Is the Era of the Community Center Over?

The following are my remarks at Identifying Our Resource Center, an event that occurred on Tuesday, April 21, 2015, as a joint effort between Holland is Ready, PFLAG Holland/Lakeshore, and Holland Area Pride, three community organizations advocating for LGBT inclusion in Holland, MI, my hometown.

Good evening, and thank you so much for having me out.

I want to start, briefly, by telling you my story, because our lives and our stories matter, and a movement that doesn’t have time for us, as people, and our stories, is not a movement for me. God began calling me to accept who I am and, well, finally act like a grown woman, a little less than 15 years ago. I hemmed, and I hawed, and I said it was too hard, I wasn’t brave enough, or strong enough. God said, “No, little girl, I’ve got you.” I didn’t believe it, right away. It wasn’t until 2013 that I finally started being ready. My 38-year-long, less than impressive, farce of pretending first to be a boy, then a man, then an androgynous more-or-less man, none of which were me, was getting in the way of my mission to kids with autism. In the prior two years, I built the best place in West Michigan for early diagnosis and early treatment for preschoolers with autism. That revolution needed to grow and expand, because there are kids out there who need me, and I was wasting time and energy, pretending. So I gave in, I came out, and I ended the charade. I was scared at first, but I was met with overwhelming love, positivity, support, and celebration. I came out without losing a single friend, family member, colleague, or business contact, and I gained a sea of new loves and new connections in all those areas. When people saw me being brave, they chose to see my transition as an opportunity to be brave alongside me, and they found that we were all better, together, for it.

You have no idea what I'll do for my AutismFamily.

You have no idea what I’ll do for my AutismFamily.

In early 2014, God spoke to me again, when I walked up the rickety back steps of a bar, and there, before me, was the one. God said, “Love him.” I said, “I don’t know, I’m not looking for all that trouble.” God said, “No, I said, love him. He needs you. And you need him. You don’t see it now, but he was the one I made you for.” I hemmed and I hawed, again, and God said, “You know I’m always right.” To which I replied, “I have noticed that. It’s kind of annoying.” God said, “Yes, but it’s also true. Someday, you’ll learn to just accept that. But I’m not asking you for that, today. Today, I’m telling you to love Teri.” And I said, “Okay, done.” And God said, “Thank you.” He kind of gets to have the last word.

...or for my mister.

…or for my mister.

I am telling these two stories for a specific reason, to set the stage for understanding where we are, today. As you may know, in 2014, I was asked to get involved at a number of levels, both here in Grand Rapids and at the state and national levels, in LGBT activism. One of the tasks set before me was to re-invent our notion of LGBT Community in Grand Rapids, for the contemporary world. I’ve written in detail about what I learned in this process, but I am here tonight to ask you a provocative (and hopefully somewhat less offensive than it sounds) question: Is the era of the community center over?

We’ve come a long way since the sentinel events in our history, such as Stonewall. In the just under fifty years since that event, we’ve come into a world where stories like mine are becoming increasingly believable. Many times, in middle and larger cities, for lesbians and gay young men from non-marginalized backgrounds, stories like mine are becoming almost normal. They’re pretty rare, still, for trans people, but I’m neither the first nor the last. Let me be clear: what happened to me when I came out should not be a lucky blessing. It is what every single person who comes out deserves. And while it is becoming increasingly common, it is not universal, and it is not enough to rest on our past accomplishments and live in a bifurcated world where a growing population of connected LGBT people thrive, and a remaining segment of our community suffers.

Fifty years ago, Stonewall was a game changer. What will tomorrow's game changer be?

Fifty years ago, Stonewall was a game changer. What will tomorrow’s game changer be?

The community center has been a staple of these fifty years of progress. Many times, it began as a sort of safe house – sometimes, even in very covert ways (a storied community center serving the trans* people of the Boston area even had a cloak and dagger process of calling from a designated pay phone and being whisked away in an unmarked car to be sussed out and cleared as not a threat!). Often times, this remains the mentality of fighting for LGBT community. We spend too much time asking, “Which restaurants are LGBT friendly,” and not enough time asking, “Why are there any that aren’t?” We don’t come out to our doctors, because we’re afraid they will reject us. We build supports for homeless and runaway youth but we don’t think about how to get to a world where no youth is homeless because of their gender or sexual identity. We create “gayborhoods” as an act of self-imposed segregation.

I want to make the argument, today, that it’s time for us to stand a little bit taller than that. This conversation very much mirrors what I’ve been doing leading my part of the Autism Revolution. To quote a country song, “I will plant my heart in the garden of my dreams, and I will grow up where I want, wild and free.” This isn’t a hypothetical argument. Look around you. The partners for the Pride festivals in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo aren’t some sex shop or little nightclub. They’re Experience Grand Rapids. Bell’s Brewery. Our LGBT professional development program, OutPro, is the only one in the country that is an official program of our Chamber of Commerce, but we see similar actions happening nationwide. Fort Lauderdale last year became the first city whose convention and visitor’s bureau officially began attracting transgender tourism dollars. Five states and a number of cities now require insurance to provide access to transgender healthcare. It’s even pretty easy to find an inclusive church these days.

It is likely this will continue apace – vibrant companies, cities, and civic organizations will continue to court inclusion because it is good for business, good for community, good for everybody. But if we want to go even farther, to end the bifurcation and marginalization of a segment of our community, we need not just evolution, but revolution. If this is what you want, putting in place yesterday’s best practice just isn’t good enough, and yesterday’s weapons will not win tomorrow’s battle. So, what are tomorrow’s weapons? What does the LGBT community of tomorrow look like? My claim to you is the LGBT community of tomorrow must be Networked, Intersectional, and Engaged. And rather than having a community center to which we can go, in this future vision, we will be at the center of the community.

Listen to the pizza, y'all.

Listen to the pizza, y’all.

First, we must be networked. The scale of what needs to be done today cannot be done in a purely grass-roots fashion – the movement forward must span all the way from the activists and developers of queer ideology and philosophy, to the scientists, inventors, businesspeople, leaders, and everyone else. You must leverage a much broader conception of local talent and organizational partners. Second, we must be intersectional – it is dead clear that the bifurcation in the LGBT community is due to multiple marginalization – LGBT people who suffer not just because they are LGBT, but because they come from underprivileged ethnic minorities, from poverty, from lack of access to education, from core city wastelands, sexual victimization, mental illness, physical disability, and the list goes on. If we do not talk more constructively about how each of these things affects the experience of being LGBT, we will not create a world in which we are permanently and fully entrenched in society. Third, we must be engaged. To keep the success stories of the LGBT community engaged in the process, and to get people who are passive allies – who respect us but don’t fight alongside us – activated, we need to leverage much more heavily all the ways in which LGBT people are friends, spouses, parents, anchors to neighborhoods, schools, churches, businesses, how we are leaders not just in the LGBT community but out there in the world, and how we make the world better for everybody.

Together, these three things will provide us an opportunity to have a world in which the kind of experience I have as an LGBT person is a right and an expectation, and where we can all stand truly proud and tall. I’m not necessarily saying that a physical building cannot be part of this vision – but I am saying that the era of the cloistered and secretive community center, for a community in hiding, is over, and that we are now entering the era in which we put LGBT people at the center of all our communities, and lay the groundwork to keep us there, for many years to come. We are trying to do this in Grand Rapids, with the Network, with OutPro, and as queer and ally civic leaders. This is our revolution, and we welcome you to join it. Thank you.

On Fighting Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Navigating Co-Advocacy

When I walked into the Autism revolution, about four years ago, I had a lot to learn about co-advocacy. I had to learn to co-advocate with people who believe something different than I believe, either because they come from different values, or because they interpret the same data as me, but they do so through different lenses. Some of these were other professionals, but adding onto this, I had to learn to co-advocate with parents (who, unlike me, actually have kids with autism) and autistic self-advocates. One particularly difficult thing was to co-advocate with people who believe vaccines cause autism. The evidence does not support this claim, in spite of extensive testing. I think there’s a limited hold out for a complex relationship between autism and vaccines*, but a gross one – in which vaccines cause autism, appears unlikely.

What did I do? Well, primarily, I respected differences, and asked for respect for differences. When parents ask me about vaccination (e.g., for the younger or not-yet-born sibling of a child I evaluate), I tell them that, while there is a lot we do not know, all the evidence we have says that the risk of not vaccinating is much, much worse than the risk of vaccinating, and if/when I have to make this decision for my child, at this point my plan is to follow national recommendations for vaccination. In return, I don’t fight or argue about vaccination. I don’t insult parents who are using the information available to them to make the best decision they can, although I tell them what I think if I am asked. Although I do believe in herd immunity, at least for the time being, I take the nuanced decision, most of the time, to not be a partisan in this argument, e.g., about legal regulations that increase pressure to comply with vaccination (I do think this needs to be resolved somehow). And I focus on what we believe in common – that kids with autism are crawling or walking around, right now. Most of the anti-vaccination parents I know respect my desire to do everything I know how to do (and figure out new things I don’t know how to do, yet), to help the kids we have now develop the ability to identify, chase, and catch their dreams, whatever they may be.

Why this digression into autism? Tuesday, at the annual meeting of the American Association of Children’s Residential Centers, I got to go to some excellent workshops on commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). What is that? Well, it is a broader definition of whenever children are used in the sex trade. It includes prostituting children, or selling sexual access to them. It includes trafficking them for the purpose of sexual slavery. It includes child pornography. So CSEC is a wide net. The best available information we have is that about half of people who end up in the sex trade do so by age thirteen**, and so it also means that CSEC is big business, with an estimation of 200,000 children in the US caught up in this. 

There is increasing visibility to this issue (incidentally, as many as 1/3 of CSEC victims are boys... their visibility is only just beginning...)

There is increasing visibility to this issue (incidentally, as many as 1/3 of CSEC victims are boys… their visibility is only just beginning…)

One interesting (but potentially heart-wrenching) complication of this conversation is that it poses child/youth welfare advocates (like me) and people who identify as victors over CSEC or survivors (like the brave and fierce woman who gave part of the plenary) potentially at odds with feminist sex workers (including some friends and allies). They have been gaining significant visibility within the national feminist conversation, in the last couple of years. They emphasize a point with which I unconditionally agree: feminism must be for all girls and all women. If I want to stand proud and tall as a woman, feminist sex workers should be able to do the same, and if I should be celebrated as a proud, tall woman, so should they.

This conversation probably isn't just going to go away...

This conversation probably isn’t just going to go away…

Feminist sex workers, as adults in an industry, including some personal friends, are trying to make inclusionary inroads, as well as to fight for women as subjects and not just objects of the sex trade. What they seek is the ethical commercial use of sexuality. In fairness to them, the use of sexuality commercially is pandemic and arguably endemic to the commercial economy***. If commerce can even be de-linked from sexuality, this is a long-term fight for the sisterhood, and not one that will be won today. In the meantime, ethical use of sexuality commercially, and particularly ethical use of adult women’s sexuality, commercially, thus remains a vitally important fight for all women (yes, all women). This is especially in an American Life where sexual messaging is getting much more pervasive over time. See for instance this, which came across my Facebook wall just today.

In the meantime, I am honestly somewhat ambivalent about the idea that at least some elements of commercial use of sexuality  – pornography, prostitution, and I don’t really know what I think about things like sex hotlines or professional dominatrices – can be ethical for either men or women, but particularly when it is women who are being sold or selling themselves. And my ambivalence is a moderate position – many voices in the CSEC world, if asked this abstract question, say that this is like asking how to make slavery ethical. And I think their point deserves more than to be brushed off, since they are not talking abstractly but from personal experience.

So there’s the dilemma – we are all advocates for women and children, but how do we advocate for helping girls and young women “escape” from sex work, rescue themselves, survive and become victors over their captors, alongside people who advocate for an ethical sex trade?

Well, first, we start with common ground. I’m a libertarian in my moral philosophy (apparently, just today, I found another hero, Madeleine L’Engle, was, too!), and I believe strongly in work and diligence. I think having a job (and I get to have not just a job, but an overarching passion) is a good thing, and I want to see all people working and being productive citizens. Well, I want to see all adults working and being productive citizensJust because I believe work is ethical (and I’m proud to work) does not mean I believe child labor is ethical. So if my feminist sex worker friends turn out to be right, and they can create an ethical system, maybe we’ll end up fighting for a future world where CSEC does not happen, at least in the sense that child labor is greatly reduced or eliminated here****, and in the sense that we are relatively aligned on the goal of eliminating it everywhere, without any suggestion of eliminating work or productivity or self-sufficiency for adults, anywhere. Feminists who want an ethical sex trade should not want children in the sex trade, for all the obvious reasons why this will never be ethical. So this aligns us in a powerful way.

I'm late to the party... this Krishnan is way more fierce than I am, although hopefully the more Krishnans we get in on this, the better. Click the pic to listen to Sumitha's TED talk.

I’m late to the party… this Krishnan is way more fierce than I am, although hopefully the more Krishnans we get in on this, the better. Click the pic to listen to Sumitha’s TED talk.

And certainly, CSEC survivors, victors, whatever identity they choose for themselves – these women (and men) are all about being proud of themselves and owning their own dignity. So, second, we respect each other. I am a radical feminist who is not sex-worker exclusionary, and will not be sex-worker exclusionary – whether those sex workers are victims or agents of their own destiny. My road to helping the victims of CSEC is not via fighting feminist sex workers, and although working in the CSEC space is still something I don’t understand well, I don’t think it’s any place for anyone who believes in a feminism that doesn’t have room for all women. I ask back for respect for my very clear, consistent, and credible stance of being a sister who fights for all the sisters, not just the sisters who look like me.

This is a good thing. Like my experience with autism, which made me a better neuropsychologist, a better leader, and a better supporter, this makes me a better woman, a better feminist, and a better ally. I’m so thankful that I had this conversation as part of my experience at AACRC, really glad I got to meet a victor of CSEC and get to know her story a little bit*****, and glad that this will make me a better ally. When it comes to sex work – a thing I haven’t experienced, even if I have tools and abilities and visibility that I could leverage as an ally to help end CSEC – I’m going to have to be corrected by both victors over exploitation and feminist sex workers, because I’m sure I’m ignorant. I am going to have to be warned, harken, and correct, when I overstep my ally role. But being together, and running into the arms of all my sisters who are part of this conflict, and not away from them, is going to be crucial if I am serious about making this world a better place … for kids with autism and their families, for my wizards in training, for all girls, for all women, and for all people.

Yet another heroine of mine.

Yet another heroine of mine.

And serious, friends, is the kind of princess I am.

* The hypothesized pathway here is immunological, which makes some potential sense based on the fact that immunological response regulates cortisol levels, which in turn regulate testosterone, and, as I’ve pointed out before, spiking fetal testosterone is the best available mechanistic pathway for not why, but how autism happens. The holdout I have in mind is the possibility that some children, who are already autistic, have a catastrophic immunological response to vaccination. This does not cause autism, but it takes the child’s situation possibly from one where autism is associated with relatively limited disability, to one in which it is associated with severe deficit. There is not current evidence for this, excepting the anecdotal stories of children regressing after vaccination, but in fairness, this is not the hypothesis the vaccination studies have generally been evaluating, so it cannot be ruled out, yet (versus the existing “null hypothesis,” that the timing of regression and vaccination is a coincidence).

** The methodology at arriving at some of these numbers is tricky. I was asked an interesting question on Twitter about the median number being this low, and there is some data that suggests that there is a big clustering of youth with CSEC onset around 12-14 years of age. On Twitter, I didn’t want to get overly technical, but the technical response to the claim that the numbers are unlikely to be true due to the assumption that median and mean are close together in large samples, and the median in this range indicating a large population of very young children in prostitution is not necessarily true for two reasons, namely that the distribution is not Gaussian and is also likely leptokurtic (the point about the 12-14 year old population). To the former point, about Guassian distribution, there is clear heterogeneity in this population – child pornography and victimization by pedophiles usually occurs at younger, prepubescent ages, whereas youth victimized by pimps or otherwise prostituted are typically older. But to say this in another way, adults in the sex trade are victims of CSEC something like 80% of the time.

*** Echoing the aphorism / joke that the sale of women’s bodies to men is the oldest profession.

**** Which is not good enough – it still happens all too often in developing countries, and not in an abstract sense, but often contributes directly to the economies that make our iPhones and our body con dresses and our statement necklaces.

***** Without side-tracking this story, one of my favorite things about this, which I tweeted, was that when she was introduced, the psychiatrist from Devereaux who introduced her explicitly and firmly stated that we would not start by asking her to “share her story,” because this is objectifying, gratuitous, and can be re-traumatizing. This totally made my conference – I talked to this sister after the program and we gave each other a big hug. I shared with her how, as a transgender woman, I loved this so much, because often times, I feel paraded out to tell a story or narrative that isn’t the one I want to tell, to satisfy the gratuitous needs of others. This is exactly in line with why I don’t do before and after pictures, I rarely, if ever, talk with cisgender people about my medical transition decisions, and I insist on owning a narrative in which I am proud to be transgender, in which I love who I am, I love what I am, and I love my life. For real – I go into work everyday to do the job of a lifetime, leading a passionate, creative, loving, and talented group of young professionals, and I come home every night, to lie in the arms of my once in a lifetime love. I could not have written a work of fiction that I love more than my actual life.

Of Course Love Wins, But It Has To Be In Your Heart

Anaïs Nin wrote, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Sometimes, I feel the need to add, “…and hope to understand it, at least once.” A lot of this blog is like that for me – trying to make sense of things that happen, what they portend, what they imply, and where they must lead me, the woman I must be who gives account of the things I see and experience.

I am in Savannah, GA, for the week, for the American Association of Children’s Residential Centers annual meeting. I’ve written about it before (and again) – I love being a part of this organization. I love the opportunity to learn, this group of beloved friends who give so much more than I ever feel able to return. Tomorrow, I’ll get to spend a day learning about commercially sexually exploited youth – I would so love to do more beyond buying pajamas made by survivors of the sex trade (they are pretty fab, though, and the cute black tee is a great code sign to other radical feminists in the room). I am so ignorant, and just coming to understand that kids, right here, under our noses, are being drawn into commercial sexual exploitation, and it makes my blood boil. The rest of the week, I’ll be supporting a presentation and a luncheon on supporting sexually and gender diverse youth. I also need to pick up the thread of talking about how we innovate in education for youth in residential treatment – I pledged to lead writing a position paper on this, and I need to make good. Of course, I’ll be talking about bringing the autism revolution (like I could stop).

Someday, I'll be, big enough so you can't hit me...

Someday, I’ll be, big enough so you can’t hit me…

Some of you saw this on Facebook, but on my way into town, yesterday afternoon, I had a small, but unnerving experience, that stuck with me, and here I am, living life twice, trying to understand it once. I caught a taxi at the airport for the 20 minute drive into town. The driver was polite and gentle, making small talk and making me feel at home* and welcome to his beautiful city. He asked about where I was from and what I was doing in town, and had some questions about kids who are served in residential settings. He even put on his Bob Marley CD for me.

Then I caught something out of the corner of my eye. I knew what it was, somehow, instinctually, but I leaned in to be sure. On his rearview mirror was a Post-It note, just a little yellow Post-It note, with three Bible verses penned down. They weren’t just any verses of scripture, though. They were what I sometimes call Deadly Passages (get a copy, or borrow mine, and watch my beloved Actors’ Theatre’s take on them). The sticky note started with Leviticus 18:22.

Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

Considered in isolation, each of these verses (from the New and Old testaments) are most likely part of historically bound conversations. They call for frank discussion, today, about the predecessors of our Christianity and all the things that are neither love nor compassion that have been and are still done in God’s name. But taken together (the next verse on his sticky called for the punishment of stoning to death), these verses form a powerful credo of hate in the guise of Christianity. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they are not a prayer to God but a call to evil. And every bit as much as my tee is a call to the sisterhood among feminists, they are a call to solidarity amongst minions of hate and injustice. Taken apart and in context, they are, perhaps, God’s word. But together, they are an incantation from somewhere else, altogether.

I maintained my composure, but I was honestly afraid. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind. I love life, so much. I thought of Teri and Iago back home, of all my little children, and the opportunity we are trying to create for them. My driver seemed kind, but flashing through my consciousness was the possibility of being killed, cut up, thrown in a ditch or swamp or dumpster. And I felt ashamed for hiding behind the cloak of invisibility that I have that someone who can easily be “read” as LGBT might not have in my place. I didn’t say or do anything, until I got to the hotel – I kept making small talk, and being friendly, as if nothing had happened. When the driver got my bag out for me, and I’d paid and tipped and all that, I told him, finally, that I did not mean any disrespect, but I had noticed his sticky note, and I needed him to know that God is about love, and not hate, and that we are called to love others, not to hate them. He mumbled something about his friend reading the Bible and them going through it together, and we parted.

I tried to stay cool the rest of the evening, although it made me unsteady. To my shame, I did not tell Teri about it right away – even at the end of the night, I talked to him and told him I love him and miss him without bringing it up. This morning, when I woke up, I was crying, and that’s when I decided to post about it and share the experience, but also to work harder to process it. I got a lot of support. One friend admitted that she would have assumed I was over-reacting (I felt this way, more than a little, myself), but she had just recently learned that someone she loved had lost a friend to an LGBT hate crime, and so she was beginning to understand that this is real.

The truth is that, even in that situation, the web of privilege in which I move was protecting me – privilege of class, education, and status that allow me to distance myself and command respect, privilege of affluence that keeps me out of many dangerous situations, and many other privileges. And likewise, in truth, the taxi driver was just some mild-mannered man. I don’t know how he came to have those verses on his mirror. But I do suspect this. He may have grown up ignorant – he may have feared people who are not like him. But someone is teaching him to hate, and even though it didn’t turn to violence against me, violence is where the road of hate leads.

And hate is real. Hate is directed at all kinds of people. With respect to the LGBT community, stoning us to death is not just hypothetical. It is happening, today, out there. My taxi driver came from Jamaica many years ago. Here’s a story just two months ago of a Jamaican gay youth not “just” killed, but actually stoned to death. I didn’t find it because I was hunting for a Jamaican story – it was actually the first hit I found when I googled “LGBT stoned to death.” Jamaica is also on a list of countries where consensual sex by gay people is a crime. Other countries, as well, particularly Uganda, feature violence being stoked by Christians, including American Christians, against LGBT people. It isn’t just ISIS. And it isn’t just Islamist Extremists – it is also Christianist Extremists. In both places, verses like the one above are abused to foment hate and incite violence. And it isn’t even just in underdeveloped nations or distant places where people who “don’t look like us” commit atrocities. It’s here in the United States, as well.

Hate doesn’t just happen to LGBT people, either. Whenever I talk about life after the early interventions we provide kids with autism, I brag about my friend Anthony Ianni. An autistic adult thriving and changing the world, powerful on the basketball court and behind the podium, this amazing man is a bullying survivor speaking out against bullying. People at Hope came to me, when they heard about an autistic youth who had feces and urine poured over him when his friends tricked him under the guise of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. They came to me, because they knew I would be mad as hell, which I was.

Theirs... and ours.

Theirs… and ours.

Since I’m expropriating quotes, let me expropriate Edmund Burke next. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil Christians is for good Christians to do nothing. Let us think seriously about that. Christians are not standing up to this abuse of our God and our beliefs. We are not standing up to the hate and intolerance being preached in God’s name. The thing in the hearts of people who use these Deadly Passages as a clobber against LGBT people is not love, is not Christ, and we must recognize that, and help them back to God’s love. When we do not respond, we risk the possibility that the thing in our own hearts is also not love. And Rob Bell is right – of course he’s right – of course love wins. How could love lose**?

Of course love wins. How could it not?

Of course love wins. How could it not?

The question is not whether love wins, but whether we are love.

So let me do my harshest quote expropriation of all: if any of us Christians is not for all people, as Christ is for all people, then we are anathema***.

* I am so excited to be visiting the South. Having spent years near here, in the South, I became a bit of a Southern belle, and I always try to be friendly to people who cross my path, and I so love the gentility of it, the good side of Southern culture, being able to extend and receive politenesses and all the little things we Southerners try to do, at our best, to make the day a little more pleasant for the people we meet.

** Never lose, never choose to, bruise crews who do something to us, talk go through us. I can’t resist. Even though this isn’t a funny blog.

*** When I lived in Grand Rapids’ Midtown neighborhood, I lived around the corner from a streetside church, which had the original verse in big letters over its entrance like a store sign. They made pretty terrible neighbors  … well, as they say in the South, “Bless your heart.”

I Am A Real-Life, Fairytale Princess

I am a real-life, fairytale princess.

No, I mean it. Not just by my namesake, but in myself, as well.

What does it mean to be a real-life, fairytale princess? It’s practicing the dark magic of a uniquely feminine brand of self-hatred. It means growing up never, ever feeling like I’m good enough, brave enough, strong enough, pretty enough for anybody. It’s growing up too soon, while trying to retain and always display childlike innocence. It means having spent much more of my life escaping dungeons and traversing wastelands than wearing ball gowns or tiaras. It’s being seen as the subject but always serving the role of the object. It’s being judged for things I didn’t do, words I didn’t say, thoughts I didn’t even have, and having to accept and rise to the judgment. It’s learning to be, never enough, but brave as I know how, while always looking pretty. It’s knowing how to look beautiful for others, and letting others draw courage from my beauty, when feeling far from pretty on the inside.

I'm not saying, I never get to wear pretty dresses....

I’m not saying, I never get to wear pretty dresses….

It means learning to save my best for someone else*, and sometimes a long line of someone elses. It’s having found my Prince Charming, but recognizing he’s got his issues and his downsides, that I would need to build a happy ever after together with him, because he could not carry me into one readymade for me**. It’s standing guard with my captains on the parapet, to defend my family (probably in heels). It is allowing my very body to be a weapon, always ready to be thrown into the gears to save my people. It is to sacrifice liberty to assume power in the service of them.

Okay, who am I kidding? Of course, this is a thing. And it's eerie that it actually works... when my hair gets long enough I'm totally trying this style.

Okay, who am I kidding? Of course, this is a thing. And it’s eerie that it actually works as well as it does… when my hair gets long enough I’m totally trying this style.

There is all this energy behind the marketing of things like the “Disney Princesses.” There are endless attempts to redefine them – in different colors, in different sizes, as men. We princesses know, they all focus on the image of a princess and not the substance***. Princesses wear our dresses to play our roles, but it is the story of a princess that reveals who she is.

It is there that she is light forged amidst darkness, beauty alloyed with suffering, daring built upon fear, passive dolls who foment revolutions.

I should know.

* I was, myself, surprised at how, whenever I make a meal, I see if there’s a better cut or portion, to give to Teri, or I make two plates and give him the presentation that came out better, or… without scarcely thinking about it.

** And he is still the one I have always been waiting for… I have no dances on my dance card that do not belong to Teri, and I never will.

*** Well, okay, there’s this one.

What if the People Who Don’t Know How to Do Trans Inclusion… Are Us?

I want to stitch together a few experiences I have had recently, with a conversation Teri and I had on the way back from Chicago, where I was an honoree for the 2015 Trans100 on Sunday. None of these experiences are meant to call anyone out – rather, it is reflecting on a pattern that emerges, to me, from these experiences, that speaks about all of us, not any individual actor, but the culture and society we are building amongst trans people. It is not an attempt to pick a fight within the sisterhood (or, rather, among the trans siblinghood), but rather to try and have that crucial conversation that needs to be had.

This is my Trans100 bio. I'm so amazed by the talent of the people chosen, and I feel more than a little unworthy.

This is my Trans100 bio. I’m so amazed by the talent of the people chosen, and I feel more than a little unworthy.

The first experience was months ago, at one of a series of workshops put on by leaders in the Michigan trans community. The workshops aimed to develop leadership and build and mobilize trans leaders. At the start of the first meeting, however, things went quickly off the rails. We had a brainstorming session in which we were asked to say what we needed to feel accepted, but it became quickly apparent that the designated note taker, who was putting the ideas on big sheets of paper that everybody could see, would write ideas in really big letters when they* liked them, and really small letters when they didn’t care about them. I pointed this out, and asked critically how we could have a discussion based on mutual respect if this is how we tried to develop mutual respect. One of the people there had an excellent idea, along with this, which was to foster the idea of assuming best intent in others, by having a simple protocol such as saying just, “Ouch,” when something bothered you, and if the person who said it understood why it offended, they could just say “Oops!” and move on (like you should do if you ever mis-pronoun somebody… just acknowledge it and move on). But there were soon a cacophony of “Ouches” that often had nothing to do with what the person talking had even been talking about. They culminated in a kind of surreal scene where one of the people present used what I can only describe as a Darth Vader voice to patronizingly point out to someone else that, if they were embarrassed about the way their voice sounded, they could change it with voice coaching or exercices (a point lost on nobody in the room). Later, we recovered from this, but there were still a lot of these weird moments. At one point in this series, we had an internal caucusing process. I had suggested a woman’s caucus, both because womanhood is the thing with which I most strongly identify, and because it created a potential home for the group of cis women who were participating. There was no interest in this, and I joined a trans caucus**. All fine and good, but then someone created a trans woman caucus, even though trans women were easily the largest group in the room, and the group would leave out both the cis women and some of the non-woman trans people who didn’t have a home. I didn’t feel comfortable with joining this caucus, because, in that space, it sounded a little bit like creating a white people’s caucus or a rich people’s caucus, or a men with power and influence caucus. The trans caucus, which ended up being Teri, me, and a really cool genderqueer / non-binary person, whom I love, was awesome (telling you, awesome caucuses are the only caucuses we should have). But I was left with this profound sense of not being able to belong to my own tribe – a sense I rarely feel when I am in broad LGBT spaces, and I never feel when I am in women’s spaces, or, amazingly, out in the “straight” world – all the places where belong naturally.

The second experience was at a recent meeting of our local trans support group, Own Your Gender. It was a little momentary interaction that didn’t fully hit me until later***. Wrapping up some group conversation about… something, I lightly said, “It could be worse. I could not be transgender.” One of the facilitators quickly corrected me: “You mean it could be worse, you could still be in hiding.” Sticking still to my pledge not to pick fights in the sisterhood, I sheepishly said, “Well, that’s true.” But I didn’t agree. I didn’t need correcting. I’m glad I’m not in hiding any more. But I’m not just proud in principle, in a Facebook post on Transgender Day of Visibility. I am actually proud to be transgender. I love it, as I love life, and I am thankful for it. I was thankful for it even in hiding, although I am far happier living openly and authentically. I own this truth. Not as a weapon, and not to deny the experiences of our struggling siblings, but because it is my true experience. I have said it at the microphone to elected leaders and in front of large audiences, here on my blog, and in so many one on one conversations. I wasn’t fast enough on my feet, that day, caught off guard, to say it like it is, but it is true. And of all places where I should be able to say such a thing, our own spaces owe me the right to love myself in safety.

If you know one thing about me, you should know I'm happy. That's what lets me not spend my time surviving, but doing things like advocating for kids with autism.

If you know one thing about me, you should know I’m happy. That’s what lets me not spend my time surviving, but doing things like advocating for kids with autism.

The third experience was going to the Trans100 itself. While there is always an “A-Gay” kind of phenomenon at national trans events, like First Event or Southern Comfort, this was very different from anything I’ve experienced before. Maybe it was night club culture (which I’ve always hated, for a wide variety of reasons, chief among them the way in which our women’s bodies become meat in a meat market, or in that it was a place where my charade as a “man” was most transparently not working). From the very beginning, I felt surprisingly unwelcome. At the ticket counter, when I said I had reservations and gave my name, the person hostilely asked me if I paid for a ticket, and waved me away. A bouncer nastily (and cryptically) told me, “Green is downstairs and orange is upstairs.” I genuinely had no idea what they were talking about, and so I asked what that meant. The response was, “Green is downstairs and orange is upstairs, that’s really all there is to it.” I still had no idea what was going on – I hadn’t ever been to the venue (I don’t think it was what it is now, back when I lived in Chicago), didn’t see anything green or orange, and orange and green didn’t mean anything to me. I had to figure out for myself that she was talking about the wristband I had, that I apparently had the “cheap seats,” and that she was there to keep me off the main floor. This is all fine and good, although this is an award others nominated me for, and I didn’t even know there were different kinds of tickets. I asked Teri (critically, not rhetorically) in some detail whether this is just me being a princess, and I finally came to the conclusion that it is really not. Because it wasn’t about me – yes, if I had been asked to buy more expensive seats, as a fundraising opportunity, of course I would have… I end up buying expensive gala and fundraising tickets, for one cause or another, it seems, for us, all the time nowadays. But it isn’t about that. I felt, the whole time I was at the event, that I was standing in someone else’s space, that the little tiny space I was occupying in my little tiny dress and my little heels was space that I should be giving up to someone else****. Really just the same way I feel as a woman on a crowded subway car. Teri, to my surprise, felt the same way. It isn’t about not being an “A-Gay” … I hardly expected the night to be all about me, as one tiny person among many being recognized. And I agree that, as one of the people who was being honored, that I am only a person chosen to represent an ocean of diverse talent, and that the celebration is not of us as the 100 “best” trans people, but a celebration of all the best in the trans community, with us agreeing to be used as exemplars or lenses through which that panoply of trans talent can be seen and celebrated. Yet, I also hardly think it necessary to work so hard to make me feel so unwelcome at what, even if only in a tiny way, was ostensibly my own party (and, of course, my own party in that we were celebrating trans lives, and the belief that trans lives matter, and so my trans life should matter, just for being a trans life), to accomplish this end. And if I felt unwelcome, as an honoree, how did people who were not being honored, who come from experiences of marginalization, feel?

But it was the third thing that really started to put together pieces for me. Lana Wachowski, who directed the Matrix and Cloud Atlas, was the keynote speaker. She made some excellent points, for instance stating of the world, “I don’t need your acceptance. I need your evolution.” She is a highly visible, highly successful, highly talented and creative, highly impactful trans person. She leverages all of these things to make the world a better place for other trans people, including by supporting in significant ways some of the critical work to safeguard trans people that is going on right there, in Chicago. But then, towards the end of her speech, she called out the black community for her perception that black people advocate “against us” for things like the odious bathroom bills. The tension in the room – we were seated next to a couple of our fierce black sisters, and I was really happy that the crowd that night was ethnically diverse – was palpable. A group of people, mostly black trans women, on the other side of the balcony, got up and walked out. We stayed, but all I was thinking about was how our black friends next to us, and the ones down on the main floor, and the ones across the balcony, were feeling, and feeling hurt alongside them. This was Lana’s Patricia Arquette moment. Precious Davis was on point and brought the night back to what it is really about, by saying that we need all our voices present in the room, to have the critical conversations that define us as a community. Later, some people I know called out the women and men who walked out that night, accused them of betraying trans people, but she was not doing that. No, she was calling them back in. 

That night, over a gyro and fries we split instead of going to the after party, because Teri was hungry, and because I needed to stress eat (which I didn’t admit to Teri till the next morning, and my eating disorder behaviors come out infrequently enough that Teri doesn’t always know them when he sees them), and then further cuddling in bed in the morning, and over lattes, we had a really great discussion that help me put the pieces of what I want to say together, into something that, at least to me, makes sense as a whole.

That whole is this: we think that using preferred names and asking for pronouns is creating trans inclusive spaces, but the reality is that we, as a community, have no idea how to create an inclusive or safe space, for us. Rather, disrespecting trans lives is not just something that we need to hashtag to the outside world via #BlackTransLivesMatter, but we need to recognize that disrespecting trans lives is endemic in our own spaces and pervasive in our own processes and approaches.

And this is perilous. Altogether too often, our own spaces are not safe for us. We see it in trans spaces where trans people are called out or made to feel unwelcome because they don’t do “enough to transition” or don’t “pass” or meet some other stupid and arbitrary criteria. We see it in trans spaces that operate as an oppression olympics and don’t allow for the possibility that a trans person can be happy, let alone happy to be trans. And we do it in spaces where we take glee in putting up velvet ropes and using bouncers to make people feel like they’re not good enough.

Again, I say this with love and a sincere desire to keep Lana Wachowski and everyone else I mention, either by name or not, in this article, in the family, and to build a stronger and better family together with all of you.

Again, I say this with love and a sincere desire to keep Lana Wachowski and everyone else I mention, either by name or not, in this article, in the family, and to build a stronger and better family together with all of you.

This is really not about calling out the Trans100. Jen Richards and all the people around her, who made this thing possible, did a really wonderful and revolutionary thing. The 300 people who have been honored, over the last three years, including me, share with all the talent and creativity and passion amongst trans people, the burden of elevating our profile, of helping us all learn to stand taller, chin up, prouder, fiercer. I am thankful, humbled, but also dead serious when I talk about being asked to shoulder a small part of that burden. This is also not about calling out Lana Wachowski. She has done, is doing, will do amazing things. She has tremendous power to be a force for good, and she has already done so much in her own way to lift us up as a people.

On the contrary, this is doubling down on what Precious said, as well as what Tiq Milan said at the event, in his own excellent speech, which is in essence that just people like Laverne Cox on magazine covers (or people like he or I receiving awards or being asked to deliver addresses at events) is not going to be enough to stop trans suicide. We need to call everybody in, and at the core of the discussion we have, we need to talk about the fact that we don’t feel safe, all too often, in our own spaces. If we can’t feel safe in trans spaces, then we will just continue to have what we have now. A subset of fierce, happy trans people, like me, will go about their lives feeling safe and accepted outside of trans spaces, in mainstream society (as I do), and the people who are struggling, who have no place, … will face the ignominy of feeling unwelcome in the one place that has the least business rejecting them.

This is an indictment, but it is an indictment of me as much as of anyone else. Just me being visible, being on TV (to talk about being transgender or to talk about autism), being happy, putting on tiny dresses and drinking cocktails, isn’t the revolution by itself. Sure, it might support other people who, like me, and many of other highly visible, successful trans people, didn’t need much to succeed except for people to get out of our way, but it isn’t going to help all those people who are contemplating, trying, or succeeding at suicide. I – we – have a choice in front of us… every community has hierarchies. In good hierarchies, leaders lift their people up. There is disparity, even in most of the best and safest places in the world, but only just enough, and it is far more often seen as a cause for those who have more to give more, than as a cause to take from the marginalized and give to the privileged. In bad ones, we create classes of toadies who use the power of the dominant subgroup to lord over others, or to take glee in creating velvet ropes and glass ceilings and all kinds of barriers that keep our own people down, and we seek to grow disparity rather than eliminate it.

So what do I think? I think it’s time to tear down those velvet ropes, go out in the parking lot and get our sisters back in the room, and get down to figuring out what it actually means for trans spaces to be places where all trans people can feel safe, spread their wings, and fly.

* I’m using gender neutral pronouns here not based on the preference of the person about who I am talking about, but just to keep this conversation about concepts and not about shaming or calling out anyone.

** The idea of an “awesome caucus,” composed of anybody who was awesome or wanted to be awesome, was also nixed, sadly, even though I and a friend fought hard for it.

*** Yes, okay, it was basically this.

**** There were exceptions – I talked to Laura Jane from Against Me, very briefly, and she was the epitome of not being the problem I’m trying to describe, and really served as a role model influence for me in that, much as people like Amy Gore had been at V to Shining V last year, or Lizz Winstead, also of Lady Parts Justice is, like all the time. And a couple of our Chicago friends grabbed us and made sure we got a drink early in the evening.

My, How We’ve Grown

This morning, I’m finally watching Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk. I hadn’t had time to watch it yet, but I’m being selfish with a few minutes on a Saturday morning. I think you should watch it, too. Like the best of TED talks, Ms. Lewinsky bravely wraps her personal story around knowledge about how others have been harmed as she was harmed, and insight about how her story is a starting point to changing the world and making it better for all of us. She does, incidentally, just exactly what Teri and I have been trying to do with Our Narratives. And Monica used the opportunity to do this on an explosive, national scale, in that unique way only TED truly allows for.

In 1992, I, myself, fell a bit in love with Mr. Clinton – while I had been used to fighting for environmental action and other causes, I had never stumped for anyone in my life, but a classmate and I spent our volunteer hours stuffing mailboxes and trying to “rock the vote” and get people out to vote for Bill and his, at the time still somewhat zombie-like sidekick. He’s still the only president I’ve ever done something like this for, so I guess in my own way, having never met him, I can sympathize particularly with that element of Monica’s story. I remember, in conservative Holland, going to a downtown restaurant and celebrating the Clinton/Gore victory among the tiny cabal of Democrats. I didn’t (and don’t) identify strongly with the Democratic Party as a whole, but I felt it at that moment*.

By 1998, I was still a budding feminist (I’m just a couple years younger than Monica, and I will turn 40 at the end of April). In the past years, I had spent time as a contributor, editor, and ultimately editor-in-chief of a news journal at the University of Michigan, the Michigan Review. The Review and my time with it is a complex story. At times, it has been a neoconservative hotbed, and I am sometimes loathe to admit any affiliation with that. In my time, it was a dynamic balance between social conservatives and libertarians, who often did not agree or see eye to eye, although we all valued the individual and our talent, creativity, and passion as the basis for change and for progress in the world. That ephemeral balance, in those days, was something magical, and an important part of who I am.

I rode in amongst a wave of other libertarians (although I didn’t even know what a libertarian was at that time, and once, a fellow editor told me to ask a prominent local libertarian what the difference was between a libertarian and a libertine, without educating me on what the question meant… good prank), but I recognized tensions with the social conservatives. Most of the social conservatives I rode in with were respectful people, who tolerated difference even if they did not celebrate it. But not all. Sometimes, I stood up. I remember that there was a particularly obnoxious young man who came to the Review. He became infamous in our time on Michigan’s campus – it’s not that easy to stick out amongst 40,000 people. Once, he wrote an “article” in which he stated that a protestor “smelled like a wet Pakistani.” I led a nixing of this foolishness. Another time, in a staff meeting among many young women, he pitched an idea on how he had just turned 21, and gone to a strip club, and how he wanted to write, again #airquotes, an “article” on which girls would “do stuff” when he stuck dollar bills in their panties. I ran him out of that meeting, as managing editor, and damn proud am I. Other times, I sat silently and uncomfortably, on my hands, as women and women’s rights were mocked in our space, and sometimes, I even stooped to the level of token minority, or pretended to laugh along, in order to hide my inner revulsion. I am sure I was an Uncle Tom at many other times, much as I frequently feel like the Uncle Tom (or Aunt Tomasina, or whatever) of the trans community these days. Occasionally, though, I got it right. I actually found (it’s on page five, here) one of the articles I wrote, of which I am somewhat more proud, and Teri and I re-read it, and … I’m still at least not mortified by it**.

I continue to push myself to feel in the real world in each moment, and not to discount my experiences because they are mine. Now, I recognize how much of this was my internalized and self-directed misogyny, as well, although that was something I did not grasp, then.

I continue to push myself to feel in the real world in each moment, and not to discount my experiences because they are mine. Now, I recognize how much of this was my internalized and self-directed misogyny, as well, although that was something I did not grasp, then.

But, at that time, although I questioned her treatment, and I usually avoided the vulgar jokes, I didn’t have the tools or the words to express or understand what was so wrong with the way she was treated. I remember also, clearly, from that era, how I had not understood what had really been going on with Anita Hill. Much as I was a libertarian before I understood the term, and this often led to me not being able to articulate my viewpoint effectively or rise appropriately or summon courage consistently when it was needed, I was a feminist before I properly understood the term, and my early implementations of feminism were, honestly, weak. It would be a few years, around 2001, until I became properly versed in feminism, spending a seven-month period of joblessness, superimposed on 9/11, reading Gloria Steinem, Shulamith Firestone, Andrea Dworkin, Kate Millet, Naomi Wolf, and so many others, as well as backing philosophers like Michel Foucault, the rave of feminists “back in the day.” It was at that time, that I went back to Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, and even Frederick Douglass (whom I keep quoting), and re-contextualized what I heard***. And it would take the next 15 years, following that, for feminism to work its way through my tissue and cure me, and like vampire poison, sometimes, I still feel that sense of womanhood and sisterhood coursing through me and curing me, yet.

Now, looking back at all this, 20 years later, I recognize the blatant sexism and mistreatment Monica endured. After some feminist or other explained to me why anyone would reference a “pubic hair on a coke can,” and what the comment had meant, and after Toni and Zora explained to me just a little of what it is like to be black woman in America, now, I better understand what happened to Anita Hill, too. By the time Hilary Clinton was in the news for something called “cankles,” I still had to look the term up, to understand what it meant, but I had a fair idea of what was being done to this accomplished and dedicated leader. And like Monica did in her talk, I now recognize the overlapping and intersecting aims of bullying as it is leveled against not just women, but the LGBT community, and everyone who is not rich, white men and their sons (as long as the sons don’t turn out to be poofters).

By now, I can clearly and comfortably say, that Monica should be so proud of this TED talk. And all women should be proud alongside her, as I certainly am. The way she was treated, twenty years ago, was an attack on all women. It had little to do with the ethics of cheating or leadership impropriety – serious issues but just a front for the subtext in that era – and everything to do with the objectification and denigration of women’s bodies and women’s experiences, a celebration of the sexual double standard, an an entrée into the emerging world of cyber slut-shaming, cyber bullying, and all the brave new things technology fused with hatred brought us in the internet era.

I was not equipped to understand that, and speak out ferociously, in 1998. Neither was Monica Lewinsky. But we have grown into fierce middle-aged women, not in spite of ourselves, but because of ourselves. We just had to overpower the messages society sent us about our value, and reinstate our internal notion of our worth.

My, oh my, how we have grown.

* Later, the second time I felt moved by a candidate would be in Chicago in 2008, when I saw elderly African American ladies waiting at the bus stop, in church lady dresses, with Obama t-shirts pulled on over the top of them, and I was overcome with this magical sense that these women had never felt like the President of the United States of America could belong to them, and I reveled with them in their delight.

** As it turned out, thus far, I have not “turned to the bottle,” but I have experienced, briefly, unemployment, if not any kind of economic deprivation.

*** I was an engineering student at Michigan, and in those days, at least, engineers had maybe 17 credits altogether to spend on everything other than engineering and “hard” science. I think many of the engineers found “blow off” classes to knock out these requirements. I exempted from freshman English, which is hard even for the liberal arts students and nearly unheard of for an engineering student, but I was also the only one I knew who did her liberal arts sequence in English literature. African American literature was probably my favoritest class at Michigan, even better than quantum mechanics (which I also loved). Prescient, non?

Why I Believe in Magic

So a few months ago, we (all the managers and leaders at Hope Network, my base camp for changing the world) took a personality inventory that gauges our leadership style. Psychologists famously pooh-pooh this kind of thing, especially because of use of the Myers-Briggs inventory*. But it is kind of fun, and, well, you know you take Playbuzz quizzes, so don’t even start with me.  We used a tool called the DiSC in this case – it analyzes people based on four personality characteristics – dominance, influence, conscientiousness, and steadiness. Most people, according to the model (which at least, in any event, is closer to the most validated five and three factor personality models) are somewhat more reliant on one of the four dimensions than any of the others. Somewhat unique to the business application of this model, it also analyzes a “natural” style – how one behaves when not under stress or pressure, and an adapted style. Some people change their style dramatically, whereas other people (like me) make more subtle changes, whether because we are self-confident or arrogant. It also provides some analysis with respect to how people perceive someone differently, under varying degrees of stress. I might seem bubbly and enthusiastic under low stress situations, and more of a shameless self-promoter under high-stress situations.

In my case, I am an “influencer” at the core (we apparently rate the only lower-case letter in the acronym, although apparently it’s just branding), and this is a very pronounced bias.

It's not because they don't like me, it's not because they don't like me, it's not because they don't like me

It’s not because they don’t like me, it’s not because they don’t like me, it’s not because they don’t like me

I like to promote and be passionate about things. I like to build an army of friends and people who love me, and act indirectly, through them. One thing that was somewhat different from how I perceived myself, but actually, when I stop and think about it, makes sense, is that I always thought of myself as not liking to make decisions and then becoming dominant when I didn’t see anyone else acting. The tool said, in contrast, that I can be somewhat dominant when I’m not under stress – but I actually become much more passive/submissive when stressed (see how the red bar drops on the left graph, below). I do think this makes sense, when I stop and think about it – I know that in high stress situations, I feel a sense of bitterness or annoyance that I’m the one who has to make decisions (although I usually feel like I’m better than many people at making decisions that value everyone’s concerns), whereas I actually don’t mind making them in day-to-day life. It can, and sometimes does, make me passive aggressive in those situations, whereas I am not very passive aggressive by nature.

Apparently, when backed into a corner, I become submissive and try to use my charm to get out of trouble....

Apparently, when backed into a corner, I become submissive and try to use my charm to get out of trouble….

My results generated some less-than-flattering generalizations about me. “Flattery will always generate a positive reaction from her**” and “Mira tends to break the rules and then attempts to sell you on the fact it was the proper thing to do***.” “She believes rules exist to serve rather than to be followed by her****.” Apparently, I really want everyone to like me, and not because it makes me happy, but because it’s good for them (it is!).

What??? Not effusive? Robbed, I tell you, robbed!

What??? Not effusive? Robbed, I tell you, robbed!

One of the things that came out of the analysis of my personality style, and this was something I was already aware of, but I’ve reflected on a lot more in the last few months (I originally took this quiz at the end of October last year), is that I am really drawn to the notion of life as an adventure. I don’t relish drama in the sense of interpersonal conflict (although I’ve learned not to always shy away from it). But, I do relish drama in the sense that I need everything – even my trips to the grocery store (okay, this isn’t an exaggeration, and so it goes in a parenthesis and not a footnote, I’ve blogged about the grocery store as an adventure at least once) – to be epic.

I remember taking the MMPI-2 back in graduate school*****, and there was a question that was something like, “I like to go to parties where there is loud, lively music,” and I used to quip, “I like to go to breakfast where there is loud, lively music!” If I were just a neuropsychologist who put on her white lab jacket and saw a few patients everyday, then wrote my notes, and hung up my jacket, I would be sincerely bored. One of the things I love about Hope is how much this is not my job. I get to create things and change kids’ lives, and I get to play, every day. And I do need that, desperately – no clarifying footnote or anything. I need my life to be an adventure. People who just have a “job” that “pays the bills” make no sense to me whatsoever – it’s like I know they exist, conceptually, and I’ve learned to understand how they think and act, to some limited extent, but I have no intuitive grasp of them at all.

I mean, seriously, do I look like I fit in with neuropsychologists who refer to their clinic as a "laboratory"? A couple weeks ago I went to work with Solo cups bobby pinned to my head.

I mean, seriously, do I look like I fit in with neuropsychologists who refer to their clinic as a “laboratory”? A couple weeks ago I went to work with Solo cups bobby-pinned to my head.

This is reflected in my icons – my namesakes who lived an epic life (Princess Mira) or wrote epic stories (Charlotte Bronte). It’s very much reflected in the stories I love. I understand and accept that there are tragedies and dark endings, but I need everything to be a love story – I don’t get stories that aren’t love stories of one kind or another. And I see the epic in everyday life. Mostly, Teri and I don’t watch much science-fiction or fantasy or anything like that, but I do get him to let us watch a lot of epic love stories (and usually he likes them as much as I do). Last night was fantasy. It was Teri’s pick, Stardust.

Okay, I kind of glow like this when I see Teri, too.

Okay, I kind of glow like this when I see Teri, too. Go watch Stardust on Netflix. They said I’d give it only 4.5 stars. Pssh. 

So, so satisfying. Later that night, I did have another one of those nights when I spent a little bit of time crying in the middle of the night, nestled in between Teri and Iago. Like the lost star in the movie, Yvaine, who fell to earth, I thought about our child, lost and alone out there, looking for us but not knowing how to find us, just as I was lost and alone, not knowing how to find Teri, until I finally did. I know our child is strong and will survive and persevere. And I thought about Teri going through things in his life – leukemia, bullying, family challenges, and so much more – and how I couldn’t be there for him, yet (Teri says I was there in spirit, and he’s right). But Teri pointed out that, like us, our child, out there, frequently lost and alone, would see life as an adventure, just like we have always seen and will always see life as an adventure. And like us, our child, out there somewhere, will have so many adventures, will make so many friends, will have so many people echo in a small way the love that they will know when they find us, before they ever come to us. Our child will know joy before we finally meet, because people like our child are the reason there is joy. Because our child may not carry the marker that they are our child because their eyes look just like Teri’s, or their smile looks just like mine, but our child will be marked in this way, and when we finally meet each other, we will know it. Just like Teri and I knew.

Way back when – and I’ve referenced back to it a couple times – I mentioned the very first book my book club read, Life of Pi, and the challenge it makes to the claim that the adventure is not “real.” This isn’t some psychotic dream. I don’t see dragons, and I am no damsel in distress. Magic may not let people disappear in clouds of smoke, or turn into doves, but it is real. It exists in this world, drawing meaning and deep structure between us. There are not wizards or Muggles, per se, but there is another kind of magic, and in some it runs deeply, and in others only a trickle or not at all. The magic runs deeply with me, and it is why my life is full of the amazing experiences with which it has been stocked. It runs in places, and those places call out to people like me, but people like me also infuse places with magic. The magic is why magical people sense a natural kinship and stay near to me, whether by miles or by the units of distance of the heart. Like the impromptu party towards the end of The Fountainhead, when we magical people draw near, we have a natural kinship that crosses boundaries of wealth and experience and time and space.

This is how I see life. It is my strength and weakness, both. I believe in it. And I embrace it.

* Oh, psychologists, why ya gotta hate on pseudoscience?

** Okay, kind of true.

*** Okay, totally true.

**** It’s like you know me. Stop talking.

***** It used to be a thing, that psychology trainees had to be patients of their professors or adjuncts associated with their department, as part of graduate school (this is more of a psychoanalysis era thing), and that MMPI’s were not only administered but had to be shared and interpreted by one’s professors, in a clear conflict of interest. We were simply asked to take it, to know how it worked and to see the results, ourselves, without having to share them with anyone. Now, this was my first year in graduate school, at the tail end of the most severe era of my eating disorder. I saved my MMPI, and I still sometimes show it to trainees as a cautionary example of understanding the resiliency of humanity. My (completely valid and not at all just suggesting I am histrionic) profile suggested fairly extreme, “lock her up, stat” distress in those days… I think I had six of 10 significantly elevated clinical scales, and this was during a time when I was making new friends, succeeding (and frequently knocking it out of the ballpark) in an extremely challenging graduate program, adapting to life in the South, training to run a full marathon for the first (and ultimately only) time, and recovering by pulling myself up by my bootstraps. That time was incredibly hard for me, but without medicines or therapies or anything but the kind of magic this post is all about, I not only survived, but this time became a gateway into thriving more than I have ever thrived.