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.