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.