Intersectionality

I have a very queer view of the world.

That means I look at every person as an individual with their own unique history, outlook and challenges.

The limits of identity politics, of assigning people a group identity based on some assessment of the level of privilege or oppression attributed to their grouping have long been obvious to me.

Those who see the world as a set of shared oppressions,  who want to create a political system based on group identity and group shame, love identity politics because it externalizes responsibility for people’s actions.   You are who you are because of your race, class, sex or other groupings.

To them, a zealous application of identity politics flips what they see as social privilege on its head, privileging the most oppressed over all others.   It is our group identity which gives us standing to speak, not our individual choices which are polluted by our essential lived experience.

For women’s studies professors, this notion that shared oppression is the mark of purity has been offered to generations of students.   It is called consciousness raising  and it offers an environment where political correctness is the highest value, where we learn to live in shame, surrendering our voice to the most oppressed among us.   This is why Black Lives Matter, but other lives do not get the same value, because they don’t carry the same burden of oppression.

This political correctness based shame culture can lead to very bad abuses, for there is no grounding in quality, only in the changing will of the group.

The concept of intersectionality has recently come up in this belief system.   Intersectionality says that every human lives at he intersection of a range of different forces, isn’t simply one thing or another.

When you hear that, it is attractive to think that this is identity politics back door attempt to move towards a queer mindset, starting to see individuals as unique, starting to value the person.

You would, though, be wrong.   To identity politics people, the intersectionality of someone does not make them an individual,  rather it makes them a member of multiple identity groups.   They are not just the group they claim, they are also members of the groups we assign them to.

Intersectionality, then, becomes a cover for what identity politics claims to loathe above all else: ranking oppressions.    It breaks the law that you are not allowed to question or challenge the asserted oppression of other groups who are less socially privileged than you because that is just you asserting your oppressive privilege.

The executive director of the Georgia ACLU just quit, saying that she could not support trans rights initiatives because she believes in intersectionality.   To her, trans bathroom access is just giving white men access to spaces that are privileged to the oppressed, to women, children and people of colour.   She feels fear, which she projects onto her vulnerable children when she sees these kind of people enter her spaces.

To justify her position, she calls back intersectionality, asserting that those with more oppressed group identities must have the right to be protected from those who grew up with social privilege.    These transwomen may identify as oppressed, but because they are really white men in her taxonomy, the fear she feels is their fault, coming from their privileged background,  so they must not be protected over people like her and her children.

I wrote a bit of parody about ranking oppression back in the 1990s in my announcement of the Trans-Victim list.  It goes to the heart of the problem of ceding the power to the most victimized, most oppressed in the room, asking others to accept group shame and guilt to stay silent and unchallenging as a sign of respect and fealty to the power of identity politics.

For people who live in the real world and not the academic or social justice world where identity politics rules, this all seems rather silly.  Isn’t the basis of American values that each shall rise or fall on their own choices and contributions and not on some assignment of group identity?

America has a long and vicious history of institutionalized racism and other separations, where people were oppressed and limited because of their group identity.    Women were denied the vote, Asians were marginalized and interned and so on.

We do need to raise consciousness about these mindsets, helping people move past their old patterns and assumptions.

The question is, though, what moves beyond it?   Is it more groupings, this time allowing the weakest to lead, or is it moving past group identity altogether?

At a recent trans conference, they declared the bathrooms gender free.   As liberated as this sounds, was it really a solution.  One straight woman, there to talk about her experience of being an advocate for transpeople in health care was in a stall when a workman walked in to use the facility.

She knew he was just doing his business as simply as he could, but because he wasn’t one of the queers, just a straight guy who needed the can, she was uncomfortable with him being there.  Could she trust him to be respectful?

She saw her tension as instructive, wanting to process the feeling, but it was there anyway.  Does just doing some idealistic thing really useful?

At a lobbying day, they turned the nearest men’s room into an all-gender facility.  One woman born female felt empowered by using it, but when I looked at it, I felt marginalized and sad at being asked to use it.   Why did political correctness have to define where my choices?

I am against anyone who uses their presumed privilege to assert the power to violate the golden rule and treat anyone else in a way that they would find hateful.

I understand why, at some point, we have to each confront our own internalized assumptions and have to engage, with open mind and open heart, the experiences of others with being disadvantaged by systemic problems.

We each have to work to put aside our habits to open to diversity, to learn to treat everyone fairly and openly.

Deciding that identity politics, using groupings to decide who had privilege and needs to surrender it and who didn’t and needs to be given it, though, doesn’t seem to be the solution.

As someone who is often seen as “really” a mature, middle class white man in these identity politics spaces I have seen activists assert choices that they would find as hateful if done by someone they saw as having privilege.  Their received enlightenment allows them to school others, dismissing challenge as just reactionary, unconsidered thinking.

Anyone who doesn’t understand and agree with what is being said by the most oppressed people just is stuck in their own prejudices, needing to be shamed into obsequious political correctness.  There is no possibility that thought has moved beyond identity politics, rather it must be that they never understood it in the first place.

Replacing one sense of entitlement with another does not feel like a transcendent move, though it does allow activists to demand obedience, building their own power blocs.

I believe in intersectionality, but only because the acknowledgement that people are much more than the identity groups they can be assigned to leads us to queer, to valuing each based on their contribution and not on their compliance to canonical beliefs.

To me, moving to a place of respect and grace while asking others to do the same is the heart of moving to a better, more human place.

When identity politics followers use the idea of intersectionality to rank oppression, to devalue the real concerns of those they see as more privileged, asking them to surrender their needs to those assigned as more entitled, it makes me crazy.   It violates the Golden Rule.

There are always going to be places in a free society where the needs of some challenge the comfort and belief of others, but those who claim to stand for freedom and equality before the law need to put aside their own dogma to find useful, liberating solutions.

The future is queer, at least to me, a place where we each have the responsibility of being an individual who treats others as individuals.

Way To Say

In many ways, I see myself as a tinker, using a shed full of bits that I have collected over the years to create useful constructions which can help make everyday life easier.

My craft is in words, building structures of communication which more easily and effectively let people share their needs, desires and experiences.   By offering a way to smooth communication, making it more satisfying, I not only tell my own story but offer tools to everyone.

My sister recently had to write a recommendation for a friend.  When he was moved by it, finding it gushy, she told him I had written it.  How, he wondered, could I know so much about him to make such a strong statement?

As a photographer, his skill is to make memorable images for clients.   He couldn’t understand, though, how a writer’s skill is to collect information and put it into neat structures that convey both fact and feeling with grace.

The process is simple, my sister explained. I let her talk for a while, while she asks questions, and then I go out and do some research, maybe going back into my memory, maybe searching, or maybe talking to others and then I give her a draft that she can correct and polish to more effectively represent what she wanted to say in the first place.

Writing, like so many other human endeavours, is rooted in craft.   Mastery comes through exercise, building and correcting, starting and throwing out, going back until you own the process.

When I was young, I heard someone say that you cannot write well until you can type as fast as you can think.   I told this to a writing group and they looked blankly at me, not understanding what my sister does as a fabric artist: fluidity of expression creates the most powerful works.   It is often better to discard drafts and start over rather than pound and sweat, because the results from the rework will show strain from the beginning.

My correspondents are used to hearing me say that I agree with them, but that I might put it another way, then offering a different construction.   Most often they see the value in what I share, using precision and wit to convey the idea a little more sharply.

For humans, it is almost impossible to think clearly about anything we cannot put into words.   Until we can say it, we cannot share it or sharpen it.

When I was supporting a lot of newly out crossdressers, one of the first steps in helping them own their own style was asking them to describe, in words, the outfits of women they saw around them.  Girls learn this process by osmosis, listening to their mothers discuss fashion, but for those of us raised as boys we have to work to own that language.

As we put what we see into words, sharing it with friends, we begin to clarify and codify the notions that we find compelling and that work for us.  We build a linguistic context for creating visual style which allows us to both more deeply understand what we want and to get help in finding the pieces which will work to create our own unique vision.

Knowing the rules well is always the best basis for breaking the rules, because only when you know the routine can you twist it for the better, putting your own unique and quality stamp on it.

My first decade of emerging as transgender followed the same pattern.  I had to understand the language used, getting clear on both meanings and nomenclature to start to be able to express my own understandings with compelling clarity.   There is no way I could have done the IFGE and Southern Comfort keynote speeches I did in 1995 without doing that work to own a precise language which I still use twenty years later.

Since then, I have seen lots of sloppy thinking come out.   I see lots of people toss around the word “gender” without having any definition of what gender is.   That term can be used in many ways and with many meanings, of course, but until the writer is very clear about what they mean by gender, there is no way their writing can ever have a solid, useful foundation.

I have done a lot of work around communication theory, the foundation of why and how we communicate.  Understanding the relationship between symbol and meaning, being clear about what creates noise and confusion seems to me to be a fundamental basis for the craft of writing.

Not everyone sees writing as a craft, I know.  Not everyone thinks they can be a tinsmith, effectively using the snips, but everyone thinks that they can write because they learned the rudiments in school.   They see writing as personal expression, a kind of freedom, and anyone who doesn’t understand their writing just isn’t working hard enough.  No one has a right to judge their native and naive sacred scribbling.

The clearer we understand the world around us, the more sharply we see the connections, even those that cross what some think of as walls, and the more effectively we can express that knowledge, the more we can be convincing and powerful in the world.   When I give people tools that not only offer insight but also allow their own position to be concisely communicated, I help them own more of their own possibilities.

Humans haven’t done the impossible because they are the strongest or wildest creatures on the earth.   Rather we have become adaptable and successful because we have good brains that let us learn from our mistakes and get better as we get smarter.

Language is the secret behind this success, the way we share knowledge and momentum between us, reaching back into history or reaching across populations to find better, more effective ways to cooperate and thrive.

Anyone who doesn’t value smarts, value the ability and willingness to learn how to work together better, doesn’t understand the powerful gifts that have always lifted humans.

I’m just a tinker who works with words, finding order, power and inspiration in the stories of others around me and helping to share them.   Using the symbols of language and the strength of organization, I take the best of what we have to offer and put it out there in an attempt to lift the level of understanding and thought we can use to make a better future.

Like a jeweller who works humbly with precious materials, I can only hope that the craft I bring to my work adds value and dignity to the product.   Striving to find a way to say the eternal lessons of humanity in modern language, new ways to share old and proven wisdom, is all I can do.

And I hope that, at least for some people who needed new ways to see and speak about their experience in the world, my work has helped.

Might Have Been

Once you are trans and emerged, no longer struggling to fit into your assigned box, it’s easy to look back and ponder what might have been if things had been different.

What might have happened if you didn’t have to hide, instead feeling safe to show yourself?   What would you have learned by going through your emergence with the rest of your peers, rather than just playacting at being who you believed other people expected you to be?

And what could have happened if you didn’t have to take that enormous hit of letting go everything that you built to recreate yourself, all the while being challenged and attacked by people who felt you were being sick and self-indulgent?

It takes so much more effort to learn social skills out of order rather than being schooled along with a whole class trying to own the same challenges at the same time.  You not only have no others to mirror and help you, you don’t have safe people to practice with, trying out gendered behaviours to see which work well for you.

That second adolescence takes much more time, ends up with much more challenge and leaves many more loose ends, more gaps in your possibilities.   Facing the stigma that is intended to cripple and slow difference by resisting the unusual at every step always has a cost, one that can easily leave you exhausted.

The world is set to to protect and empower emerging kids, but that kindness and compassion isn’t extended to those who need a do-over because their first time was destroyed by the fear and compulsion placed on them by dint of their reproductive biology.

Later emergence also requires the willingness to give up what you have now to claim who you know yourself to be.  We have had to create a life that didn’t fit us because we felt denied the opportunity to emerge, but that doesn’t mean that life didn’t contain key parts of who we are, didn’t hold much that there was a cost to losing.

For many transwomen who emerge later in life, the cost is losing a family.   That doesn’t just include connections to children whose mother is angry, but can easily mean members of our own family who choose to shame us, feeling the need to side against us.    They start to parrot all the horrible things that come up, telling us that if we really loved our family, we would never do this to them, that we would continue to deny our own nature and “take it like a man.”

This kind of stuff takes a long time to heal, especially because we almost always have to do it alone.   The journey to claim yourself beyond social conventions is always a lonely one, and very few of us can find a guide or coach who can help us with the pain and challenges.  Healing becomes a solitary and slow journey, if we can ever really accomplish coming out from behind our own defences.

There will always be moments when we see others who have claimed some of the simple dreams we had, dreams that were denied to us because of social stigma and our response to it.   In that moment, the loss becomes palpable again, even as we know we took the only path we could find, making the best decisions we could in the moment.

For me, much of that loss is about my capacity to perform.   I tried being in drama club in high school, but with cutbacks, the best we got was a shop teacher to whom I had to explain who Brecht was.  There was no one to help me trust and polish my skills.

Even if there had been, though, the stick up my butt that even stopped me from wearing shorts because they might be too feminine would still have stopped me. If I wanted to pass as a straight guy, even as an iconoclastic, eccentric,  intellectual and weird guy, I had to keep my nature bottled up.

And what if I had been able to present as a woman?   Would I have gotten cast to play the role of normative, attractive gals?   Or would I have just been seen as too distracting, too much of an off note, and have been relegated to backstage work as I ended up being anyway?

My voice, my body, my instrument doesn’t read simply feminine and never would have.  How much would I have had to try and conceal my body and history, how much would it have broken my heart when I failed to do that?

I know, I know, I know that I had that spark which can light a room and hold attention on a stage.

I know also, though, that feeling the need to keep it hidden incapacitated me, never allowing me the chance to take the flyer and show myself.

Of course, my family was also a part of this, with Aspergers parents who couldn’t support the emotional things they didn’t comprehend, and a mother who needed everyone to live in her narcissism and pain, but added together, loss happened.

No matter how grown up and pragmatic we are, accepting our lives with serenity, every transperson has moments when the loss of what might have been tears at us.  The joint pain of having to endure the demands of normalcy and losing the possibility of following our dreams, leading us to a life outside of bounds, is always with us.

I don’t know who I would have been if I had been free to be who I knew myself to be, but in many ways that not knowing is even worse.   It is rarely the things that we do which we regret most profoundly but rather the things we dreamed of and never found the courage to try.

Whatever my dreams were, life would have thrown me curve balls, some that would have brought me down to earth but also some that would have opened possibilities that I never could have imagined.

Everyone endures loss in life, yes.   For transpeople, though, that loss has almost always been a very isolating thing, beyond the support and comfort of others who share those experiences.    We rarely have a sense of what we gained from that loss other than deep wisdom, a gift that most still find impossible to value.

Losing to social stigma, to the closed and shuttered minds of others, is extremely frustrating, especially as we see how trans has become part of society and the possibilities for young transpeople have blossomed.

I listen to the stories of others around my age who sought to claim their dreams and while I am happy for them, it always makes me wonder what might have been for me if only the world didn’t believe they had to brutally beat my tender heart into normativity.

There is always a price to being exceptional, but the price for having to live as trans feels very high when it is felt on your own skin, laced into your own history.

The more I read about medical studies, the more I understand that old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is just crap.   The injuries of our life persist, and the body keeps the score, as Bessel Van Der Kolk reminds us.

What might have been?   What indeed?

Mostly, though, it feels too late to find out.

All Of Me

When you grow something, it’s easy to sell the prime cuts.  After all, that’s what people want, the choice bits, the desirable pieces that they already know that they like.

Nothing in the world only comes with the good parts, though. It takes a whole system to create what we need and we want.

Starting relationships usually means putting your best foot forward, showing your best attributes in the most flattering light possible.  Other people have habits of desire, so they look for the things they think that they want in a connection with another person.

The problem is that one can’t be in relationship with only part of a person.   Every person is a whole person, with lots of parts, some amazing, some challenging and some both.

In commerce we can find a way to keep some parts hidden.   That’s why men who buy “the girlfriend experience” only get a sweet, loving and sexy partner, because in return for cash, she keeps her own needs and power subdued and hidden.

My own concierge presentation is much the same.   I am there to serve, to be charming and considerate, making sure that the client has a good time, getting their needs met.   It is a performance, to be sure, one I have honed over the years.

We can keep these performances up only as long as our underlying needs are being met somehow.   We can’t just eliminate or freeze our human needs, our emotions, history and passions forever; somehow we need to get them met.

Often, those needs are spread across multiple relationships.  Binary gender often leads to the heterosexual and homosocial together,  sharing romantic relationships with “the opposite sex” but having deep, long lasting friendships with people who are more like us.

Each of us needs someone, or a range of someones to love all of us.

This is a challenge in a world where people believe that the market allows them to pick and choose, getting just want they want and leaving the rest behind.

When we lived in small places and butchered whole animals, we knew that we had to use and value every part.   When we fell for people we grew up with, we knew them as full, multi-faceted humans before we knew them as lovers.

Today, though, taking the best parts and throwing away the rest seems like a reasonable plan.  We get that in every other area of life, why not in relationships?

As a transwoman, I know myself to be politically a bisexual.   That doesn’t mean I fancy everyone — I have never been with a man — but it does mean that I need my partners to value, respect and care about all the bits of me, even where I cross gender expectations.

If they need to be comfortable with their own bisexuality, not getting freaked about loving a transwoman, then I need to be comfortable with my own bisexuality.   I need to see something in partners which transcends simple binaries, connecting with their hearts and not just responding to how they fit some model of what I think I should desire.

I need people to love all of me.  That doesn’t mean that just one person has to love all of me, as sweet as that sounds, but it does mean that I can’t just be liked for the easy, service parts and be stuck with handling all other tough parts by myself.

No matter how much people like the bits they already know how to find valuable, I need to have all my bits valued and cared for.  I cannot sustain myself only by giving and giving; I need to receive too, need my whole self to be replenished, nourished and loved.

For people like me, who cross lines of social convention, this is hard.   We don’t have a home, a family of people like us, don’t have people who share our experience of needing to cross the gender divide most people see as rigid and fixed.

For me, so different from my parents even in Aspergers, this lack of understanding and compassion was intense.  I learned early that I was just too much for the world around me — too stupid, too cerebral, too emotional, too intense, too insightful, too queer, too everything.

I learned to compartmentalize off the parts that scared others, but in that process, those parts decayed, from my body to my exuberance and hope.

Like a baby who has soiled themselves, we need love most when we are most unlovable.   Anyone can love a sweet-smelling, giggling baby, but a stinky, wailing one is much harder to take care of, no matter how much they really need our help.

The old plan of just asking people to love the nice parts of me, servicing them in a way that they already know they want to be cared for has left me broken and hurting.

I need people to love all of me, even if that all includes a history of being smart, sharp and reflective.

As we get older our potential partner pool shrinks, not just because people prefer fresh & shiny to shopworn, but also because our vitality has been converted to stories, baggage which carries the essence of our wisdom.    We are much less moldable clay, willing to do or swallow anything to get what we have been taught to want, what we believe will save us and make us happy, and much more final creation, a solid self full of more lessons than shallow hope.

That doesn’t mean, though, that we don’t need love, don’t need to be seen, understood, respected and valued for all of who we are.

I never fit neatly in a package that met the desires of others.   I spent decades trying to cut myself down to fit those packages, but it never really worked.   Doing more of that seems impossible, as impossible as finding someone who gets the joke, someone who is ready to love all of me.

Aren’t we each seeking someone to love all of us?   Why, then, do we think we can get away with just loving parts of others, only the juicy bits, the prime cuts that we have been taught are desirable?

Until we can love all of ourselves, we cannot tolerate others loving all of us, it is true. We have to do the work for ourselves, not dreaming of finding someone to heal us from the outside.

Loving full and messy humans though, with grace, wit and maturity, is part of the way we get to loving ourselves. I have done that work, in spades.

But all of me, well all of me, it still seems like nobody gets the shine.

Mystery

Dissecting something may tell you a bit about the parts that make it up, but it rarely reveals the spark which gives it life, the magic behind the processes of its life.

After all, we cut up bodies for centuries without ever getting close to understanding the mysteries which are revealed today, and yet, still, systems like the mind are mysteries, beyond our current level of complete comprehension.

The power of science lies in the power of the mystery, dancing with the unknowable to get a glimmer, a hint of more understanding.

For many people, though, the power of the mystery, the spark of the divine surprise are seriously disconcerting.   They do what people have always done, filling in the blank spaces with stories, myths that represent their beliefs about what is going on under the surface, tales that make them feel like they live in some kind of knowledge.

We can listen to all the stories people used to believe about how the wider universe worked and see that while some old wives tales were based on good observation, long experience and offered folk wisdom, many of them were just imaginary crap that offered a false sense of control.

Today there is lots of chatter about mansplaining, the tendency of some men to fill all the empty spaces with their own asserted wisdom without worrying too much about accuracy.   They take comfort in being the fount of knowledge, the only one who knows how it works, so they help little ladies and the rest understand.

These kind of people choose to live in the answer rather than in the question, asserting received knowledge without challenge.    Conspiracy theorists are trying to codify what they don’t want to have to work to know.   They substitute their beliefs for the hard bit of learning, always knowing there there things they don’t know but filling that space in with their voodoo assumptions,  certain of causes that lurk with evil.

Living in a world where everything has an answer, even if that answer may be made up, is living in a world without clutter, a world where there aren’t a bunch of unused bits and hanging threads, a world where you can be sure about your choices, even of what to dispose of, because you are sure that you know.

It is also, though, a world without mysteries.    The space for them is taken up by assertions and ghost stories, explaining away the unknown and unknowable with made up tales rooted in beliefs about the way the world really works, the hidden truths that have been revealed by some scuttlebutt somewhere.

When you fill up your mindspace with comforting and assured answers, no matter if those answers are based in scholarship or scuttlebutt, you leave little room for mystery, little room for awe, little room for creativity and little room for reverence.

Those answers you hold to keep you comfortable do the same thing as the Frog DNA used to fill up the genomes in “Jurassic Park,”  allowing the animals to switch sex and start to breed.  You get unanticipated results from unconsidered assumptions as the old stuff lies in wait to sabotage the new striving for better.

The hardest thing about seeing in a new way is clearing out all the bits that you used to believe.   Ask any transwoman who emerged later in life and she can tell you that letting go of the old defences, the habitual armour is incredibly difficult.   It demands getting naked again, being vulnerable again, allowing our own innocence to let us learn like children, letting go of what doesn’t work and starting fresh.

What is vital, though, is to engage the divine surprise and live in the mystery, in the question.  The more we try and force quick and simple answers the more we end up driving away powerful, nuanced and sophisticated answers which enlighten us at a whole new level of seeing.

To be ready to learn and grow, finding new and better, we have to be ready to not be quick to find easy, simple and wrong answers to open questions.   We have to be willing to sit with the mystery, respecting it, allowing patterns to emerge from the clutter as insights occur and our enlightenment grows.

Possibility only exists in new ways of thinking and seeing.   To be open to the new, we have to respect the mystery, treating what we don’t know with respect and reverence.

As a transperson, I need the mystery.  I have spent a life where people tried to erase my own liminal bits by shoving their own beliefs into them, asserting their own view of real reality.   Every time I did that, I felt erased and dismissed, the magical and transcendent bits of me being disrespected, my own emergence being trounced on.

Reverence for what we don’t know is always the starting point to a fuller and deeper knowledge.    Too much assertion based in our received beliefs and routine habits blocks growth and understanding rather than expanding them.

I need the mystery, for in the mystery lies divine surprises which can delight and enlighten me.  I seek the spark, not the comforting simplification.

That is the way that I respect creation, even the creation of others around me.

Lots of open questions?   Great!   Lets look for more, and as we revere the questions, bigger and more powerful answers will come.

Having Relations

It makes me crazy when people act from faith, act from belief, rather than from being centred in rationality and doubt.   When they do that, they are usually wrong, closed, dilettante, defended, resisting the mystery rather than entering into it.

Rationality saved me.  It was using my sharp mind that let me sort out the attacks I felt all the time, let me understand and contextualize the way other people acted out their own fear and pain against me.   It was my smarts, inside my inner world that saved me from the Aspergers based unprocessed emotion of my mother.

Understanding became the goal, the only goal.   Being trapped inside the reactionary responses of others was my idea of hell, made small and damaged by having to live in the fears and unprocessed assumptions of others.

The core separation in my life, the line along which I am rent, is between the smart, gracious, service concierge who knows how to take care of people by being sharp enough to understand them and the emotional, performance feminine spirit who feels the calling to act from her inner knowledge & understanding, expressing beauty & energy in the world.

Concierge is how I learned to be my attenuated self,  being who other people need, smart and rational, entering the worlds of others to help clean things up with a kind of honed professionalism.

But calling, well, calling is much more dramatic, much bigger, and much less rational.   She is located in that space where other people told me I could never go because it violated the fixtures of gender, revealing my own broken sickness, showing a kind of perversion that others would have to work to destroy.

How could I possibly trust my own emotions if they called me to be pretty, feminine and a woman in the world when rationality so clearly revealed that was a lie, that I went though puberty as a male and that was truth?

It took me decades in my own space to find some kind of integration, letting my smarts lead me through the minefield of other people, while keeping my emotional energy in the background where it could only inform my rational self.

My trans expression became my work expression, brought out to show the flag, to allow me controlled performance in the space of expressing parts of me that are now integrated into enlightenment.

Rather than being in people’s faces, asking for their engagement, acceptance and love while chancing inflaming their own unhealed spaces, maybe stimulating them to act out against me, I am always ready to be the smart one, the grown up one, the one who has to do the work of processing and defusing fear.

The third gotcha shaped my life, seeming to demand that I stay in the rationality, in the armour, inside of my own trans-natural boundaries.

These constraints, this tension between sharp smarts and emotional performance, the forces that lead me to a concierge role, have shaped my work and not in a bad way.   Sure, many people find it just too, well, too something — too wordy, too intellectual, too emotional, too queer, too intense, too whatever — but I know it carries the real questions, the real sweat and challenge of being a trans shaman in a society where we have been denied and defiled.

I resist calling to the point of self destruction (2003).  It makes me crazy when people act from faith, act from belief, rather than from being centred in rationality and doubt, so I committed to the smart side.

And while it has made me wise and spiritual, well, it hasn’t really made me happy.   The doubter is wise, the believer is happy, goes an old Hungarian proverb I have quoted many times in the past two decades.

To assemble community we have to act from belief rather than from doubt.   That doesn’t mean, of course, that we need to purge doubt, to deny it, but it does mean that we need a kind of open vulnerability, a kind of trust, a kind of faith that people can gather around, finding comfort and connection.

To be a pastor we have to gather the flock, not drive them apart, as Rev. Aaron Miller reminded me.  It is this clerical role that I so resist, creating shared space rich with both thought and emotion where people can come together to take care of each other, supporting growth and healing.

Most people have fear about believers.   We have seen too many people too stuck in belief, people who feel that their own doctrine allows them to act in judgmental ways.   They preach and hector, slamming any who challenge them with the raw emotion of simplistic belief.

While this may be an unfair and unreasonable belief, much like the judge who proclaimed that he “never heard a quiet motorcycle,” it leads us to try and pour cold water on anyone who says they want and need to act from their beliefs in the world.

Like all the quiet motorcycles the judge never noticed, there are huge numbers of believers in the world quietly using their own faith to drive their actions to make the world a better, more compassionate and more reverent place.   Their faith is the basis for their morality, their service, their openness, their vulnerability.

It is possible to be a believer, grounded in faith, and not be a reactionary idiot.   As long as you follow teachy preachers, those who help you go within yourself to get more clear, rather than preachy preachers, those who tell you that the problem is other people who embody evil by not following the rules of his church, you can grow wise and happy.

I have lived in doubt, my enormous smarts and my concierge ability to walk into other people’s lives to serve them being valued by others.

Can I live in faith, though, asserting my own beliefs in the world in a way that attracts and compels other people in a way that doesn’t just demand I live within their fears, assumptions and limits?

Can I be the catalyst that brings together a congregation which values doubt, values belief and values each other, including valuing me?

Can I engage that damn calling by opening myself to relations with other people, or am I doomed to be too hip for the room, being prickly rather than pretty, and not having others being ready to meet me where I am, not being willing to come on a journey with me?

If I stand up and shine in the faith that my creator has made me for love, trusting those feelings and instincts I learned to clamp down on so very many years ago, will I attract the people and energy I want and need to make me happy?

Can I walk in faith, or will that just freak everybody out?  Will they be like my parents, demanding service which fits their comfort zone, service which I can only give as a concierge?

Learning to trust your own spark when so many forcibly worked to extinguish it is hard juju.

It makes me crazy when people act from faith, act from belief, rather than from being centred in rationality and doubt.   When they do that, they are usually wrong, closed, dilettante, defended, resisting the mystery rather than entering into it.

But sometimes, faith is the only thing that can let you claim satisfaction, connection and happiness.

To Something More

The brilliant Erin offered this up as a comment to my post on Immigrant Costs and I don’t think it should be missed:

It is true. In this brave new age of trans visibility, when in the popular media we can hear nice, normative people affirm that trans folks are not such freaks after all, and deserve some respect and even trans-sensitive accommodations in society (all of a sudden they are scrambling to make room at the inn for us?), what is getting lost is the fact that trans–but always–is a non-normative experience.

Why should I have to settle for being a cut-rate facsimile of a non-trans woman? Certain things are closed to me because I am trans; others might open, but only if I can accept that I have my own brand of magic to spell, which is not exactly equivalent to what it might be if I were not trans. When no trans woman’s vagina leads to a uterus, how are we to be fruitful and multiply? (Obviously not trying to reduce anyone to their reproductive biology here. Just saying it is kind of an interesting metaphor.)

It is true that I have a deep desire in my heart to grow into the ways of womanhood, to be a woman in this world. And I believe that this is legit, because, though I am not a (cis) woman, I am a trans woman, and that is indeed something, which can be real and bear fruit in the world. It is just that… I can be more fully the woman I am if I acknowledge I am a non-normative woman (and more specifically, a trans woman), than if I am trying to restrict myself to the fish bladder of overlap in the Venn diagram, between trans woman and “ordinary” woman, which leaves me with a relatively meager row to hoe.

This is what “trans visibility” and mainstreaming is showing me. It is forcing me, through its insufficiency as a narrative, to claim and embody that greater meaning which I do believe lies behind trans expression (and human life in general, for that matter).

As you have pointed out, no one grows up wanting to be one of the marginal, liminal ones–and I am no exception here. For a long time following my initial steps at trans emergence, I did hope to pass for normative, and was reluctant and tongue-tied about speaking to my particular history and experiences. (I am not completely over this hump now, but I feel it as more and more imperative.) And certainly I am glad that on one level it is becoming easier to be trans in the world, because as far as it goes we are just human beings who need to pee after drinking our coffee, and who desire to have a certain basic level of humanity imputed to us in society.

But this could be a dead end. There is something more needing to be acknowledged, wanting to be brought to light alongside the process of our individual trans emergence. Yet in our impoverished worldview, where the understanding of a trans woman is “born with a penis and a woman’s brain”… I mean, geez, how reductive, unpoetic, and uninspiring can we get? This is never going to fly. Trans points to something more–something more human, more nourishing, more interesting, more queer–although I am not yet 100% sure what.

But I am a witch, perhaps a priestess, and ideally a contemplative, and I am going to find out. I am going to walk this road because I believe it is a calling. (Honestly, it is either a calling or something approaching insanity, as far as I can tell. How _can_ someone be trans and “normal”?) And finally, by walking this way perhaps I can offer something uniquely my own, and uniquely trans, to my non-trans sisters and brothers, who are not always normative or normal either, and who also long for new and inspiring ways to be themselves in the world.

(In the truly dark ages of the patriarchy, women were the mysterious “other” full of weirding ways, hexes, and charms. As sacred Third, I am happy to take over this role now, so that all the boring normal women can be relieved of such collective projections, and can get on with running for President and enjoying televised sporting events (not just for men and barbarians anymore!) in peace.)

For myself, I have no doubt that being queer in this world is a calling (1997), but then again I believe myself to be spirit living a human life.

Does the fact that I believe that, though, mean that all transpeople have to believe that, that they have to hold the same creation myth?

I deeply care about creation myths (1995) but I am not at all sure I get to tell other people what their creation myth should be.   I do want to be able to get them to open up their minds and examine the creation myth they do hold, however, understanding the way their beliefs end up shaping their choices and their connections.

In that 1995 speech I called for moving beyond the “birth defect” and the “just dress up” creation myths so we can move to a myth that supports the expression of transpeople in the world, whatever we have to express.

Deciding that we are only going to support transpeople whose stories agree with ours and worse, that we will work to convert, erase and destroy anyone whose stories challenge ours is an expression of internalized shame, playing the game of our oppressors.

For decades, I have said that trans expression holds trans meanings.   The symbols that trigger our Eros are not just playthings, rather they represent our essence.

This message was not easily embraced by those who didn’t want to be seen as queer and transgressive.   They wanted to fit in a nice socially explainable context, like having an illness or just honouring women.

For me, though, seeing the power behind the drive to cross assigned gender, the willingness to enter no man’s/no woman’s land to claim who you know yourself to be inside speaks to power beyond convention, expectation and binary assumptions.   That’s why I started listening to our stories, finding the threads that connect us, finding ways to put shared experience into words.

This is why I have trouble with the whole “third” construction.  The transpeople I know don’t fit neatly into some category, rather they walk away from categories to find their own blend of wild individualism and tame cooperation.  They are each unique.

To call us “third” plays into the notion that the binary is real, that most people neatly fit into boxes and there are just some special ones who fit into the “other/neither/third” category.

Knowing that someone is “third” doesn’t tell you anything useful about them other than their history is not conventional.   It doesn’t help you understand them as an individual.

More than that, I don’t believe it is only the visibly queer people who represent the power of the human spirit over history and biology.  In my view, every person is spirit living a human life, has a connection to the universe beyond binary inside of them.

The trans experience in a heterosexist binary world is one topic of discussion, but the another topic, one much more powerful to me, is the experience of embracing our own unique individuality, our power beyond normative convention, our queerness in the world.

The people I connect with are the travellers, the people who see themselves on a journey.   They may see their journey towards enlightenment, towards actualization, towards a more righteous posture, towards deeper connection, towards healing or a whole range of other notions, but they each know that to become better everyday, they have to engage and learn from the divine surprises that reflect them differently everyday.

To me, these are the people who engage their own queerness, their own brave, essential and unique spirit in the world.   Rather than craving comfortable separation, they don’t fear going to the places where they will be revealed to have deep connections with everything.   They walk in love.

I know many transpeople who very much reject their own queerness.   I know many people who are not trans who have chosen to be open and vulnerable, seeing individual connection and delighting in diversity, even if they don’t call that celebrating queer.

People heal in their own time and in their own way.   I can’t get people who really, really, really want to fit in to own their own special spirit.   They have to find that need for themselves.    I don’t get to pick their creation myth for them, don’t get to tell them what their trans nature means on a deep level.

I do know that being human, a member of a tribe, a village, a corporation, a family, means we have to cooperate, be interdependent with others around us, even if being spirit means we have to transcend peer pressure, seeking for and doing what we know to be the right thing.

That balance is tough for every human on the planet.  And, at some point in their lives, every human is going to have to make hard choices over complying with norms, assumptions & rules or following their inner truth to stand out and stand up.   Their normal will shatter and they will have to come to their own peace with greater creation.

It’s my job to leave a bit of a journal that might help some others on that journey to themselves, offering a map and some nomenclature which might make the struggle a bit easier or more elegant.

Erin, your message is so powerful because you have chosen to engage a journey to connect with spirit, something you started off resisting as you yearned for normative and easy.    The messages you offer from your path have illuminated my own path, showing me a very different way to embrace spirit than I would ever have chosen.  You are powerful because of your uniqueness, not because you slide in as a Third.

My own journey is driven by my own experience of being trans in a world that wants to erase and mainstream people like me, first as not-trans and now, maybe, as nice-trans.

Other people, though, have different entry points and different trajectories to their own journey to calling.   You don’t have to be trans to crack open and humbly touch the face of your creator, but it helps.

For those people who aren’t ready to claim themselves beyond convention, though, even the ones who strongly show their own trans nature in the world, I think they get the same courtesy I would extend to normative humans; they get to heal in their own time and their own way.   Who am I to ever say that their journey is wrong?

Now, the ones who have to put others down to put themselves up, to limit, oppress, restrict and kill others because they have the one right way, these people do need to be confronted.  I just suspect, though, that often they are just trying to destroy external symbols of what they are running from inside of them.   They are trying to show zeal to take the spotlight off their own differences, fitting in as converts.  Sad and broken.

Thank you for your smart writing.   Your sharing is a gift to me and to everyone who reads it.

Immigrant Costs

From the first trans support group meeting I ever attended, I found it easier to talk to the women born female than the very masculine people, no matter how they were dressed.

The premise of crossdresser societies was always the premise of masquerade; down deep they were really men, straight men, who loved women and were only playing at being one for the night.   They showed themselves as femiphiles by putting on the outward trappings of women, emulating females, or “femulating” if you will.

In those days, the transvestites were impressed with how much I sounded like a woman, assuming it was just a performance trick, in the same way that the Muppets Swedish Chef pretended to be Nordic.

The people raised as women, though, knew better.   They knew that I actually could speak woman, could engage in conversation, could understand and value what they shared, could respond in feminine and affirming ways.

I wasn’t a native speaker, though.   I didn’t share the kind of socialization and training that they had from their earliest days, never being initiated into the circle of women and not going through the same social experiences that they shared.

As an immigrant to woman, I got my cultural understandings like any other immigrant, though later immersion in the tales and tropes of the people around me.   I listened to stories, assimilated and integrated the values, learned the codes and rules, how to read the situation around me like a woman all at a kind of remove.

This kind of experience has always made me useful in groups of women where I can act as a kind of translator, bridging the knowledge by explaining in clear womanspeak the experience and viewpoint of non-women.  I can illuminate across cultural divides, like any immigrant.

But, like any immigrant, this role always feels dangerous to me.  When I do that, those around me might start to see me as other, as separate.   I can never simply go along with the group when they express shared identity by bashing others.  The bonding experience of discussing why men are fools, for example, isn’t one I can easily play in, rather I see foolishness across gender boundaries, deep in our continuous common humanity.

In each venue we have to make a choice: how much do we surrender our voice to the group to be accepted, how much do we speak for our own knowledge, and how much do we stay silent and invisible?   Too many converts feel the need to be zealous to prove their loyalty, but being ostracized from the group also disempowers us.

I was recently speaking to a gorgeous, 23 year old transwoman who now is very ensconced in the world of women as a hair dresser.  She loves having the support of other women in the shop, telling stories.   As a straight gal, someone who loves hard-working men, they have a shared outlook that is more difficult for me, who knows herself to be a femme lesbian.

There is a point, though, where that safe connection falters.   Her immigrant stories fall flat around other women because they just have never had to face what she has.

They don’t understand the fear which sweeps her, that waiting for the third gotcha which comes from a lifetime of knowing that her gender can slip and she can get slammed at any moment.

How can they understand the experience of trying to buy women’s jeans for yourself, never having had a mom who explained the challenges of sizing?   If you show your ignorance, you might reveal yourself and take a hit, but if you don’t, you end up just running away, staying scared and isolated.

Today, when trans is trendy — and she likes the idea that she has gone from trash to trendy in her short lifetime — she can skip the old demands of hiding her history from the world.   She tells clients on their second visit, while she has the foils on them, about her story, and they have to decide, right then, if this pretty, slim, bright and smiling woman with the husky voice is a threat.

Most of them get that she is worth trusting, maybe not just in spite of her unique history but instead because of it.   They are willing to assign her normativity, filling in their version of her history with their assumptions, letting her be just one of the gals.

She knows, though, that she will never just be one of the gals, even if others see her that way.   She will always be an immigrant to womanhood, someone with deep stories beyond the understanding and comfort of those who were socialized as normative women, never questioning their standing or performance, never having to face and own their own unique queerness.

I read, still, of transwomen who want to demand a kind of denial, saying, for example, that they were always female, just with a little birth defect.   They want their queerness to be erased, their story to be purged of all twists, because that allows them to assert standing without engaging their past.   They hope this will silence all their critics.

Erasing our history, though, takes away the best part of us, the power of wisdom across boundaries. They can give you anaesthesia when they cut off and reshape body parts, but the cost of having to deny truth and feeling, trying to wall it off is very, very high.  The ultimate trans surgery is pulling the stick out of your own ass and if you think that sounds painful, just imagine the cost of a life where you leave it in.

People don’t demand that you pass, Rachel Pollack said, but they do want you to be simple enough that they can assign normativity to you.    They don’t want your queerness, your history, your pain to get in the way of being in relationship with you, in business or just casually.

Trans is such an individual journey, though, that we can feel swamped by the baggage we carry, crushed by the price of attenuating and erasing our own stories to keep others comfortable.

Sure, we have assimilated, can be part of the group, but we are also immigrants, with the experience of a whole other life stored deeply within us.  Feelings come up for us, truth is clear to us all of which challenge the small and parochial circles of those who have only experienced one routine culture.

The immigrant experience is rich within us, but always in a solitary way, without the luxury of family and relations who shared our journey, who also stand across worlds.   We are pressed to eliminate our uniqueness, to lose our stories, to stay tight.

The cost of assimilation is high (2014), but as we create communities, we can stand not only as one of the crowd but also as a bridge between worlds. This has always been the power of those who cross borders, creating bridges and bringing vitality with their journeys.

But the price of being an lonely immigrant is always with us, somewhere in our liminal experience of this moment.

Uppity

In the world of creation, many works are judged by the status of their creators, being authenticated by experts as being real and valuable.

Works that do not come with status are dismissed as being pretentious, not of quality but only pretenders to being good and worthy creations.

Humans, though, are essentially creators.  We create our own lives, never from scratch but always by pastiche, grabbing bits that already exist in culture and assembling them into a collage of expression that is uniquely ours.

When what we steal, our source material, has authenticated status, we are able to assert our own realness.   By staying within the bounds of the expected and approved, we create images that we can claim are not created by us at all, but are, instead, genuine on some deep level.

When we assert our own style, though, offering a kind of creation that moves beyond the conventional, we often get dismissed as being pretentious, asserting some kind of self-inflated falsehood in the world.

Rather than being assessed on the quality of what we offer, being judged on merit, we are dismissed as being pretentious, having ideas and creations above our station.  The status quo is the yardstick and anything which challenges that can be mocked and erased.

Dismissing creation beyond the conventional, though, is dismissing the real power of humans: the power of creation.

Man has a dream, and that’s the start
He follows his dream with mind and heart
And when it becomes a reality
It’s a great new day for you and me.
— Sherman Brothers, “Big Beautiful Tomorrow” for “Disney’s Carousel of Progress”

Creation is the power of change and change is the power of survival.  Humans are not the most robust creature on the planet — water bears may be — but we are the most adaptable, even extending our reach to the moon.

We cannot create without imagination and imagination always demands pretending.   “What if we tried it this way?” we wonder, and then we do try it that way, moving beyond expectations to innovate and become new.

Unless we are willing to be uppity, ignoring conventions to explore and experiment with our own possibilities, we are stuck repeating the old tropes, asking questions that can never transcend the current way of thinking.

Unless we support those uppity, pretentious people in their attempts to create beyond the tried and true, using their intellect and passion to move beyond, we cannot say we are committed to making a better world for us and our children.

Being pretentious then, asserting our own vision over the approved visions, dismissing judging by entrenched status and instead being open to excellence and elegance, is the only way to create the new and beautiful.

I understand why so many of us want to cling to status, want to justify our behaviour by showing how it is rooted in the already approved.   For many, like academics, their own status comes not from innovation but from invoking tradition, denying creativity and claiming authority.

Does denying the power of our own creation, our own performance, our own art, though, somehow make us real, grounded and authentic?   Does working to satisfy the experts so we can be authenticated by them really mean that we will stop being challenged?

Isn’t our deepest truth contained not in how we follow the rules of authentication but rather in how we assert and test our own creation in the world, shaping them to become as true, as robust and as powerful as they can be?   Isn’t it only when we follow our dreams, letting go of the bits that are not grounded in deeper reality to make them more perfect and effective that we find the gifts we can offer to a world always being reborn?

Smarts are what got humans to the top of the food chain on this planet, not just the ability to follow the teachings of experts.  And those smarts always started with someone putting the creations of their own imagination out there, letting them be cleansed and purified by the process of separating the jewels from the slag, the fantasies from the possibilities.

Don’t dream it, be it.  Sure, someone will quote experts at you, telling you why you are a fool, but is only by hanging onto your own imagination, your own pretentiousness, that you can achieve the leap to become new and better in the world.

Fake it until you make it.   Be pretentious and work like hell to be excellent too, always learning and always developing.  Every virtuoso has to start somewhere, and none of them learn to fly by denying their own creativity, by only following the rules while striving to fit in, follow the rules and be tame.

Supporting pretense is supporting creativity.  How can any human ever really blossom until they can reveal their own special and unique creation, using their own sweat to co-create a beautiful and powerful life?

Recommended Reading: “Pretentiousness: Why It Matters” by Dan Fox

Simple History

When I hear people give an overview of their childhood in an autobiography, I am struck by how nicely they boil the tale down to transformational moments; the death of a parent, an incident at school, whatever.

These are people who want a thumbnail version of their history which supports the choices they made as an adult.  As Mary Catherine Bateson reminds us in “Composing A Life,” we usually tell stories to supply the meaning we now understand as true.

When I try to find a few anecdotes to convey my childhood, though, I come up as messy and complex as my other stories.   A life full of small and difficult confrontations with Aspergers parents isn’t about what happened, dramatic moments of revelation, but is more about what didn’t happen, the tiny and very routine traumas which taught me to keep my head down.

“I always imagined that inside of me there was a cup of green liquid,” my sister recently said to me, “and my job was to stay still and defended so it never spilled.  I knew that making a mess with that stuff, letting my emotions overflow, would get me creamed, so I had to be taut all the time.

“When I was making some art, I knew that I put green paint on the canvas, a messy splash, but it took me years to understand how that creation went back to my mental understanding as a kid facing a mother who made everything about her, one who would act out with vengeance if she ever caught weakness.”

Learning to have a strong inner life was an obvious path for a smart kid like me, but it’s not the kind of story that you can just semaphore and make people understand.   The never ending sense of danger from parents who just never could be there, meeting you and helping you trust your own emotions, but who rather expected feelings to go away was intense.

My father would just assume that his path was the only one, no matter how it missed the point, while my mother assumed our emotions were there only to torment and mock her, like the emotions of so many people had all her life.

There was no one to help me understand, to navigate, and no one who could help them.   I had to do my own therapy, my own discovery, years and years and years of work that might better have been spent in creation rather than in a struggle to deconstruct and understand.

When I go to explain my history, I don’t know how to get it down to stereotypes that other people can easily consume by matching it to their experience.

I do know, however, what it feels like to be terrified to show emotion, to spill that green juice, because you know that if you do, you will get massively bashed by the person who is supposed to love and care for you.

How do I tell you the way that affects your trust and safety in the world?

Fascinated

In the church of the divine surprise, fascination is one of our key sacraments.

Fascination is the key to deep learning, the impulse that opens us to move beyond our own assumptions and beliefs, leading us towards knowledge and healing.

I am fascinated by stories, mostly the stories of growth and discovery, stories of people who were fascinated to the point of obsession, yearning to discover new ideas and new solutions that could make the world a better place.

Transcendence is rooted in fascination, in not just telling our story but in finding flickers of insight in the stories of others, the tales they tell of work and of journeys, the myths they use to store the the knowledge they have gleaned about the world that we share.

We pay attention to others, to systems, to nature, to the moment because we are fascinated by the moving shadows, knowing that they can move us beyond where we were to where we can be smarter, better, more enlightened, more actualized, more loving.

It is a treat for me to run across a fascinating person, someone whose stories hold the mix of sweaty work and sharp revelation which offer a new, different, bold and very personal way of seeing the world.   People are fascinating to me in their own individuality, the gifts they have found and polished as they stumbled on their journey, the brilliance of their own creative and dynamic energy.

I was out for the day on Tuesday.   I started with a lobby day at the state capital, a collection of activists from around the state.

The comments from supportive legislators fascinated me as they reflected the skills and determination of the committed pols they had to be to gain their seats.   Their professionalism showed.

A mother of a trans child offered up her story of motivation, from inside her own family to her connection with another mother who lost her child to suicide just this month.   She revealed her own collage of stories, bits that fascinated her, and offered them as shared motivation.

The trans leader, though, used cheerleader tricks to try and rev up the audience, offering only hack generalities about “going and getting them.”   Without the heart of a mother or the professionalism of the pols, she fell back on cliches about trans rights being human rights and slaps at those who had opposed trans rights.

The crowd, though, were just cannon fodder for the organizers, bodies to be paraded around and shown to legislators and staff in an attempt to humanize the issue.   When I saw the group of young people I would have to join, I knew that there would be no way to fascinate any of them or anyone else in this case.

If you can’t be fascinated, you also can’t be fascinating.  The limits of our fascination are the limits of our attraction.

Later that night, I went to the only trans pride event of our local pride season.  Pride is the financial hub and political key to the local lesbian and gay centre, the moment when they can use emotions to muster involvement.

Getting involvement of transpeople beyond those who are newly out, though, the young and the reborn young, is something so hard that they have given up on the task.

As I sat in a corner of a centre I was first in over twenty years ago, the lead staffer came up to me, showing interest, but nothing I could say really engaged them.   They just wanted to appear hospitable without actually being fascinated by my rich content.

I know the way this works.    I have been too challenging to be fascinating all my life, more compelling as a clown than at close range.

Luckily, one young person emerged from the crowd with her own energy and smarts.   She so achieved the ultimate trans surgery, removing the broomstick from her own butt, that she stood out like a light.

As she chatted with her friends, I saw her noticing me.   Because she was no longer trapped in her own story, out and working as a cosmetologist, she could see that I had my own energy to offer, my own feminine presence.

I let her find me, playing the classic woman’s game of being confident in the gaze of others until they are fascinated, wanting to know more.

Her story is fabulous.  She was there to help other transpeople, but the ultimate frustration of every mother, every open hearted empath was making her crazy: people heal in their own time and their own way.   As we fought to chat inside the space of other needy transpeople, I offered her my contact info.

I ducked out on her, but she ran down the street to find me in the car.   She wanted to talk about how hard it was to deal with people who are stuck, how giving and giving and giving only seems to enable them, not to empower them.

Laughing, I knew the problem.  The kids I deal with aren’t 3 or 5, they are 17 or 26 or 37 or 54.    They need tough love from a mom, not coddling.   Someone has to mirror their possibilities, hold high expectations for them, encourage them to let go of their neediness and claim their own power.

She will get there, because she is so intense and sharp, fascinated with the challenge of helping others grab onto their own essence and give birth to their own potent stories.

I wanted to get dressed and go out somewhere the next day, but I realized what I so often realize: there are few places I can go to find fascinating people and even fewer places to find people who are open and ready enough to find me fascinating.    They don’t treasure their own growth enough to understand why they treasure me which makes it hard to explain to others why I should be treasured.

I spoke to a parent at that pride night, a big, working class guy who cuts wood and was worried his trans daughter would stay as hidden as she does at home.   She didn’t, though, because she found the people at the session fascinating and they knew enough to find her fascinating, which made him happy.

“I have always been trying to understand,” he told me.  “I have been around the world and learned everyplace I went.   In the service, I was stationed in Hawaii, and there transpeople are just part of the community, well accepted.”

In that moment, he showed himself to be a traveller, someone who wants to be fascinated, open and learning from what he finds, rather than a tourist who only wants to be entertained with distracting sensation. 

So many shut down their own fascination to stay protected, defending their own beliefs.  They want routine more than surprise, avoiding the thrill of rebirth by resisting letting go of their armour.

I look for fascinating new stories that challenge what I know, opening me up and extending my understanding.   That’s why I am a theologian.

And if I knew how, I would also look for a place where people could be fascinated with what I have to offer, too.

Alternate Erotic

There is a place, somewhere in our mind, where we are sexy, potent and desirable.

While it may be difficult finding that place on a regular basis.  It exists not in any conventional sense, only in our bold, erotic dreams, fed by the images and ideas that we have taken in over the years.

What excites us?   What titillates us?  What role do we dream of playing?   What does our imaginary partner do to thrill and melt us?

Everyone has a private, potent erotic life, with reveries of attraction that fuel our own private release.

Finding a way to embody that fantasy life, connecting it with our daily, real, relationship life, is a real challenge.

Do we surrender to our urges, showing ourselves as erotic and available in the world?   Do we deny our urges, striving to appear prim and proper, keeping our sexuality boxed up so we can do other work?

Do our reveries stay hidden and dark, far away from our everyday presentation, or are we right up front with what we desire, showing the erotic us to the world?

For most people, the answer lies in creating a balance.   We want to be attractive & erotic while also being conventional & appropriate.

Gender, at its heart, is very much about desire.   Though our gender expression we show what we love, what roles we are trained for, who we know ourselves to be.

This can be confusing for normative people who can assume, for example, that if a transperson expresses herself as a woman, she does it to meet and date men.   The idea that sexual expression and gender identity are separate can be hard to understand for people who have created their own gender expression as an expression that will attract partners who interest them.

For transpeople who have felt the pressure to keep their own desire hidden away, compartmentalized into darkness, finding the balance between those deep desires and a way to manifest them in the world is a real struggle.

We disintegrate our own sexuality and presence, dreaming of stylized escapades that not only have nothing to do with our everyday life, but have little to do with any possible relationship.   There are no women who want to transform us, no big men who want to finance our being their cumslut forever, no princes and princess who step out of porn to make our dreams come true.

The reality of trans desire has to be a pragmatic one.  We have to work with what we have got in the world, never being able to transform into some perfect man or woman.   People don’t grow up imagining being in relationship with someone like us because they have never met someone like us.

In truth, this is no different than any other human.  As much as they try to fit into stereotypical roles to attract a partner, they are a unique individual, not some cookie cutter model from an old sex film.   Relationships are hard as we negotiate our dreams, our needs, our fears and our desires.

Gender expression in the world always has a component of Eros built into it.  We show our sexuality, connected to a sexualized body under our clothes, revealing that we are ready for interactions of desire. That desire may be reserved for our partners — like wearing a hijab — or may support active flirting, but gendered expressions always include desire.

For people who have matured in the light, those connections of attraction become part of the landscape, something we can understand and manage.   They know how much to reveal and how much to conceal, know how being too sexy can be a problem, how being too distant can impeded simple connections.

Braiding together an expression that connects our own internalized gender identity with the symbols of attraction in the world, an expression that supports sparks we can handle, a mature and balanced sexuality is damn hard.  We don’t have the training ground of schools where peers allow us to experiment and explore, finding our own boundaries.

When we fear that our symbols may attract people who aren’t yet ready to handle our complexities we can pull back.  Does our gendered expression promise something that we cannot deliver, and will they get furious if they believe that they were fooled and humiliated by us?

It takes a lot of work to surface our own deep desire from beneath the habits we built up, and then to see how that desire can play out in the world.   Potential partners want to know who we are in the bedroom but until we know that about ourselves, how can we possibly inform them?   How can we code both our gender and our sexual desires in a way that doesn’t stimulate the repressed desires of others in a way that triggers their fears?

Over the years, I have found an inner Eros that I find to be potent and healthy.   I have not yet found, though, and probably never will, a way to share and connect that Eros with trusting, loving and playful partners.  There is a reason why I have been abstinent for so long.

Finding a way to mature our own inner desire by moving it out of the darkness is hard, but until we can do that, we cannot walk in confidence, using gendered power to connect with other people.

Two Cents Plain

How dull and powerless do we need to appear to seem non-threatening in the world?

For many transwomen, the dream is simple: we just want to fit in as boring, normal, average women.   We don’t want attention paid to us because we are different, special or unique, rather we want to blend in, becoming unremarkable.

We create an expression of femininity that would be called plain; simple long hair, little or no makeup, bland and utilitarian clothing.  It’s all part of the spell we try to cast to keep our trans nature invisible, showing our “authenticity” by avoiding bold, sophisticated and constructed feminine markers.

Choosing what we would call a “natural” look shows a kind of realness which we believe should allow us to be neutral and not provocative.   The problem, though, is that when we feel a strong need to share our voice in a profound way, that attempt at blandness means we have to negotiate a difficult message: I am plain & average, but I need to you to see why I have a special and compelling message to share.

Rachel Pollack tells of her 1970s transitioning days in Amsterdam when her group wore jeans and t-shirts, considering themselves much more real than the flashier transwomen who could go out in gowns and heels.

For Rachel, looking back,  though, she sees that choice for plain as one of fear.   They were scared of shiny, were afraid to take the power to be seen and attractive in the world.  Without the training and affirmation that women have in managing the gaze of others in the world, the power to show themselves and be seen, they simply avoided revelation, comfortable in their own “realness.”

When transwomen who feel a need to be in the spotlight, saying their piece, also feel a need to claim a plain and “boring” image of invisibility, their message is noisy and sabotaged.  They cannot shine in the world while also insisting that they also be seen as not shiny, cannot be compelling while also touting their banal averageness.

Gaze is wicked hard for transwomen.   We want to be glamorous, compelling and desired while also knowing that people will see us as sick, disgusting and dangerous (1997)   We want to be seen for our specialness while hiding our differences, want to reveal our intentions while hiding our biology.

We don’t have a strong network of women behind us to help us polish our appearance and balance out the host of aggressions, small and large,  that women get over appearance in a culture with plastic expectations.   We know that with our body we can never match those moulded images of feminine perfection.

More than that, we may not be working in the conventional system of desire, wanting to attract the attention of men.   If we don’t want to be the women that they expect, if we know we can’t be the women they demand, then isn’t it sensible to just duck their gaze altogether by staying plain?

Staying plain, though, is staying powerless, at least in the world of women.   It may attempt to keep us non-threatening, keep us cool and under the radar, but it doesn’t give us the attention and credibility we need to convey the truth of our trans hearts, a truth so powerful that it lead us to walk through purgatory to shift our gender.

Look at me!  Don’t look at me!  I am plain & abject, I am powerful & worth your attention!

Finding ways to shift power in the world as I shift my gender expression was the first question that I ever asked at my first gender convention, so many years ago now.

Wanting the gaze of others while also wanting to appear bland, though, seems disingenuous and confusing.   It is the strength of our shine that creates connections in the world, not some cerebral game of constructing what we assert is a raw, unprocessed and authentic realness.

I know why transwomen are scared of being shiny, scared of the judgment that always comes with gaze.  Trying to become invisible, blending into the world seems like a comfortable quest.

It’s just that if we have something powerful, true and glittering to say, we cannot do that without being powerful, true and glittering in the world.   The boring and plain can be ignored, but we can only emerge by being seen.

Even if that claiming of beauty, glamour and feminine markings is scary as hell.

Momentum

On the old TV show, I was interviewing a runner and mentioned that I rode bicycles.

He just snorted.

When I asked him why, he was clear.

“A bicycle carries its own momentum,” he told me.  “You can rest for a moment and keep on moving.   Running, on the other hand, takes focus in every moment, because when you stop moving, you stop dead and have to start again.”

He had a point, of course.  Still, living a life without momentum, without some forces to get you restarted, to keep you moving, is not a practical solution to life.

We all need to use the momentum we can find effectively.  For most people, that momentum comes from community. When we are working on a shared project, focused on a common goal, the energy of others around us restarts us when we flag, keeping us on track.

While passing the baton, sharing the impetus, using the momentum of the group is useful, it also has strong limits.   Like holding a rotating bicycle wheel, the spin of others exerts pull in a very specific direction, pulling us back into line even if we feel the need to move on our own path.

The challenge of using the momentum of the people around us to keep us moving forward, though thereby being held in their circles, versus having to restart when we flag, but being able to choose our own course, runs deeply through the primary duality of balancing our own wild freedom and our shared tame connection.

Peers reflect energy, but only the energy of the group.  Solitary movement allows personal discretion, but at the cost of having to maintain our own momentum.

For normative people, especially guys, they often see their experience of life as one seamless arc.   The momentum they have from following along with the expectations placed on them carry them along, allowing them not to have to get off the track, not to have to struggle to go inward and find their own drives.

Women are more used to seeing their lives as chapters, but they use the expectations of their friends to transfer momentum, letting others who have faced the same hills and valleys get them through the changes in their life.

For transpeople, though, we have to let go of the old momentum of our lives to claim another incarnation.   We can’t just follow the path laid out for us, we have to become new and unexpected, navigating rarely tread ground in no man’s/no woman’s land.

Our initial momentum for change comes from pent up desire, from the excitement of finally being able to follow our own Eros.   We burst out with passion, seeking the dreams we have held for so long, riding the high of emergence.  We rush to catch up with our dreams, floating on a cloud.

When you first come out as a transgendered person, you spend your first year in absolute euphoria. Then reality sets in, and you have to make a life and deal with the stigma.
— Joan Roughgarden, New York Times, 2004

That burst of momentum can only carry us so far.  While it is important to use it well, the amount of work we have to do to jump tracks, to let go of the assumptions, expectations and beliefs we have carried and become new is huge and difficult.   We don’t have the kind of support that lesbians and gays get from coming out, the connection with new networks of lovers, because trans is a journey to ourselves and not to a shared group identity.

So many transwomen end up losing momentum in the world because they are unable to find a new peer group that supports them unless they are willing to significantly compromise their trans dreams, learning to fit back into the expectations of others.    That often means we have to agree to be seen as an eccentric guy in a dress as people judge us on visible biology and presumed history rather than on our choices.

The value of momentum in the world is enormous.   Hopping into a stream of other people, even a mainstream of other people, carries us along to knowledge, transformation and affirmation we could never find if we stayed inside of our own comfort zone, choosing not to interact with the drives of others.

The cost of momentum in the world can also be enormous.  To be out in the fray of other people we have to be ready to engage the conflict they bring to us, facing their beliefs, assumptions and self-interest at all times.   This can be enormously pounding on our own energy, allowing the terror of the third gotcha to be always present.

To be out and in the stream means we have to face the stigma that shamed and pounded our nature into the closet in the first place.  Yet, to not have momentum, a drive to move forward, we can easily get lost in our own sadness, loneliness and isolation.   We suppress our own energy, staying hidden and never getting the benefits out there.

Finding other people who can be your bicycle, keeping your momentum going when you hit a rough patch, seems to be the most important part of letting your energy flow in the world.   Trying to find others who support openness, vulnerability and growth, though, can be very tough, as most people are firmly implanted in their own habits, assumptions and self-interest.   They resist change and the engagement of loss that change requires.

How fast do you have to go to run away from your own feelings? How many people do you need around you to stay distracted from your own heart?   Knowing the answers that people can hear is different than believing those oversimplifications.    Too often, momentum can take over our lives, consuming our own better knowledge, demanding that we resist engaging loss transformation and change.

As we get older, our exuberance and resilience recedes so we need to treasure momentum.   The problems thrown onto me when the parents I took care of for a decade died stopped me dead in my tracks for over two years.  While I searched for a network to help me regain and retrain my own momentum, I found only resistance, fear and a demand for attenuation.

Finding the balance between needing the momentum that others can bring and trusting the choices of your own heart is very hard.   It is easy to get lost in the motion of others, very easy to get stuck in our own habits and comforts.

I love to see people who use momentum to drive change, to move their lives forward.   The momentum of the inner life is crucial to me, which is why I seem so prolific a writer, so much so that people often assume I can’t have meaningful content.

Having momentum in the outer world is a powerful force, but not when it comes at the cost of having to only play a shallow game, living in the assumptions and expectations of others.

Finding peers to support my own momentum without having to put too much of me into containers feels important after the deliberate momentum chopping that trans expression brings in the world.

That challenge of getting on the surfboard again to find a path that both is very much mine and leverages the energy of others is very hard.

In the end, though, it does seem like we all need a bicycle, something to carry us through the tough times when our own momentum flags.

Living Liminal

It was 1995 and we were doing one of the first presentations on trans for the local lesbian and gay centre.

My co-presenters, Ari Istar Lev and Moonhawk River Stone, insisted that we each introduce ourselves.   I resisted.  I wanted the content of what I was offering to be engaged, not some assertion of standing to speak.

At the local trans group, where I facilitated, content was key.   Everyone who walked through the door got to share as an individual.  There was no hierarchy, no officials who could bellow out the truth, overriding others.

Say something insightful, smart & powerful and you should be heard, say something shallow, dismissive and oppressive and you should be challenged, no matter how long you have been in the room or what titles you have claimed.

This sometimes became a problem in the organization.   People marginalized my voice when they didn’t get it was me speaking, for example, because they wanted to silence views which questioned their own assertions.

For me, valuing individual voices over claimed status was at the heart of celebrating queer.   You are what you offer and your credentials don’t mean squat if your content is weak and coercive.

My co-presenters, though, came from academia.   They knew that in their world, standing counts, so they wanted to be able to offer a biographical statement that outlined their authority to speak.  They wanted their credentials on the table, wanted to make clear that they had credibility.   I understood that.

Ari and Hawk did their introductions at the session and then I did mine.

I walked to the door and stood in the frame.

“When I stand here, am I inside the room?” I asked.  “Am I outside the room?   Maybe I am both inside and outside of the room at the same time.   Or maybe I am neither inside or outside the room at all, but instead standing in some other space.

“I am in what is called a liminal space, betwixt and between, both and neither.  This liminal space has been recognized for centuries as a place of connection and a place of separation, a place that forms a portal between this world and the under world.

“The liminal is a bridge between places that many people want to see as distinct, divided, and dual.

“The liminal is the place where I live.  It is the place where I find my own truth and power, feeling both powerfully connected and very isolated.   Many people want me to be on one side or the other, want me to declare, but my truth is in the question and not the answer, in the space between.

“‘In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.’  I heard anthropologist Anne Bolin say that and I knew instantly it was my mission statement, honouring the liminal.

“I’m Callan, and I live in the doorway.”

My fellow presenters were surprised.  “You worked on that!” Ari said to the group.   If I had to do an intro, I would do the best one I can.

Connection was always my focus.   In 1997 I accepted a “Building Bridges” award for the local trans group and spoke about connection.   A city alderman, both gay and black, came up to me after and acknowledged the truth in what I had to say.

For me, liminality is power, grace and transcendence.

For most of the interlocking communities around transgender, though, including the gay and lesbian identified and the women’s studies types, liminality has been something to be purged.   Their goal has been to express authority in the world, to try and gain standing by asserting authenticity in their self-descriptions.

Instead of changing the game so we value each by their content, what they offer, instead they have worked to gain standing that fixes them in the world, believing that becoming staid and stuck they will have the authority to make people agree with whatever they say.

If we live in the question then we can be questioned, but if we live in authority, we believe, firm and fixed, then no one can challenge us.   Let us list off our credentials, show the symbols of our status, and we can win any battle with our own assertions of status and hype, not our own engagement.

To me, a world without thoughtful challenge is a world without life.  A place where we just assert our own beliefs, hard and fixed, diminishing and demeaning people who we don’t believe have the standing to challenge us, is a world of bullies.

An open mind and an open heart allow us to be present in the world, always growing, transformed by our interactions with others.   Our vulnerability is the key to our growth, allowing us to heal, grow and delight in revelations of shimmering truth.   Living in the path of non-duality isn’t easy, but it creates possibilities that fixed habits will never see.

My life has been powerfully liminal.   When I took a name, I took a gender neutral name rather than one that coded some kind of fixed and assumed femininity.   That alone shows a difference from transpeople assigned as male at birth who try to claim standing rather than liminality.

While others I fight with gain the benefits of my mastery of the liminal, offering them engaged reflections and deep insights, my choice of the liminal is still baffling to them.    They can’t find a way to explain or defend my liminal position to those around them who value only fixed and binary positions, those who want a sharp answer rather than an unfolding question.

For me, I knew early that being liminal would be the challenge of my life.  When I first emerged as trans, a decade before that presentation, I showed up searching for balance and actualization, trying to claim integration of the feminine rather than creating another box.  I used my birth name and wore a dress, gender play.  It was only exploration and growth, living in the liminal, that got me to where I am now.

Explaining the liminal, though, to those who assume the fixed and binary, has always been difficult.  In my experience, though, claiming liminality is the only way to claim the real power of living between the divine and the practical, between spirit and flesh.

I am not a human living a spiritual life, I am spirit living a human life.  And if that’s not a liminal experience, I don’t know what is.

TBB World

TBB lives in a very rich and very full world.

Returning to the Space Coast from her work as Chief Engineer on the Bell M Shimada, Sabrina is right at home.  Staff at restaurants greet her by name, the gang at the airport count on her as one of the gang and her network of friends throughout Brevard County look forward to her company.   Her social life is full.

She has been around for long enough to find clippings with her photo in the lobby at the local theatre society.   A phone call can ask her to speak for inclusion at a school board meeting that night.   She is such a part of this place that there is no surprise she was the first local to be a grand marshal at Space Coast Pride.

Big, bold, blonde and bodacious, TBB’s radiant confidence carries her everywhere.   Always ready to speak her mind, she reaches out with generosity to those around her.

One of those people is her mother, who is following in the path of her mother with serious memory loss.   Sabrina holds her close during the few weeks she is home, making sure she is included in all activities, from meals to bed.  She acutely feels the distance from mom when she is on the ship and her brother follows her from his home near Buffalo.

The big heart of TBB keeps her claiming the life she values so much, keeping her at the centre of a connected web.  By focusing on her own values, she keeps her life clear of clutter and distraction, everything as neat, shipshape and routine as she can make it.   This keeps her ready to engage new challenges, bringing them into line as efficiently as she handles a ship dead in the water with two blown generator sets.

There are moments when you can see her bridle at the limits of her life, as when a peppery novice tries to play host in a theatre that still holds TBBs heart.  Her emergence drew a line in the sand back in the day, blowing up an old life and leading towards a struggle to create a new life from the shards.

Her new life is her focus now, though, one where she has reclaimed professional dignity, the kind of financial standing that allows her to take care others in the way she wants, and a relationship with her children that has grown even stronger.   “Thank you for imbuing me with wicked sense of humour and sharp brain,” her daughter offers as part of joyous birthday wishes that celebrate the presence of TBB in her universe.

Claiming the possible has always been TBB’s clarion call.  As founding chair of the Southern Comfort Conference her sheer energy pulled people to move beyond their fears and do what they thought was impossible, creating opportunities for growth and connection.    Her message of not getting hung up on loss in a way that limits your happiness and your future has always been at the heart of making her way in a world she is sure she has a place in.

The grounding of place and family helps, of course, gifts from her loving parents, given back to her children.    TBB wants her mother not to experience the loss of her memory but rather to bask in the power of love, staying present, starting and ending every day with a hug.

A better life is possible, TBB wants everyone to know, if you just step up and claim what you want and you need.   The past is gone and the present is here, so drink deep of it and revel in the day God has given you.   This is the approach of an immigrant, who lets go of the old to embrace the new, transcending loss to swim in a new sea, succeeding in a new world.

It is the richness and fullness of her world that TBB claims everyday, cruising the causeways in Mom’s Lincoln and loving life to the fullest she can muster.

It’s TBB’s world, and if we are very lucky, she might just invite us to join her in it.

Into A Corner

Sometimes the streams within you converge and you feel very present, very connected and very affirmed.

My life, though, has been about divergent streams, about a very sharp distinction between my rich, playful and cerebral inner world and the roles I have been expected to play in the common, insistent outer world.

With a powerfully femme trans heart and a body clearly marked as male by puberty, a lifetime of challenge comes with the territory.   For me, though, having to find my own groove in a family lead by Aspergers parents who didn’t have the skills to understand their own feelings and needs, let alone the inner life of their children, made choices almost impossible.

Who I had to be on the outside, the role that became concierge, negotiator, and servant, was always very different than who I was inside.   While I tried to use my outside skills to get what I needed inside, attempting to manipulate people to make them happy and be there for me, that was always a dead end choice.   My inner world was alien to them, so there they could never go.

I learned early they weren’t going to get the joke, were going to see me as a human doing rather than a human being (2006), weren’t going to be able to understand the value in my depth, weren’t going to be able to explain why they treasured me.

I could join them in their world, a world of action and assumption, of convention and constraint, but no matter how clearly I worked to show myself they weren’t going to be able to join me in my world, seeing and understanding my own hidden heart and mind.

Flying though Atlanta reminded me of the dissonance I have always carried.  On the outside, it’s just getting in the stream, following the rules, being compliant and doing the work.   On the inside, though, a tense and brittle woman felt every bump, every terror, every hit acutely.

Learning to toughen up and do the work was always what was expected of me.  Over decades I understood my role as service, meeting the demands and requirements of those around me, entering their world to be a good, kind and useful helper.

The world demands a battle and a battle demands armour.   It is not a place for the tender hearted and fragile.   The armour people expect of me, the way I need to take power in the world, has always been related to the expectations put onto my body, onto the demands that come with smarts.

Guerrilla power was always key for me, slipping feminine and sly content under the conventional assumptions placed on me.    I kept my heart under my tractor cap, refusing conventional man power structures and being denied conventional woman power.   Idiosyncratic and iconoclastic, I stood as a weird and wacky individual, hoping someone would see why I was also wonderful.

That wish rarely came true.   Others understood my service, but not the heart, the mind, and the pain beneath it.  Changing my clothes didn’t reveal much, no more than all the symbols I so carefully curated over decades, trying to express an inner me that no one wanted to see.   Challenging their assumptions and expectations meant I expected hard inner work from them, and as the smart one, they saw that as my job.

I know how to service others, to be there, but after a lifetime of doing that work, the cost to do it now is so high that it feels destructive, tearing apart the tender threads of my reclaimed heart.  Doing that again opens the wounds between an outer life spent living in the assumptions of others and an inner life struggling to tend to a heart that has been spiked & shattered by a life of denial, compartmentalization and destruction.

To enter the outside world requires the obligation to kill myself once again, murdering my tender child, playing a role that constrains my power and grace to a hidden, subverted and clandestine factor.   I need to be, for most intents and purposes, who others expect me to be, sliding only little glimmers of my heart surreptitiously into the conversation.  I am too hip for the room, too big, too weird, too meta, too scary, too intense, too cerebral, too challenging, too damn much.

I find myself expounding the same pains I first wrote of over twenty years ago, in much the same ways, and still having no way to move beyond, to be seen, understood and valued for the unique gifts I bring to the world.   Will going back in a new way make a difference, finally allowing my heart to be present?   Or are the same kind of assumptions that limited me then still a barrier for me now?

The divergence between the possibilities in an outer life, which must be constrained by the needs, expectations, metaphors, and conventions of the world, must be expressed in targeted and tiny battles, making small and incremental changes while working in the cultural context, and the demands of an inner life, deep knowledge that courses through my soul, comes back to slap me every time I step out of my cloister.

We live in a majority rules culture and the individual who can’t go along to get along is written down as eccentric, deviant, cracked.   I know this.  That’s why I try to play along, finding the joy and fulfillment that others tell me they find in a forcefully driven outer life filled with company and activity.    Their needs for outer connection lead them to their own happiness.

When I was a small child, though, left to the narcissistic mercies of an Aspergers mother and the emotional distance of an Aspergers father, I learned to rely on inner connection, a relationship to a broader and more demanding truth.   Instead of rules I had koans, puzzles that demanded higher understanding so my heart could survive the outer battering.

Learning to keep a public face apart from my screaming heart turned me into “quite an actress” as my sister says.   If it is hard for me to navigate that dissonance, it is even harder for others, who have mostly never had to do the therapeutic work of understanding and owning their inner selves.

Having to learn to be my own companion, listening to and understanding all the voices inside of me has been the challenge of my lifetime.  I know, though, that truth lies between the absolutes in the liminal spaces where contrast creates shimmering ideas.

I no longer have the strength or willpower to do the kind of external work I did for my parents because I know the kind of denial that work takes, and have the damage that denial caused writ deep on my body.

Any idea that I can find others who can enter my increasingly complex and personal world seems beyond.   I tried for years to connect with others though compartmentalization, but only coming out to myself, taking the inner journey, allowed me to find peace with my own liminality.

I know that others want to be there for me, want to offer me the kind of joy they have found.

It is the kind of enlightenment I have found, though, that keeps me stable and joyous, even if it also keeps me lonely, a hermit.  The price of living an outer life, in the expectations of others that have always seemed to cut me rather than embrace me, is just so high that it leaves me crushed.

The divergence of inner and outer leaves me in a corner, feeling the ripping separation whenever I have to put on a face that services others.  The cost of being in their world seems nothing to them, of course, but it demands a huge amount of me.

Sometimes the streams within you converge and you feel very present, very connected and very affirmed.

My experience in the wider world, though, is mostly of divergence, of a demand for disconnection and invisibility.   My depths exist only as noise for other people, frequencies that just annoy and rankle them, a kind of hum which distracts from their pleasant habits.

I learned early that trying to express a trans, liminal nature in the world would mostly get you creamed.  Divergence was the expectation I learned to live with.

And that truth has left me alone, in my own little corner.

The Joy Of Assimilation

Trans expression demands walking beyond the conventions and assumptions socially imposed on your biology.  It means walking outside of the standards set for men or women, going beyond the normative.

It doesn’t, though, mean you have to stay outside of conventional gender roles forever, though.   Walking into no-man’s/no-woman’s land doesn’t have to be a trip to life in a bubble, to ostracism and isolation.   You can make it through.

The first steps in claiming trans in the world is knowing what you want to run from.   We feel inauthentic and pounded at having to keep up a facade that we know doesn’t really fit us well.  We are sure that we are not what other people assume that we are, not simply the box we have been assigned, the role we have tried to fill.

The longer term requirement in claiming trans, though, is figuring out what we want to run towards.   Who do we want to be in the world?   What choices, identity and roles are we going to claim for ourselves?   How can we walk back into community, into a set of conventions and assumptions that fit and empower us?

Rebellion is a key force to fuel the deconstruction of our old, standard issue identity.   Rebellion alone, though, can never be the basis of creating a new, better identity, one that lets us take our place as one of the group, one of the team, one of the community.

To become powerful, we have to walk back into expectations, assimilating and playing a useful and valued role in society.

For many people who are hooked on the bomb-throwing, rebellion, side of trans, this desire to fit in, to participate in a normative role can be dismissed as selling out, giving into the monster that is gender, being not queer enough to be a true trans warrior.

These people dismiss dreams of assimilation as crap, as sickness and brokenness, of not having a real, conscious understanding of oppression.

Of course, there is a bit of truth in their assessment.  For those who never really cast off into the liminal space, letting go of assumptions to find a new way of seeing, the path can be blocked and rocky.   All they see will be the ways that they can never be normative, never really fit in, no matter how much they spend to try and conceal their difference under a mask.

The challenge of trans expression is the challenge of every lifetime: becoming who you are, aware and connected, wild and tame, individual and assimilated.  Try and shortcut the process and you will miss the balance, leaving yourself unable to be centred, present in the moment, compassionate and affirming to others who have the same damn struggle.

When we get that we can be both honest & open and be one of the gang, we start to find our own feet, our own power in the world.

The only way that happens is when we own our own role in the world, becoming comfortable in our skin, moving beyond the reactionary to the assimilated.

For many of us, we felt assimilation was impossible.    We don’t have a body that could pass as having gone through puberty in the sex assumed for our gender presentation, we lived in a time when trans wasn’t accepted as just another way people can express gender in the world.

Today, though, that may not be true.   Younger people don’t carry the same kind of sexual essentialism that was drummed into previous generations.  They get the notion that you are defined more by your heart, by what your choices reveal, than by some gender binary.

Once you understand that possibility, you can do the ultimate trans surgery and pull the stick out of your own ass, freeing yourself to make desired and appropriate choices rather than defended and deprecating choices.   Feeling free to do this, others around you will start to assume you are who you present yourself to be.

Letting their assumptions of normativity fill in their version of your story can be scary — what happens when they find your history & biology isn’t what they expected it to be? — but it can let you assimilate, operating in society as your claimed gender.  The power in breaking the rules is always based in first owning the rules, knowing how to play it straight so you have a sharp sense about what battles to pick, what lines to cross, what rules to transgress.

The transpeople I feel closest to are the ones who grew up dreaming of being who they knew themselves to be inside rather than having to play the role people dumped onto their biology.   They didn’t dream of being trans, they dreamed of being powerfully and beautifully themselves.

For me, people who support those dreams of manifestation are our true allies.   Demanding too much political correctness or too much hiding our stories is the mark of people who haven’t yet found their own empowering centre.

Opening the space for transformation beyond expectation, supporting the dreams of transpeople to become one of the gals or one of the guys, crossing into new gender roles is the most empowering and affirming thing people can do.  Anyone who tries to keep people trapped because of their history or biology, who sprays their own fear over others, is an enemy to growth and healing.

I love being authentic and queer.   I just don’t think being your own wild self means not also being able to be a well assimilated member of the group.   You can be who you claim to be as long as your mindset and your choices gracefully support those claims.

The privilege of a lifetime is becoming who you are.  That doesn’t mean just walking away from conventional expectations, it also means coming back into them in a powerful new way.   Death without rebirth is not very life affirming.

I know why we have been taught to believe that transformation is impossible, but in my understanding, pure transformation is the real gift that transpeople embody in the world.

There is joy in coming back into society in a new, personal and authentic way, even if that means submitting ourselves to assumptions of normatvity.   We can both be who people expect those like us to be and be boldly ourselves at the same time.

It is a joy to break free and it is a joy to come back again, assimilating in a way that we were told would be denied to us by dint of our biology. Supporting those who struggle to find that balance is supporting powerful trans expression in the world, not just queer but also assimilated.

Transformation is possible, but only if we are willing to let go of our fears and tropes to become new in a joyful and grateful way.

Big Adult

Kids have tunnel vision.   They have a job to do, growing up, so they focus on their next challenge, on their next desire, on their next demand.

Most often, these jobs are about fitting into society, either the formal society of school and work, or into the informal society of their peers.   Kids always live between those two worlds, somewhere between the world of social obligations and the world of exploration of desire.

This is the hard work that we have to engage to grow.   We need to improve our standing in the organizations we have been sworn to, we need to improve our standing in the circles where we find our friends and our lovers.   In the old days, those sets would overlap and interconnect, but they don’t do that so much today in a more free and flexible society.

Traditionally, it is when kids become parents that they have to start looking more at the big picture.    At the point where they have responsibility for another life, for someone who needs care and feeding, they can no longer be as self centered, as focused on only their needs and desires.

Transpeople, though, can get quite stuck in trying to obtain the needs of the self, finding themselves limited in making connections inside organizations and limited in building circles by the assumptions and expectations of normativity.

Is it possible to be a big picture person, a parent who has had to move beyond their own limited subjectivity and still be an interesting, compelling, romantic, and unique person?

It’s easy to explain the simplicity of self-focused desire to any human.  We all were kids at some point, all learned how to be self-involved and seeking status.

It’s much more complicated to explain the nuanced complexity of owning the big picture.   Being a grown up demands the ability hold context, not just about what you want and don’t want, about what you feel, but also about what is good for the family, the village, the community, the world.

Parents have to be able to set aside their own desires for the greater good, learning that the ones they love are not just little pieces of themselves but rather whole, individual challenging humans with their own needs, desires and struggles.

Each of us will always have the experience of growing up deeply within us, but transcending the limits of that experience is what makes us mature and complete humans.

How do we explain that it is getting over our own needs, moving beyond our own fears, that truly brings a vintage of satisfaction to life?

How do we stop playing to the sensation based expectations of kids and start venerating the mature joy of service and loving people beyond our own expectations and fears?   How do we convey the satisfaction that comes with putting our own needs on hold to empower others, to create organizations, to take the power of making sure shit gets cleaned up?

Until we can get out of our own myopia, we will continue to have problems supporting diversity.   Only the big, mature picture allows us to respect others who are making completely different choices than we would ever make, making the wrong choices for us, but whose own actions help to build and strengthen the community in different and valuable ways.

Learning to see the world in context allows us to see how crucial difference and conflict are to finding a broader consensus, a bigger force, a better balance. Listening to and valuing others who come from a very different point of view gives us perspective and insight, not only helping us grow, but also healing rifts that could tear communities apart.

By understanding that we don’t have the only answer, that we may not even have the best answer, we open ourselves to more and better.   Rather than our choices being about our feelings and defending our point of view, we can become mature, inclusive and connecting.   It isn’t just about us, it is about the people we love and care about, about them having a better world.

As long as we have to cater to the most selfish and myopic in the room we have to be talking about small fears rather than powerfully moving into bigger issues.  Pandering to the pressures of those still trying to claim their own power doesn’t allow the development of respect for the wide range of approaches and power that exist in every community, everywhere.

If we make the conversation simple, cops and robbers simple, cowboys and indians simple, us and them simple, then the threads that tie us together, the more sophisticated and insidious problems, the more transcendent and sly solutions will continue to evade us, washed away by immature fears.

Playing to those who are still trapped in the “me moment” means we never get to venerate and value maturity.   While our own maturity may give us understanding and compassion for the challenges of growing up in the world, that doesn’t mean we need to surrender our voices to those just emerging and still struggling to find themselves.

Becoming a community that values community requires becoming a community that values the selflessness which comes with maturity.   As long as the model of transgender only covers moments of adolescence, only the times of rejecting participation in a wider community, trans will always stand for immature expression, be something to move beyond rather than something that confers and conveys a mature and powerful status.

The wider vision is the inclusive vision, one that supports a big, friendly, tent, full of diverse people working together to create better.   Moving beyond our own pain and fears is the only way to open the vision, the only way to find connections between stories to enlighten, inform and ally across what some see as separate, walled binaries.

The wider vision is the mature vision.   Seeing trans not as rebellion but as the basis for the creation of a better, integrated actualized self allows trans to also be the basis for the creation of a better, integrated and more actualized world.

For me, that is the big, adult vision.

Sweet Power

"So, do you you want to be powerful or powerless?"

"Isn't there a third answer?"

What is the power you desire in the world?

What is the responsibility and obligation you dread in the world?

What are you willing to stand for and what are you willing to stand against?

These are the questions of a human life, although most of us submerge these issues of power and responsibility in other stories, stories of desire, belief, attraction, family and potency.

A life without agency, without the power to be seen, heard and valued in a way that affects our community in a meaningful way, just sucks.  The power to get others to do what we need and want to be done, to join with them to manifest needs and dreams, is fundamental to being human.

We all want power.   We all want to minimize the price we have to pay to get power.   And that means we usually don’t want to have to admit that we seek power in the world, instead wanting to be seen as polite, appropriate, and demure.

We want, in other words, that choice between powerful and powerless, that magical place where people do what we need and desire without our having to  appear to want what we want and work to get it.

We somehow want to be shy and coy and cute, to be lovable while also being strong enough to get the rewards, the affirmation and the change that calls us.  Empowerment may demand a willingness to engage in conflict, to speak up for ourselves, to face off against those who would erase and deny us, but we imagine doing that while also fitting in, while being one of the gang.  We want to be wild and tame, queer and assimilated, individual and embraced at the same time.

The ways we try and take power in the world are appropriate and nice, deeply supported by the proper value system, while the ways that “they” try to take power are oppressive, cracked and sick. (1998)

"Men and women take power in very different ways. 

"How have you, as a part of your gender shift, shifted the way that you take power in the world?"

The intersection of gender and power was on my mind in my first question at my first gender conference twenty three years ago, and it was the deep topic at yesterday’s “Transgender Lives” conference, the tenth annual produced by the Connecticut Trans Advocacy Coalition. 

For Kate Bornstein, talking about power is talking about sex, about the power of attraction and desire.   The power she dreamed of is cute, a kind tiny performance grounded in anorexia, while the power she knows the power of the freak, drawing enough attention to stop traffic, she assured her audience that her quest to become a sexy woman has been long and successful, at least in her own terms.

All through the conference the line between empowerment and abjection flickered and danced.    Are transpeople powerful because we are really just like everyone else or are we powerful because we are bold and queer, unique in the world?   Does our power come from standing on the politically correct side of expression or does it come from using laws to demand what we need and want?  Are we sweet and desirable, abject and broken or powerfully individual?  Maybe, somehow, we are all of those things at once.

For every transperson, the struggle to take power in the world is at the heart of their own journey.   Yet, the struggle to make that quest for power appear other than being egotistical, demanding, isolating and cracked leads us to not talking directly about empowerment.

To seek power in and of itself seems to set us apart, make us less lovable and less human.

As humans, we rationalize most about the choices we make to take power in the world, writing off what we do for agency and affirmation with the best rationales we can generate.   Even therapists feel the need to set bounds based on their own sense of appropriateness, their own fear of separation from a community whose affirmation they need.

What we do for love, not just the love of others, but for the love of our own desires, dreams and calling, drives us.  We dream and then we work to make those dreams come true in the world, learning how to shape our own desires while engaging the desires of others.

I have taken power in my personal, inner relationship with understanding and spirit.   Though committing to a hermetic life of service and discipline, laced with strong doses of therapy that lead to vision, I have found my own power away from social conventions that seem to erase me, demanding that I deny my own power in flavor of playing games that demand I negotiate others fears.

For one moment on the drive to Hartford, though, with visions of Julia Davis’ brilliant Camping series in my mind, the intense tale of three couples exchanging power on one weekend trip to the countryside, I started to imagine taking other kinds of power in the world.

Could I use glamour as power in the world, my own seductive attraction drawing people into my circle?   Like so many other transwomen, I dreamed of being desirable, though every one of my personal dreams had to face the spinning buzzsaw of Aspergers parents who tore through feelings as if they were toilet paper.

What humans do for love is beyond any rational understanding. (2006)  We need what we need and desire what we desire, even if that wish is to be desired, to be seen, understood and valued for our own unique contributions.   We struggle to be mirrored, to have ourselves reflected in the world.

The struggle to claim power in the world, to get what we need, the love, the respect, the potency, the agency that is denied because of our queer hearts is at the heart of the transgender experience.

How can we really engage that quest, though, when even acknowledging that desire for power squicks other people, bringing up their own fears of loss, isolation and manipulation?   How do we get past the rationalizations and engage the manifest power within us?

How do we trust our own unique and intense glamour?