Greetings Beloved Friends!
I hope you had a wonderful summer. As the new school year begins, I wanted to reach out with an update. As you may know, I am in the midst of a big life transition (stepping away from the university) and so many people have been asking me what I’m doing next, I thought I would just put it all down so I could share it with the people I care about. As a transsexual, of course this is not the first time I’ve started over in life lol—I’m kind of an expert at it. Since it’s something that many people are afraid of (stepping into the unknown), I thought that sharing my journey might be helpful and/or encouraging.
I’d also like to hear about your journey—how you are feeling about the state of the world, what has you excited these days, what’s your #1 goal that you are working on? Because perhaps there is some overlap and we could help each other. In stepping away from the academic world, I’m experiencing a type of graduation that I know many of you are facing or have faced so, even if my own style of reinvention isn’t your thing, at the very least I can sympathize.
I’ve been writing about my professional shapeshifting on my blog (https://sambullington.org/sams-reflections/), but I’ve decided to largely switch format to an email newsletter and I’m wondering, first of all, if you’d like to receive my newsletter. If so, just shoot me your best email address (I’m at Sam.Bullington@colorado.edu) and I’ll add you to my list. It would entail hearing from me about once a month—and perhaps hearing how I’m remaking my life might inspire you to make yours more in your own image! Given the challenges that we are facing collectively, there’s never been a better time to bring forth your best into the world and chase your dreams because we might not get another chance. The world needs your unique gifts!
As a transgender person, I’m not exactly a “one thing” kind of person, so the first thing you should know is that I’m not just replacing college professor with the next thing. I am cultivating multiple streams of livelihood and I’m not actually stepping away from being a college professor—I’m just taking my teaching beyond the confines of the university. With the cultural shifts that have come with the election, I feel called to a broader platform—and to seize the opportunities of this historical time of cultural awakening and unrest.
Most similar to what I’ve been doing, I do plan to offer some online courses. Though you won’t receive CU credit for such courses, they could be a perfect way to stay connected to the ideas and materials you may have been (or wanted to be) exposed to in college—without having to apply to CU (or pay the hefty tuition!). I will be offering stand-alone single classes on particular themes, like sexuality, as well as more extended semester-long explorations.
As many of you know, since the election, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, speaking about and leading workshops on unlearning racism, toxic masculinity, and decolonizing teaching in particular. So, if your conference or event is looking for a keynote speaker, or your organization or workplace is in need of some kind of training around issues involving gender, sexuality, race, class or social justice, I hope that you will think of me. Those of you who have taken classes with me know that my approach is a non-shaming we’re-all-in-this-together one.
Stepping away from the university has also allowed me time and space to finally make significant headway on my book, Transgender Wisdom: What I’ve Learned about Gender and Life from Living in the Grey Areas. I plan to be wrapping that up over the next couple months and will let you know where and how it will be available. In the meantime, here’s a preview: Chapter One: Introduction—My Phoenix Journey/Living Between Worlds, Chapter Two: Nobody Wins at the Gender Game, Chapter Three: Time to Evolve, Chapter Four: Evolution Means Change, and Chapter Five: Trans People are Here to be Teachers and Leaders.
While being a college professor has been a source of tremendous joy and satisfaction, and has allowed me to wear many hats under that job description, because it is so absorbing it hasn’t left me the time and space to pursue other passions that I have. One of the things about living in a society that is dying and breaking apart—which I learned well from my time in South Africa just as the apartheid regime was ending—is that there are a lot of unmet needs. So I am multiplying my offerings in an attempt to meet some of those needs and I wanted to let you know because maybe you, or someone you know, might be looking for what I have to offer.
You may have heard me in class or elsewhere refer to my shamanic training in Michigan—in indigenous communities, on this continent and elsewhere, people like me have long been healers and counselors, as bridges between the everyday human world and the spiritual world, and as confidants whose breadth of experience (from having lived as multiple genders) can offer uniquely helpful perspectives on common human dilemmas.
My shamanic counseling practice is unlike traditional psychotherapy. There is no diagnosing or pathologizing or strict protocol in shamanic counseling. Rather than my being an “expert,” the purpose of sessions is to create a safe container for your own natural wisdom and deepest heart’s desires to come forward, speak, and blossom. We each have our own natural navigational system, our own inner compass, and I help people learn to be increasingly guided by this inner wisdom.
The main reason why people seek counseling is that our ordinary identity and habitual ways of thinking and perceiving just aren’t working. An alternate point of view is needed and the tools of shamanic counseling provide access to a new or refreshing point of view. This change of consciousness—or paradigm shift—is often all that is needed for profound healing.
Shamanic counseling is especially effective in dealing with major life transitions—processes of death and rebirth that we experience when we go through a big change, such as graduation or coming out. As a trans person myself, my counseling practice is ideal for anyone in the process of questioning or exploring their own gender. And as a polyamorous person in a successful 11-year polyamorous marriage, I am the ideal person to turn to for anyone grappling with the challenges and joys of polyamory. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it very frustrating to be seeing a therapist around relationship issues only to have them tell me the REAL problem is that I just shouldn’t be polyamorous!
I am even an ordained minister (in the metaphysical, not Christian tradition) and have performed marriage rituals, so if you know of someone looking for a wedding officiant for a non-traditional union/ceremony, I might be the one they are looking for! In fact, my partner just teamed up with Katie Woodzick for A Gender Queer Cabaret at the recent Boulder Fringe Festival and they are talking about booking some wedding gigs together, so where else could you get a whole gender queer wedding package deal!
Another aspect of my shamanic training is that I lead vision quests. If you, or someone you know, have ever considered doing one—basically spending 2 sacred days out in the wilderness to receive greater clarity about your purpose in life—let’s talk. It’s a very powerful experience!
My most unusual offering is my most recent: professional cuddling! Yes, it’s a thing! Since the election, many folks are feeling freaked out, unsafe, ungrounded—not to mention that our work lives are so consuming it can be hard to find time for a relationship—so increasingly people are looking for experienced cuddlers from whom they can receive healing, non-sexual touch. Cuddle parties and speed cuddling events have been popping up all over the country and, once it really catches on (right now there are only a handful of other folks offering such services in Denver and Boulder), I plan to offer my own “cuddle curriculum” for folks who are interested in pursuing this innovative new field.
One of the things that most excites me about my various offerings beyond the university is that I’m not planning to compete with a bunch of other folks—I’m simply offering things that, for the most part, are not being offered elsewhere. Therefore, if you are a healer or therapist yourself, or are close to one, feel free to pass on my information to folks you think might be able to benefit from my specialized services. While some of my services, such as the professional cuddling, need to happen in person, most of my offerings can be accessed remotely for those not located in Colorado.
All of my offerings are on a sliding scale basis (generally $30-$120), as I want my services to be accessible for everyone, regardless of income level. If there are financial concerns, let’s talk—I’m sure we can figure out an amount and/or payment plan that would be affordable. Do you have skills or resources that you’d perhaps like to barter rather than exchanging traditional payment for services? Let’s talk! We are moving into a world beyond capitalism—let’s explore it and create new options together.
How I prefer to do payment, for folks who are willing, is for payment to be part of the intuitive work. I simply lead a guided meditation at the end of sessions or workshops, allowing people’s intuition to choose the amount, which I’ve found always seems to reflect the highest good of everyone involved. For unusual offerings, like professional cuddling or shamanic counseling, I’m happy to offer introductory sessions for $15 so folks can see whether they like it. Overall, my services are designed to help people to be more present—and what area of life couldn’t be improved simply by being more present!
Many of you have heard my critiques of higher education—the dehumanizing environment and the ways that standardized teaching and so much pressure to perform have unnecessarily robbed students of the joy and satisfaction of learning (here’s a short piece I wrote for an online journal, for those of you who have never taken a class with me: http://betweencoasts.org/life-standardized/). Therefore, I want you to know that, for a while now, I’ve considered starting my own university. While I won’t be in the place to accept students anytime soon (it’s a big project!), there is a group of us who are passionate about this undertaking and have been meeting to make plans. No grades, no tuition, no gatekeeping, no bullshit—just bringing together those who want to learn and those who want to teach (possibly in a new progressive community gathering place that I’m helping a friend to create). Stay tuned for further details!
Finally, many of you know that a couple years ago I started a trans chorus in Colorado (check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/coloradotranschoir/) . Phoenix meets on Tuesday nights from 7-8:30pm in Broomfield (3078 W 134th Place) and, if you live in the Front Range, we’d love to have you join us! Before you counter “but I’m not a singer,”—singing is just part of human expression and anyone can do it. We are a non-audition, low-pressure community chorus that sings largely at community events themed around social justice. You don’t have to be trans to sing with Phoenix—we welcome partners and parents, friends and allies, folks anywhere along the gender spectrum. Not exactly a traditional chorus, Phoenix is more of a safe container in which to explore aspects of yourself and a refuge from a lot of the punishing rules and pretending that we are expected to abide by in the outside world. And though singing is a lot of what we do, it’s not the only thing—we are actually an arts collective and welcome folks who want to share or explore any aspect of creative expression.
And singing is even good for you! And the planet! Research has shown that when people sing together, their hearts actually start beating together. Singing together is an excellent metaphor for our collective liberation—everyone has their own unique contribution, and when we come together and really listen to one another, we can create something really beautiful.
I’ll end by saying don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t have the training or talent to make your dreams come true because I founded and lead this chorus without any of the specialized training that other choir directors have (I actually took a conducting class at CU last fall to learn some of those skills!)—and, as a trans person, singing has been one of my thorniest life challenges! I was empowered to start this chorus in part as a result of singing in a trans chorus in Minneapolis 10 years ago (the second ever trans chorus on the planet, as far as I know!)—but I almost didn’t even join that group because I felt so paralyzed with fear about singing in public. Although I have been actively working on this fear for a decade, standing up in front of my choir (especially as an introvert) still makes me feel like I’m going to pass out from time to time! So, if you feel the passion to offer something, don’t tell yourself that you can’t do it. Anything is possible.
My real impetus for founding Phoenix was because it needed to exist and nobody else was doing it. In 2012 I attended the huge global LGBT choir festival called GALA that happens every 4 years, and there was zero trans representation! I was so heartbroken and outraged that I vowed that in 2016 it would not happen again, even if I had to start my own chorus. I mentioned this to my Intro to LGBT Studies class and one of my students—a professional musician herself—took me seriously and Phoenix was born!
Although I have been scrambling every step of the way to honor my commitment to lead this group (especially trying to fit it in to my already overburdened schedule as a college professor!), it has been a tremendous learning experience and, despite the stress, has become a huge source of joy, pride, community, and empowerment. So what gaps do you see that need to be filled and what can you offer towards that end? If you have the gifts and talent to do so, definitely go for it! But even if you don’t, if you have the willingness to learn as you go along, I’d encourage you to still consider it.
Well, now that you’ve heard what I’m up to, I hope that at least some part of you is feeling inspired to contemplate what is possible for you. I had my first mid-life crisis when I graduated from college and simply didn’t see my path among the options that were presented to me. Sometimes our path is not there because we are meant to create it—just as I’ve had to create my own gender, since the limited choices being offered simply didn’t suit me.
If you live in the Front Range, I have an upcoming workshop that might help. It is themed around the Fall Equinox and here is the description:
Has your world recently turned upside down? Has a steady part of your life that you have counted on recently been destabilized in a dramatic fashion? Are you feeling resistance to taking a next step that’s been calling to you, choosing familiarity over growth? If rapid transformation is occurring in your world due to forces that seem to be beyond your control, come learn how to engage more proactively with change in ways that affirm rather than undermine your trust in the process of life.
The workshop will be on Thurs evening, Sept 21 (the night before the Equinox) from 7-9pm at 3078 W. 134th Place, Broomfield CO 80020 and will be a donation-based offering.
So I’m wondering if you might know anyone who could benefit from any of the services that I’m offering? The very best way you can support me in this grand reinvention, if you are so inclined, is simply by helping connect me with those who are looking for what I have to share. You can always direct people to (or find out more about my offerings at) my website: sambullington.org.
And I’d love to support you as well! Shoot me an email and let me know what you’re up to, what challenges you are facing, and I’ll do my best to connect you to resources that might help. We’re all in this together!
If you’d like to continue hearing about my journey, don’t forget to send me your best email and permission to add you to my newsletter list. And if you ever get tired of hearing from me, just let me know that too—I won’t be offended.
Enjoy the turn to fall and I hope to hear from you soon! 😊
Oh, one more request: To have a way to make some money as needed as I’m getting up other things, I signed up to be a driver for Lyft—it’s perfect for me as you turn on the app when you want to be available, turn it off when you don’t, and during the one week I tried it more or less “full time,” I made about $1000, which frankly is more than I was making teaching for a lot less hours! Those of you who are Lyft riders (anywhere in the country), as well as those of you who have considered signing on to be a driver yourself, if you enter my referral code (SAM13929), apparently I get free money for doing nothing (and who couldn’t use more of that!), so thanks for thinking of me!