Lost Voice

Did I ever really have a personal voice?

I know that I have a service voice, the voice of the concierge.  I can take care of others, helping them develop their own voice.

I know that I had a written voice, constructed texts that have attempted to share my learnings, my experience, my feelings.

But as to a personal voice, one that expresses who I am in an effective and satisfying way, well, that feels a long away from where I ever was.

I am aware that unless I can open up and express myself in a way that touches people, that opens their hearts and minds, then I will never be able to feel connected.

I am also aware, though, that opening up and expressing myself exposes all the ways that I embody apparent contradiction through liminality that triggers the fear and dismissal of others who need to hold onto their own belief structures for their own stability.

Divine surprise may resonate deeply in me, but that doesn’t mean those who are pushed to the edge by the torrent of demands from this speeding world are at all ready to engage me.

This is a world of slick packages, of elevator speeches, of simplified messages, of style over substance.   It is a world where my depth, my decades of moving beyond convention and expectation just do not fit anywhere.

People heal & grow in their own time and their own way.  We learn to read fear & danger, learn to suppress ourselves to stay within norms, building walls to create a sense of safety.

I am smart and actualized.    That means, in the minds of others, that I have the obligation to be attentive and sensitive to their fears and limits, not asking them to engage what they cannot handle.    If I am smart enough to understand deeply, I must also be disciplined enough to police myself, understanding that I deserve whatever I get from those who my expression stimulates or challenges.

Why should I have a voice when it will not be engaged or understood by anyone from the identity politics saturated political crowd to the comfort seeking people who take solace in their own beliefs about separation?

My understanding is not embodied and divided, rather it threads through boundaries and across worlds.

Giving voice to that flow is something I have struggled to do in text, even as I knew that my words were more likely to put people off than engage them.  I have never been good with small talk and my curiosity has dried up with my resources.

Having a voice in the world that captures that flow, though, rather than just the tiny shards of it that meet the needs of others in the moment, well, that has always felt above and beyond.   Too whatever for the room.

So, over the years and years, I have fallen silent.    My voice feels decayed, worn through, corroded into dust.

“So, what do you need?” asks someone who has said they love hearing me speak, that they have my back, that they want to be there.

Even for them, though, trying to put together a message is almost impossible as I fumble, drop back and punt, attempting to speak a message and finding failure.

Why should I go through the effort of trying to communicate when the smart bet is that I will just fail again, leaving me feeling more isolated?

Communications experts tell me that to be effective I need to consider my audience as I create my message, tailoring my efforts to them.   This is something I can do well in my service, my concierge voice.

My inner monologue, though, the powerful flows inside of me, aren’t simple, portioned and appropriate.

The experience of being queer in the world is the experience of being shamed, shunned and stigmatized into silence.   We learn to only reveal ourselves in the closet because outside of that we are forced to play along or suffer the stinging consequences.

Shame and silence are old bedfellows, handmaidens in destruction.

Because of my writing, I have learned how to do the most important challenge anyone shamed into the closet can face: learning how to use and trust their voice.

Taking them to a safe backstage, using feedback and encouragement, I empower them to say what they mean in an effective way.    For voices stunted and strangled by isolation & denial, voices that learned to hide, attenuate and placate, this is an awesome challenge.   Moving beyond the fear and fantasies to show a whole, integrated and vulnerable human self is almost impossible.  Yet, only truth telling can identify and drive out the internalized demons that haunt and manipulate us.

Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism about changing your body, but transgender is about changing your mind, letting go of the old defences to reveal the essence within.

I know how long it takes to move beyond old habits, to move beyond the fear of the “third gotcha” and to just trust that your essence is visible, worthwhile and even beautiful.  Considering how hard gaining self-esteem, confidence and the grace that comes with it is for people who weren’t shamed into the closet, especially women, the magnification of that for people who were pounded over their queerness is immense.

While I have build my voice in text, the moment I am called on to use it as a woman is tough for me.   My confidence in content is strong, but my confidence in style is not, fearing I will be dismissed as a guy-in-a-dress.  Trusting the simple expressions is almost impossible simply because they have never been mirrored and affirmed.

Without a sense of my own beauty, and with a sense of my own challenging liminality, I hang back, hide, attenuate.  My femme nature urges me to keep people comfortable and connected so I can help them face the challenges of claiming their own power,  their own agency, their own voice.   That means, however, keeping my own feelings and needs under wraps, denying my personal voice in service of their needs.

Whatever my personal voice may have been, it now feels lost, collapsed down into internal reveries and squalls that cannot be shared, cannot be connected.

Finding a way to trust my personal voice, which demands finding a way to trust that it will connect with an audience is vital.   Where do I go to find the kind of services I render to others, a celebration and reinforcement of the power of a translucent voice?

But Why

Emerging — as anything people don’t expect from you — has a price.

There will be resistance, anger, preaching, loss and more.

That’s inevitable.

All that means, though, is that you have to be pretty damn sure about why you need transformation & emergence in the first place.

It’s not important that other people understand why you are going through the surprising and complicated changes you are entering into, though that would be nice.

It is, however, vitally important that you understand why you are breaking loose and taking a new, unexpected and risky path.

If you aren’t pretty well sure of the benefits that you hope to find, even if those are just the minimizing of playing a part that no longer fits you, that limits you, breaks your spirit and causes you pain, well, there is no way you will have the courage to consistently follow your path of growth, healing and exploration.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.
— Maya Angelou

Your persistence can only come from going back to the touchstone knowledge that you need something more, something new, something powerful so much that you have the will to endure the crap it takes to move beyond the past and claim a new and brilliant facet of you.

If you get bogged down in the expectations of other people, there is no way you can follow your own bliss.

We make choices in life and every choice requires being willing to say “no” to something.   No matter how much you want it all, want it easy, want it comfortable, want it without paying the price or suffering the cost, you can only get it if you really want, if you try, try and try, until you succeed at last.

Being human means living a life of change.  We only have to decide if we want to be reactive, just responding to the change that goes on around us, or to be proactive, taking charge of our choices and committing to our own transformation.

It may seem so much easier to just ride the beast.   If we don’t make choices, if they only make us, then we have no responsibility for them, right?   We always have someone to blame for our sadness and failures, a big bad world that screws everyone, especially us.

Sadly, just riding the beast doesn’t make you better.   It just means you allow yourself to be the victim, living at the mercy of other people.

It’s hard to own your own possibilities.   You will never be able to achieve your perfect dreams, will always have to compromise, endure loss and failure.   There will always be a cost and never be a guarantee that you get what you mapped out on your dream board.

Owning your own life, though, is the only way to grow, to heal, to become better.

To take that power, though, you have to have some reason why doing it your way rather than just following along with their way is worth the pain, challenge and effort.   You need something to cling onto when you feel alone, tired, lonely and hurt.

But why do you have to break the rules, turn your back on what others hold dear, move away from traditions that are good and right?   Why do you have to be different, be transgressive, be queer?   Don’t they have an obligation to remind you of what you should fear, of how your fears should control you?

You might not have an answer as to why that others can understand — after all, it isn’t their heart and life on the line — but you need to have an answer that you can understand, an answer that keeps you sane and focused when you hit a bump in the road or when you feel like you drove off a cliff.

Your confidence and serenity is based on why you know, regardless of all the crap you are going to have to go though, all the fear & stigma you have to face, that exploring down this road is not only right & necessary for you,  but that you know will bring you healing, growth, resolution and bliss.

When the fear envelops you, pulling you back towards the choices you made that came from neediness in an attempt to play small and play along, you need to hold onto why you chose to turn away from those habits and instead follow your heart, letting love open and drive you.

How else can you be present and vulnerable enough to learn from choices that don’t work out the way you wanted them to unless you remember why you chose to become new & better in the first place?

It is vitally important that you understand why you are breaking loose and taking a new, unexpected and risky path.   The deeper and more clear you are about that understanding, the more resilient, persistent and committed you can be.

Hold onto the moments when the light strikes your possibilities, keep those moments close to you and let them help you remember why you are boldly breaking away to become new.

When someone asks you “But why?   Why are you making these perverse choices?”  come from that light.   Show them the fragments of bliss you are collecting, the shards of enlightenment and growth that have begun to come your way.

They may not get it, may not see the value in going against what they think is normal, regular and right.

But it is most important that you see that value, that you remember why you have to follow your heart everyday.

It is that why, that heart, that bliss, that love that can set you free.

Solve-ation

“Don’t get frustrated about the problems, get excited about the solutions.”

I call that Sabrina’s Law.  I don’t think Sabrina — often known as TBB on this blog — invented it, but she sure as heck took it on as her own mission statement.

When she was at the head of Southern Comfort Conference, for example, she loved it when people complained to her about this or that.

“There should be a meeting for people like me,” they would say, or “You can do the parties in a better way.”

“That’s a great idea!” Sabrina would enthuse.  “Thank you for volunteering to make that happen!”

These transpeople were used to being fobbed off, ignored or dismissed, so when Sabrina empowered them to actually roll up their sleeves and do something, even if they did it in high-heels, it was a transformative moment.

Sabrina loves solutions.  That’s one reason she can get a bit frustrated by deep analysts like me who tend to dive deeply rather than getting on with it.   Now, she has seen me offer powerful expressions and seen me create great solutions, but she does tend to prefer it when I offer resolutions over emotive description.

When we come to the table with a solution based mentality we have to let go of our victim hood, of any sense that “they” have responsibility to fix it while we just get to complain.   Solutions demand an “us” viewpoint, a commitment to working together to create imperfect, compromised but still functional better ways.

Any engineer will tell you that there is no perfect solution, only a set of trade-offs that help address the issue.   The best we can hope for is a kind of elegance, a merging of innovative thinking and simplicity that makes sense and offers a platform for further improvement.

The role of the problem solver, rather than the role of just the complainer, is always the role of the parent.   Somebody has to get food on the table, pay the bills, kiss away hurts and plan for a better future.

Sabrina knew that very early, so she always did her part, starting with her kids, including her job and even in trans spaces, even when others didn’t know how to value her quest for exciting new solutions, when they wanted compliance and submission.

Taking responsibility for creating exciting new solutions is hard especially because it demands that we challenge those who are comfortable with the way things are, those who are invested in the status quo and those who would rather bitch than jump into the mess and fix things.

To take responsibility we have to be willing to lead, not just follow, have to be willing to have our own assumptions and expectations confronted, have to be willing to fail a bit to learn what we need for success.   You can’t be excited about new and better solution without the ability to leap in, take a shot then get up and try again.   This may leave you looking silly or vulnerable, but it also leaves you with wisdom and pride, with a powerful sense of agency and empowerment.

There are a wide, wide, wide range of problems in this world, none of which come with simple, easy or rapid solutions.   It’s easy to sit eating a plate of fish tacos at the Rathskeller listing all the failures, pointing out how it seems futile to dream of Utopian solutions that will never, ever come true.   Perfection is impossible.

Better, though, is always possible.   Even a little bit better can make a big difference, to one child, one individual, one ship, one bit of the ocean, as Sabrina knows.  Change is always incremental, always evolutionary, always grounded in the creative use of the possible and not in pipe dreams of the idealized.

“Don’t get frustrated about the problems, get excited about the solutions.”

Staying focused enough to persevere even while pushing though all the resistance, details and other crap that come with change is always hard.  That’s why we have to be excited about the possibilities, making milestones of every small change and spreading the vision with enthusiasm and exuberance.

That big, forward energy is something else Sabrina is good at.   She not only sees and nurtures the possibilities around her, she encourages others in believing that they, too, can step up and make a difference.   Her excitement about better solutions sparks and drives those around her, making her a powerful force for positive change.

When you feel small and powerless it’s easy just to wave your arms and demand some kind of sweeping change.   Doing the hard, dirty scut work to create solutions that will actually work,  solutions that demand negotiation, compromise, failure and resetting doesn’t sound like fun.   Actually seeing the fruits of your labour, getting respect, achieving agency and credibility, leaving you with pride and satisfaction is worth it, though.

The kind of discipline which creates precision is the effort that can leave you excited about solutions that go beyond the expected, the conventional and the routine to make things better.

“Don’t get frustrated about the problems, get excited about the solutions.”

It’s what Sabrina does.

A Love Note

At “Rooted,” a retreat for Trans-Christians held last month in Chicago, one of the exercises was to write a “love note” to other trans/trans affiliated people.

Because trans is so often rooted in negative identity — we are not sure who or what we are, but we are very clear on what we are not — this is a very important step in opening our queer hearts.

It’s very easy to look around and see transpeople who are making choices that we resist, that we would never, ever make for ourselves, choices that make us uncomfortable, allowing us to identify what they are doing wrong from our point of view.

More than that, it is very easy to see transpeople who are so bound up in their own defences and twists that they present a difficult and unattractive face to the world.  For decades we had to endure clinical professionals who saw what they considered sickness in transpeople and blamed that on the queer nature of them rather than on the massive trauma, repression and abuse that comes from trying to manage trans in a fiercely hetero-normative world.

How can we ever learn to open our hearts to the world as long as we live in fear that we will be one of those unattractive and weird transpeople?   How can we move beyond being ruled by the shame that keeps us assertively self-policing, trying to hide the parts of is that are just too queer to be easy?

Learning to open to other transpeople, even the ones who appear too broken, too queer or too assimilated, the ones who challenge our claimed identity, is a key part of the process in learning to open to our own very human and very trans nature.   Until we can be present for others, we can never be present for ourselves.

As I look back at my experience of engaging trans, I am aware of how much of my service to others, starting with writing in the 1980s, continuing with leading in the 1990s and finally sharing the depths of my story and vision in the 2000’s comes from a place of love.

As a femme, I loved all the transpeople for their tender hearts, even the ones whose rock hard armour was designed to crush any challenges.  I know why they had to build that edifice, why silencing and manipulation seemed to be the best choice, not least because I had gone through the same pounding experiences.

My path, though, was into the spiritual.   For me, like for any mom, I knew that didn’t just involve being sweet and trying to avoid conflict, rather that fighting for people’s growth & healing in the world always required the willingness to fight with them.   They needed to learn their own strength, needed to have their own assertions tested, needed to be challenged to be their best self.

As I tested my own beliefs in the fire of our shared stories, elemental truths were revealed, that essential knowledge that Campbell tells us is always held in the power of myth.   Of course, as he also tells us, there are reasons why people resist the gifts that come from the hero’s journey of transformation, from leaving the ease of “thou shalt” normativity to claim our own individual heart.

Group identity always seems simpler than the personal, a shared sense of group exceptionalism that can underlie a comforting, routine sense of entitlement.    Trans identity, though, crosses boundaries and challenges assumptions to remind us of our continuous common humanity.   What we profoundly share isn’t on the surface, it is written deep into our shared human nature.

My writings, my actions, my choices, rooted in my own healing, which in turn is rooted in my own wounds, have always been based in love.

Even as they tore me up, coming from their own Aspergers selves, I loved my family.   I put love into the world, the best that I could, but knew all the time that love was too much for most people, just as I was too overwhelming, too intense, too visionary, too challenging, too damn everything.

The discipline and denial it took to come from love demanded that I put my own emotions aside, using the discipline of æsthetic denial to stay focused and present.    That never meant that I didn’t have emotions, didn’t have an ocean of hurts surging inside me, only that I understood to be present for others those wounds had to inform my choices, not to shape them.   After all, my goal was always to help others move beyond what hurt me, not to lash out at them with my deep raging pain.

I opened to love, loving others and myself.   I start every day by thanking my mother in the sky for my life, always looking for those divine surprises that leave me amused, awed and grateful.

Through the decades, though, as I put my own needs on the shelf, I became more and more lonely, more and more isolated from the emotional sustenance of other people.    I would try to find connection, but it was quickly revealed to me the limits others had in entering my world, in mirroring me, in using the love languages I valued, devotion & affirmation to be present for me.

My experience is of being either too much or not enough to be easily cast in the stories of other people.   Some part of me won’t fit their expectations and I will need to be cast out, be abandoned, be removed from the conditional love that they keep for themselves.   I may fight for them, but they can’t find the substance to fight for me.

Having to write a love note to people who scare and challenge you is not easy, but I know it is the only way to manifest the love of the creator here on earth.    Loving all the parts of me, though, even the queer bits that transgress comforting and illusory walls, has always been vital, even as I was scapegoated as a phobogenic object by seemingly everyone from my parents on.

Writing these love notes, though, and being present with love for others, even those who hurt me through their own limits, well, it’s what I did.

And no matter the human cost, I was proud of doing it.