Stacked Deck

The only thing that you can do in life is to use your power of choice to play the hand you are dealt in the best way you can.

The deck that hand is dealt from, though, is stacked.   It’s not fair, random balanced or equitable.

You don’t get a fair deal.  You just get the deal you get, biased by class and race and genetics and location and a thousand other factors.   The hand could always be better, yes, but it could almost always be very much worse too, especially for those of us born in first world countries.

Acknowledging the good cards we are dealt is often very tough.   We don’t compare our hand with everyone in the world, rather we compare it with people that we see around us, and that usually means the people we see as being advantaged.  Don’t we just deserve the basics, whatever we think those are, and therefore should have gotten more?

It’s easy to believe that if we just had one or two more breaks that our life would be gravy, easy and much more comfortable, without the challenge pain and stigma we face now.   Our problems are based on how we are disadvantaged, whatever that means to us.   For example, their family has Mercedes, but we only have a Plymouth, so we don’t have the status that makes their life easier.

The price of our crappy hand is right in front of us, forcing us to struggle everyday, while the price of their challenges is invisible to us.  Increasing the price of their struggles, then, is cheap for those who already have power, a wise choice to limit the demands on us and push them lower into the chain.

This divesting the cost of failed social responsibility onto those individuals actually damaged by the neglect is adding abuse to injury.

Classes that are marginalized, denied opportunities and services, and then show themselves to be less successful because they act out, responding to the deprivation they endured, end up getting blamed for being broken.

This happened with all sorts of groups, from people of colour to immigrants to women and so on.   Those who had governmental and social power made sure they were denied a fair shake and then used the damage caused to those individuals to justify their decisions: if those people were going to act in such a rude & disgraceful way, then surely we were right to deny them the rights and rewards that we as good people have earned.

The social deck is stacked, no doubt.    That doesn’t mean, though, that we can understand the unfairness just from looking at our hand and the ones around us.  It is often impossible to see the price others have had to pay for what they got, especially when we envy what they seem to have.

While we can choose to work for more fairness in the deal, the only way we can possibly do that is from a position of power.   We need to be able to convince other people to go along with our proposals, using any effective and moral techniques we can muster.

Owning our own power, though, means making the best choices to play the hand we were dealt.  Through all that deal, no matter how unfair it may have been, what we need to do the same thing we would in any situation: making considered, smart choices and putting our own commitment and energy behind them.

Making good choices means using our emotions to fuel our better judgment rather than just indulging and acting out our feelings.  By understanding that no matter how entitled anyone looks to us, they have paid their own price for the gifts given to them, struggled with their own lack, and carry pain somewhere just under their skin.   They are human.

Complaining about situations almost never changes them, almost never creates the power to make them better for us and for others.

The deck is stacked.   Life is not fair.

But the only effective thing that you can do in life is to use your power of choice to play the hand you are dealt in the best way you can.   Choose, learn, then choose again, choosing better.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead

Do you want change, changes to your life or to the world, or do you want someone to indulge your own self-pity?   You must be the change you want to see in the world and that always means making better choices, no matter how much you would rather complain about the hand you were dealt.

Real Artifice

Audiences love artifice.   Artifice is always more exciting than reality because artifice is crafted to be engaging, attractive and compelling.

Reality is either boring, confusing or challenging, but artifice takes our assumptions and expectations into account, building something that feels realer than real.  We like a good show.

All the codes that revel authenticity are at play in artifice.  As humans, we have a strong sense of people even if we know that they are putting on a bit of a show for us.

Artifice is really the only way we have to communicate.   We construct our expression, using all the bits and pieces, the language, images, movements and ideas that we see as being effective in establishing our position.   The performative always takes artifice, even if it is so well done or so earnest that we see it as “real.”

Owing your own artifice, though, takes chutzpah.

Most of us just follow group norms & expectations, playing along and living in the shadow of what the people around us are doing. By taking on their coloration and habits, our artifice doesn’t stand out because it is embraced as normative.

Artifice that moves beyond the bland and traditional. though, stands out.  It can easily be assailed as false, as manipulative, as deluded.  Rather than seeing the choices of those we are familiar with as artifice we feel better assuming that their conventions are natural & proper, while those which challenge our expectations are freaky & sick.

My challenge, should I end up deciding to go out into the world, is constructing a new artifice for myself.

In Gerri Hirshey’s Not Pretty Enough: The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown, the founder of today’s Cosmopolitan magazine is displayed in all her feminine power.  HGB, as Ms. Hirshey calls her subject, always stood for a certain image of womanhood, a sexy, vivacious, stylish media savvy performance of potent wiles.

To imagine taking feminine power without mastering some modes of artifice is impossible.  HGB was clear that artifice was not something you wore like a costume, trying to conceal you really are, rather it was a tool to magnify your presence in the world, revealing and amplifying the best of you.

Anytime you bring something forward something else recedes into the shadows, but that helps you in the world.  People see your pride, your commitments, your enthusiasms, even as they don’t need to see your weaknesses, your fears and your pain.

Ms. Hirshey, as she says in her title, believes that HGB self image was torn down rather than built up by her mother, so she always believed that she was not pretty enough.   This lead to HGB learning how to get affirmation of her own femininity,  making choices that would engage and please men for all her life.  HGB and Joan Rivers would swap war stories about plastic surgery and HGB finally got breast augmentation when she was over 70.

One transwoman announced that “I didn’t decide to be a woman.  I stopped trying to be what I was not was not and she came out.”  When you look at her photos, though, you can see that she has used a great deal of artifice to construct her new appearance.  Suzan Cooke would write these people off as a “skin transvestite,”  someone who self-feminized for erotic reasons, an autogynephiliac to use Blanchard’s term.

Does being highly concerned with artifice make someone not a woman?   While being committed to feminine artifice doesn’t make you a woman, as any number of gay identified drag queens will be happy to tell you, it doesn’t stop you from being a woman either, as Dolly Parton shows.

I have eschewed artifice. I am “trans-natural,” never even taking hormones, which has allowed me to understand trans without chemicals, the way humans had to do it for most of history.   My Aspergers parents were not effective at social status and artifice made a very limited impact on their very self-contained minds.

To enter the world, though, artifice is a key form of communication, one that simplifies and eases the passage of information.   “Show them” often requires putting on a bit of a show, one that communicates in a way that telling them never will.

Those who want to be seen, heard and remembered often adopt a signature look, something instantly identifiable as the essence of who they are.

My daily look, though, is absurdly utilitarian and rude, a uniform made up of whatever remains in the storage crates I keep my stuff in.   I have never had a regular appointment with a hair professional, never even kept up key components of health, instead relying on discipline & denial to keep going.

My space has never spoken of me either.   It is raw, monastic and practical, without my own stamp.

Without getting to play at looks when I was young and cute, I fell back to button front, button down oxford cloth and corduroy, the better to hide a feminine heart, being without any desire to cockily preen.

Like so many other bits of my backwards life where I learned early to be the caretaker and then only later could try to figure out blossoming, the call seems to be for me to begin to embrace an artifice which aids in effectively communicating to the world.

It’s hard to move to artifice at a time when so many are moving away from it, hard to be bold without a rich history of exploration & revelation.  I have had many tell me that I need to become more plain, renouncing the external, even though that was something I never owned for myself. (2006)

Artifice, though feels like it is required if I want people to find me fun & easy to engage, if I need them to enjoy the show to become open to the content.  Without the eyes of a collaborator, though, an editor, director, or producer, that work of packaging is very hard for me.

My story isn’t “not pretty enough,” rather it is just “not pretty.”  It was hard for HGB to stand & compete in the world with her battered self image, finding the need to use artifice to turn herself into a character, and it is hard for me, now and after so long, to find my own artifice, my own visual & habitual signature.   I worry about looking like a silly tranny in a costume, not just mutton dressed as lamb but beef playing at veal.

Artifice does seem important, though, somehow.

Pursuing Positive

To have genuine bodhicitta is to burn with love in a world you cannot fix.
Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel

Taking that journey to enlightenment is a one way trip.   A bell cannot be un-rung and you cannot un-know what you have learned.   That was one of the last laments Christine left me with: “Why didn’t you tell me that there was no way back?”

The path is a pursuit you take on. You have to want to interrupt your own delusion. To do this you have to appreciate seeing what is not working in your life.
Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel

People have learned to live with delusion.  They don’t complain about what is, rather they complain about what they believe should be, complaining about how life, their partners and the world fail to meet their own expectations.

“Treat me like I want to be treated,” they wail, ranking out those who are stuck in their own delusions about how the world has failed them and how other people never treat them like they desire to be treated, how they deserve to be cared for.

To live in the delusion is to live in a negative identity, knowing what you are not, knowing how the world failed you, knowing how you are separate & different.   Negative identity demands identifying enemies, those who are out to hurt people like you, shaping who you are as a wail or attack on those who refuse to change to meet your simple & beautiful needs.

The path to healing, to caring, is the path away from a negative identity, from knowing who we are not, to a positive identity, to knowing who we are.   It is to live in love, burning with love for a world that you cannot fix, knowing how the battle serves you, knowing how you are connected & a part of all.

The delusion, though, is always easier, specially in a world where marketers have learned to use that delusion to control social behaviour, to control your behaviour.   Everyone wants to be tame and fit into the group, following the conventions & expectations, even as we feel the need to be wild and claim our own messy, human, powerful heart.

Knowing yourself is owning yourself, owning your own history, thoughts & choices, knowing that the holiest you is a creature of action, not a creature of reaction.  Your struggles are your struggles, but your choices are you.

Not having anyone to blame is hard, not just for the burden it places on you, but especially for the way it reflects on the people around you.  Your positive identity, your responsibility for your choices casts light on their responsibility for their choices.   It shows their rationalizations and beliefs for what they are, uncloaking the delusion they use to deflect scrutiny from themselves.

Everyone wants and needs compassion, for we are but humans doing the best we can in a world we cannot fix, cannot perfect.  Explaining why we deserve compassion, though, pushes compassion away from us.   By showing our effort, our work, our struggle to become aware and take responsibility for our choices, we open the hearts of those around us.   By identifying as a victim, worthy of indulgence, though, others close to us, asking us to take responsibility for what we can change.

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

Struggling to leave the soft, shared delusion behind is always hard, because it always demands that we claim who we are, taking responsibility for our choices, rather than just living in who we are not, blaming the world for how it treated someone as special & delicate as we are.

People heal in their own time and their own way, even you.

We cannot heal the world, cannot fix it.  We can only heal ourselves and let our healing, our service and our love become a force to help others who are struggling begin to move beyond their delusions when they are ready, when they begin to burn for moving forward.

The Buddhist path is not about cultivating peacefulness.
It is about cultivating wakefulness.
We are trying to expand our repertoire of what we can handle.
Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel

Ms Mattis Namgel calls it the Buddhist path, but I see it as the human path, a path towards enlightenment that the Buddha took and that is open to each of us.  “There are dangers in all forms of literalism,” and for me, the fundamentalist delusion that only the path you chose to healing is true & valid is getting the ladder mixed up with the destination.

For me, living among people who cannot afford to let their delusion die, those who expect caring and live in blame rather than those who give caring and live in love is very hard.

I struggle to engage wakefulness, becoming more aware though my own practice of writing, then sharing that work with the world in a loving attempt to help others.

Others embrace my service to them, my active caring.  Because they need their own delusion, though, others have not really listened to me for so long that I am drowning in the the pool of my own unheard truth.  I feel un-mirrored, my heart invisible and lonely, at the end of my rope.

Simply being myself in the world demands others confront their own comfortable delusions, the separations that they think are real but are only in their mind.   “In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”   That’s been my mission statement, and I am sticking to it.

In the end, our life is about what we are willing to fight for much more than it is about what we are willing to fight against.   Tell me who you are rather than telling me who you are not, show me your personal pride rather than your shared enemies.   That’s one reason why, even though I could easily be called “non-binary” I have slipped that identification; too many people use it to convey what they want to avoid rather than what they are willing to claim.

To have genuine bodhicitta is to burn with love in a world you cannot fix.
Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel

The only way to be a healer is to take responsibility for your own choices, no matter what wounds you have endured.   When your scars tell a story of transcendence rather than one of victimization, you define yourself rather than letting your abusers name & shame you.

Love is the force that we have.  We cannot fix the world, but we can be love in it, raging against the delusion of separation.

Enlightenment is hard because we live in a world most comfortable in twilight.  Brilliance makes others want us to heal them rather than using us as beacon which can lead them to their own emergence, their own rising, their own light.  Healing, though, only comes by doing the work, claiming personal wakefulness, seeing clearly what is not working and interrupting your own delusion.

Is emerging worth the risk of drowning in your own un-mirrored awareness?   I guess that, for me, I needed healing so much that it was.

For you, though, how much is healing worth?  Are you ready to move beyond your comforting expectations of how others should change and take responsibility for who you are?

T3: Writing New Stories

There is no backwards button in life.   So unkind, no rewind.

When Virginia Prince tried to read me out as a crossdresser way back in 1991, she told me that I must have purged, gone through the ritual of tossing all my wardrobe and telling myself that I would never dress up again.

That was just another sign that s/he had no idea who I am.   I was never one of her femiphiles, never just playing with one put-on personae.

I don’t purge anything.   My low levels of latent inhibition means that the past doesn’t slough off, means that I have to learn to live with it.

My goal, upon coming out, was integration.   I wanted to connect things together, needed to find integrity and honesty.   So many threads, so little connection.

Does anybody every really get to write a whole new story, create a totally different incarnation?   Or do we just wear various masks, showing different facets of who we dreamed of being?

Moulting, making new choices, invoking new ways of being in the world, well, we all do that.   Thank God that we don’t stay as clueless as we were at sixteen.

But really becoming new?   The privilege of a lifetime, Campbell says, is becoming who you are.

Is the crust I carry really who I am?   Or are there new stories to be written, new, different, liberated, loving stories?  Even, dare I say it, pretty stories?

If I had to write a new story, it might cast me as the writer of stories, a sensuous novelist with a witty take on the foibles of the human condition.   Having dreams with happy endings, or at least satisfying ones, seems appealing.

Women tend to see their lives as a series of chapters;
Men, as an arc with a clear trajectory.
— Sarah Crichton

A woman’s life can be a succession of lives,
each revolving around some emotionally compelling situation or challenge,
and each marked off by some intense experience.
— Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

For it is surely a lifetime work, this learning to be a woman
— May Sarton

To be a woman is something
so strange, so confusing and so complicated
that only a woman would put up with it.
— Søren Kierkegaard

In 1999 I wrote “The Guy In A Dress Line” which basically signalled the end of my political period.  Is our trans history always the defining factor in our life, or is there life after primary transgender identification?

Of course, in trans spaces, especially on the internet, it is all about trans.  There we assert, we argue, we politic, we posture, we declaim, we attack, we emote, we express about our transness.

For many transpeople, though, those spaces are not safe, comfortable or affirming.  They have moved on, made a new chapter, created a new story around something other than trans.   They don’t need to fight every zealot, engage every newbie, rehash every battle, inveigh every political trope.

They have, in some way or other, Transcended Transgender through Transformation, have gotten to that T3 level where trans isn’t at the front of who they are, rather it is just one component to a full and rich life.

The stories they live are incomprehensible to those who think trans is everything, be those people religious fundamentalists or identity politics fundamentalists; anyone who thinks that group identity always outweighs individual expression.

Having to choose, though, if trans means everything to us or trans means nothing to us is just another heartbreaking, bullshit binary choice, even if it is often forced on us by people who claim to be supporting non-binary expression.

As much as gender is framed as binary in this culture, no one, absolutely no one, has a binary identity.   Who we know ourselves to be is always much more complex and nuanced than just being one thing or the other.  There are always shades and intensities, from those who strive hard to be a very girly girl to those whose gender identity is one of the least important things they express in he world.

Is the essence of being non-binary crafting individualized gender roles with correspondingly tailored pronouns, or is moving to understanding that gender is not essential to identity?   Once we are not primarily focused on our role in a system of desire, we can understand that who we are is much less about partnering and much more about doing, about all the choices we create in our life.

The essence of Transcendent Transgender Transformation, T3, is simply acknowledging that people are much, much, much more than their sexual characteristics which makes them much, much, much more than their reproductive role, which makes them much, much, much more than their gender.

T3 is beyond gender but is not opposed to gender.  T3 doesn’t get stuck in the trap of putting gender first and foremost in human identity and then trying to soften that primary identification somehow.    Being a man or a woman isn’t primary for us, even if those identifiers communicate our self knowledge, our outlook, our role and our choices in a concise way.

T3 puts our creative efforts first, valuing us not as one or the other but instead as a unique, balanced individual human with their own pattern of personal strengths.

How do we write a new story when we are bound to the binary expectations and assumptions of others?   How do we become transcendent, transforming beyond the limits of gender when gender is held as primary & essential?

In a culture beyond simple heterosexism, we need to value people first for what they bring, not how they fit into some binary.

T3 people do that, announcing that they are not first and foremost their gender, but rather that they are human first, full of skills and history and possibilities that are not constrained by identity politics, by enforced grouping, by gender.

T3.   It’s the future.

Or, at least, it’s my scratchy attempt to write a new story.

Failure, Risk & Love

There is only one good reason to commit to failing again and again, falling flat and getting up until you get it right.

Unless you love something, really love it, love it so much that you want it to be an integrated part of who you are, then how can you take the pain and nuisance of letting it slap you down over and over again?

It is only the pursuit of love that engenders the pursuit of risk.   Unless there is a chance of a deeper connection with someone, something or some passion that we love, why put yourself out there and take a risk?  Why not just play it safe and small, reserved and sad because you don’t have the love in your life that calls you to a passionate exercise of living?

Don’t we want someone to love?  Don’t we want to feel love everyday?  Don’t we  want to be in love?

It is love that fuels our leaps, our coming out of the plainness of who we are now, the comfortable old persona, and attempting to become more, to become better, to become new.   The love of a person, the love of mastery, the love of exploration, the love of rebirth, whatever we love, it fuels us.

Risk always includes failure.   Nothing comes without a few scrapes and bruises, without falling down a few pegs, without a few heartbreaks.   Learning takes time and loss, shards of pain that point out where more work, more focus, more sweat, more attention, more smarts and more love is needed.

When we are young, love is easy to come by.   We are always being swept away by love, or at least by the dream of love.   We imagine the power of who we could be if we just had the right love, the beautiful mirroring of our love, someone who takes our love and reflects it back, turning love into something that feels strong and solid.

This means that when we are young, the mourning for love is also easy to come by.   We imagine the feeling of being in love, the focus and the affirmation that keeps us fresh, invigorated and ready to leap.

As we get older, we learn to consider our choices more, to be more selective in what we love.   We understand that love spread too thin isn’t really much love at all, understand that if we want to avoid the mourning & heartbreak we also have to avoid the drama that comes with easy, torrid and essentially cheap love.

The awareness that love takes work & commitment, that love & discipline are unreservedly intertwined comes as our love ripens, creating deeper challenges which take time & dedication to work through.   Our love matures as we mature, becoming less a momentary rush and much more a persistent investment, draped in compassion, nuance & understanding.

A folly of youth is to believe that a spark of love is enough; a folly of age is to believe that a spark of love is not crucial.

Negotiating the role of love in our life is always challenging.   Just because we are a mother and give our love to our children doesn’t mean we don’t need a bit of the fire of love back.   As the kids grow and move away, we have to open to new loves, new paths of love that keep us fresh, that keep us passionate, that keep us growing, that keep us ready to risk failure and leap towards something amazing.

To love again is to risk again and to risk again is to love again.

Just maybe, the biggest risk we make with love is if whatever we love will love us back.    Our gifts and talents have limits, so understanding our own nature leads us to know where we can invest ourself to find the kind of rewards we need and want.

To leap again is to love again.

I rose from a vivid and exquisitely tender dream about coming together again with the apricot haired love of my life, finally being able to not skitter away but connect.

Learning that love is not for me was hard, a retraction deep into my nautilus brain, pulling my dreams in to a place where they didn’t bother me too much as I did the hard work.

People like me, and that means so many things, have a tortured relationship with love, with desire, with deep and intimate connection.

Just looked at the web stats and someone found a post titled “My Father’s Eulogy.”  It’s about inheritance, about love.   His death was also the last time I heard from her, just a brief note in an on-line guestbook attached to his obituary.

To love again is to leap again.

People around me treat me as fired ceramic, dutiful, utilitarian, hard, fixed.    They know what they want from me, know my limits, know my place.

Somewhere, though, there must still be a bit of raw clay whose destiny is not fixed, that is plastic, malleable and holds new possibilities. 

Does that lump need to be protected, saved, hoarded, or might I risk trying to shape it, even knowing that my hands are old, my skills clumsy and it may well deform or shatter in the kiln?

The only reason to commit to becoming new, to risk failure and create rebirth is love.   If we aren’t heading towards something we can love —  agápe, éros, philía, or storgē — then what is the point?

The cliff is right ahead of me.

My experience weighs me down with caution.

Unless you love something, really love it, love it so much that you want it to be an integrated part of who you are, then how can you take the pain and nuisance of letting it slap you down over and over again?

Leaping is loving.   Loving is leaping.

My vision of the light & love available to me, though, well, is there a name for leaping into the fog?

Bracing For Blows

I know how I gird for battle.

My heart gets locked down hard and my head gets locked in.

Instead of using it to guide me, I deploy my heart as a sensor, giving me important messages about both my emotional status and the emotional status of those I am dealing with.

By using my head, I can make smart choices about the attacks I endure.  I can use the jujitsu to redirect them back onto my attacker, fending the blows and keeping them off balance.

Rather than acting out I can stay rational, balanced and gracious, which really can piss off people who want to take control by the force of their own rage.

This a technique I had to learn very, very early.   Acting out was what my mother did to everyone, as she had no other way to express her emotions, especially her feelings of being disconnected and hurt.

It is a very grown up technique, very mature.

The problem, though, is that employing it always comes at a cost.   To stay attenuated, rational, throttled back, limited and considered means I have to take my emotions, my intense and powerful energies, and keep them bottled up.

My sister recently told me the story of when she was doing Wave Work, a kind of body work, over 15 years ago.

As the practitioner went over her, she felt a kind of a growl unlock in her soul, a deep booming sound like the muffled roar of an animal warning others not to come close, telling that there was rage bottled up within that could explode in attack if not respected.

This wasn’t a sound that she could make in the world because she grew up learning to stay hidden and safe from a mother who could slash out, one who had no idea that part of her job was teaching kids to stand up for themselves, to fight for what they needed in the world.

When I tried to teach her my fighting techniques, my sister shut down, knowing that her battle wasn’t with me.   She knew I was trying to help, but it wasn’t at all what she needed.

On that table, though, her growl was unlocked, her own energy released.

When she sat up, she looked down at her hands and saw flashes of colourful energy coming from them.   As she slowly waved her arm in the air, she could see the sparkles create trails, glittering in a following arc.

“Yes,” her practitioner told her, “they really are there.

“You are full of that energy.   It is richly within you.”

Both of us, though, learned to put our heart on lock down, absorbing all that energy rather than letting it flow in the world, empowering us to follow our own shimmering hearts.

Our training was to hide our heart energy rather than following it, to become introverted rather than extroverted.

For me, who has a performance streak, I found a bit of balance, but for my sister, whose nature runs to introversion, combining the training with that means she can easily get swamped by her feelings.

When I first started walking in the world revealing my trans nature, I learned that I had to be ready to defend myself from those who saw my act as indecent, political or sick.    It was easy to see why so many other transwomen ended up carrying around in their own sealed world, their own lucite bubble to keep them protected from all the flying shit.

My expression is part of my service, bringing that blend of head & heart to help heal, but it wasn’t part of my indulgence.   I didn’t need to be wearing specific clothes to feel present, authentic or happy.

Not having to stay bracing for blows all the time, ready for the “third gotcha,” meant I could be more open, more vulnerable, more present.  It meant I could live more in my heart and less in my head, using my strength to take care of my parents and such rather than just defending myself against those who chose to act out against trans expression.

Bette Midler recently recalled a tweet (though without apology) that suggested since “I Am Cait” is cancelled, Jenner should “go back to being Bruce.”

The amazing Alexandra Billings replies that while we may change presentations, we are who we are, always have been and always will be. There is no going back to a time when we weren’t trans, only back to a time when we didn’t show it in the world, didn’t make others see it.

We are trans everyday of our life.   I know that I have been trans every day of my life, no matter what other people saw or wanted to see.

The battles that I really needed to fight, the ones that demanded my attention and my scarce resources were not the public ones.  I had to go deep inside to do the inner work, had to participate in my family, had to care and think and write.

To move to another stage, though, I need to be more present and visible in the world.   That means I have to gird for battle, have to be ready to take the blows.

Living with a locked down heart, though, sounds horrible to me.  And while I have tried to search for other defences, well, getting mirroring for being bigger, more exposed and more dynamic isn’t something I have found anyone to support.

Who heals the healers?   Where is the safe space for rest, affirmation and nourishment?   In my family, it only existed inside of us; there was no one to help.

I know how to battle.   Callan is, I found long after choosing it, a feminine name meaning “powerful in battle.”

How to heal from battle, though, well, that has always been a cost.  And, like any human, the older you get the more you carry, the more healing costs you, and that shows in my choices.

All that energy is in there, those flowing colours ready to come.

The fight, though, to get them out in the world, beyond the training and expectations that they should fit nicely in other people’s expectations, though, well, that takes a battle.

Social Status Seeking

Dale Carnegie taught the world how to Win Friends And Influence People and in Self-Help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America, Steven Woods tells the story of why Carnegie wanted so much to be seen as successful and how his lessons in satisfying the needs of other people created an empire.

Carnegie’s basic lesson about success is simple: you have to want influence so much that you will endlessly work for it, so much that you will push through failure after failure to get it,  so much that you will put other peoples needs, desires and feelings before your own to get what you want.   They will see you as their friend if you never tell them that they are wrong, never are rude to them, never seem like you are not valuing them more than anything else.

Performance is the key for Carnegie, and like any preacher, he knows that you have to become your performance, becoming the friendliest and most influential person you can possibly be at all times.   Unless your performance works with the kind of deep conviction that drips authenticity, well, it’s just not going to get you what you want and you are going to have to keep polishing it, as he polished his performance everyday.

Carnegie grew up poor and that was embarrassing to him.  When he got to teachers college, he saw a way up through rhetoric, a way he knew suited his skills, a way that he could succeed at if he only went at it with hammer and tongs.

Wanting to be liked by the crowd, wanting to be popular is what most people grow up wanting.   Success means having friends who listened to you, who you could influence to do what you wanted.   That is dream power, soft power, power that puts you at the head of the crowd rather than separating you from it.

Carnegie understood that drive and offered tools you could use to make that happen.  He was so nice, so clean, so likeable that people wanted what he had, and if they didn’t have his drive, well, at least they could have his manual.

“Unless you like failure, you need to embrace the selective truth.”
— Jack Peltz, “Where The Road Hits The Rubber” (Roadies S1E9)

Being who others want to like, even if that means having a bag full of faces that you put on to suit the person you want to influence, well, there is a cost to that kind of behaviour.   It’s very hard to be committed to ideals and to truth when you have to have situational behaviour and ethics.

I love great corporate structures, places where people come together to share their skills and energy to make great things or to give great service.   I long to be a part of that team which revels in diversity, pulling together for greater goals.

I hate cheap corporate structures, though, those filled with fear and politics, where social pressure is a club to enforce compliance with some kind of imposed norms which treat people like interchangeable parts.

Carnegie was teaching people to be the kind of worker who put the sales figures ahead of almost anything, the one who would do whatever it takes to exceed expectations and rise in the corporate structure.   Because success is the ultimate virtue, the ends justify the means, and all that lovely groupthink.

Social status seeking is, of course, the most powerful force used to tame humans, to get them to go along, taking on the beliefs, choices & identity of the group.    Who doesn’t want to be embraced as a member of the gang?

How much, though, is it going to cost to be part of the in crowd?   How much of yourself do you have to give up?

For most people, their identity is as part of a group.   They are a member of a family, people from a neighbourhood, students at a school, one of a clique, part of a group with shared values.

Identity as an individual comes along later as they see the need to break away, try shifting groups until they find the need to stand alone, understanding their own heart and claiming their own presence.

That wasn’t the way it worked for me.   My aspergers parents didn’t know how to make a group, a safe space.   Instead, it was all about them, either in an narcissistic acting out way or in a sweet crackpot way.

I understand why people want to wrap themselves in group identity, in the tame warmth of fitting in, but only in an abstract, conceptual way.   It is easy to watch people who seek social status and know what they want and why, but it is much less easy for me to understand why that surrender of self to group norms and mores ever feels good and safe.

Carnegie’s basic message about success was simple: know your audience.

My message is much more the other side: know yourself.

As much as people love a binary, a duality, our messages aren’t all that different.

Carnegie preached that you couldn’t just follow a template, because unless your message appeared sincere, it wouldn’t work.

I talk about the importance of service, of being gracious and appropriate in a way that not only respects but that also serves the people with whom you are in relationship.

Wild and tame, the primary duality.

It’s just the tame bit that bloody well escapes me.

The Returned

The archetype is clear.

Society needs someone to do the dirty work, handling challenges far beyond the comfort of the normative.

Those who end up being selected to do that work are valued, put on a pedestal.

They are not, though, allowed back into polite society.  They are tainted, corrupted by their service.   They carry the stench of the unpalatable.   They may even carry the seeds of the disquieting challenges they faced, allowing those challenges to be reborn, or at least to be glimpsed in their scars.

The chosen have proven their ability to go beyond the conventional, the nice.   Because they know how, their very presence threatens the status quo, offers the possibility of upsetting the nice structures by which the rich keep power over the masses.

By admiring the fighters we rationalize our keeping our distance from them, isolating them as outside the bounds of real, good, pure humanity.   They have fallen into the abyss, been changed, and who knows what might now exist in their transformed soul?

Of course, this is the most challenging part of the heroes journey, the return.   We leave, enter the underworld, face the dark monsters and come back forever changed, both what we were before, nice and normal, and something new, our spirit annealed and hardened by the flames we had to traverse.

If society wanted what we bring back from our journey they would already have it, integrating it into the routines of belief.  No, what now lies within us is too challenging, too intense, too transformative, too terrifying to be easily accepted by those who never had to take the trip beyond comfort and through the terrain known as the terrors.

Even those few people who value me gaze into my soul and understand why others find me too overwhelming, too burning to look upon.     They may see the beauty and power in some of my words, but they know that even what they find useful is wrapped in a kind of emotional flame, a torrid intensity that is beyond what should be shared in a comfortable world.

“We don’t talk about death,” they tell me, even as they know that death and rebirth surge through my experience like a searing seam of lava which tears apart the wishful to reveal the authentic.

Finding the need to compartmentalize me off so that they can focus on matters at hand, they cannot understand why I too cannot wall off my own vision and come back to exist in a pleasant, conventional place.

Instead, I just keep recounting my experience out loud, as well as I can, until I hear it back from the world.

Sadly, though, I never have heard myself deeply mirrored.   I most probably never will, because I am one of the untouchables, infested with lessons from far beyond the normative, tales from the underworld that can only be glimpsed on this side as fables & archetypes, watered down and made only symbolic, their vitality neutered and their rawness purged.

When mythic tales are bowdlerized we can take the blood from them and replace it with fantasy, twisting them to remove the terror and leaving them just scary enough to tell at bedtime.   Cleaned up and commercialized, they become just sensational enough to support a business, offering a taste of the exotic to flavour the comforting and banal.

Why can’t I just dial it back, leaving just a touch of the flavour from my voyage rather than being too much, too intense, too intellectual, too queer, too scary, too demanding and too almost everything else you can name?   Why can’t I understand the simple rules of nice people, the ones everyone else plays by?

My personal journey started very early.  I don’t have a time when I was in the bosom of home and family; the mother who knew how to love me was always my mother in the sky.  I had to face something other than the conventional and embracing, for many reasons.

No matter how much people told me not to go there, I had to go there, for my own protection, my own safety and as much of my own health as I could salvage.

Having been there, though, I have entered the quarantine zone left for those whose exposures leave open wounds, so deep that they reveal what most work desperately to keep hidden.  My scars mark me out as transformed, the lessons of my torture and survival written on my skin, resonant in the words I so desperately try to share.

I am one of the returned, of those who has seen the deep structures, lived in the jangled wires and understands what lies beyond the dark portal to the underworld.

How can anyone like me, whose flesh has been burned away to reveal what lies beneath, still be seen as human, as tender, as sweet, as darling?

The wounded healer is nothing but human, even as her scars reveal that the essence of being human is not on the surface, not in the shallowness of desire, habit and reflex but rather in the depth of our hearts, in the human nature, the continuous common humanity that connects us all.   What looks like hideous disfigurement is merely the mark of revelation, gifts that others only choose to value when they don’t have the urge to turn away from what they fear for themselves.

The returned may learn how to pass through the world, cloaked in mufti, being of service to those we love, but in the moments when we take off that face we are mostly alone, solitary and lonely.   Having been pared to essentials, we see through things others take as real, the mechanisms exposed, the clouded thoughts swirling clusters that others cannot differentiate.

Finding a place to remove that shroud, to stand naked and be seen with compassion & understanding, though, is very hard.   We are the returned, the ones who went there and did the dirty work, becoming molten as the slag burned away, the tiny buttons that let others pressure us into easy, controlling fear melting in the exposure.

We have done the work asked, then returned, transformed, changelings bearing hard won gifts.

And we are greeted with fear, isolation and disgust.

Welcome home.

Your Fears, Their Problem

Everyone has things they resist in their life.   There are places we don’t want to go, areas that just aren’t us. We spend a lot of time knowing what we like and are good at so we don’t want to be told that we have to go someplace we feel uncomfortable, inept or false in.

You get to decide what isn’t you, what you don’t want to go near, what squicks you, what scares you.

How you deal with those fears in relationships that you care about, though, is a big deal.

Every kid knows that the time to put on a sweater is when your mother gets cold.  She may just be sitting on a bench while you are climbing all over the jungle gyms, but she worries, so she decides that she knows what is best for you.

No matter how confident you feel climbing the bars, when she feels a twinge of fear, imagining something going horribly wrong that involves a sobbing visit to the emergency room, she starts trying to pull you down, wants to get you to police yourself, to be less exuberant, to not try with such lovely abandon, to not take risks she is uncomfortable with even though you feel quite sure that you can make the leap.

Mothers are often told that worry is virtuous, that it is just an attempt to protect the people they love from a dangerous, cruel world. When I have been to support groups for parents of queer people, I find myself talking about how we have enough challenge negotiating our own fears and that adding your parents fear to the mix can be crushing, delaying good things rather than hastening them.

When transpeople come out to their families, often the people we love see the possible risks inherent in our behaviour, so they believe it is caring to be what they see as the voice of reason,  telling us to slow down, to take less risks, to not go where they see danger.

That voice, though, is rarely the voice of reason, rather it is the voice of fear.

Nobody else can directly feel the need for liberation, the joy of authenticity, the drive for emergence, the passion of our hearts.    Any benefit they get is second hand, seeing us when we succeed, when we get to own the happiness they claim to want for us.  Of course, they also see the bumps, the falls, the scrapes, the frustration and the pain we go through in the process of taking risks and finding our feet and that can often be tough to watch.

I remember a blind guy talking about his eighth birthday.   On that day, his mother told him, she would no longer rescue him when he bumped into something and hurt himself in the house.   She would just let him bawl, expecting him to get up and move on.

This wasn’t a gift he wanted on that day.  He liked having the comfort of mommy picking him up, paying attention, tending to him.

When he was in his twenties and told us this tale, though, he understood the awesome value of this present, this demanding he be present for himself.   And he also understood the high price his mother had to pay to give him the present, watching as her dear child bumped in the darkness, scared, alone and banged up.

She knew, though, that the best thing she could give him was encouraging to move past frustration, to learn to be persistent and resilient, fending for himself and owning his own power & agency.

It’s hard to say yes, hard to hang back when we see people we love taking risks that could cause them pain.

We often believe that we are much more caring, much kinder when we share our own fears with them.   If it scares us, shouldn’t it scare them?

We get to fear what we fear, yes.  But when we pass those fears on to other people, often the person we care about most, the one we want to protect, is us.

By leashing them, holding them back, threatening them with losing our support, we don’t have to face our own fears, don’t have to do our own work, don’t have to go to our own dark places.

Saying yes, even to things we never got to work in the past, is offering the gift of possibility and learning to the people we so much want to help blossom.  (1998)

One of the hardest things for transpeople, who have learned to police their own choices very hard with the combination of fear and the discomfort avoiding voice of the ego, is to embrace the choices of other people, especially other transpeople.

We are terrified that their choices might reflect badly on us, putting us in danger or disrepute.  We don’t want to have to have bits of them revealed that we find so ugly in ourselves that we struggle incredibly hard to hide those bits everyday.

It is only when you finally own that big trans surgery, the pulling the stick out of your own ass, that you can say “I would never, ever, ever make that choice for me, but it looks great on you!”

Somebody has to do the work that you aren’t able to do, the work that scares you.  Isn’t trans about the emergence of the individual rather the compliance with the apprehensions and enforced limits of the group, about escaping the safe view that peer pressure offers and boldly being yourself?

If we can’t affirm the success of others, won’t we just stay crabs in a bucket, tearing each other apart rather than working together to create more freedom and more growth?

The worst part of having success is to try finding someone who is happy for you.
— Bette Midler

A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.

Your fears are your fears.   That’s fine; you get to own them.

When you make your fears someone else’s problem, though, diminishing their dreams to keep you comfortable and feeling unthreatened, well, that’s not fair.

Every transperson has felt the sting of being asked to cater to the fears of others, to hide our nature in order to not upset other people.   We were told that if we did anything to make people uncomfortable, we would deserve whatever we got, whatever they chose to dump onto us.

4) The most difficult thing about trans is negotiating others fears. (2002)

Even when we went out to get support we quickly learned that the fears of our clinical professionals, our clerics and others were one of the biggest challenges we faced.   They chose not to encourage what they found distasteful, trying to constrain us to choices that they felt virtuous making for themselves.

For example, if they feared guns, they might impose those fears onto us, demanding that we surrender our weapons so they could destroy them.  Logically this makes little sense, since we can get another gun, but it makes them comfortable in an irrational, triggered way.

We have each experienced others trying to make their fears into our problem, have all felt the pain and impossibility of that demand.

How do we learn to encourage rather than discourage, affirm rather than negate, keep our fears for ourselves rather than spray them onto other people’s dreams?

How do we learn to say “Yes!’ even when we feel queasy imagining all that might go wrong?

Your fears, the terrors that limit and constrain your choices, are your fears.  Nobody says that you don’t get to own them.

When you make your fears somebody else’s problem, though, be that people who just need to use the restroom or those you love dearly, well, that’s when you step over the line.

Do not do unto others what you would find hateful to you.   Is being whipped with the fear of others something that you would ever want for yourself?

Denial As Life

If you know that you can’t easily get what you want and need, you have two choices.

You can suffer, always feeling hurt and deprived, using your own awareness of what you don’t have to justify whatever actions you take, even if they are grasping or vindictive.

At one point in college, I was in the worst dorm — Tower B, it was called — and students took out their aggression by doing things like busting up a vending machine and pushing it into the elevator.   I came up with a slogan for them and they loved it: “We’re Depraved Because We’re Denied!”

The other option, though, is to make that lack a virtue.   By embracing denial, you are empowered, seeing it as character building.   Learning to be grateful for what you do have, effectively using any resources you might acquire is not a bad thing.

Many spiritual paths understand æsthetic denial as a virtuous thing, allowing one to become clear of the desires of Eros and live a considered, conscious life.

There is a difference between being able to choose a monastic life and having to accept denial because you are not given any other choice, as anyone who was told by their church that the only righteous way to live with same-sex desire was to stay celibate will tell you.

For me, denial has always been a survival strategy.    While I was gifted with the chops to pull it off — a sharp mind, theological bent and savage willpower —  it was only the best choice I could make to protect myself in a world where so much of what I needed as a human was denied to me.

Mirroring was scant for me, if not non-existent.

My Aspergers parents didn’t know how to see, acknowledge and honour my emotional needs, down to the simple need for touch, attention and smiles.  Instead, they demanded that everything be about them, that any deviance was an attempt to punish and hurt them, deserving of any level of attack on me that they desired.

This severely impaired my own social development, so much so that I had few skills to connect with other children and learn as a member of their networks.

Instead, I was struggling to survive, leaving my teachers baffled as to why such a smart kid didn’t have the social discipline or support to get routine work done.

I was first sent to a counsellor about my trans nature in third grade.   I had learned by age seven or eight that any discovery of trans expression, of dressing up in secret, would be punished severely.  The actions may have given me comfort, but always at severe risk, teaching me that denial was always the best course of action.

How do you learn to date when your mother has already surrogate spoused you at age 13, when you know you are queer, and when you don’t have the simple training in social skills?   Girls expected me to be a guy, and when I failed at that, not being as cocky as they liked, relationships fell apart quickly.

Instead of seeing a world of possibilities for myself, I saw a world where denial was the only choice.  I had to hide myself, wrapping my personality in iconoclastic eccentricity, staying small and not taking the kind of simple risks which build confidence and skills.

I was enmeshed with my family, set as a caretaker, the target patient who negotiated the weirdness for all of us.

Making a virtue of that was my only choice, so when I joined a startup software company, I became the point person for negotiating weirdness, developing strategies, training and moving the company forward.

Anyone who values my writing will know that negotiating weirdness is what I still do, even to the point of being baffling and intense, too overwhelming to engage.   By denying my own needs with sheer discipline and intense thought, I work to pull structure out of the spinning void.

Like everything, denial is best in balance.   Too much of it and you lose important parts of life, like the capacity for human connection and opening to desire.

The bits you deny are human bits, part of your soul.  They don’t go away when you deny them, rather they are just sublimated, pushed down, glossed over.   This creates a hidden pool of emotion, one that is healthy when kept in balance but that can become fetid if not stirred up, drained and serviced once in a while.

When you have to go back and find feeling, bits of desire & passion to drive ambition & growth, well, going into that stagnant pool can be awfully tough.   Desires that have missed their time don’t age well even as you do, so touching them leaves you with inappropriate desires which can never really be fulfilled.

So many transwomen understand this as they struggle to claim a girlhood in a body that will never be female and never be young again.

For me, as much as my skill at æsthetic denial lets me explain this, the needs and desires of a lifetime lie just beneath the surface.   Even as I know that I am a lovable child of my creator, I also feel that no one will ever be able to see, embrace and love all of me.

Denial is an good skill to have, allowing you to not be controlled by your emotions in the moment, to consciously consider your response, seeing the situation in a clear context with the ability to defer gratification or acting out.

Too much of a good thing, though, is still too much.

I know why I found the need to learn denial, to subsume my own feelings because I was sure that I couldn’t get them respected & mirrored, to put aside my own needs because I learned I couldn’t get them met.

I also know that too much of that scarcity, pushing it too far, has accelerated my introversion, restricted my social skills, destroyed my trust, limited my joy in relationships and left me dry and crispy.

My life is a model of denial, of denial as a survival skill.   I have done good things with denial, yes, but the cost, well, the cost is clear, at least to me.

Explicit Intent

You can’t spell Shaman without sham.   Shamans are, by definition, mind manipulators, working to open up the vision of other people beyond their current limits.

We want to show connection, a connection that may be hidden at the current level of thinking.   You cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them, as Einstein noted.

This kind of revelation requires opening the mind and heart to a bigger picture, beyond the nice, hard facts that get us stuck.

The minute I hear someone fall back into a duality, trying to get a crisp binary — “Well is it Hot or Cold?  Up or Down?   Free or Captive?  Good or Evil? Which is it!?” —   I know that they aren’t open to seeing beyond their tunnel vision.   Nuance, texture and context escape them and they get crazy about the slippery slope, trying to insist that one step towards the other side will cause everything to turn to crap.

Shamans use tricks to expand the range of possibilities, to help move through walls that others see as hard & fixed, to get beyond boundaries into new possibilities.

For people who cling to a kind of intense cynicism, those tricks themselves are evil.   Nothing should move past the crisp, cold, hard facts that they cling to, the observations that they have branded scientific and fixed.

They have a point, of course.   Being deceived can be a bad thing, allowing others to play out their own hidden motives, to manipulate you in a dastardly and venal way.    Some have used tricks in a duplicitous manner, a sleight-of-hand rip off that leaves others disadvantaged.

When I was accused of manipulation back in high school (I think we were reading “Man The Manipulator“) , I had to understand the ethics of manipulation.  Was manipulation just bad all the time?   Should we never attempt to sway other people through our own manipulation?

The answer I came up with was simple.   As long as your intent was explicit and not covert, manipulation was acceptable.   If I told you that I wanted you to quit smoking and then used emotional and intellectual manipulation to move towards that goal, that is very different than telling you I loved you while really being out to fleece you out of your cash.

Those erstwhile cynics Penn & Teller came to the same conclusion.  Their intent is explicit: rather than pretending to have some mystical power, they tell you they are out to fool you.   And then, they do.  They aren’t gateways using the power of the deceased, they are tricksters, using the power of the brain.

Of course, women figured this out a long time ago.   Manipulating others is what we do, helping them get out of their ruts, see new possibilities and have the courage to move towards those better, bigger options.   Unless we open their hearts and minds, they can’t find ways to grow beyond, to moult their current shell and become new.

The moral women did this with explicit intent, gladly telling others about their intentions, interests and goals.   The less than moral women did this with concealed intent, playing games and leaving their marks at a disadvantage, using and abusing them.

As Penn & Teller have proved, magic done with explicit intent can still be amazing, potent and transformative.   In many ways it can be more so, because instead of writing the causes off as supernatural, we understand that we too can create these kind of visions, this kind of awe and influence.

I knew very early that I had powerful skills to manipulate, to use words and emotions to sway other people.  I could baffle with bullshit, convince with conviction and sway with seduction.

I also knew that to use those skills with integrity, I had to use them with explicit intent.   This baffled many people I worked with who were always trying to figure out my angle, suss out my hidden agenda, but they found that, in the end, I was speaking as honestly as I could.  They knew that if they had my skills they would be tempted to conceal their motives, hide their goals and obfuscate their objectives to make it easier to manipulate people, so they were surprised when I was just up front.

Many people, though, have never learned to clarify their own intent.  In the same way that we are rarely angry about what we think we are angry about, the current irritation only bringing up something deeper, we often don’t take the time to really understand what we want and what we are willing to do to get it.  Our desires get mixed in with our own neediness, our perceived entitlements taint our logic.

Most hidden manipulators just perceive themselves as trying to get what they deserve, what they were promised.  Their good intentions form a cover that helps them rationalize their actions.  As long as they believe they are manipulating for the greater good, they are entitled to use deception to achieve their goals, for the ends justify the means.

Confronting people about their true, deeper intent is always a challenge, for it strips away their comforting justifications for concealed manipulation.   No one wants to be accused of deceit; in their mind, they were only doing what was required.   Others did this to them, so they have ground to return the favour, tit-for tat.

This results in people acting out, trying to hurt other people just to express their pain.   Emotional manipulation that comes out of a  damaged place often causes much more harm than good, as I have found many times when people tried to hurt me to gain control.

Getting clear on what you want, what you really, really want, is hard.  Moving beyond that to understand what moral rules you know you need to honour in getting those things is even harder.

One of the hardest things for me to learn was about the limits of manipulation.   Leaning on people too much doesn’t make them change, in fact it often makes them more resistant, more hardened and more determined.   People heal in their own way and in their own time, even me, and that means manipulation has real limits.

When I share my explicit intent now and someone turns away from me, I don’t chase them anymore, trying to find a way to sweet talk them into letting me manipulate them over time.  How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?    Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.

I am a shaman and I use shams.  I never use them, though without explicit intent, and that includes disclosure.   The people I am close to know my position, but they still laugh as I touch them deeply and make another point, seeing the techniques play out in front of them.

Explicit intent is a foundation of my practice.   And yes, it is something I wish others would practice too.

Not That Answer!

"Oh, brilliant one, so wise, calm, centred and authentic, powerful because you are comfortable in your own skin, what is the answer to ascension?  How can I own my own life, become gracious in the world?   Just tell me and I will do it!"

Telling stories about making hard choices, about taking responsibility, about finding courage, serenity and wisdom, the mature transperson offered their hard-won lessons about growth, healing & transformation.

"Wait!  That's a crap answer!  That would take way too much work!  Too hard!

"Apparently, you didn't understand the question: how do I become like you in a way that I find easy, comfortable and normative?   

"If you can't tell me, I'll just find another bleedin' guru.  There are lots of people with easy answers on the internet, you know!"

After twenty five years, Holly Boswell doesn’t go to meetings of the trans support group she founded anymore.   When she started hyperventilating as she heard new transpeople spew out the same stuff about oppression, how the world was against them, and how they should be able to just be normative, she knew it was time to leave.

Everyone wants their life to be like a Hallmark Channel movie, pretty and witty, where you end up finding a home and a perfect partner after a lovely meet-cute and a whirlwind romance with just a touch of drama, but even most normative people understand that is just a fantasy.

Complaining that your life hasn’t turned out that way while you try to figure out just which of you externals you can change enough to have people see you as you want to be seen has been found, in the end, to not be a very successful strategy for building a whole, healthy and happy new life.

Transvestism is about changing your clothes.
Transsexualism is about changing your body.
Transgender is about changing your mind.

To grow, you have to face loss.   Most of the time, that loss isn’t of something you already owned, rather it is the loss of the way you imagined that you wanted your future to be.    You want to change that one magical thing that will make all your normative dreams come true, find that special relationship that will complete and heal you with ease, grace and immense wish fulfillment.

So many are looking for shortcuts that eliminate loss or at least the risk of loss.  They want no hard choices, no letting go of their own abjection.  The cruel world should change to embrace them, being as they wished, rather than asking them to change for the world.

Transpeople who have done the hard work of healing, of emerging to become new, are usually willing to share the answers that they have found, willing to coach in the techniques that helped them integrate their inner and outer life, becoming authentic.

Those answers, though, are always about doing the work, about leaving the Lucite bubble that seals off a fantasy world, filtering out anything that challenges us to transform, and engaging what is.   Just sitting around, eating fish tacos and complaining about how the world sucks has never created real change, not changed choices that make you more present, more aware and more powerful, not in a changed culture that includes your voice and your participation.

Walking beyond the limits of conventional heterosexism always means walking beyond the promises of conventional heterosexism.   The easy, simple dreams aren’t part of the plan for someone who claims their own unique expression.

The truth is, though, that those easy, simple dreams are rarely fulfilled anyway, with plenty of divorce, pain and loneliness among those who tried to follow the rules.   If those promises had worked for us we wouldn’t have had to walk away and claim our inner truth, following our own Eros to personal liberation.

The lesson that you have to shatter your ego, that inner voice that complains when life isn’t as you wre promised it “should be,” in order to find peace is well understood in spiritual teachings, but it is a hard pill to swallow in a culture that promises the more you buy in, the more you buy, the more happy you will be.

Letting go of “should” to embrace what is is the way to becoming empowered, becoming comfortable in your own skin.   Your fears, even the fear of looking too strong, too loud, too powerful to be loved, block the way of the love that you seek.

So much of the world is and always will be out of my control.   I can’t change others to be who I want them to be.   Everyone heals in their own time and in their own way, even me.   Until I engage the process, let go of my ego, I will suffer, and my suffering will never let me open to blossoming, to shining brightly.

This is not the answer that you want to hear.  We know that.

Yet, no matter how much you act out your pain, spewing your distress on others, wanting to hold your breath, turn blue and quit unless the world hews to your demands, giving you what you know that you are entitled to, no one can help you find peace, growth or happiness until you are ready to let go and become new.

There is nothing magic that you can buy, no simple procedure to change your body and your history.   The only thing that can be changed is your choices, and the only force that can make those changes is you.

When all the answers you want to hear don’t work then you have to start evaluating the answers, the solutions that you didn’t want to hear, the ones that involve work, trade-offs and costs.

Finding the answers, though, well, in the end, it’s the only thing that’s worth the effort.

And that’s the message that grown-up transpeople want to share with you.


In some cultures, there were three ways to become a shaman. One identified as a shaman early in life, one trains to be a shaman, or your life falls apart and you have to go through the process of creating yourself anew.

Callan has done all three of those things.  As a brilliant transwoman who embarked on a journey of discovery, training and conscious creation, her awakening has been clear, deep and profound.

You can’t learn shamanism from a book, trying to recreate some ancient rituals, like drumming or incantations.   Simply invoking something shamanic from the past does not open the juncture where shamans can negotiate the challenge of being really present right now, in this time and in this world.

Shamans have always been a vibrant and vigorous part of the current culture, using the images and materials at hand to reveal connection, move between worlds seen as separate, and hasten the healing which comes from drawing together in love and not fear.

There are fundamental lessons, basic truths that all shamans end up touching, but the challenge is manifesting those truths in a modern context, using the symbols and stories we share today to reveal continuous, common humanity.

Using wit, insight and the power of the koan to move beyond conventional limits, Callan opens up the possibilities that exist in an alternate future where we trust our heart, our mind and our power rather than feeling constrained by old habits.   The trick of seeing beyond is in the power of imagining our own blossoming, revealing our beauty & brilliance.

Tracing the connections which already exist inside of us, Callan offers both challenge and encouragement, asking us to bring forth the gifts that we have held deep inside.   Mirroring what you have learned to hide allows you to trust the possibility incarnate in you, opening a new future with compassion and tender understanding.

With her corporate and marketing experience, Callan can help you build your stories into effective tools for expanding your life.  After a life of being a change agent, Callan knows how to move beyond fear and playing small into the zones where life is full, rich and powerful.’

In businesses, Callan cuts to the heart of the matter with insightful questions, opening up new ways to see projects and team interaction, offering alternative visions of interactions.  By focusing on process, roadblocks are cleared so the organic gifts of each person go towards contributing to shared success rather than being burned in frustration and friction.  Callan’s deep technical background helps move complex problems to practical solutions.

Cutting through to the core, slicing through walls with elegant words and sharp questions edged with a calming & affirming wit, Callan is a modern shaman, bringing the best of essential human understanding to open paths for new movement, new growth, new healing, new innovation and new life.

Shaman:Kōan:Connection:Callan.   Callan is a modern shaman, bringing affirmation and intelligence to the challenge of moving beyond and invoking the new in the world, beyond the limiting boundaries of convention.

Writing Legend

Everyone loves a good legend.

When we hear a story that quickly and effectively invokes magical power in the world, we pay attention.

In an information economy, attention is the ultimate currency.   When we get someone to pay attention to us, to what we are selling, we have the opportunity to win them over to us, to get them on our side.

An effective legend tells people quickly why what you have is important to them, compelling & satisfying, something they want to take on-board and hold inside.

We do that by striking resonances with what they already hold and believe, by extending and illustrating the legends they already hold dear.   We become a part of what they know they value and want to stand with.

One person’s legend is another person’s bullshit.  Not all stories will resonate with all people, so the legends have to be crafted to make sense to our target audience.   Just because we find the story compelling doesn’t mean our audience will.   For example, we may believe that success in sailboat racing reveals our magical ability to win, but others may just see the legends we spin about that as being full of irrelevant & bloated ego.

Legends always cut two ways, both liberating and constraining us.   Choices must be made in creating a legend for they are embedded into the tale, so no legend can be everything to everyone.   Legends lay out both what we are fighting for and what we are fighting against, the purpose for our struggle, the benefits of our victory.   Trying to be mass and class at the same time, for example, tends to cancel our own efforts to create an impact out, rendering us impotent.  The liberation that clear choices give us always also leads to the constraints that clear choices give us.

Our legend has to become our lifemyth for us to project it with conviction in the world.   Unless our choices mirror and support our legend, the words we offer ring false, become empty and ineffective.  No matter how much we might want people to believe what we say rather than the facts of what we do and have done, you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

Powerful legends are each unique, though they always follow thematic conventions.  To create a legend, we take pieces of what resonates with those we want to connect with and reassemble them, putting our own twist and flavour to the tale.     Unless our story serves our audience, they will not take it on board, will not make it part of their own exposition, will not integrate it into their own worldview, will not use it to service and extend the legends that they already hold dear.

The range of themes for legends are extensive.   Sometimes our power comes from our successes, from how we were able to get things done and move the world, and sometimes it comes from our abjection, how we share victimization with others.

Legends are the stories we tell to invoke magical power in the world.   Our own legend invokes our own magical power, telling others why they should give attention to us, opening to the ways we embody something that resonates with their own understanding & belief.

I am thinking about all this because I have the need for a new legend, one that is more accessible and easy to digest while not taking away all my depth, intensity and brooding.

My actual origin myth, well, it’s not only quite complex & full of nuance, it’s also not particularly effective.  People don’t respond to it quickly and even when people find some value in what I offer they find it hard to convey to others why they too should be interested and pay attention to me.

Everyone is, at some time or other in their life, a salesperson.   We want other people to buy what we are selling, to give what we have to offer a chance.  That takes a bit of marketing, effective presentation & packaging, a bit of spin and an effective story that can be polished into legend.

Becoming legendary is becoming the stuff of stories, tales that add up to a compelling image of who you are in the world.

Most people, yes, don’t think about their legend, don’t shape their stories to become compelling and effective in the tasks of getting attention, staying in the mind, and coming together to paint a picture.  They don’t have a sense of themselves as a brand.

People who do need to be seen, though, who need to take power in the world to get things done or get their ideas into the conversation, though, have to care a lot about effective stories.

They have to care about their legends.

Spoonful of Sugar

Can I be entertaining enough?

The line between religion & theatre has always been very thin.  We enact our beliefs through poetry, vestments, ritual, architecture and more in order to bring people to first to a delight, then to a comfort and maybe eventually to an understanding of what we believe about the line between the physical & the spiritual world.

We wrap our theology in smells & bells, making it engaging, compelling and enjoyable to sit through the symbolic rigmarole and the teaching sermon.   Fun & engaging is how we break through the pull of the everyday world, the need to work, the desire to sleep, the will to play.

They come for the fun and stay for the nutrition, are attracted by the shiny and slowly come to value the content.  Only by transporting people to new worlds, be they worlds of quiet calm, wild creativity or overwhelming passion can we reveal why lifting out of the mundane is so important.

For transpeople, though, with our cultural history of being marginalized as entertainment, in side shows and drag events, paraded as freaks on television, open to mocking and the intrusive queries the normative feel entitled probe the disabled with, well, one of the first things we want other people to know is that we do NOT present ourselves for their entertainment.   We are not clowns, not just people in funny costumes, not only travesty for condescension.

Yet, if our presence draws attention, opening up some kind of atavistic connection and primal understanding, shouldn’t we use that spotlight for our own higher purposes?    Entertaining is often the beginning of opening, of being able to communicate to people who are enraptured and enthralled.

I want you, though, to laugh with me rather than to laugh at me, to see me as a leader rather than a clown.   Inviting attention, going to the front of the room is something I know how to do as a guerrilla — I had my own damn daily TV show, after all — but being in the spotlight feels exposed and risky as a gal.

One amazing event at my first Southern Comfort Conference in 1993 was connecting with the incredible TBB.   We took the stage together after just a few hours, keeping each other focused and safe.   In front of an audience of transpeople, we were able to be seen for our content, not our strangeness as distorted freaks.

Being able to stand up, alone, without cast, crew, director or producer, seems crucial though to standing up and having my voice heard in the world.   It is past time for me to speak for myself, as my father reminded me on his deathbed, but to do that, I first have to engage the crowd, have to be entertaining enough to draw them in and keep them coming back.

My voice is the tool I use to entertain.   That Jonathan Winters energy, the queerness I knew even before my transness resolved into focus, is always with me, bubbling out with sound & poetry.   To bound that voice to feminine, sweet and mannered, though, cutting off the edges that reveal a trip through male puberty, feels like surrendering the intensity and range I have always used to speak for myself.

I have no interest to be entertaining just to be entertaining. I don’t have that kind of ego, that kind of need for applause & attention.  Using humour & drama to leaven lessons, to make them more accessible and enjoyable, well, that seems like a useful and reasonable approach.

The willingness to take the risk to appearing a fool, to stand up & stand out, emerging from the background and allowing yourself to be examined, with all your faults, trusting that people will get the joke, will see beyond, will respond with warmth, will focus on what lies within and not on the shell, well, that’s a tough splat to recover from if things go amiss.   Young, resilient people with plenty of latent inhibition, sure of their attractiveness, well they bounce back quickly, but some of us aren’t as robust anymore.

The evidence shows that in the past, I have been seen as entertaining, that I have the presence to capture an audience’s interest.

The question today is if I can muster and maintain enough of that energy.   I am a serious person, with serious thoughts who has lived a life full of serious challenges, and I know that transpeople still face serious struggles in the world.

Having to negotiate other people’s fears while they resist doing the work just feels like more abuse, more denial, more pain that I have to eat as others act out their own shit.

What I need from other people is deep mirroring and understanding, need them to be able to enter my world to be present for me, not just to use my concierge skills and empathic heart to enter their world to make them feel better.

None of that happens, though, unless I first connect with other people mind to mind and heart to heart.   I gotta be someone they want to spend time with, want to listen to, want to see as valuable enough to be worth their scarce caring and resources.

Can I be entertaining enough?   Can I scrape together enough wherewithal, get over my scars, be present enough to win hearts & minds?  Can I do that alone, like I have had to do almost everything in my long, queer life?

Is there a version of me that moves beyond the deep thoughts and deep pain to engage an audience, to win them over so they open up, come back and start to give me what I need?

Can I be entertaining enough?

Negotiating Ambivalence

Is there anything that is tougher for a human to overcome than their own ambivalence?

External abuse is hard, no doubt, the pain caused by the circumstances that we find ourselves in.   It takes focus and discipline to endure it, yes, but most times we face it as the member of a group, a family, a community, a people who share the same difficult burdens.

Our ambivalence, though, we have to deal with alone.   Those voices in our head are always there and always just ours, creeping into moments when we might be feeling happy or confident, chewing away at our success, at our sense of self.

We are finite creatures living in a finite world and that means choices must always be made.   Every decision for something is a decision against something else.  This means that no decision is ever perfect, instead being merely the best balance, the best compromise that we can strike in the moment between stimulus and response.

Claim the new & risky or avoid loss by sticking to the known & limiting?   Bite the bullet & take the hit or fight back & expect to win?   Make a bold choice or play along?   Go with wild individuality or a tame attempt to be appropriate?

Who doesn’t want both comfort and achievement, want to be both well liked and elegantly unique?   We want to satisfy people who love us, want to keep them happy, but we want to satisfy ourselves too, reaching for our own happiness.

Emerging as trans in the world always requires negotiating ambivalence.   From a very young age we find ourselves betwixt and between, wanting what we are told we shouldn’t want, torn between our desire for connection and our desire to follow our heart.

This negotiating ambivalence, though, is a challenge that all humans run into eventually.   Being torn between what we should do, the rational and appropriate, and what we want to do, the emotional and intense is always a challenging experience.

How much do we follow the rules, avoid discomfort, stay proper and how much do we do our own thing, take risks and reach for what might be beyond our easy grasp?

For those immersed in the normative, the questions raised by this ambivalence are often never even spoken.   Instead, the social pressure to fit in, to be who other people expect us to be overrides this kind of introspection.   We stay on the move, running after what we believe should make us happy, never really questioning the assumptions & assertions that underlie that chase.

This is the fundamental promise of the normative, that if we just get the one perfect thing that will complete us, we will be happy.  The perfect partner, the ideal job, the special car, the amazing dress, something is out there that will deliver the kind of comfort and joy that we have been pursuing all our life.

Slowing down and questioning those drives, taking the time to actually enter our own ambivalence, facing our fears and beliefs, and figuring out what we do want, even if it isn’t just to gain social standing while we fit in better, takes a kind of courage and determination that doesn’t come easily.  It is much easier to just act out of emotion when our buttons are pushed than to do the hard work of seeing how those triggers are wired into us, seeing how our fears and needs have been trained up to keep us under control.

Is momentum all we need to overcome ambivalence, the speed to break away from those nagging voices inside of us, or is actually listening to, deeply engaging those voices more important?

Transpeople, by their very emergence, honour the voices inside over the cultural expectations bolted onto us by social expectations.  The amount we venerate those voices, though, is revealed in our queerness.

Everyone wants to be both wild, free & unique while also being tame, embraced & assimilated.   This is the primary duality; how much are we willing to fit in, how much do we need to stand out?

Many of us try and be as little queer as possible, just enough to let our own cries of truth out but not enough to deny us the comfort, ease and promises that are wrapped in the assertion of the normative.   We struggle with the question of how queer is too queer, how queer is not queer enough.   Where are we denying, amputating too much of our heart, where are we just being rude and self-centred rather than playing nicely with others?

We want a group to join where all of us can fit, yet that often means enduring shaming and shaping which demands we surrender our own voice to the group in order to become fixed in group identity.    We want others to ease the burden of negotiating our own ambivalence, to offer us an externalized solution, but any external solution can never completely address the conflicting voices we hold inside.

The point where we have to actually enter our own ambivalence, need to start combing through the colourful strands of our own nature rather than just trying to bury them under a machine made, commercial life, is the point where the work of trans-shamans becomes useful to us.   As we deal with the loss of illusions, we have to thread our way through the contradictions and ambiguities of our own rich and nuanced identity.

To me, the forced skills at negotiating ambivalence seems to be the gift that trans people offer in the world.   We are change agents because we are aware of the lines beyond expectations, walking though walls that others have been taught to see as fixed, rigid and impassible.

It’s just what we do.

(As I write this, I am amazed how much of this was contained in my first presentation at Southern Comfort Conference 23 years ago, TG & Recovery)

Trans Elder

I know my role.

I’m a trans elder, a wise one, a crone, a grandparent, there to help the next generation, helping the parents of today take care of the young ones.

There are two big problems with this role.

First, transpeople don’t grow up respecting elders.   They emerge in a state of rebellion, of furious claiming, of intense personal focus, of ruthless formation.  They emerge into a swirl of peer pressure, enforced political correctness, facing the need to surrender their voice to the group or face shaming.

Second, and this is the tough bit because it’s about me, I never really got the experience of being a trans kid.  There wasn’t really anyone there to support me, to help me grow, all that.

For me, this is tough because in many ways I never really got the experience of being a kid.   With two Aspergers parents, I had to be adultified early, feeling unsafe, taking care of myself, and being the target patient in the family unit.

When a coach who was a mom told me that I would have been a great mom, I sobbed inside.   I was wired to be a mom, but instead of being able to let that nature blossom, serving others, building characters in the world and feeling valued, I ended up having to take care of my parents.

“Power femme trans theologian drag mom” used to be my quick identity summary twenty years ago.    The only heartbreaking bit about that is how much I didn’t get to pour my blessings into the world, instead living with the marginalizing, dehumanizing stigma that came with being trans.

It’s really hard to be the elder when you don’t have rich and intense experience of being the youth, don’t have that reservoir of joy to feed you in the quiet times when you are alone and lonely.   Old people are supposed to have their deep reveries to feed them, their achievements and children to reflect upon, not just a shattered pile of dreams that have no possibility of coming together at this time of life.

Being the grandmother without ever being the girl, well, it takes some focus and discipline.   It requires sewing together a patched up girlhood, assembled from fragmented and tiny memories bound together with decades of cultural immersion, learning from the stories of your sisters.  While it may cover you, too often you find a frayed bit, a place where the fabric just doesn’t hold together, and the awareness of what you missed, what you were denied just overwhelm.   You fall though the holes in your own story.

Elders, though, are desperately needed, even if the young ones don’t quite understand that.  Someone has to provide context and encouragement, even as youth offers exuberance and expansive dreams.   There is value in taking care of the details, like making sure people are fed and the laundry is done.

You can’t expect to be thanked for the seeds you nurtured and put out into the world.   It is only when people move on to offering their own pieces beyond ego that they can even imagine what has to be done to create a garden where the next generation can find more fertile ground than we did, where they can grow stronger and taller, creating ecosystems that we could only wish for.

There are delights in being an elder, yes.   Seeing people we helped start to come into their own, standing on their own two feet, finding reasons to move beyond their gawky fears and emerge from their shell, well, that’s a good thing.

Unless we have our own space, our own home, though, built up over time in more than just mental discipline and aesthetic denial, it is hard to relax, feel protected, enjoy another good day.    Even as I write this, I know that this is something that those who have not become elders won’t yet understand, as focused as they are on their own very real and very present challenges.

I know my role.   And I know how I had to cobble it together, scratch it out, make it my own.

The roles that should have led up to it, well, missing them had a cost.  Not roles, just holes for me.

The show, though, well, it must go on, right?   Casting is done, so like the plump girl in high school who gets the role of the grandmother, wrapped in a ratty old fur coat, we do the best that we can.  Everyone has their part, even if the leads don’t quite understand as they practice the kissing scenes with a giggle.

Elder flower sometime, eh?

Curious Work

It’s almost impossible to teach anyone anything that they don’t already know.

The best any teacher can do is clarify details, reveal connections and encourage bringing the knowledge forward where it can be used.     Teachers help focus and build on understandings which already exist, which explains the old koan “When the student is ready, a teacher will appear.”   Until you know that there is something you don’t know, something that you want to know, something that you need to know, why would you bother looking for a teacher?

The “Aha!” moment in learning comes when things that you already know suddenly make sense in a new and useful way.   The pieces click together into a structure that lets you access the information, lets you use it to make better choices or expand your understanding.

How can you be fascinated about something that you don’t even have an inkling about?   How can you have the curiosity to pursue something you don’t even know exists?   Why would you struggle to achieve something that you can’t even imagine is possible?  Why would you strive to achieve an end that you don’t even have a fuzzy vision about?

There are many ways to be exposed to new possibilities, different ideas, but without the curiosity to explore them and the discrimination to see what is good and worth working towards teachers are just demanding noise creators, cranking out a lot of blah-blah-blah that you just don’t care about.

The ultimate lesson in the world is simple: mastery takes work.   There are no shortcuts to becoming better, no matter how much we want there to be. Unless we see some very good reason to get smarter, better, and more capable, why go through all the hassle of doing the work?

Children have an affinity for people who can help them learn what they know that they need to learn, as Fred Rogers told us.   They know that to keep growing and maturing, they have to do the work, even if much of that work is play, experimentation and almost all of the work is made fascinating with a deep sense of curiosity.   They want to take the next step on their path, not leaping ahead to some imposed ideal but consolidating and extending what they already know.

When people aren’t yet ready to learn what we are sure that they need to know, it is impossible to get our teaching through to them.   The first thing we need to do is help them see why changing their old pattern, the one where they are focused on their current interests to the exclusion of other things that would be good for them, the pattern that blocks their vision of better because it shuts down their curiosity with blinders, why changing that would lead to better.

Everyone heals in their own time and their own way, even you.  Healing is hard work, not because the answers aren’t out there, but mostly because to get to them we have to clear out the blocks we hold to rebirth, moving beyond the magical, wishful thinking that we assembled to comfort us with separation.

To master the new, we have to let go of that which no longer serves us, making hard choices about what we want so much that we are willing to work for it and what we just cling to because we would like it.   Mastery demands we put our old self behind us in order to become more aware, more skilled, more disciplined and more capable.

If you don’t already know that you want something more than you have now, how will you ever be willing to do the work to learn a new way of seeing, a new way of being?

Even if we are ambivalent about our aspirations, fearing failure or fearing that they will cost too much, without those visions, how would we ever have the will to learn and grow?

Teaching is very often about telling people what they don’t want to hear, specifically that they have to work harder to get what they want.   That’s why encouragement is such an important part of the process, because unless they believe the work can lead them beyond their current muddle to better, they won’t be able to engage the lessons.

I was told over twenty years ago that I did grad work in trans.   People still working to get their basics aren’t going to be able to engage what I have to share.   There are lots of reasons why my offerings are just going to be seen as noise, as rantings which push hot buttons and don’t offer simple, practical solutions to everyday problems.

Seeking for a wider, deeper, more transcendent understanding of being trans in culture is what I do.  I know that the only people who will be willing to engage that work are the people who are facing the same challenges, who want to work in this area.

It’s almost impossible to teach anyone anything that they don’t already know.   Unless they have some knowledge already, some curiosity and some need to learn, they are not yet ready to learn what they don’t know that they don’t know, what they don’t even know that it would be useful for them to know.

Maybe they don’t need to know it.  In an information economy, attention is the ultimate currency, so we need to spend it on what we prioritize, on what we are sure we want or need to know.

Curiosity, though, has always lead me to revelation, to wisdom and to growth.  I like being able to look closely enough to tell the bad from the good, the good from the excellent, the excellent from the amazing.

Sometimes that means I see where people might be helped by learning something new.   Until they know that they need to know it though, well, they aren’t ready to learn it, and trying to teach them just wastes my time and annoys the student.

Power Presence

“So,” I asked Christine, “do you want to be powerful or powerless in the world?”

She winced in psychic pain.

“Isn’t there are another choice?” she implored.

I found Amy Cuddy yesterday, a Harvard social scientist who focuses on non-verbal communications.  Her 2012 TED Global talk shows how your body language shapes not only how other people see you, but also how you feel about yourself, about how you act.

So, do you want to be powerful or powerless in the world?

Like many transwomen, I play small and defensive in the world, crouched in a way that tries to hide much of what I want to conceal about myself.  In my mind, that concealment should let what I want to be seen be revealed, but I suspect that is just wishful thinking.

Instead, that playing small makes other people wonder what I have to hide, makes them see me as suspect and creepy.  Not so good.

Going to the grocery store after midnight was the preferred mode for one transwoman, who believed that being there when there was no crowd allowed her to duck scrutiny.   Being there at an odd time, though, alone in a quiet market, made her more visible.   What did she have to hide?

I really hoped that working with a performance coach would help me with this presence stuff, help me build confidence in presentation, but their limits of seeing me in a reductive way meant they want more to fight than to comfort & encourage in possibility.

Playing small has been my go-to since I was three and found out that staying out of my mother’s eyeline could keep me from getting creamed.   My family was not affirming about my having presence, more picking out flaws and potential dangers than about pride.

This translated into a guerrilla strategy to take power.   I wouldn’t be the shiny one up front, the figurehead who others saw as appropriate.  Instead, I would be the jester, the trickster, asking just the key question at just the right time.  I was unpredictable and magical, free to spring a surprising insight.

Staying in the shadows is the key to that role, but as a visible transwoman, staying in the shadows just marks you out as suspect, not as plain.

I know why the “low-power poses” that Ms. Cuddy describes make me feel safer, more comfortable.   I also know, though, why they don’t actually make me safer, because they show weakness and lower my resistance to stress.

Leadership demands the power to handle stress, according to Ms. Cuddy, especially in social threat situations, like when we are being evaluated.   For a transwoman, who always feels herself under strong scrutiny, this is a big deal.

I know how to use many of the techniques that Ms. Cuddy offers in mufti, but they don’t feel as easy when presenting as a woman.   Does the very act of taking power erase my femininity?   How do you shift power as you shift gender, which was the first question I asked at the first gender conference I went to, some 23 years ago now.

Deliberately cutting back on my presence so that I don’t appear too damn big as a woman, well, that is a comforting idea.  Let others see me as cute, not powerful.   How else will people see my tender heart, not just my capacity to shake the ground?

So, do you want to be powerful or powerless in the world?

Isn’t there another choice?

Women understand this challenge.  Many of us only find our own power when we have something to fight for, something we can’t get by just being nice. For me, fighting for my parents was vital, so I pulled out the stops, used the tools that needed to be used.

I disconnected my mother’s respirator mask in the ICU which got me a spanking from the doctor — the attending assigned a baby doc to do the deed — but which also proved the point that she needed a full face mask like the one we found she had to use on her C-PAP.   I entered the fight and I won.

That ballsy choice, though, wasn’t pretty or sweet or nice.  It wouldn’t play as well on a date or in a gaggle of gals.  Power plays have their limits.

In “The Confidence Code“, the authors wonder why WNBA players don’t have the omnipresent confidence of NBA players, but they also see the women go back into the locker room where they again have to be one of the girls.   They don’t even trace back into romantic relationships where at least some of the women, I am sure, like letting their partners take the lead and be out front.

So much of my angst about presence comes from a lack of effective mirroring, especially from people who see and value the feminine in me.   I know how much I encourage other transwomen to come from their strength and not their attempt at being cute, but finding people who are comfortable with power, especially the power of a mature woman, is not easy.

I believe that transpeople can be empowered in the world (1997).   The thread of how to take power while trans is loaded into all of my work, though driving exuberance from a community around that has been very hard, especially because many transpeople define themselves by their abject powerlessness.

If we have not claimed our own empowerment, owned our own relationship with power, then encouraging others to take power is scary because the fear of megalomania runs deep, even tainting how other transpeople’s choices will reflect on us.   It’s crabs in a barrel; nobody gets out of here alive.

It is time, past time, for me to take power in the world as an embodied transperson, time to go to the front of the room, open up and speak.

Doesn’t that sound like a good idea?

What does presence look like?  

Presence is being attuned to who you are and being able to express that, but what it looks like to other people is that you believe your story, that you are confident without being arrogant and you are communicating in a way that is fluid & harmonious because you are being authentic.

When we are not being authentic, when we are lying, all of a sudden there are all these asymmetries, there are all these things that aren't going together in what we are saying & what we are doing. 

Believing your story, having "grounded enthusiasm," is really important, because if you don't believe your story there is no way other people will believe your story.  If people pick up any hints that you aren't really "in this," aren't open to challenges that can make what you better, why should they buy what you're selling?
— Amy Cuddy

More from on presence & power from Ms. Cuddy after the jump.   She is probably worth your time.

Continue reading Power Presence

Front Of The Room

I’m good for the group when I’m in the front of the room.

That’s not something I like to have to acknowledge.  My inclination is to stay on the edge of the room, observing, understanding, seeing connections.

I don’t speak unless I have something to say.  I have never been a person who likes to hear themselves talk, for many reasons.  Early I learned that it was safer if I kept my head down, so if I felt the need to rise up and say something it better value the time & attention of everyone in the room, better add something valuable to the conversation in a concise and sharp way.

When I do speak up, though, it is not unusual for me to feel something happening, see heads turning, sense ears cocking in my direction.  My words are more authoritative than expected, and somehow, I carry a bit of rock star energy.  Wherever I am, in that moment, becomes the front of the room.   The fast performer comes out and lights up the issues.

Reflecting the concerns of the group, I address the elephants in the room, making connections between threads that seemed disparate, illuminating what was lurking just beneath the surface of the conversation.  With a quick reference from my own exploration, I offer new handles, new metaphors, new ways of thinking that can lead to new solutions.

Training as a school teacher, I give good meeting.  Listening is much more important that speaking, the only way to bring forward the issues, get all the facts out and then to build consensus.   Encouraging others to share by creating a safe space, one in which a valiant attempt is more important than a by-the-book answer, I keep meetings flowing and on point.   Cutting through claptrap to reveal the essence with a wry laugh helps everyone stay connected.

My goal has always been to find a place where I could just stay safe in the corner and contribute as needed.   As a transwoman, I felt exposed and challenging, so I didn’t want to be intrusive, stirring up too much noise.   I wanted to support leaders, wanted to be the helpmate, encouraging and guiding a bit where needed.

If I want to blossom again, though, want to expand my audience, feel the connections and have other people value me so they will reward my presence, I suspect that, somehow, I have to choose to be in the front of the room.

That idea makes my stomach tighten, makes me queasy.   Sure I am smart, but I have never been popular, never been an easy pal.  Isn’t the person in the front of the room by definition set apart, isolated, a target?

My time as an observer has been powerful and that discipline may be why I am so effective at the front of the room: I listen first and foremost before speaking.   I want to help the awareness of the group to be honoured, not just the desires of my own ego.

“You spoke for your mother.  You spoke for me.  Now is the time to speak for yourself.”   My father repeated that many times during his delusional last weeks in the hospital.

My mother, when I asked her why she thought I stayed by her side in the hospital, suggested it was because I liked having conversations with smart people.  While I assured her that I didn’t go to hospitals for chats when one of my family was not a patient, she had observed something true, that staff quickly took me for smart & competent, accepting me as a member of the care team.  When my sister saw the imperious Russian ICU doctor a year or so later, he noted that he remembered me, surprising in the context of the sea of people he deals with everyday.

TBB is clear that she wants to see me in the front of the room because if I am speaking, she trusts that her concerns and experience will be represented.   My words spread wider might give her more points of reference to illuminate shared experience in the world, and that is something she believes would be valuable.

The exceptional have always had to understand both the mainstream and the marginalized existence in a way the normative never have.   By standing to show the connections, we can make the narrative broader, stronger and more integrated, including more people across the board.   Every apparently normative person has some places where their individual story differs from the norm, so when we respect the non-normative we respect everyone, even those who appear normative at first glance.

When someone like me is in front of the room, diverse contributions are valued, not just normative offerings.  Why shouldn’t that someone be me?

Well, I can think of many reasons, but all of them are about my human fragility and not about respecting something bigger than myself.   They are about ducking the spotlight and wanting people to find me, not about the truth that I actually am pretty good in the spotlight, pretty useful in the front of the room.

I have no plan to get into the front of the room, no strategy and no support system to encourage, affirm & mirror me.  I have no room in mind where I belong in the front, nor any idea of how to create one on my own, even if I do sometimes imagine the Church Of The Divine Surprise.

But somehow, I suspect, if I fit anywhere, it is at the front of the room.