Too Much Is Not Enough

Too Much Is Not Enough

by: Callan Williams

You know what’s a sin?

People who think they can look at someone and tell if they are a sinner. In the end, that judgment is up to God and God alone.

All we mortals can do is to determine who is dangerous to the social order. Sometimes that’s easy — we know that people who have murdered others are dangerous and need to be dealt with — and sometimes that’s very hard. Are homosexual people dangerous to the social order? Should they be “dealt with?”

It’s one thing looking at someone’s actions against another to determine who is dangerous. People who physically harm others without consent or people who take property without informed consent should be looked at for danger. That’s what a trial does — uses a set of laws to determine who is guilty and how they should be punished.

It’s another thing altogether when we look at someone’s character to determine if they are dangerous, but that’s what so many people do. We look at another to make the most common judgment people make: Where is this person too much, and where are they not enough?

Think about it. “Too much” and “not enough” is the basis of most judgments that humans make. “Well, they are just too rude, too dramatic, too quiet, too rich. They need to be more civil, more appropriate, more vocal, more humble.”

“Too much” and “not enough” is the where we set the bounds of community. “To be one of us, you can’t be too much this or not enough that, so you better change to meet our expectations or be shunned and shamed.” It doesn’t matter if the community believes in fundamentalist Christian values or radical activist values, the judgment is always the same: “How is this person too much, how are they not enough?”

The arrogance of that judgment, though, is when you decide that people who are “too much” or “not enough” for your tastes are sinners. This has always been the tool of religious repression, be it the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Crusaders who rode into Jerusalem. “They are not enough like me, too much like who I choose to hate, so they are sinners, and my God gives me the right to smite them.”

The laws of the country are not meant to punish sin. The laws of this country are not even meant to enforce morality. They are meant to maintain social order, nothing more, nothing less. For many believers who want the world to be more like what they wish it to be, this seems like a bad idea. After all, shouldn’t we be shaping morality though every means possible? It seems like a bad idea, of course, until they see a country where laws are designed to enforce morality and punish sin, and people like them are being prosecuted and persecuted for their own choices. Some don’t get this lesson. They think their beliefs are the only right ones, and as long as people like them make the choices, everything will be OK. We can only hope they figure out that whoever is in power there has the same belief. Conservatives who say “Get the government out of my bedroom, and get it into theirs,” are not conservatives at all, they are moralists plain and simple.

This is not to say that morality is not required in a democracy. In fact, morality is at the heart of democracy, even more than laws. Laws are only the backstop to catch those people who have harmed others, not the rules for appropriate behavior. If laws are the only controls, what you have is a police state and not a democracy, and that is something few of us want.

Can you look at someone and judge whether they are a sinner? You may be able to judge that they have participated in acts you think are sinful, but they may consider that you have participated in acts they think are sinful, maybe even according to their reading of the same scripture. Poly-cotton blends may just be unholy, you know. You can’t however determine they are a sinner — only God holds that privilege.

What you can determine is how they challenge social order; either the order that exists now, the status quo, or the order that you wish would exist. This idea, for example, is at the heart of political correctness, where people who speak in a way that contradicts some abstract ideals are deemed sinners, and are then exposed to the shunning and shaming of the group in order to get them back into line.

For those of us, though, who honor the call of our creator, who are reborn in every moment, we know that the most challenging thing we face is when people judge us as “too much,” or judge us as “not enough.” That pressure to be small and appropriate rather than real, honest and the servant of an empowering God can be stifling. It is, I suspect what Chesterton meant when he said, “The Christian Ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

To move beyond the fear that we will be “too much” or “not enough,” and be shamed and shunned because of that, we have to drop our judgments about others who we may have felt are “too much” or “not enough.” We don’t get the luxury of asking people not to judge us, and then expect the right to judge others.

To be willing to withhold judgment on “too much/too little” means being willing to step away from group mores and group pressure and be willing to accept people as individuals, each with their own calling. It means judging people on the simple criteria if what they say and what they do is in harmony. The righteous person is one who’s public and private lives are in accord, beyond hypocrisy and twisted thinking which violates the golden rule by assuming one rule for me and one for others. She stands for what she stands for.

In society, this can often be very hard. We are asked speak for that which we don’t even try to live, to hold others to standards and expectations we ourselves cannot meet. This twists our thinking, creating closets, creating those who try to achieve standing in the community not by their own good acts but instead by attacking what they claim the be the excesses and deficits of others — where others are “too much” or “not enough.” Rather than leading by example, they enforce with fear, trying to use the power of judgment to maintain a social order that oppresses the diversity and truth across all creation.

Too much is not enough, for enough only comes when we walk in righteousness by using our sweat to reveal the truth of our creation, make transformative art of our lives by co-creating them with God. It is when we can move beyond the fear of stigma, shunning and shaming which comes from the judgment of others that we can be clear and true in our own lives and our own relationship with God.

It’s a sin when you believe that you can look at someone and tell they are a sinner — even if that someone is you. And when you judge another on anything but how they act towards others, you judge yourself, putting barriers up between you and the potential you hold.

After all, isn’t succumbing to social pressure and then not doing what you know to be right a sin?

Copyright © 2002 by the author
All Rights Reserved


Are You Ready For Community?

Are You Ready For Community?

by: Callan Williams

Tribes exist when people share a heritage.

Religions exist when people share belief stories.

Communities exist when people share priorities.

Through most of human history, we have lived in groups where all these three were shared — heritage, belief, and priorities. We had common ancestors, common beliefs and common goals. In fact, those common beliefs often consolidated the solidarity of our group by teaching us that we were the chosen people and others were wrong and evil, creating the unity of fear and hate.

Today, though with instant communications and almost instant transportation, it’s very rare that we feel this real connection to the tribe, the religion and the community of someone else we meet. However much we crave being included, as a member of a group, that connection seems to elude us.

Humans are mostly the same. That’s why our perception system is optimized not for seeing sameness, but for difference. It’s no good to say that someone has two legs, five fingers and one nose — that hardly communicates much. The only absolutely true statement may be “all is nothing, nothing is all,” but that hardly starts a useful conversation. Instead we learn early to identify not where we are the same, but to identify where we are different, and to assume that when we don’t see difference that none exists.

The problem with finding difference is that while it is fun and easy to pick apart the subtle differences between people, it never builds commonality. The problem with assuming sameness is that it never builds commonality either, because it substitutes comfortable projections that erase real differences and real connections.

We have trouble finding common ground when all we see is difference, and we have trouble respecting difference when all we do is project sameness.

For many of us, though, our own difference from “them” is at the basis of our belief stories. “I may not be able to tell you who I am, but I can tell you one thing: I am not like them!” We don’t create a positive identity for ourselves, based on who we know ourselves to be, but rather a negative one, based on who we know we aren’t.

When many people walk into a room, they often ask, “How are these people not like me?” which leads to the next question, “How do I have to keep myself separate from these people?”

The flip side of this approach is the projection of false sameness. We walk into a room and assume that everyone not only is like us, but that they are just like us. We wonder why they get frustrated with us, saying we aren’t listening to them, not respecting them. We get frustrated when they won’t agree with us, because they are just like us. We finally realize how different they are, we feel betrayed and deceived, and we wonder how they were allowed in this space for people just like us.

Neither of these approaches are the basis of healthy community. Community demands that we honor diversity while seeking commonality. If you project you can’t honor diversity, and if you fear or disdain, you can’t seek commonality.

I guarantee you that if you look closely enough at any human, at their tribe and belief stories and who they are in community with, you will find a good reason that you don’t want to be like them. No human tribe, no human religion, no human community and no human is perfect — they are all, as you are, human. They learn though mistakes, often very big mistakes, they cling to what makes them comfortable, they act out of fear and pain.

Can we walk into a room full of very imperfect humans committed to work to discover “What can these people teach me about finding community?” That may sound simple, but to do that we have to face our own pain and fears, we have to face our own assumptions and expectations. We look for protecting ourselves against the cuts people like them have made on us in the past, against when they try to separate from us, slicing us away and wounding our heart. We look for protecting ourselves from their attitudes and judgments, the ones that have kept us crucified all our lives.

Unfortunately, the lessons of heritage and belief are lessons that are designed to sabotage community rather than enable it. We build life myths that enforce boundaries rather than build bridges. We build walls designed to bolster a shared identity by making sure we know that we are not like “them” that we are never like “them.”

To build a community, we have to focus on the priorities we share, rather than on what divides us. To do that, we have to be able to face challenges to the lessons of belief that we have built up, have to be willing to make change in ourselves rather than just demand change in others.

For many people, who want to see communities as places for projecting common belief and behavior, rather than for common priorities, this can be very hard. They want community to be a stick to get others to conform, denying community to others they see as traitors, believing that identity politics must be the core of community, enforcing norms. It is these people who give community a bad name.

Are you ready for community? Are you ready to come with a clear positive sense of who you are, rather than needing just to declare who you aren’t? Are you ready to look for common ground rather than why others should be kept away as “them?” Are you ready to be willing to change as you see reflections of your heritage, your life, your beliefs and your priorities in the diversity of others?

Community demands intimacy, the sharing of truths. If you hold that “they” are so different that “they” will never understand your truths, or worse, if you hold that you have no need to understand the truths of another, then no matter how much you may want it and how much you may need it, you are not ready for community.

Community is, by its very existence, a transformative process. It creates connection by forging or revealing commonalities in the face of differences. When we are unwilling or unable to be transformed, to face those real differences and real commonalities, community will elude us.

Like all transformation, being in community offers us mirrors that reflect essence, an essence that may challenge who we wish to be, that may challenge the kind of world we think would be most comfortable. The one thing God never promised, though, is comfort. Only life is promised, and life is transformation, no matter how much we want to stay comfortable. It is in our discomfort that we find what is real and what is false, about our beliefs and about our soul.

Are you ready for community?

Are you ready to be open enough to others so that seeing yourself though their eyes will transform you? Or do you need to only see your own comforting projections in them, projections of sameness which erase challenge, or projections of difference which allow you to dismiss them?

To open your heart is to be open to God’s revelation, the shock of seeing oneself and knowing you are not who you wish to be but who you are. You will see where you are blocked from growth and change; see where your ego tries to keep you comfortable and defended rather than open and loving. And for most people, the scariest thing they will see is not that they are messed up and in pain, but rather that they are more powerful than is comfortable for them, more full of potential and grace.

Deep community, like any other sharing, calls us to be deeply ourselves, beyond identity props, facing the common humanity that lives in every soul.

Are you ready for community? Are you ready to move past assumptions of difference or assumptions of sameness to face other humans with an open heart? Are you ready to be open and visible, ready to see with wide and loving eyes?

Are you ready to be transformed?

Copyright © 2002 by the author
All Rights Reserved

Are You a Crucifixion Person or a Resurrection Person?

Are You a Crucifixion Person or a Resurrection Person?

by: Callan Williams

To die and to be reborn. It’s a powerful notion, so powerful and pervasive in human societies that there is no surprise that Christianity puts death and rebirth at the core. And it provides an easy way to take a measure of someone’s beliefs.

Are you a crucifixion person or a resurrection person? Do you believe we are born to suffer and die, with our ultimate reward coming in some other place, some other time, or are you a resurrection person, immersed in leaving behind suffering and building a new life, immersed in being reborn here and now?

The Roman church decided early that they would be a church of the crucifixion. The Gnostic gospels, proclaiming the reality of being reborn on Earth, were edited from the canon, removed from the Bible, around 300AD. The power of the church and its leadership was consolidated by this choice. By saying that divinity of the human was denied until the next life, no mere human could challenge the church, and the church could say that suffering was good for you, that your rewards would come in the afterlife.

Today, power is still consolidated by leaders who speak for crucifixion. By emphasizing suffering and victimization of the group, they disempower individuals who speak for transcendence, attempting to make them subservient to the group. To empower individuals is to invite challenge, for people reborn in a present relationship with God are not under the control of man, not subject to the demands of the group for compliance on an earthly plane. Instead, they speak for the God they know intimately, even when that voice says change is needed, that we must defy convention to be right with God.

To be a crucifixion person is to deny the possibility of bliss, passion, ecstasy and power in this world. It is to live in suffering, a suffering designed to rationalize and support the need for sacrifices in order to receive a distant ephemeral reward.

To be a resurrection person, though, is to embrace the idea that God is alive and living in everyone, reborn in every moment we reaffirm our connection with her. It is to face God everyday, a God who works though the divine callings in the hearts of each of us, teaching us where we need to be new.

This is a terrifying idea for Crucifixion people who support the status quo, believing their suffering to follow the rules of the church and community are the only true way to serve God. They need to believe that God demands suppression of the individual, sacrifice to the mores of the group. Crucifixion people see a vengeful God, one who punishes us for following the joy in our heart rather than following the tenets of the church and community. Their God enforces obedience to a set of laws rather than encouraging new creation from personal divine inspiration.

Resurrection is a very queer idea indeed. It honors those who follow their own unique connection to the Godhead by being born anew in every moment rather than honoring those who suffer the most by being crucified in every moment. It honors creation, both the creation of a creative connection with the universe, and the creation of a creator who made an incredibly diverse and beautiful world. To be a resurrection person we must celebrate the queer and unique beauty in every person, for it is impossible to embrace our own resurrection unless we embrace the resurrection of others, resurrection not beyond the reality of pain and conflict, but beyond the belief in suffering and fear.

Resurrection comes with a kind of responsibility that doesn’t come with crucifixion. To be a crucifixion person, we just have to follow the rules, be a good follower in the congregation. To be a resurrection person, though, we have to follow our heart, even when it puts us in conflict with those who want to maintain the status quo.

To be a resurrection person, we have to be an individual and a leader. Resurrection means that we are an active agent of God, playing our part in creation, and not just one of the group, believing that meek obedience will bring some kind of reward in a better place, or worse, that strong enforcement of social norms is following the call of God.

Resurrection requires a commitment to make this world a better place, more like heaven, rather than believing that this place is meant to be where people suffer and die for the glory of a distant God who is only truly known to church leaders.

Resurrection demands an active romance with the possible, rather than just an infatuation with the flat symbols of devotion.

Joseph Campbell is clear – the hero’s journey has always been a journey of death and rebirth, of crucifixion and resurrection. To be a resurrection person is to be a hero, to be one who is willing to endure death to become new. The only way to be a resurrection person is to be willing to let parts of us die so we may be reborn, and those are most often the parts that have given us comfort. For many, belief in the validity of suffering is at the heart of their comfort. A belief in suffering as central releases personal responsibility and puts the onus on those who refuse to suffer as God demands. This gives those who have chosen suffering the power to lash out at people who refuse to suffer like they do as the ones who cause all evil.

Resurrection people may seem to mock the price crucifixion people choose to pay to be right with God, but resurrection people do pay a high price – the price of being crucified daily by the crucifixion people who want to inflict the lesson of obedience and suffering. As Buddha said, though, loss is inevitable but suffering is optional. It is those who endure loss and pain without succumbing to suffering who make this world more like heaven, it is those who transcend pain and loss who have the power to make change.

Are you a crucifixion person or a resurrection person? Which would you like to be, reborn in every moment, or pinned to a cross for the rest of your mortal life? Are you willing to pay the price for whichever choice you make?

They are hard questions to answer. While crucifixion people will tell us that the lesson of Easter is that we can be reborn in a new life after we die if we sufficiently suffer the cross here, Easter reminds me of one thing: Jesus was a resurrection person, unwilling to succumb to social pressure to play along against what he knew to be true and right, willing to die to be reborn more in the image of God.

As I wrote on the talisman I gave Rachel Pollack on her bat mitzvah, which followed her bar mitzvah by 40 years:

“She is who is
reborn in every moment
will truly know
the glory of G-D.”

Callan Williams is a power-femme drag-mom trans-theologian who finds it very hard to practice what she preaches. Quaint selections of her past writing can be found at

Copyright © 2002 by the author
All Rights Reserved

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

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