Burnt Smell

There are moments when I can still smell possibility.  Moments like meeting a cool artist at MAC, or moments when I go to an event I helped run last year and see how far people I encouraged have come.

Those moments, though, come with reminders.   I am no longer 28, and even the pastor I worked most closely with last year announced that he forgot who hooked him up with the song he sang. (It was me, just in case you missed the point.)

Every whiff of possibility nowadays always comes with the aroma of burning, of time passed and chances crisped.

Peter Morgan, who writes “The Crown,” explains why season three recast the queen with an older actress by noting that however perfectly you age a younger actor they will never have the inner experience of being battered by time, of feeling the aches in their body and the disconnection from youth.  He needed that truth for his show to work well.

Even at sessions dedicated to creating intergenerational connections within the LGBT population, I have been completely shut down, my truth erased by young people who can’t imagine.  Only the straight, mature woman sitting next to me saw what was happening.

How do I communicate my experience to people who not only haven’t been through it but are also so immersed in the position they need to be in at this stage of their lives that they can’t hear beyond their present experience?

The world has changed for people like me, yes, but the age cohort I am embedded within have not changed as much as the world in general.   Most people haven’t had to do the kind of work I have done, the blossoming and opening, the expansion of understanding and communication.

Every day I get farther and farther away from a place of safety, comfort and understanding.   My possibilities contract and the truth I reflect becomes more and more uncomfortable for people who are trying to stay young and connected.

I know how to be the grown-up, to bite the bullet and do the right thing.   I do this often.

What I don’t know is how to find the connection and understanding which lets me relax and play, feeling like all of me is seen and valued.

For me, this isn’t a new experience.   Growing up with two Asperger’s parents means that I felt unseen and unvalued from a very early age, needing to be able to take care of my family because of their lack of theory of mind.

The fact that I have built up the skills, though, well, it doesn’t mean that the work gets easier.   As I age, alone, my recovery time gets longer, my view darker, my isolation deeper.

I know that my work counts, no matter how much it remains invisible to most.  But I also know that only more work has any chance of breaking me out of this cycle, getting visible in a way that brings rewards and connection, and more work demands more of me than I seem to be able to muster these days.

The wisdom I carry is deep and profound, but when it can only be absorbed in small bites by others, the parcelling itself becomes more effort than it is worth.   I may have spent a lifetime getting a clear vision, a good model of better, but if it takes others a lifetime to grasp and value it, well, I am forever out of synchronization.

Possibilities exist, but the power to grasp them shrinks.   My experience of working with others until I reach their tension point, the place where they have to pull back, to resist what I have to share, to cling to a sense of control, is an experience of having people act out against me, not because I am wrong but because they fear, deeply fear, that I just might be right.   They act out of fear rather than love and I am the one who takes the hit, knowing that they are doing the best they can do, but leaving me needing an ice pack and some aspirin, trying to recover from the blow alone.

None of this is new, of course.   It is laced through my writing over many years.   But the burnt smell feels like it is getting stronger as I seem to have more challenges and less resources to handle them.

I love the idea of new possibilities.  I hate the truth that new failures will be required even try and claim them, with no guarantee that any one will deliver better.

Giving up, though, is giving up.

Choices, choices.

Permission For Authenticity

Who do we need to ask for the permission to reveal what we have been taught to hide?

Hiding the parts of us that don’t fit neatly into the expectations and assumptions of others is hiding we need to do “for our own good,” or at least that’s what we are told from a very early age.

Everyone around us feels entitled to tell us what we are doing wrong, how we are standing out, how we are embarrassing them, how we are making life difficult for ourselves by not simply hiding the parts of us that don’t seem to fit in.

Parents, teachers and especially other children know the rules and want to call us out when we break them, even when we transgress by simply trying to tell the truth about the contents of our own heart.

We may know who we are, but when we face that dragon Joseph Campbell spoke about, the dragon with “Thou Shalt” written on every scale, it becomes easy to lose our own authentic voice.   Those around us who fear that dragon find it easy to demand that we don’t bring unwanted attention to the family; find it right to shame us into playing along to conceal anything that might bring disorder.

Trying to fit in demands we silence the different inside of us, demands we hide our uniqueness, demands we bury what is exceptional about us deep in some locked compartment.   We have to kill off a bit of ourselves to avoid being wrong, have to poison our heart “for our own good.”   We learn to commit ourselves to an experience of suppression, resisting our nature rather than trusting it.

What we have hidden, though, is never gone.   It is always written deep inside our creation, always burning in our soul.   No matter how we try and find commercial substitutes for the red shoes that dance in our own precious  Eros,  our heart still holds who we are.

The gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are, Joseph Campbell tells us, is blooming into ourselves.  As Anaïs Nin wrote:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.

Living never wore one out so much as the effort not to live.

Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat.

Perfection is static, and I am in full progress."
-- Anaïs Nin

Someday, if we are bold, courageous and truthful, we know that we have to blossom. We have to reveal what we tried to hide; have to pull it out into the open where we can sort it out, disposing of the dross and claiming the gold that was always inside us.

Whose permission, though, do we have to get to break open?   Who will support us when instead of hiding all our big, intense, scary and truthful bits, the bits we were told to secrete “for our own good,” we instead start to unpack and explore them, bringing them into the light?

One cannot emerge as transgender and still be “nice.”   We have to break the rules about simple separations, separating male from female, normative from aberrant, appropriate from weird, good from bad and so on.   The boxes that were built to enforce the rules have to be broken.   The dragon with “Thou Shalt” on every scale needs to be slain, all in the quest of going deep and finding authenticity, claiming our own authentic voice, discovering our own authentic gifts and trusting our own authentic truth,

No matter how much we try and run from box to box, struggling to remain concealed in polite social constructions, if we ever had simply fit nicely into any of them we would have relaxed into them long ago.    To blossom is to open, to emerge is to move beyond.

But whose permission can we get to break the rules, to move beyond niceness, to transgress being appropriate, to shatter the expectations & assumptions of others, to transcend the fears of we have internalized, to claim our own authenticity even in the face of those who feel entitled to silence us “for our own good.”

Emergence is messy, just like growth and healing are always messy.   We cannot both shatter the walls that constrain us and clean up that shattered mess at the same time, cannot both breakthrough and stay politely constrained simultaneously.    Our truth will always challenge others, even as we struggle to find what of it is fundamental and what of it is residual pain, working to move beyond the loss and rationalization that comes of working to deny our creation for so long.

To stay afraid of what lies within us, always moderating and attenuating every expression because it might be seen as too inappropriate, too big, too intense or too queer is to stay mired in fear rather than exploring our own authentic self.   For those of us who were pounded into silence, who were shamed into an attempt at invisibility, who were told we had to learn to deny & hide “for our own good,”  that modulation feels like a continuation of the death we learned to play at every day.

The permission to emerge, the permission to break out and to break through isn’t permission that we can find from anyone in polite society.   There is no right way to explore your own gifts or to claim your own authenticity.   Each one of us has to find that balance for ourselves.

The permission to be who we are in our hearts comes not from social rules or identity politics, but from the spark of creation that we have always carried deep inside of us.   We co-create our life, but only when we move beyond “Thou shalt” to discover who we really are, sharing that deep understanding by acting from a place of authenticity in the world, even when that authenticity isn’t nice or polite.

Moving beyond the fear of not fitting in, the fear of not being able to hide, the fear of shining in the world with an authentic truth is not easy or simple.   It is a place of loneliness, a path that demands balance between assimilation and standing proud.

There will always be those who feel entitled to try and silence authenticity that they find scary or ugly or inappropriate.  Rather than affirming diverse truth, they will work to enforce the beliefs that comfort them.

Yet some people will always choose to shine, to claim and show their authentic truth.   It is these people we need to remember and support as they search for a truth that moves them beyond separations to enlighten the bright connections that touch us all beyond the limiting boxes of niceness.

(Written in mind of Transgender Day Of Remembrance 2019, #TDOR201

Simple Comfort

As the manager of a MAC cosmetics counter, Sarah understands trans in a simple and powerful way.

Trans is a need to be comfortable in your own skin by showing who you are on the inside on the outside.

Simple, yes.   And also very complicated, because to do that, we have to negotiate all the myriad things that cause us discomfort.

This means that discussing trans turns into a discussion of what causes us discomfort and the tools we have to build to negotiate a society where group identities, belief systems, imposed stereotypes and binary “us vs them” assumptions shape and limit the ways others can be seen.

I know that my life and my work has focused on using my mind to address the systems and limits which say that trans discomfort is good, right and proper, along with understanding and exposing the strategies that transpeople use to justify and rationalize their own trans expression while still attempting to cling onto normalcy.

But Sarah, well, she looked into my eyes — “those eyes!” —  saw who I was and she wanted to help me feel more comfortable and powerful facing the world, just like she would with any other woman who came to her counter.

It felt simple, affirming and amazing.  Thank you, Sara.

This doesn’t always happen.   I’ve had MAC artists who I could see try and figure out if I was a drag queen or a crossdresser, needing a label to guide them.   I’ve even had those who told me I educated them, even if I wasn’t ready to hear that.

The moment of simple comfort of being seen and accepted beyond boundaries is so rare for transpeople that it can often seem impossible.   Even in LGBTQI spaces, having to claim our identity within expectations is usually demanded and when we challenge identity assumptions we are erased and diminished.

Trans, at least at heart, is not a considered choice.   It reflects an inner knowledge, a core truth,  the powerful Eros of our heart.   Our trans nature just is, at least until we hit society and then puberty and then the rest of the demands of a culture in love with either/or.

Trans expression, though, is always a very considered choice, squeezed out into shapes that feel socially mandated: drag, sissy, crossdresser, transsexual and so on.   Pick a box and squeeze yourself to fit in it, often demanding to be seen in the way we think we should be seen.  Explicate yourself!

My life has been much more a consideration of trans than an expression of it.   Claiming how I identify was more important than just being who I am.  Rational descriptions of my current position, assertions that justified my choices are more important than the choices themselves.  I had to be on guard for any challenge that took away my standing, had to weave between identities that others claimed ownership of, had to respect the beliefs of those around me as they judged not my choices but rather whatever motivations behind those choices they assigned to me.

I was expected to base my comfort not on how I showed my nature but rather on how well I could explain my choices, not on my essence but rather on the conceptual structures I built around that essence, not on who I am but rather on how well I could make others comfortable with my choices.  Finding comfortable armour was much more valued than that ultimate trans surgery, pulling the stick out of your own ass.

Based on their own internalized system of what is right and correct, others first assigned me a box and then kept me there, adding details as they needed to.   Guy-In-A-Dress?   Check!  After all, what else could I be?  My every choice was seen as a political act.

Sara, though, looked into my eyes and knew what I was: just another woman wanting to look better and feel better about herself.   The truth was right there for her to see.

It’s easy for others to respond to my armour and what they need to believe is behind it.   It is often difficult for them to respond to the girl who has been trapped behind this trans-defence, stuck in a male body and the expectations dumped on it for a long, lonely life.   I know why I carry the armour, know why I have spent years trying to reduce it, working to show what is inside me, but I also know that whatever I do, I am going to be subject to the internalized assumptions of my audience.

Many transpeople get angry and lash out at other transpeople who seem to be setting up expectations and rationalizations that we find onerous, heavy to carry as they create noise in what we are trying to express.  For me, it is important to stay compassionate to all expressions, knowing that underneath whatever justifications they wear, every transperson is just trying to tell some deep and profound truth about their life.  (I will admit that when their stance is to deny that essential truth — “I’m just doing it for the show” or “Just having fun” or “Not really queer!” or “I fixed my birth defect, so I’m cured!” or such– I do find that posture very irritating.)

I know that I am supposed to be a grown up and deal with the world in a grown up manner, having a thick skin and striving to be “appropriate” in all my choices rather than pushing people’s buttons and challenging their comforting beliefs in separation and motives.   I can do that, but only at the cost of wrapping my essence in so much damn tip-toeing around that I lose touch with any power or beauty.

There are moments, though, such rare moments, when someone like Sara looks into my eyes and sees through my history and biology to the tender essence within.

Trans is a need to be comfortable in your own skin by showing who you are on the inside on the outside.

Simple, yes.   And also very complicated, because to do that, we have to negotiate all the myriad things that cause us discomfort.  We end up bound in armour.

But not, thankfully, to some precious people like Sarah.