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. -- The Rainbow Speech, 1994
“Thank you for bringing balls into my office,” she said.
I’ve spent about a year attending a support group hosted by a local psychotherapist who showed her compassion and willingness to understand transgender issues at a big public forum. Over that time, I acted as a kind of co-facilitator, listening to LGBT people and responding from decades of striving to make meaning about the experiences of living a queer life.
She had wanted to loosen up the group, suggesting some exercises rooted in process, but I had suggested that the key was making people more playful. To that end, I just bought a couple of balls from the dollar store and tossed them out at the beginning of the next session.
The group took to them immediately, tossing them about, and deciding that they wanted to pass one as a kind of talking stick, a talisman to empower the speaker.
This was the next month when she thanked me for bringing balls into her office. Apparently they had also brought a sense of play to her everyday work, loosening up clients with a combination of easy physical engagement and childlike play.
As she repeated her affirmation to me, though — “thank you for bringing balls into my office” — I saw she meant something deeper.
As a person whose feminine heart feels erased when others see the expectations laid on my biology rather than opening to my nature, I had to decide how I felt about being warmly thanked for bringing balls into the space.
Fear comes from ignorance — we fear what we don’t understand — and ignorance comes from fear — we avoid exploring things that we fear. This is the syllogism that allows humans to keep up boundaries against people like “them,” keeps us away from the challenging and close to what comforts others around us.
For most people, gender is trained through avoidance and denial. We are policed against doing the wrong thing, against making the transgressive choice, against seeping across gender lines. Gender becomes rooted in the negative — what must I not do? — rather than in the positive.
When I came out as trans in the mid-1980s, my goal was to become more integrated, more whole, more androgynous/gynandronus. I used my birth name and showed what today would be called “gender fuck,” mixed gender cues.
At that time, I really wanted to become a man more in touch with my feminine side, as I knew that was possible for me. Being seen as a woman, with my bones and body, well, that would be tough.
More than that, the traditional model of transsexualism, purging anything in your history, biology or expression that might be seen as masculine, would demand me losing my voice, losing the idiosyncratic, iconoclastic, individualistic power I had worked so hard to find. I was already queer by most standards, so why not add more gender fluidity?
As I explored over the years, though, the truth became clear to me. I had never felt safe and effective as a man, never been cocky enough to satisfy straight women, never been able to whip it out and battle. My feminine heart was much more powerful than my masculine body.
It was that heart which called me to stay connected, to not treat trans as a demand for exemption, to not just be in-your-face with my own erotic expression. I would rather be accessible than be egotistical, leading to the choice to be trans-natural.
Many people, though, saw my ferocity as a masculine trait, as much as I knew that my fighter came from a deep feminine place. “If I was born female,” I asked one crossdresser, “would I have been a ballsy broad with a big mouth?” They thought for a moment and reluctantly answered yes.
Because I saw my transgender path as a search for the best that I could be rather than as a way to deny and destroy queer parts of me, I had a different experience. The spouse of a renowned sexologist decided he liked me because I understood and respected the challenges he had growing up as a boy and being shaped as a man as we exchanged our touchstone A.A. Milne poems. Gender is Gender, as I wrote in 1994.
I know many people who fear the power of gender expressions that they have learned to diminish, shame and avoid. So many transpeople are more shaped by what they have decided is bad behaviour without trying it than by an open attempt to cross boundaries, understand with compassion and find the best.
As a shaman, though, I know that every tool I can place in my bag of tricks is useful in expanding growth, healing and understanding. That’s why I know when to bring out the balls, childlike and playful, or open my mouth to challenge, giving context, nuance and empowerment.
Bringing the balls to those raised as women, either in offering more ballsy choices or informing them the pressures placed on those from whom balls are demanded, is not something I really want to do. I want to be pretty and sweet and attractive, just one of the girls. Yet I know that if I can’t just be defined by the negative, stuck in a kind of “us vs. them” mindset, surrendering my voice to the will of the group, that will never be possible for me.
My gift is liminality, floating through walls that others see as solid & defining. I can “select the best from the abundant palette of human appearance and behaviour,” just like that gift I laid out almost 25 years ago.
I bring the balls and I bring the tenderness, the compassion and ferocity rooted in a long and hard journey through hell to my own nature.
When I am affirmed for bringing those gifts, well, I better take the compliment, eh?