Transgender Laissez Faire

Callan Williams         Copyright © 1996

One school of economic thought says that the only problem in the world are barriers to a free market. That means that if everyone could market their time, energy, skills and products in a perfectly free market, then the world we be perfect.

Of course, there are always barriers to a free market. People in the projects may not own a car, and therefore be limited by transportation. People in prison live in a captive market, and cannot freely choose what to trade and to whom. Women who have limited resources may end up trading their bodies, not because they want to but because those are the only thing of value.

In any constrained market, market forces create coercion. People trade not freely, but because they have no choice. This coercion may be physical threats, difficulty of finding sustenance, or even emotional blackmail. For example, if those who have capital only choose to support people of their own race, rather than judging every investment scheme on it's own merits, then their racism creates an unfree market. This can be changed in two ways -- by having people change their policies, or by people of all races having access to capital they can use to fund projects by people of their race.

Many people have railed against the market forces that cause coercion, probably none more famously than Karl Marx. All of them have the same basic message: capitalism is unfair, and creates oppression by the monied, privileged classes. Different groups have seen the privileged class differently -- it may cut by race, sex, age, religion, ethnicity and so on.

The traditional solution offered is for some central power -- usually the government -- to impose rules on the market to stop unfair practices. Every government has taken this role in many ways, from minimum wage and union support legislation, to trust busting and price fixing laws. The government says that some basic guidelines, from safety to sexual harassment, must be fair and limits put on them.

However, the problem with these laws is that they themselves create barriers to a free market. Wouldn't it be better if people could just vote with their dollars and their feet, for example, quitting and moving across the street to another job when they had safety concerns? Employees and customers would have the power of the market, and the companies that they supported would thrive. Instead, many companies feel that government legislation limits their freedom and ability to profit -- profits which can drive expansion, creating more wealth for everyone.

While Marxism, public ownership, removes the incentive for owners to abuse workers, customers and the community, it also removes the incentive for owners to take risk, innovate, and grow a company -- supporting more workers and serving more customers. In fact, today, though a very freely accessible stock market, middle class people are the owners of much of America -- yet they demand only higher profits for their stocks, requiring management to squeeze more revenue out of fewer workers, and to cut other corners.

We need a free market, where people can take risks and make rewards for that, where there is financial incentive to be better, cheaper, safer, nicer, more conscientious. But as long as there are limits to that market -- limits that allow people to get away with cutting corners and abusing employees customers and the community without being stranded by employees and customers, then the community will have to make laws to control that market.

This is all a balancing act. We must trust the free market to get what we need -- after all, without a thriving economy, we won't have jobs, wealth and innovation. And we must have controls on the economy to make it more fair -- after all, we can't stand for people abusing the land, their staff and customers in search of a quick buck.

What does all of this have to do with transgender? Simple.

The gender system creates an unfair market. By forcing people to divide up into one group or another, we are able to separate and marginalize people, playing them against each other.

In fact, any arbitrary separations between people helps divide and conquer the market. White southern mill hands were paid very little -- but when they complained, they were told "Well, at least you are making more than that Negro fella over there." The oppression of blacks had great benefits even in the fact that allowed oppression of whites.

It is true that the market will eventually give abusers their comeuppance -- but the duration of those cycles may be very much too long. Oppression begets revolution -- but not in the short term. Even now, American companies are having to deal with the costs to the American economy of moving lots of jobs overseas -- but the results are far from instantaneous.

The women's movement was a rebellion against unjust market forces that drove women out of the workplace after W.W.II. And the transgender movement is a reaction to people who did not have the freedom to be who they wanted to be, but rather were classified by the shape of their genitals and told how to behave.

It is clear that heterosexism -- the separation of people by sex, and the assignment of limitations of dress, behavior, partnering, and opportunities -- is designed to place unfair and unnatural barriers to a free market. It stops people from doing their best, whatever that is, and limits them to doing only what those of their gender can do, in much the same way that racism classes and limits by race, and so forth.

These are social constructs that have economic benefits in that they give a way to make unnatural separations in the market, to divide and conquer.

The question is how we deal with these limits. Do we try to force them out of the market with other legal constructs and/or do we start to take our place in the market and create our own wealth and therefore our own power?

The best part about the socialization system is that it doesn't need to keep hammering at us. Once it creates fear, we react from that fear, rather than making conscious choices, and we become our own jailers. We believe our position in the market is limited, that our risks will bring pain and separation, not rewards, and we do not take the power of our own choices. We buy into the system because we think we have no choice, rather than making a choice to choose a system that affirms and honors us as worker, as consumer, as citizen, as owner.

We have to understand that we are the owners of our own lives, of our own skills, energy and talents, and that we have the obligation of any owner to get the most out of where we invest our own wealth. We are not wage-slaves of the monied classes -- we are the owners of our own value.

This is empowerment -- to take the moment between stimulus and response and think -- to not simply react from our programming, but to respond in the best way we can.

We may have problems because the market is unfair, no doubt. But the key to any free market is simple: the bigger the reward, the bigger the risk. If we are unwilling or unable to risk taking a chance, in believing that we can succeed, then we will not be rewarded. The difference between an owner and an employee is the amount of risk they take with their own capital -- including the capital of their energy and talents.

The forcing, at pain of humiliation, for all children to gender themselves, to get behind the barriers that rigidly separate the sex roles in this culture, is a force that is deigned to limit the freedom, the free market in being all we can be.

The way we respond to those choices is key. Do we simply play by the rules, transgressing only in approved ways, do we try to get the system to move the walls -- or do we take our own responsibility and risk breaching them and finding the power of connection? This is the question we all have to face.

For me, I like freedom. I think that the free market is one of the first human inventions, and it has served us well. I also believe that gender is a human invention and that has served us well. It is the limits, the strictures we have placed on both of these topics -- the markets demand for higher profit over all other concerns, the gender demand for clear and absolute separations -- that leave us limited, that leave us unfree.

I want people to go and be all they can be, both in gender and in being able to share their skills, talents and energy and be rewarded for that.

And to do that means that we all have to be able to find our own freedom to choose -- and that comes only in the moment between stimulus and response, comes from conscious response, not unthinking reaction. It comes from growing up, taking responsibility and seeing yourself as the owner of your own life.

Your freedom of choice will not make the world a perfect place, no doubt -- but it does mean that you can take charge of your little piece of it and work for goodness. And if enough of us do that, then change will come.

Business As Daddy

In many ways in our culture, business has been given to men and expected to play the role of father, the provider and wise patriarch growing for the future.

Yet many have seen business abandoning this role, being focused only on money rather than balancing that with caring, compassion, art and community. We are angry at business because they seem to have abandoned the things we care about.

To look at this in microcosm is to look at the role of our own father figures, the men in our lives. Did they seem to abandon us in the pursuit of money, lose the balance and always be focused just on work?

How much of our sense of how business has abandoned it's responsibility as a wise and gentle patriarch is based on how we saw business take our fathers away from us so they could not provide what we needed from a father?

It's a question worth pondering.

Callan Williams

Shopping As Sacrament

Callan Williams Copyright © 1996

I read a great piece a while ago where the author said that in many ways, shopping was the key sacrament of our age. It is the time where we exchange our energy -- concentrated in the form of money -- for that which we value.

Though the choices we make when we shop, we acquire artifacts that we use to symbolize who we are, in clothing, ornament, and decor. The choice between a a T-shirt that says "Save The Whales," "Dallas Cowboys," "Miller Beer," or one that is hand painted is a very clear way we make this choice.

For most people, shopping is not a conscious activity. We follow the crowd, like we do in most of life But for some of us shopping becomes a very conscious way to change and define what we value and honor in this world.

I recently read a Marxist critique of TG behavior, saying TG was about economic imperialism, and noting (among other complaints) that having two wardrobes must be a sign of status because it was pricey.

To a woman, especially, having a large wardrobe is like having a large vocabulary. She communicates many things about who she is by the way she adorns herself. For some women, they have gone though experiments, and now prefer a simpler wardrobe, focused and well edited. For others, they are oblivious to the messages of their clothes, dressing for comfort and ease as much as anything else. Some simply trust their style to others, letting sales consultants put us together. But even these choices say much about who a woman is.

We communicate though symbol, and that includes not only words but images, intonations and behaviors. And the way we acquire those symbols, though long, gathering treks, or focused acquisitive hunts also tells about who we are -- and shows in the eventual symbols we display.

I asked about sacred space a while back. And I have been thinking about it, and how the three women who answered talked about how they fill that space with symbols of the things they honor, symbols that represent either a meaning or the process they went though to acquire the symbol.

And I am becoming aware that I need to remove the symbols that I don't see as sacred from my life -- to edit. In the words of one anti-clutter guru, "Use it, love it, or throw it out."

But even when I drop the symbols that I have acquired in my lifetime of hunting, I need to remember that I don't lose the meaning that they had at the time I acquired them, and that is important. After all, they all must have meant something to me at one time, or I wouldn't have bought them -- even things like the three inflatable Stanley Cups I paid $1 each for.

I don't eliminate the meaning. I eliminate the symbol, to focus on other symbols, to more effectively reveal the parts of me that I hold sacred at this time in my life.

I think that this may be one of the fallacies behind the classic TV purging behavior -- if you eliminate the symbol, you eliminate the meaning. Wrong.

So I know that the way we acquire use symbolic objects -- and almost all objects have some level of symbol, even something as functional as the type of cup or glass you use -- is a spiritual act, on some level.

As an old sales person, I know that nobody buys just out of rational decision. Some go though the process of weighing the functional parameters -- an act that shows what they value -- but they end up making a short list and eventually buying the one they like, that they feel good about. The sales process may be rational, but every close is emotional, spiritual.

Now I have to edit the objects, the symbols at hand. I have to focus on what is sacred to me. That's hard -- because I love to be awash in symbols, like I am awash in meanings, looking for connections between things. A certain amount of clutter is necessary for surprises, for there may be a time when you need that meaning to fit into a new work of art, a new construct.

I dress the same way I think. I start from one point, usually something new I just acquired, and see how it fits with other things. That blue scarf I picked up years ago finally fits -- and it's great! Or that notion about British Travel Writing illuminates the connection perfectly!

I love my clutter -- but sometimes it is too much. You have to focus on the sacred.

I am aware that many of my choices to acquire are based on my belief in scarcity. I collect when things are cheap to stockpile, to ward off scarcity rather than trusting abundance. Will Goddess provide what I need? Do I believe that? An old joke goes that a man will buy an $10 hammer for $20 if he needs it, and a woman will buy a $50 dress for $20 if she doesn't need it. I know which side of that equation I am on. This lack of trust in the abundance of the universe, fear of things being scarce -- including love and connection -- drives many of us, and while it's fine to be prudent, that case of Swiss Miss Hot Apple Cider drink I got cheap at Sam's Club still sits there -- and takes up room, money and mental energy.

Our symbols are the only way we can express our meanings and beliefs. As such we have to learn to honor them -- and not just take the first symbol that comes down the block. We need to learn to assemble both symbols and meanings in new ways (new works of art) that more effectively show our inner self. Shopping for those new symbols is a sacred activity. Just like giving objects away -- purging -- is.

Our challenge as transgendered people is to communicate our whole selves in a way the world can accept and grow from -- and that means using symbols in a powerful and creative way. We must have both meaning and symbol to communicate that meaning -- and that means that shopping for effective symbols and throwing away ineffective ones are both part of our quest.

At least for me. Now, I just have to do it.


Do You Believe In The Market?
©Copyright Callan Williams 12/02/97

Do you believe in the free market? Do you believe that the tests of competition and the struggles to deliver produce the highest quality products at the lowest possible costs? Is a market where both failure and success are possible ultimately fair? Do you believe that the democracy of dollars, people voting with their cash, makes the world a better place?

I suspect that you may not, on some levels, be altogether comfortable with the notion of the free market. The market is not Marxian, not socialist, not a planned economy where "sensible" choices are made by equal voting. It's crazy to have so many brands of shoes, all competing, say the Marxists, a waste of time and effort and a reason to exploit the proletariat. Ownership is the problem, not the solution -- the solution is reasonable consensus and thoughtful analysis.

The market is chaos, I will give you that. The market, though, emulates the chaos of nature where niches are found, many solutions are tried and the best win, where swings happen before things are brought back into balance. Chaos is a solution for nature, and for many years man has tried to tame natures exquisite chaos, with dams, and new plantings and such to try to make it less chaotic -- with limited results.

The market is the same. There are cycles and swings, aberrations and overgrowths, problems and resolutions. The cycle of American industry, from small time, to overgrown, to challenged, to dying back, to reborn in a new form are the long term cycles that keep things in balance, albeit at the cost of lots of dislocation and change that can cause suffering. The market needs both growth and death to stay in harmony, just like nature.

Me, I love chaos. I love the market of the mind, where we are called to give our best and rewarded for that. I like how chaos favors the prepared, the fit, the thoughtful, demands solutions that work. I do believe that everybody gets a chance to play in the chaos, but that it takes work to survive and even thrive on the challenges, to jump the hurdles, to pass the tests.

I suspect that in some ways you like the diversity that the market brings -- much better than a planned state -- and the possibility of reward. You, like I, just want to make sure that we keep some control over the market, that we make sure that the pendulum swings are not too severe, too intense, too painful. That has always been the role of the government, to speak for community values in the face of the market, and everyone accepts that role, though it is the big debate that has echoed though the last 225 years of America, where we need more government influence and where less would be better.

Humans came together over the market, creating civilization so that people could trade gifts, services and products in a way that would, in the long term benefit all. We tend to have a very bad record with planned economies, of finance or of thought, because planners tend to start seeing what they want to see and eliminating diversity and possibilities to make the analysis simple -- too simple, and therefore flawed.

I think that America made a fundamental mistake in the 1920s that has to be corrected today when they thought that the market needed more consumers. We encouraged patterns of consumption, including, for example, an emphasis on coupling, because many small houses filled with couples needed more stuff than large houses filled with extended families. The problem is that consumers are not the key to the market -- owners are. It is people who own their own lives and own resources that ultimately succeed and give back, creating growth.

This has been the trend for the last 10 or so years, and Tom Peter's new book is about the obligation for every individual to be globally competitive, to own their own life, to contribute to the maximum of their capabilities. I agree, believing that it is when we create people who take responsibility for their choices, who are the owners of their lives, who have the tools to compete, that these empowered owners become the backbone of a thoughtful, compassionate and growing society.

I believe in the market unabashedly, if not unreservedly. I understand that for people who see the free market as a problem that makes me an enemy.

Do you believe in the market? Can we all have to come together as insiders, as owners?

That is still a challenge.