Ordaining Challenges

Ordaining Challenges

by: Callan Williams

Is religion about the smells and bells, the elements of the ritual?

We have all heard the story about Talulah Bankhead going to mass with Cardinal Spellman. As the procession passed her, the cardinal in his vestments with a censer, she is reputed to have said, “Love the drag, Franny, but your purse is on fire.”

Why is the ritual so important? Why is there such a history of clerical garb? It’s not because clothes and symbol aren’t important. It is because somehow, art allows us to reveal the potent and magical which dwells within us on the outside. Those vestments reveal a very deep, atavistic resonance to symbols of connection, of transcendence.

Being true to our creator is manifesting the gifts she gave us in the world, showing them on the outside.

I, like most transgendered people, knew before the age of 5 that I wasn’t simply who people expected me to me by dint of my genitals. I knew. I knew.

Society, though, needed to tell me that what I knew was wrong. What do you do when your religion tells you that you are a sin? I knew this was true, because it wasn’t my behavior that was at issue — it is my nature.

I had to face the issue of sin everyday. Which was the bigger sin — to violate human rules of propriety and comfort, or to deny the truth of my creation?

The answer had to come.

James Green, a man born female, was at an American Psychiatric Association conference. One of the doctors walked by the booth and wanted to know what IFGE was about. He chose to talk to the short bearded man, rather than one of the large, husky women.

James told him it was about transgender, transsexuals.

He replied “I don’t need that. I don’t believe that God makes mistakes.”

James smiled and said, “Neither do I.”

At some point, I had to believe that I am not a mistake, not an illness, not a dysphoria, but a child of God. I had to find a creation myth that didn’t make me a sin, something to be fixed — or destroyed — but that allowed me to walk in pride, believing that I held a bit of God within me.

That came when I heard anthropologist Anne Bolin, who has studied gynemimetic shamans — women born male — say “In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”

In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity. The moment I heard that line, I knew it was my personal mission statement — to be how God made me and remind people of how spirit connects all things.

I had to learn that I come from a long line of people who were born to cross worlds, who kept connection in focus. The spirit is the place where worlds collide and worlds connect, even the eternal masculine and the eternal feminine.

This is hard to live. The liminal is the doorway between worlds, the opening in walls where spirits can touch. To be the door is to be the embodied reminder that God connects all.

It is good to be the door — but being the door also means that people will slam you, try to lock you, and to do everything that they can to keep you shut. Open doors are useful, yes, but many are more comfortable when a door is tightly shut, keeping out the barbarians — the people we don’t want to have to see ourselves and see our God in.

I believe that the greatest gift we can give is opening our heart and playing the role God put there — even if society says “I don’t need you, I only need what I want, go away.”

This is the challenge of an open door. It doesn’t bring what we think we want, it brings challenges to our own self-knowledge, challenges to our own faith, challenges to open our own hearts.

These challenges are why many in our churches have set themselves up not as doors, opening and welcoming, but as doorkeepers, suspicious and defensive. They see their challenge not as living in faith, being open and embracing, but to be defenders of the faith, militant and beady eyed.

A few weeks ago, I had a pastor look me straight at me and say, “My church needs an open gay person, but my congregation is not ready for someone like you. They couldn’t handle you.”

She had set herself up as a closed door, defending the weak people inside from what they couldn’t handle.

That’s a real challenge of being queer — not the people who confront us, but the people who decide that while they are OK with us, other people won’t be, so they have to defend their organization — their church — from people like me. “Well, I’d love to have you, but the children wouldn’t understand, or we would lose membership, or. . .”

You have transpeople in your churches now — or at least you have had them. They just fear showing their nature, because they know you fear them. You fear their passion, fear how they affect the kids, fear they affect how other people see you — you queer lover!

Being true to our creator is showing the gifts she gave us on the outside. Being true to our creator is embracing the gifts of others, especially when they challenge us to transcend fear and live in love.

Can you support people who scare you — and who you are scared of being seen next to, because they might draw some attacks?

I paint my face, wear the vestments of my calling. By doing that, I open the space for others to cross the line of fear that they cannot face, cannot reveal the divine in them. I open the space for art.

Art is where we take our God given gifts, shape them with our own sweat and act in the spirit inside — a spirit that is not just placid and earnest, but also dramatic, pretty and forward.

I know now that it was pre-ordained that I do this, to be who I am. I have worked hard to find what I can give to a culture which too often believes that people are their bodies and not their spirits, that the shape of our genitals is more important than the shape of our hearts.

Now, my challenge is having that ordination, and the work I have done to give of spirit to be respected and ordained by you.

Can you find a way to be a door, and accept the gifts God has placed in my heart? Or do you feel the need to close tight, keeping something you don’t know you want or need, something — and someone — who feels dangerous because they cross walls away from those you have decided cannot handle the power of spirit in others?

Can you handle the danger of embracing the connection that threads though us all — even across boundaries that seem as firm as the line between men and women?

Copyright © 2002 by the author
All Rights Reserved




Callan Williams © 2002

(This was written after attending the first New York Trans Gender Coalition Leadership meeting in Albany, April 12-14, 2002.  Details of the meeting are available at http://www.nytgcoalition.org/)

As we sat in the stackable chairs on the polished wood floor of the gallery, I looked at the people around the circle.

Maybe, instead of the collages of bark and tulle, these people should be the exhibits.

Hung on the plain walls, frozen in time, I walk into the silent gallery.  The eyes look down on me but I can take a moment to look closely.

From a distance, these people, displayed as they are look a bit ragtag, a bit shabby.  It’s when you get close to them, though, that your view begins to change.  Because they have no need to defend themselves, they open to your gaze, not shirking or confronting, rather just being themselves.  You sense that this is not something they did easily in life – these are people who are full of fire, even now.

Up close, though, it is the details that speak to you.  The richly textured pattern of lines and scars writes history for you to sense.  These are people whose lives are written on every inch of them, lives of unspeakable triumph and sadness.  They have claimed themselves, created themselves, carved themselves out of living flesh.

A few of them are still wiggling, not in any conscious fight, but in some kind of struggle.  Go close to these and you see that they are young, not yet fully emerged.  They are not fully formed, and somehow they are less powerful, less sharp than the others.  They carry a faint aura of rage and eros, some lust still unresolved, some fury still raging inside.

But the others.  They take your breath away.  They are all so different, as unique as a kiss.  Thin as a rail or carrying lots of weight, dressed in paint spattered mufti or the worn garments of a city woman who starts with style and moves to work, hair full or thinning or replaced, the faces and bodies are rich with information. 

Some would fit on a medieval stone wall, others in a chic gallery.  Some should hang in an egalitarian storefront, others on the wall of a tech company.  None of them, though would belong where they have often been found, trapped on the walls of a medical center, studied as biological errors, poor creatures who need to be helped.  These are not study skins to be stuffed into drawers and pulled out during pathology class, these are the vessels of lives, rich and full, full of struggle and full of joy.

It’s that richness which almost overpowers as you come close.  Every wrinkle tells a story of a laugh or a fixed face.  Every scar tells the story of a hard choice, a choice to face pressure act on some inner knowledge, a choice to take the blow to be true.

It’s that determination that you see first, but the more you look, the more you see the tenderness.  As you let them speak to you without words, their hearts begin to reveal themselves, open, tender hearts full of love.  These are children of their creator, so in love with their universal parent that they dared to follow her callings rather than society’s expectations. 

For all their scarred and shabby shells, these are people who lived as close to their hearts as they could possibly do.  These shells are just vessels, worn and armored, buffed and squalid, ignored and reshaped, vessels to hold and defend a heart that needs what it needs, that demanded honesty over appropriateness.

As you take a breath, you can imagine all of them come to life in this space.  The walls bounce with energy, the air is full of shouts and laughter.  Bodies clank even as souls touch, well worn sword tongues clank against well crumpled amour.  This is a familiar joust for them, the way of walking in a world where undefended hearts are too often broken as bad examples.  Against the cry of “Don’t be yourself, be who makes us comfortable,” these hearts have found their own defenses.

But now, as they hang silent and beautiful, alive with heart and energy, you see not the shells but the exquisite work of a creator and a human working together to make a truth.  These are the handiwork of creation, so fertile and full of life, so historical and story-full that they tell the story of a generation.  They were there, on the bleeding edge, at the epicenter, in the doorway, working to expose true, working to be true themselves.

Take a moment to wonder how many people walked past these figures on the street and never saw what you see here, the glowing hearts and gallant history so visible in a moment of empathic silence under bright lights.  In the shadows so many walk in, these figures must have looked like gorgons and demons to them, creatures from the underworld on the other side of the gate of normativity.

The beast with a heart of gold, a cliché still, still you wonder how the golden light you see within was seen in a fast, fast world. 

Step back again, to look at all the figures around you.  You know you have to leave, but there is still so much here, so much you can’t get to with them frozen like this.  The sadness sweeps though you as you walk down the steep gallery stairs and out the door and into the hustle of the street.

At the coffee counter you look across, and there, emanating from someone you wouldn’t have noticed this morning, you see the same golden light.  You take your cardboard cup and move in their direction.

“Excuse me,” you say.  “Is anyone sitting here?”

I Wasn’t Ready

I wasn’t ready.

I wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

I just wasn’t ready.

When you walk in the world as a tranny, as someone who crosses the gender lines assigned at birth because their heart calls them so strongly, you know the cost.  You know that you are open season, fair game for everyone who wants to act out their own fears.

Packs of kids in the mall often laugh, or make rude comments, or just follow you around.  They feel comfortable humiliating you on your gender deviance, and why shouldn’t they?  After all, they suffer humiliation for their difference everyday at school, taunted, shamed and hurt because they aren’t man enough or woman enough to be given respect and dignity.  We let kids teach other kids how to be normative, and that’s not a pretty process — the imposition of stereotypes, handed down from TV and stamped on tender young teens, who only want what we each want, only want to be loved.

People of color often read you out — “what the fuck is that!” — someone who has fallen from white male power and broken the rules of acting like one of us or one of them can easily be the victim.  Blacks have found power & comfort in solidarity, and the lone individual often must take the abuse of the tribe.

Many people feel it’s OK to judge you, that they have some obligation to make a judgment on you, and notify you of their disdain.  You just aren’t right, and that shouldn’t be revealed in public, where children and the morally vulnerable might see you.  These people would never want someone judging them, but they are smug in their normativity — they are just like the group, and you are — well, you are a sign of decay, repugnant.

Walking in the world is walking in a minefield for a transgendered person, knowing that at any time, someone or something could explode.  You learn to avoid traps, learn that you are often denied public facilities, learn to always keep defended.  That’s the way stigma works — if we can keep people terrorized enough to be in fear, they won’t have the energy to really be strong enough to be a potent example of change in the world.

The problem with walking around in armor, though, is that while it may keep you defended, it also keeps you isolated, alone, and lonely.

That’s why I wasn’t ready.

I just wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

The question everyone has to face in the world is simply this: Do you want to be more like everyone else, or do you want to be more like yourself?

We feel the face of the crowd all the time, staring at us, and wanting us to be tame, like them, one of the gang.  They want us to act in ways that make them comfortable, that affirm their values, that let them believe they are safe being part of the clique.

From inside though, we feel another face, our own face, the unique face our creator gave us.  This is our wild face, our special face, the one that lies behind the mask of normativity.  It may be silk, or it may be metal, but it is ours, personal and true.

People often assume that the transgendered are just wearing a mask.  It’s a funny costume designed to conceal what lies underneath, to hide the truth. That’s why they often feel safe in giving it a punch, just like they would hit the Chuck E. Cheese costume — after all, it’s not a real person, is it?

The truth is that the mask transgendered people wear is designed to reveal, and not to conceal.  Wearing that mask is a risky choice to show the wild face, the special face, the unique face their creator gave them.  It’s art that reveals more than it conceals — though being hidden allows some freedom.

Our face is our art, letting us paint the image of our soul onto the flesh of our body.  It may be a crude image, it may be a clumsy image, stuck between hiding and exposing.   Like any art, it takes time and effort to become a master, to have the skill and the courage to really show what is in our hearts where people can see it, but every attempt is one step farther to finding our own truth, to finding our own true face.

There is one place where this connection between our face and our art has always been understood.

Makeup Art Cosmetics  — M.A.C. — is committed to this connection.  I knew it when they used RuPaul as their first spokesperson, and saw the beautiful visions they created.  Maybe it’s the Canadian connection, where instead of a melting pot they have a mosaic, knowing that a few shiny tiles gives the whole composition color and vibrancy, but whatever it is, M.A.C. means art. Their motto is simple — All ages.  All races.  All sexes.   Everyone deserves the power of art to show what is inside of their heart on their own face, deserves respect for what they reveal.

I have always loved M.A.C. stores, where I often found a transgendered person behind the counter, someone who had created their own face as a work of art.  M.A.C. seemed to understand that if they wanted people to believe in art, they had to hire artists, people who pushed the edges, and gave a glimpse of what artistic freedom could mean in a life.  Not clones but creators, people who created their own face in new ways, showing the power of art in revelation.

M.A.C stores were places where performance was valued because in performance, the heart is revealed.  In there, you were never stuck with what God gave you on the outside, rather you were gifted with what God gave you on the inside, all that beauty and drama which could be revealed with the stroke of a brush.  You come and touch the cosmetics, and in those pots is not just something to hide who you are, but something which lets you uncover who you are and declare that to the world.

Still, I wasn’t ready.

I wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

We have M.A.C counter in Albany now.  Counters are always different than stores, because they stand exposed in a department store.  They don’t have the concentrated space to keep things going, rather the energy bleeds away.

It was late one Saturday night when I went there.  I had a $100 gift certificate, and was ready to spend it, still remembering the laughter I had at the Montreal Pro store just a few weeks before.

It wasn’t a good night.  I asked for the brush I wanted, they were out of the Infamous paint.  The gal behind the counter seemed a little uncomfortable, like she wasn’t there.  I asked about crème liner, and she asked what color my eyes were — something most makeup artists would know of a customer in the first few moments.

I pulled back.  This wasn’t fun.  The hardest thing about being a tranny is that when you are feeling most vulnerable is the time when you have to be most gracious.  Other people feel their own discomfort and fears kick up — they don’t know how to handle people like you, don’t have any experience, so they get clumsy.  You, then, should to read their actions as discomfort and put them at ease, but mostly you don’t.  You read their actions as judgment, as fear, as a mark that they are unsafe to be around, and you tighten up, get more defensive.

This is the same pattern for all marginalized people.  We learn to oppress ourselves, to read the choices of others as signs that we are not wanted, that they don’t like us.  When a waitress drops a plate a little hard in front of a white person, they probably think she is just a clumsy waitress, but when a waitress drops a plate in front of a person of color, they may read that as a sign that they are not worth serving, read that as a message about her own racism.

When my gift certificate was rung out, she didn’t exactly know what to do. She asked others for help, and in the process said that talked about “his” certificate, what she should do for “him.”

I took my change, and let vent.  “This is M.A.C.   When someone shows you their face, please respect it.  All ages.  All races.  All sexes.  Treat a transperson as they reveal themselves to you, honor their art, no matter how crude it may be.”

I left and went for a drink.

That’s why I wasn’t ready.

I just wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

I have been by the M.A.C. counter a few times since then, though hidden under my boy clothes.  For perceptive artists, though, that is rarely a problem — they see the eyebrows and the stance, and they know there is something else there.

I started a conversation when a display pot clattered to the floor, jostled by me somehow.  She was young and intense, and behind her was our own local male behind the counter, today in feather collar and rhinestoned eyelids. We spoke about trans, and the incident I had had.  She had heard of it. “Well, she’s older, you know and. . . ”

She offered to do my makeup sometime.  I said I wanted her to see me in my other clothes first, so she knew more about me.  In other words, I felt safe enough to want to show myself to her.

I came in Monday night, as I was heading to an event at the Unitarian church.  The young woman wasn’t there, but the older woman was, as I came around the counter. “Hello!” she call out warmly to me.

I started heading her way, looking stunned.  “Do you remember me? You bought some makeup from me.”

“Yes,” I replied.  “We had a little incident. ”

“I know.  I learned a lot. I talked about it afterwards”

“Well, it’s important… and we… and RuPaul is a good teacher” I blathered on, completely taken aback by her openness and support.

“You are a good teacher,” she said to me.

“Thanks,” I mumbled and staggered off, as stunned as if I had been hit by a car.

I wasn’t ready.

I just wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

I know how to stay defended, to handle the destructive surprises, but the positive ones?  They just blow me away.

That’s the problem with living inside a shell.  You are always on tenterhooks, waiting for the third gotcha, so you are never ready for someone to be nice, open, caring and gracious.  Then they do, and your world is turned upside down for a moment, that moment when someone sees your heart and not your crotch, when someone affirms your spirit and not your flesh.

Art is about making spirit visible, and when it is seen, it can blow you away.

I wasn’t ready.

I just wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

But they were.

And it was a gift.

Callan Williams, 13 March 2001

naked leap

From: Callan Williams
Sent: Thursday, July 13, 2000 9:01 AM
To: Sparkle Ann Smith
Subject: naked leap

When I leave the house dressed in the clothes I want to be dressed in, I feel like I walk out the door naked.

I am exposed in a way that I am taught that is dangerous.

I am exposed in a way that makes other people uncomfortable when they see what they think I should keep hidden.

I am exposed and feel vulnerable, without the armor I learned to wear very early.

I am exposed in heart and soul, exposing the way my creator made me.

I am exposed, feeling unsafe, ready to bolt or jump at any noise.

It was not always this way.

There was a time — somewhere after the first time I went out and before now — when transgender expression was not getting naked. Instead, it was dressing up in a costume, being a clown. I concealed who I was behind drag queen armor, rather than revealed, heart and soul.

That doesn’t work for me today. It’s the main challenge I have in transgender groups, being with people who are putting on a front — be that crossdressing fun, or the earnest attempt to play a transsexual lesbian. It is an important part of the process, this trying on masks, but the scariest part — at least for me — is when we drop the mask and reveal ourselves in all our messy but beautiful ambiguity.

When I look in the mirror and panic, I want to do one of two things — take a shower and erase the art I have painted on myself that reveals me, or add more coverage to conceal me. This is easy to do in the world of transgender — more padding, a bigger wig, thicker makeup, layers upon layers that we are taught are needed to “pass” as being female at birth.

I don’t want to pass anymore. I never really did. I didn’t spend the tens of thousands of dollars many spend to female their bodies, conceal as many signs of being male bodied as possible. This is the flip side of Almodovar’s view of transsexuality — the more someone creates themselves as what they are inside, the more authentic they are. So many of us choose to work outside in, believing that of we create the exterior, the interior will somehow follow along, eventually realizing that approach leaves us as hollow as when we try to create an exterior that matches what was expected of us at birth.

I know how to work the suit — or maybe I don’t. Maybe I just never surrendered to the suit, let it work its magic on me, freeing me to make the choices that it allows. This is the line between drag clowns, in costumes, and drag divas, who let their personality fill the costume, between people who have to let their everyday self scream forth, and people who surrender to the persona.

We stayed in character all day long,
we had everybody call us by our character’s names . . .
that gave us the creative license
to be as wild or as horny as we needed to be.
Didi Cohn, who played “Frenchy” in “Grease

Do I take that license? Or do I fear that license as much as I feared wearing shorts when I was a kid — feared that somehow, the exposure of my legs would expose my character, the character I learned early was shameful, wrong, and separating?

Do I believe in the actors credo, and become the person I see myself as being, or do I hold fast to what is safe but unfulfilling, depressing and eventually sickening? Where is the acting coach who trusts the possiblities of my choices beyond the canned and limited? Where is the boldness to get naked on stage and trust in the audience, trust that when audiences see themselves in me, I am affirmed, not erased by their projections — that common ground comes when we see the universal? Where is the trust to give my own art, my own self, to the world and believe that what they will do with it will be beautiful?

The great artists are those
who impose their personal vision
upon humanity.
-Maupassant, preface to _Pierre et Jean_, 1887

Get naked and dance. Close your eyes and sing.

sing like you don’t need the money
dance like nobody’s watching
love like you’ll never get hurt
gotta come from the heart
if you want it to work

Affirmed in getting naked, friends to slice off the combover and hold your hand as you walk out naked, letting their powerful belief in you be the seed that moves you beyond your own fears, the nourishment which allows you to bloom, open to the sun.


When in doubt, make a fool of yourself.
There is a microscopically thin line between
being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on Earth.
So what the hell, leap!
Cynthia Heimel


A bit of advice
given to a young Native American
at the time of his initiation:
“As you go the way of life,
you will see a great chasm.


It is not as wide as you think.”

Joseph Campbell, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Edited by Diane K. Osbon, Harper-Collins 1991


Sometimes I just have to trust trust.
Sometimes I have to just stick my nose out,
followed by the rest of me,
despite the fact that I feel confident
that something very, very bad could absolutely happen really soon.

I hope it won’t, I pray it won’t, but it really could.

So I grab my good luck charm and I say my prayer
and I do the scary thing trusting that things will probably be okay,
but also trusting myself, my own choice to trust.

I’ve always felt basically like I was going to be okay, no matter what –
that somewhere there was a place for me, people for me, happiness for me.

People will tolerate different people, they’ll tolerate them, often.
Especially if there are other reasons not to write someone off –
intelligence, humor, or beauty being the top three.

What I’ve discovered is this.

If you lay on your back and show your belly,
seven out of ten people will step blindly over you,
one will drop his cigarette butt on your bare skin,
but two will reach down and pet you gently.

Bear Girl

Trusting Niagra

“let’s go to that spiritual place
where we still small voice

“a place of peace and serenity
where nothing challenges us
where we can feel the quiet dignity
of the earth

“a place where all voices are stilled
and the most oppressed among us
can speak their truths in a whisper
where we know that the loud roar of society
is what erases the true nature of a god
who is as quiet as the dew drop on the morning grass.”

NO!  NO!  NO!

My God is not Just the God of breezes
but the god of storms
pounding surf and crashing waves
cracking thunder and brilliant flashes of lightning
a God who contains the power of Niagara
in every moment
a God who placed the potential of the atomic bomb
in every cell.
e=mc squared indeed!

Intense passion
awesome power
surging in my soul
when god speaks though me
she does so with sharp humor
and thoughtful rants

church of unity pastor
not a preacher, just a teacher
cause a preacher can be confused with a creature
like a teacher can’t?
Aren’t you glad I’m not gonna preach?
No indeed! 
I want to feel the power of the lord though you
feel the energy, the sizzle
of her brilliance
slicing though rationalizations
to show connection

How do we break though the noise
of a society?
By shutting it out
or by focusing intently
on one thing at a time
until we can see it?

When energy is focused
by the creator
it breaks though the banal
and rivets us to it
revealing the power manifest.

I sit in my car at the seawall
darkling sky and crashing surf
or soaked by rain on a hilltop
thunder swirling
and I am awed by the presence
of God.

Can I feel the same awe
when god bubbles though me
intense and brilliant
and blows her way
into the consciousness of
a world of flesh?

or do we surrender
to the human urge
to silence the voices of god
so ours can be dominant
without the work
of feeling god act though us?

fear of passion
fear of Eros
fear of power
gods power surging though us
burning away the smallness
which keeps us tied
to social fears

not just the god of dewdrops
but the goddess of Niagara
who lives in my soul.

In a room with four mirrored walls —
physical, emotional, mental and spiritual —
you can easily look in one mirror
look in two if you try,
and possibly look in three
but you can never see yourself in all four.
You have to spin around, change your focus
or better, have a friend
who can watch your back
reflecting what they see,
and help you grow.
    Callan Williams

The O Word


The O word
copyright Callan Williams
© 1998 <TheCallan@aol.com>


I remember the last time I saw Callan. It was a spring night, and Callan had come to Rhinebeck to a book signing I was doing. Callan was in her boy clothes, squatting under a cap from a plutonium reprocessing company she had bought at a dollar store.

After people left, we walked together though the quiet center of town. Callan had a piece of carrot go down the wrong way, so as we passed by her car, she grabbed the warm remains of a 44-ounce cup of Coke she had bought for 44 cents in her travels. She swigged the Coke as we walked.

“The 24 year old used the O word today,” she told me. After a few digressions on what the O word might mean, Callan finally told me what this word was that was so powerful to her. She raised the big empty paper cup to her mouth, using it as a resonator and boomed out the word, replete with echo: “Overwhelming.”

Overwhelming. The stories Callan told me that night were funny and sharp, Callan was up and animated, but they all were about the O word. How people, from parents to lovers, had cast her aside, and closed a door when they found Callan overwhelming. There were stories about kindergarten, when a teacher wanted to move her out when she found out she could really read, about lovers, and coworkers.

Callan was full of energy, entertaining and electric, but there was a sense of deep sadness, because she was having trouble believing that she could ever overcome the curse of her life, the sense that others could not see her or love her because she was overwhelming. We talked of publishing and art, of techniques and venues, of ways to help her share her gifts with the world. I told her clearly that I believed that there were other people who could find her as wonderful and attractive as I did.

Callan’s loneliness, though, ran very deep. Her performance was almost manic, to cover this sadness, and that upset me. This challenge, of packaging herself up to connect with people, which meant cutting down, was something that wore on her he entire life. She felt she was, as she said to me that night, a 5000 volt person in a 120 volt world.

I felt understood Callan. Callan said that was because we had a history together, and more than that, because I had worked so hard to understand the shared history of queer, transgender folks. I needed to understand that history, because I needed to understand myself.

Like a stranger in a strange land, the language of society was not Callan’s first tongue, and she always felt awkward and limited by it. She had the constraints of someone who learned a second language later in life, always forced and constricted in a way she was not in her beautiful native language, a language so many felt was overwhelming.

Overwhelming. Callan may have been overwhelming, overwhelming with ideas, overwhelming with emotion, overwhelming with pain & rage, overwhelming with energy and overwhelming with sprit, but it was my great joy to be overwhelmed by her in these ways, and to be a better and more enlightened person for it. It was when I let her wash over me that I felt the power, and it was a gift, a gift I honored.

I really believed that this gift was something that could be shared with the world, but for Callan, that was the hardest belief of all. She knew her loneliness, and every cut that came, the cuts which for her were tied up in that one word, the one that boomed through the streets of Rhinebeck, resonating in a paper cup. Overwhelming.

Overwhelm my defenses, let me see myself again in your mirror, show me the beauty that is awesome and overwhelming. This is your gift to the world — a gift that Callan really learned to believe she could never show in public.

What The Hell Do I Do With A Penis?


Subj: What The Hell Do I Do With A Penis?
Date: 5/3/99

So, this is the question: what the hell does a femme do with a penis?

For femmes, a penis is less a root part of their identity than a fashion accessory, something to don when it will perfectly compliment an outfit, attitude or role. They are nice to have, but they get in the way.

When Tina came over last night, I gave her the one I made for her. It wasn’t complex, just a soft packy to compliment the strap-ons in her wardrobe, made from condoms filled with hair-gel and tied together in the toe of a nylon stocking.
We slipped it inside her pantyhose, under the long black silky knit dress print with tulips. she complained about it all night, how it stopped her from sitting nicely, and wandered about like it had a mind of its own. Her best friend Patrick, who we ran into at the drag show, told her that would happen as soon as she pulled his hand to her crotch to show off the “arts & crafts project” she had been gifted with.

healing, believing in beauty, power of sexual healing,

enormous moon, pray dammnit pray. not about what you want, about who you are.

Sex confuses me
I end up getting cast
as the one with the penis
even when my partner
sees me as a woman.

Or maybe
I’m just cast
as the old one,
the smart one
the healer
even for people
who are the healers
in other places.

My strength
My mind
My penis

I provide safe space
for others to find themselves
but where do I find safe space
to just relax?

I know what she wants
healing of a healer
by being enveloped
surrounded in a womb
and I give her that
but not with my body
which cries for the loss
dreams of femaleness
scratching inside my skin

yet this is the way of my body
this is the life I was dealt
the cards I was supposed to play
rather than trying to reconstruct
a neo-female body

I know I can wear whatever I want
and go wherever I want
but I also know
that is a lonely life
however you cut it
hiding my history in a reconstructed body
hiding my body in a reconstucted image
always hiding
always hiding
always lonely.

This is the challenge
even in bed
when the roles are assigned
and I feel erased
always lonely

I am not
a guru
a healer
a radical
a nutcase
a bomb thrower

I am
a human
with the power of story
and the weakness of flesh.

My penis works
but I never had
the cockiness
to work it.
Yet, it is the part
that ends up defining me
in bed
and wherever
the line between female and male
slices me apart

Women wish to be loved not because
they are pretty,
or good,
or well bred,
or graceful,
or intelligent,
but because they are themselves.
— Henri Frederic Amiel