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Posts Tagged ‘masculinity’

A wonderful observation was made by Venkat Rao. People desire for things around them to be “legible.” He was quoting someone else, but he’s brought a lot of people’s attention to the concept. In this context, Legibility refers to how easy it is to understand the purpose and the meaning of a thing, not just a text, but anything.

On the very legible end of things is something like an office chair, or a cup of coffee.  These are designed by humans, completely contrived for the types of purposes that anyone can plainly gather from their adaptation to these intentions.  On the far side of illegibility is the pattern of plants in a forest.  Not to say that it’s random, but without an extremely specialized understanding, the patterning, the whys, the meaning of it is indecipherable.  The only other way to access a complicated image like a forest or a city is to simply experience the gestalt of it, the sense of it as you are there, in the moment.

Rao gives us examples of problems that arise when we humans try and impose legibility. His easiest example is the growth of a city.  Old cities have grown in such a complex pattern over decades, centuries, even millenia, and with such a collection of complex human interactions, that their patterning is as nuanced as the trees and ferns of the forest floor.  When planners come along and try to work out a method to set up a city artificially, it so often fails miserably because there is a forced legibility (indeed, it’s hard to imagine making policies about things without first rendering them legible, but for policymakers to grok the complexities necessary to understand things like city growth is more than most mere politicians can muster).

The important points here are that legibility is highest in man-made things and that people desire legibility.  In fact, Rao cites an interesting incident at a neurology clinic where a black and white checkerboard pattern is used to establish a “baseline” of someone’s brain activity, a “calm state.”  When the patient asked the doctor “shouldn’t you use something more neutral, white noise, perhaps?”  The doctor responds, “Oh no, people’s brains go wild when we show a random pattern, because they work hard to grasp at some underlying structure.”

Perhaps it is the fruit of Maharishi’s meditation on who am I? perhaps it is my vows, or just observation.  But recently I have found myself truly switching identity experiences rather easily.  After actual decades of wanting so much to be a woman, and an entire decade of being mostly submissive, I find myself being a true switch.  I can stop what we’re doing at home to force slap her ass, make sure she’s knowing she’s in submission, and leave her begging for more as we’re walking into town. Yes, I can still kiss a whip, scrub someone’s floor, and pine to get held down and fucked.  Honestly, I could beg God for either role just as sincerely, or forget the whole thing entirely.  All of it is surrender!

If you don’t build it deliberately, but let it form, like actions of nature, it isn’t going to have the same kind of legibility of an invention.  I smile this smile that old ladies and children seem to find irresistable.  I alternatively flush a bit from some men’s heat, and then wet some girl’s panties by our immediate mutual knowledge that I would chain her up alongside the others and perhaps horsewhip the living hell out of her in half a second.  And I gain trusting giggles and secret intimacies when I unwrap my Arab kuffiya and smile a blushing conspiratorial sister smile.  No one seems to try to cheat me anymore, in fact it seems they’re mostly quite generous with me.  My employees are artistic and seem satisfied.  I drive hard bargains with a shy voice.  My students mostly do what I say, alternatively seduced, in love, and afraid. My personality is a forest rather than a coffee cup, mysterious to even myself.

Then this all generalizes into other things.  I find myself more generous with money, and managing it all quite differently because I don’t even know what it is anymore.  It seems to have no value at all.  I don’t mean that in a naive sense, but in the sense that we’re all dying so quickly, what the fuck?  Perhaps I will find the capacity for even more generosity, or that great fabled freedom to just cast a fortune away in a moment, without a thought, and the power to create another kind or another kind or even a different kind than that….  How can I lack patience in this case?  How can I worry any sense of morality?  I tested this by lying outright a few times, and find the only thing I have that could be called a “conscience” is confusion brought on by blood sugar levels.

My friends seem to stumble with their reactions.  And I think it’s because I’ve become illegible.  So I do try and maintain some consistency around them lately, but it feels so stilted, and I notice that any real observer should be able to see through the plastic of contrivance. People want you to have an identity though, something to pin down and relate to with a known set of codes.  My girlfriend, fortunately, is blessed with enough innocence to just tell me when she doesn’t get what’s going on, and to roll with it.  She’s uncaring about social norms enough to either not notice or not care when I mix gender, dominance, social class signals, fashions, and actions with the kind of attitude that I would pack a backpack for a walk in the woods.  Toilet paper is good for so many things, I’ll bring a whole roll of that with me for even a day or two in the woods.

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I read an absolutely genius website recently: http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/FEARvsDANGER.html

This guy has the clearest ideas of real-world violence and violent human behavior that I’ve ever read. This reminds me of a lot of what we always say is “good kung fu.” I.E., there’s almost always a nonviolent way out, and why were you somewhere that violence was likely in the first place? In other words for violence to actually be “necessary,” you have to have made a series of complete fuck-ups leading up to that situation. Then, to actually “defend” yourself is usually to find the fastest path to escape.

Further, as I’ve always thought, there’s no such thing as a “fight” outside of duels and sparring. It isn’t a real barfight or street fight unless somebody is likely to draw a knife, gun, or bat or someone’s friend or associate is likely to draw one while you aren’t looking. No one is trying to “fight.” Either they are trying to warn you off with a threat display, they’re giving you an ultimatum (usually with some option to leave or exit without violence) or else they’re trying to murder you (because you declined their ultimatum or you already did something to ‘earn’ getting killed, like screwed their wife or screwed them in a drug deal).

But this guy takes it all a step further. He shows how people take the rules from their part of society and expect them to apply everywhere and in all situations, basically becoming bigotted pricks everywhere they go. Essentially people expect to break some of the ‘rules’ (screwing someone’s wife, going to a drug party in the ghetto) whilest assuming that other ‘rules’ will protect them (no one shoots people, no one violates my body without my permission). By this method, a lot of middle class men get shot and a lot of middle class girls get raped, simply by assuming their “rights” are god-given instead of society given.

He lays everything out so lucidly as to point to the simple truth: If you are oriented to reality as it is, rather than what you think it should be, you are always in a more powerful position.

This showed me that the way we’ve built up our society is good in some ways. I definitely like the fact that most of the time the greatest risk I suffer as a consequence of my words or actions is hurt feelings. That’s a safer world to live in than a barbaric one of constant possible violence. But we also effectively use this setup to manipulate situations to our benefit. At the end of the day, the person with the most savvy in whatever system they are in, is usually able to gain the most power, toys, money, or whatever….  and in the end, most people are playing to win.

Even playing “by the rules” is probably playing to win, through reputation, some sense of self-respect (boosting ego/confidence), social and personal justification, or else to marshall the rules in one’s favor as a protective measure (It’s nice to be able to manipulate social power in someone’s face while they cannot do anything about it because the “rules” protect your theivery, hate speech, backstabbing connivances, or stupid and self-serving actions). Most people surely hide their own attempts to “win” from themselves, because if they realized how twisted and ruthless their own games were, they might “lose” some of the psychological cookies that their social rules system gives them.

All this points me a clear direction: Know my intention, and act utterly in accordance with it…  hide nothing from myself — my sense of ‘fairness’ seems to mostly be a strategy from my childhood to manipulate those around me, so set it aside entirely and play ruthlessly, simply, absolutely to succeed. My “morals” will never be a stand-in for innocence.

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I have read that masculinity resides in the capacity for wonder. Devi says it in Tantric Quest. I never really grokked this before. However, as I roam the streets of Taipei, I feel it a bit. When I realize my invention, my keyboard lies in a trunk in a little Japanese-style hostel room, and I now have a design for a much better one, I feel it more.

I feel it at the moment because my cup is full. Not because of great wealth or anything else, but because I’m going out and living fully right now, as wholly and truthfully as I can. I’m drawing new inventions, from a lovely safety device a friend passed on, to a surfeit of synthesizers and music controllers. I will have the money to file provisional patents in a month or two.

But of course, it is in none of the details. What matters now is just living, fully. My story right now is the same as plenty others. How many have you ever read about someone in a little tenent house in a big city, loving every second of their life as they play their music, or get gigs as an actor? It is common to discover wonder when pursuing life very fully (though it is probably uncommon to pursue life very fully). 

In living this way, I can sometimes allow every person I pass, every beautiful word I read, every cup of tea I drink, to touch a little place inside of me. It is almost as if at the core of this sense of wonder, each experience, everything in the world is a tiny brush dragged skillfully, carefully, in great detail over something that appreciates infinite nuance, and needs not hold to any of it. This must be what is meant by “wonder.”

I know that as I type such romance, there’s a little puff of breathlessness about it, but I hope I am grounded enough to appreciate the inspiration without losing my footing. People live, and make choices, stand poised to seize chances when they appear before them, and they always appear. It is wisdom to look for these opportunities and to see them and to take them!

I used to be so cynical about all this, very cynical for a youngster. Perhaps my heart was broken by my lifetime of dashed hopes stemmed from being transgendered. Sometimes I was cynical to play a role (thus I was pretty cynical about my cynicism sometimes). By my early twenties, I thought that most beautiful experience lie in death, dissolution, decay and destruction. I thought of everytime I turned the stereo up as a moment of trading a little death of my ears, permanent damage for beauty and pleasure of experiencing the music.

When I didn’t feel like drinking death I could live like a miser. My favorite Shakespeare was Julius Caeser. Sure, Faries in a Baccanalia in the forest was alluring, as was Orlando dressing up like a man and gayly seducing an army officer, but I always loved Caeser’s murder best. I thought it was so poignant, and cried everytime I talked about it, the human tragedy of it.

Finally I see the whole beauty of it wasn’t in the “tragic human drama” of deception and betrayal, but in Caeser’s love for his friend. He’d fight tooth and nail thirty men with knives, but if his friend wanted him dead, he’d yield. Shocked by the betrayal, yes. Mind reeling, yes. But his heart still filled with love for Brutus. Living fully as himself. How could a caeser be otherwise?

So now I’m working to help improve whatever school I’m working at for little kids while learning license negotiation of patents on the side. And I love Shakespeare because his Caeser never stopped loving his friend (and because I’d join Puck and Oberon on a June night without any intoxication, gladly, of my own free will, just in case they’re reading this). Again, all the details are irrelevant, the choice behind them, the attitude is what matters, what lends tremendous wonder, often with laughter and beauty to the simplest act of walking down the road, or riding the packed subway.

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I was doing a meditation, looking into the core of myself.  I practiced this meditation for about three years.  I was starting to have a lot of insight into myself (and other people).

So one night I stood in an old shrine on Kite Mountain, in Sansia.  I loved going up there to do Qi Kung or the meditation to find the center.  The shrine had some Buddhas, some Taras and several different deities I didn’t know.  There were always candles burning inside.  If it was warm weather, I liked to do my Qi Kung standing up on the rock outcropping by the shrine, overlooking the city lights of YingHe.  If it was cold, I’d stand inside the shrine.  I always felt warm enough in there.

On this particular night, I wanted to sit down, so I was inside the shrine on one of the stools.  I was doing the meditation to find the central point inside myself.  I was enjoying my internal feeling of space and peacefulness.

In the months previous, I had been working to shape a form of masculinity I was happy with, and that I enjoyed embodying.  But as I was doing this meditation, I realized that I simply prefer being feminine, and I think there’s something inside of me that is close to my heart that is fundamentally, deeply feminine.

Further, I realized it was okay, even that I would like to be a woman.  I even understood that, while this might not be a perfectly free and enlightened thought, in accepting it and doing what felt natural and good to me, I might really help and inspire others.

I remembered a close friend of mine saying that some of the most pure and intimate relationships he’d had were with prostitutes.  While his enjoyment of hookers might not be the greatest thing in the world, I had learned a lot about love, and intention in relationships, by listening to him talk about them.  I think a lot of people who know him have learned the same things.

So I felt very strongly that just accepting this part of myself and integrating it might even benefit people around me in ways I couldn’t predict.  Then, maybe half a week later, I was walking up the same mountain and I understood deeply that my desire to embody femininity in whatever way I chose wasn’t wrong, morally.  That was something I had struggled with for so many years.  I found the freedom from guilt uplifting!

Then I went back into the world, back to my girlfriend, back to Taiwanese culture and my friends, back to the internet, where I started talking to other people who were differently gendered.

I discovered that I wasn’t trans-enough to really fit into the psychiatric model, or to hang out with other trans-folk.  I mean, I wasn’t thinking of having surgery at that point.  I really didn’t even want to take hormones.  Hell, at the outset I didn’t even want to change my name!

And speaking with my lover, I told her how I felt.  I only knew the framework of “transgendered” to be able to talk about it.  In retrospect, I was trying to learn of my own femininity, and I wanted a friend to help me see it better and give me some support as I found a sense of confidence in it.  However, I did not communicate this well (indeed, I wasn’t so cognizant that’s what I wanted).

And when I did feel like I was in the middle of an opportunity to discover and learn and grow and was looking for some external support, I often felt ignored…  or that I was making her uncomfortable.  I remember as she was preparing for a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand I kept thinking that by my supporting her and focusing on her.  I believed that my turn would come as I needed support in this journey of discovery I was on.

I greeted her at the airport with a new pair of glasses, fresh waxed brows, a really cute skirt, and looking great.  She seemed happy to see me and was very complimentary and comfortable, and I was hoping to continue learning about myself as time went on.  But I continually felt little subtle hints that I should stop doing even the more conservative things I was doing, that somehow I was making her uncomfortable.  Additionally, my time for the spotlight and extra support never came.  So mostly I just felt ignored.

I know that I looked really good, and I was very tasteful with everything.  I seldom wore skirts but when I did I was careful that everything looked right on me or I wouldn’t leave the house.  One guy commented that my new style, the outfits I wore, were quite becoming of me.  And he was from combat arms in the military, and was open about the fact the he disagreed religiously with my entire project of being gender queer.  I took his compliments, and his wife’s, without too much skepticism since I know they were shooting straight with me.

I also cherished the way that I could be around other women and we related to each other in a more open and friendly way.  It was with the army officer’s wife that I started getting my early tastes of this.  At first I thought it was silly that everyone responds to visual cues so much, but then I just accepted that’s the way it is.  I found with her that I could dress femme and she’d relax and share and talk with me and I had more fun with her.  It was great.  I was getting a lovely social feedback that put me into a role I felt really comfortable and easy with.

However, in the greater world, I still felt alienated.  Really though, a lot of it was probably in my own mind.  The thing I was looking for so desperately was some support.  I posted this on my blog at the time:

Now I think I understand why people change their name. I also understand why many transgendered people adopt a very specific set of mannerisms, even change the way they talk, dress, etc. I think that this part of my sense of identity often feels disconnected and overly internal, then without adequate social or personal feedback to reinforce it, I often feel at odds with external input… then I start feeling detachment, dissonance, then a myriad of hellish things.

However, I really like my name and do not intend to change it. Actually, I do not wish to marginalize myself as an obviously transgendered woman and thus I have no intention of following the pattern of plenty of others who share my plight. I am not a hundred percent certain what I’ll do outwardly, though recently I’ve managed to put myself in positions where I felt a strong sense of socially supportive feedback for this aspect of who I am. Actually, my lover and roommate is supportive to the point that it often becomes the afterthought I always wished it to be, up to a point.

So I get why someone would change their name (auditory social feedback loop), or their voice (somewhat more kineasthetic, mostly auditory social and personal feedback loop), or alter how they look (visual social and personal feedback loops). I’ve started the ball rolling to have a truly world class surgeon provide me with the restorative operation. There’s been some cool advances, in all the relevant surgeries, that I think bring treatment up to a really high standard. Here’s where most people that do it say they feel “whole” for the first time ever (pretty important kineasthetic highly personal feedback loops).

My request to all my friends: From this point forward, please refer to me using female pronouns. Please accept me and think of me as a woman. Thanks. You’ll be thinking of me in a way that’s congruent with how I’ve wanted to be since my earliest earliest memories in life. My sincere hope is that this involves only the tiniest shift and that in the 98% of any interaction you’ll have with me where it’s not an issue, it will not be an issue. In the small percentage of the time where it does matter, I appreciate your understanding and acceptance.

But I was rapidly getting caught in traps!  As I said above, I felt gradually marginalized by my girlfriend, and I couldn’t find a way to consistently fit in as a really feminine person (if not a woman) in a way that I and everyone else knew how to relate with.  The other transgendered people I met online were about as rigid in their gender role as any traditional roles ever made me feel.

And no one around me really offered me anything in terms of feedback to help me perceive and understand and accept this sense of femininity that is so important to me.  (And, as I said, I had not clearly articulated my need for this either)

So I went down the road of altering my intentions.  I changed my name.  I started changing my voice.  I started studying mannerisms and such and practicing all kinds of things to try and elicit the social feedback I wanted.  In other words, I abandoned my initial free and open feeling and tried to adopt myself to all the contingencies and difficulties and practicalities of living in the social world.

Only recently have I taken a step back from all of this.  A new friend of mine is helping me to see and understand my inner womanhood, and feel confident in being feminine.  She’s also shared some very personal experiences of hers that have helped me see that I can carry out my intentions, perhaps, without being so dependent on altering my body with technology that, in this day and age, is far from great.

I also had to realize that I cannot put any pressure on other people that i don’t want them to put on me.  I mean, really, if I can’t be cool with other people calling me he/she/whatever then how can I expect other people to be cool with my own preferences?

The other step that made my life a lot easier was the thought that my experience is just different from “normal” men’s or women’s experiences.  The cool thing about the Native Americans is that they had a space for trannys (called us “two-spirits) where it was acknowledged that we have something different from what is usual, and that’s okay.

From that step of acceptance, I can also see that maybe I’m not all that different from other people, fundamentally.  When I cut to the chase, I just want to express myself spontaneously, authentically, and honestly.  On a simple level, I believe lots of people are dying to step out of their rigidly defined roles.

And maybe, as I thought on that night in the shrine on Kite Mountain, my own journey can give some clues to other people about how they can be freer.

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