You need people to see your heart, to feel your heart, to connect with your heart. It's easy for them to see your big smarts, and yes, it's easy for them to see that big body of yours, old and shaped as it is. It's not easy, though, for them to see beyond those big things to your heart, the one that is so full of love, compassion and wit. I know why people sometimes see you as a porcupine, bristling, challenging and best avoided and put aside. They sense your struggle and your pain, always difficult for you, so strong as to be overwhelming for others. I also know your kindness and engagement, how you can be caring in ways that feel very, very kind and present. You have the power of making someone feel seen, valued and encouraged. You need that kind of kindness and engagement for yourself, I understand. It isn't easy to find and to give to someone who already knows so well how to take care of themselves, who has faced down the kind of challenges you have, gaining great tools and deep knowledge. It would be great if you could pick someone out to give you what you need, only having to show yourself to them. That would be wonderful. The people who you need to be there for you aren't easy to find. They are as special, as brilliant and as rare as you are. Most people can't see the power, blessings and tenderness in you. If you want to find the people you need, you have to be visible in the world. You have to put yourself out there in a way that feels unsafe and uncomfortable, a way that is challenging, a way that bets what reserves you have left with the belief that shining will pay off for you. Experiencing scarcity has been core to you, with parents, with the time since they have passed, with your whole life. You learned very early to stay alone and protected, learned that not everyone was going to get the joke. I believe, though, that there are rewards in the world for you. To get them, though, you can't play small, can't stay hidden, can't worry about upsetting people, as you had to do so many years with parents. You can't just wait until you see the right person, you have to be visible so the right people will see you. If you were younger, less worn, and more enthusiastic this all would seem easier, as you could rebound quicker from the everyday knocks you are sure to get. You earned your tiredness elegantly, really using up your reserves to do the right thing. I just can't imagine that there is any way out without finding a way to put yourself out there, even at a high cost. This is all about risk/reward. I know how big the risk is; do you have the capacity to keep getting hammered. I just really, really, really believe that the rewards are out there for you, not just people who want to put you on a pedestal and have you heal them, wearing you down, but also a few wonderful people who will meet you where you are, sharing healing and care in a symbiotic and healthy relationship. You have much to give, yes, but you also have much to get in the world. You need people to see your heart, to feel your heart, to connect with your heart. You have found those people few and far between. So you have learned to conserve yourself, living on rations to face the scarcity you feel around you. The people you seek are also in the shadows, waiting until they see your light to come out and share what they have to offer. They understand what is like to be an outsider, understand the experience of observing the world, of seeing patterns, processes, stories and beauty. They won't come out unless someone lights the way. Maybe that someone should be you. You have never really had anyone to follow, never really had a simple path laid out for you. Instead, you have broken ground, explored, found a new path. All that experience shows, not just on your body and mind, but on the way you have unfolded your own heart. While I know everyone can't see that, can't affirm that, can't be there for you, even the people who can can't be there until you show them who and where you are. Taking the bold move and letting people see you is the way into a better future for you, and even a little bit for the world. I know that you have to make some big leaps to start a new chapter in your life, one that leaves behind scarcity and embraces abundance. It demands risk and guarantees taking the kind of shit that will irritate you, as sensitive and tender as you are. The old hurts will be hit again and you will have to push through those pains which are so woven into your experience. You will have to engage the price of denial, of not taking care of what was important, of allowing bits to break as you served others and stayed small. That cost you dearly and still costs you, I know, as there is no way to not have suffered that damage. But I also know, as well as I can know anything that the time is different now and those leaps will pay off in a way that they haven't before. Your being out will bring rewards. I also know that no matter how dried up you feel, you are a strong person, with endurance and abilities that are still untapped. I have watched you use those resources to serve the family, using them to keep yourself small and serving the lives of those you love. As you use those resources to serve the world, using them to manifest your big brain and enormous heart, people will see the work you have done and some of them will even see you, finding a way to be present in a loving way. You have lived with a scarcity mindset so long that your dreams are flattened. You didn't have the attention, the mirroring or the resources to go for a bigger life, don't really believe that better is really available for you, don't really believe others will say "yes" to your heart. To me, this that flattening makes me sad. I have seen the sparks in you, the caring in you, the smarts in you, and even, sometimes, the beauty in you. You are so much more vital when you are full, whole and sparkling. Beyond the breaks, beyond the wear, beyond the scars, beyond the burned, toasty dryness, abundance is still there and possible for you. You can show your energy, your smarts, your tenderness and have it rewarded and valued, even have it seen and held with grace by others. Pushing past all the loss you have endured, past the suffering that has lead you to cut yourself down and hold onto scarcity is the only way to get the life and love that you not only need, but that you deserve, that you really, really, really deserve. You have given so much, for so long. You spoke for our parents. But who will speak for you? Where are you in the world? I believe that the world is there for you if only you can step beyond the scarcity that has dried you out and can claim the abundance that should be your inheritance. You have so, so much to give, so much to delight people, so much to share with the world. Letting that out, boldly and beautifully, with faith in your own gifts and possibilities, is just a good thing. You need a new chapter in your life. You need to cross over and engage the world, even if that world is going to hurt you some, going to open old wounds and demand more than you think you have left to endure. Scarcity is not serving you. And its obvious outcome is a denial of all the magical gifts I know are inside you. Abundance can be there for you. Out of the basement, out of the cul-de-sac, out of the county, out into a world that needs what you have to offer. Show yourself, bold and beautiful, beyond your crushing experience, and I know that somewhere, someone will see the magic. You need people to see your heart, to feel your heart, to connect with your heart. People need to see your heart, to feel your heart, to connect with your heart too. But they cannot do that unless you reveal that big, brilliant, beautiful heart. Abundance is available to you. I believe that because I have to believe that, have to believe that something bigger, better and prettier is there for someone as strong, as smart and as beautiful as you are. Take the hits, take the risk, take the path to bold visibility. Believe that beyond the pain lies abundance. Believe that when you open to the world, the world will open to you. You need people to see your heart, to feel your heart, to connect with your heart. That's what I really want for you too.
How do you fix a problem like Maria?
Now, Maria is a transwoman who has been scared and shamed into the closet for years and is now trying to find some way to become more integrated and actualized in a very sex focused world.
The one thing we know is that you can’t reverse time. You can’t just rewind her life and have her start again with girl socialization and the inhibition of male puberty. That’s not an option.
Even if it were an option, it wouldn’t be a perfect one. Transkids who are supported in that way still face their share of problems, either having to hide their history and biology at a cost of denial, or to face fundamentalists who really believe that reproductive biology — birth genital configuration — defines who you are and even who God created you to be. They face crap, too.
We cannot yet change the sex of a human body, even if we can change various characteristics with hormones and surgery. Maybe in the future, maybe, but not anytime soon.
Any fix for Maria is going to involve compromise.
Maria can’t really be fixed, she can only be supported. Those who look for a cure won’t find one.
In her dreams, Maria knows what she wants. She wants to be transformed into her perfect model of womanhood, female and fabulous. Stripping off all that has been painful and challenging, she dreams of walking in the world with a new skin, one that fits her imagined self.
While the quest to achieve that change can be a crucial part of a trans life, the outcome will never, ever meet the color of Maria’s dreams. Compromises are inevitable when dreams meet reality. We have to learn to let go of our imaginings to get what we can get from reality, which may be better and more full, even if it isn’t what we thought we wanted.
Negotiating between dreams and reality is the enduring struggle of any human life, especially a trans life. We can never be unmarked by the experience of growing up in a gender that bruised and scarred us. We can never really manifest our dreams, instead scampering somewhere between.
Who do we love? Who will love us? How do we negotiate our place in a system of desire that seems to depend on a willingness to play the role our partner has in their head?
Fixing a problem like Maria isn’t simple and it isn’t any one shot operation, any more than fixing any human life is. We grow and we change and we have to become new, finding different ways to get what we need. Every choice is a trade off.
If the standard old solutions, like medical intervention with hormones and genital reconstruction surgery don’t fix trans people, then why are we doing them? They are expensive and intrusive and they don’t give the kind of clear statistical results that can justify the intervention, then they aren’t really productive.
But if medical intervention can’t solve the problem, what can? Should we just tell transpeople to suck it up, that no change is really possible, that they just need to stop carping?
In a world where Maria has endured the bruises and scars of being scared and shamed into the closet, where when Maria becomes visible, many will continue to see her as sick or freaky, a world where she has to keep her defenses up, what can possibly help her?
By putting so much emphasis on medical intervention, many transwomen place enormous expectations on the intervention process, believing that it won’t just change their body but it will also change the way that they are seen in the world, change the way people relate to them, change the burden of their history and scars, change them into women.
Anyone who goes into the process with those expectations is bound to be disappointed, if not be crushed. Their outcome will not make any doctor immediately think that the intervention to solve the problem was worth it.
I haven’t had to deal with a problem like Maria. I have had to deal with the actual problems of Callan.
In my first 15 years out, when I looked at the outcome of others who had hormonal and surgical intervention, I knew that wouldn’t directly change my life. It may give me more standing, more comfort, more empowerment, but it certainly didn’t come with any guarantee of happiness.
The change I needed wasn’t external, it was internal. I had to learn to engage my pain and shame, had to learn to change the way that I approached the world. I saw, quite clearly, that the ultimate tranny surgery was pulling the stick out of your own ass.
I did that work, but ran up against the “Guy-In-A-Dress Line” that place where the best you can ever really hope to be is bounded by your birth sex, by a body that clearly went through puberty as a male. That line is the powerful, the one that researchers come up against when they ponder how much gender can really change.
Having been an outsider since I was a kid, I knew the alternative. People would say things like “I see your gender as Callan.” That was an acknowledgement of my bold, individualistic approach to the world, of the truth that I walked through walls that constrained other people, but I knew that Callan wasn’t a gender.
I know how to be a weird iconoclast (shout out to Stu Rasmussen!), but I also know that approach doesn’t empower me to come from my feminine heart.
It was impossible to walk through the world without experiencing those moments that the sex of my body didn’t surface sometime, with people assigning me as a man-in-a-dress. This left me feeling unsafe when making the choices of a woman, knowing that the expectations around woman wouldn’t hold.
I’m a femme lesbian woman and that means I would be queer even if I was assigned as female at birth. That makes me double queer. My sister reminds me that my body was never slight, never easily femaled.
My challenge has been solving a problem like Callan. I used the best tools I had to do that, and as someone who leads with their brain, first experiences the world through sound, and has the bent of a theologian, I thought about the stories that surrounded my own nature.
The problem is that I need to make a new chapter in my life, have needed that for quite some time now. I need a new public persona, a new social identity with which to engage the world.
For me, though, that guy in a dress line gets to me. I know that truth has to be at the core of everything I do, especially after spending so many years examining the question of transgender and deceit.
While I admire many transwomen who have approached the world in a take charge, butch kind of way, that has never been the pattern of my heart. I have never, ever been cocky enough to make that strategy work for me. That also means that I have never been butch enough to find a femme who wants to invest in me.
The hardest thing about solving a problem like Callan has always been having to do it alone. There are no books, no coaches, no real supports that I have been able to find that are useful. It’s lovely that I can support others on their journey with notes from my travels and by reflecting what they manifest, but that doesn’t move me forward.
For people who see me as a guy-in-a-dress, a “man plus” as one therapist called it, they can’t imagine why I would want more or different. I seem to know how to do the whole quirky guy thing so well, and anything else seems impossible.
I know enough transwomen who have bodies shaped like mine to ever imagine that just hormonal and genital intervention will solve everything. Hell, at my age and with my body, I can’t even wear the lovely leather shoes I have collected.
How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you have some sort of canned procedure that turns people who know that they are trans and who are soaked in so much pain that they will look for any hope that they can move beyond into happy, healthy, well integrated people still living in deeply binary world?
I have no idea.
I do know how to claim yourself, how to get more at peace with who you are, to find your own strengths.
Coming out from behind your armour, though, being vulnerable, open and free in the midst of other people, well, that is quite a challenge. When you keep getting reduced to the gendered expectations of others in a way that feels erasing and even abusive, you learn to stay guarded.
I need to open to the world. I have some things to say. If I have no next chapter, well, no next chapter.
And that is a problem.
The work of caring is the work of playing the role that those you love need you to play in their lives.
People have the answers within them, answers you need to hear and play back in a way that reveals twists and encourages clarity. Only their own solutions will work for them, no matter how much you are sure you have the right approach.
Starting by listening closely you merge your character and knowledge with their needs. They can’t listen to you if they don’t believe you are listening to them, can’t take on board what they don’t find respectful. Everyone heals in their own time and their own way, even you.
The only way to encourage the loving best in them while helping them see the fearing worst they need to move beyond in them is by mirroring all of them.
The core of caring is making others them a priority in the space you commit to them. Caring requires taking an active role of service to be in the moment with another person, as any good mom will tell you.
You can’t give more than what you have inside of you to give, can only be who you are. Caring demands, though, that you shape your expression in a way that serves those you care for, playing a role that they need.
Yes. Caring is just that hard.
If the best we can get from other people is having them see transpeople as courageous and sick or having them see us as perverted and sick, that’s not much of a choice.
The slug line on the Rolloff’s show Little People Big World used to be “We want people to know that we can do everything other people do, just in our own way.”
Jeremy and Zach are twins, though people often don’t understand because Zach is little and Jeremy isn’t.
Jeremy married last year and Zach followed this year. Jeremy reciprocated in being the best man at his brother’s wedding. He had to follow in the tradition of a great speech. He said something like:
I’m the taller one, but I always looked up to you.
I saw the commitment and drive it took you to do things I took for granted, like playing soccer. Kids would mock you, you had to work much harder than the rest of us, but you kept working at it and became a good soccer player and a great coach.
You are picky about the commitments you make because you know how much they will cost, but I have seen that you are amazing at whatever you commit to.
Today you fully and lovingly commit to your wife and family, so I absolutely know you will be an amazing husband and father.
This is an ally, someone who knows that it isn’t about being sick and courageous or about being sick and broken, it is about being different and human.
Zach’s wedding to Tori was special because Zach is special and Tori is special because she sees past his physical body to what is inside of Zach.
I’ve finally recognized my body for what it is: a personality-delivery system, designed expressly to carry my character from place to place, now and in the years to come.
— Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
The amazing thing about outsiders is how they have had to focus on their personality and character rather than taking things for granted.
Jeremy really, really gets that, even as he helps his brother buy his first suit.
If we value ease and sameness, we see people not like us as broken and separate, as courageous beyond our understanding or just as weird and offputting
If we value character and personality, we see people not like us as someone who has different gifts that we can share.
Different people are human, just doing things in their own way. Simple lesson.
I can’t imagine being who I am and not being an outsider.
My experience is of a world seen from the margins. I have always been on the edge, looking for patterns, trying to understand.
Living life up close was always problematic for me. I just didn’t have the levels of latent inhibition that allowed emotional bumps and bangs to slough off. I knew from a very early age that only context could save me.
For people who want to be insiders, who crave being insiders, who need to be insiders, the ideas that anyone would resist being an insider is just beyond comprehension. Doesn’t everyone want to be at the centre, be part of the action, be an insider?
I learned to be an outsider very early. When I finally got in social spaces, I saw the cost of being an insider, the price of being one of the gang. You had to want it, want to assimilate.
I needed to stand alone because I knew what I was going home to. As the lovely Kiki DuRane (an outsider if ever there was one) reminds us, “Don’t get too comfortable!” When we get too comfortable, we let down our guard, and that means losing ourselves because you are subject to the demands and hurts that most people inside don’t feel anymore.
Outsiders know that we need defenses, need some space between us and the crowd. We need our isolation, be that physical, mental or emotional. That isolation protects us, keeps us safe, and cherishes what we hold most dear, our hard won identity.
Insiders find comfort in fitting, being one of the crowd. Outsiders find comfort in standing a bit apart, in being with ourselves.
The primary duality for humans is wild/tame. How much do we want to be tame, to assimilate, be connected to others, follow the rules, be valued for how we meld and how much do we want to be wild, to claim individuality, to be bold and rugged, engaging the world on our own terms and in our own way?
No human is one or the other, of course. We all need both community and creativity, both support and separation.
No insider wants to just be erased, denied having their own unique identity, and no outsider wants to just be totally isolated, not having the connection they need with other people. Outsider/Insider isn’t a binary, either/or thing, rather it is a fluid duality, one we find balance in everyday, trying to make the right blend.
I can’t imagine being who I am and not being an outsider.
My biggest challenge, though, is how hard it is to explain that need to insiders. While they value what I can offer when I climb inside their world, when I come inside with them, it is hard for them to get their head around why seeing the world as an outsider has benefits.
It is our uniqueness that offers the most powerful gifts we can share with the world. In a franchise based world where compliance with operating rules is valued, this is hard to explain. Why would we want someone who doesn’t fit what we expect?
Through the years, I have always offered a different view. I take people on little journeys of perspective, allowing them to see what is so familiar to them that they have created a rut in a new and powerful way. This is how I break loops, not by trying to impose some standard but by letting people see past their habits to solutions that are already inside of them.
Yet, if all your life you have dreamed of being an insider, why the hell would you want to listen to an outsider? Shouldn’t you be looking for people who you want to be, who you want to be friends with, who already model your dreams?
We outsiders don’t try and model our dreams, working to fit ourselves to expectations. Instead, we remodel our dreams, working to fit our expectations to what is.
If you want to be new, innovative, creative, out of the box, groundbreaking, and powerful, following the old rules will never get you there. You need to break the rules and breaking the rules means harnessing your own outsider power.
The problem I have, though, is that I need some insider power. I need connection.
Still, I can’t imagine being who I am and not being an outsider.
When I go to insiders to talk about my struggles, they just can’t imagine why I hold on so tightly to my outsider identity. They like being one of the gang, they hold onto that identity, and I am smart, so why can’t I do the same thing?
To be who I am, with my trans heart, my big brain, my Aspergers by training, and all the rest and to be an insider has always felt like a way to be erased and diminished. I don’t speak for letting people become normative, in the mainstream, rather I speak for embracing the normal range of humanity, a big bell curve where no one is precisely in the middle.
I can’t imagine being who I am and not being an outsider.
But I can’t imagine being an outsider giving me all I need. And I can’t imagine how to offer my outsider gifts to insiders who have no idea that they need them, nor what they cost to gain.
We outsiders, you see, aren’t just failed insiders.
Many of us just can’t imagine being who we are and not being an outsider.
Which is more true: facts or art?
Facts bring a kind of shotgun approach to truth, observations of details or moments without context.
The minute we try to craft facts into a story we are required to apply our own biases, deciding which to include, which to omit, and how to link them with applied context. The basis for our report may be factual, but the construction of it must always be subject to the limits of our observations, to our values and our assumptions.
Art brings a cannonball approach to truth, the symbolic representation of our rounded observations. In art, the context is always an attempt to share a vision, to capture our sense of the world in a way that others can glimpse it.
Facts hold bits of observed truth while art holds our acquired wisdom in the best way that we can communicate it, a wider, panoramic view which looks deeper and longer.
As humans, we construct our expression in the world as art, a collage of what we value, from ethnic traditions to cosmic visions. We work to show what is inside of us on the outside of us, mixing inner & outer ease & expression (1994).
The one thing I want to say to you about transgender people, about homosexual people, or any “queer” person is simple: They are trying to find a way to live out the truth of their lives, the calling of their hearts. (1997)
Are humans best defined by the details of their history & biology, or are they best expressed by their choices of identification, action and expression? Are they best understood by looking at the facts or at their own creation of their life, their own art?
For me, the clothing I wear that reveal me as visibly trans are vestments, garments that reveal my connection to God. Like any clerical garb, they mark me as someone who has taken up the calling, choosing to serve my God in the world.
Every trans expression is the triumph of inner knowledge over banality. We claim our own knowledge and beauty over the standard, routine, issued drab uniforms that just allow us to disappear.
There is an old trope that says the human body has a comparatively small value when reduced to chemical components. More modern analyses value the highest level components of the body rather than the lowest reduction, the price of organs, sophisticated compounds and so on. The resulting number is much, much larger, because the value isn’t in our elements but in the way we put them together.
Artists understand that value. It may take the same amount of paint and materials to make a decorative painting as it takes to make a masterpiece, but the masterpiece is much more valuable. A mediocre dinner may use the same ingredients as a sublime one, but the memory of the sublime dinner will last, resonating in our experience. The art we create is how we turn elements into magic.
For those who want to reduce humans to their lowest common components, their facts, the real value in human lives is discounted, tossed out.
Which is more true, facts or art? Are we at best just our raw materials, points of measurement, or are we synergistic, creating ourselves in a way that is much more than the value of our parts?
The truth in artifice is the wisdom, intelligence, and skill that we use to add value to the off the shelf issued bits of a life. It is how we create elegance and artistry by using what we learned from trial and failure to create the divine.
I have faced those who want to reduce other people so much that they remove the power from them in an attempt to remove their magic.
Those people, though, miss the way that humans have moved beyond mud and muck to create art, art that carries with it the spark of human brilliance.
Artifice often reveals powerful truth that simple listings of facts just conceal.
The problem with neuro-diverse people, with those of us who have minds that work in other than neuro-typical ways, is that the people who are like us aren’t really like us.
Neuro-typical people are neuro-typical because their minds all work in typical ways. They understand each other quickly, know how to support each others choices.
Neuro-diverse people, on the other hand, all have minds that work in exceptional ways. We are like ourselves. We might be able to agree that we aren’t typical, but beyond that, agreement on who we are and how our brain works can get quite difficult.
Temple Grandin, for example, was happy to tell people about how Aspergers worked. That was fine until her explanations started to be applied to other people with Aspergers who experienced the world in a very different way. Ms. Grandin had to understand that her role as a visible spokeperson meant she had to acknowledge the diversity in the neuro-diverse, becoming an ally to others who were also not neuro-typical but who didn’t have a mind like Temple Grandin either.
Being an ally to others who are like us and who aren’t like us at the same time is challenging.
There are issues around identity terms, where we can feel like someone else isn’t respecting the words we use because they use them to mean very different things.
There are issues around standing up for people who make choices we would never make for ourselves, choices that we find wrong and unpleasant, but who others see in the same category as us. How do we defend their choices without agreeing with them, finding a boundary of diversity that we can support?
There are issues around our own neediness. With our own feeling of being made invisible in the past when we find others also need the attention, how can we share? How do we give what others need before we get what we need?
There are issues of understanding. We know our story, our pain, our challenges, but we don’t share experience with all other people. How can we understand what they mean when they share and how can they understand what we mean when we share?
And there are issues of emotional connection. For many neuro-diverse people, the intense patterns in our minds keep us focused but don’t help us engage our own emotions let alone the emotions of others. It’s hard to be compassionate and emotionally supportive of others, sharing empathy, when we don’t have a handle on our own feelings.
If we want other people to support our unique individuality, we need to support their unique individuality. That’s just the golden rule, treating others as we would want to be treated.
Without being comfortable in our own skin, secure in our own identity and mature in our emotional understanding, though, it is almost too hard to stand up for ourselves, let alone standing up for others who are both like us and not like us at the same time.
Over the years, I have come to use the word “queer” to discuss those who are not normative, those who claim quirky individuality over conventional assimilation.
To me, queer isn’t about sexual orientation but rather about crossing boundaries. I know many gay and lesbian people who love rigid and fixed boundaries, making judgements about the right way to be, and I know many who are oriented towards heterogender relationships who love diverse and eccentric people. Queer is antithetical to identity politics, whatever way you want to cut people into groupings.
How do we stand up to support people who are both profoundly like us and uniquely unlike us at the same time? How do we come together not over shared doctrine, dogma or routine, but instead in a way that affirms our fundamental continuous common humanity and our essential bold diversity at the same time?
How do we get the support we need from a community whose traditions are of standing alone, fragmenting off, being focused on individuality and not similarity? Every one of us knows the frustration and isolation of trying to find reflection and understanding in people whose mind doesn’t work like ours, who do not share or even comprehend our experience of the world.
How do we become the parents in the system, taking care of others by understanding the needs they cannot easily speak about and by offering them techniques and strategies to become more effective, centered and happy in the world? Role models beget role models; if no one teaches us how to be present for ourselves, how can we possibly ever be present for others? Not everyone is an autodidact.
And if we become the parents, who then parents us, being the grandparents? Who cares for the caregivers, who helps the processors process, helps the healer heal? No one can just give and never take; it will make you shut down.
The people who are most like us in the world are not like us. They are also people who have a special and unique mind, who see and understand the world in a very personal way.
How can we celebrate that difference, both in us and in them?
How do we come together to support diversity in a beautifully non-conformist way?
As a powerfemme, it was never my favorite metaphor for the transgender experience, but thanks to Karen Armstrong’s “Fields Of Blood,” I understand the challenge in a new way.
Humans are a meaning seeking creature, looking for some kind of myth that makes sense of the challenges of life, especially of the circle of life and death. Birth and death come in the seasons, in the way we nourish ourselves, in the way we mature. We are constantly dying and being reborn, engaging loss to find new possibilities and we need meaning to keep that process in context, to see a longer view of daily hardships.
Transpeople fight for meaning everyday. We fight the cultural system of gender that tries to reduce us to servants of our biology, instead claiming meaning beyond gendered assumptions and expectations.
In some way, every human fights the stereotyping of gender. Trying to create an imitation of something with no original, we all face the challenge of being tame enough to fit in, to be one of the group, meeting the expectations, while also being wild enough to stand out, to be boldly ourselves, authentic beyond convention.
The tension of that challenge is in every person. Some of us delight in seeing others who boldly claim individuality, wanting those possibilities for ourself, while other feel rage towards others who seem to mock standards and norms, taking out the price we paid to fit in against others who appear to flaunt our sacrifice to be good and proper.
When that internal tension of gendering is exposed in the world, it often brings up strong feelings in other people. They may see us as a courageous hero of freedom or they may see us as a heinous enemy out to destroy what they hold as sacred.
In either case, though, they see us as a warrior, engaged in a fight that runs deep in the world. They project their own meaning onto our personal battles, deciding that our choices mean what they think they mean and then either affirming that assigned meaning or working to destroy that meaning as false and evil.
People have always had ambivalent feelings about warriors. Not everyone can transcend the frailty of human emotion to do battle; most of us have feet of clay. How do warriors engage the pain and loss of battle? How do they find the power and strength to keep on fighting?
Those who do fight are both awesome and frightening, two sides of the same sword, the weapon we know can defend us, fighting for us, and can crush us, fighting against what we believe and destroying our world.
What do other people see you, as a transperson, battling in the world?
Do they see you as battling your own pain, fighting against the way your feel broken because your body doesn’t fit the expectations of your dreams?
Do they see you as battling for your own desires, indulging your own fantasies in the world?
Do they see you as battling towards authenticity, trying to become whole and integrated inside your own skin?
What you are willing to fight for shapes your life, much, much more than what you just go along with. You know what you believe you are fighting for, just like you also know what you are fighting against, what scares you and defines what you resist, though you may try and keep that resistance in the darkness.
What people see you as fighting for, though, defines your relationships. And people see you as fighting for or against something they value, something they believe, something they fear.
I never saw myself as a warrior. I don’t hold any rigid doctrine. I approach the world with humility and deference, working hard to not take more than I give. I listen much more than I talk, really wanting to hear the stories other people share.
I suspect, though, that people see me in a war to reveal meaning. Rather than just accepting things at face value, I use questions to delve to a deeper meaning. By assuming that choices and symbols reveal meaning, I seek to understand.
Of course, this is the quest of a theologian, to find meaning in the stories we tell, to pull out the potent and the sacred from the mundane. Many people who call themselves theologians are really missionaries, seeking to create apologia that bolster and defend the faith they already hold rather than looking deeply at questions of connection and meaning, but that is not my approach at all.
My war for meaning is both why I am compelling and why I am terrifying. For those who seek beneath, looking for the surprising that clears blocks and fosters healing, I offer tools. For those who seek to press their current beliefs in the world, trying to mold the world to their desires, I offer challenge.
It may well be difficult to read my words and not feel the power of the warrior. My battle to understand and reveal meaning is explicit, intense, and dogged. I am driven and relentless, even as my quest takes me far away from the comforts of human connection.
Showing my warrior side makes me both awesome and terrifying, a healer desperately fighting for better and a wounded veteran laced with scars. I faced what others fear and that is both laudable and scary, reason for others to hold me at a distance out of respect or disgust.
What is your quest, the one that you value so much you are willing to fight for it? How do you try and open your world beyond barriers?
What is your fear, the one that scares you so much that you are willing to fight against it? How do you try and purge your world?
Every human is a warrior on some level, battling for some thing, battling against something. Every humans craves fitting in and needs to stand up, stand out at the same time.
What do you end up fighting, for or against?
“Do you want to be powerful or powerless?” I asked Christine.
“Isn’t there a third choice?” she replied.
Do you want to feel your feelings or to lock them away?
Isn’t there a third choice? I hear you asking.
Learning to engage your own power with grace, learning how to engage your own feelings with grace is really the only option. There really is no half option.
The notion that somehow we could just go to a menu and pick the feelings we want to have and somehow omit the feelings that are unpleasant, overwhelming or somehow difficult to manage is quite compelling.
As you might know, though, it is entirely impossible. Opening up to your feelings demands opening up to all of them.
If you have spent any time running away from your feelings, trying to stuff them down or to compartmentalize them, this is a very challenging truth.
First, you haven’t developed the skills to manage feelings, to feel them without having them overwhelm you. You don’t have the experience to understand and put them in context as they flicker inside of you, taking the lessons from them but not letting those feelings topple you. You haven’t built the practice, the skills, to just be with your feelings, letting your energy flow, releasing what needs to be released, jumping on the energy, and holding feelings close without being lost in them.
Second, and this is the killer part, you have a whole ocean of feelings that you socked away, using willpower, sensation, substances, rage and other tricks to keep them isolated. Once you start feeling, all those feelings you were taught to suppress will come back up like lava from below the crust, sometimes in bubbles, sometimes in flows, and maybe even sometimes in a huge, hot, molten rush.
I’m quite good at processing feelings. I can feel them, can read them quickly in others, can find voice for them.
What I am not nearly so good at is actually feeling my feelings.
There are many reasons for that, from family background to gendered expectations. I was the one who had to deal with feelings around me, had to be the target patient, rather than to be the exuberant one who got to feel her feelings and have people respond with compassion.
If you watch my eyes, though, the feelings are all there. I show them like any femme, just in a flicker that usually goes unnoticed. People don’t watch eyes they see as in a male body as closely as they do in a woman. Inside my words, too, the feelings are there.
“If people could just see your eyes,” a co-worker once said to me, “they might know when you are joking.”
But sometime, many years ago, I understood that when I was out of willpower, I was just out. If I stopped concentrating, stopped keeping my feelings under intellectual control, I would just be a stain on the carpet.
I have tried the third way, somewhere between locking my feelings away and actually feeling them, tried to just be aware of them in a way that they inform my art.
That makes my work potent, I know. But in many ways, it also leaves me alone and powerless, stuck with magma I find difficult to get seen, mirrored, affirmed and valued.
Feelings. Whoa whoa whoa feelings.
Like any wounded healer, they power my life and box me in at the same time.
This post was getting picked up by those using search engines to find sexually explicit material. This was not a useful outcome, so I have replaced it with a the same text using an old trick spelling from the AOL days. Enjoy.
One problem with pron, so they say, is that all of that highly constructed fantasy, full of stimulation so sensational that it is well over the top, can make people decide that reality just isn’t worth the effort.
Once you get the fantastic stuck in your head, how do you learn to engage the mundane and delicate? And if you don’t engage the realistic, how do you ever find the small and potent joys that it holds?
The problem isn’t really pron, rather it is letting pron substitute for actual, real relationships. A bit of fantasy never hurt anyone, but when fantasy becomes your only dream you become unable to find the satisfaction and nourishment that only reality can provide.
For transpeople who have felt forced into a closet, into a dark place where they can’t share or openly explore their own desires, pron can be the only lifeline. We want a vicarious experience of the world, dreams of a fantastical world where we are not only free to be beautiful but often we are forced into it.
For us, that fantasy world holds our hopes and dreams. It is the place where we can blossom, the place where our life can be perfect, where the expectations others place on us can be stripped off and we can be immersed in delight.
Every transperson has stories of transcendence in their head, models of how the world should be, of how we should be.
Too often, though, those fancy dreams get in the way of engaging reality. Our own idealized fantasy world blocks the path to the rewards of a messy, less perfect, and very rewarding real world.
Instead of opening to experience, finding where it can feed us, we end up raging against how unfair, oppressive and mundane the world is. We are always on the sharp end of the line between our imaginings and the reality that we are saddled with, always feeling trapped and cut.
We want to make our dreams come true, but because those dreams are detached from reality, corrupted by the requirement to be hidden from the world, we quickly understand that they are never, never, never going to happen.
And that is heartbreaking.
If we can’t change the world, no matter how much we yell and scream, then we have limited choices.
We can stay inside our own lucite bubble, keeping ourselves separate from the world but maintaining our dreams. This maintains delight, yes, but it also maintains irritation, leaving us separate and isolated, without community and connection.
Or we can dismantle our dreams, trying to find new dreams that somehow blend the ecstasy of our inner fantasies with the rewards of human vulnerability.
This is the hard path. It requires us to rip up the pretty pictures we have plastered over our own fears and stare at the gimcrack structures we hold underneath. It requires us to start feeling our feelings, engaging the handmade life instead of substituting the machine made red shoes of fantastic pron.
The path of engaging vulnerability requires us to not just change our clothes or our body. It requires us to change our mind.
Letting go of the delicious fantasies that kept us sane and hoping inside our dark closet is one of the hardest things that we can ever do. It is like a peeling off a shell, emerging naked and scared to face a terrifying world that shamed you into hiding in the first place.
Unless we let go of our tranny pron fantasies, though, we will always be trapped inside of them, always be apart from real hot and warm human relationships. No amount of raging will ever make those fantasies come true, even if it does let the real, profound pain of loneliness and disconnection come to the surface for a moment.
I know why we cling to our dreams. Once they have gone, we have nothing left.
When those dreams are corrupt, though, sensational but isolated and full of fear, they can easily block us from the messy necessity of human connection. Instead they lead us into dark corners, lead us into stuffing our feelings with shopping, drink, drugs and other props.
Holding our dreams up to the light, using the serenity prayer to scan them is the first step. Do we have the wisdom to determine what we need to be serene enough to release and what we have to be courageous enough to change in our own lives? Can we find a way to embody our possibilities rather than just retire into our own lurid imagination while complaining that the world should change to make our fantasies come true?
Many have found that the road to pron is a wayward road, able to take us farther and farther into indulgence and unreality, leading us away from healthy, nourishing human connection. pron can lead us into the purely sensational, but only as it leads us away from ourselves.
To me, claiming my dreams is really about claiming myself, not about distress over my life not being like a pron film, be that a sissy screener or a Kardashian series. When I lose touch with my own humanity, I end up empty and wanting numbness over connection, never a good thing.
Beating yourself up over not achieving a fantasy means you can’t embrace the beauty of reality. That just seems the waste of a perfectly good human life.
Changing your mind by changing your dreams and expectations is hard, but it makes the living worth the effort.
Polio survivors tended to be driven and capable, working very hard to overcome real challenges brought on by the disease.
Holocaust survivors tended to be driven, focused on finding a way to keep avoiding the traps which would swallow them and take their life.
Yesterday, I heard that many holocaust survivors took their own lives soon after the war ended. Once the fight was over, they fell out of survival mode and had to take stock of their lives. Their loved ones were gone, they were spent, the challenges ahead looked immensely foreboding, and they had seen things that haunted them.
Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS) has been a challenge for many polio survivors. The current thinking is that while they could push their body to adapt beyond the damage caused by the disease, even down to new nerve sprouts, that adaptation came at a cost. The body had to work beyond normal capacity and doing that for a long time leads to breakdowns, failures, handicaps returning.
We can push past trauma, no doubt, but the body keeps score. Transcending the challenges has a cost and in the end, it must be paid.
I have been struggling this week with an ear infection, the pain finally prompting me to ask for help in a way that I almost never do. I saw a glimmer of smarts in that context, but when problems continued, I was reminded of the challenges of doctors; they have to have a very short attention and retention span. It is just what the system demands.
In the end, while I got some information, I also got people missing the point of my problems. While cleaning out my ear helped, the problem was back the next day, never really having been addressed.
You have to be responsible for your own care is the lesson I was taught, and even be responsible for the others that you care about. Hitting the internet I was able to determine that my problem was not just buildup of ear wax but rather otitis externa, an infection of the outer ear canal. The doctor didn’t really get this, but the PA I saw just wrote for all bits, with an antibacterial ear drop (Cortisporin) and a prophylactic antibiotic (Cephalexin).
Doing the work, though, I found that neither of these was really appropriate. Because the weather is hot and humid and because the doctor didn’t see much skin irritation, my infection is probably fungal rather than bacterial. Antibacterials and antibiotics won’t help.
The best choice seems to be a solution of miconazole, an over-the-counter anti-fungal. The problem is that nobody makes much money prescribing it, so even the leading brand has stopped making the solution. You end up having to have to buy it as a veterinary preparation. It has helped many many dogs get over nasty fungal infections. I grew up with a Basset Hound, so I know about dogs and ear problems.
Doctors who have studied the problem for the Navy eventually discovered, after trying lots of fancy things, that the simplest solution is to change the Ph in the ear canal, making it more acidic. Fungus doesn’t like acid and neither does bacteria, for that matter.
White wine vinegar is milder than white vinegar so it is the go-to solution. It’s not a quick fix, as you have to keep up the treatments until the canal is clean rather than stopping when the pain stops, but that’s pretty standard.
I reached out because I was hurting. I got the best the medical system could offer. I saw hope and then I saw it evaporate. I had to find my own solution.
We push past challenges and find ways to address our own issues, to overcome and to survive. It is an awesome and admirable human trait.
Reaching out, though, we find that once we flag it is hard to find someone else to be there and to help. They are, as marketers will be very happy to tell us, immersed in their own challenges, their own routines, their own dramas.
In the end, we are all in this life alone. We have to be there for ourselves, pushing past and making things happen. And for that there is a price. A price.
TBB has been clear about what needs to happen to me. She’s not at all sure how it would work or where it would happen, but is is sure that it would be the best thing for me.
I need to get thrown into the smart end.
When I was in Australia, I first reported to someone in the Senior Executive Service (SES), the government’s designation for those who would be directors or vice presidents in the corporate world. As I was leaving he gave me an evaluation, noting how I didn’t just do the technical consulting, but how I also did team management and public relations so well that I surprised him, far exceeding expectations.
He was sure that I existed at SES level.
The second time, I reported through a Computing Service Officer(CSO) 5, the top level of bureaucrat in the technical area. He wanted to keep me around, filling a slot that would be perfect for me, as a CSO 4, one level below him.
When the big boss heard this, he laughed. He knew what was happening; to be a senior executive you had to have vision, but to be a service officer — a sergeant — you only had to look down and keep order. CSO 5 couldn’t imagine anyone could ever be bigger that the pigeon holes.
I realized this as I negotiated the medical system today.
The clerks and even the physicians assistant I saw understood different as deficient, broken because you couldn’t follow the nice, clear, simple rules.
The doctor, though, figured out smart easy. Different to her, just like the SES leader, wasn’t broken, it was interesting, compelling and powerful. We quickly ran through a number of topics, from TED talks to systems, moving fast and fluid in a way that respected and lifted both of us.
When my mother was in the hospital for a couple of weeks a year before she died, she suggested that the reason I was there so much in the hospital was because I liked talking with smart people.
I was there as a translator, of course, getting her out of two different rapid response emergencies, one to ICU where we had to talk to palliative care, and getting her home on Christmas Eve so I could make my parents their last Christmas together here.
She watched me negotiate the world for her — “You spoke for me, you spoke for your mother, when are you going to speak for you?” my father would ask from his deathbed — and saw me interact. There was more than once when I was asked if I worked in heath services; I knew the questions to ask, understood quickly, and worked as part of the care team.
Just like Startup Weekend when I found a very smart partner and we made something out of nothing to create a winner, when I am with smart people they get the joke, understand the nuance and see the world in a vibrant way.
My health issue today was essentially stupid. I didn’t understand the kind of pain a simple buildup of cerumen could cause. It had never happened to me before.
I resisted getting help, and then went through two different offices, one plebeian and routine where I was shut down and a second advanced and sharp where I was heard and engaged. The difference was crystalline.
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions.
Small people always do that,
but the really great make you feel that you, too,
can become great.
I deal with small people and they end up making me feel smaller than they are. They see difference as brokenness, see me as weird and busted. If I can do the complex things I can do, then surely, doing the routine things that they enforce must be easy for me, right?
Throw me in the banal end of the pool and I will sink and die, trying to find ways to break into the small, narrow conventional mindset of people who don’t see possibilities beyond rules.
It is only in the smart end where I have the depth to be big, fluid and beautiful. Today, the smart doc and I instantly discussed Aspergers and she immediately valued the fact that humans don’t all think alike, are not neuro-stereotypical. “Thank God!” she intoned.
The TED talk the doc referenced is below.
Every time I get pulled back into doing the tiny and flattened, I get creamed. I am neurodiverse, no doubt. I am “not easily distractable, overly social and do not suffer from a deficit of attention to detail.” Call it ADD, trans nature or anything else, squeezing into a normative mindset hurts me.
For me, faster is usually better. Skip through it, make it concise and crisp and we can have high bandwidth conversations that baffle those who resist the gracious and elegant fludidity of change. Give me new, keep me engaged & growing.
Smart people understand that I understand them and that means I am worth understanding. Other people just want what fits in their holder, what is amusing and affirming to what they already believe. I have to be about affirming them, not about challenging them.
The more time I spend trying to help people get over the same damn ant hill, the more I decay.
TBB is right. The solution for me is not learning to more effectively live in a world defined by others, fitting in better and becoming less challenging, less myself. The solution is diving into the smart end where people can see, understand, value and mirror my intense and witty mind.
How do do that, though, well, that’s not something we understand. She just knows if I can’t, she will have another transperson to write off, and that makes her sad.
I resisted going to get tended to today, knowing how tough it would be and never expecting to meet someone smart, sharp and fast who would connect with me. I just don’t carry those expectations.
And that is hard. How does one dive into the smart end if the expectation is that the pool is almost dry?
I know how to coach.
I can encourage, sort through stories and pull out priorities, offer new strategies and tactics, help others feel safe moving beyond their fears and committing to transformation.
People who want growth and healing have always found me to be useful.
People who don’t want to do the work, don’t want to confront challenges, on the other hand, find me annoying, obnoxious, intrusive, disrespectful, weird and off putting. They find ways to move away from me, trying to discredit me, remove my standing, dismissing me as just too intellectual, too convoluted and too strange. They not only don’t get the sharp joke, they find it tortured and perverted.
If, the question then goes, you are so good at coaching people around transformation, why don’t you do it commercially? After all, so many people are selling themselves as coaches without the kind of skill set, experience and depth that you can offer, surely there must be so mind of service you can offer that will nourish both others and your own pocketbook.
Helping reprogram others can help reprogram the world. Getting others past their blocks helps the world get past the blocks that stagger all of us. Being there to help people find and claim their own possibilities, their own special power is a very good thing.
People, though, heal in their own time and in their own way. For most, the two steps forward and one step back movement is the dance of their life, not wanting to let go of the past to create a bold new future.
For me, the cost of speeding up and then having other people hit the brakes is high, even if I know that it is just them doing what they need to do. They need not just challenge, they need hand holding, small talk, and infinite patience.
“If you seek enlightenment, seek it as a man whose hair is on fire, seeks water.”
Most people want enlightenment in nicely rationed drips not as if it comes out of a fire hose. They want to fit in, to be comfortable, to assimilate much more than they want to stand out, to be revealed, to be boldly themselves. They want the feeling of enlightenment rather than the experience of it, having their own expectations affirmed rather than challenged.
There is nothing wrong with this, of course. People can only take in what they can take in; too much will overwhelm them and stop them cold.
I know how to modulate myself, how to attenuate myself, how to cut myself down to fit into the expectations and willingness of another person. To me, that’s the experience of packaging, making things pretty and accessible and small.
After a lifetime of doing that, though, I find it way too expensive. The tagline for trans today seems to be “the courage to be yourself,” but what if who you are is just bigger than most people can handle?
There is a cute new memoir out with the premise that “you’re never weird on the internet (almost)” The truth is that there are so many niche spaces that most people can find some place where they can fit in, where they can assimilate into the community, but that requires being willing to play along.
I have done that in many spaces since 1984 – yes, I have been on the net since Compuserve days — but I also know that “just being myself” doesn’t neatly fit into any space I have been able to find.
I understand decorum and grace, how to take care of other people. It’s just that means I am doing their work, entering their world, limiting myself to their capacity and their fears, rather than doing the work that I need to do. I spent years writing for an audience that was barely there. Trying to do that today would mean going back to where I was then, at great cost.
The willpower to tolerate has a cost. This week, after much hand holding, I had to shop for a fleece jacket my sister’s friend could buy for her father who is getting cold in the rehab hospital. My sister has been here to work twice in the last two and a half years, the second time to deal with my mother’s clothes. She promised not to touch my father’s clothes, but she did. When she showed me what she was taking it included the fleece jacket he wore all the time, an iconic piece. I gasped and told her, but she packed it up anyway, to dump it in a bin somewhere. Now she needed me to shop for another jacket for another old guy as a kind service to her friend without a second thought. It was crushing, but I did it, for her, for her friend and for her friend’s father. As for me, well, sacrifice is sacrificed.
The map of my scars is full of life lessons I try to share. When they are treated like junk, though, without compassion or consideration, reduced to down to cheap recipes, my flesh is incinerated.
Can I coach? Yes. Probably at a level much, much more intense than the vast majority of people looking for coaching need, want or even can tolerate.
Do I believe that coaching is a good way for me to engage in commerce with the world?
I know the cost. I know the cost.
As noted, I grew up with two Aspergers parents. I wanted them to change, needed them to change, knew everything would be better with change, but to help them I had to put my own needs away and focus on entering their worldview and reshaping it.
The biggest challenge my parents had was in getting into thought loops that they had no way to break out of. Once their brain got into a rut it stayed in that rut, repeating the thoughts and behaviours over and over and over again. This certainly happens in neurotypical people, but in non-neurotypical people the drives are very much enhanced as they have less sense of external stimulation to redirect their thoughts.
Loop breaking was not easy.
The first step was gaining their trust. If they thought I was just trying to break or hurt them by breaking or hurting the comforting cycles of their mind, they would lash out, reject me. Trusting that I was being honest and respectful was the only way that they would open up and let my voice in.
The second step was understanding their loop better than they did. Just telling them that they were thinking wrong was useless, intrusive and offensive to them. Their thinking is their identity and it had to be respected. It couldn’t just be replaced with whatever I thought was better, it had to be adapted, modified to still carry their values but also to be more effective,
Any programmer who has maintained old code understands this challenge. You have to be able to think like the original coder to understand the flow and make subtle changes to it. Otherwise you have to rewrite everything at the risk of it not working with old code and of other people not being able to maintain your code.
Once they trust you and you have entered their thoughts enough to understand them, the next step is the most difficult.
With neurotypical people you can make suggestions about better approaches, give them a new view and let them start to understand and integrate that new information, those new strategies.
With non-neurotypical people you have to stand by them, not just for minutes or hours, but for a long, long time while they try and change their thinking. Their powerful tendency is to go back to thinking in the old way, falling back into that same comfortable and ritualistic pattern.
It doesn’t take just quality time to help a non-neurotypical person break their thought loops it takes quantity time. Changes don’t take hours, they take months or years. When they slip back they need others to be there, not in frustration and anger that the old patterns have returned but rather in compassion and persistence in creating new, robust and better pathways.
This is, of course, the most difficult part of helping non-neurotypical people break old and valued thought loops, the calm addressing of them over and over and over again. If you can’t keep up the work you end up watching them snap back into old habits which do not allow them to change and adapt to be more effective.
My mother was a bad front seat driver, always ready to gasp or shriek when something came into her view. She caused accidents this way when my father was driving, startling him into bad defensive choices that didn’t consider the whole situation.
For years I had to help my father drive from the back seat, not only giving detailed directions but also using a tongue click when he was getting too close, when he needed to slow down. The faster the clicks, the more urgent the slowdown. I knew that he could not process language quick enough to brake so instead I used simple sounds that he could engage.
When I started to drive in the car, my mother next to me, I knew I had to change her thinking, to break the loop in her brain. I started explaining how I was seeing the road, pointing out cars far in front of us that could cause problems. Instead of just looking shallow, I started to teach her to look deep.
I used other engagement tricks too, like asking her to identify car models ahead of us. This would not only help her know what I was talking about it would also give her abundant curiosity something to engage, allowing her to think more strategically and with control, rather than just leaping in fear when her mind caught a flash.
My sister told me that as she drove my mother after this, she would often make comments on other drivers, noting that I “would have yelled at them.” It was more calling other drivers out on risky choices, but it was the same thing. My sister understood that it was a good thing for my mother to be more engaged, both keeping her calmer and teaching her alertness and discipline that benefited every area of her thinking.
This process of gaining trust, of understanding thinking, and then staying with people over a longer term to help them break out of loops, become more aware of what is going on around them, set clear priorities that allow thoughtful response over habitual reactions is something I had to learn to take care of my parents. It was the long term fight that might just make things better.
Loop breaking is work that I had to learn how to do to help my Aspergers parents. The rewards are always very limited both because you know that constant vigilance is required, being ready to go back and rework the process, reinforce the lessons time and time and time again, but also because the person you are helping is stuck in their own loops, finding it very difficult to ever value, respect the amount of work you put in. They are just fighting the same battle over and over again so they have trouble seeing the efforts of the helpers.
Human relationships are best if they are a two-way street, each offering respect, understanding and care to the other, but that is often an impossible ask for the non-neurotypical who live so powerfully in their own loops.
It’s easy to get frustrated with someone elses looping mind, with habits and rituals that seem to cycle forever with no break. It’s much harder to put in the work to help them break that loop and find new ways to engage the world which are outside their current comfort zone.
I knew that fighting to help my parents break their own loops, fighting with them to find new ways to break through was important, even if I knew that they would never be able to fight for me.
I found that if I wanted to help my parents, if I wanted to live with my parents, if I wanted to love my parents, I didn’t have any choice.
I wrote this as an introduction to a discussion called Raised by Aspergers parent. It generated one response from someone who had a similar experience.
My mother never wanted to take anyone’s word for anything, always being suspect of what she could not see for herself. When I said that my father had Aspergers, an understanding I came to after a nephew was diagnosed as being on the spectrum and I did the research, she assumed I was just blowing smoke. She told my sister this after she saw a show on TLC profiling a man with Aspergers and was astounded to find that he was just like her husband! Maybe I wasn’t wrong after all, though she would never tell me.
I had no doubts. And when I said the word to the staff in the hospital, they just nodded their heads, the pattern coming clear to them.
What my mother never understood was that she too had Aspergers. To her, life was just a massive disappointment, a place where nobody made her happy, instead annoying her with their stupid insistence on doing things their own way. Everyone was out to hurt her, from her mother to her children. She could never make new friends, so she was just isolated, hurt and angry in ways that she could never really understand, instead just spraying her pain over her family.
At the table she could never seem to find the end of a story, instead having it waver on into dust. She was unable to pay attention to the stories of others, often just breaking in with her story or even walking away. When her children were hurt or angry she just cared that they were making her look bad. I didn’t stay home sick from school even one day after second grade; I knew that things would always be worse at home where I would be seen as a whining intrusion. There wasn’t going to be anyone at home to help me negotiate how to express and use my emotions in the world, rather there were going to be parents who would blast me for having the baffling damn emotions in the first place.
My mother was not physically engaged with her children, unable to play with them as she was not coordinated or athletic at all. She didn’t touch us except until she decided to surrogate spouse us in our teens.
Everything was all about her and her emotions, emotions that she had no way to understand, own or manage.
I could make a list of all of the personality issues I claimed about my mother over the years, including her profound narcissism and immense self-pity, but as I came to see her life as centred around the struggle with not being neuro-typical, it seemed to me that much of her challenges while not directly related to her Aspergers were very much connected to the frustration, hurt and separation that not being able to fit in, to feel seen, understood and valued caused over the years.
I took care of them in the last decade of their life, a crushing job. My mother was still angry at her mother, but the more I understood her as Aspergers, the more I felt for her mother who had a wilful and disconnected child growing up in the late 1920s and 30s, even before Dr. Asperger had identified the pattern.
I never saw myself as taking care of my mother but rather as helping my father take care of my mother. He was incredibly sweet and loving in his own crackpot engineer manner, always avoiding emotional conflict but willing to explain why those experts were idiots and why he had to publish another technical paper even though they always blocked him, one calling him a “sociopath.” He was a man who could not take yes for an answer, having to explain over and over and over again what we had already agreed with.
I knew that I had to be there to protect him or my mothers demands would crush him.
The impossible part of this was how it shaped me. I never learned to be grounded, confident that others would engage and understand me rather than making it all about them. I always felt unsafe at home and unsafe at school, where no one could understand the struggles in my home life. The strategies I modelled after the ones I saw my parents use were isolating and impossible, leaving me acting like I had Aspergers without the insulation that brings.
I became a caretaker very, very early. I stood up against them, earning me the nickname “Stupid” in the family, the target patient who called out the problem so must be silenced. The enmeshment with my parents was intense, and having no healthy models and support for owning my own life past the limits of their vision. I took care of them even in the face of people who thought I was a fool, for surely they were adults and didn’t need the kind of attention and protection I gave them.
There is no doubt that trying to hold my parents to any criteria of how people “should” act would be futile and offensive. They very much did the best they could even if that left their kids battered. I am more distressed by a society that had no way to reach them, to help them. They had no effective support for learning to manage their own way of mind.
When I was sent to a therapist in eighth grade (the one who told them to stop calling me “stupid”) I only agreed to go if someone would help my parents. The teachers lied to me about that, f course, as a kid I had no clout to get them help, because I was the problem, right? Since they wouldn’t help, though, I had to. They were who they were and would always be.
It was tough to the end. My mother would complain that my father had hurt her when he sometimes put the children first and I would scream inside, knowing that I was one of those children and that we needed and deserved to be protected. She complained to a health care aide so much that they blamed me for abuse and refused to come back. My sister spent time trying to placate my mother by deciding to leverage me to do the things I refused to let my mother manipulate me into doing, often leaving me crushed and alone even as I protected her, also somewhere on the spectrum.
The ability to both be hurt & angry while also being loving & caring is crucial in tending to parents. It was very important that I be understanding and compassionate, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t also frustrated and pained while engaging them.
And the absolute worst part of all of this (and the much, much more that occurred) was how little of it I could explain to anyone else in the world. If you don’t know Aspergers, you can’t imagine what this was like. A very few people understand what having one parent was like, but with two, it is relentless and isolating. I would reach out to others, mostly getting the response of parents who just want their spectrum kids to be fixed, beyond any comprehensions.
If we don’t learn to trust other people with our tender heart when we are young can we ever really make up that ground? My sister spoke today of how a friend saw that if she was locked in her studio for days she would never be bored or desperate, only finding new projects to engage her. She knew this was rooted in her childhood experiences, where her room was safety. I laughed and noted how a friend when I was in college for education asked me if I played alone a lot as a child. “Is there any other way?” I answered.
My brother used a different strategy. Shielded by older siblings who took the brunt, he looked for new families to adopt, eventually joining the family of his wife who hated how his birth family didn’t venerate and celebrate her. His separation allowed him to become someone new and angry.
My immersion in a Aspergers world has shaped me in powerful ways. I am a master of the meta and the literal, a natural outcome of years of being the translator, helping them negotiate hospitals and systems and such, but my own dreams and emotions are stunted, never having the moments of childhood to return to. I was adultified early and it very much made me who I am.
I suspect this all is baffling and overwhelming, but that is just the expectation I have been trained for.
Men are made to be managed,
and women are born managers.
— George Meredith
It is easy to want everything in the world, simply offering blue sky dreams of the way things should be, imagining how wonderful and easy life would be if other people would just do what we want them to do.
It is also easy to get frustrated and angry when those dreams don’t come true, when the bill comes due, when you just get demands and stony faces. ‘
For mothers, though, real life demands become instantly clear the minute you look at your children. They need a home, need fed, need their nappies changed, need their shots, need to stop fighting with their siblings, need everything.
Any mother who doesn’t attend to the real life needs of her babies is a mother who is quickly going to be swamped, buried and lost. Learning to manage the family, starting with setting priorities is required in a way that someone who only has to care for themselves or is a follower never really has to understand.
That kind of management takes mental discipline, the power to understand the needs of a group of people and then to coordinate and motivate them to meet those needs. Mental discipline is hard won and costly to execute but there is no substitute in my experience. Sucks the batteries dry, but it is the only way to make what is needed to happen happen.
Someone has to be accountable for the family and to do that someone has to hold the family accountable for meeting their commitments and obligations. The only way the family — the team — can succeed and thrive is by each person doing their job with consideration and concern.
For those who have always been held accountable in a way that feels demanding and intrusive, those who never had to work to hold others accountable, helping managing a team or family to meet requirements, resisting seems to be the most appropriate and indulgent choice. Shouldn’t others have to adapt to us rather than we having to adapt to them?
The most important and most difficult thing to learn as a manager is how to pick your battles. You can have it all, just not all at once. How do you avoid wasting time with fussing and still get the most important bits, the priorities done? Once you can do that, how can you get the situation a little better every day so that the work becomes simpler and more effective so you can get even more priorities addressed?
The minute you collapse because the situation looks overwhelming and perfection appears impossible you give up any power to get the basics done and give up the power of slow, smart incremental change. Whinging and resistance do not move you forward towards a better managed life, a better managed family, a better managed community and a better managed world.
Most collapses will be the result of trying to micromanage, wanting to control others in a way they do only what you like, what you approve of, what you would do yourself. This attempt to micromanage frustrates both you and the people you are trying to control, crushing their creativity and their commitment to shared goals. If the only ideas that count are yours, they are erased, needing to stand up for themselves, often by acting out.
Paying attention, working as a team with shared goals and accountability, and keeping priorities straight by holding a context is the only way to manage outside of a hierarchical structure that uses force to keep people in line. Most of us will never have the cash or the threat to pull that off and even if we did, the limits would soon become clear to us. We would understand the value of esprit de corps, of unit cohesion, of shared consideration and accountability.
It’s easy to fantasize about how things should be in a perfect world, easy to spout off about other people causing all the problems that face us, about how they have to change to do what we want them to do.
Mothers, though, who have babies to feed and raise, know that while change is a good long term goal, someone has to be accountable for changing diapers today.
Moms know that they have to value humanity, caring and indulgence, not just for getting blotto but to empower us to wake up tomorrow and keep on working. They set a tone that balances beauty, safety, play and shared responsibility to make not only their human life but also the human lives they share responsibility for better.
Is there any wonder they have to learn to be managers, standing not just for growth and freedom, but also for accountability?
I received your letter saying that you intend to include a trans character in your [novel/screenplay] and you are looking for assistance in adding detail to your vision.
My suggestion is simple. Just look at the real details of the transpeople you are using as models for your character. What are the stories of their lives, their concerns and their stresses? How have they solved the problems facing them?
Using the real, lived experience of transpeople as a starting point is the only way to get powerful authenticity into your work. Spending time with transpeople, both by reading what they have shared and by listening to their stories, asking them questions until you can reflect back their experience in a way that they recognize is the only way to get the content you say that you are seeking.
If this is not really of interest to you because you have already worked out your plot line and who your trans character has to be to fit into your plot and tell the story in your mind then you have a problem. No amount of throwaway detail tacked onto a completely invented trans character will ever make them live.
I understand that you have your own view of the pressures of the gender system and may have decided that a trans character can help you sketch out that view while keeping your work current and on trend.
You can use a trans character as a foil for your lead, allowing them to confront their own isolation for example, or use them to show transgressing gender boundaries that reveal the challenges normative people face.
Using trans people as a metaphor for your own views on gender by assigning your own experiences, your own fears and your own meanings to the life of someone identified as trans is a sure way of diminishing and mocking real life transpeople.
You wouldn’t write a Jewish character as a stereotype, for example, set to be a metaphor for venality and cruelty and expect real Jews to not complain or even to help you do that by letting you quickly sketch and exaggerate a Jewish life.
Every human being feels the pressure of the system of gender, to fit into the expectations of others or to be stigmatized and isolated. Transgender people need to break out of the compulsory roles assigned them so much that they cross into no-man’s/no-woman’s land to claim their own identity.
No transperson does that to be an example, a model, a metaphor, for you. They do that because they know that they have no other choice. The price they pay and the drives they feel are real, powerful and profound. Even crossdressers and drags who bounce between worlds playing stylized characters have a real person at the core with real experience that defines them.
Is the character you want to write rooted in the real experience of trans people who you have seen, understood and reflected? If it is, you don’t need help making them more detailed, rather only need someone help you when a bit doesn’t ring true.
Is the character you want to write rooted in your notion of plot or entertainment standing as a cartoon who helps real characters do the work they need to do? If it is, you don’t need help making them more detailed, rather need someone to explain to you how dismissive, offensive and shallow that approach is.
To get help writing a transgender character you must always start by listening to the real voices of transpeople, making them feel seen, understood and valued. Once you do that, they will share their jewels with you, working with you to bring breath and life into your work.
If that seems like too much work because you already know what you are going to write and just want a bit of help with jargon and throwaway detail then you will never gain the respect of transpeople and will never write anything beyond crap.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that other normies who love seeing transpeople who reflect what they think trans people should reflect won’t enjoy your work, accepting the sensationalism and metaphorical use. They are used to trans characters being written as clowns, even as tragic ones, so that is in their comfort zone.
If you really want help in fleshing out a character, engage trans voices and reflect them back to us. If we feel seen we will share our lives.
If you just want us to help you use us as symbolic puppets to tell your story, well then expect resistance and anger.
I hope this helps you in the development of your work.
So she’s sitting in my [barber] chair and she shows me the photo.
And I said put that phone down!
Just ’cause you’re transitioning does not mean
I have to see a picture of what your junk is gonna look like.
— “Clipped,” TNT, 8 August 2015
There has been a flurry of media attention to trans issues in the last few months. We are seeing jokes like the one above, although it can’t top Will & Grace’s Karen Walker offering a transsexual stripper cash towards her “Snippity-Doo-Dah Day,” from April 2000.
In a cursory glance at the covers of the tabloids, though, transpeople seem to have fallen out of favour. The “are they or aren’t they” chatter appeared to much last longer, a tease being much more endlessly fascinating than the simple fact of out which got boring very quickly.
People were curious, they got themselves a good look, and now they seem to have moved on, taking ratings and tabloid sales along with them.
The public interest in transgender issues is, it appears to me, much the same as it ever was: a mile wide and an inch deep.
The details of a trans life just are not engaging to most people who seem to find them off-putting, challenging and, well, just a bit icky, much like the photo referred to in “Clipped.” Nobody, it seems, wants to see that.
When they thought I might be a drag queen, the teens next door chased my car to get a glimpse. When I turned out to be a boring old transwoman, their interest just went away.
The fact of a trans life is simple: after people get through their own squeamish questions, people just don’t want to hear about it.
Transsexual women have been out and about since Christine Jorgensen became visible in 1951. In 1981, Caroline “Tula” Cossey, a Bond Girl and Playboy model was outed. We aren’t really anything new to the media.
After the thrill, after the sensationalism we get boring fast. Do you think the rubes would have paid a quarter to get into the freak show if they had to listen to tales of medical problems and social alienation? Reveal us to be everyday humans marginalized by society and we become a challenge, not a scary delight.
Even our allies don’t really want to engage our stories. Unless we fit into their context, we are just beacons of courage for choosing to be a visible freak in a way that they can feel sorry for our horrible abjection.
This is one reason so many trans stories are not really about the transperson but instead about the ripples normies feel when a transperson emerges around them. These are the stories a wider audience can get on board with; how do wives and children and pals deal with such a freaky thing in their lives?
As transpeople, we intuitively understand these limits. That’s why we shape our stories to fit the attention span of the audience. We abbreviate and simplify our stories, leaving in the titillating bits and removing the hard work and strain involved. While this meets their expectations, it has limited use in advancing understanding.
As we mature, though, we learn to edit our stories even more fully. We stay silent about our experiences knowing that if we share them we will just play into the gawker mentality. By erasing our differences we try to keep the focus on our work rather than on the twists in our story.
No hot shot producer has yet figured out how to make compelling product out of mature transpeople, those of us who have gone through the stereotypical drama of emerging and preening as newly released chicks in the world. We are no longer strange enough to draw stares but are still too strange to draw in other people, to have them engage with our common stories.
Transpeople aren’t new, but somehow, only the newness of transpeople is compelling to most of the world. The interest in trans is a mile wide and an inch deep, so shallow that it leaves most of us gasping for air and attention.
And no matter what the flavour of the month is, no matter how trendy trans was yesterday, I suspect that is not going to change anytime soon. People just want to be able to put us in little boxes and then move on.
As for me, like Storm Large, I am both wide and deep.
If you aren’t satisfied with how your life is unfolding, you only have one choice: choose again.
Your choices are the only control you have over your life.
You can’t demand that the world change to be more accommodating; if you need the world to change you have to choose to work towards changing it.
What’s a good way to remember this challenge? How about:
God, grant me the courage to change what I can change
the serenity to accept what I cannot change and
the wisdom to know the difference.
We live in a finite world where choices must be made. Every choice for something is a choice against something else.
You have made choices in your life. Each of these choices had a cost. You had to pick something you wanted more over something that you wanted less.
Maybe you wanted the other thing less simply because you knew it would be hard and difficult to attain it, because chasing it would take you out of your comfort zone and force you to pay a price. Maybe that cost would have been stigma, queerness, or some other manifestation of the fear of being separate, isolated, alone.
Every choice has a price. We are always deciding if we want what we want so much that we are willing to pay that price.
That price can easily be read as coercion, an attempt to force us to make more normative choices, choices that are not only easier for you but also for the people connected to you. Society always makes comfortable choices easier and less costly, supporting tame assimilation over wild and bold originality.
Making the right choice, the good choice, will always be harder than making the easy and short sighted choice. Resistance to change will always be easier than actual change.
Making the choice to claim your own creativity, your own difference, your own truth against the social pressure of those around us is always hard. We are always trying to squeeze between the expectations of others and our own desires and that often means we end up with machine made red shoes that dance us to a commercial beat and not to the different drummer of our own tender heart.
You made your choices. You paid the price, maybe in not quite fitting in, or maybe in feeling disconnected from your own passionate nature. You learned from those choices from how they worked out to how much they cost.
Now you have to make new choices. They won’t be perfect — humans don’t ever do perfect — but they should be full of hope, holding out the possibility of better, healthier, more actualized and blissful. You have much to learn and swinging the pendulum wide can help you find your centre.
Until you own your own choices — the choices you felt pressured to make, the choices that were a wild stab, the choices that didn’t work out so well, the choices that built the foundation for a better life — you can’t make your next choices with power, authority and grace.
Seeing things as they are, seeing your choices as they were, is the basis for making bold and well considered choices that have the best chance of being for the better.
Owning your own choices means that you have to acknowledge some of your choices as reactionary, acknowledge them as resistance to making what you know to be the better choice for whatever reason. That reason may be fear, it may be comfort, or it may even be arrogance, deliberately creating self sabotage just to say “Fuck You!” to the world.
People are more revealed and more shaped by the choices that we resist than by the choices we make. The choice not to make a choice, to resist making a choice, is one of the strongest and most insidious choices we can ever make. What we avoid reveals an enormous amount about us.
Until you can see your own resistance and have compassion for it, you can’t own choices. If you can’t own your choices, you can’t own your life. Instead, you are buffeted by the world, even as you may be explaining how cruel that world is for pushing you to choice, even as you whinge about the way every choice has a price.
No human can live only on a diet of virtue. Our choices reveal our vitality, showing the passions of our life. They show what we love, what we fear, where we are strong and where we are broken. We make choices from emotion and drives, not just from logic, so our choices reveal the forces inside of us in ways that nothing else can.
Our choices can guide us to insight, to understanding why we feel the way we do and resist the way we do, but only if we own them rather than looking for ways to justify and rationalize them, looking for some force to blame for our own actions. We do live in an imperfect and illogical world, full of people acting out of less than perfect and considered motives, but the only imperfection, flawed logic and hidden motives we have any direct control over are our own.
I know that I am driven by my own worn, battered and painful emotions and they are the source of my resistance. They are also, though, the source of my vulnerability, my openness to the feelings of others and of my feelings, as true and useful and powerful as any attempt to override them with willpower or walls to force me to do the proper thing.
My own choices are often messy and irrational, full of resistance that comes from a lifetime of scars, habits, limits and desires. It is only by owning them, though, that I can possibly move towards healing and growth, only by having compassion for my own humanity that I can be open, kind and caring for others who struggle with their own resistance, with their own choices. This is the obligation of the wounded healer, of someone committed to their own transformation and actualization.
Freedom exists in the moment between stimulus and response, in that instant when we choose between routine habit and considered choice. If we don’t own that choice, learning from it in a way which lets us make better choices in the future, we have no way of creating change and getting different and new results.
Owning your choices rather than blaming them on the circumstances which prompted you to make them is the only way to take power over the direction of your life.
Owing your choices is the only way that allows you the wisdom to accept what you can change and the courage to change what you can change.
There is much about femininity that is in the experience of sensuality.
Men have skin, but women have flesh–
flesh that takes and gives light.
— Natalie Barney
Heck, there is much about humanity that is in the experience of sensuality.
I can’t remember the last time someone touched me with any form of sensuality. I haven’t been naked with someone, for example, in well over a decade.
I used to touch the skin of my parents all the time before they died two and a half years ago. I gave my mother her last shower three days before she died. I had to learn to disempact my father’s bowels after he became paraplegic because the hospital missed diagnosing his broken back. His disconnection from his own physical pain was a big part of the problem.
They didn’t touch me, though. Aspergers people aren’t known for being physically engaged with others. My physical experience as a baby, for example, was not warm, sensuous and engaged.
And I haven’t had any lovers for a very, very long time. I know that I my heart won’t be happy with the way potential lovers see me, that anyone who wants my body will not be present for my heart.
Live in this state for long enough and you start living within your skin rather than in it. I am comfortable in my head and heart, but not in comfortable my skin, not connected to that organ which connects so many people to those around them.
Many women delight in cosmetics, creams and lotions designed to keep their skin fresh and vital. I shower about once a week. Many women delight in the texture, the hand and drape of their clothing. I pull on another polo shirt and pants and just leave them on.
My feet are swollen and rigid all the time, and going my doctor — also on the spectrum — is an experience of mental exercise, not of physical engagement. I don’t do bodywork or treatments, don’t know how to inhabit my own skin.
My skin is not an invitation but rather is a barrier between myself and the world.
This vinyl skin of mine keeps me sealed up inside myself, isolated and very alone.
It is very hard to delight in caring for your skin when you understand that no matter what you do the skin that you are in will never, ever, ever represent and reveal who you are inside, never, ever, ever be able to break the lock in you have had since you were a baby.
I once went through a guided meditation where the big surprise finale was opening your eyes to a mirror they held up. When I figured out the gimmick, I refused to open my eyes, explaining that if they were going to tell me what I saw in the mirror was “really me,” I would have to smash the mirror, and that they didn’t want that.
They had already been surprised by the intensity of my emotions during the meditation, but they were even more surprised by how quickly I could snap back to control, how fast I could withdraw from the emotions that passed over my skin and come to mental discipline. My training and experience was beyond their comprehension.
That lack of understanding comes from not comprehending the experience of a big, very smart trans kid with shaman powers who has been raised by two disconnected Aspies. I could never, ever, ever, ever surrender to my own skin. I knew it wasn’t at all safe.
Priestesses of the skin assume that touch overpowers our thought and emotion, pulling us back into a time when we were babies and our skin was the way that we experienced the world. They ask us to become primal, to release and to “just be ourselves.”
My self is not just in my skin. As a transperson, I experienced a disconnection from my own skin, a separation from my own body. I never melted into an elemental melding of mind and body, instead always feeling the sharp blade that separated observer and participant.
The psychic outline of who I am is not contained by my skin. My elemental forces pass inside and outside my body, making curves that exist not in flesh but in energy. For a body centric world, this is impossible to imagine.
Many transpeople do whatever they can to reshape their skin to match the contours of their psychic body, for example, pumping with silicone like Amanda LePore or Nina Arsenault. This was not my path; on my transnatural journey, I did the work inside, avoiding any substances, not working to reconstruct my body.
I learned a lot from my transnatural experience, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else (2007).
From the moment we are born
we are in the process of giving birth
to the stories we will leave behind.
Everyday our flesh dies and our stories grow.
It is the stories we leave with our children that endure.
We become flesh to become memory.
— Callan Williams
I have good reasons for not being embodied, from lack of resources to spiritual discipline. After a lifetime of being disconnected from your skin, there is no easy way to learn to delight in an aging, worn and battered bag of flesh. If you don’t take care of your body, it won’t take care of you.
People most fully inhabit their body as children and as we age, we learn to identify more with an inner knowledge of who they are. There is no easy method to go back and reclaim that vitality, especially when bodyworkers believe that you have to turn off your hard won truth, believing that “you are your body.” I assure you, though, I am not.
Until my dying day, though, I will live inside of my skin. My skin will be between my heart and my experience of the world, for good and for bad.
As long as my skin is vinyl, though, it will be very hard for warmth, nutrients and love to ever pass through it.