Seeing It

In “Code Warriors,” Stephen Budiansky notes that code breaking is a young people’s game.

To break a code, which often requires years of painstaking, routine and dreary work, you first have to believe the code can be broken.   If you don’t have the belief, the hope that comes with it and the persistence driven by that hope, well you are better off not starting.   If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you’re right.

Without holding fast to the possibility that change is not only possible, it is probable, committing to the hard work of transformation is just not worth the effort.

Give me the courage to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.  Two thirds of help is to give courage, which requires giving hope.

When I came out as trans in the mid 1980s, the only hope I had was for claiming my own feminine, shaping a kind of androgyny that represented more of my humanity.

This was a pragmatic position, the same one I took when I was 13 and tested for who I wanted to be when I grew up.  It was the only diagnostic for trans the counsellor had in those days, but I knew a trap when I saw it.  I wanted to be myself, I insisted against her blandishments to pick a gender, because that was the only choice really possible.

I never had the luxury of believing somehow I could pass, or even that I could do what is happening now, claim my womanhood over the fundamentalist assertions of binary sexual “truth.”   It’s great that has happened — after all, I have campaigned for that possibility for well over twenty years — yet I know that they’re writing songs of love, but not for me.

My shell is smart, strong and sharp, but my heart is beaten down and drained, used up by a lifetime of emotional isolation.   People would rather talk to the neighbours than to me, because I am a wounded healer, my healing offering a tough mirror, my wounds revealing the price of compassion.

Refilling my heart is refilling my hope, which has always, always, always flagged, used up by a world that just can’t afford to value my mystery, needing instead to live inside boundaries of comfort, beyond the responsibility of exposure, love and vulnerability.

Transformation takes a commitment to possibility that can only be fed by mirroring, by others seeing and believing in what is within us to help us get over the bumps and pains that all flesh is heir to.   Without positive feedback, enthusiasm always wanes.  When our own springtime robust resilience and exuberant hope is already down to fumes, what we need is beyond what we can realistically get.

Believing that change for the better is possible is the foundation for all intentional and positive change.   Change will always happen but without active co-creation that change is most likely to be about decline, decay and diminution.

Holding open the space for others to change, even if they have hurt me in the past, is one of the most difficult and most important things that I do.  I must be as Shaw’s tailor, measuring people again whenever I meet them.

I know, though, that they will only grow & heal in their own time and their own way.  I have no direct power to change them.  I can only change myself and support their process without becoming tied to ends that I want to see.

Becoming the change you wish to see in the world is powerful, but it takes a kind of persistence that needs to be facilitated by faith.   I have faith that I do the right thing, share the best I can offer and some people will find my work useful, be touched by it, but I don’t have the luxury of hope that it will change anyone close to me enough that they will be able to give me what I need.

My relationship with my audience has been strained since my earliest memories, and while I learned to take care of people, to service them, to give them what they need & want, I have not had the experience of other people being able to be there for me, meeting my needs.   People find me too much, too cerebral, too intense, too overwhelming, too whatever, too hip for the room.

What can I hope for?  What can I expect to change in a way that powers my commitment to transformation?  Will changing my body change my life?  Are there pathways that allow me to share my gifts and feel seen, understood & valued by the group?   How can I get the mirroring and care that will nourish me and replenish my depleted motivation?

My rewards, if at all, are in living with integrity and in the long term results of those choices.  The privilege of a lifetime is becoming who you are, as I tried to explain to that counsellor when I was 13.

How do carry the hope which will drive the sweat & slog required to remake my life?   If I cannot see any possibility to move beyond my abject scarcity, cannot see where abundance may ever lie for me, why use the fumes I have left to struggle to go somewhere that will not welcome and embrace me?

Seeing beyond the current struggle, helping other people lift their eyes to the possibilities within them has always been a huge part of what I do.  I believe in their better nature, in the gifts that can come as they get more aligned with their own nature and their own power.

How does my vision change?   How do I see it, see the possibilities for love and affirmation in this world?   I suspect it is not simply with the handful of LexaPro my doctor offered.  Pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps has serious physical limitations.

You need to see it to believe it, but you also need to believe it to see it.

I see a world beyond walls, but I don’t live in the world.  That makes it difficult for people to value me beyond the challenges I put out, for everyone loves it when you challenge what hurts them, but they don’t like it when you challenge what is in them.   Preachy preachers, pointing out where others fail, are great, but teachy preachers, asking us to look inward and beyond our comforting walls are not so lovely.

If only I could ease up, people tell me, be full of resilience and vigour, I could make a place for myself in the world.

Sadly, I see the costs for that choice much more clearly than I see the benefits.  Giving more has never really gotten me a lot more.

But that’s just my experience, eh?

Transparent Ethics

Very early, I knew I could see human motivations that were invisible to others.

There are a number of reasons for my powers.  As the first child of Aspergers parents, I had to have the Theory Of Mind for the entire family.  As a transperson, I had to negotiate between my own desires and what could be rationally expressed in the world.   And as a femme, well, I saw other people like a mother sees children, revealed and working hard.

I also, though, had human needs, most especially the need for a strong defence against people who wanted to come at me, scapegoating me or trying to silence me in other ways.   They didn’t want me to be who I was, with the mouth and vision I had on me, so they tried to push my emotional buttons.

My emotions weren’t really getting met, anyway.  I just didn’t know how to open myself up, so my needs were strong.

All of these things lead me to a set of behaviours that weren’t particularly surprising: I was a manipulative little shit.

I knew how to push back, how to fight fire with fire, how to leverage and pressure.   My emotional buttons were all strongly mediated, all buffered and controlled, because I had to learn to protect myself from unconsidered, narcissistic acting out from my earliest days.   I knew, though, how to push the buttons of others, throwing them into a tailspin right after they tried to come after me.

This battlefield was the venue I grew up in, the one where I learned one of the most important things any human ever learns: how to fight.   My mother always fought unfair, so I learned to counter her and in the process learned to use akido to throw back the blows of others.

I was never deliberately mean, nasty or vicious, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t strong enough to cause people distress by my techniques.   Get my quills up and you could get a mouthful of your own attack.

My rationality and sense of fair play meant that if you were willing to meet me part way, I could offer useful and valuable bits, including maps of connections, useful information and effective questions to sharpen thinking.

As I grew more and more mature, I grew more and more compassionate.   I realized, like any mother does, that many times, I just had to let the people around me act out, let them process their emotional angst without pushing back hard at them.

Turning the other cheek wasn’t easy, but my history of intellectual mediation allowed me to come back cool rather than hot, taking the heat out of the moment to reveal underlying truths.

This tactic, though, tended to infuriate many people.   They wanted me to respond to their attempts at emotional manipulation, not to blunt it and turn it aside, showing their crass motives.  They weren’t thinking, they were acting out of emotion, so when I exposed their flawed or twisted thinking, they got even more furious, more attacking.

When I came back to take care of my parents full time for the last decade of their life, one of the first things I had to teach them was that I was safe.   They knew I could become sarcastic & cutting and they were ready to return that.   After all, it was how they learned to defend themselves in a world full of emotions they didn’t get, full of emotional people they just never understood.

I had to be safe for them to show weakness with or they would never let me help, never bring me in as a team member.   The heat that characterized my emotional teenage years would never do.

This is, of course, why I built on and strengthened my concierge mode, being of service and never making the interaction about my emotional response to their choices.   I had to keep their world in context, sure that over time, we could come together and make changes that would never be possible with emotional blow ups or disgust at every stray behaviour.

Getting over your own damn self, your own gut response and emotional neediness, is hard, hard work.   Learning to come back with a warm-cool reaction, acknowledging the emotions of others but not being triggered by them, allowing your own smart mediation to take the lead, is not easy, but it is immensely valuable.

If you don’t do this, you can’t be present in the moment, really listening to what people want to share and really working to find ways to address their issues, even the unspoken ones.

Humans are very much programmed to tell other people what they want to hear.   We spend huge amounts of energy trying to placate and satisfy others around us, even if our responses are not grounded in our deep knowledge and understanding, not based in our authenticity.

Only when other people feel safe with you, trusting that your responses aren’t going to be about your judgment and neediness, can they tell you the truth.   Instead of avoiding bits of themselves they put away as too hard or scary, they begin to share them, and then the work can begin.

Building safe spaces is the foundation of building real, healthy communal relationships (1994).

When you have the power to see through peoples defences, to get them to expose themselves, you are holding their vulnerable heart in your hands.  They feel safe enough to drop their walls and reveal the places inside they shy away from, the scary and tender places.

For me, the gift/curse of x-ray vision, seeing deeply, comes with ethical obligations.   The golden rule applies; if you would find it hateful to you, don’t do it to others.   Don’t make them show themselves and then become unsafe, your own fears and needs triggering choices that appear to kick them when they are down.

Vulnerable is vulnerable.   Asking others to be vulnerable around you means, at least to me, that you respect that revelation, that trust, that sharing with dignity and your own tender compassion.

For my relationship with my parents, this was crucial.  Getting older means you have less capacity to keep your defences up.   Leading with protective behaviours rather than leading with trust means you can’t get the help and assistance you need.  We need to reward the bravery we want to see, not punish it.

If the director doesn’t realize
what a courageous thing the actor is doing
by touching on some emotionally tender spot,
then the actor will be wary of doing that.
Arthur Penn, Director

As they aged, my parents showed me things, asked for help with things that I would have been sure were disgusting chores I could never do, from cleaning up their messes in public restrooms to negotiating their pain over the children (me!) being put first sometimes.

I learned early how to kick back, how to act out of my own emotions.   As I came into my own power, though, I had to learn to put my own qualms and fears aside to do the work the relationship needed, even if that meant tenderly caring for the unhealed parts of others.

This “enlightenment burden” can often feel challenging and even unfair.   Why do they get to stay broken, acting out of their own emotions, while I have to learn to turn the other cheek, let them take shots at me while I stay gracious?    Why do I have to be the one who negotiates where they haven’t and won’t do the work of healing?

The parent has responsibilities that the child does not have, to be the bigger, more mature and more giving person, keeping context and letting small indignities and abrasions slide.   This is an act of love.

While I would like to have been given that kind of safe & loving space when I needed it desperately, like so many other things, the way we eventually get what we need is to give what we needed.  Relationships are relationships, so giving is receiving.  When I give myself as kind in the world, even to those who don’t know how to be kind to me, I show the value, model the behaviour, and move everyone one tiny step towards healing.

Being able to give with grace even when you deeply feel how you are not being seen, respected and cared for with grace has been one of the most powerful choices I have ever learned.   Sure, those emotions stay roiled within me, but I know that letting them out, acting against those who are stuck in their own disquiet will never lead to growth and healing.

I can see through people.   My decades of analysis and struggle have given me the power to do that.

Using that power with compassion and grace, following the simple, golden rule ethics of a wounded healer seems to me to be the only way that I can continue my own quest for enlightenment in the world, the only way I can act with integrity.

This often takes putting my own stuff on the back burner, being powerfully grounded in the hard truth that everyone heals in their own time and their own way, even me.   People need time and space to do the work and being safe means being gracious enough not to push them into deploying their emotional defences,  from tears to anger to trying to tell us what they think we want to hear.

Respecting their vulnerability is respecting my own openness in the world, acting towards them in the way I would want someone to act towards me.

Great power comes with great responsibility.  And that includes the power to see & map the tender, battered hearts & minds of others.

Master Mind

Minds, it is said, are like parachutes.   They only work when they are open.

Learning to open your mind is a crucial part of seeking enlightenment.  You need to move past the stuff that fills your mind, what you believe that you already know, in order to see things in a new way.

The common teaching to facilitate this growth is detachment.  Letting go of expected outcomes, releasing the chatter of the ego that works to keep you in your comfort zone, is a crucial step to opening your mind and your heart.

Beginner’s mind is a code for this kind of detachment.   The beginner, it is said, is open to possibilities in a way that others are not.

Often, the beginner is contrasted with the expert, meaning someone who has fixed on the one right and proper way to do things, someone stuck in their beliefs and what has succeeded for them in the past.

I don’t call people who are locked into tight little expectations experts, although I know they often call themselves that.   I call them fundamentalists: people who think they own the one true way, have possession of the one right answer, whatever church they believe in.   It might be Christianity or Atheism or Social Justice, but whatever keeps them boxed in and self righteous, any narrow view of our shared human situation will do as a limiting, fundamentalist belief.

She who is reborn in every moment will truly know the glory of G_D. (2003)

To become open, we cannot fall back on attachment, attachment to belief, attachment to expectation, attachment to needing specific outcomes.    We have to detach from convention, be present in the moment, face what is, and become new to find better choices.

It is possible, though, to be learned, skilled, mature, to be far beyond a beginner, and still be present, fluid and responsive beyond rigid rules & conventions in the moment.

That possibility is called mastery.

We learn a great deal from masters, those who continue to work the process, be open and vulnerable, and who learn even as they teach.   These masters do not imagine perfect outcomes, rather they live in the flow of perfection, learning and choosing again, beyond rote routine and into co-creation that exists between the messy human and the shining divine.

Mastery takes striving, denial, discipline and intense focus.   The essence of a master is not just in the choice of what they do, it is more in the choice of what they don’t do, the stillness and precision that brings responsible beauty.

It’s easy to think that spiritual honesty is saying what you believe, chasing your desires in the world.   It’s easy to think that following your bliss means following your comfort, doing what feels good in the moment.

The process of purifying desire, though, burning away the dross and programmed, the shoulds and the illusions, is at the heart of achieving mastery.  That’s why mastery can only be achieved through deep immersion and consistent work to become one with what one wants to master.

“If you seek enlightenment, seek it as a one whose hair is on fire seeks water,”  Sri Ramakrishna told us.  There is an intensity to mastery, a commitment, a lifetimes work that demands we move outside of comfort to be continuously challenged.

This isn’t, though, something fundamentalists believe.   They believe in the rules more than the process, believe in finding a way to slip through the loopholes and then complain that the universe isn’t delivering what they think they are entitled to.   They don’t want to have to let the fire burn their beliefs, they want to give themselves to some codified text, as if perfection can exist in some specific human creation that we call Godly.

The expert might pontificate and refer back to their own sacred texts, but the master has to work with the material at hand, feeling the essence, pulling polished techniques from a bag of possibilities to shape the outcome in a dance with nature.

If you don’t understand what I am talking about, then you have never studied a master, never opened yourself to the possibilities that discipline & precision can bring to subtle and nuanced creation.   You don’t yet know how craft can meet instinct in a refined way to allow fluid, intense details.

You are instead a beginner, never imagining there is more than the fundamentalist rules that need to be clung to in order to assert a connection with creation.   As a beginner, the mastery of others eludes you, so you demand that they follow the beliefs you know to be fundamental and true rather than challenging you to come out and engage beyond your own easy, isolated comfort.

Mastery always starts with mastering the beat of your own ego so you can begin to hear between the thumps, listening first to the lessons the universe offers you and then to the songs inside your own heart.  Removing noise and crud from purity is the key, while time, focus and discipline are the starting requirements.   Like any skill, the more you use them, the stronger they become, the more delicate and muscular you can be, the closer you get to your own personally shaped and crafted toolkit for engaging nature.

That is much easier said than done, but mastery is always like that.

There are many times when we don’t need a beginner, we need a master.  When our father is in surgery, a beginner just won’t do, but neither will a meatball fundamentalist who only knows how to follow the book.

Making a start at moving to mastery is a tough choice.   It means letting go of whatever old expectations and assumptions we built to defend us so that we can be willing to take the knocks that a long learning curve requires.   A commitment to mastery is a commitment to the long term, to frustration, hard slog and sweat that will slowly bring growing rewards.

It’s easy to sign up to be a beginner who is on the path towards fundamentalism, learning the rules and working to ignore and silence anyone who challenges you.  The limits of the book will remain hidden until they aren’t, that moment when you realize there is more work to be done.

For me, though, it is much more important to sign up for mastery, for doing the work of owning the process, learning and being reborn in every moment as we become more and more knowledgeable, disciplined and precise, ready to engage what is rather than what the book says should be.

Opening your mind and heart is a lifetime journey to mastery.   You always need to be beginning the next stage of your journey, owning the knowledge & skills you have gained while being open to every surprise and new possibility that presents itself.

A master mind, after a lifetime of work, seems to be worth the effort.

Projectable

It’s easy to love a blank slate.

When someone is fresh, empty, without history, malleable and new, you can imagine them being anyone you want them to be.

That’s why men so often have the hots for vacant appearing young women.   They appear to be without baggage and knowledge, so they accept whatever you bring without understanding or expectation.   They are who you want them to be, glad for anything you give them.

Mature women, though, have experience.    They hold others accountable, can tell good, strong and smart from cheap, weak and sleazy.  They come with their own history, their own formed viewpoints, their own smarts.   This is challenging.

In politics, those who have a history of service are much less attractive to youth than those who only have a pile of attractive rhetoric and a blank slate.   Blank slates haven’t been dragged before committees,  pilloried in the press, their mistakes writ so large that they seem to blot out decades of good, solid, important, valuable and distinguished work.

Blank slates hold no demands other than to be drawn on by us, creating our own vision of what a good person, a good partner, a good follower should be.   Blank slates seem easy, trainable, compliant, possible.

When you are a blank slate, you can figure out what other people want to hear and then tell them that.  You have no annoying record, history or beliefs to get in the way of other people taking you to be who they think that you are.  This is why salespeople are almost always shiny blank slates, attractive but flexible, ready to agree with you in the moment.

Puppies are always cuter than old dogs.   Character may count, but never if it gets in the way of being lovable, a mirror that reflects our own desires and expectations.

Our world has become defined by television producers who love blank slates, on camera blank slates that they can manipulate and mould to perfect cuteness and audience blank slates who will respond with eager credulity to every emotional manipulation they can pack into cheap, sensational shows.    Blank slates are the lowest common denominator they can aim for.

I was never, ever a blank slate.  I could never afford to be.  I had to own my mind from a very early age in the family I had.   I was never, ever that young.

When I feel the veneration of blank slate over established character, I get upset.   It could be chirpy hosts saying stupid things on a shopping channel or a poppy video that affirms everyone’s right to say they are whoever they want to be without responsibility or accountability, but they all send me into spasms of rage, played out by me hitting myself theatrically.

This blog takes smart, eternal human wisdom, the kind of lovely lessons of connection & liberation that have been passed down through the ages and tells you how well they road tested for me, how they worked when covered with mud, shit, gore, guts blood and slime.

Not for me simple new age kind of metaphysical theories, nor easy reactionary tropes.   That kind of fundamentalism, so easy to write on blank slates, has never survived the fire of my real life, the hell that burns away illusions to reveal foundations.

I can’t even pretend to be a blank slate.  My eyes give me away quickly, even when I keep my big mouth shut.

So many new agers say they value “beginners mind,” but is that true when they are choosing a surgeon or a plumber?   Don’t they want experience, credibility and a kind of solid foundation when they need something done right the first time?

The world is not all about cute and frothy new beginnings that escape old rules and let us fly free, no matter how appealing that sounds to a young spirit or an husband who just wants to be free of the old ball & chain.

Mastery, professionalism, and maturity have value, even if they always come at a cost, always leave us with scars and wrinkles.   Nobody who does the work, makes the hard choices and takes the hits that learning requires comes out unscathed.

Do old people only become charming when they slide far enough to become a blank slate again, easily handled by aides and helpers?  Is it their abjection, their erasure that makes them cute?

What about the people who take power with integrity and smarts?   How are they seen as valuable over demagogues who know how to tell people what they want to hear and never worry about consistency and long term results?

My fury at the expectations that the world should look sweet and attractive, full of only the things we want to hear, the bits we find easy, seductive and blank is unbounded.    I may have learned over the years to be disciplined into aesthetic denial, but the cost of that has been high, and it is a cost that is dismissed by those who value nice pretty blank slates over sweaty, messy, hard work.

Of course, that fury is completely counterproductive.   Only nicely meeting the expectations of others, giving them something that they already know they value of, can come close to satisfying them.   Questions, surprises and challenges, especially to their cherished beliefs, are not usually seen as desirable.

That’s why they like a nice blank slate, someone who will be and do what they want, affirming and reinforcing the belief structure that they already hold.

That’s not a very queer approach to the world.  It’s not the approach of a seeker, someone who hunts for enlightenment and actualization.   It’s not the approach of the person who lives in the arena, entering the fire to burn away the dross and reveal the best that they can be.

It’s easy to believe that a blank slate is who you want them to be, there for you to project your own beliefs and assumptions onto.   The truth, is, though, that they are their own person, ready to surprise you with their own quirks and steep learning curves when you least expect it.

A blank slate is a pig in a poke, and what you get when you actually need them to deliver can never be known.  Only someone with a track record of making choices, including wrong and risky choices that they learned from, can more easily offer expected results.

Every human is, as parents figure out quite quickly, unique and different.  None of us start as a totally blank slate and as we polish our skills, achieving mastery, we come with a history and a unique point of view.

Valuing what people bring from a lifetime rather than looking for shiny blank slates you can project your own desire onto is the mark of a human who knows that it is their uniqueness which gives them strength and grace in the world.

It’s easy to love a blank slate because you are just loving what you project onto them.

Loving a full, embodied human, though, is always much more real and rewarding.  Being open to the gifts of others helps us own our own gifts in a much more profound way, taking responsibility for our own power in the world.

Valuing complex, nuanced and messy humanity is the heart of valuing ourselves, no matter how much marketers and others want to operate in a simplified, dumbed down world.

As someone who never could pass for blank, that’s vital to me.

 

Roleing Out

Transpeople can do anything normative humans do, we just do it in our own way.

That’s true for all humans, of course.   There is only one human nature and we all share it, making us fundamentally the same.   We are, though, essentially different, coming out of different cultures, backgrounds and viewpoints in a way that makes us unique.

This diversity only becomes a problem when we encounter the expectations of others that there is one right, proper, appropriate and good way to do things.  When they assume that the way they have been taught things should be is the one way to righteousness, then they close their mind and heart to the rainbow of possibility that exists across human nature.

Those expectations of others form the minefield that we have to negotiate to get what we need and what we want.   When others assume that if we don’t do it their way we are doing it wrong, whatever their way is, they feel entitled to berate, slap and slam us, to shame and abuse us, because they are blessed and we are an insult to their heritage & beliefs.

In relationship, this becomes hard.   In the workplace, in romance, or in any other relationship, when others have an expectation of what their ideal partner should be, they carry expectations we have to negotiate.   Wanting us to fit into a role that they have already cast in their head means we have to make hard choices about how much we play along to get what we need and how much we stand out to bring our own unique gifts to the relationship.

Working the balance between playing to expectations and being ourselves is tough.   Every transperson has to walk away from the expectations placed on them by dint of their reproductive biology in order to claim more authentic and full expression of what they know to be true about their heart.  We have to be able to say “fuck you” and “what the fuck” to go beyond the limiting roles we were cast in.

Not being willing or able to play any role in relationship, though, leaves us alone, separate and not getting our needs met.  Everybody has to play along some, has to be who the other person wants and needs them to be in some way.   Kids, for example, need someone to play the role of parent to survive and thrive, and the better we play that role, the better they develop.

Playing a role means we have to put parts of ourselves in the background, keeping them out of the way to get things done.   How much we are willing to get over our own powerful claims and feelings, how much does that feel like erasure and denial?

Every human has this challenge, how much they are willing to be tame, assimilated, playing along, and how much they need to be wild, exceptional and standing out, but for transpeople the pressures always come to the forefront.   We spend years trying to keep our own knowledge down, then we spend years trying to build a new life that accommodates and celebrates more of us than was previously possible.

To do that, though, we need to negotiate the expectations of others.  Most people just can’t imagine the range of experiences and pressures that make up a trans life, so they assume a kind of normativity based on their own cultural expectations.

These assumptions create the context we have to negotiate in the world.  When we violate the assumptions of others, it triggers reactions, creates demands, engenders costs that someone has to pay.

Do other people open up, letting go of their expectations of how things should be to understand and embrace us with compassion, or do they demand that we play along with the roles in their head or lose their caring?

The power of should is threaded all through assumptions of normativity.   If we play by the rules, being who others say we should be, modelling ourselves after the expectations of those around us, we should get what we need and want, get the rewards that compliance appears to promise.

Struggling to be who we “should” be, following the cultural pressures and assumptions laid onto us always has a cost, even for the straightest and most normative people around.    The more we have to fight to fit into “should” the more we lose ourselves, become frustrated and out of touch with our own nature.

Those shoulds, though, are deeply rooted in our beliefs, assumptions and expectations, so when other people don’t follow how we think they should be, it is easy for us to get angry, for us to want to blame them for the world being the way it should be,  for us to lash out, acting out our pain and frustration at a life spent following rules but feeling like we never got the happiness and success we were promised.

Someone to blame, someone to scapegoat, always comes in handy when you don’t want to have to face the fact that you have work to do, have to give up your expectations to accept life as it is.   Truth can always be challenging to the dreams and illusions we hold close, the notions that we have clung to, so silencing those who won’t play along seems a good idea.

Often, these “should” ideas collide as two or more people struggle to get what they imagined by struggling to be what they should be, forcing others to be who the should be.  When it becomes about how we should act, who we should be, everything gets screwed up.

Facing the expectations of others over the role they need us to play so they can stay in their own comfort zone, responsive and interacting with us is a major challenge.  Do we play along or move beyond, and in what balance?

The reward for playing along is sometimes clear, as it is for transwomen who choose, as escorts and sex workers, to play along with fantasies in return for cash, playing out the role their clients expect in a clear trade.

Mostly, though, the reward for playing along is much more subtle and dangerous, for example with employers or dates who really need to believe that what they want to see, what they need to see is all there is of us. In that case, if someone sees beyond, breaks the spell, we become blamed for lying, for not really being who they expected and demanded us to be.

Without good and mature support structures, figuring out this balance is hard.  It often seems much easier to deny everything, even to ourselves, to fit into the normative expectations of others, to fit into the normative dreams we were issued before we had to claim our own bold, individual queerness.

Transpeople can do anything other humans can do, just in our own way.  But when that way is seen as wrong and twisted by others, we get caught between our own mature growth and meeting the comfortable expectations of others by hiding our own queer nature.

And that choice, playing along to get what we need or playing big to be more us, more of who we are, is always, always challenging.

Family Warp

The massacre at Pulse Orlando feels to me like some outsider shot up a family picnic, murdering 50 of my kin and cutting down 50 more.

Sure, they were a branch of the family that I had never met, but they were family, and if I was ever in the neighbourhood, I know I would be welcome there.

There is a reason that Mike Nichols’ “The Birdcage” starts with Sister Sledge singing “We Are Family” while the camera sweeps over the ocean to find the bar in Miami Beach where family gathers.   And when the senator played by Gene Hackman comes under attack by press and such, only his new family can save him, using the skills of camouflage and misdirection most of us had to learn very early.

I have been thinking about family this week.

A Scout troop visited TBB’s ship and I commented on the photograph of them in uniform, noting that the crew gets younger every year.   Her comment, though, was to the point: “It’s fun being a MOM!”

And on the southern fringe of Puget Sound, the brilliant Erin is painting her new home beautiful colours while building bridges with the real owner, a cat named Milo.  She is feeling the urge to nest, so building a relationship with a “fur baby” seems a natural step.

A trans activist drenched in “social justice” thinking once stopped me when I started with “In some ways, it is easier to be black than trans…” telling me that it was immoral to rank oppression.

Today, we know that using the cover of “intersectionality” social justice followers are doing just that ranking, but the joke I was telling still has a powerful point.

In some ways, it is easier to be black than trans because no black person every had to go to their mother and say “Mom, I think I might be black.”

Queer people are different than their family of origin.    The social stigma we face isn’t shared by our family, which is why they rarely have the skills to help us negotiate the world.    We need to find others who share the same experience we do.

I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable with the definition of “family.”   We humans come together in so many ways — teams, communities, companies, tribes, cohorts and so on — that the easy labelling of “family” seems to not acknowledge that range.

Still, we learn how to be social humans in a family, though that family isn’t simply bounded by blood.

I’m enjoying a show where a single mother has the playwright next door to dinner every night because she wants her boys to grow up with a man at the table, even if he is much more uncle than father.

Kids understand the network of human relationships in a family context, aunts and cousins and grandparents, their own virtual village of connections.   Since they don’t come with expectations of how things should be, they learn how things are and get on with their own work of growing up and finding their own agency & power.

The family I grew up in, though, was deeply constrained by my mother’s inability to create emotional connection with anyone.   My father grew up in a wider family, different people at the table, because his mother learned how to make a rich family tapestry to support and connect her children.  He wanted to be able to invite people home, like he did in his mother’s house, but quickly found out that behaviour was unwelcome.

The sound of children playing in the street sometimes comes through the casement windows.   I marvel at the ease and freedom with which they laugh.  Like so many others with a narcissistic mother, I was never that young, never that loose and trusting.   By the time I could walk I had learned to tiptoe, knowing that the mines of my mother’s unhappiness could blow at any time.

When TBB was up here, she got caught in some of the stresses of my family.   She asked to go to a gay bar and I took her, sitting beside her as she enjoyed raucous conversations and free flowing libations.

“The bartender knows that I belong here,” she told me.  “He just isn’t sure about you.”

I knew this was a place for family, valued and safe, but I had no idea how to loosen up and approach the place without my habitual, protective and identifying layer of cerebral analysis.   I was scanning the party, not joining into it.

I am in a place where I don’t have the resources to take care of anyone who isn’t going to take care of me.   A decade of my parents and two and a half years of abject scarcity used up any reserves I might have had.  The family I have, so small and hurting with the history of tension, just can’t be there.

How do we learn to grow our family when we never learned to be safe and engaged in family when it was around us?    What happens when we have no basic, safe, early training to go back and tap into?

Having strained family, though, doesn’t mean that we don’t need family.  Abused kids are often more affirming of their abusing parent because they need to keep that connection to feel safe.   Who wants to be alone, even if you have been alone on some deep level all your life?

I felt the shock to my queer family that Orlando was.   I understand why we had to have the discussion of why, had to wonder if it was really a broken, hurting and twisted brother who finally snapped, or if it was just the fundamentalist abuse that casts us as demons so they can spread fear.

What I have trouble feeling, though, is the safety of family, the comfort of feeling seen, understood and valued for my unique gifts.  Lesbians and gays form a network of lovers, feeling connection and affirmation though relationships, but trans is such an individual journey that we don’t get that family feeling.   We aren’t wired in as closely, don’t have the experience of intimacy that “the army of ex-lovers” have.

I have gone though a tortured and twisted path to keep connected with my birth family, one that is incomprehensible to most people.   They hear the stories, blanch and turn away, not wanting to talk about the costs, the price of death and analysis.

Without grounding, though, I have never been able to create a family of choice, taking my role and feeling the love connections.   I stay the prickly scapegoat, telling the truth in a caring and witty way that offers healing informed by deep wounds, but who isn’t all that easy to simply love and value.

I’m not unique in this.  Transpeople challenge families because we seem so different, so challenging, so confronting.   Trying to hold onto family twists us into knots (2006), but letting go of family leaves us bereft, without the connection needed to grow confident, mature and healthy.

We need to be a member of the family, not feeling like we have to be someone we are not just to have the simple human needs of love and caring offered to us.   Our gifts need to feel not just tolerated, but accepted and valued.

It hurts me when I feel my family massacred, feeling the same tear that everyone who understands the loss of easy family and deeply understands the precious value of families of convenience and choice to save us from despair, isolation and negation.

For me, though, the inability to create family that can value me, being present, is always shredding my soul.  I don’t have the history and I don’t have the skills.   I know that even as I am scapegoated and dismissed, what I bring is still rooted in the gifts of my creator, polished and prettied, no matter how much they are messages that most would rather not hear.   There is only so much perfume you can put on a pig; pretty is nice, but truth is powerful.

The discussion around Aspergers is full of mothers wanting their children fixed, wanting to know what broke them in the first place.   They see these kids who don’t act in nice ways and wonder if they even care about family.

Ask any spectrum person, though, and they will tell you how much they need and value that connection, even if they don’t respond to it as others think they “should.”   In the end, it is that connection which can help and save them.

I knew this from my earliest days, all the way to the moments when I watched each of my parents die.  I knew they needed family to be there, to help, to care, to train, to negotiate, to translate, to fight, to value, to love.   I was there to do that.

How, though, do I find the family which can now be there for me, as I am, and not as they are?

That’s the challenge for someone who tells stories that no one else seems to get.

Continue reading Family Warp

Wild Authenticity, Tame Performance

For me, the false duality is authentic vs performative.

This is something that many transwomen who want to see themselves as sincere, earnest and honest put out there.  Their trans expression is authentic but drag is performative, just a not-real put on which mocks women, especially transwomen.

They want their choices to be seen as real and so minimize more stylized and symbolic choices as just performance.   Aren’t they, though, just performing an expression they see mimicking normativity?   Does that make their performance more real or just make it more manipulative, buying into expectations and assumptions which marginalize other transwomen who don’t have the capacity or desire to “femulate” the normative?

How does it serve those who have different cultures where the normative is more flamboyant and dramatic?   Don’t they use their own expression to communicate their truths in the vernacular which they inhabit.

What do you think the opposite of sincerity is? Where does that exist in your context?

To me, the call to the ordinary is the denial of the extraordinary. Ordinary means normative, which I always doubt as a value.

Ordinary therefore often turns out to be a pretense, a pose, intended to give a kind of down home, standardized credibility which is difficult for normative people to question.

We need our mystery.

We need to be able to express what isn’t simple, mundane or normative.   We are transcendent, so the transcendent is always in our reality.

For me, that power of expression is in the space between symbol and meaning, between performance and essence. “I am the shadows my words cast,” as Octavio Paz wrote.

When people try and reduce me with a fundamentalist view of what I am working to communicate, when they impose their own binary, black and white version of reality, they squeeze out the meaning I offer to replace it with a flat meaning they apply.

The only way humans can convey their authenticity is through performance. Performance is always striving to convey some authentic essence which resonates with other people. The notion that the authentic is so real that it is beyond performance is hollow; there is no there there.

Oprah’s authenticity is contained in a carefully crafted performance of self, designed to resonate with an audience. She doesn’t use critical thinking to remove the twists in belief, rather she performs those twists by asserting emotional reality over purity, calling that performance authentic.

To decide that there is an authenticity which is beyond performance, a flat-footed and earnest assertion which cannot be challenged because it is “real” or to decide that there is performance which doesn’t require a basis of authenticity, becoming powerful when we move past venal manipulation to strike chords of truth misses the point about the challenge of a finite human life lived in the context of social interaction.

Asserting that pure authenticity transcends performance or that performance does not demand revelation & truth seems to me to miss the point.

I live in the shadows between my truth and my performance. I couldn’t get to transcendence without emergence, but emergence is always less than completely true. Pure truth is always beyond the expression of one person in one moment, whatever symbols and choices they show.

It takes a world of tension and diversity to hold the truth which exists beyond the needs of the flesh and the possibility of personal expression.

It is not inauthentic to convey only a part of us, only a sliver of us, only an attempt to reach higher and communicate social effectiveness. There is truth even in our lies, for they hold our desires and what we believe we need to do to achieve them.

The assertion of “authenticity” beyond questioning, of some kind of perfected, received truth that makes our choices of expression so true as to not have personal desires and manipulation wrapped up in them, is popular with a fundamentalists on college campuses who use the idea to resist any obligation for assimilation, cooperation and complying with social conventions. They are real and others are performative, so they will not sell out their authenticity to perform the social roles expected in corporate, community settings.

Their truth is beyond challenge, while the performative expressions of others can only ring false, being easily dismissed.

Courtesy, decorum and graces are part of a performance of self designed to most effectively communicate in the moment, even if that performance isn’t bound up in some flat footed assertion of real reality, an authenticity which demands that others accept and value your assertions while you dismiss their falsehoods.

The only way to get to authenticity is by performance, accepting we are Trafalmadorians, not just one moment of human but rather a snake which slithers through time and reality, full of desire and essence.

It is important to be authentic, yes, but it is also important to master and understand performance, both how ours contains all the facets of who we are and how others code their authenticity into their performance of self. Applying our fundamental meanings to that performance removes the mystery, the many shimmering meanings which exist in all human interactions.

So when people argue one side of the equation or the other; that authenticity is vital or that performance is power, what I take away is that any idea that authentic vs performative is a false duality; they exist together for finite creatures who are always required to choose against something when they choose for something else.

If we are to perform our authenticity here, before God and man, before Sun and Moon, we must give it our unreserved sincerity. Trans ordinariness aims at this.

If sincerity is the highest value, how are we ever to transcend the mundane?

As someone who has found enormous power in speaking in voices, in satire, in revealing absurdities, if I was forced to present only as sincere rather than as whimsical or sly, I would feel like my voice was silenced.

We know ourselves as mystics in the world, even if we also know that we are just human. The power of pageantry often calls to us, the encapsulation of mystery in rite, ritual, art and invocation. How is that unreservedly sincere? Are Lutherans more sincere than Catholics because they are more plain & ordinary?

The anti-theists demand that only the language of science can explain the world, so many have changed their creation myth and nomenclature to appear scientific. Belief in Biology, Belief In God (1999)

This is a fraud, of course, just another attempt to speak in the language of the time, which often gets us lost in the political trends. After reading Stargardt who talks about the use of religious iconography by the Nazis, I am very aware of the cost of this. No human can come to terms with the enormity of sin in caused by Hitler, so we look for some way to contextualize the horror of those atrocities.

The issue of how we search for a canned kind of identity is a key to understanding.

Most people are issued an identity like a set of coveralls and they just choose to accessorize it a bit from the five and dime. Very few have to go through the process of getting naked and rebuilding an identity out of whole cloth. It’s so much easier to buy off the shelf, and that means you get what is in fashion, what other people like.

Being authentic and performative is to me the fundamental challenge of being wild and tame. We need to be ourselves, we need to assimilate.

Owning the performative aspects of gender roles, whatever they be, isn’t easy, but it is useful. Sure, women can run around in slacks and a top all day, but some contexts call for a gown and all the accoutrements. Trusting our performance seems to be a way to be more effective, to take power in the world, to have people respond to us with authority. To lead, you have to care about performance, no matter if you are leading because you want to or because you understand that you have a calling, one that makes demands you leave your comfort zone.

If becoming powerfully ourselves is a gift to creation, honouring and polishing what we were given, respecting our mission, how do we do that without performing our role in the society we need to be effective in?

We need to be more performative, taking more high value roles and being more effective with people.

We need to be more powerfully yourself, finding and trusting your own unique expression in the world.

It’s not one or the other.

As you learn social skills which might appear normative, you gain skills that help you be exceptional. communicating your truths more powerfully in the world.

Don’t turn your back on tame, being a part of the team, leading and sharing.

Don’t turn your back on queer, being so beautifully and brilliantly yourself.

Gender is always a collage. We take components we see in the world, ones that we master, and assemble them together in a new, powerful and uniquely individual way. What seem to be conventional ways of taking power easily meld with traditional but lost ways, and with our own poetic, mysterious knowledge to create someone bold, new, classic and effective in the world.

To find your centre you have to swing the pendulum wide. You can’t just creep up on balance, you have to move past it and then come back a bit to find it. Never pushing past what feels comfortable means never feeling revelations or blessings, at least in my experience.

The challenge isn’t wild, authentic & individual vs tame, assimilated & team.

The challenge is wild, authentic & individual and tame, assimilated & team at the same time, in some kind of dynamic and thoughtful balance.

Learning To Listen

We spend our childhood learning how to speak and once we become the parent, we have to learn how to really listen.

Sure, we listen as a child, but we listen to gather what is important to us.   We find words and ideas that we can integrate into our own knowledge, our own practice, our own expression.

As a parent, though, we have to listen to gather what is important to those who depend on us.  We need to be aware of their needs and concerns, being present and helping them be grow and be cared for in the world.

In the 90s, I got a lot of crap on a butch/femme list because I talked about the role of the parent too much.   Most of the list members were young women and they didn’t appreciate the demands and obligations I was trying to work with.

Now it is clear to me that I was trying to explain what I had to learn to take care of the people around me.   I had parents who couldn’t listen to me, couldn’t mirror me, couldn’t care for me in real, emotional ways and I had to figure stuff out.

I see my acting out as a child in a different light now, but I still see the obligation of the parent.  You have to listen with devotion, persistence and intensity to both help kids find their own expression and to do the work to create a safe space for them to grow, investing in community and commerce that helps provide for them.

It is vital to learn to listen, to become the parent.  Parents fight with their kids not to annoy them, as kids may sometimes feel, but because we know that holding high expectations, demanding better, demanding responsibility and demanding mature behaviour helps them grow into better people, into better parents.

In a review of a memoir about someone facing their addictions, the reviewer noted that by definition, the arc of these books is always front loaded; the exciting, dramatic, intense stuff is at the beginning and the healing process leads to a calmer, more centred finale.   There is no big denouement,  no bang at the end, rather the climax is mature, peaceful, and, we can only hope, satisfying.

To tell a hot-headed child that the best possible outcome of their life is moving beyond self-centred intense sensation, beyond a demand to be heard and to a point of quiet reflection where you can actually hear is often a very tough go.  They need their exuberance, their passion, their battle to make a name for themselves in the world.

If they haven’t had people who did mirror them, did challenge them, did demand better from them, though, then they won’t have the focus and persistence required to build a solid foundation for their life.  Instead, they will be scattered and indulgent, wasting their power rather than consolidating it.

To listen intently is to help give the gift of focused and effective expression to others.

The gift of gracious receiving
is one of the greatest gifts
we can give anyone.
— Mister Fred Rogers

I only learned to speak after I learned to listen.   That, like so many things in my life, was backwards.    Harville Hendrix reminds us that people can’t actually heard us until they believe that we have heard them.   They follow the standard life pattern, speaking and then listening.

I’m good at listening, but I am bad at believing anyone will listen to me.   I have learned to speak audaciously, but not to  trust my own cute or charming, merely wise, witty and very reflective.

As children we learn to speak and as parents we learn to listen, and the only way that works is if we master both of those parts with deep commitment.   Speak to connect you with the world, listen to connect the world with you.

If that pattern is futzed up, like it is for transwomen who were denied the truth of their voices, who were more about running and hiding than about showing up, well, things don’t work as well.   We don’t build the foundation of showing the best of us, which can easily limit our ability to engage the world with vulnerability and grace.

A great human life is about showing up with all the brilliance and all the humility we can muster, being boldly ourselves while being open & caring to others being boldly themselves.

Realigning Mirrors

“Did you hear that?” TBB asked me.  “Did you hear that?”

“Yes,” I assured her.  “I heard.”

“My mother said you look beautiful.   That’s high praise.  Believe me, she speaks her mind, and if she didn’t believe it, she wouldn’t say it.”

“I heard her.”

“You know that she has amazing fashion sense, right?   She caught my father by being stylish.   The only reason she didn’t got to FIT was because her parents didn’t want her travelling through certain neighbourhoods.”

“Yes, I heard her.  She also said that I was a good helper,” I said, knowing that learning how to be a concierge was always appreciated by those who needed a little help and confidence.

“I’m not sure that you did,” TBB said.  “You often seem not to hear people who say good things about you.   You analyze what they are saying rather than embracing it, trusting it.

“I heard her,” I reassured TBB.

“Good, but I am going to remind you again,” she said.

TBB was trying, I know, do so something that is important for me: realign my mirrors.

Aligning your mirrors is one of the hardest things that you can do on your own.  We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are, never objective but always subjective.

When transpeople emerge, their self image is limited by the amount of light they were able to bring to their own closet.   Coming out into the sunlight, into the gaze of other people is always challenging, sometimes because they see us as a cartoon and sometimes because they see beauty we never believed in.

Recently, I have been starting a lot of writing and not finishing it.   The problem is simple, rooted deep in my experience, back to my earliest days.  When I look in the mirror, I’m not really excited about what I see.

Avoiding fun-house mirrors is a challenge.

We all know people who look in the mirror and see only their projection, becoming full of themselves and missing obvious areas where they need work.   We want to be humble and gracious, having a realistic view.

Many of us, though, look in the mirror and are blinded by what we have been told are flaws, missing the context which carries our human, natural beauty.   We feel that we only have two choices, either to try and build a mask we can wear around or to give up even trying to connect with people.

“Grant me the courage to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  That’s not easy to do when we are looking in a mirror, our own vision twisted by the messages of a lifetime.

I have learned to listen, to hold onto the shards of mirroring I get.   I didn’t discard or dismiss what TBB’s mom said.  I did, though, have to hold it in context, struggling to build up a self image out of mirror fragments, evaluating the subjectivity of the observer.

The guy who told me how ugly I was after he found out that I was trans, well, I had to understand that as a compliment.  If he hadn’t been attracted, he wouldn’t have had to be so vocal, wouldn’t have had to prove his heterosexual bona fides.

That moment, though, when your gender shifts in someone’s eyes is always the dangerous one, the moment of the third gotcha.

I know that I have had a massive failure in mirroring my whole life.  I learned to analyze compliments (and every other bit of feedback) rather than just accept them.   That experience is redolent in my writing.

What moves me are not compliments but conversations.  I want someone to fall into connection with me — usually intellectually (I’m a Miranda), but spiritually, emotionally and maybe even physically.   I want someone to take the time and effort to engage with me, really see me, to want to look deeper.

This conversation is what I want each time I leave my cloister.  It isn’t, though, something I can ever expect to get.  “Too much to expect, not too much to ask.”

I know that there is nothing more important that I can do than realign my mirrors, to change how I see myself in the world.

And I thank TBB for knowing that too, for working to help.   Her belief that I am “part of her mind” so she feels safe with me, wanting me to speak up in the world so there will be words she can use to help others understand her own experience is powerful, moving and real to me.

Right now, though, my mirrors are way out of whack.

And aligning your own mirrors is one of the hardest things any of us can ever do.  Our vision is limited, and those limits limit our vision.  It is a feedback loop that keeps us small.

Armistead Maupin tells of coming out to a woman in San Francisco whose response was “So What?”   When heterosexuals care less about your gayness than you do, that was a breakthrough to him.

The problem was, of course, that he couldn’t see his own queer nature clearly.  To him, it was all fogged up with decades of hiding and denial and shame.

Accurate mirroring gives you permission to feel what you feel and know what you know — one of the essential foundations of recovery.
 — Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score

I need to realign my mirrors somehow, and I am without reference for that tricky manœuvre.   Observer bias is rampant, I know, when they glimpse people like me.

But TBB’s mom thinks I am beautiful.   And that’s something, anyway.

The Innocence Of Age

It’s easy to want to take care of kids.

One of the first things we learn is that bigger kids watch out for littler kids.  In doing this, we start to take on a bit of the role of parent, full grown humans who have the obligation to tend to children, making sure that they are safe and cared for, teaching them what they need to grow and be successful.

Children are seen as innocents, untainted by blemish.   They are sweet and pure, only victims in a challenging world.

Where, though, do humans become fully responsible for their own life?  When do we lose our innocence?

Every human makes choices about what they do in the world, but those choices, for the vast majority of us anyway, control the smallest part of what happens to us over our lifetime.

We are at the mercy of the circumstances of our lives, from where we are born, the parents we are born to, the country we grow up in, the educational opportunities that we are offered, and on and on and on.

It’s good to demand responsibility from others before we give them compassion.   People need to try, to work hard, to sweat in order to earn our respect.   If they aren’t fighting for themselves to be better, then why should we help them?

It’s bad, though, to assign responsibility to them beyond that which they have any control over.    They didn’t create systemic oppression, didn’t choose their childhood, didn’t create their own essence.

This idea, I know, is galling to fundamentalists who believe in the “law of attraction,” the notion that we have responsibility for every thing that comes into our life.   Cancer?  Our fault.  Abusive parents?  Our fault.   Colour blindness?  Our fault.

Like every other fundamentalist, they want to believe in their power to transcend luck, to beat the odds with the help of their arcane system, and the way they support their beliefs is to say that they are right with the universe and the only reason others got creamed is because they were not.   All they have to do is be right, somehow, and the insults, indignities and pains of the world will escape them.

The voodoo of locating the problems of other people in their own sins, deciding that anyone who shows what scares us as sickness must by definition be a  sinner, be that a non-church-believer, enrobed in negativity, politically incorrect or an illegal immigrant, well, that’s the voodoo that those fundamentalists do do.

Humans are complex, powerful and frail creatures who struggle to make the best of the hand that they are dealt.   Nobody has control of what comes to them no matter how much they wrap themselves in fundamentalist belief of any kind.

It is only when we can accept and embrace our own vulnerability,  unarmoured by any voodoo fundamentalist belief that we can accept and embrace the vulnerability of others who seem older, more powerful and more scarred than we are.

Accepting the vulnerability of children is easy.  We know the limits of their agency, can accept those limits.

Accepting the vulnerability of adults, though, is much tougher.  It means accepting our own vulnerability.

Disabled people not that often, the first thing others want to know from them is how they became disabled.  If they are told it came from birth they tend to relax, because the big question in their mind, the one they can’t even put into words for themselves is: “Can I catch this thing from you?   Will you pollute me?”

Seeing human frailty mirrored brings up our own terrors.  Often, the first attribute we assign to those who are facing challenges is that they are “courageous.”   All that means is that they are fighting with something that scares the shit out of us, something we are terrified to even think about engaging.

It’s sweet to want to be there for challenged kids.  There is clearly nothing wrong with that.

Wanting to be there for challenged adults, though, being open, compassionate and supportive to them is also important.

As someone who helped my parents throughout their lives, including the decade before they died, I know how hard it is to be there and support a story where the ending is clear and obvious.

If you believe, though, that the ending is also terrifying and disgusting and corrupt, though, you will run from that story, keeping yourself apart.

There is no way to make the story better, being their to make one more good day, if you fear the ending, fear how it reflects on your own life.  If you want to keep believing that you are invulnerable then you need to keep believing that people who you have seen as more powerful than you are are also invulnerable, or you have to erase them out of your story, writing them off as sinners.

The best thing about getting older is that you continue to be all the ages you ever were, wrote Madeleine L’Engle, and all the genders too, added Kate Bornstein.  The hurting kid is always in there, even if others see you as someone who should take responsibility and not as someone to whom they should offer compassion, acknowledging your — and their — vulnerability.

Believing that only the abject are vulnerable is an arrogant, fundamentalist defence against having to face our own human vulnerability, against having to be present with a real open heart and open mind.  Once we feel the need to assign others as broken before we can care for them, we miss the power, the strength and the beauty of their very human, very powerful lives.

This is a finite world.  Every choice we make for something is also a choice against something.  In that kind of world, no one can be totally innocent.  There is always a price to be paid.

Wrapping ourselves in fundamentalism doesn’t change that.  It doesn’t make us more perfect and innocent, more blessed, more protected.  It only lets us identify others who are struggling as sinners, broken and sick because they didn’t make the perfected choices we claim for ourselves.

Chance is at the centre of every human story.   There, but for the grace of God, go I.

I know how to engage the narratives of others, opening to their stories and the threads that connect us all.   To do that, I have to face fear, open to them, be vulnerable.

Often, though, I wish that they could do the same for me, even though they can not see me as a cute,innocent kid.

To see that beautiful spirit in every human, though, would demand that they engage the costs and frailties that being human entails.

I’m a chick.  I melt when I see people take care of each other.  And I do that because I know, as fragile, mostly hairless animals, how much we need the love of others.

When You Can

Changing your choices can change the flow and the outcome of your life.   Your choices are the only control that you have in the world.

The important thing about changing your choices, though, is to do it when you can.   Waiting too long is a choice in itself, a choice to not choose, to not do what you can to make things better.

When we talk about the regrets in our lives, we usually focus on the choices we didn’t make, the choices that we knew were right, the choices that even appeared inevitable, but the choices we put into the “too hard” basket and delayed.

Wanting to not let go of what you have now is very human.  Between looking at loss and the challenges of change, it’s easy to decide not to decide.

Looking back, though, it is the choices we didn’t make that cost us most dearly.  Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, but ignorance and wishes don’t usually set us up for success.    Creating new and better takes work, requires the bold choices that create a foundation for the future.  Just staying comfortable, appropriate and easy rarely helps build a more effective life.

I tell you this from a time when the choices I made in my life have caught up with me.   Yes, I made the best choices I could in every moment, but those choices mostly came from a real sense of scarcity, repression and damage.

I couldn’t imagine that there was anyplace to support me being bigger, so when my friend told me at 18 that I needed to run away, test my wings, discover my power and trust my possibilities, that was beyond my imagining.   I stayed codependent with my parents, tied down and care taking, following a feminine and hidden heart.

The message we most want to send to the past is simple: Go for it.  Use your exuberance and resilience to create the basis for a big, bold and beautiful life.  Don’t get seduced by comfort or afraid of risk, just go for it.

The right time to make better choices is anytime that you can.   That almost always means “Now.”

At some point in your life your past will begin to overwhelm your future.  By then, most of your profound and powerful choices will have been made.   All you can do is reshape around the edges, working on details which seem, ultimately,  less and less important.

Take the shot, follow your bliss, say yes to your dreams.  The wisdom inside of you is there, under the ego voice that wants all the “what if” questions answered, that wants to avoid discomfort, that fears change.

Do this when your possibilities are still huge and malleable.   Sure, it’s tough to do this alone, but trust that showing yourself more brilliantly will bring you the support and affirmation you need.   People can’t rally around your dreams until they see them, and they will never be able to see them until you act on them.

We each come from a context, a time and place.   Transcending exceptions and assumptions that context includes is hard, but it is possible if you start early, work smart & hard and are incredibly persistent.

The best time to make better choices is when you can.

How about now?

Gaps & Pressures

If I had to cast myself in the world, I’d place me as an old broad.   Not a frail pensioner, but rather as a mature, confident woman who knows herself well, a gal who can read people and situations, one who has moved beyond the games of youth to a wiser, more balanced viewpoint.

Trans is a game of youth.   It is about emerging and emerging again, the cycle of death and rebirth that keeps one fresh, raw and present in the world (1996).  The price of living as trans in the world, from negotiating people’s fears to being forced to grow without a support network that understands the challenges (2002), is very, very high.

Every new transperson feels like they are inventing the world again, struggling to find a way to both fit in and stand out, negotiating the space between gendered expectations and individual possibilities.   The first step is always the rejection of imposed rules and assumptions, the throwing off of chains, and that always includes the rejection of anyone who looks like an authority figure.

Instead most struggle to find a group of cool people to join, or we make our own path in the world, not having easy and useful networks to join.  Playing out our own dreams and wishes can mean we become isolated, not maturing and growing our power, or that we keep power by being willing to be seen as an idiosyncratic man expressing their androgyny.

It may be easy to cast me as an old broad, a smart, grown up mother, and that identification wouldn’t be wrong.  It would, however, be massively insufficient, not identifying both the gaps in my experience — I was never someone’s hot girlfriend, for example — and the unique pressures of being trans in the world, like having the experience of expecting the third gotcha.

The events of my life are thinly spread out, not a tumult of interactions but instead few that were followed by long periods of recovery and consideration, fed by the scarcity that defined my life.

In one meeting, I spoke up in a group of people concerned about the arts and was greeted after by affirmation from some smart old broads, women who could hear the value in what I offered.   They were interested and curious about me, but instead of following up, I focused on one young woman who seemed to have the self confidence to perform.  Learning from her would be a good thing, I thought, but very quickly it became clear that my maturity just was too challenging for her, as she wanted to stay popular and trendy.

The gaps and pressures in my history are not easy for others to understand, let alone read, but they define so much of my own worldview, shaping my choices.   I am not what I look like so I am not what people expect.   I may be able to fill that role, but without the network behind me to keep me strong and cared for, the play just falls apart.

The pressure to simplification is clear in this world of ever shrinking attention spans.   More is less in that context; people today like being able to fill in the details of another person’s story with their own assumptions and explanations rather than having to pick through complicated backstory and elucidation.   They only want what they already know that they want, so letting them project what they want onto you is the easiest way to satisfy them.

Often, I wish I could simply play the role which others would cast me in.  The role of a smart old broad is a role I feel drawn to, one that I admire.  When I see that kind of mature, witty, wise and empowered woman, confident in her femininity while taking a broader power in the world, I smile.   They have always been my role models, the women who may not have ever been the flavour of the month but who grew into their strong, caring, empowering leadership status.

Those personal gaps and social pressures, though, work to define the arc of my life.   I can never really rewrite my history anymore than I can really change my biology.

My work seems to be to help others be more themselves, alloying the tame social skills with the wild authenticity of their creation.   That’s always a tough road, exposed and vulnerable, a torrid bounce between audience satisfaction and honouring creation.

How do I fit in while respecting my fragile and immensely valuable life?  What is the casting that not only takes into account my gaps and pressures, but also venerates them?

A Scapegoat’s Value

So, like, once, when I was in like tenth grade, I was talking to a guidance counsellor about my work at MIT HSSP, a Saturday program where college students taught classes for high schoolers.   It was part of the whole caring about education, a way to get some teaching experience for undergrads.

For me, though, it was a place where the freaks and weirdos from all over the Boston area came together, creating a space for the rest of us.  Too smart?  Too nerdy?  Too aware?   We came together.

When I started telling this teacher about my work there, he initially pooh-poohed it, but slowly, he seemed to be understanding.  He said what I was doing was good, that it was something to be proud of.

I didn’t believe his affirmation, so I questioned him.  He assured me that he was being sincere, which is something that I didn’t get any of at home, where every comment was barbed and destructive.  Failure was the celebration for my mother.

I remember that moment vividly even today, after so many years. This counsellor told me I should be proud of what I was doing to build community, to bring people together, to create support for those who needed it. My parents didn’t even understand what I was doing, let alone value it.

My life has always felt unseen and unvalued, no matter how hard I worked to do what I thought, what I knew was the right thing.  People just didn’t get how hard I was working just to keep going, let alone take care of the people around me.

Whatever I did, people wanted more of what they valued and less of what I was doing, wanted me to fit in and do what was expected.  That’s why my nickname in the family was “Stupid” for many years, until the clinician suggested that they stop calling me that as a matter of routine.

I was the target patient for the whole family to start, and as I grew I took on that role for bigger and bigger groups.  I spoke for truth and healing, spoke for change and transcendence, spoke for integration and connection.

Today, I still do that.   I keep shining a spotlight for change, even though I know that the vast majority of people just don’t get what I am saying, just can;t afford to go there.  They have to fit in, to get the work, to be in the mainstream.

Sometimes, though, that speaking for healing, healing that can only come in its own time and its own way, can feel lonely and costly.  I know how much of my own comfort and needs I have to ignore to keep going, to focus what energy I can on doing the work.   My feet, my mouth, my future are all blanked out to me, as I deny the costs to keep going.

There was never any reason for me to play for applause and compliments because I knew, I knew that I wasn’t going to get any.   The target patient is the goat, the bugaboo, the crazy, not the warm, loved and cherished member of the group.  I was the target patient and I knew how important that was, how important that is, being the canary in the mine, but I knew that people who were resisting facing their own responsibility to heal could only take shots at me, never seeing me as offering an incredible gift.

I knew early that I was the scapegoat, but I also knew that I was the only one who had any chance of saving my family, my father and my siblings.  When they sent me to counselling when I was 13, I would only go if they promised to help my parents also.  They lied about that, of course.

During their last decade, I never saw myself as taking care of my mother, whose Aspergers based disconnection lead her to narcissistic pain, but rather as helping my father take care of my mother, making sure that she would not crush his sweet and lost soul.

Of course, that meant I was the scapegoat until their final days, something that I only handled by being in concierge mode.

“Sometimes,” my mother would tell me in her last year, “your father put the kids first and that really upset me.”

I knew that, of course, but I also knew that we were just kids, dammit, and we needed someone to at least try to put us first, no matter how much toxicity was being pumped out.

It’s easy to decide that I made the wrong choice, that I should have cut lose at the earliest moment, owning my own life, rather than being the caretaker.  That doesn’t, though, acknowledge my femme heart, the massive challenges of being trans in the world and the damage I took from a lack of mothering in my infant experience.  Wanting to protect the people I cared for is not simply a stupid mistake.

Spending a decade or more trying to create spaces which ennobled and empowered transpeople in the area was also not simply a mistake, even if the results were scant and the work still goes under valued.

Speaking the truth of my experience is still valuable, even if most want to write my tales off as crackpot rantings which don’t meet the criteria for political correctness or positive contributions.

My life has been spent pissing into the wind because I knew, I knew, I knew, that it was a horrible, lonely and destructive job, but somebody had to do it.  Someone had to surface the truth, had to be smart and loving, had to value continuous common humanity.

Once, a long time ago, I told my story and someone valued my work.  I remember that moment to this day.

But somehow, whatever the mess and however much I needed someone to understand, respect and value the special gifts I brought to the group, I kept doing my job.

If you tell the truth in the forest and nobody hears it, does it still make a difference?

I believe that it does.

Thank You For Sharing

“I used a few of your pearls of wisdom in a group,” ShamanGal told me.  “They all thought they were wonderful, that I was so smart.”

“That’s good,” I replied.

“Even though they thought they were cool, most of the people didn’t really understand them, though.  Rather than letting them sink in, they just went on with the conversation as before, saying what they planned to say.

“I was just very aware of how much more I really listen now, after over three years of your coaching.  I come with an open mind and an open heart, but most just wanted to say their piece, not to do the hard work of reflecting.

“How many times did you have to tell me that until I could listen to others, I wouldn’t be able to listen to my own heart?”

Kids can tell when someone isn’t really listening to what they are saying, can tell when they don’t understand.  I don’t really have much memory of before I was verbal, though I do tear up when I think about my paternal grandfather’s one long visit, even though the details are gone, but I know my experience after that.

Most people, I suspect, believe that when they say something, they are heard. The world they grew up in was a world that centred around them, with parents who had the tools to keep a theory of their kids mind, listening and understanding.  Kids learned to expect their sharing to be engaged and valued.

I didn’t have that experience.

From the age of two, I knew that the world wasn’t about me.  It was about my mother’s pain and my father’s distractions.

When people offer the kind of gentle affirmations that to most people acknowledge engagement, like “thank you for sharing,” I just don’t believe it.  Those words don’t work for me; if you don’t directly mirror back what I said, I assume you weren’t really open, weren’t really listening, didn’t really get what I shared.

The solutions I developed when communicating with my Aspergers parents, the tools I used to be their translator and get through to them involve a huge amount of mirroring.   I restate what I heard all the time, often even going out of my way to share the evidence and facts around the case I am making.

If I didn’t actively, actively listen and mirror them, I wouldn’t have been able to get through to them.

More than that, I wouldn’t have been able to train them without mirroring them.   As they heard their own communications restated, they saw new ways to share the same content.   They extended their understanding of how other people heard them, and got good feedback on the spin others put on their content.

I would love a good reason to get out of this basement.  I routinely search through events listings to find places that might be good and affirming.  To me, that means somewhere I can share part of myself, being seen and understood for something other than my surface, my externals, my image.

The need to be mirrored lies deep within survivors of trauma.  That means, though, that I don’t assume that someone smiling at me and saying “Good point!” actually means that I was heard and engaged.

This is a problem in a social situations when most people just are able to do the standardized pleasantries, hearing what they expect to hear whatever is offered.    They give what they can, share what they have, and that is a loving and considerate gesture from them, no matter how much it may not recognize our needs and our value.

My experience of not getting the mirroring I need shapes my expectations of what will happen in the next situation.   While my assumptions are pretty accurate, living in them means that I fall out of the normal, simple, social swing that most people take as normal and healthy interactions.

If you grew up assuming that people saw and heard you, that assumption lies within you today.  On the other hand, if you grew up without that kind of reflection, it takes a series of different experiences and a long time to move beyond that expectation.

Human lives are lived in only one direction; forward.   We can never go back to a simpler time, never retire to something better.  Instead, we have to create new circumstances, events and relationships which hold what we need and facilitate growth and healing.

The best thing about dysfunctional relationships, it is said, is how easy it is to recreate them whenever we need them.   We pull out old scripts and recast the parts, allowing new people to replay old scenarios that affirm our lifemyth, our deepest beliefs about ourselves.

Therapy, or at least the kind of therapy that I have pursued in my very solitary endeavours, is designed to make us conscious of those patterns, allowing us to make better and more enlightened choices when we choose again.

Relationships, though, are never one sided.  You can’t create them anew by yourself.  We need the feedback, affirmation and mirroring of others to own the belief that we can come together in new and positive ways.

From my earliest days, I figured out that I needed to build a big array to sweep in as much information, as much human connection as could be gotten.   If the best I was going to get was tiny bits of love, rather than the torrents of caring that many are used to, then collection and analysis had to be my first priority.

When other kids were learning to fly, I was learning to put my parents in context, filtering out the noise and scraping together as much of what I need as I could possibly collect.

The moment I entered school these habits set me apart.   Other kids took the world at face value, but I searched it for meaning, for truth.

There is a classic story about me, at 4, telling my mother about a nursery school bus driver who took a banned route.   He figured little kids would never notice, let alone figure it out, but he didn’t count on a kid who had to be an analyst at 3 years old.

When other people around me in school were just engaging others, I was scanning and figuring out the meanings, alone in my idiosyncratic pod.  I was the kind of concept former you rarely find in school, as a 1980s boss who was trained as an elementary teacher told me.

ShamanGal knows this about me, seeing how much I give versus how much I get back.  By this time, my scanning is so blazingly fast and astoundingly acute that I can get meaning in less than the blink of an eye, quickly integrating what I receive into a wider world view.

Standard pleasantries, like “Thank you for sharing,” feel hollow to me.    They affirm my expectation that other people just don’t get the joke, that I am too hip for the room.

Creating new relationships, new possibilities where meaning is valued seems like a dream to me.  Asking me to disable and destroy my highly developed scanner to get them seems like a nightmare.  I declined a lobotomy when a counsellor offered it to me in the 1980s and I don’t see any reason to get one now.

I learned early to analyze what others gave to me because with Aspergers parents I had to.  I learned to take what they shared and I learned to watch what they were receiving.   I had to have enough Theory Of Mind for a whole family, which is way too much for one kid.

The wisdom I have gained offers me awareness.  Sometimes I can share that awareness with others to help them see their lives in a new way.

But I am also aware that what I share can be challenging and baffling to others, because everyone heals in their own way and their own time.   They need to be where they are now and will grow when they can.

It must be sweet to just assume that other people hear you when you speak.  That’s an assumption, though, I never could make, from my earliest days as a child to today.

More You

It’s easy to look at the areas where you have lack in your life and wonder what you can do to change that.

After all, other people seem to have what you need.   Why isn’t it working for you?  How can you get what they have?

Maybe, you think, they know tricks that I don’t know.   If I just try to be more like them, following the rules that they seem to be following, you can get what you want.

Sadly, this rarely seems to work for anyone.  The only thing following the rules ever does is trying to avoid losing, making sure that we stay in the cohort.    You can’t win by just following the rules.

When you aren’t getting enough back from the world, the only thing that you can possibly do is give more of yourself.   The only way you get different results is to make different choices.

When you bring a new you, you get new responses, new rewards in the world.

This isn’t easy to do.  There are many reasons we bring the us we bring to the world.  We are an amalgam of our training, our habits, our desires, our fears and our essence, trying to balance fitting in and standing out.

Being part of the group is important to us and we fear being separated from them because they start seeing us as different and challenging, so we play along, living inside their expectations.

Why shouldn’t, we wonder, other people have to change?  After all, it is their expectations and assumptions which constrain us.  If they just changed their responses to our choices, things would be great!

There are large groups who will tell you that there is no way that they can ever be happy, satisfied, respected or successful until other people change.  The suffering of one of us is the suffering of all of us, so as long as one person faces cruel prejudices, we are all doomed to oppression, pain and sadness.

We only have the power, though, to change our own choices.  It is when we take responsibility for our own lives that we create new possibilities.   These new pathways often offer enlightenment to others; if they can do it, why can’t I?  Maybe the the ideas I hold are blocking me from achievement and they can be changed.

Flop sweat is never attractive.  Needy is never compelling.  Trying too hard to be something you are not only creates suspicion, not grace.

The only way to change the world is by changing our own choices.  Demanding change never does; we must become the change we wish to see.

The reasons we hold for why we cannot change, why we must resist change, why change is impossible for us are the reasons why our choices don’t change, the reasons our results don’t change.

If you want more from the world, you have to give more to the world; more energy, more precision, more passion, more smarts, more of who you are.

Two thirds of help is giving courage.  That courage is always about getting over our own pain and fears.   It is the courage to be more present, more energetic, more creative, more flexible, more committed and more persistent, changing our old choices & habits, letting go of the comfortable to become new and better.

Being more you always has a cost.   It means you are more exposed, more visible, more judged and often more resisted.    Others want to keep you small so that you have no chance to outshine, outdo or challenge them.  They want us to wait for their approval, to fear their displeasure, keeping us in line so we fit neatly into the requirements of those above us who want to use our efforts without facing resistance.

Becoming powerful is becoming aware of our own power, is learning to trust and rely on it.  Our power, though, scares us.   We fear it might be corrupt and crap, showing us as frauds.  We fear that it might be slippery and intense, taking us away from the group.   We fear that it will bring the spotlight upon us, revealing what we have tried to keep hidden even from ourselves.

Being powerful is being responsible.   For people taught to locate responsibility in some external force, in people outside of us, our own shining, being seen, examined, assessed and judged is just terrifying.   Risking being wrong, getting egg on our face is scary, but as any child can show you, trying again and again until you get better at it is the only way to achieve, to gain mastery.

How can we get more of what we want and need, though, without sticking our head up, without taking responsibility for better?  Until we show the world how exceptional, talented and committed we are, how can others see and value us, wanting more of what we have to offer in their lives?

When we live beyond habits and assumptions we have to live in the moment, letting go of the search for simple rules and easy answers to be present, aware, and open.   Working the process, seeing connections, possibilities beyond the expected takes the magic we can offer, the spark of being more ourself.

None of these ideas are new, but they are the ideas we need to open ourselves to time and time again to begin to trust.   The notion that we can get what we need by living in others expectations is so compelling that we resist the obligation to be exposed, preferring to polish our mask, striving to show only what we know to be acceptable and valued.

It is very hard to find people who will stand with you when you have the need to leap, to stand up in the spotlight, showing the big, beautiful best you can offer.  We rarely find those who will fight to bring out the best in us, holding high expectations that we can move beyond our fears and reveal ourselves as brilliant.

The gift we give others is believing in their jewels, even when those jewels are still buried in the shit of a conventional human life.  By trusting in others, we trust in ourselves, becoming more confident of our own unique excellence.

I know that for myself, if I want more of anything, I have to be willing to be more exposed to get it.   Trusting that support networks will help get over the bumps would empower me to show myself more, allowing others to see not just my words but also my wit and spark.

In my life, though, the resistance I have had to battle, between my family and a society mired in heterosexist binaries, has already come at quite a cost.  I still am out there, though, looking for specific venues, sharing myself with over 1.3 million words on this blog, and being open to engagement.

If you want and need more for yourself, you need to be more of yourself, polishing your own unique gifts and letting them shine in the world.  I have been blessed to receive what others have to offer when they are most powerfully themselves, seeing that it is in their exceptional nature their connection to the universe and deepest power lie.

Showing yourself is scary, yes.

But is there any other way to get your unique brilliance into the world, any other way to let people see, value and return the best parts of you?

Stop Being Invisible

Nobody really cares about me, and that’s fine.

I was very young when I had to come to peace with that idea.   My parents lived in their own worlds, asserting their own needs, and were not able to come into mine.

I never saw this as evil or nasty, even if I found it frustrating and felt a bit lonely in my own space. It was just the way that the world around me worked, and as a kid, I didn’t know any different.

Tracking some activity here, I searched again for texts about being raised by an Asperger parent.  I found two articles by Jody Smith that have seeded discussion, one from 2009 and another from 2015.  Smith is a kind writer, her own challenges allowing her to offer compassionate ear and deep understanding of those who felt erased and silenced during their development, their feelings and needs pushed aside.

Wanting to end on a hopeful note, though, she suggests that our own real obstacle may be finding and trusting our own voice.

As someone who has worked very hard to find that voice, to make myself visible, I have found that isn’t enough.  We need to actually be heard and mirrored, understood and validated, learning to feel the safety, trust and valuing which was denied to us when we needed it to develop healthy.

The neurotypical have a real problem understanding people who don’t think like they do.  Autism spaces are full of mothers wanting their kids fixed, railing about what broke their children; was it vaccines?

This means that the idea that you can find a mental health professional who will understand the experience of growing up with (in my case) two Asperger’s parents is severely problematic.  Clinicians by in large work to offer coping skills by taking you back to a time before trauma, a time when you had security, stability and affirmation in your life.

For children with AS parents, that time just doesn’t exist.  Harlow’s classic wire monkey vs cloth monkey mother experiment illustrates how having a non-emotional and non-physical parent causes a lifetime of trouble.   Our experience of apparently narcissistic and distressed behaviour is not just a bit of maladaptive behaviour to be addressed, it is the deepest.

I spent my life as the target patient for a family with two Aspergers parents, meaning I not only was the scapegoat, the target for pain, but was also the one who developed mature coping strategies.  I did the therapy for the family and I took care of them for the last decade, translating the world with hard won skills and massive amounts of self-denial.

The emotional costs of my life, though, continue to pound at me, no matter how much therapy I do.  The body keeps the score, as Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk notes, and without effective mirroring, people who can understand and reflect the experience rather than finding it incomprehensible, finding ways to develop the trust that never was supported in early development is impossible.

One person note that for her, looking at Developmental Trauma Disorder was useful, a generalized diagnosis offered by Dr. Van Der Kolk.   The roots of our problems may be incomprehensible to most, but the needs for reclaiming what we never got is the same.

I have written extensively about my experiences on my blog — https://callan.wordpress.com/?s=asperger — but I assure you that no matter how much I talk about my experience, without those who can listen to and understand my experience, it continues to be a massive obstacle.

understands the issues, writing about them with power and grace. His experiences are both very different than mine and much the same, being a kid who could only strive to make sense out of the family he lived within, a family that other people bathed in assumed normativity.

I learned early that nobody cares about me and that’s fine.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t love me, only that they are so consumed by their own world that they cannot enter mine.  I need to be able to enter their world if I want any contact with them.   They do care, on some level, just not in any way that lets them be really present for me, and that’s fine, or more precisely, that has to be fine because that’s the way that it is.

The same understandings I created as a child are still in play today; I am just too emotional, too smart, too intense, too hip, too queer, too everything for people to connect with, just as I was too neurotypical for my parents to ever really understand.   Lifemyths start early, you see.

Sure, I can go into the world and service people, pulling out the concierge skills to be there for them, but expecting them to be there for me?   Nobody really cares, and that’s fine.

It’s not finding a voice that has been my challenge.  It has been finding an audience.  A quick and kind response to a comment may be sweet, but it is also shallow, far too shallow for someone with the depths of experience packed into my life.   A kind hug doesn’t bring up the time when I felt safe and cared for, rather it reminds me of all the times when I felt alone and hurting.  Nobody really cares, and that’s fine.

“I need to learn how to trust other people,” I told a partner.

“That’s fine,” she responded, “but can’t you do that by yourself?”

We tend to attract those who are broken in the same way that we are, don’t’cha know?

Nobody really cares about me, and that’s fine.   God grant me the courage to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Changing other people is beyond my ken, so serenity it is.

And that’s fine.  Or, at least, it has to be.

Fight Blitz

I was just in a scrap on an internet forum where I have participated for over a decade.  It’s about technical stuff, and it is a model of decorum, but one hothead decided they needed to spank me because while I addressed my experience with the topic of a thread, I didn’t note that a referenced link already mentioned my conclusion.

To this hothead, I needed to be put down, slapped for my ignorance.  Since I care about the safety of this space, I chose to confront them as a bully because I know many people would just stay silent and allow their behaviour to continue.

I made my case as to why my answer was reasonable and germane, but they chose never to address why their calling me out on “not reading the linked article” was such a sin and needed to be met with a slap from them.

In the end, my words won as the bully smugly showed they had put me on their ignore list.  They had judged me so heinous and offensive that they tried to silence me with words, but failing that, they chose to use technology.   They chose ignorance over engagement, refusing to reflect on how their choices were in any way rude and problematic.

They tried to shame and silence me for doing something they thought was stupid,  but they were matched with someone who has had to transcend a lifetime of that kind of shit.

I chose the name Callan for many reasons, one of the first because it is gender neutral.    I knew I would always be trans, always cross worlds, always be beyond simply one or the other.   That revealed me to be very different than most crossdressers who wanted a pair of names to code their selves, “Now I’m Biff!  Now I’m Suzy!” as I am want to say, swinging between rather than seeking integration.

After I chose it, though, I found out on a baby names site that Callan came from the Gælic feminine for “powerful in battle.”  

I came of age in a period when Leslie Feinberg was talking and writing about “Transgender Warriors.”   I never really wanted to be a warrior.  That was what I was running from, something that might reveal my masculine heritage.   We had a lot of TERFs running around back then who were looking for any reason to claim transwomen who spoke up strongly were speaking from their “male privilege.”

When I was in high school, I was in the car with my brother & his friends when the topic of fighting came up.   I offered to challenge anyone verbally.

“My brother can beat you up!”  one kid said.

“Verbally means with words,” my brother explained with exasperation.  It was hard for him to be proud of an elder sibling that the family had decided was so verbal that they were actually “Stupid,”  my approved nickname for years.

My fighting skill never came from any sort of macho posturing, rather it came from the akido of feminine fancy, turning blows back against others with a quick twist of thought.  I was never in a fistfight, never bruised another person, but I did make them cry or stamp their feet in frustration, much like I took care of my attacker on the forum today.

The idea that it was the feminine in me who was the battler was hard to get out there in transland.  Aren’t women supposed to be submissive, dainty, sweet and reserved?    Isn’t that what going to the girl side is about?

One crossdresser called me on it.

“Do you think that if I had been born female,” I asked them, “I would have been a mouthy broad?”

They thought for a minute and took my point.   Callan == the feminine for powerful in battle.

I have always been a fighter, and the gifts I give others come from my ability to fight demons that swirl inside of us.

If you are very blessed, if you are very very favoured by the universe, then you just might find someone to fight with you as well as Callan fought with me.
-- Eulogy

What I haven’t been, though, is a brawler.  A long time ago, I learned to avoid picking fights unless I had something specific to gain from them, usually working out some of my own thoughts and getting them down in writing.

When I get in a brawl, that urge to trounce my opponent riles up in me.  I see red, feel less than centred, jangled and raring.   Anyone who is powerful in battle has to have some of that drive to win, to be the victor, to kill.

I don’t like that feeling.   That means, though, that I tend to hang back, to not get out there and fight for myself.   Like any mom, fighting for your family, knowing that there is a place you can go back to and be cared for, is very different than just being an everyday brawler.

Virginia Prince used to go back to the hotel room after a day at a conference, put on an elaborate peignoir set & satin eye-mask, lay herself out on the bed as it it were a bier, and then start reliving her battles of the day out loud, assuring herself she had done the valiant and sacred work, at least according to Sharon Ann Stuart who roomed with her.

I never wanted to be the kind of transgender warrior who valued winning over connection, a bold and brave solitary knight in breast forms battling for some kind of right politics and belief.    It was team fighting for me or nothing, but then again, that’s a very feminine approach.

Attenuating my own power to tend to those around me, knowing that they have to heal in their own time and their own way has become my habit.   My fight is to offer texts that can challenge people, knowing that planting seeds and tending to growth is the way that change happens.

That has cost me much of my own energy, though, denial of my own nature, the decay of my body and my power.

If I want to claim more of my womanhood, I need to claim more of my own power, as I coded well over twenty years ago in my first question at my first trans conference.

And my power, my feminine, beautiful, shimmering power, is to be powerful in battle.   Underneath all my defences, I am just a mouth bitch who knows how to ask just the wrong question at just the right time.

That gal, well, she has plenty to offer communities.  She can bring them focus, discipline and energy.

But she will also offer them challenge, illumination and expectations.  Standing for healing, those who are not yet ready to confront their own darkness, not yet ready to stand up and let go of sickness will find her bristly, will try to silence her.

As someone who has spent a life being flattened, attacked and erased, though, she feels every blow.  If she wasn’t so sensitive, she wouldn’t be so sharp, for she is a wounded healer.   She doesn’t want to feel battered and devalued again, for her body keeps the score of a lifetime of battles.

I see the fights everyday about trans, just like every transperson in the country does.  They aren’t about me, they are about people acting out of their fear, using transpeople as straw agents to be set up and pounded down.   We are used to have people act out their own issues on us.

Even if we know, really know, that the attacks of others say much more about them than about us, know that we are just being used as punching bags, we still end up taking the blows.  There is a cost to that, a price that makes us want to duck and hide, trying to escape the third gotcha.

The idea that I have to get out and fight again, but this time, things will be different because I will have allies who are ready to stand up beside me, who are ready to embrace, value and cherish me, well, that’s a tough sell. I know how to be too hip for the room, too big, too intense and too queer, and I don’t see how the room has changed all that much.

I challenged someone on a forum with smart and silvery words and won, but the win was basically hollow.  They didn’t get it, just running away because he could not bully me into silence, and no one stood to support me, let alone saying that they learned something.

But I got all juiced up, distracted, tense.  The only think I could do was come here and turn it into writing that very, very few will read and even fewer will value.  Sure, it helps me become more aware, with better and clearer words, but it doesn’t bring comfort or succour.

Everyone has to pick their battles.  Indiscriminate and unconsidered brawling doesn’t really move you or the world ahead.  Don’t piss into the wind, fight the ones where you have a chance.

Women fighters have always understood the challenge.  Even today, people dismiss a woman candidate as “un-presidential” because they refuse to imagine a woman with power, someone with both a sharp, committed mind and a tender, caring heart.  Women’s power is meant to be clandestine and sub-rosa or they are seen as acting like a man, something any transwoman wants to avoid.

Fighting, though, is where my feminine soul has always blossomed.

It just has never been something that brings me the sunlight and nourishment I so desperately need.

On The Tin

On paper, most transpeople don’t look very good.

When reduced to an ingredients label, our contents reveal a lot of bits that don’t seem to go together, like licorice and Limburger.

    What are little boys made of?
    What are little boys made of?

        Snips and snails
        And puppy-dogs' tails

    That's what little boys are made of

    What are little girls made of?
    What are little girls made of?

        Sugar and spice
        And everything nice 

    That's what little girls are made of.

When you look at what transpeople are made of, our recipe is not that simple or cute.   We are always an incredible melange, a perfumed tagine, an unfolding magic supper.

This is a problem whenever we have to reduce ourselves to a paragraph or two.  Our resumes often have strange gaps and curious leaps in responsibility and our on-line dating profiles often are built to conceal much more than they reveal.

We want to put our best face forward, but we are rarely sure about which one that is.   Will people see it and smile or will people see through it and wonder?

When someone hears we are trans, stereotypes dance in their heads.   It used to be flashes from cheap, sensationalist morning talk shows, but now it is often glimpses of celebrity played through the prism of churning reality show gossip.  It might be scare images, drawn from extremes that people put out to support fear politics, or it might be wild and over the top performance pictures, highly stylized and out of this world.

Whatever they imagine, it isn’t us.   Even the people who think that they know us know only their version of us, the us that fits into their assumptions and expectations.   We are as the iceberg; to the world, our size and shape always remaining mostly invisible.

Transpeople will always be much, much more than other people’s first impression of us.   How can we not be?  We have each lived many lives. We have surfaced spirit over simple, emerging beyond the assumptions they swaddled us with at birth.

This makes it very hard, though, to encapsulate us enough to quickly and effectively explain why we are amazing enough that we are worth letting in, worth getting to know.

Synergy means that we are always much more than the sum of our parts.  It is the energy that runs through us which makes us so valuable, not the convoluted details of our history, laced with denial and resistance, or the mixtape of our biology.

That energy, though, can often get lost when people try and pigeonhole us, working to fit us unto the already fixed map of their judgment.   They know what they want, what they dreamed of, and it isn’t us.  Looking for someone to meet the template in their mind, someone to fit the job description they already wrote, someone to match their ideal image is what they do.

I know that to connect with people they have to be willing to share with me. I will never fit neatly into their ongoing conversation, into the old patterns they so enjoy.   I want to meet them in discussion where I can share a bit of my own view, hoping that what I offer is compelling and fascinating enough that they want to know more.  They can’t possibly know me just on appearances alone.

I can never just ask the question “Are you open to transpeople?” because the answer to that will always be guarded and constrained.   They won’t know what they are getting, won’t be ready.

Instead, I have to walk in, with all the confidence and grace that I can muster, show myself off, and then, after they have gotten a glimpse, try and figure out if they are open to me.

If I am not feeling particularly confident and graceful, though, this is a problem.  It lets them read my fear and discomfort, which they may easily read as me trying to hide something, as me being defensive and squirrely.   Once they believe I am concealing something, their imagination can easily go wild, remembering all the scare statements they every heard about the perverts who try and disguise themselves across gender.   The situation can quickly go sour.

Being reduced to my components squeezes out the mystery, the spark, the spirit that makes me a unique and special person.   It flattens me out, turning me into the kind of theoretical tranny who gets erased in a cheap Trans 101 session. (2008)

If you just want to dismiss a transperson after reading the label, like so many fundamentalists do, be that religious zealotry or identity politics, you miss the real power in the person, the special sauce that they worked so hard to develop, the results of heat, pressure and transcendence.

Trying to judge the value of a queer person on a reductive read is not only crushing to them but is also stupid.  It limits your vision to what you already know and expect, eliminating any possibility of a divine surprise.

Transpeople, get out there and show yourselves.  Trying to fit into a neat bundle will always leave you at a disadvantage, because the magic you bring crosses boundaries.

Everyone else, take people where you meet them. (1996)  Sure, they will surprise you, but the vast majority of the time it will be in a most delightful way.

Madness

If we do not tenaciously cling to the cerebral and rational, or, at least cling to the rationalization, are we giving in to madness?

Madness was the ultimate threat used against so many queers for so long, the idea that somehow, our desire revealed our brokenness.

It is the idea behind all the repairitive therapy zealots who tried to convince families that their child could be fixed, made un-queer just by forcing them into “normal and healthy” patterns.

The essence of most of most of this therapy was the enforcement of gender stereotyping, ostensibly to strengthen the weak identification with the same sex parent.   Learning how to dress properly, sit right, speak correctly and so on was intended to arouse the natural instincts associated with their sex, bringing them back into heteronormative balance.

This never worked, of course.   Some learned to play a normative role in society, passing as the assigned gender, but their heart was still their heart and they had to fight or compartmentalize it ever day.

For transpeople, this kind of enforced therapy happened almost every day of our lives.   We wanted to fit in, wanted to be accepted, so many of us immersed ourselves in gendered training, often to the point of joining the military or other stereotypical endeavours.

Often this also included a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, working so hard to identify with the people in authority that we joined in or even lead when they mocked, humiliated or generally tormented those identified as gender variant.   If we were tough enough to kill off our queerness, shouldn’t they be forced to do the same thing?

Growing up terrified that we have the seeds of madness inside of us and if we let them show we will be subject to the not too tender mercies of the medical profession is a wearing challenge.  Having to trust the medical system with trying to treat what they see as madness in a time where cost-effectiveness and the easy solutions of medications are the approved routes for “helping” just adds to the fear.

If we do not tenaciously cling to the cerebral and rational, or, at least cling to the rationalization, are we giving in to madness?

This challenge, how much to resist the dark places inside of us and how much to enter them is a key challenge for everyone who is trying to claim their nature beyond social conventions.

It is easy to think that we claim health by rejecting sickness, by not going to the places where darkness may lie.   If we avoid what we have been told is hell, is wrong, evil and sick, don’t we claim heaven?

It turns out that the only way out of hell is through.   We have to go to hell to claim our own power and grace. (1996)  (I was stunned when 17 years later a crossdresser acquaintance asked if they could read that piece at an open mic.  Awareness does grow.)

A touch of madness may be divine, but what happens when people see you as too insane to be engaged seriously?  The assessment of madness marginalizes people, letting the mainstream reject anything they have to offer because it is tainted, because accepting it would be approving of madness, because it may carry the seeds of madness within it, seeds we have to deny and isolate.

The song of the prophet is always laced with symbols and metaphors, a chant where the resonance of the truths contained are more important than the literal adherence to the facts.    While prophets may assert that their stories are factual in an attempt to gain credibility, the real meaning of their tales is in the experiences they share.

Sharing visions is the way humans have always communicated beyond the mundane, beyond recitations and reports of literalness.  The way that we create a new view of our shared world is by seeing it through the eyes of others, even others with a strong viewpoint and a very different set of cultural and personal references.

It is only when viewed in its own context that madness becomes sense, revealing the wisdom and brilliance stored in it.   This brightness is only in fragments, but that is true for every human sharing.  We need to be able to extract the jewels from the matrix which holds them, no matter how wild or banal that container is.

If everyone saw the world in the same way, using the same language, innovation would be impossible.   Wildness supports new viewpoints, radical viewpoints, subtle viewpoints, nuanced viewpoints, brave viewpoints, different viewpoints that contain value.

My father was a crackpot engineer.   He had a distinctive view of problems and a distinctive approach to team work, rooted in the Aspergers way that he experienced the world.   That means he not only had patent awards for creating bold new innovations the company valued, but he also had people calling him a psychopath, someone too mad to understand when he should quit because the people in charge had already written him off.

Having to work to understand him, to help get his message out, meant that I had to enter what some would call his madness.   That skill, learned very early, is the basis of my compassionate, empathic understanding in entering the worlds of other people.  By owning my own madness, going through my own hells, the places others find dark aren’t so scary to me.

We are taught to be terrified of our own madness, taught that our deviance and difference are scary and shameful.

For many of us, that means never going to the places where emotion might overwhelm us, tenaciously clinging to the cerebral and rational so that others will not be able to dismiss, marginalize and harm us by painting us as lost in madness.

We have seen the price of being dismissed as mad, the struggle to find anyone who can understand and help rather than just wanting to pound us back into unchallenging normies.

To be both mad and effective in the world takes an enormous amount of smarts.   Balancing fierce and creative visions with pleasant compliance is a very difficult effort.

The mind is a fragile thing.  Some find real benefit from the attention of mental health professionals and the tools they can offer, including medications, to regain their balance and hope in the world.

Being able to live with a bit of madness, though, entering our own visions with compassion, allows us to see beyond the strictures of compliant, conventional and approved thought.  It opens us to what others share from beyond the expected, the jewels contained in their idiosyncratic raving attempt to communicate what they see that we cannot.

My connection to the universe does not lie in my intelligence, rather my intelligence allows me to negotiate the line between wild and tame, offering creative and prophetic visions with maturity, understanding and some level of appropriateness.

Fearing madness does not keep us sane.  Only owning our own darkness can do that, no matter how scary that may seem.