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.