Own Good

People really do want to help.   They want to reach out and ease other people’s problems by offering solutions that will reduce distress and increase success.

Their suggestions are most often based on strategies that have worked for them in the past, just ramped up to address the problems.   A good solution, they regularly assume, is good, and if it isn’t working now, then all you need to do is to turn the volume up, to eleven or even more.

It’s a natural human response to try solutions that have worked in the past, just amplifying and extending them to meet the current need.   More power, more kick, lots more wham and a bigger hammer should be able to fix it.

This response is why the seeds of our next failure are usually in our last success.   The instinct to push the tried until it fails, often spectacularly, is just built into human arrogance.

We imagine that more is always better, that the same approach will work.

I just saw a crossdresser who hates having to lie and live in at least part time hiding say that living full time as a woman will erase the curse they live under.  Sure, they will have challenges, but they will be the challenges of a woman, and so will be easy to manage and fulfilling to solve.   Their imagined life is much better than their current real life, but real life always contains challenging surprises we never ever engaged in our dreamy fantasies.

It’s always easier to address other people’s problems than to address our own.  We can see their problems as the simple, structural problems they are, while our problems are redolent with nuance, emotion and details.

All we have to do is pop other people into making the hard choices we know they need to make.    They just need more intensity, more discipline, more denial, more focus, more compartmentalization, more real work and less damn whining.

We are sure that we know what is best for them, if only they will take it on board and do what we tell them to do.   We have a fine solution all sketched out, clean and simple, that they just need to impose on their own mess.

For their own good, we just need to force them into doing what we are sure is the right thing.   Sure, they might resist some, they might feel some discomfort, but we are just helping they do the right thing, even if they don’t see that at first.

We need to hurt them to help them.   They can thank us for it later.   They need to wake up and smell the coffee, dropping their old ideas, pulling on their big girl panties and learning to take it like a man.   Once they toughen up and learn to keep their feelings out of it, just doing what must be done, then they can go out and succeed the way that we did.

Good intentions are behind almost every action humans take.   The few suffer so the majority will benefit.   We eliminate suppressive forces to make the world a better place, moving to achieve the goals we know are blessed and proper.

I know that the reason people have always tried to hurt me is because they believe it is for my own good.   I bring on my own abuse, by this reasoning, just because I resist complying with the conventional wisdom others work so hard to impart to me.    If I would just get what they are so lovingly saying through my thick skull, they wouldn’t have to bang the damn lessons into me so hard.

Smarten up and the hurt ends, they tell me.    The most important thing I can do is to make them not see me suffer, to do what makes them comfortable, and so is must be right thing to force me into doing.

They erase and abuse me out of love, you see.  It’s really hard to get angry over people who are just doing the best that they can, even when they think that means hurting me until I comply with their selected solutions, for my own good, of course.

Parents have always tried to force kids onto the straight and narrow and always for the child’s own good.   Sure the parents don’t want to be seen as indulgent and weak, want to keep their standing by being the kind of good parents who help their children follow good, conventional moral rules, but they feel good because they know they are doing it for their kids, hurting them to help them.   They will be very happy to assure you that they only have the very best intentions, only come from love.

You want to hurt me.   I know.

You want to do it for my own good.   I know.

But your solutions, imposed one that mirror your approaches, don’t really have me present.     And I know that, too.

Mouth Spells

A shut mouth casts no spells.

Unless you are absurdly beautiful, it is impossible to charm and connect with other people by staying silent.

An open mouth reveals who you are.

One of the first things it reveals is how present you are. Are you aware of the people and situation around you?   Are you considerate and engaged, or are you playing out your own drama?   Do you listen & consider before speaking, or do you just project your own worldview, offering your knee-jerk reactions?

I know how to keep my mouth shut.   I am the observer, collecting bits of the world and returning to capture it in writing, threading those artifacts into some kind of context and understanding.   This is how I reveal myself, quietly, without direct conflict.

In a dangerous world, like the unstable one my mother created, there was no safety in speaking.   Spells had to be cast with fixed deliberation, with the reserve and deference of a concierge, always considered and modulated.    My goal was control, manipulating my expression to try and push people to get what I wanted.

My guerrilla training was clear.   Unless you were quite certain you could be effective, offering something useful, you keep your mouth shut.   Sharing your own feelings was just indulgent crap, and confronting others was just horrible manners that proved you weren’t worthy of being in polite company.  We don’t draw attention to ourselves that way.

I listen much more than I speak.   Interviewing others is second nature to me, as I proved on my TV shows.   I use that skill in everyday life, for example keeping my niece awake as she drove back from the amusement park by interviewing her.   She didn’t understand what I was doing — it is not done in her family — but she knew that she really, really liked being asked smart questions about herself.

As I woke up from my dreams this morning, though, a message was clear: A shut mouth casts no spells.

If I need magic — the magic of connection, of love —  then I need to be able to cast my spells.   A shut mouth casts no spells.

In the experience of trans women, those of us who have gone through puberty as a male but know ourselves to have womanly, feminine hearts, voice is a huge deal.   We are never going to move back to tinkling sweetness.   We know that our voice can out us very quickly.

The astounding thing about my coming out weekend was the fact that two judges loved my voice.  Sure it was great to contribute my smarts to success, great to feel some support, but I was blown away by their comments that my voice was compelling and engaging.

My biggest failures in the world are where I choose to stay invisible by choosing not to speak.  I doubt my voice, doubt my contribution, doubt my connection, doubt my acceptability.   I keep myself locked away and then feel disconnected and isolated.

I’m not wrong.   Speaking up does expose me, making me vulnerable, opening me to attack or shaming.   It does, however expose me, making me vulnerable and allowing me to cast my spell, opening me to compassion and love.

A shut mouth casts no spells.   It leaves your magic locked within, withering on the vine.  Our voice contains so much of our power, from the symbols we choose to the curls of our vocal expression, conveying part of us into the hearts and minds of other people.

The purpose of stigma in the world is to shut the mouths of those who might challenge the status quo.   By removing their standing to speak, calling them weak, defective or corrupt, you try to remove their power to cast spells that might change the hearts and minds of those who you plan to control.

When we surrender our voices in an attempt to play along, to keep other people comfortable, to keep our heads down, we also surrender the magic we have to charm and convince other people, swaying them by showing our sharp minds, our warm hearts and our continuous common humanity.

I know why I learned to keep my mouth shut, why I fear revealing too much, but I also know why that approach limits and hurts me.  Speaking quietly and nicely in my own corner, in a neglected spot on the internet, may make me somewhat less threatening, but it also makes me invisible.

My eyes show that I am always looking and thinking.  My mouth needs to put that observation in context, revealing my heart.   And my view of the world makes much more sense if you see me as a woman.

A shut mouth casts no spells.

If I need magic, well, then I have to be more easy about simply opening my mouth and letting my heart out.

Seeing Hearts

“I don’t think think that there is such a thing as a crossdresser,” ShamanGal said to me.

She had just spent the evening at Hamburger Mary’s playing big sister to a transwoman from out of town, one who lives as a married man, waiting for his 15 and 13 year old kids to go to college before thinking of emerging as transgender.

It was clear to SG that this person had a very feminine heart and that trying to be the man just wasn’t working for them, as hard as they tried.

Trans expression is always a sign of trans meaning, as I say.   Trans on the outside, trans on the inside.

“That’s something I had trouble accepting,” says TBB.   “I really wanted trans to be a hobby, just something I did for fun.   It wasn’t about who I was inside.   Then I started hearing the old Jim Bridges joke ‘What’s the difference between a straight crossdresser and a gay crossdresser?  Three drinks!‘ and “What’s the difference between a transvestite and a transsexual?   Three years!‘ and I started to get the point.   It was probably when I emerged as full time, had my own surgery and ran a recovery house for other transsexuals that I really understood the depth of my own trans nature.”

There are so many reasons to resist, deny and compartmentalize transgender desire, working to write it off as just something that we can keep in a box while we stay normative in the world.

We keep striving to get the gifts we were promised if we just play small, the rewards for playing along, the promised happiness that is supposed to come with striving to be just like everyone else.   We follow the rules at a high cost, waiting for the perfect joy, but somehow it just doesn’t come.

Deciding to give up on that determined and dogged self-denial is a very hard thing.

We have put so much energy into squeezing the trans out of our hearts that to declare that effort misguided and destructive means we have to face our own choices as being foolish and damaging.

Beyond that, the beliefs we have used to stay small, the notion that trying to live as a woman with a transgender history in the world would destroy us, leaving is broken and cast off as a pervert without self-control, not worthy of human dignity and respect still exist in our head.   We have well internalized the shame of giving into our sick transgender hearts, of indulging our Eros, so we cannot imagine that our lives will ever be good, let alone better, if we surrender to the nature our creator put inside of us.

When SG talked to that self-identified heterosexual crossdresser at the club last night, though, she saw the woman trapped inside.  SG wanted to share the lessons she has learned, wanted to keep the gift by giving it away.

Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body, but transgender is about changing your mind, unlocking the choices that honour, reveal and even celebrate your heart.    It is about saying yes to who you know yourself to be, letting go of your assigned cultural role to embrace one that better fits your nature.

That’s what SG told this gal.  She didn’t need to resist and to compartmentalize, didn’t need to say “no” to her heart, hoping that with just more hard work her hope for becoming a normative guy in a good marriage will come true.

No, trans is not just about clothes or hormones, as so many want to believe

Instead, trans emergence is about saying “Yes” to your heart, just the way that SG is learning to do after so many decades of denial and shame.

Yes, there is beauty and grace beyond denial, resistance and compartmentalization.

Yes, the transgender process of changing your mind can help you build a new life that fits much better, a new life that empowers you in ways that you cannot yet imagine.

Yes, if I can see your feminine heart, other people will be able to see and feel it, too.

SG met a crossdresser and saw a tender, trapped trans heart.   Like any shaman, SG saw through the illusory walls to the energy beneath and wanted to see it flow, see it grow, see it be released and blossom.

The gal lapped up the message SG was sending, trying to find ways to get more of it.   Lots of text messages, plans for another trip, whatever.

We all need other people to see our heart, to say yes, being ourselves can lead to success and happiness in the world.   A therapist is just someone who sees what we do not yet see in ourselves, someone who gives us courage to emerge more, revealing our powerful, vulnerable, open heart.

Crossdressers do exist.  They are transpeople with a feminine heart that they keep very well compartmentalized in order to respect and honour their role in the family, so they can stay committed father and husband to people who they love.   They are usually not ready to claim their own heart, usually need to feel good and virtuous about how they put their nature on hold to do the “right thing” for their family.

But can others see their heart even if they have to keep it in the shadows?   Yes.   We may respect their principled choice to serve family over self, but we also know that the more they engage and own their own feelings, the more open, present and valuable they can be for those that they love.

Trans emergence is about saying “Yes” to your heart, even after so many decades of denial and shame.

Yes, there is beauty and grace beyond denial, resistance and compartmentalization.

Yes, the transgender process of changing your mind can help you build a new life that fits much better, a new life that empowers you in ways that you cannot yet imagine.

Yes, if  anyone can see your feminine heart, other people are able to see and feel it, too.

So learn to trust it rather than just trying to wall it off, to hide it away.

Because whatever role we try to play in the world, trans hearts, well, they are very, very real.   And very, very beautiful, too.

On The Gifts Of Transgender

Some correspondence:

I hear that you are looking for anecdotes and examples of the gifts that come with a trans nature.

Here is a piece I wrote in 1994, which I wrote because I needed to hear someone say it out loud:

http://callan.transpractice.com/text/rainbow.html

Here is a piece from 2006:

https://callan.wordpress.com/2006/06/09/wh/

For me, the benefits of a trans heart are in being connective tissue in the human community, the flexible bits who, as my mission statement goes “remind us of our continuous common humanity.”

It was an anthropologist who said that out loud, and it is the role of the shaman in many human cultures that informs my view of how transpeople have always offered benefits to the tribe.

Loved hearing this paper presented: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nlmcatalog/100915830  Here is me talking about it in 1998: http://callan.transpractice.com/trans-theory/1998-05/0093.html

I hope you find what you are looking for. The speaking of trans power to a society not ready to hear it is a real challenge, but I have always found it worth the effort.

playing devil's advocate for a moment....do we bring anything unique to society....anything that say gays, lesbians or conscientious objectors do not bring? They all bring challenges too to the status quo...ok, our challenge is around the binary nature of gender....but other than that, what do we have to say that is unique?

The question for me is “Who are we?” What is our essential grouping?While I understand that gay people would like to see transgender as a kind of sexual orientation, that misses the point.

Same gender love is rather a kind of gender difference.

In the classic binary gender model, men love women and women love men so anything different than that is breaking gender rules.

In the gay and lesbian community this has lead to a great deal of gender policing, enforcing norms, so that they can stay gay and still be identified as men or women. They do not want any sense of gender variance to deny them gender normativity, so they sell themselves as the same as any other couple on the block, normative as hell, the only difference being that they like a bit of sodomy on Saturday night.

Of course, many transpeople also strive to identify as normative, be they heterosexual crossdressers who just dress for fun or transsexual women who were always women and just had a little birth defect fixed up.

I wrote about this in 1999: http://callan.transpractice.com/text/GIAD.html

For me, the unique gift of transgender is embodied in the gift of queer, of claiming individuality across conventional borders. Transpeople who choose to reject that gift reject any special gift that they bring to the world, instead trying to be just one of the crowd.

The unique gift is in embodying queerness, that kind of connection and transcendence of the conventional.

At least that’s all I have been able to find.

If we had a good friend who was the father of a 17 year old boy who had decided to become a girl, what would you say to him that would help ease his pain/disappointment etc. I doubt if we would talk about the Trandgedered GIft (if such a thing exists).....I think he would be hard pushed to see it as anything more than a curse.

f you see no benefit, you see no benefit. Does that mean that there isn’t one, or does it reflect more on the conventional viewpoint which you hold?

To me, the power of queer is not just about gender but about empowerment past many conventions. It is claiming power on a spiritual level.

If you don’t see that power as valuable, or you see the cost of walking away from conventional success to so high as to be not worth the effort, then you won’t see any benefit.

Your hypothetical question contains many such internal assumptions that work to sabotage any positive answer.

First, you talk about “a boy who has decided to become a girl.” Why not ask about a male child who knows their nature to be feminine and feels a compelling need to express that nature in the world by making the choices of a woman?

What is a boy? Is it a male child, or someone who inhabits the gender role of a young man?

Does he decide to “be a girl” or do they decide to act from a deep inner knowledge rather than to fight that nature and continue to try and portray the compulsory gender role assigned to their genitalia as “young man?”

How many parents are heartbroken when a child doesn’t follow the path that the parents expect? What if the child decided not to be a plumber as Dad wanted, or not to play sports like Dad, or even decided to follow their heart and date other men rather than the women their parents see as the only “Biblical” choice?

To assess the child’s decision to break out of gendered expectations only in the light of a parent’s fear, disappointment and heartbreak that the child didn’t follow comfortable, normative expectations is to ignore the real person who has to live with the imposed gender expectations: the child.

When the child decides to claim their own heart and express themselves in the gender that is not conventional for their reproductive sex, I can only see them as working to empower themselves, using their energy to become present in the world, rather than burning energy in trying to create a socially expected facade to hide behind. I hope that they can explore their own love and presence in the world rather than having to hide in the closet, possibly coming out years later, destroying a marriage and family, causing themselves psychological harm, and losing the energy and exuberance of youth.

I have worked with many families in PFLAG to help them let go of their fears and expectations around their children, trying to reveal the wisdom that kids will always break your heart and shatter your dreams for them, but that when you support their own deep dreams for themselves, they can reward you with unimagined delights.

And yes, I have been in a PFLAG meeting where the moderator announced that it could be worse, her gay son could be trans, and other women in the room, knowing who I am, waited for the revelation.

There have been cultures where two-spirit people were seen as a connection between this world and the spirit world, where we were valued in bringing gifts to the tribe. That doesn’t happen in heterosexist cultures, though, especially paternalistic ones that devalue the feminine.

The gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are, as Joseph Campbell said. To have to lock that self away always has a cost, even if that cost is invisible to a society that can’t imagine anything other than male/man-female/woman split, or that gift is invisible to someone who has been fighting to stay fixed in their assigned gender role for a long, long time.

If getting the gifts of transgender will shake your worldview and force you to question the denial and choices you have made for a lifetime, then no, those gifts may well stay invisible to you. The conventional must be venerated,

For me, the curse is people trapped in using their life force to hide rather than blossom.

But that’s just me.

Some cultures may value the tooth fairy; does that make them holy?

Much of your writing can be ignored as simply playing with semantics. 

You have not enumerated any gifts that are trans specific.

Your basic point is true.

Trans is just another form of human expression, one that has been seen across cultures and history, and as such is not completely different from any other form of human expression.

“Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” as Terence said. I am human, and nothing human is foreign to me. There is only one human nature and we all share it.

As to benefits to tribes of gynemimetic shamans, I refer you to the Dragoin article I offered in my first note. He is very specific.

I find line by line retorts less than effective at creating discussion. Any father who rejects the expression of their child as just meaning what the father thinks it means, dismissing difference as semantic, is not open to real engagement.

You are correct. Trans is just another way humans are and always have been, and as such, there is nothing distinct and unique that only trans can bring to the human community.

Is your point proven now?

Unburden

Twenty years ago, somebody gave a speech that said “Transgender is about pure transformation, or it is about nothing at all.

Pure transformation is very, very hard in a world that likes to keep us stuck in a box they find comforting.   We end up staying fixed in place to support the people we love.

But I still believe.   Transgender is about pure transformation or it is about nothing at all.   Unless we can move beyond, we are stuck.

Rebirth requires release.

If you want to be reborn without letting go of what you cling to, you will just end up following the same old patterns, making the same old choices, running into the same old frustrations, feeling the same old pain and the same old blocks.

Unburdening is required before transformation, for maybe more than anything else, the burdens we end up carrying shape our presence in the world.

Maturing requires we curate our burdens, choosing which we hold on to and which we release.     We transfer what we can to others, knowing that we cannot take them with us, that we need to leave them in this world.

I have been the recipient of what my parents have left behind and like the good caretaker they needed me to be, I carry those burdens.

Now, though, is my time for transformation if ever there was one.  Carrying those weights is too much; I need to let some go, throwing them in the trash.  I know that there is no way to become new while being burdened by the past.

I deserve some beauty in my life, or so I have been told.   I can only have that beauty by making room for it, clearing the way for new possibilities, new delights and new choices.

When I share my thoughts, other women tend to find value in them.  I have something to offer.

I am not my history.  I am not what other people think of me or have thought of me.   Sure, my past is threaded through me — you cannot out run your story — but that doesn’t mean it has to define and limit my future.   Transgender is about pure transformation or it is about nothing at all.

Until I can move beyond my own scars, those memories of how I was hurt, of how I was shamed and silenced into invisibility, I am stuck.

andnowfuckmysistershowedupandisforcingmetogotodennyswithclownevenafter itriedlockingallthedoorskillmekillmekillmekillme

Enjoy Yourself

In my family, struggling was the norm.  Discipline was required.  Enjoyment was not really approved.  While I worked hard to give my parents “one more good day,” their enjoyment was always bounded by their Aspergers.

My sister recently sent me a video of goats balancing on a sheet steel arch.

Her note was heartbreaking.

Ahh, to have energy and curiosity to just play!

She suffers with physical pains, with stress and challenges.  Being forced to live in her pocket for the last two and 1/4 years has been very repressing.

There is a reason we need to harness the exuberance of youth where novelty is enough to enjoy.   As you get older, “been there, done that, ate the t-shirt” sets in.  When we can read situations well at a glance, there is a strong disincentive to just take a shot and see if this one will come out differently.

There are a lot of things not to enjoy about being an aging transwoman in this society.   Waiting for the third gotcha, having a tiny PPP, being with very limited community support, and so on can really be wearing on a soul.   Add to that a community expectation of buying into the abjection model, revering oppression over joy, and things get very, very challenging.

This separation between those who enjoy a trans life and those who are suppressed by the seriousness of it is not a new thing.

At IFGE 1998 in Toronto, TBB and I started our hosting of the Virginia Prince Lifetime Achievement Awards with a fight.   I was a transsexual whose consciousness raising group agreed that there was nothing fun, funny or enjoyable about being a woman in the world, leading me to hang up my Drama Queen title, while TBB was a fun loving crossdresser who just wanted to party and enjoy life.   She wanted me to loosen up and be funny and I resisted, refusing to betray those who were still suffering in the world.

That same tension exists today, seventeen years later.

TBB is thinking about marching in the first Space Coast Pride Parade this September and wondered what to wear. I suggested a slogan t-shirt — always good for Pride — or even her merchant marine uniform, to show her responsible role.

Neither of those interested TBB.   She wants big hair, something bright and sparkly.   She spends enough time being appropriate, gender neutral and sweaty on the ship where she loves what she does but has to play small to fit in.   For Pride, the bigger and bolder the better.   Playful and free to be is the kind of joy she wants to claim at Pride, all the better to hold on to as she goes back to the denim and t-shirt world of naval life.

Living an attenuated, modulated life, self policed to be appropriate is just not very enjoyable.   But even TBB, more of a ham than I, someone who enjoys being a bit of a parade float, knows that without a mob to join, an audience and other cast mates, being big can just feel exposed and silly.

When people ask me to imagine what I might enjoy, what might restore energy and flavour to life, I balk.  If  I saw something I would enjoy, I would try for it, but I know that the one thing I can never do is recapture lost opportunities.

What I would enjoy, though, is feeling safe enough to reveal myself, to let loose and play in a place where other people come along with me, getting the joke.  I enjoy smart, challenging and witty.  I do enjoy crafting good writing, but without engagement or affirmation, it is barely enough.

TBB was very clear to me.  “You will never get the kind of feminine affirmation that you need in this world.  You are in the whirlpool and while you are a very strong swimmer, if you don’t find a way to change your mindset, to change direction and go at ninety degrees to the current, you are going down that drain.”   She seems to think that somehow, Boston has a chance of saving me.

I don’ enjoy feeling beat up with no hope of rescue.   I don’t enjoy the idea that the only way I can get what I need is to struggle harder, deny more, be more of what they are comfortable with.

Where are the wins?  What is there that I enjoy? Feeling unsafe in the world doesn’t open much room for enjoyment.  Without enjoyment, finding a good reason to bound out of bed is very hard.    Getting nourished and replenished is almost impossible.   It becomes time to simply surrender to the whirlpool.

Enjoying yourself is easier said than done when you live in an empty box, staying small to stay appropriate, without community or understanding.   There is no one to share the little things with, no one to encourage moving beyond convention.

Yet somehow, I just imagine TBB taking some time away from building her new plane to sing with Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians:

 

Eating Our Feelings

When you become a grown-up, you learn that it is important you not be controlled by your feelings.   You need to keep those feelings in context and get on with the job at hand, using your own discipline to not become a leaky, drippy mess.

That doesn’t mean the feelings go away, of course.  It just means that we have to not let them out in inappropriate ways, in ways that confuse and put off other people.   We need to put our work and relationships first and our feelings somewhere down the line?

How do we end up handling those deeply internalized feelings?  How do we process them, engage them, use them to grow and let them inform our lives?

Many people go to family, but transpeople almost always have a very different experience than any family members.   They don’t understand our choices, our feelings or our experience in the world, and may very well resist, deny and attack us.

If we were in recovery, we might go to a meeting or call a sponsor, someone who has learned to be receptive and kind with feelings.   They would help us process, first letting them out, then trying to remove the ego — you are never upset about what you think you are upset about — and show the connections & patterns.   After that, they would help us with next steps, ways we can understand and manage the feelings in the future.

In recovery, we would have a community that has a clue about our experience, a community that has rules and traditions about sharing and helping.

Transpeople don’t have that kind of community, though.  Instead, we have a lot of people who don’t understand the transgender experience or people who are so involved in their own expression, so fighting internalized oppression  that they find it easy to tell us how we are wrong, stupid and selfish.

The transgender experience is boldly individual.   We don’t emerge as trans to assimilate into a group, rather we come out to be intensely ourselves.

We understand our continuing obligation to moderate our own choices, never quite able to get away from the “third gotcha,” people who see us as at best “warrant women,” and not entitled to the full range of woman expression.

That makes a transgender life very lonely, as the tagline to to this blog has announced for almost a decade now.    Transgender does not come with family ir community support.   It doesn’t even come, as gay and lesbian lives do, with lovers and ex-lovers who are inhabiting similar spaces and experiencing similar challenges.   Building family isn’t as easy.

How do we engage our emotions?   Like people who write on bathroom walls, I tend to roll my shit in little balls but dried emotion, spoken in monologue, isn’t the most satisfying way to process feelings.

Most of the time, we end up eating our own feelings, chewing them down and internalizing them.   After all, that is the habit we had to learn to stay in the closet for however long that we did.

Often we mix them with a bit of ice cream or lasagne to add some comfort to the process.  We learn to become a closed system because we have learned how difficult it is to be open about the challenges of a transgender life.

If we are not going to be positive and affirming of our trans choices, who is?   Learning to show that we are happy and healthy is one of the first parts of navigating the fears of others around transgender expression.

When first coming out, bathed in the release of what we have hidden for so long, that may be easy.

When you first come out as a transgendered person, you spend your first year in absolute euphoria. Then reality sets in, and you have to make a life and deal with the stigma.
— Joan Roughgarden, New York Times, 2004

For those of us who didn’t come out as teenagers, we end up having to dig out lots of feelings we kept in the closet.   The only way out of hell is through, having to engage and process the feelings which have crippled and bound us as we have tried to avoid the discomfort of actually feeling them.

When we know that we can’t expect our cross-gender truth to be affirmed, let alone celebrated, instead having it just tolerated, we learn to keep those feelings inside,

Deep feelings keep coming up for us, not just those triggered by our own experiences, but also feelings around the experiences of others who share their stories with us, individually or in the media.    How can we be present for them when we don’t even have the wherewithal to be present for ourselves?

Finding ways to feel our feelings, not just swallow them, is at the heart of a healthy life.  If we don’t engage them, they keep us from opening our heart to others whose feelings surface and need our touch.

In a world, though, where transgender feelings are so far from understood, where there is no network, audience or community to provide safe and affirming space, we are challenged to eat our feelings to stay standing up in the world.

So, would you like a nice side of fries with those emotions?

First, You Listen

First, you listen.

There is nothing more important than listening.   People are trying to tell you what they know, what they feel, what they need, but to understand what they are telling you, you have to listen.

It’s easy to want to shortcut the listening part.   Listening, really listening is hard.   It takes time and it takes effort, because to do it well you have understand what the meaning is behind the message.   People use all sorts of cues and symbols to convey their meaning and what you think they mean isn’t the point.

Listening demands moving beyond your fears and expectations to really be present for another person.  If all you can offer is what you carry with you in your life rather than engaging their needs, their fears, their desires, where they are, then you demand that they come into your world rather than entering theirs.

Next, you mirror.

Just listening is never enough.    Nobody will listen to you until they believe that you have heard them.    Echoing back what you hear with empathy and understanding sets the basis for deeper communication.

It is best if you can bring in your wider understanding of their position, taking what you have heard in the past from them and adding it to what they share today.     The richer and more detailed you can be in mirroring their world, the more they know you are committed to understanding and caring for them as an individual.

The best kind of comment is always when you reflect two (or more) different things that they say to you and show the dissonance between them.   When people see the gaps and twists in their thinking reflected not in the judgment of another person but rather in their own words, they have to take notice.

By reflecting what they share, you help them understand, organize and own their own story, revealing the threads, priorities and challenges that shape their choices and define their lives.  You help them rewrite their life.

Then you encourage.

Affirming where people are doing well, creating successes, and making progress is at the heart of long lasting change.   Expanding the good is always more effective than fighting the bad.    You can’t chase out darkness, but you can widen the light.

Everyone needs encouragement, needs the courage to move past their habits & blocks and embrace new ways of being in the world.   Change is hard.

You can never go amiss telling people where they are brilliant, gorgeous or compelling.   Never.

After encouragement comes laughter.

Laughter is always good, of course, being the only real social lubricant, but it is especially important at this stage.   After they feel heard, reflected and encouraged, the hard work starts.   Getting loose for this part helps everyone,

Laughter helps the knife slip in more easily, the blade that cuts between rationalization and truth, between strength and ego.

Those moments with the scalpel have to be fleeting.   If there is resistance, you have to pull back immediately.    Creating defensive reactions serves no one, instead just toughening the armour.

By being sure that people know you are engaged, caring, listening, aware of their tender spots, you can also be sure that people will respect the tiny cuts you make.   They will go off and consider them, go and look at their own worldview, seeing if the cuts you suggested really make sense.

It is only when they decide to let go of something that isn’t serving them that they will release it.   You battering them more about it does not help them find a new balance.

People heal in their own way and in their own time.   This includes you.   You can never fix or heal someone else, instead you can only listen, reflect, engage, illuminate, and reveal.   After that, it is up to other people to do their own work on their own schedule, taking their own sweet time to come out from behind defences and become more open hearted.

Supporting the pain of acknowledgement, of finding the wisdom, power and serenity that are required to engage transformation a key part of the gifts we give to others, of the gift we give to ourselves.    Doing the work of letting go and becoming new is fuck all hard so being tender and kind while that work is happening is the best way to keep things moving forward.

It is hard to see where we need change even while it is often easy for us to see where others need change.   That is why it is so important for us to listen to our advice to others, using it to reveal ourselves, too.

Trying too hard to change others, slashing too deeply, pushing too hard, getting too frustrated is a sign that we need healing.   We externalize our own feelings, working to ease our own pain by demanding others “fix” the things that irritate us.   When we can’t be with our own feelings, can’t bear with our own hurt, we try to demand that others impose the same strategies we use on their life, trying to silence them rather than being with them.

Pain is always a sign that healing is required, so our irritation is always about us and our feelings and not about the target we act out towards.    Demanding that others change, altering the world to make us more comfortable and less required to engage our own heartache, the hurt we have swallowed, never works and usually just causes more pain.

First you listen, yes, but not just to the other person.   You need to be able to listen to your own heart, need to be able to see yourself in the mirror.

The only person you have responsibility for healing in the world is you.   The best you can do for others is to present for them, supporting their healing in the way you would want them to support yours.   You need to make them feel seen, valued, and encouraged in the way that you need to be cared for.

The way to keep the gift is to give it away.   What goes around comes around. If you want to get better everyday, the way is clear.

First, you listen.

Audacious Cloaks

The most audacious speech is often cloaked.

The joy of the mask is always freedom.   We are allowed to move beyond the measured and appropriate, beyond the pleasant and balanced, into exuberant truth.

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

Truth is not some kind of forced balance or some kind of mushy compromise, truth is held in the conflict between poles, in the tension between states.   Bohr also said “anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it,” since quantum theory removes absolutes and mocks knowledge, tying together what “should” be separate and separating what “should” be connected.

To be nice in the world, we have to be equitable, rational, considerate.  Usually, that means we have to be boring, bland and without flash.

To be audacious in he world, we have to be energetic, bold, and thrusting.   We go for movement, working to engage conflict and stir emotions.

Transgender expression has always had a component of masking, of concealment which empowers audacious revelation.   We hide what conventional society expects to reveal truths which are hidden in polite discourse.

For earnest transpeople who wish to stay nice, who want the cloak to erase ambiguity rather than to venerate it, this is often hard to hear.  (“When she came out, my trans daughter threw off her ambiguity,” one mother said,” and she dumped it all onto us.”)

For me, though, the cloaked polemic has always been part of my life, speaking in tongues that take a pure position.   This is the heart of satire, taking a stance to the extremes so that the twists and absurdities inherent in it can be exposed and revealed.

Unless we playfully create such pure statements, how can we ever look at the ripples of a position, the connections that lie unspoken?   How can we ever find a way to challenge what sounds lovely when spoken as moderation but conceals deeper ramifications?

Going to extremes reveals so much, which is why society usually keeps those bits in shadow, leaving revelation only to the audacious, those who so often speak from behind masks.

This tradition of satire wrapped in a cloaked polemic is a gift that comes to is from many who have used transgender expression to reveal what lies beneath, showing continuous common humanity that is both beautiful and a bit sinister.  That revelation exposes and lets us choose which angels we will follow.

The audacity to say what isn’t “nice” but is truthful, while lubricating the rapier with wicked humour, is part of the cultural heritage that comes down to me from other queer shamans who sliced apart walls that were less than paper to reveal deep connection.

If trans expression isn’t about empowerment, playfully revealing the very human truths that lie deep within us and challenge the illusory boundaries imposed by society, then I’m not sure that I want to deal.  We are not broken people trying to find peace, we are audacious people claiming our own beauty and connection to the universe beyond convention and expectation.

The most audacious speech is often cloaked, hiding the mundane to reveal the magical.

What a gift, eh?