Bloody Magic

Magic, from the outside, looks magical.  Bam!  Poof!  Alacazam!  Transformation happens, amazement ensues, and everybody is happy!

Is there any wonder why people who never really wanted to be a tranny in the first place (2006) dream of that kind of magic happening in their lives?  They want the magical transformations that they imagined, and dammed be anyone who challenges that dream, who bursts that balloon, seeming to steal their dreams.

Real magicians, though, from stage illusionists to shamans, know that magic is always damn hard work.  Someone has to fold themselves up tiny in the box, or go on the dream quest, or be there when people time and time again come for healing.   Lots of time, effort, blood, sweat and tears go into mastering magic, into making it look effortless and elegant.

Magical thinkers, though, get very upset when reality intrudes on their need to believe.   They cling to fundamental tenets, thrashing to silence anyone who tries to reveal the hard, human truths behind the mysteries that they crave.   They can’t speak from experience, sharing their truths, they can only speak from desire, desperately trying to wall off their dreams from the scary pull of cold reality.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda, is compelling stuff.  It’s easy to think that the pressures which affect you are just wrong and the world needs to change to satisfy your imagined perfection, avoiding any discomfort you sense.   The way things should be is easy to imagine, and if only everyone else would just do it correctly, the way you say, everything could be great, with no reason to look back and have to face our less than perfect choices.   After all, if you and your peers all agree, how can you ever be wrong?

No matter how magical anyone else looks to you, change is hard, taking time and work.  We live in a tangible world where every choice has a cost and nothing comes for free.   To go one way means not going another, at least for now, facing the discomfort and prices that need to be paid.   If you understand it or not, the world works the way it does for a reason, usually for considerations that are only revealed with time and effort.    As nice as you think it might be if the world were simpler, if others seemed to think more like you, they have reasons for their choices, often good reasons.

Magic may not come from taking a short cut in the world but instead from understanding it so well that you can polish your skills to create change, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t magic.    The power of transformation is magical, even if it comes from discipline, precision, learning and commitment.

Many want to know the secrets to the magic, but magicians have learned not to give out the secrets.  Some think that silence is a kind of elitism, but anyone who has struggled to learn any kind of magic knows that the only way to be able to make magic is to own your own magic.   There is no simple secret to magic and when muggles learn that, they are often upset or angry.   Even when they are told the truths behind creation they don’t understand the path to the power, instead wanting to have their magical thinking validated and affirmed.

This is one reason why so many transpeople who have claimed their own magical emergence just go silent and fade back into the woodwork, not wanting to be attacked by fundamentalists as demons or by wishers as dream destroyers.   People don’t really want to see the hard work that goes on behind the curtain, instead preferring just to hold magic as something outside of the truth of sweaty, bloody, struggling humanity.

I always loved magic, but I never fell into believing that there were magical solutions to human challenges that created change without work or manifested transformation without discipline, loss and suffering.   “Grant me the courage to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

People heal and grow in their own time and their own way.   For people like my Aspergers parents, change was always slow and difficult because they just didn’t have the theory of mind to get out of their own way and learn from those around them.   Their patterns were solid and fixed and if the world didn’t understand, well, that was the world’s fault.

I needed magic, though, needed it badly.  I had to gain a clearer view, see the patterns, understand the emotions and work the process if I wanted to get comfortable in my own too queer, too smart, too visceral skin.

From my earliest days, I was the target patient in the family, the scapegoat everyone called “Stupid,” identifying issues and trying to find a better way.   This lead me to the role of wounded healer, the kind of magician who finds miracles, new ways of seeing, inside of struggle.

In my breeches role as concierge, magic was part of the mandate, understanding what those I loved needed before they did and making sure I offered it up to them.   Like any shaman, I crossed boundaries they saw as solid, entering their world to offer bits of comfort and wisdom that could support their growth and healing, no matter how slow they went and how much patience that meant I had to magically muster up.

I don’t talk about bloody magic to bash the magical dreams of others.   I talk about bloody magic because that is the gift that other wise humans have passed to me, bits of stories from their path that helped me find and own my own path to whatever magic I could scrape up in this finite world.

Before and after may always seem like magic, but all magicians know that it is the between where the work and mastery come in.   That process can only be entered, though, if you let go of magical thinking, wishing for easy & instant, and engage the real work of bloody magic.

Bisexual Pride Bit

Was challenged to write a bisexual pride bit for someone. . .

When I was first coming out, I knew that my desire -- my love -- didn't fit neatly in one box or another.   It crossed boundaries that many around me saw as fixed and hard, like somehow the world was defined by either/or, by one or the other, by dark and light, by truth and shadow.

At that time, I thought that this meant that I was bisexual.

As I started to explore my own desire -- my Eros -- I started to let go of standard patterns of relationships.   Moving beyond gender conventions that trapped me and everyone else into "knowing" what people should be because of their reproductive biology, their genitals, I found pleasure and power in taking people as I met them, embracing them as individuals rather than assuming who they "should" be.

At that time, I thought this meant I was bisexual.

Freeing up my love didn't just free my choice of partners, it freed up my mind, my expectations and my own heart.   I was able to explore my own nature, reflected through the kaleidoscope of those I met who were open to the possibilities inherent in the rainbow of humanity.   I moved beyond my own expectations of who I could be, performing new ways of being loving in the world.

At that time, I thought this meant I was bisexual.

The emergence of my own feminine heart led me to a wider public expression of my own truth, my essence affirmed and supported by those who loved beyond boundaries.   As a transgender woman, I knew that my lovers had to be in touch with their own bisexuality, able to love all of me beyond gender boundaries, meeting me as the individual that I am just as I met them beyond projecting my own expectations on them.

Today, I know that means I am bisexual, needing love beyond boundaries and assumptions.

Bisexuality allowed me to explore the rainbow, not just the rainbow in my partners, but also the rainbow in my own heart.  Bisexuality gave me the ground and the confidence to claim my own nature even where it crosses conventions, and my bisexual partners are able to transcend, to love someone as they are, not just as how we would have them be.

I know that I am bisexual because I own the rainbow in my own heart and because I delight in the unique rainbows I find in my partner's hearts.   

That's why we are here today, because transcendent bisexuality means we celebrate the rainbow in every heart, celebrate the rainbow in our own heart.

Today I know that I am bisexual because I let the rainbow in my heart shine, because I see the rainbow in your heart too.

Are you ready to be bisexual and own the rainbow?

Divine Discomfort

We humans are very, very good at avoiding discomfort.   We know very well how to stay inside our comfort zone, no matter how small, how twisted or how limiting our habits and expectations have made that space.

Discomfort, though, is required for growth.   If we only do what we are already comfortable doing, instead listening to the resistance of our ego, nothing will ever change.  After all, the only way change can come is when it starts with new choices by one human, usually you.

We can always find reasons not to expand our life, not to risk, not to take a chance, not to face potential embarrassment and discomfort.   It is easy to surrender to our own inertia, to be too tired or have too little hope, to just continue making the same choices while complaining that nothing ever changes.

That critical voice inside has a point.   We do need to be smart about where we use our energy, our resources, not just taking shots that use our wherewithal up or lead us to believe that change is impossible.   Spitting into the wind rarely gets us happy rewards.

But as long as we avoid discomfort, we avoid even the chance of finding the divine surprise, that moment when our vision opens and we see the love, the awesome,. the possibilities of better in the world.    We miss the miracle of seeing with new eyes, scales falling away while beauty and potential is revealed.

It’s impossible to be in the right place at the right time if you just aren’t anywhere at all.   Braving discomfort, risking change rather than just working to avoid loss is required.

Do one thing everyday that scares you,”  Mary Schmich advised graduates.   Its the only way to expand your horizons, to really find out what you have inside, to claim that gift of a lifetime that Joseph Campbell spoke about, becoming who you really are.

I know that for me, it is again time to come out of my basement hermitage and take the risk of exposing my nature, of trying again.   I have been licking at my wounds long enough.

Performance Anxiety (PA), often known as stage-fright, is an old friend of mine, as it is for most performers.   If you aren’t a bit excited, you don’t have the energy you need.

For me, though, what I need from performance isn’t simple.   My performance is far from conventional, challenging to many, and baffling to others.  I will never neatly fit into expectations and the kind of engagement I need will never come from simply affirming pleasantries.   My distance from simplicity and cuteness makes me exceptional, like so many others.

Still, I am human and I need connection with other people.   Few may get the joke, but if I decide to value momentary comfort over exposing my truth, how will I ever find anyone who understands, who cares, who wants to play?   Only braving my own discomfort, moving beyond fears & assumptions, can allow me to be present for others and possibly, just possibly, have them be present for me.

If my experience with PA teaches me anything it is that first showing myself is always the hardest part.   Once I relax into presence beyond fear, my reflexes take over, letting me appear in a way that most would call natural or authentic.

In other words, it’s not the work that is hard, it is finding a way to open up and get into the swing, the patterns of the work.   If I just stop resisting, doors open up and I can receive the gifts waiting for me, even if those gifts include hints on how to be better and stronger the next time.

Entering the discomfort, then, is the only way to get smarter and more myself.   The only way out of hell is through, as someone said.

For me, the people I want to meet are those who are also on a journey of discovery, open to the divine surprises they find along their path.   When others take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings, rather than seeing someone to blame or demonize, they commit to connection rather than separation.

Travellers always step out of their comfort zone, knowing that anything that doesn’t surprise, disquiet and challenge them, at least a bit, is something that they already own.    Curiosity drives seekers, rather than the simple sensation that tourists desire.   Transformation always has a cost and a value, setting us apart from those we come from, while sensation just entertains, allowing us to return satiated to the everyday norms.

Working to expand our knowledge and awareness can only come with the embrace of discomfort.   We may want to grow our mastery, learning to be more precise and effective, or to engage questions, even questions we had never considered in the past, but whatever expansion we desire, discomfort lies on the path.

Avoiding discomfort is avoiding the hard work of growth and healing.  We trade momentary ease for a more limited future.

I know that if I want a more full future that my only chance demands that I open the door and push into the discomfort that stands between here and the possibilities that lie in the treasures of divine surprises.    Avoiding those surprises through avoiding discomfort is avoiding the gifts life has waiting for me.

The youthful exuberance and resilience I once had is gone, replaced now with more wisdom.  I need to choose where and when I push through discomfort rather than just bouncing about, hoping to find an opening.

Between love and fear, choose love, opening to connection rather than closing down to pretend separation.   Have the courage to change what you can, the serenity to accept what you cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

But always know that to get the most out of life, choosing to push into discomfort is the only way to go beyond where you are now, to make new and better choices that offer the blessings of divine surprise.

Carry That Weight

Who would I be without the burdens that I have learned to carry?

How the hell should I know?

Part of the whole construct/deconstruct/rebuild ethos of rebirth is looking deeply at the ideas you carry, at the expectations and beliefs that are contained in your stories, and discarding those that you can.   To become new we must clear out the old, but not at the cost of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.   Something must be worth holding on to.

I am aware that I do not discard enough in my life.   Intellectually, that is easy to know, but emotionally, in a life full of hoarding scraps, of protecting what I have scraped together, well, letting go is easier said than done.   I know loss very well, being used to having what I value removed, so discarding isn’t easy.

I know that objects and symbols are not meaning, that their power comes from the stories attached to them, but those tales form the bedding I nest in every night. New possibilities always seem to come with new burdens, weights that feel more oppressive than the bundles I have already learned to carry.

With my low levels of latent inhibition, I have always been more of a saver than a tosser, knowing that keeping lets me find patterns, giving me the possibility of having what I need in the future.    Still, I deeply process what I save, looking to work through the emotions as much as I can using my patented rational filter, the one I built in childhood to keep my feelings in check by processing and understanding the choices I saw (and felt) people making around me.

Emotion, though, doesn’t leave just because you understand its context and its roots.   The body keeps the score, as Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk reminds us.

The weight I hold isn’t in my mind, it is held deep in my body, trapped emotions, pervasive hyper-vigilance, crippling angst, creeping fear.  “That poor, twisted man.  But don’t the suit fit nice?

Solitary rationality just can never touch that residual emotion.  Yet, that residual emotion is so sharp that it makes it difficult to touch, especially for people who never touch their emotion except in sanitized packages like workshops and Hallmark movies.   Raw is raw, and only those who have pushed through their own hell can possibly enter yours.

Eating emotions, though, does not release them.   The body still keeps the score.

As a woman, a caretaker, I do the work of engaging the emotions of others, mirroring, contextualizing and reinforcing them.   I enter their world to support them, but as a trans person who is a child of Aspergers, finding people who can enter my world has been well neigh impossible.

A burden unshared is a burden multiplied.

For those of us on a solitary path solitary burdens abound.  My personal Transgender Day Of Remembrance (TDOR) piece from last year was called “Burden of Remembrance”  in which I listed all the things I was taught to remember when stepping outside presenting my transgender nature.   One PFLAG mother thanked me for explaining the weight that I feel and she doesn’t notice as a normative person, but a therapist just wondered why I didn’t effectively work the crowd after I presented, seemingly not understanding the burdens I outlined weren’t just rhetorical or hypothetical.  In fact, she later told me I needed to attenuate myself more, cut my voice back so as not to challenge others, wanting to add more weight on me.

Who would I be without the burdens that I have learned to carry?

How the hell should I know?

I just don’t have the eyes or the perspective to see myself objectively, to look beyond my burdens to my possibilities.   For the people I care about, I always mirror them so they can see both their potential and the things they do that block that potential.    Using witty reminders of choices made, choices that created better results and choices that didn’t work so well, I offer them encouragement, a clear “Yes!” to moving beyond fear and shining in the world.

Seeing beyond convention takes work.  One of the first steps is to develop language to describe what most people take for granted, their own expectations of normativity.   Until you can express your vision, you cannot change it.  After that, learning to see the range of possibilities, even possibilities which you would never, ever choose for yourself, enables a glimpse of options to be offered.

I know that even when I ask people to tell me what they see and what can be changed, their normative assumptions limit what they can say.   So much of me remains invisible, unseen and unspoken, outside of the bounds of vision.

The stories I carry, the truths I have boiled down, the foundations I have dug down to, are vital to me.   Dropping them because others just find them to be meaningless noise is not an option.

Until I can trust that others carry some of my valuables, though, figuring out what burdens I can successfully drop, what weight I can shed, is very, very difficult if not impossible.

Yet, dropping some of the weight I carry is clearly the best thing for me.   I know that.

Who would I be without the burdens that I have learned to carry?

How the hell should I know?

I guess, though, I should find out.

Alluring Aspirations

Girls learn early that the best way to enact the woman they want to be is to copy women who seem to embody their own aspirations.   Gender may be a copy with no original, as Butler said, but the copying, the copying is an essential and driving part of womanhood.

In the end, women have to end up creating a collage presentation, with a little bit of one role model, a lot of another and a scattering of family & community influences, but copying, seeing what fits, keeping the best and looking for better is deeply embedded.   This is why women, unlike men, love looking at magazines and shows filled with images of other women, stylish women to read, women to judge, women to reject and women to copy.

Forming cliques of other women — other girls — who look like you, act like you and think like you is foundational to creating identity.   Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda knew how to be smart single girls in the city, and so they created a pack, one millions of other women dreamed of joining.

I know what women hold images that call to me, who have shards of style that I want to own, including in my own presentation.   Joanna Gleason, for example, is a woman whose cool smarts have always appealed to me.

What I never knew, though, is how I could become those women.     The limits of my own typecasting, from body to history, seemed to create an immutable wall that just trapped my heart under the weight of simple divisions.

Women bond over aspirations, over dreams, desires and role models.   When you are separated from those shared possibilities, you are separated from gender.  I sure as hell never wanted to be an attractive man, and was sure that I could never be an attractive woman, so what the hell was left to weave me into the networks of dream sharing friends?

When I read about women who left behind medical care to follow a fraud who claimed to have found the secret to resisting cancer while staying lovely,  I know why women were so attracted to the aspirational dream she offered, even if it was a lie.   I know why Kate Bornstein read the TV hosts so as to say that she found David Duchovny attractive, knowing that women bond over shared crushes.

We live in a world of “infuencers” who offer dreamy faces of a “perfect” life for women to swoon over, imagining being that woman, in that place.   It is the reason women have always loved romance novels where they can be almost as swept away as the heroines, taken to a dreamed about world of beauty.

If I can’t be swept away because I have learned that those dreams are verboten to people like me, how can I join the crowd that shares aspirations?   How can my enforced “hyper-sanity,” the solitary isolation I had to navigate with rationality, ever let me simply be part of the group?   How can I dream of being like them when I know the only damn thing I can be is more myself?

It is powerful to know that the gift of a lifetime is becoming yourself, but having to do that too early and for too long is very isolating.  I may be comfortable with having God as an audience, as she knows my heart and sees my choices, but having others to hang with, to have my back, to know me in messy, earthly ways seems to be a compelling thing too.

Worse, I know that the best way to build a following, an audience, is to be aspirational, offering attractive images to others.   Until and unless they want to emulate bits of you, they don’t see much point in listening to you.   Knowing I have never been slim and pretty means knowing that many have rejected me as any sort of life model, not wanting to look like me or end up like me.

Pretty packages, well, women have always known that they are the best way to get people to engage and accept your gifts, to draw you into their awareness.

Seeming authoritative is easy for me after 25 years of deeply exploring the meaning of life and queerness, but that appearance both lets me touch some while many others feel the need to reject what I offer.   The fight inside of them against what they find challenging is easy to externalize onto me, feeling that if they can just silence me they can silence their inner fears and knowledge.  Not having assurance in their own choices, just being able to thoughtfully express their own point of view, erasing challenges seems easier and simpler.

It is good to know that what I say can often stick in the memory, coming up years later to inform and support new choices, but having to be rejected in the moment, often with upset acting out, well, that doesn’t make me feel safe as a girl.  I may know that they are fighting with themselves, externalizing inner battles, but that doesn’t stop many from kicking out to wound and silence.

I carry many of the same aspirations as any woman, especially to have partners who share and support my dreams, helping take care of each other’s needs.

Those aspirations, though, were first crushed many years ago, and have been further worn down by age, experience and awareness.  The part of me that was never allowed to be a girl may still be vibrant in my heart, but the rest of me has grown even as she has been flattened.

Who can I dream of being?   What shards can I show, cobbling together beauty, strength and vulnerability?   How can love find those who have an unlovable surface?

Can I ever aspire to be alluring?


Over the years I have written a number of character sketches of “Callan” in this space.  Most of these were meant as a kind of marketing exercise; could I shape a description of someone who would be strong, focused and attractive to connect with?

The art of marketing is oversimplification, as Ries & Trout reminded us, so all of these profiles described a kind of face shown to the world, a public visage that didn’t show all of my tumultuous thoughts, all the struggle of my history, all the raw and still bloody emotions which still drive my work as a wounded healer.

If I could just define such a well defined and transcendent character, I should be able to play that character, right?

What I found, though, is that while I could show the world a carefully edited part of me, an elegant façade, keeping that face up was quite a chore.    Without a well developed support system, a backstage area where I could let my hair off, the deeper parts of me bubbled to the top, seeping out as if they were laced with Olestra.

In the well polished concierge role that I shaped to take care of my parents and others around me, a thick skin and a focus on the needs of others is easy, all part of the act.   It was just an extension of the breeches role I created to act as a guy in the world, a way to have a feminine heart and a male body while still staying connected with people I loved.   Who cares, though, for the care givers?

Revealing more of that feminine truth, though, feels like being very much too exposed to a world that just doesn’t get the joke, a society which has no way to understand or contextualize the contents of my heart.

How can I both serve by simplification while also having my deeper needs met, rather than just having to hide and compartmentalize them?   It’s a challenge that even trans support spaces couldn’t help me with, leaving me alone again and again.

I remember a crossdresser coming into a meeting and reading a poem from Yeats.

Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
W. B. Yeats - 1865-1939

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.   Yes.  Yes, I understand that deeply.

Today, drag performance is very much in the public eye.   Flaming, genderqueer twisted shows, taking a “let your freak flag” fly moment.   Drag characters are fun and powerful, though they are rarely deep, human and complicated.   I know this because I first came out as a “guy-in-a-dress,” showing a mixed performance in a quest to perform a kind of gynandrony/androgyny.  They remind me of a memory from one ZsaZsa’s husbands, who found it difficult they could not go down to the store or for a walk easily, because she first had to get into full Gabor face.

While drags may brilliantly reveal aspects of humanity, they do it by concealing other parts of their humanity, using the marketing art of oversimplification.   It is fun to watch, bringing attention, but always at some kind of cost that needs to stay hidden for the performance to work.   Never let them see you sweat, you know.

Drag is what I do everyday in my concierge role, a strong exterior which allows my my woman’s eyes to look out, my feminine voice to sneak out, asking the tough questions with a mother’s love.

For me, even today, it is still too painful to reveal a persona that feels like it allows others to tread on my dreams.  How long will I be able to stand strong with a trounced heart and what will it take to heal enough to risk again as I lay all alone in my hermit cave?

Without revelation, though, attracting those who can help me becomes impossible.  Revelation through oversimplification, though, showing a loose and open appearance, is not something that feels like I can master; my depth of vision tends to leak through, sooner or later.

So, what kind of character can I present that both is simple enough to be marketing effective and is also not so constraining that it leaves me crippled, gasping for breath?  How do I reveal the gifts of my journey without being accosted by others who want to silence me into hiding what challenges and discomforts them?

That question has bedevilled me for a few decades now.  It’s why I have written so many character sketches, trying to suss out who I can show myself as in the world to get what I need while serving others.

I have long known both where I am best defended and where my tender, vulnerable spots are.   My power may come from a big, feminine heart, from a deep art, but keeping that protected behind a curmudgeon curtain has kept me functioning as well as I have, keeping meltdowns for private places and times.

Growing organically to find balance is definitely the best plan, but at my age and weight — the history, thoughts and awareness that I carry — that is far from a simple process.   Young and cute and full of promise I ain’t.   People want to know who I am, how they can engage me, how I am like them and what I offer, not feel threatened and overwhelmed by my history and intensity.

I can write an nice Callan.  I can even perform her, at least for a while.

But wiping off all the mess from my life, my being, my presence?

That I don’t know how to do.