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.