Cri Du Coeur

That low. deep earthy growl that transitions into a high, keening sound that cuts through the darkest and loneliest of nights is not the howl of banshees.

It is the hearts cry of transpeople who feel their isolation and loneliness come up from the depths of their soul.

Inside every transgender person is a lost and hurting child, a screaming adolescent and a mournful adult.    They are the pieces of us we locked away deep inside of us while trying, trying, trying to do what other people expected of us.

Every human has emotions deep inside that get tapped when they feel hurt, ignored or abused.   For transpeople, though, those emotions tap into a hidden and vast reservoir of shame and denial.

We learned that no matter how elegantly and intensely we try to communicate our experience of having our trans heart pounded down, almost nobody understands the experience of having to make your soul invisible or be made invisible because who you are just is anathema to the world.

It takes an enormous amount of will to emerge as a transperson in the world, to show your heart even though it counters all expectations and understanding of most people.    We work hard to create a version of us that will fit in, will find community, will be accepted, but even then, that version is always only part of us, only a hint of the beautiful, nuanced, liminal depth of who we are inside.

We all know how to be nice, appropriate and considerate.  We know how to modulate and play small, know how to negotiate other people’s fears and prejudices, know how to work on keeping people comfortable.

We also all know the price of that exercise, how much it costs us to always been the photogenic object, the one who has to do almost all the work in maintaining relationships.

We fight to stay connected with the people we love, fight to be present for them and give them what they need.

What we want, though, is for them to fight to stay connected with us, to be present for us and give us what we need.

That’s not an easy task.   To stand up for us is to stand against convention and assumption.  It means that you have to evaluate all your old beliefs and find a new way to engage relationships, seeing past comfortable walls of gender.

And it means that you have to consider all the pain inside of us, our long record of being abused into silence and denial, have to be able to be there for that cri du coeur, that mournful cry of our heart when our emotions are tapped.

It may not be seem fair or reasonable to have to be aware and considerate about the cost of a trans life when all you want to do is have someone be the kid, the parent, the sibling that you always knew, but love means understanding the price others paid just to be themselves in the world.

We wail not to try and get some kind of special attention, we wail because inside we have all those hurting selves that will just corrode us to death if we swallow them.

We wail because we have no safe space to surface and release the pain we feel everyday just trying to fit into a world that wants to stigmatize, erase and humiliate us.

We wail because we are just humans told that we are worthless and depraved unless we sanitize our truth for easy consumption of those who don’t want to go where we have had to tread.

We emerge as trans to honor our heart, but we do that at a very high cost.  Our heart has been battered into shrinkage before we do, and even after we are visible, people feel they have the right to slam their politics into our lives, devaluing and dehumanizing us because we don’t follow the binary rules that they were taught constrain “reality.”

You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.
— John Morley

As we stood around the body of my mother, still in her recliner, I told the pastor not to worry about me, for I had learned to sob silently.   She had never seen that before, but for me, it was a commonplace of my life, done so many times over so many decades that I knew it cold.

For all the reasons people needed to see me as unemotional — my male body, my Aspergers parents, the women who claimed all the rights to emotion around me, the very intensity of my feelings, and on and on — I had to learn how to sob silently in the world.

Those sobs, though, were the concealed cries of a broken heart, torn apart by walls of demands and conventions driven though it.  I had learned to silence the cries of my own heart to be in a place where I could give all the love I have inside.

I am far from the only transperson who has done this feat, standing up to do what was required but paying the price of a invalidated heart.   We may act with the love, but we don’t get the permissions, the acknowledgements, the understanding and the affirmations of our hearts that people take for granted.   No Mother’s Day or tenderness for transwomen who are easier to see as men, even men in dresses.

That cry, though, the keening of shattered trans hearts, well, it is out there everywhere if you just take a moment to listen for it.

Few people do try to listen.   Even transpeople cannot easily stand hearing the cry, for it resonates in a very uncomfortable way deep inside their heart.  They usually strike out to silence the cri du coeur before they break in harmony with it, a cracking that they know they cannot afford if they want to keep a comforting face for normies.

This is not a society comfortable with emotion, and certainly not comfortable with queer emotion that transcends the enforced boundaries of gender rules.

How do we make people hear the cry of our heart, make them understand how much we hurt and how much we do to love and be loved in the world?

Getting louder and clearer rarely works, instead only pushing people away from us even more, leaving us more lonely, more isolated, and more heartbroken.

But not being able to have our emotion mirrored, acknowledge and validated, not having people respond with empathy and kindness, well, that leaves us in a dark, dark place.

That low. deep earthy growl that transitions into a high, keening sound that cuts through the darkest and loneliest of nights is not the howl of banshees.

It is the hearts cry of transpeople who feel their isolation and loneliness come up from the depths of their soul.

And it is what you hear just as they reach their breaking point.

Enough Eccentric

Eccentric was my refuge.

I knew that I couldn’t get away with normative, so from as early as I can remember, I cultivated a front of eccentricity.

There is power in eccentric, the power of surprise.   The eccentric, you see, cannot be easily predicted.   They can do anything at any time, making unique choices, and everyone will just think, “Well, they are eccentric!”

Eccentric let me not have to get pinned down, not have to lie, not have to be this or that.   I was solid, as one friend said, but solid like an iceberg; I moved around quite a bit.

Eccentric, though, kept me outside.  It left me on the edges, neither in nor out, but a little bit of both.

For me, eccentric was the compromise I could manage.  Eccentric was queer in the old style way, before queer became a label about sexual identity.   Eccentric was the claiming of individuality beyond convention, the power to be myself even when expectations were different.

I needed eccentric.   With my family, normal just wasn’t in the cards.   I lived in a world very different than my classmates, a world where no one was taking my feelings into account, a world where the only emotions that counted were the ones my mother spewed out of frustration and pain.

People failed to understand her, to make her happy, to connect with her.  To her, that was their fault, their attempt to hurt her, their abusing her.

The notion that she was responsible for her own feelings, not her husband or her children, was beyond her.   To her, the only real pain was on her skin, the only emotions that mattered were the ones inside of her, the ones she could neither understand or control.

The only safe space for me was inside my own head.   I was smart enough to survive the torrent by being eccentric, learning to read before I was three, immersing myself in books.   The attention I got were not because I was a sweet, playful kid, it was because I was smart in a way that Aspies could understand and respect.   The defenses I built demanded I understand and manage my parents emotions in a smarter way than they could.

I became manipulative, just to survive, always ready to be sharp.   My manipulation, though, was very clear, honest and overt; no concealment of motives or emotional flattery from me.

When I was 17, I saw Bogart in “Casablanca” on the big screen and knew that his kind of crusty defence of a romantic soul was the most effective way I knew to protect my own tender, feminine, trans heart.   At the same age, though, I was dating women around MIT in a way that years later made sense only as a lesbian style.

My explorations of trans were covered by my eccentric approach, gender freak kind of play that irked the crossdressers who wanted to correct me, explaining that I had to take a femme name, had to really work at being fake femaled to achieve the perfect “Now I’m Biff! Now I’m Suzy” second self.

My dream, though, my secret dream, wasn’t finding new and more extreme ways of being eccentric.   Eccentric wasn’t my heart, it was my shell, the defence that let me move around in the world.

Around me I saw transpeople who left their normative lives to claim their own eccentricity, learning to use the effect of claiming individuality to make space for their trans expression in the world.   Good for them, I thought, understanding the power of letting your freak flag fly, but to me, the notion of moving from eccentric to more eccentric just seemed wearing.

Authentic is something I claimed from my earliest days.  At 13, when the therapist wanted me to self-diagnose by telling her who I wanted to be, I stood fast on that trick question: I wanted to be myself.   I was a child for whom magical thinking, dreams and possibilities were purged early, in the face of irrational Aspergers.

My dream was, like the dreams of so many transpeople, to become seen, valued and accepted, to be loved, for the what I knew to be the true contents of my heart.   I wanted to be adored like the girl me inside craved, wanted to be loved like the woman inside me needs.

No matter how much I showed my feminine heart and devotion, that wasn’t to be.  I was just weird, freaky, odd and eccentric, too much, too extreme, too incomprehensible, too overwhelming.

“When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple and allow myself to be seen as eccentric.”   It’s the great goal for so many, claiming the freedom of age, but for someone who was adultified early and who has lived their life backwards, well, becoming more eccentric is not nearly such a desirable or comforting outcome.

I know how to use eccentric choices to tough it out, to claim the freedom, to be the one who everyone looks at with derision and awe.  I know how to use that frisson of fear and authority to offer gems that make people go “ahhhh!”

I just know that when I do that, well, it costs me somewhere in my heart.  It’s a front, an eccentric and by now elegant polished front, that may give people what they want but a front that has cost me a great deal.

“Be careful who you pretend to be, because you are who you pretend to be,” Kurt Vonnegut reminded us in “Mother Night,” which I read when I was 15.   I have put up a pretense of eccentricity so long that I no longer seem to have any other possibilities, not at my age, or state of health and not with my experience of the world.

The moments when someone could have come inside my eccentric, concierge, guru shell seem to have come and gone.   The possibilities of being touched with passion and tender intimacy just don’t seem available any more, not with the crust and scars I have built up over the ages.

I speak with the best voice I can muster, inviting people inside, but I know that the odd mix of theology, politics, vulnerability and pain just throw them off.   They want something cleaner, simpler, more easily eccentric.  They want a product, just like I tried so hard to be when I was young and putting myself on television.

Eccentric is good.  I recommend it.  Use the power in it.

Like anything else, though, eccentric has limits.  Use it too much and things get out of whack, out of balance.  Tolerance builds and it stops working well for you.  The byproducts start to raise to toxic levels and the isolation just gets to be too much, leaving you mired in the well of loneliness.

I love eccentric.   I love the freedom it gives people to tell their stories in their own voice, free from trying to avoid losing in a conventional game that they can never win.   Go Bogie.

But somehow, after a lifetime, it isn’t a place I want to go again.  I’m just too tired.

So, This Is

Every post on this blog starts with the phrase, “So, this is what I want to tell you. . .”

Now, I have been writing for a long time and have learned that phrase tends to block the lead,  so I edit it out, but it is what I have been doing here for a decade, saying what I need to say in the world.

I encourage you to take that phrase to heart.   What do you want to tell us?   What do you need to hear said out loud in the world?   What do you want to think through and make clear?   What do you need to share so you can move on, move up, and find better?

If you had an audience for five minutes, what would you tell them?

For me, that’s a very TV question.  I like fresh and fast, a kind of host chat as Regis would call it.   For you, it may be a very different style, something polished, something poetic, something with a story.

Nobody grows up just by listening.   You can’t just read a book, attend a seminar, do a workshop and learn, really learn and internalize what you need to get past your blocks and into your next possibility.

We learn by doing, by practice.   We try and we fail and we see how we might do better and we try again and again and again and again. . .

It is surely a lifetime work, this learning to be a good human.

Your journey is your journey.   It’s great to have good role models, excellent support and deep mirroring, but that just helps.   It doesn’t replace the requirement for you to do your own work.

Everybody heals in their own time and in their own way.   Even you.

It would be nice to be able to fix people on your schedule and to your specifications, but they are people.   Nobody works that way.

Growth takes effort.  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

We need skills, polished and disciplined skills to invoke change in our life.   Building those is the basis.

For me, one of the primary skills is learning to hear your own voice.  It’s easy get lost in our own noise, just mumbling without being able to pick out the priorites we need to address.

When you have to speak for yourself, rather than just to comment on someone else, you have to know what you believe and what you value.

“So, this is what I want to tell you. . .”  is always the start of that process, at least for me.

It’s your life, your work, your stories.   There are no shortcuts to your journey.   Sure, learning from the journeys of others is always good, but in the end, you are what you make of yourself.

The privilege of a lifetime is becoming who you are.   Your journey is the only way to move beyond expectations and discover yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses, your fears and your love, your power and your grace.

It’s not easy to stand up in front of an audience and say “So, this is what I want to tell you. . .”   but if you want to reveal what lies inside, exposure is a key part of the process.

Unpacking the junk you have been carrying around isn’t easy, but it is the only way you can know which baggage is really yours and which stuff is just crap other people piled onto you.  Getting clear means getting naked, in group, in writing, in life.

You write your own story.   For me, that always starts with “So, this is what I want to tell you. . .”

Figure it out.  Make it yours.   Share it with pride and grace.

And if you do that, it will be good, valuable and beautiful, I guarantee you that.

Steel Boxes

Our dreams are the most delicate things that we own.

We learn that early; if our dreams get crushed, our life turns sour.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
-- W.B. Yeats, "He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven"

To keep them safe, somewhere inside of us we build a casket to hold them, a steel box to protect our dreams, to keep safe the tender heart which holds them.

Some of us grow up in a place where we can share those dreams sometimes, open the vault, show our deepest desires and get them affirmed, assured, treasured.

For many of us, though, we learn early that we have to keep our dreams locked away, hidden and denied, because when we let them out, people around us feel the need to humiliate us and crush our dreams.  We just can’t tolerate much of that, so we build the defences stronger, more powerful, more isolated.

I was a transkid, living with a narcissistic mother who felt abused from the isolation which came from her Aspergers.   My father lived in his own world of engineering, only coming out to service my mothers demands in a codependent way.

I was smart and challenging without an extended family or a network who understood the challenges.   Being the target patient, the scapegoat, called “Stupid” because I would stand up for those I loved, well, it was crushing.

That meant, for me, learning to hide and deny my dreams, putting them far past whatever.   My mother couldn’t even easily let me date, having surrogate spoused me when her Aspergers husband didn’t attend to her uncontrolled emotions.

Every kid who grew up trans, though, knew the costs of letting their heart be exposed, of letting their dreams surface.  That moment when we heard the parents car drive up we knew we had to strip off, hide the clothes, put our heart away and show up defended to help bring in the shopping.

The ability to slam our feelings, our dreams, into an impenetrable steel box at the drop of a hat became the key protection of most trans hearts.   We shared the experience of being shamed into the closet, believing that if we showed our nature, we would be branded sick, weak, perverted, indulgent, rude and less that human.

Through the years, this dark container became our own Pandora’s Box, a vessel to contain the parts of ourselves we learned not to share in the light.

There are grave consequences to learning to divide and hide our emotions.

We throw all our feelings into the pot, not having the will or the support to work them through, leaving us isolated from the emotions which can connect us with the world and the ones we love, separated from healthy intimacy as we hide ourselves.

The hole left where our emotions should be can lead us to finding man-made replacements for those desires, trying to stuff the voids.   Nothing grows healthy in the dark, so we instead use drugs, anger and our own version of trans-porn to substitute for our natural desires, leaving us warped.

We try to fight off the desires we have been told are corrupt, but they are part of us, woven deep into our heart, and they don’t go away.   We then try to examine them, but we have to do so not tenderly, but as a political act, full of rationalization and bravado, the antitheses of the true heartfelt things they are.

We always are waiting for the third gotcha, that moment where we have been too relaxed, too comfortable, too exposed and then we get slapped in the face with the stink of social stigma against who we are.

At that moment, unless we are able to slam our own dreams back inside the vault, sealing up the box to try and protect our tender, battered heart, we can be hurt very, very badly.

Every transperson knows that moment when their dreams are too exposed, when their feelings are too close to the surface, when their heart is too vulnerable.   We know how hard it is to take the blow at that time, know that when other people politicize and slam us, we will find it almost impossible to keep stranding, keep going, keep doing what we need to do.

We learn to keep our own Pandora’s Box, our own dreams locked away, just so we don’t get crushed again.

You can categorize transpeople most easily by the defences they use, the shape of the steel box they have built to protect their tender trans heart.    The shape of our defences become the shape of our lives, from denial to activism to magical thinking to ego to service to aesthetic monasticism.

We cling to whatever strategy we learned to protect our tender heart in a tough and terrifying world where our very nature is demolished as a joke, as sick and evil.

The need for instant walls to slam shut over our dreams means that for most transpeople we are always only a hair trigger away from sealing up our feelings for pragmatic and practical reasons.  When feelings get too much, when they threaten to swamp us, not letting us seal them away again in our steel box, well, we have to tamp them down immediately.

The only way out of hell, though, is through.   Unless and until we can sort though those feelings, owning them, the shame and fear will continue to control us.  We will act from our defences rather than from our love.

In a world, though, where it always feels unsafe to expose our deepest feelings, this is almost impossibly hard.   People around us want to fix us rather than supporting our quest, want us to use whatever solution they use to stay emotionally stable in the world, never really understanding the breath of our challenges.

We may find somewhere to reveal our heart, but we quickly learn that we also have to have somewhere to conceal our hearts, keeping that steel box around to stay upright in a world that feels always ready to slam us.

Our deep wounds can make us profound healers, understanding the challenges that humans face.   They also can, though, isolate us from the healing gifts of others, those who have resisted going to the depths we needed to go to reclaim our own hearts.

We have learned to protect our hearts at almost all costs.  Once we they are smashed, so is our hope, our dreams.  There is a reason we don’t go there, don’t open to emotions that are deep, tender and powerful enough to destroy our day, destroy our week, destroy our month, destroy our life.

That bunker we carry inside is hard won, shelter earned from years of living with a battered heart.  It’s not something easy to shed, no matter how we understand it helps keep the stick up our ass.

Our dreams are the most delicate things that we own.

We learn that early; if our dreams get crushed, our life turns sour.

To keep them safe, we build ourselves a steel box to protect our heart.

I have walked away from that sealed compartment to do the kind of exploring and integration which allows me to own my emotional core.

Now, it becomes very tough to put what what was in the vault back to walk defended in the world.

If we don’t grow beyond our box, we are stunted forever.   If we do, though, we no longer have the resilience to take the blows, to put ourselves out there to find the kind of reflection and nourishment we need.

I know what it feels like to bravely show my tender trans heart and have it shattered by the ignorance and arrogance of other people who assert their political binary over my living liminality.   It sucks.

And I know why other transpeople keep close to the door of their safe, ready to slam the door on anyone who triggers old and painful feelings.

But I worked so hard to get out of the compartment that having to go back in just to walk in a wider world feels like death.

Being defined by my steel box, though, just because I need to keep my heart safe, well, that’s no way to live.

Nulll And Void

We have a bit of snow on the ground this morning, having fallen from gray skies on a day where the sun stays about as low as it can be in the year.

On such a gloomy day, it is easy to reflect on the voids in my life, the empty spaces.  My thoughts echo in the caverns of loneliness, where a dream launched into the hollow just rumbles a bit before fading away.

I have gone through all the words in the world trying to share myself with the world, struggling to make a connection which lets me be seen, understood and valued by the people around me.

Maybe if I had started sharing earlier, when I was less complicated, I would have been able to catch them and take them along with me.  Trying to get simple now, though, just feels like erasure and denial.

I can parcel out what I have in a way that supports and informs their life, and they love that, but it still leaves me feeling null and void.  I do the work to reflect them, to assure them I hear and understand what they are sharing before offering them a new vision, but their work to acknowledge, understand and mirror me is limited.

Saying this all again, for the zillionth time, well, it feels pointless and empty.  I have said it so many ways and so many times that it just sounds like an echo, fading in the distance, noise that will only be perceived as an ugly rumble people wish would go away.

Maybe, someday, somehow, people could start paying attention and hear me.  Maybe I should just stop whining, compartmentalize myself, and just do what people want and expect of me, offering bits of what I have in nice, disposable packages.  Maybe feeling this worn out is just not right.

But nothing is infinite, you know?

Well, except maybe the void.

Welcoming Work

Welcoming takes work.

Just allowing someone in and letting them share a bit of what you are doing is not really gracious hospitality.

Welcome requires consideration.  You may be serving a lovely pot roast to your family, but it is not welcoming to offer it to a vegetarian visitor.

Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.
— George Bernard Shaw, “Man And Superman”

There was a time when manners were part of everyday life.   In those days, Queen Victoria once drank from her finger bowl because a leader she was entertaining at dinner did it first, and she wanted him to feel comfortable.

For many families today, etiquette is not part of the training.   They do things the same way whoever shows up and call that simple, egalitarian and fair.

Our house, our way.   If you want to be under our roof, you will take whatever we offer and if you don’t like it, you are free to leave.

They certainly have that right to their own choices.   They just don’t have the right to call that kind of behavior “welcoming.”

Being around people who don’t have the willingness to actually be welcoming, respecting other people by going out of their way, opening their minds and hearts to the different and the new that comes their way is always difficult.

Visitors have to do all the work of adapting, putting their own needs, tastes and habits on hold at the risk of offending and being bulldozed for what the hosts see as bad behaviour.

I have experienced “Welcoming Congregations” and often found them only interested in looking for an expanded audience of what they already do rather than being open to, there for and changed by the people who come through the door. They didn’t make me feel welcome at all because I wasn’t one of their crowd with their beliefs and habits, letting them stay in their comfort zone.

The last church group I went to had a pastor who filled the table with her little stories the more beer she drank, and buying beer was a big part of their events.  She may have promised to follow up, but she never did, apparently not wanting to have to change her routines, to have to listen, to be welcoming and open.

For hosts who know how to be welcoming, though, opening to visitors can be a joyous thing, a moment of learning and loving.   Travellers who have learned to be good guests, respecting the traditions of their hosts make better welcoming hosts than tourists who want to carry their own routines with them wherever they go.

I know that I will not be welcome in someone’s home if I have to check my mind, my voice and my nature at the door. I will not be welcome if I have to do all the work of adapting to their assumptions and they do not reach out to meet me more towards where I am.

“If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d ‘ve Baked A Cake.”  Going the extra distance to respect and accommodate another person is the difference between actually welcoming them and just tolerating them, between reaching to find common ground and just letting them be a part of what you were going to do anyway.

Welcoming takes consideration and work.   In my experience, if people aren’t going to do that, well, they aren’t really welcoming to me.

Strategies And Survival

Humans, well, we have a strong drive towards survival.

We look for strategies to support our needs, ways to stay defended and functional in the continuing fight that is life in this world.

Awareness is an important part of these strategies, having a sharp sense of what you need to focus on.

Ignorance is an important part of these strategies, knowing what you can safely ignore so you can focus on other things.

Nobody can walk totally naked in the world all the time.   We need some kind of protection, some kind of safety, some kind of context that keeps us bouncing back to face another challenge, to take another blow.

Awareness is double edged sword.

Being highly aware of everything around us allows us to see patterns, make connections, and create a deep understanding of the world.  Awareness is the basis of creativity, of quickly seeing nuance and challenges, of having options and challenges unfold before you.  It is beautiful.

Being highly aware of everything around us makes us very susceptible to over stimulation, to analysis paralysis, to exhaustion and frustration.  Awareness is the basis of avoidance, based on an understanding that engaging everything in an open and sensitive manner is costly and wearing.

In psychology, this challenge is described by phenomenon of Latent Inhibition, a measure of how quickly the mind starts responding to stimuli as expected.

Very high amounts of latent inhibition, quickly starting to ignore detail and nuance, creates a person who can have trouble seeing difference, finding new strategies, adapting to change.   Understandings, once made, are hard to change.

Very low amounts of latent inhibition, always being aware of small differences and nuances, creates a person who can have trouble being extremely sensitive to difference, always looking for patterns and connections.   Always scanning to change understandings can create analysis paralysis, be draining and exhausting.

Like any other way people see the world there are costs and benefits that come up.   Awareness supports creativity, while strong fixed understandings support engaging routine.

There is no perfect blend of sensitivity and routine, even for an individual.   We need to be both open and fixed, to both be aware of detail and to let detail pass into expectations.

I am a person with low levels of latent inhibition.  Awareness of nuance, of change, of connection is where I live.

My mind is wired that way, leaning towards the creative more than towards the routine, but I have also been trained to be a very sensitive person.

Growing up in my family, hyper-vigilance seemed to be required.   My Aspergers parents were not good at managing emotions, living with low latent inhibition and easily able to be over stimulated and, especially for my mother, easily ready to lash out and spread her pain over those around her.

The strategies I learned to survive that family experience, using my big brain to be always scanning, always on alert for tiny vibrational shifts in the force, were the strategies I used throughout my life.

Many transpeople create a bubble to hold their trans nature, building some assumptions and expectations, then using those strategies to hold open a place in the world.

I, on the other hand, used my highly tuned receptors to be aware of what was around me, processing and reprocessing the situation in high resolution and with high frequency.  I could sense change and integrate that knowledge into my strategies extremely quickly.

This skill can be highly valuable to the group.  For shamans, the walls that many see as fixed are revealed as illusions, as aspects of belief and expectation, figments of high levels of latent inhibition, rather than being real.   Connections pop out as we manage our state of awareness with ritual, learning, drugs and more.  Awareness begets new understanding and that begets creativity.

This skill can also be very costly.   There are good reasons why not every human is a shaman.   We very much need people who love routine, who express the conventional.

For those who have this guru gift, this awareness, we often choose to turn away from it, retreating to routine rather than sensitivity which can swamp them.  We have to work to compartmentalize our own empathic nature, isolating ourselves from those who could overwhelm us and make us less functional in the routine challenges of our everyday life.

Strategies for survival always require some balance of routine and awareness.  Usually, this balance is held in a group, where creative people and operations people come together to hold a balance between them.

For those of us who are too queer to easily be integrated into a group, outsiders who have to move beyond convention to find our own nature, life is a very individual journey.   We are very much on our own.

This means that we have to find our personal balance on our own.  That’s very hard, especially for creative types who have ended up basing their survival strategies on awareness, on being sensitive.   It is easy for us to use up our reserves, to feel over stimulated, to want the crap of everyday life to stop.

Giving up awareness for routine, well it just feels bad.   We have always been observers, living in the liminal space on the fringes, vividly seeing the things beyond what most people take for granted, living in a world of ghosts and alternate possibilities which are invisible to those who aren’t as distractable and sensitive.

“Why do you talk to me?” Jaye asks of the animal objects that bedevil her in “Wonderfalls.”   “Because you listen,” is their simple response, acknowledging her open and receptive awareness of what most people ignore, their own expectations and beliefs making it invisible to them.

I am aware that I go to places of awareness that most people never risk engaging.  Instead, they hold onto their understandings using the kind of high levels of latent inhibition that a go, go, enormously stimulus filled culture requires of them.   We are building a society where people have to turn down their awareness, to cope with crushing amounts of stimuli and demand in each moment.

Humans used to live slower lives with more room for wonder, vastly fewer changes to notice, so sensitivity wasn’t such a burden, so routine wasn’t so demanded, and sensation wasn’t just a quick fix.

We each need survival strategies in the world.  That means balancing creativity and routine, awareness and assumption.

I know that I fall on the low latent inhibition side of those strategies, using receptive, feminine awareness and creativity to try and keep a deep and fresh understanding of the world around me.  Like many seekers, I learned to use practice to temper my sensitive, visceral responses, using discipline, theological context and æsthetic denial to stay upright and functional.

This blend was how I could do what I did, from caring for my parents to writing so strongly literally everyday.   It was why I could easily enter another persons world but almost no one could enter mine.

I live in the question, in the köan, which makes my writing hard to digest for people looking for answers. Rather than preaching to the choir, affirming what you already believe but need new words for, I question everything in a very uncomfortable way.

I also know that strategy has costs, especially over a lifetime as a queer person, without many support structures.  People find me challenging, demanding, and wearing.  I am skint.

Learning other strategies, though, is not easy.   Some people use drugs to turn down the awareness, take the edge off, limit their sensitivity and raise their tolerance, increasing their latent inhibition.   Those who resist their own awareness often believe these kind of drugs make people more “normal.”

While medications can help support changing your mind, finding new strategies which more effectively balance ego with id, expectations with awareness, they are never a solution in themselves.

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

Surviving requires change.

Change requires awareness and creativity.

Change requires routine and habit.

And that takes hard, hard strategies.

Sackful Of Memories

Over the years, the more you give, the more you get.

You give of yourself and what you get in return are stories, lasting memories that are the stuff of a full life.

That sackful of memories is both a joy and a burden, like any other gift.  You have moments that will last forever, and you have moments that inform your choices, often in a pragmatic, warning way.

Kids on Christmas may unwrap a host of new presents and parents may make a whole mess of new memories.

For older people, though, much of the festival is spent in honoring old memories.   We may do this by recreating traditions we valued in order to share them with those we love, or we may just do this by lingering over a glass of spirits and going into a holiday reverie.

I am blessed — and cursed — with an enormous sleigh full of memories.  Many of them are not particularly empowering or delightful.  Does that make them less mine, less part of the fabric of my life?   They were, for good or bad, the gifts that I was given. the gifts that make me who I am today.

The most powerful of these is, as it is for so many people, what was offered by those who claimed to love me, those who believed that they loved me, but were blinded by their own myopic vision of the world.   They gave me what they believed I should like, what they liked for me, rather than gifts that acknowledged,valued and respected who I struggled like hell to show myself to be.

Learning to be gracious in the face of what feels like deliberate erasure and dismissal of our own gifts is never easy.   Learning to do that over decades, though, is soul killing.

The gifts in my sack, well, they are what they are.  I know that many people get very uncomfortable with my work because I even open the difficult gifts, the ones that reveal the challenges, rather than just those that keep us tickled and chuckling.

It’s lovely to think that the more you get the happier you are, but wisdom is the gift of a long life, not happiness.   We learn to see ourselves in context, learn to adjust our expectations, modulate our desires.

I know the gifts that other people want to give me, and I know when those gifts are much more about them than they are about me.  Those experiences are written on my memory, filling my sack of with so very much to carry with me.

It would have been lovely to get more effective mirroring, more presence in my presents, but that’s not the way it worked for me.  My experience was different.

The moment we are born our flesh starts to die and our story starts to grow, until our flesh gives out and all we leave behind is the stories we have left inside other people.

I have a sackful of memories which I have worked hard to turn into story.   They weigh me down and keep me going.

In the human gift exchange, though, it feels like what I put out doesn’t come back.

May your gifts be more elegantly received, and may they return to you with love and attention.

We all get a sackful.   We just don’t all get what acknowledges, respects and honours us.

Hard Love Beauty

If love was as simple as a greeting card, we wouldn’t need Christmas.

Rituals make us put love into action, going to that place where the rubber hits the road.

We not only have to go out of our way to make the event special for the people we love, we have to actually show up and face them across a table.

It’s easy to love in the abstract, just sending pretty thoughts into the world.

It’s hard to love in the practical, when you have to move past your own comfort level and be there for people who share so much history with you that they make you absolutely freakin’ crazy.

There are always good reasons to write off other people, to point out their flaws and call them stupid or toxic.  That’s the easy part.

The hard part, well, the hard part is loving them as they are.

Everyone needs love the most when they are at their least lovable.  It’s not when we are cute and appropriate we need you to be there for us, it’s when we are stormy and lost.   Love really shows itself when you have to dig deep to find it.

That’s why we need Christmas, need moments when we do dig as deep as we can to manifest the love that we just slide by the rest of the year.   Everybody has something special to bring to the celebration, a share of their deep and intense love to give to others.

The precision, the discipline, the traditions and creativity meld together to make time out of time, moments that live in memory forever.   They hold our love made manifest.

If love was easy, it wouldn’t be so transformative.  It wouldn’t open our minds and hearts to the depth of others, wouldn’t melt our fears and replace them with compassion, gratitude and giving.

Living out our love makes it not just eternal but also always new.   We are renewed when we look through the eyes of another, sharing a vision.   The most important gift of Christmas is almost always graciously receiving what other people work so hard to create for us, the essence of their love.

When the objects and treats are gone, the love we receive remains woven into who we are.  Giving love is always getting love.   The warm embrace of what others offer intensifies what we give them, love creating bonds that last, bonds that empower, and bonds that free us.

If love was as simple as a greeting card, we wouldn’t need Christmas.  We wouldn’t need to fight our own ego, wouldn’t need to move far past our comfort zone, wouldn’t need to be willing to leave our expectations behind to be present in the moment for the people that we love.

Going to that place where love burns away our resistance and fear, where we dig as deep as we can to embody love, where we put others first with a fierce kind of humility and grace is the way we enter the darkness together, the way we honor the spark that lies inside and connects all of us.

We do the absurd, the strenuous, the exceptional, the banal and the profound at Christmas to bring the magic to our gathering, the magic which is always, always, always, always rooted in love.

May you have someone to give your best to this Christmas and may you embrace the gifts given to you by others in an open hearted way that keeps ripples of love inside you all the year.

Christmas, or whatever ritual we do to show, share and receive love are always hard work, demanding more of us.

That’s what makes them magic.

Love As A Political Act

When you feel the urge to make an intimate action, like holding your lovers hand in public, and then feel like the only way you can do it is as symbol, as a public statement and a political act, it takes the spontaneity and intimacy out of it, becoming the antithesis of what you wanted to express.

An advocate for marriage equality in Ireland wanted to explain how, in a world where his love was devalued and dismissed, simply expressing love became a politicized act.

For transpeople, we understand that just getting dressed is always a political act.

Most people get up, get dressed and walk out the door without much thought about the political status of their outfit.   It’s just about some blend of appropriateness — fitting in — and personal expression — standing out.

Transpeople, though, all have a history of their choice of outfit as being seen and challenged as political expression.

  • You can’t wear that!
  • Are you trying to embarrass all of us?
  • What will people think?
  • You deserve whatever you get if you look like that!
  • Have you no shame?
  • You are so queer you look disgusting and terrifying!
  • Is that outfit some kind of a joke?
  • Those clothes will never be appropriate!
  • Who are you trying to fool, anyway?
  • Why do you want to show the world your perversion?
  • Are you some kind of freak?
  • Look at the faggot!
  • God will smite you!

Anyone who has been shamed into the closet can hear that kind of  chatter from their self-police when they make what they have been taught is an act against propriety and decency.   We know we risk attack and we do it anyway because somehow, the call of our heart is stronger than the fear of our attackers.

To have acting on our own desire turned into a political act which then can be judged, devalued, dismissed and terrorized means we always have to have a political position to contextualize our choices.

Sadly, the context is often “Sure, it’s offensive and disgusting when they do it, but when I do it, it’s graceful and gracious.”   This plays out in so many ways, from “We are just like every other couple in the neighborhood, it’s just that we like a little sodomy on Saturday night,” to “Sure, I stick gerbils up my butt, but I’m not sick enough to shove guinea pigs up my ass like him!”  The line of where the political and perverted starts is always, somehow, just past where we stand.

Claiming our own queerness as sacred, blessed and good demands that we accept our choices as political, choosing to stand for freedom and against the naysayers, even the naysaying voices planted in our head.

Most queers don’t want to be political bomb throwers, breaking barriers, we just want to follow the call of our heart, seeking intimacy and acting spontaneously.

Choosing to do that by pulling the wire just past where we are and painting others as too queer, though, is the act of a goat.

That intersection of the personal and the political is where I live, of course.   I understand the political to be very personal, not some kind of abstract concept but an expression of love.   I fight because I love, and when that love goes un-mirrored, the fight can go out of me.

It is that intersection, though, that is so hard for us.  It’s easy to take the actions of our heart, but it is tough to have those actions politicized, hard to be made an outlaw and an outcast when we just want to express our nature though our choices.

Very few people dream of being a political operative when they grow up and fewer still dream of being an activist every time they get dressed and leave the house.

I know how to manage the political demands of being visible and trans, but I also know that negotiation is not particularly nourishing or rewarding to me.  My political actions are met with silence or resistance, so I avoid going out to just let people politicize me, assigning their own motives and judgements to the simple act of trying to show my own heart in the world.

I learned very early that people had trouble hearing over my penis, that their own assumptions about separation meant they couldn’t engage my heart,  their own political beliefs erasing my most considered and polished expression.

When the our truth is denounced as lies, invalidated as only our attempt to demolish sacred social values, we become criminals for only acting on the love in our heart.  Is there any wonder we twist ourselves into pretzels to try and get around that fate?

Whatever the busters want to think, we didn’t politicize the expression of our love; they did.  We just were born into a world where hearts like ours had to be broken and silenced for the good of the status quo.

Homosexual desire is a kind of gender variance, the expression of a love that goes against the heterosexist convention which tries to separate the world into binaries, denying wholeness unless we come together in approved ways.  It is the basis of the idea that we can only be happy and successful when we follow the standard rules.

The power of liberation is in expressing all the love in our heart, not just for partnering but also for emotional, intellectual and creative brilliance.  That’s what queer is.

Queer is, though, political, wearing and exhausting.  Queer is right and good, but it is also the antithesis of intimacy.

I’m not trans for the politics. I’m trans because I have a tender trans heart.

The politics are just something every transperson has to negotiate everyday in this fakakta culture.

When just needing to use the toilet requires a political act of will, well, it can wear you right down.

And that makes the people who keep trans expression politicized very happy.

Women Plus Trans

“"Some trans women are really femme, some trans women are really butch. Everybody's different, and Caitlyn happens to be from a family -- I'm a huge Kardashians fan -- everybody in that family talks about hair and makeup and clothes all the time. It's their hobby to look good, so that's where Caitlyn comes from," Soloway said. "Whether or not she has a right to do that -- of course she has a right to do that. She's a woman. Every woman has a right to be as femme or as not femme as they wish to be. And it's absolutely awesome that Glamour has honored her."
-- Jill Soloway

It’s easy to map the challenges of transwomen onto the broader challenges of women in the world.

It’s just often not true or useful.   Trans issues are not just women’s issues; they add many layers of challenges and twists.

When, around the receipt of her Glamour Woman of the Year award, Ms. Jenner said “The hardest thing about being a woman is deciding what to wear,” nobody was questioning her right to wear whatever she wanted.

What they were questioning is her understanding of what is really hard for women in the world.  How much does she understand the challenges of women in the world around sexism, economics, reproductive freedom and more?   Does she understand the shared cultural experience of women?

Most trans activists, were even questioning if she understood the range of challenges transwomen face in the world.

Because the most vocal transwomen are often the most newly out of women, entering their trans-adolescence and spouting off while being very self-focused, this is often a problem.

While Ms. Soloway may enjoy the Kardashians, I doubt she would want to see them as speaking for the US at a world conference on the status of women, for example.   In the trans sphere, though, we have few mature and senior people who are still attractive to the media, who much prefer shiny looks and simple coming out stories to the nuanced challenges of a trans life.

If a man makes a stupid mistake,
other men say “What a fool that man is.”
If a woman makes a stupid mistake,
the men say “What fools women are.”
— H.C.L. Jackson, 1888

For transpeople, we are still at the stage where we are seen as a group rather than individuals, where people are looking to dismiss the whole concept that transpeople deserve standing as people in the world.

This makes us highly sensitive to the choices that other transpeople make that we would never make for ourselves, often feeling the requirement to pass judgement on what they do.

The politically correct enforcement of social norms through identity politics has been a problem in second wave feminist circles, and I have no doubt that Ms. Soloway has felt that burn personally.   Her words speak to embracing diversity within the community of women, a great thing, but different than the challenge of where transwomen are in the world.

Carmen Carrera has a dream.   She wants to be just a woman, not a transperson.  That’s not an unusual dream; Who The Fuck Wants To Be A Tranny? (2006)

Wanting to be seen as normative, though, isn’t what happens to transwomen, at least not today.  And even if we do achieve that by determined stealth, we quickly find  that hiding part of who we are has a high cost to our soul.

The issues you lay out — lack of trust, perfectionism, emotional outbursts, denial, and disconnection from self — are all very much rooted in the experience of shame. 

Transpeople share the experience of being shamed into the closet, into severe self policing to keep the “bad” parts of themselves hidden from the world. Even when we emerge and are presenting as the gender associated with our trans heart, we still feel the need to self-police, keeping our history in the closet so people won’t use it to hurt and dismiss us. Doing the shame work, with people like Brené Brown and John Bradshaw has been vital for me, but even doing that, I still have to negotiate people who want to tell me that somehow, my trans expression isn’t “real.” 

I love the idea that people will do the work to reach out to transpeople, but that requires them to do their own healing beyond binary separations, something most still accept as “true.” For transpeople, the political is personal; our emotional healing is the only way we can help the world heal around separations that run though hearts. Healing ourselves is where trans liberation always has to start.

The experience of being trans is not simply the experience of being a woman in the world, no matter how glibly people want to map the trans experience onto woman’s experience in the world.    Transpeople don’t have the same group identity issues, the same kind of sexualization.  The social pressure we received to play a role is not the role we end up playing, but the role we are assigned by dint of our reproductive biology.

Women are taught to be women by the women around them, the mothers, grandmothers, peers and others who help girls understand the shared goals, heritage, strategies, trade-offs and challenges of being a woman in the world.  As girls experiment, growing into their womanhood, they are supported by other women at every step.

The rebirth we go through, standing alone rather than in a group of peers, always leaves us a bit distant and raw.

Transwomen are not simply women.   We have many other layers and many deficits to negotiate.  Maybe someday, when people stop seeing reproductive biology as determinate and transwomen can early and easily integrate into the community of women, being immersed in the traditions and challenges of womanhood this will change, but that isn’t today.

Today, transwomen always stand on shaky footing, waiting for the third gotcha, for our standing to change, sliding in what feels like a dangerous way.   We aren’t simply woman, even if the challenges of women can be mapped into our issues too.

One other point: femme, at least to me, doesn’t mean wearing fashion.  As a femme myself, I wouldn’t identify the Kardashian gals as femme, mostly because I would never identify them as queer.  They are feminine, no doubt, and make feminine choices, but femme choices queer femininity in a profound way, which is why femmes aren’t straight gals.

Engaging and embracing your own queerness, which means accepting both your queer individuality and the queerness of others beyond social expectations of normativity, is the way we grow up to be ourselves in the world.

When you think the hardest thing is picking an outfit, you signal that you very much care about fitting in, about how others see you.   For queers, the hard thing is moving past the expectations of just fitting in to claim our own unique and essential humanity.

Femme queers femininity.  And the queerness is the way we celebrate moving beyond expectations into exceptional.

Party Loose

It’s solstice, and I am feeling the need to party.

I need to get loose, get open, get down, get human.

I want to get pretty, get shiny, have a drink, a dance, a smile and maybe even a kiss.

It’s just that I see very little point or possibility in doing these things well alone.

My sister came over the other night.  She watched two movies and I fed her.  She told me it was a real treat for someone working huge hours in big retail at Christmas.

She wasn’t ready to party.   She wasn’t ready to reflect loose and free energy, wasn’t ready to create safe space to just let the tightness go and let the energy flow.

I don’t come from a family where parties happened.   There was no loose, laughing time, no drink and a dance time, no flirting and frivolous time.   The banquet wasn’t for feasting, it was for getting through.

When social occasions demand more tightening up, more discipline, more being appropriate than less, well, they aren’t really parties, are they?

A party dress, some sparkle, a lovely libation, a few tasty goodies and someone friendly to connect with on a long, dark lonely night.  They are simple human needs.

I have spent many Saturday nights in my life getting dressed for parties that never came.  I spent time searching for them, but they were always, always few and far between, and almost never safe enough for me to get loose.

The release of a party, safe, warm, hot human space to get loose, has always been a human needs.   We need our breaks, our rituals, our nakedness (1998), our connection.

I feel the need to party on this long, dark night.

That’s not something that I can do alone.

But, sadly, it has never been shown that is something I am safe to do with others, either.

May you have some sparkle and magic on this longest of nights.

No Go Zones

Everyone has emotional places that they don’t allow themselves to go.

These are the things that we just don’t allow ourselves to go near for fear that they will swamp our feelings.

And the place I have never been able to go is the notion that somehow, I can have a woman’s life.

I don’t hold that no transperson assigned as male at birth can have a woman’s life.   I know that it is possible for other people.  I just can’t afford to believe that it is possible for me, because if I believe it, even for a second, my heart will be crushed when that possibility is again smashed for me.

When you dream every night of something and then have that dream smashed the first thing next morning, learning to not dream like that again seems very, very sensible.

Not going there is the pragmatic, sensible choice.   It’s realistic and rational.

It’s also chilling and crushing, leaving you out in the cold, beyond the simple dream that somehow, people will see, acknowledge, respect and even value the simple truth you have always known is in your heart.

Finding a strategy to be in the world where you try and be true while also trying to be safe and appropriate is hard, hard shit.  Trying to negotiate it with your heart on your sleeve, well, that’s just going to leave it all torn up, beyond hope of healing.

There is a reason that transpeople lives are like pulsars, apparently on and off, on and off.   We need a time to shine, to explore in the light, but that exposure has a cost, so we need a time to disappear, to recuperate, to not have to be battling to show our heart.

When we finally understand our liberation as a political act and not a simply a personal act, that being visible requires a forceful claiming of identity, it ceases to become just an expression of our heart and becomes a battle, a very lonely battle.

How do we go places where we not only have been hurt before but we also have no indication that the things which hurt us have changed enough to create a different outcome now?   Hope is one thing, but ignoring reality is another.  No amount of magical thinking will overcome the laws of physics, no matter how much you want to actually levitate.

Chasing your dreams and facing your fears is only worth it when there is some chance that those dreams will come true and a good chance that the things you fear won’t beat you to a bloody, senseless pulp.   God grant me the serenity to accept those things I can not change, the strength to change those things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I can’t change people’s beliefs, assumptions, expectations, and biases just because I want them changed.  Change like that takes time, often time measured in generations.

I have seen many transwomen who have asserted magical thinking over conscious expression and who, after they have emerged, have withdrawn again, hurt and battered.   Even transwomen who can invoke the power of passing as having gone through puberty as female often find that the cost of hiding their special history leaves them feeling disconnected, empty and without deep intimacy.

If you can’t go there, if the dreams of your heart are a no go zone, you have to learn to be pragmatic.

And pragmatic, well, while it is reasonable, it is never really thrilling and magical.

Home, Heart, Mess

Home is where the heart is.

That’s a lesson I learned at a very young age when I had to learn to keep my heart protected from my narcissistic mother and my adrift father.

For me, the only safe space for my heart was inside of me, away from the people who would bruise it, who wouldn’t respect or understand it.

I learned to go inside and close the door, going into a book, my own thoughts, or the stories I kept within me.

My actual homes, though, have reflected this inner, hermetic pattern.   I have lived in warehouses, bins piled high on metal shelving, with me in a nest somewhere on the edge.

I was never going to be the mom, I knew, so what was the point of building a welcoming, beautiful, safe home?  I was off the grid, wandering alone, focused on a job

For a decade, I lived homeless in my mother’s house, down in the basement with all the other junk.  Since then, with the estate messed up, I didn’t have the wherewithal to make a home. I lived for seven months without a kitchen sink, and for months and months without access through the front door.

The place is crammed with junk, and what there is is often broken, like the new dishwasher my sister had that man put in which still leaks onto the floor if it is run, which was the reason for the mold which destroyed the subfloor in the first place.

I live in beauty, but only that I can scrape up inside of myself.  Outside, it’s rough and ready, not at all pretty or polished.

Of course, this mirrors my presentation in the world, where I stay functional and focus on what I carry inside.

While this stoic existence has benefits, it also has costs.  How do I invite people in, make them feel safe, comfortable and impressed?   How do I package what I offer in a beautiful way that makes people want to engage me and partake in what I offer?

It’s all well and good to say it is content and not packaging that matters, but it’s not really accurate.  As humans, we need a bit of sugar to help the medicine go down, some comforting beauty to let us move away from the sensation of noise & jangle and move into the openness which allows us to relax into something new.

While I may be used to picking threads out of chaos, not creating order and beauty really limits me in ways that I don’t really understand.

For most people, they learned very early to make themselves a home, creating spaces that supported their vision.  They needed to surround themselves with a space that represented and fostered them, not just pulling back into their heart and mind to stay safe.

Those were not lessons that I learned. I learned to stay hidden, defended, isolated, because I was told that my heart essence was corrupt, perverted, indulgent and sick.  When I showed it, people were not only not supportive, they felt entitled to attack me, calling me abnormal and deluded.

Now, though, at an age where most people are simplifying, packing up their homes, reducing to essence and learning to live inside themselves, now I find that I have the bloody obligation to learn how to build a home, a space and a package that I can offer to the world.

This is a daunting and crushing notion, just another bit of a life lived backwards.   I was denied the ability to do what my peers were doing, being adultified early, so I had to go back and learn those “simple” things later in life when there was no support, no caring environment and peer help to do the work of finding ways to connect.

Without mirrors, it is hard to shape expression and design that attracts and engages other people.  After so long living inside of myself, the notion of living with an external presence, on the grid, seems futile and baffling.  There is no one to say “yes,” to help with the social expectations that others find easy, having learned them long ago when the training of parents and peers came around.

My experience of scarcity has captured my mind, so the notion that you need to splash out to show yourself seems foreign to me.  The notion that you have to spend to succeed is much less appealing if you don’t have the notion that success is possible, don’t have hope that somehow, your wishes will come true.

Home is where my heart is.  That has always been true for me, even if that home is just not a place that is appealing and safe for others, or even a place where I feel ready to get naked, relax, polish and preen.

How do I learn to build a home that is inviting and attractive?  How do I do this for me, for forging connections with a wider world?

Purification, Essential

As a young chef, you tend to add to the plate. To add, to add, to add! And as you get older, you start to clean up, clean up, clean up the plate! Until you are left with the essential thing: that tomato right there, that olive oil, at that temperature. It’s a function of life. An artist is going to clean, a kind of a purification. You go through a process to get more to the essential of whatever you are working on.
-- Jacques Pepin

When you are young, it is easy to believe that you are the centre of the world.   Whatever consumes you in this moment is the biggest and most important thing in the world, because it fills your vision, overwhelms your awareness.

People have told you the wisdom of “this too shall pass,” the idea of keeping things in context to keep your life in balance but when sensation swamps you, it is hard to have a wider view.

Drama becomes a most compelling force, sweeping you in and keeping you there. Drama seems to be at the heart of vitality, of living a hot life where more is more.

As you get older, though, you have to have a different kind of vision and understanding, taking a longer, more reasoned view.  Instead of going for the gusto choices must be made, trade offs created.

Purification moves to the heart of your life, a sense of quality over quantity, and understanding that momentary indulgence is often not worth the price.  As much as you kick and scream against losing that gluttony, that showing off, when you do let go of it you find your life coming into balance, clean and pure in a good way.

“I read your stuff,” Shaman Gal said to me,” and I see a katana blade, folded and hammered, folded and hammered until the layers become something new, powerful in the way that they are melded to create a pure strength.”

“Sometimes, I think that it is a such a shame that you don’t make your work more popular, more pop, full of the kind of drama that grabs the spotlight today.   But then I understand that wouldn’t be your work, wouldn’t have the precision and elegance, and I understand it’s my shame speaking, my ego that still calls me to the shiny cheap drama.”

The great thing about moving to essence is that it brings out the powerful and intense flavour of life in a way that you can experience anew and deeper every time you come across it, your own awareness intersecting with it to provide a new opening.

Sometimes it is challenging that the limits to my effective expression seem to be the limits of your understanding, but in the end, I know getting to essence is always worth the effort and a great goal for a good life.

Broken, Broken, Broken

First, society works hard to break transpeople, by stigmatizing them, by shaming them, by forcing them into hiding, by demanding they lie about who they are one way or the other, but putting their desire into the perverted and abnormal category, by denying them mirroring, and so much more.

Then, they prove that transpeople are broken by pointing out how they lie, act apart from social norms, are immature, cracked and sick.

This cycle of doing as much as possible to break transpeople and then proving that they deserve what they get because they are all broken has been used to justify trans marginalization for centuries.

The best thing you could do for kids who exposed transgender “tendencies” was to break them.  Transpeople are broken, so if we love them, we have to break them of their transgender proclivities so they can be happy and normative.  We work to break them because it is the kindest thing we can do for them.

Every transperson has had the experience of having someone they love point to a broken transperson — one who looks odd or disconnected from social expectations, one who has done something rude or even criminal — and say “Thank God I don’t have to deal with that kind of freak.”

Sometimes we can just stay silent, internalize the fear, add to our shame, and strengthen our own crippling self policing.

When we are out, though, we have say something.  Do we pile on, separating ourselves from them by claiming that we are a good tranny by saying “Yes!  That is disgusting!  Those people should be cleansed?”

Or do we offer some kind of explanation, a context, a reason for compassion?

The cycle of justifying any attempt to break transpeople by claiming that visible transpeople are all broken is twisted and sick logic on the part of those who perpetuate such abuse.

Sadly, this often includes transpeople who dehumanize other transpeople just to try and gain standing with the normies.  These collaborators don’t see themselves as broken, just as good trannys who hate challenging and disgusting queers like any normal person should.

I have seen many transpeople make choices that come from their brokenness.  These choices are ugly and even sometimes illegal.

What I haven’t seen is much attempt to help them recover from the cycle of breaking that they were subject to from a very young age.  I don’t see them supported in finding ways to be trans, mature and healthy.

And that means the broken cycle just keeps on crushing us, as brokenness justifies breaking and breaking creates brokenness.

It just breaks my heart.

Integrity, Integration

The ultimate trans surgery is always pulling the stick out of your own ass.  At some point, you have to drop the tension, the armour and the defenses to let yourself flow as a human, becoming vulnerable and present, opening your heart and your mind to the gift that is the present.

In trans narratives today, there is a veneration of a moment of transition, which is usually portrayed as a total rebirth, the first moment when somehow, you have become authentic.

Some love to imagine the moment when everything changes.   For example, they believe that people will treat them differently on the plane ride home from genital reconstruction surgery that they did on the plane ride to surgery.

This notion of drawing a curtain on the past is supported by the notion of passing.  It has always been seen as rude to out someone as trans, to indicate that you can tell that they didn’t go through puberty as the sex assigned for their presentation gender.

Today, many want their own assertion of gender to be the end all and be all of how others should see them in the world.

“I am a ______ and my preferred pronoun is _______ and that’s the only way that you should ever think of me! Any intimation that I am more or different than what I claim is not only the height of abuse, it is a micro-aggression against me, a form of trans-violence!”

While being polite and respectful to others, honoring their presentation is always the right thing, does anyone really have the right or the ability to put limits on what others think, understand or believe about us?  Do you want them to have the power to put limits on how you think of them?   If not, the Golden Rule kicks in.

The truth is simple: changing your clothes, your name, your asserted gender, your body or even your genitals does not change who you essentially are.

It may allow you to change your choices, to change your relationships, to change your life, but that change — changing your mind — doesn’t come automatically.  And it doesn’t change your essence, only empowers you to reveal it more rather than concealing it

Immersion is a key part of transformation.  You have to leap, to become new, to cease being bound by the past so that you can become new.  Rebirth is vital.

The key to a whole life, though, is integration.  Taking all the pieces of you, the intense and different facets of who you have been and who you are, and putting them together is what ends up creating the jewel that is your life.

God gives you the gift of your being and you give God the gift of your becoming.

The heroes journey is about becoming both totally new and who you always were.   It is about revelation and connection, not about concealment and separation.

The stick that we carry, clenched so very deep in our bum, is there to keep us tight, never allowing what we consider ugly or dissonant to be revealed to other people. That also means that our deep, essential and messy humanity isn’t revealed to them either.

Transpeople, in my experience, don’t simply transition, being Biff one moment and Suzy the next when something magical happens.

Instead, we emerge into the wider world, poking our heart out and seeing how people respond.   We put one foot in front of the other, taking one step at a time, a long sequence of small leaps which moves us away from fear and expectations to love and liberation.

If you are done changing, you are done growing.  “It is surely a lifetime’s work, this learning to be a woman [or a man]” as May Sarton said.

In my experience, transition is a continuing process in every humans life.  Even if those moments feel more like revolution than evolution, they never create a real discontinuity in who we are, as they only change who we think we are, who we claim ourselves to be.

The moment when we start pulling the stick out of our butt is the moment when we stop trying to create boundaries between who we are and how we want to be seen.   It is the moment when we move past shame, fear and manipulation to reveal all of us, not only to the world but to ourselves.

We lie first to ourselves, trying to wall away the bits of us that we are too afraid to engage.   We want those bits to be erased rather than having to find a way to own them, own the queer and ugly bits that make us human beyond the assertion of the way we want to see ourselves, the way we want to be seen.

The incredible veneration of the transition narrative for transpeople, of  the notion that by coming out and asserting our chosen identity we finally become new and authentic is thrilling, easy and totally bullshit.

The ultimate trans surgery is always pulling the stick out of your own ass, embracing your own twisty history, dropping the pretense and demands to show up as an integrated, actualized, and beautiful human.

Everybody heals in their own time and their own way, though, so that coming to healing can take a long time, may take a lifetime.  But the gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are.

God gives you the gift of your being and you give God the gift of your becoming.

And that becoming never just happens in one big moment when you step across the gender line.

In The War

“How do you say “Fuck You!” in this white bread town at this time of year?”

“I don’t know,” said my sister.

“Happy Holidays!”

The solstice is the reason for the season.   We may have different beliefs that help us get through the darkness, waiting for the rebirth of the sun, from light that persists to a series of values, but we all experience the cold and dark.

Turning these traditions into a war because others don’t venerate what you do is not, at least to me, respectful or gracious.

May you find warmth, nourishment and connection in this season, whatever your beliefs.

Happy Holidays!

If You Are

““If you’re out there and, to be honest with you, if you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable. So the first thing I can do is try to present myself well. I want to dress well. I want to look good. When I go out, as Kim says, you’ve got to rock it because the paparazzi will be there.”
— Caitlyn Jenner, Time Magazine

In my experience, if you are out there and all people can see is a guy-in-a-dress making claims, it can make them uncomfortable.

Any notion that somehow, your expensive and highly polished exterior makes you not look like a man-in-a-dress to some people is just your entitled fantasy, a kind of arrogance that you are different than those other, uglier queers.

No matter how slick their packaging, every transperson has a passing distance (1998), a zone within which their biology and history is revealed.

Do people like looking at people they see as pretty more than people they see as ugly? Sure, but does that make the pretty people somehow better humans than the people with a rougher appearance?   I’m guessing that if you spent millions of dollars on your looks you want to believe that it does.

Thinking that somehow, your expensive and contrived packaging makes people more comfortable with the idea that you are trans, that you were born and went through puberty with a body that doesn’t match your gender presentation, that you break the rules of God and decent society as some see it, is just masturbatory arrogance.

Is pretty easier for people to take than ugly?   Sure.  But does pretty change the underlying truth?   Only an image manipulator, a marketer, a televisual dweeb would make that claim.

The Guy-In-A-Dress Line (1999) is where the cutting edge around trans has always lain.  What makes you a woman, what keeps you stuck as a guy-in-a-dress?

Some people want to believe that it is their cosmetic intervention that makes the difference, be that expensive padding, facial manipulation or reconfigured genitals.    This is what sets them apart from those fake, ugly, queer trannys who embarrass us all.

“I have spent everything to assimilate, to fit into social expectations,” they seem to say, “and those people who failed to make themselves pretty to others eyes, well, they make people uncomfortable with the way they let their queerness be visible.”

In my experience, though, the real transformation is always inside.

Transvestism is about changing your clothes.
Transsexualism is about changing your body.
Transgender is about changing your mind.

It’s not about claiming that you didn’t express yourself well, that the media took your words out of context.   It is about actually understanding the meaning of deeper connection, of seeing what is happening and not what you want to be happening.

Trans is challenging to people who love walls, comforting binaries which support their worldview.

And no matter how much you turn yourself to plastic to hide beneath pretty, your truth is out there.

And embracing it can set you free.

Images And Echoes

For many transwomen, pictures are the magic.

They approach the world in a visual way, rather than auditory or kinæsthetic.   Imagining images, plucked from fashion and erotica, creates the dreams of their trans expression.

Pictures can be manipulated, capturing a tortured moment and throwing away what doesn’t reflect your desires.   For so many transwomen, projecting onto the mirror is all they need, not looking for flaws but self embellishing, taking the cartoon and seeing it as real.

As a gateway to fantasy, many transpeople collect pictures which portray their fantasy world and enliven their own auto-eroticism.

With the eye of a film director, Jill Soloway is very much concerned with the power of images in the second season of “Transparent.”   Not only do we see the family in shifting light, we also see the two primary trans characters history manipulated.

Both Alexandra Billings’ Davina and Jeffrey Tambor’s Moira have their early pictures digitally massaged to repaint them as girls.   “Imagine what it would have been like if they could have been there that way,” one of the Pfefferman children suggests.

As a nod toward the issue of trans kids, this is important.   The trans content of the second season mostly exists as nods, telling moments that reveal the challenges of transpeople in the world, issues like suicide and finding healthy romantic relationships, rather than in the wider story.   The trans content is present and sparkles a bit for that, but it is not the main narrative that carries viewers.

The biggest trans related story is themed in the relationship with the lesbian world where Ms. Soloway has clearly spent time.   The feminazis conflate and emerge, as Rush Limbaugh might say, and Moira has to find connection and affirmation for her emerging self where she can, away from the armour which, in the past, lead her to choices she now regrets.

As someone who hasn’t really engaged and indulged their visual side, I find the emphasis on looks baffling.   My trans journey has been about my voice, not really about my appearance, which is probably why I haven’t felt the need to see a trans appearance in the mirror; my very trans, very femme voice is always, always in my head.

I am much more interested in re imagining our stories than in altering our images.   To me, essence is in the voice, not the clothes and the pose.   It is hard for me to imagine the power of images without an audience, though I know the process of creation is key for many artists.  While I do visual — I was great with a camera when I was young, showing an eye — I never focused on the image.

As powerful as words are, being very verbal is an approach that can leave me at a disadvantage in a very, very visual world.

Most women would rather be pretty than smart
because most men can see better than they can think.
-- Ann Landers, 1975

I know of many women who want sexy pictures made when they are young.  “I want to be able to prove to my granddaughters that once upon a time, I was this hot!” they laugh.

I pass women in the store and know that their current appearance is just the best evocation of the look they wore when they were younger and shinier.   Of course, that’s not something I will ever get to do, because my expression was always fragmentary and most of all, clouded by the crap around trans which was so much thicker back then.

Building an effective trans image just felt impossible to me, so I resigned myself to just play from the start of my explorations.   My one attempt at padded hips, for example, so critical to many silhouettes, left me feeling like I had taken a dump in my girdle.   That experiment didn’t last long, no matter how good it looked.

The faster our culture moves, the more impact images have.  Today, we judge everything by its cover, often a package so cleverly designed that we don’t even understand all the cues and symbols the designer invokes to stimulate our emotions.  It is possible to use words to examine the effect of words, but the power of images that drive instantly into our subconscious are usually beyond our rational understanding without doing lots and lots of analytical work.

I have missed my shot at being picture perfect, flawless and fabulous to look at.  I never followed the visual patterns that so many transwomen did, focusing on image change as the key to becoming new.  I also never followed the visual patterns that so many women did, creating and owning their own style, to express and polish through the years.

Personally, I can’t imagine what reprocessing the few pictures that I have of me would do.   They wouldn’t change my history, wouldn’t change my view, wouldn’t be images I would feel honest sharing.  My life cannot be photoshopped, only my image can, and I am not my image.

I am the shadows that my words cast, the meaning I strive to place into the words I share, this I know. It would be nice, though, if I understood how others saw my image, how I might manipulate and trust it in a way that made me more confident in such a visual world.