Shutting Down

I know how to have my heart check out.

When I feel myself being erased or hurt,  my politeness keeps going, but I shift into concierge mode.  I keep a smile, stay mentally engaged in the conversation and recording whatever is happening for future processing, even as I become  emotionally disconnected.

Most people don’t notice this shift in me.  Whatever they did to slight me, to cut me to the core is invisible to them, it just part of their automatic routine.  I can try and highlight the moment after the work is done, but the odds are that they will be baffled by my comment since they just “did what came naturally.”   To those who don’t immerse themselves in therapy, the construction of their own choices, the meta moving underneath, is just not present.

Emotionally shutting down, putting up the big metal barriers and continuing on, is the way that I learned to operate in the world.   I understood very early that the world cared nothing for my comfort or happiness, that if I showed my distress I would just be seen as vulnerable, told to man up or be mocked, humiliated and shamed.

I learned to monitor and control my emotions while staying protected in the fortress of thought.

For me, shutting down emotionally was the only way to accomplish anything in the world.   I had to put away my own discomfort, my urge to fight, flight or freeze, my desire to choose the feminine, my pain at being slashed, stowing it in the vault while I moved on to get work done.

Processing off line, back when I was safe in my bunker, was the only way I could figure out to be safe.   I didn’t have a partner who saw me, who could tend to my wounds as I tended to them, didn’t have a network of friends to open up and share with and certainly didn’t have parents who could help me understand and negotiate the emotional challenges of a life.

Gritting my teeth as I felt kicked and punched was the only way I knew how to survive.

I remember a meeting where my boss disclosed changes to the PR rep from Regis McKenna and she was stunned.   She asked who knew this and he said nobody.  Pointing to me, she said that I must have known because I showed no surprise or emotional response.  When we assured her that I did not, she was impressed by my cool affect, a PR flak’s dream client.

What she didn’t understand was how much I had spent my life keeping what I felt inside inside of me, keeping my face frozen, professional and polished even though I felt gut punched.  Nobody who hasn’t developed this concierge mode can really understand the power and the cost of it.

My heart may have been in turmoil, bruised, battered and bleeding, but my brain kept on keeping on, leaving me upright and functioning.

To me, that technique threads through all my blog posts, strong sensible clear writing that attempts to convey the intensity of my emotional experience in the world.   This is where I discharge and disclose in a way that I have to forfeit in my everyday passage through life.

The world is an unsafe place, ready to strike out to silence me with pain and shame, a place where my emotions are beyond the pale, too much, queer and ugly.   To be functional and polite, I need to be able shut them away, to have my heart check out, freeze my face and keep being professional.

This is my embodiment of the fundamental duality, a tame, strong cerebral façade and a wild shattered emotional interior, isolated and queer.   My intensity shows on both sides, but only the armour keeps functioning in the world.

For me, this is a key to why I usually walk in androgynous clothes, not showing my feminine heart, because I don’t need to learn to wall up in a skirt too.   It is my emotions I need to connect with, but I learned very early that they are just too unconventional and intense for most people to engage.

When I feel my heart being challenged, I let it go and break silently while my head keeps on with what needs to get done.   A pastor who helped my family understood a tiny bit of this as she watched me sob absolutely silently, my body wracked but with no keening wail to put others on edge, to build a bigger barrier between me and them.

Having your heart occupy it’s own safe room is always going to be a lonely experience, no matter how much your mind interprets those feelings in the world.   Shutting away your heart may well help you survive in the world, but unless you find a way to have the needs of your heart met, to be mirrored and caressed, it is a tough life.

I know how to have my heart shattered while I keep functioning.  I know how to explain this experience in the world.

There are days, though, I don’t know how to blossom and thrive with a shattered heart that nobody seems to engage or even notice.

Stop Head

You need to stop living inside your damn head, you know.

I am aware of the limits of living in my head, yes.

Nobody is going to go in there to save you.  We are all out here, all living our lives.   Come out and join us.

Yes, that is something that I have tried in the past.

It’s a beautiful world!   Jump in!

You make it all sound very simple.

Of course it’s simple!   It’s the way humans have lived forever!  You are the one who seems stuck in your own damn rut!

My experience living in the world has been quite unsafe and rather erasing, though.

Really!   How has your experience living in your head been?   Do you get a lot of human enjoyment in there?   Or do you just complain about loneliness?

My connection is to something deeper.   I connect to myself, my creator, to shared stories and continuous common humanity.

And how is that working for you?   Is gazing into your own navel doing you any good?  It sure doesn’t look like it is from here.

I understand what you are saying.   I work very hard to keep gleaning the best that I can from the world.  It is important to me to keep connected.

Connected?   How does that bring you fun?  How does that bring you friends?   How does that bring you a paycheck?  It’s doing that makes things happen. not just thinking!

There has always been a role for those who see a wider picture, who focus on connection.

Their role is to serve those of us out living in the world, the people who get ‘r done!  You seem to be very stuck rather than very productive.

I believe what I offer has value.

Value is in the eyes of the market.   Are people flocking to what you offer?   Are you building an audience?   Are people telling other people about you? Are they looking to give you what they value in return for what you offer?   I suggest that they are not.

An artist is of their time, even if the world only wants what it already knows.

Just using big words doesn’t make you an artist.   Come on!  I know you are smart and all, so why don’t you just come out and use those smarts to make yourself some success in the world?   We can use you out here!

My experience with the world is that I have to enter their space, serve them, rather than getting what I need.

If you need someone to feel sorry for you, then yeah, you are never, never going to get that.  Boo hoo will never get you what you need!

I agree with that.  I work hard to focus on personal responsibility and work.   But that doesn’t mean I have the mirrors I need to affirm myself.

If you look in the mirror and don’t see what you expect, maybe your expectations are wrong.  Did you ever think of that?

Shaping my expectations has been a real focus of mine, yes.

You seem to keep digging yourself deeper and deeper into that hole of yours.   Come out and play! All of us average people can do it!  Why can’t you just let yourself go and join us?

I spent a long time getting a handle on myself and my worldview.   “Just letting myself go” feels like a loss, like I am giving up.

Okay!   You did that work, great.   But now you can loosen up and get into the swing!   Jump into the big human pool!  The water is fine!

Thank you for your kind offer.  I really appreciate that you care about me and want to see me happy.

Yo make it so damn hard for anyone to love you!   We just want to help and you stay stuck in that damn hole, not letting anyone close.

I think that I work hard to share what is important to me.  I am as clear as I can be about where I am, what I am thinking, what I need.

You want some kind of perfect engagement, getting just what you want.   That’s not what people do.  They give you what they have to give.   Reach out, take it.  Come out here and join us and we will give you what we have.

In my experience, I pay a high cost to try and be one of the gang.   It feels like I am being erased and destroyed, that what I know and what I feel get shredded.

We are here for you!   We want you to come out and join us!  It’s you who are turning your back on us, you know!   Life is simple and you are the one who wants to make it complicated!

Life is beautiful.   I agree with you.

Words!  If you really agreed with me, you would get out of that damn pit and actually live your life, not just run from it!

Can you understand my point of view?

I understand that you live in your head, cranking our reams of words that just seem to go around and around in circles.  I understand that you keep complaining that you are lonely and unhappy, but you never, never, never do anything about it.  How can you complain about starving if you never actually try the buffet?

I’m feeling quite fragile and vulnerable after my experience of life.

Get over it!   How can you ever move past those feelings if you don’t just let them go and get into the flow of real life, out here with all of us who are just trying to do the best that we can?

You are doing great.   I love hearing your stories.   It’s really wonderful for you.

You make me crazy!  It can be wonderful for you too, if you just stop being so fried!   Take some meds, do whatever you need to, but life is only out here in the real world, not in your head or in that damn basement!

Life is where you find it.

Life is where we are!  Come join us!  You just need to stop living inside your damn head!

Trans*forming the Dialogue

I am participating in Trans*forming the Dialogue, Simmons College’s Online MSW Program’s campaign to promote an educational conversation about the transgender community. By participating in this campaign, I will be offering my perspective on what TO ask and what NOT to ask trans*people.

Don’t try to fit me into your taxonomy, whatever that is.

I used to go to gay bars and the question would often come up “So who do you want to meet anyway?”   For most gays and lesbians the bar was a place to find partners, because those gender identities are about who you sleep with, so they projected the same desire onto transpeople.  We were there, though, because it was the safest space we could find to express who we were, a different thing.

Trying to figure out where a transperson fits in the nice, compartmentalized world of heteronormativity is like trying to nail jelly to a tree.

First, most of us don’t know where we fit.   We haven’t had the kind of mirroring and experience that lets us understand all about who we are.  We may have some idea of who we aren’t, what doesn’t fit us and makes us very distressed, but knowing who we are in a society that keeps demanding either/or is enormously hard.

Second, we lie.   Like any liar, the first person we lie to is ourselves.  We want to be stable, fixed, want to be tame and assimilated, fitting in to society.  That leads us to try and tell people who we want to be, who we imagine we are, leads us to offer the rationalizations and tropes we have created to function in the world.   There may be truth there, but much of the truth is also hidden.

Third, and most important, trans is a transitive identity.  It is about transformation, transition and growth.   To be trans is to have your identity based in process, to be enervated by change.   We can never, ever be just one or the other, rather we are always moving, always shimmering, always both who we are now and who we were then.

Trying to pin down a transperson is forcing them into a reactive stance where it is your observation that shapes us.   We become who we need to be to be in relationship with you.   That may be defended, it may be angry, it may be rationalizing, it may be placating — any of the Six Responses — but it will always be more about you than about us.

So, if trying to pin down transpeople is counterproductive and rude, what can you do?

Do engage our stories.  The closest thing that we have to truth is in our tales, in the way we share our experience of being trans in the world.

Our stories, like any human stories, don’t mean what you think they mean.  They mean what we think that they mean.   You can only understand them in our context.

This is often hard for people to grasp.  They search our narratives for bits that they understand in the context of their lives, using the traditional human technique of only listening to someone close enough to figure out what you want to say next.   They scan for shortcuts and handles to use to fit us into their nice, comfortable heteronormative boxes.

We need to be heard, not categorized.   And that means you have to be willing to take the ride with us, have to see the world though our eyes.   You have to be willing to go to our hell.

Listening close to our stories is the only way to really hear what we are saying, the only way to be an ally to us, the only way to connect with us and help us be more effective and empowered in the world.

We have all spent a lifetime in a culture that wants to put us in boxes.    We have all experienced the pain of being asked to lie, being made invisible, of feeling like we had to kill off part of who we are to be tolerated in society.   Those simple binaries are death to us, cutting right through our tender hearts.

Don’t try to fit us into your already prepared boxes, whatever they are.  Do really engage our stories to get a glimpse of who we are, of our continuous common humanity.

It’s just that hard.


(FYI, Chris Ingrao@Simmons seems to like more conventional answers)

Read Out

“Oh, oh.  Here it comes!   Miss Davina is about to read you out!” says a character in “Transparent.”

Davina is played by the amazing Alexandra Billings, whose story you can get a glimpse of in “Schoolboy to Showgirl.”  Coming out of the Chicago theatre world, Ms. Billings has been standing up, proud, beautiful and trans for decades now.

Reading out, well, that is what we queer shamans have learned to do in the world.   We tell the truths that most want to keep invisible, doling out the hard, hard won wisdom of a life spent crossing boundaries.

Accurate mirroring gives you permission to feel what you feel and know what you know—one of the essential foundations of recovery.   As transpeople, we have always had to build our own mirrors, not only coming to understand and own our own knowledge and awareness, but also to pass our learning on to others around us.

When we read people out, we shine the white hot spotlight of our experience out into the world, decorum and discretion be dammed.   The traditions were not about being catty, pointing out style mistakes, rather they were about revelation, pulling back the curtains and revealing what lies beneath.

Seeing through the smoke is required to claim a life past the normative.    We have to learn to navigate the dark corners between, those spaces between this and that, the places most people are too scared to pass through.

You learn a lot in that process.   You learn to tell the difference between voices, cutting through the babble to find some kind of essential truth, contradictory, powerful and all connected.  The world is no longer this or that, it is this and that, complex humanity always peeking out from behind the most sanctimonious façade.

It takes a long time to get over your own damn self and claim the wider view, that clear eyed understanding that every drag mom in the world owns.   You become part of that clan of feminine seers, the witches and gypsies and crones who scare the pants off of men who want to pretend to be only what they claim to be.   The games of compartmentalization just become transparent, the emperor having no clothes.

I write to read out my own life, scratching for revelation that didn’t come from the fractured and occluded mirrors I found around me.  In the process, I read out those around me, striving for grace, but always seeking truth.   For those who are trying to read out their own lives, I can be useful, but those needing or wanting to stay in the fog, I am someone to be avoided or silenced.

In a world that loves either/or oppositions, much of our work is learning to speak in tongues, trying on masks to see how the work in the world, then integrating the best parts of them and throwing away the rest.  Some of us perform those persona, others write them, but we all need the kind of exploration which lets us walk in many different shoes.  Through that, we learn what fits and and what pinches, what outfits reveal and what they conceal.

Learning the power of lies in telling truth is at the core of reading someone out.  The truth isn’t in the facts, it is in the legend, the way we shape the story to present a face to the world, to hide our mess from the world.   Meaning is obscured, existing in the shadows, the liminal where only we change eaters tread with impunity.

In the “Transparent” world, Davina reads people out, including Moira.   There is good reason Ms, Billings was cast in the role, able to show credibility with one flash of her gorgeous eyes.   She has been read out and she knows how to read out, scraping away artifice to reveal truth as easily as she, as a transwoman, creates artifice to reveal truth.

Doing the work to read yourself out, discovering your authenticity, has always been at the core of the transgender process. Moving beyond social expectations and conventions, stripping away the imposed and assumed, must come before re-imagining your own possibilities beyond demands.   The confidence to destroy your own assumptions to find rebirth beyond them means you have the power to challenge others.

We may be born with the seeds of x-ray vision, but between the requirement to read people to stay safe in the world and to read ourselves to get past barriers and grow usually leaves us with the power to read people out.

The goal is rarely to be brutal, so laughter is part of the process, funny anaesthesia to cauterize the cuts.   Being read out funny is makes the healing afterwards much easier, as we have all found out the hard way.

Reading someone out is a gift to them.  Turn the lights on, show them the lay of the land, remind them that they aren’t as hidden as they think.

Accepting that gift, though, is a challenge.   It’s fun to see someone else read out with wit and precision, but when we are on the receiving end, we have choices to make.   Do we do the work, looking inward to get clear, or do we callous up, digging deeper and maybe even striking out to silence the voice that read us?   Do we let the gift help us grow or do we run from it, desperately trying to run from what others see inside of us?

Getting read out is getting a peek into mirror that has been polished to a professional shine by someone who has learned to see below the surface, has learned to read hearts.    They offer their hard won talent to you and you decide what to do with it; reject it and hold onto your illusions, or embrace it and get more self-aware, more present.

If Miss Davina ever offers to read you out — or, if you are astoundingly lucky, Alexandra Billings offers — you get to decide.

Personally, I would advise accepting their wisdom, trusting their magic and using it to own more of your own power.

But the choice is up to you.

Surprise Splat

Who are you?  What parts of you do you want to keep and which parts do you want to leave behind?  How do you find out the difference?

The best glimpse at who you are is revealed through your choices.  Making choices in a finite world is how we make what is inside of us visible.  We reveal our priorities, our beliefs, our training and our desires.

There is more than one woman who didn’t go on a second date with a man because he didn’t treat the waitstaff well.   He may have had sweet words and powerful tales about himself, but his actions revealed a bit of who he was inside, inconsiderate, rude, disconnected and egotistical.

In the end, we rarely tell people who we are, we show them.   It’s not our polished stories that speak for us, it is our choices.  Many people, though, never take the time to consider their choices and what they say about us, instead deciding only to speak louder as if somehow, that will make our assertions more real.

Jane Pauley understood what David Letterman did on his show.   Rather giving people a place to tell their story, he threw them curve balls, put them under pressure.   This let us see something real, authentic and raw about them, gave us a glimpse of who they are under pressure.

This technique often created sympathetic and compassionate laughter.  We saw their discomfort, understood that we would be uncomfortable too, and watched them stumble a bit and then regain their footing.  As they got back up after being  thrown off balance they revealed an essential humanity we can relate to.

If they got angry, blustery, or controlling, though, that also showed.

The kind of surprising curve balls that make you think outside of the box have always been a key part of my shamanic tool kit.   I will almost always come in with an idea out of left field to create a response, a way to see the world in a different way that breaks expectations and creates new vision.

The people who came to help my parents were often versed in conventional expectations about old people.   They pulled out rote and comfortable routines, seeming to want to wrap the oldies in cotton wool.

My approach to my parents was very different.  I was always surprising them, challenging them, asking them to change their footing.   I would mispronounce words, offer diverse foods, show stupid videos and ask interesting questions just to keep them aware, active and attentive.   You may not love that purple cauliflower, but at least you can say that you tried it, adding it to your book of experiences.

I wanted them to stay present in the world, open to possibility, curious and actively engaged in the moments of their life.  This was the way I worked to give them “one more good day,” not from banal repetition but from the novel, challenging and delightful.

A world controlled enough so you only get what you want and you like is a boring world, without excitement or growth.  It offers little stimulation and no challenge, no need to use the human revelation that comes from dealing with the new and different.

To me, this is all part of the Divine Surprise, that gift we get as humans when we open ourselves and are present in the world.  When we get a surprise we learn something new about the world and we learn something new about ourselves, which, to me anyway, is at the heart of enlightenment and growth.

Being uncomfortable is important in a human life, no matter how much the ego wants to resist it.   There is no way to the new without breaking some barriers, hopefully with a bit of laughter to ease the shock and add a bit of joy.

Learning to let go of control and relax even into the surprising lets us come from somewhere deeper inside of us, below the part who wants to follow and enforce rules, that surface pull to be slick, instead going into that open, revelatory and potent nature.

Surprises keep us present and engaged.  Our responses to them stimulate a real compassion and connection between people as we go below the surface and reveal something deeper and profoundly human.  Teams bond over shared challenges, each member revealing strengths and weaknesses that compliment the whole.

I understand why many people like well rehearsed, well polished and well controlled scenarios,  preferring familiar and habitual seamless armour over the challenge of real. raw and active presence in the moment.

The idea that what comes out of us will be a surprise, even to us, is kind of thrilling and terrifying. Beyond that, the requirement to examine our choices, understanding where they come from and how to change them can seem like work we can avoid, staying stuck in old routines.

I believe in Divine Surprise, the kind that brings revelation and growth.   I use surprise everyday in all my relationships, working to break through the stale to find the fresh and brilliant.  Surprise was at the core of the way I took care of my parents and is also at the core of why many find me disquieting.

Your choices reveal who you are.   To me, revelation is worth the surprise,  the laughter and the challenge.   It informs our continuous common humanity, showing that what is beneath is a human nature that connects each of us.

The true surprises lie inside of you, and the big surprise is how much you are a part of something bigger.  Surprise!

Rich White Men

In the Netflix series “Grace and Frankie,” Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston play two wealthy divorce layers who have had a decades long homosexual affair and choose to come out now that they can have their relationship sanctioned by marriage.   This leaves their wives over 30 years in a bit of a pickle.

For their bachelor party, the twelfth episode, the men want decorous, tasteful and elegant.  One daughter, though, rents a mechanical bucking penis and puts it in the front yard, deeply disturbing their mental stability.

This prompts a party attendee to lash out, saying that he could tolerate homosexuality, but why did they have to be such horrible faggots?   Sheen’s character has to be stopped from punching him by Waterston’s character.

After all, they are nice, entitled, privileged, mature, well assimilated white men entrenched in power, which is why they waited until they had permission to be openly homosexual.

Respect is missing.   They don’t respect the fact that their “friend” sees them as faggots.   They don’t respect their own faggot side, that queer and transgressive truth that the daughter tried to honour and celebrate.

Most of all, they don’t respect all those people who struggled for centuries to make queer visible and respected in the world.     Those generations of faggots and dykes?   They are disrespected by these two guys, reduced to a history of marginalized losers who can be dismissed because they were just too damn queer in the world.

I treasure the history of queers in the world, the bold and brilliant people who were out before being out was sanitized and convenient.   These are the people who made space for me to emerge in the world, who laid down their own ease to cut through convention and open the sky.

The experience of entitled people standing on the shoulders of transcendent queers even while they dismiss, erase and stomp on them is not new to me.   I have seen many who are happy to take advantage of change while pissing on the people who made that change happen as too radical. too weird, too disruptive, too rude, too disgusting, too damn queer.

Barney Frank is clear that while he understands people who are in the closet, those who don’t support others like them from that closet, or worse, those who demonize and dehumanize others who are not closeted, are hypocrites to be challenged.

It may be easy to feel smug, trying to maintain standing with “the right people” by attacking the too challenging, but it is immoral.  The attempt to create separation between the good and the evil, painting your choices as righteous and supreme, is oppression internalized, leaving you sick and twisted at the core.

The author of one enormously popular crossdressing blog has dismissed any need to engage the press around transgender issues today.    They have been doing what they are doing for decades now and they know all they need to know, rationalizations having hardened into dogma the more they comfort her.

The ease of preachy preaching is how it creates separations between us and them, allowing us to feel entitled and blessed because we are not like those messy people who cause trouble.   The challenge of teachy preaching is how it asks us to see the connections between us and them, acknowledging that there is only one human nature and we all share it.

I am pleased that it is easier, cleaner, neater and much more accepted to be out in the world today.

I am furious that many want to believe that benefit came only out of nice, gracious and appropriate movement.

Someone had to be too damn queer, had to break the rules and push the boundaries so that normative could move forward behind them.   Someone had to pay with their bodies and their life force to go beyond, opening up social space for the truth of transgressive hearts beyond aggressive heterosexist compulsion.  Those Kinsey 6 people had to take the pounding to open space for nice Kinsey 4 to love beyond convention, even if you find them disquieting.

It is lovely that homosexual can now be part of a nice, sanitary, approved lifestyle.   Standing against queerness to stay aloof, though, claiming you are just like everyone else on the block except that you like a bit of sodomy on Saturday night is disingenuous and destructive.

Not respecting the queer inside you because the lady across the street might be disturbed is a problem.   Do you respect her comfort or the contents of others hearts?

I once proposed a 36 hour intensive for newly put crossdressers.   Strap them into a chair in a hotel room and have someone call them a faggot for all that time.   They will end up going through all the stages of grief for their illusion of being straight, starting with anger (How dare you!) denial (I’m not!) bargaining (Well, they may be, but I color in the lines), withdrawal  (I give up) and acceptance (Yes, I’m queer).   It’s not a practical plan — we all grow and heal in our own time and our own way — but think how things would be better of they got clear in a weekend.   Acknowledging that you do hold meaning you do not yet want to engage is very hard.

How queer is too queer?   How queer is not queer enough?   That is the LGBTQI version of the primary duality: How wild and individual is too wild?   How tame and assimilated is too tame?

Getting respect requires giving respect.  Progress always takes icebreakers and system makers.  I have seen people who identify as queer disrespect others just because they seem too conventional and assimilated on the surface. That doesn’t create shared respect.  is not fair, not right and not queer in any way that I understand it.

In the show, the entitled rich white guys wanted to not be too queer, but still got called faggots. That made them mad, not for all the people battered as queer over centuries, but for their own arrogance and self belief.

I understand the issue, have for over twenty years.

You are here, you are seen as queer, get used to it.

You can be as assimilated as you want. Just don’t claim that entitlement by dismissing and dehumanizing the queers who made assimilation possible for you.

Respect beyond comfort, respect for those who make choices you would never make for yourself, those who were bolder, braver, and more driven.

Respect for what is inside of you, not just how learned to be nice.


Me & Dave

[Facing leaving The Late Show] “I’m naked and afraid.  It’s so cliche, but I will share it with you anyway.  Any enormous uprooting change in my life has petrified me, really petrified me, but once I’ve come through the other side, the reward has been unimaginable.”
— David Letterman to Jane Pauley, CBS Sunday Morning, 16 May 2016.

I got drunk and roamed around downtown after David Letterman’s last show, embarrassing myself when I ran into an old lover.  It’s hard for me to believe that was 35 years ago.

Back then, I was a big fan of The David Letterman Show, aka “the morning show,” because I was a broadcasting geek, having already produced and hosted a daily half hour talk show on the local cable station.  I already had 10 years experience of creating television and revered all the same people that Dave and his staff did, the pioneers of television innovation from Ernie Kovacs to Jack Parr.

Dave continued to innovate television since then and this was the week he left again, retiring from The Late Show.  I found the departure moving and challenging.

Les Moonves, head of CBS, talked about how Letterman was unique in his experience, because he was a big television star who “didn’t like the limelight.”   While every talk show is “about the guy behind the desk,” as Peter Lasally reminds us, Dave was a guy who wanted it to be about the work.

Letterman loved performing, but he was never a ham.   He wanted more to be truthful than he wanted to be shiny.  His discomfort was often visible, which made him even more human and compelling, especially as he matured past wacky bits and into a raconteur and interviewer.

TV tends to love the bad good boy, the shiny glad handing guy who looks very nice on the surface, but reveals a bit of a wicked streak underneath. Wink, wink, nudge nudge!

Letterman found that construction a little too phony for him to work, so he was the good bad guy, cranky and prickly on the outside, but with a big heart and brain.   He was so tender and sweet that he needed to be defended, and we got that, especially women when we could make him blush.

Julia Roberts talked about having a crush on Dave before she had to appear to promote “Mystic Pizza” (1988).   She had seen him demolish other actresses with wit, so she decided to keep up with him.   She knew she couldn’t be as smart as he was, but she could keep up the tempo, dance with him, and that flirtatious TV relationship lasted nearly 30 years.

On her last appearance, Dave was really trying to understand why he was so sharp with actresses in those early years.  Julia understood.  “Stupid people annoy you.”  Jane Pauley gets it, noting that Dave wanted to push you out of your comfort zone, in a funny way and see how you respond.  If  all you have is habits, trained responses, that will show quickly.

That’s why Dave was the class of late night for so many decades.  “He could have dumbed his program down to get ratings,” Howard Stern said, “but instead he stood with integrity, which make him compelling and timeless.”   Dave didn’t need people to like him, to be number one.  He needed to make good American television.

I understand this approach.  I love performing, but I don’t love being a ham.  I never needed the spotlight, rather I loved doing the work.   I don’t know how to be sweet and shiny on the outside, glib, fun and one of the gang.

Dave has left the Ed Sullivan Theatre after an extraordinary run, having changed the world, given lots of laughter to millions, employment to a crew and getting some level of satisfaction for himself.

[Facing leaving The Late Show] “I’m naked and afraid.  It’s so cliche, but I will share it with you anyway.  Any enormous uprooting change in my life has petrified me, really petrified me, but once I’ve come through the other side, the reward has been unimaginable.”
— David Letterman to Jane Pauley, CBS Sunday Morning, 16 May 2016.

 Dave has built an entire support system to help him face the fear, break away and find the unimaginable.   Kudos to him on that.

But the lesson, that pushing through fear to find the rewards is crucial, is something that I, for one, can’t hear too often.  Dave did his best, full of self doubt, but found a significant audience that not only enjoyed his work, but also found it powerful, groundbreaking and worth tribute.

If you play it big enough, there were enough smart people out there to get the joke, or so Mr. Letterman proved.  Just show it and people will see the humanity.

Hmmm, wonder if there is anything I can learn from that?

Smart, Vivacious

If I am not my parents caretaker, who am I?

Is the only thing left for me living the cloistered life that sustained me while I cared for them?

The enmeshment with my parents for almost six decades was fierce.  I never got out from under them, claiming my own separate and individuated life.

This leaves me with no life to return to, no time to go back to and claim that kind of ego.   My desires got tamped down so far over so long that trying to rehydrate them feels well nigh impossible,

This is a very feminine thing, becoming enmeshed in care giving, but the associated feminine power were denied me by dint of my birth sex, no matter how much my heart craved them.

All I need now is a separate life full of dreams, hopes, connections and possibilities that I can claim.  I just need desires to chase and skills to go after them, continuing on with my life and proving that it is never too late.

Those desires, though, have been fiercely attenuated, and the skills I have seem to lack some of the key components required to be a smart and vivacious mature gal.

Between not easily being able to be one of the gals, instead seeing the world across comforting gender stereotypes, and not easily being able to be with the guys as a gal, instead having their hackles raise, I don’t have the experience of much affirmation or history in the role.

The kind of mirroring that I needed just didn’t exist.   And unless I pack in my own queer history, it will be hard for it ever to exist.  It is, though, exactly that queer experience that I most need seen and mirrored for me to move beyond trauma, to own a sense of agency and possibility.

The limits of transgender expression are made visible to me every day.   The limits of my body feel very real to me every time I step down on my hardened feet.  The limits of my history live profoundly in my big memory, triggering connections every time someone speaks.

I claimed my own life apart from my parents.  I just claimed it apart from the world, rather than in it.   The world felt very unsafe and erasing, asking me to live inside the expectations of others, and I had enough of that.

I saw a show about dating apps and what struck me was the new speed of the feedback cycle.  You can know almost instantly when you have struck an expression that stimulates others and when you haven’t.  This encourages you to adapt to gain that feedback, to rapidly shift yourself to what others desire.   In an information economy, attention is the ultimate currency and the way you grab attention is to be who others already find appealing, fitting conventional images of desire.

Novel is good, but not so unique that you cannot be understood within the sweep of a finger.

The only truths that seep into the media about trans people are the ones the general public wanted to see and hear in the first place, says this trans advocate.

I know how to enter the worlds of other people, how to mirror them in ways that help them grow.   They find me useful.  They also find me baffling and often challenging.

If, if, if, if only the world I inhabited had been a different place, well, then I could have been a different person.  But the world was the way it was and I am the way I am, and the only question is if there is a workable route from here to better.

My hardest challenge over the years is obvious: I had to make do on my own.  I didn’t have a support system that understood, mirrored, assisted with and affirmed the challenges of a big, smart, queer tranny with parents who lived in their own Aspergers world.    I have helped others find insight and motivation, often over long periods and at high cost, but there was no one there to help me.

How does one invent a new social role without any useful social network to help shape it?   How do I take the smart, vivacious bits of me and learn to show them well on the outside?

Through My Fingers

Maybe the worst thing about this blog is how little new there is in it.

The topics I write about in 2015 are the same topics I wrote about in 2005, in 1995 and even in 1985.  They are about empowerment and claiming, about transformation and connection, about essence and truth.

Over the years I have written many aspirational statements, encouraging and positive assertions of possibility.   Sometimes they are full of hope and other times they are set for contrast, leading to odd incidents like having the ironic parts of a downer message read to a room full of people on the floor doing orgasm exercises.

“The lovely statements of the way things could be are usually followed by an explanation of why they will never be that way for you,” I was told by a blog reader.

So many visions, dreams of a better future, have slipped through my fingers like smoke when I went to reach for them.    They seemed only to exist as chimera, impossible to get reflected or supported in the world.

If I have trouble getting my experience mirrored in a way that feels safe and accurate, allowing me the permission to know what I know and feel what I feel, then what chance do I have of having my dreams seen in the world?

A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and sings it back to you when you forget the words.   A therapist is someone who sees something in you that you do not yet see in yourself.  To dream big enough you have to go beyond the rules and expectations, which almost always involves finding someone to  cradle our dreams, helping believe that we can birth them in the world.

Sabotaging the dreams and aspirations of those you find challenging is at the heart of the social pressure of stigma.  How else could society maintain the status quo?

I learned early that being a dream burster was not useful.  Nothing humans create can come into existence unless it first exists as a dream.  No dream comes true whole, but dreams always are the starting point for new, fresh and wonderful.

Today, today, today, I need to have a dream that is worth grabbing onto, a dream that will keep me buoyant as I chase it to find a new and rewarding reality.  I need not to just have my dreams slip through my fingers again, like so many dreams of so many transpeople have over so many centuries.

Is my failure to go after dreams a pragmatic choice, reflecting the barriers to transgender assimilation in society?  Is it based in the way my dreams have been made invisible, my experience of being stigmatized in the world, shaping what I believe to be possible?

Is my failure to go after dreams a compromise choice, based in the understanding that to walk as visibly trans in the world requires strong armour? Is it based in my sensible observation of other transpeople, the price they paid and the limits of their lives?

Is my failure to go after dreams a reactive choice, the old tapes and slams coming up again and again, so I avoid what might cause me pain, get the third gotcha? Is it based on the egos desire to avoid discomfort?  Is it just self sabotage?

Whatever the reason, smart or scared, habitual or environmental, the result is the same: I scrape for dreams but when I try to reach for them, the momentum goes away as I feel them slipping away.

This isn’t for lack of work.   I learned early how to do the work in my family, being the target patient, scapegoated for making the limits & twists visible.  As a transperson. I learned early that it was my job to understand & accommodate other people, not their job to be there for me.

Assimilation escaped me, never finding a way to feel seen and supported as one of the gang.   I wasn’t one of the guys and I wasn’t one of the girls, not really being one of the kids and not one of the adults.

How do you participate in the system of desire when you are unable or unwilling to play the role assigned to you based on the shape of your body?  What happens when potential partners cannot see, affirm or even understand your heart?

If I wanted to be alone, strove to be a loner, I would be a very different person.   I wouldn’t have tried so hard to connect and stay connected, wouldn’t have such a broken heart from being caught between my integrity and my love.

Alone struggles take a lot of work.   There is no one to share the momentum, to transfer it back to you when you stumble for a moment.  In group projects, we pull each other forward, keeping up speed, but individuals who get stopped have to start again, losing energy with each bump.

I may have been working the same ground for a long time now, but that is very human.  We often go in spirals, going deeper or higher with every turn.   Knowing the ground intimately offers us knowledge we can get in no other way.

That knowledge, though, doesn’t always translate into energy.   The enthusiasm to throw yourself into the unknown, not imagining you can be hurt badly, takes a certain kind of innocence and naïveté that rarely endures the fall to earth.

I know how to create energetic, hopeful and encouraging dreams.   Finding a way to grab and hold onto those fragile dreams, letting them lift me, is much more difficult.  Without reinforcement from other people, they seem to slip right through my fingers.

How much struggle do we put behind change until we turn a corner?   How do we know if we are just throwing good resource after bad, pursuing a goal that will never come true, and how do we know if it is more effort and more persistence that will actually get us to a better, more rewarding and more comfortable place?

The challenges to build a life, learning discipline and moderation, finding new ways of accomplishment are always worth the effort.

The effort to build a dream, though, some idea of how get what we want, often ends up with less results and more lessons, coming to a more sensible idea of what is possible for us in this world.    It always makes sense to find moments that are good and learn to extend them, but pounding towards a fantasy without acknowledging the feedback you get can be just boneheaded.

We need other people, need a kind of crowd understanding, to test our dreams against.   Good mirroring lets us not only see what looks good on us and we should work on more, it also lets us see choices that aren’t working, giving us the information and support we need to change those behaviours.

Dreams coming true give us the vision to meld reality with visions, creating an more effective presence in the world.

Dreams that don’t leave us with the hard, hard choice of committing even more or of smartening up and compromising more.

Is this the time to go full out, or is this the time to understand more about a compromised life?

Continue reading Through My Fingers

Take Control

You need to believe you have agency and control in your life.

We all know that you can't control other people.  They grow and heal in their own way and in their own time.

If you want to have power in your life, you have to have power over something that you own, something that you can control.

Transpeople around the world will tell you this: you own your own body.  You have control over what you do to it.

It takes hope, the belief that change for the better can happen, and commitment, the willingness to put everything you have on the line, pushing through discomfort, to create real change in your body. 

Body change is never a magic bullet.   It doesn't change everything. 

Taking control of your body, though, can change your confidence, can change your stance, can change your attitude as well as changing your appearance.   Changing all those things can, indeed, change your life.  

By claiming control of your body, you claim your commitment and power in the world.  You embody the change you need to see in the world.

You are amazing at words.  No one can challenge that.  You have provided brilliant words to illuminate the transgender experience, to speak for the truth of continuous common humanity in the world.   Your words are sharp and powerful.

Having people feel the real energy and heart behind those words, though, has been a struggle that has left you lonely and exhausted. They don't connect in the way you want, don't bring you the affirmation and feedback that you need.

People respond not just to words but to energy.  I see the energy in your heart, but it is cloudy and blocked to most people.

Unlock your energy.  Show it on the outside.  Manifest that amazing heart in a physical way.

Not changing your body allows you to hide.  It's just hard to scrape away the daily and reveal what is inside.

Changing your body allows you to shine.  You won't have to get out from behind your history and biology, you will be out beyond it.  Life will become simpler, easier and more integrated, become less blinking and less stressful.

I know that you have committed to "transnatural" years ago and have learned a great deal from that stance.  You have shown that it isn't clothes or hormones that define us, it is the way we allow ourselves to see the world, the way that we think.

"Transnatural," though, has also kept you invisible and disconnected from your body.  It isolates you from desire, means you can't easily get more naked in front of other people.  There is a cost to that, and you have been paying it.

I know there are limits to a trans body.  But the limits to a normative one, especially for someone who has such an enormously big trans heart and such a feminine mind as yours seem to me to be even bigger.

As Holly Boswell said so many years ago, what have you got to lose?   It's not like your life is working for you now, not like you are getting what you so desperately need in the world.

You know the solution, know the quote.   Leap.  Take the jump from insanely powerful words to messy embodied choices.  With your mind and heart, you will get the hang of it easy if you just stop holding onto your biology and your history.

Take control of your life.  Use the inheritance, however distressed you are at how the executor handled the estate, to grab one more shot. 

You have done amazing things with your mind, your language.  Do good, trans things with your body and I believe that resonance will occur, the vibrations will start, and you will enter people's consciousness in a way that stirs their hearts and a way that will return to you.

You are trans.  Let that out of your body, not just your mouth.  Take control.

Let loose from your bonds, move into the future.  Liberation, transcendence, claim.   Drop the expectations and be naked. 

Don't just tell your truth.  Shine it in the world.  Walk in bold abundance, show the world how much you have worked, how much brain and heart is inside you.   

People see the powerful mature woman inside of you, so bringing her forward will let you take your rightful place in the world in a way that staying invisible never will. Be the woman you know you are, beyond the shackles.

Stop being so mentally tough and show your tender heart on your body. You have little to lose, and a great deal, I believe, to win.

Beyond Smartass

It’s easy to be a smart ass in the world.

Many of us have the experience of other people always looking for things we did wrong, moments they can use to mock and humiliate us.   We feel attacked in the world, often with cheap shots and snarky comments.

That pounding, even if it is claimed to be good natured ribbing, well, it can really hurt.

We learn what we are taught, so in a world where we see smart asses being rewarded, with laughter and kudos, the natural response is to try to be a smart ass too.  The best defence is a good offence, so why not learn to give as good or better than what you get?

Smart ass makes us feel like we have control and protection in the world.    We are not just a victim of others snaps, we are able to hit back, get laughs and keep them in their place.   Putting down others can feel like like it puts us up, pushing them down below us, puffing up our ego, trying to make ourselves look bigger and more threatening in the world.

Like any other defence, though, sarcasm don’t just keep us protected, they keep us isolated.    They become a way to resist being open and vulnerable, separating rather than connecting us.

I grew up in a home where sniping and attacks from my mother were very common.    She took shots to hurt people around her, to show how they were idiots and that she, because she could call out their errors, was above them.  I learned to manipulate early, knowing how to use a sharp tongue to fight fire with fire.

For the decade before I moved in and took care of my parents, I had to learn how to be open and tender again.   I had to learn to support dreams rather than just burst them.

It took a great deal of time to build the trust of my parents.    They expected shots, and needed to learn that I wouldn’t slap back at my mother as I had in the past.  By the end, though, they had learned to depend on me, knowing that showing weakness or fear would only engender compassion and help from me.

There was nothing more important than that trust, that safety, in my quest to give them one more good day.   Fear that they would be hit rather than assisted would mean they had to stay tight and not open up their challenges, not work with me towards the best possible outcome.

Not being a smart ass doesn’t mean that you are only sweet.   I always pointed out ironies, inconsistencies and places where we might be able to do better, but I did that with love and respect.   I wasn’t trying to score points, to prove that I was smarter or bigger than they were, wasn’t trying to put them down.   Instead, they came to understand that I was trying to lift all of us up.

I am witty and sharp, but I now use my words with compassion and wit, acknowledging that our flawed choices show continuous common humanity, reveal opportunities for growth and healing, rather than being stupid and low.

When you are in the smart ass mindset, it is easy to believe that the pearls you offer are gifts, barbed arrows shot to knock own arrogance and stupidity.   After all, the first part of smart ass is smart, right?  The smugness that comes with smart ass can feel very satisfying, at least until you wonder why people veer away from you, don’t trust you, and always want to fire back at you.

Moving to a constructive attitude, more open, earnest and forgiving can be hard.   Our inner critic is often a smart ass, always ready to point out how we fucked up, left ourselves vulnerable, were made a fool of by not striking out first.   Duh!  We smart ass ourselves first, a protective response that comes from years of being the victim of casual tormenting, usually the well approved tormenting of children against other children.

Smart ass is sensational, a comforting dance of schadenfreude, delighting in the failures of others.   Television producers, for example, have long used smart ass to invoke sensation, making even the most bumptious viewers feel superior when they can laugh at someone else brought low.

Moving beyond smart ass needs to come when we have people who depend on us, who trust us to help them grow and heal.   Children are always going to make mistakes  just because they don’t know better.   Their mistakes are real and earnest attempts to succeed, steps along the way to knowledge.   If we make them fear that failures will result in a cheap shot, smugly pointing out their lack of grace in a hurtful way, how can we ever encourage them to take risks and claim ownership?

To be a good manager, to be a good parent, to own your own humanity, you need to be able to move beyond smart ass.  Alloying wit with compassion allows it to foster healing rather than just spread humiliating inequities.

You’d understand that, if you just weren’t such a damn smart ass.

Body and Words

While my struggle to be seen, heard, affirmed, validated and accurately mirrored may seem from the outside to be an intellectual quest, it most assuredly is not.

It comes from somewhere much, much deeper, somewhere much more potent and tender, somewhere in my heart.

I’m sure that Dr. van der Kolk, as a psychiatrist, would tell me that those parts of myself I metaphorically call my heart are not based in that beating knot of muscle in my chest. but rather are physically located in the neural tissue between my ears.   They exist in the brains under my brain, the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain, the right hemisphere that exists outside of language and rationality.

I need a way to talk about those parts, though, and for many centuries humans have called the seat of sensation, of emotion and of love in the heart.  Those parts of the brain that connect to the body seem to exist somewhere deeper inside of us. below our socialization.  somewhere out of our head.

My big, verbal brain has worked diligently to keep me going over my years.  Using it, I have looked for the power of healing, especially the power of mirroring.

By being able to have words for my feelings, I have unwired my buttons, making me safe to talk to.

My skill at putting language to my feelings has made me helpful to others in putting words to their feelings, either because they see bits of themselves mirrored in my writing, or because when they converse with me I am very present, mirroring them in ways they find kind, affirming and useful.

When they want to heal, my hard won skills and knowledge helps them, but when they want to stay compartmentalized, I am just annoying as hell.

The power of a wounded healer, it seems to me today, is in the way they can use their own pain, their own damage to offer a mirror to others, one that can help them move their own self image towards understanding and their own choices towards healing.

I am proud to offer my smarts and my persistence to others, so that they might catch a glimpse of something they haven’t seen reflected before and come more to peace with themselves.

The cry of my own wounded heart, though, of those brains beneath brains, is often missed in this process.   How can people possibly see in me what they cannot yet see in themselves?  How can they connect with the knowledge and feelings still buried deep in my body rather than just with the words that come out of my mouth?

“We see things not as they are, but as we are,” said Anaïs Nin.

Any writer will tell you that people see their own reflection in writing, picking up phrases with their own assigned meaning, missing what seems to them like noise or filler, and putting emphasis on what resonates with them.   People always read with their own eyes.

I live, though, in the the spaces between their attention.   I am not the symbols I offer, “I am the shadows my words cast,” (Octavio Paz), the deeper meaning I struggle to code in my text.

It is that deeper pool where I really live, in the wellspring of humanity which lies deep inside of me.  My experience of the world is not verbal, it is embodied, a multisensory trip though a real world that I struggle to express through words.

When I share my words, I am not really asking people to hold onto my intellect, my virtuosity or my brilliance.

I am asking people to hold onto my heart.

My words may be smart, tough and resilient, but my heart is tender and torn.

Sometimes people wonder why I never tried to court an audience, never decided to climb into the spotlight, as The Drama Queens tried to do time and time again.   I knew that I could get my voice heard, could court visibility, get my ego fed, but I also knew that my heart wasn’t in it.

The message of the world is simple: people can’t give you the kind of engagement that you want, so learn to settle for what they can give you.  Get enough of that and you will be have the resources to find what you want, will be so visible that people who may be able to help will see you.

A life of denying, suppressing and doubting my own vitality has left my heart quite shredded.

It is unreasonable to expect others to engage the depths of me, even more so if I see their own fears and unhealed places quite quickly.

I understand the expectation; if I am able to move beyond my wounds, able to engage their wounds, then I have the obligation to do that, the requirement to be the bigger, more forgiving person.  I have the obligation to care, just like I had that obligation with my parents from as early as I can remember.

The expressions of my heart, the desire, needs, and so on were things to be kept down and under control.   This was the way I could keep others comfortable and not attacking me for being stupid, sick and perverted.   I learned to stuff and swallow.

The body keeps the score.  My heart demands its breath.

The only way for me to move ahead is to go back into more aesthetic denial, something that feels like going back to entombment, or to go forward to a more playful, sensual, emotional, integrated and feminine life, something that feels beyond possibility for a broken old tranny like me.

As smart as I am. my intelligence won’t save me, won’t make me blossom in the world.   That intelligence is there for a reason, though, an artifact of the long desperation to be engaged at a deeper level, to have my tender heart seen, felt, respected, mirrored and maybe even, dare I hope, adored.

People want to argue me out of that need, telling me to grow up and be a man, to put on my big girl panties.   Just get over it, they say.

I have done that, though, started doing that when I was very young and continuing through.   My childhood was denied, for so many reasons, my life backwards, adultified too early.  Being mature had a cost, and the body, well, it keeps the score.

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
-- W.B. Yeats "He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven"


Transgender is an perversion, the fevered sickness of a deluded mind.  Birth sex defines who people are and anyone who tries to deny that, can’t accept that truth, harbours warped values that make them dangerous.   We need to constrain them for the good of society, need to keep them away from the women and children their transgression puts at risk.

This is the message of those who promote so called “bathroom bills,” designed to wall off transpeople from good, righteous and normal people.

By identifying transgender expression as pathological, it becomes easy to lump transgender with other pathologies, from child abuse to schizophrenia. Emotional buttons are pushed, releasing fear which justifies any effort to constrain, marginalize and dehumanize transpeople for their own good.

The essence of this argument is that transgender people should not be allowed to steal our babies (1998), stealing their virtue and their future.   By putting transpeople in the sick bin, we keep our children pure, untainted and under our control.  For those who see the world as a place of sin, following preachy preachers who strive to draw a line between the faithful and the evil, this demonetization of those who don’t follow the strictures of their church comes easy.

The notion that transgender expression (including other gender variant expression, like homosexual behaviour) stems from sickness, from a perversion of the normal, natural and healthy working of the mind and body, is far from new.  It was the default idea for all of the last century and before.

I know that I struggled with the question of sickness in my life, evaluating “differential diagnoses” (2006) which tried to identify what was good, true and pure and what was broken, cracked and warped.    Being lumped in with every dysfunction of desire meant that I had to know where acting on those drives was wrong and where it was just claiming expression past oppression and convention.

Struggling through the issues of truth and falsehood (1997), how we express what we know and what we feel in the world while staying in a framework of veracity was the first set of challenges I had.  I knew that I was not female bodied nor was I raised as a woman, but I also knew that my nature was not that of a normative man.

The other set of challenges were about behaviour in the world.   Where could a moral line be drawn that respected others but also allowed freedom?  For me, that boundary was around queerness, and the demarcation was consent (1998).

As much as I came to rational understandings about the health of transgender in the world, the emotional understanding has been much harder to integrate.    I acutely feel the discomfort of those around me, feel the mirroring of erasure, fear and anger.   I know that when others don’t understand, they tend to pathologize,  casting me as sick, broken and warped.   If they are normative, I am fractured.

This is one reason why I never look to the medical profession to provide solutions for transgender.  I didn’t want to have to sign up as sick to try and get a cure or even a dispensation for my assigned affliction.   I knew they couldn’t deliver what I needed.

Instead, I looked to anthropology and theology for cultures where transgender people were seen as a natural part of the culture, offering special benefits to their families, bands, tribes, villages and communities.  The story of human culture turns out to be full of understanding and affirmation of people like me.

The problem seemed to be located not in biology but in belief, in belief systems that drew crisp binaries between us and them.  In examining those systems, what I saw were economic fundamentalism, the attempt to expand and control populations by having rigid and compulsory structures around reproductive biology and breeding pressure.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that those who believe in creating huge families also believe in enforcing gender stereotypes.    You serve the church by being fruitful and multiplying,  so whatever is in your heart, your obligation is to breeding biology over all.  This is the economic pressure at the heart of heterosexism.

Gender, though, does serve an important purpose in controlling copulation, reproduction and child rearing.   We do need a system that enforces the responsibility to care for children, wanted or not, and that is a system that must be based around families.   That doesn’t necessarily mean two person female/male families — there are other models in human culture — but it does mean safe and consistent space for for children to grow in.

As a transperson, my response to people who propose bathroom sanctity bills comes on two levels.

First, I understand the economic basis for this push, the attempt to control gender expression so that people don’t have to do the work, feel they can isolate their children from queerness, and have a common enemy to rally around.

Beyond that, though, I feel the hurt and trauma from others who would pathologize me and people like me in the world.  The old wounds and attacks come up, making me tense up expecting the “third gotcha,” a re-traumatizaion at any time.  The attacks make other transpeople distressed and I watch them lash out in painful ways, often lashing out at allies and others who they see as too queer and perverted, bringing this down on us.

Allies often get caught up in these arguments, deciding that it is right to compromise and draw a line between good transpeople and sick transpeople.   Once that happens, their own fear blossoms and they cannot stand up for our queerness.   We ask for affirmation,  we get quibbles and distancing.   Researchers who studied transpeople and found them broken often decided that damage must be the cause of their transgender nature rather than the effects of being pathologized in the world from a young age.

“We are the normal ones and you are the freak.  We paid the price to fit in and you did not.  Which one of us is then the problem?  Which one of us is causing disturbance?  Which one of us deserves whatever shit they get?  I’ll give you a hint; it’s not me.”

The facts are clear.   Transgender access to appropriate gendered public sanitary facilities make everyone more safe rather than less safe.   People who are going to violate others without their consent will do so anyway, as they are already not compliant with laws.   Public safety officials across the country agree with this.

For those who feel the need to pathologize and demonize transgender people, these facts are irrelevant.  To them, transgender sickness is a matter of obvious belief and those who do not see it are themselves warped and corrupted.

That hurts my heart.  Being lumped in as sick, perverted and dangerous is deflating, especially when you know that the more you fight their blanket denigration the more you feed the battle, stoking their fires and creating more damage.   Defence is attack, so fighting just makes the attackers stronger.

The long term effects of being classed as pathological and demonic are crushing, even if you know very clearly that the accusations are not true.  The cost of fighting false accusations which support stigma, ostracism and marginalization has smashed many humans.

I know this, she said sadly, firsthand.

Mirror Shards

Accurate mirroring gives you permission to feel what you feel and know what you know — one of the essential foundations of recovery.
 — Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score

You can no more see your own soul than you can see the back of your head.  ‘

The only way to get a glimpse of who you are is in the mirror of society by looking into the reflections of how your choices effect others.

This is why humans need mirroring.   It is why we need to enact transgender, not just keep it inside (1996) and why broken mirrors can cause big problems (1998)

It is also why we are always trying to determine bias in the responses of other people: is their reaction about them or about me?   Is their mirroring of me accurate or is it funhouse?

The consistency of reflection is important to this process.   If everybody sees you one way, you have a high degree of confidence in that mirroring.

I was talking to a friend of my sister about this.  “Do you really need other people?” she asked.  “Can’t you do it alone?”

Everybody ends up with an internal, virtual mirror of themselves, stored in our self image.  We use that inner mirror to model our own choices, to create a virtual us in the world.

For people who haven’t, for whatever reason, had accurate mirroring in the world — people I might call “too people,” who are too intense, too smart, too queer, too whatever — those mirrors we build aren’t made up of nice, big, affirming chunks of mirror, ones we hold with confidence.

Instead, we build our model mirror out of tiny shards, little reflections.   Our nature isn’t normative, expected, simple, unchallenging.   Much of who we are is masked or occluded, made invisible in the world.   We struggle to express it, but more than that we struggle to get useful and affirming reflections of what we are trying to share in the world.

Like a crazy paving mosaic, we use tiny fractured off shards of mirror to build our self image.  Alone we create our own inner mirror as best we can.

We know, though, the limits of that kind of mirror.    We know that it contains gaps and flaws, refractions and spiders.   We know not to trust that self image because we know that we don’t have the simple reflection of accurate mirroring in the world.

If we doubt our mirror. we doubt what we see in it.  That means we doubt the knowledge and feelings that we see, not feeling the shattered reflection gives us enough truth for strong permission to feel what we feel and know what we know.  Our foundation for recovery is weak.

By covering the mirrors to avoid reflecting what is uncomfortable, normative society tries to erase the power of accurate mirroring for the challenging, “too” people.   We struggle for visibility in the world because we struggle to be confident and empowered in our own self image, struggle to believe the strength and beauty we see reflected.

For social beings, do we exist without the mirroring of relationship, the networked mirroring of community?  How can we know who we are until we can see ourselves reflected?   It is my fondest hope that in my writing and speaking I have offered some useful mirroring for others, that by revealing myself I have helped some get a glimpse of what is inside them.

Still, those of us whose self image is made up of tiny, tiny shards of mirror, scavenged and scraped and saved, glued together the best we can, have low confidence in that reflection, low confidence to trust our own feelings and self-knowledge.

We experience others trying to project on us rather than to accurately reflect us, to come from their expectations, to make our search for truth about them and their fears, about the feelings and knowledge they want to keep invisible and unchallenging in their lives.

The struggle for visibility is the struggle for mirroring and the struggle for accurate mirroring is the struggle for permission to feel what we feel and know what we know, which is one of the essential foundations of recovery.

Without an effective self image, we cannot build an effective life.

Shards, well, as much as we scrape, they just don’t really cut it.


Continue reading Mirror Shards

No Habit

Once you get good at no, it’s hard to change.

I learned early that to survive and be even halfway comfortable in the world, I had to say no.

No to my trans heart, no to expectations of safety, no to my body, no to indulgence, no to so many things.

Once I got good at that kind of denial, I started to get rewards.   People were happy that I shut up, tuned into them and offered service, so much happier than when I was a mouth, sharp queer.

Becoming proficient and expert at no had a high cost, culminating in the decade when I helped my parents live their last days and then for the two and a half years when I had to live in the choices of the executor, choices that served her.

Aesthetic denial is a thing.  It has its own demands, own price and own momentum.   Once you learn to tolerate loss, saying no becomes more than habit, it becomes virtue itself.

There are many good reasons to say no.   No clears away the clutter, heightens the focus and sharpens the vision.   You cannot live a good and healthy life without learning to say no, to say it graciously and with power.

There are many good reasons to say yes, too.   A no habit may be more disciplined than an indulgent yes habit, trying to have it all at once, but when that no habot blocks you, isolates you, and chills you down, it becomes a problem.

I encourage people to say yes more than I have, to go out and be bold in claiming transformation and possibility in their life.   I may have learned an enormous amount from no, from that aesthetic denial, but I know that it denies vitality and is not for everyone.

My sister recently told me that my detailed memory is a 70/30 thing.   It’s great that I listen close, hold history, make connections, reflect patterns, but it is also a pain in the ass that I remember every cut that laid me out.   70% lovely blessing and 30% really annoying is the balance she came to.

The most memorable moments are not when I said no, rather they are where I could not bring myself to say yes.   A year ago TBB offered a new computer, for example, a blessing that came from gratitude, fortune and love, and I diddled and dithered, unable to say yes.

What is the point of saying yes?   If you are used to no, have recast your expectations, analyzed not just your experience but the stories of others, you understand yes is just a passing thing, a long shot.    The odds of success, well, they aren’t good.

Humans, though, are long shot creatures.   “Shoot for the stars,” they tell you, “and if you fail, you still will have the moon.”  We know our success will always end up smaller than our vision, so we have an incentive to dream huge and compromise later.

We love dreamers because we love the pure vitality contained in their hope.

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.   Saying yes to the long shots rarely pays off in the way that you expect, but it almost always brings surprises that are rewarding and often delightful.    You cannot have divine surprise, much less a church based on it, without saying yes to long shots.

Yes is what keeps people in the flow of human intercourse and commerce.   If you don’t say yes, people will stop asking, leaving you on the sidelines.   The circle of community flows on yes, on one hand washing the other, on the economic lift that circular engagement and cooperation provides.

Spend too long, spend too much of yourself on saying no and it becomes quite a habit.   Yes just seems too costly, too expensive, too depleting of scare resources.   You just can’t afford to say yes.   You lose the craziness to say yes, even if you can encourage that in others.

Committing suicide with cash in your pocket, though, seems like missing one last opportunity to claim value in this life.  Taking that sure option to leave feels safer than the long shot that may well just hurt you again, stuck in a cycle of diminishing returns.

I often ask myself “So, if you could do anything you want, what would it be?”   Trying to tap into my desires, my gut, that part of the brain beyond language feels important.   It also feels like trying to reach too far, my no habit evaluating possible outcomes and finding them wanting.   The no habit cannot plan for surprises, so it discounts them.

I am clear why I leaned to say no.

I am not clear how I learn to say yes.

That is a problem.

Actively Dying

I had never heard a death rattle before, but when that sound started to emerge from my mother, lying in her recliner, I knew what it was.

The hospice nurse hadn’t believed me when I told her my mother’s intentions.  “If people could choose when to go,” she told me, “my mother would have stayed longer.”   I had called her supervisor the day before to explain what was happening, but she fobbed me off with kind indulgence.

When the nurse showed up, though, she took one look and understood that my mother was “actively dying.”    Yes, I had tried to tell them that and they hadn’t listened, thinking that I didn’t know what I knew.

My brother was upset on the phone. Why hadn’t the experts told him how close her death was?   Because they weren’t listening to me, that’s why.  He hadn’t been listening to me either, deciding to trust the experts.

Accurate mirroring gives you permission to feel what you feel and know what you know — one of the essential foundations of recovery.
 — Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score

I feel what I feel and I know what I know, but the social permission to do that, the effects of accurate mirroring, well, that has always escaped me.

I explain as clearly and effectively as I know how, but because my messages contravene conventional wisdom, because I have no system standing to offer them, they become invisible, discounted and rejected.

In a world where people like me, nature like mine and ideas I have are not supposed to exist, instead being hidden behind nice walls of separation, I may as well not exist.   I struggle to make my truth visible, but if no one will engage the meaning, writing it off as noise, invisibility stays, invisibility erodes, invisibility destroys.

Today, I feel my own breathing impaired.   It’s warm and humid for May, so that doesn’t help, but my breath is still shallow and laboured.   I think of breathing, but my crushing 2003 experience at Kripalu still haunts me.  They actively worked to silence me, turning returning to the breath into a reminder of erasure.

I boldly and elegantly speak my truth.   I share it with anyone who will engage it.  I do this to claim “one of the essential foundations of recovery.”

My sharing, though, seems to consume all the oxygen in the room, driving people away.   I keep breathing but never seem to fill my lungs, never seem to get the intake that I very much need.

I left a car for my sister to pick up, sending her a text message that told her exactly where I hid the key, “driver rear, under red bag.”  She acknowledged the message, but later that night, I got a furious phone call from a number I didn’t recognize.

“Did you leave the key in the car?” she shot at me.

“Yes,” I responded.

“Did you leave the key in the car?” she shot at me again.

“Yes,” I said.  “Definitely yes!”

“Well, where is it?”

She hadn’t brought her phone or her spare key, so after a time of furious looking, she had to hike to a restaurant and ask to use the phone.  She was riled and angry, accusing me of acting like others in her life who don’t follow through, who mess things up.

I gave her the finding phrase “driver rear, under red bag,” and she admitted she hadn’t looked there.

If I can’t get people to hear material that are short, tightly constructed and directly relevant to their concerns because they are distracted and stressed, what can I get them to hear?

If I can’t get people to hear, how can I ever expect accurate mirroring?  How can I ever see myself existing in the world other than as the projection of assumptions and conventions?

When my sister asks me how I am, I tell her.    When she asks me what I need, I tell her that I need to know that I have been heard.   What I get in return, though, is passive aggressive crap about my resistance to just do what she wants.   Just like the moment when she threatened to call the police to claim I had abused our parents if I didn’t comply with what would make her life easier, she doesn’t want to listen, she just wants to be relieved by my submission.

As a friend told me in the 1990s, “How can someone desire like you when they have never met someone like you?”   How can I exist in the expectations of the world if I am just too queer to be comprehensible?

“If you were just less, you would be much easier to take care of,” people tell me.  Live within my limits and you won’t be a problem, they say, because they know their own boundaries, know their own struggles to stay fixed and stable in the world, know how consumed they are with the struggles they face everyday.

It’s my own fault that I am too intense, too queer, too observant, too everything, or at least that is the message that I have gotten since I was very, very small.  How dare I challenge people who are just trying to do the best that they can in a very tough world?

The struggle to exist in the world, in the social world that we humans construct, is always difficult.  We exist between the primary duality, between wild individuality and tame assimilation, between transcendence and expectation.

When you don’t exist in the world, you get the air knocked right out of you.  Your breathing gets shallow and laboured.    It begins to rattle as the line between dark and light, between possibility and reality, between existence and invisibility pierces through you.  Warped mirroring, or no mirroring, well, it is crushing.

This pressure results in a kind of deep rattle, back and forth, shaking between here and there.

It’s something you will know when you hear it.

Real, Real, Real, Real

The fact that you can stand up and speak rationally about your emotions, that your left brain can report on what your right brain is feeling, does not mean that those emotions inside you are not real, powerful and crippling.   The body keeps the score.

I know that most counselors believe their job is helping people find a conceptual framework to understand and manage emotion.   Teaching how to be open, aware and considerate even when you have deep feelings is the goal.

“You are smart enough to understand what is going on, so you are smart enough to take care of it,” people want to tell me.

The expectation is that just because I can, because I have done the heavy lifting, I am the one who should eat my feelings, the one who should make things easy for others who haven’t had to work through their feelings.   That expectation is crushing.

I know, I know.   You are trying to hurt me because my responses bring up your stuff.   It will be easier if you scar me into withdrawal and silence  than if you have to face yourself and do the work.  My emotions are intense and corrupt, so not only can they be discounted and erased, they should be.  I should get over them, be a man, practicing self-denial and compartmentalization.

As Dr. van der Kolk says, though, The Body Keeps the Score.


Relationship Belief

I don’t believe in special relationships.   I don’t believe that there is someone out there who is my perfect match, the one person in the world who can save me, rescuing me from all my pain.   The world is not voodoo, a place where we search for magic bullets and short cuts, the world is a place where we have to do our own work.

Not believing in special relationships is a good thing and I know that.

The problem is that I am losing faith in regular old relationships.    I know that no one will save me, but I am not at all sure anyone will even understand me.

I know that I can serve other people in relationships, entering their world, even working on shared projects.  That is clear to me after many, many decades of service.

When I look around at where I want to go to meet people, though, where I believe I should put in effort to make connections, to find allies, to feel safe, seen valued and reciprocated, well, the pickings look very bleak.   I don’t have much belief at all that the kind of relationships I need are out there.

I’m big, trans, queer and very much post therapy.   In my experience, this makes me incomprehensible at all but the simplest levels.

It’s easy to say that all that means is I have to put in the time and persistence to let relationships develop, to let people get to know me, but I know that people grow and heal in their own time and their own way, so doing the work to mirror me effectively probably isn’t high on their priorities.

A director of a big LGBT centre ran into trans friend this weekend and was ready to discuss a trans kids who showed up looking for hormones or a celebrity publicly transitioning.   That was her complete range of trans literacy and availability.  This does reflect my experience over the last twenty years.

I reached out to a local pastor who spoke on trans rights to a statewide rally.   I asked about her perspective on being an ally to transpeople.  I got a weak response, telling me that her stance is more conceptual than engaged, that our abjection is the social justice cause of the week.    She hasn’t done the work to enter trans lives, to walk with us through hell, but she does believe in goodness.   Sweet, but I shouldn’t expect reciprocity.

Most people assume that they should be able to understand whatever is in front of them.   They assign meaning based on their own worldview, erasing any confusing bits as just noise.   They don’t have time, intention or willingness to question their own knowledge, their own beliefs so they just fit others into that structure.

I find this response to me erasing and painful.

If I believe that “no one is going to get the joke,” as I have often said, why the hell should I ever bother telling it?   Why hang around at all?

Hell is other people.   Heaven is other people.   We are social animals, wired for connection and cooperation, needing others around us.  Relationships are how we get what we need in the world.

Stop believing in the power & possibility of relationships and you stop believing in humanity.   An hermetic life where we listen closely is a choice, but no human is ever an island.

I need relationships.    I know that.

If, after long experience, I don’t believe that relationships that offer me what I need are possible, life looks very bleak indeed.

Furious Structures

To get through the effects of trauma, it is useful to go back to a time when you felt safe and loved in the world, a time when you were a shark, powerful and cared for.

What happens, though, when you don’t have a memory of that time when people looked at you with adoration, putting you at the centre of the world, focused on helping you blossom?  What do you do if life was dangerous and terrifying from your earliest days and you scraped for the kind of affirmation and touch that your reptilian and mammalian brain needed to develop well?

In “The Body Keeps The Score,”  Dr. Bessel van der Kolk talks about his experience with Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor therapy (PBSP), a technique developed by Albert Pesso and Diane Boyden-Pesso since 1961.

In PBSP, a facilitator works with a group of people to re-enact experiences, creating a tableau in the therapy space which helps create new organizing structures for a participant.   By helping them to experience and understand past events on a physical level they can build new ways to interpret their world, beyond the deep old hurts.

With my experience of doing things for myself, I explored what this work might feel like, how I might respond.   It was very emotional for me, powerful and evocative as I created a virtual space and placed people in it, opening to my reactions.

I saw my mother, full of pain, anger, frustration and self pity, not wanting to go near her.   I saw my father, kind and loving, but addled around language, not having the tools to create healthy structures that included a family.

What did I want my ideal father to say to my mother?  “You are not allowed to hurt these people.   You are not allowed to soak them in your own crippling pain and futility.”

When I imagined my real father in this structure, though, my heart went out to him, an intensely sweet man doing his best to care for a family he loved deeply in the face of a hurricane of self-loathing.

In PBSP, one person enrols as observer, someone to stand with you through the experience.   They provide external affirmation and validation of the emotional experience, allowing you to viscerally understand that no one is alone.

In my internal session, though, I felt the rage rise. I was angry, angry, angry at this observer.

“Can’t you see what is happening here?   Can’t you see the pain, the destruction and the damage?   How can you let this sweet man be hurt?   How can you tolerate what is being done to the kids?   How can you let my mother suffer like that?    These are my family and they are soaking in pain!   I am doing everything I can, working so hard!   Can’t you help?   Can’t anyone help?”

I wasn’t focused on myself, I was focused on helping my family.  I was a kid, without help, in a family cut off from social structures — no extended family, no neighbourhood, no friends — and I couldn’t stop the events.

I remembered when I agreed to go to therapy at twelve, but only if they would also help my parents.  I remembered my uncle, as we met him in Arizona when I was 16, telling me I was driving my parents apart, and me responding that I was only revealing the breach that was already there.

My deepest, most primal emotions were immense sadness over two tender people who I knew saw the world in a different way, even if I had never heard of Dr. Asperger’s work, and who I knew were abandoned by the community around them.   They were prickly and hard to help, responding in ways others saw as odd and off-putting, but they were my parents, lovable and loved by me.

I couldn’t find anyone to get it, couldn’t find anyone to help.   That experience of the world continued as I took care of them until their deaths, being there to buffer and mitigate the world around them.   That experience continues today as I work so hard to find language to explain, look to find people who can understand and reciprocate my feelings and end up still struggling alone.

In the structure I need to build, I need not just an observer who sees and acknowledges but also someone who comes in to provide comfort, affirmation and assistance.   I need to have a deep belief, beneath my left brain language and rationality, that when I cry out, someone will be there to help.

In PBSP, this is often seen as the ideal mother, the one who can be there for us, not my real mother who even in her last year wanted to tell me that “sometimes your father put you kids’ needs before mine and that hurt me and made me angry.”   I smiled, concierge and therapist, knowing she needed to express her pain, but the child inside of me was cut to the core again.   We were kids, damnit, we needed taking care of!  But I knew she was right, that her experience was of suffering and had no one who could help her.

In my creation stories, I talk about “my mother in the sky,” the one who gave birth to my soul and not my body, the mother who loves me beyond the embodied world of flesh.   I see her in the moon and know that she is always there for me.

She is a part of the ideal mother, yes, but only ideal beyond embodiment.  That makes my experience very, very separate.

Not having an embodied mother and not seeing how my mother, as Aspie as she was would ever be embodied in the world, left me feeling disembodied.

I’m not, though, of course, being as human as any of my siblings on this big blue marble.  And my body keeps the score, as Dr van der Kolk reminds me.

Struggling to find help & safety with embodiment has been a lifetime struggle.    My experience, buried deep in my basic brain structures, is of frustration.

Why will no body help?

Solution Is The Problem

Obese women are much more likely to have endured sexual abuse, as noted in  “The Body Keeps The Score” is Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

When these women are helped with weight, their underlying issues are exposed and their lives can get very difficult.

Their size is a defence that keeps them from feeling vulnerable and sexualized, allowing them to feel safe and protected in a world where that safety was dramatically and horribly violated in in the past.

The problem that plagues them is not their weight.   Rather, their weight is a solution to a deeper underlying problem, one that is much more intense and more difficult to address.   It is not that they don’t know the health challenges of obesity, it is just that in choosing between two challenges, the challenges of being fat are much more managable than the challenges they feel in being vulnerable.

Is the value of my life defined by how well and precisely I have built my coping mechanisms?   Is it my brilliance in growing elegant scar tissue that leaves me a wounded healer, someone who others want to help them with their own healing needs.

My mother felt abandoned and unsafe as a child.    She didn’t feel attunement with her mother, did not feel seen and understood, instead sensing pressure and demands that seemed to erase and batter her.

When you enter the communities around autism today, the loudest voices will be frustrated parents who feel disconnected and betrayed by having broken kids.   Their children are not what they wanted, are beyond their capabilities to understand and engage.   Many times these parents look to blame for this, suggesting that vaccines or other issues are the root of their disappointment and struggle.

In the 1930s, how could my grandmother understand a child who had the kind of brain that Dr. Asperger had not yet even described?   This unruly and wilful child seemed to resist even the simplest social expectations, not picking up emotional cues and basic graces.  There was no context to help her, no support groups or people to blame.  I understand why my grandmother got frustrated, choosing to sometimes strike out and ride street cars all day, leaving my mother to feel abandoned.

I had to do the eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral.   After, my mother told me it was very nice — I had worked hard to acknowledge her flaws — but she was still furious with her mother.   Seventy five years old and she had not come to peace.

My mother made us all pay for the abandonment she felt.  Her demands to have us make her feel secure and happy were completely unreasonable, but that didn’t stop her from acting out, from spewing her own self pity and failure all over her family.

During the last decade of their lives I was clear that I wasn’t taking care of my mother, rather I was helping my father taking care of my mother, protecting him from being crushed by her demands as he got older and less resilient.

This was just a continuation of what I had been doing from a very young age.  I wanted my parents to get help, wanted my father not to get banged up from his codependent relationship with my mother, wanted to protect my sister and give her the strength to stand up for myself.

By taking the brunt, being the target patient, I even gave my creepy brother space to get out and save himself, where he could end up with a wife who demanded he attack his birth family for not being nice enough to her.

I’m glad that my parents were taken care of, that my sister felt safe and protected, that I did the work.

It leaves me, though, to be defined by my scar tissue, by the way I compensated and defended in the world.

My solutions are my problems.  The way I protected myself and those I loved are the processes that hurt me, leaving me distant from my own body, from deep intimacy and from bold strokes of creation.   My hermetic solutions both produce powerful & valuable understandings and limited & crippling structures.   I grew compassion & context, but never grew empowerment & confidence.

More on this tomorrow.