Pride & Prejudice

I am proud of my journey, proud of the work I put out, proud of how I have been present for others, proud of how I have co-created my life, making the most I could out of what I was handed, both inside my mind & spirit and outside, the environment I faced.

It is that pride which keeps me going in my own isolation & loneliness, keeps me claiming my hard earned wisdom even as others tend to blanch at my words, finding them dynamic and challenging.

My pride is my solace, no doubt.

What I don’t have, though, is a strong connection to shared pride, to group identities and tribal conventions.

My experience growing up trans, especially double-queer, is much the same as my experience growing up as the child of Asperger’s parents: I had to learn to struggle through alone.

I’m not alone in this.   When I confronted trans health “experts” on how they  appeared to fail in reaching out to transpeople who aren’t visible to the LGBT “community,” almost every transperson in the room came to me after to say that I had voiced concerns they had, issues of separation and isolation.

Today, Pride has turned into a tool of “activists,” those who want to corral people into bands for political action, for commercial benefit, or for both.   Pride — with the capital “P” — is much more about the weight of compliant followers than about any celebration of queer, individual, diversity.

Does not feeling safe & welcome at Pride events mean that I have no pride?   Or does it just mean that Pride doesn’t reflect the real strength, the real stories, the real pride of those who activists claim to represent?

Learning to hold back, to not trust that those enmeshed in gay & lesbian conventions would understand, affirm, or even tolerate my queerness, was the obvious solution.

I recently got taught that lesson again when a professional I worked with for over two years decided I was too queer for their group, demanding that I become more policed, more silent and more compliant or depart.  Since that choice was a choice that would deny my own pride, there was no real choice; I departed, “honouring their intention.”

They made it clear that they do believe that there should be someplace for people like me.  That place just shouldn’t be anyplace that they feel comfortable, safe and defended in, any place that challenges the long and deeply held tenets of their soothing group identity.

Is there any wonder that Pride can’t really celebrate pride?

TDOR 2019: Remember Courage

Maya Angelou was clear.  To her, courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.

Because courage is an individual value, every human has to decide what it is worth being courageous about and where they can just go along with the group, just play nice, keep their voice down, getting along.

We are never courageous when we just fit in, just do what is expected, just do what everyone else is doing.   We are courageous when we stand up for what we know to be right, when we stand out, go over and above, and practice the virtues we value even we know there is risk and danger involved, know we are putting ourselves on the line between normal and exceptional.

To claim the truth of your own heart in a society that wants to value you based on the shape of your body, the colour of your skin or the story you were born into takes everyday acts of grace & courage.   Your smallest choices, from the restroom you use to the way you speak up are made political and challenging by those who want to enforce some fundamentalist status-quo, those who resist conflict and challenge by trying to use the momentum of the group to crush deviance.

Being labelled rude, overwhelming, deviant, disruptive always hurts as people try to separate you from the group, acting without compassion to remove your standing to speak, refusing your gifts, and separating you out so you have to develop alone and isolated, without mirrors.

This, though, has been the requirement of people who claim their own gender truth beyond convention, pushing through walls of stigma and resistance to claim the truth of their hearts.

Emergence beyond expected gender norms is, always, a courageous act, the grace of one person to express their own deep, valid, powerful and queer truth in the world.

We feel the risks on our own skin, the years of being seeded with fear and promises about what will happen if we expose ourselves, about how those who go beyond the normative set themselves up for abuse, humiliation,  rejection and even grievous physical harm.   We are told these people are just getting what they deserve for not giving into common sense, to conventional wisdom, to the way things are and always have been, the way things always will be.

Every one of the people we remember today shares at least one thing with every other trans, gender variant, queer person: the personal courage to boldly claim their own heart in a society that doesn’t want to be challenged with overwhelming demonstrations that the convenient shorthand of separating people into groups, dividing between us and the other based on simple characteristics of body, ethnicity, history are just false walls creating false comfort.

The courage to emerge as an individual, no matter how much that breaks conventions, stirring up the emotions of others and exposing conflict, is at the core of trans truth, at the core of trans truth telling.

“In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity,” said Anne Bolin, an anthropologist who studied gendered behaviours.

Reminding people of continuous common humanity, though, offering reflections of truths that have been filtered out by group belief systems, is challenging.   It can even be very threatening, so threatening that others feel entitled to destroy the truth teller rather than to examine their own beliefs, rather than explore their own feelings.

The only way to emerge as trans is to take an inward journey, going beyond the beliefs repeated into you to listen to that small voice inside which says that your truth exists beyond the simple binary of us and them.   The only way out of hell is through, entering your own pain and contradictions to dismiss the intrusions and discover your own truth.

The courage of going beyond conventions, even the conventions that others around you hold as walls, is breath taking.   It removes you from machine made wind to demand you claim your own breath, your own spark, your own flashing truth.  There is little help to be had for this journey beyond your own fears, as others will quickly try and impose their fears on you, keeping your flame down to a level they find tolerable, to a level that doesn’t illuminate the truths in them that they find scary, the truths they don’t have the courage to engage.

How many of those who have a shimmering truth created inside of them have been scared off from investigating, exploring and claiming that truth?   How many of us have suffered as we have striven to deny what was in our heart, staying immersed in the fear fed to us to keep us small, normative, and nonthreatening?

Today, though, let us remember those with the courage to put their own social standing at risk to claim that beauty in their heart, to express that essential truth that reflects our continuous common humanity.   Even those who have lost their lives, have been physically or emotionally injured by others who lashed out, trying to silence them, have not only gained from their revelation, but also have served as examples of elegant, messy and human courage to the rest of us.

Courage may be a personal expression, but it is an infectious one; when we see other courageous people doing the right thing beyond stigma and fear, we are inspired to summon our own courage, encouraged to stand for our own inner knowledge.

When we remember those who have been courageous and taken a hit, even the loss of their human life, we are warmed by their actions, enlightened by their bold, brave, queer, courageous choices.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.   Honouring those who have been here and shown courage, we are called to our own courage, to the courage to go deep, move beyond convention & comfort, to explore our own truth and stand, celebrating continuous common humanity.

Remember courage by remembering the courageous.  And remember that you share that essential human courage inside of you too.

Team Dreams

“I want what everyone wants,” I said to the pastor trying to counsel me.

He looked askance at my trans presentation and asked just what I thought it was that everyone wanted.

“I want to be seen, understood and valued for my unique contributions to the group.”

After thinking about it for a while, he admitted that might actually be something that everyone wants.

When I watch the Bon Appétit Channel — https://www.youtube.com/user/BonAppetitDotCom/videos — and read the comments, I see what people like: watching a team of smart, focused, diverse people at work.   They are food nerds who have formed a family where everyone is seen, understood and valued for their unique contributions.

Very few of us plan to make gourmet Peeps from scratch, but all of us like seeing bright people band together to fight challenges in passionate and caring way.   That intensity is compelling because it is something we want in our life, a reflection of our dream to be part of a great, focused team.

When I remember the best part of my life, it was the days when I was part of a startup software company, a big team working for creation.   Like all startups, I was connected to different groups in different ways, but my primary affiliation was to product management, the node of Marcia, Janet and myself who together knitted the tasks and initiatives together.

After that, I worked hard to create other teams, based on the same kind of close interactions, the fighting fail and fighting fun that fuelled integration towards achieving shared goals, knowing that people who won’t fight with you won’t fight for you.   I knew what I needed. After all, I used to cry at Tom Peters books even before joining software, and my team building days date back to high school..

Finding people who know how to share focus, let alone people who have the skills to let go of their own myopia to do what is needed, well, that I have found is very rare indeed.   And the older we get, it seems, the less we want to engage new tricks of coming together.

This is true in the big population, of course, but it is even more true in the area of trans.   It is very hard to herd cats, as they have said.   That’s one reason I instantly clicked with TBB, because Sabrina was always out to build a team at SCC, empowering every individual to contribute, knowing that personal responsibility is the basis of shared success.   It’s not what they are going to do, or even what we are going to do, it is the combination of personal actions that moves us forward.

Maybe Sabrina learned this because of her work in the space program, or maybe she joined the space program because she wanted to join a smart team, but either way, it was a deep connection between us.   We trusted each other on stage the first night we met because we both recognized good, flexible, integrated team members.  We had each other’s back.

It is truly a joy to know and be known by others with whom we work for shared goals.   By trusting other people, we form the beautiful and delicate tension of conflict for good, always being surprised by other viewpoints, always being rewarded with constructive change.

I long for the shorthand and the safety of being part of a smart team, but the BA comments tell me that I am far from the only one with these longings.

What do I think women want?   The Sex And The City gals have the answer.  We want good partners:  smart, attentive, trustworthy, playful partners who see, understand and value us for our unique contributions.     Compromise is required, as well as engagement, the ability & willingness to do things you don’t want to do, as long as you know they are the right thing to do, trusting even when you don’t quite understand why they are important.  We’ll do that for you and for our kids; why won’t you do it for us?

Being part of a great team means that you will always be challenged.   Mastering new skills, expanding your vision and fielding feedback will push your comfort zone, but one of the best parts of being part of a team is that you will always have people around to support and encourage you.     Change is the only constant in life, but as part of a team it’s easier to feel confident, aware and motivated about moving into a better, more empowered future.

Raising the bar is what great teams do, for the results, for the process, for the individuals within.   Living with high expectations is an uncomfortable gift, making demands while returning rewards.  When others have low expectations of you, seeing you as abject, it’s easy to live down to them, easy to lose pride and presence.

Bold, vibrant and life affirming, great teams come together with shared purpose and passion to give us the power to be more than a singleton, a community who symbiotically becomes more than the sum of our parts to create greatness beyond expectations, possibilities beyond separation.

5) The most painful thing about trans is not being able to give your gifts and have them accepted.

When I wrote that in 2002, I was simply expressing my team dreams, my need to be seen, understood and valued for my unique contributions to the group.

Isn’t that, just, though, a sign of my deep humanity?

Solo Conversation

“When you were a child, did you play alone a lot?” asked Colleen, the aspiring teacher I dated freshman year.

As we were both taking Childhood Development 101, it was an obvious observation.

The answer, of course, is yes.   I always played alone.   Name the year, I played alone.   I still do.

I have a rich, deep and fulfilling conversation with myself.

This doesn’t mean that I am isolated.   I soak up other people’s voices like a sponge, absorbing and integrating what they have to share.   I listen, to media, to those few around me, to history books read through my headphones, to the noise of the world.

I just don’t need others to have a conversation about what I hear.   My own threads, grounded in that “Jonathan Winters Energy” I have had forever, keep the discussion going in my head, always searching for connections which offer insight and understanding.

Chatting with others is a way I offer service, listening and mirroring, being present, but those interactions almost never reach down far enough to stimulate and satisfy my mental, emotional and spiritual engagement.

The tag line for this blog has been the same for well over a decade, reflecting how much people value it when I enter their world but how hard they find it to enter mine.   Most of the time, they just assume my mind is in the same space that theirs is, that whatever their conventions, that’s where other people exist.   They not only don’t get my joke, they don’t even get that I offer jokes.

I really like the series filmed at the Bronx Zoo because it combines the best of NYC and of nature.   The team knows what it means to be smart and value diversity, being there to help other creatures, be those zoo animals, visitors or staff who range from PhDs to carpenters.    They work together for best case outcomes.

Growing up with Aspergers parents, I have intense experience with those whose brain falls into ruts, who go back time and time again to their own hobby horses.   They like what they know they know..

This makes it very difficult for them to evaluate the situation, understand and keep moving forward.   It’s very hard to build change when the agreements keep slipping backwards, lost in the conventions, rituals and habits built to keep lives stable in an fast intense, crazy and challenging world.

I don’t just experience this rutted pattern with those who are obviously on the spectrum, I feel it in almost all of my interactions with others.   They are mostly tourists, looking for sensation, affirmation and routines, rather than travellers, searching for the sharpness of transformation driven by divine surprises, by the miracle of seeing anew.

Entitlement is always blithe, putting your assumptions, expectations and desires above others, just going for what you want because that’s the right way.   Blithe entitlement allows you to know that it is people like you who can save society, that you are a natural aristocrat, gifted with the proper world view and the correct answers.

Society likes patterns.   It keeps people in control, manageable and manipulable. Propagandists know that giving people stories that reinforce what they already believe, what they expect to hear, is the easiest way to get them to make controlled choices.  Living in the moment between stimulus and response means making aware choices, not just following the rules.

My voice is too queer, as I keep getting told.   And the solution for that is to throttle back, play small, get along, police myself to fit in, at least to those who are resisting their own queerness, suppressing their own challenging voice to fit in with the crowd.

Instead, I engage with the person who has always been there for me, who listens and understands.   Me.    I am a visionary rather than a missionary, a theologian rather than an evangelist,  a broadcaster rather than an actor.   The meta has always been my salvation, understanding those around me, rather than just saying what I know they are ready & able to hear.

I know the limits of that approach.   No matter how much I channel other voices, speaking encouragement, I am bound by the limits of my own energy.   I don’t get feedback loops that “pump me up.”   And my own views always have to be questioned, so I over limit myself to stay away from the trap of arrogance & entitlement.

I stand no chance of having my ego run away with me, not anymore.

This habit of solo conversation is reflected in the current paucity of this blog.   I have plenty of notes, observations, connections, but I end up just sharing them with myself.   This blog, as opposed to my decade of political writing, has always been about expression and reflection, about the process of coming to internal understanding, more than it has been about building an audience, meeting people where they are, trying to start a conversation.

I have always played alone.

Does that mean that I don’t have human needs and desires, like the desire for understanding, for touch, for just having someone smile at me like I light up their world?    Hell no.   Wounded healers may need to stay in the healing, but those deep wounds are always there, like the wounds of a child who has to put aside their emotional needs to stay protected in the deep internal cerebral conversation which was their only means of self care.

I know what people want from me.   They want me to say what they need to hear in the world, want me to serve their current issues with my intense, witty smarts.

What I want from them, though, is something I have learned not to dream about.

It’s very much a solo conversation when I play alone.

Raw Skin

My history and my knowledge is written on my own skin.

When transpeople try to explain their experience of struggling to claim themselves in the world to others we often find it impossible.   Those who hear our tales try to map it to their own experience, their own understanding, but they come up being at a remove.

Why can’t we just make different, more assimilated choices?   Why do we have to break the expectations, be so damn queer?   Wouldn’t life be better if we were just nicer, simpler, and more conventional, putting the needs & concerns of others before our own?

They don’t feel the urgency, the pressure, the pain, the needs, the intensity for one simple reason.   It’s not their skin in the game, it’s ours.

Trying to turn down, to attenuate the sense of our own skin is not as simple as it is for others to just ignore our feelings, our experience, our knowledge.     The only way out of hell is through, not just building walls & compartments to lock away the inconvenient & challenging bits of us, putting on a nice face.

Coming out requires coming out.   If you are not striving to integrate yourself, you are disintegrating.

When we are shamed and stigmatized into the closet, the prescription is simple: the world needs less of you.   You are too much, too challenging, too queer and if you reveal that in the world you deserve whatever you get.

I have learned that the obverse is true.   The only way to blossom is to share more of you, to give more of the gifts you have inside, no matter how much that triggers the fear & discomfort of others, no matter how much that triggers the fear & shame inside of you.

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
― Gospel of Thomas

Instead of being more like them, you need to be more like you.   Being yourself is the gift of a lifetime, as Joseph Campbell reminds us.

Finding people who will support you in facing your fears and being big, bold, beautiful and queer in the world is rarely easy.   Other people work on their own issues, the places where they have skin in the game, but that often means that they still have places where they resist, areas they don’t see the need to enter, places that they would rather leave in darkness.

Playing small to satisfy others is rarely the path to embrace your own authentic, queer voice.   Until they can express what they fear, what makes them uncomfortable, they can’t be there for you.   People who won’t fight with you can never fight for you.  Valuing the unique gifts of others is hard, but it is the only way you can learn to value the unique gifts that you possess.

Until you are comfortable in your own skin, you can’t be comfortable with other people shedding and growing into their own new and bigger skins.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

My history and my knowledge is written on my own skin.   That means that I am my own person, without a convenient identity group to fall in with, without a tribe who I can trust to welcome, understand and value me.

None of this is new, of course.   Anyone who read my work, who actually engaged it in an attempt to understand, will have seen these themes come up again and again.

“You don’t have to be too queer for the room, you know.   You just have to be better assimilated, more deferential, using more filters to attenuate your intensity.”

The first time I heard that was from my mother, telling me that I kept getting sent to new schools as Aspergers lost my father his job, but I was too stupid to learn to play along.

Yet, I knew the truth when I was four and found my favourite poem:

Christopher Robin goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity, hoppity, hop.
Whenever I tell him
Politely to stop it, he
Says he can’t possibly stop.

If he stopped hopping,
He couldn’t go anywhere,
Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere…
That’s why he always goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hop.
— Alan Alexander Milne

Lizard Strongbox

I know how to take a hit.   I learned that very, very early.

In a meeting with a flack, my big boss told her that my boss was being promoted. She was surprised, asking “Who knew?”   He assured her that nobody knew, but she had seen my stoic reaction and was puzzled.   “They knew!” she cried, pointing at me.   He was clear: this was the first time I was hearing the news.

She was impressed that I didn’t flinch, understanding how useful that kind of face was in dealing with the press and public.   No tell from me, no leakage of difficult and nasty emotion.

That armour was developed because I from a very young age, I needed to appear to have a thick, tough masculine hide, no matter how much my emotions were visceral and intense.   Only one person was allowed to spew feelings, lashing out at how she was not only misunderstood but also tortured by everyone, including (especially?) her very young children who should know and behave better.

I had to be able to put my heart inside a strongbox, locking away my earthy, primal lizard brain for protection.   With it hidden, I was protected from showing my feelings in a way that left me vulnerable to wild & painful attacks, and it was protected from being shredded by being exposed as tender & feminine.

Being seen as a porcupine, all sharp observations, all cerebral edge, a phobogenic object, too cutting for the room, became my lifemyth, became the way I understood my place in the world.

All it cost me was the price of hyper-vigilance, of always having to be on guard for danger, ready to toughen up to take the blow which was sure to come.  I just had to always be on alert for the next shot, never trusting my own heart and my own nature, the nature so queer it called me to cross gender boundaries in a way that was sure to stir up the shit from others.

In the long run, it wasn’t just me I was protecting.   As a kid, I took the blows for my siblings, and in the end of their life, I was here to take the hits my father could no longer stand, helping him stay safe from tough demands on his co-dependent habits.

The body keeps the score, though, and the cost of a lifetime in instant response armour shows.   Playing the smart one who can take the hits has shaped my life and my character.   My hermit choices come from only feeling safe, from understanding that my frustration, pain, rage and other feelings need to be concealed or softened so as not to inflame others who couldn’t understand how someone so tough could also be so tender, couldn’t see how they are two sides of the same painful experience, the foundation of a wounded healer.

Everything about me seems so very stout, from my memory to my shoulders to my voice, that it is inconceivable that inside lurks something so very delicate and fragile.   I, though, am reminded of that truth every time I fear opening an envelope, hear a surprising sound or feel myself step out into the simple vision of others.

My lizard brain knows safety, and from my youngest days that safety only existed when I was alone with myself.   Slowly — very slowly — I learned to go deep, to first control and then to engage & understand my own feelings, working out a context for living with myself.

That context, though, has left me being the one who has to understand others, to enter their worlds, to take the blows of their own acting out deep fears & feelings.   Expecting to be understood, let alone soothed by others is off the table, so I am always ready to hunker down, to hit the deck, to toughen up, to take the blows, to lock my own heart behind compassionate armour.

It is a gift to be strong, smart, empathetic and understanding, but like every gift, it comes with a cost.   People who are still looking for someone else to blame, to lash out at “them” haven’t yet come to grips with the profound and painful lesson of sharing continuous common humanity, of needing to make others seem inferior so they can feel superior, even if that is the narcissistic vision of superior martyrdom and entitlement.   You suffer because of them, so you deserve whatever you can grab.

When you lose surface connection, all you can do is go deep to find the undercover currents that flow between, connecting all.   Visualizing depths, though, offers views of emptiness, pain and unhealed places that most often go unexplored, undiscovered and unhealed.   See too much and it often becomes easiest to just pass on the play, no matter how much possibility or potential is on the line.

All this bouncing between my deep cognition and my lizard brain leaves one bit of me isolated, unseen and untouched by others.

I know how to take a hit.   I learned that very, very early.

I also learned not to like taking hits, no matter how important the fight was.   The action may have been crucial, but it damn well was never fun.   That’s why I worked so hard to learn to fight fun and fair, taking care of others, even if they didn’t know how to use playful wit & empathic love to soften the fury of their expression.    It was always my job to figure out meaning, to find truth, to address feelings, the designated whatever in the family.

Answers always lie in connections, in process, in interplay, in conflicts, in liminal ambiguity.   That’s where I had to learn to live.

That doesn’t mean I ever, though, stopped waiting for the “third gotcha.”

Shards of Callan 2019

Callan, when I see your deep emotions spark out from behind the elegant rational cloak you have fashioned, I am usually touched and moved. Sometimes it is hard to remember that even when you play the breeches role, acting as a man to serve the process, the energy behind that comes from a profound feminine desire to care for others, to deliver what they need and expect using your massive, loving, femme heart.

You know, though, that the only way for people to see that astounding inner beauty is to make it manifest, to regularly show it in the wider world. After decades of feeling erased, dismissed and hit trying to reveal yourself, though, you have both a legacy of scars and no support network to mirror and affirm you, meaning that when you feel exposed by performance, you tend to shrink back into contemplation in an attempt to heal.

I believe, though, that when you give others a chance to see that feminine heart, enough will respond positively, finding you compelling and beautiful, for you to start to get more of the engagement and affection you so desperately need, the caring that can penetrate your well of loneliness.

How you have the resilience and endurance to put your beauty out there on regular display, I don't know. But I do know that you, and much more importantly, we in the world would profoundly benefit from the amazing amount of love and smarts you have to give.

“My drag persona is a coping mechanism for the anxiety, so she doesn’t have any awareness of it.”   Compartmentalization as the basis for public acceptance, being what people expect — even if that is a clown — because abundance challenges the demands most follow to be gender accepted.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.
Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
— Oscar Wilde


I don’t announce “my pronouns.”   Sure, I know what gender my heart is, know it from my longings and my choices, and I have learned how to present that, both in polished form and in soft expressions, but I don’t think I have the indulgence of telling you what you must see.   After all, I don’t want to be told what I must see.   When you tell me what you see, well, then I have a real glimpse into what you see.   In the documentary “I Am Divine,” most of the guys referred to Divine as “him,” but a few of the gals said “her.”   I know that they were seeing a spirit, a heart, and not a body.  I read crossdressers who want to know where “a woman like them” fits in the world and I think that they don’t understand how much they are, how much they are seen as a “guy-in-a-dress.” (1999)   What are the rights of a guy-in-a-dress?  Are we entitled to blithely enter women’s spaces, or is that an intrusion based in arrogant colonization?


Walk in the world with confidence & authority but without entitlement & privilege.   The power of visions exerted with absolute humility.  Yeah.


Both healer and wounded.


the quest for adorable.
https://www.reddit.com/r/transadorable/new/  
What will we cut off to try and be adorable?
Does it really work in the end?


phobogenic : too much


peed my dress. “Really?”
“How do you go to the restroom?”
It’s usually okay, I look like one of “them,” whoever they are.
Mostly, though, I avoid the problem.


not, not, not, not, not, not, not like that kind of “trans.”


I’m uncomfortable with attention because I assume people are projecting onto me rather than glimpsing into my world.  I exist in the shadows my words cast, not simply what you assume the symbols mean.


“Could I speak continuously for an hour and a half? ”
“sure.”
“Did I?”
“no.”
“Okay, then I was gracious.”


Not a salon culture where deep conversations and insightful wit is valued.  We no longer intertwine stories, rather we just float on the pressures of society.


In this culture, the people who get to speak are the people with something to sell.   What the hell do I have to sell?


Performance requires performance.   Performance is an edited version of presence; what do you highlight and what do you keep in the shadows?


Hello, I’m Callan and I’m here to help.


Transpeople aren’t different on the surface unless we choose to be.   Transpeople are different at the core, seeded with an energy that is not normative for the bodies we have.   That’s why it’s so tough to communicate the experience to those who haven’t engaged their own queerness, to those who cling to convention in the hope of having simple, “normal” lives.    How do we know that our essence is being seen, engaged and valued, not just reduced & surfaced?   How do we share our narratives with those who are using their full bandwidth just to try and invoke what they want, need and expect in the world?  If being explicit is too much information, reduced to noise, how can I trust inference and assumption?


In a life where I have regularly been told to edit myself, told that I am too much and less is better, that only attenuating my voice, my intensity, my emotions, my insight, my cerebral view can make me appropriate in polite society.   How, on my own, can I find a balance between vibrant presence and not scaring the horses?    Even when I get feedback, does it represent the fears and limits that others have internalized or does it trust empowerment and art, trusting that being brilliant & gorgeous demands being brilliant & gorgeous?   It’s easy to ask for less, for safety, for comfort, much harder to ask for cutting edge thought, bold statements of sharp truth and the kind of wit that allows shining?  Whose fears do we take as real?


How much routine effort do I have to put in to explain, justify or validate my choices to people who feel their beliefs would be abused and threatened if what I express has any truth in it at all?   How much daily work do I have to expend to try and separate myself from limiting ideas and hard-held assumptions?  How much do I need to hold myself protected against the third gotcha?   I know how closeted, disconnected, twisted, indulgent and broken transpeople can become growing up in a world that demands they kill off their queer desire, but I also know that to ask us to be either paragons or abject is to deny our own human healing.


a life full of letting go
of everything
but what you hold inside
releasing desire and ego
always ready to have externals
ripped from you
is a life without grounding
lived in ideas and words
rather than flesh and blood

when even your clothes
can’t belong to you
loving becomes disembodied
living becomes floating
lusting becomes separated
aesthetic hermit
losing warmth


New Year, New Me.
Well, New Performance
Maybe.
Maybe.

TDOR 2018: Open, Close

Welcome on this Transgender Awareness Week.

This is our second Transgender Day Of Remembrance gathering in Saratoga Springs, but we have been here forever, just mostly invisible.  We were here with the Native Americans, were here with the Spa goers, and are here with the Tech Valley crew, always a part of this community, but living in the shadows, in the pursuit of safety.

While we have a list of transpeople we know were murdered this year, including one from North Adams, we are here to remember transgender lives.   So many invisible lives, some made briefly visible by a tragic murder, but most just invisible because of how we have learned to hide, to swallow our hearts, just to try and feel safe.   It’s so easy for those of us who have a trans heart just to grow afraid watching the news today, with an administration that seems to want to erase us again, making the mainstream comfortable no matter what the cost to those it chooses to marginalize, to dehumanize.

Today, we are here to remember those trans lives, lives lived, lives lost and lives under threat.   We have always been here, but now, with the help of partners standing with us, we are claiming our voices and visibility.

Thanks to our sponsors:

More than that, thanks to you.   Thank you for coming and reminding us that even when transpeople are invisible, we are not forgotten, that we belong.

Let’s remember, together.

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Remember that each of us deserves dignity and respect, having something to offer.
— We Remember.
Remember that we each tell our own truth in the best way we can manage.

— We Remember.

Remember that our value comes from who we are inside, not our external appearance.

— We Remember.

Remember that challenge and fear are cues for understanding, not for erasure.

— We Remember.

Remember that diversity is what makes our world blossom with possibility.

— We Remember.

Remember that we are responsible for welcoming others by engaging their stories.

— We Remember.

Remember that what connects us is always stronger than what divides us.

— We Remember.

Remember to reach out to those in need and to stand up for those in peril.

— We Remember.

Remember that those who run away the most need the the most love.

— We Remember.

Remember that people aren’t their shells, their defences.   They are their heart.

— We Remember.

 

 

TDOR 2018: Lives Lived

Lives Lived (for TDOR 2018)
Lives lived
must not
can not
be erased
for denial
for rage
for comfort
for ignorance
for control

Lives lived
creation of spirit
creation of struggle
creation of truth
creation of love
creation leaves a mark
on the fabric of all of us.

Lives lived
inconvenient
unexpected
transcendent
queer
breaking beyond
conventional boxes
to essence and truth
passion and brilliance
vitally

Lives lived
who decides
they must be stolen or shattered
they must be pounded or pursued
they must be erased or expunged
they must be murdered?

Lives lived
challenging boundaries
negating walls
revealing connection
revealing truth
revealing embrace
show up the tiny fear
which demands disappearance
of hearts transcendent.

Lives lived
ripples and hieroglyphs
pointing beyond
compartments and barriers
indicating where healing is required
facing the selves so many try to hide.

Lives lived
mirrors of magnificence
spark of sublime
coursing channels
of over spilling love
met and memorized
now deep within us
no matter how
some bash to blind
some damage to destroy
some strike to suppress
some act out their fear, rage and pain.

Lives lived
carry on within us
gifts of emergence
gifts of love
sparking our own quest to wholeness
beyond the box.

Lives lived
held with tears
for loss and pain
held with awe
for bold, brave, beautiful
earthly presence
of holy forces
lighting the way
beyond the binary

Lives lived
stolen and celebrated
still giving to us
reminders of our lives
to be shared with passion
to be explored with intensity
to be expanded with vision
to be lived with intensity
carrying on
lives lived
and not erased
but still threading through
our shimmering world.

TDOR 2018: Remember Silence

Silence.

Silence.

That’s what we are here to remember, silence.

Silence can be very hard to remember.   Our days are filled with noise, chatter from the media, from politicians, from those around us.  Most of us have little time for silence.

In all this cacophony, how can we ever notice the sounds, the songs, the voices which aren’t there?

How can we be aware of the silence?

We gather to remember silence.  We gather to remember gifts destroyed, people damaged, voices silenced.

The list we read, the names of transpeople murdered in the last year, is bracketed by silence.  How much we wish that these people were still here today, able to share their story, their brilliance, their life force with us.

While they lived, though, to us they lived in silence.  They were not on our radar, not in our hearing, not part of our conversation with the wider world.

Trans people have learned live mostly in silence.   Every queer person knows that being too loud can get you too much attention, often attention of the wrong kind.  They know that there are people out to silence them, by many different means.

Are the voices written off as broken or abject?   Are they heard as fools, just out to mock?   How are they marginalized and ignored, the songs of their trans hearts dismissed as noise?  Worse, how are they threatened and treated with violence, social, emotional and even physical, to silence any sound which might challenge the comfort and denial of those who cling to the privilege of the normative?

Voices which cannot be heard create selves which cannot find their own healthy expression.  Until we can see our nature mirrored in an engaged, empathetic and positive way, we live in fear of who we are inside, soaked with shame that keeps us down, keeps us reaching for something to stuff the hole in our soul.

Silence means death for those who have been terrorized into believing they are broken and sick people who deserve the bad things that come to them.   When we believe we cannot be heard, we believe that we cannot be valued, cannot be contributors, cannot be loved.

This, all of this, is happening inside the silence most of us never hear everyday.  It is happening inside the silence we dump onto those who aren’t the same as we are, those whose voices challenge our ease & comfort, those who know themselves to have transgender hearts.

How can we engage something that is as invisible to us as silence is in this noisy world?

We remember.   We remember the voices silenced, and we remember that there is beauty, grace and power in the silence of those around us, those who have been trained to keep their own song hidden behind hard, twisted and protective defences.

Today, we remember silence, because it is only through remembering silence that we can begin to hear the beat and beauty inside those who have been made invisible.

TDOR 2018: Common Transcendence

Common Transcendence
It has been said that
In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar
Rituals of gender crossing
Remind us of our continuous common humanity.
Individuals with hearts connected across
Have been part of every culture in every time
And are with us today,
The challenge of continuous common humanity
is the challenge of having an open heart and mind
beyond simple binary boxes.
Scare these people straight, say some.
Make them line up neatly
so we don’t have to face any fluid and transcendent truth
which discomforts us.
Gather now to remember those flowing souls
who open their transcendence as a gift to us
even knowing the risk of being slammed
that comes from the fear and rage of those not ready to
embrace the glowing beauty of continuous common humanity.
For those who have been taken and for those still who struggle with us
we remember the trans lives which shine transcendent
illuminating the humanity that connects us all
as we come together here today.

TDOR 2018: Burden Of Rememberance

Burden of Remembrance

As a transperson, one thing I have learned is simple:  the most important part of anyone is what you can not see at first glance.   Humans are like icebergs, 80% hidden beneath.

Personally. I look to see what they remember the most: the story in written their heart, or the legacy written in their scars.

Transpeople are always caught between these two memories.  So many of our scars exist because our family, our friends, our community told us that the story in our heart was a lie, told us that they were the only ones who knew who we really are.

When we tell the truth found in our hearts we are called liars, leaving scars.   When we tell others what they expect to hear, policing ourselves, those scars throb with denied truth.  Lie or be called a liar is a choice that can only break a heart, is a choice that can only break our heart.

The veil of remembering to keep our heart hidden engenders a burden of darkness, a burden often called the closet.  Nothing grows strong and healthy away from the light, away from the brilliance of revelation.  Instead of informing and empowering our lives, those dark memories weigh us down, leaving us living in our fears which become lessons to avoid and deny.

It is always easier to know who we aren’t than to know who we are, easier to pick out an enemy than to embrace our own nuanced, human, flawed and profoundly individual heart.   It is easier to remember our scars, to focus on those who hurt us, hoping they will be erased, rather than to have the courage to reveal our authentic heart, taking the blows and discovering the gifts which come when we follow our bliss.

What lies beneath the exterior of a transperson?   If you don’t mind me taking you to a rather dark place – the inside of my brain – I can offer you a list of the things that I am remembering right now.

Strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

  • Remember to fit in
  •  Remember to hide your difference
  •  Remember not to show fear or any other emotion that may trigger them to attack you
  •  Remember to play small and keep your head down
  •  Remember to not catch their eye, remember not to invite scrutiny
  •  Remember not to flirt
  • Remember not to use the restroom
  • Remember you can’t trust anyone, so stay hidden
  • Remember they aren’t staring at you
  • Remember to smile, no matter how scared you are
  • Remember their reaction is about them and not you, even if they act out and yell
  • Remember there are normal people who look like you
  • Remember that you belong here, at least as long as you don’t upset the children
  • Remember not to confuse people, as that can piss them off
  • Remember to modulate and attenuate your voice
  • Remember to show your tells
  • Remember not to show any doubt or ambivalence lest people pick at you to try and “prove” you wrong
  • Remember that you never know how others are seeing you so it is just safest to assume the worst
  •  Remember that people who know porn may well assume your expression is just about fetish and partying
  •  Remember that others will get stuck in your biology and your history, not in your possibilities
  •  Remember that you don’t have permission to break the rules, so don’t let them catch you lying
  •  Remember not to fall for your own exuberance or passion; you will just get hurt again
  •  Remember that you have lost your standing as normal, that you can’t stand as a man or a woman, so trying to defend yourself will just confirm their judgment that you are broken, cracked, angry and humourless
  •  Remember that even if you are just trying to tell the truth, many will see your choices as a political attack on their beliefs
  •  Remember that they believe they are more scared of you than you are of them, and that they are entitled to their fear while you are not entitled to yours.
  • Remember to swallow your pain, deny your loss and shout down any challenges.
  • Remember to keep your rationalizations, your excuses, your defences sharp.
  • Remember you can’t expect others to change.
  • Remember that many will call you sick & deluded, a freak or a pervert.
  • Remember that their sense of being entitled to unthreatened comfort isn’t about you, even if it marginalizes, dehumanizes  and attacks your expression
  • Remember that your rage at being silenced is not only incomprehensible to them but is also seen as an unprovoked attack against their simple values.
  • Remember not to show anything when they mock & degrade people like you
  • And most of all, remember to stay silent, remembering all this alone.


Here’s the problem, though.  With all this to remember, there is a very good chance you will forget who you really are.

Remembrances hidden quickly become burdens.    Instead of informing and empowering our lives, those dark memories weigh us down, leaving us living in our fears which become lessons of avoidance and denial.

I carry the weight of trans remembrance with me everyday.    As much as I may try to share this history, I have found that few understand this weight of remembrance, the memories which correspond to our inner map of scars.

The only way I have been able to move beyond this burden is to open to the song in my heart, the music that was there long before the world tried to tell me who I must be.

This is what I look for when I see other transpeople, or just other people in the world: what is the story written in their heart, the power deep beneath their scars?

One of my favourite quotes is from George Bernard Shaw.  “My tailor is the only sensible man I know. Each time he sees me, he measures me anew .”   Every human, if we are lucky and strong, grows to emerge from behind their scars and into the glory of our heart.

What do I really need to remember today?   I need to remember to transcend my history and my biology to claim that song in my heart.

And I need a community around me who is ready and willing to listen, able to sing that song back to me when I forget it.

Seeing what we thought we had to hide and embracing that essence is the best way to open ourselves to love in the world.

And it is the best way to honour lives lost because they were made invisible.

Remember that we aren’t our body or our history.   We are the choices we make anew everyday.

Remember love.

The Cost Of Adaptive Behaviour

I can’t go on like this. I am burnt-out and exhausted. This, I have read, is common in autistic people, particularly those who have struggled for years to ‘pass’. It is called the cost of passing. It is essentially exhaustion brought on by the extra strain of pretending to be something one is not.

Tony Attwood summed it up well for me. He told me: ‘People with Asperger’s or autism expend a huge amount of mental energy each day coping with socializing, anxiety, change, sensory sensitivity, daily living skills and so on. So they’re actually expending more mental energy. Think of it as an energy bank account. They are withdrawing so much energy throughout the day just by surviving. It is why children at school, for example, have almost no mental energy left for the actual lesson – because they’re coping with the sensory, the anxiety, the social.’

...

For Tony Attwood, late diagnosis for girls and women usually means a greater number of issues later in life. He told me: ‘The trouble is that girls are good at camouflaging it. We often don’t pick them up until they’re in their teens or older.

‘Those diagnosed late or in adulthood have worse outcomes. They didn’t get support and understanding at a formative time in their lives. What concerns me is that they created a scaffolding to survive, but that it may not have been the best approach and that sometimes that scaffolding has led to all sorts of issues and concerns, such as depression, low self-esteem, and not having an anchor in society.

‘I ask, When would you have liked to have known? and they say as early as possible. I thought I was stupid, mad, bad. I wouldn’t have been depressed. I wouldn’t have escaped into imagination. I would have handled things differently. I could have explained myself. People would have understood me. I could have been protected. And, after the euphoria of diagnosis and an explanation, there is the wish that it could have happened earlier. Then there is the fact that the scaffolding has been taken away. What do I put in its place? There’s almost a grieving for the lost person.’

-- Laura James, "Odd Girl Out: An Autistic Woman in a Neurotypical World"

While I am only autistic by training — both my parents had Aspergers — I profoundly understand the long term cost of passing, understand the issues and concerns caused by inadequate support during formative times which created flawed scaffolding and restrictive, crippling armour.

Jesus Loves You.  Everyone Else Thinks You’re An Asshole.

I never, ever trusted that I fit easily into any group.   I knew that I had to work, and work hard, to be compelling and of value, but that even then, I was going to be the freak, the weirdo, the odd-ball, the goat.   I was routinely reminded what a shit I was, embarrassing to my mother and basically worthless because I didn’t make her feel proud, happy or serviced.

In my mind is a massive, lifetime archive of the times I screwed up, the times I felt stupid and ashamed.   This inventory started as lessons, things to avoid in the future, but over time it turned into a vat of shames, triggers to make me turn away from events that have touched me before, coding me into avoidance.

Avoidance, of course, is what I learned growing up.  My only agency was to be sly, and manipulative, working from the shadows to create whatever change was possible.  As a guerrilla fighter I stayed out of the spotlight, staying wacky, frayed at the edges, never assuming that I could participate in normative ways, always the clown with wit rather than the star living in the assumption of desire & adoration.

It was my training, my family shaping that lead me to this, but it was also my awareness of my queerness.   My trans was out as early as the therapist I was sent to in eighth grade, the minister I reached out to when I was 15.   The lessons I got from them were simple: stay in.   Keep it hidden, pass as whatever the hell you could pass as, no matter what the price of denial and losing the power of my formative years cost.   Adultified early?   Absolutely, which lost me the exploration of my own fluid possibilities, hardening me in a way that was out of any natural shape.

You can’t explain yourself when you don’t have words, which is why I have spent a lifetime searching down useful phrases, but when people are so stuck in themselves, all the words make no difference.   I knew that my words were only useful to me, not useful in a world where the audience only cared about their own needs.

I understood the lifetime price of this Morey Amsterdam joke the first time I saw it in the 1960s.

Scarcity, you see, captures the mind.

All those decades, all that loss, all that twisting into shapes not natural to me, all that brain coding which scarcity imprints.

And now, somehow, I feel the need to transcend that past.  And I have not been able to find any support structure which can understand, empathize, comfort and coach me in moving beyond the costs of a lifetime, the costs written on me because The Body Keeps The Score.

“I’m glad you are not one of my salespeople,” the slick Marketing VP told me, “because I can’t figure out what motivates you.   All your ports are filtered, so there is no way to push the desire buttons in your unconscious.”   Overthinkers who underachieve, yes.   The price of passing.  So much mental energy for defence that there is none to achieve flight.

My anchor is internal.   It had to be.  I played a lot on my own.  That’s powerful, but it is also limiting and lonely.

I had a dream the other night where I was with a huge group of family members in a tourist house in London.   I wanted to change, but I found there was not only no room and no time, but other people were picking out what I should wear.  I knew their choices would make me look clowny, but I tried, though I was upset.   Janet from The Good Place appeared, though she was more like her improv trained portrayer, the brilliant D’arcy Carden, and she said I should do what I like.   She helped me make selections of what worked for me, holding off the family by telling them that they had to let me make my own choices, that they had to listen to me.   I felt strong, seen, supported, so I started to riff, even wandering through the store performing, gathering an appreciative audience.   At the end, my sister in law still had to explain to me her point of view, what was really important, but I just smiled because I knew Janet had my back.

I woke up and cried.

Could I ever have been protected and safe, away from the enormous, draining, lifetime cost of adaptive behaviour?

Doesn’t really matter now, anyway, does it?

Unanchored

The Doctor had a sex change.

Now that they are in the body of actress Jodie Whittaker, Doctor Who is a woman.  Reviewers praise the performance, saying the 13th Doctor now has “malleable status,” moving from palsy to authoritative as needed, not staying in as fixed a role as a man might.

“You don’t look like an alien.”

“You should have seen me a few hours back.   My whole body changed.  Every cell in my body burning.  Some of them still at it now.  Reordering.   Regenerating.”

“Sounds painful, luv.”

“You have no idea.  There’s this moment, when you are sure you are about to die, and then, you’re born. It’s terrifying.  Right now, I’m a stranger to myself.  There’s echoes of who I was and a sort of call towards who I am and I have to hold my nerve and trust all these new instincts.  Shape myself towards them.

“I’ll be fine. In the end.  Hopefully.   But I have to be, because you guys need help, and if there’s one thing I’m certain of, when people need help I never refuse.

“Right?  This is gonna be fun.”

That moment, that self awareness, came when faced with the kind of challenge and conflict which clears the mind.

“We’re all capable of the most incredible change.  We can avoid while still staying true to who we are.  We can honour who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m glad you asked that again.  Bit of adrenaline, a dash of outrage and a hint of panic knitted my brain back together.

“I know exactly who I am.  I’m the Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe. “

The doctor found their anchor, and so was able to act without fear, without the kind of self doubt that corrodes away the power of so many of us raised human.

I knew that I needed an anchor to keep me strong and focused as I approached transgender expression in the world.   Why do I do this?   Is it just for indulgence or for some kind of truth?

Real is the word that vexes me most in this binary world.   For things to be “real,” many say, they have to fit nicely into binary categories, be this or that.  Male or female, man or woman, good or evil, privileged or oppressed, patriotic or destructive, one of us or one of them, whatever or whatever we believe its opposite to be.

Reality, though, is much more nuanced, more faceted, more complex than that.   As much as we might feel comforted dividing into binaries, the quantum state is truth; observation creates the form.

The 13th Doctor knows they are really the Doctor, so has no reason to doubt or justify why in this moment they are wearing a bra.

Many transpeople fall into this trap when they want to present themselves as anchored in a way that binary thinking people must accept.  “I am really who I am right now!   This is who I always really was, no matter what you saw me as in the past!   Questioning me is questioning reality, because the reality I assert is the only real reality ever!”

I knew that this kind of anchor would just drag me down, forcing me to deny or hide the facts of my extraordinary life, my stories of exploration, and the truths that I worked so hard to unearth from the conventions of society around me.   I would have to police myself to placate anyone who might question me, have to defend myself from challenging connections, have to surrender my hard won voice.

My transgender nature is part of my work, my calling.   That’s the anchor I found to save me, the idea that there have always been people created like me because we serve an important role of connection in human culture.

“In societies that are rigidly binary, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”   That’s been my anchor since I first heard it said by anthropologist Anne Bolin in 1994.

While that is a sensible and powerful anchor for me, I don’t find that it keeps me anchored well when I don’t have explicit, focused work to do.   This is a problem because it means I am not ready to do the work that comes along in everyday life, not able to be present in a comfortable and assured way.

Where I am most unanchored is not in my trans expression, it is in my essential, sharp humanity.

When we are young, we create strategies to handle the challenging assaults we face.   Those strategies are not considered, though, not build in context, so they can end up being more draining that empowering, more ballast than anchor.

My family was not encouraging, not affirming, not empowering to me.   My common name in the house for years was “Stupid,” at least until the therapist told my parents to cut that out.

Like most boys, my value was not seen in my special grace and beauty but rather in what I could and should do to serve.   I was seen as a human doing rather than a human being.  This is reflected in the first post on this blog, from 13 years ago now.

My anchor in trans expression is in doing, in the work I have been called to do.

It isn’t, though, in being.   Just being trans in the world feels indulgent, selfish, an in-your-face kind of challenge that just isolates me, calling me to wear the kind of social armour queers are heir to in a world where reality is expected to be compliant and binary.

To do, my anchor can be abstract, conceptual and cerebral.

To be, though, my anchor must be emotional, celestial and bright.

That’s not at all easy to do with no deep anchor in my own beauty.   My anchor became doubt, questioning why I was so intense, so fluid, so queer and so irritating & offensive to others, including my own mother.

Questions are powerful and magical in their own way, but so is the simple act of confident presence, in trusting our own nature.

My endless search to find an anchor that lets me be comfortable and assured simply being in the world still is a quest for something that escapes me.

Then again, I’m not from Gallifrey, rather just an human.

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.

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.