Stolen Stories

Chicks love stories.   Ask any romance writer, soap opera devotee or executive at the Hallmark channel; they will tell you that chicks love their stories.

Stories open us up to experiences that don’t fit into our everyday lives.   They keep our emotions exercised, sharpen our perceptions and extend our intuitive understanding.   Stories keep us open, tender and attentive, ready to engage the stories around us.

My mother loved the idea of stories, but she couldn’t tell a story to save her own life.   She would start off with some idea and then get lost in the details, having it bog down into a load of lost and losing mumbles.

As her family we listened, trying hard to extract a meaning that she didn’t understand, but I often wondered how other women took to her rambling reminiscences.

More than that, I wondered how they took to my mother not really listening to their stories, not getting the threads, the humour, the emotions, the meaning.

What happened when she just replaced their intentions with her expectations, not carrying the web in her head so she could have a context and compassion to engage the other stories they needed to share, instead making it about her?

As a teenager, the thing I longed for was stories.   It was the most alluring thing about other women, the fact that they had real narratives, with details, plot and real revelations.

I wanted their stories, yes, but more than that I wanted my own stories, wanted to be the heroine in my own life.

That, of course, was never to be.   The blocks against me having lovely, passionate and emotional stories with me at the centre were just too many.   I didn’t have the training and I didn’t have the audience and I didn’t have the goods and I didn’t have much.   All I had was the heart and that was just never going to be enough.

No one was ever going to see me as the hidden princess whose radiant beauty, brilliant personality, astounding insight and pounding love saved the day and made the world better and more beautiful.

I just saw a meme from the “Trans Aging Project” that wanted to communicate it was never too late to “be your true self.”

The inference is that somehow, it was possible to be, in life, something other than your “true self.”

How can we be anything other than our true self?   Sure, we can choose to be more tame than wild, walling off our own heart from our choices and obeying “the dragon with ‘thou shalt’ inscribed on every scale,”   but there is no way we can ever only be wild beyond needing other humans in this finite and fragile life.

The notion that somehow, we can live some kind of story where we are finally true and ideal, that there is some kind of expression without compromise and cost, well, that seems to be a huge fallacy.

It’s better. of course, when we write our own stories consciously, shaping our stories to respect and honour the creative essence that lives in our heart, but the notion that our story is untrue if we live in a kind of denial which feeds our need to fit in, to be connected, to feel love in relationship, well, that is a dangerous trope.

Even when our narrative plays more to social pressure, our choices reveal what we cared about, telling a tale of what we considered the best that we could do to be effective in society.

I have always been my true self.

Living within the constraints placed on me, though, from social norms to family habits to my own fears & desires, well, my stories got stolen.

Today, I see a network of trans support which is essentially political, based in belief structures that try to tell us what is true and acceptable, what is false and deluded.  Political correctness lives at the heart of these systems, using call-out culture to shape language, choices, dreams and stories to fit into ideologies.

This network cuts off my stories.

Back in 1996, someone who said that they wanted to help asked me what I needed.   I didn’t want to tell them, I knew they would not hear me, and that’s exactly what happened.  I told them I needed stories of possibility and they told me that what I really needed was to surrender to their belief structures, to follow their rules.

The stories I needed were deemed frivolous, incorrect, profane and deluded.   Only the stories that supported their current worldview were acceptable to share.

That is, of course, exactly the same challenge I had since I was a very small child and desperately needed to have my stories heard, mirrored and affirmed.

I can’t remember a time when people asserting to know what real life and real truth requires haven’t stolen the stories in my heart and replaced them with their own constricted narratives.

Chicks love stories.

I’m a chick, at heart anyway, and I need my stories to keep me emotionally healthy and hopeful.   I must believe that blessed things can happen to someone like me, too, or I will dry up and shrink like a rotting grapefruit.  Or has that happened already?

Affirming the stories of people around me is something I do rigorously.   I keep their hearts supple and tender, encouraging even the most whimsical of their dreams.  Only by following those stories will truth emerge, somewhere in the enchanted land between fantasy and reality, between the sweep of the heart and the practical choices of the flesh.

You gotta have a dream.  If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna to have a dream come true?

When we squash stories, we squash dreams.   When we squash dreams, we squash hearts.

I still see us stealing stories from transpeople, trying to replace them with canned and limiting narratives that serve the comfort of those embedded in binary, us/them, either/or belief systems more than they do the beautiful possibilities that lie in the trans heart, transcendent and beyond convention.

Stealing our stories bursts our balloons of hope. (2008)   It tries to coat us in mud and shit so we cannot fly into scary and beautiful possibilities.

Chicks love stories.   Chicks need stories.

And I, no matter how people want to call me out for using such a diminutive word for humans, am a chick.

Being denied my stories denied my hope.

Without hope, well, no life.

Choosing Alienation

There was a time when choosing alienation was a scared and holy thing.

The path of the hermit and those in cloistered communities involved deliberately cutting themselves off from the rumble and rabble of the outside world to live a life of contemplation, dedicated to a closer relationship with the divine than with the profane.

Today, alienation still involves an element of choice.

We have to decide how much we are going to play along with the social pressures for normativity and how much we are going to stand separate, proud and alienated.

I am very aware that my loneliness comes from being a long lost tranny, and that choice comes from refusing to compartmentalized or flatten myself to fit into social demands and expectations.

Because it is a choice, I know that I can’t really complain about the negative effects that alienation costs me.   I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Yet the cost of alienation is often made higher by those who see those who choose not to play along as needing to be taught a lesson, rather than seeing them as strong individuals who are just trying to find a way to be true to their own hearts.

In many ways, I had no other choice than alienation.  The cost of fitting in was just more painful, forced and contortionist than I could bear.

We don’t choose alienation to say “fuck you” to anyone, even if those are the words that come out of our hurting mouths.

We choose alienation to try and save ourselves, to try and be true to that unique essence in our heart that is being tortured by the pressure to fit in.

My personal alienation started as a survival strategy, but it became a sacred strategy.  Being closer to my creator than to my peers gave me great comfort and insight.

Like any strategy, though, there is always a price to be paid.  Once you get good at surviving with alienation, it becomes very easy to choose more alienation over the hard work of dealing with the chatter and habits of other humans.   You can become more and more isolated because you understand that you don’t really need to fit in, no matter how good being seen, understood and valued might be.

Wild and tame is the ultimate duality, and we are each called to both of them.   We need to stand for ourselves, individual and unique while also being part of the community, fitting in and working together.

It is often hard, though, for people who have consumed themselves to fit into the crowd to have respect and appreciation for those who have chosen to stand apart some, asking the questions that go to the heart of group think.

Our alienation may start as defence, but it often becomes enforced by those who see us as outside the bounds and then choose to marginalize us.   The loop creates a barrier even as we seek for some kind of home where we are welcomed, finding people like us, instead finding those who fear and rankle at what they see as our alien nature.

Which comes first in alienation: the need for defence, the call for the holy, or the bristling demands for becoming ordinary to fit in?

In my experience, they all came together, the bad, the good and the defensive.

Too much alienation, though, especially from people who claim to be on our side, well, it leaves you out in the cold.

Non Linear

How do you tell a tale that doesn’t want to be told?   Where are the limits of conventional narrative?

I keep trying to examine ways to tell the story of my parents, or, more precisely, the story of me and my parents.

Finding a through line, though, escapes me. Even when I find anecdotes, they seem trivial, repetitive.

There is an overarching story, of course, from school to work to family, but somehow trying to follow that line erases what made my parents who they were.   Their choices along that path don’t really inform the narrative, don’t make them come alive, don’t reveal their character.

My parents, undiagnosed and unheeded, were on the autism spectrum.    They lived less in the big, shared world and much more in the world inside their own heads.

In that inner world, change doesn’t happen in the way standard stories suggest.   We don’t learn from our interactions, don’t find new approaches, don’t adjust our choices.

Instead, we keep trying and trying and trying to apply the model inside of us to the world, usually getting frustrated when the people out there fail to adjust, don’t respond in the way we want.

We spin in place rather than growing & healing, going into our own spirals of thought, the cyclones of “woulda, shoulda, coulda” and end up coming out just where we always have, though more tired and more angry.

In our vision, the right way is clear, but we have no words to explain what that is, no way to get through to others.

This cycle happens over and over and over again, ad infinitum.

“This place is a mess!” my mother would shriek

“What do you need me to fix?” I would ask.

“Can’t you see?  Can’t you see!” she would rail

Clearly, I couldn’t, but she was unable to make herself more clear, unable to create a strategy that we could agree on, unable to find a way to communicate effectively.

She was sure that people around her — her family — were deliberately sabotaging her happiness, keeping her in a spin of frustration, and hurting her in ways that she could not explain.    It couldn’t be her failure, because the truth was so clear in her head, so others must be out to damage and break her.

My father was sweet at home, especially working hard to try and keep my mother sweet, but his battles were at work.

Those experts never understood what he was saying, always resisted him.   This frustration lasted long into retirement as he kept trying to get technical papers published.   The last time I brought him home from the hospital, he was clear that he wanted to work on his papers again, continuing this fight to his last days.

For me, the battles with my father were always over trying to make his papers accessible to others rather than just a reflection of the cycles in his own head.  It was sharp fights, though the text would quickly fold back to old models and the brouhaha would start again.

These cycles were constant, repeating themselves for decades and decades, the same patterns over and over again.

Swept up in the routine, I ended up servicing their needs rather than building my own story, linear and growing.   In the process, I became expert in seeing the cycles and finding ways to break them, offering new solutions again and again and again and again until they started to break into their spinning minds.

Learning precision and effective mirroring, I could create some change, though only at enormous cost to myself.   It took massive amounts of time and energy to break into those patterns and get even slight changes, small new ways of seeing that lead to tiny changes in heavily conditioned choices.

People who have lived with this kind of mindset can tell how it affected them, how they were injured, for example, but parents stuck in a cycle were unable to see the real problems, and that caused them damage, but what we cannot do is explain why the people we loved were not neurotypical, were caught in their own spin.

When we try to tell stories, people just can’t imagine why they didn’t get it, didn’t learn and grow, didn’t have a nice linear narrative.   After all, the reader gets the lesson in our stories, why don’t the people in them get the lessons?   Why do they just continue doing the same, apparently stupid, things over and over again?

They don’t get the lesson because they are stuck in the loops, the cycles of their own peculiar way of seeing the world, stuck in applying the “woulda, shoulda, coulda” to a frustrating environment.   Something is stuck, and it must be something outside of them, because how could they be stuck in a worldview that was clear, simple and very real to them?

I’m happy that I can help people stuck in conceptual loops find a way out.   It is a fine skill to have.

I’m not so happy that it has cost me almost everything I wanted in my life.  It has drained and crushed me to have to enter their world and repeat the same lessons over and over again while they were unable to enter my world, to be present to me.

I don’t think that it’s just humans on the spectrum who get caught in these cycles.   Almost every human wants to impose their vision on the world rather than opening up to what is.   That’s why the lessons of breaking the cycles are so important.

Some people get more trapped in the cycles than others, finding it so hard to break free that it is almost impossible.    They certainly can’t do it by themselves, but even with the help of professionals, they cling to old habits, old expectations, old routines and old visions, unable to open to new views that allow new and better choices.

Trying to tell the stories of these people, even when they are your own family, becomes very, very difficult.   There is no linear plot, no arc that the reader can track, no throughline that makes the tale driven and comprehensible.     The forward steps are so small and hesitant, looped with steps back, that it seems to move at glacial pace, with almost no visible motion.

When you are trying to share your story, to help people understand why you are the way that you are, to invite them into your world, well, stories that don’t hold may as well cannot be told.

Broken & Disgusting

“Transpeople are sick people,” the experts said, “psychologically unstable and capable of depraved and anti-social behaviour.

“Doesn’t that show that we were right in pathologizing them, marking them as sick and doing our best to channel them into normative roles?”

Which comes first for transpeople, the breaking or the being broken?

Were transpeople twisted because that’s who we were, or was it because the pressure and constraints society put us under were specifically intended to break our trans spirit, forcing it into the dark recesses of our soul and demanding we twist ourselves into pretzels to appear normative?

I presume you know my answer to this question.   Break us, show we are broken and then use that to justify breaking us.   It’s a nasty, nasty loop.

When we emerge as transgender, one of the first big challenges we get is people pointing to transgender people who they find distasteful, off-putting or ugly and asking us if we really want to be like them.    This demand to support and justify even the skankiest of transgender behaviour, coming when we have just started to understand our own choices feels oppressive and unfair, which of course, it is.

The way stigma works is to focus on the extremes, finding some expression to denigrate and decry, and then to try and link all other expression to that.   This is why gay people often find it tough to only see images of extreme drag queens or fetish followers used to illustrate any story that purports to be about people like them.

Add to that writers who use transgender as some kind of symbol for their own purposes, not caring about the real lives and challenges of being trans in the world but instead using trans characters only as their personal sock puppets and we see ugly images everywhere.

When faced with this kind of deliberately marginalizing imagery, the simplest solution is to use negative identity definition.

Instead of telling people who we are, something hard to figure out, especially in the rank darkness of the closet, we tell people who we are not.

“I’m not a bad tranny like them!” we cry (2005), trying to play the captive’s game of supporting our oppressors prejudices and justifying dehumanizing others who are less attractive than we believe ourselves to be.

This can become very strange.  “Sure, I like gerbils stuffed in my butt, but he likes guinea pigs in his and that’s just sick!”    Somehow, the line between what is normative and what is perverse always runs just on the far side of own choices.

“How queer is too queer?   How queer is not queer enough?”   These are fundamental identity questions for creating groupings around LGBT.   It becomes awfully easy to point out how others are doing it wrong, which creates problems for everyone in the real “community.”

To support someone who is making choices that we would never, ever make for ourselves takes real maturity.   Those choices may even squick us, make us want to turn away, but as long as they are consensual, supporting the right to make them is the only way to protect our own queer expression.

I am very aware that every time I am with a group of transpeople, some of them are deciding that I am a bad example of trans, expressing trans in a way that they find wrong & distasteful.    They can easily tell me how I am putting a bad image of transgender into the world, which makes life much harder for real transpeople like them.

This kind of judgment plays into those who want to create fear around transgender expression, self-defined moral champions who want to keep confused and deluded men away from innocent children.

When we come from a world where mirrors of people like us were deliberately broken and bent, is there any wonder why we not only have trouble mirroring others but we have a very limited and self-involved view of our own choices?    We end up living in closed rationalizations rather than growing in the sunshine of trust and true community.

Getting to where we can see other transpeople as abject and victims is the start of opening to community, but only being compassionate about how they were broken by the social pressures piled on them as they tried to explore their own trans hearts does not empower or liberate them or us.

Learning to see the real spark in other trans hearts, the power behind even their unhealed places, allows us to reflect on the true grace of transgender, even the transgender spirit in our own heart.    Compassion and pride in others leads us to compassion and pride in ourselves.

This is hard stuff.   If you believe that you are somehow broken inside, so perverted and corrupt that you cannot trust your own feelings and only denial, assimilation and compliance will do, you can easily become obsessed with surface appearances over deeper healing.   In that case, only effectively concealing your nature will do, not exposing, trusting and polishing it.

Which comes first for transpeople, the breaking or the being broken?

What comes hardest is the healing.   The ultimate trans surgery may be pulling the stick out of our own ass, but when you believe that stick is the only thing keeping you appropriate, connected and safe in the world, pulling it out seems terrifying.  We planted that stick deep and strong and secret for very, very good reasons.

Everyone heals in their own time and in their own way, which may be the single most frustrating thing about being in relationship with humans, even about being in relationship with our own soul.

But heal we do, if we just do the work of moving beyond assumptions & expectations to claim what is in our own heart.  The scars that remain hold their own beauty and power, tell the stories of living a human life, somewhere between flesh and spirit.

It’s easy to see how humans can be broken, easy to assign that brokenness to something sick inside of them, easy to call them monsters because of that.

Seeing how humans still shine even when broken, how the spirit survives, endures and even radiates through wounds, well, that is the vision of the wounded healer.

We are broken, we are ugly, we are transcendent, we are beautiful and brilliant.

The way you see us tests your own healing, your own growth, your own spirit.   Do you come from the fear that keeps us small and compliant, tame and assimilated, or do you come from the love that embiggens us, opening to the wild, passionate and queer in each heart?

You get to choose.

Irrational Sex

Is biological sex a social construction?

I recently saw an article on a feminist site making that argument, using it to justify the notion that whatever transpeople called their own sex was proper.

The science of biology is a social construction, of course.  All the bits and bobs of living creatures didn’t come labelled with names and functions by nature; humans had to create that taxonomy and the models behind it.

We often got it wrong, too, proffering explanations that didn’t really jibe with the way that living things worked, but instead reflected our beliefs, biases and expectations about the way that they should work.

Biology, though, the underlying working of living things, well, that’s not a social construction.   Humans had nothing to do with that creation.

While it may be true that the nomenclature and notions we hold around biological sex were constructed by human scientists, each of whom carried their own biases, truth exists under all that pontificating, a truth which is hard even for the most politicized to deny.

Like all mammals, humans are dimorphic for purposes of reproduction.   It has always taken an egg carrier with a development space and a sperm carrier to make new humans.

While you can quibble that language, the underlying truth would be obvious to every human who ever lived, whatever their language, understanding of the forces of the universe or cultural biases.

Now, knowing that simple truth can create wrongheaded biases — if humans are dimorphic for purposes of reproduction, aren’t they dimorphic for all other purposes too? — but just because that basic truth can lead us astray, that doesn’t mean it is not real and not valid, is just socially constructed claptrap that we can sweep away when it serves our political goals.

When we posit alternative facts — biology is just a social construction, say — people who have solid grounding in the enduring facts, like people who have bred and understand how humans reproduce tend to find us less than credible.

Personally, I knew that any understanding around trans I came to couldn’t just whisk away the known & accepted facts about sexual dimorphism in humans or they would have no ground in what people know about sexual differences.    That’s why I separate male & female, terms for reproductive biology and man & woman, terms for culturally based gender roles.

Teasing out the difference between sex based behaviours and the cultural structures we have built upon them seems to me to be at the heart of gender studies.

There are so many examples of when sex differences were used to justify cultural differences that we now know have nothing to do with biology and everything to do with maintaining social control that it is easy to see every discussion of difference as bogus, but that assertion just doesn’t stop humans from being dimorphic for reproductive purposes just like every other mammal.

The vast majority of humans happily separate themselves into mommies and daddies, following rather traditional sex roles, with very little complaint.   Sure, they don’t want to be too constrained by cultural separations that have more to do with social control than real difference, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like some nice animal sex and some sweet animal breeding.

The system of gender does its job protecting them and especially in protecting their offspring, demanding roles that keep children safe and growing, learning how to take their place in a wider human community.

Until we can understand the benefits of gender we will never understand why most people continue to gender themselves so willingly and how any changes we demand to gender continue to respect and enforce its most vital role around reproduction and child rearing.

After all, doesn’t it make sense that the most important part of a system based in reproductive dimorphism are around the costs and benefits of reproduction to a human society?

Dismissing biological sex as a construction, using the truth that nothing in nature is as simple as a bits made by a human constructed machine, feels like a way to alienate ourselves from people who know basic truths.

There is always more to be learned about natural systems, though, and the imposition of nice binary taxonomies on it can remove the complicated, nuanced and beautiful truths that exist in every living thing.    Unless and until we expand our understanding, we will always be trapped by our own limited prejudices.

Should we question the assumptions implicit in the way we structure our collective knowledge about the natural world?

Of course we should, but that questioning is built into the framework of scientific thought.  If the theories no longer fit the facts, then something has to change, and whatever blowhards might profess, it’s not going to be the facts.   The theories of even twenty years ago seem outdated today as we try to keep updating our shared understanding to purge assumptions and bias, to be more accurate and reflective of current knowledge.

This process of evolving understanding, though, is something which is usually rejected by those who stand on belief rather than on the edge of scientific enquiry.    Their anti-intellectual stance holds their beliefs to be truths, unchanging and unchallengeable.

Trying to float concepts that deny simply observable facts, like the fact that humans are sexually dimorphic for reproductive purposes, creates more resistance than effectiveness.

Noting, however, that there are places where the simple facts don’t effectively describe the situation can open up new ways of thinking.   For example, just because you know the birth genital configuration of someone doesn’t mean you know anything else about them; who they are, who they love or even how tall they are.    (This is part of the powerful discussion in Todd English’s “The End Of Average.”)

We need new language, based on new concepts and new views, but just because old language isn’t comprehensive doesn’t mean it is wrong.    It was a valiant attempt to convey meaning, even if it is incomplete, misleading or blinkered.

To start a new conversation, we have to start with common ground.   While that is incredibly frustrating with people who have closed their minds and hearts to new shared ways of seeing, instead holding fast to comforting and limiting beliefs, I don’t know any other way to move towards new social understandings that create room to value diversity past old expectations & assumptions.

All language is a social construction, but it is also always an attempt to convey a view of the truth, a bit of meaning that we hold.  The symbols are not the data, and the data is not the symbols, but without both of them, we cannot work together and share what we value.

Throwing the meaning out because the symbols are flawed doesn’t open communication.  We wouldn’t want our meaning to be dismissed because our symbols are imprecise or limited, so why should we do that to other people?

The search for truth is good and valuable, but the only way to share what we found is with inherently flawed social constructions.

For me, valuing that sharing of truth is more than important enough to sift through irrational chaff to find deep and shimmering meaning, even about sex.

Flock That

There was a time that social services came with a catch.

To get what you needed, you had to show that you could be saved by whatever doctrine the organization which provided the services held as sacred and true.

To get a bowl of soup and a mat for the night, the prayer service was obligatory.   Going through the ritual of accepting the saviour as your shepherd was part of the price, no matter what you held inside, no matter those beliefs and the people who held them had failed you in the past.

The brilliant Erin cut right to the heart of this with her comment which is very, very well worth reading in total.

I am glad people can (apparently) start getting help and support at an earlier age now. But I wonder, how boxed in and limited is the trans-imagination liable to become, if you’re set like a potted houseplant in a “this is what we do with transkids” box so early on, never abandoned to tear out your hair and shriek on the wild plains, alone and sad and hopeful and praying.

Does anyone really know what trans is yet? I don’t. So kindly shut up about it. You don’t know what you’re talking about, dear professional helpers.

We all want to open and blossom, but we need deep and solidly-earthed roots, not the pious lies of trans-orthodoxy and its “just be nice” to amazing! inspiring! trans-kids (and sufficiently non-ornery adults, which I _used_ to pretend I was).

If the only way the marginalized can receive help is to mouth comforting tropes to those in the mainstream who demand assimilation for support, we will be twisted into playing along.

After all, that’s what we already did for long periods in our life.  We played along, trying to hide, to kill off parts of ourselves to get the crust we needed, the dangled mat, the dream of caring and comfort.   We twist ourselves into pretzels trying to be who others want us to be just to get a bit of what we need. (2006)

That attempt, though, never liberated us, never empowered us, never got us closer to health and happiness and growth, as Erin points out.   Instead, it offered us machine made red shoes to fill the need for handmade, shoes that danced us to sickness.

“Just because you are like everyone else doesn’t make you normal,” Katherine Ryan says in her new Netflix special.

“It just means you are ordinary.”

Developing our special, unique relationship with creation may be hard, but canned tropes will never substitute for the hard work of finding and blossoming the power of our own heart.

Just because the missionaries say that they have an answer for us, a set of conventions that will make us nice and ordinary and in service to their church, whatever the belief system is, doesn’t mean that the our bold, native and wild hearts will be lost by appearing to follow, to join in their flock.

None of the people who wanted to do good by sharing their own belief systems, no matter how coercive their strategies were, ever considered that they were doing anything that wasn’t for the good of the others, no matter how much they didn’t understand that good at the time.   The beliefs worked to give them what they needed, so clearly they will work for you, if only you finally give yourself over to them.

It is always hard to challenge people who come with good intentions, even when those intentions manifest in ways that ignore your truth and replace it with their own belief system.

Believing, though, that gleefully sharing the Kool-Aid by complying with social pressure and taking on the outward choices of the group misses the power, grace and divine surprise that comes with not only respecting but celebrating the diverse range of human expression.   We are all connected by our human hearts, not by our external conformity.

When the ease and rapidity of how quickly we accept what you have to offer becomes the criteria of if we are good or not, then it is crowd mentality which is valued.   Rather than holding onto core values and beliefs, we become awesome by how quickly we follow the gang wherever it leads.   We become valued as sheep, sweetly flocking, not as humans, doing the hard work to take a bold, tough and committed path.

Flock that.

The powerful personal journey of every transperson down to the roots of their connect with creation — their deeply seated continuous common humanity — is at the heart of the power that I find in trans.

Trans is not about fashion, no matter how much stylish expression is part of the emergence.   Trans is about existing beyond fashion, beyond trend, beyond convention in a zone where divine authenticity trumps social nicety.

I know why the flock wants me abject, sweet, compliant and amazing.

I also know, though, the cost which being pounded into that kind of life cost my tender and true trans heart.

Seeing that kind of simple solution done to young, tender and fragile transpeople who just want to be loved, just want an answer, well, it disquiets me.   Do they really just have to sign up for the right beliefs, go through the right medical intervention, and they will become ordinary?

Can they really make a politically correct world where the flock gets to tell people how to behave, down to insisting on whatever pronoun they fancy?

That’s not my experience of the wider world.

And it certainly isn’t my experience of the trans journey of emergence to integrity and wholeness.

We need a world less demanding of binary divisions, sure, one that cares more about deep continuous common humanity and less about surface differences.

That, I believe, has always been the role of transpeople in the world, crossing boundaries and reminding everyone about connection over separation.

The flock want to offer an “answer” to trans, one that fits neatly into their belief structure, be that coerced conversion or buying into binary oppression.

The answer, though, at least in my experience, is in trusting spirit over flesh, wild over tame, stubborn meaning over trendy assimilation.

It is about claiming the power that trans has always represented in human culture, the role that sociobiologists see us playing across time and space.

Will we compartmentalize, deny and hide to try and get what we need?   Sure.

But in the end we will always be who we are deep inside, whatever the flock that is.

You Don’t Understand!

“You just don’t understand!” every teenager eventually moans to their parent.

“You couldn’t possibly understand!   You clearly don’t feel it deeply, like I do!   If you did, you wouldn’t be so callous and dismissive, saying that I will get over it!   This is real, real, real and deeper than you can imagine!”

When emotions sweep us, it feels like we are the first person to ever discover them.   Our love, our pain, our insight, our anger is so fresh and new to us that no one could possibly ever have felt like this before.

If they did feel this way, wouldn’t they be swept away by it, too?   Wouldn’t it inform every choice they made, sway them to think with this in the forefront, make their choices be the same as ours?

The notion that there is life after this intense feeling, that context and maturity comes, well, that’s a hard idea to even engage when you are held in the thrall of something so new and so overpowering that it totally defines your view of reality.

As someone who fought hard to grow up, facing those who believe that if you don’t agree with them then you just don’t understand them, just don’t get it, is very hard.

How can we possibly effectively explain to them that we have been there, felt those feelings, done that work, immersed in the process and then have moved on?

They believe that if we aren’t where they are, we don’t get it.   We know that we got it, but that we also got other things, including context.

I watch people who are deeply immersed in social justice models of us versus them oppression write me off as an oppressor when I suggest that queer models of individual empowerment have real benefits.

How could I possibly have done the consciousness raising, understood the systemic nature of racism, confronted the truth of embedded privilege and really become liberated if I don’t agree with them?

If I am not willing to surrender my voice to speak for the truly oppressed, for those battered by intersectionality in politically correct ways, then clearly I just don’t understand the way that the world works against the victimized, oppressed and abject.

If I am not part of their solution, then I am part of the problem, reads the binary that they live by, and I can be dismissed and targeted as an oppressor.

The idea that somehow they are not understanding me and my position is beyond them.


I saw my first therapist when I was thirteen years old.   I’ve often told the story of how she had no tools to talk about gender identity, so she asked me who I would like to be when I grew up.   I was well old enough to know that was a trap question, her wanting an either/or answer, so I answered that I wanted to be myself.

While that answer frustrated her, I knew it was true and with my later reading of Joseph Campbell, I knew that there was no other answer.

Since then, over the last fifty years, I can’t count the number of times when I realized that it was my obligation to train therapists on topics that they didn’t understand.  Even today, long after I stopped trying to find a clinical professional who can understand the challenges of being a long term trans guru, finding someone who understands the challenges of growing up with two Aspergers parents seems beyond their ability and comfort zone.

In the 1990s I worked with a therapist who since has written articles and even a book on transgender emergence, becoming known as an expert in the field, but I even had to train them.

“You don’t understand,” I had to tell her.  “I know you tend to see me as a man with something extra, know that’s how you tend to see people like me, but if you want to be my ally, you need to call me ‘she.’  If you don’t do that, you don’t hold open the possibility of transformation beyond convention.

She pooh-poohed my comment, sure of her feminist stance.

That was until a night when we were both stuffing envelopes at the Lesbian & Gay Centre and Barbara Smith referred to me as “he.”

Afterwards, she said to me that she finally got it, that she knew that her using masculine pronouns with me lead Ms. Smith to doing the same.   Since then, she has become much more empowering to transpeople, more of an ally in opening space for them to blossom beyond the binary conventions placed on their body and their history.

It’s great that I could offer her that learning experience, but the notion that it is my job to train people who claim to be helping professionals and usually want me to pay them for the experience, well, it’s just nasty.

Sure, I have do have some successes.   A piece I read to a class of LSW candidates in 1996 lead one of them to thank me when they met me again twenty years later, as well as allowing another transwoman to read it at a recent open mic.

Trying to find help, though, from someone who doesn’t understand what you are saying is very difficult.    Too many therapists feel the need to be the smartest person in the room seeing any client as someone less functional than they are.

Instead of having the professional listen to and understand our truth, they just map their understanding of the way the world works onto our details and become indignant when we don’t embrace their superior wisdom.


Because transgender is such an individual journey, one towards a truer expression of self that demands moving away from social pressures and conventions, we don’t assimilate, moving to agreeing with the crowd.

That means that we have to leave shared understandings behind to discover what is profoundly true for us.

Learning to follow the golden rule, engaging and understanding the personal truths of others in the way we need our own personal truth to be engaged and understood is at the heart of maturing as a gracious, open and enlightened queer person.

This usually means moving away from spaces where others feel the need to attack anyone who challenges their own beliefs, finding a kind of smugness in silencing voices that challenge them.

Understanding that individual experience is individual experience, that we don’t have to agree with or make the same choices as anyone else is the basis for real, deep understanding.   “I could never wear that, but it looks fabulous on you!”

This always starts with open mirroring, reflecting the view of truth that others share without calling it out or judging it.   Rather than working to shape it to be what you believe to be correct, you need to just start by affirming that you heard it, because no one can hear you until they believe you have heard them.

Too often, though, understanding is constrained by belief.   That, though, leaves us no space to find common ground.

It just makes hearts looking to express their contents invisible and broken.