As a polyamorous transsexual vegan, I’m quite accustomed to stirring peoples’ fears and discomfort, as who I am and how I live my life tends to unintentionally challenge other people’s structures of security and comfort. So it is not at all surprising that my recent leap from the ivory tower into the great unknown has triggered the loving concern of some of the pragmatists in my life. This is my grateful response.
Thank you so much for your concern and your caring investment in my well-being, but I am really not worried. Though I think I should probably feel more anxious given the current uncertainty about my livelihood, I feel instead only light and free and joyful that my arms are finally empty so I am ready to receive and available to serve.
It is not the first time I’ve started over in life. When Angie and I moved to Colorado in 2010, we didn’t know anyone here and neither of us had jobs—we were just following a calling. And I would not be the person I am today if a former self and life did not completely die. That’s really the essence of what it means to be a transsexual. The defining characteristic of the path is not even about gender, it is really about authenticity and transformation and loss, unconditionally letting go of a life that is not your best truest life in the trusting hope that a better life awaits. Though there have been real losses for sure, it is a path I have never truly regretted.
The shamanic path, which I have been explicitly travelling since 2009, is also the path of death and rebirth, the Phoenix path. Though it may look daunting from the outside, and can be very intense going through it, you are always reborn as something greater so the rewards are pretty tremendous. It is a form of alchemy—turning something challenging into gold, learning to heal yourself so that you can heal others.
At this time last year, I was also embarking on a giant risk. In preparation for our performance at a massive LGBT choir festival, Phoenix members decided that they wanted to be known as the trans chorus that does our own material. So, with 6 weeks to rehearse, we wrote and fervently practiced 3 totally new songs—a path that was completely ill-advised as a brand new chorus in such a high profile venue. My touchstone during this time was a postcard I placed in my bathroom: “Sometimes you just have to leap and build your wings on the way down.” Though it was still unclear right through our final rehearsal whether it would all come together or not, it really could not have gone any better. By any measure, our performance (at Buell Theater in front of 2500 people!) was a smashing success, a risk I’m very happy that we decided to take.
So here I am again, leaping and building my wings on the way down…
Recently I spent time at a DIY queer anarchist punk music festival in Denver called Compost Heap that one of my former students co-organized, and compost heap is a great metaphor for my life right now. Things that have passed their time are dying and fermenting and about to become fertilizer for whatever’s next.
Compost heap is a great metaphor for our collective transformation as well, as our societal structures that have outlived their purpose are crumbling to make space for new structures that can better take care of our well-being. And the gift of a society that is crumbling is that there are lots of cracks and crevices in a structure that is breaking apart—spaces to help facilitate the transformation and also spaces to thrive. I’ve spent most of my adult life having to try to fit myself into a world that has never suited me, but now that that world is losing hegemony, I don’t have to waste my energy trying to break in on its terms. Instead I can lead people away from that dangerous crumbling structure and we can create something different on our own terms.
There are a lot of unmet needs and stress in a society that is crumbling—I learned that well in doing research in South Africa just as apartheid was officially ending—so, as someone looking to be of service, there are multitudes of opportunities currently. And I think my success will lie not in clever self-marketing, but in simply speaking directly to those unmet needs and offering spaces of refuge for people to land and tools to help make the most of the opportunities at hand.
I have been giving my best energy, best ideas, best talents to a toxic and dysfunctional institution who—like all of capitalism—would’ve been very happy to consume my best until I was too wore out to continue. So getting out is the crucial first step and I got out with my heart and soul and integrity intact which is a major victory!
Though I have dearly loved my career as a college professor, and it is hard to imagine doing something more meaningful and more in alignment with my life mission, I have a strong sense that my true greatness is only starting to emerge and, as my courage to unleash my power and boldness increases, I feel excited to see where it will take me.
I’m open to being surprised. After my recent keynote on toxic masculinities at a domestic violence symposium, I was approached by someone in the military who was interested in hiring me to do gender trainings in the military! Definitely not something I would have imagined for myself or sought after! So I am approaching this transition with a beginner’s mind, excited to see what steps forward from within me as well as from the external world.
I recently attended a friend’s choir concert which was held in a new location and it reminded me that if you want to expand, sometimes you have to change your venue…
“In the morning, in the rise up, there’s a bridge from all that’s been
In the dawning, the vines are pushing through the pavement
We were born of burning hearts, we are tearing off the reigns
From the ground up, we will build it. From the clouds above we’ll rain it
From the crowd up we will raise it. From the ground up…” –Ayla Nereo