Prep Notes for Josie Speckert
Callan Williams Initial Session, May 17, 1996
For me, at this point, Transgender is about work. That is to say that my issues about TG are my issues about my calling, about bring the gifts of wisdom & insight back into the world.
The great problem is bringing life
back into the wasteland,
where people live inauthentically.
Bringing back the gift to integrate it into a rational life is very difficult. It is even more difficult than going down into the underworld. What you have to bring back is something the world lacks--which is why you went to get it--and lacking it, the world does not know that it needs it. And so, on the return, when you come with your boon for the world, and there is no reception, what are you going to do? There are three possible reactions.
One answer is to say, "To hell with them, I'm going back to the woods." You buy a dog and a pipe and let the weeds grow in the grate. You have come back to the world with your gift, and people look at you with glassy eyes, call you "a kook," and so you retreat. This is the refusal of the return.
The second way is to say "What do they want?" You have a skill. You can give them what they want, the commercial way. Then you have created a whole pitch for your expressivity, and what you had before gets lost. You have a public career, and you have renounced the jewel.
The third possibility is to try to find some aspect of the domain into which you have come that can receive a little portion of what you have to give. You try to find a means to deliver what you have found as the life boon in terms and proportions that are proper to the world's ability to receive. It requires a good deal of compassion and patience. Look for cracks in the wall and give only to those who are ready for your jewel.
If all else fails, you can get a job teaching and introduce your message to the people who are studying with you. If you can get one little hook into the given society, you will fine presently that you are able to deliver your message. Artists who teach are examples of this: they are doing their creative work, but they are being sustained by something that is secondary to their primary job. They are receiving adequate income and gradually build up a following.
You do not have a complete adventure unless you do get back. There is a time to go into the woods and a time to come back, and you know which it is. Do you have the courage? It takes a hell of a lot of courage to return after you've been in the woods.
Those are modes of having this realization, and the final thing is knowing, loving, and serving life in a way in which you are eternally at rest. The point of rest has got to be in all of it. Even though you are active out in the world, within you there's a point of complete composure and rest. When that's not there, then you are in agony.
Joseph Campbell, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Edited by Diane K. Osbon, Harper-Collins 1991, pg. 81-82
I bang my own drum.
Some think it's noise.
I think it's pretty.
I Am What I Am from "La Cage Aux Folles"
A while ago I figured out that TG was about having enormous trust in your own aesthetic sense. Marianne Williamson says the same thing in another way -- "The only power we have is when we speak from our own moral authority."
The people I look at as potential role models -- Tom Peters, Marianne Williamson, Robert Fulgum, Martha Stewart -- have all parlayed their trust in their own moral and aesthetic sense into fame, influence and power.
They each have their share of detractors, but they keep a core group that keeps balance and support. They excite one or two people, and then build the pattern of excitement.
Of course this means that you have to trust that you can convey your excitement about your own beliefs to others. And that means that you have to be excited about and trusting in your own beliefs and opinions. You have to have the optimism to believe that any setback is temporary and your own determination and good thinking will win out.
You gotta believe in your talents, skills and message. If marketing is essentially oversimplification, and art is conveying feelings in an effective way to give people new perspectives, then my goal lies somewhere between the two. Moving from symbol to meaning, and then back to symbol in a way that can excite and affect people.
Now, I believe that my biggest handicap is that I am "too hip for the room." On one hand that is a reflection of a real truth, but on the other hand it may simply be an excuse for failure, using my aloofness to avoid having to try. I project from my history -- and that is the ego speaking, creating fear, as well as the logical mind speaking, understanding the issues.
Here is a question. If you have to change what you want to say so that people will understand it, are you saying what you want to say in the first place? "Artists are not ahead of their time, they are of their time. It's simply the audience who has to catch up." When you carry the gift back into the world, if you have to change the gift to have people receive it, is it the same gift?
I have offered the gifts of insight and wisdom all my life. And I have been scorned for it. This has set up a pattern where I tend to believe that I will continue to be scorned for it, and therefore, I resist giving the gifts. Yet I am unhappy, because sharing my gifts is my greatest joy. I feel inauthentic when I sit in the corner, a curmudgeon and observer, not giving my gifts -- yet I am well poised to be simply that.
A friend sent me an e-mail.
You are good at seeing the connections between things and at explaining why. It's part of your search for understanding.
You are trying to understand yourself. It has been an ordeal of Biblical proportions to get this far. And you've done it largely by yourself because nobody else really has the tools or the stamina to help.
You are your own worst enigma.
You've gotten to the point where it's finally starting to make sense and you want to share your insights with others. Unfortunately, the others, being rather simple creatures, generally don't care. They won't care about your struggles until you're famous and/or dead.
Becoming dead is easy; how do you become famous?
"Short of dropping your pants, there's no better way to exposing yourself than by writing a work of fiction. A novel or a play is just an author's way of lifting the lid on the bait box of his or her brain to reveal the writhing, wriggling worms within. . ."
(from a review of "Fat Men in Skirts," by P.B. Miller.)
A child who feels unsafe
talking about feelings will start joking early and keep joking all his life.
Mister Rogers, "You Are Special"
The walls of my room in high school were covered with posters of Vietnam protests -- I lived near Boston, and spent much of my time around MIT, running a program and being politically active. But two were not political.
One was a Peanuts poster that said "I feel the need to feel happy that I am alive."
The other was an Agrus poster of a rag doll in an old fashioned laundry wringer that said "The truth will set you free -- but first it will make you miserable." I sort of like the 90's version of that quote "Truth -- and sex -- are both best of they hurt just a little bit.
I have been to see many therapists over my years. In eight grade (1968), one asked me the question, while trying to do a differential diagnosis of some sort, "If you could be anyone in the world, who would you like to be?"
Well, my false self was well and truly in place by that point, shamed into soul suicide, but on the other hand I did not want to die. I knew what was expected of me -- and what was true. I knew a trick question by that point, and even in that office -- maybe especially in that office, I knew that question was dangerous. I considered it.
"I want to be me," I answered. She pressed -- I refused to be moved. Now, after reading my Campbell, I know the words for it -- "The gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are" -- but then I simply knew the concept.
Sex & desire are issues. Gender is a system of desire, set up as part of a heterosexist system.
Here's my personal theory of sex & TG for TG males oriented towards women. (All TG people used to have to make up their own theories and fight them out in bizarre mud wrestling matches of denial and sublimation.)
Your heart says your TG, and that you want to express that through the most obvious gendered symbols available to a child, clothing.
Your head says that you'll get creamed for that, that's wrong. No!
But you do it anyway, on the sly. And your crotch likes it. In fact, at some time, you get an orgasm while dressing -- (mine was at 13 in the middle of this big open forest bowl just off a highway, wearing shoplifted tights.)
And your brain says, "Well, if it's about sex, that's OK. After all, sex is supposed to be secret and dirty." And the conflation of personal sexuality and clothing is done.
Then, after you have done it for a while, your heart says, "See? It's not so bad. Let's do more." And in an odd combination of "What the fuck! " and "Fuck You all!" you do.
But to get past the pain your heart felt when it had to be put to sleep, you have to find a way to remain desirable. Desireshift is maybe the hardest part of gendershift.
My sex life is solitary and isolated. Conceptually it ranges wild and free -- many of the people I talk openly about sex with are bisexuals into D&S play. But actually it is classic, with stories of crossdressing at the core like they have been for 25 years. They are more mature now, less
I have come to the conclusion that if I want to have a sex life, it's time to be a top -- but it was really hard learning how to be effective as a boy, and I'm not sure how effective I can ever be as a girl.
I was chatting with my friend of 10 years, Christine over pizza on Friday night. "I feel like you are always waiting for my approval," she said to me.
"No," I replied. "I am waiting for your excitement. I want you to be excited about what I am saying, to join in." I felt my eyes tearing up as I said this, a sign that this was touching and emotional nerve that I hadn't exposed yet.
Of course, the problem with excitement is that when people get excited, it is not always pleasant. Excitement brings up all sorts of stuff -- to be excited, passionate about any one topic is to be passionate about life in general. One is vulnerable in an excited crowd, and exciting people to think can be very difficult.
So this is what I realize. I crave the excitement of others -- that's my performer streak. But exciting a mob is dangerous work. I refuse to get clear because to take on the mantle of excitement is to take on the responsibility of it and the danger of it.
I have spent the last two years in my own padded cell, a 3 floor walk-up garret in Schenectady, writing and thinking. The apartment is stuffed to the gills with objects, including and enormous wardrobe of value priced clothing -- if you can't wear it, at least you can buy it. My talent for shopping -- along with my gift for being a perfectionist and expecting the worst, so that failure & self pity loop forever -- were gifts from my mother, who still has narcissistic issues.
I have the eulogy at my grandmothers funeral last year -- she died at 99 instead of being taken to the hospital for a fourth time in her life -- and at 71, my mother was still bitter and broken.
This space is kind of safe - but the padding, the layers of junk -- is up to absorb my energy rather than to reflect it. This is a technique I learned as an overthinking ADD kid in a world where that was not accepted. I use clutter and pain to keep control of my intensity, which I am sure will alienate me from everyone.
Squalor as a tool of mental control. If I am worrying about what they will do because I cant bring myself to pay the bills -- even though I have the money -- then I don't have to focus on just how damn big I am in this world.
Another e-mail from the same friend:
You are having the same conversation with different people. Everybody knows you are 10x. "The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely."
You have the ability to choose, in that moment, to be 2x, but we can't choose to be 10x, no matter how much you might wish it.
To paraphrase our beloved Judith Martin, 'manners' are primarily about making other people feel comfortable. So perhaps your accuser might accuse you of being ill-mannered, but things don't change when people are comfortable, do they? Remember explaining to me how important, how vitally critical, it is for members of the TG community to be comfortable? They can't deal with the any of the darker aspects -- the tale must be: "We went out, we had fun, everything was fine."
But you're bigger than that.
So the question for me, the overriding issue is simple: I need to Get Clear.
But getting clear means facing a future -- and that means facing a past. On one hand we can't woulda/coulda/shoulda ourselves to death, but on the other hand "Repeating the same patterns over and over again and expecting different results is one definition of insanity."
My past holds lessons that I must transcend -- and to do that I must transform myself. But into what? And why?
And more than that, why bother? If it's not going to work anyway. . .
Facing the demons of your childhood, of that young sensitive feminine shaman who was gendered hard -- and still has a lot of pain from that. I have always been able to think and to feel, and while my words are fluent, that doesn't make the feelings any less powerful or typical.
But I'm old and have a calling and a limited amount of time. At some point, you have to say, "What the fuck!," eh?
It is time to get clear, to assemble the book & do the feminine thing of being as good as I can be, standing up and showing myself and seeing who my energy attracts. Time to put myself on the line and trust in Goddess that those who are supposed to hear me will, and that the vulnerability and humiliation I will go through will be more than balanced by the joys and blessings of life.
But pushing though, opening up, is scary and I often listen more to the fear driven voice of the ego telling me to avoid discomfort than the love driven voice of my hear, telling me to trust and to open.
I need to get clear. But getting clear frightens me.
Just the same as every other human.
Subj: The Issue Of Out
Ah, yes. The issue of out. It's the key issue on many queer lists, where the range goes from deep in the closet and bashing gays to in-your-face activists. Out is not an either/or issue, it is one of nuance and subtlety.
For me, the primary dilemma is wild/tame. We want to be free and savage enough to be unique and be who we are, gain the benefits of individuality. We also want to be tame and civilized and loved by all, gain the benefits of being a welcome member of the group.
Only wild people create change -- if you are too tame, you just go along for the ride, well assimilated. But be too wild, and people will write you off -- if you want to speak to them you have to talk to them in shared language, assimilated structures.
We want to declare our specialness, be accepted without having to cut off too much of ourselves to fit in. We want to be wild enough to be free, tame enough to be loved.
And so, each one of us makes our choices. Giving in too much, lying about our past means we always live in shame and fear. Standing out too much, demanding that which cannot be given means we always live in isolation and oddity.
I have talked about the real power of political action being personal empowerment. The movement for women's suffrage had the pretext of getting the vote for women, but the subtext was changing the role of women in culture. In the UK, the pretext for action is the laws against legally changing assigned gender and the corollary of the right to marry, while the context is the acceptance of transsexuals.
What is the pretext in this country? What do we ask for? What can we all agree that is crucial? It's tough. We sure don't want any TG people killed, but at even Riki's figure of 4 per year, it doesn't seem an enormous epidemic. It's sad to lose even one person, but it's a big country, and 4 of 280,000,000 people is not surprising.
We don't have a focus. Gays wanted to fight for the military, and now for gay marriage. But neither of those areas is supported by all, and both are very dangerous. The question many gays ask is "Where Is Anita Bryant when you really need her?" A focus, a pretext for organization.
In fact, gay marriage may be a better pretext for the fundamentalists to talk about the "loss of respect for marriage" than for gays. But that's another discussion.
I don't think that the pretext for gender activists can be government requirements for "integration" as it was in the campaign for Civil Rights for Blacks. There are too many minorities that need protection -- and none of us were forced to come to this country and legally enslaved.
To be completely closeted is to abdicate your personal power and your personal responsibility for change. But to be always "in people's faces" is to lose personal power to find common ground with anyone other than radicals.
So each of us has to figure out how wild and how tame we need to be to be effective. And we can be sure that we will see some people at the table as too tame, too accepting, and others as too wild, too strident. We each have a purpose.
But for me, the number one thing we can do is take responsibility for ourselves, work hard to find the balance and the healing in our own lives. Your life is your responsibility -- and so is your culture and the way it brings up kids. Take responsibility.
But that's my two cents.
Subj: On my dilemma
My history is out on Boychicks. People know that I am a transgendered woman, born male and raised as a boy.
On one hand, I don't want to deny that. On the other hand, I don't want to call attention to it either.
The only time that I want to be a man anymore is when I see a pre-teen or teenage boy who is struggling with figuring out how to be a man. I know how hard that is, and how few people, man or woman, can help with that. It's very easy to get squeezed by the peer pressure and expectations, very hard to find solutions that are both personally fulfilling and effective in working with others.
One problem is that sometimes, here on Boychicks, I feel that same urge. I see my brothers wrestling with the issues of what it means to be a man, and about how to deal with transgender in their lives. I see that they need men to look to who have faced these issues and who may be able to give some insight.
I also see parallels between butch/femme and het relationships that I think may be useful to explore.
But if I give into these urges, then I end up speaking as a man on a woman only list, and worse, at least for me, I end up discounting the truth that I am a woman, and the truth of my femme nature is what I wish to celebrate and deal with on this list. I learn from my femme sisters and tend to feel myself siding with them.
Being "monkey in the middle" is not an unusual experience for TG people. we live in the liminal spaces between, the spaces that connect us, and that also divide us. I know that while it is true I am in both worlds, in other ways I am in neither.
I see the connections build, people acknowledge the shared parts of who we are -- but when a disagreement comes up, I can quickly become "one of them." This is why most of my focus is not division, but connection -- and sometimes that even means connections between women and men. Is the fact that this space is defined women-only limit discussing those connections?
I write ponderous notes to this list -- but I am in a pondering place right now. I know they don't have the light and fun touch, and they often draw little response. That's OK. i don't talk much about my primary relationship because it is not instructive -- and rather odd. I mostly just listen and learn.
But do I speak up and offer insight, even if it means bring the things I learned living as a man to this list, or do I do what I do in polite society and just be one of the girls?
I know what the easy choice is. But somehow I feel compelled to speak up now and then. I try very hard to capture the full circle when I do, to be respectful and understanding and compassionate, but I know that the world of identity definition is a minefield, and that any question might trigger someone's "NOT ME!" response, even when I was not talking about them. It's much worse on the woman-born-male (MTF) lists, but it's hard everywhere.
So I walk the line, and am afraid that I am remembered more for my comments on being a man, because those are atypical for this list, when they are also atypical for me. Watching Coach or Home Improvement, I see myself as Jill or Christine -- but with great compassion for the men.
This is hard. I was in a bashing workshop where I ended up role-playing the basher. On one hand, I was good and useful, like a see through model, who could explain why I chose the typically masculine responses I did in feminine language, but on the other hand, I exposed something that is only a small part of me. I knew that talking from my experience as a man helped the other women -- yet it also isolated me from them.
So this is one of the lines I walk, one of the tightropes that seems important. But I will say that it is one that is easy to fall off, and the bruises can hurt.