How Much Urine?

Once you get to the point where the goal is to not smell too much like urine, you have lost it.  Most people, well, they just don’t want to smell of urine at all, so when you have to start making subjective judgements about just how much urine odor is too much, is enough to trigger a shower and a change of clothes, well, the corner has been turned.

First, smelling a little bit like urine is something you can tolerate.   That makes sense, you think, because well, as you get older, there are inevitable drips and losses, and a faint whiff is just going to happen now and then.

The problem comes when you start having to decide just how much of the urine scent is too much.  Is it worth going through the hassle of a shower when you smell somewhat like urine?  Probably not, because, heck, you aren’t leaving the place and no one is coming to see you.

No you can wait another day until you really smell of urine, because, it’s not really bothering anyone, and heck, you are going to have to do a laundry once you change clothes anyway because you only have so many pairs of the fleece pants to stay warm in the place.

It might feel good to be clean, and you can even remember when you took a shower every morning, putting on fresh clothes, but that was a very long time ago now, in a whole ‘nother age.

No, now, it’s just not worth the effort.  Even if you do go out, it’s not like anyone is going to treat you differently, is going to want to engage you in any kind of meaningful conversation.    They will just mumble and smile and you will move on.   If they sense you as a bit aged, weak and incontinent, they may even have a bit of sympathy for you.

When there are no relationships that are worth caring about then very little else is worth caring about.

I made my own birthday dinner this year.  The tradition was always to use up the outdated corned beef marked down well after St Patrick’s day, six months before, to make a simple boiled dinner.   This year, I even went to a bakery and bought myself a cake.

My sister did happen to come by, so I gave her some, but she was expecting to try and take me out sometime, like we did to get the cold and clotted free burger in a past year.

Today, I pulled out the tree and put the Christmas lights on it, which I haven’t done for the past two years, just as a kind of scraping attempt at hope.   I found myself knocked out very quickly, aching and breathing funny, needing to stop.

That’s typical whenever I try to do anything around here.  I did wonder if it was physical weakness, but when I was taken down to help clean out the apartment of my sister’s friend, I worked hard for two days straight without such easy exhaustion and discomfort.

You could say it is in my head, but I think no, it’s in my heart.  What’s the point, where is this going, what is really going to change?   Sure, I smell like urine, but both my parents always smelled like urine and I was there to wash their urine soaked towels and by the end, even clear the bags on the foley.

I don’t smell too much like urine, though, and even if I did, well, getting cleaned up won’t really change anything, will it?

My sister kind of wants some medication to help me get back to caring.  I kind of want someone to give a shit about what I share, to engage it and mirror me.

You fight, you get old, you smell like piss.

All just part of the inevitable, really.

Gasping For Life

My lungs are collapsing as I scream for my life, one last moment of struggling to get someone to hear me.   I am sealed under a plane in a game called “Christmas Cracky,” my job to figure a way out of my entombment, being smart enough to get out of the trap by myself.

The trap, though, is rigged, so all that happens is it tightens as my chest is compressed tighter with every breath, the back of my throat burning with pain as I try and scream for help.   Not only does no one hear me over the voice of the engine, but the raw pain just increases as my mouth dries out, clogging my breath with every gasp for a bit more air.

Struggling, struggling, struggling for a last bit of breath, the recognition that my quest is futile sets in and I prepare myself to die, the sadness swamping me as my final air leaves me, never to come back.

All I can do is choke myself awake, breathing shallowly as I wake, my skin soaked with clammy sweat.   I realize the Christmas Cracky game has been a dream, just some kind of fatal experience of compression beyond revival, that leaves my body in spasmodic aches.

My dry throat has combined with my viewing of the second season of “Transparent,” and the kind of shock that ripples through the Pfefferman family and their kin, the waves of loss that destabilize them to their cultural roots,  immersing them in echoes of trauma and terror, leaves me wet, hurting and lost in this dark, isolated basement.

How long have I been screaming, told to help myself out of my own coffin, others assured that I am smart enough to find my way out of the closing, compressing crypt?

Even as I try to pull my tortured, jangled body back towards some kind of stability by doing the only thing I know how to do to offload my experience, typing into a text box on my screen, the best sharing I can possibly find to do, I know that tomorrow is my father’s birthday, marking exactly three years since he and my mother died under my care.

It took to and a half years for the finances to be settled, so for the last six months I have been stalled in my own vacuum, unable to reboot, to start breathing on my own again.   I gasp for breath and find only pockets of muck and sewage, clogging me up and forcing me to try and squeeze my lungs clear one more time, never getting enough volume, feeling the compression, losing air bit by bit by bit.

I wake up in a sweat, my mind struggling to make sense of my experience, of an aging and damaged body, of desperate isolation, of emotional entombment and every time feels closer to the last.  It is no effete, artistic game for me, it is the residual capacity of a closing life lived fighting for space, for air, for breath.   The ache, well, it does not stop.

There is no one else, though, to move the story along, to offer caring release, to play the part of salvation.  I’m supposed to be smart enough to do this by myself, and even when I reach out to clinical professionals, they can’t imagine any way to change the scars accrued from a tortured life full of scraping for survival and love while carrying too much, too much, too much, too much.

The epigenics of my life, the weight I have struggled to carry and pass through, have left me paying a high cost, going deep into deficit in a way I can’t just use my own thinking bootstraps to pull myself out.

So I wake up gasping for breath, shock coursing through my body, desperately trying to think of some thing, some place, some experience, some connection that can help to heal me.

And all I can do is write & pray.

Connective

I want to be visible in women’s clothes because I want to be able to connect with other women.

I know how to be visible as trans to speak as a shaman, to stand for continuous common humanity, to do my part to open the space for others to explore, express, emerge and heal.   That’s work for me, a fight to make, the kind of fight I make in my writing everyday.

I don’t find that work all that directly rewarding, though.  It demands a great deal of me and tends to keep me separate from others, speaking from authority and power.

Easy connection, though, comes hard for me.   I don’t have the training for it, I don’t have the mind and vision for it, I don’t have the understanding for it.

The kind of connection that I do comes from a very deep, a very fundamental place.   There is only one humanity and we all share it.

The connection most women have is essential, bonding over a shared essence.  It’s their flavor which gives them easy connection.  They have a shared history,  shared experience, a shared outlook.

The connection women have with men is often more essential than fundamental, exchanging flavours with a smile or a flirt.  They have learned to enjoy the complimentary essences of gender, coming together with a bit of a spark, no matter how tiny it is.

Even transpeople have trouble with fundamental connection, with the kind of queer approach which affirms the choices of another even if we would never, ever make them for ourselves.   Instead, they look for affirmation of their own choices, rejecting those who make choices which squick them.

That essential connection is beyond me, even if I own the fundamental connection incredibly deeply.

From the first trans support group I went to, I knew that playing out some kind of magical fantasy of external transformation — “Now I’m Biff! Now I’m Suzy!” — would never work for me.   Instead, I searched for androgyny, a more integrated gender expression which reflected my fundamental humanity.

Moving beyond simple group boundaries, though, has moved me beyond simple group boundaries.  I just don’t have “my peeps,” a group that I feel safe, at home and connected with.

My lack of training in how to be a group member is definitely a part of this challenge.   That history gives me an experience which sets me apart from most people who have prized group identity for most of their lives.   They have trouble understanding the experience of an outsider, just as extroverts have trouble understanding the experience of an introvert.

Assuming that our different experience is just because we are blocking our natural behaviour leads them to tell us to relax, ease up, drop our barriers and just “be natural.”   Explaining that we are being natural is met with dismissal and even derision; how can we not be regular like them, even if we block it?

If I can’t connect with other women, if I am stuck just being a potent queer shaman, where do I find simple caring, fellowship, understanding and nurturing?

I have been to people who identify as healers, but rather than meeting me where I am, finding common ground, they mostly do their traditional manœuvre, demanding that I sign up for their doctrine before they can help.   They only have power, they think, on their own terms.  They come from a fixed belief system, not from a place of connection.  Their way is the only way they think healing can work.

Meeting people where they are is the key to my healing approach, trusting that everyone is a unique individual.   My connection to them is not in what we both believe or in how we both follow the same rules, but rather in the fundamental shared human nature which binds us.

It’s more work not to have a standard routine, but is also much more rewarding to see people find their own unique power, to emerge into their own special blossom.

I know how to be visible as trans to speak as a shaman, to stand for continuous common humanity, to do my part to open the space for others to explore, express, emerge and heal.   That’s work for me, a fight to make, the kind of fight I make in my writing everyday.

Feeling essential connection, though, feels like the lifeline I must have.

And it feels very distant.

Even The Crappy Bits

I saw my first remote control years ago,  Its buttons used hammers to strike tuned aluminum rods that triggered a motor to rotate the tuner.  It seemed very intricate and very expensive at the time, beyond the reach of normal people.

Today, remote controls are so ubiquitous that the Modern Family episode I saw last night was intricately written that to miss a second would have lost you important jokes.   Not does it dynamically keep your attention, it can stand multiple viewings.

There was a time, before users thought that they should have a choice about every second of their viewing time, that people actually learned to sit through the slow bits, the quiet bits, even the crappy bits of what they were offered.   Options were limited, it took effort to change the channel and fast forwarding wasn’t even considered, so we learned to take what came, whatever it was.

Today, though, in an information economy, attention is the ultimate commodity.  People just tune out of the bits that they consider noise, switching the content in a desperate attempt to find the perfect content for them, without all the challenging, slow or hard bits.

How do we engage a workplace, for example, where someone has to do the shit work, when we believe that we are entitled to a remote control which lets us choose which parts we should have to go through?  When we think that we know better, that we should have the final edit of everything that we pass through, making it more convenient, more comfortable, more tailored to our impulse and whims, how do we learn to work through the crappy parts?

There is a reason that things today are much more sensation based, designed to grab and hold attention rather than making people work hard for the payoffs they get.  By not demanding investment from the participants, the results become much less satisfying to them, much less rewarding.

In an age where the remote control is ubiquitous, teaching us that we can zap past the stuff we find to be crappy, attention, discipline and grace have become skills to learn rather than becoming regular habits.   We begin to think that our precious time is being wasted when we feel forced to sit through something that we didn’t choose, don’t have direct control over, even if the choices we would make for ourselves don’t come with any thought, structure or conscious priorities.

Learning to respect what we get, even if it isn’t what we would choose to get, is a key part of growing up.  There is a reason we drag kids to assembly’s, church services, town pageants and bluegrass festivals; we want them to learn to be a good audience, present and receptive even when everything there is not of their choosing.

Nothing we engage in will ever be perfect, be it a variety show, an education, a job or a relationship.  The reason that new relationships feel so amazing, for example, is not so we can only stay in relationships until they feel like work, but so we can take the edge off and do the hard work of building patterns, understandings and trust.  Just cherry picking the buzz stops us from ever getting deeper, finding more meaning, building something more lasting.

Roll your own doesn’t mean only taking the fun bits and leaving the crappy ones.   Your imagined magic remote control won’t take the challenging and difficult parts away, won’t negate the need for grace, patience and discipline.

Life.   You actually have to be present to win.

Retrain The Brain

Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect 
I'm afraid.

The confidence and assurance to act “as if” is at the base of human optimism.

Nobody knows what the next moment will hold, but if we approach it with a belief that we can handle it, that there will be a good outcome, we are usually able to make that result happen.

My sister’s friend is taking care of her 87 year old father.  He has been in the hospital three times this year, needs full time help at home, and is currently in a physical rehabilitation facility that isn’t meeting his needs for care.

Her confidence that she can handle what comes next is very, very, very thin.

My job, whenever she calls, is re-contextualizing her experience, helping her see the wins more than seeing the losses and the battles still in front of her.  When I took care of my parents, I had to let go of the inevitable outcome and the inevitable losses to try and make sure that they had one more good day.

Sometimes that works and sometimes, well, the past patterns in her brain just kick back in, emotions overwhelming her and dragging her down.

So much of what I do with others is to help shift their habitual thinking, letting them unwire their emotional triggers and retrain their brain to let go of ego, fear and neediness so they can find empowerment, possibility and sometimes even a hint of joy.

Years of struggle taught me how to work this most fundamental basis of healing, breaking the cycle to create new possibilities by the miracle of seeing in a new way.  Change your expectations, change your perceptions, change your choices, change your life.   That’s the basis of all self-improvement.

I say yes, to people, yes there are possibilities beyond the limits of your current vision.   I encourage them to make another choices, have another attitude, to create different outcomes beyond the bleak expectations that they took away from their past.

I can do this because I don’t live in their head, even if I am awfully good at empathically knowing what is in there.   I am not bound up by their tortured experience, not limited by the wounds and scars that they carry.   I bring an outside perspective to fight for starting over again and again (1998), supporting them in moving into new and transformative.

Have you figured out where I am going with this? As a wounded healer, I live inside my own head.  As skilled as I am, hard won lessons from my long solitary journey, I am still bound up in my own tortured experience. My own hurt is written on my skin and is woven deep into my mind.

One reason people come to me is because they have found that sharing often becomes counterproductive as others find their challenges scary and overwhelming.  Their own fears and concerns get roiled up and they end up adding to the burden rather than helping move past it.

I, on the other hand, have done the work of coming out as trans, of burying my parents, of finding a way to be bright and scary.   I can fight the old demons in their mind with wit and authority, opening up new ways to see.

Who do I go to, though, to find someone who can say yes, seeing beyond, encouraging possibilities and doing the work I desperately need to retrain my brain?

The limits of self-support are always clear to me.  Doing my therapy alone has been cheap, high quality and very costly in terms of time.  It’s not fast.  There has been an enormous amount of three steps forward and two steps back, times when I am unable to consolidate and build on desperately won understandings.  Knowledge is one thing, the reward of the close observer, but action is another, demanding the skin involvement of the participant.

I know that the only way out of the place I am in requires retraining my brain, whistling a happy tune and acting as if.  I need to be resilient enough to let the world show me that things can work out differently than they have in the past, that my expectations aren’t totally valid.

And yes, I do know that medications can help soften the brain up, take the edge off and prime it for retraining.  To me, they are useful when part of a program to change behaviour, not as an end in themselves.   Drugs aren’t something I find easy to use or ever have; never even marijuana for me.

I teach that the only way out of hell is through, but for most people, more is never the answer.   They find me so intense when I say I am suppressed that they can’t imagine that more could possibly be better.  Instead of saying yes, they say modulate, calibrate, retard.

Playing small, though, is what got me here.  The habits of attenuation, of scarcity have captured my mind.  The world needs more Callan (1998).   Even as I write that, though, I pull back from it, my mind recoiling with an ache.

Retraining my brain using only my own mind to keep me on track is a mammoth ask and probably, in the end, an impossible one.  Reaching out to find help in that training, though, has not been very successful, although I do admit that may be cyclical; I am impaired and that impairment leaves my search to find assistance in addressing my impairment rather impaired.

I understand the call.  If you don’t get out front, expecting new and better, there is no chance you will ever get it.   Unless you are engaged and open to change, change will never come.

Retraining the brain is key to holding onto hope of better.

Asking the brain to retrain itself, though, is asking for resistance.

Not Men

What changes if men are not the organizing principle of a woman’s life?

The humor site Reductress speaks to the zeitgeist of women in this society.  What are the fears and dreams of women, and how can they be parodied to reveal their absurdity?

It’s no surprise that a great deal of those topics centre around finding a keeping a man, while most of the rest feature keeping up your status in the community of women.

Those two themes, though, are deeply intertwined.  Being able to hook a good man is a key way to get status in the world of women.

This is a traditional way for women to view the world.  Being a man’s property, finding a man to provide for you and your family, was the key challenge of women for millenia.  In heterosexist, bi-polar gender systems, reproduction was at the core of social value, leading gender roles to focus on procreation for economic benefit.   The aristocracy, the business, the church, the government all had reasons for encouraging breeding at as rapid a rate as possible.

It’s not hard to convince girls that their life is defined by the men they partner with.   Every high schooler knows the social pressure to be successful at dating, and most girls feel the inner pull to connect with guys anyway. They are willing and able to do whatever it takes to have a guy at their side, to get what they believe they need to succeed.

But what if men are not the organizing principle of a woman’s life?

There have always been some women who haven’t lived a life focused on men.  That isn’t always easy; even celibate women in religious orders, like nuns, have often been subject to the demands, expectations and control of men.

Even feminists usually set men as the organizing principle of their actions, not as objects of desire but as oppressors, as the enemy.   They define their cause as against patriarchy, even if they aren’t against men.

As women get older, they find that their relationship with men becomes less and less an organizing principle in their lives.  Men, instead of being an opposite to desire and game with, become just other humans, working together in the world.  Some have even suggested that for women, getting older involves a kind of sex change, moving from kitten to crone.

For transwomen, though, our relationship with men will always be different than those women who went through puberty as female.

We never had the expectation of mating and breeding imbued into us, starting with the fantasy of a perfect wedding.

We never had to feel the moment where we caught male gaze as a woman, our bodies signalling our budding, pubescent availability.

We never went through the pressure of maintaining status by dating well, learning to compete with other women for the attention of men.

We were never a little princess, never our father’s beautiful daughter.

More than that, our relationship with men is queered, even if we desire them.  How does dating someone like us challenge their identity as big straight guys?  How can they be proud of being with someone with our history?

Many men see transwomen as fetish objects, only created for play and not for relationships.   After all, we can never give them children; why would we be more than a bit of fun on the side? They see us as altered men, not as women.

For some transwomen, being a fetish object, a sissy who worships cock, becomes the entire focus of their feminine expression.  It plays out fantasies of trans porn in their minds, blocking out the real challenges of being a trans woman in the world.

Many transwomen, though, never really desired men.  While we may be politically bisexual, wanting our loves to embrace all of us, we just never felt our head swivel or our heart pound over the glimpse of some sexy man.

That doesn’t mean we don’t understand the social pressure to be with a man.   At SCC, even hardcore “heterosexual crossdressers” valued the Atlanta Gay Men’s Choir as photo props, good looking, sharp dressed men who would pose with you, the ultimate fashion accessory to go with your gown.

There comes a point, though, somewhere in your emergence as a trans woman, where you have to get serious about your identity in relationship.  Who the hell are you in the bedroom, in the pairing?

I laughed recently when one formerly devout heterosexual crossdresser, who has been faithfully married for years described themselves to a human sexuality class as a “lesbian.”   To them that only means they call themselves a woman and love women.   To lesbians, though, being a lesbian means much more, a whole code of social expectations and behaviours, a process of learning and claiming a life inside of a lesbian community and lesbian relationships.

We emerge as transwomen with a whole pile of fantasies still intact, imaginings of what and who we have always wanted to be.   From the first moment, we want to believe that every possibility we have considered is open to us, if we just do the right things; get our body changed, for example, or deny our past.

As we drop the armour, though, getting our skin into the game, we start to understand the limits of being a trans woman — a warrant woman — in the world.   We have to start letting go of our fantasies if we want to start making the most of our realities.

For most of us, men will never be the organizing principle of our lives.

We will never have the same kind of relationship with men that a woman who went through puberty as female has.  We won’t have the experience, the marks from expectations, the ingrained history of social pressure, the tools to deal with men and other women around dating, all that.

Once we acknowledge that our dreams of normative relationships will never easily come true, that we will always queer the relationships we enter unless we make our transness very invisible, we have to change.

How much should we even try to hide who we are if it that is a task we will always fail at?   Every transperson has a passing distance (1998), within which people can see all of us, and only letting people inside that distance can offer true intimacy.

For women who still can’t imagine that men have to be the organizing principle of a woman’s life, and for men who assume that their sex should always be the organizing principle of every one’s life, it is hard to think past the cultural habits.

Transwomen, though, can never see men as the kind of mystery that women who have never been embedded in the camp of men might, so men can’t be our organizing principle.  We can’t even really see them as other; we know their experience on our skin.

We have walked past gender binaries, needing to find organizing principles for our life that are not rooted in women vs men or even women and men.  The simple normative expectations of the dance are queered for us.

The message that men — that gender — may not be the best organizing principle for a woman’s life isn’t something that most find easy to accept.  Being yourself as yourself, not as a broken person looking to find your other half in a perfect relationship, is a hard dream to grasp.

Coming together as whole people, though, offers real benefits to all, as early feminists knew.

The gift of a lifetime is becoming yourself.

You are your own organizing principle.

Precise Stardom

When Rachel Bloom wants you to watch her in this performance, she uses an intensely focused energy, expressed through highly precise, very sharp and bouncy movements.  It is almost impossible to take your eyes off of her.

When, at the end, she needs to be left alone as her “crazy” character, her actions shift to a kind of lazy, sloppy style.  The energy peters out and you understand how she diffuses her power, losing what she might have.

Ms. Bloom knows that she is not a conventional musical star, that her strength is in her wit.   Through years of practice she came up with breakthrough videos — like this big hit — that showcased her finely polished discipline, enough to get her a TV show.

Finding ways to showcase our strengths with intensity and precision is usually the way we make breakthroughs in the world.

Sadly, though, it is often very, very hard to find anyone to support you in shining your brightest in the world.  Other people don’t want to be shown up, don’t want to be challenged, don’t want to have to perform past their comfort zone.

You may not believe this, but I was kind of intense when I was young.   I was also really damn blocked, very occluded.

Not only did I have little help to understand and express emotions, I was taught to be terrified that people would see what I had learned to hide at all costs.  I may have had the skills to help a self-loathing closeted gay man in my freshman dorm, after supporting hidden gay kids in high school, but I also knew there wasn’t much room for who I was.  I never saw myself being a queen at Jacques.

Times are different now.  People can step into the spotlight and stay there, even if they happen to be trans.  Our range of public models is greater.  Our possibilities are much wider, if we can just figure out a public face that transcends our neediness.

Ms. Bloom offers a glimpse of how to use discipline, precision and energy to pull eyes to you, to capture an audience and make some of them yours.  Especially if you live in Southern California.

Simple Things

I need the simple things that any human needs; companionship, attention, love, people to love.

I can’t afford, though, to have to cut myself down, deny who I am, play small to get those things.

I am wicked smart and wicked queer.  Who I am, my essence, is not a choice, as so many of us smart, queer people have been trying to tell the world for so very long.

I know how to enter the world and serve others.  I have proven that very well over the years.

My experience, though, tells me that the advice I get from others is that if I need to get the simple things any human needs, I need to relax, need to dial it down, need to meet the people where they are.  That is the simple and wise advice they want to give me.

It is also the simple and wise advice that has gotten me to this point, feeling so much “the loneliness of a long lost tranny,” as the tag line for this blog has read for over a decade now.

“Golly, what does that line mean, Callan?   How can I help?  I want to hear your stories,” is not the response I have gotten over the years. “Well, if you are so smart and so prickly, you can find solutions to your own problems,” is more like it.

My challenge started very early with my Aspergers parents, continued as my trans nature pushed me into the closet, and followed through with desire that was unsalable in the world.

There are, of course, a whole raft of shoulda, woulda, coulda, notions that might have made progress in the world better and easier for me.

Recently, I sang “Hello Dolly!” for my sister’s friend, recounting how I sang it to rouse my mother out of bed in the last week of her life.   She actually liked my singing and later asked me if I had done it professionally, which amused me, much as the person who just saw TBB and I perform as “The Drama Queens” in Portland came up to me and asked if we were professionals.  “You’d be good, if you only had an act,” was one professional drag queen’s judgement.

Her liking my singing sent me back to a time in the 1990s when a friend took my picture to a psychic and she said “Tell them to keep singing.”   “You have spoken for your mother, you have spoken for me, now speak for yourself,” my father told me many times in his failing last weeks.

I lived in the times I lived in, I lived in the network that I did, I made the best choices I could.  “Should” they have been better, more out there, more attractive and appealing?   It’s easy to say yes to that question, but “should” questions about the past are always tricks, always false.

I remember Monica who lived her life with a philosophy she got from “Popeye the Sailor.”  1) I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.  2) I takes what I takes and that’s all that I takes.  3) Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize. (When pushed, she would usually admit that she added the third one.)

I need the simple things that any human needs; companionship, attention, love, people to love.

I can’t afford, though, to have to cut myself down, deny who I am, play small to get those things.

I am what I am, and that’s all that I am, even if you find that challenging to you, even if you want to dismiss it as crackpot and stupid.   Calling me that has never changed who I am before, and I should know, because my family tried that between when I was about seven and thirteen years old.

My needs are simple, but I am not, which seems to make me difficult for others.

Builders and Bombthrowers

TBB suggested I respond to a friend who wanted to know about protests against a feminist in the UK.
I wrote 800 words.

Trans is a very, very individual journey.

Gay men and lesbians come out because they want to hook up with other gay men or lesbians, so the desire to fit in, to please and be attractive to other gay men or lesbians pushes them to assimilate, to become one of the group.

Transpeople, well, we don’t grow up wanting to be trans.  We want to be a boy or a girl, a princess or a passer.   We have individual journeys.

The one thing we do share is the experience of getting shamed and stigmatized and abused into a closet and the need to find some way to claim our own life in a world where the best we are offered is to be warrant women or passing men, either hiding our past or not quite being accepted.

Transactivism today is based around the same social justice model which drives racial and feminist activism: rage at what we sense as oppression.  It taps into that experience we share of being treated as “less than” because of who we are seen to be.

The way to bring transpeople together is seen as coming together around shared oppression.   We come together to lash out at people who symbolize the thousands of tiny abuses that we have experienced in our lives, the call to hide, to play small, the times we felt humiliated and dehumanized, all those wounds.

It’s hard to get angry at a kindly aunt who cuts you some, even while trying to be “nice,” but it still hurts.  Those hurts add up, so when we can come together to confront someone who claims to have authority who is saying things that echo of the words that hurt us, well, it feels good.

There is a cost to the oppression model, though, no matter how comforting it feels at first.   In it we claim our own abjection, our own powerlessness, demanding that “they” somehow change to make us feel better, to give us power.   Our own power, we seem to say, only consists of demanding change, not of actually being able to create change in the world.

Creating change is hard, especially for young and marginalized people, because we have to take responsibility and work hard.   It can feel overwhelming and hopeless if you have no standing to build a life.

I know why organizers use shared oppression as connecting strategy.   What else can bring us together?   Sabrina created spaces where transpeople could come together to find empowerment, but with the internet, those spaces have now degraded into big closets where those who have blocks to coming out can go and play for a week.

I also know why real change comes from taking responsibility and working one-on-one for change.

We need people pounding the barricades to move the front lines along.  And we also need people like Sabrina who come in, live their lives, show themselves and make connections in the world, people who consolidate the gains and build the structures of lasting change with their own responsible actions.

Every African American person who is a pillar of their community also knows the experience of racism in the world.    They may not support all the actions of every protester, but the rage, the flame at the core of their pain is familiar to them.  Everyday they have to play their part in their communities, if that is employing people, speaking to others who are baffled, or supporting protesters.   They have to find the balance between assimilation and identity, between acting from anger and acting from building structures.

Ms. Greer’s words are intemperate and rude, deliberately provocative, even if she has truth in her argument.   She is bomb throwing against perverted men who are colonizing her womanhood.  She is coming from her own internalized victim identity and getting herself press and bookings in the process.

Is that going to stimulate protest?  Sure.   Ms. Greer has always been a bomb thrower as a feminist, railing against everything, so no surprise that she engenders protests that sound the same.

The understanding that systems of oppression exist are very different than feeling those systems on your own skin.   Liberation always starts with consciousness raising, understanding the stuff you have internalized and how you can claim better and smarter.

Transpeople need to find our common ground, need to swing the pendulum wide to get at the roots of the self-policing that keeps us small, broken and afraid.  We need breakouts in the world to make space for us to move in, sliding the boundaries of “normal” to include our experience.

And so, there will always be room for shouting down those who set themselves up as symbols and room for reasoned, compassionate discussion that helps find common ground and connection.

It’s all part of the same process, or at least that’s how I see it.

No Crotch Disclosure

Nobody but your lover or your doctor needs to know what you have between your legs.    What you have between your legs doesn’t define you, doesn’t need to belong to public knowledge unless you make it so.

Choosing to reveal your current genital configuration is a deliberate choice.  When you allow discussions of your genitals with anyone either than someone who is your doctor or is awfully close to being your lover, you are trying to keep yourself located firmly in the heterosexist view of gender.

“Yes, I have a penis under this dress, so I am really a. . . ”   or “I do not have the privilege that I believe comes with a penis” or any other attempt to locate your essential identity with your current genital configuration is a political assertion that is out to locate you in sexist expectations and turn your back on transgender liberation.

Even when you discuss the process of modifying your genitals to anyone who isn’t also in the market to change theirs, you suggest that somehow, changing the shape of your crotch will change who you are.  You place power in the penis or in the lack of it.

The political basis of trans is simple: who you are is defined by your heart and revealed by your choices, not located in the current shape your reproductive biology.

Sure, you have the right to shape your body in ways that are aesthetically pleasing to you, ways that help it function better for your choices in fashion and in intimacy, but you are not your body.

Reshaping your body may give you permission to make specific choices more easily, may change your relationship with your audience, which may change your view of the world, but it doesn’t change who you essentially are.

For anyone who has felt defined and constrained by their reproductive biology from birth, who has struggled with the assumptions and expectations placed on their body, who has felt the cruel sting of gendering that demands you act in ways that are culturally assigned to people with bodies like yours, this can be a hard leap.

You have been defined by your body, so doesn’t your body define you?   No, you have been defined by the demands placed on people with your biology, not by the biology itself.

If your biology defined you, your trans heart wouldn’t have kept calling you to choices and desires that were seen as inappropriate for people with a body that went though puberty like yours did.

You are who you have always been, whatever the shape your pee-pee is.  Now, though, you choose to act from some inner truth rather than the cultural assumptions written on your biology.   You tell the truth about your nature rather than try to lie about your body.

Talking about current genital configuration as if it matters is a political act, an act that supports heterosexist demands, trying to curry favour with others who have been taught to believe that we are defined by our biology.

Your discussion of your genitals with other than a lover, a doctor, or someone else in the process of managing their bits is a blow against the politics of transgender liberation.

And your discussion of anyone elses genital configuration is totally beyond any decency or sense of respect and dignity.  Their body is not yours to disclose, unless they have given you specific and detailed permission.

This is true no matter how much anyone else is curious about your body, no matter how much they want to gawk, or how much they feel entitled to pull your panties down and take a good look.

Giving them a free show, even verbally, reveals you as juvenile and graceless.   Giving them a paid show reveals you as a sex worker, not that there is anything wrong with that.

If our genitals don’t define who we are, why should we want or need to reveal them in polite company?  Isn’t just letting our choices reveal us a much stronger stand politically, one that offers dignity to every trans person, whatever stage their body is at?

I know that we live in a culture where bodies are often on display, where people shape and preen them to attract attention and other things.  As transpeople, we feel the power and the pull of those fashions, of the gendered cues that come from skin and shapes.

Politically, though, isn’t our most fundamental tenet that we are not defined by our bodies, and we most certainly are not defined by the heterosexist cultural expectations that divides bodies into binaries by reproductive biology, layering crushing assumptions onto our crotch?

Disclosing or refusing to disclose your genital configuration is a political act.  By that choice, you tell the world how important you believe genitals are in defining who someone is in the world.

I know where I stand on that question; on the side of trans liberation.

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.
-- Audre Lorde

Like Me

I have come to believe that I do not get more attractive the more eager I appear to be.

Many people suggest that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. They suggest that I back off too quickly, that I attenuate too soon, that I don’t try hard enough.

Those who are successful at the strategy of persistence in relationships, though, aren’t usually the ones who are asking people to meet them where they are, to engage them on shared ground.

I suspect that the people who are win by coming back again and again are earnest, eager and very much want to be liked. If you want someone else to like you, if you are willing to do whatever it takes to charm them, well, then your efforts may well pay off in the long term.

As for me, I’d rather be respected than liked. Having both respect and affection would be great, of course, but respect always comes first. I am a professional, not a charmer.

The big benefit to my approach is honesty. Over time with me you can figure out that what you see is what you get, that I am telling the truth, that I am not blowing smoke up your skirt to seduce you, that I have no hidden agenda, that you can count on me to keep the commitments that I make.

I don’t just say what other people want to hear, say whatever I think will be most effective in the moment. I carefully consider my responses, doing my best to come from a place of truth and integrity.

It’s just not a very “go along to get along” kind of approach. Many may find it useful to get people to like them before they reveal a bit more of themselves, but in my experience, my personality and vision is going to surface sometime and any sense that I first disingenuously played cute to hide who I am works against me rather than for me.

The truth is that I tend to get more queer the more you know me rather than less. As my essence emerges, people tend to see me as more and more different than they are, rather than finding connections.

This doesn’t mean that they see me as not useful, only that they see me as quite weird. Oddly, one of the reasons for this is because I speak my mind rather than working hard to be liked. I tend to stand out rather than to fit in, which may be bold, authoritative, courageous and strong, but it is far from cuddly and nice.

If you come a little bit towards me, I can offer powerful and fascinating things. If, on the other hand, you find me odd and challenging because I don’t choose to come towards you, well, there is not much I can do to help us find common ground.

Those people don’t like me because they have decided that they don’t see themselves as like me.

Nobody is more different to an average person than a transgender person, and that makes them nervous,” or so Barney Frank said.

It is very hard to be accepted as one of the gang when people’s first thought is about how very different I am from them. They see me as an outsider, a curiosity, a freak, a mascot.

People don’t really like me because they sense that I am not like them. That doesn’t mean that they don’t respect me, accommodate me, or even admire me on some level, but it does mean that they don’t want to get too close, too easy with me.

It probably would have been useful to learn how to be one of the gang when I was a kid rather than being a bold individualist, but there was no one to help teach me how to do that, and wanting to be one of the gang would have served me quite poorly at home, where I always needed to be able to stand up for myself. In my mother’s last years she would often tell me about how her husband ruined her life by putting her kids first, and I had to just not make the point that I was one of those kids and I needed parents when I was young.

In environments where diversity is already a fact, things are easier for me. Humans, though, tend to enjoy homogeneity, imagining that the culturally normative for them is actually normal, is the way that things should be. When people know the world to be queer, full of unique individuals rather than just chockablock with people like them, they learn to look deeper to find connection.

I have learned that people who find me queer and off putting probably are not going to learn to like me the more I am in their face. They may learn to work with me, to respect me, but that is something very different.

They like people who smell like them.

And that, I am afraid, is something that I will never be.

Trans As Art

Creative expression is the only way out of emotional turmoil.

Making something out of your feelings is the only way get out from under them in a productive way which moves you forward.

This isn’t the typical explanation for transgender expression. Instead we talk about realness, about truth and authenticity, about who we have always been, about brain sex and birth defects.

But what if transgender emergence is primarily about the creative expression which allows us to process our feelings by remaking our appearance and role in the world?

What if transgender expression is really driven by the need to create art, to surface and explore feelings and understandings beyond the rational and the verbal?

It’s easy to dismiss this idea with the notion that art is just something frivolous and trivial.   Trans is real, after all, not just some kind of surface affectation.  Reducing what we have struggled with all our lives to the level of art just takes the power and truth from it.

Art, though, is one of the few human creations that endures beyond our flesh.   It is the only creation that captures enduring truth and beauty.

Art has always had power because it speaks of truths far from the everyday and mundane, expressing the deep, resonant and powerful which cannot be revealed any other way.

For people who have gotten used to swallowing their feelings, to hiding them in a closet and replacing them with a kind of socially manufactured erotica, generic porn,  the idea that we have to be an artist with our life can seem something to run from rather than to embrace.

Making art is hard.  It takes discipline and precision to enter our own, very personal creative energies, to tap our feelings, fight our demons and reveal our deepest energy.   Powerful art is about revelation and not about imitation, creating our own personal montage of unique expression by making considered, intense, nuanced and shaded choices

Creative expression is the only way out of emotional turmoil.    Most women know this on some level, which is why they have some kind of creative expression going, be it coffee cakes or high fashion.

I don’t want life to imitate art.
I want life to be art.
— Carrie Fisher

Transgender is about pure transformation or it is about nothing at all. (1995)

Artists live at the front edge of society, making choices others see as daring.  Once your daring stops, though, so does creativity.

"You need to realize that searching for validation [of your trans choices] is a waste of time because you will never get it from any source other than yourself. "

Art is as individual as a fingerprint.  Primas don’t travel in packs; they have to own their own bold, brazen and beautiful stardom.  Being both observer and participant at once has challenges.

Art, though, is often seen to be in the eye of the beholder, so the artist’s relationship with their audience is always fraught.   Do we pander, playing the audience, or do we break ground, playing our own instrument to full power?  Obviously. the choice is always somewhere between the two poles, being unique and accessible, wild and tame, in some kind of balance.

Creative expression is the only way out of emotional turmoil.    And we call creative expression art.

Trans expression is essentially creative, stitching a public presentation to serve the purposes of showing our deepest self in the world and finding ways to smoothly communicate & connect with those around us.

I understand that when I show my trans truth, pulling order out of the emotions that have always circled around who I am, how I see the world, and my experience of emergence, I am creating art.

Do I wish that I had an audience who could get my expression, engage, understand and value it, “getting the joke” so to speak?  Sure I do.  It would be good to be supported in creating expression beyond words, in asserting a kind of respected truth and beauty.

My truth, though, is in my art, as gracefully as I can make it.

I suspect that other transpeople have their truth in their creative expression, too, even if they would recoil from ever thinking of themselves as an artist.

After all, creative expression is the only way out of emotional turmoil, and transpeople know emotional turmoil first hand.

Crunch Me

Wild and tame; the primary duality.  We all need to be wild enough to be unique and special, we all need to be tame enough to fit appropriately in the group, following decorum and traditions.

ShamanGal just felt this reality play out in her workplace.

She arrived there two years ago as a well assimilated transwoman, having explored her trans expression for years, doing all the paperwork and such to give her a blended cover story, the twists in her life concealed as much as possible.

Her journey there has been around finding ways to come out some, revealing her trans nature and claiming her unique voice.

This week, another transwoman emerged into the office in a quite different way, transitioning in place.   She starts instead from a place of wildness, boldly claiming her power of self expression.   Rather than trying to blend in, she wants to stand out, letting her “I’m here, I’m queer, don’t mess with me!” attitude come to the fore.

While ShamanGal has been working with her co-worker over the last few months, taking her to her first trans support group and helping her shop for jeans and tops that work, the emergence is challenging the office.

How could ShamanGal both affirm the power of emergence and help others who found her co-worker’s expression rough, raw and in-your-face?

This challenge, how queer is too queer and how queer is not queer enough, has always been played out in the interlocking communities around trans.  We know when others look like they are creating more friction than friends, and we know when others look like they are selling out, gaining favour by denying their essence.

In 1998, I wrote a poem in two voices pouring out this battle. Andrea Bennett liked it:

Ah, Callan, how I respect you, and your gift!  Indeed there is so much of us in one another that the differences seem inconsequential.  And it is such a short step from one role to another.
  Andrea

17 years later the battle still rages, especially as identity politics has gained traction.   Being out, loud, challenging and trans is acceptable today as it never has been before.

It is a battle that we have to fight even when we don’t want to.   “Oh, Caitlin Jenner’s coming out must have been a great thing for you!” one smart woman says to TBB, who has seen many newly out transpeople struggle with grace and integrity.

Finding transpeople mature enough to support us is hard.   ShamanGal’s co-worker was delighted with the expression of support, even if she didn’t really understand (or want to understand) the words about the challenges of finding grace and growth in a trans journey.

ShamanGal can support her co-worker, but her co-worker can’t support ShamanGal.  She is just not there, and may never be there as long as she needs to keep the armour up and the stick up her ass, asserting her wildness over acknowledging connection in diversity.

My essence is as likely to be stomped on and erased by a transperson, or someone who considers themselves an ally, even those who are lesbian and gay, as it is to be crushed by a fundamentalist heterosexist person.

It doesn’t matter to them how nuanced and polished my gender expression is, it only matters how I fit into their expectations of who and what I should be. Listening and respecting is just too hard; assumptions are so much easier.

Life is, very much, about what you are willing to fight for.  Life without fight is life without meaning or growth.

Fighting alone, though, is more wearing than anyone who hasn’t done it can imagine.

I know what I am “supposed” to do, which is fight to speak for myself, to make my voice heard in the world.  Clearly, 25 years of sharing my writing in public venues has not been enough to be heard, mostly because what I have to say isn’t what they expect and want to hear.

I am keenly aware, though, that being in-your-face has a high cost and limited rewards.

Sharon Ann Stuart tells the story of sharing a room at a trans conference with Virginia Prince who would come in every night, dress in an elaborate peignoir set, array herself out on the bed like laying out a bier, and then verbally go though all the arguments that she had won that day.  This was how Prince kept themselves going for so many decades, the ego refreshing recitations of a solitary warrior.

Somehow, that doesn’t sound appealing to me.   I like community, I like teams, I like working together, I like it when people take care of each other.  I am a femme.

The magical thinking to believe that, somehow, people will see me as I want them to see me, is not in my repertoire.  My way or fuck you has never been my approach to community and connection.

Standing up to support people who are making choices that I would never make for myself, well, that is what I do.   I listen to their stories, respect their truths and value their diverse, unique human essence.

How, though, do I get them to hear my story?

Without History

Trans, by definition, is about change.  It is about becoming new, moving beyond bounds, finding what lies beyond.

For people in the throes of that change, there seems that there is only now.  A few dreams may motivate them, and there may be echoes of a shrinking past, but trans is about recreation, about motion, sensation and Eros.

Trying to tell people who are claiming transness, working to jettison expectations and create new,  about the importance of the long term, about the lessons of history, about core values and enduring lessons, well, you may as well try to tell stories to a cat.

It’s thirty years for me as an out, exploring transperson.

That makes little sense to anyone.  Isn’t trans a moment where you cross between, say people who see trans as just one transitive moment?  How can anyone stand between, in the liminal zone for three decades?   What can there possibly be to learn, to change, to become in all that time?

My experience of trans is the experience of understanding, knowing that the longer I stay in the fire, the more the shit burns away and the purity is revealed.

Standing in the fire, though, seems crazy buckets to people.  How can you build, grow and understand more deeply?  Shouldn’t you just follow your impulses, burn the change out, and then fall back to whatever is left?  Surely, the Phoenix needs to leave the fire when it stops being fun, right?

What does it mean to be trans in a way that isn’t just being stuck in a zone of change that will end, letting you fall back into some kind of presumed normalcy?

I have a narrative of 30 years of trans, but that experience, especially the mental experience that has been so profound to me, just can’t fit in the model of trans which is just about emergence and desire.  Going deep and creating nuance doesn’t fit in that story, only playfulness and pain count, away from the workaday challenges of being trans and present for life.

To the young, history is just a concept.  It doesn’t yet exist on their skin.  And every newly out transperson, no matter what their chronological age, is young, just emerging into childlike dreams of blossoming.   They can’t take on the weight of experience, they need the exuberance of emergence.

Teaching long term thinking to someone whose ego just wants to break the bounds of enforced childhood, who needs affirmation of their most sensuous desire is a very difficult task.   Responsibility comes with maturity, and how can maturity be a trans thing?

Those who see trans as the rejection of social obligations and niceties are ready to blast away to maintain what they see as freedom and independence.  They are rejecting their dependence on others, on structures, railing at how unfair and demanding they are.

For me, though, coming to the state of interdependence where we support each other to create a safe, nurturing world that supports diversity and growth is at the heart of the transgender journey.  Transpeople know that they want this kind of care, they just are often unsure of how to also give it without letting go of their wild freedom.

Building structures with only the flexible bits — the transpeople — is almost impossible.  Our role is connection and shock absorption.  Playing that part, though, requires us to show up with respect and duty rather than with arrogance and ego.  We can’t make it about us, have to be part of the team.

Trans is about change.   That change, though, leaves a trail, a path, a journey.   Through that trip lessons are offered to us — where we stumble, there lies a jewel — and we have to decide if we want to take that learning on board or stay in our own reverie of magical appearance.

When I hired staff, it was crucial that they could learn from their mistakes.  It was much better, though, if they could learn from the mistakes of others, too, taking on board the gifts which others gained though the hard work of getting back up after they stumbled.

“But I don’t wanna be like that!” so many transpeople will wail, holding desperately onto the imagined outcomes which fuelled their emergence. The outcomes they see in transpeople around them are not the outcomes they want for themselves, not what they went through such pain and effort for.

Novelty is the essence of trans, at least according to those who see trans as type of freak show, an exhibition of external manipulation put on for their benefit.  We are just theatre, separated from real life, playing out our own little acts for the amusement of ourselves and the normies.

My trans, though, is written in my history.  Thirty years, three decades of being out, and a long time in the closet before that.  I knew who I was very, very early, even if I didn’t know what being like me meant in the world.

Getting that history into the world, especially the non-objective history, my experience of life, has been enormously challenging, because so many want to believe that trans isn’t about history, but only about our claiming expression in the moment.

History is always the story of change.  Those who are unaware of that, those who see themselves not in the context of a narrative but only as a the inhabitant of a moment in time leave themselves without any understanding of how to avoid the pitfalls of the past.

We are never separate from history; we make it with each of our choices.

Until we can respect the past, we can’t respect the future.

It’s great being intensely present, vulnerable, open and transforming beyond expectations, but having more than ego and sensation shape your choices is the only way to create better, outside of indulgence.

Trans is becoming new, no doubt.   But it is always best done with a great respect for the old.