Holly & Rainbows

Holly was there for me, opening gates for me, listening from when I met her in 1993.   I have a collection of hundreds of letters I sent to her, overwhelming her, but also knowing she was safe with my heart.

Holly was so important to so many as she brought her own tender, magical Oberlin kind of presence to us, creating spaces from vision quests to sacred ceremonies where the transcendental came to the surface.   Even that tough old bird TBB felt the power of Holly’s hippy dippy transcendentalism.

Holly, her son Evan, and all the rest who loved her are in my mind and my heart tonight.

If there was anyone who was born to be a free floating angel. though, soaring on gossamer wings, it was Holly,   May her spirit be flying free, liberated from the chains that come with a fleshly life.

In 1994, I knew what I needed to hear to be affirmed in the world, and I knew that Holly was the one who would be credible saying it.   That’s why I wrote this stump speech for her, which she delivered at IFGE Atlanta Action 1995.

I still need to hear her voice and regret missing it for so many years.   So what I can do quickly is share this text.

Blessings to you Holly, like the blessings your free spirit gave to so many here.

The Rainbow Speech
Delivered by Holly Boswell to IFGE Atlanta 1995


I am here today to give each one of you a gift. It is a special gift, one that is incalculably valuable, but one that you cannot see.

Before I give you this gift, let me tell you a story. It’s a story we all know, a story that is now part of the shared American experience.

Every year as I grew up, they played The Wizard of Oz on television. It’s a cultural phenomenon. We had a black and white TV when I was growing up, and I remember how surprised I was to find that the land of Oz was in color! I finally got to see those sequined red pumps!

Somehow I knew that if I could just get a great pair of red pumps and a fiesty little dog, my life would be great, but it hasn’t been quite that simple.

The Wizard of Oz is a charming story, one that I want to share with my son as he grows. It’s the story of four lovable characters who each think they need to find something to make their life whole. The Scarecrow needs brains, The Lion needs courage, the Tin Man needs a heart, and Dorothy needs a place that feels safe, needs a home.

We all remember Dorothy’s song:

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
There’s a land that I heard of, once, in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue.
the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.

I love the image of the rainbow in that classic Harold Arlen song. The rainbow is an image of the beauty inherent in diversity, of pure white light showing all of the range of wonderful color that makes it up. A full spectrum of beauty, like the spectrum of genders, colors and races that make up humanity.

Millions of tiny water droplets, each shining in the light of the universe, make up the whole we see as a rainbow. It is an wonderful sight, reminding us how many small parts can make up a beautiful whole.

Now that I am older, I know that The Wizard of Oz is the story of four characters on a mythic quest. They follow the role of the hero as described by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, taking a journey and returning reborn, irrevocably changed. The changed hero is both who she always was and someone completely new. All the characters find that the quest changes something inside of them forever.

I know that many of you here today understand the meaning of a quest. You, too, are searching for something, something that will bring you inner peace and happiness.

The Wizard appears to give each character what they need: brains, courage, a heart, home. But we find out that the Wizard knows that they have had these qualities all along, and all he does is give them talismans that let them blossom, symbols that unlock their own power.

The Wizard gives a gift to them, but it is the gift of a teacher, of one who empowers other to search within themselves. When they believe and they search, they discover the power and magic that they have always held inside.

I am going to give that kind of gift to you today. It is a gift that you already have, a gift that you already hold inside.

If this was The Wizard of Oz, this is where the lights, sound and fury would come, but for now, as they said, “Pay no attention to the person behind the curtain!

I, with the all of the power of the universe, through the magic of the goddess, and in the full witness of the circle of humans, hereby grant you full and complete status as a transgendered person from this day forward.

You have the right to define your own gender role, to choose from the wide range of gender expression, in appearance, in language and in action.

You have the power to be who you are and express yourself in the way you want, using the full spectrum of choices that exist, not just selections from one culturally defined gender role.

From today on, you have full status as a transgendered person, able to select the best from the abundant palette of human appearance and behavior.

You are constrained only by your own spirit and mind, by your understanding of your responsibility as a member of the human race.

Let it be known that you are a fully fledged transgendered person, with all rights, privileges, challenges and joys that come with being transgendered.

I congratulate you on this official declaration of your status. As a transgendered person, you are able to shape and mold your own life as an artist, creating a life that you delight in and are proud of. You can create new forms and expression, and be a beacon in the world, shining your special colors for all to see.

As a transgendered person, you may be a leader in bringing a new consciousness of acceptance and diversity to the world, making the world a better place to live. You can even define the way that you want to make the world better, spanning a range that goes all the way from shouting to the crowds (though using TV might be more effective today) to raising enlightened children who will pass the message of love and acceptance on.

From today on, you are officially a transgendered person. You are able to find great beauty and peace. You can have great joy from seeing things from a perspective of change, from not being locked down. You are able to see in a way that those who only stay locked in one place, in one gender role, never will.

You will be challenged, for there is no way to satisfy all other people. Some will not understand, may mock or show fear through their anger. This happens to all people. Your life will change, and you will have to suffer some losses so that you can find the new successes. But this too is shared by all.

But you forever will have all of the most important things: the lessons you have learned from living life. And these lessons will be colored not from just one viewpoint, but from a range of ways of seeing, so that you will be able to understand even more deeply than most what makes being a human so special and wonderful.

You may choose to serve as a translator or mediator, helping people who are stuck understand other perspectives. Or you may just help others as they go through their journey.

You are whole and complete. You have the whole circle inside of you, yin and yang, black and white and all shades between. You hold the rainbow in your heart.

Congratulations! You are Transgendered!

This is my gift. For many of you, it is nothing new, just a statement of something that you know well and understand.

For others, you may be uncomfortable with this gift of transgender. This is not a gift you want to receive. Right now it looks more like a sofa size painting with just way too many colors on one canvas that Aunt Mabel might have bought at the Starving Artists show at the Holiday Inn. The gift of transgender may seem big and weird, and just like the painting, for which there is no room in the living room, there seems to be no room for being transgendered in your life. It’s a monstrosity.

I mean, after all, if people see that thing, what will they think of you?

We all understand this fear. Each and every one of this has tried to decline the gift of transgender that was given to us by our creator. We have run from it, hidden it, tried to limit it, denied it. We have worked very hard at fighting it.

Some have even tried to deny our essential transgendered selves while changing our physical sex. Changing sex may be the best choice for you, putting your body more in harmony with your internal gender. But even if you choose this change, you will always be transgendered, understanding the world from more than one viewpoint. You will never be simply a woman or a man, but one who has the transcendant joy of seeing the range of human experience. This makes you powerful, and while that can be frightening to some others, it will attract people who are ready to share on your level.

In many cultures, the God-given gift of transgender has been a highly valued one. Transgendered people have existed in all cultures and at all times, and their role has often been seen as one who represented the circle of humanity in one. This is often seen as a direct link to the divine.

The real gift is in accepting and working with our transgendered identity, not in running from it. We need to accept to move on, to find our bliss.

Surrender Dorothy! Surrender and accept this gift, this gift that you can give yourself. By accepting your status as transgendered, you can find the kind of freedom and joy that others have found.

We have taken that painting from Aunt Mabel. And lo and behold, we have found that it is actually quite beautiful, full of rich texture and vibrant depth. And when we are brave enough to show it to others, they also find it exquisite and marvel at our taste and our sophistication.

Some wicked witches will call it ugly, that’s true. They are not yet ready to see the beauty. Often though, a bucket of clean water, which symbolizes our own life force, can make them melt away.

What is truly amazing is how letting our true transgendered nature shine seems to bring new people into our lives, people we share powerful connections with, and who bring their own beauty and light into our lives.

My transgender has been like that. When I have shown it, it has brought beauty and peace into my life. Like any other person on earth, I have had to keep things in balance, finding a way to meet both my needs and the needs of the people that I love, but it has been more than worth it.

Congratulations! You are officially a transgendered person! As America sang, “Oz never did give nothin’ to the tin man that he didn’t, didn’t already have.” Take this gift like the tin heart, not as anything new, but as permission to trust your own heart, which you have always had, but which you may not have trusted.

You have the right to choose, the right to create yourself from all the best that humanity has to offer. You can be as beautiful, as strong, as bright, as sensitive, as spiritual, as whole as you choose to be, for you are transgendered!

You have the brains, you have the courage, you have the heart, and you also have the rainbow of humanity in your heart. You have the right and the spirit to shine in beauty and love.

You are whole and complete. You have the whole circle inside of you, yin and yang, black and white and all shades between. You hold the rainbow in your heart, and, when you let it, it shines beautifully from you.

Each of us makes up a little part of the rainbow of humanity, one brightly shining spot. By having each point of the rainbow shine, each of us shine, we create the beauty of the rainbow here on earth.

And if you shine, you can make a change in the world, helping to let others find their way to shine, helping to put the world in balance. Remember that it is millions of tiny water droplets shining in the light that combine to make a rainbow. We can all shine, and together we will make a beautiful spectrum of light.

If we all make just a little change in the world, maybe we won’t need a special pair of magic red pumps to find our spiritual home. We can build some place special right here on earth, where happy little blue birds, and all of the rest of us, can fly, to a magic place. A magic place that’s not just somewhere over the rainbow, but that is here today, shining brightly in the spirits of all of you.

You are transgendered. When someone asks you if you are a good witch or a bad witch, say proudly that you are a very good witch. Go forth and shine your rainbow light in the world! Bless the world with your presence as you have been blessed with your transgender!

Together, we make up the rainbow, bright and colorful. You are a beautiful sight, and I am proud to be one of you. Together, we will change the world!

and for the less sweet. . .

Backstage Meta

Having the zest to really commit to a performance — from a turn on-stage to chairing a business meeting to just being a mommy — depends a great deal on how safe, understood, affirmed, mirrored and protected you feel when you are backstage.

A place where you are out of the spotlight, the pressure off, hanging with people who understand you as you and not just as you role is an important part of being balanced and healthy in the world.

For example, women go to the powder room together to get backstage, out of the gaze, into a place where they can share feedback, do their private duties, adjust their costume, and basically just get a breath in a not-quite public space.

Men retire to clubs or man-caves for similar reasons, executives have their own refuges, and on and on.

A public persona is useful but it is also limiting.    Sports stars may want to provide a role model for kids, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need time to sweat, time to curse, time to release and just time to be an human.

For me, this backstage time has always had to be alone.

As a kid, facing Aspergers parents, there was no safety or encouragement at home.  I had to enter my own world, using my own thoughts, fed by the shards of information I gathered from reading and watching TV, to be out of the danger zone.    I didn’t have peers, didn’t know how to explain my homelife, didn’t know how to get into the place the kids around me were.

As a transperson, facing a world of gendered expectations, there was no safety or encouragement in the world.  I was never just one of the guys and certainly never one of the girls.

I was an individualistic iconoclast, an aberration, a freak standing on my own rather than one of the gang, one of the team, one of the cast.   That left me without any backstage space where I could be protected and polished.

My favourite work experience was being part of a team of very bright people in the early days of writing commercial software for PCs.   (I actually worked on a DOS 1.25 Columbia PC that had a hard drive without directories in the file system.)    At least I could be one of the nerds, even one of the top nerds, bringing smarts, vision and communication to breaking new ground.

Today, nerds and genderqueers are not uncommon, but that wasn’t the case back then.  I was alone.

Becoming a goddamn guru wasn’t my dream, but it seemed to be my only choice, moving beyond fitting in to a kind of heightened awareness.    I learned how to perform guru, becoming a concierge who helped people move through doors, seeing beyond their conventions.

There isn’t, though, a little guru’s room where we all go and let the human behind the persona hang out.    Asking people to help me to become a safer, better and more energized guru just left them baffled.   They wanted to show me what made them better, more denial, discipline & detachment, while what I needed was more humanity, more release, trust and childlike playfulness. (2006)

Having only the vacuum of a backstage, a place alone, left me to write and write and write, all very creative but not very nourishing.   Instead of getting the kind of engagement I needed when sharing, I got a kind of mastery of expression, so detailed, so thoughtful, emotional and intense that it has formed a further barrier to getting the kind of mirroring and affirmation that I have always needed.

Experience in the meta has made my performance as concierge, as door handler and guru much more effective, allowing me to enter the worldviews of others to offer new perspective and encouragement, but it hasn’t made that performance more satisfying and bountiful to me.   The costs are clear, the rewards just dried in the hope of gaining them in another life.

To become product, creating an accessible face that others can value, I have to be more engaging of the spotlight.   For me, that doesn’t involve mastering more performance skills, rather it requires more backstage capacity, finding spaces where I can be seen, safe and supported after I do my gig and perform my role.

This is always difficult for transpeople.    The backstage bits that most people take for granted, like being one of the girls or the boys, is something that takes work for us to police inside ourselves, modulating our performance, always tensed and ready for the terrifying “third gotcha.”

While I may know how to help others move past this fear,  that knowledge stays conceptual until I have the practice, the rehearsal, the safety that comes from knowing you have others backstage who will be there for you, working together to create the best outcome, watching each other’s back.

For me, even support groups are work, a time for modulating my performance rather than letting down my guard and having my instincts & skills recognized and affirmed.   Often, I even have to help train the clinical professionals.

I end up being more the parent, the facilitator, the guru than being another human with their own problems, because I have addressed the standard issues I carry, leaving the tough and difficult to solve challenges, the terrors that can easily freak others out.    I do know why most start to read my most recent post and quickly move on.

Denying the safety and empowerment of backstage support has always been an effective way of enforcing stigma.   We were taught to fear being identified with those who look perverted, sick or marginalized, so rather than helping with what we share we focus on how we are different, how we are not like them.   Our identity becomes based around what we are not, what we deny and reject, rather than who we are in our shimmering, complex and nuanced beautiful humanity.

Too much of what should get processed backstage in my life comes to the top, blocking my performance and limiting my potential.   After long decades of having to take care of myself, living in scarcity and fear, I know that.

Finding a safe backstage to handle my ragged humanity, though, is something I have been unable to achieve.

Loss Liminal Life

I grew up living inside the question rather than in the answer.

Doubt was the only tool I had to move between the sliding slabs that tore at me, from the Aspergers views of my parents to the conventionality of the schools, from the lovely conflicting truths of science to the power of religious belief, from my tender femme heart to the expectations placed on my growing male body and so on.

This lead me to what Dave Gray and Mike Parker call “Liminal Thinking,”   the deliberate questioning of beliefs, with their associated assumptions and expectations, to try and gain the tools that allowed me to find effective and testable theories to create understanding and possibilities beyond the conventional.

Moving through cultural walls that others believed were fixed and immutable made me a change agent, a shamanic character who challenged beyond comforting boundaries.

My sanity required living with both the hot and cold inside me.  My chill mind slowly analyzed the situation, creating a functional explanation of both organic and constructed factors while my warm heart drove me towards love, caring, passion and mystical beauty.

My cold logic or my hot emotion was never the problem, rather the scary bit was always how I held both of these powerful forces at the same time.    Those comfortable with logic found my emotional parts messy and those comfortable with emotion found my logical bits too sharp.   Either way, the liminality of my approach, being the door, between, both and neither at the same time, was so challenging that they found reasons to shut me away, silencing me outside their own “self sealing bubble of belief.

The experience of being “too” something — too cerebral, too visceral, too challenging, too intense, too bubble bursting, too queer, too whatever — lead me to create a life myth that I was just too hip for the room, that “nobody would get the joke.”    Just by speaking my own liminal truth I tended to pierce the comforting beliefs that formed the foundation of other people’s identity.   Unless they were committed to change, to growth and healing, to transformation, it was easier for them to marginalize me than to engage, mirror and affirm what I shared.

Considering myself too much, though, has become my own limiting belief.   I have learned to attenuate and suppress myself, staying mostly hidden in the world.   To tolerate the denial that requires, I have taken on aesthetic beliefs, learning to live with scarcity rather than to enter my own desires.

Leading me to an approach of well modulated professionalism and service — my “concierge mode” — others have come to appreciate how I keep my own power hidden while supporting their own needs, desires and possibilities.   My playing small has kept them comforted, even as my own needs, desires and possibilities withered on the vine.

What if, though, what if there really is abundance out there for me, if only I believe in it enough to act as if, pushing beyond my own history of pain and fear to claim a new and valued incarnation?

Is it possible that the choice to not let my full energy shine has cost me more than it would gain me?   Have I and the world changed enough that my history cannot predict the response, that there will be places where the seeds I have polished and created can now find fertile ground?

When you have spent a life immersed in the power of doubt, though, moving to belief is not easy.    While evangelists, including self-help mavens, will be happy to tell you about purity of faith and philosophers will tell you about the power of questions, few try to approach the thorny subject of how to balance belief and doubt in one life.

This is my challenge, the balance between a sharp mind and a flowing faith, between cool thought and hot emotion.     I know how to do this with other people, combining empathy and intelligence to help clarify and encourage their possibilities as they grow and heal in their own time and their own way.  Empowering myself, though, is much harder, without selfless distance and patience.

My coolness, though, is what people think they want, because it seems to be more about them.  They read my biology, my age, my authority, my smarts and cast me into the role they know that I should play in their world story. They project me into their assumptions and beliefs, demanding I pay a price if I don’t meet their limited expectations.

Enforcing identity becomes habit for most, cycling and perpetuating their own belief systems.   The right way to be is obvious and so is enforceable.  Even those who come together in the name of spirit first want to enforce doctrine, a politically based rightness which offers succour and solace for their believers.

Performance beyond boundaries is terrifying, even if holds the ultimate freedom.   Encouraging that powerful individual expression demands moving beyond our own fears and defences, even when those are the talismans we believe protect us by making our own choices blessed and holy.

It is always our liminality, where we live across boundaries, that informs our transcendence.

My liminality, my transcendence, is between my cool, edgy, controlled mind and my hot, fluid, passionate heart.    My confidence in showing the full blossom of that liminal self in the world is dented and battered from a lifetime of being a phobogenic object, the locus of so, so many projected fears.

Packaging that liminality, though, figuring what parts of myself to hide, what bits to polish to a gloss, and what just to try and keep fuzzy.  Fuzzy, though, is just not something I do well.   The sharpness and heat, well, it’s not easy to hide.

What if, though, what if there really is abundance out there for me, if only I believe in it enough to act as if, pushing beyond my own history of pain and fear to claim a new and valued incarnation?   What if revealing and celebrating my essential liminality could open the gate to a new, rewarding and vibrant life?

Might there actually be, beyond my imagining, a good answer?