The Principles Of Individuality


From the cradle to the grave, you are measured against the ever-present yardstick of the average, judged according to how closely you approximate it or how far you are able to exceed it. In school, you are graded and ranked by comparing your performance to the average student. To get admitted to college, your grades and test scores are compared to the average applicant. To get hired by an employer, your grades and test scores—as well as your skills, years of experience, and even your personality score—are compared to the average applicant. If you do get hired, your annual review will quite likely compare you, yet again, against the average employee in your job level. Even your financial opportunities are determined by a credit score that is evaluated by—you guessed it—its deviation from the average.

Most of us know intuitively that a score on a personality test, a rank on a standardized assessment, a grade point average, or a rating on a performance review doesn’t reflect your, or your child’s, or your students’, or your employees’ abilities. Yet the concept of average as a yardstick for measuring individuals has been so thoroughly ingrained in our minds that we rarely question it seriously. Despite our occasional discomfort with the average, we accept that it represents some kind of objective reality about people.

What if I were to tell you that this form of measurement—the average—was almost always wrong? That when it comes to understanding individuals, the average is most likely to give incorrect and misleading results? What if, like the cockpit designs and Norma statues, this ideal is just a myth?

The central premise of this book is deceptively simple: no one is average. Not you. Not your kids. Not your coworkers, or your students, or your spouse. This isn’t empty encouragement or hollow sloganeering. This is a scientific fact with enormous practical consequences that you cannot afford to ignore. You might be thinking I am touting a world that sounds suspiciously like Lake Wobegon from Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, a place where “All the children are above average.” Some people must be average, you might insist, as a simple statistical truism. This book will show you how even this seemingly self-evident assumption is deeply flawed and must be abandoned.

It is not that the average is never useful. Averages have their place. If you’re comparing two different groups of people, like comparing the performance of Chilean pilots with French pilots—as opposed to comparing two individuals from each of those groups—then the average can be useful. But the moment you need a pilot, or a plumber, or a doctor, the moment you need to teach this child or decide whether to hire that employee—the moment you need to make a decision about any individual—the average is useless. Worse than useless, in fact, because it creates the illusion of knowledge, when in fact the average disguises what is most important about an individual.

In this book, you will learn that just as there is no such thing as average body size, there is no such thing as average talent, average intelligence, or average character. Nor are there average students or average employees—or average brains, for that matter. Every one of these familiar notions is a figment of a misguided scientific imagination. Our modern conception of the average person is not a mathematical truth but a human invention, created a century and a half ago by two European scientists to solve the social problems of their era. Their notion of the “Average Man” did indeed solve many of their challenges and even facilitated and shaped the Industrial Age—but we no longer live in the Industrial Age. Today we face very different problems—and we possess science and math far better than what was available in the nineteenth century.

Over the past decade, I have been part of an exciting new interdisciplinary field of science known as the science of the individual. The field rejects the average as a primary tool for understanding individuals, arguing instead that we can only understand individuals by focusing on individuality in its own right. Cellular biologists, oncologists, geneticists, neuroscientists, and psychologists have recently begun to adopt the principles of this new science to fundamentally transform the study of cells, disease, genes, brains, and behavior. Several of the most successful businesses have begun to implement these principles, too. In fact, the principles of individuality are starting to be applied just about everywhere except for the one place where they will have their greatest impact—in your own life.

I wrote The End of Average to change that.

-- Todd Rose, "The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness"

Yet, averagarianism did cost us something. Just like the Norma Look-Alike competition, society compels each of us to conform to certain narrow expectations in order to succeed in school, our career, and in life. We all strive to be like everyone else—or, even more accurately, we all strive to be like everyone else, only better. 
We have lost the dignity of our individuality. Our uniqueness has become a burden, an obstacle, or a regrettable distraction on the road to success.

-- Todd Rose, "The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness"
Averagarianism forces our thinking into incredibly limiting patterns—patterns that we are largely unaware of, because the opinions we arrive at seem to be so self-evident and rational. We live in a world that encourages—no, demands—that we measure ourselves against a horde of averages and supplies us with no end of justification for doing so. We should compare our salary to the average salary to judge our professional success. We should compare our GPA to the average GPA to judge our academic success. We should compare our own age to the average age that people get married to judge whether we are marrying too late, or too early. But once you free yourself from averagarian thinking, what previously seemed impossible will start to become intuitive, and then obvious.

-- Todd Rose, "The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness"

Into The Wind

“Don’t piss into the wind.”

I asked for advice from Chuck Munson, demanded advice, and after a good think, that’s what he offered me.

“Don’t piss into the wind.”

It may have been the best advice that have ever gotten.  Certainly, it’s up there among the top.

As good as it feels to piss in the face of fools, pissing into the wind just doesn’t really do anybody any good.

TBB was in a training course when the topic of employment rules came up.   As the only engineer, the only one in the union, she felt compelled to offer a word of warning when the subject of enforcing administrative rules not covered by contract came up.

“I would check with the liaison before trying to go against collective bargaining agreements,” she said.

The rest of the group found her words distasteful.   They insisted on the rightness of their position, insisted that they had the will and the power to trump any agreement.

As an engineer who has to deal with the reality of machines, TBB knows that her will stops when it comes to the mechanics of real life.   Hell, she can’t even get the personnel department to not assign people who have proven themselves lacking, as they insist that fairness should override quality.

TBB saw a fight she couldn’t win with this group who really want to believe in their power to demand compliance.  Like so many weak managers, they imagine an organization in which people just do what they are told rather than being smart, independent individuals with their own diverse understandings.

If it wasn’t a class on leadership, she would have stayed silent.   As a mouthy broad with a smart head on her shoulders, she learned a long time ago what Chuck told me: don’t piss into the wind.

For people like TBB and I, speaking the truth, even when it was not only inconvenient but also ineffective was what we learned to do very early.  It got us into plenty of trouble until we got the lesson Chuck wanted me to know: don’t piss into the wind.

Entering a fight with a group of people who are sticking together to defend their own desires, their own insider status, well, that isn’t going to end well for the intruder.   Yes, it may soften the ground, may plant some seeds, but the person who does that is still going to end up battered and devalued.

TBB felt that old cold wind when they closed ranks to try and silence her.   Now, she is TBB, so she didn’t back down, but she did feel how much the lessons of diversity and respect were ignored to try and marginalize her as a threat to the illusions of absolute control.  She felt it and it hurt her, even though her tough shell took the blow.

Raising the subject again later, she tried to explain what happened to the facilitator who offered to let her leave.   That wasn’t the point.

We can’t fight and win every battle.   We have to pick and choose, deciding when we have a chance to make a win and when we will just be pissing into the wind.  You gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em and at our age, we fold.   TBB even wonders why people look her up on the internet anymore after so many years of trying hard not to piss into the wind.

Choosing battles carefully because after a lifetime of experience we know the price of futile and stupid gestures is reality for transpeople.   Newly out transpeople may try to tell people how to think, try to imagine a world where they can order correctness, but after a while, you learn to be more considerate with your piss and vinegar.

TBB has been around long enough to know that she is the one who is going to have to clean up the mess.   Even her staff has trouble speaking up when things aren’t right, wanting to just stick to their knitting rather than make waves.    This makes her even more aware of the need to pick her battles, to fight less and be more effective.

We know the moment our fight goes all pear shaped, when what we are trying to offer to the group is just getting dismissed and erased.   Speaking up is important, but, well, Chuck was right; pissing into the wind doesn’t really serve any good purpose.

Get shut down enough times, though, and if you don’t have the spark TBB brings, you can just learn to not even try to fight for what you think is right.  You can learn to keep your head down, let stuff pass and just be satisfied with the mediocre.

As TBB likes to say, failure is not an option.  It is, though, a possibility if we don’t value and encourage the fight to be better everyday.

Keep throwing good stuff back in people’s faces, though, dowsing their spirit, and you will never get the best from them.

What do you think is worth fighting for, even if you get a little blow back?

How many times, how many years, how many decades are you willing to fight the same fight?

And when do you just decide the fight is no longer worth the effort?

Continue reading Into The Wind

Archetypal Failure

People love stories.  We connect with stories, from books, from the radio, from TV and movies, even from the people around us.

The reason we connect is because stories encapsulate the human experience.    They are fundamentally the same, with some changes in essence, the same stuff of human lives with a twist in the flavour.   In stories we look for commonalities, look for ways to project ourselves into them, someone to identify with, someone with whom we make an emotional connection.

Stories, though, about people who have challenges making emotional connections with other people, well, those are not stories that stimulate an emotional connection with us.

Those stories, those people lay outside of the archetypes that make stories effective in playing the emotional notes of a human life.

The documentary “Autism In Love,” available on PBS.ORG until April 10, tells three stories about people on the spectrum and their experience in relationship.  It’s an odd film because while the narratives are familiar, the emotional content you might expect to be there is not.

All these people feel love, of course, but their experience and expression of that love comes in a different way, one that can feel blank or distanced to someone who isn’t familiar with people on the spectrum.

I have been telling my stories for a long time now, trying to share my experience.  Mostly, though, I haven’t been that effective in connecting with others.

There is clearly intellectual content in what I share, and there is also emotional content, both powerful enough to be overwhelming.

The archetypal standards, though, are missing.  For most people it is hard to follow the arc of my thinking and my feeling because that arc just doesn’t follow conventional archetypes, the common expectations of how stories play out.

My stories aren’t just like the stories you grew up hearing, just with a cute twist, like my family is Greek.  My stories stand on their own, run through their own channels, which can seem very far from the expectations of humans.

It’s not easy for me to explain that I am just like someone else, or a combination of this person and another person, because my life has been lived outside the bounds of standard stories.

That doesn’t mean I and my stories are not human, any more than the stories in “Autism In Love” are not human.   It means, though, that the easy expectations, the internalized arcs, the connection points are not where you expect them, that there is work that has to be done to find the threads that go through my story and yours.

“Sex And The City” reviewers often noted that no four women would ever have had that range of experiences in real life.  Of course, they wouldn’t; they are archetypal characters who had to play out almost every archetypal dating experience in New York City to connect with their viewers and play out their mission.   We know those women, they are “our girls” because they conform to our archetypes.

Writers, especially fiction writers who want to have success as authors, learn to be effective with archetypes.  They put their own spin on those stories, assembling components, adding flavour, writing with style, but they learn to tell stories that other people connect with, archetypal stories.

Those archetypes often seem as foreign to me as my archetypes do to others.   I watch them bumble and scheme, manipulate and be blind, and I wonder why they can’t see what is in front of them in the way someone on the spectrum might.  I had to learn how to live in that context from my earliest days, away from the standard stories of cooing babies.

My failure in connection with other people is about how different the archetypal experiences I hold inside are from their archetypal experiences.  My story conventions and expectations are so different from theirs they have trouble making connections.

For transpeople, a huge challenge has always, always been how we tell our story in a way that is effective with other people.

Often, we judge that effectiveness on how our story gets us the response that we want, indulgence and permission, playing on a sense of oppression and denial.

For me, though, that effectiveness of story is on how well people understand my real experience, my truth, which is a much bigger ask.  Instead of just being able to play on the archetypes already out in the Zeitgeist, I ask people to enter my stories, my reality, which is a much bigger challenge.

I remember bosses in the 1980s who would get angry when I couldn’t explain technical problems with concepts they already knew.  They wanted to understand what I was saying without having to expand their understanding, wanted to get my thinking without having to change their own.

They wanted me to be able to explain the different in the context of archetypes they already knew, which I could not do, no matter how good I am at exposing new archetypes in an effective way.  That skill, of course, is the result of a lifetime as a translator between archetypal models, standing between worlds and using my words to work to create a connection, make understandings.

I can do one-on-one because I enter your world, understand your archetypes, express my meaning in the context of conventions that you already understand.  That is a hard won skill.

Having other people enter my world, though, understanding the archetypes I carry and use to parse my vision, my feelings and my experience is much more difficult.   Who heals the healers?

The heroes journey opens your eyes, demanding you see the shared world in a new way, in a way that connects rather than separates.  It forces new understandings, new archetypes on you, away from the conventions of your upbringing.

My experience was different, as a transperson, as the child of spectrum parents, as someone who used my mind to navigate our shared world.   I grew up with very different archetypes.

Asking me to express what I know in conventional archetypes is asking me to try and tell my story in a foreign language, one with no concepts that convey my experience.  I try to translate, but in the end, the mapping involves work from my audience.

My audience, though, is looking for archetypes that they understand, bits that speak to them in their language, things that express what they know.  They don’t find enough of that from me, so I get reduced to noise, to overwhelming, to crackpot.

It has been fun to explore a huge range of archetypes in my life, finding new ways of understanding the stories which carry what humans know and what we share.

It has been frustrating, though, to live inside of archetypes that other people don’t share.

I never walk into a room assuming that people will understand me, that I am entering a space of common understandings.  I always make the assumption I will have to find their archetypes and translate what I can into those notions.

So much work, work that I have to do that most other people just don’t need to manage.

Not My Words

No matter how many words I share with the world everyday, my words are not the point.

Sure, I try to craft my text with grace and wit, capturing a bit of poetry, making it as beautiful and engaging as possible.

The goal, though, isn’t words, but trying to take what is inside me, the contents of my mind and my heart, and have them seen, understood, valued and cared for in the world.

It is easy for others to see the sheer quantity of words that come out of me and think that those words are the point.   We are not a culture that takes the time to look for meaning, rather we live in the rattle and hum of a consumer culture where words just become noise.

My words, though, aren’t who I am.    They are tools to try and help me make connections with people, tools to appear socialized, tools to share my ideas, but most of all, tools I use to keep my heartbreak from leaking out willy nilly.

Just the webbing a facile mind created to sustain a shattered hope, the structures my words create surround a big negative space, the hole where my heart should be.   From an early, early age, I knew my feelings were identified as corrupt and sick, knew that only by packing around the void with words did I stand any chance of getting through another day.

Those webs turned hard, becoming plaster casts to enclose what once was living tissue but is now desiccated possibilities, the chances of a life swallowed in the mud of stigma, shame, oppression and rejection.

For women, their lives are their communities, networks of connections which spark with vitality.   My life is a decayed vessel, turned inside out and used up in the struggle to try and just maintain a shape which didn’t totally erase me.   With words like stone, I calcified on the spot, the shell of that protective literary armour defining the boundaries of where I used to be.

The ripples of me exist only in the words I left.  Is it ironic that those very words, the words I created to try and scrape up connection, were, in the end, one of the biggest barriers to people connecting with me?    As I was revealed by my words I was also set apart by my words, isolated by the very literalness of their presence.

I am good with words, but I am not my words.   I am not my quick brain, not the cerebral constructions I have made in a vain attempt to chase down a world where my life had a meaning that revealed me rather than erased me.

So many bangs, so many hurts, so many blah, blah, blah, blah, spouting a fountain of words like smoke to reveal my presence, but acting like smoke to conceal my presence.  Who could have looked through to see the actual spirit inside, the one beyond assumptions of separation, of surfaces, of projections?

How much did my life cost me in sensitive stress?   It’s great that I squeezed lots of words out of that pain, but every morsel of that hurt came at a cost, of loss, of scarcity, of isolation, of busted hope, of scraped together intellect.

I am not my words.  My words are the mud tunnel which marks where my life was played out, struggling under a surface of stuff to keep going in the lack of sunlight and warmth.   My words are my offering to my creator, my desperate attempt to leave value from what she gave me, transforming the gift of life into the dry ripples of unheeded text.

If you can’t make love, make art.  It’s not as satisfying, but it lasts longer, though you are not really there if it ever gets hot.   It might touch someone sometime, but it won’t touch you back, won’t create a connection.  Still, it’s art and it helps you symbolize what lies inside, even as whatever that used to be slips right away.

My words may fill the space, but they are not me.   Me is somewhere inside of them, using hard worn skills and desperate energy to say what cannot be said, to show what cannot be shown, to express what cannot be expressed.   As well as I describe that place beyond words, only the hearts of others can go beyond the verbiage to connect openly with my experience, my spirit, my depletion.

A child, throwing up words to attract and distract parents who still have their own inner child locked up with what we now call Aspergers, I need the simple things like touch, mirroring, understanding and encouragement they cannot find for me or for themselves.  Instead, I become the target, a scapegoat whose needs overwhelm the resources, a kid at school who is so smart they can’t possibly have a deficit, something squeezing the life out of them.

Moments where I reached out, struggling with words to express, and was thrown back by people who found me whatever, demanding I use more words, more discipline, more structure, more concealment, more compartmentalization, more denial, more isolation just to play normie.

All those words, those millions of words, up down, right left, side to side, layers upon layers of words, words, words and none of them actually me, only the best I could make of my broken crockery heart.

I am not my words, as plentiful and hard wrought as those words are.  They are bricks I toss out from inside of me, mortared together to make messages, to try and connect with other people who can see and smell what is deep within.

Silent and made invisible, I am wracked for myself, not simple, far from simple, but simply human.

I learned to use my words. They aren’t, though, who I am.  I am the gurgling behind, the bombed out zones of pockmarked with the price of tight lacing my heart, a person bereft of basic connection from a very early age.

Is it just that no one can hear over my words?   Or is it that others are left in their own struggles?

I am not my words.


To me, one of the best things about glass — beyond the whole transparent beauty thing — is how marvellously non-reactive it is.

You can put almost anything into a glass container and the glass will just sit there, doing its thing, not getting all hot & bothered, bent out of shape or just generally losing it.

Glass makes its case and stays there, firm and clear.  It takes a lot to deform or start to destroy glass, though there are some things which can get into its molecular structure.

Humans, well, mostly we don’t do non-reactive so well.    Reaction is easy, simple and for most people, fun.  You feel something new, you react, lashing out, telling them what for, challenging and looking for a way to get some of your own in.

Freedom exists in the moment between stimulus and response.   It is that instant where we choose what to do, letting off a knee-jerk reaction based on old habits or making a considered response.   That considered response might be to find areas of agreement, to take time to understand what is being said, or even just to walk away, but it comes not out of quick reaction but out of thoughtful choice.

For most humans, instant reactions are exciting, intense and sensational.   Like dropping a bit of sodium in water, we like the sizzle, the smoke and the bang of a high reactivity battle.

Non-reactive like glass is often seen as boring, intellectual, wimpy, compromising and without power.

It’s easy to know what we don’t like, what we feel we have to fight, what makes us sputter and lash out.

It’s much harder, though, to know what we do like, the thoughtful positions we we stand for, what we prioritize and value enough to create common ground and compromise about.

Today, social media is based on reactivity.   Nuanced, considered positions can’t be lashed out in a sentence or two, don’t create pile-ons and click battles.  Zing, bam, zap, pow; what passes for discussion now used to be the sound balloons on an old Batman fight.

Stepping back from the melee where people want to believe that the loudest and sharpest, the most entertaining responses are the winners has been crucial to me.   Getting into slap fights, twisting quotes and playing for the news cycle seems counter-productive to me, playing the game of the spin-doctors.

The far right moved from standing from the kind of moral values that Confucius praised to using sound-bytes to generate fear, allowing them to manipulate voters to elect candidates who served the anti-government agenda.   This all seemed a great plan until someone who was better trained in sound-bytes showed up and started to run the game, giving the now trained voters more of the reactive and ill-considered red meat they craved.

I understand why that kind of political game may seem like the only one in town, why we feel the urge to get our licks in.   I just also know that once we start to play that reactive game, always looking for the next weak spot, the next power sound-byte, ready for the next event to use or lose upon, it changes us.   We start to believe that there is only the moment, there is only kicking or being kicked, start to become manipulative and cynical.

To me, the legacy of all the transpeople who served as connective tissue across perceived boundaries in human culture is the truth of the eternal.   We have stood for transcending the momentary welts of pain to see something larger, spoken to the intense truth that human are not just the sting of our flesh in the moment.

That’s why I speak for kindness, for transcendence, for consideration, for connection.   And I can’t do that if what I am expected to do is react strongly to whatever the next stimulus, the next sound-byte, the next attack is.

It is being centered, aware and safe in my own skin that allows me to come from my strength.   My hard won ability to not be owned by the third gotcha, reacting to everything I feel in the world, allows me the power of playing my game rather than being trapped in theirs.

If you are stuck in the past, you can’t claim your present.   That present is, of course, the gift of being who you really are beyond the expectations and pressures of the dragon with “thou shalt” on every scale.

Becoming non-reactive, like the glass callan that moved me (1998), was the way I found to get beyond the herky-jerky battering that started when I was a kid and continued in a world that found me queer & overwhelming.

The thought of having to play the reactive game, especially by myself, just seems wrong and destructive.

I do know that is the way things are done nowadays, the way you get your message out into a world of warring notions, all vying for popular supremacy,   but I never chose my beliefs because they could be effective in a crowded and noisy market.   I chose them because they fit into a wider, broader, more human understanding of what is vital in our short lives.

Glass makes its stand, becoming part of the light, supporting and magnifying other things.   It takes color and shape, caught in flow, as strong as obsidian and as fragile as a bulb.

Non-reactive means existing with intention, with a clear view of who you are and what you believe.   It is, I believe, a good thing.

Although I am very sure that someone has an opinion to the contrary.

Seeing Things

I have an exceptional imagination.

Unfortunately, that often means that my mind turns to all the things that might, just might go wrong.

When that happens when I do that too well is that I end up resisting just doing the thing that needs to be done.

Most things, I have found, do not have better outcomes when you avoid them by procrastinating.   In fact, they often tend to start to decay.

The big problem with my imagining the worst and then resisting, I suspect, is that the only person I have to listen to is me.  There isn’t another voice in my life which is reassuring, supportive and encouraging.

Mining that huge vein of “what if?” that runs through my brain is great for a visionary, a prophet who can see the connections between things.

For a human with human needs, though, it’s not so useful.  In fact, it is the key thing that shuts me away from my best possibilities.

It’s not that I am unable or unwilling to be supported in change.   It’s mostly that supporting me is a challenging task.  I don’t just need a simple “Shit, just do it fer crissakes!” I need a bit more stroking and easing.

A lifetime of denial, loss and scarcity, well, add that to a highly sensitive nature and an optimistic outlook doesn’t come easily.   Not being safe enough to trust the people who cared for me, knowing that, for example, my mother would rather scapegoat me than engage me, well, that means I don’t have a model of faith I can return to as a touchstone.

I know how to bite the bullet and get things done, but that process comes at a cost which leaves me exhausted and in need of solitude.

My awareness of the sensible, logical and appropriate choices are no assurance that I will overcome my long term feelings and my overactive imagination to make a rational choice.   In this behaviour, I am very, very human, very frail and very emotional.

Apparently, I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP.) That’s a self diagnosis created by Elaine Aron in her book “The Highly Sensitive Person.” It’s not a construct that has found favour in the psychological community; the Wikipedia entry is being considered for deletion because it doesn’t connect the idea to mainstream research, staying in the circle of believers.  Being self diagnosed, HSP is a big tent idea. The diagnosis doesn’t come with contraindications, why you might not fit, only with a list of irritations.

I know how to be part of a community, a family, a tribe, a village.   In that case, I am one voice which adds balance.

As a transperson, though, my journey has been alone.  I don’t live in the kind of network that can value and support me.   That means my exceptional imagination for what could go wrong has no counterweight, nothing to pull against except the limits of my own will, which got used up a long time ago.

It would be interesting if everyone could choose their traits, but if we could, does that mean they would come with no cost, no downside?  Somehow, I doubt it, as every amazing human I ever knew always wrestled with the flip side of their gifts.

Just because someone else can do what you find hard to do doesn’t mean that they can do what you find easy to do.  Life doesn’t work like that.

I know that I sometimes see monsters that aren’t there, sometimes magnify my terrors which ends up in my staying small and isolated.  But, as Joseph Heller noted in “Catch-22,” just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t after you.

It’s not my imagination about external monsters that is the terror.  Like most people, the monsters I fear are inside of me.   I am concerned about being crushed even by the lightest touch in a way that I can’t recover from, concerned that if I have to be who others demand I be, silent and strong and conforming, my own frayed heart will just shred apart.

Which is worse, to be destroyed or to just be emptied out from inside while others around you continue to miss the pain that lashes you?

I have been around enough to understand it isn’t battles that count, it is the war.  If you want to play, you have to be in it for the long term, ready to do what is required to counter anything you are up against.  It’s not good enough to be smart; persistence wins.   You have to keep standing, keep fighting, and that requires endurance.

Being a warrior changes you.  Even after being on the cover of Time magazine, Laverne Cox can still end up crying at the intrusion of a TSA patdown, always a moment of challenge for transpeople, a third gotcha where we are reduced to our body.

Strong has a cost, it does.  It isn’t infinite.  It needs replenishment, from family, from people who are really there, seeing and affirming you in a nourishing way.

Like so many, I know how to fight for my family, bearing the cost, but as for me, well, I’m sort of a highly sensitive person with an exceptional imagination.   I chose long ago to use that sensitivity to explore the emotional terrain around trans stories rather than to be political, putting up the armor a warrior needs to keep fighting every day.

To understand the trans experience, we need to examine it with great sensitivity and creativity, teasing out what connects us over time and space.  Fighters need to be focused for the next battle, not looking back and across to reveal and venerate our stories.

Of course, that’s why people don’t know how to value my contribution, as focused as they are on the challenges they face today and tomorrow. They need to stay strong, ready for the next gotcha.

For me, my exceptional imagination, which is part of my high sensitivity, keeps me on edge.  I end up being so aware of what might happen that I end up staying in an inquisitive examination rather than going out and fighting to make my hard-won understandings heard, seen & felt in the world.

Every gift has a price as well as a reward.   I struggle to make the most out of what I was blessed with, looking deeply everyday and struggling to share the results of my examination with the world, even if the world doesn’t really have time for it.

Would it be great if I had the kinds of connections which supported me entering my weak spots and challenging my emotions?   Maybe, but not at the cost of degrading my strong spots, my own exceptional vision.

“See Something, Say Something,” the signs on the front of local buses flash nowadays.  I have been doing that for a long time.  Could I, should I do more, becoming not only a visionary but also a missionary, fighting to carry the message to the world?

The only thing I can say to that is this: God, I am tired.

Balanced Operation

Driving the Adirondack Northway in a snow event, you didn’t just have to deal with the elements, you had to deal with other drivers.

Some people, mostly from downstate, couldn’t understand why they had to change their driving style just because of treacherous road conditions.  They would zoom past you at 70, at least until you saw them stuck in a drainage ditch, their car having slid out of control.

Others, though, were even worse.   They felt the slipping so they slowed right down, often to 20 or 25 miles an hour.   Soon, long lines of cars would back up behind them, all in a desperate struggle where just one person losing focus and control could create a horrible pile up.

The people I felt safest with were other other North Country denizens who understood the way to drive.  They both kept up a reasonable speed, 45 mph or so, enough to have inertia to correct slippage, and kept long distances between cars, room to make adjustments, even in a slip.

These were people who knew that braking in a turn was a key to disaster, unleashing forces that will put you right out of control, knew that the line between over control and under control needed space and grace to make things right.

Those people who considered themselves safe drivers because they went so slowly just couldn’t understand that often, running a system too slowly isn’t just inefficient, it is often downright dangerous.  We need momentum, need a load, need power just to keep things running smoothly and effectively.

Sometimes, when you run the system without sufficient load, trying to attenuate it, throttling it down to fit in with other systems, things can get out of control quickly.  Somewhere between slow & steady and speedy & loose lies an optimum range that keeps us focused, engaged and ready to handle change.  It keeps us on-track, relaxed and disciplined.

Any operating engineer will tell you that running a system is always a matter of making trade offs.   Too high or too low, too hot or too cold, too fast or too slow each has a price to pay.

As a human, we are the operator of our own internal system.    We have to make our own trade offs. find the best pace and program to be happy and effective in the world.

It may not surprise you to know that I have found that my own mind works best when it runs hot.   When I have to attenuate myself, dropping the core temperature, reducing the rotations and dialing down the voltage so as to not overdrive the people around me, there is a big cost to my own operations.   My maintenance schedule goes way up and my efficiency drops through the floor.

For those of us whose nature tends to run a little bigger than the normative crowd, finding a good operating style can be a real challenge.  We need to both true to our nature, acknowledging our wild side, and need to fit in well with the people around us, being tame enough to get what we need.

Trying to squeeze into that tight range of operating parameters is hard, hard for us.

We slow down, attenuate ourselves as much as possible, but it never seems to be enough for those who still get upset when they see flashes of our energy.

Running with a big governor to limit our systems costs us, leaving buildups of heat and sludge that just keep dragging us down.

It’s hard to be a bit eccentric, a bit intense and still have people see that you are just another system with your own emotional truth and your own human needs.   People tend to write you off, either as someone beyond them or as a crackpot who doesn’t want to fit in.  They decide that you deserve what you get for not marching in lockstep like they know how to do.

We don’t want to lose our interconnect with the people around us.   We know we need what they have, need to share.   We are interdependent with them, part of the same community.

But we can’t just slow down either.  We know our operating parameters, know the beat of our own different drum, and know that if we don’t run strong enough we will never have the momentum to control our own power in good ways.

Firing on one cylinder may keep us small, but it will never be as good as firing on all six.

Oscillating between connection and performance creates harmonics that drain us, vibrations that lead to stress and eventual fractures.    Like a top that loses momentum, we wobble and crash rather than being able to feed back into motion that can deliver energy cleanly back into the system.

Our high voltage can be compelling, attractive and empowering to others.  They are drawn to our heat, to our light.

Give them a while, though, and they can find us wearing, start wondering when we switch down, become conventional.   When we don’t do that, well, they find ways to drift off, to move on.

The problem is that when we reduce ourselves to be easy to connect with, the underlying current is always there.

Driving under stress on the Northway would have been easy if the road weren’t full of other drivers.

The secret of effective operation, though, is not to be overly concerned with oter drivers but to know your own power profile, managing your own system to make the best out of what you have.

When you are too concerned about others, you can end up being distracted by them, wondering if you are doing the right thing.  Should you be stepping on the gas or should you be braking hard?  What would be the best choice and how can you avoid doing the wrong thing?

The worst thing we can do to the system is to drive it in bursts, trying to pull it this way and that rather than finding the sweet spot and trusting it.   Too much speed up and slow down, acceleration and resistance is always inefficient and costly.

Those drivers I trusted on the snowy highway knew that.   They made room for their possibility and room for their mistakes, knowing that operating in the zone of effectiveness made life safer for them and for those around them.   This may have been a tough lesson to learn, but it made them good drivers and good neighbours.

Being too scared and skittish is dangerous, as is being too ignorant and arrogant.

Finding the place where you can achieve balanced operation of your own system puts you in control of your own life.

Old & Ornery

Marketers know that if you want to capture a customer, it’s much easier to do that when they are young.   That means as young as possible, as tobacco marketers understood when they pitched their “adult” products with cartoon characters.

The reason for this is simple: young people are much more susceptible to emotional pitches.

When you are young what you know is your own desires.   You want to be liked, want to be attractive to partners & pals, want to have status, want emotional satisfaction, want to look mature & sophisticated, want to find the way to gain traction & standing in the world.

Marketers know this so they can use those drives to seduce you into buying their products.   By piggybacking their claims on your desires, using the peer pressure to look cool and with it, they can convince you that they have a solution to your woes.   You can be better, prettier, stronger, more compelling, more like those glossy young people you see on TV and want to be.

Older people, though, have traded desire for wisdom.   They have tried to buy magic and often found the transaction wanting.  We no longer imagine that we can do everything, that a new box from the cosmetic counter or state of the art gadget will change everything about how people see us.

After learning our lessons, letting go of wishing for a more rational purchase process, well, we aren’t as easy a mark for marketers.   They can’t just push the emotional buttons and have us jump for the new and shiny.

Marketers have figured out that old people are just ornery.   We know our own mind and our own boundaries, know our limits and our possibilities much more than youths who are scrambling for the new and magical.

Older people too often believe that experience makes up for exuberance while young people too often believe that exuberance makes up for experience.   Both are required, the willingness to open up to the new and the wisdom to make sensible choices about where to invest.

So many of the “institutions” of the LGBT world are run by and for young people. In the trans world, adolescence starts again when we emerge as our target gender, opening up the need to learn to walk in a new way, to learn about ourselves and our choices all over again.

The exuberance of youth, seeking novelty, sensation and a kind of ephemeral perfection, makes it difficult for them to engage the ornery lessons of maturity.

When older people don’t immediately fall in line for the proposed solution, which usually involves telling other people how to think properly, the young assume that we don’t understand, not that we have tried that solution in the past and found it wanting.

Almost every young person newly made a manager has the same complaint: “I am given responsibility without authority!  How can I make things happen if those people won’t do what I tell them to do!”

Learning to lead is learning to step outside your perspective, knowing what generates respect and authority in other people.   They don’t respond to what you say, they respond to what you do, how you model responsibility and consideration.

The lovely thing about mature people is that once you have them on board, they tend to do the work without much drama, approaching the work without the spills and chills that young people often bring to an enterprise.

When the management, though, tends to choose thrills and dogmatism over supporting the rich diversity of a wide range of experience and viewpoints, mature people quickly cut themselves out of the equation.  They don’t want to have to trade approved canned exuberance for the hard won lessons of a lifetime.

Grown up transpeople didn’t earn their identity by playing nice, by being willing to do anything to become a member of a group.   We walked away from convention and correctness to claim the truth of our own heart, taking a very individual journey to an expression that rings true for us.

Does that make us kind of ornery?   Sure does.   Ornery, though, is something everyone claims with maturity.   The lessons of our life make us less susceptible to emotional manipulation, as marketers have figured out.

Is the proper approach to the mature and somewhat ornery to cut them out of the game, reserving attention and voice for those who we believe can still be moulded to our intention?

Or does a claim of celebrating diversity ring false when it does not honor the life lessons of the mature, deciding that if they question too much they are just old, faded, out-of-touch and useless?

I know why marketers venerate youth culture.  They know how to use it to make money from selling fads and nostrums.

I don’t understand, though, why people who say they want to claim dignity and pride tend to cut off people whose life lessons are extraordinary and challenging.   Aren’t they just trying to impose some kind of ideology over hard won truths?

Pride and orneriness usually come together in my experience.   When you have life a life you can be proud of you don’t want or need to try and fit into some group identity, no matter how correct and trendy it claims to be.

I’m ornery and I’m proud.   I’ll show you my scars; you can see that I earned it.

Even if the baby faced don’t understand the beauty of a mature and hard won life.

Freak Factor

Are you ready for the freak show?

Watching Adam Pearson, a British TV performer who has a similar genetic condition to the famous Elephant Man, doing a documentary on freak shows,  I remembered a part in Kate Bornstein’s first book “Gender Outlaw.”

In it, she went to a freak show and was given a ring by the giant, acknowledged and welcomed into the family.

Adam started the film expecting to find something seedy and exploitative about freak shows in the US.   In the end, though, he finds family.

Kate is still talking about the freak factor, which makes her much less than politically correct these days.   It just freaks people out, pun intended.

The issue Adam has to face is discussed by every different person he meets in the film.   Does he find dignity by sticking to political correctness, by holding high minded notions that intend to erase diversity, or does he find dignity by embracing his own freakishness, owning his own difference in the world?

This is the question that every transperson has to answer for themselves. Is our dignity in how we demand the treatment we want, or is our dignity in how we own our own uniqueness?

I read “Gender Outlaw” in the parking lot of the bookstore that ordered it special for me in 1994.  Kate and I spent time together back in the day.  Readers of this blog will know how I answer the question, and many will avoid my work because of it.

When I watch Adam Pearson or any of the other people he meets in the special, I see their human hearts.   Are we humans trying to live a spiritual life, or spirit living a human life?   Are we primarily our bodies or primarily our spirit?   Are we defined by the whims of biology or by the spark inside?

I never assumed that I could have control over the way that people saw me.   I couldn’t enforce any kind of correctness on them, no matter how much I might have wanted to.

Instead, I knew that the only control I have is in the moment between stimulus and response, that instant when I choose to react from my stinging sensation or from my sensible consideration.   It is me who has to get past it before anyone else can.

This is what Adam learns, even though it isn’t what he thought he would learn.  He understands he is talking to family members, people who have had to work out their own relationship with both the crowd and their creator.   Are they broken, abject, angry people or are they just the way some humans are, with their own special set of gifts, gifts with both a price and a reward?

Claiming our tender humanity is easier, at least in my experience, when we let go of trying to demand the world treat us like a “regular” person.   Moving beyond that trope lets us accept that every, every person is a special person, with their own freaky parts, even if we can’t see them on the outside.

Are those freaky bits bad or good?   I don’t know and I don’t care.   They just are, part of the sublime mix of every human who is full of trade-offs, coming with a bundle of strengths and weaknesses which interlock to make them who they are.

Trying to judge people on just some bits, on the an easy way to label them and dump them into an identity box is just wrong.  It’s bad politics and it is far from queer affirmative, where we celebrate individuals and not group memberships.

I know that I judge people on the choices they make and not on their labels.  Why should I assume other people should see me in another way?

I find Adam much easier to embrace as he embraces himself rather than trying to punch through as being normative which requires him to engage his defenses.   It is his vulnerability that reveals his human heart, and that part of him is compelling to me, holding the precious lessons he learned from living a life outside the norms.

Letting your freak flag fly, as they tend to say while reminding you to keep Austin weird, is a tough thing to do.   It is, I know, even tougher when you feel like you don’t have a choice about that exposure, when you feel like you are outed without your consent.

I learned early how to walk in the world as eccentric, different, weird and freaky.   What I didn’t want, what I never wanted, was for people to see me exposing my tender trans heart and think I was just pulling some kind of gimp act.   That’s why my original defences were around coming out as gender-fuck, a guy-in-a-dress, where I knew I was invoking freakdom.

Showing my authentic and battered trans heart, though, isn’t about claiming odd, it is about exposing a frayed and powerful truth.   I have been so moved when I find a family member who understands that, one who has integrated queer and freaky into their worldview so they can see past the externals and see the spirit inside.

Seeing past the externals means facing the internals.   That means going on the journey into our own hells, past the slights and stares that hurt us, into a place where we have compassion for those who are disquieted by us because we touch something deep in them, and having compassion for our own self beyond a life of disquiet.

I can’t control other people.  I can only control myself.   Negotiating other people’s assumptions, fears and disquiet often feels like an enormous burden as I know that their feelings are about them, no matter how much they project the cause onto my difference.

Finding connections, though, with other freaks in the world, with other family members, well, that helped Adam, even if he never believed it would.   And it helped me.

Maybe it can help you, too.

Continue reading Freak Factor


Where is the power of transgender in the world?   Is it in our political stance or our emotional one, in our battling or in our kindness?

When we gather in trans spaces nowadays, either on the internet or in person, we are usually encouraged to think about our trans identity as a political force, each of us warriors in creating a world where transpeople have rights, respect and dignity.

This political emphasis make sense in a politicized world.  In the news we keep hearing of political fights, sharp fights of doctrine and rhetoric, trying to draw new battle lines about who is evil and who is good.   Sharp binaries are being pounded out everyday and if we are going to be marginalized, shouldn’t we fight back?

After all, what do transpeople share in common other than a political identity?   We don’t come together to find partners or because we live in trans community; transgender is a very individual path.   It is our political goals that can create unity, so it is these goals that activists use to try and create cohesion.

The problem with a political focus around transgender, though, is simple.  Nobody comes out as trans for political reasons.   Instead, we come out as trans for very personal, very emotional, very intense reasons that center around who we know ourselves to be in our heart.

When we come out we may have to fight political pressure to keep us hidden and silenced with every step, but we don’t come out to change the ruling structures in the world.   We come out to show our hearts, to walk in harmony with our own nature.

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

Transgender visibility in the world is never about creating new separations between good and bad, between right and wrong, between us and them, rather it is always about what connects us on the beautiful spectrum of humanity.

Transgender visibility in the world is about compassion, understanding and respect for everyone expressing what is in their heart beyond the cheap and nasty expedient of binary, partisan, doctrinaire battles.   We stand for connection, not for separation, stand for expanding love, not for codifying fear.

It’s easy for activists to say that we should be willing to throw ourselves into the political breach, entering the battle for good.   That may be the easy way, but is it really the trans way?   Are we best at entering the political fight between us and them or are we here to move beyond that fight, acting as the connective tissue, the tender linkage between that the world has always needed?

In the first episode of Jen Richards HerStory, a transwoman who is fighting for a place in a shelter is told by a lawyer that she shouldn’t accept a settlement because if she just keeps fighting for another year, her case can change the system.  While this woman tries to explain her immediate struggle, the lawyer merely responds with a kind of cocky assurance of winning in the end rather than with any kind of compassion or support for the real and present struggle of her client.

When we see ourselves as shock troops, cannon fodder, warriors in the line of culture wars, how can we ever also see ourselves as tender, vulnerable human beings?   If we are always in a battle, roused by the cries of activists all though trans spaces, how can we be anything but tough, hardened and aggressive?

Nobody signs up to be trans in the world because of some political ideology.   We become visible to show our heart.  We only take on the political armour to try and survive in a world where political binaries are used to batter and invalidate us.

Can transpeople ever really win by playing the binary, separation game?   Or does playing their game always mean that we lose?

It is our shining hearts, full of the truth of our essence, that define and drive transpeople to emerge in the world.

It is our shining hearts, full of the truth of our essence, that hold the power for us to move beyond binaries and stand for the continuous common humanity which connects us all.

I’m going to suggest that what we need to come together for, what we need to stand for, what we need to fight for is a world where kindness reigns.

As transpeople, we need to value and respect the truth that lies inside of hearts, wherever they fall on the lines of possibility that connect every human being.

It is kindness we need, engagement of our own unique expression beyond the simple either/or of gendered binaries, and it is therefore kindness we need to give, affirming life, love and truth beyond separations.

The gift we crave, people seeing us for the very human contents of our heart rather than for the simple outlines of our body, is the gift we need to give away to get back in the world.   You get more of what you value, so valuing kindness is the way to make more kindness in a world where too many fight for political battering.

Our battle is not primarily political, even if we live in a very political world that tries to cut us down, keeping us small and powerless.

Our challenge is to speak for continuous common humanity, for the unique spark that is a special part of the connection of us all.

That means, I suggest, that our most important role in the world is to stand for kindness, working to empower not just our expression beyond gender binaries, but to encourage everyone to open their minds and hearts beyond the crushing boundaries that politics often wants to impose.

It is what connects us that makes we humans so powerful, coming together in spectacular diversity and raging creativity to make a new and better world everyday.   Love can build a bridge and the start of that power is always kindness.

In coming together, may you feel the kindness and respect of those around you, warming to embrace what makes you special and unique in the world.

And may you share that warmth with others around you, encouraging them to be less defended, less battling and more of their beautiful self in the world.

We become visible as transpeople to show the truth trapped in our heart by enforced political boundaries.   Shouldn’t opening our heart, looking to the kindness and understanding of others, be part of giving our own kindness and respect back to the world?

Kindling the flame of kindness is the way we can bring more light and heat to the world.

Go and be the kindness you want to see in the world.  Kindness is our power.

Thank you.

(In mind of FirstEvent happening this weekend.)

Self Help

People, you see, believe that what they need are solutions.

The self-help market knows this.   They offer a list of symptoms and maladies, allowing you to pick out what ails you, then they tell you what problem you have and give you a simple four step plan to solve your problems right now.

When marketers offer advice, their recommendation is usually to sell a solution, starting by first selling a problem.   When you define the problem it is easy to then define a solution.

I have often considered about how to make what I share more accessible, more useful, more directly connected to people.    How do I help them navigate a lifetime of experience and lessons?

The problem comes down to this: I don’t really deal in answers.  I deal in questions.  My motto would be “Change your mind, change your life,” but the change I pitch isn’t new answers, it’s new ways to ask new questions that broaden your life.

Self-help leaders are supposed to be aspirational.   You should look at them, find them attractive and think you want to be like them.   I know that most people don’t want to be like me, don’t find me to be their goal.

If I’m good, though, rather than teaching them how to be more me, I can help them learn to be more themselves.   They can see a reflection of their struggles, get a glimpse of the questions they need to ask and be encouraged to claim their own unique and beautiful power in the world.

Every one of us has struggles in our life at this moment.   What we want, especially when browsing the internet, is something that helps us feel the agency to keep going.

Mostly, that means we want to hear what we already believe echoed back to us.  We want to be told that we are right,  that others are wrong.   We want to have the struggles in our mind codified, turned into engaging text, something that gives us a new handle to grab onto, one that reinforces us and can be used to explain and defend ourselves from others.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes.
— Walt Whitman

Americans love simple and clear definitions, almost stereotypes.   The want consistency, believing that it is some kind of purity, just the way they like their fast food.   Staying on brand is the way you build an audience, always giving people what they expect.   That’s not me.

People have enough challenge in their life, even if that challenge is where they keep themselves stuck by resisting change.   We each heal in our own way and in our own time, so until we are ready to sprout, to move to the next level, we stay as rolled up tight as the flower bud.

I know that often the best I can do is drop a seed into a bit of fertile mind, one that will sprout over time, growing slowly and only being revealed when we have to do the weeding and see what comes next.

It’s not like I can’t or don’t write affirming words (1994), it’s just that I know that my unique strength comes in writing provocative texts, something that tickles your thinking and opens up new ways to see beyond conventional expectations.   I make walls invisible for a second, stirring questions about new ways and what lies beyond.

How do I offer a pathway to new thinking to someone looking for solutions, for affirmation on the internet?

My most popular post, without a doubt, is 2006’s “Who The Fuck Wants To Be A Tranny?” where I face the truth that no one dreams of being trans, rather we dream of being a perfect gender, but that trans is the way we need to get there, with benefits unto itself.  (It is, in many ways a descendent of the earlier the Rainbow Speech referenced above.)

People find that post because they want to reject their transness, are frustrated and resisting, struggling with something they believe hurts and torments them more than it helps them.

I know, though, that many who read that piece don’t get my message, instead reading their own anger, sadness and rage over my attempt at hope.   This is, for example, what ShamanGal did, contacting me after reading it to share her despair, only coming around to see the possibilities after a long relationship.

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.
— Anaïs Nin

When reading, we see what resonates with us and we see it in the context we carry in our mind.   My work becomes a mirror in which people see themselves, applying their own priorities and expectations, taking away what stimulates or affirms what they already think or believe.

Actually having the power to change someone’s mind or viewpoint is far from easy.   First you have to get their attention, then you have to help them let go of their preconceptions and only after that can you even start to drop new ideas about new perspectives.

People like who they are, even if who they are is someone in pain and raging.   They carry the baggage they carry because they believe it is valuable, because they legitimately earned what they own, that it needs to be respected and understood as being real and true.

Change is never a primarily intellectual process.   Change is a mostly emotional challenge, because how we feel influences how we think much more than how we think influences how we feel.  Our experience shapes our philosophy much more than our philosophy shapes our experience.

We know that we have problems, know that we are suffering.   We are taught to look for solutions to those problems, the one thing that will make our life better, happier, shinier and more appealing.   If we just get the boob job or a perfect partner or a used Ferrari, we will be satisfied.

It never works that, way, of course.   Moving forward helps us understand other challenges, new problems to conquer.

I’d love to help people who feel suffering to find solutions, catching their woes and offering a quick panacea.   It’s just my experience that healing never comes from outside, from finding someone or something to fix us, rather healing is a disciplined practice that we have to own and engage, always identifying where there is pain and looking for steps to clear past it.

As perfect as it may seem to get my own pain out of the way to offer clean hope and simple solutions to those in despair, I have no idea how to do that.   Everyone has different needs, different priorities and a different sense of what resonates with them.

This would all be simpler, of course, if I just could outline the symptoms, define the problem and then prescribe a solution that worked great for me, so it will definitely work for you.

Your problems, your solutions.  Your life, your light.   Your challenges, your transcendence.

From the earliest days after I came out, I have been in the graduate course in trans, working on the hard questions. I write here for my self-help, exploring what is still challenging and new to me.

When someone asks a question, I respond at their level, as I did for someone who found a 1996 piece of mine and emailed with some newbie questions. Now, when, after a few responses they figured out where I am two decades later they stopped writing, but I was there for them.

Continuing to primarily write for those just starting to deal with trans, though, doesn’t hardly seem a good use of what energy I have.   Better that someone pushes the boundaries, better that I keep growing, better that I satisfy myself.

The self-help I suggest is the help to be more fully and powerfully yourself.  That is always a very personal, a very individual journey.

No simple solution for that challenge, I am afraid.

But, oh, blossoming is such a gift, both to you and to a loving world.

Thought Experiments

Einstein was a theoretical physicist, not an experimentalist or a developmental physicist.   Rather than collecting data which could test a hypothesis or working to master physical ideas in a practical way, the theoretician experiments in the mind, looking for conceptual answers.

Theoreticians are the visionaries of physics.

I couldn’t have survived my life without thought experiments.  By changing my viewpoint and asking new questions, have always worked to find what is going on under the surface, away from my instant assumptions.

You are not upset about what you think you are upset about, says one of the core principles of ACIM.   It’s easy to think the situation we are facing is making us feel angry, but our feelings are always about what the moment brings up in us, not about the moment.

Questioning everything is the at the core of the theoretician’s approach.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
— Albert Einstein

Humans have a very, very strong tendency towards observer bias.  If,  in our experience, something “feels” real, we assume that it is real unless we do the hard work to move beyond our limited point of observation.

The limits of “common sense” as codified by Newton just didn’t work to explain the world that Einstein saw.   Finding a way to make sense of that world, a world where gravity had to be explained and connected with other forces, took much work to look in new ways, even down to finding new geometries that allowed for a curved universe.

Einstein may have started the field of quantum mechanics, but by his death it had progressed even more than he wanted to grasp.   “God does not play dice with the universe,” he asserted, but now we understand how many events do not have any outcome until they are observed, how entangled quanta can continue to interact even separated by a huge distance.   We now know that even Einstein came up against limits in his personal observer bias, preferring the comfort of assertion rather than the queerness of the questions.

If we take what we see as real, thinking our recording of the data is the data, we will never see the realities that exist beyond the limits of our own observations.  We will continue to be vector thinkers rather than network thinkers (2006), assuming the lines we take through the universe are the real pathways and not just the connections that happened in our experience, one path among an uncountable multitude.

Humans like a nice, concrete world, with a known up and down, with walls that comfort and contain.   Reality, though, is never that simple,   The connections are enormous, thrilling and challenging (1997)

Thought experiments are the only way we can look at pathways, processes and energies outside of our line of sight, beyond our observer bias.   They are the only way to create new thinking which creates new understanding which offers the possibility of new solutions.

Observer bias is rarely obvious to us.   It is only work that reveals it, only thought experiments which force new ways of seeing.   Getting good at those experiments takes long development of skill and discipline, letting go of the comforting sense that we are at the centre of a world we can comprehend and control, engaging the notion that questions are the only way forward.

The believer is happy, the doubter is wise, as the old Hungarian proverb goes.  Wisdom is not in comfort, convenience and convention, it is in the quantum queries which move us past observer bias to a new way of seeing.

Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body, transgender is about changing your mind, doing the thought experiments that move you beyond observer bias to see the world beyond your immersion in one viewpoint and become new.

I am the shadows my words cast.
— Octavio Paz

Humans can’t see truth, we can only see the effects of truth.  We are making shadows to try and represent what know to be true, within the limits of our own observer bias.

The notion that, no matter what our senses tell us, there is no objective truth is the most powerful idea that humans have ever come up with.  By creating symbolic language, we humans extended the power of our minds beyond the boundaries of our physical experience.

For those who use these symbolic tools to manipulate people by pushing their emotional buttons, the notion that personal experience is reality holds power.   Create a feeling in someone, get a response.

Asking people to use their human brains to look at the way their own senses are confounding them is a challenge to convention.  They like the limits of their vision, they think those limits are real.

At the nexus of physics, shamanism, philosophy, marketing and art is the role of the visionary, the one who sees the forces at play and asks “What if?”   An awareness beyond is required, one only possible through thought experiments that go beyond the boundaries of the expected.

The difference between these approaches isn’t the seeing, it is the end goal.   What do you want from the process?   How much are your goals down, dirty, and direct or how much are you standing for conceptual lifting and openness?  Are you manipulating with clarity, your objectives exposed, or doing so covertly, lying about your end game, even to yourself?

Being a dedicated visionary isn’t for everyone, but everyone needs to have some vision about the things that are important to them.   The experience of having vision, of holding a model of something in your mind that you can do thought experiments with is the beginning of valuing the visionaries around you, those who bring insight to you by challenging your internalized observer bias.

It may be easy to be anti-intellectual, to claim that your “common sense,” your personal experience and understanding of the world is much more valid than anything anyone else can possibly offer you.

When you do that, though, you get stuck relative to where you are.  Problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them.   Moving forward is required, creating the vision of new possibilities.

Go as far as you can see, and when you get there, you’ll see farther.  If you do not raise your eyes, you will think you are the highest point, as Antonio Porcha said.

You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’
— George Bernard Shaw

What if things were different?   How would that change our understanding of reality?   Where are the limits of your vision the limits of your life?

Listen to a visionary and you many end up with a new vision for yourself.


I am not worthless.   I have intrinsic worth, the gift of my creator, the work I have done.   I have dignity and quality.

I do believe, however, that I am pretty much valueless.   The society around me just doesn’t assign a very high value to what I hold as precious.

Worth is something essential, philosophical.   Value is what the market will pay for it.

All the light sweet crude oil in the earth always had the same worth.   It just had no value until there was a market for it, until people decided that they needed it and were willing to pay for it.

I have reached out and tried to share my work with people I hoped would appreciate it.   They see, other than in any way I affirm what they already believe, very little value in what I offer, dismissing me as a crackpot.

5) The most painful thing about trans is not being able to give your gifts and have them accepted. (2002)

It is my experience that the return of the gifts I found on my journey is the hardest part.  If society valued those gifts, well, they would already have them.

My gifts confront the standard way of seeing.   That means that when I walk into a church, rather than being seen as someone who needs human connection, I am often seen as one who challenges the status quo and chilled out rather than engaged.   Even people who claim to be allies often reject queerness when it questions their habits, routine and comfort.

Even the people who want my gifts only want the bits they are interested in on their schedule.  Some have found what I offer so uncomfortable that they have backed away altogether, trying to respect the boundaries.

I am not worthless.   Of that I am absolutely sure.

I am, however, mostly valueless, based on my experience of sharing what I find precious, powerful and most intrinsically me.

Like any human I do always have residual value; it’s good if I cook dinner or fix a computer or clean up a room.   As the first post I put on this blog ten years ago notes, people can value me as a human doing. I can do what other people already believe has value and they will appreciate that.   They like it when I find good ways to say what they already believe, for example.

Value is in the eye of the beholder.  We live in a market culture; the best things are the things people are willing to pay the most cash for.   It’s not simply quality that counts, it is status, prestige, affirmation.

This market orientation makes it easy to believe that if we find someone valueless then they are also worthless.    It allows us to judge people on how they are valued in society, identifying them as a failure if others don’t value them highly enough to keep them.

As a transperson, this demand is part of the internalized policing.   I am only as valuable as others think I am, so I have to keep the ugly, noisy, challenging parts of me hidden or I will end up being marginalized.    My gifts will be rejected as part of rejecting what I stand for and I will be devalued and disconnected.

“What do you want, anyway?” a pastor once asked me.

“I want what everyone else wants,” I said.

He looked at me askance, seeing the queerness of my expression and tried again.  “Everyone wants different things,” he told me firmly, “so what do you want?”

“I want to be seen, understood and valued for the unique gifts I share with the group.”

A quizzical look passed over his face.

“Yes,” he said slowly.  “Yes, that is what everyone wants.”

I am worthy.   I am not valued.

And if the only way I can be valued is to offer what other people expect and eliminate what challenges them, well, that reminds me why some who make the journey never choose to come back with the gifts.

The struggle to become product I wrote about in 2002 is the struggle to add value, finding a way to package up what I find precious in a manner that will get me the rewards and status that come from being identified as valuable.

I am more than aware of the irony that most people will read this text as noise, as me making some obstruse, arcane and trivial distinction between worth and value.  They will find this discussion valueless and will then also assume it is worthless, making a judgement about how much of their precious attention to invest in engaging my work.  Theology, well, what value does it have for everyday life to discuss the difference between worth and value?

The one thing I am sure of is that nobody care what I have to say in the world. They may find me interesting or may appreciate the service I offer, but they find what I have to say just not having enough value to be worth the effort to really engage.

Cecil Graham: What is a cynic?
Lord Darlington: A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.
Cecil Graham: And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything and doesn’t know the market price of any single thing.
― Oscar Wilde, “Lady Windermere’s Fan”

I am not seen as valuable in the world, even if I have the worth of a human in the world.    The value that I offer is not worthy of the cost of claiming it, not economically viable in the long run.   What is diversity, curiosity and questioning worth if you don’t have the stuff to just keep up with trying to achieve your goals now?

“How can someone ever imagine being with someone like you if they have never even met anyone else like you?”

Valuing what you don’t understand, in fact, what you have never seen before, is a tough job.  We have nothing to measure against, no mental yardstick to give us reference.  Few people have grown up learning to value thought in any but clear cut contexts: Can it make me money?  Can it get me tenure?  How does it support my immediate goals?

I am worthy.  Of that, I have no doubt.

I am also almost valueless in the market driven world around me.

You could call me a diamond in the rough, ready to offer big returns to whoever figures out how to help channel my great intrinsic worth into very effective value, but the truth is that lots of very worthwhile things never become valuable in a lifetime.   Timing, well, it’s everything.

Timing is where the value lies.

As for me, I lie elsewhere.

Gender Idiots

“It was a room full of women talking about relationships,” I told my sister, “so you know what topic came up.”

“What was that?” she replied.

“Why are guys so stupid?”

“Yeah,” she laughed.  “That would be a common question.”

One of the theoretical gifts of transgender is the ability to create bridges between genders most people think of as binary and separate.   We have the opportunity to speak for continuous common humanity.

The truth is that we are rarely in the position where we can do that work.   Most of us never really get to live freely in both worlds, immersed in men’s culture and immersed in women’s culture.

In fact, we often not immersed in either culture, never really assimilating in the gender we were assigned to when they first saw our pee-pee and never really being able to merge into our gender of choice.  We often live in no-man’s/no-woman’s land, a place of our own making where the landmarks are few and the battles are frequent.

Any man who has been in awareness raising movements knows his fate, being cast as the projection of fathers, uncles, boyfriends and husbands who have ended up being blamed for the hurt women suffer.   He represents the other, the mysterious, the rude and the crude, the worst of what manhood has to offer.   Most men are not rapists or abusers, but for ideological purposes, they easily will do as a representation of one.

As a transwoman, bonding over what idiots men are has never really been possible for me.   As the transman who watched me try and explain the experience of men in the world to a group of women noted after the meeting, I have lived experience.

After a few decades or so trying to help transpeople born male understand the limits of a manly approach to everything, even, often, to womanhood, I have deep understanding and compassion about the expectations and limits placed on men by the standard heterosexist gender system.

Moving past those demands is hard, even when you start off just trying to claim some androgyny though gender play as I did so many years ago.   Men cement themselves into roles for a reason and they start very, very early.

I was with a sexologist who allied with transpeople and was married to a lead doctor at a prominent university medical school.   On our way to the cabin, I quoted a Christopher Robin poem from Milne that told me who I was when I was four: “if I ever stopped hopping, I couldn’t go anywhere, wouldn’t go anywhere.

He immediately recited a complete poem from the same volume, one I knew well.  “A solder’s life is terrible hard, says Alice.

While his wife gaped at me in amazement, not knowing where this came from, I got that even at four, he knew what life expected of a solider, even a soldier of medicine.

Humans, you see, are such idiots.   We understand our own context enough to operate within it, but expanding our understanding to more than a theoretical grasp of the choices others make, well, it would break our foundations, crack what we need to hold onto to survive.

I have been reading “England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton” by Kate Williams.   It is a rich book, a woman historian looking at the life of an infamous woman in a very feminine context.   Hamilton, it should come as no surprise, is best understood as a woman of her time, and not in the context some male historians want to place her in.

The world of women that Williams paints, from maid to prostitute to artiste to courtier is both strikingly different than the world of women today and very much emotionally understandable.   Society has changed dramatically, but the nature of women and their relationships has not.

In Hamilton’s time, and especially in the classes she aspired to, the roles of men and women were very separate and very different, heterosexism deeply coded into every social, economic and political structure.

This fixed separation was both constraining and freeing for people, both abusive and protecting.   Enforcement of rigid roles obligates everyone to play by a set a rules that can be understood.

In that world, the feminine stood separate and powerful, holding the strength of heirs close.   The landscape looked very, very different depending on your gender.

With all the liberation and opportunity that feminism and equality has brought, there is something in women which finds romance in that notion of separate worlds.   Like the little girl who wants freedom for herself while boys are held to standards, the notion of having gendered obligations enforced on your potential partners is kind of compelling.

There is heat in difference, a sizzle in separates coming together that doesn’t come when everyone is interchangeable, neutral and well balanced. Drama always demands a bit of conflict.

It’s this tension that always emerges in a roomful of straight women talking about relationships.   They know how their men should be, but rarely understand the cost of that role, making demands but not negotiating the prices.

It’s not easy to be a woman in the world, of that, there is no doubt.   But it’s not easy to be any kind of a human in this world, which is why, if at all possible, we should always take care of each other with compassion and grace.

And you can take that from the person in the middle.

Peer Group

My search, I suspect, has been for understanding.   I want to be able to hear stories from people and see the connected truth between them, to parse out meaning beyond the surface and reveal continuous common humanity.

My failure, though, has been in finding a peer group, a network of people — not a big network — where I can feel at home, relaxed, seen, understood, connected and valued.

The choice I felt compelled to make so many decades ago was between being liked and being respected.   Which was my priority, which was achievable for me?

I didn’t know how to be liked.  For so many reasons, I just couldn’t imagine myself as one of the gang.

My primary relationship was with my creator and my mind, not with my pals and my heart.   I was taught from a very, very, very young age that my heart was untrustworthy, too queer and too intense to trust with my choices.

I have never doubted my connection with the universe, but the connection with other people in the world has always felt tenuous, dangerous and fraught.

After learning to trust yourself, how do you learn to trust other people once you are in your twenties?    By that time, things are set, between your behaviours and their expectations of other people.   I wasn’t choosing partners who knew how to be connected, who knew how to help, I was choosing other loners like me.

People like me, especially for what I can do for them.  They just find me, at least a bit, overwhelming, too much, too challenging, too whatever.  They wonder when I am going to lose the edge and just be one of the gang.

As I write these words, I remember sharing the same thoughts, ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago.  Identifying the problem, though, doesn’t always lead to a solution, especially for someone who is bound up in their way of seeing the world.

Breaking the cycle is not simple.    There are real benefits from being a thoughtful hermit, even if they come at a severe cost.

While I have the power and skills to break the cycle, I don’t have the support, nor have I been able to find it, wherever I have looked.  It is easy to find someplace where I can serve other people, much more difficult to find someplace where I can the understanding I need.

After being out as trans since the mid 1980s, with a very unique family experience before that, coming to know me is not usually a quick matter. Just going through the number of approaches and permutations I have tried can be boggling, as people offer solutions that worked for them and that they hope are new and effective for me, too.

I tossed trough the workshops at the upcoming First Event to try and find presenters who offering something new and smart.   Of course, the sessions tend to be introductory, moving beyond 101, but not into advanced graduate studies.  We do learn so much by teaching, by having to collate our knowledge in a way we can share it with others.

Finding a peer group, well, that has been hard for me.  I am, apparently, a shimmering creature like no other (2008).

Too Liminal Too Long

I need a new approach to the public Callan.

That means that I need a new approach to Callan, of course.

This isn’t new news.  I have been looking for support on creating a new and effective performance soon after since my parents passed away.

I was who my parents needed me to be, then who my sister needed me to be even as she fumbled with her obligations.

There are a pile of things I should do; take ownership of my health rather than eating for comfort, put my anxiety and sensitivity away a bit, come from a position of social tolerance & resilience, get the paperwork done to be present in all the systems where I am seriously derelict.

Doing all this, of course, is an act of hope, an assertion of the belief that better and more fulfilling things are possible for me.   That hope needs to be grounded in a sense that the reward to me will be higher than the costs, the return more than enough to replenish my exposure.

My low levels of latent inhibition, high levels of sensitivity, well developed social anxiety, expectations that people won’t get the joke and instead will find ways to silence, isolate and dismiss me, well, those bits are quite a burden to climb over.

Beyond that, my limited capacity to explain my experience in the world, even to people who are also identified as trans, but who don’t have the other experiences I do, like a childhood in the care of Aspergers parents, well, that creates real barriers to feeling seen, mirrored, understood, respected and cared for.

I know that I can be useful to many other people, offering them the benefits of my cultured way of seeing a wider world beyond walls most people believe are real.

I also know that way of seeing makes it hard for me to tolerate short-sightedness, the structures others use to stay stable and functional in the world.   I have learned to respect those limits, attenuating myself to not bust them, but that leaves me playing inside the rules of other people, never being able to get the freedom and affirmation I need.

I have lived my life on fumes, scavenging bits and pieces of truth and support where I can get it, observing from the edges.   I have not, however, learned to move past scarcity and take a place at the centre of the room, one of the crowd, wired into the network, playing the games and being effective at the social whirl.

I am not young, vigorous or exuberant.  My body has hit limits, including nerve damage to my feet from lack of care, which makes simple jumping in less than easy or even attractive.

To me, actions have connections, rippling outward in all directions.   Those ripples affect me, moving me out of the simplified pragmatism of a marketing based life.

“Replacing batteries on cordless phones is so complex that I wouldn’t even advise trying it,” a presenter on HSN burbles, “instead just getting a new, high quality system.”   I scream at her endorsement of destruction and waste, even as she is just doing the sensible rap to achieve her aims, more sales of the product she is fronting.

The barren, short sightedness of the choices others make to achieve their ends aren’t just their choices, they are the assertions which they need to stay unchallenged to peddle their wares in the world.    The barrier to tough questions, to linkages beyond, is the barrier to my communication, to what can be shared politely in this moment and context.

Public games demand public rules, with costs and rewards prescribed by the social bounds.   Having walked beyond those perimeters I have lost the parameters, finding jewels far from civilized climes.  The return of the jewel is always the hardest part of the heroes journey, Campbell tells us, because if society wanted the prize, they would already have it.

Selling tiny fragments of jewels in the market is an answer, while hoarding the trove and never speaking of the blood cost of the treasure, so that people can have delightful trinkets while not having to bear the weight of the whole.   There is a reason missionaries offer polished bits that pick out accepted factors rather than bringing the transcendent and explosive in a way they will be dismissed as a crackpot.

The simple is the obvious, but the obvious seems so small to me now, reduced at the end of the telescope to isolated mundanity.   Big is big, the tapestry net of tiny stars woven together as a shawl which dwarfs the desires of the market, offering only shiny snippets that decorate without challenge.

Entering the room, becoming part of the market, getting on the grid is buying into the constrained and orderly, the polite and appropriate, the marketable and the comforting.

Where is the hope that a functional performance will expand again to honor the journey of a lifetime?   Can selling selected and polished bits from a journey ever recoup the cost of becoming small again?

Play along, I hear, and there is a place for you.  That place, though, is within walls that trapped me under so badly, walls I had to break to breathe free, even if it meant living the life of a hermit, sustenance gleaned from the scrapings of stars.

I need a new approach to the public Callan.  I understand how strange I appear to those who want to pick up a cabochon or two, understand how much I resist simple exposure for fear of having someone try to batter my edges again.

But I don’t quite understand the hope that a new package can bring new happiness, comfort and connections without the price of extinguishing.

Writing A Gender

As a writer, you write for a purpose. You create texts that try and convey meaning through the limits of language. You use a set of symbols to construct something that shares something ephemeral, just in your mind or your feelings.

Is there a reason why your trans expression is any different? Aren’t you just using the symbols of gender in the world to try to convey some inner meaning, some deeper knowledge or truth about yourself in the world? (1999)

When people write about their trans experience, I usually find a great lack of definition. What is gender? What is a woman? What is authentic? The answer to all three are usually “what I feel,” which isn’t very useful in creating a shared context and understanding. There are much better and more considered answers.

Since I came out in the mid 1980s, the notion that trans expression symbolizes some kind of real meaning has been very controversial. I remember conversing with Helen Boyd and talking about the “tells” that I saw crossdressers do, trying to hold on, and she loved the idea, putting it on her forums. The participants viciously attacked the idea, asserting “realness,” even if they only wore women’s clothes once a month.

I believe that you want to show something about yourself in your carefully crafted feminine expression. And I know that in a world where the platonic ideal is to be able to insist that others use your preferred pronoun to refer to you, however they experience you, this seems quaint, retro, reactionary, submissive and politically regressive. Trans is about demand, to them, not about crafted, considered and cohesive expression. The need to show yourself in a way where others can evaluate your choices rather than just your assertions is oppression pure and simple.

To me, the term “woman” has clear meanings about gender role experience. It’s not just about dressing as a woman, it is about identifying as a woman, being immersed in the shared culture of women, experiencing the social pressure that women do and more. This is why I can have reservations about seeing crossdressers call themselves women while remaining men in dresses, even if I know that they are only using that word to say they have stepped away from manhood. “I was man, I was not man, I was woman, I am not woman,” as Kate Bornstein said, and as I understand.

I do believe, however, that you are working hard to show your feminine, tender, trans heart through your expression of carefully selected, polished and nuanced choices of expression. Rather than just asserting something, you are working to embody it, to manifest your feminine truth in the world.

That is a powerful thing. Personally, I have no trouble identifying as male bodied, as we can’t change sex, but I get upset when people identify me as a man. My biology is my biology, but I worked damn hard to claim my own gender truth, to stand connected with other women.

Having someone read the expression you created, the one that exposes your truth to the world, and get the message is powerful. They don’t reduce you to your biology not because you demanded they not, but rather because you revealed something powerful.

Jhana Steele,actress and Las Vegas showgirl, replied to a reporter who said she fooled him into thinking she was a woman, “No, I convinced you I am a woman.”

Is trans about concealment of our biology (passing as being born female), about asserting our politics, or about telling the truth of our heart?

You work hard to tell the truth and get the feedback that your message is received.

It’s like writing a gender.

Fight Club

The first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.

If you do talk, the rubes won’t understand.   They will try and make it about them and their assumptions, expectations and fears.

Worse, they may feel the need to intervene in ways that devalue the purpose of fight club.

The first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.

There are other things with the same first rule.   The first rule of suicide, for example, is that you don’t talk about suicide.   If you do, people’s own issues will come up and you end up having to deal with their stuff rather than yours.  Agitating the rubes just isn’t useful.   Anyone who easily talks about suicide is just trying to dramatize their own feelings, not really considering checking out.

In many ways, trans has the same first rule.

We learn very early that talking about trans just gets us silenced, humiliated and shamed.    Instead of respect and engagement, we get people’s stuff coming up, get crude and nasty interventions.

I recently saw a British TV presenter introduce a transwoman who is also a plumber.   The host was trying to take some fear away from a closeted crossdresser she was trying to help.

The transwoman transitioned on the job.  When asked what she wears to work, she was clear; boots and overalls.   That’s just what any plumber wears.

“My customers don’t really care about my gender,” she said.  “They only care that I do a good job at a fair price.  I do that.”

For the customers, the plumber’s gender challenges are just terrifically uninteresting.  They care about the work, leaving the rest under the surface.

It’s a a case of don’t ask, don’t tell.  Just stay silent and let them think or not think what they will and you can just get the work done.  That’s one reason some transpeople say that you should just get a certificate in some area and rest on that, doing that work.

Once the subject comes up, though, well then there is the possibility for a big mess.

The first rule of trans is that you don’t talk about trans.   Call it passing, call it blending in, call it stealth but whatever you call it, if you don’t make a big deal (BFD) about your gender, odds are no one else around you will be rude enough to make a BFD about it either.

There is one problem with, this, though.   Trans is a BFD in our lives.   There is no way we would have stayed closeted, resisted it, fought it for so long if it wasn’t a big deal for us.

Compartmentalization has always been a way society deals with challenging identities.  “Well, I don’t care what they do in the bedroom as long as the children never have to be exposed to something that makes me queasy!”

I was in a group recently where I recognized one of the members as a trans man I had met at a screening of “Southern Comfort,” one of the best trans films ever, and now available for free viewing online.

The topic of the group was not unusual for a group of mostly women: why can’t guys be different and better?   Now, I can explain the pressures that men are under to conform to gender norms, but explaining why I can do so effectively, well, it gets complicated.

The first rule of trans is that you don’t talk about trans. “Don’t let them see you but one way!” I was warned by other transwomen.

Too much information is a great way to screw up perfectly good relationships, giving people a reason to keep their distance.

Too little information, though, is a great way to take the power, comfort and affirmation out of relationships, leaving you policing yourself and never feeling like you are safe being all of yourself.

Transguy knew this, which is why he was glad to have me there.  He knew that someone in the room knew about his history and wasn’t gonna freak, even if what we said to the group was completely coded, truth without the demand of embracing truth.

Opening cans of worms has very limited utility, you find out very early.  The first rule of trans is that you don’t talk about trans.

It would be lovely if there was some safe space to speak the deep truths, to be seen, affirmed and supported, so at least inside the trans compartment there was a warm and comforting life.

It doesn’t work that way, of course; trans is a bloody individual journey where you learn that even talking about trans with other people who call themselves trans is usually a dangerous and not very useful exercise.   They don’t understand, make it about them, and even try to intervene in ways that devalue what you hold sacred.

The first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.   The first rule of trans is that you don’t talk about trans, instead just taking the bruises and holding the pain deep inside.

Hard to build relationships that way, though.

Authentic Vs. Constructed

One of the ascendant virtues of the new culinary landscape is the murky, poorly defined quality of authenticity. It's an idea that means wildly different things depending on who's saying it and what they're applying it to, but in all circumstances it boils down to a fundamental notion of quality by fiat: if something is authentic, it is necessarily good. Authenticity implies a purity of history, a purity of purpose — in short, if something is authentic, it isn't enjoyed because we've been barraged with external indicators that have instructed us to enjoy it; it's enjoyed because it is inherently enjoyable. Inauthentic things need to be marketed and positioned and sold. Authentic things simply exist, and are perfect, and in their perfection they handily sell themselves.
Branding and authenticity together make up the cornerstones of consumption and identity performance. We make choices of what to buy and what to display, and through those choices we construct (or, oh fondest hope, reflect) our identities and affiliations.
-- Helen Rosner, "What the Mast Brothers Scandal Tells Us About Ourselves"

“Authentic things simply exist, and are perfect, and in their perfection they handily sell themselves.”

[Germaine] Greer attracted fury after claiming that “trans” women such as Caitlyn Jenner (formerly the Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner) are men “who believe that they are women and have themselves castrated”
[Barry Humphries, creator of Dame Edna] is supportive of Greer in the controversy. “I agree with Germaine! You’re a mutilated man, that’s all,” he says. “Self-mutilation, what’s all this carry on? Caitlyn Jenner – what a publicity-seeking ratbag. It’s all given the stamp – not of respectability, but authenticity or something. If you criticise anything you’re racist or sexist or homophobic.”
-- The Telegraph, 4 January 2016

“It’s all given the stamp – not of respectability, but authenticity or something.”

If authenticity simply exists, then the opposite of authenticity is the fabricated.

By claiming authenticity we are really trying to reject allegations of fabrication.

The problem is that truth can be authentic — they are almost equivalent — but truth can never be directly seen, it can only be detected or inferred.   Nobody has a little sample body of truth on their shelf, instead they have thoughtful analyses or potent art which encapsulates, reveals or exposes truth.

Truth is so ephemeral that it can only be claimed, not seen.  It always comes wrapped in legend, some kind of constructed story which tries to encapsulate it.

Are fried green tomatoes an authentically southern classic?  As Robert Moss explains in Eater, for around 100 years they were an obscure seasonal Midwestern dish until Fannie Flagg featured them in a hit novel and movie.    Now, they are as authentically Southern as canned baby corn is Asian.

The notion that our identities are constructed and our role is a performance is not only profoundly human but is also something many want to deny at all costs.

Do we get over the challenge by claiming that our authenticity, the one we are asserting right now, trumps all challenge?

Or do we acknowledge the shimmering nature of truth, understanding that we can only ever share that which we construct around truth and never truth in some kind of absolute, unchallengeable purity?

Is it best to assert authenticity or to acknowledge liminality?   Should we have a fundamentalist battle, fighting to claim the real truth or look for philosophical connections, places where truth is exposed across constructions?

If “authentic” is just another marketing term, does it mean anything at all?


(Just to note, Dame Edna Everage, the publicity seeking ratbag constructed by Humphries, has gone on Twitter to dissociate herself from any comments made by Humphries. She knows how to handle a media event.)

To Lose, To Win

The vast majority of the airmen who were shot down over Europe in World War II were assisted by working class people and peasants.

These were people who had two things in common.  They knew the struggle to stay alive on their own skin, knew the dance between life and death, between loss and love up close, and they weren’t so invested in the status quo that they were worried about losing status, standing and comfort, knowing what was vitally important enough to risk loss over.

The way to make people complicit with the system is to give them a part in in, as Milo Minderbinder knew when he gave each man a share of his rapacious commercial empire in “Catch 22.”

Being worried about what they have to lose seems to make it harder for people to do what they know to be the right thing.  Instead, they do the easy thing, the safe thing, the comfortable thing.

Who can blame them?   Isn’t going along to get along the way that they got their standing in the first place?  Didn’t they just work hard to play the game, striving to become part of the system, the classes with some standing?

As long as they believe that moving up is a possibility for them, then why not work to protect the system that they believe can give them what they desire, ease, status and comfort?

The hardest part of rebirth is always the letting go.   Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

Standing up for what is right always takes risk.   Risk is hard to engage if you are desperately trying to not break any of the unwritten rules.

Working to avoiding loss is never the same thing as working to win.

When winning really counts we are willing to put what we have on the line, let go of the wish for standing and comfort, move beyond our wishes and really do the hard, bloody work.

When people trivialize the cost of emerging as trans in the world it is easy to write the motivations down as indulgence, whim or an attempt to manipulate.  Transpeople are just making easy claims, they say, demanding the world accept their own ego.

Talking to transpeople, though, it quickly becomes apparent that no one emerges as trans just for some kind of fun.   If you don’t have some deep need to break gender barriers and threaten your own standing, you wouldn’t do it.

Where this gets messy is not in the heart-crashing emergence, but in the way that we try to defend our own standing in other areas, using rationalizations to try and avoid losing everything.

Sure, we are out as trans, we say, but we are really normal, normative, typical, conservative and compliant in so many other areas.  We are still straight men, or at least some kind of non-queer lesbian, still followers of the church, still Republican, still conservative, still clinging to every wisp of standing other than our assumption of manhood.

We cling to the cars, the sex, the opinions and attitudes that we believed help us fit in, not willing to risk the price of standing up for queers in the world, those who have abandoned decorum, social climbing, and assimilation.

When we lose our gender safety, too often we cling desperately to other bits of status, trying to avoid engaging loss by not letting go of our tenuous hold to convention.

The worst thing about this determined clenching, the attempt to hold the stick up our ass tighter, is that it stops us from swinging the pendulum wide, from really letting go, flowing free and finding a new, potent and beautiful center.

As long as we try to retain standing, clinging to old status, others can dismiss our trans expression as just a fascia, some kind of façade.

The only way to win is to lose.   Letting go is the only way to claim the new, just like death is always required for rebirth.   Until we can release our defences and claims, we cannot embrace our new, potent beauty.

The world wants to co-opt us, to get us to play along and fit in, dreaming of what rewards we might claim if we just don’t break the rules, just don’t lose.

Breakthrough success, though, goes to the winners, those who are willing to lose in order to win.

One of the situations in which
everybody seems to fear loneliness is death.–
In tones drenched with pity, people say of someone,
“He died alone.”
I have never understood this point of view.
Who wants to have to die and be polite at the same time?
— Quentin Crisp

Creative people, if they are any good at all,
are always a pain in the ass.
Nobody with a strong vision for a better future
is solely polite and comfortable.
— Callan Williams

Creativity always starts with moving beyond being polite, with claiming ourselves as if our lives depend on it.

The willingness to lose is the foundation of the ability to really, really win.