Me & My Hole

Every transperson has experienced moments when the ground seems to fall away beneath them, when they start to be swallowed up, dropping into hole which puts them below other people, a hole that feels difficult to climb out of.

That hole shows up when we feel dismissed or marginalized or dehumanized or devalued, when someone responds to us with their own haughty beliefs, removing our reality and substituting their own.   No matter how coolly the slight is done, a slight it is, an attempt to remove our respectability and instead paint us as sick, depraved or perverted.

In that moment, we look for a lifeline.   We want someone to bear witness to the insult, want someone to understand the pain, want someone to affirm us, want someone to be on our side.

In that moment, we need, desperately need, an ally, a friend, a comrade.

We rely on one another for help in getting out of holes.  Pulling on your own bootstraps is never enough.  Without someone to catch the lines we throw, offering reciprocity and presence, those holes get deeper and deeper the more we feel.

Because trans is such an individual journey, though, we are often alone in that moment.   We may even be invisible at the time, cloaked as normative and being asked to join in with the jibes and dismissal of the queers.     We don’t have a network that shares and understands the experience, one that prepares us for the drop, one that tends to the victims with help lifting each other up.

Those moments, well, they add up.  Every time we get the ground pulled out from under us, the hole our soul falls into gets deeper.   We sink into a dark, removed place.

Even when we reach out to explain this experience, we often find it impossible to get understanding, mirroring and support.  Our families don’t get the cumulative cost of those drops, our support groups are filled with people trapped in their own holes, and even our clinical professionals don’t have the experience to grasp the depth of our marginalization, as I wrote in Hello From Hell (1996).

Of course, this being kicked into a hole is how all stigma and marginalization works.   By burying people, demanding that they use their power just to survive, we can blame them for their own incapacitation.  They drink and slack and do weird stuff in their own dark spaces, so they must be broken right?   The idea that social stigma set out to break and disempower is is dismissed, because if we were just normative, we would have been fine.

For young transpeople, the experience is different.  There is more support, more acknowledgement around.  And, because they haven’t had to be pounded down into a hole for so many years, they still see light, can still learn to climb up and out, claiming their own power in the world.

For mature transpeople, though, the hole we find ourselves in can easily feel profound and deep.   In our key developmental stages, when we should have been learning to love, learning to work, learning to succeed, we were struggling to manage having much of our heart and our life sunk into a dark, dank hole. What we lost when we were in that hole, though, the developmental stages, the lost connections and the lost possibilities continue to haunt us, though

Nobody comes out of that hole quickly.   We all heal in our own time and our own way, all need much caring and support to leave that hole and start to walk, start to run, start to dance, start to fly in the wider world.

While some of us have the kind of networks that help us learn to climb out and move on, for many of us our forward motion becomes a kind of broken field running.   We see the holes, we know the holes and we do our best to avoid them, staying light and shallow to maintain momentum.   This leaves us skimming over our own feelings, our own experience and our own knowledge in an attempt to stay seen as normative and unchallenging.

I have spent a long, long time mapping the holes — the hells — that transpeople are set to fall into.    For some, my maps and travelogues are terrifying, but others have used them to understand their own experience, borrowing tools and ideas to help them own their own hole, finding new ways to be trans, visible and potent in the world.

Someone has to know the hole, as an old AA parable reminds us.  Still, being in that hole and just throwing notes out, hoping that people will read them and gain from them, well, while that’s good, it still leaves you in the hole.  Even the most professional spelunkers need to feel the sun now and then.

No matter how much I have explored the deep hole, having support to keep me connected, to get me out of it and moving seems vital.   While I know that part of this requires reinventing myself as a surface dweller, the requirement to be have the allies, friends and comrades who can reflect and encourage my possibilities is also key.

My relationship with the hole, that chasm that sunk beneath me every time the ground I needed to stand proudly in the world as a transperson was cut away by social convention and ignorance, is as deep as I can be.

I have spent so much effort trying to avoid the holes, trying to climb out of the holes, mourning what was lost in the holes, mapping the holes and learning what I could from my experience in the hole that my relationship with ground dwellers is friable and skeptical.

Their relationship with me, though, remains arrogant and distanced, for they are the kind of people who cut the ground away from beneath me in the first place.

Finding people who know the hole, who know the experience of sinking, those who can keep us connected to a bigger, more compassionate view, throwing us a lifeline when we need it, well, that’s something everyone needs.

When your hole gets too deep, though, those people are not easy to find.


Every writer is shaped by the restrictions placed on them.  These may be as broad as having to write in English to the expectations of the audience for the genre being written

Knowing the rules is always the way to know where breaking the rules might be effective, opening up more space.   Operating without rules is operating without structure, without the assistance of best practices developed by others and without handles that others can use for a starting place for understanding your approach.

The context I grew up in is a context where facts — verifiable data — were at the basis of all communication.

My mother picked out my father as interesting when he showed up at that new year’s eve party because he wore a ring made out of  iron which marked him out as an engineer.   They connected over their worldview, one that didn’t model emotion, one that today we associate with the writings of Dr. Asperger.

As their child, I grew up in a place where fairy tales never came true, but copies of Time magazine were always at hand.  As I learned to read, around age three, it was technical documents I consumed, encyclopedias, magazines, and as I grew, Landmark books and even telephone directories.

There are times when I feel the loss of not having fanciful stories that don’t have to stay grounded in facts.  Those stories can always be prettier, more fun and more playful, zooming around in a universe of imagination.

Yet, being grounded in facts isn’t something that I have ever chosen to abandon.   No matter how much people who transcend trauma do so by polishing their stories smooth of pesky details which hold onto painful moments, when, some twenty five years ago a counsellor offered me a lobotomy to clear my memory and dull my sharpness, I immediately took his point and declined with a laugh.  I may be a living memorial to my past, but facts are nothing to be erased like an inconvenient truth.

Today, I see a world where attention is the ultimate currency, where the overwhelming wash of sensation erases facts to leave only ungrounded feelings, where we are encouraged to ever shortening attention spans so that marketers feel empowered to fool us again.

I am a wonk, grounded in data with the heritage of an engineer.   While I may care deeply about the stories we use to contextualize the facts we find, I believe that erasing those facts, burying them with bullshit, is no solution for better, happier lives, even if doing so comforts us in the short term.

To embrace facts is to embrace humanity, messy, frail and magical humanity.   We do make bigger and better, but not with fear and walls to conceal, but with the smarts and compassion to connect people, projects and possibilities with the future.

Dreaming of a moment when I walk into a group of women to spin the story of who I imagine myself to be, acting “as if” and opening space to become that powerful, beautiful and connected woman whose seeds I hold is a luxurious fantasy.

I would screw the whole game up, though, the moment that a bogus fact came up, something I knew to be untrue, spread by someone who wanted to assert a comforting fantasy.  The urge to set the record straight would well up in my bosom to the point where that big, old theologian would need to offer a different way of seeing.

Sure, she would do it with humour and compassion, but in the end, people can tell when their balloons have been burst, when they have been brought back to earth, even when it is done with kindness and the best intentions.

I have seen too many people be broken by weak thinking, by ignoring the data, by not caring about facts.  While I understand the value of dreams, knowing that everything has to first exist beyond current doubts, I have trouble grabbing onto that imagination and going with it.  My history teaches me to be armoured up to expect the probable.

In an ideal world, I might exist as part of a team, playing the very Spock-like role of offering information and insight to balance the questing dreams of the other players. Trans, though, is a very individual journey, one where our contribution to the group has traditionally be dismissed with our own queerness.

It is easy for me to see the excesses of hype in the world, the irresponsible ginning up of emotion beyond facts, the sensational manipulation of fear to attain power and dismissal of real, valid, smart challenge. Comforting walls between us and them are easy to sell, even as people like me have always had the challenge of remind us of our continuous, common humanity, of our connection to spirit.

The constraints of factual thinking bind me to a very phlegmatic vision of the world, one where it is impossible to imagine me being the beauty I know myself to be inside.

But the power of factual thinking has always given me the power to tell real stories and offer valuable new ways to think about the reality we can assign to the facts, the data we face in our lives.   A worldview that starts with a clear view gives powerful grounding by offering deep and universal understanding.

I know why people polish out the lumps, bumps and irritations in their stories, making them pretty to share with others, to offer the belief that engenders hope.

I know why that’s not my history, my experience, or the way I approach the challenges of being a transwoman in the world.

In the 1980s I turned down a lobotomy that might have made my life more comfortable and less aware.

Somehow, I doubt I would make a different decision today.

Rewriting Trauma

I was listening to the On Being With Krista Trippett episode where Bessel van der Kolk talks about his experience treating trauma.

People who get over trauma rewrite the stories, van der Kolk says, making them foundational and positive.

Those who are stuck keep the story intact, becoming a “living memorial” to those moments.

The techniques I learned when I had to develop processing for my own trauma, which started very early, were grounded in the Aspergers strategies of the people around me.  Emotional stories were not resonant, effective or understood.   There was no reciprocity to any imagination and feeling.

What counted was facts, so instead of rewriting my stories around positive, I worked to get to facts.   Instead of letting the details get fuzzy, I went deeper into the details, searching for understanding.

My experience around trans was not dreaming a new life, but wrestling with the facts to understand a deeper context.  That was the only strategy I was primed for.

That technique, as useful and expository it is, well, it does not generate human reciprocity.

It turns out that one needs effective mirroring to have permission to restructure their narrative.   I know how to give that to other people, but getting that for myself, well, that hasn’t been easy.

Micro Terrors

The last few years have stripped away my momentum, the steely will that drove my service in the world.   Being so deeply immersed in scarcity, my pellicle has been washed away, leaving me raw and exposed.

In that process, the micro terrors I have held all my life came to the surface.

My experience, from my earliest days, was one of an unsafe world, one where parents were disconnected and ready to attack at all times, one where I didn’t have the social skills to become one of the gang, one where I knew I had to hide my queer, transgender nature all the time.

The only safe space I had to retreat into was in my own head, fed by words.  I went there to try and understand what attacks were coming and how to gird myself to endure them.  My safety was never in relationships with others, for they couldn’t enter, understand and respect my world.

Microagressions are how some transpeople talk about their experience of the world.  Things like misgendering or turning away, or just a scowl aren’t dramatic attacks on us, but the overwhelming amount of these tiny abuses over a lifetime can be desperately scarring.

As transpeople, stigmatized and shamed by the judgments of others, we either become acutely aware of every tiny slight, sometimes seeing them where they don’t exist, or we become massively defended, putting that stick up inside of us to keep us vertical and moving forward even through an assault of tiny slights that create massive cumulative damage.

I learned to keep going in the face of these cuts, taking the pain and doing the work.   That’s how I did what I did, including fighting with & for them in their last decade.

Three years of stopping, though, peeled that shell away.   While this may have allowed me to powerfully access my own experience, finding words to share the cost of being trans in the world, it has had a high cost on my ability to function in the world.

When transpeople read my stuff, they often find it “heavy.”   I break through to feelings they have had to submerge to be effective in the world, exposing the pain and struggle within.   They can’t take much of this and keep going, so they move on, looking for political tools which support action and not deep reflection.

The micro terrors have now, though, overwhelmed me.  The feeling of my body walking through a huge airport, knowing how many, many times I had done it before, was eroded by the micro terrors that rippled and surged under that now worn, depleted and fragile surface.

I used to take showers every morning, but now the micro terrors swirl in me.  Will I slip in the tub because of my destroyed feet, the same ones that deny me the basic feminine need of nice shoes?   Will I reveal some new injury, some new symptom of decay that reminds me how much a life of denial has cost me?   Will the sadness overwhelm me?

The swarming micro terrors keep me from doing what most people in this society take for granted, the routine behaviours that make up a public & connected life.

My inaction isn’t based in the fear of something huge and awful happening, instead it is based in being crushed by the thousand tiny slights that we are taught to take as normal, taught to let slough off of us, all washed away by a copious amount of latent inhibition which feeds short attention spans.

The micro agressions of my life have left me with a deep and abiding residue of micro terrors, my body keeping the score of all the traumas of my life.

When required, I can still muster some of that shell, but only at a very high cost to me, requiring a very long recovery time afterwards.   If doing that resulted in rewards, in nourishment, in precious mirroring, in affirmation & care, it might be worth it, but in my experience the cost is always much, much higher than any possible benefit.

Using up what was left of that shell was expensive because once it was gone, it was gone.   My immersion in scarcity allowed no regrowth, no increase, no recovery.

With the micro terrors of a lifetime swirling now just under my skin, where can I go to help find support and healing for moving beyond them?

My experience with clinical professionals has never been effective, with the smart ones figuring out quickly that they don’t know how to help and the less sharp ones merely hurting me as they executed their routines.

I have not found community, even after showing and sharing myself clearly.  People want service, want me to take care of them, want what they already know and what they expect to value.   Even the ones who want to give service look for abjection, simple breaks that take simple solutions to offer simple rewards.

Safe, healing space is very hard to find because healing space is always also sickness space.   I have worked very hard to heal, so can help people on the path, but they rarely are able to help me.

The micro terrors inside of me control me now.

I don’t see how to move beyond them, to create a new way to be functional in the world which offers enough benefit fast enough to outweigh a lifetime of tiny cuts and breaks which now swirl up and enfold all of me.

I am who I am.  I have always had the same heart, the same sensitivity, even as I learned to discipline my spiralling mind, doing the hardest work I could find.   Normative was never an option for me.

Now, though, I am my micro terrors which come from a lifetime of living in a world full of micro aggressions towards people like me.  I live in fear, not rational or overwhelming, but the tiny and very reasonable fears that mirror my considered experience in the world.

There might be a new skin for me to climb into, a new presentation that gives me a new lease on effectiveness, but fitting that over a skin full of tiny scars is far from easy.   The safe zone I would need to stretch my new invocation, to know that I could heal after taking new risks, to give courage & affirmation, well, it seem beyond impossible to find.

Scarcity and resistance has washed away my old armour.   That’s a good thing, allowing me to really get to find a deep understanding, but growing a new persona, one who walks in the world with hope & faith, well, the return of the gift has always been the hardest part of the heroes journey.

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to have their accumulating cost, which for me are a swirling universe of micro terrors just underneath my parchment thin surface.

Finding healing beyond them is, indeed, a challenge.

Political Will

Lyndon Johnson was an enormously driven man.

I’m doing the Robert Caro biography of LBJ, just finishing the third of four published volumes and Johnson’s enormous will power is always on show.

After he panders to his conservative financial backers by overseeing a public lynching of Leland Olds, a brilliant economist who worked to regulate power utilities in a way that helped both consumers and the companies, tarring him with old and manipulative charges of communism,  Johnson ran into Olds.

“We’re still friends, right?” he asked Olds.  “After all, that was just politics.”

Johnson was sure that in politics, the ends always justified the means.   What counted was getting the power so you could keep playing, so you could do some good things.    What you did for power, well, that always came with a cost but it was always worth it.

After he coaxed his black driver into admitting he was hurt when people called him dehumanizing names, Johnson pounded out advice.

“You need to let that all roll off your back.   You need to be like a piece of furniture.”

That sounds extremely harsh indeed until you realize it’s just a statement of the rules Johnson himself lived by.   He drove all his staff incredibly hard, demanding “loyalty,” but the person he always drove hardest was himself.  He did everything, everything possible to win, often beyond what we would see as the limits of human endurance.

Johnson was who his audience needed him to be.   He figured out the beliefs of the person he was talking to and reflected those back, so much so that he rarely put himself on the public record in a way that would trap and bind him.

Long hours, days and years of servitude were the basis of his grasp for power.   He served constituents with quick and effective responses, served other politicians by knowing the system so well that he could make it work, and served his backers by being their man, whatever he felt or believed.

What he believed, it seems to me, is that political power was a goal in itself, so whatever you did to achieve, keep and expand that power was good and justified, whatever the cost.

For a biographer, the Johnson who exists in the introspective moments, calling himself to will, is almost invisible in the sea of contradictory and amazing things he did with that will.

The real Johnson, though, was also opaque to Johnson, because, like every good salesman, he bought into his stories, believing whatever yarn he spun in a way that made his telling of it appear sincere, deep and heartfelt.   If you don’t buy into the bullshit, aren’t first convinced by it, don’t pump it out with intense & heartfelt conviction, how can you possibly convince anyone else?

LBJ was my first president, and I liked him.   I hated Richard Nixon; his appearance on TV scared me, but Johnson was compelling.   I believed that he had a good heart, good intentions.

While Johnson took his quest to extremes, I always knew that politics is a slippery business, full of compromises, game playing, ass kissing and façades.

In high school I wanted to be a hack and I helped run my town for a congressional candidate who won against a Saltonstall, becoming the first Democrat to take the district in almost 100 years.  I was offered a ride home by Senator Edward Brooke and I dated the babysitter of Michael Dukakis’ kids.   Elbridge Gerry was even in my high school class, a direct descendent of the signer of the man who invented Gerrymandering.

I had visions of being PM, of being a pol myself, though those ambitions were gone by the time I entered college.   By that time, I knew that I didn’t have the pure drive to be effective in politics, didn’t have the social skill and family support.

To be political in the world is always an act of will.   You have to set your sights on a goal and then do whatever it takes for however long it takes to strive towards that end.   Persistence and intensity are required, the ability to let attacks roll off your back and to be as solid & reliable as a piece of furniture.

It’s only politics, but for true hacks that is both a dismissal & minimizing of the everyday costs of being political and an intense article of faith about the divine calling of being political.

To be a good activist takes a strong and abiding political will.   While I admire people who master that will, those who merge dreams and pragmatism enough to take the risks required to lead, my political will is not that strong.

I have seen too many people who want to engage in the politics of fear & division to want to fight with them everyday.

When I was young, I was a manipulator, using those political flackery techniques to try and get what I wanted and needed.   As I matured, though, trying to find a kind of actualized authenticity, it was important for me to understand the morals of manipulation.

The line for me was honesty.   When you are explicit and open about the goals you hold, the intention of your manipulation, then manipulation is powerful and legitimate.   When, on the other hand, you have secret, hidden intentions, are willing to lie and defraud people to get your way, manipulation is corrupt and illicit.

Telling someone you want to convince them of their worth and then using tricks to help them see their possibilities in a new way is healthy manipulation.

Telling them you want to help them and then acting only in your own interests, sabotaging them while smiling at them is sick manipulation.

To have political will, though, on some level you need to be willing to fight fire with fire. engaging in the tit-for-tat battles to win hearts and minds.   I did that for my first 15 years as an out transperson, joining in arguments and being effective as a pol.

For the last 15 years, though, I have moved to a different kind of expression.  Instead of engaging in the battle-du-jour, I have decided to speak my own piece, to get out of the game and speak my own truth.   While this is less valued by people who want political tools they can use in their own battle to change opinions around them, it allows me to go deeper, to not be trapped by instant effectiveness.

Activists are doing a valiant job, using their political will to barrack for change.   They can often see that I own those skills, have those tools, and wonder why I don’t use them more to achieve what they tell me should be our shared goals.

For me, though, my political will just isn’t there.  Instead, my discipline is focused on my spiritual will, on thinking outside the battles, having a vision of something larger and more connected.

I have seen many, many, many transpeople who tried to be political burn out in the process, their political will failing them as they realized how determined they had to be, how armoured and persistent they had to be to make real change.

There are times when I wished I had that political will, but I knew that wasn’t where my strength was.   I just wasn’t willing to take dictation from someone sitting on the crapper to prove my commitment and fealty, to make one more small step towards getting a bit of power.

I am pol enough to enjoy Caro’s master work about the master politician Johnson, a man who, in the end, brought brilliant civil rights and anti-poverty programmes while being trampled by a war he could neither win or lose. The Vietnam exit strategy Johnson planned, though, was sabotaged by Richard Nixon, who convinced the corrupt South Vietnamese government to hold out for his presidency, which lined their pockets but continued a war based on political will, showing the USSR that he & Kissinger would violate US & international laws to expand an impossible to win imperialistic aggression.

Still, I never had the political will to jump into the battle for power.   I was always just too liminal, too much a doubter to have the faith required.

Abstracted Love

Being trans means leaving the system of standardized desire.

When people line up “boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl,” we no longer fit easily into that structure.

Instead of fitting nicely into the paradigm of seeking — men seeking women, women seeking men, men seeking men, women seeking women — we are other.

We demand to claim our expression as an individual, which means we have to be desired as an individual.

This doesn’t mean that we aren’t desirable and lovable, it just means that it always takes awareness to have even a brief awareness with a transperson.   We may be very clear on who we desire, but we demand that our partners be comfortable with their own bisexuality so they can love all of us.

Letting our freak flag fly liberates us, but it also limits the partners who are ready to do the work to be with us.   Our potential partner pool (PPP) becomes smaller as we move away from normative conventions of desire, in age, in size, in gender, in just the inner work we have had to do to own our own heart, to be comfortable in our own skin.

All of this means transpeople are lonely.   What makes you exceptional must inevitably also make you lonely, as Lorraine Hansbury reflected on James Baldwin.

For us, love stops being practical and becomes abstracted.    When we don’t fit neatly into expectations, don’t simply fit into the movies and dreams other people keep inside of them, we don’t just fit into relationship.

As a human, as a woman, abstracted love may be the best that I can do, but it is hardly fulfilling.

Celibacy means the renouncing of sexual desire.   Abstinence is not having sexual partners, even though you have sexual feelings & thoughts.

Some religions pushed the belief that having variant, non-heterosexual desire was not a sin, but acting on those desires is a sin.  You can’t help it if you desire others of the same sex, but if you don’t deny those desires, preferably staying celibate but at least staying abstinent, you become an abomination in the view of God.

For them, homosexual desire was the same as having the desire to murder someone.  Everyone has feelings that are impure sometimes, but acting on these feelings makes us corrupt an a sinner.

This sentenced those with variant desire to a life with only abstracted love, denying them the physical intimacy that is a core part of deep, bonded, mature human relationships.   They were SOL.

For people who live within the conventions of desire, those who shape their own role and expression to live within expected attraction, living outside of that desire is almost impossible to comprehend.  They like the sparks, need the sparks of attraction and can lean into them.

Even if as they mature, younger days of embodied desire, a time when things were simpler and hotter, is always accessible to them.

Transpeople, especially transpeople who emerged later in life, just don’t have those habits and conventions.   We learned to not act on our desire, to fear even simple flirting, because the perception of our gender could shift in any moment and the “third gotcha” could swallow our safety.

Relationships where we have to negotiate the expectations of others, where we are expected to play the role they believe their lover, their partner should play, get very very difficult for us.   We may be able to tamp down our own desire just to get something back, but always, always, always at a dear cost. (2006)

For me, this has meant staying abstinent.   I can’t imagine where I would go to connect with others who are ready to consider a romantic, intimate relationship with me.

This has lead me to a state of aesthetic denial, my beliefs having to adapt to the scarcity presented to me in the world.   That scarcity of intimate love started very early for me, with two Aspergers parents, so I grew up with an understanding of abstracted love.   My relationships followed patterns familiar to lesbians, though because I was male bodied, I was never simply allowed into that community, never supported in those paired desires.

I learned, at great cost, how to love myself, to become intimate with my own thoughts and feelings, but I never learned how to trust others with my heart.   They found it big, queer and overwhelming, not getting the joke, not respecting my tenderness.

In the last week, I have seen a TV show where a woman needs, needs, needs intimacy and heard ShamanGal say that her mother sensed some of her discord comes from the knowledge of how hard it will be to find a partner who is ready, willing and able to love her fully.

I look around and see other transwomen who have had to learn to live with abstracted love, apart from the present and practical love that the normative, especially the younger ones take for granted.

Taking care of my parents for the last decade of their life cast me in the role of spinster, her abstracted love redirected to family.  I still do this sometimes with my sister — I gave her an day of travelling companionship that was easy & luxurious for — but working love for the family has never satisfied my need for layered intimacy, creative, intellectual, emotional and physical.

As a woman, I find living without love, without deep and flowing love, to be very difficult.   Every woman needs getting loose sometimes, needs to fall into her own sensuality, abandon and Eros.  We get a bit dried up and crazy without it.

Settling for abstracted love, for channelling that powerful force into limited and possible channels is a reasonable and good thing, but it is not a satisfying thing.   It’s like a diet without some essential vitamins; it may keep you alive, but the deficiencies will always take a toll.

I make the most of what I can get.   I have learned to live with aesthetic denial from a very young age.   I do the best with my love, using my head the best that I can.

But abstracted love, away from the immersive power and mirroring of deep intimacy, well, it can only keep you sort of alive.

Looks Like

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

How many transpeople have bent themselves into pretzels trying to pass the duck test?

Apparently, the test started over a French automaton, a mechanical mallard that appeared on the outside to be alive, but on the inside was a clockwork masterpiece.

It’s hard for me to understand people who make judgments based on what things look like to them.   For me, it’s always what’s on the inside that counts.

As a trans shaman, my calling is the traditional, standing to reveal connections which exist beneath the obvious, surface view.   Through my presence, I illuminate what is rather than the quick assumptions made about what things look like.

Is this expository role a spiritual role or a political one?    Do I stand for broad enlightenment or do I stand to create targeted social change?

Both spiritual teachers and political operatives want to help others see the world around them in a new way, shifting the vision of the crowd.

Back in 1997 I was at a big LGBT workshop on Uniting As Allies.   In the big, final exercise, we were asked to debate a key issue, with the process being used to explore working together.

The topic that came up was about the desirability to enforce pure groups; limited to people of colour, or women, for example.   It was about the value of identity politics.

Out of the 40 or 50 people there, no one stood up to speak for the limits of such exclusive groups, so I did.  People already knew that I was different; rather than standing with those who primarily identified as trans, I had stood by myself as someone who primarily identified as business, as holding the power of coming together in organization to achieve goals for all.

The head of SABIL — Sisters And Brothers In the Life — was arguing for exclusivity.

I spoke about group identity enforcement, about shaming and social pressures, about compliance.

One of the key questions I asked him was this: Are you working to create strong black voices, or to create a strong black voice?

If one of your members, say, decided that it was better to ask students of colour to start early competing on the wider field and so believed that affirmative action in education was counter productive to empowering them, would they be welcome in your meetings?

After the session, one woman came up to me and said that she was sure no argument could have swayed her against exclusivity, but that I did.   Transpeople, even the ones who complained about each other, told me that they were happy I spoke.

My stand that day was very spiritual, very queer, very much speaking for moving beyond simple look-based groupings.

It wasn’t, though, a very effective political position.   I didn’t effectively consolidate power, create blocs, motivate on the basis of separation and fear.

In my language, I was a teachy preacher rather than a preachy preacher, asking people to look inside themselves and other individuals, rather than offering them a comforting group identity based dogma of belief which drew sharp lines between us and them, between good and evil.

I know how to stand in the world for connection, for transcendence, for queer, for the divine, for myth and mystery, for individuals, for the personal empowerment which always comes with personal responsibility.

What I am much less effective with, though, is standing on my looks.

For most people, this surfaced standing is automatic and simple.   They looked like a duck, or a woman of size or a man of colour or whatever so people made assumptions and treated them that way, no matter who they are inside.

If people judge them on how they look, shouldn’t they judge others on their looks too?

Politics is the manipulation of appearances.   Even though the real decisions may be made in backrooms, trading money and power to convince the wealthy that they are getting what they paid for, a front is required, maybe many fronts that each persuade a different constituency.

Spiritual standing, though, is the revelation of meaning, the attempt to move beyond mundane, surface, expected and conventional to show something deeper and more connected.   Even when tricks are used, rituals that are more symbolic than brutally factual, the goal is the same, illuminating the unseen.

It’s easy to blur the line between spirit and politics, between challenging enlightenment and worldly control, so easy that the temptation is always there.  Churches always dance around this power, creating alliances between politics and religion to keep their place in the graces and benefits of the state system.

It is easy to decide that effective results are the only criteria to judge success.  Does this mean, though, that the ends always justify the means, that caring about something higher is just a fools errand, a waste of the effort in the moment?

For me, going into spaces where one is judged only on appearance and results is entering a place where everything I know and value, everything which comes in the traditions of my people is dismissed and devalued.

While it may be true that starting by meeting the expectations of others is the only way to win their respect and broaden the conversation to something deeper, that starting point has never felt safe or sacred to me.

I stand for something deeper than appearances.  That means I fail the duck test.

It looks like that means I better be resigned to being lonely.

Deserving Belief

If you want to be potent in the world, the first thing you have to believe is that you deserve to be here.

Looking around and feeling like an imposter, well, that leaves you at a critical disadvantage.

The first step in being powerful is knowing that you have the power inside of you, trusting that all you have to is to bring it out, to polish and to hone it.

Opening to your own power, though, demands a leap.

You first have to move beyond the comfortable circle of slackers, those who complain about everyone else having power, those who find common bond in their oppression.

When you do, that, though, you won’t immediately be seen as powerful.  Instead, you have to reveal your power by taking personal responsibility for getting things done, letting your accomplishments light your way into the company of those who are already getting things done.

The space between leaving the crowd and having acknowledged power is always difficult and awkward.   It is the gap that demands you run on your own internal resources & faith to power the learning, the resilience and the persistence it takes to inhabit a new level.

Having responsibility without authority is always hard, but it is only by succeeding at taking responsibility that we become authoritative, able to lead others towards responsible goals.

There have been times when I believed that I deserved to be here.  I knew how to be a caregiver to my family, how to fight with and for them.  I knew how to be a guru, leading a team to technical understanding and effectiveness.

I know how to write clearly about the experiences I have had in the world, offering context and insight.  I can help others find new ways to think about their experiences that can help them become stronger, but only if they are ready to do the work.

What I don’t believe I deserve, though, is to walk in the world as a woman.

Ironically, this comes from my great respect for the challenges that come with being born female.

Fom my first outing,  I chose not to take a woman’s name out of feminist belief while around me followers of Virginia Prince created a second self because they were, they claimed, “femiphiles,” men who loved women so much that they wanted to “femulate” them.   These femulatrix wanted to female themselves for an evening and lay claim to a womanhood out of nothing but entitlement and male privilege.

I knew I didn’t want to be one of them, wearing a female mask over a macho daily expression, rejecting queerness in an attempt to remain seen as a straight man.

I also knew that I didn’t want to be a transsexual, claiming that I had truly been a woman all along.   Living with a 6′ 3″ woman born female, her life experience informed my understanding of the challenges of being raised as a girl in this culture.

Passing was impossible with my frame, but even if it had been, the cost of living a lie felt reprehensible to me for many reasons.   I couldn’t imagine keeping my guard up and trying to pretend I had a normative experience of growing up female.

Instead,  I thought hard about issues of truth & deception, coming out with a deep understanding of being transgender in this culture.   I stood to reject both the Prince and Benjamin models (1995), striving to find something more.

Today, though, social views on trans have shifted.   Do our enemies attack us because they see our gains, or do our enemies attacks create gains by forcing people of good will to make a choice to stand up and be supportive?   From corporations boycotting states that discriminate to inclusion in the military, transpeople have much more public freedom than ever before.

It is possible to be both trans and effective as a woman in the world, believing that you have allies who support you in expressing your nature.   This is great.

However that does not mean that most are ready or even able to understand what the experience of crossing conventional walls between men and women have cost us.

Instead, their normative expectations about separation kick in, leaving assumptions that our outlook and experience must reflect the binaries they believe to be true around the differences between males and females, men and women.   In order to be one, we must have never been the other, for if we were, the best we can be is eccentric iconoclasts.

Understanding of trans is a mile wide and an inch deep as people look not to see how trans offers connective glimpses beyond binaries, but rather to simply integrate a simplistic understanding of trans into existing models.   As transpeople, we are allowed to fit in as assimilated transsexuals or to stand out as clever gender queer drags, but we are not allowed to share our gifts in a way that might challenge comforting assumptions.

For me, with decades of this kind of deep exploration building a sharp view of the world, the challenge I now face is difficult.

Today it seems possible to assert myself in the world as a woman of trans history, without much of the armour that my sisters had to don in the past.   This is why even famous people are coming out; the pioneers did much of the hard work, as evidenced by the arrows they took from both sides.

To do this, though, I have to make that leap, the leap to deserving to be seen as a woman.    How much does this require not being seen for the transperson I am, as evidenced by a long, robust and deep history?

My scars are not the scars of a woman born female, just as my body is not female either.   It is scars, though, that offer credibility, revealing the risks we took to claim the power we own in the world.

Simple woman basics, like flirting and feuding are not in my skill set since I am without the training that comes inside womanspace.   I was never “somebody’s girl,” rather I was a front line trans theologian, doing the work to explore and shore up the intellectual underpinnings of trans presence.

To emerge, though, as a woman, deserving woman respect in the world, takes a certain kind of reductive belief, the power to make a simple claim about yourself, to embody that claim and assert the demand that claim be respected.

That feels like a challenge, though it is a challenge that many, many, many transwomen have claimed and owned.    They have changed the way society sees trans by claiming their own essential womanhood.

I know that it is possible to be a woman with a trans history and be respected, honoured and even loved in the world, even as I also know that there are still challenges in that position, challenges that come where we cut across binary expectations.

Can it really be that simple for me, simple enough to believe I deserve what I spent so many years exploring the nuances around?

Or is too big just too big?

Erin chose to read & record this post.   After the jump:

Continue reading Deserving Belief

The Price Of Pretty

Beautiful happens in nature, and handsome comes from a kind of strength, but pretty, well, pretty takes work.

Nobody wakes up pretty, no matter how beautiful they are.   Getting to pretty is what happens when we clean ourselves up, assemble our expression, polish the looks and show our pretty behaviours.

As women, we have a very ambiguous relationship with pretty.   We very well know that pretty demands pain, from high heels to curling iron burns, from suppressing our exuberance for a cultured appearance to recovering from plastic surgery,  but we also crave pretty, really wanting to be seen as pretty, especially in our own eyes.

Ms Erin offers an article from New York magazine: Can a Woman’s Voice Ever Be Right?

As the Duke study suggests, the act of policing women’s voices is often carried out by women themselves. It’s hard to avoid the fear that every prominent woman who sounds like a ditz (or a harpy, or a slut, or a matron, or a stoned 13-year-old) makes it easier for the world to write the rest of us off.

After receiving letters about her vocal fry, This American Life producer Chana Joffe-Walt began to hate the way she sounded, too. “I’m noticing every single time I do it,” she told Ira Glass, “but trying not to do it is impossible because it’s the way I talk, that’s my actual voice.” She also began resenting other women whose voices sounded like hers: “If I hear other people do it — other women especially — I become like a woman who hates women. It taps into some deep part of people’s selves where they don’t want to hear young women, including me. It taps into that in me.”

Pretty, we know, is about very careful and measured revealing of who we are.  We can’t be pretty, we learned early, if we let people see parts of us that they think are ugly.

To be pretty, we have to think first of what we don’t want people to think about us, have to know what parts of us need airbrushed or Photoshopped.

When creating a pretty home, we know how to do that, careful editing of components, skillful assembly of elements, removal of clutter and grime.

When creating a pretty us, though, things get tougher.  Those pieces of us that just don’t fit elegantly into pretty can’t just be disposed of, put in the dumpster or given to Salvation Army.   Nobody starts with a perfect blank canvas.   We can’t be perfectly engineered from the ground up.

The beautiful us has character.   The pretty us, though, has erasures, gaps and denials.

Who are we, though, if we can’t be pretty enough for other people to love us?

For many of us, pretty feels like the imperative.  Since we want other people to be pretty too, it can easily feel like a fair and reasonable imperative.  Shouldn’t everyone feel the social demands to assimilate, to become the prettiest that they can possibly be?

The quest for pretty, though, can leave us feeling battered, wasted and useless.  It stops us from exploring our beauty, instead offering the demand that we fit into conventions.

When people find they can’t fit nicely into pretty they can feel bereft and heartbroken.  I have seen many transpeople who decided to transition fast, running, for example, from a polished guy mode to gal, trying to leap across the messy and queer gap between, and then end up feeling like a failure when they find that they cannot invoke pretty.   In that moment, ending the game can feel like the best and only option.

Beauty exists for its own sake, but pretty exists for attraction, for showing yourself and making connections.  While it is delightful to spend time prettying yourself before an event, the joy comes from knowing that people will see you, see how pretty you are, remember and want to explore you.

If we can’t be pretty, can we make the kind of connection we want and need?   Can we get the compliment and affirmation that we crave?   Can we be the belle of the ball?

If we can’t show well, concealing the bits that might scare others or scare ourselves, what hope do we ever have of being loved?

There is a cost to pretty, but we have been assured that whatever the cost, the rewards will make up for our sacrifice.   What happens if they don’t, if there is no way we can ever achieve our pretty dreams?   How do we live with that heartbreak?

For many of us, letting go of pretty to focus on style and beauty has been the only way to claim a full, healthy and robust life.     Rather than trying to cut ourselves back, striving to look flawless and perfect, wrapped in a mask, we learn to love what and who we are, knowing that self-love is always the basis for loving and being loved in the world.

Rather than just claiming pretty even when much of us doesn’t fit, leaving visible tells about the rest of us that we hope only people who can understand us will see, bringing our whole self into the world allows us to focus on loving the best in us rather than concealing what we fear is the worst.

For many who feel trapped in the pursuit of pretty, limited by the failure of pretty to make them feel safe and growing, seeing transpeople who move outside of convention feels liberating and empowering.

For a few others, though, that same vision makes them furious, seeming to make a mockery of the costs they paid to be prim, proper and pretty.  Those people want to silence us for breaking the rules, for embodying the possibility that there is beauty beyond limiting beliefs.

What woman doesn’t want to be pretty?   Which of us doesn’t consider what she can do to be prettier, even if we know that choice comes at a cost?

But which of us wants our daughters to lose their own special and powerful character in the quest for pretty?  How much do we want them to see and value their own unique beauty, rather than binding their heart to fit into a pretty package of slavery?

Moving from celebrating pretty to embracing beauty is hard.   We all want to be pretty.  We have gotten frustrated, annoyed and even distraught when we try and fail to achieve what we have been told is pretty.

But even as pretty fades, beauty continues to shine, becoming stronger and more potent them more we feel comfortable in our own imperfect skin.

Striving for pretty can be a dead end.

Embracing beauty, though, even quirky, messy and queer beauty, well, that can be the basis for an amazing life.

Worth It

My sister needed new mascara, so we stopped at Ulta Beauty.  Last time she needed mascara we were at Target, so she ended up with a $3 tube of ELF.

Ulta, though, is a celebration of cosmetic possibility.  For example, thirty or forty different blow dryers are set up to try, for example, running from $20 to $200.

There is nothing at Ulta that you can’t live without.  Nobody really needs a choice between thousands of lip colours.   Humans exist for millennia without commercial beauty products, without the kind of marketing that worked to convince us that unless we met social expectations about fashion they were failures as women.

Women have always felt ambiguous about beauty.  Is it fair that pretty girls have so much more power than plain ones?   Does anyone feel good about dress codes that demand high heels?  Shouldn’t people be valued for more than just appearance? Being forced to be primped and packaged, objectified to satisfy the male gaze isn’t a strong and liberating political position.

No matter how much we want to be free from the requirements to put on a face, though, we melt a bit when people we find attractive find us attractive.   There are definitely people who we want to see us as being beautiful, whatever that means.

Expressing beauty, feeling that we are showing our beauty in a way that people can engage and respond to, well, that’s not something that women can easily be denied.

What this means is that, for a woman what counts when buying beauty or fashion is our motive in the purchase.

Are we buying because we are slaves to imposed and oppressive standards of appearance, like the expectations of men?

Are we buying because we are desperately trying to assuage our own feelings of inadequacy and prop up a broken self image?

Are we buying to raise our status in a way that negates solidarity and supports marginalization of other women?

Are we feeding our own narcissism, our own inflated sense of self?

There are so many reasons why buying beauty products is just evil, from our conceited illusions to our low consciousness of the possibilities of liberated women.

That means there are so many reasons to make excuses for using beauty products, for choosing fashion, for asserting our own beauty.   Shouldn’t we always be modest, shy and demure about our own appearance, playing along with other women to be appropriate and compliant with community standards?  Isn’t claiming our beauty just conceited and anti-social, pushing others away?

Marketers have had to navigate this challenge for years.

When Clairol first started marketing hair colour, their tagline was “Only her hairdresser knows for sure!”  Sure, you may be vain and shallow, but other people won’t have the goods on you!

“If I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde!”   It takes a brassy gal to sign up for that, especially because that’s how the early preparations used to look.

L’Oreal had to make space in the market, though, so they needed something new.   They decided to go with a premium price product, and the slogan 23 year old Ilon Specht came up with in 1973 still lives today:

“Because, I’m worth it.”

If your motive for purchasing beauty products has to be politically correct, beyond the reproach of a world of catty women, what better justification than affirming your own intrinsic self worth?

Does this mean that the more you spend at Ulta, the more you are worth?   Is your value bound up in the exclusivity of the beauty products you use?   Does this convert gender angst into class angst, because nobody is a gender climber but social climbing happens all the time?

I’m not sure about any of that, but I am sure that making people display reductive modesty rather than owning their own beauty and power is not really a good thing.   Apologizing or rationalizing our grace just isn’t something we can do: we are who we are, and the only choice we have is in how much we feel safe revealing that within the symbols & styles of the culture we live in.

I was taught very early that I was not worth it, that the beauty I could embody in the world was just corrupt and perverted.

Today, I know in my mind that isn’t true.   I work very hard to affirm the beauty of others, encouraging them to sparkle in the world.    Offering a reflection of the inner beauty that I see, supporting growing confidence is vital to me.

My heart, though, has trouble believing that all the beauty products in the world will make much of a difference for me anymore.   My flowering days feel like they are behind me and the way that I was viciously pinched back, starved of light and nutrients, stunted is the outcome of my external beauty.

My internal beauty may be amazing, but like so many transwomen before me, I understand how what I offer triggers people more than it engages them, bringing up stuff they want me to heal rather than doing their own work.

Over the years, “Because I’m Worth It” has morphed some.

First it became “Because You’re Worth It,”  trying to make the point that feeling beautiful was for the viewer, not just for the gorgeous, high-paid model purring on the screen, a woman selected for her stunning looks and vibrant presence.

Now it is “Because We’re Worth It,” tapping into not a personal possibility to be beautiful which carries the personal responsibility to go with it, but rather with a fuzzy group identity.  All women are worth it and you are a woman, so your being beautiful is just part of what you do for the tribe of women, a politically correct surrender to the group.

Being part of a “we” isn’t something that comes easy to me, an eccentric iconoclast who had to walk beyond family identity, no matter how “Stupid” that seemed to my parents, and then had to walk beyond assigned gender identity to claim a very individual expression.    There are no groups that hold me.

I know that I am worth much in the vision of my creator, but in the vision of the world, my value is opaque, polluted.

Will any amount of beauty products really change that, even if I buy them with clean, earnest, sincere and respectful intentions?

Continue reading Worth It

Dehumanizing Reflection

“We didn’t understand how creating radical us vs them boundaries would dehumanize the other, leading to abuse and violence.”

When people who feel debased, marginalized and dehumanized decide that the remedy for the pain they feel is acting out against those they have identified as the enemy, as people not worth of respect or dignity, how can they be surprised when that leads some of their followers to try and destroy the enemy they feel is destroying them?

Emotionally, bullying others often feels like the best and most satisfying response to being bullied.   We want to give them a taste of their own medicine, want to remove their power by making ourselves powerful in a similar way.   We deserve to be able to fight back and make them feel the pain.   Our actions are justified, whatever we do.

It’s not easy to come back with an open, thoughtful, compassionate and gracious response to those you feel are out to destroy people like you.   Emotions run high, and those hot emotions are much more effective for motivating action than cool and considered reflection ever can be.

It’s hard to turn the other cheek, to be the one who breaks the cycle of attack, someone who cools off the situation to make substantive and lasting change.

That is precisely, though, what we want leaders to do, what we need them to do.

And it is what we need to do if we want to be leaders who create change rather than just fury and acting out.

I spoke about this almost twenty years ago.   I was rewarded by a black alderman for the city complimenting me on the piece, saying I got it.   We both knew the price of demanding equality is taking personal responsibility for being part of the solution, and we both knew, sadly, that is always a hard sell.


Upon recieving the Building Bridges Award
to the Transgenderist's Independence Club (TGIC), Albany NY
from Capital District Gay & Lesbian Community Council (CDG&LCC)

October 15, 1997

Callan Williams

Anyone who knows me knows you can't put me in front of a group of people on Sunday morning without having me preach! If you will indulge me a few minutes, I would like to ask. . .

What do all queer people share?

We all share the experience of being shamed and humiliated into hiding the contents of our heart. We are each pounded into hiding the joys and desires and the ecstasy that our creator placed in our heart.

We share the experience of being driven into the closet, into walling our heart off from the world to keep our integrity and to keep the world comfortable with their own rigidly binary view of what women should do, what men should do.

The secret to building bridges is simple, as any transgendered person who has built a bridge between the masculine and feminine part of themselves will tell you. It is not really building bridges, it is simply erasing the walls of separation that we have built around our hearts.

To come together, we must focus on what we share. The blocks to seeing what we share are the illusory walls of separation that we built between humans, trying to neatly divide the beautiful landscape of our continuous common humanity with boundaries that comfort us -- the same boundaries that limit and oppress us.

TGIC, for over 40 years, has been committed to supporting those who feel constrained by the rigid boundary between men and women.

We have taken many approaches to this challenge, including trying to build new boundaries that include us and exclude others, which frankly, was not a great idea. The best solution to date seems to be to work towards a world where everyone is free to follow their own heart without boundaries.

This thrust of transgendered people acting as the connective tissue between humans -- men and women, straight and gay, even black and white, poor and rich -- is not a new role for us. It is the role that transgendered shamans have always played. It is the way that queer people, who have had to claim their own unique hearts back from the pressures of socialization, have always served all of humanity.

To paraphrase M.R. Ritley, "Being queer is not an accident, it is a calling." We cross boundaries - of gender, for race, of class and more - to reveal the truth that all is connected.

Speaking for everyone who has been involved with TGIC, we are pleased that our lesbian sisters and our gay brothers who have also struggled against the expectations of what men should do, what women should do, choose to honor our role in building connection.

Thank you for this award. In receiving it, I would like to thank the transgendered people throughout history, including the butches and drags, the tomboys and sissies right here in the Capital District who have worked to remind us that walls between people are illusions. They remind us that we are each, in our heart, simply human.

It is my fondest hope that transgendered people here and now can continue the honored role of building bridges, of having a foot in each world. I know that they will continue making connections, proudly following the grand heritage of transgender.

To live in a world where all is connected by bridges, a world without walls, is to live where there is one world, one community, and where everyone is respected and is honored as an individual.

To live in a connected world is to face the challenges of being the best we can be, of operating with grace, and honesty, being our best self at all times.

These are the challenges that we take on, to know that, regardless of sex, gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, body, or any other differences, we are each connected -- and each is loved and respected.

Today, you say that you want this world of connection by honoring us for Building Bridges. Let us walk out of here together and continue the work build bridges, to remove the walls around our hearts, and to remind everyone of the powerful symbiotic and beautiful connections of the entire world.

Thank you.

Who Judges?

As transwomen, who do we have to justify our choices to?

Whose attacks and questions are so valid that we have to include them in the explanation of self we offer to the world?

For Hari Nef, justifying herself to the women’s studies crowd, the self-professed feminists was worth doing a TEDx talk over

To Ms. Nef, her complying with social expectations about feminine appearance is a survival requirement.

Oh, and, by the way, she likes the choices she makes. She feels they express who she is inside.

Why isn’t the second answer enough?

Why does she feel she needs to defend and justify herself to academics who want paint compliance with gendered expectations as giving in to a heinous system of oppression?

Why does she need to address these people who want to diminish and erase her truth with a mixture of biological existentialism wrapped in the kind of social justice theory which sells separatism as the path to more powerful inclusion?

Why can’t she just be herself, following the path of millions upon millions of women who just ignore the separatist cries as irrelevant to their lives?

There are so many people who feel entitled to demand answers from us, who hold that their beliefs about separation and god-given identity need to be held true and sacred by trans people.

For many decades, it was doctors who were the gatekeepers of trans.    In order to change our body with hormones or surgery we had to convince them we were real.   It wasn’t good enough to say what we felt or what we wanted, rather we had to “prove” that we could not survive unless we were altered because we were “really always a woman.”

Differential diagnoses were the key in those days, drawing the line between true transsexuals and dilettante crossdressers.   This made a key indicator of your deep truth and sincerity how viciously you attacked people in the other group, be they deluded surgery seekers, secret homosexuals, or perverted transgenders.

Today, religious fundamentalists demand that we justify our actions to them.    Aren’t we just the bleeding edge of social destruction, sodomites who are leading to a world without moral values where the children will be at risk of abuse by evil and impure factions?

Strong, binary lines rooted in “the binary way that God made humans” need to be primary, defended and vigorously policed, starting with people like us following rules that first respect the beliefs of the devout.

I have spent thirty years trying to understand my relationship with those who would challenge my right to claim my status beyond biological determinism.

I understand the desire to sway those who are grounded in a belief structure that defines our choices as wrong, as politically incorrect, as unenlightened, as morally corrupt, as perverted, as sick, as indulgent, as self-serving, as destructive, as evil.

From where I stand, though, it is questioning those heterosexist, fundamentalist, identity politics group assertions that is required to create the change we need, not just justifying our own choices as pragmatic survival strategies.

I found the need to celebrate queer individuality, even if that celebration cuts us off from those who demand we surrender our voice, our choices, our thoughts and our identity to the will of the group or suffer shame and expulsion.

When we try and play their game, whoev er they are,  we lose and they win.    We live between the binary, revealing continuous common humanity beyond comforting and illusory walls just by our very existence.

This is the role transpeople have always played in human cultures.   We speak for challenging connection over easy separations.

I know why we feel the pressure to justify our choices to people we want to hang with, to groups we need to be a part of.    I know why we want to be embraced past binary assertions.

But who do we have to justify our choices to?   And who gets to demand we live inside of their limiting expectations? How much does it cost us to fit?

Ms. Nef is gorgeous and powerful in her beauty, and that is mostly the beauty of her mind and heart, not of her body.   It doesn’t betray the feminine, it reveals the power of it, the power of the wiggle, the mother, the receptive, the beautiful, the vulnerable.

Transpeople whose bodies aren’t as easily femaled as Ms. Nef know the price.   I used Kymberleigh Richards as an example of this person in 1999 and was saddened to see that in 2010, the price came up again.  Kym was speaking about LA transit issues on Fox News, but when her status as a transwoman became visible, they immediately decided to erase her, presumably to “quiet the horses.”

(NB, Ms. Richards later thanked me for using her story in a good context.)

Those of us whose bodies don’t allow us to manage cute have a high cost to pay, so we know we don’t have the option of just playing along, finding some words to justify the truth that looks nice on us, and moving on. How do we get people to value our heart and not the way we fit into attractive feminine assumptions fuelled by ubiquitous and pervasive media images?

The call to justify our choices in a context that the people around us already value is completely understandable.   It serves our survival in the moment.

But does that justification serve us, people like us, and the world we live in in the bigger picture?   Or should we try and find ways to move beyond binary belief to human connection?

Ugly Truth

Mariette Pathy Allen never deliberately took a photo of me.

Mariette may have been the ubiquitous photographer at the trans events where I often played a big part, but I was never the object of her interest.

Nancy Nangeroni once wanted a picture of me to accompany an article in Tapestrythe one I wrote after she asked me to call Dallas an asshole — but I didn’t have one.

“No problem,” Nancy said.  “I’ll call Mariette.”

I soon got a return call.

“We are going to go with an illustration,” Nancy told me.

Mariette knew what caught her eye.  I was sitting next to her during Charlie Brown’s show at Backstreet Atlanta when a lithe queen named Raven did an exuberant dance number.

“With a body that flexible, she must have a very flexible mind,” Mariette commented, though I don’t think it was her mind that was compelling.

I never had a lithe, slim, slight body.  I have hockey player calves, for example, the descendent of strong immigrants wanted to cut wood and haul water.

That doesn’t meant I am unfeminine.  My mother was bigger than my father, and with the same look I have, down to the jowls.  When my sister worked at a costumer, my mother’s old dresses even went onto the “men in a dress” rack.

No, it just meant that I wasn’t cute or pretty.  I was big and imposing, with a presence that was more challenging than inviting.  That’s one of the things that instantly drew TBB and I together; neither of us were sweet little things.

Today, the transpeople who are media darlings mostly share one thing: they are slim and pretty.  Even the transmen meet that expectation, 2often with a kind of honed androgyny that meets the Hollywood aesthetic which saturates the media.

People who strive to keep themselves photo ready know that the camera adds ten pounds, so they have to be skeletal to photograph well.    When I heard queens describe each other as flawless, I knew they were talking about polished masks, not human expression.

When I saw video of TransParent creator Jill Soloway at TransPride LA 2016, taking about how the trans community had become a character in the series, beyond her initial expectation, I was pleased to see the commitment.

They were encouraging people to sign up as extras, taking shots and numbers.

“Just looking at me, what would you cast me as?” I wanted to ask her, even though I knew I would probably not get a straight answer.  The harsh truth always comes out in review sessions after the talent has left the room.

Growing up trans is growing up with Broken Mirrors (a piece the Drama Queens performed at IFGE 1998 in Toronto, where Mariette didn’t take our photos), without the kind of feedback that helps us develop healthy expression.   We feel our audience slide around a bit, being surprised, feeling queasy and not knowing what to make of us.

What isn’t pretty, well, it must be ugly, right?   And if we don’t easily shorthand into the visible construction of already existing desire, how do we ever move into a place of pride?

Lots of women of size face these challenges, of course, but they do it in a social context with female bodies, curvy and soft.  I just don’t have the frame to even try and pull that off unless I gain a great deal of weight, using the Divine pattern.

To be visible requires the confidence that someone will see you as beautiful.  That has always been a hard one for me, and for many transwomen of my acquaintance.

Continue reading Ugly Truth

Out Of Hibernation

Once you learn to keep moving while parts of you are killed off, you can face anything.

I am like a space probe set into hibernation without any thought or plan for reactivation.    Shutting down was required, but the damage incurred by system decay, by negligence was just never considered.  How do you re-awaken something that incurred significant damage from improper termination and lack of maintenance?

Interconnected systems mean spreading damage, perished seals and frayed insulation ready to cause rippling problems, causing failures in one place as you get another back on-line.

The loss is palpable, personal.   I have learned that I am alone in this orbit, that there is no service vessel close by to come and help me get through the broken linkages.   When you are beyond the expectations of the system, you are beyond the comfort of it.

There appears to be a tipping point in most lives when you stop making new close friends.   That point comes when the amount of history you have outweighs the amount of possibility.   After that, there is just too much to share to create intimacy, too little left to build new stories which are profound and important in the context of your life.

Nobody meant me to dry up in a way where rehabilitation was almost impossible.   They weren’t thinking that they wanted to permanently cripple me; in fact, they weren’t thinking about my needs much at all.   They just did what they could, wanting me out of the way and assuming that I would take care of myself, even as I took care of them and the ones they loved.

I know why I was put on hold, suspended out of bounds.   I know why, even today, that asking people to meet me where I am is just too big an ask.    I know why I learned to live with death and decay of my internal systems in an attempt to stay connected with those who couldn’t really comprehend what I was telling them.

That process started early for me.   I never had the chance to feel heard & valued, never had the opportunity to learn how to do anything more than protect myself, cut myself back and try to survive.

Even when I sought help, the results were disappointing.

Counsellors would find me so lucid, clear and precise about my emotional turmoil that they couldn’t understand how they could help, not really understanding why I had learned to force everything through my logical brain to try and be effective with my Aspergers parents.

I have seen many specialists about my feet, but they all say that the damage has been done and they have nothing to offer but pills which block the nerves.   If I can’t do anything, is there any wonder I have mentally blocked them off rather than falling deeper into the abyss of helplessness?

Maybe I can head off potential problems, but maybe I will just find dead ends and loss to engage.   How will I cope when I have no rewards to chase, no networks to enfold me?   What doesn’t kill you may make you stronger in the short term, burning away the ego, but in the long term, the body keeps the score.

The only way to receive the blessings of kindness, as Erin reminds me, is to be open to other people, but that demands the resilience to take whatever you end up getting from them.   My systems, though, are fragile, old, and fried, with just too much exposure to the cosmic rays of a searing binary sun.

I believe in the love, I embody it and share it where I can, but in my life it has never been strong enough to negate the ignorance and fear which fuel stigma, erasure, dismissal and dehumanization.   The assault by masses whose own political position of separation enforces their comforting walls has been relentless and massively destructive.

Going towards the love makes sense to me, is the path I have chosen, but the battle between here and love, the scourge through no-man’s/no-woman’s land is full of mines, pitfalls and devices designed to maim, cripple and kill ideas & belief which challenge assertions, demanding engagement & responsibility.

Even when you find someone who says they are ready to love, it is often easy to find their trigger point, the button that unleashes their pain, blasting with vicious emotion designed to shut down anything which would light their still unhealed places.   They maintain function in the world with fragile ego tricks, so having those active defences disarmed creates abject terror.

“‘Tis but a scratch!” the Black Night calls out, pushing past the death of appendages to claim mission, but the damage costs him dearly, no matter how much mental discipline he employs.

Coming out of hibernation requires renewal, healing and hope.   My journey has given me deep insight, leaving me with lessons that most find impossible to value, making the return of the gift the most difficult part of the hero’s journey, but it has also left me with deep scars, signs of the battles I fought to claim my own heart.

I felt the pressure to play along, to attenuate, to diminish, to be small enough to serve so I could feel connection, but that cost me the expanse and power of my own nature.

My plaint when first coming out was often about how normies just dumped the price of being exceptional on individuals, forcing us to lie or be called a liar.   We had to do all the work or be attacked as perverted and sick, so the closet was the only place for all the pieces of our heart we were sharply told no one could ever love.

I shut down, did the service, was compliant, but the possibility that renewal would ever be required was never considered by the world.   Broken was fine for them, nonthreatening, abject and limp, and the rest, well the rest was my problem.

Until, of course, the world changed and it became my problem.

Once you learn to keep moving while parts of you are killed off, you can face anything.

Except, maybe new life.

A Certain Time In History

“We are transgender people at a certain time in history,” as I said in my 1995 IFGE Keynote speech.

From where I stand, it looks like that time is period of reactionary separation.   Technology, especially digital communication, has sped up the flow of information in a way that makes the pace of change astoundingly fast, news cycles in the blink of any eye and social reaction that ebbs and flows like swirling storms.

The old forms of stability are gone and the new ones have not come yet.   We know what has failed to keep up in this time but we do not yet know what will succeed in forming healthy, respectful and resilient structures.

The reactionary has been the most visible response to this torrent of unpasteurized change.    Between politicians, media players and activists, complex and nuanced issues have been reduced to simple emotional triggers, usually labelled as “common sense.”

Us versus them, the battle of good vs evil has been the charge, asking people to take sides in the big binary battle against the enemies of civilization.

We are, then transgender people who are living through the culture wars of sweeping and furious change.

That makes us feel like cannon fodder in those campaigns, pushed ahead as shock troops by some, mowed down as signs of deranged mess by others.

When people fight to enforce binaries, transpeople, those who cross boundaries, will always be the casualties.

“In cultures where gender boundaries are rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”

I knew that was my mission statement the first time I heard it, but what I also knew was that those who found walls comforting, who feel the need to brutally enforce simplistic and reductive boundaries will always find the need to erase our liminal truth to enforce their fundamentalist views.

If we weren’t living in a time of change, transpeople would still be shamed and marginalized into invisibility.    The very fact we are living at this time in history gives us both blossoming opportunities and incredible challenges as we help invent the future against almost overwhelming resistance.

When I see big binary battles in the culture wars, from the shorthand politics that casts transpeople using public facilities as demons to the tragic battles between some police and some people of colour,  I feel overwhelmed, distressed and very tortured.

I have skin in the game of these fundamentalist binary wars because I have nowhere to hide.  I can’t simply duck into one group or another, can’t pull my own beliefs over my head.

There are transpeople who try to play that game, of course, trying to assert some kind of simple binary group identity, be that the identity politics of the streets or the reactionary beliefs of the country club, but for me all of that erases the connection to the grace continuous common humanity offers.

Liberty means responsibility.
That is why most men dread it.
— George Bernard Shaw.

If I want my freedom to be me past the imposition of group identity, I have to take responsibility for my own choices instead of finding some other group to blame things on.

That’s one reason, I know, that my message of personal liberty is hard for other to hear.   They want a shortcut, want the world to change to respect & care for them rather than to have the obligation to open themselves in a way they can respect & care for the world, changing it one interaction at a time.

To be a lonely, individual target in a culture war is exhausting work.  None of us signed up to be trans, at least not in this life, and that definitely means we didn’t sign up to be culture warriors,  strafed by so called allies and enemies for not being who they want us to be, who their belief structure demands that we be.

My heart breaks whenever I see something in the news that heightens the divisions in the big binary culture war, fuelling the fire that stokes an “us vs. them” mentality.    How can I possibly speak for moving past divisions, for moving towards compassion and continuous common humanity against such a torrent of coded, divisive and fundamentalist messages?

Trying to get people to move beyond simple divisions and into connection is dammed hard work, as a lifetime of trying has taught me.  People value what they already know they like and want, not what challenges their fundamental assumptions.

Standing for considered, conscious and compassionate change is always harder than standing for resistance, for the attempt to hold onto a status quo that we have grown comfortable with, no matter how much it fails us and others in society.

I am blessed to have had the opportunity to live in a time of change, a time when people like me could emerge from our closets to claim our nature beyond binary social obligations.   The cultural acceptance of trans today is beyond any belief I could have had when I first heard Virginia Prince speak in 1968.

The price of being on the front line of the culture wars, though, has been enormous for me.  The denial and negotiations I have had to make have cost me health, vitality and possibility.

As long as people believe in absurdities,
they will continue to commit atrocities.
— Voltaire

The lessons of connection I have struggled to find and which I have struggled to share are not new and unique in human culture.  They are revealed again every time some group or other tries to enforce separation, marginalizing and erasing others who reveal facets of humanity which challenge easy binaries.

Standing up for one view of the truth does not mean that all who stand for another view are against you, are your enemies, your determined foes who deserve whatever they get.   The golden rule is the golden rule; it is only by giving respect that we get respect.

Democracy only works when we care more about what connects us than what divides us.  Those who introduced reactionary fundamentalism into political dialogue, offering the notion that stopping what we didn’t like was always more important than coming together to get more of what we can all get behind, are reaping the rewards of their divisive, short-sighted goal to grab power by creating an emotionally manipulable populace that doesn’t give a shit about respect, grace, kindness and equality.

We are the transpeople born into the culture wars.  Everyday we have to decide what we stand for in the world, be that wrapping ourselves in expected divisions & finding someone to blame, or standing up for continuous common humanity & taking responsibility for our better choices.

As costly as it has been, for me, I couldn’t possibly see any other choice.

Arrogant Rationalization

I got angry when I heard an interview with Temple Grandin.

In it, Ms. Grandin asserts that everyone who works with computers has to “have the autistic genes.”   She goes on to diagnose many respected historical figures with some level of autism.

Because she has both strong visual thinking skills and a deficit in understanding the emotional states of others — Theory of Mind (ToM) — Ms. Grandin assumes that these things are linked.  The costs of being on the autistic spectrum are recompensed with her modelling skills.

A key problem with having weak ToM is that while you know how your mind works, you have trouble understanding how other people’s mind works.  You make assumptions without having the observational skills and context to cross a sample.

As Ms. Grandin became a visible spokesperson for autism, she was confronted with lots of other people who were not neurotypical and whose minds didn’t work like hers.  They wanted her to stop saying that her experience was what autism is, rather saying that her experience was just her experience out of a range of possibilities.

This has broken through and now she acknowledges that her mind isn’t prototypical, saying that there are a whole range of experiences and ways that minds work.

Her assumption in this 2008 interview, though, is that anyone who has the gifts she has must have the same deficits.  This is flawed and arrogant thinking.

I understand the rationalization humans tend to make that the costs we bear and the gifts we have must be related.   We feel better because we conflate coincidence with causation, looking for a justification of the price we pay, the bits we find upsetting in our life.

The problem is that unless we have the capacity to see our tradeoffs in context we can never really get to causation.   We are just applying comforting beliefs, coming up with satisfying rationalizations rather than deep understanding.

I had two Aspergers parents.

One was a crackpot engineer, yes, someone who understood the world through what he called “physical thinking.”

The other one, though, never had that gift.   She liked the visual, yes, but never thought in system models.

What they both had, though, was weak ToM.  They couldn’t understand people who didn’t think and feel, didn’t experience the world like they did.

My father, growing up in a loving family, at least understood that as a guy, he wasn’t supposed to understand women.   He never really got why he didn’t understand me, but that’s another issue.

My mother, though, was furious that none of us understood the way that she saw the world.   She wanted us to make her happy and in every decade of her life, people failed her.

She would rail about the messes in the room, but when I asked her to outline what needed to be addressed and in what priority, she would get more upset.

“Can’t you see?  Can’t you see!” she would wail, never grasping why we didn’t see the world like she did, see what was obvious and blatant to her.   There was no way for her to translate her vision into language we could understand because that would require her to have some model of what we could see.

You have gifts and costs in your life, but assuming that one caused the other, well, unless you have a broader view of the world, a deeper understanding, any linkage is just comforting rationalization.   Everyone loves to justify their deficits by asserting an external cause, but just assertion doesn’t make it do.

Ms. Grandin used her understanding of her world to characterize others in a way she found flattering and comforting.   Just because they have similar skills though, doesn’t mean that they are like her.   We are all jagged people, as L. Todd Rose reminds us, so the assumption of normativity which says people who are like me in one area must be like me in others is just wrong.

If you have weak ToM, though, the fact that others are unique may be almost impossible to see, no matter if that weakness is because of the way your mind works or because of your assumptions of normativity, your wilful ignorance.

I understand that Ms. Grandin has weak ToM.  I understand that she has visual thinking.   I just don’t believe that the two attributes are as hard linked as she asserts.

That means when she projects that linkage onto others, I get offended.  This kind of projection has always constrained and limited our understanding of the power of individuals.

While I believe that people like Ms. Grandin are best served by a society that takes everyone as an individual, she felt the push to explain, justify & rationalize her behaviour as normal, like other people. Rather than standing for herself, she asserted that she was just like others who were valued in the world, even if that took assigning them characteristics she didn’t know they had.

That projection is arrogant & infuriating, even if it is driven by a comforting set of internalized rationalizations which uses only one case of coincidence to link the price of her limited ToM understanding with her visual thinking.

We are each unique, as I had to understand when coping with my parents, even if they had no ability to understand and value why I was unique.

I understand that the voodoo magic of assuming that normal is how we are, that the circumstantial evidence we have can justify comforting personal theories of causation that blame others and get us off the hook, is easy and affirmed in a world of sloppy thinking.

I just know, though, how much those assumptions by others have hurt me over the years as I tried to be the person I am.

My Tears, My Squalor

I get to write a blog post whenever I want to.

And I get to say whatever I want to in them.

It’s not very much freedom, very much control, very much agency, but it is the power that I have.

For me, the reward is in being able to stubbornly speak my piece without having to worry too much about the audience, about what other people will think.

This amount of agency turns me from a constrained victim, trapped in a culture where others want to judge or erase me, to someone with power over their own expression.

That’s a big deal.

In a film called “Knocking,” Joseph Kempler, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp talks about why his experience lead him to join Jehovah’s Witnesses.   He was in the camp because he was Jewish, one of the millions of victims of the Third Reich, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the same camp were there because they made the choice to follow their beliefs.

The Witnesses could have been released if they renounced their beliefs and swore allegiance to the state, but they chose hold fast to their faith instead, even at the horribly brutal cost the Nazis enforced in the camp.

Others around them were victims, their choices removed, but to this survivor, the Witnesses were heroes, choosing love over fear and paying the dire cost for that choice.   They were a beacon of integrity and dignity in a heinous situation which is why, after he was released, Kempler joined them to claim his own agency, the power of his own choice, even if that meant complying with the diktats of the group.

My first question in my first session at my first trans conference was about power, about finding ways to shift power as we gendershift.

How do we feel like we can get through to other people, having them hear what we have to say in a deep way, really seeing & respecting what we offer rather than judging, dismissing, erasing and projecting onto us, allowing their own sense of entitlement justify shaming and marginalizing us?

If the only way we can get what we need is to play the victim, abject people oppressed or with a tragic birth defect, well, it’s hard to feel power and safety in the world.

I was very young when I understood that I had the choice between being a victim of my mother’s distressed craziness, the emotional turmoil of someone with Aspergers or I could have power inside of my own world, inside of my own head.

If I needed what she had to offer I had to play along with her twists, but if I could suffice on what I could scavenge, even to the point of theft, I could have my own agency in my little world.

The world wasn’t meant for people like me; others just didn’t get the point.  In the big world, I had to stay defended, armoured up, but inside of my zone, I was safe, with power and agency.

When we feel our power removed by the expectations & assumptions of others, by the conventions of a dualistic culture that craves walls between us and them, we feel smashed, hurt, broken.

Everyone who feels marginalized has the need to claim power, claim agency in some personal way.

For many, this means claiming a group membership, be it religious, ethnic or affinity, becoming swept up in a community they feel represents and values them.   They are willing to comply with the rules of the group, however rigid, to gain a sense of place & belonging.

For transpeople, though, our journey is very personal.   We don’t travel in packs, don’t want to surrender our voice, our agency to the group.   Instead, we want to claim who we know ourselves to be deep inside.

Even if we have worked to understand our nature in context, the obligation to explain and justify ourselves in every moment is crushing.  We may be able to sway people who are open minded, open hearted and willing to engage, but we know that most people don’t have the time or willingness to understand and embrace us.

It’s much easier to play by the conventions of the binary, using already present tropes to take power than to claim our own truth in the world.

I couldn’t do that.   I learned how to attenuate, to play small, to be the concierge, to service others, to enter their world, but the only way I could hold onto my own heart is to protect my own inner world.

Writing bulletins from that world is a way that I make myself present in the bigger world.   I open up and share with aplomb and grace.

Very few people are ready to engage that sharing, I know.  If I focused on results, on swaying the biggest number of people, as I would have to do if I was a public figure, I would have surrender to what is already comprehensible, have to engage the tittle-tattle of tiny issues around toilets and such.

Instead, I write for my own agency, my own expression, my own claiming of presence in the world.   I don’t need to convince anyone, don’t need to stand up to the blows of those who want to erase me, don’t need to walk around in political armour.

I don’t get much in return for my sharing, it is true.  Instead of respect, affirmation and commercial success, I simply get my own dignity, my own power and my own agency.   All the rest I have to scavenge, just like I have done all my life in the face of a desperate scarcity of love, understanding, and mirroring.

If transgender isn’t about claiming our Eros, our lust for life & beauty & vitality, then what the hell is it about? (2007)

Even if that quest doesn’t get us everything we want, it gets us what we need, a sense of power, place and agency in the world.   If we claim our own truth, we aren’t simply a victim, which is why I have spent decades working to encourage others to claim their personal grace in the world.

And even if no one listens, just the fact of speaking out rather than just trying to blend in and play the bigger, official game, allows me to feel present in my world.


WordPress has an automatic engine that adds a “Related Posts” section at the end of entries, so one of the few people who read “Sprightly Voices” chose to follow a link to a 2014 post titled “Horribly Beautiful Voice.

From there they followed an internal link to a 1995 entry on my old site, “The Dina Amberle Controversy.”  In that column, both Callan Williams and Miss Take respond to another columnist trashing Callan’s letter to the fierce author of “Götterdämerung”  who chronicled the daily life of the dammed.

The joke there is that I wrote both the offending letter, calling for non-frivolous trans expression and the wild gossip column that was being chastised.  It was one facet of me “fighting” with another facet, one voice arguing with another.

In “Miss Take & I” I write about the joy of being able to move beyond the earnest, sincere, pedantic Callan voice to a wilder, playful, ecstatic one.

The truth is that I liked having an alter-ego. People often form an impression of us, and we get to like that impression, think it's fair -- but know that it is limiting. We get painted into a corner, and start to feel restricted:

    No sooner do we think that
    we have assembled a comfortable life
    than we find a piece of ourselves
    has no place to fit in.

    Gail Sheehy

As transgendered people, we are well aware of that piece of ourselves that doesn't fit, into any given life. We watch Bernadette in Priscilla, trying to find a quiet, settled life -- but still having quite a streak of drama in her. Marianne Williamson has noted that this is a culture that has fewer problems with pain than with ecstasy -- ecstatic women, ecstatic people are out from the bounds of control, speaking the truth, and coming from joy. Ecstasy takes us beyond the bound of humiliation, and humiliation is the key to cultural control.

Many of us have to swallow our ecstasy, our drama, our queerness. We try to numb it with pills and liquor, keep it hidden away.

Today, those same challenges still apply.   We want to claim honesty, authenticity & sincerity so we follow social expectations which confuse consistency with truth.

If we come from our pain, showing ourselves to be earnest & flat-footed, then we must be real.   Showing our shimmering, shifting and wild ecstatic nature makes us challenging, out of the control of social norms.   We can then be dismissed as flaky, cracked, just too much, too intense, too crackpot, too queer.

Looking at the University Of Victoria’s Moving Trans History Forward conference records on YouTube, I see a number of the people I stood with in the 1990s.  In this academic setting, though, their presentations are enormously conventional and plodding, following the expectations of “serious elucidation.”

Where is the transcendence and transparency that was the real hallmark of trans exploration in that time?   Where is the ecstasy?

While I wrote earnest essays about trans issues starting in the mid 1980s, having the public work peak in the mid 1990s, my swan song to my career as a columnist came in 1999 with my piece “The Guy-In-A-Dress Line,”  which was published in Transgender Tapestry in 2000.

It took a format which will be familar to any reader of Kate Bornstein’s 1994 “Gender Outlaw,” alternating expository text with personal interjections.  This structure is useful to reveal the trans experience where what makes us different isn’t usually our choices or appearance, but our internal narrative, the chattering way we have learned to negotiate & mediate between our powerful inner knowledge and the normative world around us.

Since that version of Tapestry is now on-line, linked in the Digital Transgender Archive, I was also able to see a letter to the editor from Jamison Green in a following issue.

Now we come to the reason why I wrote: Callan Williams' piece [The Guy In A Dress Line] was unbelievably GREAT.  Fabulous!  A literary tour-de-force.

An enormously strong voice in transgender, now chair of World Professional Organization for Transgender Health (WPATH) and a keynote speaker at the 2016 Trans History conference found my piece to be a tour-de-force in trans expression.

My work, though, isn’t remembered or valued much at all, though.  Today the talk is about trans-youth and social justice, about the abjection of trans and the political fight to prove we are real, just conventional folks who have been pilloried, scapegoated and oppressed.

Over twenty years ago, I was struggling with the same challenge I still struggle with today: how do we reveal our own ecstatic wisdom & power to an audience who prefers control to revelation, demands the expected over the divine surprise?   Where does silvery insight get valued against stolid routine?

We all need an audience, but that audience shapes & constrains us as surely as we try and breakthrough to them.  The challenge of assimilation is always need to move beyond mystery, move to dull and expected routines.

In “Misquoting Jesus,” Bart Ehrman tells us that when Biblical scholars are looking for scrivener’s errors in handwritten copies of sacred texts, changes introduced by copyists, they choose the more complicated version over the simpler one.   The tendency of handing down texts is to remove nuance and ambiguity, simplifying to make it better conform to our expected meaning, assuming that what we don’t understand was just a mistake in the first place.

Today, transgender is much more mainstream than every before.  The US Military has just changed the rules to allow transgender people to serve openly, for example, an breakthrough that was almost impossible to imagine when I came out.

That normalcy, though, seems to have come at the cost of queer ecstasy, the exuberant, shimmering assertion of our own truth that cuts though layers of meaning, transcending walls that others think are real.

“In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”  I knew that was my mission statement when I heard anthropologist Anne Bolin say it in 1993 and I know it today.

That connection isn’t on the surface, isn’t in how we fit in nicely to expectations.  That connection is deep, below what is on the outside, coming down to the one fundamental human nature that we all share.

I have been saying this since I came out in the 1980s, committed to integration, actualization and enlightenment beyond the simple conventions of gender.   While I value the role of gender in the world, a social system that has always been about reproduction & child rearing, allowing communication about our essence and training, I know that we are all connected by spirit, not just separated by the differences of flesh or the conventions of culture.

How, though, do I find a way to communicate that ecstatic understanding in a world that still denies the power of ecstasy?

Even following people like Marianne Williamson today you find that she has moved away from the mystical to the pragmatic and practical, the better to be effective with an audience she needs.

When I am lead back to see the challenges that faced me around the return of the gift what seems like so very long ago now, and see how they continue to plague me today, it is debilitating.  Finding someone to say yes, to mirror that energy past pain and conventions is at least as hard today as it was then, while today, even as my tools are more polished, my own reserves have been depleted.

I continue to encourage others to follow their own journey to knowledge and actualization, sure that their story is not my story.   They will find their own gifts and their own costs, being different people with different characteristics living in different places and different times.

My pursuit has always brought me inner joy.  If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be at it all these decades later.

Outer joy, though, the affirmation and delight of others in my ecstatic revelation, well, that’s another challenge altogether.

Shattered Film

We are encouraged, in this culture, to create a movie in our mind.

In that film, we see the course of life as imagination, all our hopes and dreams and wishes, all the expectations that come with us following the rules and growing up to be who we should be, the person who is the perfect synthesis of chasing dreams, following family and being good, nice & appropriate.

There are alternate takes of how dire, bleak and tragic life could be if we break the boundaries, straying from the virtue of assigned roles.    Those scary bits help keep us in line, keep us focused on the should, the compliant, the expected, the socially acceptable.

Even though we know that the most wonderful things that have ever happened to us were completely unexpected, were impossible to plan, most of us cling to the idea that if we just chase the goals and wishes given to us, we will find good.

At some point, though, real life intervenes.   It always does.  The film breaks in the projector, flapping off in a frenzy and we are left with nothing but harsh light shining in the darkness.

At what age do we begin to understand that the story we were issued, the dream we built to get us through just isn’t going to come through?   When do we start facing that mourning for lost images of perfection that were never achievable is what we have to do?

If our dream never dies, our possibilities can never fully live.  It is only by getting past those illusions, engaging what is and being open to the divine surprise that we can start making choices that make the most of who we are.

The access point to understanding what I share is wherever your own film breaks and you realize that moving beyond canned expectations is your only choice for a full and happy life.

Where you stumble, there lies your jewel, as Campbell tells us.  That stumble isn’t unique, rather it is just your portal to the world of the present, of enlightenment and better that has always been revealed and celebrated in the spiritual teachings of human cultures.

If your heart doesn’t break, how will it ever be able to grow?  How will you learn to map it if it is hidden behind layers of woulda, coulda, shoulda, behind the walls of expectations, assumptions and habits you have meticulously wrapped around it as defence?

Letting go of the film never happens in one fell swoop.  We grab sticky tape and patch it together again, hoping to salvage our old normativity so we can make our life easy, protected and comfortable again.   Being open is being vulnerable and that is the terrifying thing we wove the screenplay to guard against, because if we always had our expectations to cradle us we wouldn’t feel alone and separate.

Everybody wants a shortcut to happiness. Those dreams that kept us warm though the dark nights are precious to us.    They will always be inside of us, will always feed our desire, always contain clues to what excites us.   We want them to be true.

Give me the courage to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The power to open our eyes to what we have now, to open our dreams to what is possible for us, and not get stuck and blocked over what we wanted but is not available to us, is a key to growing up and getting the best out of life, finding what will bring us peace, happiness and motivation.

Returning to the handmade life and letting go of the manufactured, marketing dreams, the commercial product placement in the movie in our head is heartbreaking but vital.   It opens our heart to the world of possibility and opens us to the essential, natural beauty that exists in our heart.  We need, as Pinkola-Estes reminds us, to make our own red shoes before the market bought ones dance us to the demon.

I had to understand very early that factory made dreams, lovely crowd-pleasing movie scripts would never, ever be for me.

There was no kindly mother around for me, no father full of wisdom, no easy support or simple dreams about some special relationship that would save me.  The stereotypical components of my movie were twisted or missing.

Maybe that’s why the transgender understanding I emerged with was so different than the standard narratives, the “heterosexual crossdresser” or the “always a woman” models that I spoke out against in my IFGE keynote in 1995.

The movie of my life broke and sputtered to a stop very, very early.  I had to use the light to find my own knowledge in a rational search for truth, a deep analysis to create a useful model of the world around me.

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.  Unless we commit to recovering who we are underneath the movie planted in our head (1994), though, we can’t burn away the expectations that weigh us down and cause us suffering, can’t be reborn past stubborn illusions.

When that movie in your head starts to tear apart it scares the crap out of us.  Who will we be, how will we be happy unless we have those implanted images to cling to, to shape us, even as we learn that they don’t reflect what is, don’t really help us be present enough to make the most of the world and the nature we have got.

I know why so many people, when they have to choose between the movie version of their life, the one that contains some kind of comforting illusions, or a vulnerable, aware and enlightened stance which demands responsibility for choices, requires accountability & precision, try to shut me up rather than opening to me.

The point at which you start having to face the bigger picture is the point at which the small picture in your head starts to fail, when your expectations no longer offer a kind of reality you can impose onto the world.

Where you stumble, though, there lies your jewel, the opening to an enlightened, connected and healthy world.