Most Subjective

Of all the things humans are very subjective about — and I know that is a very long list — I suspect that the one thing we are most subjective about is their self image.

Somewhere between how we want to be seen and how we fear that we are being seen lies a vast wasteland of possibilities that we have considered and filed away.

These notions pop up almost at random when we consider how people are seeing us right now.   We can’t really know what is in their mind, what image they are seeing, so we search for clues.

When we look at ourselves, we see only shadows.   Some of us may be able to assess beauty in a snapshot, but in real life we are almost never seen as snapshots.   We are seen as emotions pass over us, as we work to think things through, as we respond to unplanned stimuli.  Our thoughts and feelings shape how we project ourselves, no matter how considered and polished our facade is.

For transpeople, who have lived in the shadows for much of their life, and who others often see as shadowy, this subjective self image challenge is even greater.

We know that we shimmer, showing different bits of us. We don’t have full control over what we show and we have no control of how other people will respond to that shimmering.   Will they find it exceptionally beautiful or extremely scary?

I spent the last two nights assessing audiences from the outside, all the while trying to get a handle on me and how I present.   Do I really just look like a big, round comedy drag queen, or do I carry some kind of intriguing allure?

What I do know is that in any audience, people will not all see me the same way.   That’s a challenge around trans; people bring a lot of baggage to the viewing, even if those bags are full of ignorance.

I know why we transwomen work so hard to blend in, to look normative, just another person in the crowd.  While that strategy for invisibility can help avoid surprises, it also surrenders much of our power to lead, to get the attention of others and sway them.

This is the part of the challenge of power shift as part of gender shift, the challenge I have been trying to understand since my first question at my first trans conference in 1993.

I didn’t just stay in the basement this weekend, but then again, I never got past the parking lot either.   If I went in the door, how would people see me?   Would anyone see me in a way that was rewarding and delightful, really being seen rather than just being another oddity?

My self image just wasn’t strong enough to carry me through the door.   I look beautiful, I look like a clown, I look fascinating, I look stupid.  My sense of how I could be seen was just all over the place, a real mess.

I’d love to have a more objective understanding of my presentation, but I find that very hard to come by.   Like almost everything else in my life, I have been on this journey alone, doing it by myself.

And I know how subjective and messy my self-image is.  That makes it hard to be confident and resilient when you walk through the door.

So, I didn’t.


Commercial Affirmation

There is a reason transwomen love Halloween, at least up to a point.

Halloween is the only time we can expect social affirmation for our trans expression.

This is exciting and fabulous until the point where we no longer are willing to see our trans expression as some kind of costume, something that we put on.

At that point, Halloween turns into hell night, because whatever we choose to wear, people tend to see our costume as being a guy-in-a-dress, erasing our trans nature into our costume.  We may have a great Marie Antoinette look or a fabulous rock chick, but it all gets reduced down to “dude looks like a lady,” and the fun just is drained out of it.

I have been reading a crossdresser blog that wants their followers to go to the office as “working girl”  on business Halloween, the working day that lines up with Halloween.  To the author, it’s just so affirming to show up once a year in 4″ Liz Claiborne heels and an outfit from Dress Barn, because Halloween is the day that expression can be affirmed as costume.

I remember all the Halloweens that I wanted some kind of commercial affirmation.   I would pay for a makeover, get my make-up done at a department store, have a wig trimmed at a hair salon, anything where I might get some positive feedback for how good I looked, how amazing my transformation was, how brave and witty I was.

Of course, very little of that affirmation had much to do with trans.  Instead it had a great deal to do with the wit and smarts of women in the beauty business who know that they are selling affirmation.   No woman goes to a salon to leave without at least a few ego strokes.

Now, I may think I look good, but I remember a dance where a lesbian thought I looked like a local comedy drag queen and a crossdresser just laughed and agreed with her, even as I squirmed and showed my displeasure with the comparison.

If the crossdresser had been a girlfriend, of course, she would have seen my discomfort and back peddled, saying I had my own unique beauty or some such, but this was one of those CDs who you can never trust to watch your purse; they just have zero training in how to be a good girlfriend.

Looking for parties this Halloween, just some place to find someone with wit and smarts, an event which might echo the best of my old memories, like making out under the taxi stand or being fed drinks by the goth bar owner and her bartender, well, the chances of that happening again are near enough to zero.

I know why crossdressers live for the affirmation of Halloween.

I also know why transwomen fear the erasure and diminishment that comes with it.


Continue reading Commercial Affirmation

Sexist Feminists

Transwomen are not women because they weren’t born with a pussy.

Anyone who thinks that hormones and surgery makes someone female is as crackheaded as someone who thinks that someone can be turned into a dog with a few small operations and a fur coat.

Women are defined by their reproductive biology and how that reproductive biology separates their experience from those who aren’t born female.

People can be easily and fundamentally divided by birth sex, so nobody who didn’t go through puberty as a female can ever really be a woman.  If they make that claim, they are just deluded and sick men.

This is the claim of one famous Australian who wrote a classic feminist book. And her words are being flung about far and wide, forcing various transpeople to try and counter them.

She is right about sex.

We cannot yet change the sex of a human body, even if we can change certain secondary sexual characteristics with hormones and surgery.

And even if we could, the experience of going through puberty as female and then having the social expectations of womanhood piled upon us can never be recreated.   We will never know what it is like to have the male gaze and the expectations of fertility and sexual availability put upon us.

She is right.   We can’t change the sex of a male body into a female body, cannot recreate the sexist stuff piled onto a nubile young woman.

The question, though, is if that is really a feminist viewpoint.

I suggest that it is not.   To me, it seems like just another sexist harangue, no different than any  fundamentalist who ever made the claim that people are defined by their reproductive biology.

Females should be property of males, females shouldn’t have the vote, females shouldn’t hold sacred or secular power, females should have different pay scales, females should be treated differently in law, females should be protected and limited in the process because females are fundamentally different than males and always will be.

Anyone who doesn’t understand that is a crackpot and a fool.  They speak bullshit that ignores the truth that humans are fundamentally divided by sex.

That is the definition of sexist thought, that people are and always will be defined by their reproductive biology.

The defining statement of feminism is that women are people too.   It’s not fair or smart to separate people by their sex.

Feminism says that our brain and our spirit, as revealed by our choices, is who we are as people.

Feminism says that nobody should be separated out by biology first.

Feminists came up with the understanding that sex and gender are different things.   Sure, there are biological differences which cross all mammals, but as humans we have layered gender roles on top of that biology.

Feminism worked to tease out the line between biological sex and the social constructions of gender humans built on top of those differences to keep females in their place (1997).

Racism said that racial differences between humans — the color of their skin and shape of their body — made some humans fundamentally different, so that we could treat them differently in racist ways.   You know, force them into slavery, colonize their cultures, all that.

Sexism says that sexual differences between humans — their reproductive biology — makes some humans fundamentally different, so we have to treat them differently in sexist ways.  You know, treat them like property, deny them the vote, all that.

Identity politics, though — second wave feminism — wants to believe that those separations are real but that they should only be used to benefit group members rather than to disadvantage them in any way.   Identity politics wants to continue easy sexist separations — males and females are fundamentally different –but then claim some kind of liberation past sexism.

That notion doesn’t work.  Either people are fundamentally able to be separated by sex or that separation is false, and females are human first and female second.

The problem with sexual separation is that while it can make easy cuts, it is useless in understanding individuals.  Sure, females may, statistically be shorter in height and smaller than males, but if I tell you someone was born female, can you tell me how tall she is?   Is she shorter or taller than the average male?

It works this way with every statistical division by sex you can assert.   The difference between any two individuals with the same reproductive biology identified at — the same sex — may easily be be greater than the difference between the statistically average difference between the sexes.

Females may average 5′ 5″ say and males 5′ 8″, but some females will be 6′ 3″ and some males will be 5′ 1″.    Does this make them less female or less male?

I know from living with a woman whose puberty was externally brought on at age 10 in a traumatic way to stop her growing taller and who still ended up at 6′ 3″ that she felt the sexist pressure, felt gender abuse because of her non-normative height.

The question is simple: does being a feminist give you free reign to be sexist and assert a fundamental separation of humans by sex?

Or does being feminist come with an obligation to judge people first by something other than their reproductive biology?

I understand why people like simple, easy, and false binaries.   Sexism and racism and lots of other tribal separations make us feel compartmentalized and protected, make us feel like there is an us and a them, a team and an enemy, a division between good and evil.

A leading Southern Baptist theologian says that the “transgender revolution” offers a huge threat to Christianity as a religion because it challenges the fundamental truth of separation by sex.

To him, sexism, separating people by birth reproductive biology, is fundamental to Christian doctrine.

Just like to this aged feminist, sexism, separating people by birth reproductive biology is fundamental to feminist doctrine.

Minnie Bruce Pratt talks eloquently about this challenge,   She campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment and was challenged by people who said it would mean the end of bathrooms separated by sex, just like civil rights meant the end of bathrooms separated by race, and that would be awful.

She initially thought this was crazy, but after falling into relationship with Leslie Feinberg, she got it.   Yes, committing to the idea that reproductive biology — birth sex — wasn’t the basis of a fundamental separation of humans meant that we no longer had that easy and comforting wall to hide behind.

In Mumbai, they have women only carriages on the immensely crowded trains. At first glance, this seems to be a separation by sex, but where would hejira ride?   Would they be best crammed in with the men or the women?   Or should they be denied public accommodation altogether?  This is a separation by gender, not by sex, by role, by everything.

Today, this kind of sexist political thought disguised as feminism isn’t as widespread, but for the aging feminist author and I, we went though this shit.

Sure.   We can’t change the sex of a human body, and transwomen will never have the standard experience of those who go through puberty as female.

But will anyone ever have the standard experience of puberty?   Or will we each have a very individual experience, unique to us?

Transmen go though puberty as female, but their experience is very different.  The social, gendered experience laid on us as we are gendered varied by where we grew up, the values of our family, so many things.  Who gets to say if we really speak for all females, all women, or we are weird?

I spent a decade going through this crap.

But the net net is simple:

Does calling yourself a feminist, does even being called a feminist, mean that you are allowed to be as sexist and abusive to others as you want to be?

Do you get to judge who is one of them, an idiot, an enemy, a usurper colonizing people like you and trash them with rude comments just because you think you can never be called sexist?

Does your identification as a victim of sexism mean that you get to be as exist as you want?   Does being bullied mean that you can never be a bully, that somehow you have a gold plated excuse?

Sure, there is no such thing as a sex change.  But are people fundamentally   defined by their birth reproductive biology, or by their character and their self knowledge, as revealed by the choices they make in the world?

Is separation by biology — sexism — fundamentally true, or are we all just fundamentally human, just with our own unique essence?

As for me, I hate sexist pricks.  Even when they cloak themselves in the rationalization that their sexist shit is just good old feminism.

Recalcitrant Prophet

When you are a kid and someone asks you “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I bet that no one ever says “I want to be a prophet.”

I had a fellow at a yoga ashram located in a former Jesuit seminary tell me that he thought I just might be a prophet.   He felt sorry for me, because he had read about Biblical prophets, and saw that “God put those guys through hell.”   I suspected that he saw the same for me.

My name tag at that 2003 retreat was simple.   It read “Resisting Calling To The Point Of Self Destruction.

I have no doubt that what the universe put me through to this point was all training.   I have been shaped by experiences, by nature, by family, by scarcity, by challenges.  It is the journey, it is my journey.

I know how to hate being a goddamn prophet.  I know how to stay cynical, apart and hurt by the calling I resist.

Is it possible, though, to love being a prophet? Is there a way to be a prophet with joy and verve, even after the burning trip that gets one to that place?

The scars, it seems, are part of the price.  Everyone who claims to be a healer has them.   Often, though, they aren’t really very big scars, aren’t the remnants of a very intense life.

Being joyous while showing those scars — wearing the stains on the outside of your clothes, as Lindsay said — is tough, tough juju.  It’s not something you can easily be supported in.

There is no league of recalcitrant prophets.  The prophets, though, who aren’t recalcitrant, who are not a bit resistant to their calling are probably not prophets at all but rather just recloaked missionaries, working to build a power base, a following, a sect, a cult.

The thing about propheting is that you learn early that you will always face resistance.   If what you have to say is something that everyone already agrees with, something that makes them comfortable, then it is not the message of a prophet.

For millennia now, people who claim to be followers of Jesus have been trying to make his message less radical, less challenging and more supportive of states and empires, but the core message is still challenging us to become more open, compassionate and connected today.

False prophets speak for separation, for building comfortable enclaves outside the wicked world.   Real prophets will just piss you off, challenging you to be a better person who makes better choices to engage the wide world everyday.   Heck, anybody can easily name at least one prophet who got themselves killed by the establishment for being too damn mouthy.

Prophet pride is not something we hold parades about.   Somehow, keeping prophets humble seems important to the world, just so they don’t get too out of hand and messiah like.  Making the world tough for prophets is part of the bigger plan; it both keeps the riff raff out and leaves the real prophets with enough wounds that they can really feel their humanity.

People need, though, a bit of grace and joy in their prophets.  They need the message speakers to stand up with strength, answering questions (even the very tough and dismissive questions) and offering a bit of confidence that change is possible and that hope is worth holding on to.

Encouragement is what people need, but it is encouragement to leap, to allow the death of comfort and convenience so that the new, beautiful and breathtaking can be born.  If people wanted to hear this message, wanted to have this gift, they would already have it.

No, people are recalcitrant to follow an awareness which demands that they become new.   Recalcitrance is what humans experience, which is why even prophets have it intensely in their life.

Learning to stand up in the world and, with a big smile, say “Hi.  I’m a prophet and I’m here to help”  is tough stuff.  It feels arrogant, deluded and like you are just asking to be knocked back.  Call it guru, seer, what you will, it is all much same challenge.

After all, I know that I am just another human with feet of clay, even if I know that every other prophet in the world was just the same, just human like me.

In other cultures, at other times, there were social roles for people like me, places where we were valued for the role we performed.  There I might well have been recruited  for service.  Today, though, even though I first gave a sermon around the age of 13, society doesn’t have the same values.

I’m not stupid.  I know that today many people will hear the word prophet and recoil, a history of religious experience shaping their idea of what a prophet should be or say, what a prophet is not.  It is a loaded notion, one people find icky or blasphemous, redolent of some kind of “one truth” out to enslave and oppress us all while erasing real diverse knowledge.

Because that notion is far from where I am coming from — no fundamentalism or one true way here — I resist it too.  I know lots of people whose claims to knowledge I find weak or lacking, people I wouldn’t trust with spiritual power.

How simply, though, can one express the notion of being a teacher, a spiritual guide, a visionary, without some kind of blow back?

Do I want to be a guru, a witch, a prophet?   No.  It’s not the role I would have chosen for myself, but I knew from an early age that roles like famous actress, television hostess and mother weren’t really options for me

I am, to say the least, recalcitrant about the calling and have been for many decades.  I have resisted my calling, to the point of self destruction.

Self destruction, though, isn’t pretty, fun, engaging or even useful.  Either I have to be someone else, which isn’t bloody likely, or I have to become less recalcitrant and more proud.

Even proud to be a God dammed prophet.


Power Trans

Sometimes, I forget the power of being a visible transperson in the world.

I felt it one Halloween walking through the mall during the kid’s costume hours.  As the kids gabbed candy from the shops, some moms were dressed as witches to shepherd the flock around.

I was there, in the same kind of outfit, but the difference between us was that I walked with the power of a real witch.  I had walked between worlds, though walls they think are real, and transformed in ways that seemed magical and a bit terrifying to those around me.

As a shaman, I know that every human has their power, a place where they connect things in the world.  Most of them haven’t deeply engaged that power, instead choosing to stay one of the gang rather than doing the work to be profoundly and visibly exceptional, but the seeds are there in every human.

The work, the discipline, the practice has been crucial to me, my only salvation. It was what I had to do to save myself.

Other people, though, see the effects of that ownership and they catch the vibrations.   It may scare them, it may fascinate them, it may thrill them, it may make them see me as not really human, it may make them act out against me, it may make them want me to heal them, but somehow, they get the inner power that I have had to polish and embrace.

The cost and the fragile humanity which lives inside of every wounded healer is not visible to them.   They are aware of the strength, the power, the ability to do something which is beyond what they see as possible for them, beyond their experience.

Courage is never the absence of fear, though.  Courage is about facing your fears and transcending them.  Courage just shows that you value something more than fear, be that service, commitment or love.

How do we, as people who move across genders, show our vulnerable humanity?   How do we fit in as just people? Do we do it by saying we are just dressed for the show, by showing how abject and broken we are, by working to hide behind any veneer of normativity that we can manage?

Even when I forget, mired in my own feelings, I know that I am still a powerful healer.   I can go out and make thunder in the world, just by my vision, my approach and my voice.

People crave what I have to offer, though rarely with deep understanding or even with respect.   They want to be fixed, want someone to heal them, and if I can do what is hard for them then surely I can also do what is easy for them.  I can take their brokeness.

I can.  But, as the question I have been asking for decades goes, who heals the healers?   Who offers understanding, affirmation and safe space for those who walk with the elements, fire, wind, rain and earth?

How can it be so hard to be a healer in the world, people wonder.  After all, you are smart, aware and powerful enough to emerge, brave and strong as “who you really are.”  How can just being that person in the world be hard for someone as amazing as you?

One reason people see me as powerful is because I can understand without words.   I look at a face or hear the tone of voice and I can often read what people want to communicate.  Even when they are acting out, I look beneath, finding a way to communicate and connect.  That is immensely potent and incredibly scary to people.

Who understands, mirrors and affirms me even with the best words I have ever been able to pull together? Where is that understanding with compassion?

My call is always about the requirement of doing your own work.  I just pull out the questions that separate you from your defensive callous, asking you to be naked and present in the moment.  This suggestion, I have found, is scary, especially to people with scarce attention, bandwidth, time and support for transformation beyond the expectations of the market.

I am powerful in the world not because I am invulnerable, rather I am powerful in the world specifically because I am incredibly vulnerable, am deep, connected and open-hearted.  That’s difficult to explain to anyone who really wants to believe that if they just get one more thing they will become so strong that their life will be perfect, but I have found it isn’t walls that make you safe and powerful, it is the connections between your mind, your heart and the world which do that.

Being potent isn’t about the strength of your armour, it is about the intensity of your humanity.

Real witches have always been a challenge to the status quo, and trans shamans are no exception to that.   No matter how people try to commercialize us, try to assert our respectability over our queerness, we will never, ever be just one of the normies.

We hold a kid of rock-star power, somewhere past simple gender, because we claim our unique wildness over our assimilated tameness.   This is what people glimpse in us, the transcendent boundary crossing which makes us both so very potent and so very scary.

This week, the week of Halloween, brings back a sense of the power that transpeople hold in the world.   It also brings back a sense of the cost of that power to one who manifests it, separating them from the sweet and easy.

It’s a good memory and it is a tough memory, but it is my memory.

The Joy Of Scarcity

Human life is about scarcity.

In spirit we live in infinite abundance.

In the flesh, though, we live in finite reality.  Choices must be made about how to use our limited resources.   We may be able to have it all, but not all at the same time.

While the unconscious effects of scarcity may capture the mind with negative results over the long term, the conscious engaging of scarcity demands that we figure out what we value, that we set clear priorities.   Engaging scarcity forces us to make hard choices which reveals a great deal about who we are inside.

In the search for a creation myth — where do we come from, where do we go after, and why are we here — many schools hold the finite nature of life as the core of the gift.    They suggest that it is only by being incarnate in a limited world that we are forced to make the choices which make our essence clear.  Infinity, well, it just doesn’t teach you what dealing with scarcity does.

This kind of belief system helps us become wiser everyday, more clear and more compassionate.   If it doesn’t offer lessons we take with us after we leave our bodies, at least it helps us to become better as humans, choosing more from love than from fear and creating a better world for those around us.

The lessons our ancestors learned from their own struggle with scarcity are often held as valuable in family culture.  Discipline, thrift, commitment to others all come out of an understanding that life is precious and needs to be used well.

Johnny Carson had a difficult relationship with his mother Ruth, according to Henry Bushkin’s tale of his relationship with Johnny Carson.   Ruth was penurious with compliments, which irked Johnny, whose success was in the world and not in relationships.

He sent her and his father Homer on a first-class cruise around the world, getting angry as they didn’t call with gleeful stories and gratitude.  He finally called them after they got back and instead of joyous tales, all he got was that they were “glad to be home,” which infuriated him.

He took his parents to a huge party at Kirk Douglas’ house, full of Hollywood A–Listers who revered Johnny, but when he asked how they enjoyed it, she just told him that she guessed a party is a party anywhere in the country.

“I’ve been to the fire department auxiliary picnic in Norfolk Nebraska,” Johnny is reported to have told Bushkin in frustration, “and it’s not really like what Kirk threw.  Do they think that people are lining up to get the recipe for Olive Kilpot’s Macaroni and Cheese?”

When I hear these stories, I suspect that what Johnny and his mother valued were very different.  She liked being home rather than being waited on and served rich foods, liked a good chat at a party more than she liked the fancy decorations and luxurious appointments.   Johnny loved showing off wealth and status, but his mother found it a ostentatious.

These anecdotes made me think of a Garrison Keillor Lake Wobegon story about the Krebsbach’s Vacation.   They went to see the kids in LA, who equipped them with a car and maps to all the big attractions, but instead Florian & Myrtle just quietly spent their days at a park a few blocks from the house.   They watched guys play soccer, chatted with moms and doted on the kids.   With some help from the locals, they ate from the taco truck and enjoyed the California sunshine.

The Krespach’s knew what they valued, which is why they stayed in Lake Wobegon.  What they found was someplace completely different but exactly the same, another community of people who valued family, food and fun.  It was a spiced up but comforting interlude.

As a child of the depression, Ruth Carson learned what she valued.   She didn’t choose to leave Nebraska to chase the shiny, but Johnny did, as soon as he was able, succeeding masterfully in that quest.

The cultural lessons of scarcity are powerful.  The “Keep Calm And Carry On” signs and all their many variations come from a British WWII poster that was never released, only printed as part of a series to be used in case of a Nazi invasion of the homeland.   The ethos of WWII, of “make-do and mend” are still woven tightly into British culture, reminders of the lessons of tough times.

My experience of scarcity explains why I am very good at what I am good at and very bad at what I am bad at. As a hermetic theologian who took good care of her family, I know that scarcity has taught me many things, even as it has trapped and limited me.

I wonder if the experience of scarcity also tells us something about the relationship between Johnny Carson and his mother, one who was a daughter of scarcity, paring back her vision so much that the swanky was foreign, overwhelming and a bit repellent to her , and the son of that mother who knew that he wanted to “never be hungry again,”  grabbing so hard for fame and fortune that relationships were battlegrounds.

Conscious engagement of scarcity can help us make better choices and shape better lives.

To do that, though, we first have to struggle to get clear of the way our mind is unconsciously captured by scarcity, leaving us limited, tunnel focused and only reacting to the deep imprints it can make on us.

Scarcity Captures The Mind

Scarcity captures the mind.

The experience of living with scarcity doesn’t just affect the decisions we make, it actually alters the way we think in time frames much, much faster than it takes for conscious thought.   Scarcity isn’t something we can overcome with willpower; scarcity captures the mind.

Scarcity consumes bandwidth in the brain, reprogramming it with a kind of tunnel vision on what is scarce in our life.  While that ultrafocus has benefits in the very short term, over the middle and the long term it has very high costs to the individual who is living with scarcity.

That’s the argument made by Sendhil Mullainatham and Eldar Shafir in their book Scarcity; Why Having Too Little Means So Much. Using experiments in the social sciences, they reveal how scarcity captures the brain, changing the unconscious actions we make in every moment.

For me, this work is as revelatory as William Dragoin’s work on gynemimetic shamans in clarifying why I am the way I am.   While I have other and profound areas of scarcity in my life, the experience of scarcity is common to all stigmatized and marginalized people, which very much includes people with a transgender nature.

Scarcity explains why I have always been very good at what I am very good at and have been very bad at what I am very bad at.  The findings in Mullainatham &  Shafir’s book throw a huge spotlight onto all my actions in the world.

I have been blessed with a big mind and that mind was captured by scarcity from the first moments it came into conscious awareness.

To her dying day, my mother believed in scarcity in the world and the Aspergers which drove her into narcissism and despair made her attention and affection very scarce for her children from the beginning.

As I began to understand my trans desires, which happened before the age of five for me as it does for so many, I quickly learned that affirmation for the call of my heart would be incredibly scarce.  Instead of being supported, my actions were stigmatized, causing negative and painful responses from those around me.

I knew clearly, from a very early age, that I was called to denial of my own heart, because support of trans nature was less than scarce, it was deliberately and systematically purged in the culture.   The scraps I got had to support me through long, lonely and very difficult times.

Scarcity reveals why all of the apparently smart rules about making better choices to help us be more effective in the world are not effective.   The effects scarcity capturing the mind happens far before we get to making conscious choices.

It doesn’t matter much what is scarce; money, time, food, the available calories in today’s diet plan, attention, affection, etc.   The mind responds to scarcity in the same way.

The participants in a WWII study that required volunteers to be denied food to almost the point of malnutrition, for example, started collecting recipes and dreaming about opening restaurants.

None of these kind of choices made any rational sense in helping them cope with their ferocious hunger and they probably knew that, but living with severe scarcity of food captured their minds before conscious thought and involuntarily made food almost the only thing their brain could focus on.

For me, the effects of how scarcity captures the mind are written into my history and even my biology, as scarcity based tunnelling left me neglecting my health.  I have written about scarcity before, but always about how it affected my understanding of the world and my conscious choices, not about how scarcity captured my mind, changing the way I experienced in the world before I was even aware of it.

Co-workers have said that if they went to war, they would want me next to them.  I scan for possibilities, integrate the information and act on it very, very quickly, always searching for what is possible.

When the right buttons on both of my sister’s mice failed recently, I searched hard for software faults, then came up with a workaround that involved switching the mouse buttons and using the context menu key on the keyboard.  I suspect that most people would just have done what I did next, go to BigLot and spend $6 on another mouse.

My sister does the same.   Her phone was on the hood as she drove away.  Her boss thought that was a good opportunity to buy an iPhone, but when my sister picked it up she brushed off the tiny splinters and kept using the cracked glass as she had with another phone.  We replaced it with another used android at less than the cost of replacing the faceplate.

We grew up with scarcity, which keeps us committed, focused and trying to make the best.

Where we fail, though, is having a sense of hope, that life can be better, that there is a way out of scarcity.   Scarcity has captured my mind so much that I don’t trust abundance, fear welcoming even the thought of it into my life.  I am too prepared for the third gotcha and for the stinky silence when I make what I think is a good joke to feel safe with any bigger dream.

Scarcity has captured my life.  All of it.   It has made me focused and sharp, effective at making the most of what is in front of me, and it has eaten up my bandwidth and left me with tunnel vision, unable to make choices that could have maximized my work, my relationships and my life.

And scarcity did that without me ever having a conscious choice about it before it just up and captured my mind.

Mission Aerie

In much the same way that, while being abstinent from sex with partners for the last 15 years with very little sexual experience before that, I am politically bisexual, I am politically a folkie.

While I have some experience with folk music — I listened to WCAS in the 60’s, have been known to play a Gordon Lightfoot track now and then and once spent a night at Smokey Greene’s Bluegrass Festival sometime in the 1980s, I never really acquired a tasted for folk.  Heck, all the bluegrass even sounded the same to me, though I have since discovered that is one of the things that bluegrass fans really like about the genre.

Still, I am politically very much in favour of folk music, even if, as with the case of bisexuality, I am not really much of a participant.  I think it’s great that people can pick up an acoustic instrument and sing, can create personal music with poetry and enthusiasm, can just join in at the old hootenanny.  That’s a good thing.

I just watched the PBS American Masters film on Pete Seeger, called The Power Of Song.  He used music to create community and through that, created change. He left an impressive and powerful legacy.

Pete’s story of standing strong for his calling,even during the decades when he was reviled for being un-American, is one of the most patriotic stances I have ever known.   Sure, he was a citizen of the world first, but his commitment was to the community he was in, starting with kids and moving up.

I’m not a standard progressive, I don’t agree with old leftys, have chosen not to be a back-to-the-earth earnest folkie, but damnit, I stand for their right to make those choices and admire them when they make them as clearly, as continuously and with as much commitment as Pete Seeger did.

Mr. Seeger knew his mission, knew it was good and virtuous, and by following it with intensity and verve for his whole life, he made the world a better place.   He found common ground with those who thought they were his enemy, standing shoulder to shoulder for important shared causes.

He had plenty of support in that mission, lead by a wife he married when he had a short furlough from the Army in WWII and who made a home for him and his children that gave him sustenance for all the rest of his days. His family supported him too, his brothers helping to pay for him to go to Harvard, for example.

Pete Seeger was a man with a clear mission and pursued that mission all through his life which makes him a missionary.  That is both why the establishment tried to silence him, stopping his power, and why he eventually left an enormous impact on a very human level.

I have to admit that I envy missionaries.   Their clear and fixed beliefs, the kind that seem so odd to me, let them have the endurance and persistence in battle which lets them slough off decades of attack and still make their mark.   I envy missionaries in the same way I envy folkies and active bisexuals; they just know what they like and keep on getting more of the same, no matter how lazy, sloppy, repetitive or amateurish it turns out to be.

Missionaries make the same simple pitch over and over again and delight in it every time.  The fact that it all sounds much the same is the value and joy in the process.

When I started this piece, I was thinking that having some of Pete Seeger’s zeal and focus might be good for me to have, something to carry me as I got on with the fight.  But in thinking about it, I’d realize be a really bad missionary, which is why I ended up as a hermetic visionary instead.

So, while I am politically in favor of missionaries, those who carry the message wide, building community in their wake, even if that process isn’t something I feel very comfortable participating in.   I’d rather observe and ponder than sing another refrain of a good old organizer’s song, a comforting and affirming hymn to goodness.

Missionaries, Folkies and Bisexuals, I stand with you!

Just don’t expect me at the party, though.  I’ll be watching from just over there. . .

Dust And Touch

There are multitudes of delightful things to be enjoyed in the world, from the gastronomic treats of Paris to the serene natural beauty of redwood groves. In themselves, though, they are kind of boring.

I recently read a book about how developing rations for soldiers helped accelerate the food technology which creates new products on store shelves.  After writing it, the author noted that much of her squeamishness at packaged foods had vanished, that she was now willing to let producers do prep work for her.

Her family, though, wasn’t as thrilled with this outcome.  Apparently, a ham and cheese sandwich or quesadilla that they could easily make for themselves always tasted better when mom made it.

It wasn’t the food that they wanted so much, it was instead the sense of being cared about, the experience of someone taking care of them.   They wanted the human touch.

Most of us can satisfy ourselves sexually just fine, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still long for human touch.   We want to see and be seen, desiring not just satisfaction but intimacy; physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy and creative or spiritual intimacy.

What we as humans want is a sense of connection, of bonding, of family, of community, of sharing.  Travelling alone to the delights of the world feels kind of empty to us because we feel kind of empty when partaking in them by ourselves.

The stories we hold dear are not of our encounters with objects or places but instead the human encounters where we shared a spark of connection.

If we aren’t getting that kind of human connection, our world goes off, turns all dry and sour.  Nothing the commercial or natural world can offer makes up for the loss of intimacy to our soul.

“What do you want?” a pastor once asked me.   He didn’t believe me when I said I wanted what everyone else wanted, thinking we all want different things.

“I want to be seen, understood and valued for my unique contributions,” I told him.

After thinking a bit he replied, “Yes.  That’s what everyone wants.”

Without that connection, everybody struggles.  It is what I gave my parents every day of the last decade of their lives, a sense of being seen, valued and cared for which helped them have one more good day.

What, ShamanGal asks me, would help me turn the corner, help me find some flavour and zest in life?  An encounter with trees, a lovely restaurant meal, a visit to see some art?

Her real question, though, is why, if I have so much that she finds valuable when I spend hours upon hours every week taking care of her on the phone over the last few years, don’t people value what I am sharing?   In that question, she is like TBB, who has noted that she would find explaining her life much easier if my crisp understandings about the trans experience were out in the world, were part of the zietgiest.

How can I be so valuable to her and so dismissed by others?  Why can’t I find a way to make my voice heard in the world?

She knows the answer, of course.  “When I send pieces by you that contain something I find valuable to other people, usually their heads just explode and they go silent.  People usually don’t know what to say, unless they just find reasons to dismiss you, like you are unholy or defensive.”

From 2002: 2) The challenge for me is becoming product.  How do I package my pedantic, theological, wordy, intense content up into something people will want to integrate into their own thinking?

If I can’t stay fresh, though, resilient and engaged, I have no chance of keeping on going, let alone of doing the hard work it would take to become visible as product.  How does one enjoy a hot tub or a fine meal if you are already desiccated, as dry as dust?


Is the metaphor of being both a tender child and a protector, both a seed and a shell, common to all people?

ShamanGal was touched by my discussion of that experience, finding it resonant.  I suggested that it was it was powerful to her because it mirrored her own experience in the world.

While the details of her experience are very different than mine, centered around ethnicity, class and ego, the function is the same.   She set up defenses to stop her heart from being exposed.

Everyone feels a bit like Rapunzel, trapped in a tower by a witch, waiting for someone to rescue them.   Our jailer wants to protect us from the world, wants to keep us pure and innocent, and we value that intent, but the jail stops us from getting what we need.

We love our protector for keeping us safe, away from the danger, and we hate our protector for keeping us trapped.  Women understand this ambivalence, wanting a knight to save them, but not wanting to surrender their freedom for the privilege.

For transwomen, though, we have the challenge of both being the princess in the tower and also being the dragon who protects her.

Wise manipulators long ago learned that self policing is the most effective kind of policing.   Not only is the jailer there all the time, inside the same head, but there is also very little real negotiation about boundaries.   To stay safe, the self-policed are always over policed, challenged at the smallest infraction.

The cell walls we build for ourselves are always the strongest and tightest boundaries.  They don’t have room to let us wiggle, to see what might be possible and safe beyond the limits of our own self-imposed fears. When your terror creates the fence, the fence is powerfully charged indeed.

Our shared ground is the experience of the closet.   We have all been scared into hiding our nature behind walls, keeping ourself safe by keeping our queerness hidden away.

The jailer who built those psychic walls, our protector, lives inside of us.  We fight against our internalized fears, fears which tell us that they are just here to keep us safe and pure, keep us worthy and decent.

When we battle against an internal force, the war never really ends.  Our inner narrative is always a fight between safety and freedom and in the end, without intervention from outside to break the cycle, it is a fight that we can only lose.

Too often we lash out, externalizing our inner battle, wanting to believe that the demons we need to slay are out there.  We want to slash at anyone we see challenging us, want to thrash other people who are doing what we want to do wrong and bringing us grief.   We end up being hypersensitive and pushing those who might want to help away with our own touchiness, our own over sensitive triggers.

Most people don’t understand the power of this inner war, and those that do are usually so immersed in our own crusade we have no time or energy to help others.

Very few of us have a voice in our lives that will offer the time and engagement to help us get past that inner war to find safer, better and more empowering ways to be in the world.   Those voices are incredibly rare and very precious.

Mots of us have to work to find the line between freedom and control, between love and fear on our own.   This is an immense and solitary struggle, one that often comes off as incomprehensible to those still in the midst of the fight.

The battle between protector and child rages on inside many of us all the time, so strongly that it keeps us with a stick up our ass, always on guard for the third gotcha.    We become more our armour than our heart, struggling to be invulnerable in the world rather than being open hearted.

When the cycle between protector and child is in our head, held inside because what we protect is either secret or not understood by others, breaking it is very difficult.  External forces mostly only prompt us to become more defended, more hardened and more twisted, not less, as they usually prove the fears we already hold.   After all, those fears came out of our experience so they are always based on some kernel of reality.

There is no way out of our spiral of defense, at least as it seems from our viewpoint.  The reason we built the protector is real and any attempt to drop the armour reminds us of that.   How do we open ourselves when the only defence we have is the one inside of us?

Even when we meet someone else with the same challenges, the odds are that our defences will bounce against each other before we learn to cover each others back, affirming choices they make that trigger our fears so we would never make them for ourselves.   They are often more likely to stimulate the terror that keeps us isolated and alone rather than the compassion which might end up connecting us.

Humans, in their essential form, are naked and exposed to the world.   We aren’t built to survive alone; we need some kind of protection.   When the people who are supposed to protect us end up hurting us, even if they believe that they are doing that for a good reason, we end up having to protect ourselves by growing our own carapace, our own shell, our own armour.

That shell, though, ends up both protecting us and limiting us, isolating us from the nourishment we need to grow and constraining our possibilities to the boundaries of our internalized terror.

Restraint is restraint and when it is applied internally, based on self-policing, the negotiation and affirmation of going beyond comfort and convenience is just not there.   We become stuck in our shell, protected to the point of diminishing returns, which suits a community which wants to maintain the status quo quite well.    To them, the imposed stigma has worked, keeping us constrained and compliant or at least marginalized and isolated.

The experience of living trapped in a shell, the protector keeping the tender heart both defended and isolated, not really growing healthy, is not unique to me.    I have done an enormous amount to understand and release that spiral, but as long as I have to do it alone, the limits of my possibilities will always be constrained.

Being lost and lonely, well, that’s been the thread here for the last decade.   And it has been the thread for many other people, especially transpeople, for as long as I have been observing them.

Fiction Blow

The reason I don’t write much fiction is simple.

For fiction to be powerful, characters have to face challenges, have to be forced by conflict to make hard choices which reveal who they are under their everyday exterior.

They have to have some kind of revelation, which means they have to have some transformation between their facade and the next level down.  They may be knowingly hiding who they are, or they may just have never been tested before, never had to dig deeper to find what is underneath.

Characters have to peel back like flowers, shedding something to reveal more about themselves.  That’s the heroes journey, as we all know.

My problem is that I have real trouble creating characters who are making bad choices.   Writing a character who doesn’t see a better way, who is stuck in the past, who is venal & manipulative, who is just dumb, is hard for me, even if I know that they have to be that way in order for them to reveal new through the arc of the story.

I get squeamish when I see characters in fiction doing stupid and embarrassing things.   Many people may find their being clueless funny, a bit of schadenfreude, but I feel very bad for them.   My compassion doesn’t want them to be humiliated or laughed at, even if that is a key to the story.

For most of the world, this isn’t a problem.   They believe in fiction, believe in happy endings, knowing that in the end baddies get what they deserve and goodies find a way through.  They can watch stories and feel confident that whatever shit happens, the outcome will be right, because that’s how normies approach their lives.  Queers, on the other hand, know that often the cost comes down on those who are struggling the most anyway, ending up scapegoated, abused and bereft.  For us, good and evil is never a simple binary.

When I watch stories, I am always seeing other choices that characters could make which would lead to better outcomes.   Having been glued to the TV set for the first fifteen years of my life, though, I know that virtually every sitcom plot is about someone making a bad choice, usually trying to conceal something that is going to come out in the end anyway.  Without that bad choice, no story, and without a story, nothing to hang the characters actions on.

Bad choices make easy writing, because bad choices almost always lead to squirming, which an audience who knows better than the character is going to enjoy.   We want to see their vitality, not their virtue, because joie de vivre is infections while moral choices rarely are.

People do the best they can do in the moment, making the best choices that they can make right now.   When they know better, they will do better, however many tries it takes them to learn.

Writing those people making shallow, unpleasant choices is just hard for me, even though I know that if they don’t have anything to learn, they don’t have much of a story to be told.   Sure, maybe people would engage my writing more if their were simplified tales that engaged them daily and resolved over time, but trying to write those stories seems like having to spend too much time with people making bad choices.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have deep empathy with those who are making bad choices, those who have made bad choices in the past.  Everyone gets stuck between rocks and hard places, forced to block-punch.   There are never, ever any perfect choices to make, because every choice has a cost, a downside that can be very killing.

When I tell a little story about people looking into a magic mirror, say, using the glass to imagine something that they cannot yet embody in the world, I don’t just see vanity or stuckness, I see dreams that are dashed in a hard and challenging world.   They need their affirmation to face the brutal choices that the world lays on us, between class, ethnicity, biology and history, for example.

I don’t, though, have the energy to get immersed in those stories enough to want to make them manifest, entering the pain and suffering just so I can take characters through crushing challenges that might just leave them better and stronger to claim a bit of happiness, or then again, might just kill them.

Authors can’t get too invested in their characters.   If those characters don’t stumble and get hurt and be challenged, there is no story to tell.   The only characters who can’t be disposable are the ones you need to keep around for the next installment, and they will be automagically healed in the interval anyway.

I know why fictional characters reveal who they are by making bad choices.   I know why those bad choices set them up for challenge and revelation.  I know that there are no stories without that kind of stress.

While I know that, it doesn’t mean that I like writing that. It gives me a bit of dyspepsia to make characters suffer in venality or stupidity just to give an audience a bit of a sensational thrill or to make them feel superior.

And that’s why I tend to avoid fiction, especially long form fiction, even if I do love the power of stories.

The real life stories, well, they do it for me.

Shared Vision

When I met her, we could not stop talking; we see the world in the same way.
— Vivian Howard, A Chef’s Life, S3E7, “A Casserole Says Plenty”

What a treat it is when you find someone else who sees the world in a way that is very similar, very complimentary to the way you see it.

This is why, of course, people travel across the country to meetings of people who have the same focus as they do.  If you are a ventriloquist, for example, you want to go to the Vent Haven convention in Kentucky so you can spend time with other people who are also immersed in those same interests,

As for me, though, that kind of treat has not been easy for me to find.  I don’t know many other people who see the world in the way that I do, people who I connect with in almost an intuitive way.

My path hasn’t been towards the interests of other humans, rather it has, of necessity, been towards the challenges that I face in the world.   My issues have never been the costs of fitting in, rather they have always been about standing out and proud, the profound challenges of being yourself in the world.

For people who want to become more a part of a community, connecting with others rather than connecting with their unique creation, my voice is very much something that they don’t want to feel affinity with.   While people may need a bit of what I offer, claiming some wild independence, they certainly don’t want to go as far off the beaten path as I have become.

Number 5 in my 2002 statement is: The most painful thing about trans is not being able to give your gifts and have them accepted. 

When you share with someone who already shares your vision, they understand the value and the price of what you bring to the relationship.

When you share with someone who doesn’t get the joke, the delight, the point, they just stare at you like you are making garbage noises.   If you are lucky, they look at you with sweet indulgence, but if you are not, they look at you as if you are just cracked.

It even happens that sometimes, people just enjoy the poetry of your language, your performance of self without actually engaging any of the content you are sharing.   They strip the meaning from your words, reading it as nonsense, and apply their own meaning to your message, earnestly believing that this means they are actually engaged, listening to you in a kind and compassionate way.

By mapping to their vision, they believe they have achieved a shared vision with you when all they did is erase your vision and replace it with their own comfortable and convenient assumptions.

My sister sent me to her acupuncturist, for example.  He was surprised at how “compelling” the writing was on my website.  However, when we had our first visit, he refused to do any acupuncture until I bought into his belief system.  At the end of a hour of arguing with me, he looked at his pad and saw he had written absolutely no notes about what I had shared with him.

“Look at this!” he boomed.  “A blank page!  What a great place to start next time!”   Needless to say, there was no next time.  Even the chiropractor she recently dragged me to found me smart and fascinating, although “not ready” to sign up for his belief system.

It is difficult for me to be seen as a curiosity, something to be studied but not to be engaged.   My own queer approach to the world leads me to understand that I can learn from everyone if I stay present in the relationship rather than trying to get them into my current belief system.

It’s amazing how many times I end up going back to that 2002 document and finding the same challenges, the ones that leave me lonely and lost.  I need sharing, starting with shared vision, but I get challenges to engage others needs and beliefs without them being able to engage mine.

When Chef Vivian finds connection, I am very happy for her  She lives in community, people sharing a story they all understand.  It also reminds me that I live in a basement, struggling to find anyone who understands and engages parts of my story.

I find it hard to recall the last time I was with someone who saw the world in the same way that I do.   Very hard.

Are Our Stories

When I really look at people, I see stories.

I imagine how they could have gotten to this point in their life.   I wonder what they will do next.  I project a future for them, one where they open to possibility and face their fears.

To me, understanding who a person is right now is like understanding a cabbage, just an object.

Humans are dynamic creatures, defined by motion and change. Not understanding their stories removes the life from a human, separating them from their triumphs and challenges.

If I want to be in relationship with another human, even for a few minutes, the more I engage their stories, working to feel their pain, their desires, their history, their expectations and their dreams the more I can get from the interaction.

Where we connect is in our stories, and so are the bits that block us from connecting. If we don’t enter one another’s stories, we never discover where our lives touch, don’t find the continuous common human humanity which threads through each of us.

When I meet someone, I will often ask them to tell me a story.   It is the act of active listening to them, engaging their life on their terms, working hard to see though their eyes and understand their priorities which lets them open to me, finding me a safe and respectful partner worth sharing with.

I know that no one will listen to you until the believe that you have listened to them.    Why waste energy on someone who is just going to erase you by reducing what you value into something shallow that they already understand?

In the end, it is I who gain from really working to engage the stories of others.   It builds my understanding of our shared world, allowing me to build up a wider, deeper perspective.   By taking on their language and their tales I expand and extend my own wisdom, learning from them.

As a writer, I am always looking for the cutting phrase, the telling anecdote.  How can I find powerful language without knowing where the nodes are, the points of connection which cut through human experience?  The ideas and moments that stir others and also stir me are what should be captured and shared to convey the links that make us human?

As a manager, someone who wants to get things done, I know that engaging people’s stories lets me build up mental models of them.   When I know what turns them on, know what they value, I can find ways to keep them connected with the work, find ways to address their disturbances.

Recontexualizing stories, bringing out new and shared meanings, is the best way to help someone find their own power.  Cutting through story knots can clear their vision up, letting them see the threads that got them to this point and start spinning new yarns which can take them forward while holding the past with compassion.

This is mommy management, the power of women who collect stories to weave not only the stories into art, but to also knot the owners of those stories into effective and compassionate community.

By holding people’s stories as sacred, I hold them as sacred.   Their journey, caught by their experience and bound in the stories they tell,  shapes their vision of the world.   It reveals the basis of their choices, even in the way it seeks to rationalize and justify those choices.   Even the stories we tell to hide truths end up revealing us.

Story play, where we make up stories about the people we see around us, can often be a great way to put words to what we sense about their approach to the world.   By taking a non-verbal understanding of them and making up a story about them, we can bring what we only feel into clarity, into wit, into compassion, into a much fuller view of their humanity.

By affirming that other people are their stories, even the fictions they prompt us to spin, we become more open to the powerful real stories all around us.   Nodes and connections begin to appear, jewels of understanding that mark connections and truths.

Having access to those intersections, the stories that we tell become richer, more full of the veneration of the one human nature that we all share.

When I look at people, I see stories.  Stories are what lie underneath our surfaces and veneers, running right through flesh and blood to a life force and spirit that profoundly connects us all.

Stories, to me, are where human wisdom and the beauty lies.

Protector & Child

If you were to tell my story as the tale of a hurt, lost, abandoned little girl and the smart, tough person who took care of her, you wouldn’t be that far off.

Very, very early, I learned to use my brain to be functional in the room while I found scraps to feed my heart.   I learned to be eccentric, iconoclastic and weird to get away with both feeding and concealing my feminine heart.

The girl inside is profoundly isolated, lonely and battered.   Protector, well, they do their best to help, just like they worked so hard to assist everyone that she loved.

That relationship has come to an impasse.  Protector is too used up and girl, well, she doesn’t know how to be in the world.

People tell me to get help.  But finding more coping strategies isn’t really useful for me, which is why a number of therapists have told me that they don’t know how they can help, because strategies are what  they offer.   They know how to help people be functional, but they don’t know how to navigate a lifetime of pain.

Emotional programs that are supposed to take you back to your inner child, to a time before you were so pounded down don’t work either.  Going back, they find a girl who is so battered and isolated that she is almost impossible to help.

After decades, her protector knows a suspect promise at a glance and doesn’t want her hurt again.  That is lovely and protective, but it is also limiting and isolating, as any woman protected by someone who loves her knows.

Everybody needs salvation, needs someone to see them, know them, love them and save them from being cast apart.  As much as we have to save ourselves, without the milk of human kindness, that shit is kind of impossible.

I live on bubbles of emotion, stored decades ago and replayed time and time again.   There is no new fuel and no hope of any.   That means I don’t move forward, because there is no reward out there to justify the costs.

I know that there is no real binary, no real disconnection between her and the protector.  They are just parts of me, connected and seamless.   Every woman has a smart mind and a tender soul, has a balance between hard and soft in her life.

The difference with me is how those two parts were forced to develop in the world.  One part had to get very very strong while the other was starved for light & heat, withering away in the darkness.

I need my heart.  Just toughening up won’t cut it anymore, and I don’t want to go searching for other people to take care of, searching for more reasons to try and satisfy myself with only serving the happiness of others.

That heart is the heart of a child who has been hidden too long, surviving on scraps.   It isn’t the heart of a mature woman, laced with connections and affirmation, with visibility and rewards.

Doing well at protecting a tender, lost heart with a big, tough mind is a good thing.  I can be proud of what I have done.   I have coping strategies out the wazoo, am able to help others in living in the world with their own wounds.

But there is only so far anyone can go with a lost and broken heart.

Out Of Work Visionary

Did you ever have one of those mornings where you tried to get dressed for work but everything you put on just looked disgusting and wrong?

Yeah, I had one of those.

Everything looked horrible.  Sure, I have no waist, but I never really have and I know how to dress to hide that.  But humans don’t get fat between the elbow and fingertips, and even my hands looked bizarre and huge to me, big paddles that just flapped in the wind.   I looked like a guy-in-a-dress, and what the hell is the point of that?

I haven’t tried to get dressed for work in many, many, many months.  There just didn’t seem to be any work worth doing.  There was an event where I might meet people yesterday, an LGBT Law Day, so it was almost worth trying, but no, I couldn’t get past the mirror between the work being less than surefire and the image in the mirror.

I have long said that I dress for work.   I dress to show my nature when there is a work reason to do so, but in everyday life, I wear my casual clothes. androgynous outfits that make my trans nature invisible.  It’s just easier, because when I have no reason to stand up and fight for presence, I don’t have to stand up and fight.

The reason I dress for work, the reason that I have identified my being visible as trans as part of my shamanic work, is because, being visibly trans in the world for me always takes work.

There has to be a reason to justify that work, that fight.  Maybe it’s committing to your own Eros, or standing against bullies, or something else, but you have to want to take the hits to be visibly trans, and for many transpeople who went though puberty male walking in the world as women, we have to know that we will always have a passing distance, always be visible.

The reason I like most to justify my dressing is that it tells the truth about who I am on the inside.  I am much more comprehensible if you know that my operating system at this point is much more womanly than anything else.   I think like a mom.

Communicating that truth, though, is very tough.  Most people still love to essentialize people by binary birth sex, still see expression as layered onto a kind of fundamentalist truth.  To them, I am just a male — a man — dressing as a woman for my own carnal purposes and that is all I will ever be.   If my body is visible, they pin my truth to it and not to the choices which reveal my character.

If we could actually change sex, I would have done so long ago, even if I had to keep my same bones.  For many transwomen who dream that hormones and surgery will do that trick, they are often disappointed, coming to the same conclusion I came to so many years ago, that the best we can do in this heterosexist culture is to appear trans.

I know that the best I can do is appear trans in the world.   It’s not what I want — who the fuck grows up dreaming of being a tranny? (2006) — but it is the limit of my possibilities.

We are visibly trans in the world to do the work we need to do.   For many of us, who see that work as only internal, we work as hard as we can to blend in, becoming invisible and unremarkable, building our own defenses against that dreaded third gotcha.

I want to tell my truth in the world, want to walk in my own authenticity.  If almost no one is going to engage that truth, going to comprehend my authenticity, then doing the work to be visible is just a very heavy lift.

This leaves my truth invisible in the world, erased and un-mirrored.  It leave my heart profoundly alone and lonely.  No matter how well or how much I share my truth, it just doesn’t connect with other people.   I’m within a month of ten years sharing myself on his blog and I know that I have never built any audience who engages me.

If I look in the mirror and I can’t see pretty, and I haven’t found anyone else to see and affirm me, what the hell incentive do I have to do work that will bring only a distant and ephemeral return?

Becoming visible takes so much energy that transpeople often just decide to live within the very limited expectations of others, keeping their beauty hidden and invisible.

If a transwoman sings her heart in the Walmart will anyone hear?

In my experience, no, probably not.

Beyond Cloying

I was in a meeting with Merissa Sherrill Lynn, Sheila Kirk and others, having been asked by the IFGE board to help rescue their 1995 Atlanta conference.

A big part of what I did in the meeting was what I always had to do, punch through assumptions and rationalizations to get to the point where we could consider the new.   Death before rebirth.

When we came out of the meeting, Sheila’s partner pulled me aside.   She was the only born female person in the room in one of her first meetings.

“I like you!” she told me with a big, bright smile.  “You can say ‘Fuck You!’ in so many nice ways!”

As someone trained as a woman, she understood both the skill of being gracious, of not saying things that make others get defensive, and also the vital importance of calling bullshit out as bullshit.

Another born female partner of a transwoman warned me about going into the South.

“Those people,” she fumed, “will smile at you to your face and still take you down a peg.”

Yeah, well, that’s what I like about Southern Belles.  They are sweet and gracious but they don’t really put up with bullshit.   An iron fist in a lace glove, as it were.

I come from a long line of Southern psychotics
and an environment where madness is currency
and conversation is blood sport.
— Elizabeth Ashley

Even the British know how to call out bullshit without being profane.   Decorum is valued, even as honesty is valued more.   You may have to listen closely to get the message, but it is there.

This ability to say “Fuck You!” in a nice way is, to me, what keeps communication vibrant and engaging.

Newagers often tend to the sweet, the nice, the cloying in their attempts at healing.  They believe that challenging the backstory someone brings, the highly crafted tale which rationalizes all their behaviour, is just rude.   We need to be tender with people who are hurting.

For me, the knife that cuts to truth is the key to getting to healthy.   We cannot move forward without removing the sick.

I believe that kindness often requires helping people let go of their armour and face their own challenges.   If we don’t clear the bullshit, how will we ever find the jewels?

As a woman, someone who cared for the people around her, I didn’t want to make people shut down when I called them out.  I learned to use humor, nuance and grace to tell challenging truths to their faces.   In other words, I learned to say “Fuck You!” in very nice ways.

Too much sweet isn’t good for anyone.  My coke addiction — the one to the sticky brown liquid — came because the balance of Coca-Cola is amazing, a real mix of flavours that made the stuff go down a treat.

If we can’t use the tangy to cleanse the palate, moving beyond simu-food to nuanced and challenging, then we are stuck in a hole where nobody can ever move beyond the cloying.

And I, personally, say “Fuck You!” to that.

Strong For The World

“You would have been a kick-ass mom,” ShamanGal said to me the other day.   After over two and a half years of being there for her on the phone as she has struggled to get beyond old defenses and integrate trans, she should know.

For my parents, in their last decade, I was mom.  I fed them, washed their very messy laundry, made sure they got the best care and helped them negotiate the world.

As mom, one of my chief obligations was to be strong for them.   My own fears and feelings weren’t useful for them as they struggled with their own.   With their Aspergers, this was more important than you can imagine as negotiating emotions was not something they could do well.

As a transperson, I understood the obligation to be strong for the world.   From an early age I was told that my feelings were corrupt and perverted.  I was told that if I revealed them in the world, people would not understand.   They might even recoil from my feelings and reach out to silence and hurt me.

If I wasn’t strong for the world, I deserved whatever I got.   They were my damn feelings and if they triggered other people’s fear and loathing, well, I deserved whatever I got for letting my feelings show.

My feelings are intense, overwhelming, bizarre, and ugly, or so I was told.   I’m really a guy, you see, as judged by my birth parts, so being emotional isn’t allowed.

I have to be strong for the world.   It’s what I have always known, even if I have no idea how to be understood and valued for the emotional creature I have always been.

As you get older, emotions are seen more and more as weakness.   You should be over them by now, getting them out in your younger, more dramatic days.   You have the wisdom of age, the stability of long context, the reasonable attitude that lets you help others negotiate emotion while yours just are set to a very low flicker on the farthest back burner.

To be in the world, I have to be strong for the world.  If I am strong enough, I am told, working hard and smart, then I can eventually find a place to be real in the world, safe and secure, with others present for me rather than me having to be strong for them,

Somehow, I don’t believe that day will ever come, that I will ever be strong enough in the world to create the space to be emotional.

I love that I know how to be strong for the world, that I used my mental power to take care of others.   I have been a gift.

But a kick ass mother gets rewards from her work that don’t come to a transperson who helps other people die.

I have been strong for the world.

Fight Like That

I read what transgender activists share on the internet.

Most of these stories are about places where transpeople have to fight to have their rights, their identity and their truth affirmed in a world which has the tradition of affirming birth sex based stereotypes over individual expression.

They are stories of transpeople fighting to be seen, affirmed or even acknowledged for the contents of their character over their birth assigned sex.

Even the supposedly good stories freak me out.  A newly out tabloid transwoman is set to get Glamour’s Woman Of The Year award, because apparently, you don’t even have to identify as a woman for a whole year to make the cut.

These “positive” stories seem more exploitative than affirming, a chance to put an audience grabbing freak out front without actually engaging the deeply held sex/gender binaries that keep people divided into comfortable and convenient binaries.    To me, they don’t hold real understanding and acceptance, they just continue the war between the sexes with a pat on the head to wacky mascots dressed up in interesting outfits.

I’ve done my fighting over trans.  And I don’t want to have to fight like that anymore.

I am more than aware that it is possible to live a decent life as a guy-in-a-dress as long as you carry the armour to slough off the attacks and narrow views of others.  You can wear what you want and be somewhat effective in the world, no doubt.

If you don’t really care what others think about anything but your professional contributions, you can be part of organizations that make change in the world.

This is better than the old days where you had to pass as something to fit in, but it still has limits.

The fight isn’t about if transpeople can find a way to enter the mainstream and serve a role in organizations.   Many brave and bold transpeople have proven that to be true as they engaged their own courage, worked to fit in, had something clear and identifiably valuable to offer and played their part.

The fight today is if transpeople can be a part of society without having to do the work of silencing and making invisible any challenge they hold to the status quo.   Can we actually show ourselves in the world, or do we have struggle hard to fit in?

The very presence of transpeople may be the edge of the wave in the world as we slowly penetrate consciousness, creating change over time by our very presence.   By being trans and present, we move the understand out, especially with young people who are still open to deeper understanding.

I support and encourage every vigorous transperson to do this work.   I have seen the understanding and acceptance of lesbian and gay people increase much over the decades and I know that this kind of social change can and does happen.

For me, though, the long term game feels like too much to play.   I have spent my vigor, done my work and need what I need now.

I just don’t want to sign up to fight like that, out on the bleeding edge of a revolution for which I will just end up being cannon fodder.  I need personal salvation, not the chance to battle on and get what I can from a world that is changing.

I have fought my battles and doing the conceptual work of bringing together the challenges and the possibilities.   The loneliness of a long lost transperson, though, has a high cost, one I paid with my skin.

And now, that skin is in breakdown, without the enthusiasm to go another round in trying to claim some space that might just possibly get me a tiny bit of the mirroring and caring I need to keep going.

So, while I bless and support the battles of others, as for me, well, I just don’t really want to fight like that.

Looking Like A Woman

For many transpeople born male, they think the name of the game in looking like a woman is to wear clothing assigned to women in this culture, preferably with a body shape that is as femaled as possible, either with shapewear or from the inside.

This is looking like a woman to them.

For women, though, looking like a woman means something very different.

Women are creatures of connection, always scanning their environment for clues to what is going on around them.   We notice differences quickly, always multitasking and having an eye out and an ear cocked for changes.

To be a mother you have to look out for the welfare of your family, knowing when there are threats around, seizing on opportunities as they come by, and catching the gleam of possibility to make things better with a adjustment in stance.

Living in a world of men, your strength doesn’t come from size or force, rather from wit.   Seeing what is going on as early as possible allows you to adjust your approach, tailor your choices to make a difference.

Looking is the power of a woman, even catching the flicker of emotion before another even knows that they are having one.   Looking close allows us to build models of our world and the people in it, anticipating reactions and shaping strategies to get what we need and want, for ourselves and for our families.

The better we look, the better we can choose our battles, winning before others even get their hackles up.

The high school experience that sets much of the pattern for how women interact is a place to be trained in looking well, seeing the ebbs and floes of those around us.   There is a reason chick flicks tend not to have big action scenes, because to women looking at people engage emotional situations is usually even more dramatic than another staged petrol bomb.

Looking like a woman means having a powerful sense of the forces at play around us.   That understanding allows us to play into those forces rather than just playing against them, brutish and bull headed.

Every woman wants to look good, of course, but the way she manages that is to use her looking to assess what kind of looks will suit her and the situation.   Because she has been looking at other women her whole life, building a vocabulary which lets her code, understand, and store looks.   That vocabulary is hers to assemble looks for herself and to understand what other women mean by the looks that they create.

Looking like a woman starts not with padding and makeup but rather with context and understanding.   You learn to appreciate choices that you would never make for yourself but which work well for other women, learn to be effective in the world, and learn how to assemble looks which work for you.

It starts with the senses, this looking like a woman, not with the clothes.

Linda Lavin sings about looking like a woman at other people in this song from “It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman”

Incapable Of Reaching Out

 “I was angry with myself for missing the clues, and angry with him for not seeking help. A mental health professional, he had saved the lives of others, but was apparently incapable of reaching out to save his own.”
— David Axelrod, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics, writes about his father’s suicide

Maybe, he was not incapable of reaching out, but as a professional, he knew the limits of available help.

Mr. Axelrod’s fathers actions were considered.   He reached out in a phone call some weeks before he acted in what Mr. Axelrod later determined to be a farewell call.  They weren’t the actions of one bad night, one attempt to act out current emotions.

The notion that everyone who decides to end their life could be saved by some sort of mental health intervention appears to me to be wishful thinking by those who experience the suicide of a loved one.

It is easy to judge that some just are incapable of doing everything that would have been required to “save” their own life, but that judgment misses the fact that everyone reaches out for support and that support often does not convince us that there is real hope for substantive change in our relationship with the world.

The world is as it is and everyone has to adapt to it, doing the work to align with the desires, requirements, needs and priorities of the system around us.   If we decide that we are incapable of doing that, does that mean we didn’t “reach out” properly, didn’t appropriately shape our communication so that others could hear us and then, in some magic way, “heal” us?

Deciding that suicide is a personal failure of the person who took their own life is comforting and reassuring to those left behind.   I understand that.

The attitude, though, that other people have a responsibility to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, the obligation to “reach out” and get what we need to “save” ourselves, is the kind of attitude that adds to the struggles of those considering ending their life.

“You should just do the work to reach out and save your own life. If you aren’t getting what you need in the world, it’s only because you are not trying hard enough.   Just get over your own damn self and do anything and everything that needs to be done to save your life or we will all judge you a failure.”

Does suicide always mean failure?   Maybe it does.

Does suicide always mean the failure of the one who takes their own life?  Do other people around them have any responsibility to be present and assist?   Is there a broader failure?

Well, as Mr. Axlerod knows well, it is the ones who remain that write the histories, who assign blame and responsibility.

His father was “apparently incapable of reaching out to save his own” life.

His suicide, his failure.

I’m sure that his father was willing to accept that judgment pf others when he finally got to the point that he decided hope was lost and that he could not create the change he needed.

After all, he knew how much he reached out and tried to make better connections, tried to get what he needed.  He decided that his labours were enough, figured that they would only lead to diminishing returns.

He was willing to accept failure and termination in the world.  Even if he also knew that no man is an island and we all have responsibility for our fellow man.

Suicide is failure. yes.   As a marginalized person, though, I refuse to take the libertarian view that somehow, the only party who didn’t do enough to save a life is the person who decided that, facing what they faced, they had to go.

No matter how comforting that might be to others who claimed to love us.