The Christmas Collection
1999 The Reason For The Season
1998 Naked For Christmas , Performing Naked
1997 Both A Memory And A Promise
1996 Claiming The Light, Christmas Is For Children, Whatever Gets You Through The Night, New Life
1996 The Drag Queen Who Saved Christmas
1995 Christmas Rituals
1994 Christmas Birth
1993 Hallelujah! It is Christmas
reason for the season
when people tell you
to remember "the reason for the season"
remember that the reason for the season
is the light each of us sees
on the darkest night.
some see that light
in the flame of candles that miraculously burned seven nights
others in the birth of a savior
others in the light of nature,
even human nature.
the birth of christ
probably didn't take place at the winter solstice
the longest, darkest night of the year
but it was in that dark night
they most needed to remember
the star that lit their world
as it was in the spring, at the vernal equinox
that the rebirth of their world was honored.
the reason for the season
isn't any particular religion or figure.
the reason for the season is the light that shines
though even our darkest times
honored by the tradition of giving
in a communal and familial gathering of warmth.
the reason for the season
is to see the light
the light from above
the light from within
the light all around
we often miss when the sun gets in our eyes.
may you, at this season
see the glimmer in the darkness
find joy and hope
in the longest, deepest night.
Christmas 1998: Naked For Christmas
Callan Williams © 1998
On Christmas Eve, with the warmth of a fire and the light of a candle, our mind still alive with the swirl of good company, we take off clothing and go to bed, waiting for a magical spirit to enter our world once more. In that moment, by the light of the moon, we play out our own Christmas ritual, getting naked for Christmas. We huddle together against the cold light, trusting in the warmth of those near us, vulnerable and fragile, revealing the intricate pattern of scars that every human is heir to and holding tight. There are more children conceived in December than any other month.
Christmas is given to us as the celebration of the light that shines inside each one of us, a light born into the world at its darkest hour. In the long, dark nights at the end of December, we are taught to celebrate the shining of the divine within us, to celebrate the new year with promises of a new us.
Nighttime has always been a time to go inward, to become intimate with those around us, to drop the armor we carry in the day and to feel safe in a warm and loving place. In the darkness, the physical and cultural drop away and we reveal our spirit. We become vulnerable and exposed as we get closer to a land of dreams where, as our body lies dormant & sleeping, we live on levels too often obscured in the work of the day.
As our defenses drop away, we become as the little child, as anyone who has watched even the most fearsome person sleep can tell you. We become as the child whose spirit was breathed into a human body from some other world, and who, at some point, will return to that other world, between being wrapped in swaddling clothes.
It is at night those spirits dance, and in the longest nights, they dance boldly, meeting with others and sharing the spirit we were each born with, a spirit many have come to call the Christmas Spirit, the child that connects us all. Others touch the same spirit in other ways and with other names, but they each honor that magical moment when we are born naked and alive into the world.
Let's get naked for Christmas. Let's honor that spirit by coming out from behind the armor of identity & ideas and by paying attention to the gifts we get from our own spirit, and the gifts of spirit we get from others. It is the gifts of spirit that really make the holiday time warm and bright, the gifts of feeling safe, seen and loved in the dark night.
Maybe the reason so many of us get swept up in the hurly-burly of a commercial Christmas is because we want to stay busy though the darkest nights, want to avoid the demand to get naked and be with others who are also naked. We live in fear that our gifts of spirit will not be enough, that, somehow, who we are when we come naked and loving is not enough. Maybe we have just learned how to follow the easy path, never really doing the hard work of tending to the spirit of others or even tending to our own spirit.
The work of the spirit is not what most of us have learned to do in this world. We get taken away by the demands of the flesh, and that is why it is important to have a time when spirit is honored, the spirit that endures from past to present to future, the spirit that connects us all. With rituals, including the ritual telling of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the tale of a man clad only in a nightshirt whose spirit leads him back to a whole path, we remember the spirit that threads through our life, from before birth to beyond death.
Christmas is a time when spirit dances in the night, and the only way to connect with that graceful dance is to get naked, to drop the expectations, defenses and rationalizations of everyday life and pay attention to the spirits of the ones we love, pay attention to the spirit inside of us.
Though music, decoration and all the arts, we build expressions of the sprit inside of us and offer those expressions to family and friends. As we don our finery, bare shoulders and holiday dresses, apart from our everyday clothes, we express the beauty that lies deep inside of us, express what lies hidden under our everyday clothes and everyday habits. Our creations, including the creation of self, are attempts to uncover parts of us that we often keep hidden, attempts to show the divinity of creation that lies in our own heart.
Unfortunately, the process of getting naked can often be a difficult one. Some people will show unhealed wounds, may strike out at others because they feel naked and pushed into a corner. Some will act out old patterns just to keep themselves from revealing the fear and pain which lies between their armor and their heart. These are the layers of armor we have built to keep from exposing our spirit, the defenses of a wounded soul which has never done the hard work of healing. These people fear being revealed, fear revelation will affirm sharp-tongued shaping of their youth.
This is the challenge of a lifetime, learning how to want what you have been given, to accept the gifts of sprit that come in our hearts. In this society, revelation and nakedness never come easy, on an emotional, mental or spiritual level. Rather, we demand that people be bound by social expectations. To be naked is to be free of the constraints of culture, free of the fetters that are designed to bind us to the expectations of others. Even many religions prefer to keep people tied to ritual & dogma than to encourage the casting off of worldly concerns and the discovering of the beauty of spirit, even once a year.
We live our lives as humans, and as humans, we need to be able to function in the world. For most of human history, the line between the bright world of the day and the dark world of the night was sharply contrasted, with only a few small fires and the moon to give light though the night. In this technological world we have taken light into every hour and in doing that, we have taken away the dark private places where people are alone with their spirit and the spirits of those around them. We seem to believe that it is only the worldly that gets us though and we have cast out room for the compassion that comes when we know we were all born naked, are each just spirit living a human life.
At this dark time, may we turn out the lights and think of the light that gets us though the darkness, the light that can only come from the spirit inside of us. To honor that spirit, we remove the everyday clothes and expectations we carry, shaking off the dust of the world to reveal in ourselves the glory of our creation, the beauty of the spirit that dwells inside each of us. As we remove the gauze from our eyes and look at the beauty of others, a beauty coming from within and expressed as a unique individual, in order to celebrate the spirit of Christmas.
Let's each get naked for Christmas and dance a merry bouree, showing our bright hearts in the darkness and paying rapt attention to the hearts of others. Let's celebrate the gifts of the soul, the gifts that come to this world and leave with us, making the dark nights a little brighter.
Naked is beyond identity, beyond the baggage of the world: language, culture, history. It demands getting back to a pure state and seeing others in that state, like when you see them naked to take away your fear of speaking. It's the baggage of seeing people as the things that clothe them and not as spirit that causes the divisions and separations in the world.
Look deeper, see the spirit. We are all as children before the lord
I skipped putting in a story about being in a sleeping bag as a scout and having a scout leader tell me to take off my clothes, because if i didn't, I would freeze. We strip down to stay warm, to huddle together though long nights, curled up around each other like animals. I also didn't talk much about why we prefer sex at night, or how night allows revelation by concealment, which is why drag queens can create images at night that would be washed out by sunlight....
performing naked 4/19/99
Callan Williams © 1999
Humans may be the only animal who have to get dressed to get naked.
Naked means exposed, revealing who we are by dropping the defenses we hide behind. We all know how to get physically naked, to expose our body by dropping the clothes we use to conceal our flawed and diverse human bodies. Many of us also know that when we do that, expose the pimples and bulges and hair and all, what people see of us is not right, not correct.
Humans live on four levels, and that means that there are four levels of naked. The first is the simple nakedness of the body, which has its own power and stigmas, but there is also nakedness of the emotions, of the mind, and of the spirit. In these levels we reveal not just our true shape, but the shape of our true feelings, of our true thoughts, and of who we truly believe ourselves to be.
While getting physically naked may require losing the symbolic garments we wear, getting naked and exposing our feelings, thoughts and beliefs requires that we clothe ourselves in symbols that express those inner truths, hidden to the eye, and often complex and contradictory. As humans, social creatures, the constructed is natural -- our gift of language, of using complex symbols to share inner truths and convey meaning, is what gives our life power, dignity, and meaning.
It is impossible to be naked to someone else until you can see yourself naked. This is a culture where encouraging children to see their own emotions, thoughts and beliefs about who they are is often seen as a negative thing, even more challenging to the status quo than someone walking about with no clothes. Our visions of our own inner self is twisted to meet the needs of our parents, our schools and our culture, and we are taught to fear our naked self, fear the darkness inside our own life.
How can we illuminate our own inner truths? We can only cast light on our feelings, our thoughts and our beliefs by making choices in the world, by symbolizing those beliefs and though that symbolic exposure, exposing our truths. It is when we fear to explore the landscape of who we are inside that we remain blind to what we feel, what we think and what beliefs about who we are we have always held. It is when we use what we learned by rote to conceal what we are afraid to reveal that we refuse to be naked, even to ourselves.
How can we be naked in a world where unauthorized nakedness is feared? How do we move from unconscious nakedness to conscious exposure?
In a New York Times Article, "The Artist Is A Glamour Puss" (17April99), artist Cindy Sherman talks about the new young female artists who expose their own skin to invoke power. She is disturbed by the trend among young women, who, she contends, are exploiting their sex appeal without questioning feminine stereotypes. "There's something uninformed about it that is creepy and scary to me," she said. "Young women who haven't learned they can have intellectual power know they can open their shirt and attract 20 guys. It's enormous power."
Naked has power, and that's why it's feared. Yet, is the naked body without the naked heart, mind and sprit truly being naked or simply being manipulative? If we choose to expose only our breasts, and not our heart, mind and spirit, do we really expose ourselves? Which scars are more terrifying to show, body or soul, which is more dangerous, the revelation of skin or the revelation of sprit?
To humans, being naked is a performance, making choices to symbolize -- in words, clothing, behaviors and voice -- what we truly find inside of us. We become magnetized force, invisble beings of sprit creating our own animated expressions in the world with bits of fabric, traces of pain, snips of language, the chimes of a tune, the shape of a turn, the motion of an eyeblink, a moving, walking, talking collage which expresses how we wish to be seen in the world. Whether or not this work of art is just the form we were issued by our influences, a disguise or truly a way of getting naked in the world is up to our own powers for exploration and creation, up to the intensity and conciousness of our own choices.
It's almost certain though, that any snapshot of this creation, will miss all the detail, nuance and effort we put into our expression in the world. As we glimpse the choices that others make to show themselves, however, we are limited by the ability we have created in seeing ourselves. "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are," as Anais Nin said. Until we can see our own choices by clothing them in symbol, can move beyond the triggers, hot buttons and defenses that keep us from getting naked, keep us from being exposed in the world, others exposure will trigger our own fears and learned reactions.
What is naked? Is it just about our bodies? Only if humans are only bodies, and most of us know that we much, much more than that.
Christmas 1997 Both A Memory And A Promise
Copyright ©1997 Callan Williams
What do you fear at Christmas?
Do you fear Christmas past, memories of bad days, vivid reenactments of dramas where people's own need to explain why they are different, why they should be special, came out in great gulps that triggered screams and left emotional venom dripping like blood on the carpet?
Do you fear facing the losses that have come over the years, fear that opening up your heart to a recap of the good days of the past that seem over now will bring up pain and sorrow that is overwhelming?
Do you fear Christmas future, the seeming promise of future where change will occur and loss is certain? Do you fear being alone and separate in the future, faced with having to satisfy yourself at the holidays?
Many people believe that Christmas is supposed to be a ideal time, a time out of time where the cares and worries of everyday life are put aside and a storybook tale is played out, all fresh cookies, glistening icicles, laughing children and warm smiles that belong in a TV movie. We all hope for the feeling of joy, perfect golden days of warmth and comfort in the bosom of friends, family and community. The images of Christmas on TV remind us of this perfect image of Christmas, an image that only exists in the fantasy of most of us.
We dream, at Christmas, of the power of creating new rituals. We look at Martha Stewart,who creates perfect looking worlds that somehow seem hollow, because they are only illusions to most of us.
We each feel the expectations of Christmas, when we just couldn't come up to the dreams of that Christmas. Many of us remember the tension of Christmas, when the rituals just ended up in tension and craziness.
The truth is that Christmas, like any ritual, is deeply connected to the times we celebrate it in, the feelings and fears we bring to the festival, the changes and transformations we bring to the banquet table.
Christmas is a time the eternal counterpoints the ephemeral, when lasting traditions bring the reality of change to the fore. Flip though the holiday photo album, going back though the years, and you will see the same faces, looking a bit different every year. As you move back though the years, a young face might turn into a baby and disappear, reminding you of the miracle of birth, or an old face might appear magically, reminding you of someone who has left us. To flip though that album is to stand on top of a mountain of ritual, looking from that vantage point back at the peaks and valleys in our lives, seeing the past and knowing for certain that the future lies in front of us.
If Christmas is for children, that's because they know the joy of transformation, embracing growth with joy and gusto. They are excited in the moment, are excited by the moments yet to come when possibilities will become incarnate for them. For them, the certainty of change and growth are invigorating and joyous, and they celebrate the truth of transformation.
The holidays, as a stable point in a tumultuous life, are about transformation, about the view of change that we can only get when we stand in the same place in the same way and look across time. "The hopes and fears of all the years are with us here tonight." Over 150 years ago, in "A Christmas Carol," Dickens reminded us of this transformative power as he tells the tale of Scrooge being visited by Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future. "It's A Wonderful Life" reminds us of the truth that whatever we feel in the moment is only a snapshot, and from the high ground of Christmas we can see the sweep of a full and rich life, with all its lows and highs.
The rituals of Christmas are designed to bring back old feelings and memories. The refrain of a song, the words of a story, the smell of pine, the taste of cookie, the sound of laughter, the sight of a beloved decoration, the flavor of candy, the process of dressing in our finest all trigger a vivid sense memory that connects us to the past and to the future.
These ritual sensations are constant and recurring images in a fast and transitory life that we use both to remind ourselves of the enduring joys of life and to mark the changes between now and then, to see the transformation that is a part of every life.
They take us to where all the separate ribbons of our life come together and touch, the center of the bow on our gift, cutting across time and space, all separate and all connected at the same time.
As we get together with those we love but who we are away from daily, we see how they have changed in a way we don't see with those we see everyday, and that vision reminds us that we too are changing, growing everyday. If we are resisting transformation, denying or avoiding it, the holiday seems to call us to come out, to make our own statement of change against the backdrop of ritual.
At Christmas, when all the transformation becomes visible, it brings up our fear. We remember both death and life at Christmas, as the rituals show what is "missing" from year to year. The celebration of the birth of the Christ child can be a reminder of the death of the old way of thinking, a reminder the Creator is out to get us, that time marches on, that this life is finite.
The fight between that message from the creator to live our dreams and the demands of culture come to the fore at this season. Reminders of the inevitability of change can be terrifying, and many of us would rather run around going though the commercial motions of the holiday, staying busy and shallow to avoid feeling the feelings the rituals bring up. In this way we keep the dramas on the surface, not facing the deeper challenges of our lives. If one allows it, though, the rituals can forces us to reflect on the underlying truth, engaging the sacred conflict we feel in our soul, and exposing eternal truths. Most us have barely enough time to perform the rituals, let alone to consider the implications of them -- yet ritual without reflection is empty.
Emotional terrorizing to both silence other people in seeing and speaking the truths they would rather not hear is often a part of this holiday. "Let's all conspire to keep silent about the changes and truths we would rather not see, so we don't have to really address the problems and why we are unhappy. Let's just be "nice."" This being "nice" by being silent simply denies the truth of transformation that is inevitable, no matter how much we fight it.
Culture clash is also part of the holidays, where we see many different traditions and expectations coming together at the same point. We end up having to sort out what is important to us, to think though what we value and our rituals to make a conscious decision about the choices we will make in this finite world. Do we go to one family's house or the other? Do we suffer some inconvenience and discomfort to help open up someone else's happiness? Do I put my tradition on the shelf in favor of another's, or do I fight to find a way that I can have what I hold dear?
To embrace ritual by enaging the feelings it brings up is to embrace transformation by embracing the lasting, using the familiar as a yardstick to measure the sweep of a life. We are all the ages we have ever been at Christmas, the parent giving the gift and the child receiving it. We can tell the old stories with new insights, able to see the choices in a new light. We may, for example, now understand why there were few gifts one year, and how hard that must have been for our parents. We may even be able to hear other versions of the same story and finally understand more of the forces at work that created those memories.
We don't grow out of tradition and ritual, we grow though it. While the holiday pageant stays more or less the same, our role in it changes, from infant to child to adolescent to adult to parent to grandparent. One year we are believing in Santa Claus, and the next we are helping the little kids believe in Santa. We see the holidays from a different angle as our eyes change position, learning more and more parts of the puzzle. A new year comes in the darkness, and we are called to both remember the past and embrace the future.
We are not a culture than embraces transformation easily. We are enamored of the belief that "it twas ever thus," that our history is a straight line, that we don't really transform, we just mature. We prefer not to see our past as a series of chapters, little deaths and rebirths, but rather only as a smooth arc. The memories of Christmas don't play into that image though, as we remember just how wide the swings of our life are, how much we have lost and how much we have gained in the dance of life.
So much of the resistance to Christmas, the angst around Christmas, is the resistance to accept the transformations that are inevitable, resisting the memory of losses past and the resistance to more change in the future. The ghosts of our own Christmas past and Christmas future haunt our Christmas present, and they terrify us, thinking of who we have been, and who we are bound to become, one of those old faces that exists only in photographs. Doris Day said "The really frightening thing about middle age is the knowledge that you'll grow out of it."
Change requires trust in the eternal, which is why we invite the eternal Christ Child into this ritual, the child who is reborn every year. Without this trust in some lasting thread, in a future, the change that Christmas illuminates would be almost impossible to take.
The challenge for us at Christmas is to engage the ritual on both an unconcious and concious level, both feeling and understanding the ritual, participating in it and shaping in in postive ways. Only by moving from unconcious ritual to concious ritual can we teach unconcious ritual that will provide powerful memories and touchpoints to our children
You are all your Christmases -- past, present & future --ephemeral and enduring, and the ritual helps you remember that. Ritual honors the past, reaching back into the people we have lost, and ritual honors the future, the children who will be born into a world we cannot even imagine.
The true gift at Christmas is the gift that we have always had, that we have lost, that we claim again, the spiritual thread of truth that all is different and all is the same, always. By connecting to the transformative effect of Christmas, embodying the rituals, we embody the lasting truth that Christmas is a connecting line between the past and the future, both a memory and a promise.
Christmas 1996: Claiming The Light
Copyright ©1996 Callan Williams
On dark midwinter nights like this, I love to step outside and look for the stars above.
At those times, I know that I am just like all the others who have stood on this Earth and looked up at the night sky, looking for the bowl of stars overhead.
The Native Americans, who saw power in the Aurora, the Greeks who named the constellations, the voyagers for whom the sky traced the path home, even those three wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem. In these dark winter nights, Humans have always looked up at the stars and seen the infinite, and when I share that experience, I feel connected across time and space.
But when I peeked outside tonight, I didn't see many stars. Washington is ablaze in this holiday season, but with artificial lights, some put up to stop crime, others to make safety, many to advertise our goods and services, and even a few Christmas lights to remind us of the natural beauty of the bowl of stars that used to light our nights, feed our imaginations.
Nobody killed the stars, took their light. Instead, we just walled them away from us with a screen of artificial light -- we made their natural grandeur disappear, hidden behind our own man-made creations.
The stars aren't harmed by this insult. They will go on shining, go on burning brightly and illuminating this universe.
But I fear that the stars burning inside of transgendered people -- burning inside of you in this room -- may not fare so well.
As a transgendered person, I understand how difficult it is for my brilliance to shine in the face of the screen of artificial light that is created in this world.
Is the light a normative 110 volts, with a standard screw base? Can it be controlled by a switch? Does it meet safety guidelines and building codes? Can you pay for the electricity to run it? These are what society demands in lights -- and very similar demands are made of people.
Most of us remember when we were young and fresh and let our light shine. And we also remember when we were told that was wrong. "Don't shine that in the corners!" "It's your bedtime, turn it off!" "It's rude to shine that your elders!"
We soon learned that our light, rather than being a gift, was simply a beacon that drew trouble to us -- and we worked to hide it under a bushel. The world didn't kill our light -- our soul -- it merely killed our ability to shine joyously.
On dark nights, like this one, just days from the longest night of the year, I like to look at the stars. I know that we need light, need the ability to shine.
But, oh, the cost of shining in this world. The pot shots by vandals, the zoning codes of culture, the humiliation of those around us. We are told to fall into the background, not to stand out, not to show our own unique light.
Do stars, when their light is obscured, get sad? Is turning into a black hole a form of stellar suicide, the ultimate turning inward, of creating a closet?
I know that happens to people who shine. Dancing in the light is joyous -- but is also very, very dangerous. We become the searchlight of illumination and the searchlight of our own destruction.
How many stars are obscured in this world by the artificial light that we have built and now accept as the natural way of life? How many of you see in your heart a star that you have had to cover over, a star whose shining you have had to obscure merely to fit in this world of SAE and UL standards?
And how many have come close to permanently extinguishing their light in this world to extinguish the frustration of not having any where to let it shine without driving others away?
I suspect we have all asked that question at one time or another. Is it possible to let your light shine and not be forced to follow too many limiting regulations -- or else? Can you follow your nature and follow the rules of society, or do you have to do one or the other?
I look up to the stars to get hope and reassurance of my connection with the infinite universe, and with all the other humans that have been here -- but here, tonight, society and its lights stand in my way, block my vision, obscure my path.
I might be able to go past the edges of civilization and see the stars, but where are the edges of civilization on this planet? Wherever we go, to the ends of the earth, humans are there -- and where humans are not, life is inhospitable, barren.
I am here, in the middle of this dark night, as we gather, the lights of hospitality shining around us and on us -- the candles, the bulbs, even the sequins and beads that catch the light --- to remind you that the light that burns brightest, is most important, is the light you hold inside yourself, the light every human holds inside themselves.
It is this light we must honor in the dark night, for this is the true light of brilliance that can light our way past the illusions and stagnant limits of electric light. It is with this brilliance that we created electric light to transform our world -- and that can transform the world again to allow every human to shine brightly, diverse and special, different and the same.
The more we allow the light of humans to be obscured, the more we damn others to having to extinguish their own light to fit into the world, and the more we deny the world the possibility of new ways of seeing that come from new angles and colors of light.
"Let There Be Light!" What does that mean? Does it mean a sea of nice cool florescent bulbs, or does it mean that each should shine in their own brilliant way with the gifts given them by their creator?
In this holiday season, around the festival of lights, as I stand under the stars, it is a question I ask myself -- and one that you may want to ask yourself.
Christmas Is For Children
Callan Williams Copyright © 1996
It's Christmas again, and at this time of the year, you are likely to hear that old saw, "Christmas is for Children." Surprisingly, it's not such an old idea -- the notion of Christmas being about Santa bringing children gifts is less than 175 years old, dating to Clement Moore's "Twas The Night Before Christmas." Before that, Christmas was a time for revels, a carnival time to let your hair down.
Old or new, there is no doubt that today we think of the joy of children on Christmas morning as a key image in our Christmas rituals. And some of us, because our family has grown, or because we are estranged from our families, will miss that ritual this year.
For me though, the phrase "Christmas Is For Children" means something a little different. I know that there would be no children without adults, and there would be no adults without children.
We are all children again when we tear the wrappings off a gift, eager with the fresh, hopeful expectation and surprise that can only come from eyes that are not yet jaded, that have not yet "seen it all," especially the pain of heartbreak. And we are all adults when we watch someone open the gifts we give, know the rewarding feeling of giving without expectation or demand to another person.
As parents, part of our job is teaching our children that giving is receiving, that taking the responsibility of caring for another is joyous in itself. When we see a child joyously give a present to us we see the flicker of maturity in that soul, their native understanding that giving to others is a key to our own joy.
Children remind grown ups that life is about joyously receiving what comes along, that learning to accept gifts with gladness, surprise and excitement is an important part of life. I watched a 65 year old man today, his nose pressed against the glass, excitedly looking at presents like a kid in a candy store -- even though he was looking at orbital sanders. I saw a gent, arms full of Christmas cheer, hold a door open for an older women who reported that she had two new hips and a new knee -- and watched the sparkle in her eyes when he asked if Santa had brought them. "I guess so!." she replied.
This is the cycle of Christmas, child to adult to child to adult, on and on. Christians can think of this by remembering that the Christ child is reborn in all of us on Christmas morning, and that the Christ child is the father of us all in human form. On Christmas, we celebrate the cycle of life, of children receiving the blessings of the world, and parents giving freely of themselves -- and those children and those parents being the same people.
For transgendered people, participation in this cycle can be difficult.
As children, many of us felt that the gifts of Christmas came with obligations, strings, and we accepted them only with fear and guilt. We learned not to open our hearts to the joys as they came, for we had opened our hearts and been hurt. We opened gift after gift and it never seemed to fill the empty place inside of us where we had to commit soul suicide. We were ashamed of who we are, and the gifts seemed to mock our own flawed sense of self.
As adults, as parents, we were forced into obligations and responsibilities that seemed to place demands on us without returning what we needed to fill ourselves up. Because we were not able to accept gifts easily, unable to love ourselves, we had trouble giving that love to the people around us who needed it. The constraints and constrictions seemed to highlight our shame and our pain, rather than affirm the joy of giving.
This cycle of receiving and giving, of child and parent, is one that we each have to face in our lives. I know that it is very easy for Christmas to bring back all of the fears and shame I held as a child, for me to want to act out and reject the gifts people give me as wrong, hurtful and insulting. We may expect love to come in a specific way, like in a pink bottle, and often reject it when it comes in a purple box. We reject gifts because we worry about how much it will hurt if they are taken away from us -- but that simply leaves us hurting from not getting what we need.
In the past, I have given and received with a sense of fear, and not a sense of love. But as I learn to love myself, I learn to love the giving. It changes from an obligation to a joy, as I find something special that I can give to those I love.
And I as I learn to love the giving, I learn, a bit at a time, to love the receiving, the accepting of the love that comes in the special gifts of self that others give to me.
Sometimes it is hard. I know many who don't yet love themselves and they have trouble giving and receiving the gifts of others, but I know that they will find their own love, their own comfort in their own time. Until we love ourselves, we can not give love to others, or even accept it from them. I can only trust in Goddess that this learning to love will happen for all of us if we do the work of healing, of exploring our inner selves.
So, as adults, we say that Christmas is for children. In that way we remind ourselves that it is about the joy of receiving with an open and joyous heart, as well as giving with a warm and caring spirit. For Christmas to be full, it must contain both parts.
May you find some joy this Christmas, both in unconditionally giving from the love of your heart, as a parent, and in unconditionally accepting the love of the world, as a child.
For me, this is the true magic of Christmas.
Whatever Gets You Though The Night
Callan Williams Copyright © 1996
It is the longest night of the year, the winter solstice.
For me, this is a time to reflect on what gets me though the night, how I get though the darkness that is a part of every person's life. There is no TG person -- probably no person at all -- who hasn't had at least a few rough nights in their lives, times when they were sure that the sun would never rise again.
Margaret Atwood, the Canadian writer, wrote an essay about the common themes in Canadian writing. Canada is a cold and thinly settled country, and that affected the writing. Instead of the common American theme of the triumph of the individual, Canadian writing tended to focus on survival, on how we had to depend on each other to get though the metaphoric (and real) cold winter night.
For warmth, for food, for companionship, humans need each other. We help each other be born, survive and find comfort, and the celebration of the cold winter nights are always about the gifts we share with each other, gifts we need much more in the dark and barren times than the warm and bountiful summer. We honor the truth that inside of every one of us is the spark of God, and that we pass that spark back and forth to create light and warmth on even the darkest night.
I know that many of us have found their own joy when they are helping another. They know the secret that giving is receiving, that the only way to get more is to give more. And at this season of darkness, where we light the lights, bring out the special foods, put on our finery and join together to celebrate the sharing of community, the giving that gets us though the night, we must all remember this truth. Santa lives in every one of us -- yet the only way that giving counts is when we give freely, without expectation of return, rather than trying to barter for love, affection or respect.
This is a season to honor and celebrate what gets us though the night, and for humans, the secret to survival is simple: no one is alone.
I recently heard Patrick Stewart's performance of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol", describing Scrooge's long dark night of the soul, where the echoes of the past, present and future come together to remind him that the night is hell without the caring of others. As Marley leaves, Scrooge gets a glimpse of the ghosts who live in the chains of isolation they have forged for themselves, and sees that their pain comes from their seeing human suffering and being unable to help because they no longer are material. He understands that it is only now, in bodies, that we can reach out and give, that we can get the love that can lift up our hearts to heaven.
So to all of you out there on this darkest of nights, I hope you get though it with a bit of cheer, light, music, conversation and the warmth of spirit. The truth is simple: if we can get though the night, if we believe, the sun will rise again, and we can share in the bounty and abundance of life.
And maybe, if you have a cup of hot cider tonight, you can lift your glass and toast to me and the other TG people out there, all learning give & receive and make it though the night.
Year, New Life
Callan Williams Copyright © 1997
Wouldn't it be great if we could make New Years resolutions for other people? If we could change our world by changing the people around us?
Maybe. But we all know that's not the way it works. The only thing we can change are our choices, the way we choose to respond to the stimuli around us. Our only freedom is in the moment between stimulus and response, and whatever we do in that moment -- pushing away desert, going to the gym, giving someone else the benefit of the doubt, going the extra mile -- is the only way we can change our world.
Transformation requires changing your the choices you make in every moment. Changing your choices requires reinventing yourself -- requires thinking about your world in a new way.
All too often we don't change our choices because we can't see anyplace else to be. I had a quote on the wall in my high school bedroom: "If we do not lift our eyes, we will always think we are at the highest point." The vision of possibilities is the only way that we can change our world.
When I read transvestite fiction, the common theme is simple: identity stripping. The protagonist has their family, responsibilities, history and expectations stripped away from them so they may become a new person, free from the burdens of life and able to be wild and unique.
The fantasy is that our we are severed from our past and our obligations and can be wholly new -- but that is also the deepest fear that any of us have, being separated from other people, alone and unconnected, severed from our past and families. That fear is the fear of death, and that fantasy is the fantasy of rebirth.
Death and rebirth -- all part of the cycle. As Old Man 1996 dies and Baby 1997 is born, the dark of winter when nature looks dead out the window, we see that rebirth in symbol. Our resolutions are messages to the new person we will be tomorrow, reminders of the choices we want to make, pointers to what we know we must renounce to find what we really desire.
This renouncing of the old self, renouncing of comfortable choices we made for the best of reasons, so that we can become new and more complete and happy is one of the hardest things we do, for it requires the precious commodities of belief and hope -- things that are in short supply for those who feel abandoned and alone. We focus on survival and comfort, and don't believe our dreams can come true -- so why should we renounce the comfort we know for the possible terror of separation?
This is how we stay in our comfortable cells and never end up playing in the big beautiful world outside -- better the devil we know than that we don't know. We imprison ourselves with our fears of what change could bring -- and so we keep ourselves on life support, on artificial respiration, just surviving rather than thriving.
Wouldn't it be great if we could change the world so it wasn't so scary? I'm not so sure, because I know that with risk comes reward, that the point is facing the fear and doing it anyway, rather than waiting until the fear is removed. Gertrude Stein: "Considering how dangerous everything is, nothing is really frightening."
These are the challenges that I face at this new year, how to take control of my life, renouncing comfort and facing fear so that I can become new, make new choices and have a new -- and better -- world around me. This requires that I take responsibility for my life and my choices, become more reliant and loving.
This facing fear, trusting in love and hope is not easy for me, someone who learned early that dreams caused pain. But I know of nothing else that can cause joy, either. To embrace life is to embrace uncertainty.
On this new year, facing the death of 1996, may we each have the strength to become new, to face the fear of separation and death -- and find the joy of connection and rebirth.
The Drag Queen Who Saved Christmas
It was Christmas Eve
Somewhere in the Southland
At the local gay bar
The celebration was out of hand.
The Party was joyous
Full of good times and fun
A family of friends
Sharing with everyone
What did they hear
But a bump and a clatter
Officer Cindy went up
To see what was the matter
It was Santa Claus
Up on the roof
Poor Santa had crashed
And broken his hoof.
They brought Santa down
Laid him on down
Sally the doctor
Examined him with frown
Sally looked a bit grave
Dear Santa, she said
I'm afraid you will have to
Go home to bed.
Santa looked stricken
"Oh the girls and the boys!
Who will deliver
The sacks full of toys?"
The crowd looked around.
Who had the magic
To transform a
Situation this tragic?
Out of the darkness
One person was seen
There was Miss Anita
The local drag queen.
"I can help, Santa!
I can deliver the goods
To children who live
in the cities and woods."
Santa was worried
Could the magic come true?
Would this group of queers
Know what to do?
People thought for a moment
Could Anita do it?
Did she have the magic
To pull them all though it?
From the back of the crowd
Was heard one gay self
"Well heck," Bill exclaimed
"I always wanted to be an elf!"
So the folks in that bar
Gave all the were worth
To delighting the children
All over the Earth.
Alex, the leather man said
"Don't worry! I'll
Get to the job
Of fixing the bridle."
Carol, the butch said
"Don't any one panic
I can fix the sleigh
Cause I'm a mechanic."
Robert & Richard,
two very sweet boys,
Fell to the task
Of fixing the toys.
"When we finish these toys,
They'll be better than new!
Don't you just think that Barbie
Needs a better hair do?"
Said Ruthie, a femme
"You need to look cute!
Come on Anita!
We'll make you a suit!"
In a matter of moments
Everything was done
The sleigh was already
To start up and run
The toys were all perfect
Alex's rigging was aces
Even the reindeer
Had smiles on their faces.
The door to the ladies
Opened up wide
Into the hall
Miss Anita did glide
Her beautiful cherry red dress
Shone in the night
A elegant hood, trimmed
with (fake) fur of white.
Every mouth on the room
Just stood and gasped
Maybe she had
The magic at last!
Over to the chimney
Anita did soar
Her patent spike heeledboots
A tapping on the floor.
She looked and breathed in
And with a call of Ho Girl, Ho!
In a puff of pink smoke
Up the chimney she did go!
They all ran to the roof
Saw Anita in the sleigh
She said to the reindeer
"Up, up and away!"
A beautiful sight
flying though the sky
And, as Santa noticed.
There wasn't a dry eye.
The people who made
Christmas so cheery
Some lesbians and gay men
Some butches and fairies.
And Santa remembered
what he had known for so long
Without queers at Christmas
The magic is gone.
So at this Christmas
When Santa you ask
Remember a drag queen
Once carried his pack.
Miss Anita's voice rang out
On that marvelous flight
"Merry Christmas to all
And to all a good night, Bay-bee!"
Christmas 1995: Christmas Rituals
Copyright ©1995 Callan Williams
At this time of the year, people are hauling out Bible verses about the Christ child and about peace on earth. But for me, the words of Eccliesiastes ring out:
To every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.
This is a pluarlistic country, and there are many people who don't see Jesus as a savior. Even many of those who were raised Christian don't follow Christianity.
So, if it's not our shared religion, why does Christmas affect us all?
For me, the reason is simple. Christmas is a season of ritual, the time of the year when we have communal obligations. We remember the rituals of the past, and have to reenact many of them again.
This time of repeating the same rituals can bring up many feelings.
We all hope for the feeling of joy, that we remember golden days of warmth and comfort in the bosom of friends, family and community. The images of Christmas on TV remind us of this perfect image of Christmas, an image that only exists in the fantasy of most of us.
We all feel the expectations of Christmas, when we just couldn't come up to the dreams of that Christmas. Many of us remember the tension of Christmas, when the rituals just ended up in tension and craziness.
We dream, at Christmas, of the power of creating new rituals. We look at Martha Stewart, the new queen of ritual, who creates perfect looking worlds that somehow seem hollow, because they are only illusions to most of us.
This Christmas, I went shopping on the streets of Saratoga, and it felt like the last 20 years of Christmases. I even ran into someone I knew 10 years ago and hadn't seen for five, an accquantiance from another time.
The rituals of Christmas force us to face our past, face the connection to, as Mr. Dickens said, Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.
We experience Christmases remembered, Christmases now, and dream of what future Chrtistmases will be like, how they will be even more perfect than today, in a world filled with peace and joy. "The hopes and fears of all the years are with us here tonight."
We don't do very well with ritual nowadays. People have abandoned ettiquette, become transient and silly. We expect the drama of our lives to come on color screens and not in our homes, in our hearts. Most of us wouldn't know how to create a ritual if we wanted to -- and that leaves us at the mercy of the rituals that we have collected over the years. Too often those rituals are a hodgepodge of anger and angst, rather than an elegant and well crafted celebration of the best of this season of connection.
How do we think out our rituals? What we pray for is what we will get, what we express is what we believe. Most us have barely enough time to perform the rituals, let alone to consider the implications of them -- yet ritual without reflection is empty. We each must have our own dream of Christmas Past, present and future in order to participate fully. We must understand our rituals not only at the level of symbol but also of meaning, personal meaning.
This challenge is doubly hard for parents, who must take responsibility not only for their own processing of ritual, but for helping those around them create rituals in their lives. We can create the traditional rituals, but we must also create rituals that have special meaning for our family, and help our children grasp the deeper meanings. From the unconcious rituals we have as children to concious rituals that we can take control of. back to iconic rituals that we can pass onto our children as unconcious ritual.
The Christmas rituals that come from the church are easy to understand. The birth of the Christ child in the darkest time of the year, the services, lit with candles, where we all come together and celebrate the light we all need are well documented.
It is the more subtle rituals, everything from cookie making to last minute tension that are less easy to define & understand. How do they bring back Christmas past, how do they celebrate where we are today, and how do they point us to a more glorious future?
Many people run from meaning. To examine the meaning of their life, their choices and their rituals means they have to examine their own life -- and many lives today don't stand up to examination. But that is what the light of Christmas is about -- the light we shine on ourselves, on our intereior in these long dark nights.
Our rituals define the essence of who we are.
And then there are the rituals about belief, about Miracles. It's a Wonderful Life, Santa Claus. The stages of lid: belief, disbelief, concious belief. Come back to believing, come back to trusting in the magic that happens.
Only by moving from unconcious ritual to concious ritual can we teach unconcious ritual.
The dressing of the tree -- one strand at a time. Stupid or honor to the tree, to honor Christmas, and to honor the community? And the story of a child who was told that she was the only one who got it.
Stories become legends, tales of belief reinforced by retelling.
lifelong traditions, embrace with your hearts.
Good humor doesn't have to be funny -- just full of spirit. Show the energy, committ, and the rituals have power -- no matter how silly or how others outside the circle may see them.
How do you teach kids long term values withiout the constancy of ritual?
Time goes on, but Christmas is always with us.
The challenge is moving from strict & rigid hierarical ritual to flat, networked, feminine ritual. This is hard.
We celebrate this Christmas holiday at the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, the day with the longest night. Many cultures around the world celebrate this time with a festival of light, as Chanukah is called, eight days of light at the time we need it the most. We hold the hope of a new and a brighter day, for the world, and for us as individuals.
Christians also celebrate the light that comes into the world, reminding themselves that on this longest of nights that a baby was born in Bethlehem who brought light into the world. While the early Christians didn't know the exact date of Jesus' birth, they did know when we needed to be reminded of the light of the world. The reminder of that light shines in every flame and every bulb we light at this festive season.
The story of Jesus is the story of God born in human form, a reminder that as humans we are made in the image of God. In fact, Jesus tells his followers to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, to consume part of his divine body so that it is inside of them. There is God in each of us, and this is a belief that is shared by most humans.
All the gifts we exchange at this season only remind of us of what we truly exchange in this life. As Erica Jong reminds us: We are all made of God. We pass the gift of God to others. And they pass it back to us. At Christmas we celebrate our connection to our creator and to the part of our creator that exists in every other human. We celebrate our connection to each other.
As we remember Jesus' birth today, in the darkest night, we are all able to be reborn in this season. In fact, one of our most cherished stories of Christmas is one of rebirth, that of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge is reborn in caring and connection. He lets his light shine forth -- and we listen to the story time and time again, to remind ourselves that life is only complete when we live in the light, not in the shadows.
The light of this season is a reminder that we can each be reborn, like Scrooge, in a new, authentic, beautiful and often a very surprising way. We can take the time to remember what is pure inside of us. We can reach out with a sense of goodness and caring. We can look past the expectations of this culture to the handiwork of our creator inside of us. Christmas is for children, for those who have not yet become wrapped up the the woes of the world, for those who are full of light and of potential. Christmas is for the child in each of us.
On this Christmas, may we each celebrate in the light and the love of the universe that shines from those around us. May we all remember how important it is to let our gift of light shine brightly, no matter how dark the world is around us, for only by shining do we honor the universe and do we pass the gift of God to others in a way that it is returned to us in abundance.
May you have a joyous Christmas season, and may you find your own strength from your creator that will let you be reborn and shine brightly in the New Year.
Hallelujah! It is Christmas!
On Christmas we celebrate the birth of a great spiritual leader who brought us many messages.
The most important message was simple: We have the good, we have the God, inside of us. We are children of God, and we have all we need for Joy within us. We also have the bad inside of us. We have free will: We choose the path of fear and sadness or the path of love and joy.
If we see the world as a terrible place, filled with doom and destruction, we will be correct. However, if we see the world as a beautiful place, filled with love and abundance, that will also be correct. The world contains all, and we must choose for ourselves.
At Christmas we attempt to come a little closer to seeing the love and abundance in the world. We take a moment to try and taste the joy.
To see the joy, we must experience, as Jesus did, a rebirth in love.
Too many people have taken the lessons of Jesus and used them to continue fear and division, trying to make it seem that we cannot achieve heaven on Earth. This is wrong.
We must learn to love here on Earth, accepting that all is in balance: the fall with the spring, the old with the young, the evil with the good. As humans, we will never be perfect, but we can put ourselves in balance, where goodness and abundance can fill our lives. As each of us becomes forces of good, we help put the world in balance.
It is easy to be scared of the forces inside of you. It is easy to try to believe what we are taught, that the world is full of horrors, and that includes you. But to find happiness, we must brave the horrors and search within, finding the good, the God inside.
Much of what we know to be right may be at odds with the modern world. We know, in our hearts, that the key to joy, to goodness, to the best in ourselves and others, the things we search for at Christmas lies within us.
Whoever you are, you are born human, as was Jesus on the day we celebrate today. And as Jesus, you have a special connection to God inside of you. Find the connection, trust it, and feel the spirit of Christmas everyday.
December 25, 1993