Role Models

The question of what male role models we looked up to growing up and now as we’re transitioning showed up on one of my message boards recently and it really got me thinking.  Currently, I don’t think I really have any role models of any gender.  I look around my life and it’s not that I don’t admire certain traits of some people I know, but I can’t point to any one person and say, “I want to be like them.”  But if I think back to childhood and my teenage years I definitely had some role models.  In fact, what I find disturbing about this whole question for myself is that I didn’t just look up to some of those people, I got obsessed with them and tried to be like them as much as possible.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I was going through a complete identity crisis and had no idea who I was or I was disassociating from who I was by trying to be someone else.  I often confused some of these obsessions with crushes and thought that my fascination with them was sexual in nature when it wasn’t at all.  When given the opportunity to have sex with one of my “crushes” I quickly said no thank you.  He was confused why I would not want to have sex since he knew I had crushed on him for several years.  I was confused too.

But the thing I know now is that I didn’t want to be with them sexually.  I wanted to BE them.  Or at least be LIKE them.  I wanted to look like them and act like them and have other people treat me like they were treated.  Most of my crushes were on male pop stars of my youth.  I’m ashamed to name them because it would show everyone what a sap I was back then.  But, I’ll be brave and name a few here.  First there was Joe Namath of the New York Jets.  Sonny of Sonny and Cher.  The Captain from Captain and Tennille.  Shaun Cassidy.  David Cassidy.  My trumpet teacher from college.  The tuba teacher in college (different college).  A couple boys who played trumpet in music groups I was involved with.  All of these guys/men made an impact on me in some way.  When I was obsessing about them I would become them and in my fantasy world I WAS them.  I can look at some of my school pictures and tell you what celebrity or real life person I was obsessing about at that time.  Ninth grade picture, I’m in a navy blue turtle neck.  If I had been able to wear a captain’s cap and round sun glasses I would have.  Tenth grade I had grown out my hair and was trying to pull off the David Cassidy look.  Eleventh I was channeling one of the boys in the band and then, as some of you may remember, in 12th grade I had turned into a man with a mustache.  Haha, kidding, but my senior picture got replaced with a picture of a dude in the yearbook.  Senior pictures for girls at my school entailed stripping down to your bra and trying to keep this velvet drape thingy over your shoulders to look like you were wearing an evening gown.  Somehow I pulled it off and it wasn’t too bad.  Then in freshman year of college I was crushing on the tuba teacher who wore Frye boots and suddenly I wanted Frye boots really badly.  Sophomore year I was doing my hair like my trumpet teacher wore his and dressing like him.

Where was I in all of this?  Hiding, I guess.

There was a war going on inside me that I wasn’t even aware of.  My fantasy world was rich with all these characters I was playing in my head.  Male role models?  Umm…my uncles?  My dad that I didn’t even know?  I don’t know.  Before, when I thought I was female I would tell you that Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart were my role models.  Well, I looked up to them at least and I still do.  I could do a lot worse than to have them as my role models.  There are men I admire, of course, at least in some regards.  Hemingway, Teddy Roosevelt, Gene Kelly, John F. Kennedy.  In real life, I had a couple neighbors who were Navy men and I admire both of them very much.  One of them passed away a while back and his funeral moved me in a way that funerals never have before or since.  I’ve never seen so many grown men kneel down by a casket in Arlington cemetery (or any cemetery) and weep the way his friends did at the end of his funeral.  It chokes me up to recall it in my memory.  The Eulogy his best friend gave before the burial is something that Candace and I still talk about to this day.  It was moving beyond anything you’ve ever seen in a movie or on TV.  I left his funeral feeling like a changed person.  The other neighbor battled cancer at a very young age and it nearly killed him.  Somehow he has survived and thrived through it.  I saw family and friends from all over, including myself, come to his and his family’s aid during this trying time.  To make things worse, his wife had just given birth to twins when he got his diagnosis.  I’m happy to report that they are all doing great now and the twins are in 7th grade.  What’s extraordinary about him is not just the amount of respect and love that was poured on him and his family at that time, but also the strength and determination he showed to be here for his family today.  It was a bad time, but he always kept a light spirit and gratitude for the generosity he was receiving from others.  He’s a very humble man, yet he’s a Navy commander and is deeply respected by his peers and friends alike.  I respect both of these men tremendously.  If I have to pick male role models it would be both of them.  They are the kind of man I want to be.  And I don’t want to BE them.  Professionally, I look to several people who shaped me as a young musician and the joy and love of music that they infectiously shared with me.  They’re my role models too.

I can’t point to one single person as my “role model”.  Instead, I take the best of these people and try to integrate their morality, ethics, work ethic, value systems into my own and use that to upgrade what I already have.  People we’re attracted to are like mirrors of ourselves.  What we admire in them is already within us.  They’re simply here to show us how we could be better than we currently are.  No one person is perfect.  I admire Teddy Roosevelt for his determination, curious nature, and spirit with which he lived his life.  Benjamin Franklin is another man I admire for all of the amazing things he was able to accomplish in his lifetime.  A wiser man I couldn’t ever hope to find.  Hemingway I think of as a man’s man and ultra masculine in an old fashioned sense.  Many don’t like him for the same reasons I find him interesting.  That’s ok.  JFK, well, his handsome, youthful idealism is still intriguing to much of the population.  We all hunger for a leader like JFK again.  I’m nothing like him, but I still admire him and once upon a time I was a little bit like him.  Maybe.  Maybe in my fantasies at least.

Today, it’s scary to pick a role model or “hero” to follow.  We live in such a transparent world that someone can be a hero one day and a chump (or convict) the next.  Anybody here used to look up to OJ Simpson or Tiger Woods?  Nope, me neither.  But a lot of people did.  I used to really like Pete Rose.  Now he’s a chump.  Even a lot of my real life “heroes” have fallen off their white horse after I got to know them better.  Bill Cosby used to make me laugh and I thought he was a great guy.  Wrong!  I guess it’s best just to take the best parts of people and work with that and don’t look for one person to fill the shoes of hero in your life.  Be your own hero.  And remember that even heroes have flaws so don’t get too hard on yourself for not measuring up to your fantasy of someone else.

Brother Follow Up and Other Randoms

I finally was able to bring my brother home this past Saturday evening.  They had kept him about a week past when we thought he’d go home to observe some other, new issues he was having.  I had to put my big boy panties on and get pretty butch with them because they wanted to hold him over the weekend once again to get a sonogram on Monday, which had already been put off since Friday.  We agreed he could go home and get the sonogram done at his home hospital.  While they were “observing” him I had stayed away to try and catch up on my own life and get some work caught up.  When I arrived on Saturday I was surprised to see on his chart that they had me listed as his brother.  Feeling emboldened by my desire to get him out of there I embraced the idea of being his brother and introduced myself to his nurse that way.  I was in total male mode while I talked to her calmly yet sternly about the situation and somehow it worked.  I would not have suggested they let him go if I thought for a second that it wasn’t in his best interest.  He had sat around that place for an entire week while they ran blood tests and checked his vitals.  Enough was enough.

Since then, the hospital has called me a couple of times looking for him and I have told them I’m his brother and redirected them to his phone line.  I was definitely feeling pretty proud of myself for taking good care of him and helping to spring him from the hospital like any good brother (or sister) would do.  Pat on the back.  I want to use the word sibling, and maybe I will in the future, but somehow I never can think to say it in the heat of the moment.  I get flustered and mumble brother or sister or he’s my brother.  I need to get a grip on this because this problem is not going to go away on its own.

On another note, I’ve been having some in depth email discussions with an old work friend who I’m still in contact with.  She’s totally cool with me being trans but also curious and asks questions, which I am happy to answer to the best of my ability and based on my experiences.  I talked to her about how it’s really surreal to be seen as male all of a sudden.  It seems like top surgery really bumped me over into the male category in a very sudden way.  It’s kind of freaky and cool at the same time.  It’s taking my brain a little time to catch up with all of it though. I’m totally loving being called Mr. LastName and sir out in public.  There have been a couple younger guys (early 20s?) who have helped me in stores who seem to want to chat with me a little bit about random stuff or comment on my ball cap and that’s pretty cool.  My friend asked me how it felt to be part of a different sect of society now and I honestly don’t feel like I ever was part of any sect before, except maybe the lesbian community for a while and I assured her that I have not been welcomed into the men’s club yet.  Though I have noticed, instead of the lesbian nod that I’m used to, there seems to be a man nod that I get now and then.  Random men will nod at me and sometimes say hey as we’re passing in a store or a parking lot.  Maybe that’s part of the men’s club thing, if there is such a thing.  But, how does it feel to be seen as a man now?  Strange.  Disconcerting.  And yet, also comforting and relaxed at the same time.  Surprisingly, I used to worry that I looked feminine enough and that I might get dirty looks from women for being too masculine, even before starting to transition.  Every sir I got back in those days was a confirmation that I was not pulling off looking and acting like a woman good enough.  Now, I just go through my day being myself and don’t have to worry about passing as female anymore.  I can relax and just accept that people will see me as any other middle aged guy and pay me no mind at all.

I stopped in a grocery store this morning to pick up something I shouldn’t be eating (donuts) and on my way out two elderly ladies were coming in together.  I paused a few seconds to let them through the doors before I proceeded out.  It seemed like the gentlemanly thing to do.  One of the ladies looked at me and smiled and wished me a good morning.  It’s a little thing on both of our parts, but I could tell that she saw a respectful man when she looked at me and that made me feel proud of who I’m becoming.

I used to talk a lot about transition being also a transformation and I certainly still believe that to be true, especially for myself.  I see this as an opportunity to finally be the person I’ve always known I was, not only on the outside, but on the inside as well.  It’s a rare and precious gift to be given this chance at bettering myself and becoming whole in mind, body and spirit.  My mind has some catching up to do with my body and spirit but eventually it will get there.  There have been moments when I’ve felt like I’m splitting apart mentally and that I don’t know who I am anymore.  This has been known to scare the crap right out of me.  But, I think it’s part of the process of breaking out of the old programming and creating a new pattern for myself.  I ask myself sometimes, “who is Shawn and how is he different than Dawn?”  It’s a complicated and paradoxical question to ask oneself.  Technically we are the same person, owning the same soul and spirit, personality, body, history, possessions, talents, skills, knowledge, etc.  The differences are subtle.  Shawn isn’t necessarily a better person than Dawn.  Dawn was a pretty awesome person in her own right and set up a fantastic future for Shawn to traverse.  The difference lies mostly in the fact that Shawn is sure of himself in a way that Dawn was never able to be.  Shawn knows that people really see him.  Dawn was always afraid that people WOULD see her.  Shawn knows who he is.  Dawn was always searching for answers to questions she had never asked herself before.  Yet, Shawn has big shoes to fill in a lot of ways.  He can’t rest on Dawn’s accomplishments and just coast through the rest of this life.  He needs to make his own mark and accomplish his own goals.  This is where it starts to get really fun and interesting to see what he comes up with next.

Oh The Irony

Most people probably don’t give their high school yearbooks much thought, especially 30 years after they graduated.  But my senior yearbook will always haunt me.  There’s a mystery within its pages that I’ll probably never solve and now, all these years later, the mystery takes on a whole new perspective into the ironic.  The mystery?  Well, in place of my senior picture and placed above my name is a picture of a man sporting a tuxedo and a very nice mustache.  Was this merely a mistake?  Who is the man?  Is he even part of our class?  Was this some vengeful act by someone in the yearbook club?  Is it supposed to be funny or mean?

I’ve thought about that picture often over the years.  I’ve blamed the “mistake” on a girl that was on the yearbook committee that I didn’t particularly like.  I think the feeling was mutual.  I remember the day we got our books and the first thing everyone does is look for their own picture.  I couldn’t believe what I saw in place of mine.  I was pissed off to say the least.  I know mistakes happen in yearbooks all the time.  I’ve seen plenty of them.  But this guy wasn’t even, to mine or any of my friends knowledge, anyone who even attended our school.  That makes it feel intentional and mean.  So I’ve wondered for years who disliked me so much to swap my picture out for some strange man.  It’s a mystery.  Of course the girl claims to not have had any knowledge of it and she’s sticking to her story til death do us part I’m sure.

It occurred to me the other day that it’s actually pretty ironic that there’s a dude’s picture in my place in the yearbook now that I’m transitioning.  Who knew?  Now, if they had just changed the name under it too that would’ve been really helpful.  I wasn’t a bad looking guy.

My class has a reunion every five years and I’ve gone to a couple of them.  I was even on the committee that organized one of them.  Since I live nearby I get roped into stuff like that a lot.  I didn’t attend the last one and I don’t know that I’ll ever go to another.  I stay in contact with the people that matter to me from that chapter of my life.  I don’t enjoy the reunions at all and find them stressful and boring.  Now that I’ve transitioned I feel like it would be way over the top stressful for me to go again.  I just can’t see myself walking into my high school reunion as a man or trying to pretend like I’m still a woman.  I guess this is some unresolved shame I’m holding onto, but I just can’t shake it and if I can’t imagine it I probably won’t do it.  People know I changed my name but for some reason I’m really scared to let them actually meet Shawn now.  I have no problem being myself around my real friends but these quasi acquaintances from the past?  I just feel like all they’ll do is judge me.  Isn’t that what reunions are all about anyway?  Plus, I don’t want to be anyone’s science experiment friend.  I can hear it now.  “Hey, this is my transgendered friend, Shawn!  Isn’t she cute as a guy?  She used to be a girl and now she’s a boy.  Cool, huh?”

No thank you!!

Big Brother

I got one of those phone calls we all dread last Thursday morning.  My brother was being rushed to the local hospital because he was having trouble breathing.  What has happened since is a whirlwind of events and emotions.  After a lot of testing and days waiting around it’s finally been determined that he needs a heart valve replacement and a bypass surgery.  For most people, their brother being in the hospital is probably just a blip on the radar and not much more.  For me, it’s a life altering event.  Our parents are both dead and he never married or had any children so I am his closest living relative and contact person in medical emergencies.  So that means that when something happens to him, I am the one they call and ask to make the hard decisions.  Fortunately, for now, he’s capable of making his own decisions, but that can change swiftly and I need to be accessible and involved so I can do what’s best for him.

When I got that call I had a rush of emotions.  I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I was more worried about myself than him at that moment.  I figured his shortness of breath was an anxiety attack and nothing more.  He did have an anxiety attack but there was more.  I was concerned about whether to tell the hospital staff I was his sister or brother.  That was complicated by the fact that he gave them my old name as his contact and we had to correct that with them.  I usually get around saying I’m his sister by simply stating that he is my brother.  Usually that is enough for them to leave me alone but occasionally it doesn’t work out so neatly.  So at that hospital they referred to me as his sister a couple of times but now that he’s been transferred to a big city hospital where they have a cardiac unit I haven’t had to deal with the brother/sister thing since they seem too busy to care much.  Everyone there has addressed me as he/him/sir.

I’m out to my brother but he has not gotten to the point where he’s willing to call me his brother yet.  He may never get there.  People have been telling me I’m a good sister for taking care of him.  Well, I owe him big time.  And he’s my only family.  I don’t feel like a good “sister”.  I do what I do out of obligation.  If I were a good sister/brother I would spend more time with him and be more tolerant of his irritating quirks.  You see, our dad died when I was just a baby and he was 14.  At that point he was thrust into the “man of the house” role and spent the next 20 some years financially supporting my mother and me.  He didn’t have to do that.  I know that he looks at me and my life and feels angry that he sacrificed for me and I haven’t sacrificed anything for him.  Well, paybacks are hell big bro.  For the past several years I’ve been going to his doctor’s appointments with him and helping him manage his life because there’s something wrong in his brain that keeps him from being able to deal with that stuff like most adults.  My mom always did everything for him so he never learned to take care of himself, speak up for himself, communicate with people, etc.  My theory is that he has a mild case of autism or something on that spectrum but I’m not a professional and he’s never been diagnosed.  All I know is that when I started showing up at his doctor’s appointments they were all thrilled to see me because he never seemed to be getting any better.  I would ask him about his health and he always told me he was fine.  One day he told me that his kidneys had a problem but he didn’t really know what the problem was.  At that point I decided I needed to know what was going on.  It’s been a wild ride ever since and I’m paying him back for all he did for me growing up.

This might all sound cold-hearted on my part.  Perhaps it is.  I love him, don’t get me wrong, but he and I are like oil and water and we just don’t get along so this is hard for me.  I wrote my “family” off a long time ago for the way they treated me when I came out and he was part of that writing off.  But, time heals, they say and I can’t hold a grudge for too long and it’s time to pay the piper.  So I’m spending a lot of time in the city that I hate the most in a hospital (hate those too) with a man that I can barely stand most of the time during the busiest month of the year at work.  It’s not my idea of fun.

Am I his brother?  Who cares?  I need to get him through this surgery and healed up.  And if he doesn’t make it through all this I’m at peace with the fact that I’ve done everything I can for him even if he isn’t grateful for it and thinks I’m intruding in his life.  Honestly, it’s really hard for me to think of myself as his brother.  He’s my brother but I don’t know what I am.  I haven’t seen myself as a male long enough to be comfortable with the title of  brother.  It’s an odd place to be for sure.