Transactional Timbre

My life has been a constant stagger between “That’s way too much information!” and “Why didn’t you tell me that right away?”

I have never known exactly how much information I should disclose in any given interaction with other humans.

Watching them glaze over, turn away or, worst, recoil in disgust when I show them a part of me that they find less than palatable is not a pleasant experience.  I was taught early that it was not only unsafe to disclose my heart, but also that it was rude.

“Look,” so many people would say, “I’m fine with whatever you do in the privacy of wherever you do it, but I don’t really want to see it, and for God’s sake, don’t expose the innocent and pure children!”

Trans is based in Eros, driven from the desire in our heart.   Because it was often a segmented, unintegrated part of our expression, it was where we could “let it all hang out,” revealing deep, potent adult desires that seemed rude in mixed company.   Fetish, drag, crossdressing and more brought an uncomfortable rawness to what we revealed, something that squicked other people and made them queasy.

Deciding where the line between appropriate and unsavoury lay was always difficult.  Because I had to police myself, I always over policed, staying in the shadows if there was any possibility that my appearance would cause questions that parents would rather not answer.

This behaviour, though, sometimes lead people to believe that I was ashamed of my trans nature, trying to hide it.   I’ve been talking openly about my trans for at least twenty years, but I have also resisted showing it, not wanting to be too “in your face.”

Many transpeople address this concern by going to extreme lengths to conceal their trans truth, using surgery and other methods to try and conceal their trans body, attempting to pass as having gone through puberty as the appropriate sex for their gender presentation.

I knew that approach wouldn’t work for me.   In the first place, I would be a failed transsexual, but more importantly, I knew that my work required I be able to talk about the experience of being trans, using my voice to speak for queerness and continuous common humanity.

My choice was to be honest about trans but to avoid having to feel the fear of trying to pass in the world.    With my feminine heart, I needed the connection more than I did wearing the clothes that I wanted, knowing they would put barriers up.  My beauty couldn’t lay in the way I met normative expectations, as Riki Wilchins notes, but rather in the way I shared my vision.

Humans, though, operate on assumptions, applying their own expectations to others they meet.   Those expectations, as I and so many other transpeople found, just don’t usually include understanding people like us, those who make the choices and create the expressions that we do.

That “third gotcha” moment, where your gender changes in someone’s eyes, is one of the most unsettling experiences ever.    For this reason, many transwomen keep a “tell” around, knowing that it can be dangerous to not reveal our trans nature right up front, even if that means we are always stuck on the “guy-in-a-dress line.” (1999)

While this is terrifying, I have written about it often over the past twenty years or so.   My choice was to try and be myself on the inside, wearing a uniform, rather than pressing the point on the outside.

Because I mostly share using explicit and potent language, rather than just the symbols of clothing, my “too much information” experience is when I try to talk about my experience, my feelings, my life.

I learned long ago that unless someone was ready, primed and open to engage what I had to offer, I had to modulate, reduce and be very circumspect about what I share with them.

We know we are being heard when we hear our stories mirrored, when our own ideas and phrases come back to us, or when people change their choices to consider what we have shared with them, showing that they understand and have integrated what we revealed to them into their own mental model of who we are, how we feel and what we need.

My experience, though, is that most people have a great deal of difficulty moving beyond their own deep assumptions and beliefs to grasp and integrate my sharing.

The only man who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measure anew every time he sees me, whilst all the rest go on with their old measurements, and expect them to fit me.
– George Bernard Shaw

Never try to teach a pig to sing.   It just wastes your time and annoys the pig.
– Robert Heinlein

People grow and heal in their own time and in their own way.   If they aren’t yet ready to hear what I offer, well, there isn’t much I can do to change that.   They have to want to be able to open to me, want to be able to engage me, want to fight with and for me.

That’s not an easy ask, I know.  People want to offer what worked for them, want to suggest that I dial it back, that I just get over it.   That’s sweet, but the odds are high that I have already tried what they suggest; after all, I have been at this trans shaman challenge for many, many decades now.

I have spent a long time and a lot of energy coming to my own understanding, and if people want to shoot back at me “Well, I’m just not that enlightened!” like my sister did, I just need to accept that.

The problem comes when something does come up and they demand “Why didn’t you tell me?   We could have done something about that!”

Well, you have failed me so many times in the past, not hearing me and showing that by not following through with what you suggested that I have learned to just keep my mouth shut and talk about you instead.

Why should I expect different behaviour than you have shown me the enormous number of times I tried to share and you just shut down, not able to hear or engage me because you had no context, no ability and no will to change to embrace what I offered?

As a transperson with my history, I learned very early to gauge the timbre of the transactions I had with other people.    What were they willing and able to take in?   How much sharing was too much?   Did they want to separate from me, even for sweet and liberal reasons?

Learning to self-police myself in those interactions left me almost always erring on the safe side, on holding the contents of my heart and mind back unless there was no other choice.    I learned that it was nothing for me to be too high voltage, too fast, too overwhelming, too challenging, too porcupine for others to hear and take in what I tried to offer.   Attempting to share my gifts usually got me slammed or isolated, not valued.

It became my habit to back off quickly, to simmer down, to not be seen as a monster.

This has left me with writing so punchy that audiences shy away from the intensity of thought & emotion, finding it not worth their resources, and a life dialed back so far that I have very little interaction and relationship with the humans I pass by now and then.

I stagger between “That’s way too much information!” and “Why didn’t you tell me that right away?”  sharing too much or sharing too little and not getting what I need from either.

So much we need to share and so much resistance from others as they hold onto comforting dogma, doctrine, belief and habit that just wants to erase what doesn’t fit neatly into what they already expect.   I am too queer, too whatever for the room.

And that feels like a telling hallmark of a trans life.


Ego Blown

It turns out that the perfect training for being a guru is having your ego destroyed before the age of two.

Apparently, the earlier you find out that your desires & intentions are irrelevant, that the only way to be smart & safe is to let go of your own needs and serve the universe, the easier it is to let go of the ego in later life.

My Aspergers parents lived in their own worlds.   My father was benign, wanting to be part even as he drifted off, so my precious reading skills — I read Time magazine at age four — made it easy to connect.  My mother, though, dragged everything into her world and her context, ready to steal what was good and blow up over what she saw as an insult, an assault on her status and happiness.

With these role models, I quickly learned to live in my own world, accompanied by books or television.   (My mother lost a daughter before I came along, so a TV had been purchased to comfort her.)

I knew very early that I was not going to get what I wanted, so I learned to pacify & entertain myself.   The stoic was the obvious defence strategy, learning to take the hits and not show anything, holding onto my mind to stabilize and keep attacks at bay.   The hypervigilance was always there, always ready for the next blow up, but within myself I let go of desire and learned to withstand.

This approach lead me to æsthetic denial, letting go of desires and making the best out of whatever came along.   I knew I would be challenged on liberties with facts, making up stories, but as long as I understood that all I could get was all I could get, managing those scarce resources was what had to be done.

If I couldn’t have what I wanted, I had to learn to use what I had.

This influenced my own approach to emerging as trans.    I had no illusions that I could rewrite my history & biology, no sense that I could get whatever I wanted.   Instead, I took a spiritual approach, working towards more androgyny, more integration.   Working with what I had was the only choice that seemed reasonable to me with my flattened ego.

Most spiritual paths try to tame the ego but they do that by replacing it with a formalized desire shared by group members.   People still strive to create change for the glory of their sect, knowing that the common goals were deemed virtuous and blessed.

Because my spiritual path has always been very singular, unable to find myself a spiritual community, I wasn’t able to use that shared ego strategy.

The personal ego is a powerful force for change in the world.   I know many people who want something — applause, affirmation, significance, status, money, fame and so on — that has driven them to a useful and valuable public presence. Unchecked ego may only lead to hubris & disconnection, but having the ego to stand in the spotlight, take your own power and be a force in the world is important.

I have struggled with this balance all my life.

My approach has always been that of a guerrilla fighter, making change from the corners, putting humility first.  This was what I learned to do early with my parents, nudging rather than jumping out front, and what I did until their last days as I played the concierge role, of service and of demure power.

The line between taking power in the world and standing for ego has always been very tough for me.   Others have wanted me to get out front and speak but I knew that my deflated ego made that difficult for me.   Learning to be the visionary, exploring & reporting from dark corners and dusty roads always felt better than being the missionary, repeating and repeating the stories of transformation.   I am much more a television person, wanting fresh and fast, than a theatre person, able to polish a role to perfection.

Without the healthy ego that allows me to expect the affirmation of an audience, though, I never built the kind of standing that allows my voice to be heard over the crowd.   People don’t know and follow me in a way that can build deeper understanding and more subtle nuance over time.

A blown ego is useful for a seeker, allowing vision without being clouded by desire, but it is much less useful for a leader who needs to have others follow by the force of their beliefs.

Should people care about me?   Should people engage me?   Should people fight for me?   Should people encourage & empower me? Should people love me?

Those are questions that I never had the luxury of pondering, knowing that what I got was what I got and my only choice was to use those offerings to the fullest.

Very early I learned that the world is as it is, not as we would wish it to be, and if that isn’t a fundamental guru teaching, I don’t know what is.

I am proud of how I used what creation gave me, how I made the most of it.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t acutely understand the price of having my ego blown so early, long before the dream should have been squashed.

Even this week, I have just let go of things that I wanted for the ease, the comfort and the simplicity of it.   Loss has become part of my discipline, a part of the denial of self which is both righteous and arrogant.

Standing up to demand, to take my place, to gain at least some of what I need and want was part of the cosmic plan, a piece of the balance every human has to claim.

Finding a way to rebuild a crushed ego, though, well, that I haven’t found, even as I refused to knuckle under, becoming compliant and silent.   My ego still exists in my defiant queer voice, creating incantations which I believe share the eternal truths in modern language.

That doesn’t mean, though, that it couldn’t use a bit more stroking.

Heavy Heart

When your heart is weighed down by grief or sorrow, it becomes heavy.

I’m not sure if my heart has gotten heavier through the years or I have just gotten more weary of carrying it the older I have gotten.   At my age, I pretty well know that there really aren’t going to be any circumstances that lighten my heart, giving me hope and delight, so the odds are high that any attempt I make will just make it feel heavier.

Practically, this means I have to budget extra time into dragging my heart around before I do anything that takes emotional presence.   That includes time to get it moving, working to break the heavy forces that tend to keep my heart at rest and time afterwards to recover from what feels like the massive output of energy it has taken to drag my heart around.

This doesn’t feel like depression, because my mind is sharp and clear, regularly offering gratitude for my life, rather it feels like the effects of a lifetime of having to keep my heart hidden and isolated.

My heart has always been big, usually too big for others to countenance.  Raw, visceral, intense, deep, potent, my open heart is usually seen as overwhelming and scary.

A big, heavy heart, full of big, heavy emotions, well, it’s usually not seen as a welcome visitor.   “Oooh, that’s heavy,” people say as they turn away from me and look for something easier to engage.

Carrying around a lifetime of feelings makes my heart heavy.   I was taught early, though, that expressing my feelings was a bad thing, so instead I learned to catalogue and store them, keeping them as a record of the experiences of my life.   Using feelings to illuminate my choices was the basis of enlightenment, allowing me to be able to share my trans experience and create a connected model of shared trans experience that is both powerful and off-putting.

Releasing those feelings before someone hears, acknowledges and mirrors them feels like letting go of very hard graft to collect and discover them, like throwing out my life’s work.    Ah, the burdens of a wounded healer with a sack of tools that help unclog the emotions of others.

A burden shared is a burden halved, or something like that.  Sharing what I keep in my heavy heart, though, feels like a challenge too far.    I have learned that most people are just keeping up with the weight of their own heart, so engaging the mass of my heart is not something I can ever expect them to do.   It’s just not on their priority list, so if I try and share, I will get shut down and that will add to my own sadness.

My heavy heart, stuffed with all the maps and diaries of where I have travelled, the emotional lessons I have learned, and the hopes and dreams I have nurtured, needs reciprocal love, to love and be loved, as much as any feminine heart ever did.   That didn’t come, though, which, I want to tell you, can weigh down your heart.

My heart is heavy, after way too long using it and not getting back what I need.  Sharing is caring, but while I share with others hearts, no one seems to be able to share with mine, lightening my load.

A life with a heavy heart, aware of loss and limited in transcendence, well, it wears you down.

I’m not at all sure, though, with the situation I was handed, I would have had it any other way.



“Save Me!   Save Me!”

I have heard that cry from many over the decades as they desperately wanted someone or something to ease their pain, assuage their loss, focus their energy, unlock their possibilities and heal their tortured soul.

Like any healer, though, the best I could do is offer some comfort, clear away some junk, encourage their own leaps.

In the end, they have to heal themselves.

No matter how much they dreamed of a special relationship that would take away all their problems, or imagined that there was some next thing, like surgery or winning the lottery which would make further growth, healing and transformation necessary, nothing outside of them would ever fill that gaping hole deep inside, ever shift their perceptions and their choices to a more healthy place.

“If someone would just do this for me, then everything would fall into place, be perfect and lovely.”

Salvation, I have found, doesn’t work that way.  You can’t accept the what you need until you believe it exists, believe that you deserve it, believe in yourself.

For example, does getting breast implants change your life, or does it mostly change the way that you feel about yourself, giving you the confidence to be seen and admired?

When you complain that others aren’t giving you what you need, is the problem their limits or the gaping maw of your own unhealed neediness?

Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to have to die.  The death of your illusions, though, of your ego and your dogma, though, seems vital to finding a new level of awareness, understanding, connection and bliss.

Personally, I find that when I can open my mind and heart in a manner full of truth and vulnerability.   I reveal myself, sharing what I have in a way that I believe honours my creator and my creation.

While this practice has offered me salvation of the soul, it hasn’t saved my body, my relationships or my emotions.

Do I believe that there is anything I can do to find earthly comfort and salvation?   Can I imagine being seen, understood and valued in a way that feels like a blessing rather than like hard work to package, attenuate, and deny myself so that I can fit into normative expectations and everyday culture?

That kind of salvation seems very distant to me.  The idea that there are people who can get the joke past my bristling theological mind, who can embrace and nurture me in an encouraging and validating way, well, that is an idea I have found is improbable.

Many can tell me the kind of discipline and work I need to do to be less challenging, playing smaller, but the idea that being bigger is the only way to respect my creation is not in their understanding.

My emotional state is just too frail to take the kind of knocks everyday life hands out.   My salvation may have made me strong, but it has also made me aware, present, sensitive, raw and vulnerable.   That may be good for a healer, but it makes it hard to take the blows.

Between being transgender at a certain time in history and being the child of parents on the autism spectrum, my path has been very, very queer, very individual.  There is no community, no spiritual home, no safe zone that I can enter and claim.

I know that my own story is less than accessible to others, that it mostly makes them turn away and write me off.   Too intense, too challenging, too queer.

Knowing how to be on-stage came early to me, having to modulate my performance to try and have agency.   Finding a way to be off-stage, though, letting loose, relaxing, and feeling cared for wasn’t something I could master.  Even after I learned to value & trust my own queer heart, finding other people who I could trust with it was something I found to be almost impossible.

Learning to live without social engagement & affirmation because the people around me were in their own world lead me to learn to live in my own world, without expectation that others could enter or even understand.   My primary relationship was with my own mind & spirit, not with people around me.

Others were often scared of my vision and in turn, their fear scared me.   I learned to accept the world as it is, even if that truth made me sad, feeling like it denied me the emotional embrace I felt that I needed.

Being grateful for whatever I could scrape up was much more important than being upset and bitter over what I felt I was denied.   Making peace with the experience of scarcity was more useful than fighting it.  My relationship with death and rebirth became much more important than my relationship to unconsidered life.

Hope lies in the possibility of salvation, of being saved from whatever we fear by action and intervention.   I understand why so many work so hard to place hope in the external, in the special relationships and magical interventions that they dream will save them.

My personal salvation has been in my work, my practice, my calling, no matter how isolated and lonely that left me.  I had to be there for other people, no matter if they were there for me.

That salvation, though, doesn’t protect or embrace me in this world of flesh, even if it affirms my connection with creation.   I speak for what is easy to forget and diminish, for our continuous common humanity beyond comfort and ease.

I have struggled to save myself, even as I worked to help others save themselves.

That’s salvation, yes, but not a kind of dreamy salvation that feeds hope of earthly magic.

Flinty Trauma

This came through on my podcast feed recently and I started to listen.

I have talked about Dr. van der Kolk and his book, “The Body Keeps The Score” before.

Now, though, scraping bottom, I realize how fundamental my experience of trauma is, how it forms the flinty bedrock of who I am.

For good and for bad, I have been shaped by my experience of trauma.  It allows me the power of being a wounded healer and it separates me from other people who live in the many layers of acculturation which overlays their own foundation of trauma.

Scratch a transperson, or at least one who shares the experience of being shamed into the closet, and you will find the lasting effects of the trauma that drove them into hiding, the trauma of having to deny and kill off a powerful part of who they are.

It is the way trauma still exists in our body that erotically calls to us and makes us run from our own scarred heart at the same time.  The accretion of defence over that trauma contains the twists and turns which hold our own deep and unmet neediness.

Talking about this experience of trauma sets us apart from the world, leaving us seen as less than amazing, but not talking about this trauma leaves us stuck in denial with something broken at the core.   No matter how much we try and hide it, when they get close enough, within passing distance, others can feel the effect of that black hole inside.

I don’t want to talk about how I have excavated down to trauma during the last years when my social layers have been washed away by scarcity and isolation because I know that discussing it doesn’t help people connect with me.   My experience is terrifying, no matter how much it lets me speak resonant truths about the experience of walking trans in this world.

Yet, I am scraped so thin at this point that nothing but the effects of trauma are on my skin.   I can serve others, yes, but getting replenished, healed and vigorous feels far beyond me.    Only someone who grasps the experience of trauma, who can hold their own pain and be with me in the process of transcendence can help, and I am very, very clear that presence is far too much to expect, even if not too much to ask.

Knowing how to tenderly hold the effects of trauma in others is a great thing to do, offering them space, safety, mirroring and affirmation, but not having anyone ready to hold those torn and jagged bits of me leaves me wasted and bereft.

Why do we break people who challenge simple boundaries, setting out to traumatize them into compliance “for their own good?”

And why, when the effects of that trauma surface do we try to tell them that they should pick themselves up by their own bootstraps and just get over it, becoming compliant in a way that meets our existing beliefs about separation and obligation?

My experience of trauma has shaped me.    That formation, though, creates a separation between me and anyone who has not done the work of engaging their own trauma, their own emotions, their own fears, their own queerness.    I shine a light which is lovely when it illuminates shared experience but is terrifying when it lights the parts we feel the need to hide to remain functional in “normal life.”    If you are ready to heal, I am amazing, but if you need to keep bits hidden, even from yourself, well, scary.

Now, though, I am at the flinty bottom of that experience of trauma, with nary a wisp of protective flesh above it.   Even small bumps and bruises don’t just impact the padding, they cleave to the heart of me, opening fractures which pour out my deepest pain.

I know this, I know this, I know.

What to do about it, though, well, that I don’t know.

Talking about it just puts people off, just makes me more repellent.

Not talking about it, though, makes me more inert.



Price Of Awareness

The challenge of trans is compromise.

As transpeople, we are very clear that we are not simply one or the other but rather have elements across a range of continuous common humanity that we need to balance, need to hold, need to compromise.

As we do this, we hold the truth that the challenge of all humanity is compromise, finding a way to create tame shared structures while respecting wild unique individuality.

The challenge of awareness is compromise.

To become aware, we need to engage the world as it is rather than trying to force it to be the way we want it to be.  Understanding that we are never the centre of the world, that our view is limited and the only way we get a bigger picture is to embrace the shared truth is at the heart of being really aware & present in the world.

To be aware is to be aware of connection, aware of how we are just a part of something bigger, something awesome, something beautiful.

Many people want this kind of awareness, want to be able to see patterns and reveal facets that are hidden to most people who live in their own limited view.

What they don’t want, though, is to have to see the costs of holding illusions, of clinging to ego, of trying to avoid discomfort.   They don’t want to have to face their fears, don’t want to have to go through hell to burn away rationalizations and reveal the crystalline face of something much bigger than they are.

We cling to what we believe protects us, not willing to understand that anything that puts a barrier up also blocks our awareness and connection.   We want to sort the world into good and evil, sort ourselves into good and evil, keep ourselves compartmentalized, isolated and looking nice.

In other words, we don’t want to have to do the hard work of compromise, even with our own mind, heart and soul.   Instead, we want to impose the “right” solution, the one we believe should be correct, the one we have clung to for protection from fear for so long.

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

We know what we don’t want so clearly that we shape our identity and our choices in a negative way, by struggling to avoid what scares us about our own nature.   We struggle to assert our ego rather than being open to the divine surprise that brings awareness and enlightenment, working to close our eyes and ears from any reflections that might hold revelation we feel the need to reject.

Finding affirmations for our own ego, especially when they are wrapped in the name of enlightenment, is always more comforting than real awareness.   We want our comforting assumptions to be affirmed, not our rationalizations to be challenged.   We don’t want to have to compromise, we want to force the world to change so it turns in our chosen way.

The gems of awareness, though, ring rue and pure.   They are emotionally compelling as they untie the knots of confusion, quiet the noise and reveal profound truths.   We resonate with them as we hear them spoken, knowing they carry the power of clarity.

Moving to understand the price of owning those gems, though, is much more difficult.    To take them we have to take the awareness that comes with them, awareness of the limits of our own twists, illusions and fears.

When awareness spotlights how others have limits, we rejoice in the brilliant beams, but when it reveals our own limits we run and hide, striving to reject the lessons that come with such illumination.   Our own humanity and responsibility to others is tough to see, as it demands an accountability & mastery that it is much more comfortable only to project onto others.

To take that insight within is to accept the obligation to compromise, to do the work of enlightenment which opens us to the golden rule of not doing to others what we would find hateful to us.   It demands that we apply the compassion and wisdom we want to be treated with to others, even those who trigger our fears because of their surface differences.   It requires grace and humility, working to find common ground and accept our own continuous common humanity, even when it seems a bit queer.

Putting our own pain, fear and raging emotions aside to do the right thing isn’t easy, but it is the enlightened way, the only way that clear awareness supports.   Your beliefs can be certain, but the facts will always throw you a curve, one that demands your presence rather than your presumptions.

Finding the compromise between asserting your own will and embracing the revealed truth is at the heart of living with awareness.   What is the knowledge that underlies your own moral and constructive choices and what is the openness that leaves you sensitive, receptive and aware?   Yin and yang, finding their form in the multitude of choices that make up a human life.

It’s often easy to see where others need to find that compromise, letting go of old habits to embrace the new, discovering healing & growth, but very difficult to actually engage those clear lessons in our own life.    Instead we cling to “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” trying to find a shortcut that avoids us having to face the facts and make the hard choice to move beyond the frail illusions that block transformation.

It’s easy to love the idea of awareness, simple to believe that life would be better if the people around us were more present and aware.

It’s hard, though, to actually pay the price of becoming aware in our own life, moving beyond doctrine and wishes to embrace the sharp lessons that shared reality offers us.  Letting go of our defences to look deeply at what is is never easy because it reveals where healing & growth is required, where our own beliefs keep us small & broken.

The challenge of trans is compromise, finding a way to create an effective and reverent life that contains multitudes.

That is the challenge of all aware human life, though, balancing the many needs and forces to create healthy, caring and creative choices.

For me, the price of awareness has been worth paying, even if it makes my life challenging rather than comfortable.

You, though, get to make that choice for yourself.

Feeling It Out

I knew that, on camera, when you walk into a room in your own home, you must know where the light switch is. You can’t need to look. Or else it’s a lie, which is like giving the audience a pinch of poison.

When you tell a story, you have to take liberties. You compress time. You create composite characters. You jump years ahead or flash back. Art is not life. But if your character has a longtime girlfriend and you’re tentative or formal with her, touching her as if she’s someone you just met? Another pinch. The audience might not be consciously aware of these little pinches, but if you keep doling them out, they’re reaching for the remote, or they’re walking out of the theater. They’re sick of the poison. They don’t want any more. They’re done.

They might not even realize they’re responding to inauthenticity or sloppiness in storytelling. It’s not the audience’s job to articulate the reasons. It’s their job to feel.
-- Bryan Cranston, A Life In Parts

“It’s not the audience’s job to articulate the reasons [they find the storytelling sloppy or inauthentic].  It’s their job to feel.”

When women view the world, the first thing they sense is the emotion that others are carrying.

We love watching animals play because we read their emotions.   In studies of arousal, women said that watching animals copulate didn’t arouse them, but sensing the body’s response showed differently; the animal emotion was powerful and enthralling, though not on the level of language.

How can you be a mother without first reading the emotion of your children?   One of the most important jobs parents have is to help kids learn to use their words, finding ways to express what can be conflicting and intense emotions, and you can only do that if you first get the emotion without precise words.

“As an audience, it’s their job to feel.”   While that sounds like boilerplate you use with an acting class, it does contain received wisdom about the desires and choices that an audience make.   If a performance doesn’t engage them, make them feel deeply, connecting with their emotions, they walk away, without any obligation to say why.

The scope of feeling, though, is always limited by the emotional map that the audience already carries with them.

When we create stories for children, for example, we know that sophisticated and nuanced adult emotions will fall flat with them.    They understand the basic emotions, but have not yet explored the bittersweet and complicated emotions that come with maturity.

Setting the emotional tone of a story to trigger only primal emotions, the sensational and basic, allows us to reach a wider audience, though with a corresponding limit in the depth and detail we can convey.

Transpeople have to engage with an audience to survive in the world. We know that creating a context which fits into the emotional map of those around us is the only way we can express ourselves beyond social norms and group pressures to assimilate.

Those who assign us as stigmatized objects in order to defend gender boundaries which feed their own beliefs, trying to locate the worst & most challenging in our choices to demonize us in an effort to play on the fear know that the battle is played out on the emotional map of the wider audience.

The most important thing any transperson can do is to create a story that protects and empowers them in society.   It needs to both feed our understanding and work as an explanation for our choices that other people can grasp and accept.

There are a huge number of story strategies we have used, from “I only do it as a hobby to honour women” to “It’s just a little fetish” to “Just for the show” to “I was born a hermaphrodite” to “I am doing this to rage against the oppression of gender” and on and on and on.

All of these tales are true enough to get us some of what we need, but each one of them is also limited by the bounds of the emotion we are trying to create.   They are shaped to eliminate the “noise” that “poisons” the audience because they feel anything they see as a contradiction to be a “lie.”

There are so many audiences to satisfy nowadays that almost anything can be identified as the emotional “lie” that “poisons” our performance for them.   For example, to find support we almost always have to take a political position, much like we did when doctors only wanted to provide support to “true transsexuals,” those who met their expectations of gendered compliance.   It wasn’t enough to “want to be a woman,” you had to already be a woman to get their services.

Today the political positions are hardened to match the coarsened public discourse in an age of polarization where compromise is identified as pathetic, sick and weak.

I figured out in the 1990s that a solely intellectual approach to talking about trans would not get me where I needed to go.   Unless I found ways to express the emotion of a trans life, the deep feelings bound up in the experience of living trans in this culture, I would never be able to get the kind of mirroring, empathy, understanding and valuing that I needed.

My journey, though, has taken me far from the conventional emotional maps that people carry with them.    It has demanded blending thoughts and feelings in a way that often seems to be just noise to those who haven’t been to the same kind of paths I have had to walk.

My stories, therefore, often challenge the tales others have created to defend and rationalize their own life, the emotional armour that they believe is working for them.    Understanding that shell is both a protection and a limitation, that trying to stay in the emotional zones of convention by avoiding the sharp incisiveness of thought can keep us broken, well, that’s not something they can get their heart around at this moment.

Having parents with Aspergers, the emotional maps I needed to navigate were very different than the conventional.   It was thought that broke through, not emotion, so rather than playing out my emotions and finding connection, I had to learn to suppress and manage my emotions.   My heart had to stay hidden.

I am often surprised, though, than when they hear me speak other transpeople find something resonant and powerful in my voice, responding as if I spoke for them.   I can answer the hard questions others ask with sharp thought, but they respond to the emotional truth of my answers, the authenticity in my voice.

This doesn’t come across in writing, I know, because it doesn’t carry the same set of emotional cues.

Still, people who have not had the trans experience usually find my voice challenging and difficult because I offer emotional power that lies outside of their comfort zone.   To them, I seem to bristle and threaten, pushing emotional buttons that they find so disquieting that they need to find a way to dismiss and marginalize me.

Trying to find a place where I can engage the emotions of the audience without shutting them down is the challenge of becoming product, of effectively returning the gift of my own journey.

If the audience’s job is to feel and that breadth of that feeling is bounded by their own inner emotional maps, how do we expand those horizons without tripping their sense of inauthenticity, lies, threats, challenge and noise?

How do we ever connect with an audience that is just not read or willing to go there?