Cute Courage

The way to success is by giving the punters what they want.   Even if they don’t know that they want it.

It’s easy to see life as essentially a marketing problem.   How do you take what you have, polish it up with discipline and precision, then use it to be effective in the world?   How do you give the punters what they want so that you can get what you need and what you want?

There is a certain power when you can read people out effectively enough to ask a question which gives them relief that they don’t have to say the big hard thing, just to burble out the pent up details.

The problem is that once you do this a few times, people figure out that you can read them out and most people don’t want to be read out, having others see things that they prefer to keep hidden, even from themselves.

What the punters want most is encouragement.

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

People want to believe that better is possible, seeing the stories of struggle and triumph that give them hope for transcendence and change.

It’s no good for that courage to be displayed by someone difficult, though.

Someone who has been battered for or by their own possibilities is an unpleasant reminders of the cost of transformation, a reason why one wants to resist letting go of now because things may be too ragged on the other side.

Someone who doesn’t seem like us, who seems too disconnected from our world, because of their skills, their focus or their discipline also offer less than pleasant views of the effects of change.     If we have no hope of ever being like them or no desire to be like them, we are not encouraged by their story.

What people want is cute courage, a moving story combined with an attractive outcome that gives them the power to open their heart, face their own challenges, and imagine that their own life could be better if they just showed a little more courage.

Cute is aspirational, offering a world that we want to enter.   Cute is appealing and attractive in a way that we can dream of being a little more like the person we see in front of us without too much work, too much unpleasant damage or too high a cost.

People are always willing to share meaning with me as long as it is their meaning that we are sharing.

Their meaning is deeply coded in what they find desirable for themselves.   They know that change always requires death and rebirth, so they want to be comfortable before engaging it that it will leave them looking good, happy and well liked.

Finding ways to move people by touching the places inside of them that they find dark & challenging and then showing you can transcend them can make you powerful in their eyes.   They want someone to lead the way, breaking the chains and expanding the boundaries, but they want that done in a way that looks good to them, a way that looks possible, pretty and even looks easy.

Transpeople have always been able to move the norm in the room, icebreakers who pushing out the possibilities and make space for others to follow.   When we come in and are a 5 on the bold individuality scale — the queer scale — others can stop playing small and show themselves as the threes and fours that they are, knowing that someone else will be the queerest person in the room, that someone else has taken the shock.

Get too far out there, though, and you become a bit terrifying rather than a bit encouraging.   You stop being cute.   They want to stay away from you rather then be encouraged and comforted by you.   People can only go so deep, can only tolerate so much intensity in one sitting before they feel overwhelmed.

The marketing solution to this problem is clear.   Just dial back the parts that people find too intense and challenging so that you can offer your gifts in a cuter and more engaging way.

Marketing’s dirty little secret is, though, that execution is always, always, always more important than plans.   A mediocre plan well executed will always beat an excellent plan with poor execution.   Anyone can imagine a wonderful solution, but if it can’t executed with power and grace, it will just fail.

Cute isn’t easy.   I have been watching shows that star their creators — Odd Mom Out, Welcome To Sweden, Difficult People — and it strikes me why Carl Reiner remade the pilot of “Head Of The Family,” in which he starred, with a lanky, very cute comedian named Dick Van Dyke who was so likeable that you could imagine Mary Tyler Moore as his beautiful wife.

By taking away the angst & tension and replacing it with cute & engaging, he made a television classic.  Plus, Mr. Reiner’s intensity allowed him to create the very memorable Alan Brady, who was never charming enough to be every week company but was an intense delight when he appeared a few times a season.

The performance of cute is hard.  It covers well earned scars with engaging ease.   It removes the sweat and grime of creation and replaces them with warm and pretty wit.

You have to give the punters what they want.   Sure the want to feel their hearts open, feel like they are learning something, feel engaged, empowered and encouraged, but first they want to feel safe and easy.   They want attractive and desirable, not gritty and challenging.

They want to move forward, to be lead into possibility, but in a way that keeps things sweet.

They want cute courage.

And if you can deliver that, more power to you.

Out Is Better

Is being out better than keeping the parts of you that might challenge someone else hidden?

And if being out is better, who is it better for: just for the person who is out, as they indulge their own desires, or is it better for a wider group, such as kids like us, our companies, our communities or even for our families?

If we can’t make the case that out is better, not just because it would indulge pour desire to dress up but because it will make relationships better, unlocking more engagement, openness. creativity and compassion, then those around us will see their job to be resisting our emergence as just indulgent and destructive.

If they believe that their job is to keep you safe, is to keep the family safe and intact, then they will believe that sabotaging you is a holy mission.  They will work to  quibble your passion away to nothing, working to make your emergence as touch and challenged as possible.

How can you make the case that out is better, not just for your erotic desires but for your life and especially for the lives of those with whom you are in relationship?

In the 1980s, when TBB and I came out, it was hard to make the case that emerging as transgender was not just indulging your Eros and putting the cost on those around you, but that emergence could actually make you a better person — a better leader, a better partner, a better parent, a better you.

For me, this is all based in moving away from models that identify trans as something on the outside to trans as something deep inside the person.

When we first met, TBB had real resistance to my core belief that trans symbols revealed trans meaning.  Her identity was bound up in being a crossdresser, someone who was a real man in the world but who just likes to dress up now and then.   My saying that those behaviours revealed a trans heart inside was something that she needed to deny to stay in position.

At the same time, those who identified as transsexual wanted to assert that they were always really female, they just had a little birth defect.   They searched for differential diagnoses to prove themselves as real transsexuals, fundamentally different from drags and crossdressers and transgenders who had choice (1996), just playing with gender.  My saying that their behaviours revealed a trans heart inside was something they needed to deny to stay in position.

The resistance to trans emergence from therapeutic professionals, though has changed significantly over the years. They have seen enough transpeople who found their own integration and actualization when they could step out from behind the armour of denial they carried, allowing them to own their own feelings, becoming open hearted to themselves and to others who need them. Emerging meant their own stuff no longer gets in the way, which made them more responsive and responsible.

This isn’t easy to convey to someone who sees their dreams, their family and their way of life threatened by change. Partners know that their job is to stop spouses from doing stupid, indulgent and damaging things, being taught that training and controlling is a key part of the job.

For me, the work of Brené Brown (she’s Oprah Approved!) has been important in explaining why no one can ever just feel part of their feelings, getting clear while keeping part of who they are strictly off limits. Ms. Brown’s focus on moving beyond shame has been powerful to me, echoing work I first started doing based on John Bradshaw.

Ms. Brown’s message is compelling to women, which is a good thing.

In my experience, to help others find the way to their own healing, the way past their own fear and shame, the way to engaging change and possibility, we first have to do the work for ourselves.   It is by our own healing that we move forward the healing of those around us, the healing of our community, the healing of our world

You are the only one who knows what the right next steps in emergence are for you, how to balance family, work and self. For me, though, the ultimate trans surgery is when you pull the broomstick out of your own ass, striving not to jump from box to box but rather to be really present and authentic.

I believe that emerging as trans, even if that doesn’t involve hormones or surgery or even living full time in your target gender, can help you drop your armour, be more present and be better in relationships and in the world.

I really believe that out is better, because it allows us to emerge and do the work of growth and healing in the world in a way that staying hidden, stuck and polite will never let us do.

If we don’t do the work, though, if we resist our own inner journey, instead just demanding that others take us as we are, are we really opening ourselves to revelation and healing?

Small Talk

If I could change just one thing to make my life easier, just one thing, it would be this: I would learn to love small talk.

Small talk is the giant blah-blah people share to make them feel connected with the world.   It is like mortar, just some junk, conventional and filling, but in the end, it holds people together.

When I think of what I could be doing outside of this basement, the answers are two:  walking in nature or engaging in small talk.    It could be at a picnic or a support group, at a bar or a mall, could be where any humans gather, where they just shoot the shit, trading uninformed opinions on sports or reality television or pop news or whatever the hell the subject of the day is.

I have been able to tolerate small talk, go on to battery power and sit through it, letting the babble spin around me.

I have even been able to simulate small talk, making some pleasantries and keeping up my end.   People even tend to like my small talk because I really seem to be listening and paying attention, really seem to be engaging them, pulling out facts and insights that show I understand what they are talking about, reflecting them well.

It takes work, though, to do that kind of performance.   What I am actually doing is modulating my deep talk to look like small talk, interviewing other people, offering Socratic dialogues, making connections as I dig deeper.

Almost invariably, this exercise ends badly when I show too much, offering too deep a vision, saying something that reveals I am challenging the foundations of their pleasant banter.  I am a conversation stopper,  causing smiles to harden and my partners to drift away to more convivial and agreeable people.

In the world I grew up in there was no such thing as small talk.   Every conversation was a minefield, so being able to tease meaning out of the smallest scraps so that one could avoid explosions was vital.   My Aspergers parents didn’t do small talk, so pulling thoughtful understanding out was the best way to keep them engaged, to fulfill my mothers cutting curiosity or my father’s sweet crackpot intensity.

I learned to stay on the fringes, watching patterns emerge and reading out what was going on underneath.   This always allowed me to be smart, holding the meta like pearls, understanding what was not being said, but it never allowed me to be one of the crowd, going along for the good times.

So much of human communication is bound up in small talk, the jibber-jabber that is about tone and bonding, not about crisp, cutting thought.   Small talk is the foundation of relationships and my hate of it, my inability to engage in it, has always limited me in building bonds.

Instead I always hold the assumption that any human conversation will be full of cloaked intrigues, sometimes considered, but often even invisible to the speaker.  They don’t hold a model of their own belief system, haven’t mapped their emotional triggers, don’t understand their reactionary defences or why they hold them.   They just want to open their mouths and talk while I am looking at the symbolic language they offer for meanings that they don’t even know they have, let alone own.

Joseph Campbell loved the writings of James Joyce because Joyce saw the world as symbol.   I understand that experience; chatter is not just pleasant social intercourse, rather it is a deep and potent revelation of your inner self.

This is, I understand, not how the vast majority of the world sees small talk.    They just see it as small talk, a little connection with other people in the world. The notion that I see it that way is not in their notions, and if they do happen to figure out that I am looking deeper, that makes them uncomfortable.

I love symbolic language but I love it for how it conveys meaning.   I had to learn early how to tease meaning out of rants, how to code meanings so it could be passed through the filters of those around me.

You can’t not know what you know.   Once you have the shaman gift of seeing through the walls of convention you can’t just let them pop up again, making the world simple and compartmentalized again.  Instead, you have to act as if those walls exist, a kind of performance that lets you connect with others who are still living inside their own comfortable boxes.

My life would be much, much easier if I loved small talk.   I could go into the world and just engage in everyday relations with other people, being a part of the flow of connection, blissfully chattering without feeling that every word said had deep connections to the truth networks of the universe.

This is a place where my guru gift gets in the way of convention, where speed, intensity and x-ray vision locks me out of being happy in the moment.  It is why people have turned and cursed me as they understand that once they see the rhythms of the world they can never be innocent again, never easily deny deeper truths.

I know that what the world holds is a vast sea of small talk, that it offers that conversation as a way of pleasant, easy and light connection.

I just also know that I can’t easily enter that discussion, and doing the work to seem like I am doing that takes energy and resource that I no longer have.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I am missing by not being able to engage in that small talk, though.

Loneliness Strategies

Loneliness is a big deal for any human.

In Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection  by John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick, they show lots of studies to prove that assessment.   Cacioppo wants to make it clear that there is a profound physical cost to loneliness and that loneliness, while also being destructive and debilitating, isn’t the same as depression.

Loneliness is a lack of meaningful connection with other people.   It is a strong sense of isolation and separation from other people.

For transpeople, it is exactly this isolation that has been used to have us deny our own nature so we will act in a more normative way.  When we try to show our hearts, we are shunned by others.  This may be an active process, deliberate and forceful, or it may just be the outcome of having no understanding, no language, no way to explain how we don’t fit neatly into the genital/gender boxes that are taught as “real.”

We are told that the only way to be seen, valued and reflected is by fitting into other people’s concepts of what is meaningful.   Since those concepts don’t include people like us, we feel isolated and lonely.

The costs of this isolation are high according to Cacioppo, even extending to an inability to properly socially regulate because we don’t have context for what we share in the world,

Coming up with strategies to manage the profound loneliness is at the heart of how we engage our own transgender nature in the world.

For many of us, we desperately to create connection by working to fit into the meanings that other people hold.   We try to box up the bits that others tell us are not good, useful or attractive, working to compartmentalize them off by storing them in the closet.

This is the strategy used by people who don’t have much tolerance for isolation, those who very much need the company of others.    The only other choice, to engage and use their isolation to explore inside of them, is very difficult, feeling like they are cut off from the warmth of human connection.

We struggle to build community, coming together to support each other, but when we see how others are outside social convention, how they are different, we see our own possibility of being different mirrored in front of us and feel the need to castigate them, to say how they are wrong, to shut down connection with them rather than to build it.

We are afraid that if we have to stand next to people like that, being their allies and being seen as like them, we will be even more isolated and lonely.   We already know the sharp and deep price we pay in loneliness for our differences so we can’t imagine tolerating even more isolation by speaking up for them.

It is so difficult to tolerate the level of loneliness we get from being trans in a world where trans is erased, shamed and stigmatized that we cannot imagine taking on any more isolation to do the work of finding ways to come to peace, to be more comfortable in our own skin.

This is why the process of emerging as transgender has always required finding strategies to deal with loneliness.    We know that as we come out those who have fixed expectations of us will pull away, know that as we come out people will understand less of the meaning we offer, know that as we come out we will have to engage how people see the queerness of people like us.

If we cannot tolerate entering our own loneliness, we cannot tolerate entering our own growth and healing.

I learned to enter isolation at a very early age.  With two Aspergers parents, even simple things like touch were denied me.  I learned how to live in my own world, reaching for books and other forms of connection to substitute for meaningful emotional contact, affirmation and connection.

All the aspects of my life, from my theological bent to my big brain were pulled into service to create an hermetic, solitary life.   I created meaningful connection with a wider understanding even as meaningful connection with other people escaped me.   From where I sat, they just didn’t understand the meaning I lived in, just didn’t get the joke.

I did what Cacioppo suggests as a strategy to overcome loneliness, entering the meaning of other people and being of service to them.   While that provided connection, it did not provide reflection of who I am, leaving me even more inside “the loneliness of a long lost tranny,” the tagline of this blog for a decade now.

There have been people who have been served by my reflection on their choices, feeling seen, understood, valued and mirrored by me.   They were forced into a choice, though: do they disconnect from the conventions and meaning around them to go deeper and claim some part of themselves, or do they continue to feel connected in a way that means they don’t feel as lonely?

My message, that the only way out of hell is through, that you have to enter your own difference to claim your own soul, is the message that you have to willing to be alone and tolerate loneliness to disconnect from mass social meaning to reclaim your own personal, handmade meaning.   You have to be willing to let go of social comfort to connect to your creator.

This is hard magic for those who grew up facing profound inner loneliness, knowing that there were parts of themselves that had to remain isolated, for if they showed them they would be shunned or abused.

As a wounded healer, I show the power and joy of finding your own voice, of standing alone and proud, but I also reveal the terrible price of isolation and loneliness.

Is there any wonder why people want someone else to do the hard work healing for them, rather than facing the challenge of letting go of their peers, of entering the scary, lonely journey to claim new and more profound meaning in their lives?

We need social connection, yes, need the tame assimilation that keeps us connected and part of the group.   We have to be part of the band.

We also need our own voice, need the wild individuality that keeps us connected to inner and deeper meaning.  We have to true to ourselves, ready to claim our own values over social pressure and constructed meaning.

Like every other human experience, loneliness is required, but too damn much of it can leave us hurt, isolated, and really beaten down.

Those of us who had to stand out and stand up alone in have a much more difficult time learning how to fit in because our meaning, our gifts, are always seen as isolating, different and challenging.

The best thing, though, is people who know how to fit in can learn how to stand out too, finding their own power to stand up for themselves and others.

You just have to learn to enter the loneliness rather than to run from it.

Mask Moment

Laverne Cox has recently noted that when she first came out she desperately wanted surgery to make her face look more officially feminine (Facial Feminization Surgery or FFS), but now, when she can afford it, she no longer has an interest in the procedure.

Every transperson has experienced that “mask moment,”  the impulse to erase their biology and history by concealing their old identity deep under a mask of some sort or another.

In my early days, I would get makeovers for “costume parties” I invented as an excuse for my own transgender exploration.  I was clear what I wanted: to not look like me!

I would get beauty books by the likes of Way Bandy and Kevyn Aucoin which would all start with a description of how beauty starts from the inside and I would just skip that advice, trying to find instructions on how to use a trowel to plaster on the Spackle that would finally let me be pretty.

I’m not the only transperson who has gone through this mask moment.  My drive was mild by the standards of some who use full face masks to achieve a feminine appearance.  Just add a moulded body suit and you have a complete experience, even if the passing distance with these contrivances is usually very, very close.

One of the key questions is if transgender expression is about concealing the sex of a body or if it is about revealing the contents of a heart.

The “fooling people” narrative was extensively used when I was coming out, with “pageants” on talk shows that asked you to identify the fakers, separating them from the “real women,”  for example.

As I worked through my first decade of being out and exploring my own transgender I looked hard at truth versus lies.  I quickly understood that putting on any kind of false front designed to hide who I am just felt wrong to me, much more constraining than even the duct tape corsets that so many gals used back then in the days before Spanx.

My own expression was first a search for gender play, not concealing my maleness.  That wasn’t fitting; I had never been any damn good as a man, and the more I shared with other women, especially femme lesbians, the more I understood our shared feelings and experience.

My big statements, though, in 1994 and 1995, were about the importance of moving past the current models that used compartments and walls to try and maintain an either/or stance, one where concealment was more important than revelation.

I adopted a deliberately gender neutral name, one that surprised a born female therapist named Tommie who, when she was taken for trans laughed and said “No transwoman would ever take such a masculine name! They like pretty names and the more of them, the better!”

As I dropped my own fears, relaxed and started to do the ultimate trans surgery, pulling the broomstick out of my own ass, I began to understand what the more mature transwomen knew: blending in was much more about attitude than about appearance.

It isn’t about how “flawless” your disguise is, rather it is about how clear your heart is, how comfortable you are in your own skin.   People read our choices, our tension, our skittishness much faster than they read our sex.

This is as hard for transpeople today as it ever was.   We know how to stay defended, know that we want to control every bit of our appearance in order to stay armoured and defended in the world.   Instead of looking for ways to become more vulnerable and authentic, we look for ammunition to use in our battle, be that the claims of others that mirror our own understandings or the tricks of concealment that we can hide the bits of us we are not comfortable with behind.

We don’t live in a world where we feel safe just being us.   People have been demanding we hide for years, keeping us closeted, and they are all ready to tell us we should drop this transgender shit and go back to being “who we really are.”   We often come out at an age where we don’t have support for a second adolescence, learning how to drop our old, limiting defences and walk in the world effectively making the choices of a woman.

The process of mastering feminine expression always demands swinging the pendulum wide, trying a bit too hard before we find our own groove, that line between comfort and beauty which keeps us free and honest.   Every woman knows she experimented with lots of looks and she still has them in her repertoire for those moments when a gown and heels are just the right thing.

It is the work of maturing, though, that gets us past our mask moment, that time when we want a flawless construction on the outside to shield confusion, fear, self loathing and hard work on the inside.

Ms. Cox understands this.   She was forced to stand up and be herself, without reshaping her face into a mask that a plastic surgeon would assure her is more feminine, more attractive and more plastic.

What she found was a kind of authenticity and integrity which let her expression resonate even more powerfully with audiences than someone behind a mask could ever pull off.   She knows how to use artifice, but she doesn’t let it replace authenticity, only augmenting it.

I completely understand the mask moment in the lives of transwomen.   Who can’t imagine putting on the face (and body) or your dreams?

I also understand, though, that living behind that mask is never, ever all you dream it should be.   You end up spending a great deal of time and energy policing yourself to avoid letting the mask slip, and you feel a kind of emptiness behind the façade, unable to share your deep emotions.

Worse, people never respond to the mask in the way you wish they would.   They read something uncanny about the presentation, something not quite integrated, a bit of ragged edge between your choices.   Instead of opening up to you, they keep their distance, sensing that you are not being open and authentic.  If you need to keep things hidden, maybe even from yourself, then that tension tells them that they need to stay away and safe from you.

You can never create a persona that is more beautiful, more warm, more inviting and more attractive than you are inside.

You don’t live inside a movie where there are polished lines to read, second takes, directors to polish your performance, and others who know the script and will respond perfectly.

Instead, you live in a world where people improvise their performance in every moment, playing off all of the cues you give them, or worse, that you do not give them.

The mask moment seems compelling, creating our dream expression, but Ms. Cox understands that not having the cash for FFS was, in the end, a gift to her, a gift she didn’t want but one that forced her to do the inner work and become more present in the world, more beautiful, authentic and accessible.

Instead of learning to hide, she learned to show her own trans self, and that lead her to her strong self-knowledge and her wide acceptance.

This is the lesson that so many transpeople have learned, even transwomen who have tried to mask themselves well.   It’s just a hard lesson to explain to those who are still trying to hide their own nature, still running from parts of themselves.

Not So Simple

There are compelling reasons for offering a simple model of transgender, of the origins and of the repairs.  Simple models are easy to explain and don’t demand the kind of depth or precision that more complex and nuanced models require, so they are easier to buy, easier to sell.

The problem with those simple models, though, is that they don’t end up getting to the root of the matter, don’t explore all the costs and ramifications that go along with engaging transgender in the world.   By simplifying the model. they trivialize the model down to an either/or, personal choice kind of narrative that can be dismissed as just a kind of whim or hobby.

For twenty years now, I have been focused on the costs and ramifications of trans, going deep to look for meaning, stresses and connections.   Instead of working to create a simplified, easy to sell model, I have worked to construct a model that faces the hard, hard parts rather than bypassing them, one that offers potent truths rather than just plays on the expectations people already have, keeping the powerful and scary bits hidden.

I came out in a time when lying to yourself about the depth of transgender meaning was just the way that things were done.   You just had a birth defect, to be corrected by surgery, or you liked to dress up as tribute, a way to honour women.   You weren’t queer, different, unique, transgender at the core, rather you were a woman locked in a man’s body or a man who just liked to party in heels.

I watched people like me explain how their expression had nothing to do with sexuality, wasn’t deeply erotic, didn’t mean that they were not just one of the crowd.   And I watched others listen to these explanations, these narratives and know that the whole truth wasn’t coming out, it just wasn’t.

When an article came out recently telling one transwoman’s stories an older co-worker felt the need to defend her.  “That’s horrible that someone would post that in your cubicle!” he railed.    “How can anyone say those things about you?”   While the transwoman explained that she wrote the article, that she was proud of it, he was still upset.   How could someone say those truths out loud and be anything but impolite?

The co-worker understood the ritual of classic trans: what is ambiguous, off-putting and challenging needed to be erased for ease of telling, rather than to be shared widely and aggrandized.

The costs of honesty are still there.  Even after two years of working there as a woman, once the article came out some women staffers started rumbling about not allowing her in the women’s room.  They want their simple walls back.

We know that many around us love those simple walls, even if they are illusions, love their fundamentalist view that separations are real, which is why we learn to shut up, to simplify our narratives, to keep our head down and not make waves.

When we do that, though, we not only don’t make the change in the world that makes life better for other transpeople, we also let people minimize and diminish the cost and the power of actually, really being trans in the world.   They don’t see the need to stand up for trans truth, instead diminishing our needs to just being able to crossdress and have plastic surgery, just have a kind of television makeover.

The price of being pounded into compulsory gender or being marginalized by abuse never has to be examined.   The challenges of engaging continuous common humanity beyond easy groupings can continue to be ignored.  The lessons that transpeople bring can continue to be erased.

I know why so many transpeople choose simple models to explain who they are, models that do not deeply challenge the people around them and models that do not challenge the old tapes they themselves built to rationalize and compartmentalize their own trans nature.    It can seem easier and more sensible to just not go to the tough, dark places, not to engage the real questions that the very existence of transgender hearts reveal.

I just believe that trying to squeeze into the cracks in the system, trying to erase the bits that cut through the walls of social conventions, trying to appear not challenging to the old mindsets, the status quo, robs us of our voice, of our power, and of the ability to get our real needs met in the world.

Everyone has a passing distance (1998), a radius within which our deep, sinuous truth is revealed.   It is inside that circle that we exist, where we aren’t bounded by lies, even by lies of omission we use to make our truth easier to swallow.

The truth shall set us free (1997), even if we believe that lies will make our life easier and simpler.   The work has to be done and others see our comfort level rise when we do the truth to engage that truth rather than staying policed and squirrley in a way that they sense but will not call out.

The more we tell the cover stories, the less they seem real to others.   Cutting out the mess and nuance out does not make them more effective, only easier to crank out.

No matter how much simpler it seems to offer the third grade model of transgender our editor says is all people can handle, we need to know that simple model will never unlock our own power, never satisfy our heart, never set us free.

Trans isn’t that simple.   And that’s why it is so powerful and so gorgeous.

Ready To Grow

“When the student is ready, a teacher will appear.”

That may be how it appears to the student, but it sort of misstates the case.

The teacher, you see, was there all along.  They weren’t invisible, waiting to pop out into your line of sight at just the right time, rather you were just blind to them until you opened your awareness and were ready to see and engage them.

Sadly for the teacher, at first that usually means you have to act out towards them, explaining how wrong they are and how you know better and how they should just disappear again or you will punch them a good one.

Once you have seen them, though, your eyes have been opened.  You have become aware.   You can no longer make the lesson the universe is offering you invisible again, you just have to decide when and how you are going to resist it, when and how you are going to engage it.

This process of resistance, of fighting to stay unenlightened and therefore believing you are innocent, is the centre of all healing.  People heal in their own time and in their own way and the reason we don’t heal is because we are scared that what growth will demand and reveal will somehow separate us from what we held close in the past.

Humans love the walls that separate them from what they fear, even if those walls are really just illusions that simulate comfort by blocking growth.   When shamans walk through those walls of expectation and normativity, we freak people out, asking them to face what they have tried to plaster over.

Once people can no longer write off what they fear as just babble and noise, they have to find a way to handle it, with attempts at erasure, with resistance to change, or maybe even with the work of changing our worldview to embrace our new vision.

For teachers, waking in the world and seeing people who have yet to open their eyes to one of the lessons we ended up engaging, this dance can be challenging.   We want to talk about our experience, want to share our work, both to pass it on and to have it affirmed, but when we try and do that with people who don’t yet see the results just bristle and shut us down.

How do you communicate something to someone that they are not yet ready to hear, something that they are resisting?   How do you help them understand the way old tapes we can’t let go of block the way to growth and healing?  How do you encourage them to stay committed and focused rather than trying to slip back, run away or get crazy?

You do it gently, that’s how.  Rather than confronting and challenging people, you speak your own truth, your own experience.   If you honestly have something to say there is someone out there who honestly needs to hear it.

We may never understand how our sharing ripples through other lives over the long term, never feel our efforts be acknowledged, but it still is the best we can do.   When one person gets from us that their feelings are about them, and not about the person who stimulated them, for example, we have passed on our experience and learning in a valuable way.

If you are seeker, you come to the knowledge that there are things you don’t know that you don’t know.  Rather than resisting and fighting words that challenge and aggravate you, writing them off as noise, you learn to keep those irritations around.   They reside in a hamper, ready to be processed when you get there, having the time and focus to do the work.

You keep an address book of teachers, knowing that you can to go back to them when you are ready, when your eyes open and you need a teacher to “appear.”  By keeping an mind and heart open to questions, ready to examine the twinges and twists, rather than just to fight hard to impose what the way you want the world to be, you are ready for growth and healing.

We are all students and we are all teachers.  We each have things to learn and things to share and doing both helps us keep moving forward in powerful ways.

That means we will always be both facing our own resistance to letting go and becoming new and also be facing other people’s resistance to change.   And it will always, always, always be easier to tell other people what they need to do than it will be to listen to our own sage advice as a message to ourselves.

As you see the defensiveness in others, though, remember that pushing too hard will only make them put up bigger walls and move them backwards.   How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?  Only one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.

Instead, use that resistance as a mirror to seek out where you are holding on to old tapes in a way that keeps your eyes from opening and seeing the teachers, the lessons around you.

There is a teacher ready for you right now, if only you are ready to open to what they have to share.

Casting Visions

“How can someone imagine being in relationship with you if they have never met someone like you?” a friend told me years ago.

She had worked for Bob Guccione, editing letters in “Forum,” and the one thing she was clear on was that people ran around with stories in their head, images of who they would find hot and how they wanted their sexual fantasies to play out in the world.

She understood what family therapists always tell us, that the best thing about dysfunctional families is how easy they are to recreate with other people playing the roles.

People who see the world as a casting session to play out the hot movie in their head baffle me, though.    How can they know what would be great based only on what they know?   Isn’t the true delight in life always surprising, challenging and thrilling, taking us out of our comfort zone rather than recreating old fantasies?

She wasn’t wrong, as I can see from the number of people on Tumblr who are very clear about what they want, what they believe would be sexy.  I can look at their tropes and have hundreds of questions about how the hell any of that would work in real life, but they don’t see that as an issue.    They have the tunnel vision to want what they want, not to be thrilled by what is available and that is enough for them.

These people are the pushy bottoms, the ones who are always trying to top from the bottom by casting other people in roles that they don’t really want to play.

Instead of actually being in the moment, understanding who someone else really is and finding a new and unique way to share with them, these people project their own neediness and fantasies onto others, turning them into objects, dolls that can be forced into preset roles.

When that happens, it is easy to feel erased and fetishized unless you just return the favour and cast that other person into your movie.   “I’ll be your tranny if you will be my butch!”

So today if you see a person who looks like your teenage fantasy walking down the street, it’s probably not your fantasy, but someone who had the same fantasy as you and decided instead of getting it or being it, to look like it, and so he went to the store and bought the look that you both like.
So forget it. Just think about all the James Deans and what it means.
Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

Because that casting happens unconsciously, below the level of awareness, there is no fun, wit or play in acting out the roles.   Instead, we just recreate patterns that have failed before and then wonder why they failed this time, looking for someone else to blame.

Has not playing this project a fantasy game, working to be someone’s perfect image of a whatever, limited my romantic relationships?   You bet.   How can someone imagine being in relationship with me if they have never met someone like me?   More than that, I had no real fantasies or relationships I dreamed of creating because my erotic life was always about what I knew to be unattainable.

For many, getting over those internal imaginings is at the core of growing up, both in their sexuality and in their engagement in relationships as a whole.

Letting go of those old tapes, laced with the tales of who we should be and the roles we should play, and loaded with the warnings about who we should not be and the roles we should never play is at the centre of learning to be present for others and for ourselves.

When we have to police our own erotic selves, trying to stuff our desire into roles that we find acceptable, that we can explain to others, we end up working to castrate ourselves and our lovers, slicing off the bits of our hearts that don’t fit neatly into our stories.

Is there any wonder that so many people learn to keep parts of themselves hidden to fit into the relationships they so desperately need, trying to squeeze into the expectations of the roles their partner imagined?

And is there any wonder that parts of the heart so hidden eventually explode from the darkness, demanding that we be more fully ourselves in relationship and challenging the old creaky and limiting screenplay?

It is when move beyond the mass produced and socially approved boxes of Eros to a handmade, individual understanding of love that we find real fulfillment, far beyond just ticking the boxes.

Letting go of the old comfortable tales of desire, the ones where our fear and neediness get in the way of both understanding our own emotion and of understanding the real, full, complex and beautiful person we are in relationship with, is required to create mature, robust and delightful relationships.

It is easy to know when someone is surfacing us, seeing only the bits they want to see while projecting their own fantasies onto us, for example, choosing to see us as a beautiful androgynous guy rather than the woman we know ourselves to be

It is harder to know when we are surfacing someone else, projecting our own fantasies onto them.   Our blindness tends to leave us blind.

When we see others as we want to see them, imagining them as the perfect person to save us, the special relationship that will fill us up, make us happy and never have to do the hard work of being lonely again, we replace our own authentic self with plastic that is doomed to turn brittle, to crack and to fail.

Humans, as fundamentally the same as we all are, are each essentially different.   We will never be in relationship with an individual stereotype but always with a unique person.   Our partners are not who we want them to be, they are who they are, even if that makes us examine and question our own canned stories of desire and performance.

For me, this individuality is at the heart of queer, respecting what is over what we wish or what we believe should be.    My lovers had to take me as I am, even if they could never imagine someone like me, even if that meant that there were damn few of them and that relationships grew rocky as they were forced to confront their own assumptions and defences.

As an observer, I understand there is a system of casting about trying to create an imitation of something for which there is no original.

I just don’t really understand how anyone or any relationship can be any good if it is not, even in its cut and paste nature, an original.

Pitch Bitch

Everybody dreams of being instantly understood, of having people get the details and the emotion of what we tell them as fast as we can share it.

That doesn’t happen.

Communication, like everything else worth having, takes work.   We have to build a set of shared symbols and metaphors, have to create a shared context which bridges the diverse experiences that shape different humans.

We have come up with a way to communicate effectively with other humans.  It is called the pitch, a form of communication focused totally on engaging and swaying people to agree with us, to follow us, to buy what we are selling.

The beauty of the pitch is in the utter lack of ambiguity.   To make a pitch, you need to have a goal in mind, something you want to obtain from the person you are pitching.   The pitch is functional communication at its most seductive, all attention and intent.

Polished, routine pitches can be wonderful and engaging.   At the CNE every August, I would stand and watch guys demonstrate Dial-O-Matics and carbon steel woks, taking a round of fairgoers on a well worn journey that would end up with many of them opening their wallets so they could take a bit of the magic home with them.

The individualized pitch, though, a master sorting through objections and concerns by reaching deep into a bag of tricks, weaving a fresh performance from collected bits and bobs, is very impressive.  It is not only something to see, it is a blast to do, engaging and moving someone else to a new understanding, a fresh desire.

I have spoken before of how I am something that isn’t supposed to exist in nature, a slow analyst and a fast performer in one body.  My performances are playful, energetic and sly, but because I can easily go back into hermit philosopher mode, I don’t push to perform much.

As a theologian, I believe in Socratic dialogue, questions that open the mind and heart of others so that they can create their own learning, growth and enlightenment.   This is a messy process, full of ambiguity and challenge, one that has only the goal of exploration.

As a performer, though, I get the power of the pitch, the joy of the thumping evangelical polemic, the energy of pure manipulation that seduces others into buying whatever the hell you are selling.  It is a blast for both seller and buyer, culminating in an orgiastic transaction where the valued is powerfully exchanged.

I admit here my deep dark secret, the one that I keep hidden because I find it challenging, corrupt, demanding and beyond my means: part of me really, really wants to be a pitch bitch.

To be one of those stylish women who can soften, lure and seduce others into transformation is a compelling and all too intense dream for me.

I know that most pitch bitches do not use their power for considered good, instead allowing themselves to be pitched on why some new geegaw will not only make lots of cash for everyone but will also make life more wonderful for everyone who obtains one.  I may have loved the Veg-O-Matic pitches, but I never bought one, knowing that the magic was in the pitch, not in the plastic product.

The pitch demands a kind of erasure, eliminating noise and creating focus, that I know to be the basis of too much toxic manipulation.

In watching UnReal, I am drawn to Quinn and Rachel because I understand their intent and power as manipulative bitches.   It was who I was as a teen, though I was hidden under the assumption of boy those around me made.  It was why I became a TV producer, why I am still a process queen.

Constance Zimmer, who plays executive producer Quinn says “I truly believe that, for the most part, Quinn believes that she’s helping Rachel, that she’s aiding her, that she’s leading her down the road that she believes is the road she should be on  The way Quinn would look at it was as [Rachel making] “a cry for help.”.”

This is the deep understanding that we manipulative bitches always fall back on: We see the situation more clearly, we understand what would be best, and we are just moving the process along by forcing the right thing to happen.

The arrogance of the pitch bitch is that she knows the right answer and any manipulation to get to that right answer is really a service to those who don’t know better.   Everybody really would be better off with what I am selling, so whatever intensity, whatever persuasion, whatever cajolery I use, it is all for the best.

We live in a culture, though, were we have many more consumers than owners.   People don’t learn to make decisions by thinking things through, rather they learn to fall into temptation, to be seduced by the machine made red shoes rather than owning their own handmade life.

You can argue that fighting fire with fire is the best solution.   If other people are going to pitch self-serving crap, don’t we have the obligation to pitch healthy choices so that the easily manipulated have a choice?   Don’t we know better than the other pitch bitches?   We can’t smarten up the consumers, but like good mothers, we can help them make the “right” choices.

After all, people learn their own lessons, so doesn’t leading them down a path that doesn’t server them mean they get a lesson from it, smartening themselves up?   Isn’t the power to rationalize the best thing that we can ever teach someone else?

I know why I do the hermit thing, the slow analyst, brutally challenging, honest and isolating thing.

But that performer thing, well that pumping preacher, that pitch bitch, well, it still runs through my vein.   My first out after my parents died, the one so amazing, turned me out as pitch bitch, a winner in ways I never could have imagined and don’t know how to follow up.

I’m actually quite good at pitch bitch, so good that other people resist trying to get me to do more of it, even if it might save me.   It’s scary, as my idol Lola Heatherton might say.  Even performance people resist affirming that power, knowing how it can overwhelm them.

The trick to quick and effective communications are all wrapped up in the art of the pitch.

How do women take power in the world?  Every pitch bitch knows the answer.  Every woman who uses her charm to get the outcomes that she knows would be best, well she has some power to pitch, even if she would run from the label pitch bitch.

The world of women is full of those who have worked for other people and now are working to claim their own pitch bitch identity, creating their own entrepreneurial business.  These women look to role models, other women who show themselves as powerful pitch bitches, wanting to buy into the aspirational performances.

I understand the call of that pitch bitch power and understand the downside of that power too.   Fast performer, slow analyst, feminine heart, musclebound mind.

But is the idea of being potent and seductive ever not potent and seductive in itself?

Doesn’t everyone love a good pitch bitch?

Proud Losers

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

I just went through Shelby Foote’s astounding The Civil War: A Narrative.

While the Union was preserved and American enterprise kicked into high gear, I’m not at all sure there were any winners in the Civil War.   620,000 soldiers were killed, while another 800,000 were wounded or went missing.   Add to that civilian casualties and the massive economic destruction and that is more loss that I can come close to comprehending.

For those in the Confederacy, belief was around the notion that the majority in Congress could not tell them what to do or what to believe.   Their communities held that their economic system, based in slavery, was not only right, it was sanctified, Biblical and their duty to maintain separations between themselves and those God made less capable than they were.   This made their fighting, their killing and their dying, blessed and holy, made their loss a source of more pride than their opponents got from winning.

Loss was a given then, and loss is a given today.   It is impossible to go into any kind of fight without understanding that loss will be involved.  There will always be a price to be paid.

Winning always includes losing.

This is not something success masters want to tell you.  Their strategy is to keep you so focused on the win that you never really consider the price.   In fact, it’s best if you don’t really consider anything other than going for it, than just doing it.

In the end, your life is less defined by what you want to win than it is by what you are willing to lose in trying to achieve that win.  It’s what you stand up for, even though you know you may well lose, that defines who you are.

In a win at any cost world, one that tries to keep loss in the dark, this is hard to comprehend.   After all, isn’t winning not just everything, it is the only thing?

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
The Paradoxical Commandments, Kent M. Keith 1968

Sometimes, even when you know you can’t win, standing up for your values, doing the what you believe to be correct is still the right choice.

I see people all around me who never give a second thought to the price of what they do to win.  They are entitled, winners are valued, so they just focus with laser like vision, doing whatever they think will make them win.

They always pay the price, making trade offs and enduring loss in the process of getting what they believe they want, but those losses are hidden behind nice compartment walls.   Sure, they sometimes wonder why winning doesn’t fill them up, why they still feel empty inside, but hey, winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.

There is a pride in knowing that you did the right thing, that you stood up for a good cause, even though you know that you are fated to lose.

The game of life is hard to play
You’re going to lose it anyway
The losing card you’ll someday lay

Sometimes, a really futile and stupid gesture is required, if not to win, to move the boundaries a tiny bit.  Someone has to make a stand, even if they are just a voice in the crowd, run over by people who aren’t able to understand why that challenge is at all important.

We stand for what we value, even if the majority of us are quickly and invisibly steamrollered, never becoming worldwide symbols of resistance like the protester who danced with the tank in Tienanmen Square.   Our scant grains of human conscience make what changes they can and then remain to pile up, becoming a trace in a weight of change against a system that values winning over anything else.

Human history is a tracing of conflict, individuals standing strong and proud even when they knew the odds were long and the motion would take much longer than one puny, sacred lifetime.  We do what we can, in bold attacks and in subversive stories, passing our values into those who will move beyond us.   It may not be the Hollywood way, the popular way, but for us, it is the right way.

It is this sense of pride in losing the good fight that keeps some of us throwing ourselves into the same battles again and again, even when it is very, very clear that there is no real chance of winning in any timely and meaningful way.   We are less pragmatic than we are idealistic, more willing to absorb the loss because we believe so strongly in the cause.

This is definitely a crackpot approach but it is one that my family taught me early.  There just are causes you can’t easily abandon because your identity, your valour and your love is tied up in them, causes like taking care of your family.

I know that I am a loser.  The awareness of loss is deep within me, desiccating me to my very core.

In that loss, though, that attempt to slay dragons, the going beyond all sensible bounds, I am very proud even today.   I fought the good fight, and while it would have been nice if the costs hadn’t been so immensely much less than the rewards, I didn’t do it for easy wins, didn’t do it for showing people what a winner I am.

I fought the battles of caring for others and speaking what I knew to be true because I knew that to be the right thing to do.   It seemed to honour the gifts my mother in the sky gave me.

Winning isn’t the only thing, nor is it everything.   It is the struggle to do better, to stand for integrity, authenticity, connection and service that has always made me proud.

Even if it, as all life does in the end, also made me a loser.


I see the world in a different way that most other people do.

I speak about what I see in thoughtful symbolic language that takes some effort to engage.   When you do engage my communication, it often challenges your assumptions, your habits and your comfortable boundaries.

What does this mean to me?

It means I have spent a long life where many other people choose to write me off as a nutcase, as being out of my gourd, coo-koo, too stupid to understand what is obvious to them and what would be best for me.

In fifth grade, Miss Hansen had the class vote on my challenge to her statement of a scientific theory.   It was unanimous.  I was wrong.   I stuck to my facts and when references were checked, I was correct, no matter how much she tried to club me with social pressure.   It should have worked on any other fifth grader, but I came from a very different homelife.

It was a homelife where my family nickname for years was “Stupid,” the target patient who would not go along to get along but instead exposed twisted thinking.  It took a therapist to tell my parents to cut that shit out.   My mother didn’t remember those years; to her it must have just been another imaginary story I was telling, though my sister assures me that she remembers it well.

I know how to stand up for what I see to be right.

I also know how upset and angry I get when people just seem to be writing me off, seeming to twirl their fingers next to their head to communicate with the crowd that I am cracked.

The hot shit young bagger felt the need to punch out the carrying slot in two cartons of Coke Zero cans.   I asked him why he did that; did he think it needed his young strength, or that somehow I was too stupid to know they were there?

I don’t like my cartons punched.  He did it with the cocky assurance of a smooth teen and when challenged, his response was simple.  Instead of offering to swap them, he and the cashier looked at me like I was crazy to complain about something like that.

It really isn’t a big deal in any way other than my feelings, my preferences.  I understood that .  If he offered to swap them, I probably would have just declined the offer, knowing he learned something.

But instead of being gracious, they wrote me down as nutcase for even bringing it up in a way that challenged their authority to bag however they would like.

I don’t look smooth and powerful in the world.   After months of hermitage, I look scruffy and disconnected, I know that.   I also know, though, that appearing in the world as a transwoman also lets people write you off as a sicko, being broken and devoid of standing to challenge the comfortably normative.

For me, the experience of being visibly trans in the world, challenging the assumptions of others by my very presence dovetails into my long personal experience of being seen as a weirdo who can be humiliated, ignored, mocked and isolated.

I am used to others blaming me for however people treat me because if I wanted to fit in, be respected and have credibility, I just wouldn’t be so freaky and challenging.

The one thing I have been unable to surrender is my voice, as it carries what I value most, the work I have done to clarify and understand my own understanding and view of our shared nature, our shared world.

Others might tell me that getting others on my side, getting them to share my vision, is the challenge every human has when they want power, respect and dignity in the world.  If I could just compromise, use their own views, seduce them, create an interim consensus on the way to deeper understanding I would be able to get people on my side rather than alienating them.

In this way of thinking, I just need to be more likeable and less challenging.

What is the best technique for me, taking time to build standing in relationships, getting people to like me and then revealing my queerness, or just coming out as queer right up front and letting the chips fall where they may?

This has been a choice I have wrestled with all my life.   How do I package my voice?

I have come to the understanding that once my voice is out there, people are going to respond how they will, and no amount of sugar will take away the tang of my reflections of their world.

Sure, I use humour and grace to be pleasant and fun to engage, making the revelation easier to take, and I offer a great deal of encouragement and support to those I am relationship with, a great deal of attention and caretaking, but in the end, I am who I am.

Why did I come to support queer back in the 1990s?    I got there because I knew, honoured and respected the nutcases in the world, those people who claimed the wildness of bold individual vision over the tameness of pleasant assimilation into constructed social groupings.

I know, though, that it is lines just like that which cause people to roll their eyes, looking at others in shared agreement that I am a nutcase whose challenges can be easily dismissed.

I feel how much being written off as a nutcase hurts me, isolates me, and saddens me.  I know how much it has cost me through the decades.

Fighting for the simple engagement and respect of other people though, trying to modulate myself down into the place where I can make change one iota at a time, well, that just feels crushing.

I was recently sent an essay from a transperson about claiming beyond separation and was struck by how much it reflected what I shared in a keynote at IFGE in 1995, twenty years ago, after I had already been out for a decade.   I was a nutcase then and remain a nutcase now.

And that will wear you right down.