   I feel erased, invisible and crippled there.

Do you understand that many people see the kind of intense thought you bring as revealing a kind of anti-social mental disorder?

Yes.   I know that.   They see me in “Unabomber” territory, putting out reams of manifesto that are just cracked noise and nonsense.

How does that make you feel?

How do you think that makes me feel?   I have struggled for decades to be clear, accessible, useful about my own experience of the world and what I have learned from that, working hard to cut way the false and mislead by testing my own thoughts against the best understanding in the world, yet people still write me off as a crackpot because my ideas are too far out of the comfortable norms.

I hate it.

So, what are you going to do about it?

What can I do about it?   Cut myself back so that I fit more nicely into the shaped holes that people already have in their mindsets?   Truncate and attenuate myself to slide into other people’s expectations? Modulate myself to not upset other people?

Over time, as you develop relationships, they can deepen and grow.   We all have to start somewhere, you know.

Right, right, right.   Just put on a pretty face and play along until others are so committed that I can expand a bit, show my deeper nature a bit, reveal myself a bit.

That’s a strategy that has never worked for me.   At some point, I have to show myself and that is the point that things go boom and people end up slipping away from me.  At some point if I can’t reveal, what the hell is the point?

Maybe there is another way for you to be in the world.

Yes, maybe there is.   But how do I learn this in a vacuum?    How do I shape my expression so that others can accept it more without having others who understand the challenge to give me feedback?    Just telling me to “do it” or to “trust” is not useful feedback.

Have you ever considered just accepting being seen as a crackpot and coming to peace with it?   Can’t you just be yourself and not care what other people think?

Clearly, that is a big part of my approach to the world.  But I am not getting what I need out of that.  I am getting colder and colder, moving farther and farther away from any hope of human connection.

And that’s a problem for you?


Be A Friend

The only way to have a friend is to be one.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I used to think I understood what that meant.   I have always been there, passionately and in detail for people I saw as a friend.   I was ready for anything, intense and connected.

What I didn’t know how to do, though, what I never knew how to do, is kick back and be social.   I have always been bad at small talk, at going along with the gang, with doing the routine and the pleasant.

The deep part of friendship?  Got that down.

The light part of friendship?   Not so good at that.   More like a failure.  I don’t know how to just be welcoming, pal around, do acquaintance things.

Lightness, I think, requires a kind of hope, a kind of projection.    In a simple connection, everyone is a pal, everyone has the possibility of a bright future relationship.   “I love you man, I really love you.”

Of course, most average friendships fizzle a bit, just sputtering along over decades.   Only a very few move to BFF territory.

That finishing school of friendship. the lightness of  eternal hope was take away from me very early.   I had to be smart to survive,  looking deep, staying moves ahead, hiding and protecting my tender and queer inner soul.

I tried manipulation for a while, but I was too honest for the game,  It didn’t work for me, didn’t fit me, and it got in the way of finding honesty.

I read people and situations fast, and I read them pretty accurately.     I’m good at deep.

That has always, though, made me crappy at light.   It makes me very bad at first friend stuff.

Though I can be a great friend, I am really bad at just being an average friend.  Most friendships start as average friendships and then deepen, so if you can’t do average, you can’t really get started on the road to something more.

As I look at events where I can meet people, I wonder if they are worth my effort.  Will I make connections, find what I need?

If I can’t just be an average friend, just shooting the shit and blathering a bit, then the probability is that I can’t really make an average friend, make a friendship that might develop or might lead to other contacts through invitations and such.

Somehow, being average and pleasant has never been something I am good at.   Smart and intense, with x-ray vision is much more my style.   That can make you novel and amazing, but rarely makes you just one of the gal pals.

I still suspect Emerson was thinking about deeper friendship when he spoke abut being a friend, moving beyond the acquaintance stage, but his thought is clear on the other end, too.

The only way to have an average friend is to be one.   Just be loose and get jiggy with it.

That’s not so easy for me.


Barney Frank was once outed by his eyeballs.

In an interview about his new autobiography “Frank” on Fresh Air, he tells of being read by another gay man.  This fellow had watched Frank’s eyes looking at the same things — the same men — as he did.

I know other people outed that way.   A woman at a Halloween party read the Legendary Barbara because she saw Babs looking at women, not men.  Sure, that could have meant she was a lesbian, but no lesbian would have been so perfectly Barbied up.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t see my own eyes.   But I knew what made my head turn, what attracted my attention on a deep, instinctive level.

When TBB did our top ten list of the lies crossdressers tell, one of the entries was “Honest,Honey!  I was looking at her legs, not her shoes!”

My head turned — and it still turns — for women.  I just find women much more fascinating than men.

Publishers have long known that women like looking at pictures of good looking men and also like looking at pictures of women.   That’s not so true of men, who mostly have resisted looking at pictures of men.

Fashion and pinup photography has long centred on images of women for this reason.   Men like looking at well dressed women and so do women, though women read the photographs in a different way, viewing them in the same way that they assess other women.  We read style clues to get a story out of the appearance, extracting context.

Women do a lot with that context, from judging the beauty of ensembles to decoding story, from triggering memories to finding suggestions about what would work for our own presentation.   The marking of women means we convey a lot of information through our appearance, and being able to read that is one of the first steps in woman’s cultural literacy.

Men’s reading of women is usually much simpler and less nuanced than women’s reading, looking at shapes and colours, missing nuance, because they have no need to learn the complex symbolic language.

I watch women mostly because their markings make them much more fascinating to me as they reveal so many more details and layers.  Like so many women, I understand men better by the women they are connected to, one reason that it has always been important to reveal the candidate’s wife.  How she speaks of  him and how he treats her tells us a great deal.

Much like Barbara, though, men have never made my heart flutter in the way that they do for Mr. Frank.   Elegant, mature butch women, on the other hand, do snap my head, at least when I move past the sublimation of desire that is at the centre of my hermetic aesthetic denial.   TBB laughed when I described my first sexual encounter, one where I wasn’t cocky enough to make the sweaty bits work, but was with a woman who later identified as a soft-butch.  Yes.

The more I have stopped fighting to hide my tender, feminine heart the more I can acknowledge the charms of men.   For me, though, those charms are in wit, devotion, curiosity and intellectual passion and not really in the hard muscles and cocky behaviour that so often get straight girls worked up.   I like the human side more than the male side.

The focus of our deep attention is always revelatory.  Not having to resist that focus opens up our possibility for happiness.

It takes an open personality to be a good legislator, according to Mr. Frank. While he was trying to stay in the closet the grumpiness that accompanied the chronic irritation of denying his heart really showed.  When he came out, he was able to come from a happier, more open place and he got better at his job, moving into leadership.

I know how much denying what turned my head cost me, even if I knew from a very young age what tickled my passion.  So much of my own energy was burned off in waste heat rather poured into the work that can make a full life, that can contribute so much to building family and community.

Our choices reveal the contents of our heart, and the choices that we make unconsciously, like with our eyeballs, reveal the deepest parts.  Eyes on stalks are connected to our deepest desires.

Being able to work with those desires, to trust our eyeballs, lets us mature finding our own strength rather than having to fight to stay hidden, denying it.

We have to trust the eyeballs.

Now, Then, Forever

The idea that transgender emergence draws some kind of a huge boundary between the fake you before and the real you afterwards just freaks me out.

I do know that this is a common way to talk about what is often called “transition,” a kind of tipping point where the way that you define yourself in the world changes.   Now you are “real,” “authentic,” “genuine” and your narrative can be trusted.

Why is this concept so useful to transpeople?

By playing into the idea of the binary — then/now, before/after, man/woman, real/false — we are able to comfort those around us who like separations rather than challenge them with connection.    The idea that somehow everything is different draws a comforting line in the sand, assuring the world that yes, binaries and boundaries are true and do matter.

It is also a very attractive notion that we can wipe away responsibility for our past choices — the choices of concealment & denial — with one bold step.  If everything we did back then was because of social pressure, not our true choices, then we don’t have to answer for them.   This idea that we can wipe away a lifetime of choices as just past and corrupt is very appealing.

I have seen transgender people drop responsibility to their children and relationships because they are new now and I have called out that behaviour.   I don’t believe that the “truth” of transition makes everything in our lives before that point false, corrupt and unreal.

My coming out narrative was about integration, not separation.  I wanted to more deeply engage gender play and expression in order to work to find my centre.   My approach, starting by trying out an explicit “guy-in-a-dress” mode, was very challenging to the binaries of those around me.

The standard narratives celebrated the binary.   For crossdressers, the story was that they were femme for a night, taking on a woman’s name for an evening of transsexing themselves.   The transsexual story was that they were really women, being about to or already throwing away any identity as a man to emerge as someone new, someone true, someone different.

Even in those days, I understood that emergence — coming out — wasn’t a momentary event, but a lifetime process.   Every human is challenged to drop their old armour, their old rationalizations, their old myopia, their old fears and show a more authentic, exposed and vulnerable self to the world. We all have to work to get clear, become integrated, work towards righteous, towards actualization.

This process is not rooted in denial of past choices but in understanding them, using choices that we would not make today as guideposts for making better choices in the future.   We learn to take responsibility for our life, owning it and shaping it in new, better ways, not just drawing a line and saying “before that, I was a sinner.”

Revelation and salvation are amazing, even rebirths, but they are part of a whole human life, not the creation of a new one.

TBB, who spent her time being midwife to those who chose surgery in Trinidad, saw many who wanted genital reconstruction as rebirth.  Her own reasons for surgery, though, are more pragmatic.

“I realized that I wasn’t using my own penis, that I didn’t plan to use it in the future.   It created challenges, from the locker room to the bedroom, where partners assumed if I had it, I should use it,” she told me.  “So I chose not to carry it around with me anymore.  That did draw a kind of line in my life, stopping people from trying to convince me I would be better off going back to live as a guy, and making me more comfortable getting naked, but it didn’t cut off my past or my responsibilities as a father.  Surgery didn’t make me a different person.”

In the heroes journey, she is reborn, both new and what she always was.   It is the chapters of our experience that tell the tale of our whole life, no matter how different the setting or the attitude.    Truth is not just in what we claim today, it is in the sweep of our lives, even in the times where we postured, concealed, and ran.

This makes stories much more complicated and nuanced, less able to be told in a a few tweets or in one TED talk.    It demands more of listeners, demands the willingness and ability to see a human life beyond simple codes and borders, beyond the marketing oversimplification we have learned to expect.

It may be simpler to assert only who you believe that you are in the moment, dismissing the time before your last transformation, but it isn’t true, healthy or sacred.  It doesn’t let you connect with those who might reflect times when you showed a different face, doesn’t open you with compassion to those who also struggle with what you did.

There is a reason that people in recovery stand up and say “I am an alcoholic,” no many how many years of sobriety they have under their belt.   They may not be a drunk today, or even for years now, but that truth and humanity is deeply inside of them and they share it with others who still actively struggle.

I understand the cries of “I was living a lie and now I am living in truth!”   It seems an easy way avoid the possibility of having our past held against us by feeding the binary.   It works the same way that people who enter into same-gender relationships late in life often claim that they are now and always were gay and not bisexual, whatever their ex-spouse says.

Claiming a retroactive consistency to assert some kind of purity which sanctifies your current choices doesn’t open the world for truth and possibility.   Instead it rationalizes and strengthens the closet, confining everyone still finding themselves until they are able to be one or the damn other.

Humans do the best they can do to juggle social expectations, inner knowledge, needs and desires in the world.   We assume guises that let us play the role which works for us in the moment, even while underneath we are much more complicated, messy and real.   Allowing people to show their own ragged humanity without having to deny other parts of it seems crucial to unlocking more human potential.

We are so many realities, so many snapshots, so many moments all bound up in a continuum of time.   We are always both visible and invisible, both revealing truth and concealing it, because while we can have it all, we cannot have it all at once.

Who you are is made up of many facets.   The more you own them, even the facets that you are not proud of, the more you sparkle and shine in the world as a full, complete and beautiful person.

Rejecting your past does not make it untrue.   It doesn’t cut it away from who you are.  Living a life based on who you are not — “I am not that man you thought you saw! — leaves you in a reactionary and defensive footing.

You are the result of who your creator made you and the choices you made to embrace & polish or to resist & deny your gifts.  Your power and beauty doesn’t just come from the nice parts of you, it comes from your wounds too.

People who seem to be trying to run from their lives so they can assert that now they are pure & holy freak me out a bit.   I find their denial kind of scary, wondering what else they want to erase out of fear.   My voice, perhaps?

Becoming real is becoming integrated, about moving beyond simple binaries to nuanced, complex and beautiful exposed humanity.

Or at least it is to me.

Not Here, Not There

I very much want the same thing I wanted as a young child, lying in bed and praying that I would wake up as a female, being able to assimilate in the world as a woman.

What I knew even then, though, was that I needed to be myself, to hold on to what made me unique.   The limits of femaling my body were clear to me, so I only prayed for a miracle, not for some kind of medical intervention.

As I look to claim some space in society again, look to getting back on the grid, I need to consider where I can fit.   It needs to be a place where I can fit with my own heart, my own history and my own expression, and it needs to be a plac where I can fit into social structures, being a part of the group.

Wild and Tame are the primary duality of humans, as I have written about for over twenty years now, the challenge we have of both being unique & individual while also being well assimilated & fitting in.

How much of myself am I willing to cut off to fit in?   How much will doing that really change how people see me?

Learn to lie or be called a liar was at the heart of this dilemma when I first came out in the late 1980s.   I passed through periods where others wanted me to surrender my challenging voice to the group, staying silent to not upset the status quo.   Today, the challenge is around trans as other, standing proud while also being politically correct and supporting feminist models.

I am continuously reminded, though, of how much I don’t fit, how much assimilation will always be denied to me.

One person kindly suggests that I need to join a larger community, like that of a church or a recovery program, being able to find my commonality with a wide range of people, understanding my essential humanity.

When I have tried that, when other transpeople have tried that, I have found that the real challenge is having them find their commonality with me.   My narrative crosses lines that they think are hard and fast,  so they have difficult really engaging my story.

People often want to substitute their knowledge for my own knowledge about my experience.   Looking through fresh eyes, going back to basics is always valuable, allowing us to get outside our own expectations and assumptions.

Often, though, those other viewpoints miss nuance and concerns that are real and important, simplifying beyond understanding.  When scholars look at variations of handwritten biblical texts they prefer the more complicated & challenging version as they work to roll back the tendency to simplify and remove nuanced meaning.  I have spent much energy negotiating other people’s fears, having other people dismiss my reality and replace it with their own.

Another group running a mastery course for women tells me that while they find me brave and abject, that their women’s space isn’t really for people like me.    I am not welcome there.

The message becomes clear: you are a man, albeit a man in a dress, and as long as you are ready to accept that line, you are welcome.   The best you can ever be is a warrant woman.

I have lived my life as a gender variant man, restricted by the heterosexist convention that people are defined, always and forever, by the shape of their birth genitals and not by the shape pf their heart.  Even feminists who support transgender expression have usually expressed that belief, grouping people easily by biology and “learned experience.”

To be accepted as a woman, I have to make big parts of me invisible.  If I do that, though. I lose what makes me special and unique.

To people who see reproductive sex as fundamental, teal, true, simple, inerrant and unchangeable, this isn’t a big deal.   I should just accept my fate and get on with it, accepting the conventional wisdom of sex differences.

To transpeople, especially queer transpeople, who know that people are defined by their character and revealed by their choices, not by their birth biology, this has always been the challenge.   We may be able to change the appearance of our biology somewhat, but to be defined by our looks feels oppressive, to have our role compulsorily constrained by our birth genitals feels abusive.

People do that, though, easily and without thought.

When I look at a meetup of mature women getting together for “entertainment and camaraderie” I have to consider how I fit into that group.   Do I have to make my own trans history invisible?   What happens if people clock me, or worse, read me out?   Am I safe there?    Do I make others unsafe?

Is that space for people like me?

It’s easy for people to say “well, you are just a human and humans are welcome,” but the fact is that gender defines so much of how we shape our spaces.   This is the secret truth beneath the bathroom fight which so often erupts as an anti-trans posturing: should we allow people who are “really” whatever to enter that safe space?

When you don’t fit in man land and don’t fit in woman land you end up occupying that No Man’s/No Woman’s land that defines the battleground between the genders.  That is a dangerous place, with missiles coming from both sides.

The moment when your gender changes in someone’s eyes is always terrifying, tossing you into enemy camp, a deceiver who doesn’t respect something you see as fundamental.

If the solution for this challenge is only to enter neutral spaces, then you are forced off the grid, with not only no public restroom or dressing room, but also no safe space to find “entertainment and camaraderie.”

I have told my story as a transperson for many decades now, as clearly, truthfully and elegantly as I know how to do it.   I have worked hard to be gracious, respectful and considerate.

My experience is that people often find it interesting. but they rarely find it connective, getting the joke and wanting to enter dialogue and relationship with me.   They are OK when I reveal my commonality with them, seeing them clearly, but engaging their commonality with me, seeing me clearly, is just too much to ask.

My challenge is getting connected with the world.   People tell me to enter shared space, but they also resist me entering spaces that they wish to remain well policed.  They want me to modulate and attenuate myself so I am not challenging to the separations that they value, not intrusive upon their comforting divisions.

Self policing is part of shame.   It is part of that inhibitory shame my mother passed on to all her children, making us ashamed when we revealed our humanity and exuberance in ways that stimulated her own treasured narcissistic martyrdom.

How do I both become new and stay neatly in the box others want to put me in?

It is reported that Bruce Jenner, coming up on a big and hyper public transgender emergence, is feeling lonely these days.  Welcome to the club.  There is a reason I have had that tag line on this blog since 2005.  I was tranny when tranny wasn’t trendy.

I want to fit in.  Getting sliced up and still find that I am not safe to enter never seemed like an option for me.

I reach out to find spaces and I am knocked back, much like I have been for many decades now.

Finding a place where I am seen, understood, valued and affirmed has been an almost impossible task.

Some may suggest that I should accept that this challenge may mean I am off the mark, not healthy, and need to assimilate more, letting go of queerness and accepting convention and conventional boundaries.   To me, after such a struggle, that feels like destruction.

Not finding safe & affirming space, though,  makes it very hard to get a bigger connection with the wider world, getting back on the grid.

Do I need to be more tamed, more assimilated, at the cost of erasing my hard won knowledge?   Or do I need to hold on to my bold, individual and unique voice, even if that tenacity leaves me hungry?

What kind of destruction should I choose?

That’s the question that I, as a transperson erased by this culture, have struggled with all my life.

Out Of Your Head

I have been reading blurbs for a course that promises to empower women by helping them engage the energy of the feminine.

I have to admit that it looks appealing to me, because I know that is exactly what I need, that kind of shared celebration and affirmation of the feminine.

It is, of course, what so many women need.  They need to trust their instincts, their flow, their wiggle, their intensity, their playfulness, their sparks.

The key to this process, from what I can glean from the materials, is to have women get out of their heads.     We need to stop using the masculine playbook, need to stop inhibiting our own magic, the sizzle that women have always brought to relationships, to families, to work, to communities to the world.

Getting out of my head in a space where the feminine is celebrated and affirmed rather than shamed and stunted sounds great to me.

The problem, though, is the process.   The technique for getting out of the head is to focus on inhabiting, revelling in and trusting the female body.   It seems to peel back the experience of those raised as women in this culture to the time when they learned that their lust, their sparkle, their power had to be seen as shameful, had to be controlled and restricted by the head.

The process of getting out of the head is transformed into one that is about getting into the body.

While I am sure that works well for most women, as a transwoman, my body has never been the source of my salvation.  I may hold the potency of the feminine, but it is not because of the shape of my hips or the details of my plumbing.

Instead, I know that source to be my Eros, that divine desire which I characterize as living in the heart.   It is unlocking the feminine heart that makes magic, trusting and beating with it, rather than trying to live in a socially programmed, control freak head.

Eros is terrifying, though.   It’s so much easier to ask people to trust their body than to trust their Erotic connection to the universe.   The body is limited, manageable, comprehensible, easy to justify.

The Erotic is beyond, intense, and potent, leading us to crazy things like transgender expression, where we know, know, know that our heart needs to trump the expectations placed on our body for us to be liberated and powerful.

I suspect that in the end, the course is about the liberation of Eros, but I also suspect that the language and techniques for doing that are centred around the language and traditions of the body.    That seems a tough place for me, as tough as the guided meditation of freedom one workshop did where they wanted everyone to open their eyes to a mirror and see who the really are.   I figured out the trick and refused, just so I wouldn’t have to throw the mirror smashing at the wall.

I need to get out of my head.  I need to have my own feminine spirit and choices reflected and affirmed in a space where smart women are working hard to get out of their mind and into their femininity.

I just don’t need to be told to trust my body when it is my Eros, my huge femme heart that has to lead me.

A huge challenge of trans lives is the obligation to emerge alone, to be denied adolescence of the heart and then having to struggle against stigma and convention to claim our own deep truth and our own transcendent, fluid power.   I crave the support of others who want to stand for this magic.

I will never really be female bodied, at least not in this lifetime.   That truth defines me and my experience.

My feminine imperative is in my Eros.  That is the energy I need to trust, getting out of my head and into my heart.

May all the graduates of this course get out of their head and find their erotic power, even if it makes them feel more comfortable seeing that as the power of their body.

And may somehow, I find a way to get out of my head too.

 (I did send this to the people running the course and they sweetly told me that I was bright, courageous and not welcome in the course anyway, as it is for real women, not people like me.)

Act On Change

Life becomes amazing when you decide that it is.

It’s not the world that has to change while you complain and carp.

It’s you that has to change, bringing a new attitude, new focus and new discipline.

Then you can be the change we wish to see in the world. Your energy can attract those who also want change, those who are also willing to act out of love.

Holding back from becoming new, resisting transformation is fine.

Whining and carping about about being stuck is not fine.  Letting your own resistance make you unhappy is not fine.

The leap to action releases progress and joy.   Active resistance of change because you want to know what choice would be perfect just creates friction and discomfort.

If you see a vision on the horizon, go towards it.   You will soon find out if it is a new home or just a mirage.   Your knowledge will expand with every new learning.

Unless you act, trying this and that, sampling and exploring, you cannot be a seeker, cannot find the power which will change the context of your worldview, turning your everyday chores into enlightened service.

The world will never change at your protest.

You can, though, become the change you need to see in the world.

But only if you stop resisting, find the discipline and do the work.

Feelings Without Context

Feelings without context are just sensations.

It’s easy to sense that you are hungry, cold, scared, jealous and so on.  Even babies can sense primal forces.

It is a mistake to think that those sensations are your emotions.

When someone asks you how you are feeling, they rarely want to know what sensations you are experiencing at the moment.

Instead, they usually want to know your emotional state.   What experiences are connected to those sensations for you?   How are you interpreting your sensations in an emotional way, getting angry, upset, happy, amused, enlightened or any other emotion?

It is easy to act out when we feel a sensation that triggers emotions.   It is the most basic response we can make; cry when we feel hurt, lash out against those we sense have hurt us, get angry at our powerlessness to change the sensation, spread despair and venom.

It is very, very rare that our emotional response to any event is all about what is happening in front of us.

Most of the time the sensations we are experiencing in the moment bring up deeper emotions, opening old wounds and triggering old patterns.  We are not upset about what we think we are upset about, rather our old emotional buttons have been pushed.

The difference between knee-jerk reaction and considered response,  taking that moment between stimulus and response to choose again, thinking about our best course rather than just playing out old habits, is the difference between a reactionary life controlled by our past and a considered life, claiming new and better.

It’s rarely hard to find the new, but it is usually very hard to give up the old, the comfortable and the familiar.   We become so used to the way things are — like having our mother do our chores so we are not responsible for ourselves — that we resist change.    We have a real emotional attachment to what we already know, what feels conventional and easy.

Change, you see, changes everything.   It is almost impossible to just change one bit of anything, because change ripples through our relationships, our habits and our comfort.

We know that change is always going to involve both loss and work for us, a period of discomfort.  The ego resists discomfort, so the ego resists change, even if we are quite certain that we are facing the limits of our old choices and new ones can lead to better.

When those old sensations come up, then, we play out the old tapes, focusing on the sensations and the habits rather than bearing with the feelings to understand them in a very present, very conscious context.   We fall back on old resentments and prejudices, blaming others for what comes up inside of us rather than taking responsibility for our own feelings.   We are reactionary rather than responsive, getting ourselves in a lather not about what is happening in the moment, but instead about our old thinking.

Putting the sensations we experience in a strong, aware and enlightened context lets us express and manage our deep feelings instead of being controlled by our habitual reactions.

Hate is always easier than love, because hate is just rejection, a knee-jerk reaction, while love demands engagement, finding ways to get past our own limits to really being in the moment and doing the disciplined work of making and following through on hard choices.   Love always demands commitment and sacrifice while hate just demands arrogance and loathing.

Love, though, is always much more rewarding than fear & hate.   None of us would be here today if someone hadn’t loved us, putting our safety, growth, comfort and happiness over their own.  They got the gifts of maturity for that choice, the sensations around doing right, doing good and doing beautiful.

Letting go of old fears lets us be open hearted and vulnerable, able to experience deeper and fuller feelings.   We can’t do that, though, if we don’t really put our sensations in a smart context, turning them into feelings that we own, allowing us to control our responses rather than just letting our reactions that control us.

Choosing to be mature, to be a grown up, means that we have to let go of childish things, get over not being the princess with everything we fantasized about and become the queen who has the joys (and headaches) of a real, mature world.    Rather than just hating what is easy to hate — our job, the people we see around us — we have to learn to love what is hard to love, finding the discipline to really use the gifts we have been given.

When we allow sensation to bring up old tapes, unlocking our ego, we become unable to enter the full range and breadth of our feelings.    The subtle, nuanced feelings are effectively erased by the blaring klaxon of our hate, beating us down into fear and festering.

You get more of what you focus on.  If you focus on sensation, you become more reactionary, more mired in the pain & fears of the past.  If you focus on feelings, really engaging them and putting them in context, you become more responsive, able to act with clarity & precision, not just thrashing about trying to do it all and failing to do anything good.

It is easy to act out of sensation.   That’s what children do, calling their mother to put their feelings in context, to help get them back in control.  They yowl and demand succour, demanding others to get them through challenges.

It is wise to act on your feelings.   That is what grown-ups do, knowing that longer term satisfaction is much more important than momentary sensation.   They take responsibility for their own feelings, their own choices and their own lives.

If your complaint about the world is that the people around you bring up your stuff, recognizing that the problem is your stuff and not the people who trigger it is the first step.   Moving to work with more and different people will not change your experience of the world until you change the experience that is going on within you.

Trying to negotiate for a different deal, asking others to hear your woes and help you find a shortcut to avoid doing the work of putting your feelings in context, is a dead end.   Nothing can ever replace the discipline and the practice required to own your own choices beyond sensation, fear and ego.

The wisdom has always been right in front of you, written on the wall, if you just have the willingness to open to it.    The way to build a good life is to build, using all your feelings and all your mind, not just being controlled by your sensations, your fears and your resistance.

Feelings without context are just sensations, bringing up old reactions and overwhelming your own awareness and growth.   They leave you chasing your tail rather than looking for the next bone, the next opening to the better.

Maturity is the only thing that can open us to the better, higher and more sublime things in life, even if that growth comes at the cost of losing our old habits, letting go of our old blankets.

Beyond resistance there is beauty, but only when we have the discipline, practice and commitment to open our eyes to it.

Thought & Voice

“You write well because you think well,” my writing professor told me.

To me, the two key pieces of good writing are thought and voice.   One is the bones, the structure, the construction, and the other is the flesh, the flow, the poetry.

The act of writing demands thought.   To take what we have inside and transform it into symbol always requires running it trough our brain.   Saying things out loud can focus on voice, on the very human act of hearing tones and rhythms, responding to sound and expression, but when the heat is taken out by putting it into cold text, thought becomes exposed.

The art of writing demands voice.   So much of what we communicate is between the words, revealed in the characteristic twists and turns of expression.   It is the voice that pulls us along, the voice that draws us in, the voice that gives body to the bare thoughts.   Dry, legalistic and clinical writing has a place, but it has little power to engage and move us.

The requirement to care about both thought and voice, about both substance and style, about both plot and poetry keeps tension in writing.   When we try and write quickly, galloping to get our story down, one or the other tends to drop away.

For me, writing is about detail.   I believe that I take the reader with me one sentence, one paragraph at a time.   If I lose them there is no guarantee that they will care enough, have enough attention and desire to catch up with me later.  I know that I live in an age of short attention spans where there is always another distraction ready to jump to, not a time when someone committed to a book, long sentences, twisty paragraphs and all.

I would love readers to understand my context, to bear with me, to have a deep understanding of my world so they can get out all of what I put in my writing, the connections and the references.   I just don’t think that is a reasonable ask nowadays.   I know, for example, why TV shows can get better as they age and viewers have a deeper awareness of the history of the characters, but that is a luxury most of us don’t have.

Attention to detail is the reason that writing is rewriting.   Throwing out your darlings to simplify structure or to sharpen voice is the way you make your writing better, line by line, paragraph by paragraph.   The more clearly you hear the voices the more clearly you can capture them, the depth of knowledge showing not just in the text but also in the subtext, not just in the substance but also in the style.   Making too much explicit takes away the power of reader engagement.

Finding ways to talk to writers about their work is always hard.  Most people know what they want to say and get frustrated when others just don’t understand.   Rather than revelling in the act of creation they want to have created, getting their content down and moving on.

Asking people to think more clearly or to go more deeply into the voices beyond the conventional is hard stuff.  It takes deep practice rooted in deep commitment, the kind of focus that demands precision in the details.

Getting more skilled at thought and at voice is at the heart of writing well, at least to me.  Getting clear enough to think well and fluid enough to express well often seem like contradictory challenges, but together, they help us share what we know of the world.

Damn Work

“Do the work,” was the takeaway from my blog I got as a gift this week from a born female reader who was concerned about my going silent for the first time since October.  She wanted me to know that my work resonated as human for her and she had taken away my “mantra” of “Do the work.”

I did Heather Lapham Kopp’s “Sober Mercies,” the tale of how a Christian woman engaged her own recovery, requiring her to move from a faith of belief to a faith of love, one where the actual work of loving became the centre of her practice.  Her faith changed from a bulwark against transformation to an active process of change, opening her heart, becoming vulnerable, being present and doing the damn work.

I first presented about the recovery of the handmade, soul life back in 1994, understanding the parallels.   It is so easy to want to resist transformation, to take shortcuts, to play out old habits and stuffing behaviour rather than doing the work.

One woman born female in that session was very legalistic, her challenges with alcohol leading her to believe that abstinence was the only solution.  The problem with that, I gently said, is that for many of us, our addiction isn’t to a substance, it is to a behaviour, one that we can’t cut out altogether.   You can live a good life without having another glass of alcohol, but not without shopping, eating or shaming.

This week ShamanGal worked to see many of her own choices as being addictive behaviour, not based around substances but around choices.   She knows how to distract herself, how to keep her attention span low to avoid having to be present and bear with her emotions.   She reaches for the shiny and commercial, the way the world “should be” to avoid having to engage the way that the world is.   She wants to believe that more armour will save her, even as she knows that when she locks herself away she feels worse and wasted.

For Ms. Kopp, the heart of recovery is the community.   There is a shared commitment to recovery, transformation and growth, expressed in meetings, programs and relationships that helps her to keep doing the work.   She relies on the unit discipline to bring her back into the moment, accepting the gifts of others who have done the work and giving the gifts to others who are still struggling.   This process of engagement keeps her in a state of grace.

We all have to locate God in the world.   Do we see him as something outside of us, omnipotent and perfect? Do we look in the nature around us, trees and oceans?

I believe in a crowdsourced God.

She is a creation of humans, God as we see her, not a singular we, but a we of human communities who through time and culture have built up an image of who we know God to be in our life.  My Joseph Campbell biased view looks for the shadow of God in the stories humans have always told about creation, values, ethics and how to do the work.

God is seen through the one human nature we all share, across the lifetimes of people who needed divine inspiration and power, finding it in a way that transformed their choices and their lives, seeking everyday to do the work of becoming more enlightened, more divine, more compassionate, more close to the Godlike.

The Chinese born parents of ShamanGal appreciate what I say to their American daughter because it sounds so much like the ancient Chinese wisdom they grew up with, only in new language,  Crowdsourced God.

This week I have also reached out to people who identify as transgender activists, trying to help them do the work of seeing in a bigger way.   I have gotten back fury and vengeance, attempts to silence me as a despicable hater, a heretic and apostate.

They want a god of belief, not of work, want the world to value their still open wounds kept fresh under cherished armour.   Suggesting that it is healing, transformation and transcendence that really should be valued, the work of opening to love, feels like someone is just baiting them again, poking the old wounds which are the basis of identity.

The world needs to change to respect their victimhood, rather than having their healing lead the way to change across culture.

Ms. Kopp reports feeling blessed that God kept sending members of her target audience to rehearse on, other Christian women whose strong belief did not save them from addiction, but who were finding salvation through doing the work of recovery, the work of living in agape, in love.

This is the move between listening to preachy preachers, who speak for separation & fear, telling you how they have it wrong and listening to teachy preachers who speak for connection & love, telling you how to do the work.

For me, work has been a long lonely slog.  ShamanGal may have a mentor on the phone, but I had to build my own recovery alone. No sponsor for me.

I was saved by scraps, holding tiny lessons close until I understood them and then fitting them slowly and deliberately into a raggedy coat of many, many colours.  My test has always been against the shared human knowledge; do the answers I found resonate with others who also searched for connection and healing?

This hermetic scraping together of a new life has been valuable and I am grateful for its gifts.  It has left me, though, quite lonely, so isolated that leaps of love into a new and more beautiful life seem beyond me.

Where is the community that I rely on?   Where is the unit discipline and unit cohesion that supports expansion and growth?

I have known for decades now that if I wanted a church, that if I needed a church, I would have to build it.   Every other human group has bits and pieces, scraps of what I want and need, but no other group has put them together in the idiosyncratic, iconoclastic, shimmering way that I have.  I may look for a missionary to gather the flock, leaving me as visionary, but I know that I have to do the damn work.

How does one celebrate the human spirit by cultivating loneliness?   How does one not?   Isn’t the human spirit inside of us our own connection to God, the place we have to do the work?   Falling in with the beliefs of others may be easy and comforting but it doesn’t help us do the work we need to do to get closer to God.

The challenge of the return of the gift, the last stage in Campbell’s hero journey, is always the hardest.  It requires facing convention again and breaking through, bringing the jewels from your journey inward into the community of humans who would have that gift if they wanted it.

The work for me is leaping.   Doing that after a lifetime of inhibitory shame, of a very personal and individual journey is just asking a great deal.   I don’t have a community of transcenders, an audience with clear shared traditions and needs.  I am, after all, a rather queer duck.

Human life, though, always requires doing the damn work.   I know that my work has touched at least a few others. Maybe it can touch more.

So much damn work to do.

I Need Yes

Permission, encouragement, empowerment, whatever you call it, I need it.

For so long, I have needed yes.

Yes, you can.
Yes, you should.
Yes, you have got to try.
Yes, it is possible.
Yes, making a bold move will show you the way.
Yes, you are more than you are using now.
Yes, people will be able to see your heart, not just your service.
Yes, you are human, worthy and beautiful.Yes, you can take a tumble, get back up and carry on smarter.
Yes, your mistakes don’t define you, they just show that you are human.
Yes, what you love is reasonable, sane and healthy.
Yes, others will get the damn joke if you tell it with verve and wit.
Yes, healing is possible if you give your brokenness to God.
Yes, magic is possible.
Yes, your feminine heart came from your creator, not your sickness.
Yes, you can be for you, not just for others.
Yes, life is left for you and happiness is definitely possible.
Yes, the force is still strong in you.
Yes, your eyes are very pretty, especially when they sparkle with your wit.
Yes, you have plenty of untold stories people really want to hear.
Yes, other people’s fears don’t have to be your responsibility.
Yes, when you shine, you shine big, beautiful and compelling.
Yes, playful becomes you.
Yes, you can make tender choices and have people feel for you.
Yes, being the sweet one and not the smart one can work for you.
Yes, people will follow your lead, coming back to get more of you.
Yes, there is love in the world for you.
Yes, Callan, open the letters, open your heart, open our world.
Yes, honey, yes.

I know how to say yes to other people.

I know how to encourage, affirm and empower.   Giving permission to move beyond fear and outdated assumptions is what I do.

Right now, though, in a cold dreary March, I need to hear “yes.”   I need to have “yes” reflected back so I feel it in my bones, leaving me bold and brave.

I need, need, need, yes.

Boiled Down

My father yelled at me about the pot on the stove.

“Why is this bubbling away?  What kind of a mess are you making?”

I was doing a reduction sauce, waiting for the liquid to tighten up and the bubbles to get bigger.  I got used to making them when I was with Christine, who didn’t like the one pot meals I grew up with and resisted gravy.   Instead of cornstarch or roux, I reduced the juices to bring more texture and flavour.

I have the sense that I too have been being boiled down, mostly by the relentless loneliness that I endure.   I have become intense, leading both to potent thinking which comes out in sharp writing, and also to a kind of bitter burnt essence that comes out in my relationship with other people.

I find that other people tend to move away from me, choosing not to engage what I share.    They have their own lives, their own challenges and their own priorities, real, serious and vital to the struggles & joys of their lives.   They find me quite intense, find me getting more and more so as I boil away in my own sealed vacuum retort.

There is no point in blaming people for having their own priorities, for wanting me to come into their lives but not having the resource to enter mine.    They leave me out of the loop even on topics where they have committed to serve, even legally.  Avoiding my experience is just survival to them, a protection of self, a prioritization of their own challenges.

People found my caring for my parents very intense, reflected in the pure trust that they put on me, knowing that I would be there even in the hardest times.   Medical staff thanked me for making their job easier, even though that was never, ever my goal, and support groups asked me to leave as what I shared was too intense for the room.

Holding up the trust, the obligation demanded that I find my own discipline, prioritizing service and virtue above self and vitality.  This is what we say is a high offering from other people, but in truth it is a choice that challenges and repels us, altogether too intense to be around long.

My life of service was a life of denial, a search for the kind of moral structures that can keep one doing their assigned duty even as the flesh burns from the bones.   I knew from a very early age that the call of my own desires was seen as corrupt, so I had to make the very hard choice: do I repel people by showing them my colour & passion, or do I repel people by showing them my mind & discipline?

I suspect that growing up in a kinder, more empathetic and compassionate place I would have been able to find a better balance, but that was not the world I had to grow up in.

I have seen enough pots on the stove to understand the problem, knowing that the line between tasty sauce and burnt crust is right underneath me now.

It is possible for me to serve others by entering their world, but asking them to serve me is just too much.  A drop of demi-glace can richen a looser sauce, but demi-glace is often on the point of bitter.

The work I have done is respectable and intense, gifts offered to a world that could use a taste of what I have to offer.

The mess made, though, makes people like my father want to scream, disgusted by a bubbling pan which appears to have gone too far, too strong, too reduced to be useful for anything.

So much has gone into that glaze, so much life taken down to essence, not enjoyed but concentrated, so much so that people avoid the gloop, finding it too rancid to taste alone.

I know that the only way back is to loosen up, to reconstitute a life.

The choice, though, was made a long time ago to subsume my dancing perfumes into intense discipline, boiled down to essence.

Well, I suppose, at least there is that.


For the vast majority of trans activists, the movement they imagine is reactionary.

In some ways, that is understandable.  There seems to be an unending supply of people who say and propose very anti-transgender things, wanting to marginalize and erase transpeople from the public square as sick, perverted and inhuman things.

Having a strong reaction to these cruel, ungracious and ill-considered comments is very easy.  Why not just react strongly to these people, calling them transphobic haters, bashing back and trying to get others to pile on your politically correct attack?

Defence is attack according to ACIM.   The minute we shoot back we begin playing their game, begin striving for separation and spreading fear.   If it becomes a battle, everyone gets shot.   What they say is about them, but what we zing back always says more about us than about them, even if we believe we have aimed it fairly.

Turning the other cheek isn’t easy, but there are good reasons to make that choice.  By not attacking back we open room for compassion, understanding and connection.   We stand for positive building of coalition rather than for being at war with “them.”

For me, teasing out the concerns behind the fears of my challengers is the only way to start to create common ground with them.  In sales you learn that every “no” is an opportunity for moving the deal forward, surfacing issues that can be addressed in a positive way.

I would rather open to other people, hearing what they are trying to say, than attack them, demanding that they only say what I want to hear.   I know that silencing someone does not mean you have converted them, it only means you have ended the possibility for meaningful dialogue and finding accord.

Taking every comment personally is a horrible, immature way to view the world. It even keeps people who want to be your allies walking on eggshells and avoiding your immature, reactionary attitude.  It means you are coming from your wounds, not your healing, trying to break reflections that challenge you rather than using them to guide your growth.   Pain always tells us where healing is required,.

When I hear someone say something about transpeople, I often think “Yes, I have seen that kind of behaviour too, though I understand where it comes from.  I just need to work hard to avoid those kind of choices in my life. If we work together, we can all help people get past that.”

It’s very easy for transpeople to always feel under attack, very easy for us to believe that the only good option is to attack back even more fiercely and aggressively than we have been attacked.    It is easy to see hatred in every word of someone else, even when they are just raising concerns or confusion.

If the only real political power transpeople seek is reactionary, coming together over slights, indignities and pain, then we have already lost.   We end up playing the game of those who attack us, those who have used shame and stigma to keep us isolated and marginalized for so long.

The political power to come together over positive choices, though, is much more difficult.   We may all agree on what we fear and loathe, but finding agreement on what we love, what we prioritize, what compromises we are willing to make to get good things to happen is hard, hard work.

It is especially hard for transpeople who know much more clearly what and who they are not than what and who they are.   So much about transgender emergence is about rejecting what has been imposed on us, claiming freedom from that push for assimilation, rather than about coming to our own identity, one that gives us peace & empowerment, allowing us to stand gracefully to people who make choices that we would never make for ourselves.

Getting out from behind our own pain and fear is hard, but if we don’t do that, we will always be letting that past drive us, always be looking for people to punish, people we can act out our own discomfort and internalized shame towards.    Until we unwire our own buttons we will always be slaves to them, ready to lash out anytime they are touched.

It isn’t really fair that we have to do the healing while others stay ignorant and reactionary, but until we do that, we cannot transcend the heterosexist mess that keeps everyone down.

It may be easy to imagine reactionary politics, shooting back at those who push our buttons, those who we feel are attacking us, even if they are only acting to speak their own truth.

That kind of politics, though, cannot lift us to the next level, cannot create real coalition and create great new things.

Self Flagellation

I  have done a lot of stupid and counterproductive things in my life.

I made choices that I am not proud of, choices that hurt others, and choices that kept me small, broken and struggling.

Many of these bad choices I remember acutely, the memories triggered every time that a similar situation comes up.   Again I feel ashamed and stupid, all that shame training from my mother coming up and slapping me hard in the head.

There are still things I freeze up over, not doing the work and instead tossing and turning in bed, feeling my own flagellation over another self-inflicted failure.   It makes no sense, but once you are used to the hair shirt you can feel alone and lost without it on.  I know I am expanding and extending the pain and damage, I ask for help, but it almost never comes.

Martyrdom, though, can be addictive.   There is a certain endorphin rush when you beat yourself up, when you choose to hang on the cross and sip vinegar.

For many of us, our own martyrdom, our own self-flagellation defined the experience of our life.   We searched for every trick we could find to keep ourselves small and broken, working desperately to kill off or at least silence that still small voice inside of us.   Some even made a commitment to totally break themselves, be lying in the gutter, before they engaged the human parts of them that they believed they needed to be ashamed of.

That addiction to self-flagellation is very potent.   We can easily convince ourselves that our own martyrdom, our attempt to kill off the “evil” parts of us is holy work,   We can believe that whenever some bit of us that has done bad is revealed it needs to get beaten out of us, smashed until we hurt and learn our lesson.

The lesson, though, is that that no amount of martyrdom will ever purge our human nature, will ever cleanse our difficult history, will ever purify us.   We cannot become other than what we are, cannot become some shiny, perfect thing, no matter how much we may desire that.

Maybe this is why Christians believe that the martyrdom has already occurred, with a saviour doing the work, so that we can come to peace & love, making the most of our God-given humanity.

Compassion is required to be in relationship with humans, and that means compassion is required to be in relationship with ourself.

The only way out of hell is through.   We do need to tap into the pain we hold inside, do need to release and process it.   Choosing to self-flagellate, to martyr again every time we reveal some choice where we hurt ourselves or others in the past doesn’t serve any real purpose, other than keeping us small and broken.

Unwiring our buttons, those trigger cues for addiction, has to be the goal of soul recovery.   We need to be able to feel the feelings and not then try and stuff them with whatever we used, be that chemicals, shiny new purchases, or the twisted joy of destructive self-abuse.

Our lives are not now and never have been perfect.   There is no way we can ever make them perfect, living in a finite world where every choice has a cost so no choice is ever perfect.  Absolutism has no place in human life and can only lead to recrimination and pain.

The choice to fall back on our addiction, though, even an addiction to martyrdom and self-flagellation is neither compassionate, wise or useful.   Those choices are driven by fear rather than love, by an attempt to separate ourselves from the mess rather than seeing is deeply and beautifully connected to it.

Beating myself up for my past will not make my future better.   Instead, it will only keep me small and broken.

And yet, I struggle with that urge everyday.

Inhibitory Shame

Dear Ms. Jacobs Bendel, 

Thank you for "It's Not Always Depression" on the New York Times website.

As someone who grew up with two Aspergers parents, the obligation for inhibition of emotion and the resulting shame that came from not being able to cleanse my emotions has really marked my life, and also the life of my sister.

I lived in the world of no, being told from an early age that it was shameful to hurt my mother even if what I was doing was just being a child, exuberant and focused on exploration.  Everything was about her pain, about a world that should be ashamed of how they didn't make her happy, and we were the closest at hand to be shamed and inhibited first hand.

I lived in a "no" world, where inhibition was the key, learning to only feel safe in that space where, as your client notes, "it is dark and I am alone."

I learned to understand and experience my emotions through sheer brainpower. a kind of hermetic quest for discipline and denial.   I eventually mastered what I call "concierge mode," which allowed me to take care of my parents in their last difficult decade.

The skills you taught your patient were vital, yes, but I hope you don't underestimate the other component you offered.   You encouraged and affirmed emotional engagement, someone who saw emotions, engaged and embraced them.

I learned how to get the tools, analyzing and understanding.  I never, however, found others who could be there and understand the lasting impact of that early shaming of self, internalized deeply and always held.  It leaves one profoundly alone.

I learned to trust myself, but learning to trust others with my feelings, bringing them out of that place where it is "dark and I am alone" has challenged me.   You went to that place and smiled for years, and that was part of the help that was needed.

Thank you for your article.   It is always wonderful to find new words and insights to understand a lifetime challenge.


Respect The Bubble

Here is a big secret about me: I am a fantastic date.

I know, I know.  I don’t look like I would be a good date.  I’m smart and challenging, big and intense and queer as hell.   I’m not the person you would pick out of an app to go out with, whoever you are.

But when I focus on you, drawing you out, really seeing you, offering entertaining anecdotes that directly address your interests, paying attention and being present in a really wonderful way,  you soon get the point.   I know how to partner people well, how to setup their jokes and make them look great, playing “straight” in a way that showcases and highlights what they value.   Providing ballast and context, I am a fabulous “stable pony,” ready to smooth out any dips while also reinforcing any highs.

I learned early how to take care of other people, whatever that means.   I can be the gal who looks up to you while holding your arm, the guy who makes the faux pas that lets you do a power take, looking great.   I know my role, even my breeches role, and  I do it well.  I have no need to fill up the space with me, but if required, I can take the hit.

I once went out with a gal from a dating site.   She was in it for the game, a meal and half to take home, all for playing to the ego of some guy.   Her ad was not really true, but she knew how to get that first date and that was all she was in for.

The oddest part, though, was when she was surprised that I wasn’t one of the nebbish guys she usually ended up with.   Realizing that, she started to encourage me to play the same game as she did, seeing that I knew the tricks she knew and had at least as good a face.   It was odd to get that, but then again, I am a very good date.

I often remember the time when a co-worker was stuck with me for a trade show, on the same plane, her in my car, hotel rooms next to each other.  She expected me to be what the people in sales thought I was, an anti-social nerd who didn’t play the small talk game, but instead she found me considerate and fun, with lots of attention and wit under that curmudgeon exterior I cultivated to look more Bogart butch.

I know how to enter people’s world.   A chemist who tested flour for ADM perked up when I suggested that they were always looking for the perfect sponge.   “How did you know that?” they asked, not at all used to anyone understanding their art.

One of the reasons I am so good on a date is because I know how to respect people’s bubble.   We all walk around in our own world because being raw and open to the bigger world is just too damn tough to do all the time.   Sure, being receptive is part of being vulnerable and openhearted, but each of us needs to balance that exposure with imposition, the ability to assert our own worldview in the face of challenge.

I have been there for those who needed me to conceal my trans nature so they could feel that their own nature was invisible, not having to see themselves in the mirror of me and how their friends saw me.

The secret to my being good at dates, even if I don’t have the package to look inviting, is that I am a femme.   I do caretaking, do consideration and even do stimulation.  I know how to fight with people in a way that makes them feel seen and cared for, present, exposed and valued.

The trade-off, though, is that I don’t have the expectation or tools to get dates where someone is there to see and value me.   I know how to respect the bubbles of other people, even to the point of helping to reshape them, creating a bit more exposure and growth, but getting people to respect my bubble isn’t easy for me,

I’ve had a few rum and cokes, feeling the loneliness that so many of us share, says ShamanGal who spent her Saturday with hundreds of young transpeople from across California’s universities.   I’m feeling the desire for a date, not just one where I play the role that others need from me, entering and respecting their bubble, but one where someone enters mine, smiling at me in a way that makes me melt, if only just a little bit.

My own bubble has never really been so respected, as exposed as it is.   I learned early to live in the space between monk and mommy, not ever even letting myself dream that anyone could ever see the cute and sultry in me.

I am a great date because I know how to respect the bubble that other people carry, how to enhance and extend it in a way that makes them feel great.

But I don’t date often at all because most are scared of trusting their bubble to me, and even more scared of ever entering my bubble, of being there for me.

And I have learned, over the years, there is very little rum can actually do to fix that.

Content Of Your Character

Martin Luther King said it, as he anticipated the information revolution.   We need to learn to judge people not by the colour of their skin, but by their content.

Now, he specifically said “the content of their character,” but he was right: we now live in an age where content is king.   And the essential content you hold is the content deep inside of you, the content you have built into your system of responding to the world.

It is that essential content that is more than what you cobble together as a deliverable, it the content that shapes your process of creating any deliverable you have to produce.   The way you do anything is the way you do everything, so the way you create the content you share defines who you are.

You are your product.   It’s nice to think that you are removed from product, that product is only your deliverables, the bits you create for distribution, but what makes your deliverables special, unique and powerful is what you put into them, which comes out of the way that you create them.

There is a piece of you in everything you offer, even if that is just the residual marks of your fingers left from shaping it.  Bits of your attitude, your knowledge, your approach, your commitment, your discipline are in every individual thing that you offer the world.   Your deep content shapes your choices and your choices shape what you produce.

It can be comforting to think that people aren’t judging you when they judge your product, that the product stands alone.   Your product, though, is your product because you made it, because it reflects your values, your priorities, your attention, your quality and your choices.

We live in a world of content, a world where most of it is produced on demand.   We service others all the time, having to be in the moment with them and create for them, making quick choices that can only come from the level of process and programs we own right now.

To differentiate what we have to give, we must put ourselves into it.  This is the essence of the content concept, that it is our own content that differentiates what we offer, our content that adds value to what we share with the world.   Content isn’t just something we produce, rather the content we choose to take on board and hold produces us, as surely as the design of a machine defines what it makes.

Content creation isn’t about what we make, it is about how we make, always bounded by choices that reveal the content of our character.   Show me what you create and I will know who you are.

In the end, the only content that matters is the content of our character.   It is that content which shapes everything else that we offer in the world.  No matter what mask we put on, it is always just us underneath.

We are our product.   The lesson of transformation, of death and ressurection, is that even when we have lost everything, we still have ourselves, and it is that self which finds a new shape, a new incarnation, a new possibility.   It is the content we have internalized and made part of us that we will always own, the content that shapes that we offer the world.

The content of your character is what makes you you, and you are the difference between what you offer and what anyone else can offer.

Isn’t that content key to creating the best life you can?

Spring Cleaning

I am in desperate need of a spring cleaning.

But it was -2º last night and we are expecting 4″ of snow tonight, with more storms and arctic air later this week.   It has been the second coldest February on record here, with an average temperature of 12.5º just being beat out by 1934 at 12.1º.

Spring, it seems, still has to wait.