Hit The Wall

In my life, I have hit my fair share of walls.

I often think about where I went wrong in this life, where I might have made better choices that would have lead to better outcomes.

Others, though, just want a quick way to judge me.

“If you’re so smart,” my mother would snipe, “then why aren’t you rich?”

For her, financial and social success were the easiest to measure, the standard benchmark, the one thing she knew how to value & brag about.   Your children had success when other women can get the success.

If you believe that money is the only scorecard and the key to happiness, well, aren’t the wealthy the smartest and most successful people of all in this world?   Doesn’t just looking wealthy give you credibility and status that no one in their right mind can challenge?

Choosing to value something more than cash can seem almost like sacrilege in a consumer culture.  Money can’t buy you love, but it certainly can buy you something that feels a lot like it, as the marketers are more than happy to tell you.

The choice to turn away from external success wasn’t really my plan.   I just needed to focus on something else, something inner, something deeper.

To be in the big world people expected me to be a man, making tough choices and taking the blows.   What they were looking for is what they already thought they wanted; a transcendent corporate shaman was not in the job description.   I knew I couldn’t pass as born female, but my very femme heart had trouble both trying to open and staying in some kind of box that met people’s assumptions & expectations.

It’s one thing to be a woman in business, with all the challenges and benefits, but another to be a warrant woman in business, a guy-in-a-dress that we all indulge for his whimsical choices in clothing.  Today getting hired as a transwoman is a much less daunting challenge than it was back in the 1990s.

To go on my journey past assumptions, I had to not be expected to play into them everyday at work. Compartmentalization was the antithesis of integration and vulnerability.

Time and time again, though, I ran into walls, huge stoppers that felt almost impossible to transit.  Instead of crossing them, I explored them, scouted the territory to see what they were made of, understanding the foundations of the public ideas that meant to keep trans hidden, closeted and marginalized.

Those observations are the basis of my understanding of the terrain transpeople live in.   When I am at a panel discussion about trans, the audience often comes up with questions that the experts can’t answer, queries about the bounds transpeople face.   I stand up and give my perspective, helping people understand trans beyond the conventions, and people find it useful, even if they find me too queer to be comfortable.

What I usually end up saying, though, is what I needed to hear when I faced those walls.   I was doing it alone, going from zero to one, but when I meet someone else who is facing similar challenges, going from one to two, I can help.

What I needed, what I cried for, what was lacking was mirroring.

Two thirds of giving help is encouraging, so having the courage to show your own trans heart, to be sure that someone else has seen it, has helped you polish it a bit, just makes it so much easier to stand and reveal.    You have the connection to someone else who understands and values you, reflecting your grace, which helps keep you pumped up while others are taking shots and trying to cut you down for their comfort.

Nobody knew how to say yes to me, to say yes to my queer, yes to my intensity, yes to my big femme heart.    Mostly fears played out, sharing the shaming of that inner jailer who warns that if you are too big, too much, too present, you will just scare the shit out of the crowd.

Time and time again, I hit the wall and it stopped me cold.    My walls were big and stony, well set and very deep.

Are there times when I wished I just cut away from the wall rather than being stopped by them?   Do I sometimes think it would have been lovely to go corporate, to make my bones, build a comfortable and commercial life?   Sure.

Service & contemplation, though, were more important to me than stuff & status.  I had learned early to live without social standing, to rely on my connection with something bigger than a web of judgmental humans.  This baffled the humans — why wouldn’t I just play along? — but it made sense to me, the only choice that did.

So many people want to cluck their tongue, shake their head and say “My, my, if you had only made another choice, a better choice, one that would have put you on a more positive path.”   What they miss is that to make another choice you would have had to be a different person at that point with a different outlook and different values, willing to battle for something different.

We make the best choice we can in the moment, and while that choice may, in retrospect, appear to be less than idea, well, if we could have made a better choice we would have.  It’s much easier for others to twit us for what they see went wrong than to stand by us and help us have the breath for the risks that might just help us go right.

If I had made other choices, I wouldn’t have been who I am.

I like to believe that what I offer has value, even if many don’t see it.   The traditions of human cultures is often to value those who bridge between worlds,  those who bring insight and compassion.

Hitting the wall, wall after wall after wall, has defined my life.

All this crashing experience has not made me an expert in hurdling barriers.

Rather I have become an expert in walls, expert in how they pop up to stop us, what they are built of and what we can do when we hit them.    I have the knowledge to help others deal with the walls that confront them, offering the a hints and encouragement to get over them.

It is comforting to think that my hitting the wall can offer others who come after me smarter & easier ways to breach the walls, to move on, to claim the space & success beyond.

As for me, though, a life time of wall hitting has a cost.   Someone has to get out of here but not all of us will.    The walls, well, they were always intended to stop.

Feminine Value

People heal & grow in their own way and their own time.    Even you.

This truth is difficult for those of us who see where healing is needed and want it right now, on our schedule and on our terms.   When someone just doesn’t get it, makes what we understand to be bad choices, keeps missing, we get frustrated, angry and hurt.

People heal & grow in their own way and their own time, it is true, but people do heal & grow.   They have the capacity to learn, to choose again, to mature, to become new and better.

To be there for them while that happens, though, takes an astounding amount of presence and patience.  We have to take the blows as they act out, have to keep strong, have to help them move one step at a time, even if those steps seem sideways or backwards.

Being there while those we love grow and heal, through the messes and through the years, well, that’s the job of mothers.    Balancing doing what we think is right and delighting in the divine surprise of seeing & helping someone else blossom into their own person, well, that’s a high calling.

Women understand that attending to the mundane, mixed with just a touch of magic, is vital to creating a new and better future.  Our future lies in those who will shape tomorrow and those people are being taken care of by women today.

For me, this nurturing nature is at the heart of the feminine.

In a go, go, go culture, where success is measured by what you can win today, it is easy for the slow, gracious hand of the feminine to be undervalued and even ignored.   In that culture the imposed is more valued than the organic, how we make our big mark on the world is more important than how we tend to growing good, healthy and vibrant children, organizations, communities.   We are expected to announce our presence with authority.

Coaches are trained to ask “What are your goals?”  rather than asking “What do you want to grow?”   When you reply that you want to work the process, to be present and engaged in the moment, open to the possibilities, that organic approach is unfathomable.   A vision you can impose onto the world is what they value, not a presence that cares and facilitates growth & healing.

Women’s work is undervalued because it seems so small: changing a diaper, listening to a story, finding an outfit, feeding a family.  That work, though, underpins the possibilities of the world, creating stronger, healthier and more aware people.

It takes a lifetime of small and sacred acts for us to become the change we need to see in the world.

For a change agent, it is always easier to engage your own change than to do the really, really hard part of the work: staying open to see, respect & encourage the change of others.   We cannot really change, though, unless the network we live in changes, for if there is no movement, we will always just be pulled out of place.

When one person emerges a whole family emerges, goes the old saw.   For social animals, transformation comes in tribes, not in individuals.    Until and unless those we are connected to also embrace change, we cannot be seen, understood and valued, cannot be mirrored in an affirming and loving way.

Like Shaw’s tailor, I have to hold open the space for transformation, measuring others anew each time that I meet them.   That take a kind of openness & vulnerability that most people have never cultivated, instead working from the neatly walled expectations & assumptions which comfort them with an illusion of separation & agency.

This is the challenge of every mother.   Who is your child today?   What is new and what have they let go of?   What do you have to engage and what do you have to let go of?   It’s not all going to be easy, fun or good, but it is all going to be very important, at least to them.

One vital reason I stayed trans-natural was that I saw the kind of defences that my sisters had to put up to walk as visibly trans in the world.  They needed to armour up to keep their tender trans heart protected.

As a femme, this is something I could never do.   Head down and going for the goal is just not my way.   Being connected, engaged, open and of service to those I loved was vital to me.   I didn’t need to teach them how to go for it in the world, I needed to be ready to bandage up their cuts and scrapes, to gently help them find the new and better, to be there as they healed & grew in their own time and their own way.

If someone won’t fight with you, they won’t fight for you either.   Every kid knows that, knows that sparring is an act of love & commitment.   We know when we are being used as a punching bag and we know when someone is helping us develop our skills, our awareness and our power.

That fight, though, isn’t a one bout and out deal.   It is a continuous, caring presence, a circling back to basics, a mirror that reflects that which we cannot yet see in ourselves, a passing back of the gift of God we need to stay connected.

The value of the feminine is in our enthusiasm for the reality of growth and healing, for change which brings the new and the better.  Every kiss is an act of hope, every tear an affirmation of persistence.

The price for this commitment is very high, but who would we be if we didn’t hold open our heart for those who need us?

And while others may just see my body and assume whatever, who would I be if I didn’t open my heart to a world that needs growth & healing?


I deflate too fast.

This is a world that rewards the bouncy, those who rebound quickly.   Get your feelings hurt, make a faux pas, have a set back, whatever, then learn from it and keep moving on, take the next step and live.

For many, trying to find a technique to bounce back is the theme of a life.   The power escapes them and yet they understand how important it is, how it shapes and defines the course of a life.

Many look for tools that should make them more resilient, more bouncy.   What they find on offer is a sheaf full of mental tricks, perky aphorisms and sincere mottoes which are intended to help us rationalize the slights away.

Those rationalizations, though, can only try and build a shell over a sagging heart.   Attempting to teach a way to stuff the hole, put a finger in the dyke, patch up the breach, well,  it may be of some assistance in limiting loss, but it can never teach us how to win, how to refill and restore our buoyant equilibrium.

I deflate too fast.   When I run up against pins and needles in the world, the unconsidered, uncaring, unknowing and uncompassionate bluster of others, rather than just keeping on, the boldness seeps out of me and I want to remove myself to safety.

Knowing how to put up a shell, how to not let people see that they got me, keeping up a performance is a strategy that I have come to own.   Pierce my heart and my head comes into play, a smart shield ready to push back, to keep me standing.   “Thank you sir!  May I have another?”   I know how to appear tough., how to show leather.

Inside, though, I deflate.   That tender, feminine heart just loses form and integrity hidden behind a wall of will.

Reprogramming your responses, unwiring your emotional buttons can make you more effective in the world, no doubt.   The cost, though, is usually bound in the compartmentalization required, the way we learn to cut ourselves off from feelings and heart.   We seek to impose “should” on the world, wrapping our feelings in iron, but rather than bouncing back, we often just hit with a big thud, clunking along without being present.

The only way to regain your wind, to breathe in what you need to survive whole and vulnerable, without battlements, is to have the connection to something bigger which refills and nurtures you.

Our connections, the network of tubes and pipes that ties us to who and what we value most, is what keeps us full, pumped up and resilient.   To be dendrites in a web of humanity is to be recharged and replenished, making our heart swell, making our soul robust.

So many people just don’t have those connections, the ones that keep them full of emotional energy.   That’s why we fall back on tricks, on defences, on rationalizations, on should & would & could rather than risking the chance of a blow out which will leave us incapacitated.   Stuffing the holes seems easier than doing the hard work of connecting.

For the most bouncy people, their connections are in their grounding.   They know themselves to be part of the earth and the swell of people on it.   From their earliest days they felt included in circles of energy, the gift of life, love and exuberance passed from hand to hand, from mouth to mouth, from heart to heart.

This kind of connection is powerful and basic, the kind that humans who grew up in a tight, consistent community have always taken for granted.  They know themselves to be wired in, to be part of the network, always having someone to smile at them and start to refill any sags in their heart.

These people build community around them, becoming the aunt, making others feel a part to build team support and caring.   Rather than using the threat of separation to motivate others they know that over the long term, people who will be kind, considerate and helpful to each other make a better place for all.

I very much admire these people, but, I have never really felt like I am one of them.    I may strive to make others feel connected and cared for,  but my personal connection has never been to the ground, to the earth, to other people, to community.

Instead, I learned early to be connected to the sky, to my cosmic mother who lives there.    A relationship with creation was my only hope for survival, so when I felt deflated, I got off on my own to hear the voices which travelled inside of me.    The voices outside were terrifying and dangerous, but I was sure that I was a loved child of God.

It is my relationship with the universe that feeds me so that I could do what I saw as the incredibly hard work of being in relationship with people around me.   They may have had some sense of my body, but being trapped as just flesh felt putrefying to me, crushing my spirit and my dreams.   My trans heart kept me floating above, supported by a big mind facing a family that didn’t know how to see, value and build connection.

My connection to creation was my gift to those I loved, offering them a context, a sense that there was always something bigger and more vibrant than the tortured skin which could nourish them.   The network of stories that we hold about what lies beyond, about transcendence and transformation, about renewal and rebirth were my strength and the gift I wanted to share.

I live, though, in a world where embodiment counts, where connection to real, flesh & blood humans is an important part of any life.   Seeing how others tend to those connections, finding strength and warmth and grace and energy in them, makes me feel distant, isolated, alone.

From the minute we are born our flesh starts to die and our story starts to grow until when we leave this realm our story is all that is left of us.  Aging requires us letting go of our fleshly connection to the earth and grabbing on to our spiritual connection to something larger and more lasting.

Dreaming of being more grounded is lovely, but forces work against that.  Even my feet, my connection to the ground, have turned against me, the result of many decades of denial of the requirements of the flesh.   What is a woman, I ask, when she can’t even love her own shoes. her interface with the soil?

I deflate too fast nowadays, my own husk now thinned for a tighter connection with spirit.   Being on a mission from God, a deeper calling, is almost never a good way to connect with the ardently embodied, those who feel connected though social conventions & mores,  defended by lovely assertions about how things should be.

The divine surprise is not accessible through those layers, so unless what I offer seems to meet with their expectations & assumptions, I must be off the mark and without value.   They wash in the blood, the spirit something vaguely terrifying.   They not only don’t understand how anyone can live with a primary connection to the sky, they can’t understand why anyone would want to.   My isolation, introversion and struggle is beyond their experience, beyond their comprehension.

I know why I live on the cusp and I know how that life has been a blessing to those who had need of letting go and becoming new.   I hold their spirit, not their flesh, so I can affirm what is inside of them that they both fear and desperately need.

My own flesh, though, is going through the usual weakening of age.  It cannot just carry me without attention and tending, cannot endure the neglect that I put it through as I desperately tried to stay inflated for others.

I deflate too fast and when I do, I can feel every ache & loss, every blow that cut me hard.   It would be nice to be more bouncy.

The connections to others, to family and friends, though, were never built, so I cannot fall back on them for the breath I need now.  My backwards life, spirit first and body later, may have had blessings, but it also has costs.

Our bounce, our true bounce, comes from how we feel filled up by a world of connections and sharing.  That is something to value, indeed.

In Their Place

Women who search the internet for porn have the hots for the mythical creatures called vampires while men have the hots for the mythical creatures called shemales, at least according to Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, who probed a billion search histories to make this claim.

Straight men love boobs, penises, people who are trying to look sexy and who are ready to have sex with them.   Getting that all in one package, well, how could these guys possibly resist?

For these guys, shemales are wonderful, erotic and incredibly attractive when they are in their place, when acting out on a porn site or offering their services through a smutty ad.

What happens, though, when you see one of these creatures break through the fourth wall and ends up sitting in the cubicle next to you in the office?   How do you handle the conflicting messages inside of you?   How do you not get your private desire spilled out in front of your co-workers?

Attention always contains tension.    Growing up under the male gaze, women know this absolutely.  That tension, though, is often hard for men to manage, especially when their sexual urges cross with the demand to be professional and collegial.

Women, for many centuries, were kept in their place by a system that wanted to avoid just this kind of interaction.   Their place was in the home, at the stove, and bent over a chair, not in the office.

Compartmentalization has always been a classic patriarchal solution, chaining people down so they stay in their place, be those people foreigners, peasants or of a different hue.    It allowed men to stay at the top of the heap with others supporting rather than challenging them in the places where they claimed ownership.

As long as transpeople stay in their place, well, live and let live some say.

It’s when they enter our space, the spaces we have marked as ours, that they ask to be put back into their place.

In Minnesota there is a religious group that doesn’t want to deny transpeople the right to use the restroom, they just want every transperson to ask permission first.   They want us to acknowledge that it is their space we are entering and that they and only they have the right to decide who is entitled to use it.

Many voters are angry that others have invaded their space, taking the place away from good, real Americans like them.   These foreigners need to know their place, like the harvest field or the motel bathroom, and not get uppity or challenging.

What happens when one of them, the kind who should know enough to stay in their own place, ends up next to us?   Aren’t we entitled to show what we believe, to put them back in their place with our words and actions?

How do we shove that bloody shemale back through the screen, into the porn sites where they belong?  How do we keep them from polluting polite, healthy country, making sure that the tender children are never exposed to the idea that being trans in public is ever acceptable or proper?

When we feel the attention of others, we often feel the tension inside of them.   They are feeling something inside of themselves triggered by our presence, something they don’t want to have to expose, something they could conceal much more easily if we just stayed in our place, whatever they think that is.

That tension can be explosive, sometimes leading to breakthroughs and sometimes leading to breakdowns.    The walls get breached and either hearts and minds open or defence lashes out, striking at whatever, whoever seems irritating.

Keeping other people in their place, though, so you don’t have to face your own inner fears and demons, so your life can be cleaner and easier, so you can retain comfort & power, so the compartments you have built inside of yourself never get revealed for the fragile and oppressive constructs that they are, well, that’s just not fair, compassionate or even reasonable.

If you strive to keep other people in their place, that gives others permission to keep you in your place, even against your will.  You stand for separation rather than connection, for hierarchy rather than liberty, for maintaining the status quo rather than growth, healing and empowerment.

I have felt others try and put me in my place, slashing out to get me to move back, out of their sight, out of their mind, and out of any position to challenge them.   They want to maintain their neat structures which place them in charge and demote others.

We make a better corporation, a better community, a better world when we encourage people to find their own place, rather than pigeonholing them into roles based on some surface criteria.   Diversity benefits us, sharing the best of each.

The place of transwomen isn’t just in drag shows and porn sites, even if those boxes would make your life easier.  Our place is as people offering their gifts and effort in the wide, beautiful world.

And if that makes you uncomfortable, well, do the growth & healing to deal with it.

Woman Choices

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.

If you believe that we are what we choose, then that definition is clear and perfect.    If, on the other hand, you believe that woman and female means the same thing, it will sound stupid to you, but gender is about much more than sex roles, it is about complex, human communication. (1998)

Woman choices aren’t fundamental, they are essential.   Both men and women can cook a meal, for example, but women do it in a womanly way.

Gender isn’t in the prose of what we do in the world — get up, use the loo, eat breakfast, go to work, lead a meeting, meet friends, change a tire and so on — rather it is in the poetry of how we do those things, the style, focus and flair we give to what we do.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.

For people outside the role, it is easy to think that those choices are only about clothing, about the uniform we wear, but if you have ever seen a man in a dress you know that the way we wear clothes is much more important than what we wear.   Anyone can wear a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, but women wear them differently, and not just because they are mostly female bodied.

In the new film Hurricane Bianca, Roy Haylock brings his creation of Bianca DelRio into a wider world, fighting for queer dignity.   Ms. DelRio and her associates are clearly drag queens, gay men in dresses, glamorous clowns.

As Karma Johnstone, though, Bianca Leigh plays fairy godmother, encouraging and informing.   Ms Leigh is a transwoman who emerged some thirty years ago, also a performer in Manhattan but very clearly not a gay boy underneath.   She makes the choices of a woman and does so with grace, elegance, dignity, style and wit.

Instead of just playing to his own understanding about what a transwoman is, a problem that a film about drag queens could easily have, Matt Kugelman, who exists in the celebration of diversity that is NYC, just chose to be inclusive.   This is a lesson many other filmmakers could benefit from.

One of the most depressing books I have ever read is “No One Understands You and What To Do About It” by Heidi Grant Halvorson.  It is a lecture on how people stereotype others, projecting their own expectations and assumptions onto others.

One of her examples is that people who are seen as creative are also seen as being untalented for management, as proven by experiments.    The actual success of creatives in management has no effect on these judgments.

Women can be as smart, intense, mouthy, compeditive and strong as a man, but those attributes are seen differently when they are wrapped in the choices of a woman.   The underlying stereotypes both empower and constrain.

Ms. Halvorson struggles to find a silver lining in this by encouraging her readers to use those quickly identified stereotypes to their own advantage, creating a presentation of self that will manipulate the short thinking of others to their advantage.   In other words, she sells you some of the skills of a con artist.

My most inspiring book of the year, “The End of Average” by L. Todd Rose explains why those stereotypes are just wrong and wrong headed, why they do not model the real characteristics and capacities of people.   As gamely as Mr. Rose argues the point, though, Ms. Halvorson is happy to tell us that most people aren’t listening, using emotional cues rather than conscious ones.

When Bianca Leigh makes the choices of a woman, they work well for her because she has been effectively femaled.  “I would never have clocked you!” says Haylock’s character in the film.   I may have read her instantly, but then again, I am in the habit of looking beyond.

For many transwomen, though, that kind of presentation just isn’t possible.  This is what I decided in the mid 1980s when I looked at my body, shaped by the male puberty it went through, and decided that trying to be effectively femaled was just out of the possibility for me.

I wrote about this contrast between Jhana Steele and Kymberleigh Richards in the authoritative “Guy-In-A-Dress Line.” (1999)  Since then, Ms Richards, in her role as LA transportation advocate has been shut down by Fox News when her trans nature became obvious on-air.   Her choices were deemed to be disquieting to their audience who wanted emotional ease.

As much as Ms. Halvorson tells us that we need to use stereotyping to get our message across, when our message is about the jagged nature of humans that Mr. Rose speaks of, well, the cognitive dissonance just causes heads to explode.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.   I have been doing that for decades now, in my own way.   Letting go of the manly choices I tried to make, the defences I created in an attempt to hide my feminine heart, my trans nature was hard, but the immersion in woman culture was crucial.

You cannot embrace woman perspective and choices while still holding on to man thinking.   You cannot own the feminine in a masculine way.  Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body, transgender is about changing your mind.

My choices, though, are yet read against the stereotyping of my body.  The awareness of that clash threads all through my own actions, how free and safe I am to show my choices in public.

All my millions of words, all my sharp rationality, all my deep therapy, all my lucid elucidation, well, they are the fruit of a tree I planted when I came out back in the mid-1980s and I decided that trying to feel safe & seen as a woman was just never, ever going to work for me.

Instead of blossoming as a woman I blossomed as a theologian, and that cerebral journey took me to a place where I don’t fit easily into everyday human interactions.

This path took the dissonance of society and buried it deeply in me, having to police simple choices, like what I want to wear, replacing them with the  considered, disciplined and constrained choices of æsthetic denial.   The separation between myself and the assumptions & expectations of others got wider and wider until it became a gulf that none of us could cross.

My choices were smart, aware and kind, but they were never the simple, emotional and instinctual choices of a woman.   The heart of a woman was at the basis of all of them, but they all had to be filtered out past a comb of androgyny,  always considering the stereotypes written onto my big, male body.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.    These choices are informed by heart and by training, by having learned what has worked in the past to be powerful in the world.

“Men and women take power in very different ways.   As your gender has shifted, how has the way you take power in the world also changed?”
— Callan, Southern Comfort Conference, 1993

Bianca Leigh makes the choices of a woman — a woman of transgender history — in the world.   She looks amazing doing it.

My vital permission to make those choices, though, has never been easy or secure.  Instead, I keep writing the same stuff over and over again, going deeper and farther away from the sweet momentum of an everyday human life.

The choices of a woman shape a life, an entire life from girlhood to goddess time.  The choice to have to hide, deny and fear your own womanly heart also shape a life; you can even hear that in the stories that Ms. Leigh tells.

That choice has shaped my life differently, watching it move past me as I was unable to claim myself in it.

I hear myself speak about the experience of a lifetime and feel the slippery separation as others need to slide away from my tale, returning to what they already know, holding on to what they need to hang on to.   If I had been able to claim a life, though, well, that would have different in some unseeable, unknowable way.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.

If making woman choices isn’t effective in the outside world for me, and making man choices is false role play, then what choices can I make?  It is the challenge I identified twenty years ago: tell the truth and be called a liar, lie and be seen as truthful.  The Guy-In-A-Dress Line still cuts through.

In my world, I know who I am and my choices are always grounded in that truth.

In your world, though, well, walls, boxes, assumptions & stereotypes abound.


Too Self Aware

One word of advice to all those ripening transpeople out there who are just about ready to drop into the world:

Don’t get too self aware.

Being trans in the world is hard enough.   Being trans and too self aware, though, is just a killer.

If you can go out into the world and not be aware of how awkward or different or contradictory you look & sound, your life will be a damn sight easier.

I had to learn to be self-policing when I was very young.  I knew that my mother’s narcissism, anger and pain could be set off by the slightest misstep on my part, ending up with me getting blasted as responsible for her  profound unhappiness, so I learned to be very, very, very aware of the choices I made in the world.   Like a dog who can sniff out the hormone fugue which comes before an epileptic seizure, I became hyper-vigilant for the slightest whiff of a coming explosion.

While there are benefits to this kind of instantaneous analysis, to this kind of permanent defensive crouch, the cost is very high.

Not being as painfully self aware, well, it now seems to me to be a much better choice, much easier and much less stressful.

I recently saw a transwoman talk about how coming out helped her quit smoking and lose 50 pounds, finally owning happiness.   While I was happy for her, in looking at the dress she chose, how it didn’t seem to flatter her body shape, listening to her presentation, I saw things that I would not have been happy to show.

For her, though, her lack of self-awareness, her constrained self-scrutiny allowed her to just stand in the spotlight and say her piece, letting her get her positive message of liberation out into the world.   I found this refreshing and admirable, reminding me of how my acute self-awareness came at a very, very high price.

The challenge for anyone performing in the world, even just as a gal on a first date, is how to be present with abandon and awareness at the same time.   We have to get the feedback to know how we are being seen so we can engage * adapt while also dancing like nobody’s watching.   We need to be fresh, loose and fluid while also being considered, considerate and measured.

Like any multitasking, we can’t do both of these things at the same time, so we have to master ultra fine time-slicing, able to switch so quickly between participant and observer that we appear seamless and graceful.  By switching quickly we cover the spectrum.

This is one reason women often travel together, watching out for each other, having each others backs, allowing someone else to be the observer so we can more effectively immerse in the participant role.   As a transwoman, though, we aren’t connected into networks of other women, instead being on a very individual journey.

Knowing that I had too much self-awareness, I  searched for assistance and affirmation of moving to what seemed instinctive approaches, but my mastery of the meta, my coaches omnipresent awareness of my queerness and having them constantly probe my defences did not help lead me to a place where I could be confident and comfortable letting my self-awareness drop.

For those of you who can go back to a childhood where self-awareness was not a vital requirement, or at least you learned to trust your performance and not stand in fear of having people without emotions trash it, that’s a very good thing.

You need to be self aware to remove the stick from your butt, but too much self awareness will just end up leading you to hide, to stay away from just letting go and letting God.   Like most of life, a binary solution won’t work, instead you need adaptive balance, flexible analogue thinking, a neural network kind of approach.

It is very easy for self-awareness to slip over into situational awareness which can slip over into other awareness.   Living as an empath, looking to read how others are seeing you, how you are coming across and what they want to hear takes up a lot of energy.  It also keeps you of service to others and it may also keep you safe, but it doesn’t keep you bold & free, doesn’t lead to surprises, to lovely or challenging surprises.

Too much of anything is a problem, leading you past effective balance.   We are all jagged, though, with strengths and weaknesses, too much of one thing or the other, with predictable consequences.   Every gift has a price, every blessing a downside.   Being muscle bound has a price, just like being flabby does.

I don’t know how to move beyond painful self-awareness.   It’s not something most people understand because they never had the reason or the inclination to get caught up in examination, questioning and doubt.   I have been told that even when I try to be loose and free, my awareness shines right through, creating an instant separation between me and those who are not used to living inside the cerebral, therapeutic, reflective process.

Don’t get too self aware.   Take the wisdom as it comes, yes, but stay playful, engaged and trusting, doing the best that you can in the moment and trusting that your beautiful humanity will shine through.   Perfection is impossible, but true presence & commitment allows people to see your jagged truth, your desires and your learning, allows them to connect with you on a messy and real level.

Don’t get too much of anything.   Too defended, too dramatic, too arrogant, too compliant, too whatever.  Find balance as much as you can while being yourself and claiming your own mastery.    Getting that balance in a group, though, a family or an organization or a network or such, seems to be a good idea; we all need encouragement and someone to help us feel safe and seen.

My awareness teaches me this lesson of moderation, but it my isolation seems to deny me the ability to own it.

Conversation Beyond

The most beautiful part of any transperson is inside of them

You can’t see who we are just from looking at the outside.   This is true for any human, of course, but for those of us whose heart drove us to beyond the conventions of assigned gender, our story and our vision is always far past current expectations.

This means that the only way we can be appreciated is by being engaged, by taking the time and effort to see beyond our current façade.  While we may resist showing you all of us, instead policing our expression to show only what we believe you will like, what will not scare you or cause you to reduce us to some fundamental box, in safety we blossom and reveal our tender trans hearts.

Finding places where we can show who we are, where people are ready to hear and see beyond their expectations is the only way we can possibly get the understanding and affirmation that we need.   Any time that it feels like we are just operating inside of the assumptions of normativity, the need to self-police is kicked up, restraining us from offering all that we have inside, stopping us from being our best self.

I know how much of a question mark I am when I walk in the room.   Passing by me may leave me just another big woman, but sitting across from me, scrutinizing me pretty easily reveals that my history has some twists in it, some queer ripples under the surface.

Who the hell am I if they can’t tell from my appearance?   Am I trapped in my own delusion, am I out to bullshit them, am I dangerous or warped?   What can I offer, who will I push on, how can they trust me?  So many questions can swim beneath the surface, even beneath the awareness of those who hold them.

The only way to resolve this tension is for me to reveal myself.  Showing who I am inside can lead to others seeing me as a full, safe, engaged, valuable and interesting person.   It can also lead to them seeing me as odd, different and dangerous, far outside of choices that they would ever make for themselves or even would approve of, beyond appropriate morality.   It’s a crap-shoot.

For me, just passing through the world and trying to stay unnoticed isn’t really much use.   Trying to convince people that I went through puberty as a female is also unsatisfying, as it demands that I keep my head and my voice down even as my body is still speaking loudly.   I gave up on trying to look normative a long time ago, even if that doesn’t mean that I want to be seen as a performer or a freak.

I know who I am.   I am not slim, young or cute.   I am not someone who really understands how to be part of the party, how to play along, engaging in comfortable small talk about conventional topics like real estate, jobs and children.    My life has been awfully queer, from my parents to my theological bent, and while that means I can offer unique gifts, it also means that fitting in nicely isn’t something I have ever, ever been able to do well.

Becoming part of the conversation, a member of the group, one of the community, a player on the team is important.   Doing that while trying to keep our inner life & history invisible means we can’t really be a part, a member, a player, can’t be fully present.

Joining a conversation where the the language doesn’t include any words, symbols or concepts that can express what lies inside of us, that can communicate our experience of the world, is a frustration beyond explaining.   Worse, people who don’t have any idea what we are talking about have no idea what we are talking about, no structure or context to understand.   They often assume that the limits of their knowledge are the limits of the universe, that anything they can’t get must be meaningless, pointless, valueless.

I have spent my life engaging in conversations about what other people know, about how they see the world, about what they need, about their concerns.   I know that every business book will tell me that meeting consumers expectations, just with a little twist of innovation and quality is the key to gaining customers.

A conversation beyond, though, is what I need, what I desperately need.   A monologue is useful, important, vital, but it doesn’t serve the requirements of a social animal, the needing to be seen, heard and valued.   It is what every transperson needs, what we search for, what feeds our growth and healing into the zone of transcendent possibility.

When I meet people, especially transpeople, I usually ask them to tell me a story.   I don’t care what story they tell me, because just by what tale they pick they will reveal themselves. I want to have a glimpse into their conversation with the world, want to hear what they value, what they have to say.   Unless I listen to them there is no way I can ever get all their beauty, ever understand what doesn’t show on the outside.

The divine surprise is always outside of my expectations.   It is most often revealed by conversations that go beyond my assumptions or my comfort zone, by getting a glimpse through the eyes of another and seeing connections that might have eluded me otherwise.

Without a breath of the beyond we are doomed to small routine, to limited vision, to stunted dreams.

I need conversations that go beyond, for beyond is always where the future is, all the love and living that waits for us beyond the limits of our fears.

Battle Beaten

I’ve been doing some business books recently, Nike, Disney and the like.

The message that comes through is that work is war, that success is what counts and winning only comes through combat.   You are only as good as your last achievement, so if you aren’t willing or able to battle today, well, get off the playing field and leave it to the big bucks.

What can you do for me?   How are you going to meet the desires of consumers, get them to show up and open their pocketbook?  Are you tough enough, disciplined enough, focused enough to fight for attention, for awareness, for seduction, for success, for life?

Every time I turn on the media I see something designed to sell, selling the program, selling the audience, selling the sponsors, selling the product.  It’s a battle just to stay above water, a culture where everyone is now an independent contractor, a place where little counts other than what you can do for me, right now.

It’s the market, sure, but today it is a market where there is no room for heart unless it comes packaged and put on the block as a commodity.

There was a time when I wanted to play this game, when showing virtuosity was delightful, when I could feel like a valued part of a team.   I loved corporate culture, was ready for battle and good at it.

Instead of continuing to climb that ladder, though, I felt the need to leave it, to claim my own heart and my own awareness.   This was tough duty as I had no mentors, no coaches, no support system back in the day.   I had to be an icebreaker.

I knew people who transitioned in place, but I saw the costs they paid, the need to stay apparently normative, fitting in boxes.   Not me.

For a decade, I struggled to give back, to offer the kind of support that I had needed to others.  I fought the battle, in my own way, even as I resisted becoming a visible trans commodity, getting a comforting act together and taking it on the road.

What I gave, though, I wasn’t getting back.  My heart is so femme that family and nurturing was my focus, not the battle of the market, economic, political or otherwise.

My sister is forever battered by the business pressure at work, so much so that I have to take care of her while she has no energy left for me.   She wants to take care of me with a bag of tomatoes, having a sense of the price I paid but unable to stop focusing on her own challenges.

I don’t eat vegetables any more, as I told her.   The mail, my scripts, all that has gone away, too much fight required.   I make a stab or two to connect, but the message I get back is simple: if you want to break through, want to get traction, you have to be ready to battle, be ready to do the hard work & heavy lifting, ready to take the abuse and dig through the shit to claim whatever sliver of success might be available.

I understand the requirement for naming and claiming, for being tough enough to go through the everyday battle to turn a queer life into something that can serve the mainstream.   I understand how the shame culture denies those like me, mature and queer, community support.   I understand how only my efforts that break through and work with a target audience count for anything at all.

For those who want to claim that it is never too late to change, I know that their real message is that it is never too late to enter the fray, to battle, to fight for your right to be whatever.   The inner battle only counts if it feeds he outer battle, making a role, a place, a package for yourself that others can buy into, getting the reward of their coin.

The market — business, dating, etc — doesn’t tend to value those going grey as potential forces.   It’s hard to get employed, get credibility, get connections from those who want soldiers for the battle, some easily lead, motivated by youthful needs.   It take more to break through at a time when you are learning to work with less.

You may never be too old to battle, but you can be too something else to battle; too burned out, too disheartened, too hopeless, too sensitive, too abused,  just too damn beaten by a life that too too much and returned too little.   When you lose the will to battle, well, the point gets very blunted.

I still have energy but what I don’t have is the will to be beaten again. Trying to go to that place where the will is, well, that is a place where I have kept all the energy that the polite self-policing that a concierge has to do has to be withheld.  My rage and pain will not fuel the battle for appropriate success, my intensity will not make me converts, my sharp thoughts will not warm people up to me, my deep vision will not build bridges.

I tried all that shit, I did, but I didn’t do it right, didn’t do it good, didn’t win.  That leaves me a loser, with the choice of taking another tack or giving up.   The only time that you have to succeed is the last time that you try, but if you don’t have the will to try again, to enter the battle smarter and more disciplined to win, well, the last time was the last time.

The battle must be joined.  As long as there is life, there’s hope.  Winning isn’t everything, it is the on;y thing. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.

If that doesn’t work, though, you may as well give up. No use being a damn fool about it.

Beaten is beaten.

Feeling Too Queer

When you meet a transperson, be kind to them.

However together and comfortable in their own skin they look, on some level they are feeling too queer for the room.

They are ready for the “third gotcha,” that moment when somebody decides their moral obligation is to stand up against creeping queerness, needing to re-gender us and call us out.

We are ready because we have already survived so many gotcha moments in the past, instances where we were told that being out and visible as a transperson was rude, offensive, sick, depraved and just plain dangerous.

For me, one of the most recent of these moments was an especially blood chilling comment left on this blog, but anytime I read about trans issues in the media, especially the comment section, the threat is very visible and very visceral.

Too queer means too challenging to the status quo, too threatening to those who want to impose a social order based on what they consider to be their “common sense.”    They are very sure about the way that the world should be and they believe they are entitled to attack any breach against their internalized vision.

Defending the boundaries of decency isn’t just something that religious fundamentalists do, though they often feel a duty to destroy any expression they find offensive.   Those who need to defend the binary nature of gender. maintaining an “us vs. them” wall for political power or who need to make sure they remain fixed in gender even as they break gendered expectations can also be attackers.   It is often those who are fighting hardest inside of themselves to stay fixed where they are told they should be who externalize the battle worst, creating the most phobic damage.

Queer, though, can often trigger queasy, even in those who want to believe they have a kind, open approach to the world.

These people, who say they want to be supportive but who shrink back and go cold when faced with real, flesh and blood transpeople are often the most difficult to engage.

We trap them between their wanting to feel open and their actual feelings of discomfort and unease.    Sure, they want to support nice, appropriate people like us, at least in concept, but we feel the disquiet.   We know that any minute we might become too much for them.

Worse, we know that when push comes to shove, when we need something, their efforts for us will be half-hearted and resistant.   They won’t rail against us, but they will note that there is just something which puts them off in us, something not right, not savoury, not safe.   We aren’t like them, after all, so a measure of caution makes sense.

They will, though, often point out how people who aren’t as open minded as they are might be really offended by us.    Does the organization really want to take the risks of letting someone like us inside when we might turn off whole swathes of current supporters?

This invocation of thirdhand fear (1998) is almost impossible to challenge, because we are never in the room when it happens.   Only those who stand up strongly for us can confront it, and most people, well, sticking their neck out against a powerful voice in the group just isn’t worth the risk.

They just go cold, hoping we will just go away.   They don’t want to have to confront us because they have no strong case, but they don’t want to engage us either, so they resist.  Should we push our way in, or should we take their silence as a cue that they are queasy and not receptive?  How many times should we walk into a blank wall, spit into the wind?   Do we get the message or does our internal policing end up selling us short?

As transpeople, we know all this every time we walk into a room.   We know that we face the risk of bold attackers and we know that the chillers and naysayers, ready to just urge prudence and caution, taking advantage of our difference, are ready to do their insidious work to spread fear.

We may want to keep our trans nature hidden, just to avoid this kind of backlash, but we also know that when we self-police to do that we end up hurting ourselves most.  The group doesn’t get the benefit of all of us as we try to play small, and the chance that someone will read us out, that we will have to experience that moment when our gender shifts in others eyes, when they look at us in a new and suspicious way can happen anytime.   The third gotcha lurks, turning us into losers.

If you really want to be an ally to transpeople, you have to know that no matter how much we may trigger other people’s fears, their fears are much more terrifying to us.   We know that we only have ourselves to rely on but by invoking fear they can muster the power of the mob against us, maybe not causing violence but certainly damaging our ability to be fairly seen and valued, to get what we need.

We are one person standing for ourselves, but they are fear mongers who may be ready to incite others to dehumanize us and purge us from polite society.   Any transperson who reads the internet can certainly find evidence of this desire every day.

However together and comfortable in our own skin we look when we enter, on some level we are always terrified that we may be too queer for the room.   We have had that experience, we have had it hurt us, and we don’t really want to have it again if we can help it.

When you meet a transperson, be kind to them.   Understand that somewhere, deep down, they are feeling alone, scared and vulnerable just in opening themselves to a new group of people, a new risk.

If you want the best from us, we need to feel safe and seen.   Kindness goes a long way to making that happen.

Torture As Service

Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.

How you use that experience is up to you.   Do you complain about it, about how it blocked your desires?   Do you use that experience to help you find a different way to get what you want?   Do you value that experience as a gift, as something to help you focus your desires and help others?

The experiences that I have inform my own understanding.   Because they do that, they also inform what I can offer to others, the support, assistance and love that I can give to them.

From a very young age I understood a big part of my role to be translator, helping my Aspergers parents to get a bigger vision of the world.   In second grade my teacher saw me reaching out to help others around me understand.  I got the lesson, didn’t need to work at it, but I could help others learn, assisting them to get the picture.

Hello, I’m Callan, and I am here to help.

I was about ten when I took my first confirmation class, when the minister understood that the theological was easy for me.   I just got it, maybe because I needed the bigger picture, maybe because it was in context, or maybe because it was my gift.

During my time in the trans community, from about 1988 to 2000, I was there to help others gain perspective by offering my time, my engagement, my listening, my awareness, my vision and the benefits of my experience.   While I knew that their journey was personal and unique, I also knew that they needed the mirroring, the affirmation and the encouragement that I always wanted, someone to help empower them to emerge into being more fully themselves.

When all we have around us is people who need to maintain their own compartments, the shared rationalizations & beliefs, it is hard for us to trust our own experience, to learn from what we got when we didn’t get what we wanted.

My life has not turned out the way that I wanted.   What I got for that, though, is bags and bags full of experience.   Even my experience of living trans-natural is a an addition to the narrative, something that I offered the team.

If I can’t share that experience in a way that helps other engage and trust their own experience, what was all that torture for?   I can’t teach anybody anything that they haven’t already experienced, but I can help them make the most out of their own experience, help them own it rather than trying to deny it or box it off.

This is the role of the prophet, the one who experiences the suffering, gains the visions and then offers them up as stories which help us understand how our experience is deeply and profoundly connected to the experience of others in the world.   The divine understanding comes in transcendent context, in tales from beyond which help us understand what we need to let go of to fully embrace our possibilities.

What I offer is just my experience, just the residue of what I have figured out in my travels.   I don’t have all the answers, don’t even have perfectly correct answers, but what I do have is the kind of questions which can take experience and start to turn it into education, taking torture and finding the enlightenment within.

If human life is a dance with the finite, laden with the demand to make choices and live with the results, then the choice of what to let go of and what to hold close may be the most essential choice of them all.   All those lovely hopes, the dear ideas of the way the universe should be, rarely serve us well when we come up against the reality of how things are, when we face what is.

There is no rebirth without moving beyond, no room for the new while we are clinging to the old.

Wounded healers have this calling, using their experience of torture and recovery to be present for those who are struggling with their own healing. They have had the experience of having their assumptions and desires for normalcy shattered, of having to find a new form, a new way to be well.

For me, committing to understanding my experience rather than just trying to wall it off has always been a commitment to service.  There are others who are struggling like I am, feeling tortured by how the world strives to make them invisible, how others want to break their spirit to get them to play along, to play small, to not challenge the comforting walls that make up normative expectation.

I struggle, but I struggle in the light.  So many others are still struggling in the darkness, trying to keep their own heart hidden and undercover, seeking only ways to fit into the torturous expectations of others rather than to become transcendent and claim their own personal relationship with creation.

Offering my stories, my perspective, my kōans is my attempt to glean meaning from my personal experience, as tough as it has been.   While few can enter my world, being safe to enter the depths, I can be safe for others, acknowledging the deep, scary things that they strive to keep hidden, even from themselves.  Denying them, though, doesn’t make them not there, not a potent part of their own experience, not a force on all their choices everyday.

Unwiring our own emotional buttons is the only way to become free, safe and wise.  The map to those pain points is in our experience, not just in our desires, especially our desires to be like everyone else, to be conventional, normative and regular.   Those desires for compliance have a cost far higher than the beautiful wild dreams we were born with.

Encouraging you to enter your own experience rather than staying away from it, engaging what is rather than struggling to substitute what you would rather have, what you believe “should be” is at the heart of my sharing, my service.

Awake, open and vulnerable is, in the end, the only way to grow past our own wounds, turning our scars from indicators of shame which need to be hidden into marks of healing which show our tender heart through our experience in the world, even the tortured experience of being beaten into invisibility.

Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.

How you use that experience is up to you.   Do you complain about it, about how it blocked your desires?   Do you use that experience to help you find a different way to get what you want?   Do you value that experience as a gift, as something to help you focus your desires and help others?

It’s your experience.  You get to choose.

Consider The Kōan

The only way to change the answers is to change the question. Without a new level of thinking, a new way of seeing, we stay fixed in the standard solutions.

When new questions arise, causing us great doubt about the answers we hold today, we can either turn away from the challenge or turn inward to seek more light and more understanding.

All cultures have their own history of questioning, of a dialogue that pushes beyond the currently known conventional wisdom to seek a better answer, a more clear path.

In Buddhist tradition, a story, dialogue, question or statement which is offered to prompt reflection & consideration is called kōan.

Even before I knew this name for them, I knew that kōans were the key to gaining a deeper and more effective understanding of what baffled and frustrated me.    My own discipline, trying to find my own stability in the face of two Aspergers parents, lead me to questioning everything.

In no time, I found that I had the ability to ask just the wrong question at just the right time.  By offering my kōans, I could help open up the challenges, looking at them from new and surprising angles, putting them in context and illuminating how the challenges were connected to the wider network.

It is easy in this fast, high pressure life to just fall back on assumptions and conventions, to just do what we did the last time.   Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, though, is one definition of insanity. Until we know better, we can’t do better.

While religion is often about belief, about accepting received scripture as fundamentally true, spiritual paths are more often about doubt, about using the wisdom available to us to personally become more actualized and enlightened.  The spirit is moved to question what isn’t working which leads the spiritual into seeking to perfect their own responses to the world.

For example, “A Course In Miracles” asks us to consider the question “What if everything we experience is a lesson that can help us own the miracle of moving beyond fear and moving closer to love?”   For those who only associate miracles with getting what they already know they want, this is a very hard question indeed.  How can frustration and pain lead us to become better?

Kōans help us break the bounds of the rational, shattering rationalizations to reveal something deeper, something far more potent than binary expectations.   A great kōan is a thought that shatters thoughts to break frustrating mental spins, opening the eyes, the mind and the heart to a new way of experiencing the connections that often become invisible in a culture that prefers right answers to right questions.   Living in the question, in the kōan, is living in the moment, always ready for the divine surprise of enlightenment.

The hardest thing about becoming new is almost always the pain of letting go of the old, releasing cherished old beliefs that have ceased to serve our growth.   By peeling away the layers of wishful confusion, kōans are often the key to finding the peace and confidence to move forward, unlocking the crocks in our awareness and revealing more powerful ways to choose again and choose better.

Every journey starts with one step and every transformation starts with one question.  Questions open up to reveal other questions, leading us far beyond the limits we believed constrained us in the past.   Our possibilities open up before us and the kōans we have help us navigate a path which leads us to the ultimate privilege, the ability to be powerfully ourselves.

Changing the questions changes everything.   For me, the kōan, the fragment which makes us think, demands our awareness, opens us beyond expectation & convention is a powerful tool to unlock a new future.

Consider the kōan.  It may be the tool you need to get beyond where you are stuck, offering new visions and new delights.

Button Hook

“Put a button on it,” he insisted.  “Tell me what you do in a way that people will understand, have a context, and come to see what you have to offer them.   Clearly, you have a lot to share, but what is the hook, the bit that makes what you offer compelling?”

As much as I resist pigeonholing, if you want to draw people, invite them into your world, they need to have some package to examine, some description that informs their choice.

So, here is a shot:

Change Happens: Lessons From Over The Transom

Change is both the most challenging and the most promising force in life.  It brings us hope and brings us heartbreak, all challenges that go into forging a better, more potent life.  By burning away what isn’t real and true, authenticity comes shining through.

After a lifetime of bold change, Callan Williams is a perfect guide for the challenges you are facing or that you need to face soon.  Her journey beyond conventional boundaries informs the compassion and empowerment that she offers.

Blending the study of traditional wisdom with a sharp wit and translucent vision, Callan shares key lessons for navigating change.   From embracing the miracles that come our way, even if they look like setbacks, to staying playful & present, the tools for making the most of change can transform any life.

If you are facing change now or just want to be better prepared for the changes that can reinvent and reinvigorate your life, the support that “Change Happens” offers can make you stronger, more resilient and ready to move beyond your fears into beautiful new chapters, illuminated by the divine surprises which are just waiting for you to open.

You have always had the knowledge of who you were meant to be, of the you beyond other people’s expectations.  Let Callan help you unlock that bold spirit within, learning to ride the tides of change to places beyond imagination.  With practical and sly techniques, you can use the forces of change to let go of the past and embrace a connected new future.

Transcendent and transformative, terrifying and terrific, Change Happens.  Let Callan help you make the most of it.

So Nice To See You

“It’s so nice to see you!”

“It’s so nice to be seen!”

I imagine, she said, that it must be nice to be seen.

Sometimes it amazes me how little human contact I have.   For my birthday, I got two e-mails and a text message.   Later, I got to accompany my sister while she bought herself a pair of shoes.

I did make myself a dinner and bought myself a cake, which I took over to my sister after preparing her new phone, the one I suggested for her.

I have always been mostly invisible.  My Aspergers parents couldn’t see me beyond their own needs, the school couldn’t see how I was being erased at home, I learned from a very early age that my transgender heart had to be hidden,  I knew I was always challenged to play a part or be seen as a phobogenic object.

Becoming visible through a huge amalgam of well chosen words is not very satisfying or effective.  It is very easy for people to get lost in the words, experiencing a fun house of mirrors that they see themselves reflected in.  The text becomes about them, about their response to what I share, not about me.

There is, locked in my bosom, an unseen child.  I have learned to take care of her skillfully, making sure she has what I can give her, working very hard to help her move beyond acting out, beyond just reacting out of pure, deep need.    She is my darling, and while I have striven to give her the best possible, her decades of isolation inside of my own cerebral vision has not been kind or warming to her.

Showing my carefully curated adult is certainly a skill that I have polished very well.   I know how to be the concierge, the thoughtful and attentive person doing the work in front of me.

I do that external work, though, at a high cost. My starving soul feels every bump and knock, even if I have expertly learned how not to show what is happening inside.

Do you know how women sometimes burst out in girlish glee, use their womanly wiles, indulge their glamour puss, let loose their harridan, purr like a kitten or break just like a little girl?   The woman inside of me doesn’t get to do that, has never gotten to do that.   Instead, she goes unseen, boxed in by people who need to believe they know who I really am by dint of my reproductive biology.

Policed by the Guy-In-A-Dress line, men don’t accept my feminine heart as true and towering.  Instead, I am only my birth sex, really defined by my body and not my essence.

Worst, women don’t embrace me, drawing me into their network, opening to the kind of heart-to-heart, the reflections that provide connection, validation and awareness that validates a feminine heart, affirming and growing it in the world.  While some may get have the vision, there is always another woman who needs to enforce sexism, needs to call out them, needs to justify her own difference by cutting a line between good people like us and bad, ugly, sick people like them.

I learned to police, learned to keep my heart hidden, learned to be tame and polite.   Every time, I did that, though, that unseen child who lives in my heart got a bit weaker, a bit more incapacitated, a bit more broken.

“It’s so nice to see you!”

“It’s so nice to be seen!”

My functional exoskeleton has gotten out of shape, no longer powered by the love of family, the divine feminine caretaker urge which kept me going. I feel the break down, the grinding gears, the seized shafts, the corroded drivers.   Slow to the point of incapacitation, there is little joy in getting that exterior shell ginned up again, nothing to fight for in that guise of doing.

The femme in my heart, though, is desiccated, sharing so much to find it strike the shields of expectation, the defensive crouch that the world forces us to operate in.   People want what they want so they follow the rules to try and achieve it, desperately clinging to ladders which promise a safe ride to love.

Finding the energy to break through, to take the battering, be resilient and find the spaces, the tiny flickering lights in the sea where I can be seen, heard, understood, mirrored and valued, well, what has drained away does not easily replenish.   New is required and new is not offered to the aged, the flabby, the lost.

Fitting between the fears of others becomes almost impossible with bulk to carry, a lifetime of work that sharpens my gaze to a cutting spike, becoming the knife.   Powerful magic, but only if you are ready to have your shroud pierced, ready to see through, see beyond, see through new eyes, ready to be enlightened.

How do I get people to see me, see beyond my size, my age, my mind, my sex, see beyond their own expectations and assumptions, beyond their own fears and comforting walls, beyond the separations & differences which they have learned to identify as real, beyond a need to fill the space with their own worldview?

“It’s so nice to see you!”

“It’s so nice to be seen!”

I exist.  I have existed every day of my life.   I have spent a lifetime finding out and sharing who I am.

Existence without presence, though, is airless, at least for a social animal who needs to be seen, touched, valued and loved.

One more package of words, one more expression of self, one more sharing, one more offering to a community, one more sign of presence.

I expect, though, about the same response as usual.

I imagine, she said, that it must be nice to be seen.   Living with so little human engagement is hard and depleting.  Just showing my exoskeleton, though, won’t get me what I need.

Do you see?


“I like some of what you say,” some people seem to tell me, “but you make the whole thing too complex, too intellectual, too difficult to swallow.    I want to do the work, of course, but isn’t there a lot that I can just skip over and delete?   Why do I have to engage the bits that I find rather weird or confusing or tough?   Isn’t the best thing in the world simplifying everything?”

Mastery is a pain in the ass.   It’s often the last 20% that makes all the difference and that ends up taking 80% of the effort.   Why isn’t good enough simply good enough to gain mastery?

Coming at anything from the bottom, where we are right now can seem good enough.   After all, it is farther than we have ever been before, quite a stretch from where we were, an accomplishment in its own right.   Isn’t it good enough?

After you have experience mastery, though, you have the vision to see where good enough almost never is.   The gaps, twists and failings of the easy position become clear, revealing where more precision and discipline are required.  You know why trying to take something with flaws is just going to lead to failures own the line, why the crocks will come back to haunt you.

I can’t tell you the path of your journey, the tasks you will have to perform, but I can tell you that any you choose to pass over will come up again in another round.   Lessons skipped are lessons unlearned and that means the universe will be happy to give you another chance to learn them later in the sequence.

A culture that values the convenience and time saving that comes with finding shortcuts is not one that encourages the patience and focus required for mastery.   While the impetus of youth is to demand innovation, throwing out the old, outdated traditional ways, the most effective change agents always find that knowing the rules is the best training for finding potent ways to break them, creating the new, breathtaking and wonderful.

The bits that you don’t understand are there for some reason.  If they didn’t serve some purpose, they wouldn’t have been included in the first place.   It may be true that they aren’t the best solution for the problem anymore, but until you understand the problem they were included to address you can’t effectively come up with a better way.

Enlightenment has ever been achieved using only social media bytes.   No matter how many memes or tweets you consume, pithy little shots of wisdom that fits nicely into your desire to master the world, the big challenge of mastery is always in the bits between, in the shit that challenges you to your core.

The divine surprise may open you to something new, but it is the willingness to go there, to use the koans you find to question everything, to move beyond comfortable assertions and into sharp examination of what you hold onto, removing rationalization and neediness, that lets you move deeper, lets you own your own mind and heart.

Triggering introspection may be hard to engage, but it usually leaves you stronger once you have processed your fears, moving to a clearer understanding.

Virtue is not a relative thing.   Just because you can point at people who complain and resist more than you do does not make you a paragon.  Doing the work is the only way to claim a place of authority and wisdom, getting to a level where you can see so clearly that you have compassion for those who are still stuck rather than just disdain for those you want to put down as inferior.

Simplification comes after understanding, not before.  Resisting any attempt at understanding because you claim a desire for simplification is just an excuse for lazy rationalizations, putting effort into maintaining your own comforting world view rather than into seeing connections and questioning everything.

My own journey has been extraordinarily twisty, full of intense challenges and fallow, reflective times.    It’s easy to believe that if I had a more direct line, just heads down and pushing through, that my effort would have been more efficient, that I would be ahead of where I am now.

Every step, though, lead me beyond any expectations or assumptions to a new perspective, to a growing understanding of how I am connected to the universe.

If you believe you know where you are going and how to get there so clearly that you can cut corners and grab shortcuts in advance, then you are not really open to the journey, not really wanting to explore and broaden your own awareness.

For me, clarification only comes from looking backwards, from a knowledge hard won from doing the work, following the rules and then moving beyond them.   It is a practical education that informs me, letting the world teach me, rather than trying to impose how I want to believe things should be onto what I do not yet deeply understand.

Sharing what I have learned in the best way I can is all I can do.   While I am more than willing to consider the audience, to find their access points, to use language we share in common, to meet them where they are, letting them heal in their own time and their own way, just deleting what others don’t yet understand is not a solution for me.

I know how tight and sharp I communicate and a few people who have taken the time to engage the work understand that too, seeing the meaning unfold, the connections blossom.

Carrying lots of experience, pieces that others might dispose of as clutter, is what gives me the peace that comes from seeing clearly, seeing through and seeing with heart.   If I started by deleting everything I didn’t understand at the level I first saw it, all in the name of simplification, I would have denied myself so much beauty in this world.

Or, at least, that’s how I see it.

Jagged Joy

Who is binary anyway?

I know that some transpeople identify as “non-binary,”  but is anyone really binary?   Do they have an exact opposite somewhere, some kind of anti-them who they can pair off with to complete a binary?

Humans are “jagged,” to use the term Todd Rose uses in his “The End Of Average.” In dismantling the tyranny of the average, he shows how no one really fits neatly into any template, how we are all “jagged,” with our own individual peaks and valleys, strengths and weaknesses, crossing the bounds of normative expectations to be our own unique person.

For many, it’s comforting to imagine that a binary exists, a clear demarcation between us and them.   For example, we are non-binary, liberated and free, while they are binary, walled in and trapped.   That idea, though reminds me of Robert Benchley’s notion that there may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not.

In my experience, people are just way too complex and wonderful to be neatly divided into any sort of binary.   We are each beautifully jagged, faceted and shimmering, moving in the light of co-creation, the way we take the gifts we were born with and then reveal, polish or fight them in the world.

Binary is just a human imposition on the infinite beauty of creation, an attempt to build separations that feel cozy, safe and real.   They offer an easy way to evoke a feeling of connection, knowing that we are like the people around us and we are different from those other people.

Often, this ends up leaving us with only a negative definition of identity; we can’t really express who we are in the world but we are damn sure clear about who we are not.   Instead of having a personal awareness and authenticity, we only have a group image, knowing that we are not like them, sure of who we are opposed to, who has it wrong.

We don’t want to be different, we want to be like everyone else, so we strive to be tame, well assimilated, doing what we need to do to be seen as a member of the in-group.  Not being one of the outsiders, the marginalized, the disparaged, the uncool, the despised becomes so important to us that we do anything to try and fit in, rejecting what we believe others will find unattractive.

Searching to find what makes us different and special but still leaves us safely part of a group is the quest to find binaries that include us.   We wrap ourselves in the banner of the group we want to belong to, taking on their characteristics and becoming one of them.   This process builds walls, separations that we very much want to believe are real and solid, protecting us from the fear of being thrown out into the cold alone and lonely.

When we fervently need to believe in the binary, needing to feel protected and cosseted by it, we can feel entitled to judge other people on quick, surface assignments.   They are just a man, just a gay, just a Muslim, just a poor person, just a whatever we find to be less than and loathsome to us.  Instead of engaging them as an individual, discovering their own jagged offerings, we wall them off, cutting them out of our highly defended and judgmental acceptance.

In a world where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.   I knew that was my personal mission statement when I head it twenty three years ago now, and I still believe it today. Binaries are always, always, always oversimplifications, always an attempt to smooth over some of the awesome and transcendent jaggedness which makes every human unique, special and precious.

This has always been the role of the shaman, to reveal the connections between all things, seeing beyond the conventions and fears to a wider view.

For me, the assertion of a “non-binary” gender identity is just an attempt to create another binary.   Simply rejecting the language, symbols, assertions and expectations of gender does not create a strong and potent personal identity, one that can stand for something in the human community.

Embracing the truth that no one is simply binary, rather we are each jagged, each special, and each of us has something different to contribute is at the heart of celebrating diversity.    To me, that celebration  is the heart of a commitment to the queer truth that threads through us all, that threads back to creation.

As humans, we are responsible for making the most of what we have been given, by creation and by those who have worked so hard to help us grow.  We have the obligation of playing our role and the impetus to get clear, gain mastery and be the best we can be.

Staying defended behind conventional binaries, trapped inside cultural boundaries never lets us claim our own unique power and gifts in the world.

Moving beyond binaries to continuous common humanity is the only way that  know to be fully and gracefully present in the world, returning the gifts we have been given along the way.

Nobody is just a binary, no matter how comforting it might be to stay hidden and defended against our personal responsibility for connection by trying to build a wall between us and them.   To be valued as an individual, we have to value others as individuals first.   Before we can demand others take responsibility for their differences, we have to take responsibility for our differences, for our own jagged and human nature.

The joy of human culture is in how all the jagged pieces come together to form a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.

I, for one, want to be a part of that.

Bearing Up

Teaching yourself not to want what you know that you need but know that you cannot get is very, very hard work.

The way to do it, though, is to have your heart broken so many times that the feeling of denial is better, easier and more comfortable than the feelings of need and desire.

It is what we need and want from other people, the engagement, the mirroring, the encouragement, the love that is most difficult to live without.

Transferring our desire for love to the desire for stuff is the preferred way to handle this heartbreak, at least in the minds of marketers.   Using disappointment and the quest for a magic bullet to eliminate it is a major force in driving the volitional economy.   “Buy me!” they say, “and you will get all your needs met!”

For those of us who were raised with a stoic streak, though, bearing the pain of life and still coming through for those we love is the mark of a great warrior.   It is a virtue that we hold on to as a pillar of our identity.

Learning not to be seduced by what we have learned so painfully that we cannot have, which is usually having other people heal on our schedule and in our preferred way, and not to give into the temptation of self medicating with the pursuit of stuff that we hope will fill the empty place, well, it can leave us kind of brittle.

“What do you want?” people ask us and we defer the answer, often saying that we want whatever they want.

Our survival, our functioning, we have learned, depends on bearing up with the reality of loss, knowing that what we want, the loving embrace that we need, is just not going to be there for us.   Instead, we have learned to give rather than take, learned this after years and years, decades and decades of asking for the warmth we need and not getting it.

Others so often promise that they will be there, that they will change, that they just want us to be happy, but we have had to be pragmatic and tough; we see them for who they are, understand them for the limits of their compassion, awareness and sacrifice.

For so many moms, what we did to defer our own needs in order to give the ones we love what they needed was just the right choice, no matter how much it cost us.   We cared so much that we knew letting our own desires go unfulfilled in order to be there for others was absolutely the right thing.

Did we hope that someday it would be our turn again, that someone would see us, understand us, value us and treat our needs tenderly?   Sure we did, but after long enough, denial becomes a habit since hope for what seems impossible is just too, too painful.

The offers of presence that we do get, well it is easy to see how symbolic and perfunctory they are in intention, lovely ideas of others who want to see us happy but who mostly lack the discipline and toughness that we had to have to do the work we did for them, putting our own needs aside to be there fully.

If they really had the fire to be there for us, they would be, pushing through our deferrals, focusing on the presence which would let them enter our world, let them see through our eyes, let them understand our deepest needs, the same kind of presence that we have always had to have for them.

Most of us learned very early the joys and the costs of being a caretaker, starting training while we were very young.   It was our job to make sure others got what they needed, to help those who had promise, those who could get out with success.    We knew that if they put others ahead of their dreams, as we learned how to do, they wouldn’t go as far as they needed to go, as far as they could go.   We were there for them, even if they weren’t there for us.

We taught ourselves not to want what we knew that we needed but knew that we could not get.   Our stoic discipline was the way we learned to love in the world, learned to be there for those we love.

No one can directly change someone else.  Since we have been there, watching and helping as those we love have faced challenges, have learned and grown, we know that.   It has been easy for us to see their limits & challenges, to understand their blind spots, to know where they just don’t get it.   Trying to help someone get what they are not ready, able or willing to engage has left us with some blows, so we learned to fall back, to let them find their own way, even if we see the irony in their repeated missteps.

When they are ready, we know, nothing will stop them from achieving what they set their mind on.   Just saying what they want, though, doesn’t mean that they are ready, so we learn to wait, to have patience, to not get our hopes up.  They need to show us that they understand, not just tell us that they think that they should.

Bearing up, practising a stoic and disciplined kind of tough love where we know that we will face the same challenges and frustrations time and time again until those we love can move on, well that is just one of the requirements of someone who cares, who acts out of deep love.

And if we don’t get what we need back, don’t get our love reciprocated, don’t receive the blessing of being cared for in the same way, well, we have to learn to live with that.

Who cares for the caretakers?   Certainly not those who are so focused on their own challenges, on their own world, that they cannot tenderly enter the world of another, proving that they are safe, compassionate and committed enough to follow through with the words that pass their lips.

Teaching yourself not to want what you know that you need but know that you cannot get is very, very hard work.

We do it, though, for love.

Beyond Formless

You can’t tell how queer someone is by looking at them.   Trans is not, in the end, about outward expression, rather it is about inward knowledge and how we let that awareness influence our choices in the world.

A tabloid site published a photograph of the recently departed Alexis Arquette with a headline that she went back to being a man before she died.  The photo did show her with no makeup, in a t-shirt and short hair, decorated by a yellow flower.

Does a woman stop being a woman when she gets painfully thin and loses her hair from chemo?  In the days when we are challenged with disease, we often don’t take the time to focus on our appearance.

The image came from the Facebook page of an ex-lover who was with Alexis when she was living as a man.  He saw the Alexis he remembered at that final lunch, I am sure, reading some reality that had always been in his brain.  For many men, once you are born with a penis, well, that’s it, all the rest can be nothing but drag, just cheap “femulation.”

The tabloid wanted the clickbait of showing who Alexis really is, trumpeting that trans is just a phase, something that doesn’t exist except as a matter of appearance.   They play into the binary assumptions of their readers, just as other media outlets did when they revealed that Alexis died of AIDS related complications, implying that she must have really, really been a gay man all the time.

While her brother also saw her shedding the cost of maintaining her trans appearance as a return to brother, the official statement called Alexis “she,” talked about bravery and noted that before she died she had seen the other side and there, people lived without the demands of binary gender.

John Waters refers to Divine as “he,” but women who knew Divine refer to her as “she.”   One falls back on the comforting notion of biology & appearance, the other sees into the heart.

The family statement on Alexis says that he transitioned into being a woman.   In my view, the feminine heart that was always inside of her emerged from behind the armour, expectations and conventions that she felt was imprisoning her.  She did the hard work of getting clear and showing her trans nature in the world, presenting as a woman.

Is anyone really just who you see in this moment, or are they some kind of essence that runs through the time of their life?   Does the role you hold them in define them, pin them, or are they always much, much more?

That barrista who hands you your coffee isn’t just a barrista, no matter how much that is the role they play in your life.   A mom isn’t just a mom, no matter how much her children need to hold her in that role, and your brother, well, your brother is large and contains multitudes, even if they stay locked behind the role he is cast into.

What we can tell by looking at someone is very much limited not only by what they choose to show in the world but also by the assumptions we project onto them.   We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are, Anaïs Nin reminds us.  The boundaries of what we are open to seeing constrain our world.

Transpeople often believe that transforming their appearance will transform everything, holding onto the old sexist notions that we are defined by our clothes or our bodies.   Change those and we become new so people have to accept who we “really” are.

In a recent Rolling Stone article, Laura Jane Grace notes that five years in, changing her looks was the easy part, that doing that just revealed to her who she was inside, the soul that searches for enlightenment, healing, integrity and peace.  Until we peel back the layers of acculturation, we don’t even see ourselves with clarity, don’t know who we really are.

In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.  They remind us that we are not our present role or our current expression, rather that we are spirit living a human life.

To me, when in her last days on earth Alexis appears without worrying about her appearance, letting go of feminine artifice in favour of the practical, a yellow flower in her hair the only outward sign of her spirit, it just means that she is preparing to go to that place she has already seen, the place beyond that she described to her sisters, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for we are all one.

For those still immersed in binary gender, still feeling the need to defend their choices and follow the rules, her shedding of external trappings takes her back to who she “really is,” much like the theatrical flourish at the end of “Hedwig And The Angry Inch.”

They see who “he” really is as defined by her body, now exposed.   I see who she really is as spirit, soon to be released from a fleshly, finite life.

You can’t tell how queer someone is by looking at them.   Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t show their entire spirit in any one moment, not with the bounds of this material world.   They show their role, today’s choices all about what they are ready to do and be right now, what they are ready to engage.   They have to be tame enough to be effective in the culture they swim inside.

Trans is not, in the end, about outward expression, rather it is about inward knowledge and how we let that awareness influence our choices in the world.

For people who still assume they are their body, their appearance and their role, that’s usually almost impossible to grasp.

As we become ready to transition, though, it all becomes clear.

Blessings to my sister Alexis, wherever she is reborn this time.

I always felt that she had the spirit of a female.
I always referred to her as a she
— Sham Ibrahim

Not My World

I was very, very young when I learned the boundaries of my world.

It was, I learned in my head and in a six foot radius someplace with a door.

The wider world was not for me.   It was an unsafe place for people like me, as my mother not only told me, she showed me every time she could.   She knew this, you see, because she very early found the world unsafe for her and her Aspergers.   She entered it as a very curious observer, but never as a place that she belonged.

My father grew up in a small town with a warm mother, different than my big city mother whose mother was very cool & sharp, so he felt he belonged to the world, at least until he tried to bring it to his marital home, inviting friends in.   He soon learned that wasn’t a good idea.

Inside my world, I was safe, an intrepid explorer of everything that came in a book, everything inside of myself.   Outside, though, was where I had to keep my head down, play nice, stay separate, look but not touch.   Too exposed was too dangerous, for I was too rude, too stupid, too scared to feel confident and open in a wider world.

This wasn’t the experience of many other kids, I now know at least in a theoretical way.    They had extended family, felt free in their neighbourhood, had a sense of being supported in spreading their wings, in finding their way around, in making new connections, in feeling at home in the wider world.

A friend told me when I was 18 that I needed to go out and own the world, own my place in it.   I would find, he told me, that I had the goods, that people would like me and value what I had to offer, that it was all waiting for me.

I knew, though, that what was waiting for me at home was a mother who would feel abandoned, betrayed and hurt, taking out those unprocessed emotions on my sweet, loving father.  He didn’t deserve any more punishment.

Hiding myself inside of a private world just seemed to make so much sense, even if my choice was really playing out my internalized shame.   I had tried to talk to professionals about my heart a few times and it just didn’t work.   I didn’t have the social skills to connect, didn’t have the language which was still a decade or two from being invented — this was only a few years after Benjamin’s “The Transsexual Phenomenon”  which I bought at a used book store on Brattle, then read fast & abandoned at the subway terminus before my father picked me up.

I knew about Jacques, but I also knew that I wasn’t gay, even though I in high school I had gay guys reach out to me hopefully, and in my first week of college I had to care for a closeted guy from Kettering Oh in his first time in the city.   I knew who turned my head, which all came into focus a few decades later when sharing stories with other women on a list I realized I had a very lesbian adolescence.

My skill was in keeping to the shadows, observing and using guerrilla tactics to create change from the edges.   This was not my world, not safe for people like me, not where I could ever be liked and loved, so being witty and respected was going to have to be enough, I knew.

It’s my world that I want to take a little pride in,
My world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in.
“I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles (Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein)

It never was my world.   I was born to outsiders, without community or extended family, and in that group, I was the weirdest, the stupidest, the most queer.  I never found a group of people like me, people who understood and got the joke, people who wanted to love me.

When I looked for where my world might be, where there was safety and mirroring, well, there wasn’t much to be seen.  How much was the enmeshment with my family and how much social stigma?   I know other transwomen about my age who had different paths, but I also know they still struggle to find a world where they are safe to follow their heart, instead playing to convention to grasp some area of freedom.

If you aren’t part of the world, for whatever reason, you don’t feel safe in it, don’t grow in it.  Instead, you learn to hide yourself in it, staying on the margins where others don’t feel challenged or threatened by you.  You internalize your emotions, playing nice and appropriate through severe inner policing, paying the price of not being normative with your own silence, attenuation and playing small.

There are many who grew up being taught that this world is not for us, that we are only tolerated by dint of our abeyance to those who own the world.   We know that when those people are challenged, feel the world they are entitled to being entered by us, they feel threatened & angry, often lashing out against immigrants, queers, and anyone else they see as corrupting their birthright.

How do we gain the pride to believe we can take our place in the world, showing our nature rather than having to hide it, staying in our own world?   For those in groups, the support of their peers and family are powerful forces for pride, but for individuals, like transpeople, our personal worlds are rarely shared by others like us who want to help us succeed.

I don’t take to the park or even the lawn, don’t reveal myself in meetings, don’t show up with the empowerment that knowing you are a vital and valuable part of the world with as much right as anyone to be there brings.   I worry about offending, upsetting or angering people, not so much because I care about their feelings, but because I fear the consequences for me.   Their violence may be worse than their disgust, but their pity and their gawking are almost as bad.

Knowing how to enter the world of others is something the marginalized have to learn early, learning how to read the cues enough to be seen as polite and appropriate but the flip side of that is knowing that they are unable to enter your world, that they can’t get the joke.   It’s their world and I am just trapped on the edge of it.

Maybe it is true that in the end, we all have to make our own world, have to create our space and then link it to the global zones.   The world I created, though, is a world of the mind, rich with sharp thought, and I found early that is not a world most people feel comfortable entering.

The world out there is not my world.   I have never found a real bridge between my world and yours, someone who wants to tear down the walls and create shared space.   Like my sister-in-law’s home, I will be tolerated if I want to enter her structures, but I will be castigated if I dare to offer my structures to her family.   It’s her world, and everyone must always show the fealty she is sure that she deserves.

The boundaries of my world are quite small, shrunk down to a basement, with no safety in using the shared spaces that would require me to confront the worlds of others, asserting myself and risking their fear. I know there are other worlds out there where people who like me must exist, but the road to those places goes right through the vast and defended zone of the normative.

Learning as a child to own your own world must be a great thing, and I applaud parents who do that, encouraging their kids to feel safe and valued in the world. That was not, however, my experience.

It’s not my world out there.   And I don’t seem to have the whatever to make it so.

Crone Knowledge

Marine scientists who ply the Pacific Ocean around the US northwest have studied killer whales for a characteristic they have in common with humans but few other mammals: menopause.

Why, in some species, do females continue to live on even though they are infertile and cannot add to the population?

In humans and killer whales, the answer seems to be the same.  Mature females, unburdened with children, help the pod grow better adults, leading to more success for everyone.

While the work the crones put in is important, caring for children, foraging and such, much of the value seems to be in knowledge.   Having members who know about the challenges of raising kids to maturity, who know about the natural cycles and about survival techniques which can help during hard times is a benefit to everyone.

A key job of mature women, it seems, is to not get swept up in the challenges of the moment, but instead bring context and heard earned life wisdom to the families around them.

Today we have a culture that seems to value short attention spans.  “Beginner’s mind” is valued, always ready to engage whatever marketers, politicians and employers have to offer, no matter how many times before we have been lead down the same path and discovered the consequences.

We are assaulted by so much information that it becomes hard to store it, to form a context that allows quick retrieval which can lead to fast understanding.  For those who want to lead us with emotional cues, this is a great thing, because rational discernment just gets in the way of their goal of manipulation.

Youth culture is so much fun because it comes with no tricky and complex thought.  Instead, it’s all new, fresh and id based, all new emotions that just feel sensational to us, especially if we can’t see the crash coming just around the corner.   It always been easier to tell those lowest common denominator stories where complexity and nuance don’t get in the way of simple, thoughtless tropes disguised as “common sense.”

Marketers want to get to kids early while their reward system is still in flux because they know that trying to get mature people who have been around the block to fall for a new promise is much, much more difficult.   Some of that is inertia, sure, but much of it is wisdom; after years of experience, we know what works for us by now.

For killer whales and humans, there is a lot to know about the cycles of life, knowledge that can only be accumulated over a lifetime.   Killer whales seem to value the wisdom that comes with age, though, in a way that humans don’t.  Then again, killer whales aren’t born salespeople who always have a story they believe will get them what they want to sell to other whales.

Living in the big picture, holding historical context and a good model that can effectively predict outcomes, well, that’s often not very valued in this modern culture.   Instead, we want to give the microphone to the youth, the new, the fresh, the creative, to those not weighed down by actual knowledge.   Those who would challenge those voices, well, they are just old conservative farts trying to tamp down brilliance because they don’t understand the thrilling joy of politically correct groupthink.

Crones have always been wise old women, brilliant and challenging because they know things that we are afraid will just kill our hormone-fuelled buzz by smashing our lovely rationalizations.    Their incantations can easily sound like gibberish & nonsense as they speak with a context that we are not only not ready to hear but are also actively resisting, clinging to our childish images of the way things should be.

Not everything can be understood with “beginner’s mind.”  We need to focus on our own growth and learning before we can even begin to understand how the world looks through different eyes.  That’s one reason nature starts mothers off with babies, because one needs a bit of training before trying to be present for a cranky sixteen year old.    Kids may have some idea what being a parent entails, but only doing the job can really teach us the hard truths.

As a species, this truth is expressed in our biology, the benefits of keeping grandmothers around after we stop breeding being written into our evolution.  It doesn’t matter if you understand the value yet, the evidence of generations of lives shows it to be true.

I know that many, many find my writing less than useful. They just don’t get the value of it, so they assume that it is valueless, just the rantings of a old, broken crone. How can anything I can’t express in language that they easily understand possibly be worth while?   How can it be useful to anyone?

For the few who have done the work, surprises come as they start to see the connections, the truth and the wisdom folded into my words.  They understand that I can’t simplify everything because the beauty and power of knowledge is in complexity, way from simple binaries and in the weaving of analogue vectors into networks of neural sharing.

The pod benefits if knowledge and wisdom are maintained, holding a context beyond the swings of momentary energy.  Short attention spans, as fun as they may be, can’t be the only way the group understands their culture and the world around them.

Living with this awareness, though, not easily being able to just fall again for the smooth and attractive, tends to put one on the margins, especially in a culture where the economic drives are centred around the trendy desires of needy youths.  As crones we exist, but we know that our gifts are not valued because they challenge the economic trope of quick, cheap and not overly thought through growth.

Crones have knowledge that can benefit the pod.   Trying to speak that notion out loud, though, often is just written off as cranky, crazy old broads trying to squelch all the fun with their dour warnings.   Why can’t they just have another Margarita, some more plastic surgery and just shut up?

We know what we know, though.   And we know, too, that it is most important that someone is saying it in a world, a culture that needs to value wisdom, even wisdom they have not yet chosen to engage or understand.

Cotton Candy

Theme: “Back in the Day”
Things change. We make new friends. People move. Social Media comes to change the way we contact each other. Apple decides to take the headphone jack off the new iPhone. Cars start driving themselves. But our memories of the past stay golden. They give us a reference point to think about the future. Maybe when you look back, even to a short time ago, the changes we’ve seen give us a lot to think about. This month, we’re telling stories where we reflect on how things have changed, for good or for ill.

Five minutes, no notes, no props, true from you. 


Sitting outside in my sister’s car while she ran errands, a big stable pony, the window was open a crack and the radio was on NPR, a gesture towards caring from her.

The news crackled.   Bruce Jenner, they of the Diane Sawyer interview, had just come out on the front cover of Vanity Fair as Caitlyn.  Drama photos, they said, lots of change, they said, it would all be different now they said.

In that moment, I cracked.   Decades of my work and denial and struggle and now, and now, and now who I am, my identity had been Kardashianized.  Another newbie had leapt out and grabbed the spotlight, only this time, Hollyweird was fully involved and the full machine of publicity inside the thirty mile zone had been activated.

It’s not like we hadn’t been in tabloids in the past.   Christine Jorgensen was headline news, down to the LP where she was interviewed by Nipsey Russell.

But Jenner, well Jenner wasn’t just covered by the tabs, Jenner was the tabs, part of the house of dazzle and manufactured drama that turned the vortex of celebrity into a media crushing behemoth.  Sick of being Jon in the TV story, she had now recast herself as Cait, playing for the starring role which only a diva could achieve.

In that moment in the car, the air was sucked out of my lungs.  In the following months in the world, the air was sucked out of the media, where whenever someone tried to talk about the experience of being trans, the knowledge I lived with since I was five, it always, always, always, always had to be about Caitlyn, always had to be in context of Caitlyn, always had to hook onto Caitlyn, always needed Kardashian-izing.

“Isn’t this great,” people would ask, “the amount of attention your cause is getting, the vast wave of tabloidization which keeps your subject fought about around every water cooler?  Aren’t you thrilled that people who never knew anyone like you now have Caitlyn as a brilliant, shining model of how you can try to be a surgically altered diva at any age?”

I went to a big local memorial for Leelah Alcorn, a young transwoman who tried to come out and was quashed by her parents.   She made the choice to throw herself onto an interstate highway at night, taking her own life.   Her family took down the Facebook post she left, her message to the world, her angst.

The subject was death, but only the children were allowed to speak, moderated by the paid activist staff, the facilitators of their politically correct expressions.   It was so sweet, so mild, so shallow, these expressions of teenage angst, all as torpid as a Judy Blume novel.

The rage, the rage, the bold and queer rage that is the stuff of my experience got wrapped in cotton candy.   Pink and feathery, pure sugar for a media trained crowd that loves the syrupy, the artificial, the cloying.   Bitter be damned, just show us pretty and let us be thrilled when we get to judge the images, posting about who is a winner and who a loser.

The air went out of that car, sucked into the black media hole where opinions are like assholes; everybody has one.   Textured reality be dammed, this was as simple as choosing a cute top at Forever 21; “Stylish or shitty, I get to decide!”  Trends are trends, and in that moment trans now was a trend, ready to be exploited, consumed and then dismissed.

So much life, so much pain, so much struggle, so many scars and poof, my life was reduced to a point of scatter inside the latest trend, defined not by me or people like me but instead by producers who knew how to create click-bait.

In the year since, the morass of bathroom bills have flooded the country, a solution to something which has never been a problem, but driven forward by those who would use a trend to create fear and amass power through indignation.  “They are the enemy, they are the germs, they are the ones who will pollute our pure and perfect angelic children with their smarmy and perverted lies!   Come and join for decency, for decency!”

Trendy is trendy, part of the “hay, fast and loose, make a buck and move on” American culture.

Trans is trans, though, something that runs through the feminine heart or masculine soul of those trapped by the web of expectations and assumptions laced around nothing but the circumstance of their body.   “Look to our choices!” we cry, but when those choices are corrupted by fashion, enslaved by trends, they become as meaningless as any other fast fad.

The radio crackled and I knew that my essential truth was now in the hands of those who would judge a newly out crossdresser whose dreams of diva sweetness had grown twisted & shallow over decades in an airless closet.   The death and rebirth, the shedding of the old and tender emergence would have to take place in a tabloid media fury, so what could happen other than polished exteriors and confused, resistant choices which show runners would reduce to easily consumed plot lines.

“As long as they spell your name right, any news is good news,” the Hollywood flacks would tell me, experts in selling products to a gullible world.

They got the name right, but the idea so slickly and sickly wrong, candied and primped, that I realized I had a new fight, another fight, a creepy fight against someone who would sell her nature to tabloids for a chance at a divadom she had long coveted.

Maybe, maybe, maybe, in the long run, it’s all good. This had to come out, it was an important step.

But with so many bonds to break, the last thing I needed was to be smothered in cheap, sticky pink cotton candy.