Identity Fail

Can you understand, categorize and define me by looking at people with whom I share one attribute?

People identified as male at birth who choose to wear women’s clothing; aren’t they all alike?   Know one and you know them all?

It’s amazing how many who would hate to be pigeonholed because they share an attribute — the sex identified at their birth, for example — seem to lump others together in a way they would reject, would call “sexist.”

Having spent 35 years as an out transperson, I have seen how negative identity definition — “I am not like them!  They are doing it all wrong!  They don’t understand!” — has kept us spinning and blaming.   It becomes very hard to know who you are if you have to keep asserting who you aren’t.

I wrote about this twenty years ago in “The “Guy-In-A-Dress” Line. It’s at the heart of transgender — and why people reject the whole transgender idea.”  Is transformation possible, I pondered, or is the best anyone identified at birth can be “a guy-in-a-dress?”

Since then, my work has been largely ignored in trans circles because I talk about individual responsibility, about owning our queer, about having to enter our own discomfort to find integration and healing.   Others feel the need to ignore or reject me because what I say doesn’t fit their view, is politically incorrect, too intellectual, too emotional, too challenging so therefore must be wrong.

It is easy for me to look at transpeople and see where they need healing, need to move beyond their own blocks and gain a wider, more whole picture.   Sissies, drags, crossdressers, transsexuals almost always have deliberate blindspots, parts they cannot see or engage without threatening their standing and comfort, so they resist.

Being forced to somehow “prove” I am not like them, that somehow they got their choices “wrong” while mine are “right” is a reactionary exercise in identity politics.   “Calling out” others who are struggling to own their own nature, a nature stigmatized, marginalized and oppressed by a binary-loving culture — “Are they this or are they that? — doesn’t allow space for exploration, growth and healing.

I have been resisting the polarizing, binary pressures of identity politics for over 25 years now.   My call to accept others as individuals, not simply as group members, has always been disquieting to those who want to feel sanctified by identifying an enemy, some group that is the problem and needs to change in the way we demand.

“I have met the enemy and he is us,” as Walt Kelly’s Pogo said so long ago.

The only person we can change in this world is ourself.  That’s not easy to hear when the people around you find it so easy to find people to blame.   After all, if you don’t go along with them, then they may start blaming you, exerting social pressure to either bring you around to their beliefs or cast you out.

I hate being lumped in with others who I know are very different than me just because of a happenstance of birth an a choice or two.   That processes me erases who I am, denies the work I have done, makes my truth invisible, all to satisfy those who defend binaries.

“Well, if you do this, you must be that, and any claim to being different is just a dammed lie.”   There is nothing I can do to change that binary assessment as it reduces me to a stereotype in a way that most people would hate to be reduced.

The moment I you stop seeing me as an individual is the moment you stop acknowledging your own individuality, the ways that you transcend the expectations you know were lumped onto you.   Tar others with a big brush and you are just asking to be tarred in the same way.

Learning not to be triggered by such reductionist shots is not easy.   We know we are being attacked, that our life is being made harder every time someone reduces people like us to just an object of mockery.   It is easy to understand the separation response of “It’s them who are bad, not me!” comes so quickly, why this kind of identity diminishment creates in-fighting and defensive behaviours that stop us from moving beyond to see connections, boldly facing our own shared humanity.

Can you understand, categorize and define me by looking at people with whom I share one attribute?   Am I nothing but a common member of a group you created by finding and asserting some either/or binary?

Is it my job to try and prove to you that I am not whatever you assert me to be by creating some other line in the sand, some constructed division that separates the real from the fake, the good from the bad?    The number of transsexual women who had genital surgery just to “prove” they were really “female” is huge, but many of them found that their “blood sacrifice” meant nothing; they were still lumped in with whoever their enemies wanted to tar.

I am an individual.   I cross boundaries, transcend assumptions, connect that which many want to see as unconnectable.  It’s the same job trans shamans have been doing across history and across cultures, reminding us of our continuous common humanity.

I am, also, an exhausted individual, tired of the expectations imposed on me, of the demands others make to maintain comforting binaries, of the way people reject my gifts because to accept them would demand they open their eyes, minds and hearts to their own individual responsibility in the world.

Being stigmatized is painful, as women who fought for equal rights know.

Stigmatizing others, though, often just seems “common sense” to maintain comforting separations.

It’s just something that I, as one who needs to support the possibility of growth, healing and transformation in the world, know is plain selfish, small minded and wrong.

Gift Of A Lifetime

I thank God for the gifts she gave me.

I curse her — with wit — over the situations I was in where I needed to use them, to develop them, to master them.

Everyone has healing gifts, unique skills to offer the community, filling needs and creating better.

Only those who have had to face their own wounds, though, have really had to engage and own those gifts.    Wounded Healers.

The basic premises of being a good human have never been secret.    Joseph Campbell could look at myths, the stories of creation & growth, across time and cultures to find the threads that run across the human experience, the truths that connect us.

Getting beyond our ego, though, moving beyond comforting & illusory walls of separation, past the conventions of fitting in, of chasing what we are told should make us happy, well, that has always been hard.   It takes a willingness to trust your own truth, standing for yourself to slay the scary dragon with “Thou Shalt” on very scale.

My Aspergers parents didn’t know their own feelings, so they often acted out without an understanding of themselves and others.   I was the squeaky wheel, trying to help get the family right, so I was also the target of their frustration and anger.

I had to understand early my parents motives in attack or neglect, knowing that they loved and needed me even when they made me crazy or hurt me.   They could only do what they could do and I had to do the rest.

That’s one place my gift of being present for others comes from.

From a very young age I knew that my inner knowledge of myself as feminine, whatever this beefy body telegraphed was queer to others.   As much as I scraped for understanding, context and support, it didn’t exist.

I had to dive deep into rules around sex and gender, understanding taboos and why they existed, and searching for solutions that could be used to liberate from tight gender boundaries.  There were no effective off-the-shelf solutions.

That’s one place my gift of theology, of being able to understand and evaluate the stories we use to function in the world comes from.

There are times that I wish my gifts were cuter, less demanding of both me and others.   Yet, I know that these are the gifts I needed to survive and that no matter how much the leave me porcupine spikey, they are gifts that others have found value in.    The spines I leave stick and that irritation often leads to deeper healing.

For example, I may have been cut out of this years Transgender Day Of Remembrance event as being too old, too loud and too un-PC, but in attending I saw voices I brought out last year develop, heard my words read back to me and a song I found finish the event.   I was present, even if people were trying to cut me out.

The challenges I faced in my life were hard.   The solutions I had to find went deep to challenge everything.   That means the gifts I own aren’t pretty pebbles but instead big boulders to be used as tools for big jobs.   I challenge, I fight, I illuminate, I hurt.   It is, well, a gift.

I thank God for the gifts she gave me even as I rue the struggles that demanded I own them.   Yet trying to reject the challenges that demand your own gifts, resisting calling to the point of self-destruction, isn’t that the big drama in every human life?   We want it both ways, both tamely comfortable & pretty and wildly strong & unique.

And today, I find a bit of warmth in the idea that somehow, the gifts I worked so hard to own may have just given some help to somebody sometime.

Blessings on owning your own gifts.

Price Of Prophecy

All you need to do to be a prophet is to listen more to the still, small voice of your creator, leading from the voice that transcends nice, compliant normalcy.

This doesn’t necessarily make you a good prophet, as the voice you hear might be twisted, dark, ego laden, full of pain & vengeance and rather satanic.  It is up to you to get clear on if the voice is coming from the dark side or the light side, working to get right with some higher understanding.   Joseph Campbell reminds us that most human myths contain the same shared knowledge, awareness resisted because of the cost of claiming demanding truth over isolating comfort.

Still, when you drop out of social norms, resisting the pressure to play along, standing for something deeper and more powerful, you have to pay the price of a prophet in the world.

That price, of course, is loneliness.  You can’t both be a happy member of the crowd, just following the group and stand proud for some inner truth at the same time.

Being a prophet requires you to lead, somehow, finding people who will stand with you, valuing the unique voice that you offer.

This is when prophecy can go bad, when you decide to tell the people what they want to hear, offering a message of separation, of fear, of us versus them, of insiders and outsiders, of rationalized entitlement of believers and attack of challengers.    It is always much easier to energize the ego than to demand personal enlightenment, ask for individual responsibility, engage challenge and act from embracing love.

Still, even when you lead and are valued for leading, you still speak against the status quo, still open yourself up to personal attacks, and still come from a place of unique experience and knowledge.   These are the truths of a prophet, the facts of following that still, small voice within.

Trans emergence is always a very individual journey, a path beyond gendered expectations and towards expressing a personal truth that comes from deep within.   Even when we just dream of moving from one box to another, just going that route across the divide takes us across no-man’s/no-woman’s land, a place where we have only our internal compass to guide us.

No trans kid goes to bed at night dreaming of being a prophet.   We dream of being seen, being beautiful, being strong, being loved.  It’s when we realize that we have to be a prophet, listening to that voice inside and walking on our own journey away from expectations to what we understand to be integration and wholeness that we begin to resist the calling, usually the beginning of getting very, very good at resisting and temporizing.

I have been listening to the voices of prophets recently.

David Blight’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Frederick Douglass, Prophet Of Freedom,” gives deep insight into the cost of being a prophet in the world, fighting resistance even from people who claim to support what you are fighting for.

Caitlyn Jenner made global headlines for being alone when she crossed the bridge out of “I’m a Celebrity! Get Me Out Of Here!” Even people who don’t understand the experience of being trans in the world saw the loneliness of someone whose family needs to stay stuck in profitable routines rather than be there for someone who was there for them.

And ShamanGal has been dealing with the family of a school friend who hung himself.   As one of the only people from that old crowd to take the journey into self-knowledge and self-expression, she can understand why this veteran carried his wounds silently rather than doing the work of breaking out of family routine to explore his personal hell. She has been there, doing a eulogy and personal support for those who have stayed stuck, having to process her own feelings of isolation and invisibility even while serving others as best she can.

The price of prophecy is high.  Gaining a clear vision of the world as we go through our own hell  — the only way out of hell is through — means that our sight is forever changed, annealed in the fire that burns away rationalization. Once your eyes have been opened, though, the thought of going back to insistent ignorance seems not only impossible but very painful.

“We are a full service medical organization,” a therapist said to me many years ago.  “I can check off a box on this form to get you a lobotomy.  Is that what you really want?”

His joke touched a truth.   I  have paid much too much for my hard earned awareness to simply lose it now.

This is why any seemingly simple solution where I surrender my individual voice to a group identity, no matter how nice or plush that membership may seem, is just impossible for me, no matter how lonely, isolated, or hermetic I feel in the moment.

To be a prophet is to try and return the gift of enlightenment to a world that doesn’t want upset or change.   The challenge of being both tame, a well integrated member of the community, and wild, with a unique and vibrant voice, is a massive challenge that costs many prophets just altogether too much blood & spirit.

I remember a fellow at a yoga retreat I was forced into telling me that I seemed like a prophet and from what he read,  god puts prophets through hard times.   Now, I know, though, that god is a constant comfort to prophets, but society knows how to put them through hard times.

All you need to do to be a prophet is to listen more to the still, small voice of your creator, leading from the voice that transcends nice, compliant normalcy.

The price of leading with profound, deep, different and challenging truth, though, always comes with a very high cost.

Thank creator, then, that there have always been some willing to do it, to serve a wider world by sharing a hard won vision,