The internet access was terminated, leaving me even more off the grid.

It felt like just another freeing loss.   I may have spent a lot of time coming for inputs and offering my voice, but those two pieces were profoundly disconnected.   My voice was offering diminishing returns and the crap I found was just more and more distracting.

I sat for a about a week and spoke to myself, making a piece of parts, a goulash.


Growing up trans is the experience of being taught what you cannot be.

The lesson for transpeople is simple: we can’t simply be whoever we want to be.  When we reach for what our heart wants, we are challenged, resisted and shamed.

Gender is enforced, we learn, at the extreme cost of our inner knowledge, at the very dear price of our tender hopes.

We leaned very early that there were wrong, wrong, wrong answers to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We learned that although we could instantly see what we wanted in the world, pretty and potent, asking for it would end up with denial and discipline telling us what is right and how we were wrong.

We were told that our dreams are corrupt, to be discouraged and demolished.  “When I was just little I asked my mother what I will be.  Will I be pretty, will I be rich?  Here’s what she said to me: You stupid ass, you are a boy!  No pretty for you!

No matter what our tastes or our needs are, we are only offered what is socially approved for people with bodies like us.  We are held to standards and expectations that we will be like others, liking what they like and competing with them for status and affirmation. We not only are denied what we love, we are forced into what we hate, into playing a game that we know doesn’t fit us.

How does knowing so early that you can never really be who you want to be, that the choices of the “other” gender will always be close, at hand, but will always be sickness if you choose them?

What I want — what any woman wants — is to be present in a network of loving relationships.

From a very young age, I learned that while I could give love, asking for my presence to be respected and understood was to ask too much.  I needed to be hidden, veiled, disguised, reduced, modulated, attenuated, suppressed, repressed, oppressed and flattened in order to even get a taste of what I wanted, of what I knew I needed.

I had to settle for serving others, renouncing my own whatever, because my whatever is what I could never be, is what could never be understood and loved, could never be a dream.

I needed to find commercial, approved dreams to substitute, panting for the machine made red shoes that would end up dancing me to the machine’s tune.

I learned how to renounce desire, how to cope with loss, how to move past ego.

I learned to trust nobody with my dreams, burying them under invasive thoughts, the armour that kept my dreams away from even me.

What I needed to do next is to replace that externalized stuffing with my own authentic, primal and crystalline desire.

But growing up trans is the experience of being taught what you cannot be.  It is growing up knowing that it is unsafe and unpleasant to walk as yourself in the world, waiting for the third gotcha, cutting yourself down to fit in, or being slammed by the beliefs of others.

And so, I end up bereft.

Is there some convenient synthetic goal to catch me and drive my passion to fight for acquiring it in the world?

Apparently not.  I know what I cannot be and what I can be seems slight, empty, and well, insulting.

From a very young age, I have been clear about what I cannot be.  I was told an immense, unchallengable “no.”

In that context, I shaped what I am.

And I cannot imagine what I might be from here in any way that seems worth the work to even try and get there.


If you can avoid being a healer, finding something else to do, you probably should do that.

People heal in their own way and their own time.

Most of what people do around healing is to resist it, trying to hang on to their imagined life, the one they don’t have but the one that they just know would make their life perfect.  That perfection will never come to pass, of course, because they are living a human life.  What will delight and heal them will be a surprise.  Still, giving up their imagined perfection, those images of how life “should be” is always the hardest part of opening to growth and healing.

To be a healer, you have to be the embodiment of what they fear, what they resist, what they want to destroy and make invisible in their own view.  You speak the lessons of experience that they don’t want to hear; if they wanted to hear it, if they were ready to hear it, they would have heard it long ago, as the truths have always existed in the world no matter how much we want to fight them.

As a healer, you don’t just have to fight your own battles, you also have to fight in battles with those who are just starting out, struggling with basics.  That engagement will help you heal, will give you practice, will move your understanding forward — to learn something well, teach it — but it very well may not give you very much satisfaction, comfort or joy.

Those who clean up the struggle are very useful, but it is not work that creates respect or advancement.

If you want respect or advancement, go be a missionary, standing in the front of rooms and preaching to the choir, telling them what they want to hear.   Missionaries put on a show and get the rewards from that showmanship.


In selling your missionary services, you have to become your target client, according to this video.

Just think of a time when you made a big commitment and over time, it changed your life for the better.   Own that story,  tell it to other people and you can convince them that what you are offering can lead to the change that they want in their life too.

The lesson is simple: be aspirational.  If they want to be like you, they will buy what you are selling, at least if you really believe that what you are selling changed your life for the better.

The theory isn’t wrong.   We buy what we are committed to and when people put it all on the line, they are much more likely to follow through, to make the effort, to actually create transformation in their lives.

Like all sales, though, there is a bit of a question of objectivity.   The person telling the compelling anecdotes is a true believer, working hard to convince you, to get you to buy in.

They have no obligation, no responsibility to tell you about other people who made the same purchase, the same commitment and for whom the results weren’t so successful.    They don’t have to disclose or even discover failures.

We want to buy into success.   We want what we see other people have, want to believe that it is possible for us.  And it may well be.  You can’t win if you don’t play, as the lottery used to remind us.

In the end, it is always persistence that succeeds.  Knock on enough doors and you will find someone to say yes.   Be smart while knocking on that many doors and you will learn how to execute better and get to yes more often.  The lessons are out there if only we practice enough to learn them, and we can only get that much practice in if we are not stopped or distracted in the process.

Persistence demands belief.   You have to believe that success will come on the next door knock, have to keep the energy and focus up so you are ready to engage the next challenge and win it.  To be persistent you have to let go of what just happened so you can full commit to what is going to happen next.

Being relentless is hard work.  Pushing past failure, getting over your own emotions, not being distracted by the everyday challenges and the lowered expectations of those around is not easy.  It takes a certain kind of intelligent ignorance, paying attention to the lessons and ignoring the resistance at the same time.

To do that, you have to be very clear about what your goal is, what you want.


If you want to be a healer, a change agent in the world, relentless isn’t the point.

Humans live in a finite world.   Every choice for something is a choice against something.  The resource is always limited and allocating it is the most important decision.   You can’t be relentless on all fronts; you have to pick your priorities.

You have to choose your battles, be smart about your fights.  I asked someone for their best advice for me when I was in my twenties and this was their reply: don’t piss into the wind.  Choose where you put your essence so that it makes a difference and doesn’t just make a smelly mess.

Fighting is important.  People don’t believe that you will fight for them unless you will fight with them.  If they see you pushing them to do better, to make better choices, they will believe that you are on their side.  If they see you trying to enforce petty bullshit, picking fights from selfish ego, then they will know something else about you.

Relationships are about the fighting.  You should pick the partner that you want to fight with for the rest of your life.  When someone loves you and cares enough to fight with you, helping you focus, making you better and stronger, that is a keeper.  Passionate fighting clears the air, is kind of exciting, and making up can always be an enjoyable experience.

Fighting never works if you are only negative.  You need to fight to win something, not just to cause the defeat of others.  Creating allies, reinforcing and bolstering them is a vital part of the battle.  Helping to make those along side of you strong, keeping the values aligned, making sure that internal fighting prepares you for better going after common cause is vital.  Building a fighting team, with people who you can tag in, people who can watch your back, people who can spot and give you tips and people who can help you recover by feeling safe and cared for allows you to fight smarter and better.

Conflict is tough and expensive, but it is the only way to surface the best we can be, to get more focused and stronger.

This is a key difference between missionaries and healers: missionaries pitch belief, asking people to rely on faith and dogma, and healers pitch doubt, asking people to face themselves and do the work to get clear and get better.

Healers can’t just be dogmatic and single minded, creating separations between good and bad.   You have to be smart, seeing the world the way that others see it, getting smarter and engaging in the battle for the liberation, empowerment and actualization of people you approach with love.   That battle line between easy comfortable choices and better enlightened choices is where the fucking hard work gets done.

It’s easy to know you need to fight for and with your children.  They depend on you and you have made a responsibility to them by their very creation.  Watching them get smarter and fight for themselves over time is almost a joy.

Success almost never comes by having one big win, rather it is the small wins and smaller losses that add up to progress and achievement.  Making better choices over time adds up to a better life.

Fighting will always leave you beat up, injured and battered.  Wins will come if you are willing to be humbled, to learn lessons, to develop the muscles and the skills, but there will always, always be losses along the way.  Spend too much time cutting the losses, protecting what you have, and you will start missing the wins. For people fighting for change exhaustion is almost guaranteed and it is very possible that the timing will be off, the costs will be too high and the fight will become futile.  The only time you have to win is the last time that you try, but there is a last time for everyone.

Choosing who else to fight, how you can use your limited resources to make change, always partial and imperfect change, of course, but change, is the most important power of those who commit to transformation.  The odds are high that we will never see the results of most of our fights, as people heal and grow in their own time, engaging their own change after many pebbles build up to shift the way they see the world.  We plant seeds that we can’t track to blossoming, but we plant them anyway.

Everyone can use healthy engagement, a good challenging fight to help them understand and clarify their values and beliefs, to help them focus their choices.  Some, though, will benefit faster and more deeply from that work.   Since the work is always costly to the healer, that means you need to pick your battles.

In the end, we are what we fight for.

We are lost when the fight goes out of us, when any fight no longer seems worth the effort.


My work has been to say “yes” to transformation.

I have done all I can do to affirm the possibilities of other people, helping them accept what is and encouraging them to change what they can, to boldly let go of fear and embrace love, to become more open and vulnerable, to be more of who they are.

That has meant working like Shaw’s tailor, always taking new measure, seeing change and trends.  I have never been able to fix my worldview, falling on to belief.

I know how hard it is to say “yes” to moving past the lessons burned into us as we struggled to know what we know and feel what we feel.

I know that everyone needs others to say “yes” to their dreams, to hold their possibilities tenderly, helping them find those shiny imaginings that fed their soul before the everyday world worked to crush them out and replace them with the fears and desires of our parents, our teachers, our peers and of those marketers who wanted to tell us what we needed to be a liked and popular member of this culture.

The fight inside of us is always between doing the hard thing which makes us stand out, unique and authentic, and doing the easy thing, which is supposed to let us fit in as one of the gang, easy and simple.  Healers encourage us to fight for the best we can be, to trust what the creator put in our heart.   That fight is internal, the struggle between wild and tame, the challenge to face the quests to become who we always were but be forever changed, to kill the dragon with “thou shalt” on every scale.  We resist because we want to be popular rather than be respected, want to just play along.

Queer people in a room reset the boundaries.  When the queerest person in the room is only a 4, others can only feel safe revealing themselves as a 3.   When the queerest person is an 8, though, it becomes much safer to truth, to reveal the parts of you you are scared might be a 4 or even a 5.   It is a gift to the group to be bold and out and queer, but it is a gift with lots of cost, because people who don’t want to engage their own queerness will isolate you, removing standing.  It is lonely.

It is very hard to find people to say “yes” to choices that they would never make for themselves, to encourage audacity and boldness which they are trying to constrain in their own life.  They are much more likely to offer their own solutions, playing the victim card or compartmentalizing for example.  It is how they face the challenges in their life, so it should be good enough for you.

My work has been to say “yes” to transformation.  I know how hard it was to face down the huge “no” I was pounded with, know that other people need to be encouraged. Unless we make the big choices, unless we stick with it, unless we feel seen and valued, having hope that change for the better is possible for us, our big, potent dreams will never be manifest in the world.

Getting that engagement and encouragement for myself in the world, though, has proven to be very difficult, even as I fight to be myself and move the boundaries for all everyday.


I am, as I have been trying to say for years now, empty and decayed inside and out.  I haven’t had my feet out of fleece socks in over four years, nice shoes lost to me.

My head keeps me upright, but my heart is bankrupt, my reserves depleted.  I cannot remember the last time I felt mirrored, affirmed and valued for anything other than my service to other people.

If I am just living for other people, I am not living.

I imagine trying to find a place in some kind of community, some kind of enterprise, some kind of society, and all I can see is how I can do the work that other people need me to do.   I see being a beast of burden, not really a human.  I enter the worlds of other people but they do not come close to mine.

Worse, I imagine being blamed for that result.   If they are good and I am disconnected, then I must be doing something wrong, right?   My fault, says the one who was scapegoated as the target patient from their earliest days.

I have no support structures, and while I have tried to find or build them in the last two and a half years, I have failed.  My bunker mentality just strengthens, evidence for reasons to exit seeming to dry up and blow away. Unsafe.

My choices, I have been told, have always been about other people, about disappointing and frustrating them.  They see me through their fears and expectations and that is a very narrow, very cold place to try and live.   I am sure that whatever choice I make people will find it rude, selfish and inconsiderate, making it about the people around me and not about my own challenges, because people always have done that to me.

How can anyone be expected to not find me too intense, too verbose and too overwhelming?   How do they have the time, the energy and the skills to parse out meaning from the volumes I offer, enough to hold a model of me in their head and their heart?

If I can’t expect others, then what can I expect?   If I am winching at the core, alone and isolated there, how do I move past it?

It is clearly worth every earthly thing that I have to go and get what I need.   While I can imagine many places to try and find such, I can’t say that my experience predicts any success in the process.   I know what the chatter is around trans and that chatter is very far from where I am now.

It should be easier than this, I know.  If it is not easier for me, then it is mu fault, making it too complicated, resisting the simplicity of humanity.

To be without a friend in the world is a challenging place.  I know that I can be a friend and a very good one.  Having one, on the other hand, has always proven to be a challenge.

“It’s never too late” is a great aphorism.

As a transperson, though, the first thing you were taught is simple: it was too late the moment you were born.

Do the best you can do with what you have.  Make lemonade.  Accept what you cannot change and have the courage to change what you can.

Sometimes the change that is needed and is possible can be obvious.

Relationship Defined

“If male-to-female transgenders are called “transwomen,” should male-to-female transgender fathers be called “transmothers” ?”
— Father’s Day post on a crossdressers blog

Absolutely not.  You may change your identification in the world, but you can’t easily change your child’s identification of you, or change your responsibility to them.

Once a father, always a father, at least in the eyes of a child.   They need fathers, need someone to be there for them, someone who they can rely on.

You want to go gender neutral and call them a trans parent, well, maybe.  But fathers are defined by kids who see us, not by our own claims and assertions.

To be a father is a sacred responsibility.  You carry role that from the moment you start that relationship with a child.

The ABC Family reality show “Becoming Us” centres around the teenage son of a transwoman who is just emerging.   He is dating a girl whose father also identifies as trans, but who still lives mostly as a man.

Ben is clear: while his transitioning parent may not want to accept the label “father,” preferring to be called “mother” or at least the gender neutral “parent,” she is his father.   The very fact of denying the facts of fatherhood upsets Ben a great deal, causing him real loss and distress at a time where he is working to embrace his own manhood.

I understand this firsthand.

“It’s easier to call them Diane and Holly,” I said to Evan, “but I know that they are your mother and father.”   I could see him relax in that moment, a transperson understanding the facts as he understood them and not trying to rationalize or finesse.

In a binary world, it’s easy to want to believe that if you are not one thing then you are the other.  The ideas that if we renounce manhood, we become woman, and everything about us changes to that model is seductive and compelling, allowing the idea of clean and perfect transitions.

The old Benjamin transmodel used to kowtow to that binary expectation.   We were expected to rewrite our history to be more gender normative, turning boyfriends into girlfriends, wives into husbands and so on.

While we could concoct a new history, the people in relationship with us had no such obligation.   They would remain our ex-wives, our sons, our parents, and so on.

We are unable to rewrite the memories and facts of anyone else’s life, even if we try to erase, manipulate and rewrite our own.    The relationships we had are the relationships we had, the choices we made are the choices we made, and the consequences and responsibilities our actions created are the consequences and responsibilities we have.

The mother of Katherine Hawkins was clear.  “My daughter emerged as trans and purged herself of all her inner ambiguities…  and dumped them all right onto us!”   Our emergence demands that people either disconnect from us or engage our ambiguities.   For children, this is an enormous burden to dump onto them.

Emerging as trans in the world does not move us from man to woman.  It moves us more fluidly and fully into the world of trans, of between, of both and none.  We have always been unfixed in the world, most of us knowing that very early, but we knew how to hide behind the expectations written on our bodies

We dream of becoming fixed, but that is not our lot.   We come out, holding on to whatever bit we can, but we still know that we can become unstuck in any moment when someone writes their own assumptions and expectations over our hard-won gender.

Our past is our past, no matter how far we have come from our old habits, traditions and choices.  Our body is our body, always stuck between the sexes no matter how much we intervene.

We have a trans past, a trans body and a trans life.    Our relationships cross gender and time.   We ask our lovers to engage all of us so they have to move past heterosexist binary to find their own embracing sexuality

We ask those we are in relationship to stay with us, but relationships are never one sided.   It always takes two to tango, and we have our own part to play, especially with those we have brought into the world and who are struggling to create their own full, mature and complete lives.

We have labels of preference, assertions of identity that we feel keeps our past in the shadows and throws light onto our present choices.   We make our claims and strive to grow into them.

None of that actually erases our past or our responsibility, though.  If we value the relationships we are in, want to keep the connections that we have created, we need to stand up and do the work.

I have seen transwomen try to blame families and I have challenged them, in print (1997) and face to face, encouraging them to reach out rather than just sit at the bar feeling sorry for themselves.

Our relationships with other people don’t change just because we want them to.  Everyday we will always be trans, in relationships, in our minds, in the eyes of others, somewhere, no matter how much we want to be fixed and normative.

We have interesting lives, we transpeople.  And we remind the people with conventional lives of our continuous common humanity.

We have gifts we can give to those we love, but only if we do the work to stay in relationship with them, respecting them as we want them to respect us.

(Oh, and I would not easily call a transperson a “transgender” any more than I would easily call a gay person a “homosexual.”   We are not our diagnosis.)



Absolutely Hate

“I absolutely hate speaking in front of people.  It makes me want to cry for my mommy,” says Chef Vivian.

There are things that I hate doing too.

They don’t make me want to cry for my mommy, though, because I learned at a very, very young age that would only make things worse as I embarrassed her and failed to do my duty.

Men aren’t really allowed to hate things, or even to suggest that they do.   Strong and silent is required to avoid being shamed, as Brené Brown tells us.

The choice for transpeople felt like it was between doing what we hate or doing what other people will hate us for doing.    We learn early that doing what we love is off limits for us, that we will be hated for doing that, so we are going to have to do things that we hate.

Ms. Vivian has a network to help her when faced with doing something she hates, from mommy to Ben, her partner in life, in parenting and in business.

More than that, when she does what she hates she does it in service of what she loves.   She speaks about her food, her business, her staff, speaking as a part of building something that she is passionate about.

Vivian fights to thrive, to increase her success.

Transpeople, mostly, fight to survive.    We don’t do what we hate because we think it will help take us to the next level, we feel compelled to do what we hate because we are backed into a corner, alone and threatened.

The fight for us starts from the moment we know who we are.   Do we choose to fight to compartmentalize ourselves, policing our choices against revealing what is verboten for the gender role we were assigned, or do we choose to fight for freedom, facing down stigma, expectations and pressure to claim our freedom to express ourselves completely in the world?

It is a fight either way, to lie or to be called a liar.   We learn early that we cannot expect other people to understand and assist, to affirm us, learn that our journey is solitary and full of struggle.

You fight too long, being forced to do what you hate but know you have to do, without reward or healing, and eventually the fight goes out of you.

Facing another challenge, even one that is standard and simple by everyday rules, is just too much to engage.   We want to cry for our mommy, but we know no one will be there, and anyone who does show up will just tell us to man up and get it done, not to be so bloody weak.

I understand my calling as duty.  The moments spent fulfilling it, the writing and the speaking, are good, satisfying, useful.

The human time between, though, facing the battles of everyday life, well, much of that I hate, most of the rest I tolerate, and a few bits I enjoy.   The blessings of a sunset lighting the trees or a lovely moment are joy.

The conventional comforts of a social life seem to have escaped me, replaced with struggle and exhaustion. My potential partner pool (PPP) is infinitesimally small, consisting only of those who have done the therapy work and engaged their own queer humanity.   I tend to see through people, their fears and limits shining, and while I know I can help them move forward a bit, I also know that they can only heal in their own time and in their own way.

Getting to the point I am at meant letting go of desire to get clear, working to make the ego small.    I let go of dreams in favour of acceptance of what is, released fantasies in order to more effectively be present in the process.    When there was a choice between comfort and clarity, I chose clarity.

This renouncement makes me incomprehensible to most humans.

The Lady Bunny, for example, is confounded on how the families of churchgoers who were killed in a white supremacist attack can so quickly forgive the attacker as she would not be able to do that.   TLB’s life is sensational, lived in a club based world of sensation, so the actions of those who strove to do the work of devotion seems fake and unreal.   Why don’t they rage and seethe?

I find it hard to do what I hate unless it seems part of my calling.   Yes, I understand that doing the basic human stuff keeps one active and available to do the work, but that doesn’t make it easier for me.   My context is very alone, very individual, very singular, and that means my life is like a long distance runner, all momentum lost when I stop, no one else to take the lead or to pace me.

I hate engaging systems and power, hate engaging the authorities, and that means I resist doing it.   There is no mommy for me to ask for, though, and there never, ever was.

In the new Disney/Pixar film “Inside Out,” people are operated by five basic emotions — joy, sadness, disgust, fear and hate.  The area of abstract thought is terrifying and weird, especially to an 11 year old girl.   For me, by the time I was 11, abstract thought was the only place I could feel safe, as my emotions were marked as corrupt and perverted.   The five emotions model seems fake to me, so phony I would rather see someone die than be trapped by it.

I know that to move forward, I have to do things in the world that I absolutely hate.   I have to do them not to move to the next level, but just to try and survive in a world where what I have to share is erased and denigrated.

Being a hermit, to me, is avoiding what I absolutely hate.   It is, however, avoiding the possibility of things that I might love, those bits of grain in the chaff that bring reflection, success and love.

A lifetime of having do do what I absolutely hate just to survive, though, has left my willpower depleted.

And other than my mother in the sky, distant and a bit chilled out, there is no mommy to cry for.

Another Map

“You want to get through to our audience, don’t you?” the online producer said.  “Here is a map of their experience, outlining their expectations.

“All you have to do is plot your journey on this map.  It’s simple and easy!”

“But,” I replied, “My journey took me off that map, into liminal spaces.   I had to go through no man’s/no woman’s land, where the standard landmarks and signposts don’t exist.”

“How can anything possibly not be part of the experience we already understand?” she asked.  “We understand the territory of man or woman really well because we were raised in the land of gender.  We went through the pressures to fit in with gender stereotypes.   Just use those common reference points.”

“The land between gender, though,” I tried to explain,” is a place where gender isn’t fixed or conventional.   It is a place where you are no gender at all, where you are all genders at the same time, where you are between and both.”

“Gender is a binary system,” the producer told me.  “You are a guy or a gal.  What’s so hard about that?   You used to be a guy, now you are a gal.  Just explain that using the experiences of those who have live inside of gender everyday.  Simple!”

“Gender is a performative construction,” I uttered, “a copy with no original!   You will always be all the genders you ever were!  Gender is layers of convention that creates a distinction without a difference!   The cultural constructions of gender filter every view of gender with their binary, heterosexist assumptions!”

“Gender is a binary system,” the producer told me, not having heard anything I just said.  “You are a guy or a gal.  What’s so hard about that?   You used to be a guy, now you are a gal.  Just explain that using the experiences of those who have live inside of gender everyday.  Simple!”

How do you explain to flatlanders about the third dimension?   How do you describe a place where there is no GPS, no easy Gender Positioning System?

The experience of going past the social pressure for compulsory gender assumptions based on reproductive biology isn’t the same as staying within the bounds.

Our experience isn’t just feeling the social pressure to fit in, to be appropriately gendered, it is the experience of feeling the need to break out and then to reinvent ourselves, knowing that we will always feel an imposter without that binary ring of absolute and essential truth.   We don’t slip neatly between the experience of being a man and being a woman, instead having the experience of being trans.  Our gendering will always be different because we didn’t fit easily into the gender training we got assigned, and we were never gender trained in the gender we feel called to express.

Somewhere inside of us, we always know that we can’t fit in, that we have to keep part of us deeply hidden and silenced to even try, because most people will just get freaked by our whole truth.   Our authenticity isn’t in one or the other, it is in what others see as contradiction, bullshit and sickness.

We take the Heroes Journey,  into the place beyond the bounds of the known world, through the spaces that our family and friends find so foreign that it scares them. Those underworlds and otherworlds have always existed, but are left in shadows to stop them from threatening the status quo.

They are the places parents fear their children will go, the nexus of fear and transformation.  Policemen are installed, keeping queer out of schools, out of sight, and threats are made, embedding the policing deep in the minds of tender children.

Transpeople have always had to tread with care through those minefields, taut  that our gendered identity will change in someone else’s eyes in a moment, turning us into a fear freak, someone who has given up any right to social protection or even humanity sometimes.

The map that producers want us to draw our journey on does not include diagrams of those dark places, places that they know audiences don’t want to know about, don’t want their children to know about.   The map makes invisible the boundaries of the hell we have to walk through (1996), the hell we face that burns away the false part of us to reveal the authentic and intense.

Any real map would have too much information on it, information that would squick people, turning them queasy, information they don’t want to fall into the wrong hands.   Truth that isn’t on the approved paths is truth that can’t exist in a polite society where advertisers pay the bills.

Our story without the sharp edges, without the twists and turns, without the dark places, without the searing internal monologue, without tales of facing the sadistic gender police outside and inside our heads is not our story.

Our story sanitized for the comfort and protection of those who don’t want to go to the tough places and do the hard work ends up being just a sensationalized tale of standard gender expectations, crossdressing and generic heartbreak, of conventions challenged and then reaffirmed in spades.

We don’t have the experience of tourists, staying on the map and having a bit of a thrill, rather we have the experience of travellers who cast off for the unknown (1999)  and find something inside of us that has been hidden, purged and demonized in the land of our birth.

It is the transitory, transformational, transitional journey of transgender where we find the jewels of our life, hidden deep under the conventions and expectations laid on us by society.  Read your Joseph Campbell; it’s all there, even the reasons why society doesn’t have those jewels and why they the gift is so damn hard to return to a world that clings to comfortable maps with clear boundaries.

Like any traveller, I share the tales of my journey, and a few, a very few who need to go outside and beyond the known will take them and find a clue, a signpost or a clarification in them.

But putting my experience on the old map I had to flee from just to entertain and titillate those who want their own images of separation affirmed and aggrandized?

I don’t know how to do that.

Identity Politics, Queer

The core of identity politics is helping other people make the right choices by raising their consciousness about where they diverge from proper thought.

The core of queer is helping other people make bold unique and individual choices by encouraging them to trust their mind and heart.

The goal of identity politics is to make other people more like other enlightened group members.

The goal of queer is to empower other people to be more like themselves.

The challenge of identity politics is making sure that you stay in line with the rest of the group, remaining popular and accepted.

The challenge of queer is supporting other people as they make choices you would never, ever make for yourself, including choices that make you uncomfortable and afraid.

Standing for identity politics means standing for separation, for group identity, for enforcing walls between us and them.

Standing for queer means standing for connection, for individual freedom, for removing barriers between humans.

Identity politics intends to keep you safe by keeping you well centred within the group, allowing you to surrender your individual identity for the comfort of group identity.

Queer intends to keep you safe by supporting your individual expression, allowing you to operate on your own uniqueness while being supported in the comfort of continuous common humanity.

The primary duality for humans is wild and tame.  How can we be tame enough to assimilate well, be part of the group, and how can we be wild enough to be ourselves, bringing our special gifts to the world?

Everybody knows how to fit in, to follow the rules, to play along.   We learn that early, almost without thinking about it.  Everybody wants to be popular and liked.

Learning how to listen that still small voice inside of us, to stand up and stand out, can be much harder.  Following our own heart, trusting that we know what we know and feel what we feel, requires being strong enough to move beyond fitting nicely into the group.

Identity politics says that our salvation lies in how we fit in, is in the ability to become part of the group.

Queer says that our salvation is lies in how we stand out, is in the ability to bring forward the unique gifts our creator placed within us.

Identity politics asks that we defend the walls, boundaries and prerogatives of the group.

Queer asks that we be a bridge between humans, strengthening networks and communities by strengthening where we stand between, opening pathways and empowering others.

Identity politics asks us to first evaluate choices on how they support the goals and intentions of the group, respecting binary choices.

Queer asks us to first evaluate choices on how they support a more connected and diverse world, respecting dualities across a spectrum of humanity.

Identity politics assumes that the best choices and outcomes are already known and just need to be enforced better.

Queer assumes that we will always be surprised by new views and possibilities and need to be open to those surprises, present in the moment and connected to our own growth.

Identity politics assumes that people like us are the people who can help us most, bringing tradition and consistency.

Queer assumes that people different than us are the people who can help us most, bringing a different viewpoint and strengths to our relationships.

Identity politics suggests that there is one right answer, the one we chose for ourselves, and people who don’t come to that answer are missing the point.

Queer suggests that there are many ways to come to a satisfactory solution, and the one that works for the individual is the correct answer for them.

Identity politics demands we play the game of satisfying group members with our compliance to norms in order to stay liked and popular.

Queer demands we challenge ourselves to make the best choices we can, even if they are unconventional, in order to respect others and ourselves.

Identity politics asks us to police our choices so that we stay in compliance, not standing out or asking others to tolerate our clear differences.

Queer asks us to take responsibility for our choices so that we always act with pride and integrity, even if that means challenging other people’s assumptions or expectations.

Identity politics is designed to be comforting, giving us clear rules and expectations.   If we comply with them, we can expect to be accepted into the group.

Queer is designed to be dynamic, asking us to always be searching for new and better ways to do things.   If we learn to respect and cooperate with other people, we can create strong bonds and organizations which leverage our diverse, unique skills and strengths.

Identity politics lives in the answers, playing the “or” game.

Queer lives in the questions, playing the “and” game.

Identity politics looks for others to blame, rallying around common enemies.

Queer looks for people to take responsibility, rallying around common challenges.

Identity politics asks us to be interchangeable and invisible, allowing us to blend in with the group.   We follow the leader.

Queer asks us to be unique and visible, standing proud with our own power and voice. We are a leader.


Appearances never meant anything much in my family.    We really didn’t care about showing off, about keeping up with or impressing anyone with something new, trendy or shiny.

Engineering set the values, functionality mixed with a bit of elegance.   Add to that my mother’s penchant for a bargain, some cheap thing she found in her explorations and my father’s crackpot nature, always standing alone in his own viewpoint, and we were, well, not styling.   Cars were practical and investments were safe and that was it.

I had a VP of Marketing who was frustrated by me.  “I don’t know what motivates you,” he told me after not being able to find a way to lure me that wasn’t filtered by my brain.  “I want my salespeople to desire, a shiny new watch, a fancy new boat, a high end car, so I can get them going, but with you, I can’t find that drive.”

For many transpeople, appearance is the thing.   They know how they want to look, know how they want other people to be moved by their display, so they go for the show.

I never believed that getting the newest, hottest or showiest thing would give me any benefit.  If someone was going to be swayed by the packaging rather than the contents are they really worth swaying?   What do you get out of that?

What you don’t do with this attitude is climb any social ladders.  You don’t work your way up in status and standing with those who care about such things.  My father was an individual contributor and my mother was in her own world, and that’s just the way that things were always going to be.

These kind of attitudes made my transnatural experience and my hermit habit just part of the fabric of my expectations.  If playing for status by showing a bit of bling was basically corrupt and useless, why bother?

Today, though, I feel the need to get back on the grid.   I think my voice should be heard more in the world, and I would like to feel a bit less lonely, a bit more connected.

I suspect that means that I need to change how people see me, how they engage me.   I need to think about the packaging, not just the product.

That means that I need to care about appearances.

Now, it seems a bit late to think about that, long after my shiniest days are over and at an age when most people are settling happily into their own kind of crusty individuality, but the structure of my own damn life has always been kind of backwards, and all the more difficult for it.

It is hard for me to believe that polishing up my appearances will make much of a difference, what with the limits I have in doing that.  I believe smart people look for content, not surfaces, but somewhere in my marketing hind brain, I know that belief is mostly just wrong.

Will the way people respond to me change with a more invested appearance?   Will I be able to even believe those responses are real, valid and valuable if they do, or will I be stuck in my old questioning mindset?

I know that I can find people who will be happy to take money to shine me up some and tell me how wonderful I look, how wonderful I am in the process.   There are plenty of people in this world who know how to play the appearance game, trading coin for shiny looks and shiny words, coins they then use to play their own appearance based, climb the social ladder games.

Keeping your candle under a bushel serves no one, they would tell me.   Let it shine in the world, offering an inviting and attractive face, and people will be able to see and hear what is inside of you in a way they couldn’t before.  Pretty may only be skin deep, but ugly is to the bone.

These ideas. though, go against the values I was raised with, values I have internalized very thoroughly.

They just aren’t wrong, though. Beauty counts.   It may even count for opening up our own soul, for opening up our own possibilities, for opening up our own lives.

After all, do we really want to spend all our lives inside a functional cracker box, or do we want architecture and art to lift us, reminding us of desire, passion and possibility?

People can’t be totally wrong in believing that investing in appearance can be investing in yourself, in your options and in your happiness.    Too much of that surface stuff, though, and you get stuck up in it, missing the simple joys of considered depths.

I suspect that I should take some of what my parents left and invest in appearances.

And I have no idea how to do that.

Let Them Truth

A friend is taking care of her aging father and she will sometimes want to chat, knowing that I have experience with the challenges.

One of the most frustrating things is that when she calls him, he will often lie to her.   He will tell her he took the pill, or that he didn’t stop on the way home from rehab to have a nice salty cup of soup, and then, under questioning, she will find the pill untaken or the wrapper from the meal.

He’s not lying to be nasty.   He just would rather tell her what she wants to hear so that he doesn’t upset and stress her, so that she doesn’t have to go into a tizzy.   His little white lies are for her sake.

The daughter of another friend did the same thing, sparing her parents the details of how her pal was really addicted to drugs and sharing some with her.  When this situation came to light, of course, her father went into a tailspin, remembering how he stopped drinking, looking to find some way to keep her pinned down.

She didn’t have a problem with the truth, but she knew that she could spare her father a mess of agita and herself some stress if she just kept those details in the dark.

How can we ever expect people to tell us the truth if they know we are going to make their truth about us, having a sharp emotional reaction to what they share?

One of the most important things I did with my parents was to show them that whatever happened there would be no blame, no explosions, just the work to find a solution.

This process was so difficult because it was completely contrary to the long traditions of my mother’s house.   Blame, anger and vindictiveness were on offer, cutting remarks about how our facts hurt and offended her.

Coming from that unsafe background, I learned early how important it was for me to be safe for others.   If I wanted to be there for other people, I couldn’t be instantly judgmental, making their choices about me and my perspective.

I learned to interview people creating a quick rapport that created tight kind of intimacy.  Letting them feel safe and protected allowed them to tell their stories well as I really wanted to go deep rather than showing how smart I was, trying to make them look small to make me look big.

I remember one woman’s ten year old daughter putting her head on my lap as I sat on the couch, talking about her fears over success in school.   “She really trusts you,” her mother said, “and she doesn’t trust many people.  Thank you for that.”

One of the first things I wrote for a national trans audience was about the need to create safe spaces (1994).   I had learned not to be a bubble burster, to meet people where they are and not where I wanted them to be, to be safe.

People will not truth unless you let them.   If they do not feel safe truthing around you, they will find ways to tap dance around the truth, maybe not pure lies, but avoidance, dissembling, omission, whatever.  And they will know that they are doing this for you, because you have shown that you cannot handle the truth.

Letting your own stuff come up, your hot buttons, makes you unsafe.  I was astounded when a teen lesbian woman who was being bullied by boys in her class told us she said “Well, I get more pussy than you!” and a mental health professional working in the session immediately slammed her with “That’s so sexist!”    Sure, we wanted to help this person find better comebacks that were more considered, but slamming them down for telling the truth just stops them feeling safe in the world.

After our chat, my friend went back to her father with the intention of making him feel safe enough to  truth.   That’s when she learned about the wet pants hidden in the bathroom, an artifact of loose bowels earlier in the day.   He doesn’t like the idea he messes himself, doesn’t want to think about getting older and maybe needing some kind of garment, and doesn’t want his beautiful daughter to think less of him.

Together, though, they just did the work to clean up, both knowing that neither one of them is getting younger, and the challenges that bring will be much easier to handle if they just face the truth rather than getting upset or trying to cover things up.

If you want someone else to engage and process their own truth rather than trying to avoid and deny it, you have to be safe space for them to truth.   Blaming someone for not telling you the truth when you made it almost impossible to tell you is not fair, not reasonable and not helpful.

I am always touched when people feel that I am safe enough to share something deep with me.   I am always challenged when I know that others are not safe enough to share my depth with them.

Helping someone truth is a key part of my calling, my duty.  It is at the centre of my own queerness, my embrace of others choices, even if they are choices I would never make for myself, choices that feel a bit scary to me.

Their lives aren’t about me, though.  They are their lives.  And if I want to support them, want to honour and strengthen the connections between us, I need to respect them and their choices.

I used to have a blue felt banner of Linus from Peanuts in my high-school bedroom.  “The truth will set you free,” it said, “but first it will make you miserable.”

If I valued freedom, I had to value truth and get past misery.   I had to truth.

And I had to be safe space for others to truth, too.

Pure Emotion

I watched The Prancing Elites Project on Oxygen, a series that looks into the lives of a group of feminine people born male who have come together to create a joyous, inspired dance team.

Set in Mobile, they represent a range of what it means to be feminine hearted and male.   Some identify as gay men, some wear makeup all the time, and Tim is clearly the girl, with her long hair and curves.

I don’t like the sloppiness of the terminology and theology in the show.    They are shorthanded as a “gay dance team” even though many gay men would find them way too effeminate and flamboyant to identify with and some of the members are clearly trans and not really gay.   The ideas are a mess.

I love, however, the emotional exposure of the show.  These people live their lives between their dreams of beauty and the obligation to fit in, trying to create lives that celebrate individuality.    The experiences they go through and their emotional responses to those moments are pure and genuine, even if shaped by producers, and those feelings resonate with viewers.

The Prancing Elites often face fear and stigma, but by banding together, having each others back and holding their own bubble of energy they attract people who want to support them, people who not only care but who also delight in difference.  Bold individuality and bright dancing has always been an American ideal.

I remember being in a shopping centre in San Francisco looking at some queens making a video.  “Isn’t freedom great?” I wondered aloud.  The man next to me said “Exactly what I was thinking!   Go America!”   His wife, however, wondered where one of the gals had found her coat.

The pure and simple emotion of a bunch of people claiming their own flamboyance and facing resistance to that makes compelling television, and the range of gay/trans/liminal identities really shows how individual gender expression can be, even in a small group doing the same thing.

I know that my work rarely appears so pure and simple, just appealing to common and powerful emotion.   It has been my job for the last thirty years to care about the words and concepts, the terminology and the theology.   Someone has to search for language that takes the underlying truths and makes them exposed in a way we can understand and work with them.

To try and layer my thinking over the Prancing Elites, though, would be to block their raw and very human exposition of what it is like to be queer in the world, the challenges and the delights.    It would cloud seeing a group of very different people born make come together to revel in what they share and respect what makes them different.

I often wish that the emotion which underlays my writing was exposed and engaged in a pure way.  Trying to take away my sharp thought to do that, though, would be as impossible as taking away the Prancing Elites  spandex and sequins: it is key to our unique expression in the world.

Theology is fun for me but most people want the sense of transcendent spirit, not sharp thinking about discipline.   For them, religion is an experience of connection, not a questioning exploration of dogma, doctrine and belief.

I know that I  was sent to the edges, the boundary, of the common world to explore the edges, but most just want a sense of the territory, not a crisp and clear map.

The exuberant journey of the Prancing Elites reveals much continuous common humanity as they do their body centred work in the world.   Thank them for sharing their lives as another view of what trans means in the world.

The theological journey I am on also reveals much, at least to me personally.  I often wish was with others who had my back, sharing the trip, the joy and the pain that comes from claiming the unique and brilliant jewels deep within us in the world.

Respected Or Liked?

Would you rather be respected or be popular?

You want to be both  popular and respected, but which is your priority?   Which do you put first in the world?

Do you want people to think of you first as fun, cute, sweet and likeable, or do you want people to think of you first as capable, reliable, competent and powerful?

No one wants to be unpopular, of course, but every action in this finite world has consequences and decisions must be made.   Priorities must be set.

“I don’t know the recipe for success,” one old saw goes, “but I do know the plan for failure: trying to satisfy everyone.”    Making strong and competent choices is always going to mean some people will find a reason to disapprove, to criticize, to simply not like you.

Does that mean you should try to be more likeable or try to be more competent?   Can you succeed by trying to get fewer people to dislike you, or can you only succeed by trying to get those who do respect what you are doing to value you more?

Chasing away dislike is like trying to chase away darkness.   It will never work.   Bringing light is the only choice to eliminate darkness, shining in a way that attracts people to you because they see and value what you are sharing.

Trying to be liked requires us to play small, diminishing any achievements, skills or power that may challenge other people, bringing up their own fears and prejudices.   It demands that we work to be inoffensive, non-threatening and cute rather than being big and owning our own gifts.  We end up surrendering our power to the group, saying what they want to hear and always fearing that we will go too far and lose them.

Wanting to first be liked leads us to self-sabotage, a kind of blocking and punching at the same time where we neither get respect nor do we get the approval of others.  Being popular means always living for the next judgment from the next person we meet, working to be trendy enough to get their okay.

The big thing we sacrifice in the attempt to be liked rather than respected is our own precious self-respect.  When our ego can point to every incident that someone turned their back on us as a failure, we are controlled by our fear rather than our love.

When we hold on to moments of respect, positive achievements that we have power over rather than the negative response of people who are playing out their own stuff, we can start to build our own self esteem, start to face down our ego.  We have a power over our own accomplishments that we will never have over the self-involved opinions of others.

Having self-respect allows us to show our strength in the world, which in turn draws those who have their own strength to us.   People who respect what we are doing are much more likely to be good partners to us than people who feel sorry for us, who just think we are sweet and pretty, those who find our fear of being unliked compelling.

Being liked is almost never a precursor to being respected, but being respected is often a precursor to being liked.  As people see our value, get closer to us and begin to learn more about who we are.

Not having self-respect means we don’t engage our own power, instead believing we are at the mercy of people we don’t respect, people who don’t seem to care if we like them.  A lack of self-respect leaves us in the attitude of a victim, always looking for other people who agree that the world is evil and against us, that it would be better if it was more likeable, an easier place for us to be liked.

When you don’t respect yourself, when you don’t work to create achievements that you respect, it is usually hard for people around you to respect you and what you offer.   This can easily become a cycle; them not respecting you and you not respecting them.

The only way to break that cycle is for you to work to be respected, making hard choices that are worthy of respect.   In many ways, this is the moment we become an adult, not looking for mommy, but looking to be seen, understood and valued for what we uniquely bring to the group.

By being valued we can be seen, others finding the tenderness and emotion behind our offerings.  When someone asks for compassion it is easy to demand they show responsibility, but when someone shows responsibility, it is easy to offer them compassion.

Respect and pride are the same thing, a kind of empowerment that allows us to claim our own position and success in the world.   Discarding respect because it doesn’t satisfy our self image is destroying our power.

I learned a long time ago that looking to be liked had limits, costly ones for me.  Instead of being liked, I worked at being respected and have found, over the years, that people who finally get over themselves and engage what I offer also find me likeable.    Even if they don’t get there, though, I still have my self respect to carry me forward, doing the work I find important in the world.   I am a queer theologian, a dirty job for sure, but someone has to do it.

Would you rather be respected or be liked?   Would you rather hold on to your self-respect or rather search for the attention of those around you, feeling hurt when it is denied, allowing your ego to tell you that you failed?

Popularity always fades, but competency rarely does.   Instead, success builds on success, giving us the foundation to make bigger and bigger dreams come true.

Popularity has to be fought for every day, leading to a sense of scarcity and fear, but successes can be tucked away, there to go back to and own when you need to get through a hard time.    Popularity is fleeting, but success endures.

I made the choice very early to value respect more than popularity.   Respect was something I could take with me and build on.  It was my choice.

What’s yours?

The “Or” Game

In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.

I knew that was my mission statement the first time I heard it over twenty years ago.   What connects humans is our fundamental humanity, our shared human nature, and that connection transcends all our essential differences, the wide range of flavours in the human experience.

People, though, like separations.   The world is more comfortable when we perceive walls between  people like us and people like them, no matter if shamans keep walking through those walls, showing they are illusions.  Those mental walls keep us from having to face human truth we would rather compartmentalize off.

The “Or” game is expected in this culture.   Is someone a boy or a girl, black or white, straight or gay, rich or poor, conservative or liberal, good or evil?

The centre of the “or” game is the gotcha.   If you claim to be one thing and I can find one tiny contradiction in your assertions, then I gotcha!   Any inconsistency I find destroys your standing to speak (2013).

Transgender people are tormented, demonized, dehumanized and stigmatized simply by using the “or” game.    If we are not one or the other, then we must be liars, deceivers, fools, sick and perverted, not worthy of respect and dignity. Our standing as humans can be stripped from us because our biology and our choices are deemed to be incongruent, at odds, and therefore false.

The challenge transpeople have is to exist as authentic in the world that is obsessed with the “or” game.    We have to learn to police our expression in a way that hides what might be seen as contradictory, that which might make us losers in the “or” game.

That started for most of us when we were in the closet, working hard to keep our trans nature hidden so that we could fit neatly into the gender expectations of our family and our peers.   We control our choices to try and make our heart invisible, inevitably using fear and shame to constrain our own desires.

We try and pick our way through the “or” game, building walls and compartments inside our minds to keep who we are fragmented and hidden, even to us.   We learn to dissemble and obfuscate, to deny and duck, trying to avoid the loss of having someone find us unwholesome and worthy of abuse.

Rather than learning what we are, we are clear about what we are not, about the places we must not stray to stay safe in the “or” game.

This is why transgender emergence is often called transition: we dream that it can be the tipping point in our lives, flipping the switch, inverting the binary, going from one pole to another, avoiding being caught in the “or” game.

Existing in “or” spaces without being the enemy seems to means that we are forced to play the “or” game for admission.

What do we make invisible, what do we let people see?   How do we substitute the projection of binary purity for liminal authenticity just to keep down the noise and the loneliness?  Are we on the side of the social justice people or the capitalists, of the NRA or the bleeding hearts?

We quickly learn that in gay & lesbian spaces, bisexuals get very little respect and a lot of derision as dilettantes, traitors and generally dangerous people.   Declare your allegiance, we are told, so I can be sure that you are politically correct and I can trust you, can trust you won’t abandon me for one of “them.”

The “or” games serves commerce, showing humans to serve the machine by compartmentalizing off emotions.   It works to replace emotion with commercial desires, machine made and mass produced.

The “or” game serves the ego, keeping us small, unthreatening and working hard to stay comfortable, being one of the crowd.

The “or” game serves identity politics, allowing the construction of power bases constructed by enforcing identity labels,  who you must be to be in, and how those who are out betray us.

In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.

As I struggled through the questions about what is truth and what is a lie (1997),  I came to one simple conclusion.

For transpeople, trying to play the “or” game would continue to destroy us.

We had to stand up for a new game, one where the beautiful complexity and nuance of humans was valued, one that respected authenticity over some idea of imposed purity.

We had to move beyond “or” binaries to “and” dualities, to speak for the continuous common humanity that binds us below our surface differences.

This was the same thing that gender crossing shamans had always stood for, according to the anthropologists.  The connection between nature and civilization, between body and soul, between the divine and the profane, between this tribe and that, even between the masculine and the feminine was at the heart of the liminal space we operated in, at the heart of what we contributed to our community.

In a world where the “or” game is seen as real and powerful, standing for that is a challenge.  So many don’t want to make that stand, rather trying to find ways to play the “or” game, effacing purity and denying messy humanity.   We want to use the “or” gotchas for our own purposes, silencing those who would challenge our claims and assertions.

Yet our histories and our biology tells the tale of connection, not of separation, of how much the walls between humans are just comforting illusions.  We stand with the bi-people, saying that no one is simply one or the other, fitting into one social construction or another, but instead, threading through them.

The tensions of the “or” game are deeply felt in every member of society who felt the need to  cut off part of who they were to fit in.    They saw no other way to get what they were told they wanted or needed than by playing the “or” game, so they took those demands inside.

Those tensions, though, lead to their pain and frustration needing solace, though anger or addiction, trying to fill the emotional holes left by the walls they built inside of themselves with what they could purchase or steal.  People left divided and broken by the “or” game have to find recovery, a way to claim back their integrity, authenticity, their own creation and creativity.

People who feel the demand to play the “or” game often feel the need to humiliate and attempt to destroy those who seem to make a mockery of their own sacrifice, those who move beyond the separations of gender, race, class, belief and other imposed social divides.

The idea that those social divides may not be real is not only insulting, it is also so terrifying that those deeply invested in the “or” game cannot imagine any other way of seeing the world.   “Or” is deeply written into the way they communicate and connect with others, so “or’ must be real and true, “normal” and “natural” the way that the church told us that God intended us to live.

When our identity and our power is based on “or,” on walls and binaries, “and” is immoral heresy that threatens their way of life and the sanctity of their children.    It becomes easy to believe that our assertions are true, that where we cross boundaries is virtuous, but where others do are just sickness, lies and perversion.

We try to carve out our own space in the “or” game without challenging it by establishing our separation from those people, offering rationales and diagnoses that explain why we are healthy and real even as they are disruptive and broken.  This seems much easier and less scary than challenging the “or” game itself.

Being cast into the “no man’s/no woman’s” land between the genders though, asked to surrender our voices to the group for entry, asked to cut off the parts of our story that might change the “or” position of the group, transpeople find hard, hard choices in going back into the “or” game.

Who do we betray?  How do we police ourselves, cutting off and walling away offending parts of us that reveal continuous common humanity?   How do we do all the work to hide our truth so those around us never have to feel confronted or challenged with their comforting “or” beliefs?

I don’t see any way for transpeople, those who have crossed the huge boundary that gender appears to be in the world, to be whole, healthy and actualized in an “or” game.   The old ideas of passing, making a clean break that cuts us off from our rich past, denying our history and biology, seem to be disempowering, more focused on erasing and playing small than on finding ways to take our own unique and transcendent power in the world.

In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.

Those who cross gender lines remind us that separation is an illusion and connection is the essence of open and loving humanity.   Like shamans who walk through walls others think are real, living in the liminal state of intersection, we embody a message of “and.”

And that will always be challenging to those who feel comforted playing the “or” game.


Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
-- Emily Dickinson, #1129, c. 1868

Ms. Dickinson seems to have understood my problem some 150 years ago.

Telling my experience in a way that doesn’t blind requires that I be willing and able to dazzle gradually, to offer divine surprise in a kind and slant way.

The challenge of getting anyone to understand where I am now, even a trained clinical professional, just feels overwhelming and futile.

The proffered solution will probably be to roll back, to attenuate, to modulate, to sever bits of me that appear to be too much so I can take a place in a world that can only be reached slant.

I am too old to limber myself to limbo under other people’s fears and expectations, too calcified to life a life slant.

Thanks, Ms. Dickinson.   You make the challenge and the choice clear and simple.

Dancing With The Worm

People are driven largely by the fear of death, say the advocates of “Terror Management Theory,”  Sheldon Solomon,  Jeff Greenberg,  Tom Pyszczynski. in their book  The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life.

From their blurb:

The Worm at the Core is the product of twenty-five years of in-depth research. Drawing from innovative experiments conducted around the globe, Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski show conclusively that the fear of death and the desire to transcend it inspire us to buy expensive cars, crave fame, put our health at risk, and disguise our animal nature. The fear of death can also prompt judges to dole out harsher punishments, make children react negatively to people different from themselves, and inflame intolerance and violence.

As creatures with a rich symbolic language to capture and store experiences, thoughts and emotions, humans don’t need to actually be at risk to be driven by the fear of death.   We integrate it into who we are.

What happens, though, to someone who is asked to die and then try to be reborn time after time?   How do people who live with the expectation that they have to kill part of themselves to be acceptable to society change their relation to death?  How old were you when you found out that you had to die? (2000)

Once you get comfortable with loss, developing the “no habit,” death becomes a old friend, a place of solace, rather than something you fear.

For humans who are driven by the fear of death, this idea is unimaginable and revolting.   They spend their lives running from death, so they run from people who remind them that death is not only inevitable, it is continuous.  A whiff of despair is enough for them, a bit of sweetened suicide to add a touch of poignancy.

Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.   For rebirth, though, you need to go there and I did.   If our deepest desire is to avoid death, then diminishing the ego by reducing desire must also include reducing our desire to cling to an old life or a fantasy life too, right?

The song I heard after I saw a recent Vanity Fair cover that knocked me was powerful, David Clayton Thomas singing about “When I Die.”  One child born to carry on.

The authors report that we hold onto cultural values and self-esteem to fight the fear of death.   For example, when we are reminded of the reality of death, we get tighter about enforcing the values we have learned, or when we feel our self esteem challenged, we are more likely to respond in ways that reflect death.

They use generalized studies to support their experience, reporting on the statistical probabilities.   They mostly don’t look at atypical individual experiences, trying to understand what happens to people who didn’t grab on to those socially typical defences for whatever reason.

I suppose that my cultural values, my assessment of self-esteem has been in service to others, but is now contained in what I say, what I try and share with the world.

Having my sense of self based in what I offer is thin gruel.

If I share and people don’t respond, don’t find value in my words, then I need to accept that.  If I believe in the truth of my sharing,  maybe the best way to be of value is to leave a legacy of discipline and practice to those that I love.  It will be easier for them to engage what I offer once it is severed from my intensity, once the it becomes legend and not the rantings of someone who speaks for destruction and reconstruction.   In the end, people have to do their own work, have to heal in their own time and their own manner.

Many people are finding the experience of spirituality to be powerful, coming together in rituals, with healers, in a wide range of spiritual practices and so on.   They find community and affirmation to move beyond their old conventions to the new routines of the group, delighting in freedom from old social habits.

When people find this release, one of the first things they do is try and find new habits, new styles and new stories that bind them to the group.  They become new by becoming like the new posse.

The experience of church is, for most people, the experience of community.  While church leaders may care about beliefs, asserting that their congregants have signed up to follow the faith, most people don’t care about dogma or doctrine.  They have no interest in doing the work to think about how the messages hold together, where the twists and crocks are in the thinking.

For those who use spiritual gatherings to create a power base, it is the joy of their followers which lets them make small shifts in theology to serve the organization and its leaders.   Questioning is challenging, but faith is affirming, so social pressure is used to create joyous compliance and silence irritating heretics.

The energy and commitment of most spiritual seekers is heartwarming and loving,   I often see people coming together with a sense of envy, their primal, emotional connection appearing seductive.

As a theologian, though, like Miranda, I lead with my head, the  bones of thought underneath visible to me even when the message is cloaked in the brightest colours and most sumptuous emotions.

Many would argue that my my head blocks my connection to spirit, that I should surrender to the will of the group to find my connection to the universe.

My head, though, has always been where my heart, my experience and my sense of my mother-in-the-sky connect.   She didn’t make me a sharp mind because she didn’t want me to use it.

While spiritual style identity creation is a very understandable response to the worm at the core of the world, too often it is just another excuse to avoid engaging the finite quality of human life.

In the last ACIM session I went to, three women really wanted to talk about not dying and how those who are physically sick brought it on themselves because they didn’t have perfect minds.  They wanted a fundamentalist view, a set of rules that could eliminate having to face the worm rather than having to face the challenges of the body as lessons for the spirit.

It’s not good to have an unconscious and knee-jerk reaction to the thought of dying.  We close ourselves down, come from our fear when we do that.

It’s not good to just embrace death, either.   Do not go gentle into that good night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

God, give me the strength to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The candle always will gutter and be extinguished.   To try and talk about that in a world where people have deep, unconscious reactions to that truth, though, will always be a challenge.

Burn Out

If someone gave you five minutes to speak to an audience you had an interest in, what would you say to them?

This thought exercise has always been important to my understanding of what I know and how the best way might be to share that message.  I wrote essays and speeches starting in the 1980s, even if I knew I would never share them with any audience, and in many ways, my daily blog posts have been just another version of that exercise.

Today is the local Pride festival in the park, a huge fundraiser for our local lesbian & gay centre.   This is the biggest deal of their year, bringing thousands together and making money from vendors and sponsors.

If I could stand on stage and have that audience for five minutes, what would I want to communicate and how would the best way be to share that?

There was only one trans event planned for this pride season, Trans Power held at a local gay bar.   The last Facebook blurb the committee published about this event turned me cold:

Capital Pride
June 10 at 5:30pm ·

Headed out to Trans Power at Rocks? Check out the special PRIDE Drink menu, and try a special PRIDE cocktail from our Platinum sponsors, Ketel One, Hendrick's Gin, 1800 Tequila, Grand Marnier, Barefoot Wine & Bubbly, or Viniq - something for every taste!

That may be a fine blurb for a dance party.  One trans event, though, and urging to people to buy premium booze reminded me how the much the young, politically correct staff  are completely disconnected from the real lives of transgender people in the region.

In my experience, they find transpeople to be flaky crackpots who don’t know how to play the game and be members of the group, iconoclasts who demand their own individual freedom of expression.   For them, this means transpeople can be marginalized as freaks, even though for me, that rugged individualism is the defining and best part of people strong and bold enough to claim their own heart in the world.

We don’t need an injunction to buy top shelf hooch.  We need people to understand we are the icebreakers who have always lead the way in claiming freedom beyond gender roles that said, for example, that men should never love men and women should never love women.

Standing in line at Walmart yesterday, the cashier liked a dress a mother was buying for a young girl, who looked to me to be about a second grader.  “She is going to Pride tomorrow,” mom explained, and the cashier hoped that she had sparkly rainbows to wear with it.

Pride has come a long way from the riots outside Stonewall to the point where it is a family festival full of music and clowns in elaborate dresses who kids love.  When the teenagers next door figured out I was trans, they once chased the car to get a look at me only to be disappointing that I didn’t look like a contestant on Drag Race.

The hugely enlarged audience means both that there are more allies “standing up for gay people” as the local pride co-chairs explained on a video yesterday, queers, transpeople and bisexuals not being considered, and it means that the producers of these events feel the need to simplify these events, pulling back the queer to serve the commercial.

I remembered my experience with a youth group vigil where I felt the real torment of queer people was trivialized, reduced to something that could be dealt with by hugs.   This kind of mainstreaming of real challenges feels shallow and dismissive to me, marginalizing people who don’t play the pretty game of fitting in.

So, if I was given five minutes on stage at Pride, how would I make my point?

Self-immolation.   It can mean any suicide for political purposes, but in this century it mostly means killing yourself in flames, soaked with flammable liquids.

I would stand on that stage, douse myself, flick a Bic, and turn myself into a human torch.   The cameras would show the outline of a human body written in flame, but everyone there would always remember the acrid stench of burning flesh, a scent burned into their memories.

What else would break through the expectations and assumptions of all the partiers?   Would words alone tell my story, make me heard?   Would words make people come to account for why one transperson felt so erased that they needed to burn themselves to a crispy pile melted onto the stage at the festival?   Would words break through into the media to spread the message, or at least the questions, wider?

It’s the year of the celebrity tranny.  They even have one at the local event here this year, showing their sensitivity by bringing in a headliner who can out a fun face on while making people think they are being open.   You get to be a celebrity tranny by playing the game.

Self-immolation is not playing the game.  It is making the burning hell that transpeople go through manifest, the world where they are erased in the process of pounding them into normalcy, even by those who give lip service to being their allies.

I have spent too long trying to be heard and reflected in the world and I am burned out.   Being burned up may be the only way to get a message out in an unforgettable way, stuck into the insipid social media gawking of the world.

The negative reaction would be amazing.  My act would be more proof that transpeople are mentally ill and deserve whatever abuse they get, proof that we are self-centred and indulgent, because nobody should ever do this to the poor children.  I would be dismissed, marginalized, and demonized.

At least, though, I would be talked about.   It might drive a few people to ask how someone can get to this point, a few people to actually engage what I have been saying for so long.

If you are going to go, why not go in a ball of fire where you can be hated, but cannot be erased?

I have tried words for a long, long time (1997).  I have tried being polite and gracious.  That hasn’t gotten anyone to really do the work to engage what I am saying in the world.   I try harder and harder and seem to get farther and farther away from breaking through.   People tell me to play their game better, but the limits of that strategy are written on my body.

What could I do to break through?   What could I do but burn through?

Life, Love, Surrender

And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
— John Lennon

How do you explain love to someone who doesn’t know how to live inside of it?

Love is such a powerful force that the term has become overused and cliche, to the point of becoming mush   You can call any sensation love, be it attraction, fornication, desire, projection or manipulation and people can’t argue.

I have worked to embody love in the world, to act from love.   If God is love, I want to follow God more closely.   I give love and I teach love in the world.

To anyone who doesn’t understand what love is, who doesn’t assign the word the same meaning, that can sound trite or high handed or saccharine.  That’s why I never used the word love much in my writing, instead talking about continuous common humanity, about valuing hearts, about discipline and practice, about surrender.

They are all, to me, part of love.  My search, my quest, my work was about love.  Love and the call for love runs through all my words, the ones set down to explain and encourage, the ones set down to wail and weep.  My love reaches out, my love goes deep, the two sides revealing the same.

But isn’t human life always about love and the call for love?

Don’t you want somebody to love?
Don’t you need somebody to love?
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love?
You better find somebody to love.
— Jefferson Airplane

The point of the work, beyond all the deconstruction and reconstruction, beyond the analysis and the therapy, is love.

The surrender we are asked to make in the world is the surrender to love.

Love is always the underpinning to bliss, which is one thing that makes bliss different than sensation.

Love is the path beyond fear, the way to selflessness.

The secret goal of all healing, of every path to recovery, understanding, healing, actualization and empowerment is the goal to make people more loving.

 You have been a wonderful audience.  If I could love, I would love you all.
— Kiki DuRane (Justin Vivian Bond)

The core of love is always respect.

Dismissal, arrogance, judgment and aloofness create distance between you and the world.   You cannot love anything at a distance.

The most profound distance we hold is the distance between our the constructed worldview we hold and our own desires, feelings and knowledge.

If we believe that our head knows better than our heart, that our nature has to be suppressed so our head can take charge, we don’t respect who we are inside.  Instead of working with our nature we fight against it, because we don’t respect our handmade truth

What we do not respect we cannot love.  If we can’t love ourselves, who can we love?   Being present and kind to our own heart is the place where love has to start.

To give yourself over to love is an insane and precious thing.   It requires giving without expectation of any reward other than the satisfaction of loving.

The desire to be loved isn’t loving.   Projection is not love.  The wish to change someone into who we imagine they can be, into our vision of a perfect partner, is not love.

For me, a hero is someone who pushes past their own comfort and self interest to bravely do the right thing rather than just doing the easy thing.
— Callan

Love is heroic.

When we love something, it provides a centre for everything else we do.  It is impossible to love everything and everyone we come in contact with –dirty jobs have to be done and unpleasant people dealt with — but it is possible to do even that which we don’t love with love in our hearts rather than with bitterness, resentment, judgment and loathing.

Choosing love is choosing to give ourselves to the world, to get outside our own fears and do the loving thing.

Love demands amen.   Unless you bless something or someone, you cannot love them.   You don’t have to agree with all their choices — who agrees with everything?  — but you do  have to affirm and value them.   People can tell the difference between loving comments and the urge to control something as a projection of the way we imagine it should be.

When you love, you support the best in someone, even the challenging best, and you tenderly hold the worst in them, the unhealed and messy bits that reveal they are just a another human.

 Love can build a bridge
between your heart and mine
Don’t you think it’s time?
— Naomi Judd

When you love, you let something outside of you into your heart where it becomes part of you.   You put them ahead of yourself, finding ways to live in connection.   Learning to let someone in and not lose yourself is hard, but not letting anyone in is much worse.   It’s hard for women to stop loving people, even if they can’t live with them.

Love is not logic, it is poetry.   It is not in the text, it is in the context, the subtext, the verse.   Love isn’t what the writer cranks out, instead it runs around between the words, propelling them with sparks that can only hint at the pyrotechnics of the heart.

The only thing more important than being there and caring for other people is to make them feel cared for.  That means, simply, making them feel loved.

You don’t do this by being sweet, you make them feel loved by making them feel seen, valued and engaged, even if that engagement is challenging to the parts of them that are not yet coming from love.

Don’t tell me what you hate, tell me what you love and will sacrifice for.

Love is not about the object we love and how they will save us.   Special relationships are not about love, they are about fear, about the desire to be fixed by something outside of us, to get better without doing the hard work of learning how to love.

It’s 30 months today — 2 ½ years — since my final parent died.  I gave them love, enough to give them many times “one more good day.”   Since then, I have loved,  searching for some way to connect with real, present love from other people in the world.  I have kept a record of that search here.

Love is the story.

First Draft

Every time you re-tell a story it becomes more refined, more polished, more focused.   Instead of it being a mass of details, often contradictory, themes start to emerge and through lines develop, all in the quest for narrative integrity, reader engagement and more satisfying resolutions.

Retelling stories takes the complexity out of them, reducing the noise and sharpening the central conflicts until they become almost fables, morality plays that carry the conventional wisdom in comforting, affirming and reinforcing ways.

This blog has always been a first draft of telling my story.   It is laced through with details, some telling and some tormenting, full of the rawness of emotion and the struggle to make sense of my experience.   It has been where I write to discover what I think and feel, where I scrape for mirroring, and has not been a tool to polish and extend my image and beliefs.  If art keeps a sliver of time forever, then these texts store the days of my experience.

As a first draft, it doesn’t simplify anything for readers, giving them an easy handle and regular expectations.    It doesn’t invite them back to lounge in a place where they know they will find reinforcement of what they already like, inviting them to return to an aspirational and protected world.

The power of editors has always been to offer reflections to writers on how to make their writing cleaner and more compelling, more of a product that will engage an audience.  This is what I do when I edit the work of others, offering structures and phrases that more elegantly convey the meaning I find in their drafts.

Last week I had to rework my sister’s website so it showed her portfolio better in anticipation of her being proposed to join a local artist group.  In the end, that effort was sabotaged when her sponsor decided not to comment but instead share the draft with the group.   Good intentions, yes, but disrespect and ignorance also.

For the site, I wrote a draft of a artists statement, suggesting my sister use it as a starting point, but instead she just left it, my evocation of her voice so good that she didn’t feel she had the need or energy to touch it.  In that case, I took what had been retold and retold and said it again in a polished way.

In these blog posts I have gone over the same ground again and again, the patch where I live, but never to simplify and reduce.  Instead, I have tried to become clearer, making the nuance visible, making my whole experience more detailed and honest.

For me, the picture becomes sharper and more vivid, really getting to the bones of my story, but for readers, it has just made the picture more jumbled, themes lost in the vibrant realities of everyday pain.

If my stories ever survive they will continue to exist in an abstracted form, condensed and simplified so that others can use them to make their own points, to prove their own worldview.   Maybe some people exposed to them will have interest in going back to sources, finding the meaning behind reduction, but few, if any will do that work in a world where information flow only speeds up and speeds up.

I might love to dream that people will find standing with me through the experience of my life compelling, that they will find something of themselves when they see through my eyes, but by then, I will have moved on.     We do what we do and we leave what we leave and that residue lives only in the way it touches the stories of others, if it does at all.

Ragged, raw and unpolished, I have shared my life, with some hope of engaging other people, yes, but primarily and unabashedly to make it visible to myself.  I wrote for me, desperately needing to hear the voice of my heart in the world.

I not only had no interest in creating legend, I actively resisted getting stuck in legend making, preferring the peeling back to discover connection through layer after layer of death and rebirth.  Fitting into a storyline that was easy to convey, that showed me as easy and compelling, well, that I never trusted.

Turning a first draft into a polished, publishable work means letting go of your art, turning it over to others who will gain from their investment in it.   Your art becomes communal commerce, a group effort that can help everyone.    To get this to happen, your work has to be winning, convincing them it is worth their time and effort, and they have to feel that they have a piece of themselves in your work.

This means you need to be responsive to the whole, playing your part in grabbing the attention and acclaim needed to make your product break into the wider consciousness, getting readers who see a part of themselves in your work too.

Publishing is an honourable and tested system, honing drafts to become product that then becomes part of a wider culture.  It is the process that allows our voice to become part of the conversation, informing and transforming views, doing a tiny part to shape the direction of our shared future.

I admire authors who can be successful in this system, who shape their message and their public performance to break through into popular culture.   I know that they work hard to find the balance between their truth, commercial requirements and their own inner drive to be seen and heard.   They put their own mess aside to become polished, on message, exposed and part of a machine that can benefit a wide range of people.

Those writers have skills that I have never achieved, have the ability to balance their own voice with the needs of the market, to find the balance between art and commerce that creates an audience who can come along with them to new places.  They make a connection with other people on a level of popularity that escapes me, a popularity that isn’t anywhere in my experience of life.

I know how to make my statements, to figure out what I want to say, to scratch it out into text.   I know how to make a fine first draft, rippling and rambunctious, using all the language I have scraped up from listening to other people throughout my life to make a collage that tries to represent truth as I understand it.   I know how to listen, pulling meaning from the narratives of other people, finding different ways to convey that meaning.

I don’t know how to take that work and make it product, either written or personal, in text or performance.  I have tried to find help doing this, but the standard plan requires skills and understandings that just escape me.

So these were the first drafts of my life.   They are as far as I figured out how to go.

Where They Are

I took a speed reading class in my senior year of high school.

The assessments were done using a mechanized filmstrip style projector that pulled one line of text down for projection at an adjustable rate.   The teacher set the speed on the tachistoscope, you watched it on the screen, and then you took a comprehension test.

To demonstrate the system for the first time, she set the machine on the highest speed 800 words per minute.   After that, she would show the same text at 100 WPM and the test would come.

After the first showing, though, I raised my hand.  I felt confident enough to take the test right then.   The teacher looked skeptical, but allowed me to take the evaluation.

I got eight out of ten questions correct, for an 80% comprehension score at 800 WPM.  My effective score was 640 WPM.

Charting my progress in that class showed that the next week my effective speed dropped 85%. down from 640 WPM to 100 WPM and then slowly climbed from there.   She never ran the film at 800 speed again, and I always got 10 out of 10 answers right at what I considered very low speeds.

It turned out that much of what she wanted to teach was critical reading skills for comprehension and not real, Evelyn Wood style speed reading, which was what I had signed up for.

I eventually stopped going to the class, instead student teaching in a second grade classroom where the teacher even called me early one morning, told me she wasn’t going to be in, and wanted me to take the class, though I would have to have a licensed substitute with me.

I still got a “Pass” for Speed Reading.

The advice people want to give me is simple: you have to meet other people where they are.   You can’t expect them to meet you.

If everyone else is running at 100 WPM, well, that’s where you have to be, even though your experience shows you that you have mastered that skill and should be working somewhere else.

I know how to meet people where they are.   I know how to modulate and attenuate and dial it back, how to enter their world.   I know.  I have proven those skills time and time and time again in my life, down to taking care of my sister last week when she was fried and needed someone there.

I was pleased to be able to play my part in the conversations of the world.   I understood my role, to be the point person, shattering the assumptions and offering a very different viewpoint.

I was supposed to love on the bleeding edge, be the shock trooper, taking the pounding and translating it back into something that eventually might be digested by the world.   My father was a crackpot engineer, my mother a curious woman who never understood her own feelings, and I was the one who got the crashing lessons from them.

The last time I told the speed reading story, in 2006, it was on the topic of how I crafted my own text so that other people could access it more easily without losing meaning.   This time it is on the topic of how my own possibilities were stunted by the world I lived in, one where who I was had to fit into the expectations and assumptions of others.

Moving from how I tell my story more effectively to the costs of not being able to be effectively and accurately mirrored is my shift.  I am smart enough to meet others where they are, but the cumulative cost of that process has been deadly.   The more I moved into myself and away from servicing others, the more the cost of that lifetime has been made clear to me.

Being there for other people has always had to mean not being there for myself.  I knew that was the way it had to be because I learned early that no one else was going to be there for me either.    Who I was inside had to be sealed up and controlled, because it was just too much for the world, too smart, too intense and too queer for people ever to be able to meet me where I am.

Talking to myself has been an invaluable tool in coming to understanding, but having to be one’s own mirror has serious limits and flaws.   The fun house twists of other people’s self-centred mirroring, even with my learning to quickly determine biases and fears of observers so that I can work apply correction for their limits, were always so much work to interpret.

Women love having partners for many reasons, but one of the most important is as a well understood reference point, a mirror, someone to help them recenter and polish their choices in the world.   That is something, though, I have never found.

So I end up whinging to myself, going deep and not getting any air.  That’s my experience of being between worlds.

Where they are is a place where I am not, and where I am is a place where they are not.

Capish?    It’s Okay.  I know you don’t.   Heck, you aren’t even reading this.

So Many Mistakes

Is there anything more important to a human than the ability to learn?

When I was hiring staff, we always need to find people who can be trained to do the tasks assigned.

I needed to find people who could learn on their own, identifying areas of concern, understanding them and finding solutions to problems.

Finding people who could learn from their own mistakes was important.   They needed to be able to get out of their own expectations and assumptions to find ways to get better at their job.

The best staff, though, are people who don’t just learn from their own mistakes but who also learn from the mistakes of others.   These people were able to see potential solutions from all around, understanding the picture beyond the edge of their noses, able to see through the eyes of other people and put together new, context based solutions.

An ability to survey many points of view, holding them in our head for long enough to understand the costs and benefits of their position is a key to managing our world.   By being able to understand other people’s experience from their point of view we are able to get the best from them, learning from their mistakes and helping them find new strategies and contexts.

Managers know that the most effective path lies somewhere between all of the priorities, goals and values that are on the table.   By understanding the viewpoint of the owners, the staff, the community and the customers we are able to find solutions that pull people together.

Being able to learn from other people’s mistakes, either by intellectual analysis or by empathetic engagement, is what transforms self-centred humans to leaders who create family, community, corporations and movements.  We learn this lesson as parents, needing to understand and help tiny humans who do not yet have the ability to create their own solutions, in being responsible for humans who have a great deal yet to learn.

For transpeople who end up rejecting the social pressure that tried to train them in the expectations laid on their assigned gender, class role, and community identification, it is easy to end up becoming a lone wolf.   We boldly claim our own wild identity beyond the conventional assumptions, striking out as a unique individual.

We have learned the cost of seeing the world through the eyes of others around us, the cost of being crammed into a box, being bound up by their training, self-interest and fears. Learning the lessons they have to offer feels like a path to destroying our own knowledge, our own emotional truth.

Not doing the work of entering the experience and viewpoints of others, though, means we never have the benefit of learning from their mistakes.   We stay locked in our own limited worldview, going through the world with blinders attached to our armour.

My transgender experience of changing my mind has been shaped by entering the narratives of other people whose experience is very different to mine.  I especially engage the stories of people who live as women in the world, opening to their jokes, their tales, their anecdotes, their fables.   They experienced a social pressure for conformity that was very different than what was laid on me as someone seen as male, being gendered in another silo.

If I want to understand the traditions and challenges of walking in the world as a woman, understand the pressure and power of making the choices of a woman, I need to learn that somehow.   I can’t just learn it from my own experience; that adolescence was denied to me, even if therapists knew I was feminine hearted before my puberty.

My experience as a child of Aspergers parents is of a family that did not have the emotional chops to enter my world, engage my feelings, and help me to put those feelings in a context that offered solutions.  Instead, I grew up feeling frustrated and erased, being cast as too much, too intense, and too broken to be able to trust my own knowledge and feelings.

From a very early time I needed to get past my own ego and engage the truths that others offered rather than holding my breath and being the petulant princess.   My situation needed managing, not assertion, so from a very young age I put my quicksilver mind to understanding and service of the family needs, becoming the target patient who stood up for required change.

Today, I see transpeople who value a kind of determined expression of self in the world, walking in their own bubble of self-defined truth, sure that they have all the answers they could possibly need inside of them.    I understand this choice, as I have since I first saw it when I entered trans spaces, starting with the narrative of Virginia Prince I heard over late night talk radio in seventh grade.

It’s not the choice for me, though.   It is a choice that isolates and defends us, but not one that connects us to the knowledge and feelings that other people offer us.  I learned early that keeping my mind and heart open is much more important to me that wearing what I want to shop at Walmart.

Being empathetic, working to enter and learn from other people’s experience, is challenging. Every time you feel for someone else, a little bit of their feeling touches something deep in you.  Love, sadness, desire, pain, it is all there. Too much feeling paid out, even in tiny smidgens, with no return, and the cost gets very deep.

Not being empathetic, though, has a higher cost, at least for me and my feminine heart.   I need to learn from other people’s mistakes, need to keep growing by engaging the experience other humans offer me.   It is only by seeing through more than my limited eyes that I can gain the understanding, the learning that seems to be a vital part of the experience of a human life.

Make Invisible

Transwomen know that one of the obligations they have in the world is to make part of themselves invisible, to get it out of the way so that they can more easily be seen as women.

In a world where gender is seen as a matter of the body, poles vs holes, many people assume that the most important and most difficult thing we need to hide is the shape of a body that went through puberty as a male.

We try facial feminization, breast implants, hair transplants, and of course, genital reconstruction surgery to female our bodies.

This can’t change our sex, though.  Our new parts will never work like factory, we will never have reproductive power.  Our chromosomes won’t change. And bones don’t lie.   They will show our bodies history forever.

I can tell you from my perspective [as a photographer], what makes a woman a woman has zero to do with facial hair or jawline or proficiency with makeup. The essence is never external, which is why I urge my clients to forgo professional hair and makeup before a session. The feminine simply cannot be painted on or curled and cut. I learned a valuable lesson from you, my friend, and that is that our gender isn’t proclaimed by the doctor who delivers us. It’s more essential even than that. It’s the soul. It’s what shows up when we stop pretending. That’s the definition of authenticity.
Don Hajicek

If it isn’t making the sex of our body invisible which allows the transgender nature, the feminine heart to show through, what do we have to make invisible?

How do we get to the point where we can stand exposed, vulnerable and spiritually naked in the world so that people can see our feminine heart?

What I feel the need to make invisible is the profound experience of living as a transperson in the world.  The scars and lessons that come from being a woman with a transgender history, the armour and the sensitivity that mark my spirit gets in the way of my heart being seen by people who think in terms of one or the other.

Choosing the lobotomy option was never real for me.   I know that my mind is a gift, that my memory allows me to see patterns, make connections, and offer something special to the world.  Some people suggest that having beginners mind is the choice to forget what you know, but I believe that the beginners mind is just contained in the willingness to be wrong, to see a better way, to try something different.   Beginners mind is about approaching the world with openness and flexibility, ready to learn, not about becoming a blank slate.

My search for a place to put my experience, for someone who can see, understand and hold onto my experience so I can stop holding on to it so tightly and visibly, has defined my life.   I don’t need to share the joke with everyone I meet as I pass through life, but I do need to share it with someone who holds it with respect and tenderness.   If no one has my back, how can I just relax and be upfront in the world?

Finding a way to keep my rawness away from my skin so that I can open my yoni to the world has always been and continues to be my challenge.

The goal, as I have said in the past, is not to erase or eliminate my history and my emotions, but to keep hold of them and yet not be controlled by those past experiences.    My stories are real and precious, but that valid truth must not be allowed to destroy the possibilities of my future.  if it happens, that destruction may as well be terminal.

Simply speaking your story out loud is never enough, for it is in sharing that humanity connects. To be a human with no place to share your story is to be a human whose meaning is erased.   To be a human with your meaning erased is to be a human with a shattered heart.

I am proud of my attempt to stay alive and visible for so long in the face of enveloping silence.

I have struggled to keep my own conversation with the world going on, even in the face of an audience who needs the conversation to be about them and to exist only on their terms.

I have proven that I can enter their world, offer them accurate, effective and useful mirroring, that I can be present for them.

I have kept working to communicate my own truth in clear and gracious ways, even as I end up receiving only silence and myopia from a self-involved world.

If I could just make my own knowledge and feelings more invisible, being willing to play the games of others, then they would see me as useful, a human doing that can serve them.  (The first post on this blog, “Stretching Thanks” from Thanksgiving 2005, is on that theme.)

The only thing I can change is my own attitudes and choices.  If I cannot change those, am too bound up in my experience to not let it control me, then the only change which can save me is cutting the bonds.

When people choose to leave this world, the story is told by those left behind.   They always have some kind of anger that the departed didn’t try one more thing, the one that the survivor is sure would have saved them, always have anger that the departed was rude and insensitive to not put the feelings of the survivor on the top of the priority list.   The departure is unfathomable, tragic and misguided, because if it wasn’t, the survivor would have to question their own role, their own culpability, their own choices.

It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny early summer day today.  I stayed in this basement because a tree, a stream, a lake or a mountain would be beautiful but costly and still not get me the visibility, affirmation and release that I need.    Nature may remind me of the awesome creation of God, another thing to be thankful for, along with waking up, my meals and my breath, but being outside alone doesn’t provide the mirroring my heart so desperately needs.

The challenge of what we make invisible is clear, but the pain of what we have never really been able to make visible, never been able to have accurately mirrored.

All we have to do, we are told, is learn to make the right parts of us invisible, to modulate and attenuate them, and we will find the reward we need to transcend loneliness.

It is the disappearing act of a lifetime.

Rejection, Rebellion and Rethinking

The first thing you feel obligated to do when you emerge as visibly trans in the world is to reject your history and your biology.

Whatever you claimed to be before this date was a lie.  You were never really a man, never really male.   It was all a lie, forced onto you by the demands of society.   Whatever you claimed in the past was just so much claptrap that protected your tender truth using the polemics if internalized transphobia.

This rebellion against the past is the rhetoric of every adolescent, emerging to reject what was imposed on them as the first step to claim their own unique expression.   The need to swing the pendulum wide, to be free and experimental, breaking the conventions of your family and community is a key part of trying to find a new centre of balance.

It’s easy to get to the rejection stage, to be loud and clear on what you are not, on what you need to disavow as lies and chains.

It’s easy to see what you are asked to make invisible so that people can see you in a different way, like trying the best you can to make the masculine features of your body disappear.

It’s easy to want to believe that demolishing your past demolishes your demons and makes the world treat you the way you want to be treated, in the way that you always dreamed of.

It’s much harder, though, for transpeople to move to the next stage, the exploration to find the truth of who you really are.

Part of this is the fact that we do not have as much freedom to play as young people, don’t have the venues and support, but the other big challenge is that our past, our biology is real and binding in our lives.   We really did spend lots of time in another shape, another mode, another truth, with other obligations.

Project Runway’s Tim Gunn talks about his experience with in-patient psychiatric treatment.  His choice was not to speak to the professionals, to stay silent.  “I didn’t know who I was, but I was sure what I wasn’t,  which was heterosexual, so I announced I was nothing, asexual,” he says.

It is easy to know who we are not.   It is hard to do the work to find our who we are.   Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body, and transgender is about changing your mind.  That change is about rebuilding a new you, past old pain and emotional buttons, a smart, kind rebuilt you.

The first step to becoming new is always deconstruction.   We dismantle our old shell, rejecting old claims and habits to find new.   This rebellion is the easy part of coming out.

Analysis, experimentation and exploration is the next step.   What works for us, is what we need to hold onto, and what doesn’t work for us, is just old habits that project our pain and confusion?

Any darn fool can burn down a barn, but it takes work and skill to build a new one.  Discipline is in construction, not in destruction.  Moving past the “Fuck you, I did what you wanted for so long now I get to indulge myself!” part of emergence is always really, really hard.

Swinging the pendulum wide, going through your stored reserves of pain and fear, entering your own inner hell and waling through it is rarely a pretty or gracious process.   Having to do that in the spotlight, always in the public eye, means that you will be tempted to play nice, holding on to expectations, rather than doing the messy, hard, almost impossible work.

“My past was all lies!  My future is nothing but truth!”  That’s a great line to cry out as you take the sledgehammer to your old identity, but is only the first, negative step into building a real, complete, honest and gracious new identity.

Shedding the old skin is always only the first step to doing the work to change your identity, to change your choices, to change your mind.  You new skin will still have to fit over all of you, even the parts you kind of wish would just go away, the messy parts that others find contradictory and challenging.

Cutting off your old parts may seem easy but the real core of you — the content of your character — is deep inside, not on the surface.  It is that core you carry with you, that core you need to enter, that core where the jewels you carry reside.  Curating your own life to throw away the dross, enhance the functional, face the challenges and find the gifts is hard work.

They often say that time changes things,
but actually you have to change them yourself.
— Andy Warhol

God grant me the strength to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Getting a dumpster and throwing out the old garbage can be a crucial start to reinvention.   It marks a moment of commitment, a leap into the future.   But, like Hedwig who strips naked at the end of the show to walk naked into the world, you will quickly find you need a new garment, a new face. new choices to remain stable and effective in your life.

Rebuilding a life with reimagined and rethought choices, is at the heart of transformation. Rebellion and rejection are only at the start of that process.

Heroes and Humans

For me, a hero is someone who pushes past their own comfort and self interest to bravely do the right thing rather than just doing the easy thing.

Clearly, someone who puts their own life on the line to bravely save others from an attack meets that criteria. They are a big old hero.

Heroism, though, comes in many forms and in many ways.

Decoration Day, Remembrance Day, Armed Forces Day, and others are all great days to remember the heroism of those in the military who gave their lives in service to the country.   They may have paid the ultimate price or just have been ready to do so, doing the hard work, but they all deserve our respect and thanks, even if we had political objections over what the government ordered them to do.

Independence Day, however, seems to me a time to honour heroes who did the right thing rather than the easy thing right at home.   People who joined the  school board, taking their time and energy to work for our children rather than doing something more comfortable, show patriotism, civic responsibility and some level of heroism.

Valuing people who do the right thing beyond ease, comfort and self interest is something every community has an interest in doing.   We want people to stand up and do the hard work, struggling to serve the group rather than just to promote their own desires and priorities.    For example, volunteering is heroic, in its own tiny little way, and we need to value that to get more of it happening in the world.

No human is completely selfless.   We all have needs and dreams, beliefs and interests.     Our motivations for any choice are never pure but always a mix of what we believe is good for us, what we believe is good for our family, what we believe is good for our economic future, what we believe is good for our standing in society and what we believe is the right thing to do in the world.\

It’s hard to call someone a hero.  Many of their choices will always be rooted in their own self interest.   Lives are big, complex, nuanced things, and no life is just one thing or the other.

It is much easier to identify heroic acts, to see moments when someone put that self-interest aside to do the right, brave, bold and selfless thing.

Is coming out as transgender heroic?   Does just doing it make someone a hero?

And if emerging as transgender makes someone a hero, does staying hidden make them something less than heroic, a kind of coward who, when the pressure was on, did not stand up and do the right thing?

For so many transgender people, they have seen the heroic choice, the selfless choice, the right choice as keeping their transgender nature hidden and being there for their family.   They have struggled in the role of father or mother, putting their children’s needs ahead of their own.

When transgender is stigmatized and oppressed, is there a choice that doesn’t take some level of self denial, some price of pain to just exist every day in the world?    We paid the price of self denial or we paid the price of being visible.

Both in and out had costs and benefits, both could be seen as heroic choices, fighting against our nature to serve the world, fighting for our nature to change the world.   Both in and out could also be seen as self-indulgent choices, staying hidden to stay comfortable, being visible to indulge our own selfish erotic desire in front of the children.

For me, it is the moments when transpeople came out of their comfort zone to do the right, brave and bold thing that they showed flashes of heroism.  Being of service, standing to support and embrace choices that they would never make for themselves, being beyond self-interest are the moments when they made heroic choices.

Coming out of your comfort zone and coming out in the world, though, are not necessarily the same thing.   Chasing long held fantasies does not necessarily make one a hero, as you can ask any of the self described sissies who got themselves outed with dirty photographs on Tumblr.

Too often, hero is bandied about as a term for someone who did something that you would be too scared to do.   Hero becomes a code to separate someone from who we are, to put them on a pedestal and dehumanize their choices, leaving them isolated and distant.

A hero is a human.   They are not set apart by their heroic acts, but instead remind us that being a good human requires more than comfort and self-interest, requires us to be willing to give to our community, sometimes even our very lives.

I know transpeople who have made heroic choices that inspired and challenged me.   They have stepped up, stepped out and made a dramatic difference in the lives of people around them.    They did it not for recognition and the rewards that come from fame, but because they wanted to be of service to the world, to people like them, and to the generations that come after them.

These heroes didn’t want to be the new face of anything.  Instead, they wanted others to feel safe, empowered and strengthened,  opening possibilities for those around them.

To be a hero requires pushing past your own comfort and self interest to bravely do the right thing rather than just doing the easy thing.  That right thing is being of service to others.

Let it be a challenge to you, too.