Girl “Friends”

I think about my childhood a lot.  I don’t really mean to, but it seems to be something that a lot of trans people talk about.  When did you know you were really a ___________ (pick a gender)?  This question always takes me back to my earliest memories and no where in there do I think I knew that I was anything other than different.  I’m not even sure if I knew that.  I just knew that what I wanted was at odds with what the authority figures in my life wanted.  I grew up in the dark ages, before the internet and reality tv.  No one knew anything about being transgender and no one ever said anything positive about gay people.  All of this was way too taboo and exotic.  My small town upbringing did not prepare me to live 30 years as a lesbian who is now living as a man.  I was ignorant about all of this stuff growing up and so was everyone I knew, even the authorities in my life.  How could I have known I was transgender at 4 years old?  I knew that I liked boy stuff and wanted to be like my brother and uncles.

I was a flower girl in my cousin’s wedding when I was about 7 years old.  I had no idea what that meant until the day of the wedding and they put me in a little light blue dress and stood me next to my male cousin who was the ring bearer.  He was wearing a black tuxedo.  Suddenly the difference in us just smacked me in the face like a wet dishrag.  I wanted to wear that tuxedo and I was so jealous of him.  It was experiences like this that I can tell you about where I felt jealousy because the boys got to do or wear things that I wanted to do or wear.  But I couldn’t tell you why that was.

And then there are friendships.  Friendship, for me, was complicated.  From an early age (5 or 6?), I got crushes on girls.  But I was expected to play with girls and develop friendships with them and get crushes on boys.  I tried.  Really, I did.  I could play with a girl as long as we could do what I wanted, but if she wanted to do really girly things, like play Barbie where I had to be one of the girl dolls, I was out of there.  I could deal with being Ken, but not Barbie.  Luckily, there weren’t all that many kids around for me to play with when I was young.  I lived on a short street with big houses on it that a lot of old people lived in.  We did not live in a big house.  We lived in a tiny bungalow that belonged to one of the big houses.  There was a seedy apartment building up the street from my house that mostly had single people who could barely pay their bills.  The place reeked of cigarettes and booze.  I hated going in there, but my one friend lived there.  His name was Scott.  I liked Scott because he was a real boy’s boy and he made me feel like a boy when we hung out.  We did boy stuff, whatever that was, and I didn’t have to worry about being the Barbie with him.  Occasionally, my mom would force me to play with his little sister because I really shouldn’t be friends with Scott.  I guess the adults were worried that we would end up having sex or something.  I don’t know what they were worried about, but I hated playing with his little sister.  Usually I managed to wiggle myself out of it after just a few minutes of torture.  I remember, one day being over at his apartment and his grandmother was there.  She gave me the most hateful look I had ever seen anyone give me.  I had no idea why she hated me so much, but every time I saw her she looked at me that way.

Scott moved away after a few years and I really never saw him again.  I didn’t really have friends until middle school.  I met this girl in band class who was new to me.  She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen and I was immediately infatuated with her.  We became best friends and hung out together all the time.  We had sleep overs and participated in three-legged races and shit like that.  I would do anything I could to be near her.  This “friendship” of ours grew into a circle of girls who hung out together and did the sleep over thing and all that goes with it.  There was another girl in that group that I later developed a big crush on as well.  This circle of friends endured throughout high school and college, even though we all went different places.  Today, we are still friends and I’m out to all of them.

What I wonder about today is whether we were ever really friends and how different it would have been if I’d been born with a penis.  I mean, I was in love with two of them and what I really wanted wasn’t just friendship.  Of course, they had no idea how I felt at the time (or now, for that matter).  This was my big dark secret that I never told anyone.   I almost kissed one of them one time and I did tell her that I loved her, but you know, she just interpreted that as friendship love.  Life got really complicated when they were dating and going steady with boyfriends.  God that sucked.  I was so jealous of the boyfriends, yet I had to be nice to them and be happy for my “friend”.  I had crushes/feelings for these girls for a long time.  All through high school I was still obsessed with that original girl, even though she always had a handsome boyfriend.  And, to complicate things even more, I dated a couple of boys in high school on a semi serious basis.  It was, for me, way less serious than it probably seemed to my friends.  It was really just a cover for who I really was.  The boys I dated were nice guys that I liked as friends and had zero interest in as a romantic partner.  We never did anything more than kiss occasionally.

The fact that I’m still friends with my high school group is unusual and awkward now that I’m awake and knowledgeable about who and what I am.  Since they know I’m transitioning, I wonder whether they ever put pieces of our pasts together and truly understand why I was part of their group.  There’s a part of me that feels like I did something wrong all those years ago.  I know that I understood on some level, even back then, that I was not like them.  I feel like our friendships were built on a lie, or at least a falsehood.  It makes me feel like my whole life was built on a lie, like every relationship I had was false.  I was always just doing the best I could to pretend to really be a girl, but deep down I knew that I wasn’t.  I didn’t understand any of this at all, so I don’t blame myself.  And I don’t blame the world I grew up in either.  We were all navigating in the dark without a map or compass.  We were all ignorant.  Still, I wonder.  What do they think when they see me becoming my true self?  Do they realize that the thing that drew me to them was that I had a crush?  Do they wonder if we would have been friends if I’d been recognized as a boy?  Would we have dated?  I know for sure that I wouldn’t have been invited to the sleep overs.  And then I think that there was attraction on their part too, because, even in friendship, there is an attraction that brings people together.  I can honestly say that I did and do feel true friendship for these women and I cherish our long standing relationships.  I enjoy visiting with them and even like their husbands quite a bit.  Of the five women in my circle, I only had a crush on two of them.  One of them I don’t even really like at all, but the others do so we make nice with each other (it’s mutual).  I give this group of friends a lot of credit for helping me through my weird and awkward childhood and adolescent years.  They were my lifeline.  I don’t have any idea how I would have gotten through high school without them.  Still, I feel like I deceived them and that eats at me, even today.  I don’t still have those feelings for any of them and haven’t for a really long time.  At some point in high school I made a conscious decision to disengage from the notion of them as romantic partners.  It was too difficult to see them with their boyfriends and not even be able to tell them how I felt.  That’s probably when I started to date boys a little bit.

Unfortunately, I thought my story started and ended with my physical attraction to girls, so when I finally kissed a girl my freshman year of college and declared myself a lesbian, I thought that was the end of the story.  It took 30 years for me to realize that that was just the tip of the iceberg.  Unraveling my past and discovering who I really am has been like peeling the layers of an onion.  It’s taken a long time to get to the core of my onion and I’m not entirely sure I’ve arrived there yet, but I’m pretty close.  Processing through my relationship with these women, some of which I’ve known since kindergarten, has been just a small part of it.  Small, but vitally important.

You’re a Super Hero

These days I’m pretty busy just living my life but I do take time everyday to reflect on where I came from and where I am now.  Most days I am in awe of the life I lead today compared to even a couple of years ago.  I’m here to tell you, if you doubt that you can flip your whole life upside down, inside out and survive it, that you absolutely can.  And, in fact, you will be a much better, happier person for doing it.  Your friends and family may fight you every inch of the way but at some point even they will admit that you are a better person now than you used to be.  Will it be hard?  Yes, of course.  Everything worth doing is hard.  Will it get worse before it gets better?  Yep, most likely it will.  Can you do it?  I have no doubt.

Why am I so confident in you?  Because I did it and I was just like you are right now.  Scared, terrified even.  Absolutely sure that I’d lose everyone and everything that meant anything to me.  Convinced that I’d have to live in my car and eat food from the dollar store to survive.  Afraid that no one would ever love me again and pretty sure that I’d never be taken seriously in my real gender.  I was the kind of person that would say, “well, that’s ok for other people but not for me”.  I have too much to lose.  I’m too this, too that.  Too old, too fat, too feminine looking, too dependent on my partner, too scared, too weak.  I didn’t think it would be worth all of the turmoil I’d have to put myself and my family through.  I was wrong.  Very wrong.

I’m not telling you to transition.  That’s your decision to make.  But I want you to know that you can do it.  You absolutely CAN do anything you want to do.  I did it and so can you.  I’m not special.

Well….

Actually, I am special.  And so are you.

You see, people like us, the misfits and maladjusted freaks of society are the most amazing people.  We’re superheros.  We grow up being taught that who we are is wrong and we get beaten down into submission until we can’t take it any longer.  I look at the general population now and I feel pity for them.  They don’t know what it’s like to grow up the way we did and have to pull ourselves out of the abyss and rise above our upbringing.  I am stronger than they will ever be because of what I’ve been through.  They whine and moan about their aches and pains and every day worries while we’re out here reinventing ourselves into the superheroes we were born to be.   Once you find your truth you are unstoppable.  Take your truth where it leads you and don’t let fear stop you.  Feel the fear but do it any way.  Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real.  Fear is a liar.  You’re not weak or worthless.  Quite the opposite.  You’re one of the strongest people on the planet and you are special in ways others can’t even imagine.  Whatever your deal is that makes you feel like a misfit, turn that shit around and make it your greatest strength.  Think of all of the crap you’ve had to deal with in life because you’re not like all of the sheep in the world.  You’re not a sheep.  You’re a fucking lion.  You’re a fucking superhero.  All that crap has made you stronger and stronger.  Your muscles are popping out every where from all the heavy lifting you’ve done in life.  Now put it to good use and start living your wildest dreams.  Be your own hero and I bet even the person closest to you that tells you this is crazy will thank you for it one day.

An Exciting Month

It feels like forever since I posted in here.  It’s only been 23 days, but a lot has happened since then.  The biggest thing is that Candace and I have decided to get legally married in July on our 20th Anniversary of being together.  Most of the people we’ve told at this point have simply said, “It’s about time.”  I agree.  But it took every bit of those 20 years for us to get to this point and also for it to be legal across the country for “same sex” marriage.  The ironic part is that I have legally changed my gender now to male on my documents.  That’s the second piece of news.  So now that I’m legally male and Candace is legally female it doesn’t make an ounce of difference what the government allows us to do.  This is a bittersweet realization.  I think if Same Sex Marriage had been taken away we would not be getting married, but as long as we could marry either way we’re going ahead with it.  Candace had dreamed of a “Lesbian Wedding”.  I don’t even really know what that means.  I know she never thought I would wear a wedding gown so there were two brides.  In fact, I can’t even imagine calling myself a bride and never could.  This is part of why we haven’t done this sooner.  I wish I could give her the wedding she’s dreamed of, but I can’t, even if I knew what it was.

It’s been really fun dreaming about what our special day will look like and where it will be held.  I’m having a blast helping her make plans and envisioning how it will all unfold.  So far we’ve found a nice venue for both the wedding and the reception.  My anxiety shoots way off the charts when I think about standing up in front of 100+ people for the ceremony so I initially tried to talk her into having a private ceremony with just a few close family members.  Eventually it just made no sense to do that so now we’re planning the whole thing out in the open for all to see.  I’ll deal with my nerves somehow.  I knew the private ceremony thing wouldn’t hold up anyway.

The really cool thing about doing this is that neither of us really have any pre-conceived notions of what the wedding will look like and we’re not locked into having a religious ceremony so we get to be as creative as we want and make our own rules.  I’ve been researching wedding traditions of various different religions and cultures and I’m hoping we can throw a couple neat things into our ceremony that our guests have never seen before.   As you can probably tell, I’m really excited and looking forward to it.

The emotions around changing my gender and planning a wedding are hard to describe.  Actually planning a real wedding is surreal.  I never dared to dream that this day would come for me.  Getting to stand up at my own wedding as a man and having a wife…mind blowing…dream come true…still feels like a fantasy…being referred to as a groom…being a husband…calling Candace my fiance’…hard impossible to describe the emotions I’m feeling.  And I knew that I needed to legally change my gender for my own peace of mind but I had a really hard time getting myself motivated to start the process.  I wasn’t scared but I was resistant.  Female no longer made sense for me but male still just doesn’t feel right either.  If there was a third option I might be inclined to choose it.  I’m still reluctant to being lumped in with the general population of cis-gender males.  I really can’t relate to many of them and most of them scare the crap out of me.  But I’m not female anymore either, so that’s just not an option.  Truthfully, I wish there was something in between the two.  But there isn’t, so male fits the best at this point and puts me in the category that best describes me.  I’m seen as male 99% of the time now (the 1% that don’t see me as male are family and friends who knew me before transitioning) so to walk around with an F on my driver’s license makes no sense at all to me.

The actual process of changing my gender was pretty easy.  I chose to only change my driver’s license and passport at this time and leave my birth certificate alone.  The passport entailed applying for a new passport and including the letter I received from my surgeon when I had top surgery.  My surgeon’s letter got rejected because she didn’t put the right wording in the body of the letter but she quickly corrected that and now I’m waiting for my new book to arrive.  Changing my driver’s license in my state also required sending my surgeon’s letter as well as a letter from me requesting to change my gender on my license.  In this case, my surgeon’s original letter was sufficient.  There is a specific person at the main Motor Vehicle Administration office that handles the gender changes so my letters were faxed to them directly.  They then take the letters in front of a board that meets to approve the change and then they sent me a letter telling me I was approved that I could take to any full service MVA office to get a new updated license.  I did that last week.  I had to tell two people why I was there and they were both professional and helpful.  I was nervous about it for some reason but they seemed happy to help me.  One of them even told me I was her first to change my gender but she was excited to help me out.  She even took a second picture of me because the first one wasn’t so good.  Funny thing happened when I went to apply for my new passport.  The gentleman that I dealt with thought it was just a mistake that they put an F on my current passport and told me he would call the State Department for me to get it straightened out.  I had to tell him that it was not a mistake on their part and explained that I was born female.  He had a brief confused look come across his face but immediately switched gears and got me processed properly.  His friendly demeanor never changed and it was a positive experience.  The only negative I can say about it is that I had to explain all of this to him in the lobby of a post office with a lot of other people around to potentially hear our conversation.  We were not in a private office and it was uncomfortable to deal with it in public like that.  Thankfully, I don’t think anyone was paying any attention to us.

So now I’m just waiting for everything to come in the mail and the last thing I need to do is have my health and auto insurance changed.  Getting my health insurance changed over to male was a huge reason I wanted to do this.  I’m completely fed up with having to answer questions about my menstrual cycle every time I go to get blood drawn or see a doctor.  People get confused and embarrassed and it’s humiliating to have them start referring to me as female even though two minutes ago they were calling me sir.  I realize that having the male marker will bring new and different questions and challenges but at least they will be in alignment with my outer persona and not cause confusion or embarrassment.  I’ve been putting off finding a new doctor until my insurance is changed.   My old doctor retired so I need to get a new one and I wanted to start off with them as male.  I’ll need to be honest about my physical body and they will need to be ok dealing with that.  I’m not looking forward to it, but it needs to be done.  I’m guessing that all of my insurance will go up in price thanks to that Male marker.  That’s a definite down side, but one I’m willing to deal with.

It’s been an exciting month, to say the least.  Also, I turned 55 (double nickel, as my brother puts it) this month.  This is the year I pull a lot of loose ends together and start a new chapter in my life.  I’m excited about the future and hopeful despite the current political climate in my country and the world.  Candace and I have already made it through some very dark days together and I know we can weather any storm yet to come as long as we have each other to lean on.

My Little Advocate

I have a friend who’s 8 year old daughter is famous for saying whatever pops into her little mind with reckless abandon.  This little girl scares the crap out of me.  For a couple of years now she has looked at me strangely but not said a word.  Her mother knows that I’m terrified of what might pop out of her mouth and finds it pretty amusing.  I must admit that it’s fairly funny that I would be so nervous around an eight year old.  Lately she’s taken to telling me that I’m gross and weird.  I’m gross because a few weeks ago her dad and I took a bite out of some gourmet dog treats to see how they tasted.  (Not bad, actually.)  She told us both that we were gross for the rest of the night.  She likes to remind me about it every time she sees me now.  And now, for some reason, I’m weird.  I think she likes me, but I’m not really sure.  She brought me a bouquet of lollipops when I had my surgery and proceeded to eat a couple of them before she left.  Still, she looks at me like she’s trying to figure me out, but says nothing.  The tension has been building between us for quite a while now.

Last night Candace and I had dinner with her and her little brother and parents to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  She was quiet and pensive all evening.  She’s eight going on fifteen and already has teenage mood swings.  Apparently she didn’t want to go to that restaurant, but we had made reservations weeks ahead so…too bad, sweetheart.  After dinner we all came back to my house to play games and hang out.  My basement is a party zone and I have a little disco light that I turned on.  She started telling me that it was stupid to have a disco ball in such a small space and that I was weird.  Ok kid.  Usually I just say, yep, I’m weird.  Yep, I’m dumb.  Whatever.

All night I was misgendered.  It was she and her from all of the adults when referring to me.  As they were all packing up to go home and her dad said something about me and referred to me as a she, my little eight year old friend put her hand on her hip and said, “Dad, it is not a she.  It’s a he now!  It used to be a she.”  Dad’s expression was priceless.  Her mom told her she was smarter than her dad (that’s true!).  Finally it was out!!  My little friend said what I should have said a long time ago.  And now I know that she knows and we’re good.  Thank you my little advocate for speaking up for me.

Out of the mouths of babes.

Happy New Year!

Double Agent

To most unsuspecting strangers I am just any other middle aged white man.  Candace and I are just any other middle class straight white couple.  Since the election concluded I have been painfully aware of the implications, both positive and negative, of our outer facade.  I’ve mentioned to Candace several times about my fears of hate filled bigots hurting us because I’m trans and she just laughs at me because she sees me as “safe”.  I don’t feel safe.  But what if they find out I’m trans, I ask?  You’re a man now.  They won’t care, she answers.  You’re like them.

NO!  I’m not like them!

I’m not straight.  Candace isn’t straight.  I’m a transgender man with a lesbian history.  I am part of the LGBTQ+++ community.  I don’t want to be grouped in with all the other middle aged white guys out there, many of whom may have voted opposite of me.

I think about changing my gender markers before it’s illegal to do so in order to protect myself and to further insulate myself from prejudice.

I think about Candace and I getting married legally now while we still have a chance as a same sex couple.  Just because we probably won’t be able to in the future.  I feel confident that after my gender is changed legally, said marriage would continue to be safe.

I tell Candace my thoughts and she says, “but what about Beth and Jane’s marriage?  It isn’t going to be protected.”  Ugg.  She’s right.  How can we get married knowing that we’ll probably be safe when our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters won’t be so lucky.

Then I think, maybe I should just keep my gender female on my papers and we should just be out and proud as lesbian/queer/trans people.  I don’t see Candace doing that.  I don’t really see myself doing that.

I’ve even thought about detransitioning, as if that is even an option for me at this point.  I can’t go backwards.  No way I could do it.

I think about going stealth as much as possible.  This is very hard to do in this information age we live in, let alone the small community we live in.

Then I realize I’m being self centered and selfish.  I probably am pretty safe.  I’m mostly invisible to most people.  Just a middle aged white guy.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

So that leads me to wondering how I can make it clear that I’m not just any old white guy?  I’m not really interested in putting bumper stickers on my car or pinning safety pins to my clothes.  I wonder a lot how other progressive white guys feel about all of this.  Do they wrestle with how the world perceives them?  I doubt it.  I think a lot of them get angry that women don’t trust them or see them as a possible threat when they know they aren’t.  Sorry guys, your anger is misdirected.  Get angry at the other white guys who have made women fear and mistrust you for good reason.

Which leads to my only conclusion.  I have to lead by example and speak out against discrimination of any kind.  I can’t wear a sign on my back that says, “I’m not a bigot or a rapist and I love my LGBTQ sisters and brothers.”  I’ve thought about getting a shirt made that says, “I’m not like other white guys.”  I have to admit that it really makes me sad that when I meet a lesbian these days they look at me like I’m the enemy.  I want to say to them, “Hey, I used to be a lesbian too.  I’m not like the other ones.”   But I can’t.  Instead, I let them carry the heavy package for me and show me how strong they are because I know they’re proud of that and then I sincerely thank them for the help.

At the moment I’m still angry about the election and pretty scared about what will be coming in the next four years in this country.  I feel pulled between wanting to protect myself and my family and fighting for what is right and putting myself on the line.  I don’t want to be a casualty of this war, but I don’t want to sit idly by and do nothing either.  I intend to fight, but I also want to protect myself and my loved ones and I don’t want anything I do to endanger them.  I have a pretty healthy dose of paranoia running through my veins at the moment too and wonder if just writing this blog post could come back to haunt me even though I keep it pretty anonymous.  I’m not naive enough to think they couldn’t find out who I am if they wanted to.

I’m really wrestling with whether to change my gender markers and whether this will help or hinder me and our cause in the coming years.  Overall, I think it’s necessary.  It was on my agenda already as part of this year’s goals.  I suppose I shouldn’t let the election interfere with that.  I’m still trans even if my markers are changed.  I’m not safe and I certainly don’t feel safe.  I can only imagine what other people who aren’t as safe as I am are feeling right now.  I want to wrap them all in a blanket of white protective light and insulate them from the harsh realities that lurk outside.  In the meantime, I will continue living my double agent life as an enemy in the enemy camp and keep my eyes and ears open.  Be safe out there!  Stay strong!

Stealth Cruising

Many months ago, Candace and I planned to take a cruise up into New England to celebrate our 19 years together.  It was our anniversary gift to each other.  We mostly forgot about it until, one night while having dinner with my old high school friends (all female) that I still keep up with, one of them started talking about this trip that she and her husband were going to be taking soon with her sister and her family.  I knew her sister from high school and playing in the band together as well as the many family outings that I was invited to join them on during my youth.  As she talked about her trip it started to sound really familiar to both Candace and myself and eventually it turned out that we were all going on the same trip on the same ship at the same time.  My heart sank.  It isn’t that I don’t like this woman.  I do.  But I had been looking forward to this trip as a time when I could go and be myself, the new me, without anyone around that knew me before who could make me feel self conscious.  Now that was all blown.  Candace reassured me that it is a really big ship and we wouldn’t see them much or maybe at all unless we wanted to.  I told myself that it didn’t matter what they thought of me and that I owed it to myself to live my life on my terms.  I wrestled with whether to contact my friend ahead of time to see where her head was regarding spending time with us.  She was definitely interested in hanging out with us some.  Again, my heart sank.  I had given her every opportunity I could to bow out without sounding rude and like I didn’t want to hang with her.  It didn’t work.

So the time came to board the ship and from the moment I got out of my car I was referred to as sir by everyone who I dealt with.  The guy that took our bags, the terminal check-in person, the security people, the people trying to sell us drink packages and trip excursions and all of the ship staff called me sir.  When I stepped off of the ship to take a tour or into a store to look at trinkets, I was called sir.  The restaurant staff, the cleaning people, bus drivers, other cruise attendants all called me sir.  We hadn’t been aboard the ship 30 minutes before my friend found me and chatted with us while we ate a quick lunch and  waited for our room to be ready.

In preparation for the trip I went to Men’s Warehouse and was fitted for and bought my first men’s suit, tie and dress shirts.  Candace wanted to go to the “formal” dinners (suit and tie, tux if you are so inclined, but many show up in neither) so I needed something to wear.  I wasn’t wearing a dress as I’ve done in the past.  As an aside, the experience at the Men’s Warehouse was awesome.  A very nice lady helped me pick out a suit and fit it for alterations as well as helped me pick out some accessories to go with it.  It was an expensive venture, but also one that felt like a rite of passage into manhood.  She taught me a lot about men’s clothes/fashion and treated me from start to finish like any other man that came in there.  If she knew I was trans or suspected that I was not born male she never let on to me in any way.  I explained not knowing my sizes by telling her that I had lost a lot of weight (which is true) and needed some new things but didn’t know what size I’d wear exactly.  I also told her that I never wore long sleeves because my arms are so short that they’re usually too long (also true).  I’m not sure she bought it, but she was a good sport and was able to find me a couple shirts that fit remarkably well and were of excellent quality.  I was ready to cruise.

Our first formal night was the second night of the ten day cruise and I was nervous.  I confided in Candace that I was worried about running into my old friend and her family as well as other people thinking I was merely a woman wearing a suit.  If you’ve ever taken a cruise you’ll know that they take pictures of you constantly on the ship and then offer them back to you for a nice fee.  We posed for a picture on formal night and I was absolutely blown away when I saw it the next day.  Not only did I not look like a woman in a suit, I looked convincingly like a nice middle aged man and the picture was one of my best I’ve ever taken.  We bought it.  And I did not run into my friend that night before we went back to our room and changed our clothes.

At some point on the trip we did run into my friend again and her sister’s family was all introduced to us.  Here is where things got really weird for me.  I used to know her sister well and even attended her wedding back in the day.  She acted throughout the whole cruise like she didn’t know me.  No, she acted like I freaked her out and was pretending like she didn’t remember me.  Every time we bumped into them…and it was actually quite often (every day, several times a day) she got this weird deer in the headlights look on her face and ignored me as much as she could.  I thought that maybe she didn’t know who I was because my friend hadn’t explained to her that I had transitioned but then I realized that she would treat me very different if I was just one of her little sister’s friends that she’d never met.  No, she acted like she just wanted to get away from me as fast as possible and wished she’d never seen my face.  It was bizarre.  In fact, they had a couple of their friends join them on the trip and those people, who actually were strangers, were nothing but pleasant and friendly to us.  They even told us that we were welcome to hang with them any time.  That’s how strangers treat new people.  They don’t treat them like they have the plague.  So, I’ve come to the conclusion that she knew exactly who I am and just was completely wigged out about my transition.  It hurts my feelings, but really she is nobody to me so I have to let it go.  My friend treated me fine throughout the trip.  Her husband was a bit cold and distant but was not rude.  Again, their problem.  Not mine.  All in all, having them on the ship with us did cramp my style and in some ways spoiled the experience for me, but I made the most of it the best I could.

Being on board a ship of over 3000 strangers (mostly) who all 100% of the time* saw me as male was quite an interesting experience.  Candace and I felt free to refer to each other as husband and wife, to hold hands and even kiss in public.  Everyone assumed we were a married couple and we blended in with the crowd unseen and hidden.  We did nothing but be ourselves to provoke this assumption.  It still feels very strange to refer to Candace as my wife, but I do it when I feel like it’s appropriate (we did have a little ceremony for our 10th anniversary, but it’s not legal).  We chatted a little about how invisible we were on the cruise and how that has both positive and negative aspects for both of us.  We both liked the fact that we could be affectionate without concern for our safety or other people’s feelings.  That was nice.  Being seen as a man, especially at the formal dining hall, was a little intimidating to me at first.  Generally, the male waiters treated me like just another guy and everything went fine as they joked around with me about behaving myself and Candace keeping me in line.

I can’t talk about this trip without mentioning bathrooms.  The ship had at least one handicap single use bathroom on every floor but I didn’t realize that until nearly the end.  The men’s rooms on the ship were fine, but out in the world, when we got off of the ship there were a few times that the men’s facilities were just not the best.  Thankfully, all of the buses that we rode had a bathroom on them.  I no longer feel that I even have an option to use a women’s restroom at this point, so I’m stuck with whatever the men’s option happens to be.  There was one bathroom I attempted to use that was so full of guys that I basically didn’t even get through the door before I walked out and decided to use the bus toilet.  One stall and two urinals seems to be the norm in most men’s rooms and an amazing number of men use the stall, even if it’s to pee standing up with the door open.  Often they don’t even bother to lift the seat, so it usually has pee on it.  Thanks, guys.  I really, really, really hate this part of transitioning.  I hate using public bathrooms in general and men’s in particular.

I’m still kind of in disbelief that I was gendered male so consistently on the trip.  At home, I’m probably at about 90-95% depending on what I wear and how short my hair is.  Button up shirts and super short hair with a ball cap almost guarantee a sir from strangers.  Take the ball cap off and put on a polo shirt instead and it drops to about 95%.  Grow out the hair some and it drops to 90%.  Why I care really has to do with the blasted bathrooms.  We all have to relieve ourselves throughout the day.  I just want to be able to do it safely and freely.  I want to walk in and not get hassled or messed with in any way.  If it weren’t for the bathroom I wouldn’t care as much, though I have to admit that being able to confidently don a men’s suit and tie was a thrill for me.**  And not being referred to as a lady or ma’am is a breath of fresh air.  The cruise was a huge confidence booster for me as far as my passing.  We had a funny interchange in Portland, Maine when a young guy with his girlfriend commented that Candace’s shirt matched his girlfriends shorts (they both had little anchors on them) and wanted Candace to give his girlfriend her shirt.  When Candace said she thought his girlfriend should give her the shorts instead he said, “well, she looks pretty cute without her shorts” and winked at me.  Then he told me we should exchange shirts and started to lift his off as I started to freak out that he might be serious.  Thankfully, he was just joking.

*I did get called ma’am once by a female waiter on the ship but she only did it once and switched to sir.  Once in a store in Canada a fellow shopper called Candace and I ladies.  Why, I don’t know.

**Suits are hot!  We have a friend who’s husband refuses to dress up for anything because he claims that it’s not fair that a woman can just throw on a skirt and a top and be dressed and he has to wear a tie and long pants (he’s a shorts 24/7/365 kind of guy).  I would love to put him in a skirt and blouse, make up, stockings, maybe even a girdle and those stupid little shoes women force themselves to wear and see if he still thinks he’s got the raw end of that deal.  Other than being hot, suits and ties, if fit properly are very comfortable to wear.

 

 

 

 

PTSD and Growing Up Trans

I read an article recently on trans.cafe that I found to be very thought provoking.  The article is called PTSD and the Act of Transitioning by Zane Tyler. Zane tells a story of how his mom outed him to a playmate when he was young by using his birth name.  The playmate had thought Zane was a boy, like him, and got angry.

“I would liken this feeling of being separated from oneself—society’s refusal to acknowledge who we really are—to a baby who does not get held. We know what happens without touch. I would suggest that a person who can’t hold themselves up, and who instead lives in a split, and forced performance, is experiencing a slow accumulation of real and pronounced trauma.”

“..a slow accumulation of real and pronounced trauma.”  That statement really hit me in the gut.  Yes.  Being denied the ability to self actualize as a child is traumatic and every incident of being forced to perform as someone we’re not splits us from who we actually are.  It is a slow accumulation and the trauma is devastating to our psyche, creating a split in a lot of cases.  I know it did for me.  I’ve talked before about feeling like I was leading a double and even a triple life at times.  There was the whole straight/gay split and then there’s the ‘I feel like a boy, not a girl’ split.  So you walk around the ‘real world’ looking like a girl and presumed to be straight/heterosexual while in other circles of the ‘real world’ you are presumed to be a lesbian because you appear to be a female you is attracted to other females but the whole time in both situations you really see yourself as male.

BOOM!  Is that a total mind blower??  I know it makes my head spin.

How can that not be damaging to a person, especially a young person?

Zane goes on to say,”Recently, I was diagnosed with PTSD—post traumatic stress disorder. I’m a textbook case: flashbacks, hyper-awareness, an inability to trust people. I believe my PTSD went unacknowledged, unchecked for years, because of the lack of understanding of what it means to be trans, the core separation from self that is experienced when you are forbidden by society to be who you really are. I’m still re-experiencing what I went through in order to get here, which has impacted my ability to enjoy what I now have.”

You do not have to be a combat veteran to experience PTSD, however, I would say that what we experienced as children growing up trans in a world that didn’t understand us is more likely to be classified as Complex-PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrom).  The difference is based in the cause of the trauma as well as the duration.

According to Out of the Fog, “Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape, such as in cases of:

  • domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • entrapment or kidnapping.
  • slavery or enforced labor.
  • long term imprisonment and torture
  • repeated violations of personal boundaries.
  • long-term objectification.
  • exposure to gaslighting & false accusations
  • long-term exposure to inconsistent, push-pull,splitting or alternating raging & hooveringbehaviors.
  • long-term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members.
  • long term exposure to crisis conditions.”

Out of the Fog goes on to say, “C-PTSD results more from chronic repetitive stress from which there is little chance of escape. PTSD can result from single events, or short term exposure to extreme stress or trauma.”

It’s not at all a stretch of the imagination to see that being forced to live as someone you aren’t is abuse.  Abuse like that over a lifetime is a real game changer for most of us.  I didn’t realize I was actually trans until I was 47 years old.  That’s FORTY-SEVEN years of forcing myself to live as a woman, as a lesbian, and denying who I really knew myself to be.  Forty-seven years of being told that I was wrong for wanting to just be myself.  Forty-seven years of living a lie.  And forty-seven years of not even really understanding who I was because my family and society had so brainwashed me that I believed they were right and I was wrong.

How does this kind of long term abuse effect a person?  Well, speaking from my own personal experience, I have struggled with the following issues my entire life:

  • Anxiety/Panic Disorder
  • Depression
  • Lack of confidence
  • Fear of conflict
  • Social anxiety
  • Low self esteem
  • Chronic anger/rage
  • Chronic irritability
  • Social dysphoria
  • Physical dysphoria
  • Chronic lying to cover up and hide my split worlds and to try and hide who I was
  • Inability to connect emotionally to others
  • A tendency to be a loner
  • Extreme introversion

How has this effected me?  It’s beyond my understanding all of the ways this has impacted my life.  I would go as far as to say that it has impacted every moment and every aspect of my life.  I’ve lived a lot of my life in a fantasy world to help me cope with reality.  While my symptoms have seriously held me back and stunted my ability to thrive in the world, I feel fortunate that I didn’t have other, more severe symptoms such as self harming or suicidal ideations, eating disorders, or substance abuse.  I can honestly say that I’ve never considered any of those options as a coping mechanism.  But many folks do.  And many don’t make it to the age of forty-seven.

Physically transitioning does help to alleviate some of the symptoms, like physical and social dysphoria, but it does not always help with the mental split from the abuse of being forced to live a false life.  There really is no cure for PTSD other than to get out of the situation that caused it (transition), acknowledge the trauma, and mourn what has been lost.  Along with all that, it’s a matter of managing the symptoms with meditation, mindfulness, exercise, yoga, being around supportive people, therapy, and sometimes anxiety and/or depression medications.

At the beginning of my transition I used to say that understanding all of this was like peeling away the layers of an onion.  After all of those years I no longer knew what was really me and what parts had been socially forced on me.  Separating all of that to get to the heart of who I really am has taken years and many tears and I’m still discovering hidden layers to myself.  While the trauma was intense and destructive on many levels, it has afforded me the opportunity to understand myself and the world I live in in a much deeper and thoughtful way than most people ever take the time to understand.  That is the hidden gift in all of this, in my opinion.  In the end, we understand ourselves and know ourselves at a level that most never dream.  There is value in that, but it’s also time consuming and takes away from pursuing a fruitful and enjoyable life.  I feel stunted from all of these years of naval gazing and anguishing over my gender.  I feel like I’m behind because of it in some ways.  But I’m also far, far ahead in others.

With understanding comes great responsibility.  We can no longer use “I didn’t know” or “I didn’t understand” as an excuse to live a blind life like so many others do.  Now that I know, I can’t un-know.  Now that I know, I have a responsibility to myself to make it right to the best of my ability.  My transition has been a journey of understanding and making things right for myself.  This can be an epic journey or a holy hell and sometimes both.  The world thinks nothing of forcing its abuse on us in the name of cultural norms.  The trans youth of today give me great hope that as we continue to evolve there will be less and less of us dealing with the symptoms of a lifetime of societal abuse.  I dream of a world where children are allowed to express themselves and grow up exactly as they are and that being trans is of no more concern than being born with any other minor issue.  Being trans should not have to define a person’s whole life.  Until we get to a point where being trans, or gay, or queer is considered as normal as having brown hair we have a lot of work left to do.