If I have failed to convey that my life journey has been about finding a place where I belong, then I have managed to gloss over a large part of that which defines who I am.   My adult life has been built around teaching, which to me is about helping others find a place where they belong, where they are valued.  I’ve spent most of my life being told I should go away because I didn’t fit in, that if I had any value, it lay elsewhere.  Or at least that’s the impression I received.  As a kid.  As a hippie, As a Christian. As a PFLAG parent. As an LGBT person. As a lesbian. As a transgender person.  As a human being.

The next several chapters, starting with this one are going to relate my efforts to ameliorate those feelings, to open a few doors for myself, and by extension for other transgender people…to build some needed empathy.  It is what I do.  It is who I am.

Central to much of my teaching philosophy is the following concept:

Learning is not a race.  It’s not a contest between two individuals.  Students who are competing against each other…or against their teacher…for grades are missing the point of education.

As a student my task, as I understand it now…and maybe then as well…was to compete with myself to learn more.  And better.  To push back the boundaries of my own ignorance.  And to try to remember that we each possess so much ignorance that even when everyone is striving to push back those boundaries, we will rarely all be pushing in the same direction.

As a teacher it has been my job to encourage students to push back those boundaries, to try to grab a small amount of attention in a small amount of time to all try to push in as close to the same direction as we possibly can.  As a teacher, I have striven never to be the foe of my students, but rather their teammate in the cooperative venture we have joined in.  As a teacher my foe has been willful ignorance, the choice to not know what could be learned.

About the only thing that causes me more pain than willful ignorance is people who use their knowledge for immoral/self-serving purposes.  Thus I spend a major portion of my life in pain.

Maybe that’s one of the Lessons, we are supposed to learn.  Or maybe it’s just a lesson I am supposed to learn.  How would I know what anyone else is supposed to learn about life?  We’re born, we eat, we excrete, maybe reproduce, and then we die.  And along the way we/re allowed to learn things.  Maybe we’re even required to do so.  How would I know?  But learning can’t be a bad thing, as I see it.

Maybe that’s another Lesson:  I shouldn’t judge anyone by my standards except myself.  They have their own standards to live up to.  And I shouldn’t try to live up to anyone else’s standards at the expense of sacrificing my own.  Been there, done that.  For too many years.

Of course, there have to be some common standards in order to have a somewhat orderly society.  There are, after all, those people who intentionally use knowledge to harm others.  One of the lessons I learned was that I have to speak up when that happens…even when it would be much easier to walk away.  I fail as a human being if I don’t, at the very least, speak up.  

Willful ignorance is tougher.  In the face of ignorance, every instinct tells me to first learn and then teach.  That’s what being a teacher is.  But isn’t trying to teach someone who refuses to learn doing damage to that person?  And first do no harm?  It’s tough trying to measure the damage done to the individual who intentionally chooses to remain ignorant versus the damage that might be done to the rest of us by not challenging that choice.

I mean, who am I to make such a decision?  I’m just a teacher…

…and a human being.

Flicker of Hope

Choice of Methods


we speak up

or more

challenge the darkness

force it away

manhandle it

back to its origin

Or we can

light a candle

hold it high

for those

who wish to see

and hold it long

in the hopes

it will be noticed


by those who don’t

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–April 25, 2008

Once upon a time, in a land far away, I participated in a writer’s workshop at a Women’s Project Retreat.  A large part of my reason for being there was the attempt to become an accepted member of the Arkansas women’s community.  Many of the attendees originally wished I were not there.

Art Link

Up on the Roof

Rain on the Roof

The sound

of rain on the roof

reminded her

that she needed to hurry.

It wouldn’t do

to be stuck

out here alone

in the storm.

She remembered

the days of isolation…

of deprivation…

of loneliness…

those days

when the roof would leak

and the fire wouldn’t

put out enough heat

to warm

even her hands…

those days

when turning

to her neighbors

was not possible

because they universally

detested her difference.

Now they voiced

acceptance of her

and would let her visit

when the storms came.

But they still

didn’t understand

who she was

or what it meant

to be her.

They would open

their doors

during a storm,

but they still

wouldn’t help fix

the damn roof.

She was still different.

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–March, 1998.

Once upon a time Debbie asked me to tell her when were the happy times in my life.  Was I ever happy?

I told ther that I spend most of my time happy, in my understanding of the word, because I continue to hold out hope that the world will get better and that I have tried to do what I can to help in that process.  But I also told her that I get disappointed a lot about the fact that the happiness I have felt has seemed to end up misplaced.

That brings me sadness and I don’t like being sad.  In the past I have looked for what I can change to eliminate that sadness.  What can I do to regain that happiness, even if it has a false face?

Admitting to myself that what I have been doing has failed, that it hasn’t resulted in what I have desired, even if it is valued by others, is the usual first step.

I don’t like being a failure at what I endeavor, but an honest evaluation of my life would display that I have consistently been one.  

Once I wrote about that feeling of being a failure, In a column I was writing which I called Cafe Discovery, which has since become defunct.


From 1340, “lucky,” from hap “chance, fortune” (see haphazard), sense of “very glad” first recorded c.1390. Happy replaced the O.E. eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. O.E. bliþe “happy” survives as blithe. From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.”  Welsh is the exception, where the word used first meant “wise.”

Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happiness is first recorded 1530. Happy hour “early evening period of discount drinks and free hors-d’oeuvres at a bar” is first recorded 1961. Happy-go-lucky is from 1672. Happy as a clam (1636) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten.

Happy clams are aparently clams which aren’t consumed.  I rather think I’d be happier if what I shared was consumed.  Lately I’m feeling neither lucky, nor particularly wise.


O.E. sæd “sated,” from P.Gmc. sathaz (cf. O.N. saþr, M.Du. sat, Du. zad, O.H.G. sat, Ger. satt, Goth. saþs “satiated”), from PIE seto- (cf. Latin satis “enough, sufficient,” O.C.S. sytu, Lith. sotus, O.Ir. saith “satiety”), from base *sa- “satisfied” (cf. Sanskrit, a-sinvan “insatiable”).

Sense development seems to have passed through a meaning “heavy,” and “weary, tired of” before emerging c.1300 as “unhappy.” An alternate course would be through “steadfast, firm,” and “serious” to “grave.” In the main modern sense, it replaced O.E. unrot, negative of rot “cheerful, glad.”

Slang sense of “inferior, pathetic” is from 1899; sad sack is 1920s, popularized by World War II armed forces (specifically by cartoon character invented by Sgt. George Baker, 1942, and published in U.S. Armed Forces magazine “Yank”), probably a euphemistic shortening of common military slang phrase sad sack of shit. The verb sadden “to make sorrowful” is from 1600; earlier form was sade, from O.E. sadian.

I should be satisfied, but I seem not to be.  Here I’ve been given space on the front page and all.  But I feel like the purloined letter, hiding in plain sight.

I don’t know, Sparks. But I guess I’d say if it is just us…seems like an awful waste of space.

I have thought I was being steadfast and firm, but wonder if I’ve just been spending my time being pathetic, an inferior, vaguely human lifeform, easily dismissed via use of the phrase “single issue.”  I’ve rather thought in the past that it was sort of a canary in a coal mine deal:  this sort of denial of rights and discriminatory treatment could happen to you.

My mistake lately is pointing this out to some of you while it actually was happening.  I was sort of interpreting it as a solidarity thing:  welcome to the ranks of second- and third-class citizenry.  I was hoping to generate some empathy.  Clearly that failed.

So I wrote about diversity and empathy and clearly that was just single issue stuff as well, not worth the time and effort to read.  I understand.  People have more important things to do.

All of which makes me wonder what I am doing here taking up that space and wasting whatever value it has.  And I wonder if the time and effort spend to produce what I do for this place shouldn’t be better spent performing other tasks, since much of what I say seems to remain mostly misunderstood anyway.  Is it worth the constant emotional investment I have to make to provide these pieces?

I guess that’s something I need to figure out.  Sometimes I have to acknowledge that I’m the one who is out of tune and let other play on without my discordant notes.  And sometimes it seems the only way to avoid the discordant notes is to play the part of The Fool, the amusing lunatic kept around for entertainment purposes.

From wikipedia:

The Fool is the spirit in search of experience.  He represents the mystical cleverness bereft of reason within us, the childlike ability to tune into the inner workings of the world.  The sun shining behind him represents the divine nature of the Fool’s wisdom and exuberence.  On his back are all the possessions he might need.  In his hand there is a flower, showing his appreciation of beauty.  He is frequently accompanied by a dog, sometimes seen as his animal desires, sometimes as the call of the “real world”, nipping at his heels and distracting him.  He is seemingly unconcerned that he is standing on a precipice, apparently about to leap, engaged in the supremest act of idiocy or trust.

The number 0 is a perfect significator for the Fool, which can become anything when he reaches his destination.  Zero plus anything equals the same thing.  Zero times anything equals zero.   Zero is nothing, a lack of hard substance, and as such it may reflect a non-issue or lack of cohesiveness for the subject at hand.

That’s not how I wish to be remembered.

A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.

–Chuckles the Clown

I grab a line fron NL’s piece this morning (Durga pierces the heart, a quote from China Galland:

I want to write about what is beautiful, about how wisdom – the principle of enlightenment – is within each one of us, about how it is unavoidable.

Doubt has arisen about whether I can do that here.  I have been trying.  But I feel like I have been failing.

So many are busy with so many other, much more important things.  For my own happiness, and probably theirs, perhaps I need to stop being a distraction.

1 comment

    • Robyn on January 17, 2015 at 00:07

    …to belong.

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