Some 1997 Essays
|Demanding To Be Able To Give||Like It's Normal||Learning To Lie|
|The Responsibility Of Being Queer.||Interdependence Day '97||The one thing. . .|
|Transy Tokens||Not A Man-In-A-Dress||Without Doubt|
|Fear Of Fag|
Demanding To Be Able To Give
Copyright Callan Williams © 07/04/97
"Others march in
the name of battle, revolution and religion.
We march in the name of love."
--Actress Kathy Najimy upon being selected grand marshal of the June 22 Los Angeles gay-pride parade.
So many people march because they want people to give them something, that they deserve more than they are getting.
Queers however tend to mach for something else. We march to demand that we be able to give. We want the freedom to give our love, give of our hearts, play our full part in society without having to hide who we are. We want to participate in the life of the community, in gatherings, in rasing children, in churches, in politics and in all other social functions.
Dr. William Dragoin of South Georgia University has looked at the role of queer shamans in tribes, and has noted that across history and across cultures, the queers, the transgendered shamans have always made a contribution to the survival and the success of the tribe, speaking for connection, seeing things in a broader way. Dragoin agrues that society is losing something very valuable by forcing queers to deal with stigma rather than participate in society, that deciding that these people should be outcasts makes them so and makes them more damaging than having them within the circle.
Why are people so afraid of having queers, the transgendered and homosexual people act as part of society? It is because the power of many groups comes from separation, from having someone to hate, from demanding allegiance to a set of rules. This is the power of division, the power that always eventually leads to war between the groups rather than negotation between members of a community.
When you see gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people stand up to declare pride, we are not asking for you to give them anything but the opportunity to be treated like anyone else, to be able to share our own special human gifts. We are demanding the simple right to give of ourselves, to have our own efforts, energy and love accepted and welcomed.
The call of people who speak against GLBT participation in culture will respond that "We don't want or need what those people have to give!" I ask what these people are afraid of, why they think the participation of some other humans will be a problem. Why do they demand that our gifts be kept away?
This is the challenge that queers give to you. It is not simply to let them live their own life, it is to learn to graciously accept the gifts they bring and see how they can make society a better place.
We demand to be able to give of ourselves to our community -- and what is wrong with that?
"Gracious receiving is one of the
greatest gifts we can give anyone."
-- Mr. Fred Rogers
Like It's Normal
Copyright Callan Williams © 06/28/97
How do you talk to people about transgender? Simple. You talk to people about transgender as if it is a normal part of your life. You do this because it is a normal part of your life.
This is very difficult for many transgendered people because the heterosexist system that tells us what a man should be, what a woman should be tells us that transgender is not a normal behavior. However, from all the historical records of other cultures and in this culture, we know that transgender behavior has always been a part of the human experience, that it is well within the range of normal behavior, even if some find it undesirable.
The way society tries to stop transgender behavior is by making us "scared straight," terrorizing people into normative behavior, trying to convince you that you will be humiliated and shamed if you step beyond what others see as acceptable. Eventually we become so afraid of breaking the rules, of transgressing gender that we don't do it. Even when we transgress gender, our fear often shows itself, in defensive or furtive behavior, and people respond to our fear and discomfort. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, where our own fear creates fear in others and we get what we expect.
To think of transgender as normal means that you have push past your own fear and shame. You have to integrate it as a normal part of your life, to make it a part of the story of who you are. This is the way that you are able to open up to others in normal ways, to simply accept transgender as a fact of your life, part of your nature.
One of the hardest parts of dealing with someone else's transgender is to have it revealed as a surprise, especially if it appears that we have uncovered a secret. Sometimes we think it might be easier if people just happened to discover our transgender, come upon it in some way. This may include finding photos, glimpsing us at a party, or some other way. Think for a minute about how that feels, however. Because they have never brought the topic up, addressed it as normal, this must be a secret they are keeping -- and that means it must be powerful, potent, shameful. To discover someone's secret is to be faced with the burden of that secret.
Few people, on believing they have discovered something you have tried to keep secret, will then decide to be open and cool about the discovery. They might feel the need to spread this as a secret, so that people know without telling you, or they might feel the obligation of hiding the secret, forcing them to mislead others. In any case, the power of the secret overwhelms the truth of the discovery, and shame is attached to the secret.
If having people happen to discover your transgender is a bad idea because it simply accentuates the secret and shame, how do we integrate transgender into our lives? It's easy -- we just begin to talk about it. We mention that we go to TG support groups, that we shop for dresses, that we know things that most people of our gender do not know. We raise the topic in any way that is comfortable for us.
Two cautions, though. The first is that raising the topic in an emotional and shame filled way will tend to leave the impression of emotion and pain, not of comfort. Sobbing out "I have a horrible secret pain that I have lived with all my life, and I need to tell you," will tend to lead people to think that your transgender is horrible and painful, and should be kept secret. They will then try to respond to that, for example trying to comfort you by telling you not to explore things that cause you such pain, even though you know that the only way to work though the pain is to do the exploration, to let the pain you have held in escape so you can embrace the joy.
If you tell someone who cares about you, especially a partner, they may feel that your disclosure puts new burdens on them -- burdens of keeping the family together, burdens of keeping a secret, burdens of coping with the emotion. No matter how much your transgender has been a challenge, and how much you need help, in the end, only you can manage your own feelings and choices, and trying to drop the burden on someone else can only poison the relationship.
The second caution is that you cannot expect people to digest your information all at once. You have spent many years coming to grips with how your transgendered nature fits into your life and you cannot expect someone else to do that work in a matter of moments. To mention, "I'm going to a transgender support group tonight," and expecting someone to say "That's wonderful! Tell me all about it" is not a reasonable expectation.
You say what you have to say, and then you let the other person respond to it as they will. They very well may ignore it, or change the subject, but you have been honest. People need to accept things at their own rate and trying to force the issue, push the process can often have disastrous results.
What others need to see, as a pattern in your life, is that you are treating transgender as a normal part of your life, growing and getting better around it. They want to see you working to find the balance between doing what you are called to do and honoring the people you are in relationship with.
None of this can overcome someone who has real transphobia, real fear, but your acceptance of it as normal, as part of your life, something that can be talked about and not kept secret allows everyone to open up their feelings and deal with them, to not carry the burden of a shameful secret. If you don't see your transgendered nature as a shameful secret, then others around you may not either, but if you do, then expect shame and secrecy to overwhelm your life.
How can you talk about transgender as part of your life? There are hundreds of ways your transgender affects your life, and you can simply speak that. Talk to politicians about protecting TG rights, to store clerks about why you are buying what you do, to friends about your schedule, to lovers about your dreams, to children about your openness. It takes some effort to open up that closet that you have been taught to seal tight, but it is only by opening it up that you can start to share all of who you are with the world.
It is impossible to have a truly intimate relationship with another person if you feel forced to lie about who you are. For many transgendered people, the crushing blow to their relationships is not the transgender but the lack of intimacy and openness that comes from zealously keeping up the walls of secrecy we built out of shame. To open up is to become accessible, open to life.
It's not easy to talk about transgender as a normal part of your life until you really understand that it is a normal part of life. We come up with so many reasons not to tell people --we think we are protecting them, we are afraid of hurt, we just don't think it's their business -- but every one of these reasons sets us up for isolation and loneliness.
In this world, normative simply means conventional. Here, for example, we accept that eating eggs in the morning is normal, while in most countries around the world it is simply not done. The only way to redefine convention is to do it -- as we expand our horizons, work new muscles, the new ways become conventions, and become natural and normal.
Our challenge is to work the muscles of understanding, of believing that transgender is a normal part of life until we simply accept that truth. By doing that, we help others around us accept transgender as a normal part of life. Most people did not grow up with the great sensitivity to gender transgression that we did -- for example, it is primarily those who have been exposed to transgender who question people's birth sex when looking at people in the mall, as most people simply accept what they see.
How do we talk about transgender? Like it's a normal part of our life, a normal part of how humans are and always have been. And the reason we do that is simple: because it is.
Interdependence Day '97
Copyright Callan Williams © 07/04/97
"Liberty means responsibility. That
is why most men dread it."
--George Bernard Shaw
On the fourth of July, we celebrate the declaration that started a revolution where Americans claimed liberty and freedom for all. We declared that all are created equal and have certain inalienable rights.
What is also true is that humans have certain inalienable responsibilities that go with those rights. One of the big debates of the revolution was if all people should have the right to vote, or only those in the aristocracy who had taken on the responsibility of owning property. There was a concern that giving rights to those who had not yet learned to be responsible, who had not yet learned to be effective stewards of their own life and property might not create a firm base for independence.
There is no freedom without responsibility, no choice without consequence. If we demand the freedom to light off firecrackers, we take the responsibility of not hurting ourselves. If we hurt ourselves, we have the responsibility to care for our own wounds, or we push that responsibility onto those around us, and in giving them that responsibility we also give them the power to influence our choices, to stop us from risk that they might have to deal with.
When we cede our responsibility for our actions, we also cede our freedom. To demand that others take care of us, help us, share with us is to give others a role in our lives. This is not a bad thing -- it is the premise that all tribes are based on, that we take on a responsibility to help each other when we need it. When we ask people to share the costs of our choices, we also agree to share the choices themselves, to put agreed upon limits on them. In many ways, the tribe is investing in you, and they have a vested interest in your success, a stake -- and a say -- in the choices you make.
This is after all the balance of freedom and community. It is moving from dependence to independence to interdependence, a community based on freely giving of ourselves -- both giving up some liberty and giving up some obligations -- in order to create a more perfect union that serves the people, including you.
Today is a day to celebrate liberty. Today is also a day to celebrate responsibility, the responsibility we take on to ourselves and to our community when we are free to act in any way we choose. It is up to us to be good stewards, good owners of ourselves and our world, good parents of all the tribe. We understand that the freedom given us in this society comes with responsibility, which includes helping give others the freedoms that we enjoy.
The notion that all are created equal means not only that we each have equal rights given to us, but also that we are each are equally responsible for contributing to building a happy, healthy and free society for all. Equality is not a standard of the lowest common denominator, it is a standard of the highest expectations that each will respect, honor and share their own wealth in this society, this world, that each will take responsibility for their choices and the choices of their community.
To accept someone as an equal is not simply to give them freedom to make their own decisions without undue interference, it is also to give them responsibility for those decisions, responsibility for their obligation to contribute to society in their own unique way. So many want to contribute but feel their contribution would be insignificant, wasted and we must encourage them to give, as we must also encourage those who would shirk their responsibilities to contribute.
Today is a day for freedom, and for the interdependent community that helped win that freedom and keeps winning it and giving it to its members everyday. Today, may you joyously celebrate your wild independence -- and your tame interdependence!
Facing The Responsibility Of Being Queer.
Copyright Callan Williams © 8/13/97
I have a few notes on the situation here over the past few weeks. I speak with trepidation, as I don't yet know if I have been singled out as one of the "offenders."
Personally, I believe that people should speak for themselves, that the only way we can come to consensus is if all views are heard. People are very smart, and given exposure to the facts and a bit of time, they can see the truth. That's why I have always believed in the maxim "Show, Don't Tell," not characterizing the facts, but bringing them forward and letting people judge for themselves. I was pleased when a coworker once said "I have had some big debates with you, but I always believed that the only thing you were fighting for was the best possible solution for everyone, a good compromise."
This is one reason that I believe that debate training, learning to speak to both sides of an issue, is crucial -- if you can't argue effectively for something, you can't argue effectively against something. If we want to fight any biological determinism, from race to reproduction, fight the constructs based on that determinism, like heterosexism, we have to understand what the benefits of that system are, and how the world would be affected by changing it. We can't simply tear everything down, we have to also build, offer solutions that can address the need and offer new and compelling benefits.
All this means that, if you let people speak for themselves, when someone argues that "you did this to me," the answer is simple: You did this to yourself. Blaming the accusers is denying your own responsibility, and if you deny your responsibility, you cannot grow from what you have learned.
This is not to say that there is not some abuse in the system, and that people who have been falsely accused should have the chance to show that, or that they should not have the obligation to let the words of their abusers show the abuse, but it is to say that taking responsibility for what we have done is the keystone of this process. Often, that denial of the truth creates a circumstance where issues can be escalated past the actual offenses, and credibility for defense is lost.
I love diverse and challenging argument. I don't like letting the bear call the tune, having people win though intimidation, character assassination, and spinning, trying to use emotional hotbuttons to obscure the facts.
I believe, in contrast to some, that there are lessons to be learned from watching the behavior of a queer academic forum respond to a challenge to order. Because all the raw material is archived, I suspect there is an interesting paper looking at the rhetorical styles and responses, doing some thoughtful and learned analysis, but that is up to someone else. I know that, for my part, I tried to look at issues that I consider key to the challenges between transgression and order, which I see at the heart of understanding how queerness is dealt with in this culture.
I also know that I am far from universally admired. When the mud flies, everyone gets spattered. Some here, who strongly disagree with my thoughts -- the obligation of taking responsibility for our own actions, the requirement for tameness/order as well as wildness/freedom, the notion that queer is about transgression -- are not happy. Others, who find my style odd and verbose, are also not pleased.
In order to be effective in this world, I find I have to work on many planes at once. I am enraged at people and systems who try to erase me, to force me to erase myself, to fit neatly into some box so their world-view will not be challenged. I am emotionally crushed from the feeling that people reject me because I am too challenging. I am torn between the dreams of my heart, which are smashed because they don't fit into the normative systems, and the promises of normativity, which are denied to me unless I deny and silence the queerness in my heart.
Through all of this range of things going on in my mind, though, I am aware that my only hope to connect with people is to be calm and assured, thoughtful and considered, assertive but not aggressive, logical and emotional. This is a hard balance, because the forces inside of me are very strong and visceral, but if I don't work this hard to balance the pressures of the culture and the pressures of my dreams, my heart will crack.
I am aware that with every step people have the ability to write me off, to surface me in a way that satisfies their own views, to throw me on the junk heap. A woman who is to strong can be dropped to "not woman enough," and be denied the pleasures of connection, but I can be dropped to the level of "man" and be dismissed completely as one of "them." Men will drop me to the level of "not man," and I exist in a part of humanity that scares many people.
It is very hard to, for example, look at the restrooms and choose. Some people will assume I belong in the women's room, yet others will think it is scandalous, worthy of calling the guard -- and I can never know which is which. There is no security, no safety, and the thought of things falling out of my control -- in a medical emergency, or being arrested, can terrify me. The margins of safety are removed.
Some would demand that I simply erase parts of myself, that by being silent I will be safe. Yet I know that silence is death, and that even my silence, if I could manage it would not protect me. The truth is that who I am is written on my heart and on my body, and if I have to deny that truth, I may as well die. To try to look female would take major & massive medical intervention and still be limited by my body. To have a the heart & brain of a man would require a procedure that we don't even have yet.
All these are reasons that I cherish queer space, space where our transgressive nature is open and explored, space where I can connect with others who also feel or have felt the demand to erase themselves, to kill off part of themselves to live in culture. It is also a reason that I want to protect that space, where we do not have to face the intimidation and separation of culture.
We all see ourselves in others -- the world, in many ways, is a mirror, and we are more likely to get angry at others who show the parts of us we have not yet learned to love, accept and embrace. As queers, we transgress the norms, and we often get upset with those who make that visible after we have gone to so much trouble to do the best we can to hide, to silence ourselves. We loath those who expose what we loath in ourselves, especially when they seem to show no shame or remorse about their own transgressions.
This anger is the price of silence, the price of the rage that we feel when we pay the high price of being erased and others seem to mock that sacrifice by refusing to keep quiet. This is the force that divides queers, and as such, keeps them from coming together to change culture to be a more accepting place.
I deeply understand the rage, the pain, the hurt and the fear that we hold, and everyday I wish I could just succumb to it, just give in and give up. In that moment, though, I know that not taking responsibility for my own actions, no matter how many challenges I face, is to give up on the only power I have to change my world and my life. I know that every step I take to stand up for myself is to risk being isolated and reviled, but if my only other choice is self-erasure, I have to take that risk.
I learn with every new challenge. I would love to believe that everyone does, that they take learning away from even things that make them uncomfortable, because if they don't, they will never open themselves to learn about the diversity of humans.
I know that, however unsupported I feel, at least a few people have spoken up to say they find my words considered, insightful and valuable. And that is all I can ask, that everyday small change happens.
Never doubt that a
small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Learning To Lie
Copyright Callan Williams © 8/14/97
I knew that I was different from a very young age, like many of us do. We are the ones who are too bright for our own good, the ones who seem to have too much insight and wisdom, and for me, the ones who have a heart that doesn't quite match their body.
Very soon, though, I was taught that different is dangerous. The lessons came though that the callings of my heart were shameful, embarrassing and must be hidden.
The message was simple: Learn to lie. Lie about what you feel, lie about what you hear, lie about who you are in order to fit in. The nail that sticks up gets pounded down, and that means you better learn to not stick up, to try to hide how different you are.
Lie about what you dream about. Lie about what you desire. Do this, for yourself and your family. Learn to lie, and to try to control what people think about you, because if they ever get a glimpse of the real, you they will hate you.
If you don't lie, you will challenge people, make them uncomfortable, and they will blame you for these feelings -- the feelings that they have bottled up when they learned to lie.
What is the cost of believing that the only way we can be accepted is to lie to the world, to rigidly control what we show to other people?
When we make the choice to lie -- even if we see that as the only choice we can possibly make -- we make the choice to start to build a web of lies that both bolster each other and block anything or anyone who might show how thin and fragile our attempts to disguise our authentic selves are.
To lie over the long term requires the complicity of people around us, that they also work to ignore "the elephant in the room." In this culture, it is easy to find people who want to help us lie about our past, our desires, to erase them in order that we can more neatly fit into their own neat little map of the world.
Does that actually work, or do, over time, people see the reality of us? To tell the truth is terrifying to some, but in the long run, there seems to be no other choice. But we have spent so much time "learning to lie," to erase ourselves, that anything else seems impossible.
Some people try to tell the truth, to be open about the unique callings of their heart. This can leave us liars scrapping with other people who we are afraid will reveal us, because they reveal themselves. We feel the need to silence those who mock our choice of managed information, to break the mirrors that show us in ways that expose us in ways that we are afraid might reveal the truth about us.
This is a book about my journey for the truth, a truth almost forgotten because I learned to lie about it, to erase it and erase my heart so long ago. It is an exploration of how to reconcile the requirement to both tell the wild and free truths in our heart, yet also maintain a social order and grace that lets everyone else be free, that provides a strong community for each of us, a good place to raise children.
Can we learn to reclaim our truths, to be fully in the world, to be big and true to our spirit and also be good citizens and neighbors? Does embracing diversity make the world unsafe, or do the little lies that grow into erasures of spirit actually make the world a much more dangerous place?
How do we have a better world until we can call honestly call shit "shit?" The problem is that when we do tell that truth, people think we are calling them shit, rather than just their choices and actions.
By believe that every human is valuable and is capable of putting out high quality, we know that when we respond to their output that we don't write them off, we give them a chance to rise, to achieve their level. This does require that people be able to work at things they are good with without stigma -- some may be the best dishwashers in the world, and that may be their focus, but doing the dishes is an honorable thing.
We build family by helping people achieve their potential, fulfill their dreams, be all that they can be. We don't build it by letting things slip, by cushioning the truth with a nest of lies. "If it is to be, it is up to me." Holding people responsible for their choices -
- even if that means calling shit "shit" is one of the most compassionate things we can do for people, even if they don't like it, as every parent, and every child knows. We grow when we are challenged, not when we slip though with a fluff of haughty indignance that "they don't understand what we are dealing with," or to assume that they have a secret motive, a lie that is behind their comments.
Whatever the reason, we have the responsibility, to clean up our own act, and blaming others for telling the truth does not lead us to a better place.
The truth is often not the most pleasant thing to hear or see. Until this culture can face truths, and not be lead by the lie that everything should be pleasant, that conflict is bad, we will be forced to not tell the truth, be forced to lie.
A long time ago, I learned how to lie. Today, I am trying to find a way to tell my truths, truths that are big and challenging. If you are ready to help find new ways to tell your truths, I encourage you to join me. Maybe together, we can learn how to stop lying.
The one thing. . .
Copyright Callan Williams © 10/01/97
The one thing I want to say to you about transgendered people, about homosexual people, or any "queer" person is simple: They are trying to find a way to live out the truth of their lives, the calling of their hearts.
Humans are simple. Everything they do communicates about them, tries to convey part of who they are. This may be nice, clear communications, or it may be acting out, expressing the pain and longing in their lives in ways that may be destructive.
When kids try to tell their parents that they are different, that it is hard for them to act like we expect boys to act or we expect girls to act -- that they are gender transgressive -- parents don't want to hear that. Parents have normative dreams for their kids -- in part, because no parent wants their kids to be challenged & hurt in life, and in part because parents want their children to fit a certain mold, a certain image of what they expected their children to be.
Would it be great if we could erase the differences between people that we don't like simply by pretending those differences aren't there? I'm not so sure that it would, but so many parents and families seem to believe that if you ignore truths -- like not all girls are born to marry men and be mothers, not all boys are born to marry women and be fathers -- they will go away. They erase things that make them uncomfortable, in the hopes that they will disappear.
What that means is that kids whose heart calls them to being gay, being transgendered, learn to lie about who they are. They learn that they have to either keep quiet and swallow their feelings, or feel the pressure of being silenced though humiliation and shaming. We call this hiding of our natures "being in the closet," and it is an experience that every transgendered and gay person shares, being forced to hide. We are different than our family of origin, and have trouble finding ways to express who we are. One wag commented "I'd rather be black than gay, because nobody ever had to tell their mama that they think they are black."
This having to hide who you are, to swallow your feelings, leaves them to simmer in your heart. That can mean they explode in self destructive or other ways. Drug abuse, suicide, and other damaging behavior is often directly related to the pain of having to deny and hide the feelings in our hearts.
What can you do about transgendered people? Simple. When they try to tell you who they are inside, listen and believe them. Transgendered people don't wear clothes of the opposite gender to fool anyone, as some sort of reaction against a bad childhood, or simply acting out, they crossdress, choose crossgender behaviors, even crosslive to try to tell you the contents of their heart doesn't match what we might expect from people with that shape body.
Some transgendered people only let this truth out sometimes, like crossdressers, and the rest of the time they also live the truth of being a heterosexual man, or drag queens who are also a gay man. Others let this truth out all the time, going though social, medical and legal changes to live as someone who appears to fit neatly into another gender, like someone born female who lives full time as a man.
Respect this truth that they try to tell you. This may be hard for you, because the truth of transgendered people is challenging and may appear contradictory. You get messages of man and woman together, and it isn't easy to sort them all out if you live, as we all do, in a world where these challenges are laughed at or erased rather than being honored.
As an example, when, as a police officer, when you stop someone who is transgendered, and you see their id, you may find that they are not what you expected -- a picture of a man on a drivers license given to you by someone who looks like a woman, the sex "F" on a license given to you by someone who looks like a man. This can be hard, and may change your impression of the person. You may see them as someone trying to hide something, to deceive other people.
I would ask you to flip that perception for a moment, and ask yourself one other question: What is this person trying to tell me by what they choose to wear, how they choose to act? What truth that they hold in their heart are they trying to express in the world by this?
When you need to know the shape of someone's genitals -- and you don't need to know that unless you ask them to take their pants down -- then you should consider that. Most of the time, though, it's more important to consider the shape of their identity, the shape of their heart. By honoring what someone is trying to tell you, you allow them to open up, to defuse the situation, to stop them from having to act out to be heard.
I do understand the concern you have. Some parts of who we feel we are should stay put away -- the calling to murder, rob, abuse, rape and other acts against others should not be acted upon. They feel that the call to love other people of the same sex, the same gender, should be swallowed, denied, not acted upon. They feel that the choice to act on feelings that are unmanly or unwomanly should be denied, for the good of a culture based on firm roles for men and women.
My position is simple on this. Nothing we do that comes out of love, and not destruction, should be denied. We should love people, and love ourselves -- even the challenging parts of ourselves that call us to break the rules of gender. Transgendered and gay people have existed in every recorded culture, at every time, speaking a simple truth -- that we are all part of a range of continuous common humanity.
Transgendered people, gay people, are simply trying to express the truth they feel in their hearts. These truths may be challenging to you -- you may not have any simple place to fit the truths they speak into your worldview, which was carefully edited by erasing queer people to only show the possibility of heterosexual truth.
The next time you run into a challenging transgendered person, I urge you to do one thing: Try to figure out what they are trying to convey on their terms, and not just on yours. Help them speak the truths of their hearts, and you help them fit better as orderly, law-abiding and productive citizens, rather than forcing them to be outlaws and renegades, trying to hide and acting out because of that erasure.
We are all human, and as Maya Angelou says "Nothing human is foreign to me." The truth of our hearts -- even when it's not what our parents, our teachers, or our friends expect -- is still true. Speaking it helps us come to peace with who we are -- and respecting the truth of others helps us come to peace with each other.
Copyright Callan Williams © 06/27/97
"Don't show doubt. It's only by your strength of will and sheer tenacity that you can accomplish anything. If you show even a shred of doubt, they will find you, pick you apart and spit you out. Whatever you do, if you want something, make up your mind and never show doubt." This is pretty traditional advice in this culture, a culture where compromise is seen as weakness and doubt is only for wusses. "A Doubting Thomas will never get anywhere in this life," you are told, "Skeptics never build castles!"
Doubt is important, however. Without doubt, we will never be able to question our assumptions, never able be to broaden our horizons. Without doubt we will never be able to find better ways, see things that we have never seen. Without doubt we will be trapped in our own stories with no way to grow.
The traditional solution to this is to keep doubt private. "Keep your doubts to yourself. You can discuss this when we are in private, but in public we have to keep a united front, show that we don't have any doubts." Does this hiding of doubt serve us, serve our culture?
I believe that it does not. Active, incisive doubt balanced with powerful, firm belief has always been the hallmark of healthy countries, healthy people.
The problem comes not when doubt meets belief, but when beliefs get so polarized that it becomes impossible to find a middle ground. When one moves farther to the left, the other moves farther to the right until they become so far that the gap between them becomes no-man's land. It is when we forget that truth is never absolute that we become polarized, when we believe that there are no other right answers than the one we hold that we believe we are separate.
The truth of being right is much more subtle: we must know that there are no perfect answers. There are many ways to win, each simply taking effort and focus -- and using doubt effectively to find better answers, to help examine the possibilities and find the best can often be the best way to win. It is often the person who uses doubt most effectively who wins.
Too much doubt can be a stumbling block, but so can too much belief. If you don't ask the right questions, don't try to adapt yourself to the situation, don't question the obvious enough to find the deeper truth, your firm belief can block your success. If you get bogged down in the questions, adapt too much, don't just act on the situation as you see it, too much doubt can block your success.
This is my challenge: how do I speak boldly in my belief in doubt? My history is one of doubt, of questioning, examination, exploration, skepticism, doubt. It is the deconstruction of my life that has been my quest, but now I am faced with having to reconstruct my life, to pack it all back in the case, to get my life together and take it on the road, as Cryer and Ford said. How do I reconstruct my life around construction?
Belief in Doubt. Try to sell that one.
Not A Man-In-A-Dress
Copyright Callan Williams © 07/01/97
I don't mind being a man. I have the training, and the expected hormones & crotch, so I have learned how to be the kind of man I want to be, to be the kind of man that will work in culture.
I don't mind being a woman. I have worked very hard to train how to be a woman in this culture, everything from the surfaces of symbols & clothes to the deeper understanding of how women are gendered, what their expectations and codes are. I have gone though much of the training and socialization of a woman, but I will never have a perfect female body or will have been raised as a girl.
I don't mind being other, being simply a human. I know that I am simultaneously both and neither, both all of the above and none of the above. No human is absolutely anything, and I am proof of that, speaking for continuous common humanity. I am both a very unique individual and the same as anyone else, and being seen other -- as long as that is an other human, and not an object or a non-human "circus freak" -- is also true.
I don't mind being a drag queen, someone focused on performance, a queer male who presents and performs as a woman. To be queer and to celebrate that queerness through performance is a joyous and fun thing, although having to perform all the time, to always be on stage and always seen as an entertainer can be limiting and wearing. I am not always out to entertain others.
However, I do mind being a man-in-a-dress. I have, in my costume phase, been a man-in-a-dress and did that boldly, using a boy name and showing a male body under my dress. I do know a number of nice men in dresses, but I also know many men-in-dresses who seem to combine the worst qualities of men and the worst qualities of women, who have been so twisted by the closet that they cannot hear feedback and grow, who have become self-centered and self-absorbed to the point of almost total isolation. I know many men-in-dresses who live in a fantasy world, never really engaging their own queerness, never exploring the relationship between their own transgressive hearts and the world.
One nice thing about being a man or a woman is that we know that there are many men and women, and they form a wide range of people, and that we have to look at each of them as individuals. We know that any given man or any given woman won't be exactly like any stereotype of men or women.
For many people though, because they haven't met enormous numbers of men-in-dresses, people tend to group them together. That means that any experience with men-in-dresses, which can be quite unpleasant, is held against all men in dresses. People look at men-in-dresses, and then tend to assign a motivation to this person, to try to understand why they would break the social rules of gender so flagrantly. After all, if a man is so disconnected as to wear a dress, what other rules could he break, what else does he have to lose -- and does that mean he is a threat, a danger? Is he trying to fool people, to satisfy his own erotic urges, to show some sort of sickness?
Unfortunately, there are enough cases of men-in-dresses who have acted in negative ways, who have been disconnected and dissociative enough to be dangerous that some caution is warranted. Too often, because people don't have a range of experience with transgendered people, they assume that we are all the same, that we are like the other transgendered people they know -- if they know drag queens, we are a drag queen, if they know crossdressers we are a crossdresser, and so on. . Anyone who spends time with transgendered people quickly learns that each one of them is an individual, just like any other group of humans, and it is usually easy to quickly pick out the creepy ones.
What I really want from people is to simply be accepted as an individual, to be explored and accepted for who I am, and not for some group I am assigned to. I want to be accepted for what I do, for my own motivations, not for some assumptions about who I am or assumptions about why I act the way the way I do.
I don't mind being a man, a woman, or a other being, as long as I am accepted as a unique human, as each of us are. Being pigeon holed, though, as a man-in-a-dress, being forced back into the category of man, and then having someone decide because I am in that category, that position, I must be twisted to show any other facet of myself.
To assume that I am stuck, by virtue of my biology or my history, as only a man, and unable to move into other positions -- even if some people born male remain men-in-dresses -- is to limit me. To see me only as a man-in-a-dress is to not see my spirit, my soul, my choices, but to see me only as a category and not a human. And that is something I get very uncomfortable with.
Fear Of Fag
Copyright Callan Williams © 10/17/97
To be a woman is to make the choices of a woman. To be male and to make the choices of a woman is to be a fag -- at least in the eyes of the 90% of the population that doesn't know very much about being gay. Some even believe that transgendered males are really gay men in denial, and that somehow, gender shift is easier for them than actually facing their own homosexual desire. Gays, of course, know that gay men are mostly attracted to males who act like men -- "straight acting, straight looking" appears in many gay personal ads.
For many transgendered males, one of the biggest things that they are concerned with is being seen as gay. Some people see this concern as homophobic, that they think that being a gay man is somehow bad, but for most of these people, the truth is somewhat more simple: they just think that seeing them as a gay man is completely untrue.
Still, every transgendered male must come to grips with the truth that they will be seen as a gay man, as a faggot. Many people assume that because women dress to attract men, anyone who wants to look like a woman does it to attract men, and that means that they are gay men. Crossdressers often dress to excite one man, the one they are going home with at the end of the night, themselves, because dressing in women's clothing for erotic reasons is much simpler to explain than telling the truth that they are transgendered in their heart.
To me, the image of being a gay man is to be immersed in a world of men, to be in a place where manliness is honored. As a transgendered male, though, the truth that I have been trying to speak for years is that I am not a man in my heart, even if my body is male. I desire relationships that honor the feminine, and from my earliest days, I have loved women.
When transgendered women dream of being in relationship with a man, they dream not of gay sex, but of heterosexual sex, where their femininity is brought out by the masculine strength of a special man who sees them as an attractive women. Far from the images of she-males in pornography, most transgendered women don't want their penis to be part of their sex play -- they would rather see their genitals as feminine, and shrink from the cockiness that is required to handle a penis in lovemaking.
Humans are known to be exceptionally flexible in meeting their needs for intimacy and sexual desire. If they cannot get the pure object of their desire, they can find a way to desire what they can get. This is true of transgendered people too, who also have needs for love and sex even if they fall out of the system of desire by being neither exactly man or woman.
The problem with all of this is that transgendered women often end up working very hard to make sure that people know that they are not gay men. People want to pigeon hole others, and often gay people, they assume that males in dresses are drag queens looking for men, and straight people assume that males in dresses are gay men. This means that we end up having to counter those assumptions. That countering often stops us from expressing who we are, instead being focused on who we are not.
I feel strong solidarity with queens, dramatic and bold transgendered women who have clowned and performed to find a place, much like blacks danced and told jokes to be accepted in popular view for so long. They are my sisters, and I honor them, even feel like them -- but I also think for a moment before I go out to make sure that my look does not easily let people lump me in with them.
This disturbs me, this need to make a separation between myself and queens, one that I don't feel emotionally, but do feel in identity. Most queens look at me and know that while I definitely have a streak of the drama, I will never be a full glamour puss. In fact, they look at me and know I am a lesbian -- even if the lesbians don't.
This is the truth, that we transgendered can easily tell the difference between each other, read the obvious nuances of individual character, but we also know that to "them," we all look alike, lumped into one big group. I don't fear being seen as a fag by fags, bur rather I fear being erased into some undifferentiated mass by people who cannot see me.
What all this means is that for all the claims of my freedom of expression, I edit my choices as not to be falling in -- and in that pre-editing, I lose part of the palette that I might need to express who I am. I remember being in an outlet mall in Chattanooga and taking on the persona of a swishy gay man while shopping for women's clothes, and then hearing, from another transgendered male, about how I shouldn't swish for 200 miles. He talked of the challenges of turning the behaviors, the choices on and off, how he wished that there was a chip, like a game cartridge, that he could change in his mind coded for the proper behaviors, but keeping them discrete and separate.
By defining myself negatively, working not to express the wrong thing -- acting on my fear of being seen as a fag -- rather than trying to find my own expression, I limit myself. Of course, one of the hardest things about transgender is that we don't have the kind of feedback that most people get, the advice of mothers and peers in how we appear, how we effective we are being in communicating what we want to communicate, For transgendered people, we are often flying blind, and that means we are defined by our fear of going to far.
Melanie Phillips, who has created a voice tape for transgendered males called "Melanie Speaks" argues that the best way to find your feminine voice is to push the pendulum past the center, go overboard, and then come back to find the center. This is true in all areas of our lives -- if we keep only pushing to find our center from one side, we will tend to miss it. Yet we worry about going too far, looking like a fool, being too -- well, too feminine and being seen as a fag.
To make the choices of a woman, the choices that really express our heart, we have to open ourselves to the full range of behavior, acting from trust and love rather than from fear. This is hard while we also worry about differentiating ourselves, not being lumped together.
Our fear of being seen as a fag is not fear of being a fag, it is fear of being erased. In many ways, I wish I could be a gay man, because I have seen that they have a support system, because it's easier & simpler to explain, now 25 years after Stonewall. I know many great gay men, and love them. I'm just not one of them.
I am a transgendered woman, and until there is some place in the American consciousness that I can fit without feeling erased, I will always have to work to tell people who I am not, and that will limit who I am.
And I do think that is sad.
Copyright Callan Williams © 07/01/97
"Oh, yes! What a great and diverse party! Look over there -- they even have a transgendered person. Let's go over there and get a closer look at them, shall we?" As a transgendered person today, it's easy to feel like an exhibit, to feel reduced to a symbol that others use to show how wonderfully they embrace diversity.
As a transgendered person, it can feel quite uncomfortable to be seen as a sort of diorama, a living oddity. Women and men draw the lines of the groups they think they belong to, and I am very aware that I don't fit neatly in either group, not belonging at women only or men only events. I am neither fish nor fowl, and that means I easily be seen as a novelty rather than a human.
When I try to talk about the truths of my transgendered life, or try to fit into an existing gender role, there is resistance. As much as I want people to understand what the world looks like from my viewpoint, people tend to only want to look at my eyes and not see though them. They have enough challenges understanding what the world looks like to them, and to have to be able to engage my reality enough so that I can communicate with them is often too much trouble
This, of course, is true of every group that is challenged in society. While all of us are expected to understand the normative view of a white middle class male, there is no belief that those with more privilege must understand the view of those with less. For example, women must understand men, but men haven't had to understand women, blacks must understand whites, but whites haven't had to understand blacks, and so on.
In this age of diversity, this is changing. People are demanding that their viewpoints be considered, not just be paid lip service too, and companies and others are understanding that being able to see though many eyes, to have multiple points of view, is a benefit to growth and prosperity. We are understanding that we must embrace the spectrum of people rather than just demand normative behavior and thoughts to keep the growth, to move beyond an agricultural and industrial culture to one based on the information and creativity of the human mind.
Still, all too often, people decide that they don't get what others are saying, that from their viewpoint what others are saying is nonsense -- or too challenging -- and write it off. This is the nature of truth -- it changes depending on where you view it from, and the only way to make sense of someone else's truth is to understand it in the context that it means to the person speaking it, and not just from where you stand. People explain their truth in their language, their symbols, and it is what that language means to them, not to you that counts. The language we use constrains what we can say, and to say something new & different we need to use new & different symbols -- and to understand something new, we must work to understand new & different symbols.
When I meet people who only want to see me on the surface, and not to take the time and energy that it takes to understand what I am saying, to understand the gifts I bring to the table, I can get frustrated. I appreciate their seeing me even on the surface, but I also feel opaque and unseen. It seems unfair to complain about people who are taking the first step because they don't move far enough. to complain that their liberalness is not enough, but these people who accept transgender without understanding it are the good people who can make the next step.
All this feeling opaque can be very hard for me. As a transgendered person I tend to listen for slights, for a lack of understanding, and to feel those deeply when they were not even intended or seen by the person who committed the action. They simply were not able to see how their action would be interpreted from a transgendered viewpoint, and after years of being shamed into hiding, I have been very sensitized to what others do.
This is the nature of heterosexism, the system of dividing people by reproductive organs and believing that this division is true and absolute. Even homosexual people have bought into this division -- in fact, most of them have based their sex life on this separation of males into men and females into women. Heterosexism is so much a part of our lives that we don't see how we enforce gender roles, pigeonhole and categorize people by their apparent birth sex. While most of us never notice this pervasive separation, the transgendered are very aware of it -- and very aware of the costs of transgressing gender norms.
Transgendered people, by their very nature, challenge what we think about men and women and the walls between them -- and that challenge can be challenging. Anne Bolin, the noted anthropologist, has noted that "In cultures where gender is bi-polar, rituals of gender transgression remind us of our continuous common humanity." The challenge is to accept transgendered people not as a member of any one group or another, but as unique individuals who have stepped out of the norms in order to claim their own complete humanity. Whatever else you can say about transgendered people, after their own journey, none of them are boring.
When should transgendered people be included? They should be included in any human activity, in any place where humans fit. Transgendered women can add to women's groups, transgendered men to men's groups. But when you include transgendered people, it is important not just to include them in name only, as exhibits, not to include them in spite of their unique viewpoint, but to include them because of their unique viewpoint, of the gifts they bring.
As humans each of us wants not simply to be given space, but to feel that we are contributing and our contributions are accepted and even embraced. We want to be seen for all of who we are, and not just the surfaces we present.
In short, we don't want to be just transy tokens, badges of how diverse the crowd is -- we want to be part of the crowd, to be full humans. And if transgendered people don't embody the fullness of humanity, who does?