Playing Alone

“Have you ever found people to play with you?” she asked, following a support group we facilitated where I had brought out my inner Southern Belle, going all Sugarbaker to talk about the importance of play to discover our shadow selves.

“You must have played alone a great deal as a child,” echoed in my mind, asked by a gal with whom I took a course in early childhood development in my freshman year of college.

Telling my sister about the question, she immediately understood.  “No, you never had a group to play with,” she remembered, reflecting on a lifetime.

From its beginning in 2005, the tagline on this blog has been “The Loneliness of a Long-Lost Tranny.”    That loss and the resulting loneliness comes from one place,  a deficit of mirroring which directly comes from the lack of safe play pals, of people who not only get the joke but affirm and extend it.

If you invest enough time and effort, some say, others will catch up to you, creating understanding and connection.   This only works, though, if you stay fixed, offering a point they can find.   I am unable to stay still, though — always hopping — which also means the distance to my viewpoint is a moving target.   My continuing creative play is always exploring, always enlightening, always expanding & renewing my vision.

I love entering the stories of others, sensing our shared world through their experiences, their own eyes, ears and hearts.   This is the way I gain a wider view, engaging the surprises of other voices, other visions.

Yet I have been unable to get a clear understanding of my own possibilities through this engagement.   When I walk in the world, I don’t know how I am seen, of how I can express myself in new and graceful ways with confidence and assurance.   The lack of mirroring drives me to silence & avoidance, falling back on old patterns rather than trusting that my own blossoming is visible and beautiful.   Assurance fails me, so I go back to the strategy I learned so very long ago when I was so very young, playing alone.

Taking care of others, reflecting them from my concierge role comes by habit, but being cared for beyond what I know is seen as my own intense, overwhelming and prickly nature, just isn’t in my experience.   People grow and heal in their own time, focusing on their own challenges, not being able to enter mine.

My play is always queer, not just repeating patterns but searching for new.   I need the surprising, the witty, the cutting.   Exploring is play for me, creating beyond expectation.   “Make Me Laugh, Think or Come” said the old t-shirt, and while I have had to pass on one of those options, that makes me more passionate about the other two.

Playing stops me from fitting neatly into some predetermined role, instead staying liminal, in the doorways which offer connection.   It is that play which kept me alive and aware, even when the world — and my family — seemed to want to crush me.

I couldn’t easily play with the boys or with the girls, and couldn’t play with others who couldn’t understand my family experience.

Not having anyone to play with, though, has left me very alone, profoundly lonely and a bit lost.

We each need someone to back our play, to play straight,to throw a flag on the play, guiding us back into safer spaces.     The sparks off interactions open us up, melting our fears and taking into new possibilities.

Not having those kinds of people, I tend to stay as invisible as possible, simply pulling on jeans and polo shirts.  We costume ourselves for other people, identity, competence, attraction and more coming into play, but if you aren’t going to engage others, don’t think they will play nicely with you, well, why bother going to all that trouble?

My play tends to be cerebral and creative more than being routine or physical.    Finding an audience for that kind of play is hard, but finding someone who can enter that world, share and expand it, someone to play with is much, much harder.   Relying that someone else will be there, a co-conspirator, a fellow cast member, a playmate, is important to trusting your heart enough to take risks of exposure and creation.

Stories are much more powerful when they are shared, held in trust between people rather than just questioned as solitary thoughts.  Together, they become dreams, real and remembered, with someone else to remind you of them when you forget or when your faith just slips a little bit.   Tossing energy back and forth always multiplies it, while trying to hold onto it alone just leaves it wilted, diminished and eventually corrupted.

In the glow of shared tales we can emerge from behind our individualized armour, knowing that we are not alone and lost, ready to be picked on.   Sunlight bounces, growing healthy in a way that hiding in the darkness never can.

When we hold conventional beliefs, standard expectations, commercial needs and assimilated rules, our play is constrained by social norms.   Like any marginalized person, I understand the regular dreams, but they never met my needs or desires.   I can enter that mindset, but only with the effort of an outsider, while insiders usually can’t even fathom why anyone would want anything other than the feeling of safety being comfortably normative offers them.

Did I play alone a lot as a kid?  Yes.   Have I ever found a group of people to play with?   No.

Does that leave me feeling long lost and lonely?   Hell yes.

I know that I need reinvention, rebirth to get me back into social roles which offer rewards, the practical, emotional and intellectual rewards that come from sharing my gifts with others.   The vacuum I exist in does not offer me the energy that comes from sharing stories and possibilities, from playful enthusiasm and exploration.

It’s just that after decades of trying, I still don’t know how to find those committed, energetic and understanding playmates.

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The Kindness Of Queerness

How do you want to be loved?

Do you want to be cast in some typical romance, following the stories that explain how relationships should be, meeting the kind of social expectations that bring status?

Or do you want your heart, your mind and your nature to be seen, valued and adored, facing shared challenges with the best solutions you all can muster, delivering personal satisfaction?

Would you rather have the comfort of the conventional, the known, the routine or the intimate thrill of the revelatory, innovative and deep?

Queer, to me, is the commitment to boldly honour individual spirits, natures, hearts over the assumptions & expectations of convention.   It is a commitment that  I make everyday.

Queer is love.   That makes the queer view of others laden with possibility, with the possibility of change, of transformation, of mastery, of transcendence.  When you love another you value the emergence of their unique gifts as right and powerful.   Being committed to supporting the growth and healing of another loves who they are, not how they fulfill the role you have assigned to them.

If I want others to see me as an individual, allowing me space for emergence and finding my own power, I have to do the same for them.   That’s the queer golden rule, not doing towards others what I would find hateful.   It may be a pain in the ass to hold open the possibility of transformation, but if I want them to be like Shaw’s tailor, measuring me anew each time they meet me, I have to do the same for them.

Many understand that queer is about embracing Eros, the desire inside of you, but they see that desire only in a conventional and mass-market way.   Simply fornication, indulging the sensationalism of sensuality for pleasure, does not embrace the depth of Eros.   As the lives of many artists reveal, exploring Eros is the exploration of passion, understanding our own drives and using them as a part of divine creation.   Intimacy comes not just in the body, as heterosexist tropes will tell you, but also in the heart, the mind and in the creative spark.   Exploring all those facets opens us up to the connections which can power and expand life.

The kindness of queerness means that you value unique hearts over valuing their status or your fear.   Mr. Rogers was very queer in this way, no matter how conventional and routine his own presence was, revealing that queer expression, the attempt to show ourselves beyond convention, isn’t required for queer engagement.   Simply shouting at someone is rarely the best way to discover and encourage their own unique gifts and instead may be just part of your own defence mechanism.

As every kid knows, one of the kindest and most challenging things anyone can do is hold high expectations for you.   On one hand, those expectations are by definition hard to meet, demanding you work hard and stretch yourself, but on the other hand they hold precious belief in your essential value, power and beauty.   Moving beyond comfort is never easy, but making better, more considered, more polished and more precise choices is the only way to grow.

The kindness I offer is the kindness I struggled to find growing up.   I needed others to see and affirm my heart, not just to be angry when I didn’t meet their expectations and overwhelmed when I showed what they thought was too much of my own nature, my own Eros.

Those who want to blossom tend to appreciate my attention, while those who are resisting their own queerness, who are struggling to stay fixed, find it, well, just too damn intense and queer.   They wish I would just shut up and play a more quiet, conventional role, unable to offer the kindness of queerness to me.

Supporting playful, energetic exploration is at the heart of my kindness.   Only humour and wit can really lubricate the soul, allowing us to see the warm and funny bits even as we struggle.  An ambulance crew in Queensland stopped on while taking a dying man to hospice to buy him a McDonald’s caramel sundae; the kindness of a childlike treat a gift in their professional day. 

Being too playful, though, irks many who want to show a serious face.   A key question in LGBT communities (and LGBT lives) is “How queer is too queer?   How queer is not queer enough?”   Where should we appear to honour and respect convention, staying constrained, and where should we be transgressive,  breaking rules to claim individual expression?

I know that many find me too damn queer, asking too many damn questions.   In the 1990s I first labelled myself a “Power Femme/Drag Mom/Trans Theologian” (I’d say Trans Shaman now), and that drew flak even then.   How could I be a femme and anything else?   Don’t those identities negate themselves?

What I know is that those are the identities people respond to in me, for good and for bad.

What connects them all, for me, are two things: queerness and kindness.   I believe in the emerging power of the acorn born inside of us, how it can grow and blossom when we let it, and believe that the way that acorn finds fertile ground is in kindness, especially the kindness that challenges us to open our minds and hearts to do better.

How do you want to be loved?

I know that I want to be loved not as a human doing, for the role you believe I should play, but as a human being, full and tender with a precious heart.   That kind of love takes deep sight and an even deeper commitment to kindness, creating safe spaces not just for indulgence and isolation, but also for the promise of growth beyond boundaries and beyond fear.

Queer, to me, is the commitment to boldly honour individual spirits, natures, hearts over the assumptions & expectations of convention.   It is a commitment that  I make everyday.

To me, it is the essence of kindness.

Voyageur

I am a travel writer.

Sure, most of my journeys may be shamanic, exploring the great inner realm, but they are trips none the less.

When I go places, I write a note from there and tuck it into a safe, leaving it for other travellers to find.   It may help them find bits they might have missed, seeing in a different way so that we can both share a vision of our stops.   It may suggest other destinations or may just offer a bit of language which codifies and clarifies, for me, for them, for others.

The episodic nature of my writing means that there is no simple path through it.   We don’t all start at the same place, don’t all have the same list of destinations, so trying to follow in a linear manner may well mean you catch me speaking of things you haven’t yet experienced, things that are still off your awareness.

If you aren’t a traveller, though, not on a personal journey of exploration, play and awe, well, my words not only won’t make sense, they may be downright irritating.

People who work hard to stay stable, for status, for family, for fear or for any other reason often try to silence me.   They believe that I don’t understand why they tenaciously hold on to what they value, why they have stayed rooted and fixed for what they know are very good reasons.

They then use the same techniques they have used to resist engaging change, to avoid swinging the pendulum wide, to not open to challenge and examine their choices to remove my standing.    They fight for the status quo, work to avoid opening and exposure, create sympathy for the abject, broken, silent victims.

My work is to help people on their own personal journey.   I empower kids to believe in themselves and take agency in their lives.  I assist seekers in facing the blocks they hold which keep them from joy and power, suggesting that miracles are just new ways of seeing with heart and love rather than with ego and fear.  I offer glimpses beyond and encourage others to dive into the scary, the unknown, moving beyond their own pain and imposed limits to claim authentic actualization.   It is only in the light that anything can grow strong and healthy.

Much of this means removing the cloaks we use to hide ourselves, our desires, our choices and our fears.   Anonymity is only useful as a path to exposure; if it doesn’t help us feel free to show our deeper selves, it just provides camouflage for the ways we work to sabotage growth and enlightenment.

Travel demands abandon, leaving behind our expectations and preconceptions to see with new eyes.   The magic of inner travel is seeing the same place in a different way, opening our vision to what has always been around us but that we have been blind to.    Moving from negative vision, identifying what is different, what is wrong and what we should reject, to positive vision, seeing similarities, new possibilities and beautiful facets that were once hidden is at the heart of the experience of enlightenment.

There are all kinds of journeys.  Mothers help their kids on a journey which requires taking a different one for themselves.  Some travel in time or distance by reading.  Art can help you travel, putting yourself into works of expression.  Service is can be a journey, entering different worlds and learning how to understand and care for people.  Anytime you strive for mastery and the essential transformation that always comes along with it, you are on a journey.

I know why people stay stuck, not entering the conversation.  After all, the experience of the closet, which most LGBT people of my generation share, is the essence of denial, the attempt to stay looking normative and appearing to follow the rules and expectations of those we care about.   Even now when there is growing acceptance, many of us work harder to be “good,”  fitting in and assimilating, than to be wild, true to our own unique and powerful heart.

“You may well be correct,” I would reply in the days I was trying to stay stuck, “but you certainly don’t expect me to agree, do you?”    Agreeing would mean I would have to change my choices but I was not yet ready to do that.

Instead, I was a Balloon Burster, trying to help people by pointing out where their dreams were just unrealistic.    I knew that the point of many trans support groups was to vent a little of the passion and be reminded that we had to fit into normativity or be destroyed.    If you couldn’t pass, you couldn’t be a success in the world, because out and trans was only for the young and pretty.

Now, I have travelled enough to know those assumptions are not true.   You can own your own nature and be very effective in society.   People who still find the need to dismiss others, their accomplishments and dreams, are saying more about their own fears & beliefs than about the truth of a diverse and brilliant world.

Everybody grows and heals in their own way and in their own time.  I needed to grow and heal by opening to the lessons of the journey, being present enough to learn from conversations that challenged my choices.   Where I stumbled, felt pain and anger, I knew there was a lesson there, a jewel I had to excavate and own for myself.

I am the only person that I can directly help heal and grow.   That journey to awareness has been very hard, much of it helped by expressing myself in writing, creating a rough kind of art that helps me consolidate what I am feeling, see my own interior life and make better choices.   Choosing again is the only way we can make change in our lives and in our world.

When my words can help other travellers find their own growth and healing, I am pleased that I can share my gift.   They will never think and feel exactly like me, will always have their own unique view shaped by their own unique journey, but we can find points of sharing & connection inside our shared continuous common humanity.

When people find the need to resist engaging what I offer, writing it off as crackpot noise, not searching for shared meaning, I know that their reaction reveals a great deal about where they are, about the challenges they face in moving beyond the comforting walls which offer blocks to them.   Holding the us versus them, the me versus you separations, defensive, fearful and small, is where they need to be right now.

Travellers know that being willing to explore beyond comfort is the only way to find new insights and connections, finding the empowerment and passion which lies beyond what we hold as normative & proper.  Resisting & sabotaging change, in our own life or in the wider world, may seem to keep us stable but it denies us the life lessons offered, revealing where growth and healing can bring rich rewards.

I am a travel writer, at home with other travellers.   For me, that just means I open to the queer in the world, the unique individual gifts which open my eyes, my mind and my heart.

Silence Is Not Safety

“There is no safe space for trans people.  There is only safer space.”
— Alexandra Billings

You cannot join into the conversation until the conversation exists.

I was along for the ride as a father drove his eighth grade daughter to one of her first boy-girl parties.

“Golly gee, learning to date was so hard,” I said to him.  “What was the name of your first girlfriend?” I asked.  He answered, so I continued to ask other questions, like what kind of kid he was — a jock, maybe? — and what type of girls he dated.

By this time, a head was peering out from between the front seats.  Soon enough, she was asking questions of her own about his early dating experiences.   After all, this was the man she knew best, studying him all her life, so the tales of who he was in junior high and who he dated was interesting to her.

After we dropped her at her friend’s house, he turned to me and thanked me.  She didn’t know that he had earlier spoken of the challenge of talking to his daughter about dating, about how to start on the topic.

You talk about dating like it’s normal, (1997)” I told him.  “She doesn’t want to be drilled about questions she doesn’t yet know the answer to, but she does want to have a conversation about topics that interest her, that she is thinking about.   Right now, she doesn’t understand dating, doesn’t even know what she wants to ask, but she is ready to hear stories, even if she reserves the right to roll her eyes at them, as any daughter gets to roll her eyes at her parent, staying cool.”

You cannot join into the conversation until the conversation exists.

When you are searching for ways to understand the mysterious, even the mysteries within your own heart, first you need to hear the stories of others, need to listen to the conversations around you.    That’s why so many of us remember the first time we heard discussion about transgender topics; until then we had no language for the feelings we had deep inside.

Groups like AA understand this process.   Until you hear people share their stories, opening up a conversation that puts words to thoughts and feelings, you cannot join the conversation

Society understands this process, too.   By casting topics out of bounds, calling them rude or sick or perverted or unacceptable or whatever, they are cut out of “polite” conversation.   If those topics do not exist in conversation but instead are shielded in silence, then the good, the righteous, the appropriate — the children — are protected from what is defined as queer, immoral and threatening.

Shameful is what no decent person would speak about.   Silence is the affirmation of shame.

This is the power of silence, making conversation about what we hold inside unsafe.    We learn to be silent, learn to shut up, learn to police ourselves, creating commercial understandings rather than organic ones. 

From the moment we figure out that there are parts of us which are dangerous to reveal, we start being aware of unsafe spaces.

You cannot join into the conversation until the conversation exists.   Bringing vibrant conversations into the world may be the hardest thing any of us can do, because what we share is just heard as noise, just erased, until the conversation exists.

The courage to put our life into words, even the scary bits we want to avoid or bury, is always the beginning of conversation.   When we make that conversation exist, bold and bright, we invite people to join with us, to disclose and exchange, lifting the hidden so we can sort the scattered from the sacred.

If silence is safety, we are taught to be silent.   Shouldn’t we teach each other to be bold, ready to have each other’s back?   Shouldn’t we be the mirrors which help other people find language and ideas that help them understand themselves, help them affirm themselves, help them empower themselves?

The explicit opens the path to truth, building trust, starting with trust in our own nature.

Do you understand me?  am i getting through to you?  are you taking any of this on-board?   are you ignoring, resisting or rejecting the gifts i am struggling to offer?

I'm not enough.  I'm not enough of the good stuff.   I'm too much of the bad stuff.  let me kill off the bad, the evil, the erotic, the queer, let me silence the shitty parts of me so i can be good, so i can be who you want me to be, so i can be someone you can love.

do i scare you mommy?  am I too much daddy?  is my vibrant, vigorous play baffling?  too noisy, too loud, too many questions

let me consume the silence so i an be acceptable to you mommy, so i can make you proud daddy, so you can love me like the tender child of God i am.

if i am silent enough, will you be there for me, caring for me, supporting me, trusting me, loving me?  will you protect me so i have trust and room to grow, having my back and keeping me safe?

but if i have to learn to silence myself, fearing my own outbursts, my own intensity, my own passion, my o/wn heart, can I be there for myself, caring for me, supporting me, trusting me, loving me?

Who will trust my heart?

Discretion erases queer. Conventional assumptions have always hurt us.

It turns out that Act Up was always right.   Silence == Death.

Our safety is in speaking out.   Conversation == Life.

You cannot join into the conversation until the conversation exists.

Facilitatress

“You better work, gurl.”
— RuPaul’s essential coaching advice

I believe in empowerment.

And the only way to empowerment that I have ever found is to work.  Nobody ever hands you power just because you whine the best.

Work gives us a way to make change, to feel pride, to develop skills, to contribute to the community, to create value.

Work is redemptive.

It matters little what kind of work it is.  It may be service to others, may be growing food, may be minimum wage shifts, may be management, may be volunteer or highly paid.

What matters is our attitude towards the work.  When we are engaged, present, taking feedback, committed to getting better, the work helps us grow.  When we resist, slough off, backtalk and are sloppy, we get almost no benefit.

Our attitude is held in our stories, in the talk we make about work, and those stories are based in our beliefs, the life-myths that hold the truths we fear and that we trust.

My role as a corporate shaman is empowerment, of individuals, of groups.   To do that I need to help them discover, verbalize and test the stories and beliefs they hold, identifying where they hold blocks to making better, more empowered choices.

Everybody holds pain, anger and even trauma in their body.    Taking our own power often feels impossible, so we instead focus on the flaws in human organizations, from profound unfairness to incessant stupidity.   Pointing out the negative, though, almost never changes anything.   Instead, change requires leading, finding positive ways to make things better.   We must become the change we wish to see in the world.

Until we can operate in the market, all we have is complaints and abjection.

I believe in the power of the market to bring together people in constructive ways. (1996)   Sure, the market can be subject to abuses, but that’s why we need the tension between social structures — government, religion, etc. — to keep them all under check.  That tension, well, it’s a very market driven concept.

The market empowers people to become better, to participate in society, gaining not only economic rewards but also rewards of pride, of growth, of enlightenment, of sharing, of connection, of personal & social value.

In short, by gaining mastery we can become professional enough not only to gain respect but also to give it.   Open minds, full of detachment, may see the big picture, but implementation takes experience and knowledge.   When we work together to value all the smarts in the room we can lift the community up.

One of the key reasons I was so effective in taking care of my parents was my experience in leading teams, working with others in respect.   Hospitals teach staff to work in teams, so when I responded as a member of the care team, I was accepted as professional, gaining shared information through shared work.

As a corporate shaman, a facilitatress, I have always been ready to coach others in doing the work that can empower them, that can help them empower others.  That is always coaching about getting better at doing work, from the work of understanding themselves to the work of becoming a team member to the work that helps them create their own art & expression.

The line between the baggage we carry and the work we need to do is always complex.   For example, one person spoke of how their family avoided conflict, but they now had a boss who was challenging them, a situation that pushed their buttons. I spoke of the importance of standing up for what you know, affirming that others know that if you won’t fight with them you won’t fight for them.   They went back to the office, stood up for themselves, which gained them respect and a much more comfortable workplace, encouraged to open up, take responsibility and more freely give the gifts of themselves.

For me, mirroring their own strength back to them, sharing similar experiences, created a connection that empowered.   As trans people, we learn to self-police, to over conceal and play safe, so getting the reflection that the strong, potent self we hold within is not just scary, it is also compelling and brilliant is vital to understand.

The way that you do anything is the way that you do anything.   For queer people, who have felt massive social pressure to conceal parts of themselves, even from ourselves, there are always huge parts of us that we strive to keep hidden.  Our feelings, our instincts, our potential, our power and more are thrown into the big, dark scary box where we never get to explore them let alone sort out the good from the mistaken and polish up our best.

Learning to do any kind of work in a more present, more authentic, more actualized, and more integrated way takes one more step to self-understanding, self-ownership and empowerment.   We can never find ourselves and develop mastery in the closet.   We not only need to see possibilities and hear other narratives, we need to feel safe enough to take the risks involved in trying the new, in testing the dreams, and seeing how we can incorporate them into a full life.

You better work, whoever you are.  Demanding comfort, a world that rises to meet you and never challenges anything you believe, is a path towards anger, separation and sadness, even if you find a few people who all agree that you all got a raw deal, that it’s their fault and you deserve better.

Working to make better choices, working to get your gifts shared, working to feel pride, working to express yourself and just working to take care of your family are crucial to make a better life for you and a better world for those you love.

I believe in empowerment.   I use encouragement, mirroring and stories to shift viewpoints to help people find, claim and express the exceptional power they possess, the power they have all too often been told is scary, ugly and has to be hidden.

And if I can’t do that, well, what am I doing in the room?

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
― Barack Obama

Pleasantries

I’m not very good at small talk.

When you search deeply for meaning in every interaction, exchanges meant to charm or flatter or manipulate seem rather pointless to me.

One VP of Sales found me frustrating because I had no unfiltered ports.  He was used to finding a way into people by sneaking past the defences, by telling them what they wanted to hear, by chatting about something they loved, and then getting a bit of conversational leverage.

That technique didn’t work with me, though.   From a very early age my safety depended on understanding the actual meaning of what others were saying.   I couldn’t just trust them or be lulled into hearing what I longed to hear.  That was a very dangerous path, leading to blow-ups, broken dreams and emotional pain.

I’d much rather have honesty than sweetness, have truth rather than placation. Tell me what is going on, what you really think & feel, even if that isn’t sweet or nice or cute.  I can read the meaning, even in a southern belle’s ritualistically kind words as they are laced with a bit of strychnine.

Feeling like you are trying to manipulate me with some bullshit is a good way to just set me on edge, turn my crap detectors to high and make me assume that there is something you are hiding.   Those interactions make me hear the “Jaws” theme in my head, ominous cellos that warn of submerged danger.

I know that everyone doesn’t feel this way.   Being present for deep meaning all the time is just living in a world of “too much information” for them.  They like pleasantries, like assuming the easy and shallow, like repeating the same things.  To engage is to look for challenges where none need to occur.   Life is basically simple, just like people, and they already know the rules, so complicating it is just some kind of intellectual masturbation.

These people just tend to avoid me until they run across something complicated.   They marvel at how I jump in, peeling away layers and delving deeper, getting to meaning in a witty and almost magical way.   It’s all great fun until I start to look at them and their choices, at which point they decide they want to just placate me with some niceties, something that should distract me by making me feel nice, as a defence against being examined too deeply.

I grew up queer in a what always felt like a very dangerous world.   A good solid understanding of the terrain is what kept me safe, not the ability to pleasantly shoot the shit with others, spewing nice conventional wisdom that was supposed to just feed the egos of those around me.

Being transparent, honest and coherent, is one of the things that makes me a great partner.   You know where I am, what I am thinking and feeling.  I share what I see, offering situational awareness.   I am encouraging and positive, absolutely, but I know that the best thing I can do is find a constructive way to share hard won knowledge, lessons which help each of us become better and more present.

If I sense that you are concealing something, my spidey-senses go off and my trust level goes down.  I won’t feel safe sharing with you.

Worse, if I sense you are pandering to me, treating me like some kind of client, to be kept at arms length and just given pleasantries designed to feed my ego, well, I will see you as someone to be watched for danger.   The effect of trying to manipulate me is to set me on edge, heightening my defensive posture.

Many people play the social game in a conscious way, working to appear sweet and nice as much as possible.  Their theory is that you should make others feel good by giving them strokes to get them on your side if you want them to work with you.

I was once told that I could never be a good manager because I wasn’t “enough of a cheerleader” by a VP who thought manipulation was the key to success.   I was also told by a departing gal in Marketing Services the she always liked me because she thought I was honest.   She knew the clique of marketing gals thought I was a bit sour because I challenged them, but she also knew that people who worked with me understood that honesty always kept them on solid ground.

One of my key roles was in leading the technical people, the nerds in the basement.   While salespeople love a bit of  hot air — just like the VP of sales did — nerds don’t trust it.  There is an old joke about a gal in her first computer class who said “Oh, I get it!  It doesn’t do what you want it to do, it does what you tell it to do!”   No amount of sweet talk will make a program run better or more elegantly.

Being honest doesn’t mean that you don’t assist and encourage, bringing a positive can-do attitude.   I always coached to search for solutions, effective and doable ways to get done what we need to happen in a clever and elegant way.   There can be a great deal of satisfaction in finding a graceful compromise, much more than in being told everything is hunky dory when it is not.

I’m a great person to be around when you are committed to growth and healing.  When you want cheerleading, though, a boost to the ego and an affirmation of inflated dreams, well, I can be a bit of a challenge.   It’s likely this is one reason this blog isn’t a favourite of many transpeople who want their dreams inflated rather than having to engage the real challenges of living a trans life.   Those who are facing those daily choices, though, can often find some value in my deep thought.

I’m not very good at small talk.  I am on a quest for truth, honesty, authenticity, revelation, openness and actualization, which means I am on a quest for meaning not for sweet pleasantries.   That’s a lovely quest when you need to engage the questions, but rather challenging when you just want to duck them to keep your life simple and easy, staying focused on other things.

The way to connect with me is simple: listen closely, take my meaning and mirror it back with your unique vision.  That’s what I do to connect with others, modelling the best choices I know.

To me, that seems simple, but for people who are used to small talk, well, they just don’t get the joke.

Being The Grown-Up

With two Aspergers parents, I was adultified early.  They had no idea how to enter the emotional world of a child, how to engage my feelings and affirm my safety.   Instead, my family nickname became “Stupid” from at least the age of eight or nine because I was so baffling to them, appearing so contrary.

I never broke away from that caretaker role.   I took care of them until the day that they died, then wondered if anyone would take care of me.  It didn’t appear likely, so I hunkered down.

When I go into the world, I know that I have to be the grown-up.   I’m smart, sharp witted, highly perceptive, queer, fierce, born male-bodied, big and loud, and at least a bit overwhelming.  People around me expect me to enter their world, make them feel safe, help them move through it, not to have to enter my baffling and apparently contrary space.

Even in the very rare times when I am hopeful that someone will make space for me, do the work, I am most often dissapointed.   I don’t end up getting the presence, the attention, the understanding that I need.

With a lifetime of having to be the grown-up is there any surprise that when I am alone I often engage in a playful conversation between my sad & needy child and their caretaker?   The voices surface an inner tension, allowing me to explore and vent what has been so very long denied.

I resist taking on social responsibility because I know it will force me to be the grown-up without any place to be the kid, to feel and honour my own feelings and needs.

Now, after a lifetime of practice, I am very damn good at being the grown up.   People see that, I know, and so they cede power to me, hoping that I will take responsibility which will allow them to ride along, being confident I will understand, respect and honour their viewpoint and their feelings.

After all, I have learned to wrap honesty in humour, surfacing truth in a constructive way, while that’s something that not only haven’t they practised, but is also something that scares them.   Engaging in conflict may make them uncomfortable, unlikable and upset, hurting their own feelings.

In any choice between engaging the feelings they keep hidden and letting the grown-up do the work, well, you know what the outcome is bound to be.

I do know how to be the grown up.   I don’t mind doing the work.  It’s just that afterwards I want to be able to go home, kick off my heels and be somebody’s girlfriend, somebody’s girl.

That has never proven to be an option for me.

Part of this, of course, is my own weakness in knowing how to play that role.  I never got the training and affirmation to master the role for many reasons, not the least of which is how others saw me.

There is no place, though, no service that can help me learn at an advanced and queer age.

“I have been learning how to trust myself,” I once told a partner, “but I need to learn how to trust other people.”

“Can’t you do that on your own?” she replied.

It reminded me of the line from Woody Allen’s “Love And Death,” where a woman tells him that he is very good in bed.

“I practice a lot on my own,” he replies.

It doesn’t work that way, of course, which is why the line gets a laugh.

I know how to be the grown-up.   Being the kid, though, is not something I can do.   Learning to relax, to trust, to surrender is very hard for someone who had to learn smart defences from an obscenely young age.   Even doing a very good job at that doesn’t mean those needs & desires still exist.

If I want to be more present, I need to be willing to be the grown-up.   That willingness has to be based on my ability to take care of myself afterwards, processing what feel like slights, insults, amateur demands for indulgence, and other frustrating bits.

People heal & grow in their own time and in their own way, I know, and as any good mother understands, that means you have to meet kids (and all other people) where they are, not where you want them (or even need them) to be.

There are significant benefits to being grown up, to taking responsibility, to building structures.   These benefits can provide space and support for a fulfilling life with opportunities of connection.   I know this, I teach this.

Acting on it, though, can be tough, especially when I am just trying to serve myself and not take care of someone else.  I know how hard the work is, know the cost, understand the limited benefits.

Living in a country where even the elected leaders don’t want to be the grown-up, acting professionally, and instead throw fits, spin out insults and work to create separations that dehumanize does not embiggen a noble spirit to rise above the fray, acting with grace even as others strike out.

I have been the grown-up as a service, enacting the concierge to care for others.

Feeling cared for myself, though, has always been a harder challenge.

And I don’t really see any good way to get help with that.