Broken Protection

My cellphone has the same problem that I do, is broken in the same way.

I have a Moto G 2013, the first generation of that phone. I don’t use it enough have any real phone plan on it, just some pay-as-you-go that has been emptied once or twice by administrative error.

It won’t hold or take a charge.  I’ve spent a week trying to figure out the problem; faulty USB port, dying battery? Plug it in, use different cables, different chargers, get it charging but it never gets beyond 30% all that.

Drain seems to be the problem.  I have a habit of pulling it from a pocket and putting ot on charge when I come in, but one night after a tough experience in a place that was supposed to be welcoming, I just dropped my purse and left it.

With a few days of neglect, the battery completely discharged.   And that’s where the problem is.

The battery protection software in the Moto G kicks in and it becomes unable to take a full charge.  The battery is fine, but the software is messed up, the residual effects of scarcity capturing its mind.

It just can’t take a charge anymore.

After a week of challenges, maybe if I can just get the phone charged and started again, I can boot to recovery and delete its mind, allowing it to start again.  Clear the system cache, start new.

Human minds don’t work the same way.  Erasing memories has never really been a good solution for the wetware we carry inside our skull.

Maybe I can get the Moto G restarted.  After all, I had to unlock the bootloader and do tricks to make it useful in the first place.

And just last week, I had to help the balloon clown upgrade his to Lollipop.  He has lost the special circus ringtones I scraped up for him.  At some point, he did a factory reset and then wondered why he lost the special customization made for him.  Simple solutions, with unknown costs.

But my phone and I have the same problem.  We fell to zero, the protection software kicked in, and now we are blocked by it.

The fight continues.

Gone Off

In “Compared To What: The Improbable Journey Of Barney Frank,” there is much about the cost of being a closeted gay man in the world.

“People wanted to be near him,” a friend says of his days in the Massachusetts house. “They would gather at his table and want to argue with him, and he would knock them down with grace and wit, in a way that made them laugh and come back.

“What I didn’t know,” he continues, “was that no matter how popular Barney was, how profoundly lonely he was.”

Mr. Frank, who knew he was gay at 13, talks about the human need for connection, for care, for companionship, for understanding, for touch, for love and how not being able to have that emotional part of his life left him bereft and vulnerable in the years before he came out.

For years, he couldn’t imagine how to come out, there being no models for successful gay men that looked like he wanted to fit into them.   He wasn’t ever going to swish, didn’t want to be separate and a freak.

Later than he wanted to, he did come out, doing the work of expanding the visible possibilities of what a gay man could look like, gaining respect and making the fact that one is openly gay less important in relationships.

Mr. Frank always knew how to fight, fight with wit that engaged people.  He did that, though, in a way that kept him profoundly lonely.  He needed mature, open respectful relationships to support him, not the weak, twisted relationships of the closet.

When I was a kid, I thought about a political life.   I was very active in Massachusetts politics as a kid, in the same Democratic circles as Mr. Frank, though he is older than I am.

I could do the arguments, knew how to be a hack, but I also knew that I had a challenge more profound than even Mr. Frank.   After all, there were spaces in the world for gay men, for them to come together.

I’ve been fighting my whole life.   One of the things that surprised the professionals who came in and saw me take care of my parents is how much I would fight with them.    It was always in a loving and witty way, but I knew that what they needed was not sweet pap but sharp engagement, My mother would  prefer a lemon bar, surprising caretakers who really thought it was always all about the brownie.

Today, the belligerence that seems to be required to be trans in the world, offering a kind of toughness that leaves you always ready to stand up for rights, even rights that may seem intrusive to others, well, that kind of edginess feels like a too heavy lift.

I have also been lonely my whole life.  It has been a kind of loneliness that has driven me inward, towards the life of a hermit.   While my achievements have not been at all public, I believe that they have been powerful, creating an understanding that can help put trans into context.  I shone at the big panel on trans, even if most people didn’t care and many were resistant.

In Mr. Frank’s life, I see echoes of a person I might have been.   I am very happy that he has found a partner, someone who engages him and creates a personal family, lovers who come together to mirror and reflect each other.

For me, though, I didn’t find the human bit I needed so much in the world.  Instead of finding connection, my heart has gone off, shrivelling out of sadness and desperation.  Nobody has infinite reserves, there isn’t always one more chance. happy endings are far from guaranteed.

Having a small potential partner pool (PPP) means one has to be big, visible and out there to find the few people in the world who might be able to meet you where you are. Instead, I was with my family, finding it impossible to be big and shining in the world before I was used up.  I was never butch, never with big ego, preferring smaller service to bullhorns.

Nancy Pelosi attended Mr. Frank’s wedding.  Sure, it was appropriate for her to do as a leader, but as a woman, I suspect she likes a bit of a fairytale ending, even when two princes save each other.

We all like the romantic, the dramatic and triumphant.  Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true.

I’d love to be a romantic, too, believing that somehow, my fight can continue with the kind of support everyone needs.

But how many people have to agree that the sour smell means that the milk has gone off?

People come up to Mr. Frank and tell him their problems.  When he was first in politics, he would be happy to listen, thinking that there was something he could do to make things better.  It was when they would come up and he would get cantankerous, wondering why they were bothering him, that he knew it was time to leave.

He had gone off.

Fundamentalost Gynandrous

So, in the end, we are all just humans.  Like ice cream, humans are all fundamentally the same, made out of the same stuff, but each is essentially different, with our own unique flavour.

The fundamental human nature that connects us is much stronger than the differences in essence which separate us.

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

No matter what the essence in my emotional, dramatic, feminine heart, I was sentenced to a life gynandrous — that’s just androgynous with the feminine first — where I had to learn to eat the fear and pain of those around me.  They erase my essence to focus on fundamentalism.

My life became about fundamentals, about getting down to them, though determined discipline and creative study.  It was the best I could manage.

It is comforting to know that the worst of it is behind me now, that there isn’t much more I need to navigate.

If a tranny screams in a crowd, will anyone hear them?   In my decades of experience, the answer is no.   People only hear the frequencies and patterns that they already know; beyond that, all else is noise, no matter how articulate or consistent you are.

My dead father showed up this morning — my mother told him to come — and can’t understand why I would want things to end.  Understanding, well, not something that they did well.

There are things you can never be, bits that serenity hits limits on.   Sure, young and differently sexed are two of them, but for me, heard and understood are the more difficult.   Nobody gets the joke, and while I know that I can attenuate myself, be the concierge and enter other people’s world, asking people to walk into mine, no matter how clear or inviting I am, has proven to be well neigh impossible.

I go to professionals and they want to talk, explain how I need to follow them, rather than to listen.   Who can really live in their head like me, they wonder, assuming that my thoughts must be twisted, defensive, some kind of mental illness.

If only I had the wherewithal and the resilience of youth I could keep trying, take it on the chin, search far and wide, kiss a lot of princes, do whatever is needed.  My own youth was consumed by a family and a world that was challenging to me. a place where help, understanding and support was just not available.

I tried.  I tried.  I tried.  And the best I could get is some kind of service, some kind of guy-in-a-dress tolerance, some kind of erasure of my tender humanity.  Ouch, she says, to put it politely.

“How does that make you feel?” was the question no one wanted to ask, or at least that no one wanted to hear the real answer to.

The answers were overwhelming and tiring, too much for too long, so they found a way to put me in the “too hard” place and continue with their lives.  I understand.

But I can’t walk away from me and my experience.  I have been immersed in it with no way out. It is what I wake up to and what I fall asleep to.  It is my everything.

Yeah, it would have been good to change that experience, but I couldn’t do that by myself.  You don’t learn trust in relationships by yourself; it takes someone to meet you, mirror you, hold you dear and be present.

Attenuating myself to appear more normative was never effective.  Who I “really am” always leaked out, probably because who I am is who I needed to be to survive my own life.

I know how to be reduced to just a human.  It is a version of the truth, sure, going to the base of what connects us all, but the reduction squeezes out my essence, that unique spark that offers my special and very authentic flavour.

Being denied the possibility to share that essence means being denied the possibility to have my intense and sharp bits mirrored and contextualized, leaving me alone at the spark.   Talking to people who don’t understand, value or respect the spark, people who want me to fit nicely within their comfort range, demanding I reject anything that confuses or frightens them, leaves me cold and isolated.

Communicating my essence to others in a way that gets me compassion and understanding is being forced to diminish my essence to the level of expectations and attention of others.  Only my facade can be made smaller; my heart and mind never compress for the ease of others around me.

"If only they hadn't been so stubborn, so defended, so isolated, so cerebral, so pig-headed, so stupid, so queer, so intense, so overwhelming, so resistant, so demanding, so trapped by their own needs, so unwilling to compromise, so resistant to simple pleasures, so apart from normal people, so prickly, so stuck up, so brittle, so weak, so unreasonable, so touchy, so all that, then we might have been able to save them.  Too bad that they just wouldn't work with us, but whatever happened, it's on their weird choice to be separate."

As long as I am willing to be iconoclastic, gynandrous and dehumanized, there will always be a place for me to serve the “normal” people of the world.   They are willing to accept what I offer as long as I always respect and honor their comforting expectations.

The price of having my essence stigmatized and reduced, though, has always had a cost, one that adds up over decades and decades of wear and abuse.  Every pass through the pain gets closer and closer to the edge, more cutting, with much less margin of safety.  I have been here before, yes, but never this close to the precipice.

"Jeepers!  Just cut through all the self pity and folderol, and get down to connecting with real people.   If you would just drop all the crap you carry, just let go of all the intellectual barriers you hold to letting love in, maybe then you could finally find happiness in something other than mental masturbation.  We are all right here waiting for you; why don't you just come out from all that blah-blah shit and join us?"

(and, yes, I have had people read out those skint bits from my writing to me, choosing not to understand how they are stating a problem, not a solution.  i hear the challenges, i do, always engaging them, but the ones i leave here are reductive, erasing, insensitive, rude, disrespectful and hurtful, at least to me.)

If the point of trans is not that what is inside people is much more important than what their outsides look like, that we are defined by our choices and not by the assumptions laid on our biology, that people are who they are in their essence, then I don’t know what it is.

I am sure, though, that I have been sentenced to a gynandrous life, doomed to be a guy-in-a-dress, having what I share dismissed, reduced, ignored and stigmatized in the cause of simple, reactionary divisions.

Sure, all humans are fundamentally the same.  Erasing someone’s essence, though, doesn’t turn them into who you expect them to be, someone who fits neatly into the boxes in your mind.

It just crushes their heart, making them fundamentalost.

Not An Asshole

So here’s what I want to tell transpeople assigned as male bodied at birth or soon thereafter.

You can effectively be a guy-in-a-dress in the world, but only if you are not an asshole.

And claiming that you are really female and all-woman, well, that can make a lot of people see you as an asshole.

I know that you have little interest in walking through the world as a guy-in-a-dress.   Since you were young you dreamed of being a woman, of being female.  That’s how you want people to see you, how you want people to treat you.

The problem is that your body isn’t female and your experience isn’t the experience of someone who grew up with a female body.

Now, you have some belief about what that means.   You were born with a birth defect, your mind has always been female, you were always a woman, whatever the explanation you claim.   This is true to you, and other people should damn well accept what you claim.

If you can demand that others accept what you claim, though, can they demand you accept what they claim?   Is there a golden rule thing here, treating their beliefs as you want your beliefs to be treated?

I suspect that you want to have some discretion in believing what others claim about themselves.  If that’s true, why don’t they have discretion in believing what you claim about yourself?

Trans is a truth of desire.  Nobody has figured out how to scientifically verify that what we desire is somehow biologically determined.  We can’t examine the structures of the mind or body and determine that one person really loves men, one really loves women, or that someone is, all outward signs to the contrary, really programmed with the desires of a woman or a man.

Sure, we know what we love, what we have always loved, know what feels right, know what we want and need for ourselves.  But proving that inner knowledge is somehow biologically true, pure and unchangeable?  That hasn’t happened for lesbian and gay people yet, and I can’t imagine it happening for transpeople anytime in the foreseeable future.

People will, though, let us act on our inner knowledge, on our desires, a long as we aren’t an asshole about it. That’s not what we want — we want them to believe what we believe about ourselves, want to become normative and invisible — but for most transpeople who went through puberty as a male, it’s the best that we are going to get.

The younger they are, the more able they are to accept that we are who we show ourselves to be through our choices.   The coming generations just don’t believe in either/or the same way their parents were taught to.  That’ doesn’t mean they understand or have compassion for the challenges we faced, that they get how toxic and damaging was the abuse we took to try and keep us small, eased and apparently normative.

Instead, they take us at face value, allowing us to make our own choices as long as we aren’t an asshole about it.

This is hard for us.  We feel entitled to be an asshole for so many reasons.    We were bashed and erased and shamed and tortured in an attempt to break our spirit and have us deny our trans nature.   People need to understand how much that hurt, people need to understand how real our inner self is, people need to accept the truth we tell them about ourselves.   They just damn well need to shape up and treat us right, treat us the way we deserve to be treated.

Our pain and rage and shame needs to be broken and the only way to do that is boldly, proudly demanding that no one is entitled to be an asshole to us.   We learned to be tough and confrontational, we know what we should have, so why not just force others into doing what we want and need?

The reason, of course, is simple.   If we are an asshole, people won’t cut us any slack.   They won’t look upon us with an open mind and an open heart.  They won’t defend us, won’t stand up for our right to make the choices that celebrate the call of who we know ourselves to be.

You can walk in the world as a guy-in-a-dress without getting too much shit as long as you aren’t an asshole about it.

If you carry a huge chip on your shoulder, if you lead with pain, anger and shame, if you demand consideration and respect that you refuse to give to others, what you get back from others will be resistance, rejection and toxicity.

Don’t think that I like this truth.  I want to be seen as a woman, to be accepted as one of the girls.  I never, ever dreamed of being a guy-in-a-dress.  In fact, lots of guys-in-dresses just make me uncomfortable and squeamish because their choices seem so ugly, brutal and disrespectful to women.

You might think that it would be nice to have some kind of scientific test, some kind of differential diagnosis that separates we “real” transwomen from the fakers and pretenders who are just posing as women but who don’t get it, who are just acting out of their masculine entitlement to colonize other identities.   But who would be the judge and what would the test be?  How could it take into account the defenses we built up and the need for immersion to facilitate revelation, emergence and transformation?   What if we aren’t judged “real,” like so many were not by gatekeepers in the past?

I know that we cannot yet do sex changes and that my body will always be marked by male puberty.  That’s not going to change; bones don’t lie.  I also know that however much woman’s cultural literacy I do (and I have done a great deal) I will never have the experience of being female in the world on my skin in the same way as women who went through puberty as female.

My choices are those of a woman, because my view of the world is much, much more like a woman’s than it ever has been the view of a man.  Primary socialization didn’t take well for me, as I was never really cocky enough. I know myself as a woman.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I can control how others see me, that I can demand that they believe the same about me as I believe about myself.  Sure, if they are my allies, they will respect and honor my choices, but they will only do that if I am not an asshole about it.

I just know that I can walk in the world following my own feminine choices, even if I am seen as just a guy-in-a-dress, if I am not an asshole about it.   That’s not all I want, but it’s much, much better than when I was a kid and the only choice was to hide behind a passing facade, in fear of being found out.

And I know that the more transwomen are out there, the more we do that ultimate trans surgery of pulling the stick out of our own ass, the more the world will open to people like us.   The more people see our hearts over our biology, trusting our choices over our history, the more we will be accepted for who we know ourselves to be.

The path to that, though, for individuals and for society begins with accepting guys-in-dresses as long as they are not assholes.

That’s not where trans understanding and acceptance ends, I don’t think, but it seems to be where it starts.

Terminal Happy

In the middle of my road, I found myself in a dark wood. And like Dante, in order to find my way out, I first descended.   Descended into a fetid, damp basement room on 33d street, an answering service, a legitimate business, a real job.  I even had my Virgil, my guide in the unlikely form of a six foot black transvestite named Faye.

Faye was really big.  She had big face, big hands, long red fingernails, thick pancake makeup that left stripes on the insides of her shirts.  She lived in Harlem with a man, a man-man, in a huge apartment with like a stereo in every room and like ten teevees.  

She told me how she started this answering service with this young Jewish guy named Marty and they took turns crashing on the sofa, keeping it going 24 hours a day. Unlikely duo, great friends.

Enter me into this windowless room filled with lopsided, ratty office furniture and just me and Faye.  And we would hang out and watch this old black and white teevee that only worked if you touched it, so we would take turns balancing one toe on it until it got really annoying, and then, screw it, shut it off.

And I worshipped her.  I worshipped her.  Doctors, lawyers, bankers, brokers would call for their messages and she'd say "What?  I have to do what?  No child.  All I have to do is stay black and die.  Now let me ask you something.  How big is your Johnson?  Oh, don't lie to Faye now!" and she would laugh and laugh.  

And they worshipped her, and they would call up and tell their problems.  They'd say "Faye, right on the phone, will you curse at my friend please?"

Delivery guys would come, you know, bagel, coffee light, and she'd say "You!  You see her hands there?" pointing to me, "Do you see how small her hands are? Do you know how big that would make your thing look?" and I'd be like "Faye!"

And I was always miserable, I was always complaining.  "So fat!  So poor!  Everyone is having more fun than me!"

And she would lean over the table and tap one long red fingernail and she would say "It ain't all about you Clo.  It ain't that kind of party." 

About a year after I left the job, I called Faye. I don't normally keep in touch with people from jobs because the relationships are real, but they are site specfific.

But I would call Faye.  Well, Faye had had a stroke.  She was alright, but her mouth was all skewed.

About six months later, I call again. "Hey Faye!"  "Hey Clo."  Faye had a second stroke.  Maybe it was the hormones.  And said that very ill in the hospital had a spiritual thing, so that after a lifetime of never feeling happy or satisfied "I decided to just be what I was.  A man."

"I'm Frank, now," he said, " and I am very happy.  You be happy, Clo."
-- Claudia Shear, "Blown Sideways Through Life," 1995

10 Years, 10 Points

It’s been 10 years since I started this blog on Thanksgiving 2005.

There has been an enormous amount posted here, but it has been published on my schedule and focused on my needs, not on making the material accessible to a casual reader.   There is no simple way to find writing on the challenges that are in their mind at any time.

For ten years, I thought I would take a moment and consolidate the 10 most important points that I have kept coming back to time and time again.  It won’t unlock the text here, but it might give an overview, a crib sheet to get a handle on what I have written.

1) Reveal, don’t conceal.  You can’t create anything as amazing as your gifts.
2) Precision is power, especially precision thinking.  Think sharp, be sharp.
3) Your feelings, your responsibility.  Their feelings, their responsibility.
4) Don’t treat others in a way you would not want to be treated.
5) Nothing happens until you listen, even to yourself.
6) Gratitude drives possibility.  Be thankful for lessons.
7) Playful is prayerful.  Opening to the unexpected is honoring the divine.
8) Defense is attack, giving is receiving.  Service.
9) People heal in their own way and their own time.  Be compassionate.
10) Love, not fear, brings growth.

I’ll go into a bit of detail about why these points are important to me.

1) Reveal, don’t conceal.  You can’t create anything as amazing as your gifts.

You are a child of the creator, with magic in you.  Sure, lots of people tried to teach you to sit still, stay quiet and follow orders, telling you that your nature was ugly and nasty, but it is in that wild nature that your biggest gifts lie.  Where you stumble, there lies your jewel.

It may be an appealing notion to create a pretty facade, a mask that meets the expectations of other people, but in the end it is your unique spark which draws people to you, which allows you to shine in the world.

Go inward and find your own strengths, then bring them out to offer your own special beauty to the world.

Cover ups are fake.  It is the real you that is lovable, even if someone told you not to believe that.

2) Precision is power, especially precision thinking.  Think sharp, be sharp.

It’s easy to be sloppy.  Anyone can do it.   It’s hard, though, to be precise, hard to achieve a level of excellence and mastery which allows what you do to show through as unique and high quality.

We co-create our lives.   Our spark may come from someplace outside of us, but turning that spark into useful flame is our job, one that demands discipline, practice and sweat.

Our mind is the tool we use to shape our lives, finding language, testing options, achieving balances, setting priorities, making choices and then choosing again.  There are is no perfection in a human life, but with work and focus we can create precision which lets us make the best of our possibilities.

When we offer precision to those around us, we offer leadership, showing a way to make better choices and work together.   Managing ourselves helps us manage in the world, lifting the possibilities of everyone.

3) Your feelings, your responsibility.  Their feelings, their responsibility.

You cannot control the feelings of other people.  That means you don’t have responsibility for them, something that can be hard to remember when they are acting out their own fears and issues against you because something you did brings up their unhealed stuff.  Their choices, even when they blame you for “causing” them are about who they are, not about you.

You do, however, have control of your own feelings.   That means you do have responsibility for how you act out of your unhealed stuff.

There is no way to manage your own feelings without owning them first.  Just walling them off, trying to stuff them, or claiming that they control you will not lead to the kind of healing you need to get clear of being controlled by your own deep seated issues.

The only way out of hell is through.  You have to face your own challenges to find ways to move past being controlled by them.  The only freedom we have is in the moment between stimulus and response, so moving to considered responses instead of knee-jerk reactions is the only way to create healthy choices which let you own your life rather than being a slave to your past.

Blaming others for the way that you feel may be easy, but just like you have no control over how they feel, they have no control over how you feel.  Sure, you may want them to change their feelings, but waiting until they change before you change is holding your potential for happiness hostage to their stuckness.

Your feelings, your responsibility.

4) Don’t treat others in a way you would not want to be treated.

When has the golden rule ever been a bad life choice?  This statement of it lies more in Jewish tradition, where the goal is not to assume what others want what you would want but to know we all hate unfairness.

Being able to accept that other people have the right and even the requirement to make choices that you would never make for yourself is the basis for treating them with respect. Supporting others when they make choices that you find odd, off-putting or queer is supporting your power to make choices for yourself that don’t please everyone.  The world is not for your taste, so only those who harm others with their choices need to be judged, not just those who push your buttons.

People find so many excuses for why others have to respect them in a way that they don’t respect others.   We use our history of suffering, our presumed moral superiority, our sense of entitlement and more to justify actions against others that we would wail about if we were treated that way.

Rationalizing why you are exceptional and therefore can make demands of others which you would reject if they were made on you is violating the golden rule.  It goes against the teachings of the Torah, of Jesus, and of almost every spiritual leader ever.

Love and respect your neighbour as yourself.  Everything else is commentary.

5) Nothing happens until you listen, even to yourself.

The greatest gift parents give children is the gift of language.  Being human is sharing in culture, and that requires the power of communication.  The better we get at communicating, the more we can master the relationships that make us human.

The most important part of communication is listening.  Listening is my sacrament, opening my mind and heart to what others are brave enough to share with me.   It is through listening that I am able to learn and grow, though listening that I am able to understand and heal, though listening that I am able to connect and share with other people.

As a transperson in a house that had little respect for emotion, I believed that the goal was to reject and deny any voices in me that challenged what others said that I should do.   Instead of listening to my heart I tried to silence it, thinking that would make me strong and good.

Until I listened to my own pain, though, moving past shame and opening with tender vulnerability, I could not find the connection between mind and heart that I needed to heal and grow as a person.

Too many people don’t really listen to others, don’t engage what is being shared, instead only hearing tones and thinking of what they want to say next.  These people lose all the magic that sharing humanity can bring.   They try to fill the world with their beliefs so they can blank out their doubts and fear and in the process, lose the heart connection that makes them human by making them responsible to other people.

Listening close allows discovering details, observing with a precision which can lead to understanding quality and excellence.  Until we can really hear and see, we cannot really transcend the mediocre.

Nothing happens until you listen, even if the noise you are making convinces you otherwise.

6) Gratitude drives possibility.  Be thankful for lessons.

Learning to be grateful for what you didn’t want or expect is hard.  Yet that feedback is the key to knowing where you are falling short, where you have missed the mark, and how you can change your choices to do better next time.

Possibility doesn’t exist in what we already know.  Possibility exists in the moments when our knowledge grows, either through serendipitous success or through frustrating failure.

Being grateful for moments when our perceptions are altered, our understanding is expanded, our knowledge increased, even when that requires disposing of an older, cherished but wrong or imprecise concept is the way we are thankful to a world that cares enough to keep teaching us how to be better.

Becoming new is the basis of becoming better.  Learning new or even being reminded of what we knew once but has slipped our mind is a real gift.

7) Playful is prayerful.  Opening to the unexpected is honoring the divine.

Prayers that tell the universe what to do to make us happen are just arrogant, pushy-bottom kind of stuff.  Asking the creator to change to suit our expectations and desires is not a prayerful approach, coming with humility and openness to find the lessons of grace which help us be more harmonious and effective in our actions.

Playfulness is coming with an attitude of exploration, the willingness to try being new in a way that brings us closer to creation.  A willingness to experiment with a laughing heart opens us to the divine surprise that reveals connections and possibilities we closed ourselves to in daily life.

Humor can help us get over the pain of separating from our callouses, the barriers we have created that we hope protect us but which isolate us from the heat and light of divine connection.  Children become new though laughter in every day of their lives, welcoming the growth the universe offers them.   Why should that process ever really stop?

8) Defense is attack, giving is receiving.  Service.

It’s easy to be too damn smart for our own good.  When you think you know it all, that you can defend your choices perfectly, that anyone who challenges you is just wrong, you close yourself off to growth and connection.

The first step to knowledge is always being ready to learn what you not only don’t know but also what you don’t yet know that you do not know.   We get back what we give in the world, so when we give curiosity, respect and support we get that back, but when we give attitude, dismissal and quick defensive rationalizations, that’s what we get back.

Getting over your own damn stuff, the defenses you carry with you, is hard.   You surrounded yourself with that stuff for good reasons.   You found it useful, it made you feel safe and comfortable to carry your own stuff around like bumpers.

That stuff, though, blocks you from being present and open to other people in the current situation.  If you just pitch in, contribute, and find a way to work together, everybody benefits, even you.

Leading with the chip on your shoulder, no matter who you blame for putting it there, doesn’t open up possibilities.  Your feelings, your responsibility.

9) People heal in their own way and their own time.  Be compassionate.

The world would be much less headache to negotiate if other people would just heal and grow in the way that we want them to and on our own time frame.  After all, we can see the problem and have offered a solution; why can’t they just get their act together and do what you tell them, right now?

Their position, though, is more complicated than you know.  After all, you have never just done what someone else told you to do to fix your life, have you?   You had to think and feel and balance and try and engage change in your own way and at your own speed.

When you look back, there are changes that you could have made sooner than you did.  Not only did the worst things you could imagine never really come to pass, but the best things that happened were ones that you never could have imagined coming to pass no matter how hard you planned for them.

Change always means engaging loss.  Change means we have to let go of bits we have always held to do things that we have not yet mastered.  Change comes with a guarantee of failure, even if that failure teaches us how to create success beyond anything we have ever known.  Change is a risk, but not changing is stagnation and decay.

Learning to engage change a little each day rather than waiting for what feel like catastrophes to demand change is hard magic.  Being prepared, though, with wit and compassion, to accept why change is resisted and to accept when change is need is the basis of healthy growth.

10) Love, not fear, brings growth.

Our fear voice likes to tell us that the best thing we can do is create walls between us and things that scare us.

The world, though, teaches that strength comes not from isolation but from connection.  It is when we stand together, when we are in the network, when we have friends, allies and family that we are most protected.

Caring deeply enough to put your own fears and concerns aside to do the right thing is another way to say courage.   Courageous choices always come from love and not fear. Courage is a core virtue; without courage, it is impossible to follow any other virtue when the going gets tough.

Love drives the best in us when it drives us to connect with community and share our gifts with others.  Love is the powerful magic that moves us beyond our own preferences and prejudices to be present for other people in a way that heals both them and us.   Love empowers us to leave our comfort zone and find a new, engaged way to be in the world.

Love is what enables to us fight for those we love and and to fight with the people we love when they need to find their own deeper truth. It’s much better to learn to fight for yourself with someone who loves you than with the wider, less caring world.

Life is better when we take care of each other.  Love is what helps us do that.

None of these points are unique.   They are just bits of the wisdom handed down by humans, the old knowledge set in my personal language.   That’s why they might resonate with you, not asking you to get your mind around something new but only recounting what you know to be true in a way that cuts through the noise of everyday life and reminds you of what has always been important.

10 Years, 10 Points.  It’s been a long and fascinating life, but to tell you the truth, I’m pretty tired now.

Marking Special

Everyone should have a personal bit of theatre.

They should have a moment or two when they are in the spotlight and they get to do and say something exceptional, something powerful.

Maybe it’s asking why this night is special, or wearing the Santa Lucia crown, but whatever it is, they need a moment out of time, when they are touched by the magic, connected with something bigger than they are.

To make that happen, the rest of us have to be an audience for them, opening the space for them to share.  We need to open a moment where we admire and adore them, putting them on stage and letting them shine, opening to what they offer.

Life used to be pretty routine and boring, moving along at a regular pace.  This made moments which were special stand out, stand proud, stand amazing.

Today life is filled with shiny moments, something different and novel, screens full of distractions, visual range full of ads, demands full of interruptions.  Now, we often think that what we want from special times is a kind of simulation of normativity, the traditions of slowing down and just hanging.  Sundays are no longer a day to gather and touch majesty, they are a day to decompress and try to recover.

How does this create special time, magical time, moments when we can feel the power flow through us as we enact the power of tradition and expression to a rapt audience?

I remember showing up in a Santa suit to a friend’s house years ago.  Her kids, a third grader and a fifth grader, were way too old to believe in Santa.

The engagement in their eyes and joy on their faces when confronted with an enactment of the jolly old elf was amazing and memorable.   This was magic come to life in their house and they snapped into their roles as awed kids in a heartbeat.

Sure, they asked Santa if he knew me, and I assure them that I was a fine, fine person, but being able to understand the backstage tricks we use didn’t take the excitement from the moment.  It may have made it more magic, as a part of them imagined how they could also invoke Santa someday.

The biggest smile, of course, was from their mother.  She saw her kids delighted and focused, reminding her of when they were younger, when they lived in a world of awe and magic.   Mothers, you may know, are moved by the sight of joyous children.

Finding moments is important.  I tried a Christmas moment where, before opening presents, each person in turn posed with their prettiest unopened gift and flashed their cheesiest, most excited expression.  One moment to be in the spotlight, enacting joy, and the temperature in the room went up.

It’s easy to dismiss ritual from our lives, deeming it silly and not worth the effort.  Why not just go casual, let off, and take it easy?   After all, it won’t be very long until we have to go back into the noise and take the shiny and special as just other interruptions.

As humans, though, we need to believe that the magic of the moment can flow through us, that we can carry the spark of the eternal and the divine, whatever we deem that to be.

Maybe it is reciting the Gettysburg Address,  carving the turkey at the table, or just the ritual of a graceful blessing, time out of time counts.

I grew up in a house where my mother was sure that everything was about her, where paying attention to someone else, especially someone elses emotions, just was an impossible thing.   No matter how much I wanted to dramatize a moment, make it special, it was always going to be erased by the cheap and routine drama of someone else.

Feast days are the stages of our lives, moments when we come together to share the hard work of people who love us so much that they create a table full of ritual.

Not honoring those stages by opening with respect and grace seems a horrible waste.

TBB just went through a ritual day with her son as he received his Naval aviator’s wings.   Her job, she knew, was to play her part in the scene, from being proud to being cool, to picking up the tab for dinner.  She rose above the everyday and petty to do the bigger thing,  making his personal day of theatre unique and special.

She felt good playing her part in a family event, even if a great deal of it was beaming broadly and looking so proud that she could bust.  Ritual demands we play our part and often times, that is a supporting role.

A key gift I give to people I am with is putting them in the spotlight, engaging them in a way that values and respects what they are sharing with me.   This focus demands that they up their own game, that they consider what they are sharing, that they take their part seriously.

That’s not something I often get back from other people.   And if I don’t get it back regularly, asking for them to perform their part in ritual, passing the spotlight between us and respecting our roles is impossible.

We are all audience members, offering rapt attention, all supporting players, helping facilitate and enhance the moments of others, and all stars, with our own time to stand and share with respect and awe for what moves though us.

How do we learn, acknowledge and celebrate those roles unless we know how to be out of time and mark the special, sharing our place in ritual?

How do we become bigger and better unless we share a space for that possibility to happen?

Body Of Work

Looking at young people, so easy and sensual in their own skin, I sometimes try and remember what I was like when I was their age.

Nakedness came difficult to me; skyclad wasn’t something I would ever try.  I kept myself covered up; one old friend was surprised she had never seen my genitals, because she had seen almost all of the people she knew for so long.  Not mine, though.  No bathing suits for me.

I didn’t really have a body, at least not one that I wanted to use and celebrate.  Instead, I had a big plastic overcoat, a rubber shell that just never looked like me when I saw myself in the mirror.   My trans nature and my skin weren’t really connected.

My body wasn’t really connected to me, at least not in the way that people who show skin today seem to take pleasure though the flesh.   I don’t have any experience of being physically intimate in a satisfying way, of being successful at all sexually.    I wasn’t vital and exuberant in a way that most find simple, basic, creatural and human.   No “Art Mann Presents” moments for me.

“I never went to an orgy,” I joked, “because I was afraid I wouldn’t know the right thing to say.”   My sensual relationship has always been inside, with my imagination, and never really with another person, skin to skin.

There is one body, though, that I have valued and treasured through my lifetime.  My body of work.

I don’t know many people who regularly refer and link to work they wrote 25 years ago, or even keep a connection with work they did in their teens.  I do that all everyday.

For me, though, that line which links my thinking then, my expository prose, and where I am now is vital.  I cling to it, a lifeline that connects me with the only thing I have ever been sure in, my thoughts.

This consistency is powerful, allowing me to build a body of work which is integrated, deep with connections.   The work becomes pure as the ideas go through the fire again and again, each new experience or input analyzed and tested so I can reshape the whole to more finely represent the world I live in.

It is a lifework of a model, all my sweat, thought and essence poured into it, a finely calibrated tool which lets me swiftly scan any situation and understand it.

I once saw the contents of a Sioux medicine man’s bag, collected by Lewis and Clark, spread out in a glass case at the Harvard Peabody Museum of Ethnography.   Long since taken off display out of a delayed cultural respect, the pieces called to me, powerful tools collected by a powerful shaman.

My own tool bag is in my work.   It is as arcane and mysterious as those powders, rattles, skulls and other paraphernalia were to me, their effectiveness not being in their presence but rather in the knowledge of their use and the magic they hold.

For most, the writing is a huge pile of words, out of which people can sometimes find a shiny bit that calls to them, is useful in helping understand their situation.

For me, though, the writing is a body of work created through determined and dedicated process, intricate and fine.   It isn’t addressed to an audience, though I do share by publishing it, rather it is the manifest vision of the knowledge, understanding and tools that I have shaped inside of me.

My body of work is about the my creation of self, about my attempt to find a way to rescue myself from a place where they wanted to trap me in one world or another.   My work is about transformation, the motion of a shaman, rarely enough to fit on a commercial makeover scale, but always with the power to change vision.

I take pleasure in my transformations.
I look quiet and consistent,
but few know how many women there are in me.
— Anaïs Nin

The only way to know the women inside is to engage her body of work, the places where she revealed her magic.

I am immensely proud of my life’s work, of the way it allows me to be present in the moment, shifting frequencies to heal and enlighten.  I know why people perceive people like me, those who have gone through the fire, as healers, carrying freedom and insight.

Holding onto that work, though, being held responsible for its preservation and continuation is an enormous block to me.   If I am always present as shaman, when am I present as human, living in my skin rather than in my knowledge?

Part of the aging process, of course, is that from the moment you are born your flesh starts to die and your story starts to grow, until the moment your body leaves and only story is left.

Everyone becomes less enfleshed as they age, trading their sensuality for knowledge.  I just started that process very early, skipping the whole embodied bit, a loss that one can never really get past.

The bulk of body of my work becomes a not an invitation to human connection, but rather a barrier to it.   I have spent my lifetime educating clinical professionals about trans, starting from my teens when I asked help from a youth pastor, and the idea of going to anyone and trying to unpack the body of experience and knowledge that I carry seems more than is possible.

Their instinct will be to take me back to basics, basics that they get, and basics that feel like they dismiss ans invalidate my so, so, so hard won understanding.

My body of work is amazing and powerful, but it is just me dried.  Carrying it all inside of me lets me make connections in the moment, pulling tricks from the bag to shift perceptions, but doing that in a way which can’t simply be made fodder for the media machine.  I may have the magic, but that magic is challenging in the divine surprises it throws out, impossible to quantify or make nice.

Letting go of my body of work feels impossible, for it is my life’s work.  Holding onto it, though, feels like too much, too.

Somewhere under all the wisdom I have gained is there a cute person wanting what she missed in her twenties?   Oh, yes.   But that time was long ago, and it was well and truly missed, crushed by so many factors.  She became a survivor, not a thriver, and so, left me with an enormous and brilliant body of work, not creamy memories that can spark a current affair.

As you get older, you are always all the genders you have ever been, to paraphrase Madeline L’Engle, but the ones you missed out on, well, they are gone forever.

I love my body of work.   I am proud to be its creator and its curator.

I hate the fact that I ended up having a body of work and not really an enfleshed life.  So many moments spent recovering from abuse and trauma rather than just experiencing connection.

That body of work, well, like so many have said, it should be respected, valued, honored, embraced by a world that needs understanding.

Should, though, is a wasted notion.   Shoulda, woulda, coulda; all dead ends, at least in my experience.  The way that things happened is the way that they had to happen, even if the result could have changed “if only” this or that had been different; but, of course, it wasn’t different.

Somewhere, in an alternate universe, there is a me who is pretty & loved and who writes lovely stories which amuse and warm hearts.   She, though, doesn’t have to carry my body of work like a giant pearl, because she never had to go through the drastic irritation that forced me to create that body of work to keep myself safe and smart.

But I do miss her, I do.


(Just realized that the first post on this blog a decade ago this week was about being valued for what I do rather than who I am.  People saw me as a human doing rather than a human being, so obviously, what I ended up with is a body of work.)

Finally True

Being transgender is hard. AND it was the best decision I ever made.

All of this talk about the difficulties of being transgender can begin to sound a little bleak. It is important to note, in that studies cited, every individual expressed that they did not regret transitioning and felt like they were finally living as their true self. They also expressed that all of the hardship was worth the payoff and that the best times in their life were being honest about who they were through their gender transition.
-- Rena McDaniel, How to Cope with Transgender Stress

Finally living as their true self was worth all the hardship.

It’s a powerful position to take, justifying whatever stress, discomfort, aggravation and challenge that being visible as trans in the world costs.

I’m just not at all sure that what I lived without being visibly trans was untrue.

And I am sure that efforts to pass as having gone through puberty as a female are untrue, however much I know my heart to be feminine and my nature to be womanly.

I know myself to have been trans every day of my life and twice on Thursday.  And since the mid 1980s, I know that I have been out about that fact,  My family knew since I was small, of course, but I have been officially out for at least twenty years, even if I haven’t tried to appear female bodied all the time, instead often opting for a gender neutral presentation.

Does expressing my fashion preferences make me more real than looking bland and neutral?  I’m not at all sure that it does.  Just wearing some truth on your sleeve doesn’t make it more real than a truth held clearly in the mind, honestly driving your choices.

I have had the experience of a therapist renowned for dealing with transpeople noting that to me, she saw flashes of my feminine heart more clearly when I was in my boy clothes.

While she was afraid I would take this information badly, a sign that my compartmentalization was failing, I understood it to be a success of my goal of integration.  I needed much fewer defenses in boy clothes and was able to remove that stick in my butt and relax as who I am inside.

The ‘real, true me” has always been part of who I am and what I express.  From when I was 13, I told therapists that my goal was not to be man or woman but rather to be authentically me.

This is a good, actualized spiritual goal, but the it removes the justification that so many transwomen use for appearing femaled, the claim that somehow, this expression and only this expression is the finally true expression of who I am, my true self.

I have always said that my trans expression is my vestments, my work clothes, symbolizing of my spiritual truth.   I just don’t think you have to wear your robes to vacuum or run to Walmart.

I live as my true self.  I just know that true self is always partly invisible somehow, whichever way I present.  I show myself as effectively and honestly as I can everyday on this blog, and while that expression is the best part of my life, it is ultimately not fulfilling.

The bleakness that Ms. McDaniel talks about in her blog post is also very familiar to me.  The payoff she speaks of when “finally being your true self” is also familiar, but the payoff doesn’t really carry through to walking in a heterosexist world as a visible transperson.

I wrote about the responsibility that comes with being queer in the world 18 years ago, in 1997.  That was after years of trying to understand what truth actually is, working on how to juxtapose the real truth I knew in my heart with the biological truth written on my body.  Both had claims to truth and both were to some degree subjective, erasing bits to make classification simpler and more authoritative.

Does “finally living as your true self” make everything a transperson has gone through and will go through alright?

I’ve been living as my true self for a long, long time now and I know it just isn’t that simple.

Dead Dreams

I have a dream problem, at least from what TBB can see.

She knows how important her dreams are to her.  Planes and cars, travel and caring, these are the things that keep her inner spark alive as she toils as the leader of a ship’s engineering department, usually stuck in a floating tin-can with her co-workers doing important but un-glamourous work.

A TED Talk by Bel Pesce on “Five Ways To Kill Your Dreams” caught her as going to the heart of my dream challenges.

It is an earnest six minutes, packed with good, common-sense advice on how to keep your dreams alive by not weighing them down with frustration, despair and resignation.  For many people, the lessons are good reminders to how to keep working to keep dreams coming.

Ms. Pesce’s talk does what it says on the tin, encouraging people to value and nurture their dreams.

What it doesn’t do, though, is discuss the challenge of what you do if your dreams are already moribund, embalmed, desiccated and dead.

Once your dreams are dead, how can you get new ones or make the old ones live again?

TBB is right.  I have a dream problem.  No visions of possibilities dance in my head, no flickers of delight dance on my horizon.  I have no dreams to animate me, to tickle me forward, to offer me something to chase and animate my life.  As I asked of my sister, how does one hold onto hope if their dreams are dried up?

There are many reasons that my dreams are dead, all laid out in text in vivid true detail.   They have been squeezed flat between emotionally detached parents, the challenges of trans expression, the pursuit of knowledge over the pursuit of vitality, by age and so on.

Don’t part with your illusions.
When they are gone you may still exist
but you have ceased to live.
— Mark Twain

We don’t mourn for what we had and lost.
We mourn for losing what we dreamed of having
even if that was just one more day with a loved one.
Mourning is always for the loss of our dreams,
and not for the loss of our realities.
— Callan Williams, 1998

You only really love someone
when you love their dreams,
love the possibilities inherent in them.
— Callan Williams, 1997

Purging desire — squashing dreams — is a key part of the practice for many spiritual paths.  Aesthetic denial, focusing on service rather than pursuit of dreams becomes the goal, allowing a certain clarity that cannot come when needs swamp the ego.

The kind of knowledge this path brings, the same path that leads to vows of poverty,  chastity and obedience in the Roman Catholic tradition, is rather bloodless though, with the zest of human vitality replaced with conscientious discipline.

I understand why TBB wants me to find a path to avoid killing my dreams.  Finding a path that can create new dreams, incubating them in the cold, far away from childhood exuberance, though, well, that is a much more challenging task.

It’s not that I don’t have dreams, it’s the fact that I don’t see my dreams as possible for me.  Part of that is because of the limited time, resources, exuberance and health that I have left, but another part of that is based in the lessons I have learned about what is possible for someone like me in this world.

I know, for example, that however much I dream of being a 21 year old female that isn’t ever going to happen for me in this lifetime.   I need to have the serenity to accept that water under the bridge is gone and there is no going back to it.   Only going forward is possible.

By the time one gets to my age, one is pretty well cooked, possibilities having already been firmed up into realities.

It is probably true that there are more possibilities out there than I can allow myself to imagine, but a lifetime of self-policing leaves one over constrained, defensive and penurious.  I am cold and dry, risk averse and dried to a husk.

TBB is right.  Letting your dreams die has costs.  There are good reasons why you shouldn’t do it.   Dreams keep us vibrant, keep us engaged in the journey, stop us from getting stale and frustrated, keep us from wasting away.

Keeping too many dreams alive, though, not focusing while thinking that dreams are all that matters is also a problem, as Ms. Pesce notes.   We do have to find a balance between dreams and pragmatism, between desire and reality, between wild and tame.

It would be fun to have dreams I can believe in, dreams that animate my desires and give me hope for a good, satisfying, better and even joyous future.  Not having those dreams is a problem for me and my engagement with a challenging, costly world.

And I thank Sabrina for understanding that challenge.

Continue reading Dead Dreams

Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows

I love optimists.

Even in the face of knowledge and experience, they have the capacity to believe that things will work out, that there is another bright experience just around the corner.

The world is transformed by optimists who have the persistence to keep trying.

“I love it every time someone tells me no!” an eager salesman said to me. “It means that the ratio is working and that I am one step closer to hearing yes!  It’s great!”

I have a bit of trouble being an optimist myself, though.  Maybe it’s my experience or my nature, but somehow, I am not as hopeful about the next moment for me.

Supporting optimists is easy for me, though.  I come from a positive and encouraging place when I hear the dreams of others. I say “Yes!” to them, doing what I can to give them the courage to take a shot.

Finding people who are able to say “Yes!” to me consistently, though, has been difficult.  I found a performance coach who leads an improv troupe where “Yes! And…” has always been the ethos, but when faced with me, hard questions were what he pulled up to coach me.   He decided he needed to challenge my visions, not to support them.  He, well, found them a bit queer, you see.

I listen to the Marvin Hamlisch tune linked above and I delight in the exuberance of it.  What a wonderful moment when you can believe that all you need to do is to find your true love and your life will forever be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.  How delightful!

(I will note that the original lyrics as sung by Leslie Gore do say “when you’re in love to stay” whereas the Bonos seem to sing “in love today.”   They appear to be a bit less optimistic and a bit more pragmatic in the 1980s than in the 1960s.)

Taking delight in every moment — let us eat and drink for tomorrow we may die — is certainly a way to squeeze joy out of life.  It may, not, however, be a way to gain knowledge and righteousness in the world.

I love optimists.  I admire their focus and dedication of purpose, their dedication to their beliefs.  I understand and encourage their role in the world, trusting in light and keeping things moving forward, even after serious stumbles.   They have the focus to not let their past experiences limit their future, starting over again with gusto (1998).

Sometimes, though, I just wish optimists would love me for who I am and what I bring to the table.  Sure, I am an introverted queer intellectual theologian, but damn, that’s got to be worth something, right?  Because if it is who I am and yet it isn’t worth a tinker’s dam, well, then what do I have to be optimistic and hopeful about?

I understand why optimists have challenges supporting people like me.  Zig Ziglar says that a kind of intelligent ignorance is required for optimism, a willingness to not get bogged down in the reasons why the attempt might not work so you can focus instead on what you need to do to make it work.  Too much pragmatism can chill any dream, even the ones that bold action and commitment can make work.

I love optimists.  Hurrah for them!

(By the way, if you forward the clip above to 9:25 you will see a cute blonde Chastity Bono, the same “dateless” Chaz Bono who, according to cheap gossip, Cher just wants to see married to a nice girl before she dies of a mysterious ailment. Life is funny, don’cha know, but somehow God seems to be playing to an audience too scared to laugh. . .)


Team Effort

Life is a team effort.

Humans have never been solitary creatures.  We need to build communities — families, villages, tribes and so on — to take care of each other, collecting our skills and efforts for the greater good.   We come together to create a world we can live in.

The most important thing I taught my Aspergers parents in their last years was teamwork.   They were both dedicated individualists, especially my mother who had little experience in the world of work, but as things got more challenging for them we had work together to get what was needed done.

The most obvious task came when she fell down or fell out of bed.  She wanted to get herself to her feet, but that required help.   We got a tarp — the small one on sale that she wanted, not the big smooth one I thought would be easier to use — and got her butt on it, which I then hauled to the stairs.  With me spotting her, she would then go down the stairs until she was vertical.

I pushed her in a wheelchair, helped her with showers and did lots more for her.  My sister understood how we had learned to work forever when she pitched in, usually when I was in the hospital with my father.   My mother would instruct her in what to do and she knew that these techniques had been worked out by me.

The fact that our mother saw these procedures with ownership, saw them as hers, was a mark of how she changed from the early days when she would just point and wail, expecting others to fix what upset her without instruction or support.  She did not want to have to lead, instead delighting in the self-pity that came from our failure to tend to her as she desired, another failure to savour.

By the end, we were very much teammates my father paraplegic because someone didn’t supervise his use of the scooter properly, my mother broken hearted and with lung cancer.

One key I try and explain to other caregivers is to become part of the care team.   The medical profession runs on team work, with people having different roles that all mesh to provide better outcomes.   Your role as both close support for your loved one and as an advocate for their needs and concerns can make the whole team better in doing what needs to be done.

For people who aren’t used to being members of a team, though, this can be a very difficult challenge.   Every team collaboration depends on a kind of respect that holds people together through both the cooperation and conflict which adds up to collaboration.   Each team member brings their own strengths and weaknesses, each team member has to both learn and teach, each team member has to sign up for working together.

Teams need a range of views and talents.   The more homogeneous a team is the less it is able to have the creativity and resilience to face new challenges.   Monoculture is easy up until the point where something different happens and the old system breaks down.

Transpeople, the two-spirit shamans who crossed worlds, always had their part to play in human communities.  For example, hidden in the records of even modern communities, like the huge draft American army of WWII, you find queer people playing their unique part.

For small teams today, though, the benefit of diversity is often missed.  People like to be with people they sense are like them, avoiding the conflict (and benefits) that come with diverse viewpoints.

I miss being on a team.  I liked working with other people to achieve shared values and goals.

But what I miss most of all is having a team that supports my own unique, queer expression.    Most teams demand that I play along, putting my own values on hold for the good of the whole.   That’s not empowering for me.

Many drag queens are very clear that their expression is a team effort, from music producer to bookers to designers and stylists.   They come together to support a vision, one that is both artistic and commercial enough to create enough energy for all to share.

Of course, drag performances come in gay bars where people have always come together to connect, one-on-one or in teams.   Queens speak for communities, keeping up cultural values and offering the power of queerness into the room (1996).

Transpeople, though, are on a much more individual path.  The hardest thing about trans has always been doing it alone (2002), without the support of a team.   We bring the queer.

Every organization from six to 60000 people
needs a Brahma, a Vishnu, and a Shiva
– a creator, a preserver, and a destroyer.
And you need those tensions simultaneously….
The problem with the average-size corporation
is that eventually the preservers take over and stagnation sets in.
You need to protect the Shivas, the destroyers.
—Tom Peters

I was proud to take on the very, very difficult job of teaching teamwork to my parents.  I like teams, know how to be effective on them.

Not being able to find a team that is looking for someone like me as a member, though, is a real pain.  It leaves me alone and struggling.

We humans, well, we just weren’t meant to be alone.

System Desire

Who are you and what do you want?

Can those two questions ever really be separated?  Aren’t we, as humans, defined by our Eros, our desire?

Transgender is an expression of desire.   We desire what is considered inappropriate for people who have the reproductive biology that we were born with.

We desire what those of the “other” gender, the one not associated with our genital configuration, desire, desire to make the choices of and to be seen as a gender other than the one assigned to us by dint of our birth and puberty.

Transpeople see the social expectations of gender as so wrong and constraining for them that we cross gendered conventions, claiming gender based on our mind and heart, not based on our sex organs and how those bits got us treated and acculturated growing up.

The notion that our bodies don’t define who we are, rather the deeper knowledge of self which informs our choices defines us is both very challenging to a system which separates humans into a simple binary by body parts and very liberating from the cultural pressure which layers constructed gendered expectations onto everyone’s body.

The challenge of transgender (1999), then, is to find a way to express that wild inner truth while also tamely respecting the social conventions which bind communities together.  How can we both be boldly individual, beyond oppressive limits, and graciously appropriate, playing our part in the cultural expectations of our family, our village and our tribe?

Who are you and what do you want?

Everyone has desires that are contradictory and at cross purposes.  We want to be seen as unique and special while also being seen as one of the gang, accepted as part of the community at the same time, for example.  We want to be liberated and also to be connected, want to be loved and also to be independent, want to be respected and also to be liked, and so on.

To balance these desires, choices must be made.  We have to set priorities, have to make trade-offs, have to create balances, have to make compromises and figure out solutions that work over time.  We can have it all, but we can’t have it all at once.

For transpeople, we have to make choices and speak truths that the binary system has purged, has marked as sick and impure.  We have to communicate and embody that which has been marked as anti-social (1998).

So much of the trans experience becomes about denial, about finding ways to renounce our desire, the desire we learned so early was so shameful it had to be hidden and isolated in the closet.  Finding ways to claim what is filthy and perverted is a challenge.

We found lots of strategies to rationalize our trans desire, from compartmentalization (crossdressing) to medicalization (birth defect) to performance (drag) to erotic (fetish) and so on.  We needed to find ways to show our desire as something that could fit into the context of a rigidly bi-polar and heterosexist gender model.

Who are you and what do you want?

My personal understanding comes through a very psycho-spiritual model.   My trans desire comes from a calling, from a service, from an integrative and disciplined approach.

I chose to be trans-natural, not changing my body to fit binary notions of sex/gender linkages.

I chose to deny the ego and renounce desire to come to a more intellectual understanding of the forces at play.

I chose to be of service to my very challenging family, a spinster child executing their social duty.

Now, though, I have to choose again.  And I have to choose again in a world where desire and ego are known to be the drivers of life, revealing vitality that makes human connections.   People often feel free acting out from their emotions and unconsidered places, which can feel very dangerous to me as I challenge their testy boundaries.

After years of a disciplined and integrative approach based around denial, one that is sharp as a tack but is also dry and lifeless, I need to claim my desire again.

In dissociative identity disorder, the patient is often encouraged to think of themselves as a “system,” the various separated pieces of their psyche each holding an important part of themselves.  By choosing which alter to lead them in any moment, they can find approaches to life that make the best of their possibilities.

My approach has been the opposite of dissociative, working to be integrated and holding together the bits with discipline.  I have always rejected the notion that somehow, I am multiple, compartmentalized, a group of disconnected parts.

Leading with conscious denial, though, the path of a guru, may be a spiritually sound approach but it has limits.  Disconnecting from the ego is also disconnecting from our own human beauty (2006).   While the approach may provide balance to those who have found it easy to get lost in the ego, for transpeople who had to disconnect from our desire very early, it is just more blockage.

Society demanded that we disconnected from the knowledge inside us from a very young age.  We don’t need more disconnection to come into balance, more techniques to temper emotion and desire, we need more connection.

Who are you and what do you want?

I want to be affirmed and supported in claiming my desire in the world.

I want to be seen, respected, understood and valued for the unique gifts I bring to the group.

I want to be able to act from my heart and be embraced rather than being forced to act from my head to negotiate the fears and unhealed places of others.

I want to not have to do all the damn, bloody trans work alone as I have had to do for so many challenging decades.

My knowledge of a conscious, considered approach to trans hasn’t really changed in twenty years.  My ability to execute on that approach in this challenging world without being caught up in a bubble of defense, denial and erasure, well, that still sucks.

How does my system lead with the personae who speak my heart and my desire rather than with the personae who represent my mind and my aesthetic denial?

The simple injunction to “Just Be Callan!” doesn’t take into account all of who I have had to be in my life, the depth, breath and size of the system that I am.  Still, the ability to lead with desire rather than denial seems to be the only way out of my enforced hermetic existence.

Who are you and what do you want?

Or, for me, who are you and what do you feel you can pull off in the world that might lead you forward and not into more denial, separation and erasure?

How does my system go back to owning desire?

Actualization Overload

Very early, I came to the realization that with my bones, I could never pass for having gone through puberty as a female.  I was living with a born female woman who is 6′ 3″ and has size 13 feet when I first came out as trans, understanding how different her female-bodied experience was from mine.

If I couldn’t muster enough magical thinking to believe in invisibility, and being raised by two Aspergers parents, magical thinking was always in short supply, I had to find another understanding of my transgender nature.

I started with a Jungian perspective, working to integrate the masculine and feminine persona, looking to be comfortable in my androgyny.  I didn’t take a femme name, never tried hard to female my body, even temporarily and searched for actualization rather than the compartmentalization that drove the majority of trans narratives at that time.

The more I explored, though, the more I understood my own nature was essentially feminine rather than masculine.  I had never been cocky enough to be a good man, never taken to that kind of gendering, even if I tried.   Engaging lesbians, my choices growing up finally made sense.

If I couldn’t be either/or, even switching between, then I had to be myself, crossing between.   Even in 8th grade when the therapist was using her crude tests to identify my gender identity, I saw the trick and refused to answer, insisting that I just wanted to be myself.

Calling was the answer I found, looking to the role that gynemimetic shamans have always played in culture, reminding us of our continuous common humanity.

Healing was the plan, understanding myself and the world.  I took my hermetic journey inside, working to develop a conceptual map of the world.   Spending ten years taking care of my parents was part of this process, demanding that I drop my own ego, move past my own desires and search for something more fundamental.

I lived outside of gender, not in romantic relationships, not exhibiting displays of gendered expression, just doing the job.

After this, I was given two and a half years of poverty as problems and missteps caused problems in resolving their estate.  I started by reaching out and searching for encouragement and affirmation, but found very little. As my resources, both internal and financial dwindled, I learned to hold back, using the stoic discipline I learned to reduce my expectations.

Now, somehow, I am supposed to blossom again, taking form in the world.  When I enter the world, though, my years of seeking give me a very clear vision of where others struggle, and my bedrock approach, full of hard questions, makes them less than comfortable.

I live with the effects of too much therapy, a kind of analysis paralysis that limits hope.  My potential partner pool (PPP) is very small because few people have done  the work to be where I am in understanding.  I am able to enter other people’s worlds easily but they struggle with mine and quickly give up even the attempt.

Much of this is rooted in the understanding of trans in the world.   Transpeople find a lonely path, moving beyond the separations that comfort so many and demanding partners who engage the whole person, not just their gendered expectations.  We can play roles for a bit, but over any time, relationships are very hard.

Some comes from being trained in an Aspergers household.   I begged to get help for my parents when I was a kid, but the understanding of why they struggled was not there.  Even now, very few people, even in the networks around autism, have any understanding of the effects of parents who can’t be emotionally there for their children.

My thoughtful approach has also been a challenge.  Most people don’t lead with their head and if they do, they have probably not done the work to open up the pathways to their heart that engaging my trans nature required I do.  I know myself to be a femme lesbian, my brain engaged with my emotions, not compartmentalized off from it.

How do I take who I am, all of who I am, and package it up in a way that can build me effective relationships in society?

The obvious solution is compartmentalization, putting the messy bits behind a wall and doing the kind of work which other people like.   By using a concierge approach, professionalism, I can gain some kind of business success, satisfying the needs of others.

My deep needs, the needs for emotional mirroring that Bessel Van Der Kolk talks about in “The Body Keeps The Score,”  the need to get past the scarcity of emotional understanding and support that comes from a lifetime of scarcity capturing my mind, the need to be supported as a whole person, not just a fractional person playing out a part, well, those are much harder to address.

Unless I find a way to have those emotional needs met I will always be an empty shell, depending on willpower alone to be effective in the world.   I am at the limit of that possibility, the very limit.

To be too needy is to be crippled because your needs get in the way of just doing what has to get done to be effective in a social, bureaucratic, market based human world.   People aren’t there to meet our emotional needs and even if they were, the needs I have, from decades of my experience of being trans, living with Aspergers and leading with my head are beyond their understanding.

Decades of clearing my vision though sharp written analysis allows me to see patterns emerge quickly.   I know that people heal in their own time and their own way, even me, and that trying to demand that they do what they are not yet ready or able to do is not a useful approach.

People can’t change just to make my life easier.  In fact, they probably can’t even acknowledge how they have made my life harder in the past because they are sure that they just did the best that they could, that change is not just too costly and too difficult, it is impossible to even imagine.   Why should they, why would they change?

Very early it was clear to me that the solution of fitting neatly into a box of expectations wasn’t open to me.  I had to take the path of enlightenment, facing the terrors and burning away what clouded my vision.  I had to own my own gifts.

Returning with the gift to a society that deliberately put it beyond reach, though, is very costly.  I know how to battle my inner demons, but facing down the demons of the world around me has left me depleted, lonely, lost and without hope for the kind of change which can get me the understanding, affirmation and love that I need.

My challenge is not to increase my coping skills, my contextual understanding of myself and the world.  My challenge is not to try to go back to some time before I was traumatized and claim those feelings and possibilities for myself.

Every day, I do the work of going inside and understanding, looking at signposts and narratives in the world, listening close and putting them in context.  I am not clinically depressed, though I am very much suppressed, husbanding the very limited resources I have left and attenuating myself to fit into the world around me.

I will never be twenty again, never have a body that isn’t decrepit, never have the kind of innocent exuberance that offers hope and quick resilience from challenge.  I will never find an easy peer group with whom to share jokes and understandings.  Limiting my play partners limits my joy partners, people who hear my song and get my jokes and who are able to give them back to me when I have lost my way.

Over the decades a number of therapists have heard my story, seen the pain in my eyes and told me that they can’t imagine how they can help.  I am doing the work that they know how to assist with.   My challenges are real and deep rooted, not just some kind of adaptation issue that new skills can easily overcome.

I reach out to find mirroring and I get back fractured understandings, limited by the range that others can see.   They often want me to compartmentalize, to put away the challenging bits, to be who others want me to be.   I can do that, of course, have done that for decades, but I also know that it leaves me hollow and broken.

Too much actualization, it seems, puts us too far from the conventions and routines expected in everyday life.  It marginalizes and isolates us, taking us away from the kind of small chit-chat and shared assumptions that lubricate routine social life.   We become something different, useful when insight is needed and to be ignored and dismissed when “real life” just has to be gotten on with.

I know the kind of emotional toll that is written on my body.  I have used my smarts to keep going even as the cost increased.

Eventually, though, the price becomes too high.  The needs overwhelm any chance of getting them addressed.  You become too isolated in your own understanding, too resistant to playing along with other people’s games.

And that kind of actualization overload is where I live.

Beyond Science

All we need is more scientific evidence that transgender is a real condition and not some kind of warped choice and we can make a lot of progress with civil rights laws, says one trans commentator.

Having lived through a time when the holy grail was a perfect “differential diagnosis” which separated the real transpeople from the pretenders — the crossdressers, the transgenders, the drags, the genderqueer, whatever — I have to admit to believing the quest for a clean line in the brain that marks trans scares me a little bit.

I long ago realized that the search for “scientific evidence” to prove that trans is “real” was a dead end, for two big reasons.

The first reason is that our understanding of the brain is so limited that kind of understanding won’t come anytime soon.

There has been an enormous groundswell in support for lesbian and gay people, but can you think of any major “scientific evidence” that explains how we can tell they are born that way which has come up in the last twenty years?  I can’t.

There have been sociological studies about their behaviours, sure, but those are soft social sciences which only reveal cultural patterns, not scientific origin.

The second reason is much more important.   Science doesn’t convince people.  Many of those who make claims about the fundamental truth of binary gender, that birth genital status is absolutely determinant to the true gender of a person don’t believe in the scientific truth of evolution, preferring instead to believe a biblical form of creationism.

There is no trained scientist who doesn’t believe in the basic truths around evolution, looking at the amount of time it took to create species and even in links between steps and blind ends in the process.

Still, that science it doesn’t convince all the population.  They resist examining the evidence for their own reasons, preferring their own beliefs about a creator and “intelligent design” to the evolution they find challenging.   They just don’t want to hear the details that might challenge their comforting understanding.

I spent the 1990s trying to make rational and logical arguments about gender in society.   I engaged in lots of discussions that presumed to find a kind of scientific truth behind gender identity.

While I value my time doing that because it allowed me to clarify my own thinking and terminology, creating a consistent and defensible approach, soon after 2000 I decided I had hit a dead end.

In the end, it will never be logic, scientific or legal, that changes the way transpeople are accepted in society.  It will be emotional understanding and compassion.

This is the big breakthrough with lesbian and gay rights, the fact that we know people who have that sexual identity and understand that doesn’t make them less than human, doesn’t make them filth, doesn’t make them fakers.

By accepting them for who they are, we have allowed new gender roles to emerge, roles of men who love men and women who love women.   They have a space in society.

Sadly, much of that space has come by renouncing queerness, by creating fixed gay gender roles that still affirm binaries of both gender and desire.  They identify as one or the other, inside the box.

For trans and bisexual people, we challenge those binaries, of gender and of desire.   We demonstrate that the separations, the walls people think are protective and comforting aren’t really as solid as most would like to believe.

One big problem with science is that the preconceptions you bring to it colour your results.

One study looking at tactile sensitivity, for example, appeared to show that women could feel finer ridges than men.  The authors could have stopped at that statistical finding, appearing to validate gender binaries again, but they didn’t hold that so they looked closer.

What they found was that tactile sensitivity is related to hand size.   We all have the same amount of nerves, so when they are packed closer together in a smaller hand, the sensitivity is increased.

In general, females have smaller hands than males, but that is a crude generalization.  They looked deeper and found that separation by sex was also wrong, but in earlier days,  many researchers would have stopped at the simple results that met their own preconceptions of sexual difference, missing the deeper truth.

How do we change the preconceptions about sex differences that can keep researchers myopic?  By changing the social understanding.

Back in the early 1990s, I heard anthropologist Anne Bolin say

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

I knew that instant that I had just heard my mission statement.  This surfacing of connections and commonalities beyond social expectations of separation is what transpeople have always brought to human cultures, where we have existed for all time and been valued in many.

My work in the last decade has been much more personal and emotional.   I write about the human experience of being trans in the world.

People who take the time and effort to engage my writing find resonance with their own experiences, no matter how normative they see themselves.  As I speak truths that they understand, they experience our continuous common humanity.

I do understand that my work is challenging for many reasons.   There is so damn much of it, it isn’t easily packaged and edited, it demands a lot of challenging thought to engage, and some of what I talk about just appears too damn emotional and messy to deal with.  It is far from perfect.

My work is, though, very human.

I love science and the scientific method, was trained in that kind of thought.  Logic, consistency, references and tested hypotheses run through all my writing.

I just believe that it isn’t our logic that will save us, no matter how much it well informs our choices.  It is our belief, our feeling, our vulnerability, the deep human truth that connects us all.

Trying to sway the world with data and conclusions has many limits.  Swaying the world with what touches the human nature we all share, though, seems much more effective.

That’s why I walked away from just logic and into experience, knowing that it is my vital humanity, not my mind that will save me.

And I believe it can save all of us, if we just open our minds and hearts to the connection.

If I Fight For You

If I fight for you, will you fight for me?

The Danish series “Rita,” by Christian Thorpe, is centered around a fierce teacher, and available on Netflix.

Rita is a fighter, ready say out loud what others just think, ready to engage anyone with a sprit of justice and commitment.

“She is easy to love when she is on your side,” her headmaster and lover notes, but when she is up against you, digging in her heels, well, she can be a real pain.

Because she will fight with them her kids know that she will fight for them with the ferocity of a mother who has very high expectations of you.   Those high expectations are always a gift and a curse, seeing the possibilities but demanding you do the work to reach for them.

In her uniform of jeans, heeled boots, flannel and leather, she fights like a lioness.  While you wouldn’t want only her for a role model, Thorpe makes it clear that everyone can feel empowered by following someone so intense and determined.

But Rita is very clearly a woman.   She is always ready to admit when she is wrong, to be convinced and change direction, always listening to what others say to her.  Her fights are not absolute, they are battles of pragmatism, striving to get the best outcome she can manage.

Her lioness sprit drives her sex life too, coupling like an animal to take the best of the men she finds affirming.  Relationships, though, well, they demand a lot of compromise, a great deal of playing nice, and that isn’t her strength.

Like any mother, Rita is nourished by the relationships around her.    When her kids move out, starting their own lives, she is a bit lost, looking for others to fight with and for.

Rita doesn’t fight like a man, with a clear goal of her choosing, single minded and refusing to compromise, trying to get to be the big boss on top of the heap, with others following.

Rita fights like a woman, always for the good of someone she sees who needs her help, working the process to create the best possible outcome.   She wants empowerment; the more smart and strong people in her network, the better the world they share will be.

This means that Rita has the heart of a woman, needing emotional support and nourishment even as she seems to be the strongest and fiercest person in the room.  She will always be a fighter, moving forward like a shark as her ex says, but she will always be tender, with an open mind and an open heart.

In the same way Rita needs to fight with and for those she loves, full of drive and compassion, Rita needs other people around her who need to fight with her.   Her love is so intense that her fighting is never to push people away from her but rather to draw people closer, bound in blood and caring.

I know how to fight for the people I love, how to fight with the people I love.  I changed the lives of my parents, giving them many more good days.

What I miss, though, is people who are willing to fight with me and who are willing to fight for me

Maybe the don’t see me as a woman or maybe my trans nature is just too baffling, or maybe it is just very hard to find smart, compassionate vulnerable fighters in the world.

Fighting for myself isn’t in my repertoire.  I fight for others.  But finding someone who will return that gift by fighting for me, well, that seems to be an ask too large.

I need to fight for someone who will fight for me.  Too much to ask?

On The Skin

People say 'Robbie? Is that your name?' and I say, "No, that's my son.  That's the date he was born and that's the date he died," and invariably they go 'Ack!' and then I'll say "And this is my daughter Rosie, and that is the date she was born and that is the date she died,' and then they will say 'Sorry! I wish never asked!" and at that point, I'll say 'No, it's fine because they're my kids and that, and I love talking about them and I always will.'

Mark and Ann lost two children to Infantile Batten’s Disease, one at age six and the other at age eight.  Instead of hiding that truth, Mark has their names written on his arms, along with other body art remembering them.

Somehow, I assume that even if their names weren’t spelled out in ink they would be written on Mark’s skin forever.

Our life experience always is written all over us, though most of us believe that the best and most appropriate thing is to hide our truths, just because they might make other people uncomfortable.

Mark understands that people don’t like talking about the death of children, seeing it as tragic and as something to be erased, made invisible, but he isn’t remembering their deaths, he is remembering their lives and how the experience of loving them affected him forever.

So much gets written on our skin and so much of it we try and hide so as not to make other people uncomfortable.  Making it invisible, though, doesn’t make it go away.

When parents use words to rip at a child, they are writing those words of anger onto skin.

What words would they use if they had to write them directly onto their child’s body with a permanent marker?   How would they change their approach if they saw those words scrawled across their child’s face for weeks?

It’s not uncommon in humiliation pornography to see a body marked by degrading words, usually written in lipstick.   Words that diminish and degrade are written directly onto the skin, reducing someone to a labelled object, removing their dignity and much of their humanity with it.   It is an unsettling sight, one that plays into our own sense of power and abuse, confirming powerlessness.

We have some choice what we carry on our own skin, but first we have to be willing to expose it.  We have to strip down and look at our own scars, the labels imposed on us so we can make a deliberate choice what to hold and what to scrub off.

Trying to conceal how we were branded so that other people don’t get uncomfortable, don’t think the worse of us, well, that doesn’t let us get down to it and own what has been written on our skin, deciding what we keep and what we mark as abuse.

Is it rude and offensive for Mark to shove the names of his dead children in our face?   Don’t other people who don’t want to think about how vulnerable their own children are entitled to the comfort of not having mortality made visible every time they see him?   Not everyone wants or needs to live with the spectre of death; some want to have a nice life!

The Victorians had a whole range of funereal jewelry, often with the hair of a deceased loved one in plain view.  Queen Victoria herself was in mourning for much of her reign, an awareness of the presence of death written on all state occasions.

This isn’t something we copy in a pop culture where shiny, shallow and fast have replaced textured, deep and enduring.    Maybe that’s why we think we can write crap onto other people’s skin and it will have no lasting effect, no long-term repercussions; by tomorrow, it will be invisible and a new layer can be created.

We just don’t have the iconography and consideration to convey much subtlety, which is why lots of people end up with random Chinese characters written on their body.

As a transwoman, though, I know that my history is written on my body.  That doesn’t mean that observers can see all of it, as most don’t have the knowledge to decode it, but it does mean that many can see enough to disquiet them.

Presidential candidates have called for isolating transpeople in sanitary facilities on the notion that people have a right not to be uncomfortable.

I’ve never seen that right in the constitution and wonder how it would apply more broadly.   Are those with malformed limbs or other body challenges to also be excluded?  How about people who have a memorial to their lost children inked onto their body in plain sight?

So many people write shit onto the bodies of others and then rationalize their actions by saying that they were just trying to help, trying to leave a mark that would help remind others of their own corruption, like the A brand that once marked adulterers.

Mark, though, isn’t ashamed of what he has written on his skin.   He shows it with pride and grace, marks of a time he could only get through by counting on love.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were all able to show what is on our skin with dignity, not feeling that they are something we need to hide just to keep others “comfortable?”

Maybe that would make people more aware of how they write on the skin of others without thought, just lashing out to hurt others or to express our own pain.  Maybe we wouldn’t end up tossing words that we would never use a Sharpie to write on someone else’s skin.

We all have skin in the challenge of building a good life.  Being able to show it, not just to hide it, seems important to me.

I very much recommend you watch the entire film about Robbie and Rosie.  It is a very well done reminder that death is not the enemy of love, but rather another powerful reason for it.

Acknowledgement, Not Apology

It’s not so much an apology that I want from those who have acted from their own shit and hurt me badly in the process.    I know, after all, that they were just doing the best that they could do at the time, struggling with their own limits and issues.

No, what I want from them is some acknowledgement that they understand that their action or lack of action required me to pay a price, and often a big price.

To acknowledge their own accountability, though, would mean that they have to be reflective and considerate, going back and seeing where they missed the mark.

Doing that kind of work would mean that they have to see how they haven’t changed the patterns that lead to their choices.

The patterns they hold are their survival techniques, the way that they have ended up being to tolerate what they have to tolerate in the world.

Change doesn’t feel like an option for them because they are just holding their head above water, just barely surviving the burdens of everyday life.  How can they even think about change when they are consumed with the challenges and stresses of this month, this week, today, this moment?

Without change, though, nothing will change.  Unless something gives, nothing is going to give.

The reason most people don’t put in the time and effort to hold themselves accountable is because they can’t imagine making any other choices, not then, not now and not in the future.  They just are who they are and do what they do, so the people they are in relationship with just have to take it or go.   Simple.

I’m trans.  I knew, from the depths of my being, that if I didn’t create change in my life I would be crushed by the wearing routines of daily life.  The conventions not only didn’t fit me, they were squeezing the life out of me.

I couldn’t create change in my life without evaluating where I missed the mark, where change was needed.   How was I making choices that didn’t consider and respect that which I claimed to value in the world?  How was I acting on priorities that were hypocritical, different from what I said I loved and I wanted?

One of the key challenges in any religion is becoming a better person by learning to make choices that are more aligned with our stated beliefs.    We gather together to reflect on our lives, assessing where we can do better than we have done in the past at embodying the spirit we follow.

It’s easy to get all tangled up in the needs and habits that it feels like society demands, easy to put doing the work of becoming more actualized, integrated and righteous on the back burner.   It’s easy to get caught up in the urgent and miss the important, easy to spend our energy fighting fires and trying to recover rather than making a world that is more balanced and fireproof.

The ego likes to maintain the status quo by repeating old patterns and hates to have to do the uncomfortable and challenging work of seeing where and how change is needed.   Change always requires saying no to something, requires letting go of something, requires engaging loss to claim the new, better and scary.

I know that people who can’t acknowledge how they have made choices that hurt me are people who can never change the patterns that slammed me over and over and over again.

I know that no matter how much work I do to get clear and make better choices, if the people around me keep doing the same shit, resisting growth and healing because they are consumed with their habits, my world will never really change.

I don’t need them to apologize to me.  I know that they did the best they could in the moment, no matter how much it hurt me.

I do need them to acknowledge the outcomes of the choices they made, because if they can’t do that, they will keep making the same choices and keep slamming me in the process.

This is hard for them to do, I know.  Change is always hard.   Our habits seem to be the only things that keep us moving forward, the only bits that might finally get us what we have always desired. For most, change is never a first response rather it is a last resort, engaged only when there seem to be no other possible alternatives.

People heal in their own time and in their own way, and that includes me.

Until we can stand up and acknowledge that we have a problem, that our choices are causing ourselves and others pain and struggle, though, we can’t even start to find new and healthier ways to be present in relationship with those we care about.

I don’t need apologies.  I do, however, need acknowledgement.  Without that the future is bleak, because I have no hope of change.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t do all the changing; others have to come along with me and there is no way they can do that until they acknowledge that change is necessary, until they commit to the work of engagement and growth.

I need hope for change, hope that there is a better world for me.  And I know that the first thing that has to happen is that we have to agree that the old patterns aren’t working, have to acknowledge that change is required.

But I also know that most people are just struggling to get through today, are consumed by what they feel mired in, and for them change seems like a luxury they cannot afford.

For we change eaters, though, the liminal ones, we know that life without change is just death without rebirth.

Rules For Trans

It was a long time ago that I went to the first session on the first morning of my first trans conference and asked a question.

“Men and women take power in different ways,” I said.  “How have you shifted the way you take power in the world as part of your gender shift?”

That question continues to challenge me 22 years later.

My footing in the world, the way people see me, is always shifting.  I can be a big woman one moment and a guy-in-a-dress the next, with no change in my demeanor.  Some people see me as smart & courageous, others see me as a a freaky threat.  They project their own expectations onto me, deciding that I am wrong or fake or a liar, deciding that I am really this or really that.

Am I one of the women or am I an intruder in female space?   Am I just a deluded guy or is my feminine heart and way it responds visible?

Where do I find my powerbase?

For some transwomen, we continue with the power we had before transition, choosing to stay on the same trajectory.

For others of is, we learn to surrender our voice to the group, becoming innocuous, just in the background. We become as abject and powerless as we are expected to be.

And some of us stay iconoclastic crackpots, bold enough to stand against the expected, sometimes finding a place we are valued and often not doing so.

I found my powerbase by being a caregiver.   I was the spinster daughter in trousers and polo shirt making sure the parents had one more good day.  That was enormously hard work, but at least it wasn’t valued as anything much, so no one wanted to take it away from me.

I need a new powerbase.  But I haven’t been able to find the guide that tells me what kind of stance I can take in the world which will both get me the understanding & affirmation that I need and the effectiveness & power which lets me be effective in community.

The first thing I knew about trans was that I needed to hide it.  I remember getting caught liking girls clothes when I was very young, remember getting slashed with words for my actions.

The models I found for being trans in the world were about hiding.

I first heard Virginia Prince on the radio just eight years after she founded the “Hose And Heels Club” where, after a businesslike dinner, the men would pull out a bag with their shoes and nylons and put them on before talking about their transvestism.   The assumption was that no LAPD officer would degrade himself that way just to bust them.

And it was only two years after Harry Benjamin published “The Transsexual Phenomenon” which clearly laid out the path of creating a new transitional life in a new town which could then be discarded so perfect womanhood could be ascended into.

The choice for transpeople was what to hide and when.  Lie or be called a liar (1997) as I understood it.

Today, we don’t have to lie.   But what we do have to do is not distress people with the facets of our life that they see as contradictory.   Most people can make sense of what they see in front of them, somehow, but what they can’t make sense of is someone who crosses a boundary they see as real, powerful and inviolate.

Asking people to understand our experience tends to just baffle, confuse and frustrate them.   They never had to do the work to understand and contextualize their own experience, rather, they just took their assigned path for granted in a way that transpeople never can.

Instead of lying, we just have to simplify.  We just have to be easy enough that they can project their normative assumptions, whatever those might be, onto us.  Once we can live with keeping big parts of us in shadow, we can start to act as one of the group, being present for them in a way that they cannot be present for us.

If we have to simplify ourselves for the comfort of others, what do we choose to make invisible?   Policing ourselves always also attenuates our power in the world, passing our instincts and smarts through a filter to remove what might just be objectionable or challenging.  If we have to conceal, why not just attempt to conceal our trans nature altogether?

Building power in the world by focusing on shared concerns is a reasonable plan.  After all, nobody brings their entire messy self into the business world.  Instead, we all become good corporate citizens, even if that limits the amount of unique innovation and skills we can bring to the shared table.

For me, though, that is challenging because the lessons of my life come directly from my very queer experience.   My approach to the world is far from conventional and it is that very unique view that makes it powerful and valuable, even if others have a hard time seeing it.

Only leaders who really value diversity, knowing that if an organization doesn’t challenge itself first it will not thrive in the world, are ready to do the work of becoming inclusive, committing to the bigger picture.   Most leaders like the idea of simplification, of dumbing down, of not feeling the heat of different visions.

Transpeople struggle with finding themselves, yes, but more than that we struggle with finding a place where we can be seen, understood and valued for the unique gifts they bring to the group.

How do we take power in a world where our standing is so slippery, where it feels like we have to conceal much of who we are and who we have been to be accepted as real and authentic by other people?

The old tricks were simple.  We just built compartments, sealing off part of ourselves in a tomb of our own making.

The new tricks are more difficult.   How do we include power shift as part of our gender shift, finding ways to be effective and valued for what we do in community?  How do we not get stuck in old patterns or shunted off to the side, marginalized and dismissed as kooks?

How do we not have to hide part of us even from ourselves, living behind armour walls, policing our every expression and trying to be free with than dammed stick shoved up our ass?

How do transpeople take their place as a valued member of the community, not sick or weird, but with a vision that moves beyond separation to connection?

How do I take my power in the world?

Higher Authority

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that of all the twenty people at the writing workshop last night, I was the only one with no one sitting on either side of me.

The workshop was lead with almost non-stop talking from the facilitator, who started by making a commitment to writing over talking.   A casual columnist on the local paper’s website, her tentpole is being authoritative.  For me, that’s not writerly at all; writing is in the questions, not in the answers.

Answers, though, were what she offered along with a tea bag stapled to her card — we might need to hire a consultant — and a shard of blue topaz to empower our heart charkha.  She even had the gaul to explain theology to us, what belief systems required (big things) and how we know if we are really believers (exposing ourself to big things.)

The challenge of writing was all about timed exercises where we “used a trick” to “push past the editor.”  Any notion of going deeper was played away, down to a woman who was scared putting her truth and rantings on paper in case someone saw them.

The most important part of writing was missed by someone who loved to talk and talk and talk, even during those timed exercises.

My sacrament is listening.  I am transfixed when I hear stories which expand my vision of our shared world by opening my mind and heart.  I love storytellers who open up their world, their experience, their thinking, their brilliance to me

You can’t be a writer without being a listener; creating language requires engaging it.

When we write, we create order in the noise around us.   Bits that only spiral in the air for most people become solid to us, visible on the page.

Creating order reveals disorder, twisted thinking, rationalizations, fears and corruption.   Creating order lies bare the mush around and inside of us, allowing us to see it, to sense it, to respond to it.

Listening closely to anything with the intention of pulling out truth, moving to better and more enlightened understanding helps us become aware of the patterns in the world, especially of the patterns inside ourselves.   Revelation comes when we see what lies beneath the noise.

I was really hoping the writing instructor had learned to listen, but instead, she just learned to have confidence in her talk.   As much as I saw the twists in her monologue, I mostly sat like a polite tranny, only piercing it after she quoted an old trope by Tolstoy (without mentioning him by name) “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”

When she failed to explain a question about how that was relevant to “Modern Family” I had to explain that the two sources of conflict, which is key to any story, is someone upsetting the status quo or someone entering a new environment.

I was stunned when of all the note she read, so many irrelevant, she didn’t highlight a quote in her materials:

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
— Carl Jung

Writing, like all art, is an attempt to make the darkness conscious.   The process of creation requires us to dig deep, to observe and listen closely, to strive for honesty, striving to find some deeper knowledge.

I didn’t start writing to become an authority.  I write because I need to understand a world that seemed to have no place, no support for me.   Having to walk through a barrier most people see as solid as gender and finding it to be soft, a flimsy human construction set on the base of mammalian reproductive biology demands a new level of understanding, far from the expected noise.

Something strange happened along the way, though.  By listening well, being humble and open to the stories people tell, the ones that encode and reveal their beliefs, I have gained a deeper understanding of the world we share.

Testing my own ideas by writing them down, examining them and comparing them to how others see this world that we share, I have created a pretty clear vision of the patterns moving beneath the noise.

While I don’t hold absolute truth — no human can ever do that, as truth lies in tension, not in absolutes — I do have a useful understanding of what is going on.

The process of making the darkness conscious has made me, and I really want to resist saying this out loud, quite authoritative.  I listen well, in a way that lets me surface patterns quickly.

Resisting the desire to be authoritative — to be an author — because I saw too many people who asserted imagined figures of light, remaining smug in their own beliefs by dismissing hard questions, I went instead into the darkness, listening closely.

Bizarrely, that process has made me, well, authoritative.  That doesn’t mean that I speak what others want to hear, what they expect to hear, the conventional wisdom.   What I bring to light is usually covered by noise in the world, sweet, comforting noise which lets people just spout whatever they want without accountability or challenge.

I resist authority.   One of my favourite buttons in high school was “Question Authority.” I know that it’s not my job to confront people; they will heal in their own time and their own way.

Still, I do have my own work to do in the world, a voice to share.  I always hope that people will find me fascinating enough to delve into, but I know that the odds are that they will just find me challenging enough to respect.

My work, it seems, is to be authoritative.  And the lesson I want people to understand is that they have the answers inside of them, if they just do the work to face their demons, that dragon with “Thou Shalt” on every scale, cutting through the noise, listening closely to the world and finding their connection to what we all share.

Writing isn’t a trick.   It’s a trip to a different world, a chance to face the strangers and see what stays real beyond the comfortable conventions that we were issued.   Writing leads you past easy fitting in group identities, opening your mind and heart and demanding you know yourself as an individual in the world.

Even if that means you end up sitting apart.