Cracking Desire

People often comment that the goal of eastern philosophy is to crack the ego, moving beyond self to something more whole.

Practically, though, that usually means replacing the indvidual ego with the shared ego. Instead of having our own desires, we internalize the desires of the group, which often means internalizing the desires of the guru, the current leader of the group.

It’s amazing how clear you can become when you cast off desire. Rather than being vulnerable to buying into anything or using any strategy to get what you want, you can see things from a distance. It’s something I learned to do early, to stand alone and watch rather than be in the middle and be swept along by the group.

The problem is that the life of the flesh is one that requires desire to move forward. This may be a desire clothed in altruism, sure, or one that seems frivolous (or, if you are Oprah, both together), but it’s desire and it comes from the ego.  Seeing the big picture and moving away from desire may give you the view from the mountain top, but it is cold and lonely up there, and without contact, getting what you need to simply live becomes very, very hard.

I had someone tell me that they were thinking of entering another self-help program, one that works on Lowen’s idea of breaking down engergy defenses in the body.  He tells me that most people get too defended and stay that way, so it has to be broken out.

I wondered what these people do with someone who has dropped their defenses and then feels too vulnerable, too exposed and not able to live with the jars and bangs of a life spent servicing the machine.  I suspect, though, that they get few people like that, because so few are willing to really move past desire, even if they are willing to subjugate their own desire to the desire of the group and its guru.

You have to want something bad in order to do the hard work of persistently striving for it.  And when you really crack desire, well, wanting something that bad seems to be the path to losing yourself again.

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Stretching Thanks

It was a tough Thanksgiving.

I had shared a conversation, a messenger log, with someone I have known for a long time. I shared it to let them see where I was, what I talk about with other people.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when they took the post to be about them, and had to explain how the ideas and feelings expressed were odd and anethmetic. You see, they don’t identify at all with other trannies, rather they identify as a normie and find trannies queer & broken, scary & sick. Especially the ones who engage their sexuality.
Of course, this person’s real life is as a man & a husband, and their trans expression is limited to very clear boundaries — church, bookclub, and a screened crossdresser group, mostly. By simply not engaging any part of their trans expression that might be messy — like work & sex — they still feel entitled to claim womanhood and dream of being a grand dame in society while staying firmly in man camp.

I knew this stuf and it’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is what almost always bothers me. It is the obligation for queers to be able to enter normie space while normies feel no obligation to enter queer space. I spend a lot of time understanding and mirroring people around me, but very few people I meet spend any time understanding and mirroring me. I am expected to understand them, but their understanding of me, well not so much.

My mother gave her thanks before dinner. She used the standard trope, being grateful for not being as bad off as others. Does the man being devoueredby flesh eating bacteria give thanks that he is not being eaten by a shark?

When she got to us, she was greatful for all I do to take care of her and my father, but for my sister, she was thankful for her being wonderful. In other words, my sister was valued as a human being, but I am valued as human doing. I am valued for what I do, and not for who I am, because who I am is too damn messy.

People’s choices are about them, I get that, and most often they don’t even consider others. And even if they do, how can they consider what they do not understand, what they choose not to engage, consider worlds that they choose not to enter?

Hell, Jack Welch is sure that he was as broken up as anyone by 9/11, because that is the limit of what being broken up can be, his limit. I wondered, of course, if people who lost a spouse or parent might disagree, might know that they actually were broken up in a different and more profound way.

Give thanks for what you get. But when what you get often seems to be the demand to be normative, to change to do what others expect, well, it often feels that thanks can be stretched past the breaking point.

So

So, here’s the point.

I walk into someplace, and I have no idea who I am.

Oh, it’s not that I don’t have a clear self-vision and identity.  I know myself.

What I don’t know is how I fit into the worldview of all the people in the room.

Last night I walked into “The Bing BamBoo Room Modern Burlesque.”  Last time I went there I ran into someone I knew, another tranny.

This time, nobody.  So I sat and watched the cliques and gangs and couples and straight guys & gals, even the gay guy painted gold and standing on a box — a Halloween Oscar.   And I had no idea how I fit with any of these people.

I went and talk to a gal at the MAC counter just because I needed someone to smile at me.  Michi was lovely, smart and stylish, abnout my age.  We knew the same people and she was trying to place me — scared CD or gay drag queen.  Those were the two choices.  Without makeup on I was a CD, but with makeup, a DQ.  But like her former manager, I am neither of those things, even though I have basic merit badges in both.

But when I tried to explain where I fit, it was all mumblemouth and messy, with no touchpoints whatsoever.

And when I sit in this bar figuring out who I should smile at and how they will read it, well, well… well.

No good answers.

But my arm hurt and the vodka just gave me calm without buzz and it was time to go and change back in the car under the high tension lines and wipe my face with McDonald’s napkins soaked in mineral oil.  Between MAC micro glitter, cake liner and eyelash adhesive, it takes a bit to clean.

No pictures, no acclaim.

And in relationship, well, I have no idea who I am.

Plop

I just don’t understanding living in your body.

I mean, it’s not that I don’t understand that other people do that, that they lead from their body, their Eros and passion rooted in physicality.  I get that this is almost common enough to be the rule, and I also affirm that truth.  Hell, I loved “Sex And The City”  and Samantha, who lead from the body, Charlotte, who lead from the heart and even Carrie who lead with spirit all were body centric.  Heck, even my girl Miranda, who lead from the head, well, she had all those other bits too.

But me?  Embodied? Nope. 

I saw Jennifer Grey comment on the line “Nobody puts Baby in the corner,” from “Dirty Dancing.”  She said something to the effect of “Here is this person who comes up and says that no one can keep you in the shadows, and pulls you out into the light to show the whole world who you really are.  That’s always gonna be sexy.”

I have a Sounds True tape, David Derida on “Enlightened Sex.”  He says that the masculine is to need to be valued for what you do, and the feminine is to need to be valued for who you are.  What’s the old saw, that men like to see themselves reflected as they see themselves in their partners eyes, and women like to see themselves through the eyes of someone who sees and values them?  Same thing.

In the dumped note I wrote a lot about embracing and valuing all genders.   It’s so easy to see them as black and white, with one as the opposite, duality in reality.  Manhood has value. If, however the only value one can see for manhood is that it provides a shadow for womanhood, in the same way that womanhood is a shadow for manhood — “Men are what women are not, and women are what men are not” — then it has no value whatsoever.

Long ago and far away I wrote of gender not being prose, but rather poetry.  In being a human, the value lies in the objective meaning of what we do, be that caring for a child or building a building or making a meal or cutting firewood.  None of those objective bits are gendered, they are just human.  In being gendered, however, the value lies in the subjective meaning of how we do what we do, the sway or stoicism, the presentation or seasoning, the proficiency or functionality of how we approach things.  It’s in that subjective meaning, the approach and the tension that gender plays.  A femme friend used to fix cars, but she did it in the same long denim skirt, now covered with grease marks where she wiped tools.

I spent years obsessed with truth versus deceit around gender.  So much of that boiled around a fervent desire to tell the truth because I saw so many transpeople who lied all the time just to live. Heck, the first year The Big Bitch & I did SCC, we did a list of the 10 Biggest Lies CDs Tell Their Wives.  The next year, we did the 10 Biggest Lies CDs Tell Themselves.  Number One both years was the same lie: “I swear: I will never do it again.”

The truth is, I think, that our truth is in our performance, and our performance is in our choices.  For most people those choices are not concious, they are habitual, and we barely even know where we got those habits.  But the habits, I suggest, are usually not for things but rather against them.  “I am not like _______, so I won’t do _______ like they do.”  Beyond that, the habits are just judged on effectiveness, if they get us what we want, never seeing the price we pay for holding them.

You may not believe it, but my essential habit was manipulation.  All that shaman empathy, femme intution, and too smarts and I knew which button to push to make people dance.  A few years ago I met someone from my past, and her entire defense was to protect herself against my manipulations.  Now, I know I have stopped doing that, but she didn’t.  It’s so odd when people feel the need to sheild themselves before seeing what’s new, as Holly has done in both of her notes to me, kick me about what she considered bad about me in the past saying it won’t be tolerated.  OK, sure — that’s why our relationship broke because you needed the walls.  But come back in with the same walls and I realize I may as well be the same person.

I gave up manipulation for acceptance, but losing my old defenses, my old power means that I am just mostly naked, and mostly covered with bloody welts.

And that’s why, when you talk about sessions on flirting with transpeople, my mind goes to no where.  The girl who would want to be there is so deeply hidden that I can’t imagine anyone finding her, let alone finding her attractive.   Then again, ask Bear how we first met, and how I thought my femme (BF) friend should dance.   Was I ever able to believe there would be a Patrick Swayze who could actually see and show me?  Prolly not.  In fact Bear recently suggested that my problem was I didn’t ask for what I needed, but let people off the hook before they even knew they were on it.  True.  If you never learned how to get what you need, to trust that would be there, how can you believe you will get anything but heartache with enough asking?

What’s so hard for me is that I have never found anyone who can say things for me, to share the driving.  So I can’t just write, I have to try to speak, and what I know about my writing is that people tend to see their challenges in it, not mine.  I squick people easy.  I know this because my mother is the crumbling narccistic daughter of a strong narccistsic mother and my father is a crackpot engineer on the verge of autistic, having challenges with feelings, with the ability to see through the eyes of others.  I became a caretaker early, and those of us who never trusted we could simply get the care we needed have issue later.  Hell, today, I came back here during Halloween, which was stolen from me last year, because I felt the urge to help and ended up tearing muscles in my bicep helping my father move plants.  He just wanted to tell me it was my fault and if I had done it the way he told me — a way I was trying to understand, asking questions, and he was getting frustrated I was so stupid ( a pattern my mother agrees is typical) — I would have been fine.  (Did you know that until I went to a shrink in 8th grade, my offical family nickname was “Stupid?”) I wrapped my upper arm in an elastic compression bandage in front of my mother, but she never offered to help hold it or anything.  I know that I could have asked, but I have tried that it the past, and I am used to doing it alone.  I had a GF in college, going for childhood education, who asked “Did you use to play alone a lot?”  Oh, yeah.  Alone.

I don’t know how to trust that someone will buy me a drink or be nice if I have had a few too many.  I have to be the boy protector and the girl dancer, and that only comes out twisted.

Now my arm burns and when I twist or use it the sharp pains tear, and Halloween is mine to take.  I think my mother in the sky wants me to remember that helping with the wrong thing only brings me pain, that I need to do my own work, but who knows if that reading is true or just defense.  It’s all about readings, and when you have your own, it’s tough. _____ is bashing The Prince for being a hypocrite and sexdog, the worst thing in _____’s book because _____ sacrifices all to stay with the extraspecial _____, so anyone who doesn’t should be denied standing.  But I understand the complaints. The Prince lived/lives in a rationalization bubble, and that is the sickness that comes with trans, the sickness I fear more than anything.

You ended your note with life affirmations, sort of extending the affirmations you get from friends.  Me, without friends, well, those affirmations don’t come.                                            

In fact, I often just want to go home.

wanna know the difference?

it’s the last night before I have to go back into the closet, a Saturday night. glam look, almost a step off to unitarian coffee house, but no, sorority boys on comedy central. it’s not a bad film, with interesting throwbacks — wendy jo sperber from bosom buddies, neidermier and dean wormer from animal house. this time the girl likes the lead so she is willing to be bi, but he resists, and actually it’s sweet.

but it doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter. if i go out on a saturday night, am i gonna find someone to make out with? no.

the point is simple. you, s, have lead a life with partners & friends, being less than scary. me? well, at six feet and an eight of a ton, well, me be scary. too scary to trust partners. i go to gay bars and lesbians assume i am a drag queen and gays who see my shoes assume i am a dyke. right between the possibilities.

========================

It’s now the next Saturday night, and I sit here a fuck-up, constrained as a waste of whatever can be wasted.

And yeah, I still think the difference is fear. It’s how as a big boned male, I am scary.

Gwen Smith and I chatted this week about her experience at the Gwen Arujo trial. Gwen noted that men mostly saw her as a man and women as a woman. Some of that’s the old “frog DNA” issue, where we fill in the gaps with whatever is familiar to us, no matter what the consequences, but some of that is also the notion that when we keep trans people as not being the ones who get us hot, then we have no problem with being queer. Heck, I have had the experience of men finding out about my biology and then having to claim loudly how unattractive I am. While I know that the more they protest, the more they felt, it’s cold pleasure if pleasure at all.

The last time I saw Kate Bornstein she wanted my guess as to why so few transwomen — transpeople born male — attended her college things. It was mostly dykes and FTMS and bi-women and such.

To me, the answer is the same one I have considered for years: what are the benefits of being identified as transgender? Now, for butches/FTMs there may be some benefit in being attractive to some women, femmes and bi-curious women and such, but for transwomen, there are very few benefits. You can get laid as a straight man in a dress, as a gay man in a dress, and maybe even as a passing transsexual, but beyond that, there is only the land of she-males, and that’s a very odd place. Hell, even that odd Daniel Harris spent time there and found it to be full of self-pity and loathing, as the VV says. (Harris and I had a go around years ago about trans/drag, but no one cares)

What do we get to be out as trannies, rather than drag queens or crossdressers or whatever? Who the hell knows? The Big Bitch, Sabrina, (also known as “The Other Drama Queen“) had SRS and reports that being fucked in the ass by a big black man was better than being fucked in the neo-vagina by a 23 year old boy, but she also notes that she had no real relationship with either of them.

Much of this separation has to do with the facts of the matter. Men tend to like images, and the ones of us who can and do portray those images win. It’s the same with het-women, I know, but we have much less room for variation. And women tend to have issues with men and those who have been them. They want us to play a role, and that’s weird. I know that Jake Hale wrote back in wonder after reading my tale about a woman trying to push me into a role, because it exactly mirrored his (FTM) experience.

It’s all about roles, I know that. I had one woman say to me “How could anyone ever imagine being with someone like you when they have never met anyone like you?” Most people walk in the world with a vision of what would be perfect for them, and beyond that it’s just trying to get someone to fit into that box. We don’t run to people who are clear and can bust us, we run to people who validate us in a way that feels comfortable, with whom we can share a little “Annie Hall” sickness. “My brother thinks he is a chicken. . .” and all that.

And that’s where the disconnect happens. I never was able to be a community member, never able to play along, and therefore, never able to be a suitable partner. I was never cocky enough to use my cock, and never free enough & safe enough to be pussy. I was never one of the boys, and will never really be one of the girls. That makes connection very, very hard, especially when people assume I have the experience they do of being one of the gang.

My nose gets bigger, I get older, and I know what the point is. If I couldn’t play along to get along when I was young & malleable (was I ever young and malleable?) then there is no way to do it now.

To be a prophet is lonely work. And if you have no where to replenish yourself, no safe space to be tended to, no one to remind you of your song and bind your wounds, even as you remind, bind, tend and replenish them, well. . .

It’s different growing up assigned as male. I see that when I see groups of trans-men and butches, who preen against manhood, because somehow they think being scared of it is appropriate and righteous. I remember one woman born female whose doctor husband met few trannys born male he liked, because few of them valued the hard choices he made as a man. Me, though, I was different.

To be seen as non threatening, and beyond that, as attractive, well, that has always seemed to elude me.

And, somehow, I don’t think it is ever gonna get better in this lifetime.

= = = = = = = =

Vulnerability

The last week I could go to your Wednesday service, you were away in Tennessee, fighting for social justice within your denomination, so you had a woman come in to speak.  She preached on Jonah and the Whale, and her theme was accepting our own vulnerability.

I spoke on Jonah as a story about calling, and how calling is easy to ignore but hard to get away from.  Usually today, the belly of the whale is to be trapped in the belly of the street whale, the mini van, but it is still about how we separate from others, how we are consumed by the day to day.  I know well the cost of calling, the cost of resisting it because it seems so bloody queer, and seems to hold such a cost of separation from constrained society.

But as I have thought about how much she wanted to talk about vulnerability, I have been confused. There isn’t one of us who doesn’t know we are vulnerable.  We know we are not invulnerable, know that every moment carries risk.  The question we have is how we embrace that vulnerability: do we try to get crusty, to wall ourselves off and be protected, or do we believe that the only solution to vulnerability is exposure, to be naked enough to hang with other people and live in this moment?  Is our safety in our walls or in our connections?

I suggest this, that the real challenge of embracing vulnerability isn’t accepting our vulnerability, but rather it is accepting the vulnerability of others.  We so often want to dump the costs of our pain and fear onto others, because while our vulnerability is obvious to us, theirs is not. 

There are so many ways people deny the vulnerability of others to justify the choices we make.

One is trying to wall in their children, teaching our kids to lie to us because we want to hear what comforts us, what we want to hear, rather than to engage the fact our children have to deal with their own vulnerability everyday.  As long as we want to believe that the walls we have created are protective, the idea that the walls we created are constraining, and that to grow, our kids have to sneak out from those walls and explore their own vibrancy — their own passion, their own bliss, their own Eros.

Some of us are so focused on keeping comfortable in money or other ways that we can’t engage the vulnerability of people who pay the price to keep a stratified society.  Underclasses are fine as long as they stay invisible, because we are vulnerable and need our walls.

And for people who are normal but not normative, children of God but not children of convention, well, demanding that they surrender themselves to keep us from feeling vulnerable, keep us believing that our protective walls work and have no negative cost, that seems perfectly acceptable.  After all, they brought this on themselves by being different, and their vulnerability can be dismissed in favour of what we need to do so as not to feel vulnerable.

We do have to embrace our own vulnerability, but only in a way that we see that our vulnerability is intertwined with the vulnerability of others, not in a way that our feeling of vulnerability justifies the choices we make that make others more vulnerable, make them take the brunt of our fears.

Your presenter is feeling vulnerable, I get that.  And she doesn’t want to deal with the cost of calling.  But what she didn’t seem to get that the real issue in accepting vulnerability is not accepting our own, but accepting that our vulnerability is not a reason for separation from others, but rather a reason for connection.

If we don’t let our own heart breaks lead us to bigger and more open hearts, then we miss the point.  It is possible to decide that our broken heart justifies the choices to build bigger walls and defenses, to push the pain and hurt and price onto others, but that decision is a decision for separation and not connection.  And to me, that makes it unholy.

Cracking My Pillar

It’s time to pack myself away again.

My parents come back tomorrow, and I need to be back in boxes, back ready to make them comfortable.

This weekend wasn’t exactly a festival of freedom.  My sister’s friend passed after a long illness, and I had to attend the wake & funeral, make a potluck dish and help polish my sister’s eulogy.  I looked for something energetic, but even after dressing powerfully, I skipped the Saratoga-UU coffeehouse & the option to show the tranny flag at Schenectady-UU.  Skipped the Capital Pride Singers concert (I hate choral music), skipped the drag show at Phoenix (the joint where the guy escorted me with well,)

But some was good.  Skian gets some of what I am saying, though he is busy and has his own schedule.

This morning, though, there was an 8:00 AM phone call from my brother’s cell.  He wanted to talk to parents and got me, but he needed to settle down a bit, so we chatted.  A foster child they have had for two years is moving to an adoptive family this week.  It’s the right choice, but it’s hard to let go of someone to whom you have given so much, and he needed to talk.

The discussion was about family, about helping kids find their center and their power.  We spoke of the daughter who is now a freshman at RPI, how she is finding her center, how the son in high school is mastering AutoCAD and computers, how the oldest girl is taking her place as a caretaker, in early childhood education and with her boyfriend’s family.  We spoke of the child who is leaving, and another older foster child who is now in residential care and is having real trouble finding his center and his power.

My brother got the connection, that it was when the young child began to trust his center that his life began to came together and how the older child has no center, nothing he wants enough, nothing he has enough faith in getting to sacrifice instant comfort & gratification for risk & hard work.  In his three children’s lives, my brother sees how that center, that desire, that belief provides the motivation for struggle and, in turn, for success.

After the call, I thought about the words I had said, wondered what it meant to me.

And, of course, I realized that, as usual, the advice I give is the advice I need to hear.  My center is broken, because I can’t believe in it if I also have to be ashamed of it.

I watched the documentary “Fish Can’t Fly” on Wednesday at Schenectady UU (which is when they asked me to come and fly the flag.)  There were two parts that touched me.  One was the narratives of feeling the urge to end your life, though I don’t think many others, including the mother of the woman who did kill herself, got it.

The other part was a comment from a second-generation Pentecostal minister who spoke about how his father embraced his queerness.  “Before you were born, God knew your name, knew who you are,” his father said. 

That makes me cry.  I believe that God knows who I am, that she made me this way, that I am perfect in her eyes.  But I also know that shit look from the woman in the mini-mart may well have been because she sees me as a big fat freak, a guy masquerading in a dress.

I know I can’t get affirmation from everyone.  I know that there will always be resistance, and I know that I never know what people are really thinking.  I know that with time and persistence on my part, some people will get beyond their initial fear, shown through dismissal & disgust, and begin to see the grace in me, the truth that “in cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”

But I know that even though I keep the scraps of affirmation I get around, tucked away in the bag of old writings, to sew them together into a coat I can be proud to wear seems impossible.  It’s so easy to be shredded and dismissed, so hard to find people who are actually able to affirm what I put out, affirm what they fear.  Even Sabrina fears.

All the lonely trannies, where do they all belong?”  This rephrasing of “Eleanor Rigby” often plays in my mind when I walk out there, wondering where an affirmative home for us is.  I know that the simple retort is that if I think such is needed, why don’t I make it?  After all, Sabrina is making a home in Trinidad for neo-transsexuals. 

Me, though, well my pillar is cracked.  That core of possibility and desire that lifts people to slog though and do the hard work, well, the only way I have found to put it away in a plastic bin under the back porch is to smash it into little pieces that can be dumped into a bucket.

My brother knows that kids without such a column, strong and supported, appreciated and affirmed, well those are kids without a center and kids with problems.  He knows that the most important thing he can do for his kids is to embrace their possibilities and help them learn to make their own pillar stronger and taller, prominent and potent, so that it can give them the brace they need to build a life around.

My God may have known me before I was born, but it was soon after that the world wanted to convince me that knowledge was wrong and sick, depraved and misbegotten, broken and bastardized.  I learned to live under bucket, and when people needed me to stand strong, they meant stand strong in a nice little way.

But today, I pack myself away again.  And finding the ability to quickly assemble my pillar from the rubble, stand strong for an event, and then hide it away again, well, that seems too much.  The one thing there is no middle ground on is that identity at your core — you can’t be simultaneously proud and ashamed of it, and sequentially building it & destroying it, well, that’s just a syphian task, designed to destroy people.  Designed to destroy me, to be specific.

I took my time and I looked for my support.  People liked some theology, I could walk through a business expo without being boooed, be out there and OK.  But as for feeling like I was being seen, being supported, being connected, well, the limits are the limits.  I work hard to bolster the pillars of others, but mine, well, too many years of crushing it has left it crushed.

Before I was born, she knew my name, and she knew me to be her child.  After that is when it got difficult.  That’s when I needed to cry and feel safe with someone who knew my name, or who at least knew God well enough to trust me, well. . .

It’s a lonely life.  And my pillar is in a plastic tub under the porch.