Speaking In Tongues

Subject: Speaking In Tongues
From: TheCallan (callanw@crosswinds.net)
Date: Thu 21 May 1998 - 13:48:28 BST

One basic tenet that most of us share is that all voices must be heard. As
queers, we know the cost of being silenced, of having our voice erased and not
accepted as part of the circle of humanity. To me, in order to create balance
and harmony, the range of human voices must be heard, creating a "dynamic
tension" between them, that, though finding common ground and pulling together
keeps the circle shrinking, and identifying differences and pushing apart,
keeps the circle round, not eccentric and exclusionary.

Saying that all voices must be heard though, means also that voices we
disagree with, that offend and disturb us must be heard. The price of freedom
of speech is the vost of hearing speech that pushes your emotional buttons,
that challenges you -- just like most people find embracing the concept of
transgender challenging

I believe that every voice contains a truth, even if that voice speaks what
are clearly lies in a pragmatic sense. When a person tells a legend of how
they came to be, maybe including turtles with the world on their back, or of
spirits entering their body, I know the issue is not the literal truth of
these stories, these myths, but rather the fundamental truth that they are
trying to express, a truth that is told with symbol and metaphor. All
language, though is symbol and metaphor, abstractions that are not in
themselves meaning, but rather reveal meaning by the shadows they cast.

Dragoin, in his work on gynemimetic shamans, talks about the skills of a
shaman as told in anthropology and how they map to psychological studies of
effeminate boys. The drama, the ablility to go into trance, the creativity
are all common threads between these two studies. I know that when I was
growing up, it wasn't trans that was the most sacry thing for me, it was what
I still call my "Johnathan Winters" energy, the number of voices in my head,
the number of positions I could take. People saw me as doing voices, but I
knew I was doing characters, that all these persona were parts of me.

I remember a discussion I had with The Prince in 1983, where she said I had to
acknowledge both my feminine and masculine side, and I said that if I had just
two, it would be simple! Eric, JoAnn's traveling makeover queer heard us and
agreed -- he too knew the persona in his head, the characters and performances
that were the threads of the fabric of his life.

In the "Violating..." posts here, I have been invoking that ability,
channeling other voices, speaking in tongues. It's part of my skills, the
shaman like ability to enter another person's emotions and thoughts, to in
some way become them. It's hard when we are young, because we get swept up,
wasted and drained, but as we get older, learning to have control over our own
emotions/thoughts, we can help guide them

I believe it is important for many voices to speak here, even the voices that
challenge us, for those voices have truth in them, if only the truth of their
fears. Conservative voices speak for conservation, for holding on to what we
value, for the benefits of leaving things alone, as they are, and it is only
though a dialogue between conservative and progessive voices do we find a path
to the future that allows progress without ramapant destruction. We need to
allow death, not be too conservative, but we also need to allow life, not be
too progressive, wiping out things of value or things that may not have
bloomed yet.

So in this discussion, we speak from various points of view, various voices.
It'd an old technique -- in Talmudic agruments, two rabbis would often
exchange positions during the discussion, the goal of the agrument not to win
or lose, but rather to find the elusive and contraductory truths buried under
the symbols we must use to talk about them.

For me, and for many, talking about various subjects in many voices, from many
positions, allows me to gain persperctive on it, to see it in the third
dimension, to embrace and appreciate the paradoxes, contradictions and
challenges that are represented in building an effective model that helps us
make hard choices about where to use our finite resources.

Ben Singer, in a private conversation, noted that often people don't hear
these different voices, don't contextualize what they mean

In a message dated 98-05-20 23:48:58 EDT, bensinge@eden.rutgers.edu (Ben
Singer) writes:

>One of my students missed the tone of voice, the character
>when he produced a critique of racism in an essay by Patricia Williams,
>in a section wherein she was rehearsing social stereotypes about Blacks.
>His crtique was excellent, unfortunately,
>he has missed that her tone was sarcastic/ironic from the start,
>thus his claim she is a racist was unfounded.
>I don't know why he didn't stop to think about how
>a political Black woman could manage to believe such
>virulently racist things.
>Then again, when I read the posts on trans-theory
>(sans context) I was in the same position of taking things said literally.
>For me, I think the difference is that over 40 years of Black political
>organizing and cultural critique would make it harder for Williams to be as
>much of a racist as some transpeople are still transphobic:
>For example, I received a packet from someone named Carrie Drake
>in the mail which contained the most transphobic arguments a
>gainst transppl I have read...she came off like the spawn of Raymond,
>and then to find out she once upon a time identified as trans
>(at least long enough to gain access to medical technologies).
>I have also been attacked in the local gay press by a transwoman
>who said I was just a "female with an obvious identity problem,"
>and that she called around (to whom I don't know) to see if
>I had had *the* operation yet, and that until then..
>well, you get the gist.
>Transphobia amongst transpeople is one of the
>most insidious and ugly things I have ever encountered.
>But, this reality means that arguments like the ones you have been
>polemically rehearsing have been and will continue to be
>said in ernest by trans ppl themselves.
>ps Seems to me this might be something to discuss on the list, no?
>If you want to fwd this one there it's fine w/me.

How do we open ourselves to the voices around us, when we know that the tone
of those voices is an attack on us, on our standing, our beliefs and our very
existance? How do we handle the swords people weild to try and cut us out,
cut us down to size?

For me, the answer is the same as for anyone who has ever had to face swords,
or for that matter to get to Carnagie Hall -- practice, practice, practice.
If we don't face the swords, the voices that challenge us, in practice, in
private, then we will never be able to to face them effectively in the world.

Learning to attack each other in a safe space can be hard, because tone is
missed, but it is important. In the same way that the reclaiming of words
like faggot, dyke, sissy and queer allow us not to be punctured by these words
when they are thown at us, the ability to actually hear what someone is trying
to say when they attack us, to identify and address the kernel of truth rather
than the sting of the words, seems crucial in growing up.

But Ben is correct. As long as we retain the fear of those words being used
against us, as we fight each other to create seprations -- Well, at least I'm
not a ___________ like you! -- then hearing those voices is very hard. Those
tongues remain swords pointed at our heart, rather than just the messages that
keep the circle moving.

I speak in voices and the tone of some of those voices, the buzzer words, the
"records" planted in our brain (as National Colation Building Insitute would
call them) set us off, make us cringe, trigger a fight or flight response.

For me, though, until I can accept the voices in my head -- even the ones that
come though my ears -- as al voices of truth, all having something to say, I
know I can't accept myself. If I put up walls against the fear, I also put up
walls against the love and connection that can come.

Those voices are loud and contradicort in my head, each using their own take
to tell their part of the truth. For me, coming to peace with that has helped
me come to peace with who I am, and who I am in the world.



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