Social Momentum and the Paradigm Shift, or, “He… dammit, I mean SHE..."

Submitted by Chris Mills on February 3, 2013 - 10:36pm

"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." - Socrates

(Please bear with me during the following rather lengthy preamble to this blog post, which at first glance may not seem like it has a whole lot to do with community. I promise I will connect the dots…)

Okay, here’s one of the top five worst kept secrets on the planet: some time ago (er, on a cosmic timescale, anyway) I transitioned genders. Male to female, in case you’re wondering. (The semantics get a little tricky here. In a very real sense I didn’t actually “switch” genders; rather, I simply began living externally as the gender I already felt I was internally, if that makes any sense.)


My gender identity was never really a secret, as such. Nevertheless, following the founding of Transition Guelph—a process in which I played a pretty significant part—I did return for a time to living as a male. About two years, in fact. (And yeah, it sucked, if you’re wondering.) Still, I do stand by my decision since, during the “ramp-up” phase of Transition Guelph I was involved in doing a lot of promotion and outreach into the community and speaking before a very diverse audience - from business people to city coucil to other social change organizations to the general public - in order to give it a good start in life, as it were. It was important to me that I not distract people from our organization’s core message and purpose, nor confuse them about it. (And sheesh, it didn’t help matters that “transition” has specific and very different meanings in both the Transition movement and in the gender community, nor would it lessen any confusion to point out that “Transition Guelph” and “transgender” both share the common abbreviation “TG”. Sigh. But I digress.)

I suppose I should be thankful for the overall timing of these events. Today, such a retreat to my previously-abandoned gender would no longer be possible, so I guess it's all good that Transition Guelph happened when it did.

Now, to give a lot of credit where a lot of credit is due, I have to say that virtually without exception, my friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues, both within and without the Transition movement have been enormously supportive, accepting and encouraging to me in my journey across the gender divide. For this I am enormously grateful. My great good fortune in living in such a great city, and having such wonderful friends and relatives, is assuredly not lost on me.

Still, old habits really do die hard, apparently. Even now, it’s far from uncommon for one of my lovely, supportive, accepting friends to refer to me as “he.” Most of the time, they realize it immediately and correct themselves, and (God bless ‘em, the sweethearts!) usually blush in embarrassment and offer me a profuse apology, particularly if they happen to make the slip in public.

Interestingly, it’s usually my oldest friends who have the most trouble in this area. Interesting, but not unexpected, I guess. They would have the greatest amount of inertia to overcome, despite the fact that most of them also knew I was transgendered anyway, from the get-go. Generally speaking, my more recent friends, even those whom I met during my temporary stint as a male-type person, were almost invariably able to make the switch to the feminine pronoun painlessly and without visible effort, and in general to treat me as female.

When someone close to you changes something so fundamental and basic to their identity as their gender, it’s a lot to absorb. Believe me, I am not oblivious to the mind-fuck potential of something like that. (Hell, as embarrassing as it is to admit, there’ve been times when even I have slipped up, and said “he” when referring to myself in the third person. Augh!)

So yeah, it is a paradigm shift, big-time. Succumbing to the habit of using a no-longer-appropriate pronoun or gender designation can be thought of as the result of a kind of “social momentum.” And if a paradigm shift is to take hold properly, then social momentum is something that needs to be interrupted, so that the change can happen. You need to hit the Reset button.

Dot-Connecting Time:

In her work, eco-philosopher and author Joanna Macy often speaks of The Great Turning, a term taken from the title of a book by economist and political activist David Korten. She writes, 

The Great Turning is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.

“The ecological and social crises we face are inflamed by an economic system dependent on accelerating growth. This self-destructing political economy sets its goals and measures its performance in terms of ever-increasing corporate profits—in other words, by how fast materials can be extracted from Earth and turned into consumer products, weapons, and waste.

“A revolution is underway because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now.”

Inspiring words.

                                           Joanna Macy

There are three "dimensions" to The Great Turning, she goes on to say. They are all equally important, non-hierarchical, and mutually reinforcing.

The first she refers to as “Holding Actions.” These are all of the ways in which we can slow down the destructiveness of the industrial growth society, everything from direct action, protests, and sit-ins to letter-writing campaigns, boycotts, petitions, and awareness-raising initiatives, lobbying, or blowing the whistle on illegal and unethical corporate practices. They are vital because they buy us time. But alone, they are not enough.

The second dimension can be thought of as “New Structures”, new Earth-friendly, life-sustaining ways of doing things, ways of holding the land and growing and distributing food, ways of harnessing safe, non-polluting renewable energy, new ways of building, and retrofitting existing structures, new ways of teaching and sharing knowledge, of valuing work and exchanging goods, of being in community, of using and sharing resources, modes of transportation and ways of moving goods, governance, decision-making and conflict resolution. Many of these “new ways” are actually old ways rediscovered, perhaps learned from aboriginal peoples, from prior generations, or from found literature and documents.

There’s Permaculture, biodynamic and biointensive farming, vertical farms, community gardens and CSAs, local farmers markets, watershed restoration, local currencies, barter systems and time-banks, biodiesel and bio-oil from algae, cellulose ethanol, wind, solar, tidal and deep geothermal energy, rammed earth and earth-sheltered structures, straw-bale construction, Earthships, underground greenhouses, communal schools and study circles, maglev trains, jitneys and car-shares, plugin electric vehicles and hybrids, NVC, Sociocracy and Restorative Circles, intentional communities and eco-villages, living systems theory and deep ecology, ecopsychology and the “living simply” movement. The list is almost endless.

But they, too, are not enough.

Because these new ways of living on Earth, ways of living sustainably, of living within the biological limits of our tiny, fragile planet will wither and die, unless they are deeply rooted in the values we hold, and in our sense of place in the global web of life. Perhaps it’s worth reading that sentence again, because it’s pivotal. It’s the central point I’m trying to make here.

The sense of self we have evolved and the values we now hold are destructive, and they will lead us to self-annihilation. We see ourselves as lords of creation, separate from and above the Rule of Nature. We see our planet, it’s oceans and water systems, its air and its ground as limitless garbage heaps into which we can dump the toxic refuse of our industrialized, growth-mad economy without consequence .We see the gifts of the Earth as resources to be consumed without restraint until they’re gone, and without thought for future generations, or for the myriad non-human lives with whom we share the Earth. That way lies ruin.

We’re not separate from nature. We are a part of the living body of Earth, inextricably linked, interdependent and co-evolving. As the Earth flourishes, so we flourish. As the Earth dies, so we die. That’s a completely unbreakable equivalency. We need to learn respect for that crucial and utterly central principle. More than that, we need to internalize it, to make it part of our very essence, make it a fundamental part of how we live with and relate to each other, to the world and to the web of life; and to remake ourselves and our society in its image. Our values must mirror what we want and how we relate to Earth and to each other. They require, in other words, a profound shift in our perception of reality.


And therein lies the paradigm shift. It’s the most important change, and the most fundamental that we must make; and, appropriately perhaps, it’s also the hardest. Because it’s a change we must make within. Nobody can make it for us.

And make no mistake: we need to make it.

So, just as my dear friends will occasionally, despite their best and most loving intentions, still come up with the “h” word from time to time in reference to me, so we all inevitably have our beliefs and basic assumptions rooted in an old system, an old paradigm, and one to which we must now say farewell.

It won’t be easy. But it is necessary. No. Not necessary, crucial. And the sooner we make it, the better our chances.

My wonderful friend Aaron and I are in a rock band together. A cooler guy you could not meet, very talented, and certainly no slouch in the intellect department. But to be honest, he’s had a mittful of trouble flipping that mental switch from, “Hey dude!” to “Hey dudette!” Yet, not long ago, at our last gig in fact, he introduced the audience to “the ladies of the band”, and in that introduction he included me, bless his heart. If he can do it, we all can.

                                         That's me on the left

                                                       That's me on the left

So this is the journey we all must now take, to re-make in our minds and our hearts the fundamental image of our Earth, our Gaia home, and of our true place in her.

It’s happening now. Be a part of it.

(Oh, and should you ever have occasion to refer to me in the third person, I have one tiny request to make...)

Let's transition together...

Hi Chris,

Thanks so much for using your own, personal life and journey as an illustration for a shift in our thinking- how brave of you.

I agree- I think there is a "Great Turning" abrew... and I want to be a part of it!