Gender & Duty

Would it surprise you that most people don’t choose their gender expression as a bold statement of individuality, of how they stand apart from the system of gender?

Instead, most people see their gender expression as a form of advertising, a way to indicate to others what role they are trained and willing to play in social engagements.  We do want to show our strengths, but we also want to show how we fit in, how we are useful, how we can do the job.

Gender roles are social roles.   In this binary — heterosexist — culture, there are only two clearly defined roles, linked to birth genital configuration.   This isn’t true in all known human civilizations, though.   In some cultures, there were a range of roles, often assumed after or around puberty.  (Binary, heterosexist societies are usually focused around the primacy of procreation, of growing the population for economic reasons, while non-binary societies tend to be stable in birthrate, so more diverse.)

All these roles, though, include a measure of service to the group, signalling what duties you are prepared and obligated to take for protection and growth of the tribe.

I respect people who have chosen to be good women — moms — and good men — dads — in the context of gender.   Their commitment to their families and to the wider family of the shared community, is something to be honoured and praised.  This is one reason I have spoken highly of those who continue to perform their duty after trans emergence, and spoken against those who believe that rejecting obligations is justified.

I understand why the erosion of gender enforcement can feel like a loss for defenders of traditional family values, just as I understand why trying to pound someone into a gender role that breaks their heart is a loss not only for those individuals but also for society in general.

The challenge, as I see it, is how to support a system of gender that doesn’t try to impose a divisive binary but rather finds a way for all to participate in the life of the community, helping with child rearing, growth and development.

As long as queer people are seen as unable or improper to participate in caring for what we know to be precious, they will always have to decide between being of service and claiming their own hearts.   Forcing that decision is guaranteed to enforce the binary, minimizing diversity to venerate fear in the name of comfort.

My personal gender expression, as I have said many times before, is about my work.  Sometimes that means I need to show up in raiment, ready to represent my inner nature, empowering others to reveal theirs or sharing a viewpoint with a wider audience, but at other times, that means it is easier just to walk in my gender neutral expression, allowing me to just to blend in and participate.

I have been out since the mid 1990s, always trans identified, but that doesn’t mean I have always tried to look any particular way.   I need the social connection that often evades me as I try to self-police a feminine appearance, need to be clear that my heart is always one rather than changing along with my clothes.

Dancing along the Guy-In-A-Dress-Line has always been tough for me, knowing that any dream of my birth sex becoming invisible just would lead me to being a failed transsexual.  Maybe that choice for immersion would be easier if it was done today, leading me to relax and feel secure in making only woman choices, or maybe I would still stand out, stand between, stand in a limimal space where my trans voice cut across boundaries to speak for continuous common humanity.  I just don’t know.

I do, however,  understand why every human culture has had a system of gender roles, even if they weren’t simply binary & tied to biology, and why the biggest beneficiaries of that system has been children.    Gender, at heart, creates obligations around reproduction and child-rearing, even if today it has been loaded up by marketers with plenty of other expectations around appearance and consumption.

Humans move from the dependence of children to the independence of adolescence to the interdependence of parenthood.  Eventually we have to be part of building and maintaining safe spaces rather than just trying to tear down what offends us.   We have to be for something lasting, not just against what we don’t like, have to build up with compromises rather than just tear down with idealism.

Emergence as a transperson takes a lot of “what the fuck” and a quantity of “fuck you.”   It’s not as simple as just trying to fit in, dashing to “the closet at the end of the rainbow,” hoping hormones will work magic and allow us to have our fantasies created.

In the long run, becoming who you are is the gift of a lifetime, even if who you are crosses conventions.   We are the choices we make when it counts, and to me, and to the voices I respect, choices of service and duty, of sacrifice and balance, of giving ourselves to those in need are choices that create a full and fulfilling life.

As I  hear tales of history it is stories of people who don’t indulge sensation or seek comfort but rather engage the challenges and conflicts to take care of others that they love which touch my soul.

Gender roles, like any social roles, come with a sense of duty, an obligation to what created us, be that the universe, family or society,  and the willingness to set our own needs aside so we can do the right thing, do our work.

Being a good person is valuable.  Most people do that by being a good man or a good woman and that is to be honoured.   Some of us may need to do that by being a good queer, one who stands for diversity, for individual empowerment, for continuous common humanity.

Doing our duty, the duty of giving our gifts back to the shared world, moves us beyond fear, self-pity and indulgence, moves us to act with the power of love.

What is your role in building safe spaces where kids can grow up better everyday?


Babies are awash in sensation.   It is a time in our lives when we experience through our senses of touch, taste, warmth and cold.   We know when we feel bad and when we feel good, know how to surrender to being taken care of nicely, know how to cry out when something distresses us.

With two parents who do not understand their own Asperger’s style brains, though, safety in sensation is very hard to find.  They are disconnected from their own bodies, have trouble reading their own emotions, let alone the feelings of a child who needs them, and stay centred in their own expectations & sense of betrayal.

Over my decades, I have know people who indulge in sensation, who surrender to sensuality, who let their own feelings lead them.

I just was never one of those people.   I was never that young, never that trusting, never able to abandon myself to emotion.

Language saved me.   I learned to read early, from the pages of Time magazine to the state of my mother.   Stories of me surprising teachers with my reading skills stretch from speed reading in high school to my first kindergarten teacher.  She even recommended I be moved ahead, but when the principal saw the state of my physical development — I couldn’t smoothly hold my hands over my head — he denied permission.

I needed to be able to think in a conceptual way to navigate the worlds of my parents, and that was true from my youngest day to when I was with each of them as they died.   That demand has been a gift, helping me find words to express ideas and feelings in a way that mirrors and helps heal, but like any gift, it has also been a curse, separating me from some essential human connection.

When I see people steeped in sensuality, like so many at Pride events, that gap becomes very potent to me.  Realizing what I lost in my lifetime starts the sadness while an inability to connect on the level of disciplined thought and learned grace leaves me feeling isolated.   I may be able to find words that will touch others yet I know that does not mean they can find understanding which enables them enter my experience, demanding they face the challenge of my journey, of moving beyond immersive sensation to determined sensibility.

We humans live in our comfort zones, continuing our habits, struggling to fit in, to be attractive to others, often by hiding parts of ourselves.  My nerd training, though, taught me to peel back layers, to sort between conventions and truths, to challenge assumptions in order to reveal what lies beneath.

“You can recognize a small truth because its opposite is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another truth.”
— Neils Bohr

The revelations that lie in conflict help us remember that as humans, living in a finite world, we are forced to choose between compromises.   Perfection just doesn’t exist.

I love the journey I have been on, one towards knowledge & enlightenment.

I miss, though, the journey that I was denied, one towards trust, immersion and the luxury of being saturated with sensation.  That was a trade-off that I never felt empowered to make, especially as long as I had to be the “stupid” one who was the scapegoat for my parents.

Succumbing to passion is part of the human experience, trusting your body to take you out of your mind, claiming that primeval energy which drives connection.   Moving out of your mind is freeing and transcendent, even if losing your mind is a problem.   The balance of great truths is always like that.

Missing passion, desire blunted down by rational understanding, given up to a lifetime of loss through mature acknowledgement, well, that is hard to replace.  Exuberance and enthusiasm fuels risk taking behaviours, the choices that open new vistas and teach us about failure.

Riding that cresting wave of emotion is a sensational thrill that can move us forward if we let it teach us, or can be the entrance to a spiral of wasted power if we merely keep searching for the thrill.   The sensuality can help us through challenges, growing more mature, or can make us lose our way if neediness overwhelms us.

Being one of the old people, I feel how the loss of passion can leave us dry and isolated as we resist taking the kind of risks which have revealed smaller and smaller returns over the years.    In my case, though, I can’t even go back and remember the wells of passion, the love of parents, the budding exploration of sensuality, the heat of connection.   As a trans person with the kind of family I had, I never built those reserves of torrential trust and exuberant joy.

My choices were the best I could make in any moment.  I know why I chose to be TransNatural, why I played my breeches role to serve the people I loved with all my feminine heart, why my iconoclastic choices were the only way to liberate & use my voice.

That doesn’t mean, though, that those choices didn’t come with quite a cost, doesn’t mean that cost doesn’t continue to mount.   Our bodies, you see, keep the score.

You can’t go back, only forward.   I’m proud of my journey, and every day, I do my best to keep it going.

But learning to surrender to sensation, to the joy of connection, the power of passion and the curve of care?

Sometimes, that sounds not only nice but also life-giving.

Imagining A Future (And A Past)

In a culture that believes in predictable, linear lives, steeped in expectations that  someone’s past and future can easily be determined by looking at them in this moment, the sinuous path of queer lives, loaded with curves & surprises, full of  passings & rebirths can be hard to fathom, even when when we know that we are on that shape of road.

One of the most challenging things to do for transpeople is to help them imagine who they could be once they decide to shed their armour and emerge more fully in the wider world.

There are very few models for what a grown-up transperson looks like.   Many of us just dream of our trans nature being invisible, even if only to us, inside our mental force field.  Often, though, the people who are visible as trans offer models that trigger something in us, something that we don’t want to see when we look in the mirror, something we have resisted seeing for so long.

The very thought of getting naked, dropping the defences that we have so carefully built up over the years to become something new, is terrifying to us.   Doing that alone, without affirming, useful and trustworthy mirroring is even more difficult, leaving us skittish, avoidant, knowing only what we want to run from rather than what we need to run towards.

Our dreams are fantasies, untested in any real world sense.   Often we mature in what I used to call “crossdresser years;” only growing in the time we spend out in the world, living a series of moments that take ages to build into a bigger, more lucid picture.   Getting stuck at any point, due to lack of interactions, becomes very easy and eventually self-fulfilling as we fall into a defensive comfort zone.

Crossdressers who told me they wore a size 10 made me ask if that was their skirt size.   “What size top?” often got the answer of 16 or 18.   Proportion meant nothing to them, only the smallest bit they could squeeze into.

One popular crossdressing blogger — “Femulators need more makeup than females to look female” —  went to their fiftieth high school reunion.  They were amazed at how old the women looked; “they haven’t aged well.”  Yeah, those women are all 68 real years old, not the 38 (or so) crossdresser years old woman this person sees themselves as.

In their writings, the whole cultural world of women, the social pressures, the concerns of mothers and the connectedness of allies is not even touched upon.   Rather, being a woman is about looking like a woman, emulating a female.

Gender as pick & mix, as choosing the parts that attract us while rejecting the obligations which challenge us, seems simple.  We know what we don’t want, know what scares us, know what seems hard, know what we feels so far beyond our comfort zone that we have to avoid it.

Avoidance may be a way to remain fixed, connected to who we were taught we were, but is also a way to remain stuck, stagnant and in pain, to grow weak, twisted and failing.

Rolling Stone offers a fascinating article,  All American Despair, about the suicides of middle aged men who have grown beyond their assigned role and can’t seem to find a way to create a third act. Their pain is palpable, their isolation heart breaking.   The tales of loss feel very real, very engaging to me.

As transpeople, we don’t have a past that grounds us in the varied experiences of growing up while being seen as the gender in our heart.   That means any future we can imagine has to make up for that loss or fall short.

If we cannot imagine a supportive, affirming past, how can we ever possibly imagine a fulfilling,  nourishing future?

Can simply enacting the fantasies trapped inside of us make up for enduring the price of walking in the world as trans?

The older we get, the farther away the possibilities of our dreams seem.   Youth live on the present because they dream of the future, but as we grow, our bodies become much less vigorous and pliable, our history becomes much more weight to bear, and our dreams become dry, brittle and increasingly distant.   We become more crust than possibility, more fixed than malleable.

Lives lived out of time, our stages of development forced out of sync with our peers, with the social structures to support emergence, are lives twisted into bogus shapes, forcing us to take on what we are not yet ready for while we have to deny the moments in our soul.  Being adultified early, losing the playful exploration of our own possibilities and instead being expected to discover new while also being mature and responsible, has an enormous cost.

Being bound up by scar tissue is only surmountable with outside help to support us while we peel away our honest encasement to reveal the new, the fresh, the tender, the stuff of possibility.   Too often, though, the patterns which scarified us are just repeated as others respond in socially programmed ways to try and keep us in our places, keep us from exposing layers that they find more comfortable to keep hidden.

If we cannot imagine a supportive, affirming past, how can we ever possibly imagine a fulfilling,  nourishing future?

Only seeing the reflections of our possibilities in the eyes of another can help us let go of vain dreams so we can shape a robust and beautiful future.  Seeing how we have dried up, though, how so much has passed us by as we lived behind expectations and callouses, doesn’t offer much hope for rebirth, for rebreath.

Where is the future of my imagining?

Past, I fear.

Pride & Prejudice

I am proud of my journey, proud of the work I put out, proud of how I have been present for others, proud of how I have co-created my life, making the most I could out of what I was handed, both inside my mind & spirit and outside, the environment I faced.

It is that pride which keeps me going in my own isolation & loneliness, keeps me claiming my hard earned wisdom even as others tend to blanch at my words, finding them dynamic and challenging.

My pride is my solace, no doubt.

What I don’t have, though, is a strong connection to shared pride, to group identities and tribal conventions.

My experience growing up trans, especially double-queer, is much the same as my experience growing up as the child of Asperger’s parents: I had to learn to struggle through alone.

I’m not alone in this.   When I confronted trans health “experts” on how they  appeared to fail in reaching out to transpeople who aren’t visible to the LGBT “community,” almost every transperson in the room came to me after to say that I had voiced concerns they had, issues of separation and isolation.

Today, Pride has turned into a tool of “activists,” those who want to corral people into bands for political action, for commercial benefit, or for both.   Pride — with the capital “P” — is much more about the weight of compliant followers than about any celebration of queer, individual, diversity.

Does not feeling safe & welcome at Pride events mean that I have no pride?   Or does it just mean that Pride doesn’t reflect the real strength, the real stories, the real pride of those who activists claim to represent?

Learning to hold back, to not trust that those enmeshed in gay & lesbian conventions would understand, affirm, or even tolerate my queerness, was the obvious solution.

I recently got taught that lesson again when a professional I worked with for over two years decided I was too queer for their group, demanding that I become more policed, more silent and more compliant or depart.  Since that choice was a choice that would deny my own pride, there was no real choice; I departed, “honouring their intention.”

They made it clear that they do believe that there should be someplace for people like me.  That place just shouldn’t be anyplace that they feel comfortable, safe and defended in, any place that challenges the long and deeply held tenets of their soothing group identity.

Is there any wonder that Pride can’t really celebrate pride?

TDOR 2019: Remember Courage

Maya Angelou was clear.  To her, courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.

Because courage is an individual value, every human has to decide what it is worth being courageous about and where they can just go along with the group, just play nice, keep their voice down, getting along.

We are never courageous when we just fit in, just do what is expected, just do what everyone else is doing.   We are courageous when we stand up for what we know to be right, when we stand out, go over and above, and practice the virtues we value even we know there is risk and danger involved, know we are putting ourselves on the line between normal and exceptional.

To claim the truth of your own heart in a society that wants to value you based on the shape of your body, the colour of your skin or the story you were born into takes everyday acts of grace & courage.   Your smallest choices, from the restroom you use to the way you speak up are made political and challenging by those who want to enforce some fundamentalist status-quo, those who resist conflict and challenge by trying to use the momentum of the group to crush deviance.

Being labelled rude, overwhelming, deviant, disruptive always hurts as people try to separate you from the group, acting without compassion to remove your standing to speak, refusing your gifts, and separating you out so you have to develop alone and isolated, without mirrors.

This, though, has been the requirement of people who claim their own gender truth beyond convention, pushing through walls of stigma and resistance to claim the truth of their hearts.

Emergence beyond expected gender norms is, always, a courageous act, the grace of one person to express their own deep, valid, powerful and queer truth in the world.

We feel the risks on our own skin, the years of being seeded with fear and promises about what will happen if we expose ourselves, about how those who go beyond the normative set themselves up for abuse, humiliation,  rejection and even grievous physical harm.   We are told these people are just getting what they deserve for not giving into common sense, to conventional wisdom, to the way things are and always have been, the way things always will be.

Every one of the people we remember today shares at least one thing with every other trans, gender variant, queer person: the personal courage to boldly claim their own heart in a society that doesn’t want to be challenged with overwhelming demonstrations that the convenient shorthand of separating people into groups, dividing between us and the other based on simple characteristics of body, ethnicity, history are just false walls creating false comfort.

The courage to emerge as an individual, no matter how much that breaks conventions, stirring up the emotions of others and exposing conflict, is at the core of trans truth, at the core of trans truth telling.

“In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity,” said Anne Bolin, an anthropologist who studied gendered behaviours.

Reminding people of continuous common humanity, though, offering reflections of truths that have been filtered out by group belief systems, is challenging.   It can even be very threatening, so threatening that others feel entitled to destroy the truth teller rather than to examine their own beliefs, rather than explore their own feelings.

The only way to emerge as trans is to take an inward journey, going beyond the beliefs repeated into you to listen to that small voice inside which says that your truth exists beyond the simple binary of us and them.   The only way out of hell is through, entering your own pain and contradictions to dismiss the intrusions and discover your own truth.

The courage of going beyond conventions, even the conventions that others around you hold as walls, is breath taking.   It removes you from machine made wind to demand you claim your own breath, your own spark, your own flashing truth.  There is little help to be had for this journey beyond your own fears, as others will quickly try and impose their fears on you, keeping your flame down to a level they find tolerable, to a level that doesn’t illuminate the truths in them that they find scary, the truths they don’t have the courage to engage.

How many of those who have a shimmering truth created inside of them have been scared off from investigating, exploring and claiming that truth?   How many of us have suffered as we have striven to deny what was in our heart, staying immersed in the fear fed to us to keep us small, normative, and nonthreatening?

Today, though, let us remember those with the courage to put their own social standing at risk to claim that beauty in their heart, to express that essential truth that reflects our continuous common humanity.   Even those who have lost their lives, have been physically or emotionally injured by others who lashed out, trying to silence them, have not only gained from their revelation, but also have served as examples of elegant, messy and human courage to the rest of us.

Courage may be a personal expression, but it is an infectious one; when we see other courageous people doing the right thing beyond stigma and fear, we are inspired to summon our own courage, encouraged to stand for our own inner knowledge.

When we remember those who have been courageous and taken a hit, even the loss of their human life, we are warmed by their actions, enlightened by their bold, brave, queer, courageous choices.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.   Honouring those who have been here and shown courage, we are called to our own courage, to the courage to go deep, move beyond convention & comfort, to explore our own truth and stand, celebrating continuous common humanity.

Remember courage by remembering the courageous.  And remember that you share that essential human courage inside of you too.