Possibility Culture

As a change eater, someone who stands for the possibility of real transformation in the world, one of my hardest and most wearing jobs is to hold open the space for others around me to become new.

It is this job, though, that is the foundation of any healing power that I offer.  To achieve healing, you first have to believe that healing is possible.

The only real healing humans can achieve in the world is transformation into a new mode.

That’s not the healing most of us think we want, of course.   We crave healing that takes us to some ideal dream of who we want to be, healing that doesn’t demand engaging loss, healing that moves us towards something in our comfort zone rather than into the new and unknown.   We want to believe that if we just achieve the one thing we fantasized about, our life will be perfect, a new special relationship to heal us into our dreams.

My job as a change eater, as a transitive person in the world, is to always affirm the process of growth, healing and transformation,   Standing for queer, wounded human power and beauty, for the truth that you can make another good day, beyond your dreams but inside the realm of possibility is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Two-thirds of help is to give courage.
— Irish proverb

Encouragement is always rooted in possibility.  Possibility is always rooted in loss.   You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.   Only by letting some of it go can you embrace the new.  Rebirth always requires accepting some death.

Dr. Phil may want to dismiss that loss as failure — suggesting that we only change when we are “past our prime” and have been forced to give up our manly sword of power — but I suggest that it might be better if we let go of our big stick more easily, instead finding the new, tender, connected and actualized.

While I believe that the power of transformation, rooted in the possibility of the new beyond convention and expectation, is at the heart of transgender, I know that many disagree with me.   They see transgender as abjection, loss and dis-empowerment without transcendence.   This comes from a political viewpoint that says transpeople shouldn’t be revered as powerful, rather they should be pitied for their oppression, that society should respect us as broken people.

For me, the notion that transpeople are seeking to embody possibility beyond loss is the only thing that can offer hope to those who are still being crushed by the brutal demands of the closet.  While I understand the choice is always between the brutal demands of hiding or the brutal demands of being seen as too queer, only one of those choices affirms blossoming, hope and possibility.  Transgender is about pure transformation or it is about nothing at all, as I said in 1995.

I fear for those growing up who do not have the possibility of transformation affirmed in the world.    I know from deep personal experience how hard it is to find someone who sees and affirms  something in you that you do not yet see in yourself, some kind of possibility that exists beyond your current level of thinking, beyond the choices that current thinking holds you to.

It is a tough sell to assert that possibility is based in loss, that rebirth always requires death.   Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.  It is tough to tell people that until we embrace loss enough to move beyond it, we cannot embrace new, passionate and beautiful life.   And the loss of our imagined perfection, that ideal we worked so hard to gain control for, is always the hardest loss of all.

People really like the notion that they can predict and control the future, the idea that somehow, it is their fixed knowledge and imagined changes that are needed.   If you ask them, though, if they could have predicted the best things that happened in their lives before they happened, most admit that no, it is the surprising and transcendent bits that gave them most joy.    As much as we don’t want to admit it, our salvation exists in what isn’t visible or even imaginable at our current level of thinking.

Embracing revelation and transformation beyond the walls of separation we draw in to calm and comfort ourselves is the tole of the queer in the world, of those who claim connection to continuous common humanity over the pressure to play small, cede to social pressure and work to cut ourselves down to be who others expect us to be.

The primary duality is wild vs tame, being boldly ourselves or being one of the crowd.  The queer know that our deepest connection is not how we look the same on the surface, but rather on how we hold fundamental humanity in our heart.

My calling is to speak for possibility culture.  That’s very hard because I find it almost impossible to find someone who can see, reflect and affirm the possibility in me, someone to say yes.

It’s hard for me to hold open the space for others to change even as they have great difficulty holding open that space for me.   I just can’t imagine my life having meaning if I make any other choice.

Romantic Sensible

“It is amazing,” ShamanGal told me, “how much my experience of the world has changed just because I think differently now.”

Transvestism is about changing your clothes.
Transexualism is about changing your body.
Transgender is about changing your mind.

After a special, personal weekend intensive workshop with a 19 year old cast member at Esalen, SG was clear that her experience of sexual intimacy has changed drastically.   Her hormones haven’t been changed in the past few years, but her thinking has, dropping defences and opening her heart.

An open heart, though, is a challenge.   Open hearts tend to get gooey and romantic, seeking sensation over sense, falling in love with the feeling of love.

While many would like an easy solution for this sensitivity — only being open to good and enjoyable emotions and not being open to bad and unpleasant ones, for example — feeling your emotions is always going to put you on a bit of a roller coaster ride, taking you places you don’t always want to go.

Every woman knows that she has to come up with her own balance of being romantic and of being sensible.   Gals who are just romantic find themselves with broken hearts, unwanted complications or worse.   We have to be able to say no, to set boundaries, to be sensible.

Like any balance, it needs to be dynamic.  We must constantly adjust between our rational brain and our emotive heart.   Become too sensible and we dry up, losing our connecting energy and passion.  Become too romantic and we get too wet, losing our footing and stability.  We

Every woman whose life is too sensible dreams of romance.   That may involve reading a trashy novel, checking into pop culture drama, writing fan fiction or a huge range of other escapes into emotion.

Every woman whose life is too emotional gets lessons about sensibility from all around her.   Mothers, sisters, girlfriends, the woman behind the checkout stand all want to help her protect and value what she has, pushing her to sensibly take control of her life and relationships.

Changing your mind always means taking down the compartment barriers that seem to separate your feelings and your thoughts.   For transpeople, this means learning to come from the power of emotion that we were taught was too corrupt, too dangerous, too dramatic and altogether too romantic for us to trust, trusting that part of our makeup is there for a reason.

There are some who argue that the entire historical goal of religion is to constrain the passions of women, setting them on the straight and narrow, so that they serve the desires of men rather than challenging them.   The goal was to keep glamour in check, transferring it to the church, to keep women in thrall only to their reproductive role.

Finding the right blend of romantic and sensible is a challenge for every woman. Transwomen, who have had to bury their own emotions deep under heavy compartment walls, have a great deal of mind changing to do to shift their own balance of assertion and emotion, creating a new blend which engages feelings rather than denying them.

Changing your mind, though, reworking your choices to be more integrated, more balanced and more authentic, always changes our experience of the world.  We create a new balance, opening our heart and brain and the same time to dynamically be in new possibilities.

The world needs sensible choices, yes, but it also needs romantic passion.  We start engaging that balance by changing our mind.

Heal Thyself

I was drawn to a drive today just in time to happen on an episode of RadioLab on The Power of Belief in Healing, ranging from the attention of a mother’s kiss to shamanic ritual to placebo pill colour to the power of the white coat.

One of the themes on this blog for the full decade of its existence is “Who heals the healers?”   While I think of myself as just a caregiver, I know that for my family and for others, I serve as a healer, with the experience of my wounds offering confidence and insight.

The interview with Dr. Naji Abumrad very much touched me.   He is a senior medical doctor who understands the power of belief and performance in helping patients move beyond sickness to find healing.   He does believe in the best medical practice available, but knows that healing isn’t just technical, rather it is an art.

In the story, one of Dr. Abumrad’s patients speaks of how she is able to leave survival mode for a moment because of trust in her doctor.    She could let go of her burdens, putting them in the hands of her sure, white coated doctor.   She got the power of his skill, his confidence, his belief, helping pull her from all the noise so she could focus on this moment, so she could focus on the notion that while she might never be the same, some level of relief, of healing was possible for her.   As a doctor, he had to be fearless about what she faced, instead looking for ways that can make tomorrow better, knowing clearly that no tomorrow will be perfect or unblemished.

My sister was clear about the most important thing I gave my parents: they trusted me completely.    They knew I wouldn’t lie to them, but they also knew that I would be there, doing whatever it took to give them one more good day.

That was my commitment, my service as a healer.   I could not take them back to an old, lost normal, but I could be there to help them today, changing their minds to find possibilities.

This is the power of belief in healing.   If you don’t believe that one more good day is possible, it never will be.   Rolling back time is impossible, but even if you are unable to erase the accident or the illness, you can transcend the sickness and suffering around it to claim some kind of healing, some kind of possibility, some kind of new normal.

I sobbed listening to this story because I remembered how important my role as a healer always has been, how I value it and give it freely.   I sobbed too because I felt the lack of a healer in my life, someone who could hold my burdens for a bit, giving me wisdom, confidence and faith that healing is possible for me, too.   Who heals the healers?

The binary of either sick or well isn’t valid.   We all are broken and we are all transcendent, we are all wounded and all healers.  Shamans know that, which is why rituals — tricks — that encourage people to choose healing have power.    Everyone heals in their own time and their own way, even us, but we can support and facilitate healing by doing the work.

A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient, said Osler.   The limits to our power to get outside our subjective self and see ourselves in context are profound.

RadioLab reminded me of the value of my work as a healer, of the work we each do to facilitate healing in the world.   It also reminded me how hard it is for healers to find healing, instead being constrained by the fears of others.

Who heals the healers?  I struggle with that.

Am I a healer, working with belief and possibility?   No doubt.

I sort of suspect that in the end, empowering growth by facilitating healing is always at the core of doing the work, for others and for ourselves.

Sliced Through

I know how to put my head down and do work, bulling through to get done what needs to get done.   I have proved that.

I know how to open up, working through emotion, being open and vulnerable, integrating thought and idea.   I have proved that.

What I don’t know how to do is seamlessly switch between those two things, how to integrate them into the expression of a life.

What I don’t know how to do is to be effective in the world as a woman rather than a guy, even a guy in a dress.

Guys compartmentalize.   It is what they are trained to do.   It is what we expect of men in this culture.    The shameful thing for men in this culture is to be seen as weak, Brenè Brown says.  The expectation of strength is woven into every assumption about what it means to be born male.

Women are emotional, needing the kind of support that entails.

Learning to be seen as male born and tender in a feminine way in this culture is enormously hard.   It’s hard to do in a supportive network where people allow you to drop your guard, where you have active and present support to have your emotions affirmed and reflected, where you have allies who understand your tender heart, understand what you missed behind the armour.

Doing this work alone, though, or worse, doing it with the glare of press cameras on you, becomes almost fucking impossible.

I am very happy that I have been able to be that kind of ally to a few transwomen, encouraging them to go there.    I am very sad that it has been impossible for me to find that kind of ally in the world, someone who can help me go there.

The demand to be tough in the world, to “grow a second set of balls,” as TBB put it, is inherent in the experience of those who come out as transwomen.  We are told that we are obligated to negotiate the fear, the ignorance and the simple binary assumptions about biological difference in the world if we want to claim our place in it.

The Guy-In-A-Dress Line is very, very tough to permeate, especially for those of is whose bodies will never easily be read as femaled.   We have to be ready to slip back across that line in any moment, with all the demands that being seen as a man in this culture, even a man in a dress, includes.

The price of that stuttered life is, at least for me, paid in deep loneliness, the kind that doesn’t let me develop a smooth way to integrate emotional accessibility and doing the work expected and demanded of me.   I may try to be visible but will quickly find that my message has gotten lost in the gendered crush of assumptions as I am perceived as a “he” and then feel forced to compartmentalize up to do the required work.

My voice never comes back to me.   Instead of being in a world where I can share my emotional state, getting it reflected and respected, I am in a world where I have to police my own expression, attenuating it down to that which doesn’t push people’s emotional buttons by demanding they examine their own assumptions and comfortable boundaries.   I have to be ready to negotiate guy in any moment, hiding it or becoming it, rather than integrating and easing it.

This demand slices right through me, leaving me in parts on the floor.   I search for solutions, for support, for techniques, for spaces, but they have escaped me for decades now.   I know that the magic dream of sex change just isn’t available, know that my story will always be liminal.

I walk in the world with my feminine nature exposed and find emptiness.  I walk in the world with my masculine body and I find emptiness.

Doing the work is possible.   Being emotionally present is possible.   Doing them both in some kind of gracious and integrated manner, though, feels impossible.

I know the loneliness of a long lost tranny.  I don’t know how to transcend it, at least for someone like me.

Master Baiting

Once you figure out that you are never going to be a Master Of The Universe, you can start to be vulnerable.

For straight, white men this can be a very hard lesson indeed.    They were told from a very young age that if they just did what they were supposed to do, denying weakness and playing their part, they had the chance of becoming a Master Of The Universe, one of those movers and shakers whose dick everyone envied and feared.

For people who knew themselves to be marginalized early — women, blacks, Jews, whoever — the idea that they would ever become a Master Of The Universe was off the table.   The best they could dream of is success in a niche somewhere, a localized power or someone connected to a Master Of The Universe.

The underlying message of Fox News is “You should be a Master Of The Universe, with beautiful blonde women serving you in cooing tones, and we are going to tell you who stole that entitlement from you.”    Fox News Channel is all about us versus them, creating comforting dividing lines that rationalize why America is going to hell.   The natural Masters Of The Universe have been besmirched by idiots and pretenders, which is why you don’t have what you should.

For transpeople born male and raised as men, this letting go of the entitlement to be a Master Of The Universe, is hard stuff.    Feminists code this as “male privilege,”   but that doesn’t really get at the range of privilege that exists or doesn’t exist in society.   There are clearly males who are very underprivileged, for example.

The challenge isn’t the actual level of privilege we have — many Fox News viewers are working class, just as many Republicans are — it is how entitled we feel to be a Master Of The Universe.   Letting go of that entitlement we have given so much of our lives and our humanity to claim requires us to relocate our image of ourself in the system of power, to acknowledge that Master Of The Universe wasn’t worth working for in the first place.

For many men, this Master Of The Universe posturing falls away only in intimate moments when they dream of having their identity stripped, to be taken and released during sex.    Putting that armour back on before they walk out the door, no matter how much their fantasy may be of being a sissy, being pegged or serving other penises, is very important to them.

We hold on to dreams tenaciously.   In a world of loss and mortality, it is our dreams which propel us forward, giving meaning to our life.   If the dream is being the Master Of The Universe we were intended to be, a winner who stands at the pinnacle with the respect and awe of all around them, choosing to be a marginalized, niche player with a smaller brevet is very hard.

For those who grew up knowing that Master Of The Universe was never for them, we know that small can be potent, meaningful and very satisfying.   Instead of looking for who stole our entitlement, we look to how we can connect with other people to make a good life, a good community and work towards a good world.

Letting go of your Master Of The Universe fantasy is not easy.   It is the first step to accepting your own queerness, your own unique power in the world.   You know you will never be one of them, but that you will always be one of us, just another human living on the earth.

It is easy to go into trans space, especially trans space filled with self-diagnosed heterosexual crossdressers, claiming their womanhood from a sense of entitlement.   These are people who see themselves as Masters Of The Universe, unable to imagine a world where they are not at the centre, their own assertions with the power of moral law.   If they don’t get what they want, they look for who stands in their way, who is stealing their manhood, rather than looking inside to question their own assumptions and assume their own responsibility for action.

“Being a powerful is like being a lady,” Mrs. Thatcher said.  “If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

Being a Master Of The Universe is the same.  Arrogant claims don’t make you one, but humble and potent choices can.  Letting go of puffed up entitlement is the first step to finding a different and more authentic kind of potency in the world.

Intents & Purposes

I love questions.   I believe that questions are the tools we use to create understanding.   The process of considering a great koan which challenges your assumptions and assertions is the way that you deepen and strengthen your awareness, informing your choices and creating connections.

My gender journey has been one of searching for wisdom through engaging hard questions.    This is different than many people who use their own gender exploration to reject questions that challenge them, that make them uncomfortable.

Most of my first questions were about truth.    The talk shows of my day were full of transpeople as deceivers, posing as having been born a different sex to fool people.   The models we had were all about that posing, either for a night (Virginia Prince) or for a lifetime (Harry Benjamin.)

Questions flowed from this.   What is a man?   What is a woman?   What is gender?   What is sex?   What gender truths need to be respected?   Is trans a disease?   Is truth in the body?  Why shouldn’t we try and fix trans brains rather than their bodies?   Is trans a perversion?

I learned never to take seriously any assertion about gender from someone who couldn’t tell me what gender was.    How can you make statements about something you haven’t at least tried to understand in context?

I learned to value positive constructions over negative ones.   Anyone can say “That’s bullshit!”  but it takes some thought to assert your own beliefs in a way that engages challenges.

The world, though, didn’t value those questions the way that I did, as bright sparks of light that illuminated complex and nuanced networks of truth.   They wanted answers, clear, crisp concise answers that justified and seemed to explain why we make our choices.

The goal wasn’t to understand or to expand understanding, it was to normalize and defend behaviours.

I still ask hard questions and I still get many who find me rude or stupid for doing so.   Who am I to question other people’s assertions in the world?  Who I am to challenge their claims and cast them in a different light?

I have no idea what the phrase “for all intents and purposes I am a woman” means.   What is a woman?  What are the intents?   What are the purposes?    I can understand how that kind of statement can fuel the fear of those who believe men are using legalese to invade places where women are protected.

I don’t really understand why it is courageous to take exogenous sex hormones for years without informing your spouse.   Do hormones fix anything?

I question how participating in celebrity culture and the hard gender stereotypes that it plays for sensation makes you brave for wanting to indulge in them in a different way.

I love questions and I love process.    I love the quest for clarity, going beyond conventional expectations to understanding and truth that brings out the continuous common humanity which connects us.

Rationalizations that shut down questions, enforce orthodoxy and justify indulgence, though, well, those are things that I really have to question.

Flashbits

When you take care of your parents, close up, personal and full time, for the last decade of their life, going through experience that got you dismissed from two different caregiver support groups for being too intense, the stories are deeply entwined into your mind.

It doesn’t matter if it is calling Hospice on the day before your mother died to try and get someone to take you seriously or the moment a neurosurgeon in the ER tells you that they missed the break in your father’s back and he ins now  paraplegic, the moments stick.

They aren’t charming, sweet moments you can share with other people.   They are tough, tough hard moments which demanded you put aside your own emotions and concerns to do the work that needed to be done.

I was my parents caretaker from a very, very young age, which made me also the target patient in the family, scapegoated for illuminating problems that they would rather keep in the dark.  I saw where the work needed to be done, but I was unable to get them to do it, their own Aspergers style minds having such tunnel vision, missing emotional content.

As the oldest, I couldn’t just hide in the shadows and find other families to connect to.  I bore the brunt and was called “stupid” for years because I wouldn’t play along and be silent.

I became enmeshed in my parents lives, having to learn to keep myself inside a boundary because I knew there was no way they could hold boundaries, no way they could affirm life outside their vision.   My mother sucked up everyone else’s stories, and my father understood only at a basic, loving level or in his own crackpot engineer’s reveries.

Since they died, I have been looking for some way to put my story in amber, to share it in a way that can make sense to others, but I have not been successful at all.   The story of end-of-life care pushes everyone’s emotional buttons.   Humans spend lots of time running from the truth of mortality, not engaging the cycle of life and death.   And the story of how I had to be their proxy is an enormous thing to engage and bear.

Last Saturday there was an Autism event locally and I looked to see if there was any exhibitor there who could understand the challenges of the child of two AS parents, finding none.  My stomach bug — giardiasis? — kept me away, as did the requirement to take care of my sister every day for the last  week, from comforting her about her failures as their executor to driving her about for car repairs to fixing her tech devices.

As the requirement to move on hits me hard, the weight of the story, so intertwined with mine and so unsharable still flashes up for me all the time.   I have found no place to discharge it, no techniques to put it in context.  The artifacts I had hoped to unpack, from voice diaries to medical records, still stay potent and weighty.

The flashbits are there and as I feel the need to dispose of the physical effects of my parents lives, the story bits lurk in every object, every flash.

How do I find a way to turn the lightening into stories that can be stored away, making room for a future?

I don’t know.  I just don’t know.

Drama Queen

Here is a little secret.

Under this considered, thoughtful, theological exterior beats the intense heart of a drama queen.

Actors don’t deal with the same kind of “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” truth that theologians do.   They leave that stuff to writers.

Instead, they deal in emotional truth.  Does it feel right?   Does it convey the deep human connection that can move people?

This isn’t the kind of truth affirmed by Aspergers parents.  In the session at RPI, though, where 10 people thought I was brilliant, 20 thought I was an asshole for not respecting lesbian and gay points of view, and 70 didn’t care one one way or the other, emotional truth was part of my power.

The one poor trans man who thought I was both brilliant and an asshole, caught between his connection to feminist community and his real trans experience, found my words challenging, but the emotional truth of my presentation resonated with him.

For the two guests, Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, my emotional truth was visible.   Mr. Ernst did respond to my cerebral truth, understanding my words as weapons against closed thinking, wanting to read my writing again, but it was the emotional truth that most resonated with Ms. Drucker,  For her, the concepts were clunky, but my emotional truth was loaded into my voice, a voice she felt echo across the country.   She wanted, needed to hear that Drama Queen voice I have learned to silence in favour of the analytical, rational  and dry.

Jeffrey Tambor brings not a literal truth to Moira in Transparent, but instead powerfully conveys an emotional truth that resonates with viewers who do not yet have the language to understand the transgender experience in a cerebral way.   This is the brilliance of a great and skilled actor.

As humans, we learn to read emotion very early, as children, long before we have language for explaining.   We respond to tone over text almost every time.

When another writer dismissed this idea, I turned to her and seductively cooed “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,” then switched to a gasping, strained voice, full of distress and quaver, to sob out “I love you, I love you so much, so much I love you!”  She got the point; even if we understand the content, the tone of a message goes right into our awareness, setting its own emotional reality.

The great shift in my writing between the old site, which has writing from around 1985 to 2000, and this site, started on Thanksgiving 2005, is emotional reality.    I used to write very analytical pieces but realized they didn’t carry much of the truth of transgender, the truth that emerges when you expose the personal emotional experience which is below the mind.   That means more messy writing, but also deeper sharing.

The emotion, though, is locked into complex texts that can be difficult for people to engage.   ShamanGal, who reads this blog as homework, talks about having to set aside time and put in ear plugs before she tries to navigate one of these posts.   Because she has spent to much time on the phone with me in the last two years, though, she can hear the voice locked in the text, get the humanity out of it.

This is very difficult for those who don’t know my physical voice, those who haven’t experienced the emotional, drama queen truth of it.  My sister, for example, is fine with having my voice wash over her, finding it comfortable and powerful, but reading it dried on the page is impossible for her, just too much work.  She knows she doesn’t extract all of what I offer, just taking what she can grasp now, but she is comfortable with re-hearing what I share, coming to it in a new way.    It is much more difficult to have people re-read, even though, as ShamanGal has found out, a more developed awareness unlocks more nuanced meaning.

I am so used to not trusting that my voice will be heard that I stay silent.   The fact is that, yes, much of the thoughtful, theological content of my voice will not be understood, people just not being ready to go that deep.

What I don’t trust is that even if the carefully constructed, so hard won truths, truths I have slaved over in my hermitage for two decades now, are not digested, something else will be conveyed in the world.   The emotional truth of my experience, the tone and ownership, the wit and the experience, is braided deep into my expression.   It is that passionate, emotional content which needs to be shared along with the strong, rigorous intellectual bits I used to unlock and give foundation to my human experience.

I am on the cusp of another emergence, one that feels terrifying and unsupported to me.   I have always been a performer — a key part of caring for my parents was shaping my performance to give them context and love — but I have never believed in my own beauty, instead leaning on rationality.

My body will never be as beautiful as I want it to be, as my big bones get hit by the high costs of a life of denial and neglect, but my voice, my voice, that drama queen voice, offers some shimmering.    Does it expose too much of me, far from the plummy tinkle of a polished female?  Or does it reveal more of me, offering a kind of ragged emotional truth which deeply resonates with other people’s continuous common humanity?

There have been many moments where my speaking up has been affirmed, not just in conscious, deliberate  considered text, but in the human mix of play, emotion, and smarts that comes from a smart and integrated life.    While it is hard for me to believe, my voice carries a kind of power that helps truth become more accessible, more digestible. It reaches out to the child inside everyone, offering bits of context that they can take on when they are ready.

For someone who found their footing in tech, learning to do things the engineering way, trusting the drama queen energy is very difficult.   Moving beyond the cerebral to trust the emotional truth means trusting in those parts of me that have been attacked, shamed and dismissed for being irrational.

I learned how to be reasonable, rational and sensible early in my life.    It was the strategy that was demanded of me in the world, for so many reasons.

Underneath, though, I am a drama queen, playful, witty, emotive and engaging.   Maybe people can respond to that in my voice.

Maybe it is time to find a way to let them hear it.

Of The Book

As a writer, I am absolutely sure that even God herself couldn’t use the symbolic language that humans use to capture absolute truth.

Our language is just too subjective and too reductive to capture absolute truth.  The only absolutely true statement I can make is “All is nothing and nothing is all.”   While that is true, it really isn’t all that informative, nor does it do much to inform discourse.

“I am in the shadows my words cast,” Octavio Paz wrote.  Words, at their very best just suggest truths rather than hold them.   Symbol is not truth and truth is not symbol.   They are not interchangeable.

It is wonderful that we, as humans, have symbolic language to use in the attempt to convey truths between each others minds.   It seems to be unique to our species on earth, at least as far as we can tell.

Fundamentalist thinkers, though, want to believe that books can carry absolute, divine truths.    They want to use the truth contained in their scripture to erase challenging ideas and beliefs, want the truth of their book to trump every challenge.

For every book of absolute truth, though, sectarian divides emerge between those who interpret the truth in one way and those who interpret it in another.  Factions scream and pound each other as heretics for not reading the holy text in the correct way, in the way that they do.

Current interpreters drop the original context of the book to apply today’s meaning, then claim it was ever thus.  For example, a historical review of how the Christian Bible was used to support slavery will reveal how interpretations always change to suit economic and political needs.  Many of the Bible’s rules are ignored today, but others are still “Biblical,” usually with no clear rationale of difference.

Is  the problem here that someone else’s interpretation of the book is wrong, bad and evil?   Or is the problem that no text written in a human language can ever carry absolute, perfect truth?

For me, the best language can do is offer symbolic truth.   It codes bits of truth as observed and flattened into symbol, artfully designed to code truth like shadow puppets code images.

I struggle to find truth the way an artist struggles to recreate a hidden world, using all the images, stories and artifacts they can find to try and create a three-dimensional model in their mind.

Using this strategy, though, makes people of the book crazy.  They really, really want to believe in the promises contained in their book, want to believe that the magic spells written on the pages can be made real if only they become true, true, true believers.

Of course, the most common magic spell they crave is for eternal life, beyond death, pain and suffering.   It is the promise of heaven beyond human frailty and corruption which seduces so many to climb out of real life and into the pages of a book.

I most recently saw this with a meeting of A Course In Miracles students who want to believe that the sickness the course can transcend is the sickness of the body, not just the sickness of the mind.  In their “perfect” reading of the course, anyone who is physically sick in this world has brought it on by having an imperfect mind, the vagaries of biology, environmental factors, accidents and random chance be dammed.

For me, the plagues and pestilence faced when living in a finite world are the lessons we use to change our mind.   We work to transcend the finite in a spiritual way that leads us to a better place.   That place may be nirvana, or it may just be a place of peace as our body decays and fails, changing form around our more mature and centred spirit.

I have helped people through sickness, helped them through death, and the best I have ever been able to do is help them choose love over fear in the moments that they have available.  The world we live in may be a shared illusion, down to the cancer that touches our lives, but that illusion has real opportunities for growth in it, chances to answer the call for love by choosing to come from our own love.

Imagining a world where we blame people for imperfect thought while their imperfect bodies are failing in various ways just seems cruel and unloving to me.   Acknowledging that physical health challenges can help move us towards spiritual healing, pushing us to drop our small fear based choices in favour of larger ones and becoming more actualized in the process feels kind and hopeful.

Faith healing may be a very compelling dream, but in the end, every human body dies, and usually in a puddle of mess and pain.    We cannot eliminate discomfort, we can only resist the suffering that comes from holding onto rationalizations, wishes and illusions when they no longer can serve us.

It is in life beyond life that we are released from the fact of pain and while many traditions have lovely models of what that will look like, nobody here holds the absolute truth about a world which exists beyond the limits of flattened, human symbolic language.

The challenge of telling eternal truths in modern language will go on as long as humans are human because human nature will continue to run through all of us while our symbolic systems continue to change and evolve.

I love books, but I cannot imagine one which contains perfect truth.   This will always set me at odds with fundamentalists who want me to believe that their holy text is literally true, not just full of figurative wisdom.   I have seen too many preachy preachers use fundamentalism to push the us versus them, good versus evil stories of separation to create earthly, political power to ever trust them.

The books can teach us, offering wisdom that has emerged as valuable through the ages, but it is our job to find the connections, comparing and contrasting to to tease out deeper and more essential meaning, those shadows authors were trying to cast using the limits of the words, images and metaphors available to them.

I can’t imagine how anyone, even God, can capture perfect truth in the fragile structures of human language.   To me, truth is full of beautiful and profound tensions which shimmer and flow beyond the paucity of language.  We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are, bounded by our own limits, and capturing that subjective sight is even more limited.

I understand why people want to crawl into books that seem to offer a path to a simple, healthy and peaceful life, people who really, really really want to believe that some kind of perfection can exist in the world if we just find the perfect scripture and just follow it slavishly enough.   I understand why people dream of eliminating pesky shadows and living only in the answer rather than in the questions..

I just find that truth abides much more in the questions than in the answers, and it is in the dance of shadows & colours where the eternal can just be glimpsed.

Speaking Context

Interesting article:

http://www.trueactivist.com/10-words-every-girl-should-learn/

I thought this Reductress did the same thing, funnier:

‘Hello Ken’ Doll Keeps Interrupting ‘Hello Barbie’

It’s my sense that teaching women feminist etiquette rather than business etiquette is a massive problem.

In business, decorum and grace still count, but in the end, quality, creation and enhancement mean the world. Everyone’s job is to add value to a forward moving resolution.

In feminist, the goal is to be politically correct and deferential, working to create one official voice rather than moving forward using the best of what is on offer. We let the weakest guide us so that we stay disempowered, rather than letting the strongest guide us to create more corporate power and success.

Feminists write off business as venal, rude and inconsiderate, but business has changed over the years to be much more open, equal and free, if you agree to play the game, where the game is creating more shared success.

You can’t be a shrinking violet, coming from your brokenness and also be a valued contributor to our joint enterprise. You can be an introvert who writes better than speaks, you can be a detail oriented person who excels at execution, you can be a colourful flower who charms customers, but as long as you bring something special, you will find a way to offer your unique gifts.

Business thrives on diversity and different, challenging viewpoints and skills, because the conflict and cooperation between them makes enterprises stronger and more vibrant. An organization full of clones will soon fall on its own myopia, which can be a problem with feminist endeavours.

You don’t have to be a man to succeed in business, as millions and millions of women have proven over the decades, but you do need to trust your own gifts, to offer them boldly, and to stand up rather than shrinking back from vital confrontation. You have to be willing to learn, grow and become stronger by engaging in shared work that develops skills and lifts all boats.

It is easy to feel erased as a woman. You do need a strategy in the world to be able to make yourself heard and by being heard, become valued.

Feminists might say that the way to make this happen is for men to become more like women, surrendering their voice to the group.

I suggest that the models of a place where women have already found their voice, where men have already been taught to listen to women provide a better basis for women speaking up, and that place is in business.

Making men weaker and less assertive has limits in many ways. Finding ways for women to be stronger and more assertive without having to lose their the femininity that makes them unique and become one of the boys seems like a better plan.

Business etiquette, which, thanks to actions of millions of women claiming their own voices, has become much more gender open in the last decades, seems like a good model.

I know that it has provided me a technique for me to get outside of gendered expectations and move to professional ones which value what I offer rather than finding ways to dismiss me because of my perceived group identification.   Business etiquette let me fight for my point of view, allowing my contributions to be heard and valued.

We all need to decide what we want, how we want to take power in the world.  Surrender is great and fun if we have something or someone we want to give ourselves to, but in the end we have to contribute something good or we just become disposable.

Everyone needs to know how to contribute beyond the fear of not being cute or attractive because it is who we are that shapes our lives and our world, not who we aren’t.

I stand for individual contributions that contribute to shared goals, making the process smarter and more considered.  I just think we come together in business to do that, feeding our families and making a better world.

You Don’t Know Sex Offenders

If you think tourists are going to be excited about even the possibility that their wives, daughters and girlfriends will be sharing a bathroom with a guy who decides he’s ‘transgender’ just to have a little fun (or worse) at the ladies’ expense, you don’t know tourists and you don’t know sex offenders,” one newspaper ad [against a gay rights ordinance in Eureka Springs AK] read.

In Arkansas, Gay Rights Ordinance Highlights Clash Between Two Faces of Tourism, NY Times, 20 April 2015

Claiming Trans People Are Sex Offenders, Pastors' Spokesperson Turns Out To Be Serial Rapist

Gender Smörgåsbord

“I have the best of both worlds!  By selecting the gendered behaviours and symbols that I like from the Gender Smörgåsbord, I have created my own unique gender expression!  People should love who I am because I picked the best!”

Gender is a system of communication, using symbol to communicate who we know ourselves to be and our gendered training in the world.  Our gender expression locates us, advertising who we are to others.

When we approach gender as a smörgåsbord, just taking the bits we like and leaving behind the bits that are not to our taste, we create a lot of noise in the system.    The standard assumptions about what gender expression means go out the window, replaced by our own personal creation.

Communication doesn’t work without at least two players, someone to convey meaning, the sender, and someone who reads those signs & signals to interpret meaning.   Does communication that others can not or do not understand really communication, or is it just noise?

It takes work to craft messages and it takes work to interpret them.   If the receiver isn’t playing attention, even the best sender can’t convey a message to them.

For transpeople, the experience of trying to tell our stories, our truths and having them fall on deaf ears is very common.  For people who can’t imagine life outside conventional boundaries, we are just baffling.

In large part, it is this difficulty in finding people to understand and value what we share that makes being a transperson so lonely.   We don’t get the feedback and affirmation that we so need as humans.

We need to tell our own story, share our own experience, but we need to tell it in a way that makes sense to other people.  As much as we need our receivers to do the work and understand us, we need to be willing to do the work to make sense to them.

Since gender is such a relational thing, a basis for desire and for relationships, wit means that actually offering what we seem to advertise with our gendered symbols is important.

Gender is the basis for the human dance.   This may mean dancing with people like you, in a chorus line or in close order drill, may mean dancing solo, but the dance is most powerful when done in kind of a gracious tension with a partner who neither just mirrors you or leaves you alone, but with whom you show strength and possibility beyond what just one can do.

Every woman knows that what is is looking for is a good partner, one she can help become more and one that will help her find strength.   The basis of simple gender is reproductive biology, finding a partner who will play their part in creating a strong and successful family, doing the complimentary work with respect and care, is crucial.

Men also find the need for a good partner, one that both satisfies and pushes them, cares for them in a way that helps them become better and more connected.

This partnership requirement for gender is why we want our partners not just to be good at the bits of gender they chose, but also at the hard, responsible bits that create strong relationships.   Traditional gender training teaches people to be responsible with and for their own reproductive biology, but also to be responsible in relationship, being a good, present partner who does both the fun things and the important things.

We are not gendered in the abstract, but are gendered in relationship, advertising what we love and are trained to do in the world and connecting with other people who find what we offer compelling, either because they see commonalities with us or because they see us as complimentary to them.

The joy of gender is, in the end, in the relationships that our gendered self creates in the world.   By being present for other people and having them be present for us we develop a deep intimacy and trust that allows us to be valued and seen in a way that can never happen if we won’t do the hard work of being partnered.

The kind of mutual respect that builds strong relationships is rooted in the respect for gender diversity, an acknowledgement that there are different approaches, strategies and skills sets, an acknowledgement that we build a better world when we come together with respect.  We can’t just take on the attractive bits of gender roles, we have to take on the responsible bits, too.

Every interpersonal relationship both has roots in gendered behaviour, either with people like us or people who compliment us, but also has places where it transcends gender, allowing deep personal truths to be honoured and seen.   Doing the right and responsible  thing is usually the basis for doing the powerful thing.

Gender is a system of communication, communicating who we are, how we are trained, what we desire and who we are willing to be in relationship.   To move outside gendered conventions, we need to not just claim freedom we need to also claim responsibility, respecting others and their own gendered expectations.

“How could someone ever imagine being with someone like you when the never met anyone like you?” a friend asked years ago.

Creating a gender plate that satisfies you is never enough.   To create an effective gender in the world, you have to create a gender that works well in relationships.   That means you have to respect and partner other people’s genders well, creating two way communication, working to help everyone become better.

It takes two to tango and it takes a whole society to shape gender, a cultural artifact.   To strike out against compulsory gendering to claim the truth of hearts over reproductive gender can be a lonely process, but it is not one we can do alone, just demanding that people accept and love our own invocation of our gender role.

Gender expectations are shaped by people coming together to find new ways to partner,  respecting other people and respecting our own nature.  We give and we take in an attempt to find common ground, a system of assumptions, codes, symbols and choices that we can share.   It is in this way that we care for each other, being there for other people and helping them be there for us.

Trying to shape our own gender roles and then demand that people respect our arbitrary and self-focused choices will never be successful.  If we want to be in relationship with other people — and who doesn’t want that — we have to respond to their needs, desires and expectations as well as our own inner identity.

The system of gender has always used this fact, asking us to gender ourselves in conventional ways in order to get the affirmation, connection and partnership we desire.  The benefit of following gendered expectations is being attractive to others who desire those things in a partner.

Gender is a system of communication that puts us in our place in the world.   While no one wants to feel trapped in place, everyone does want to have a place, somewhere we feel at home, seen valued and desired.

Gender is a dance.

Underlying Dream

When I went to my first trans support group in the 1980s, you were asked to declare your dream at the door.

Did you dream of playing at being a woman for the night, dressing up in finery, having drinks and conversation, maybe getting into a little trouble, and then going home where you could scrub off the makeup and go to work as a man the next morning?

Or did you dream of making the blood sacrifice on the surgeon’s altar, having your birth defect fixed, your sex changed, so you could blend into society and go to work as the woman you always really had been the next morning?

(There were almost no visible transpeople born female in those places)

These were the sanctioned dreams, one codified by Virginia Prince, the other by Harry Benjamin, the binary from which you had to choose.

Personally, I resisted this choice.

I walked in as a guy in a dress, chest hair peeping out of my blouse, my birth name offered in welcome.   My goal was gender play, swinging the pendulum towards androgyny, trying  to find a way in the world that honoured both the truth of my history and male-pubertied body and the knowledge in my heart.

I had done the work, reading both “A Year Among The Girls” and “The Transsexual Phenomenon” in high school, though I ended up leaving them in the subway before getting into my parent’s car.  I knew who I was since I was very young, like most of the people who walked into that room.

I also knew at the age of twelve that neither of those dreams would work for me.   When a therapist asked me who I would want to be if I could be anything — a crude attempt at differential diagnosis — I answered that I wanted to be myself.  She was frustrated when I refused to budge, though the gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are, I understood, though I wouldn’t have the words until I read Joseph Campbell.

I may have resisted fitting into the nice binary boxes at that first support group, holding onto my hard won knowledge, but that never meant I didn’t understand the dream, the same dream that almost everyone had.

If there had been a magical real sex-change, reversing puberty and letting us walk female bodied in the world, we would have taken it.  That knowledge we had to hide weighed each one of us down, drove us to this dark and almost secret bar on a side street in an empty neighbourhood.

We all knew by this point, though, that prayer wouldn’t be answered and we had to make the best out of what we got.

Everyone in this room had already given up on their original, most primal dream, of transformation to female, and instead was working on the best substitute they could muster, a night of play, a life of claims.   We were choosing which parts of us to make visible in this space, which parts we were willing to keep closeted and hidden in the world.

My choice wasn’t transvestite or transsexual, it was transgender, which was far from common then.   I didn’t share either of the standardized and approved dreams.

The dream I did share with everyone else in the room, though, was that dream of being able to be seen for the content of my heart instead of being put in a cage based on the shape of my body.  I dreamed of being seen as cute, sweet, pretty, feminine, real.

We each hid that dream under the armour we picked up to defend ourselves in the world, the “I just do this because I love women,” or the “I was born with a birth defect and the doctor says so,” shields we carried.

I knew early that the best I could ever be was someone liminal, someone doing the work betwixt and between.

But that didn’t mean then and doesn’t mean now that I didn’t share the dream of being safe and seen for who I am inside, as the unique and  feminine person who was forced to wear a box of binary issue.

I have had to walk past so many officially sanctioned binary dreams, but in the end, well that simple, child’s dream is still swirling inside of me.

Stroboscopic

Strobe lighting effects will be used during this performance. Patrons that may suffer from epilepsy & other visual light stimulation effects are advised to contact the front of house staff prior to entering the auditorium.

“Doc” Harold Edgerton developed the strobe light as a kind of ultrafast camera shutter, able to capture motion and reveal what lies between the blink of an eye.  I know this because I got a personal demonstration on Strobe Alley one Saturday afternoon in 1969.

In the theatre the stop motion effect of strobe lights is used to convey an otherworldly progress of time and truth, taking us out of everyday time and knowledge.

My transgender life often feels like a stroboscopic fantasia.   In one moment I am just a big woman at the mall, in the next I am a respected transwoman, in the next I am a big scary freak, in the next I am a spiritual guide, in the next a deluded fool.

What is revealed and what is concealed in any moment, in any flash of the strobe?   Transpeople step out of simple binaries, shimmering between poles, but as we are caught in the strobe flashes of observers, they assign their own reality to us, illuminating part of us and keeping the rest in shadow.

With every strobe light fired by an observer, our image changes in ways that we don’t and can’t control. Pop!  Bang!  Flash!  Zoom!  Who am I now?   Is anyone having a seizure?  Is it me?

When every day is living under strobes, life becomes a trippy, psychedelic experience.   We may feel solid and present, but we know that the strobe light can kick in at any time, taking us out of time and turning us in to fixed images in the eyes of those around us.

Trans is a transitive identity, built not on frozen and fixed points but rather on the motion, the oscillation, the fluidity that marks the transformative nature of a human life.  We are not who we were or who we are going to be, we are in transit between those points, creating ourselves as we go in a struggle to be more authentic, more pure and more potent.

When that strobe goes off to freeze us in place we know that our heart and soul is taken away and replaced by the pin of a someone who needs to fix us in their taxonomy of the world.   It hurts.

Stroboscopic life robs me of the spaces between, the places where I really exist in energy and life force.

With every strobe light fired by an observer, our image changes in ways that we don’t and can’t control. Pop!  Bang!  Flash!  Zoom!  Who am I now?   Is anyone having a seizure?  Is it me?

Poof!

Disembodied

Your body may be a vessel for your spirit in this world, but it is hard to argue that it is just a vessel.

For most humans, the experience of being embodied defines their life.   Their gendered training and the expectations placed on them are based on their body.   Their experience of desire and being desired are based on their body.   The way people respond to them is shaped by the way that others see their body.

Transpeople, though, feel a disconnect from their body.   Their path to desire leads them to imagining having a different body, feeling how that psychic body responds.   We pray to have our body change, wanting not just to seen and be responded to in a different way, but also to feel like our body hasn’t betrayed us, isn’t wrong.

If you feel profoundly disconnected from your body, are you less likely to be distressed at the idea of killing it off, at the idea of terminating the life of your body so you can free your soul?   Is suicide somehow easier when you already feel disembodied?

Many transpeople try to reclaim a connection to their body by reshaping it with the help of medical intervention.   This is useful for many, but it is far from a magic bullet, as it can never bring their body and their experience in it back to a normative position.   At some level we will always have a passing distance, a zone within which our body seems to contradict the expectations of a heterosexist culture and we are seen as trans and passing.

This sense of being disembodied is very tough to explain to other humans who tend to see themselves as their bodies.    Their lives are deeply embodied, often to the exclusion of spiritual understanding and growth. So much of culture tells us that we are our bodies, from fashion magazines to pornography, as it is easier to sell to bodily desires than to spiritual ones.

From the moment we are born our flesh starts to die and our story starts to grow, and when the flesh dies to the world, all that is left is story.   The leap to understanding that in the end we are defined by the story we create and not the flesh we inherited.

The older we get, the more we understand that we are not defined by our body because sooner or later every body lets us down.   This may be why so many people who do academic work around trans also work around disability, examining how those who are disembodied by their own physical challenges.

From my earliest days I believed that no physical intervention to change my body, other than the divine one I prayed for as a child, would magically change who I am.     While I supported and even encouraged others to do what they wanted to do to become more comfortable in their skin, I remained what I call “transnatural,” without hormones or surgery.

I didn’t come from a very embodied family.   The joys of the flesh were not well respected around the house; no touching, gunky food, no dancing.   My father did the RCAF 5X exercise plan, running every morning before it was cool, and loved working in his garden, but my mother loved her recliner much, much more.   At the end, their disconnection from their bodies was a challenge in keeping them healthy and fit.

Girls would assume that because I had a male body I only wanted one thing, but I was never, ever cocky & embodied enough to be effective that way.  I was twenty when I lost my virginity to a woman who later identified as a soft butch, with sex acts that were only a success in lesbionic terms.   Others read this disembodied nature, like gym teachers or college counsellors who advised me that if I didn’t do BioEnergetics, I would be dead in a year or two.

My disembodiment meant I was always more of an observer in the world.   People couldn’t figure out how to get to my base emotions, for good or for bad.  Bosses couldn’t figure out how to get me to chase shiny things and women found it frustrating that I was “emotionally un-castratable.”

To be effective in the system of sexual desire we pretty well have to be embodied. Today it may be possible to exist in a kind of virtual sexuality, just images, messaging and voices, but that will always be about actual touch, about sensuality and surrender, stripping away polite identities to become creatural.

To be effective in the realm of spirituality, though, we have to transcend the limits of our body and touch the soul within.   We have to feel the connection that comes not just from skin to skin contact but also from soul to soul contact, becoming a part of something much bigger than the bag of skin other people can see.

Getting naked, really naked, means going beyond physical intimacy to emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy and creative intimacy.   The conscious denial of the physical is designed to help increase our awareness of other areas, moving beyond the sensations of the body to the experience of the spirit.   Being embodied is not a bad thing, but not moving past sensationalism is.

Trying to explain to people who feel that they are their body the relationship and disconnection transpeople have with their own body, their disembodiment, is very, very difficult.

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a humans experience, says Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.   Transpeople know this to be true; our spirit is truer than our body, leading to a disembodied experience in the world.

Our continuous common humanity transcends individual bodies.   Our bodies, though, are the sensory organ through which we experience and share that common experience.

Finding a way to be both embodied and disembodied at the same time is one of the challenges of a human life. Personally, I have worked hard to be disembodied, learning those lessons and teaching them in the world.  While I am still here, though, with a decaying body, can I own some of the lessons of embodiment?

Legitimate

It’s easy for transpeople to feel like fraudulent bastards.

We have no family that really wants to claim us, from our family of origin to the lesbian and gay community.   For their own reasons, they all seem to want to keep us separate and apart so as not to reflect badly on their reputation.

Because we are seen as bastards, we feel the requirement to work towards proving our legitimacy.   We are, we are, we are really loved children, worthy of respect.   Our claims about our identity are legitimate, not bogus, and need to be honoured.

How do we become seen as legitimate and not as fraudsters?   Every transperson has to face that question in their own emergence as they assert the truth in their heart into a world that wants simple credentials to prove standing.

One of the key reasons for genital reconstruction surgery was to prove legitimacy.   It proved that we were approved by doctors as “real women” and were then transformed by their pills and scalpel, having a “sex change.”

We took on the authority of medicine, credentialed experts who found that we met their criteria for being “real,” which meant following gendered stereotypes from who we loved to how we dressed.    It wasn’t good enough to claim that we wanted to be a woman, rather we had to prove that we were a woman, just with a birth defect that could be corrected.

As powerful as doctors saw themselves to be, though, there was no way they could offer a sex change.   Especially at first, the surgery they offered was crude, more a removal than a creation of real function.   The limits of genital reconstruction, even when sympathetically done by another trans woman, are still very real, and real, reproductive function can never be achieved.

For trans men, of course, this kind of surgical legitimacy was always more problematic.   Phalloplasty has very clear limits, so the desire to build good looking and well functioning genitals was just not really even conceptually possible.

Differential diagnosis became the next battleground for legitimacy.   By attempting to find criteria that drew a clear line between real trans people, those who were genuinely entitled to assert a gender not assigned to them at birth, and false trans people, just dilettantes, fetishists and players who were only interested in sensation and deceit we could try and prove our authenticity.

Instead of finding reasons that we were entitled, we strove to find reasons why others should be denied legitimacy.   Many complained about how others were colonizing and usurping legitimate identities leading them to destruction.   This process often went to extremes, with those who could not have genital surgery finding other reasons to attack and destroy “transgender” people as destroying the high ground of “transsexual” legitimacy.

The goal of the process was to find ways to rebuff the world when they denied us legitimacy based on our similarity to other people who also crossed gender lines.   Weren’t we really just a drag queen, a crossdresser, a man-in-a-dress with delusional claims?

The word “really” became our bane as others used it to paint over our truth with their own, simpler and more restrictive heterosexist ideas about sex and gender.  “Really” became the club people used to demolish what we worked so hard to claim in the world, smashing us back down into the cage we were placed in at birth just because of the shape of our crotch.

The choice we had to make was difficult.   Was our job to prove that we were really legitimate by showing how those other people were pretenders & fakers, or was our job to change the criteria for legitimacy itself?   Did we want to have to try and change the world, or was it more important to just change our place in the world the way it is now?   Should the world let in people like us, or did we have to accept and embrace people like them, too?

For me, the line between those two approaches  was the line between group identity and queerness, between moving the walls to benefit our people and transforming the boundaries to affirm individual expression.  Many rejected their own queerness, especially if it got them mixed in with people who they saw as queer, trying instead to redefine normative to include them.

How queer is too queer and how queer is not queer enough has always been the defining question in the group of people who were deemed illegitimate because of their gender variance.   The sissies, the fags, the homos, the butches, the dykes, all those people who couldn’t follow the simple heterosexist plan that people with penises had to be men and fathers while those without had to be women and mothers, and anyone who failed in that obligation should be ashamed of themselves, should be shamed by the neighbourhood.

Do we work to draw a line between legitimate is and illegitimate them, extending identity politics, or do we take a queer approach to legitimacy, affirming the standing of each and every human, finding new ways to validate truth through valuing the content of their character?

The obligation for transpeople to create narratives of absolutes, stories that demand concealment of part of us and rejection of others who are too queer has a high cost.   We are forced to deny and disconnect from some of our truth in order to assert other parts of it.   We were never simply one or the other for the basic reason that nobody, nobody is one or the other.   We are all just human, a bundle of tensions, and not a player in some binary game of us versus them where birth genital status somehow totally defines who we are.

How do we work to assert legitimacy in the world?

We each swim in our own pond.   Working to find a story that is effective for us is important so we can get on with our own work, rather than being saddled with the demand to change everyone’s view.

We still have the opportunity, though, to use our hard won legitimacy to speak for or against the legitimacy of others.  Do we delight in pointing out fails, working to entrench ourselves as one of us and those seen as freaks, challengers or imposters as just one of them, or do we take pride in pointing out connections, working to show continuous common humanity?

Is our legitimacy in how we neatly fit into boxes, cutting off everything that others might use to challenge our standing?   Or is our legitimacy in what we bring to the world, in the kind of complex and beautiful humanity that we reveal through our choices?

Do we look for some seal from an expert, or do we stand on our own two feet?   Should we prove we are one of the chosen by attacking those the group fears, or should we open possibilities by looking to deeper qualifications and values?

Being cast out as illegitimate is very hard.  Working to claim some kind of legitimacy after that is even harder.

The way we choose to assert legitimacy in the world, though, defines who we are, what we believe, and how we can make the wold a better place.

Hero Dammit

It is heroic to stand strong, enter the fire and do the work.

That’s one thing people at the screening liked about Moira from Transparent, the fact that she was working hard to become open, exposed, vulnerable and transparent.   So brave, so powerful.

She is so strong that people can’t really imagine what they can offer her.   Sure, maybe they can take some strength from her, but what do they have to give?

And besides, she is so relentless, so dedicated to finding truth that she is a little bit off putting.   She isn’t so fun to be around anymore, after all, not so easy to just kick back with.

She is, well, really kind of scary.   I mean, it’s one thing for her to commit to getting better — more power to her — but another to use that damn therapy to x-ray other people, trying to hold them accountable or something.

Being heroic may be admirable, but heroic isn’t cozy, cute, accessible or fun.    Heroic is a code for people who stand apart from the mainstream, who have something that normal people just don’t have.

Heroic is, as you might have guessed by now, rather lonely.

One big reason people don’t do the work to heal is because they don’t want to be separated from their buddies, their friends, their community who aren’t ready to change and grow.    We know that moving beyond our peers requires either finding new peers or being lonely.

We know that there are few people who meet a hero and say “You are fascinating.   I need to know more about you, need to buy you another drink!”

Heroes — those people who take the hero’s journey — just aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Every hero comes back with a new and enlightened vision, a different way of seeing that challenges the traditional.    That truth is built into the archetype that Joseph Campbell found throughout human myth.

This leaves many people wanting to pay lip service to heroes while they work to discredit. co-opt and silence them.   The status quo is working quite well for many people.   If it wasn’t, change would be happening.

For example, many lesbian, gay and transgender people are really happy with binary visions of the world because they use identity politics to consolidate group support.  They resist embracing queer, individual empowerment as it threatens their claims of entitlement and erodes institutional power .  The heroes they need are the ones who are going to enhance organizational power, not the ones who would challenge it.

In the world of the mass, heroes who take an individual path of bold choices are an aberration that we can honour while still staying safe in our social norms.   They prove the triumph of the human spirit in a way that takes us off the hook for actually having to be personally brave. Instead, we just need to applaud and admire them as separate, unique, weird people.

To be seen as a hero is to be put on a pedestal, admired yes, but somehow held as essentially different.  It may be surprising to think that one of the most challenging bits of being a hero isn’t facing the demon but rather being brave enough to walk out of the comfort of just being one of the crowd, but it is true.

Heroes are best in retrospect when their sharp human edges are gone and they can just be used in comforting stories.  By then the change has happened and they look like kindly wise old people and not the challenging, cutting figures they were in life.

It is heroic to stand strong, enter the fire and do the work.   It is the right thing to do.

It is also a lonely making thing to do.   “What makes you exceptional, if you are, is also the thing that makes you lonely,” as Lorraine Hansbury said of James Baldwin.

You don’t become a hero to make friends.   You become a hero because you seek enlightenment as a man whose hair is on fire seeks water. You just have to do it.

And that means I feel deeply for Moira and all like her.

Empath’s Dilemma

When you create intimacy very quickly and very deeply, in a way that other people can’t possibly reciprocate, what does that cost you?

Penn Gillette talks of a TV segment they did with a then girlfriend of his who was a great improv performer who learned to do “cold reading,” a technique used by psychics which lets you create an emotional connection with another person and mirror back to them in a way that feels spooky and mystical.

I remember the first time someone tried it on me.  I was in junior high and spending time at a monastery.   A fellow talked to me and then told me he was going to read me.

“Wow!” was my reaction.  “You got all that from just what I said to you!” thinking it was cool to listen that hard.

He was let down, wanting to be seen as magical.   “You are also very smart,” he told me.

While I have never tried to pass my power off as psychic, people have often been amazed and mystified when read them.   As Gillette says in the clip  “What you learn from cold reading is that we don’t listen to each other.”   Just listening close feels like magic to many.

To make the TV show, they had this woman sit with twenty different people over the course of two days, listening close and then pretending to connect them with the spirit world.  They were all astounded, feeling magic and power, at least until she took them aside and told them that they were being tricked, that there were no mystical forces invoked at all.

For her, though, the experience was draining and upsetting.   It was like having twenty intimate relationships and twenty breakups in two days, according to Gillette. It really messed with her head for a month or two afterwards.

If you are an empathic person, this uneven intimacy is always a challenge.   You enter into a deep relationship with others quickly, reading them so fast that you are swept into their emotions, but they never really reciprocate, listening to you deeply and feeling who you are.

Part of this empathy is who we are, a very femme trait which seems rooted in the maternal need to enter into the world of the children and others we care about, to help them find ways to express and manage their feelings.

This trait gets magnified in different ways, one of which is being forced to live with other people who have trouble regulating their own emotions.  We quickly understand that our safety comes from entering the emotions of the big scary people around us, from understanding their world so we can avoid stirring them and know how to redirect them when they threaten to attack us.

Emotional enmeshment, caring more about other people’s emotions than our own is a component of codependency, unhealthy relationships that share sickness rather than foster healing.

Losing yourself in the sweep of other peoples emotions is very easy for an empath.   It is a kind of service and surrender that can feel good, creating connections that bond and ground you.   Finding a way to not lose yourself in love is a challenge for most feminine hearts which melt at dream of surrender even in the face of rational knowledge that we are going to have to own our own life.

Learning to stop reading and understanding others, to not enter their worlds, learning to wall off our heart isn’t a great solution.   That separates us from a great deal of our power and happiness.

Being strong in the face of rapid and unequal intimacy, though, will always demand focus and always leave the empath feeling a little bit lonely.

Trans Visible

Trans visibility was the topic last night, but then again, when isn’t that the topic?

For people whose trans hearts have been shamed, marginalized, stigmatized and pounded into the closet, visibility is always the issue.   How do we want to see ourselves reflected in the world, how much do we want to keep hidden? How exposed and vulnerable are we willing to be?

Two producers from the Golden Globe winning “Transparent” were in town last night to talk at a local university.   Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst are celebrated trans artists who helped create a visible trans world in the series, from the iconic title sequence to casting over 100 transpeople, 15 with speaking parts.

I knew walking in that there would be very limited trans visibility in the theatre, my expectations affirmed by an MC who seemed to define transgender as a sexual orientation, rather than understanding sexual orientation as a component of gender identity.   He just didn’t have the words or concepts to talk about transgender in the world.

This is the one of the same challenges that Jill Soloway faced as she wanted to tell a story inspired by her own parent coming out as trans.   The blast wave around transgender emergence, as the walls hiding secrets begin to fall and deeper truths are revealed is at the heart of Transparent, as a family feels conventions and expectations crack away and they are forced to do the work of seeing the world in a more open, more responsible and more queer way.

As transpeople, every media representation of who we are is a sensitive issue.   We know that they set the expectations of the wider world about who we are and who we should be, know that they set the tone for the conversation.   Humans use shared analogies to communicate, which is why purging the world of visible trans models was such an effective way to erase and silence transpeople.   What there are no words, symbols or images for is very, very hard to communicate.

We know immediately when we don’t see ourselves reflected on screen in the way we want   So much of coming to a trans identity is less about knowing who we are and is more about knowing who we are not; not a transwoman, not a drag queen, not a crossdresser, not a man and so on.   Wrong is easy to see, but right is much more complicated, especially because when we the reflection is too right it can make us squirm.

How do we find images that we can point to with pride, that we can recommend to our family and friends as useful to understand if they want to know more about our life, our views, our world?  How do we trust that images are not just cheap, sensational, exploitative and appalling?

Getting to truth is a key part of the transgender journey.  It isn’t primarily the truth of words, rather it is emotional truth, the truth of the heart.   It is this kind of truth that Rhys and Zackary deliver to Transparent, drawing from their art, but it is this kind of truth that can be so easily erased in an academic discussion abut transgender.

The power of trans is in desire, in Eros, in the heart, but that power is so very hard to show as legitimate in the world.   We search for words, concepts, images that help us justify the choices we make from our inner knowledge.

So often that means trying to use the concepts of binary gender to justify and rationalize our choices: I was never that, but now I am this.  Identity, though, is always about the tension of a matrix, how all the points that make up who we are, from class and cultural history to deep desires create a unique pattern that is us.

So much of who we are, of what makes us special is inside of us.   How much of this do we choose to show in the world and how much stays in our own inner narrative?  It is easy to look at transpeople and see their surface, which they have worked hard to make attractive and blendable, even as we know that the way we see the world is so very different to other people who haven’t had to walk through cultural walls to claim their own heart.

Doing the work to claim what makes us unique in the face of social pressures is always heroic.    Facing addiction, trauma or other internalized challenges as we struggle to find healing and a more integrated and authentic way of life is compelling.   It was this determination to do the work and reveal herself that puts the character of  Moira at the heart of Transparent.

It is also this determination that makes her so much of a change agent, a shit-stirrer, a disruptive force in a family that has pigeonholed her as “Dad.” If you do change right,  with power and vulnerability, you can warp the way people see the world and who they are in it.

For me, last night was a moment where I chose to be visible because I knew that there were people in that room who were open to the possibility of seeing the world in a different way.   I knew that there were artists there who are playing the long game, striving to create not only new images but more importantly to empower transpeople with the training and connections to make many more compelling images in the future.

I wasn’t sure that I was going to speak up last night.  While I am glad I did, I know that when I walked out of the building that I became invisible again, alone in a world where smart, crisp thinking about freer and more empowered ways to be in the world is less valued than most other measures of success, from money to appropriate relationships.    The queer power of seeing into individual hearts recedes into suburban convention.

Our visibility is such a fleeting and momentary thing.   We do the work to create a spark, but without others doing the work to see those sparks, to value and be tinder for them, our flame often stays just an ember inside of us.

One step at a time we expand the range of what people can see as trans, learning that if we want to be seen and valued we must learn to see and value the contents of other queer hearts.   Zackary and Rhys brought that value to an important media project and they brought it to a university last night.   A little more visibility was offered.

The work of making nature past binary convention visible has to be done in in a shared way, some standing and showing, some standing and seeing, together building an expanded range of beauty for all of us.

One small step at a time.