The many solicitations in the mail box remind me that I am rapidly approaching a milestone birthday, one where things change.  I need change, I know, but like most things in my life, it’s not that simple.

I have three draft posts open and have for quite some time now.

One is an ode to ambition, both an acknowledgement how being ambitious sets us apart from the mass and how nothing gets done without ambition.  The ways we justify & rationalize our ambitions, working to sanitize them so they seem normal & godly, make commitment to inner calling difficult.

The second is on compassion, on the power of love to help us engage and empower those who are struggling to grow and change.  As a woman — as a mom — I know how much I need people to lavish my own love upon, to be present for in ways as simple as feeding them and as complex as helping them find and face their own inner voice.

The third is on breakage, on the need to shatter bits of our lives to break through to new possibilities.  What do we need to smash and what do we need to hold close?   What bits can’t we break, no matter how much we want to, so we need to learn to live with them?   As the target patient in my family, I was both the scapegoat and the healer, revealing what others would rather keep hidden, revealing where healing was needed.   The obligation to both break through and to be the one who mends breaks, facilitating growth, always left me split and scared.

My history is playing small, using guerrilla strategies to make motions towards change.

There is, however, a good case to be made that at some point, I need to just let fly, opening my big mouth, my big brain, my big spirit and my big heart to speak loudly and see what that release attracts, in the world and in my life.

This is not a case I have been able to make easily, as my ambitions are feminine, my concern has been for those I loved, and I have been as conservative as I have been queer, valuing structures and social norms.   I have resisted calling to the point of self destruction, as I have noted before.

A few days ago, though, my mother in the sky gave me a sign that my voice has power.   Someone found this blog and read like fury, going deep and chewing through an enormous number of these dense posts.   It was a surprise to see that day in my stats because I am used to being just a voice in the wilderness, speaking without being heard.

I also found a bit of feedback from three years ago, stuck somehow as a draft that I had never seen at the time.

You are an incredible writer. And I don’t say this lightly, I’m a journalism grad from Texas Tech. Any books? Where else can I find you? Big fan!

So now, at this time,  the question comes to me, simply and powerfully: Do I have the energy for one more rebirth, this time as a very public persona?

I know why I haven’t gone big before, why even after exposing myself and my writing, I didn’t work the room, doing the social connection bit, preferring to have said my piece and let others find me if they were ready and willing to do the work.   I never work for an audience, never search for affirmation & acclaim, and in fact don’t trust that kind of feedback when I get it, assuming that there was a kind of shallow, surface connection which was more about others projecting what they need onto me rather than deeply engaging.

Working the crowd just feels to me like missing the point.   Maybe, though, those feelings miss the point: if you don’t put yourself out there, don’t let people get to know you, how can they ever engage more deeply?

One of the hardest things for me is my utter lack of a social support system, people who affirm my ambition, who enter my world with compassion, and who support my breaking through.    (That’s a recall, in case you didn’t notice.)  Instead of engaging public life, taking the knocks and challenges that come with it, I live as a hermit, missing the bruises but also missing the divine surprises that are out there for me.

Yet, a milestone approaches.   Change or, well, whatever.

I have trouble when I invoke a voice to write encouraging polemics.   One I wrote as a bad example was read to the crowd during an orgasm workshop, sending me into a long and extreme laughing jag.   Recently a therapist asked who had sent me the polemic, not grasping that I was always stuck writing them for myself, which makes them almost more sad than empowering.

Still, I seem to need some kind of transcendent encouraging.

I have read your 1997 poem Look At Me/Don’t Look At Me.   I know what you fear.    From being targeted by your mother to being “too much for the room — too queer, too intense, too intellectual, too visceral, whatever” you have learned to play small, to stay invisible, to own your own voice by not having to satisfy the crowd.

What I want to tell you, though, is that over the decades you have cleaned and cleared your presence.   Even though you vividly remember your missteps and blunders, they don’t define you.   What defines you is your crystalline vision and your powerful voice, gracious and transcendent even when it illuminates what others want to keep hidden.

You have lived a deep life, discovering by exploring.   Now is the time, though, to be the crone you were meant to be, the grand-mère who returns her gifts to those who are still seeking, those who can incorporate bits of your hard-earned wisdom into their own expression.

Be seen.  Speak up.  Shine.  Now is the time, no matter how it inspires fear in others who would rather see you play small.    Go on with a bang, not a whimper.  The world needs more Callan, especially a Callan who can convince others to bring their smarts, their wit and their spirit out to be more beautifully themselves.

Change comes, if you want it to or not.  The only way to make it better is to be bold and take ownership, breaking the rules to make new ways to be.   When people see you, some will see you shine, but only if you own that brilliance rather than just flashing brightly and then falling back into the tiny darkness.

Show yourself and you will be seen.  That will let people see you and your heart.  And if they see a bit of what I know is there, well, I know they will be moved. 

You are lovely, even if you don’t always see that when you look in the mirror. You are loveable not just in spite of who you are but because of who you are.  Some people will see that and be able to respond.  Let them find you.  Let them love you.

Shine.  It’s your time.

Or, at least, that’s what I would say to someone like me.

Shimmering Iridescence

I feel most comfortable when people see my iridescent shimmer, the wide range of changing colours that come across my expression in every moment, like light through the wings of a dragonfly.

I feel least comfortable when people try to fix me in some role, like trying to put a pin in the thorax of that dragonfly and sticking it to a board.

That’s why I spend the vast majority of my time alone.

I watch people watch me and I know they see me as one of those optical illusions I used to see in school.   Do they see see the vase or the pair of faces?  How many legs do they think I have?

After decades of exploration, I have good self knowledge, becoming integrated and actualized.   When I see the reaction of someone it almost always tells me more about their perception and mindset than it reveals some facet of me in a new way.    I know who I am, in all my shimmering iridescence, but they only know what fits their assumptions & expectations.

When I engage, I work hard to mirror their shimmer, revealing the layers of connection underneath the everyday persona.   This is, of course, both a gift and a challenge to others, bringing forth what they don’t usually reveal.

Shimmering, moving through the flavours and facets of who we are, is where our continuous common humanity is revealed.   As a queer trans woman, I know that being receptive to iridescence is holding open the space for growth and transformation, the revelation which allows people to transcend history & biology to become new. I need that space, which means I have an obligation to give it to others, at least if I hold in the Golden Rule.

Today, though, we live in a culture which is primed to divide, setting up beliefs as either/or, and identifying enemies by how their beliefs seem to negate what we hold sacred.   It is us or them, so if you don’t agree with me, you must be someone who is essentially evil.

Defence is attack, ACIM teaches us.   When we battle, for good reason or bad, we feed the negative rather than seeking for the connections, the cooperation, the understanding, the coming together, the love.   Battling forces us to live in the us or them paradigm, even if we are trying to come from a good, positive, transcendent place.

To battle, I need armour.   To wear armour, I push others to wear armour.  Armour doesn’t reveal our iridescent shimmering, that glowing, weaving humanity, rather it conceals it, both to the attacker and the wearer.  You can’t see their human shimmer, the residue of a human life full of love & challenge, and they can’t see you shimmer.   Bad magic.

It’s hard to transcend the dominant paradigm.   If you feel they are battling you  it seems obvious that you should battle them, deploying your own fundamentalist beliefs to try and destroy the beliefs which you feel are oppressing and hurting you.

An eye for an eye, though, often ends up leaving everyone blind.

To me, it’s vital to fight fair and fight fun rather than to battle.

Fighting fair means being willing to be open to challenge, being able to identify and agree with others when they offer something correct, even if it punctures my assertions or isn’t completely correct.

Fighting fun means respecting the humanity in the challenge, acknowledging pain and the need for solace & safety.   Rather than trying to crush others, destroying their beliefs and identity as negative, we respect them with a sense of dignity and play.

For so many of us who hold negative identities, knowing what we are against but not what we are for,  this kind of fight feels terrifying.   It’s simpler to work to silence others, to discredit them and remove their standing to speak than it is to stand up, vulnerable and honest, and lay out what we believe, the solutions we have found to work for us.

When we do that, though, trying to silence & destroy others, we set up the pattern for ourselves to be silenced & destroyed.  We identify shimmering as a weakness, as a place where the beliefs aren’t battle hardened, revealing locations that we can go in for the attack at the revelation of human vulnerability.

Trying to harden ourselves to avoid or resist challenge can give us the sense that the best thing we can do for others is to teach them to harden up, to grow a thick skin, to learn the tricks of knifing others with emotional weapons and illogical tropes.   It continues the battle rather than transcending it, lets the battlers have the upper hand over humans who glow with beautiful shimmering iridescence.

I played that battle game for years, got pretty good at it.   When I saw, though, what it did to people I loved, understood what it demanded of tender humans, and felt what it did to me, well, I knew that kind of big battle wasn’t going to help me heal & grow, wasn’t going to help the society around me heal & grow.

If I can’t reveal my shimmering, I can’t be present.   Today, that often means that it is simpler and easier to just stay away from those who still need control, need the false comfort of walls, need to keep the battle going to keep hidden from their own shimmering iridescence.

Narratives, the stories we tell, are powerful to me because they always reveal our liminality, where we cross boundaries in a way that shows many colours at the same time.   Even when we don’t want them to, our tales reveal our continuous common humanity, the shimmering iridescence that connects us to all things.

That’s why I listen, why I have struggle to communicate in a way that can be heard, that can reveal.

And it’s why, when people only try to figure out how to pin me, how to dismiss me, how to keep their own truths defended, I go to my own place, to celebrate my — and their — shimmering iridescence.

Bound Emulation

Smart humans create smart ideas that offer smart defences, notions that rationalize and constrain our choices in a way that seems simple and elegant.  Our ideas become the filter that defines our worldview, that gives us protection and comfort.

There comes a time, though, when any defence becomes not just a way to bind us from outside harm but also becomes a barrier that binds us from growing beyond the limits we have constrained.

Our walls, so carefully and thoughtfully constructed, stop being a fortress to keep out challenge and start becoming a prison to keep us bound up, isolated and hurting.

An egg is wonderful protection for a budding bird, but unless and until that egg breaks open, there can be no glorious & brilliant flight.

The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
— Anaïs Nin

I very much admire transpeople who strive to honour a commitment to family.   As a woman, I am moved when I see people take care of others, even when they have to put their own desires aside to do that.

For transpeople raised as men, those of us with a feminine heart and a body that went through puberty as a male, finding the balance between our own deep knowledge and our obligations is very hard.   We know the power of love which leads us to know the power of performance, the gift we can give of being a man in the moment.

The notion that our commitment to manly duties is enhanced by the pull of our feminine hearts may at first seem surprising, but for those of us who committed as spouses, parents and caretakers, we know that our love, our need to both give and get love has shaped our choices.

One classic strategy for people assigned as male at birth who love women and have the power of the feminine in our heart is the “hobbyist” plan.   In this model, we define the choices we make to try and satisfy the yearning in our hearts as just play, just fun, just a hobby.

This hobby has often been called “crossdressing.”  In this model, choices are just about the clothing worn, just a kind of game to emulate females because of admiration or sexual stimulation.

Since the 1950s or 1960s there have been those who strongly advocated this model, even creating organizations that tried to make crossdressing safe for “heterosexual men,” by banning any kind of homosexual behaviour or attempt to actually emerge as women.    The leaders have often broken the rules they wanted to impose on others — Virginia Prince used hormones while railing against the folly of transexualism, for example –but they worked hard to promulgate the model as one that gave comfort to wives and those who clung to manhood.

The comfort of this hobbyist model was obvious, protecting masculine privilege by denying queerness.   For those who felt the pull of family obligations, or even just feared their own nature, it gave cover and comfort to be seen just as a crossdresser, just a guy who liked to dress up without any deeper meaning.

The problems with this model were also obvious.  Makeup artist Jim Bridges who worked trans conventions came up with two classic jokes:

What’s the difference between a straight crossdresser and a gay crossdresser?
— Three Drinks.

What’s the difference between a transvestite and a transsexual?
— Three Years.

The boundaries of dreams, especially dreams we first had as transkids, imagining a future, are never simple or logical.

In the recent HBO film “Wig!” I was touched to see two powerful drag queens. Willam and Lady Bunny both tell stories about how moved they were when they were seen as women — when they felt that they “passed” as being born female — if even for a moment.   Willam was called “m’aam” by a crack addict breaking in while Bunny was warned about her gown hanging out of a cab, but the power of their childhood dream flashing true moved each of them.

Is womanhood for people born male even possible?   I wrote on this in 1998, “The-Guy-In-A-Dress-Line,”  a piece Jamison Green called “Fabulous! A literary tour-de-force.

In my decades, I have seen that the power of womanhood is not in how we can look flawlessly feminine, passing as being born female by concealing much of ourselves, but rather in the choices we make, the way that we let our love and feminine truth flow.   While gay men may have seen Divine as just one of them, reduced to birth sex, at least some women saw her heart, understanding her as powerfully feminine.

Recently, a very popular blogger who spoke for the hobbyist model, for “emulating females,” has announced they are done, signing off their blog.

For many years I read their work, watching their focus on crossdressing and not womanhood.  For example, they recently featured a BBC comedy where a young gay man disguised himself as a crossdresser.  I saw that scene, but it was not that engaging to me, as I watch how the lead woman character carries herself, how they write and dress her.    Woman choices are much more compelling to me than crossdresser choices.

The blogger worked hard to carry a hobbyist model, even merging hobbies so they got to crossdress at other conventions.   Now, though, they are retired, and while they still have a wife with health challenges, I was seeing the pull of emergence work on them as they imagined bonding with women and having relationships with men as a woman.

They are still proud of the terms they introduced to support the hobbyist model, terms a wide audience of men with trans in their hearts engaged, living vicariously even as they dreamed of being more out with their own crossdressing.

That rapt audience, though, and their expectations of emulation, of putting on a mask, rather than of emergence, of breaking out of the egg, letting go of old habits and making the leap to fly, became a burden.   How do you satisfy people who want to live through your exploits when you need to do what terrifies them, being reborn beyond past limits?

The walls of our fort become the walls of our prison.  It becomes time to bust out, even if that is exactly the thing we have been resisting with all our might for so long.

The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
— Anaïs Nin

Blessings in blooming to each of you.

Stow Ick

I am in favour of stoicism.   Learning how to think rather than just feel, to make choices based on balance & priorities rather than just impulse & reaction saved my life.   I believe that as we age, learning to be more stoic helps us be more effective in the role of the parent, the role that helps manage and balance families & communities.

Being forced to be stoic, though, is not a good thing.   In a story about children raised in Scientology, Rolling Stone reveals the cost of demanding stoicism from children.  While adults who enter the program want to be able to not be controlled by emotion, deciding to accept the continuous, grinding demands for discipline & compliance, the children they brought with them never signed up for this rigidity, nor did they need it.

For these now adult children, getting together to mirror each other, affirming their experiences is vital, just as Bessel Van Der Kolk explains in “The Body Keeps The Score.”   Their stories of being unable to easily interact with others who had a childhood, those who don’t understand how existing under fear and threats everyday could have shaped a life.

For me, though, it makes perfect sense.   While I didn’t have a mindset forced upon me, I quickly learned that the only way to protect myself in a family lead by two people with Asperger’s Syndrome was to become stoic, controlling my feelings and using my head.

“Everybody who comes in here explains how people did hurtful or stupid things to them,” a therapist told me.  “The difference is that you go on to explain why they made those choices, explaining their thinking and the pressures they are under.”

Yeah.  I had to model others in my head just to keep myself safe and sane.

The cost for that, though, is very similar to the price the children of Scientology paid, a lost childhood.   Just feeling, trusting, exploring, playing, never was safe.

To me, it felt like a life lived backwards, learning to be stoic first and then trying to go back to learn trust, including trusting my own feelings.   Because I was so out of synch with people around me, though, they had no idea how to engage me.

Stoic behaviour ends up demanding more stoic behaviour.   Because sounded strong, well balanced & smart, people assumed I had no emotions, so they dumped their own drama onto me.   If I then tried to show my feelings, they got upset, assuming I should be the stoic one, taking the brunt.

This cycle continues to this day, with me offering my hard won knowledge, people feeling threatened and then acting out, even if they claimed to be a safe person creating a safe space.  I know I can’t react by showing emotions because they will see that as me denying my better training.

For mental health professionals, teaching stoicism is a key part of the process, helping people move away from emotional reactions to considered responses.  Our freedom does lie in the moment between stimulus and response, so learning how to be beyond old, knee-jerk habits is vital to making better choices and creating positive change.

When you endured compulsory stoicism, though, learning to stay small & controlled, out of touch from your deep human feelings, well, learning more stoic behaviour doesn’t open your heart and unlock your possibilities.   It becomes impossible to blossom.

To me, stoicism is like gender; I’m in favour of both, but against them when they are compulsory, forced upon us by dint of biology or family history.  We are powerful when we manifest our spirit with thoughts & grace, but we are destroyed when pounded into shape.

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
— Gnostic Gospel of Thomas

Stoicism saved me.  It also, as part of a family that could only be survived with it, helped destroy me.  For decades now, I have been writing to share what I had to stow away, but I know that many find it too intellectual on the surface or find it too emotional and deep.

Ah, returning the gift is always the hardest part.