Rageless

There are so many, many reasons why I am not allowed to tap into my energy.

The primary one, though, is that my sensible, gracious, enlightened self knows that my anger, the breadth, intensity and scope of my anger just isn’t useful or productive.

Nobody can tolerate the level of anger that I bring, finding it overwhelming, offensive and terrifying.    That is a key lesson of my life.

If they can’t tolerate my rage, if I have to attenuate and modulate it to exist in polite society, then how can they tolerate any of my emotions, any of my energy?

Anger plays if it is common and cute, something that everyone gets pissed about.   When it is queer and laced with sharp thought, though, it becomes too much for people to tolerate.   I have the vision, it is clear and they know that at any time, it can be focused on them.

For so many reasons, so many audiences, I have known that if I want any connection I have to negotiate people’s fears, not stimulate and trigger them.   I learned how to do that well, taking my own smarts to be there for them, supporting their healing in their own way and in their own time.

To do that, though, I have had to eat all my own inner energy, had to ground it out, had to dial it back and play it down.  What is a raging transwoman other than a terrifying guy in a dress?   How do Aspergers parents connect with the energy of intense emotion?   Can a professional be anything other than considerate and measured?

My anger, though, my anger threads through all of my emotions, all of my incredible and intense life force.   I am not meek and mild, I am a goddamn force of nature.

I have been so repressed for so long that the torrent inside of me has gone dusty.   I have achieved the platonic goal of feeding everything through my head, analyzing and contextualizing the all my actions, skillful and well disciplined, but in that process, my wellspring of life has been poured down the drain, away and into the swamp I lie in.

You cannot feel any of your emotions without feeling all of them.   Since my rage is out of bounds, shameful, counterproductive, I am not allowed to feel it except in self-pity and wistfulness.  Without that anger, though, where are the vibrations that can make me feel anything, even feeling good to be alive?

Every day a little death, the death that is clad in politeness, being who others can tolerate, who they need you to be to serve them.   I may have been to hell and been tortured by it, but returning with that torment is beyond the bounds of conventional acceptance, beyond the capacity of the audience to tolerate.

“This is a safe space, but it is not safe for crap like that!  Too much, too big, too intense, too queer, too overwhelming!”

The joke that they cannot get is the ironic package we wrap pain in to try and make it palatable.  Death and rebirth, the crushed cries of a soul twisted in need and abuse.   Reasonable, so reasonable, not overwhelming and full of existential torture.

Chronic, repressed psychic pain from a kid who just desperately needed to be touched with love and understanding can become vast when dammed for life.  Let out drip by drop, bound up in smart and sharp thought, who will come to reflect the intensity of the pain?   Won’t they try and reflect what they want to see, what they want to be there, the smarts and service which can fit into their idea of good and normal?

Deny this, deny that, deny, deny, deny everything, shaped into proper thought, virtuous discipline, sanctified service.  Where, though, does the denied go, where does that energy seep into?

I am a phobogenic object, as no matter how blank a face I put on, the well of anger and sharp thought is always there, always ready to challenge, to blow away façades and reveal what others have worked so bloody hard to submerge  below their own pleasant, needy, tame wants.

My anger, my anger, my anger, rage and fury, shock and disappointment, vision and knowledge, all too, too, too much for social piety.

Deferential and diplomatic may be tools, but in the end, no matter how many nice ways you find to say “fuck you,” your heart ends up well and truly broken by those who can’t be there, can’t show up with integrity, can’t offer respect, understanding, accountability and compassion.

Too long angry is too much to take.   Who is going to be there when the venting is not just furious and torrid, but also caustic and apparently never ending?   People have their limits and if you are outside, well, there is no way they are going to empower and succour you.    You can tolerate their swings, but they, well they need you to, demand you to, insist you to deny your swings.

If they won’t fight with you, they won’t fight for you.   Every kid knows that, knows when they are loved in a way that really sees them really understands them, really values them.   When people see scars and run, all the way isn’t there.

Too big for the something.  But big is potent, big is real, big is transcendent, big connects heaven and earth.

I have learned how to be who people can tolerate me being.  The cost of that, though, from my earliest days, is my own emotions, my permission to feel what I feel and know what I know, the price paid when the mirroring you need is denied.

Many need to learn how to work their emotions, how to be more complete, more balanced, more conscious.   This is the available training.  It is training I offer, wth joy, with wit, with compassion, with heart.

Tapping into those emotions, though, committing to trust and ride them as the quintessential life force that they are, well, that is much, much harder juju.

I am so angry, so deeply and profoundly angry, so incensed by the crap I see people wanting to get away with, so hurt by the way they minimized and demanded of me that I feel no other choice but to swallow that rage.  In the process, though, I swallow my own life force.

I know, I know, I know, I know that people are doing the best that they can, that they need to heal in their own time and in their own way, that you have to approach them with compassion & context, that you need to focus on commonality & agreement, that defence is attack, that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, that the way to be most effective in the world is to focus on battles that you can win.   I’m smart enough.  A therapist said to me a few decades ago that I was surprising because after I explained how people around me did stupid and infuriating stuff, I then explained why they did it and how their choices made sense for them.

Still, though, I am not angry enough, not emotional enough, not connected enough, not released enough, not passionate enough to claim the day, the month, the year, the life.  I may be reserved and neat, but life, ah, ragged, raw and powerful life, isn’t like that, doesn’t neatly fit into manicured sentences.

What do we have to cut off to fit into polite society, trying to be who others demand to get even a wisp of what we need?

I cut off my own heart.

Performance Salvation

If you are so mired in cold, cool, crisp thought that the freeze overtakes you, is there any better remedy than hot, warm, fuzzy performance?  Finding people who not only gets the joke but also delight in it, willing and wanting to open their hearts and minds to kind playfulness seems a lovely way to thaw a chilled soul.

Like so many things, though, authenticity and performance are almost always seen as connected by “or.”    One is either authentic or performative, never both.

Many transpeople loudly reject any suggestion of performativity in the expression because they don’t want to be seen as fake, as a put on, someone in costume and hiding their real self.   They have seen too many examples where trans is made to be about concealment, deceit and manipulation and they don’t want their own expression to be invalidated, dismissed or demonized.

For women, though, who live with omnipresent scrutiny, performance is often the most effective and genuine form of expression.   Her mask is full of revelation, allowing her to show facets of herself that would be invisible without the tools of performance.   Every woman is, on some level and in some moments, for her safety and for her power, an actress.

There are many, many reasons why I have resisted the power of performance even though I have the skills and the inclination, but clearly the most important reason is the lack of a primary audience.   If someone isn’t delighted with your performance, how can you ever hope to delight a wider audience?

Finding that primary audience, the “Yes! And…” person, the producer, the editor, the partner, the encourager has been the real search of my life.  Rather of anyone being delighted, my primary experience has been having to negotiate their fears and issues as they wanted me to shape my own exuberance to the bounds of their comfort.   The divine surprise was too challenging, either in its challenge or in its divinity.

With fractured mirrors trusting my performance was always tough, so I learned to only offer it in shards anyway, small doses that I sneaked into serving the expectations and needs of others.

Without really committing to performance it tends to quickly start to shred around the edges and a frayed kite will never catch the wind and fly.   It is very hard to open a safe, welcoming and transcendent space by yourself, harder still to keep that space open in the face of people who don’t want to do the work.

Constructing effective and groundbreaking performance isn’t easy or simple, as dramaturge Jack Viertel explains in “The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built.”  Merging the classic & comfortable with the innovatve & challenging always takes a kind of sharp wit and conscious process.

The kind of performance I can imagine for myself is not theatrical but rather clerical. Like any transperson, my persona comes with a huge hitch in it, a time when the received had to be torn up, searched for salvage and then reconstructed using found gender bits, components striving to both reveal and hide, tamping down noise without hampering truth,   So hard.

Standing in the front of the room, nay, making anyplace I stand the front of the room, inviting scrutiny with supreme confidence in my simple, open and compassionate message, well, this is the archetype of clean, commercial, successful healer today.

Combining a smooth and inviting sheen with the torrential raggedness of stark vision, the kind easy polished front with the scarified mind of a wounded healer demands the demonic forces of a Victorian experimentalist.   This role does not come out of a playbook, can’t be cribbed from the canon, requires moving past fear to alchemical transformation.  Back to passion, Eros and stirrings, teasing out atavistic responses to healers with a modern, trendy façade.

Tough stuff indeed, but for me, the stuff of salvation, the persona unlocking social power, taking my furious brain droppings and and melding them with the performance of wisdom & beauty which slides graciously past kneejerk defences and into souls.

Intensity plus ease makes compelling presence, enough to command attention and engender comprehension.   Pulling that performance off, though, takes a kind of enervated transcendence which doesn’t come with a frayed and waning life.

Sweetened crackpot isn’t generally on the menu, but it is the only thing I can ever imagine selling, no matter how much that stirs fears of those who want to maintain their own walls, defences and plaintive yet cracked wishes implanted early by marketing control.

The enervating joy of performance, an energy charge of trust and exposure, moves past the daily blandness, the encroachment of decay and the spiralling loss which life always entails to a shot of pure life, recharging desire and injecting fresh momentum and a new, enervating breath.

Charm, charisma, seduction are scary forces, especially when built on transcendent belief, for they are not easily deflected, divided or even analyzed.  They are, though, supernaturally human, reaching below social engineering to unlock flowing, emotive energy.

Capricious. venal or manipulative intentions are not for me, rather I consider performance salvation as maybe the only way to get me out of this hole, get me back on the grid, back into a life where I touch others and they can touch me.

The intimate relationship of performer and audience looms threatening and coercive to me, the force which has made me resist for so, so, so long.  I kept small and earnest, constrained and guerrilla, just sneaking my essence into modulated expectations for safety, for effectiveness.

Trusting my own skills, trusting that voice so loved on my first day back, trusting my wit and smarts means trusting my performance.   Trusting my performance, then, means trusting my audience, trusting that I can take them beyond the petty, vindictive, small minded fear, the imposition of nasty walls and the deficit of compassion so easy to see on the internet.

Can nuanced performance survive in an age of Twitter and reality queens? Is there anyone out there who wants to kiss me?  How much can I bear away from the cave?  Where is the intersection of light and love?

Heat and warmth are mammalian requirements.  Humans, though, perform a story to spread essential truths, to move hearts and open minds.

Where is the affirmation that such performance can not only save me, it can also serve others?  Where is the love?

Triumph Of The Binary

If the ultimate battle cry of transgender activists is “People are who they claim to be and that’s that!” then they are sure to lose.

“People are simply who they are identified as at birth” is a massive falsehood, enforcing a projected binary that is easily demonstrable as an oversimplified pile of tripe, but at least it has the benefit of being based on easily verified objective evidence.

It’s not claims that define who a person is, it is the way those claims are substantiated, as I wrote back in 1997.

Who people really are is only indicated by their choices, by the decisions they make when they are under pressure, as JoAnn Roberts often reminded us.

In “No One Understands You And What To Do About It,” Heidi Grace Halvorson  lists all the ways that people resist seeing what is in front of them.   They use stereotypes, rely on first impressions, don’t see change when it occurs and so on.   For many reasons, their perception is blinkered by their assumptions, by the limited strategies society offers for applying meaning to presentation.

Anyone who has read my work from 1994 onward knows that has been a key topic of frustration for me and for other transpeople who have struggled to emerge in a heterosexist society where “OR” binaries are supposed to define what is “real.”

For many transpeople, dreaming of neatly fitting into the binary is all they have ever done.   Who the hell wants to be trans?  (2006) We want to be what we always wanted, magically transformed and seen in a way we believe will make our life easy.

Transpeople, though, will never, ever fit neatly into a binary system based on reproductive biology, one designed around encouraging breeding and supporting child rearing, a system that is easy to call heterosexist.

Because it’s the only gender system we have grown up with it is almost impossible for most of us to understand that not all human societies started with this kind of rigid binary system.

While the facts of human reproduction haven’t changed much, and probably won’t in any kind of foreseeable future, still demanding male sperm to fertilize a female ova, the needs and talents of diverse communities lead to different patterns for child rearing that were not based on the notion of a lifetime pair bond between one male and one female.

In these communities everyone played a part, even if that part wasn’t simply mommy or daddy.  In many, nobody knew what role a baby would play from birth, instead waiting for the child to show who they are, revealing their own special gifts.   Even adult names could wait until the spirit emerged in adolescence.

These systems were not based in binary identification, but neither were they non-binary.   A fixed and rigid binary was never imagined as a starting point, something to go against.   Instead, individuals were honoured as individuals, be they warriors born with female biology, child-rearers born with male biology, or anyone who turned out to be intersex, from diverse modes to those just not fertile.

From the first moments when I came out as trans, I knew the fight was about seeing people as their choices revealed the contents of their heart, the patterns of their mind.   My goal was to get clear, dropping my own gendered training, which was pretty cracked anyway, to find and show something real.

For me, trans has always been about valuing the individual, a notion that I call honouring queer.  Nobody ever is one OR the other, everybody is jagged, faceted and unique.

A huge challenge for me is the same challenge many transpeople face.  Once people identify how my body went through puberty, their binary assumptions form a gate, imposing their own expectations onto me rather than just being present and seeing my choices and my spirit.    They just can’t hear over my penis.

I had a famous sexologist, born female, once tell me that she saw me as more feminine when I was wearing boy clothes than girl clothes.   She was uncomfortable telling me this, fearing I would get uptight about being exposed.

Her glimpse made perfect sense to me.  I know that when I wear something pretty I feel exposed, needing to be braced for defence, for the third gotcha.  I am more armoured.

I am not two people, my heart and brain compartmentalized.   I always was looking for integration, so that while others see my body and assign their internalized stereotype, those who have experience with transpeople, long awareness of spirit over convention, can easily read my choices and see the obvious feminine heart within.

For me, I have no problem with people knowing that I was born male, went through male puberty.  I do get crazy, though, when their binary baffles tell them that I must always be on the Guy-In-A-Dress line, that whatever I express I can only ever, ever be man.   This erases my heart and discounts the hard work I have done to claim my own nature and it hurts.

Holding open the space for others to transform is hard sometimes, even as people struggle to get beyond their own fears and drive for shortcuts, but I do it.   Finding mature, healed, post-therapy transpeople who hold that space for me, though, is well neigh impossible.

I know why transpeople just want to be able to slip into the binary, just want to be taken at their word.

I also understand, though, why we as humans never can simply take others at their word.   We need to see substantiation of those claims, need people to reveal who they are.

For people mired in the binary, though — and can include straight people, gays, lesbians, TERFs, crossdressers, drag queens and more, anyone who hasn’t embraced the trans-cendence of queer — their boxing people up by birth biological status is oppressive and abusive to transpeople.

Because they can read our body or know our history, they want to believe that they know who we “really” are, assigning motives and stories that reduce us to stereotypes that fit neatly into the boxes installed in their brain.

Those of us trying to emerge, trying to show ourselves, trying to be seen for the contents of our character as revealed by our hard won choices, well, we are demolished by this reactionary fundamentalism that reduces humans to a binary structure which can be used to oppress us all.

I have been saying this out loud for at least twenty five years now, but with the continued enforcement of identity politics which demands reductive grouping, the terrain has not changed.   If anything, the binary political battles have made the world even more dangerous for transpeople, taking shots from both sides of the battle and only being respected by those close enough to know our heart.

For so many transpeople, trying to use binary rationalizations to claim some kind of space, asserting their OR identity has been the most effective survival skill they can find.  They dreamed of who they could be in an OR world, so why not demand to be treated like that, even if it means explaining where other transpeople are doing it all wrong?

The binary OR model is so prevalent, so widespread, and the illusory boundaries it creates so comforting that I despair of seeing changes in it anytime soon.

That doesn’t mean that transpeople will ever fit nicely into any binary, or that change will not come, only that the resistance at change points can be brutal and killing.   It is hard to let go of the dreams to embrace the possibilities which are not yet fully formed, the possibilities that demand we be new, present and exposed.

I have known from the first moment I came out that I needed to be me, someone who doesn’t easily fit any box.   I knew also that every human was like me; they weren’t defined by EITHER/OR, rather they were their own special person.

Understanding the long term cost of holding that position, the price I would have to pay to try and help break this ground, well, I just didn’t know how much it could break me.

Designated Thinker

Last night we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you’re getting on that plane with Victor where you belong.
— Richard Blaine, Casablanca, 1942

How old was I when I figured out that I could read situations better than my parents?   When did I understand that someone had to be the interpreter for them and no one else was around?

I first got screwed in business when I was treasurer for the Lynnfield Teen Council in grade eight.   Our advisor passed me a letter she got from the library, I read it and replied “Okay.  They are kicking us out of the library.”

“You got that just from reading the letter?” she asked, astounded.  “It took Chris almost half an hour to figure that out.”

I knew how to read meaning.   Someone had to.   And I knew when a parent illegally took all the money out of the bank account and ended up blowing it on a few months of a director — the son of one of them — that there wasn’t squat I could do about it because 13 year old kids have no power.

Even today, I am almost always stuck being the voice of reason.  People who are too emotional, too self-involved, too resistant to thinking want to vent or whine about the way they believe that things should be, about what they deserve and how they were screwed out of their entitlement.

The walls they have placed between their head and their heart, the compartments they have worked to create with barricades of rationalization, stop them from hearing what they already know, what they so very much do not want to know.   They believe that success comes from machine like business, so feelings have to be set apart for vacation, only for moments of indulgence that don’t count.  What happens in playland stays in playland.

They want me to be there, a sink for their feelings, respecting, mirroring and affirming them, then putting them into some larger context.    They usually know everything I am going to say, but the luxury of indulgent caring from me is something that they have learned to take for granted.

I know this obligation viscerally.  I’m the smart one, the queer one, so I end up having to negotiate other people’s fear, uncertainty, doubt and confusion.   I can choose not to do that, to just go along, but when I do that, I have to take whatever level of thinking, sensitivity, concern and compassion they are willing and able to give, which most often doesn’t even try to stretch to consideration of my needs, feelings and desires.

It feels lovely to just indulge in your own feelings, to feel safe enough to whine and express your frustration, heartbreak and pain, without having to do the hard work of negotiating them for yourself.  For many people who grew up with parents they could trust, parents who understood and cared, they lived with this construction, running to mommy and telling her where it hurt, letting her take care of the boo-boos.

That’s not a gift that I ever received.  From a very early age, even as they all called me “Stupid,”  I knew that I had to be the designated thinker, the one who managed, mitigated and moderated my own emotions or ended up paying an awful price.

Over the decades, I have worked very hard to not make everything about me.   I know how that feels, know the burden of having someone want to help and then turning the attempt at assistance to be about their issues, their fears, their limits, about they resist engaging what is and staying in their own comfort zone, bounded by rationalizations and self-centred expectations.

The problem with that approach, though, is that in almost all of my interactions with others, I become invisible, hidden, a doing rather than a being, playing the role of concierge.

Who am I anyway?   How do I get to be more myself in the world, open, vulnerable and cared for?

Am I just the designated thinker, or is there more for me, more to live, more to be?  If I put down the burden, who will pick it up, do the work, care for what I have built, care for me?

For those who have learned to use me, change isn’t something they want to engage.  They are struggling with their own stuff, healing in their own time, resisting what they believe they need to resist.

We humans are social animals, nothing without relationships.   It is our relationships which shape us in profound ways, the way we are cast by them, a role chosen and an identity formed from molten humanity.   We only have the raw material of our nature, but the way our dreams are handled and other dreams are projected onto us shapes the range of possibility we have, the torrid boundaries of who we can be.

My role as designated thinker, well, filling in the gaps left by my family was required, even as it squeezed me into small and hidden spaces, putty to reinforce the cracked assertions of those who bred me.

Bravery and boldness was not valued, so I learned to turn it inside, exploring the dark spaces of my own nature rather than the bigger, badder spaces of the world around me.   Service was my due, holding together the cracked egos of those who could not join the external network, could not learn to thrive in society.

My role as designated thinker, bolstering the foundations by always being there to negotiate the breaks between function and happiness, was required as long as I had the resources to fill it.   Being big was not supported, only small demands were the constraints of support.

Feelings, flowings, freeings, fascinatings, well, not there, not there, not for a being who needed to be pushed into doing, doing the thinking for all of us.

I know why people love the indulgence of having me support them, repeating the same hoary myopia again and again and again and again, knowing it is my job to think, to care, to absorb and damper feelings, turning them into comfort and lessons that do not have to be internalized because there is always a designated thinker to do that same work for us, boxed in by their own tropic pattern of development, of the spaces we limited them by.

All the pink and pretty dreams of colourful beauty, the seductiveness of emotional stories, freedom for the feminine heart captured and constrained by a role of stolid support, designated thinker, interpreter and contextualizer, caretaking our weaknesses so limited by them.   No butterfly flight, only dogged patching of habits beyond the personal insight & healing that turns us into boosters rather than demanders.

Be reasonable, they tell me, do the reasonable thing, for we don’t need the brave, bold, beautiful and thrilling.

In reason, I find a purpose and in reason I find a casket.

I am, after all, the designated thinker.

Twenty Seven Dollars

How much crackpot is too much crackpot?

That’s a question I ask myself everyday.   I have put my smarts and my energy into saying what I know to be important in the world, but I know that the value of what I offer goes virtually unseen, unheard.  

While my crackpot pedigree is impeccable, with decades spent battling with a valiant crackpot engineer who had valuable insights but no sense whatsoever of being a team player, struggling to help him be heard by trying to help him understand his audience, nobody grows up wanting to be a crackpot.

As a crackpot, I am off the grid, without connection to mainstream thinking.  I am an eccentric iconoclast who can be written off simply because of their lack of influence and following.   Who needs to engage me when I am so clearly out of touch with what normal people think, feel and believe?   I am simply irrelevant.

My history, though, has trained me to endure the price of crackpot from a very, very young age.   Even my parents decided to call me “stupid” for not going along with their ideas while I knew that I had to stand for something more than their twists.  Knowledge of my trans nature, the clarity of echoes inside and the need to analyze the world to stay safe even as others came from emotion all added to the training I got in an Aspergers home.

I cherish the role of crackpots in society.   Someone has to be willing to say the unthinkable, the outrageous, the queer, even at the cost of being isolated and ostracized.   If no one ever challenges the mainstream, how will we claim better and bolder?   Someone, it seems, has to be the prophet.

There is a balance to be struck, of course.   Too far out means you can get lost in your own delusions and even if you avoid that trap, not participating in the mainstream means your vision never has any influence on the course of human events, never makes the impact which can create constructive change.

When I ponder how much crackpot is too much crackpot, I come back to connection.  Instead of going into full Unabomber manifesto, running off the rails, I work hard to stay grounded in the work others are doing.  I connect back to current thought, judging my own ideas against the evidence and ideas which form the larger conversation.

If I am not a crackpot, not an observer & proclaimer of deeper patterns, then who am I?    What is my calling, my purpose, my life’s work?   At what point do you lose your integrity & clarity when trying to satisfy and comfort other people?  How much playing along is too much, sacrificing your own vision?

Learning not to call out everything I see has been crucial.   The profound lesson that everyone heals in their own time and in their own way, even me, has been hard to internalize, but I have done my best.   Wrapping my visions in wit and compassion took developing a strong tool kit, but mirroring others is always much more powerful than just preaching at someone.  I start by understanding, agreeing and affirming what I can of them before I might reveal places where more healing can happen, encouraging rather than criticizing.

Still, there often comes in my writing that horrible moment where, as Performance Guy noted, after explaining the power of good in the world, I explain why what I suggest won’t work for me.  When my writing turns personal it always turns to lessons hard learned, to scars and limits, to pain and failure.

This is the legacy of a wounded healer.  Wisdom never comes from ease & comfort, rather it comes from battles & travails.  Until we fail we have no need to struggle to understand better, to do better.

The profound challenge of the crackpot, speaking the truth without fear or favour, is getting over the simple human desire to be liked.  You have to want to be respected more than you are liked, have to value your relationship with clarity more than you value your relationship with the gang.

This tension runs through all of the work of Kate Bornstein, the powerful need to embody her truth even at the cost of being seen as a freak living alongside the powerful need to be seen as pretty, attractive, sweet.

No one chooses to be unlikable.  We just choose something that we value more than being liked.   Sometimes that is being defended, walling off people before they hurt us, and sometimes that is being true to our own vision, vulnerable but powerfully honest.

Finding a way to live with the effects of needing to be crackpot is hard.   How do we get the connection and love that we need while being true to our vision?   What do we hide?   How do we attenuate?  Can we stop our vision from creeping out and challenging those who just need to stay in their comfort zone?

My response, every time I see how few people engage me is the phrase “Nobody cares. Nobody loves me, and that’s okay.”   It’s okay because I know that I live in the love of creation, know that I love other people and I love my work, always working very hard to share in a loving way that offers the best I can muster to the wider world, even if they aren’t yet ready to engage it.

Like and love are two different things, I know, but does anyone really not want all she can get of both?  Still, priorities must be set and held if discipline & practice are to mean anything at all.

The other phrase that often crosses my mind is “I’ll give you twenty seven dollars to…”   Those are the moments when the cumulative cost of being a crackpot weighs heavily on me, when I acknowledge that there is no simple path to finding a place of value, respect and love in society for someone like me.  Sure, I can take care of people in a way they already value, but only at the cost of silencing my dammed gift of a voice and a vision.

How much crackpot is too much crackpot?   When is the price of crackpot just too much to bear?

It’s clear to me that there is no way I can stop being a crackpot.  The only question is if I can modulate my own nature enough to fit in any place in the world,  holding down my own sharp vision and my own history of isolation that built along with it.

Imagining a place, a venue, an audience that will embrace my vision, want more of it, engaging my crackpot mix of history, thought and feminine emotion is a lovely notion, but at this point, that kind of possibility is beyond my frame of dreams.

I have the pride of a true crackpot, no doubt.

Sometimes, though, I just don’t have the heart for it.

Twisted Stories

Who gets to tell stories about transpeople?

Clearly, anybody can tell those stories.   In a culture of free expression, there are few limits to the stories we tell about anyone.

The stories they tell about people like us, though, often feel icky, manipulative and unfair.  They set us up to be the enemy, the other, the objects of fear & ridicule.   We are cracked or manipulative, they say, sad people who don’t understand the true fixed relationship of biological sex & gender or devious people out to fool the righteous into betraying their healthy, natural, god-given purity.

Somewhere between a freak and a demon, anyone who reveals queer behaviour is open to abuse and stigma in an effort to protect the virtue of the family.   People can prove their orthodoxy and goodness by mocking, humiliating and even bashing queers.    This proof is especially important, of course, for those who are afraid that their own queer thoughts & desires might be surfaced.

Queers were whoever they imagined them to be, whoever they needed them to be for their own political and proselytizing purposes.   Nothing unifies a group as easily as a shared enemy, especially one who wants to steal children and break up healthy, normal families with sick sexual perversion.

Stories which cast us as the bogeyman, the spectre of all fears, corruption & sickness, are dehumanizing and therefore very dangerous to people like us and we very much know it.    Those tales forced us into hiding, denying us a the opportunity to own our nature in a healthy, respectful way.   They broke us, just like they were intended to, cutting us off from our possibilities, leaving us feeling terrified of exposure.

Who gets to tell stories about people like us?  And what can we do if those stories seem totally false to us, using characters they claim represent us to only play out the imaginary projections and fears of those who have set themselves against us?

If anyone gets to tell stories about us then we have to figure out what our response is to those stories.

Do we spend our energy hiding from those stories, keeping ourself apart so we won’t be tarred by them?

Do we spend our energy declaiming those stories, pointing out their falsehoods, striving to identify the suspect motives and faulty understanding of those who tell them?

Or do we spend our energy telling our own stories, so clear, powerful and compelling that they wash away lies with honesty, truth and integrity?

For people trapped in the shadows of myth it is much easier to know what we aren’t than to know what we are.    We have never been able to stretch our legs, to emerge into the sunlight, to do the work of separating our dreams from our reality.

We are very clear, though, what upsets, disgusts and hurts us, what makes us feel unsafe and abused, what we know to be lies, what we need to be lies.   We can point to scary images and scream “That’s not me!   That’s not me!  I know it!”

This shaping of negative identity runs through all of human expression, the identification of other.   We are not gay, not a clown, not predatory, not confused, not sick, not broken, not terrifying, not absurd, not playing, not lying, not one of those people.

Knowing what we are, though, is much harder.   To find that, we need healthy and effective mirroring, putting our best effort forward and seeing the results reflected in the people and situations around us. Emerging as potent requires letting go of old habits and assumptions to claim our own persona and effectiveness in the world.

One of the reasons this emergence is so damn hard is because we often end up mired in the old stories around us.    Moving past the assumptions of other people is very hard, be those the negative assumptions of those who want to stigmatize us, defending the status quo by keeping us in our assigned place on the guy-in-a-dress line, or the negative assumptions of those who claim to be like us who strive to enforce their politically correct vision of what people like us should be.

Those who have not yet fully emerged as trans are often the most forceful and vociferous critics of other transpeople.   It isn’t the complex actuality of trans life that they want to engage, rather their stake is in vigorously defending their dreams, their cherished illusions of the way that life should be and the way it will be when they finally get to the point of emergence.

It is this defence of “should” that always triggers the most venomous attacks, whoever they come from.   Reality is hard to argue with, but our dreams are crucial and must be defended from corruption at all costs, or what will we have to comfort us?

Telling stories that counter people’s fervent wishes is always hard especially when those wishes belong to us.   Our hopes fuel us even when what is confronts and challenges them, so we often stick to dogma, doctrine and rationalization even in the face of clear and compelling evidence to the contrary.

Expository writing needs to expose.   By being as clear as possible about reality we can make powerful exposition of oppression, of challenge, of possibility, of the huge connective power of continuous common humanity.   Telling true stories allows an influence far beyond the imaginary construction of bogeymen, touching minds and hearts in a powerful way.

Who gets to tell stories about transpeople?

While anyone can, the most potent stories about the experience and outlook of transpeople in the world must always come from transpeople and those who have had deep and intimate relationships with them.   Truth will always trump imagination because the deep and complex aspect of truth, the vulnerable exposure of real embodied humanity is what changes the world.

Like any marginalized people, it is only when our voices are heard that our presence is felt, moving us from the shadows into the mainstream.   As we become visible the scarecrows that attempted to demonize us are swept away, leaving space for our own messy human reality.

Anyone can tell stories about transpeople, dammit.

But only transpeople can tell true stories about transpeople.  As we claim our presence, moving beyond “should” to truth, we change the conversation, opening the understanding and making a better world for those transpeople yet to emerge and claim their own beautiful story.

Still You

“I have been looking at my own choices in a new way,” my sister’s friend, taking care of her 89 year old father said, “and letting go of some old defensive habits that don’t really serve me.

“Still, I sometimes find myself sometimes getting caught up now and then, but I remember what you said.

“Whatever changes I make, I am always still going to be me.”

There are so many self-help books that tell you that you have to become new, have to let go of who you are so that you can model yourself after their advice, letting go of the old and following their template to become effective and happy in the world.

That advice has never worked for me.   I have known who I am since I was very young, known it deeply.

No matter how much people told me that my life would be better if I could just be like some other person, someone who didn’t seem to make the kind of decisions that I did, I knew that becoming someone else was never really an option for me.

In order to act just like them, I would have to be just like them.   That just was never going to happen.

When I looked at them, I saw choices and consequences I would never take for my own.   Just compartmentalizing off who I was, walling my own “bad” behaviour away so I could mimic some kind of idealized model was never, ever going to work for me.

The way I thought wasn’t bad, evil or broken.   It didn’t need to be purged, destroyed, terminated.

I saw the world like me, with my own heart & mind and that wasn’t wrong, even if it was far from being polished and perfected.   When someone told me that the only way I could ever be acceptable is to destroy me and replace it with some standard issue template, not only did I know that could never happen, it also broke my heart.

Those years of people trying to pound me into who they wanted me to be, who they thought I should be, just left much more damage than improvement.   Instead of helping me become better, they helped me become shamed, frustrated, hurt, angry and heartbroken that others could not see and value who I was and the gifts I had to give.

We each want to be seen, understood and valued for the unique gifts we bring to the group, not to be pounded into some standard mould, battered and bruised to fit into a normative box that does not have room for all of us.

Understanding the cost and pain of that process, when I care for other people, the first thing I do is to assure them that who they already are contains all they need to be brilliant in the world.   You are who you are and that’s not going to change, even if with some thought, discipline and practice you can polish your choices to be better and more effective.

Instead of working to replace their voice with one that I have decided is the best, standardized to perfection,  I believe it is much more important and powerful that they find their own voice, trust their own instincts, create their own handcrafted tool kit, hone their own choices to be more of who they are already.

This approach makes it hard to offer a simple template to follow, a cut out model that anyone can follow to become effective, but it does provide much more potent and satisfying results in the end.

You are the only person just like you there is, as Mr. Rogers would tell you, and that means the most effective you can be is to be the best you you can possibly be.   Being more you is the path to bliss, as Mr. Campbell would say.

Hearing this message, though, in a culture that wants imitation, valuing machine made duplicates which fit the pattern, interchangeable, fitting the rules and popped off the assembly line can be awfully hard.   Believing that we are only valuable in the ways we meet other people’s expectations means we can never own the power & grace of our essential creation.

Replacing the handmade with the machine produced will screw you up badly, as Ms. Pinkola-Estes would say.   Until we claim back our own desire, our own uniqueness we can never blossom, instead only feeling parts of us wither as we struggle to replace our natural self with some model that came off the shelf, some desire created by marketers.

For people who have spent a lifetime struggling with how they know themselves to be different, striving to hide and deny their nature so as to not scare the horses, compartmentalizing off to try and fit in with the demand to be normative, well, the idea that there is no such thing as perfection, that we need to embrace our own queerness can be very difficult to grasp.

Why did we strive so hard to squeeze in if the attempt was futile before we started?   How can we give up on all the effort and pan we went through to try and fit in?   Don’t we still want to be sweet, cute, tame and loved for being who others want us to be, for using shame to corset ourselves down to fit into the standard, pretty expectations?

You are who you are and you can’t change that.   The best you can do is become the best that you can be, shining with the gifts of your creator in the world.

My sister’s friend needs to cut back all of those attempts to deny who she is that have eaten so much of her energy & possibility to focus on what her father needs to have another good day.   She, like we all do as we age, has to give up the cognitive load she carried trying to conceal herself, has to drop the masks, no matter how long she carried them, and be more herself to do the work that needs doing.

Being better is good, but believing that better means having to be less yourself, having to wall off and seal up your own unique essence is very bad.

For her, the notion that trusting the parts she tried so long to run from, of letting go of all the defensive, concealing behaviours will actually make her more present and more effective is still slightly baffling, but the work in front of her is so profound and crucial that she had no other choice.

Others, who still want to have it both ways, being themselves but also being the mask they tried to wear, struggle harder.

I know what I need.   I need people to be more themselves, less believing in fitting into tiny, standardized boxes and instead being more present, more authentic, more open, more relaxed, more embracing of diversity, more queer.

Being more of who they are makes them safer and more potent in the world and while that’s great for them, it’s even better for the people who need their presence, their leadership, their love in the world.

You are always going to be you.   Trying to become so kind of ideal, standardized person is never going to work.

Just strive to be the best you that you can possibly be and you will have offered your most polished gifts to a world that needs them.

The Scent Of Safety

On the lovely show “A Chef’s Life,”  Vivian Howard is often under pressure, away from her own kitchen and struggling to make things work.

In those moments, she will turn to her partner Ben Knight and vent.

“You are in the way, you are on my nerves, you are getting in the way!”

Ben, being a patient husband, says the sensible thing.

‘OK, I’ll leave,” Ben offers

Vivian quickly stops that idea. “No!  Don’t do that!” she implores.

As stressed as Chef Vivian is in the moment, as much as she is feeling emotional and letting it out, having her man there is better than not having him there.

Straight women know when they are feeling safe, and part of that seems to be a primitive, mammalian awareness that someone they are bonded to is right there, at the ready if anything goes wrong.

Part of this response appears to be a response to pheromones, natural scents that researchers have proven can calm and relax a woman.

These cues are tricky for transpeople, are tricky for me.   I know, for example, why the dog barks at me and none of the other women in the room, even if the owner is baffled.   And I am sure that my sister responds deeply & unconsciously to the scent of me, calming her down and making her feel safe.

Where, though, is the scent of safety for me?  When do I feel protected and loved?

David DeSteno notes that humans use similarity to decide who they should help, who they should trust, who they should offer compassion.   Dale Carnegie suggests that means we should act as much like other people as possible to win their friendship and influence them.

My mission statement for over two decades is about similarity, but not in the way most people expect. “In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous, common humanity.”

Trying to explain to people that the easy separations they use to decide who is like them is a task that runs up against what they would call their “common sense,” and which I would call their normative assumptions & prejudices.

That moment when my gender shifts in their eyes, the moment of the “third gotcha,” is just one of the times their emotions want to see me as separate and different.  My erudition, my experience with caretaking and Aspergers, my need to engage death and rebirth, well, they all can seem to set me apart.

My body was never androgynous in the way that Bowie was, slim and pretty.   My only shot at androgyny came the way Divine found their androgyny, in the rolls of flesh at the other end of the spectrum, and that’s not something I wanted to shoot for.

I am visibly trans and what that means to me deep in my reptilian brain is that finding a place of safety is very, very hard.    I don’t have the experience of feeling safe in my family, knowing that they would be there if a problem occurred.

I knocked the wind out of my father when I was eight and from that time on he stayed away from me, scared I could defeat him.   His Aspergers made him less than coordinated, never good at sports, not connected to a sense of touch, as my mother often complained.    In his last year, especially after he became a paraplegic, as his primary caretaker we did end up touching a lot and it was different, but very little, very late, very sad.

My mother stayed in a chair, and other than my teenage years when she would let her robe fall open because she wasn’t getting what she needed from my father, trying to surrogate spouse me, she never even thought about touch.

I don’t have the sense that if I am unsafe anyone will be there for me.   Men don’t see me as female bodied, which makes them keep a distance or even see me as perverted and women can easily see me as not one of them, an interloper rather than a sister.

All this means that I feel very, very exposed and vulnerable when my trans nature is visible in the world.   I don’t have anyone who can help me relax just by their presence, by the scent of their skin.

Without the experience of being mirrored in the world, having our own expression seen, experience and affirmed, we don’t have the permission to trust our own feelings, our own knowledge and our own choices.   We feel unsafe asserting who we are.

Who has my back, can tell me when a label is showing or when I need to just let loose more, trust myself and go for it?   Who is my safety officer with eyes that check. confirm and encourage?

This feeling of being exposed and unsafe is profound in every transwoman, which is why the myth that transpeople are killed in exceptionally high numbers is so resonant with us.   We have always felt alone with no pack to run with, no place to hide, no one to watch our back, to work with us for protection.   We know people see us as queer, different, unique, know that means they may see us as living in the margins and expendable.

Without the sense of safety we can easily choose to walk through the world in armour, that internal stick held tight, only presenting what we feel is defensible rather than opening our heart and sharing with the world around us.

Our true defence may be in our connection with community, but when you have been taught that you are a phobogenic object, the subject of fears which others hold you responsible for causing and negotiating, it’s hard to walk in safety & grace.   There is no place of retreat, of healing, of safety, for your experience is that anyone can act out against you with others easily finding their fear to be reasonable because we brought this on ourselves with no choices.

The drumbeat in the media which brands us as too dangerous to even use public facilities seems to give permission for fringe elements to try and cleanse our presence by any means necessary.  It feels like hunting season has been declared, and while there are those who stand with us, we can never know who is on our side and who is lying in wait, feeling blessed by their religion to attack us.

I know many transwomen who have negotiated this gauntlet and found a place for themselves in the world, found allies and friends who do offer compassion and safety.  Logic says that the world is not as dangerous for us as we fear that it is, that fear needs to be replaced by love.

That reptilian brain, though, programmed for fight, flight or freeze, well, it wants to be countered by the mammalian signals of protection, by the scent of safety.

And that scent, well, it doesn’t feel available to me.

Welcome To Woman

Scrutiny is the daily experience of women.

The most obvious scrutiny is the ubiquitous male gaze, always assessing women for sexual desirability and availability.

Being a woman is a terribly difficult task,
since it consists principally in dealing with men.
— Joseph Conrad

This male gaze also requires men to watch over his women in a protective way, keeping them decent so that threats can be eliminated.   This keeps women safer in a world of men, but it also keeps us subject to the scrutiny and discipline of those who can often be jealous or over protective, limiting our options and creating other risks.   In the end, just being a woman makes us vulnerable to those who want to act out their own psychodramas onto us.

As Deborah Tannen tells us, women are “marked” in a way that men are not.  We  express ourselves in detailed, nuanced, colourful ways which signal to others who we are and what role we are willing — or not willing — to play.

Women learn to scrutinize and judge the markings of other women, sensing both commonalities and threats in an instant.   Propriety lets us create social orders where we express our group identification though our markings, revealing how we will comply with the social pressures and where we will stand up to them.

Men’s expression is much more generic and utilitarian.   It is almost impossible for a man to feel dressed improperly for an occasion, but very easy for a woman to feel her expression marks her as out of place, disrespectful, or worthy of scorn.

This means that women are almost always negotiating a fine balance, and not just because their shoes may have stiletto heels.   As Danielle Campoamor writes, being a woman is difficult because it is so easy to get one’s choices marked as wrong, too much of this or that.

Going through high school teaches women one key thing about other women: they can be judgmental and bitchy,  asserting their place in the power structure by putting other women down.  Young women are taught that they are always in a competition for status, their beauty and behaviour claiming them the best boys, the best friends, and the best reputation.

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

Men mostly don’t understand this dance of challenged expression, the experience of always walking the tightrope under scrutiny, just as women mostly don’t understand the social pressures that exist in the culture of men, where toughness & compliance is valued, however it is achieved.

For those who claim their womanhood in later life, being denied the truth of their heart when they were younger, this living under scrutiny,  having to negotiate the close inspection of every expression and choice, often does not come with ease and grace.

A key marker for transwomen is if they have begun to understand and operate in this key women’s communication system, the skills of reading and creating marking in the world.

For many, expression is shaped based on only on their own internalized desires, claiming the power to not having to listen to no, to social pressure after many years of being forced to hide their own nature.    It is very hard to understand the codes of women’s markings without the kind of immersive education that mothers and high school gives a woman, one problem that immigrants have.

Learning to negotiate the daily scrutiny is the only way to live as a woman in the world.   This is one reason why crossdressers, even those who do it regularly, and other men, even those actors who take the parts of trans women, will never learn to shape their own expression with the angst, nuance and detail employed by those  transwomen who have been immersed in the challenges of women.

Girlfriends are a key part of learning to navigate scrutiny.   They can tell you what they see, convey feedback in a measured way and generally have your back.  Without peers, though, other women going through the same stages as you are, the lack of effective mirroring can leave you stunted, helpless and without any confidence.

Women learn to be women from other women.   It is women who set and uphold the standards of womanhood, women who enforce those standards.  While the codes may be conveyed in many ways, from television to magazines to discussions with other women, your personal compliance with the code is assessed in the eyes of almost every woman who sees you (though some are more political and judgmental than others.)

It is this enforcement structure that identity politics purveyors leverage to shame others into compliance, knowing that anyone marginalized knows they are under scrutiny and finds it hard to live outside the approval of community.   Shaming only works when it threatens to remove us from an identity that we see as key to our safety, success or happiness.

Asking to have the benefits of an identity position without being willing to pay the dues to fit into that social role is never going to work well.   It will always seem desirable to have the benefits without the costs, to say that what we claim to be just demands whatever we say it should, but that has never been how social roles work.

There is a price to be paid for being a woman.   The obvious part of that price is in the scrutiny, the attention which can feel so good, inclusive and affirming, the attention which can feel so cold, isolating and judgmental.  (1998)

Underneath the surface, though, the real price is paid in the furious paddling every woman does to maintain her appearances, to negotiate tricky challenges, to be both sweet & tame, pleasant & demure while also being sharp & wild, authentic & bold.  Wild and tame is the primary duality, so the way we stay copacetic with group while also standing out & standing up for ourselves is a challenge.

This functioning under scrutiny, shaping, showing and reading the markings of women is how we take feminine power in the world.   It delivers all the delights of being able to show yourself, get attention, of flirting and being flirted with while it delivers all the challenges of being seen and challenged for status & place in the community.

Feeling this pressure is just feeling a welcome to woman.   Come in and join everyone else negotiating the daily experience being scrutinized as a woman in the world.

Continue reading Welcome To Woman

Our Mind Whitewashes

I found David DeSteno’s talk fascinating, as you can see from my notes.

02:56 – Trust makes us vulnerable
04:06 – One of best predictors of academic success how much they trust teacher
04:22 – Trust smooths out romance bumps in ways below conscious thought
04:59 – If you feel elevated sense of power becomes harder to stay trustworthy
06:01 – Moral behaviour is contextual and situational
07:05 – The mind balances short term benefits and long term costs in the moment
08:02 – Anyone can be untrustworthy, even you
10:05 – In one experiment, 90% of participants cheat
10:50 – Cheaters then rank themselves as trustworthy while condemning the same behaviour in others
11:45 – We use rationalizations to whitewash our own choices because we need to trust ourselves.
17:30 – Being trustworthy & showing that is not always useful
18:25 – Trust integrity, Trust competence
24:20 – Minds use body language cues without concious awareness
31:45 – Trustability & compassion can change rapidly and dramatically.
33:15 – How do we identify who is worthy of help?
33:30 – Compassion Fatigue
34:15 – Similarity as measure of worth.  Assumed reciprocity.
35:30 – Motor Synchrony
37:00 – Intuitive Similarity, then rationalized
37:40 – 3X difference in willingness to assist
38:40 – Compassion & Trustworthiness are flexible
39:20 – Retraining mind to find similarities will increase trust & compassion
40:20 – Make goal seem more joined
41:00 – Mindfulness
41:15 – 3x more meditators helped someone in need
44:50 – Mindfulness demands Equanimity.  Similarity, connection, category break down.
46:00 – Best predictor of resilience?   Trust.
46:45 – Empower better trust
49:50 – In the long run, trustworthy people profit most.
53:45 – Inherent trust erases suspicion and doubt, smoothing bumps, avoiding “death spiral”