Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

I'm tempted to go into a bit of research and tell how Thanksgiving has its roots in Sukkot, the ancient Jewish harvest festival and give lines and lines of pedantry. I'd rather keep it short and sincere.

I give thanks for my health. I give thanks for two beautiful, funny and intelligent daughters. I give thanks for an ex whom I still love and who is now my best friend. I give thanks for Melody. I give thanks for Alisa. I give thanks for Jayne. I give thanks for Paula. I give thanks for my father. I give thanks for my students and for all with whom I have a daily contact.

Those beloveds are a given.

In the past four months, though, I have been blessed with a group of friends who, though they are scattered throughout the continent, are very, very dear to me: Abby, Lori, Gillian, Rhada, Shauna, Christianne, Stephanie, Denise, Leith, Kathryn, Teri, Cathryn, Chloe, Sarah, Eva-Genevieve, the list is so long...

You all have touched me from so far. You have caused me to reach for my highest spirit and to reach inside for the gold.

Bless you every one. I love you all.

Joy be yours this day and every day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Tale...

Over the past few days, I've been mulling over what to write about. The elections are over. Obama's working out his plan of action. I've said about everything I'm going to say about Prop 8 (it sucks; the California Supreme Court is going to hold hearings; fingers crossed; in the meantime, keep to the high road: don't harass old homophobic ladies in Palm Springs or elsewhere). And I've got a truckload of papers to grade. So...

I'm going to tell you a story. This is my retelling of a Scottish folktale collected by Linda Williamson from Betsy Whyte of Collessie, Fife on April 16, 1987. The original is to be found in The Penguin Book of Scottish Folktales, edited by Neil Philip. It's one of the first stories in my repertoire. Be forewarned: it's one of the saddest stories I know.

The Laird was rumored to be a master of the black arts, and though he kept both an open hall and hand, all thereabouts agreed that one would be wise to keep well on his good side. He was also fond of a joke, especially if it was at the expense of another. So it was that on the night of a great cèilidh that he hosted each year in his his manor, he called for Auld Sandy, his cowherd. Sandy, it was agreed by all, was only a few degrees brighter than the cows he kept. The Laird's bully boy found Sandy on a stool in the byre, lightly dozing between two of his charges. Affectionately but firmly, Sandy was lifted from his seat and conducted to the great hall where the Laird was firmly ensconced on a far grander seat of his own.

"Sandy," said the Laird, "We've become bored with the music and the dancing. Tell us the best lie ye know and I'll give ye a soveriegn."

Sandy looked blankly at his master, removed his cloth cap, ran his fingers through his grizzled hair, and then rubbed the backs of his calloused knuckles against the graying stubble on his chin.

"I canna tell a lie, Laird. I dinna hae the art."

The Laird frowned, and his voice rang through the hall, "What use are you then?" He then winked to company when Sandy lowered his head in shame. "Here. I've a currach on the banks of the loch, and I've a mind to fish tomorrow. Go, bail it out and patch it."

Sandy pulled his forelock and shambled from the hall. He found the currach easily enough, and indeed, water had seeped through the tarred leather hull and now filled the small boat. Sandy found a pan on the bank and began to bail. Eventually, after he'd emptied the boat halfway, he found it necessary to get inside in order to reach the water in the bottom. So intent was he on his task, that he took no notice when the boat came free of the shore and began to drift into the loch.

Only when he was several yards from shore did he realize that he was afloat with no oars. Panic seized him and he began to shout for help, but the lawn between the great hall and the banks of the loch was devoid of
people. He could do nothing but sit quietly in the currach as it drifted further into the center of the loch and into a fog bank. As the fog enveloped the currach, Sandy began to feel a tingling throughout his body and a wave of dizziness. He put his hand on the gunwale to steady himself and was surprised to see that it was not his hand he thrust forth. It was not the brown, calloused hand of an aging cowherd, but the small, soft hand of a well-born young woman. Sandy's eyes moved from the hand to where a pair of old, worn boots, covered with years and years of cow dung should have been. Instead, Sandy's eyes found a pair of dainty black slippers of the finest neat's leather, and no patched breeches, but a yellow taffeta gown. Risking capsize, Sandy's head thrust over the gunwales, meeting the eyes of a golden-haired lassie of no more than nineteen looking up from the gray water. Every shred of panic left Sandy as the currach cleared the fog bank. The beautiful young woman sat stock still and moved only when she heard a man's voice hailing her from the shore before her. She looked up and saw a young man hailing her from a promontory. Could he be of assistance? Fearful of what voice might issue from her throat, she replied with a firm nod. The young man ran to the shore and dove into the water. The young woman overcame her shock enough to feel sympathetic chills as the saw the young man plow toward her through the icy water.

Having guided the currach to shore, the young man easily lifted the girl from the currach and stood her on dry land. Her breath caught at his touch, and her heart blossomed as their eyes met.
"My name is Alec Buchanan," he said. "It's my family's land we're on. What's yer name? Where d'ye come from?" he asked.

"Al-" She caught herself for a split second, hearing with relief a woman's dulcet voice, and she found to her surprise that she had never thought this clearly before. I can't very well say that I'm Alexander MacSorley, the half-witted cowherd from across the loch, she thought. She spoke again. "Alison MacSorley," she said. She'd found the currach and sat in it for a lark. Before she knew it she had drifted...

Neither of them completely remembered the story in later years. By the time she turned to follow him to his freehold where he lived with his mother, it was agreed they would be wed. Maisie Buchanan could never get over how this high-born lassie that her son had fished out of the loch could take so well to housekeeping, and Alison came to love her mother-in-law as if she were her own. And she never ceased to take joy in the mere presence of her husband. Five bonny bairns she gave him, one for each year they were together.

It was while she was still nursing the fifth child that a fancy came upon her that she must walk upon the beach. She, Alec, and the children walked in the sunlight and down to
the shore. Something black glistened on the shore.

"Look," said Alison, hearing her own voice as in a dream, "It's the currach that brought me here. Och! It's full of water."

She brought the sleeping, sated child from under her shawl, put him in her husband's arms, and ran to the shore. Before he could protest that the currach she spoke of had drifted back into the loch the second he had lifted her from it, she was in the boat and bailing. He had a baby in his arms and a toddler at his feet. He could not run after her. He could only watch as the currach drifted into the lock, carrying away his wife and the mother of his children.

When Alison came to her senses, it was too late. She turned to see Alec and the children, now black specks on the shore. As before, there were no oars.

"Alec!" she screamed, "My bairns!" And she repeated the screams as she drifted into the fog bank. When the voice became harsh and deep, she fell silent, not daring to look down.

When the currach bumped ashore, a figure in a cloth cap, soiled boots, and worn breaches shambled from it and up to the great hall. The door opened. The Laird looked down from his seat at the figure in the doorway.

"Sandy," the Laird beamed, and the figure fell to the floor weeping.

"My man! My bairns!"

At a tacit signal from the Laird, the bully boy brought Sandy to his feet.

"What on earth are you on about, Sandy?"

In the voice of a fifty-year-old cowherd, a twenty-four-year-old wife and mother told of the loves and joys,
now lost, of the past five years . The Laird laughed, and so did all the company as the cold reality crept into Sandy's mind.

"Five years!" roared the Laird through his laughter, "Sandy, ye've only been gone twenty minutes. But," he laughed, holding up a golden sovereign, "ye've told the finest lie I've heard this night. The sovereign is yours."

Sandy stood silent. He ran the back of his hand against his unshaven chin, a gesture that was now as foreign to him as the feeling of the beard itself. Slowly, he took off his cloth cap and slowly shuffled toward the Laird's high chair. He stared at the sovereign for a long time before he took it, turned, and shuffled from the hall to go and sleep amongst the cattle.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Since You Asked...

Was it Abby who asked for a picture of me as Kali? I have to admit that I've been holding this back. Those lines in the face, the double chin, that bloodshot third eye... Anyway, here it is...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

One of the Women

I had intended to post about how Matreya went last week, but I found it hard to find the proper thing to say outside of a quick review. Besides, the world has gone through some major changes in the past week.

So it's been a week since Matreya went up. It was well-attended and received and it looks like it's going to have a lifetime with other performances in other venues, so my prosthetic eye stays in my makeup box and my skull paraphernalia are put away with my other costume parts. I believe it was Abby who asked how Kali felt to me as I portrayed her. I replied that she felt like a combination Screaming Death and June Cleaver. I had intended to post pictures, but I have none as of yet. When I have them, up they'll go. As with any kind of production, there were plenty of last-minute kerfuffles, and Jayne and the tech crew wore themselves to a frazzle. She's been down with the flu for the past few days - probably due more to the stress.

The women I was privileged to work with are uniformly dedicated and talented. They are wonderful singers, and all have a deep sense of spirit. As I said in an earlier post, the play concerns a young woman who has been killed and finds herself welcomed into the Bardo (one of the stages of the Buddhist otherworld) by a conclave of goddesses who share their stories and prepare her to return to Earth as Matreya, a Bodhisattva of compassion. I would give names, but I don't feel comfortable without their permission. Isis was portrayed by a writer, producer, and life coach; Spider Woman was played by a marriage and family counselor with a regular column on a well-known news blog; White Buffalo Calf Woman and Magdalene were played by professional singers; Lilith was played by dancer and fashion designer, and Matreya was portrayed by a working actress (there's got to be at least one - it's LA). And, of course, there were Jayne and Gilli and the stage crew. The only men directly involved were the bass player and the sound tech.

The play was presented at The Mint, a venerated blues club, one of the few venues of its kind in LA which has maintained its identity for more than a few years - seventy to be exact. The audience of about 50 (it's ok; it's a small venue) was a combination of familiar faces and total strangers. Melody sat in a conspicuous seat and gave me a single yellow rose as I left the stage. It's still in its bud vase.

It was an exhausting and profoundly positive experience.

So what has this meant to me?

I was one of the women who put this on. If I were transitioned or living full time, these words might not be making me as woozy as they are right now. These women knew me, knew the nature of my life, and yet I was accepted without question. Well... sure, I answered a few questions and did some explaining, but I was one of them. After the show, I was invited to participate in a women's circle that took place on Venice Beach yesterday. Unfortunately, I had to decline because of a family engagement, but the invitation stands. I've also been invited to be a main presenter for another women's circle after the first of the year.

As usual, I have various points of view running through my head:

Pragmatic and self-deprecating: Are you sure? I mean... I don't think I can pass the physical.
Goddess Chick: Why, thank you so much for recognizing me.
Overwhelmed: You like me! You really like me!
Just me: Thank you. I love working with you. This feels so comfortable and so right.

I would say that the biggest conflict is between the first and last. For all my claims to being a "mystical and magical creature," I am still conflicted as to my right to be me.

I'll let you in on a secret: I feel like I haven't paid my dues. I've neither gone through a girlhood, through menstruation, through childbirth nor gone through RLE, HRT, or SRS. What makes this acceptance so profound for me is the nagging feeling that I don't rate it - that I have sisters who have struggled with gaining acceptance, and it's handed to me on a silver platter. That having been said; however, I am also more convinced than ever that being a woman or a man (and perhaps being many other things also) is more about the energy we emanate than it is about our physicality. I don't say this to detract from any of my beloved sisters who have transitioned or are on the way. How could I dare? You bear so much. (Does that sound a little over the top? Deal with it. Right now I'm loving every last one of you.) But I celebrate your (and my) beautiful feminine souls. And I celebrate the souls of these wonderful women with whom I have spent all too short a time.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What Would Jonathan Do?

It goes without saying that as elated as I am at the landslide election of Barack Obama, I am depressed and disgusted with the passing of Proposition 8 here in California. It's not only the fact that those who typically squeal the loudest about freedom are the first who want to deprive others of it that repulses me; I would expect self-professed "Christians" to at the very least tell the truth. I receive a daily feed from Transgendered News which includes the positive with the negative, and I regularly see in the propaganda of the "Christianists," a wellspring of half truths, chop-logic, and outright lies. Being in the group that is on the receiving end of this barrage of flung feces is bad enough, but when it comes from groups that profess to believe in a doctrine of love, I am sick unto vomiting. And it was a vomiting of lies spread primarily by the Mormon Church with (I am told) out-of-state funding, which pushed Prop 8 through by a narrow margin. The Catholic Church was also instrumental - for which I'll take a cheap shot: given its problems with pederasty over the years, one would think this church would stay the hell out of the fray. There are times when I am tempted to write modern Christianity off as simply another hate group.

And yet...

Many of my friends are Pagans. My faith hovers somewhere between Christianity in its earliest forms and Zen Buddhism. When I hear certain of my friends lambaste Christianity in general for historical excesses and abuses on the part of inquisitors, grotesquely corrupt popes and cardinals, pathological monks, and hypocritical TV huckster evangelists, I try to remind them that these are aberrations. They did not and do not practice what Jeshua Ben Joseph of Nazareth taught. I've read and taught the Sermon on the Mount many times, and at its core is this: forgive others if you want any hope of being forgiven. So a true follower of the teachings of Jesus does not condemn; s/he forgives. Or (since I've got major problems with forgiving anybody who has done absolutely nothing that has caused anyone harm) try this : Treat every person you meet as if that person is in a state of grace. In other words: Have humility.

I believe I've mentioned elsewhere the little card that I found on a sidewalk in college and which even now is mingled amongst the clutter on my desk. It reads: "If you think you know what's going on, you're probably full of shit." In other words, once more: Have humility. Part of that humility is not being so all-fired sure that your hot line to the Deity is any more static-free than the person's next to you.

OK, so this is what I try to live by, and I've (ahem) exhibited a tendency to expect others to live up to certain codes which I have espoused. So it looks like I've got a pretty big plank in my eye when I expect so-called Christians to follow the teachings of their Messiah: Love, Forgive, and Don't Judge. Oh, and while you're at it, Don't Tell Lies.

You know where I am seeing these qualities? In my hedonistic high school students. My 99% Latino students overwhelmingly supported Obama and opposed Proposition 8. And they did so on moral grounds - they felt that the war was obscene, that it was time for more responsible government, and that a committed relationship, regardless of the gender of those involved, should be honored and supported. I had reason, then, on Wednesday to console one of my 11th graders who is Lesbian. The future is with her and her peers. Obama was elected because of the impetus of young voters who have abandoned the prejudices of previous generations. A black president? About time! And while we're at it, how about a Latina governor? About time! And these attitudes are not the attitudes of my students alone. I've seen it in young people across the board. I reminded my student of all this. I told her that she must take her power and her rights and have faith in the future. She left my room with a smile. She's been trying hard in class the past couple of days.

A few minutes ago, my landlady called me to say there's a big protest going on at the Mormon Temple in Westwood. It was the Mormon Church that pumped the most money into the Prop 8 campaign. It also told the most lies and tried to extort funds from businesses that contributed to the Anti-Prop 8 campaign. I've read that there's a movement afoot to strip the church of its tax-free status. There was a time when I would come to the defense of Mormonism when my fundamentalist (and now former) brother-in-law would refer to it as a cult. Now I'm not so generous. But it's 7 pm on a school night, the week has been exhausting, and I just don't have the energy to get made up and drive over there. (I may be protesting, but be damn sure I'll look presentable.) I may join in tomorrow or on the weekend. Then again, other than letting our anger and disappointment be known, I don't know what can be accomplished by an overt demonstration. It may be gratifying to vent, but the winning of hearts and minds is accomplished more slowly, gently, and subtly.

I believe that the very same values which the proponents of Prop 8 are supposed to display and don't are those which will bury it and all hateful thoughts. I'm thinking of my friend Jonathan, who used to teach chemistry at my school and is now a principal. He's a black man, he's gay, he's one of the most dedicated educators I've ever known, he exudes love at every pore, he's been in a committed relationship for years, and he is a devout Christian. So WWJD? What would Jonathan do? He would do what he's been doing for years: teaching by example, forgiving, loving all who comes his way, working quietly within his craft for the betterment of all. I haven't seen him in about a year and a half. As I said, he's principal at another school (an out gay principal!!). When he was on campus, though, he was one of the people to whom I was out. I expressed my admiration for him more than once. He was quiet in his acceptance of praise. But then, he has humility.

Advising patience, perseverance, love, and humility, however, is mighty cold comfort for the countless people who are effected by this hate-based legislation here in California and in other states. My friend Abby writes of her personal heartache. But I see in her and my friend Jonathan and my 11th grader the eventual change that will come. Forgive me for being an English major, but I feel a quote coming on, from William Faulkner's Nobel acceptance speech in which he spoke about the "old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed--love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice." He's talking about writing. I'm writing about living. And I'm saying that the best way to nullify hatred and fear is to consciously, mindfully live these verities, and, through our lives and actions, prove the haters wrong. And perhaps we can help certain Christians learn the lessons they should have learned while they were so busy paying attention to what the person in the desk beside them was doing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


It wasn't easy to find a third eye.

I blame the economy. One by one the costume houses in my area (the San Gabriel Valley, east of LA) have become early victims of the economy. One of the very last, "Would You Believe," in South Pasadena, shut its doors yesterday after three decades. As a former theatre arts major, I find this very saddening.

But back to the eye. I went to "Cinema Secrets" in Burbank and not only did I find my third eye, but now I know where to go the next time I need a good gash or a piece of re-bar projecting from my skull. (And that's not to mention any kind of everyday cosmetic that I might want and perhaps someone who can tell me how to really disguise the bags under my eyes.)

So now the eye is sitting in my makeup case, ready to be applied when I play Kali in tomorrow's presentation of Matreya.

I'd thought to write about Kali, but that is for a future posting. Right now I want to write about how I got here.

There is something to be said about having a conservative upbringing: it keeps you honest. If you're taking the time to do anything, you've got to justify it. On one level that's a pretty toxic attitude. When I was 12 and collecting and building models of Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man (I date myself once again), my father would ask me what use they were. Now today I might say that their purpose was purely aesthetic, and I do believe there is a great deal of aesthetic experience to be gained in the contemplation of a well-assembled and judiciously painted plastic werewolf, but I doubt my father would agree. So from my pragmatic father comes a conditioning in me that each action one performs should serve a purpose. Is this the making of a neurotic? You bet.

So add to this little nugget of White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant-Guilt, the fact that I am transgendered. When, at the age of 36, I finally decided to accept myself, I then asked myself, "Now what?" Did I put on a frock and hang around of an evening with a bunch of other crossdressers? Yep. Did that get old after a bit? Yep, and for two reasons. The first was the realization that who I was wasn't just about clothes. (I have to admit here and now that presentation is a big part of it. Nichole just wrote and excellent post in which she questions the whole idea of "women's" and "men's" clothes, but I find that I am far more comfortable in those items of apparel which our society has assigned to women, and I feel much better about my appearance when I'm wearing makeup.) The second was that though I was making friends and assuring myself that I wasn't the only one "like this," the get-togethers seemed a bit pointless. (I'm afraid I'm not much fun at parties for the same reason.) So I began contemplating the metaphysical aspects of transgenderism, much to the amusement and sometimes irritation of friends who approached their transgenderism in a more visceral way. It's the good old Protestant work ethic: justify your existence; if you're having a good time, you're probably not doing your job.

Almost seven years ago, I was able to find my purpose. My alter-ego had been telling stories before audiences of both children and adults for more than fifteen years. Why not give Gillian a chance? My debut was at a Tri-Ess meeting in Burbank in January of 2002. It was very well received, and I had a rush of confidence that I had never before experienced. Later that year I was a guest speaker for my friend Stacy Clement in her psychology classes at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. I spent my entire spring break there, presenting as Gillian, and found a major portion of myself through interacting with students and life in general. It was also that year that I left home. (That's worth a posting in itself.) I was invited by my friend, LA trans-activist Michelle Dennis, to present stories that June at the Trans-Unity conference at The Village GLBT center in Hollywood. Again, I was bowled over by the general acceptance. It was also there that I met my dear Melody.

Melody is an environmental activist, an artist, an historian, the list goes on. Melody also thought I was pretty cool, and the feeling is mutual. Amongst other things, Melody has acted as a coach for crossdressers, and she soon became my fashion guru. She is an absolute thrift store sorceress. Having constructed an ecumenical temple in her house, she is a deeply spiritual woman and opened me further to the dualistic nature of my own being. She also introduced me to the Goddess Community and particularly to Karen Tate, an expert in the divine feminine and a priestess in her own right.

Two years ago, Karen invited me to be part of a birthday celebration for the goddess Isis at the Goddess Temple in Costa Mesa. I was speechless. I was being asked to tell the story of Isis and the regeneration of Osiris in a women's temple as part of a ceremony in which every other woman was cisgendered, and in front of an audience of cisgendered women. I did it. I told the story of Isis. Up to that time all the other stories I had told had been, in one way or another, transgendered in theme. This was the first "women's story" I had told. It fit; it worked. After the ceremony, I was approached by several women and hugged by many. (Though Melody told me later that there were a couple of women who grumbled about "womyn born womyn.")

The next day, I participated in the annual "Isis Tea" at a Victorian tea room in Long Beach, and I was again asked to tell a story. (Hmm... She's invited to a tea party at which all and sundry are dressed to the nines and then she's asked to tell a story. Go ahead and guess at my state of mind that day.) I told a story about an Indian prince named Sudyamna who, upon riding into an enchanted wood, is turned into a woman. (I'll do a post on it at a later date.) Among the guests was Jayne de Mente who has since become my great friend. She asked me if I would be a presenter in her Women's Heritage Series, which included women scholars and artists from all over the country, talking on subjects that included Mary Magdalene, the Queen of Sheba, and other aspects of feminist spirituality. Of course, I was again very flattered, and I accepted. Not only did I do a storytelling presentation of my own, but at the end of each subsequent presentation I was asked to tell a story. Toward the end of the series, I told the story Inana's descent to the underworld in front of Z. Budapest, who is considered a founder of feminist spirituality, and was again well received.

I've written elsewhere about my theological take on the Goddess. I've pretty much seen myself as a Zen Catholic. But what I find compelling in my relationship with these women is this: I don't "pass;" I'm clocked the moment I step into the room, and still I am accepted as one of them. It isn't the physicality that is important; it is the soul, though the dress and accoutrement are seen as outward manifestations of the inner feminine. In short they know who and what I am, yet I am accepted as a woman amongst women. The fact that I am a transwoman is a spiritual bonus.

So tomorrow I will be performing with nine cisgendered women in a play, presented in readers' theatre, about a young woman who, after being murdered, discovers that she is coming back to the world as Matreya, a Bodhisattva of compassion. I will be playing Kali in a conclave of goddesses that includes Magdalene, Isis, Spider Woman, White Buffalo Calf Woman, Bridget, and Lilith. And I've been running around to find a third eye. It's probably better that I've been concentrating on that, on my line reading, and on trying to get hold of a pair of black harem pants for my costume (the ones I ordered on line have been stuck in New York for three weeks!!). When I think of the circumstances of my participation I'm a little blown away. My dad doesn't know I'm doing this. It would probably give him a coronary. But his legacy of justification has led me to this means of expression and has blessed me with these friendships. It's also blessed me with you.