When Is Transition Over?

We read articles, blog posts and see videos where people talk about being fully transitioned or “post op”.  This gets me thinking.  What is it they mean by fully transitioned or post op?  It feels like people use those two terms interchangeably.    People talk about how things will be when they are done transitioning.  I hear folks talk about “once I’ve transitioned”.  What does all this mean?  How do they know they’re done transitioning?  Do we get a certificate that states that our transition is complete and there’s nothing left to do?  Who gets to decide this?  Doctors?  Society?  The government?  Ourselves?  People ask us if we’ve had “the operation” like that’s some kind of testament to whether we’re fully transitioned and, like-wise, when we talk about being post-op, we buy into that whole notion that it takes an operation to fully transition.

Transitions are as unique as finger prints.  No one walks exactly the same path or has the same experiences.  Not everyone has the same end point in mind when they begin to transition.  What one person might consider a complete transition another might consider only partial.  Many blog posts have been written about people who do not buy into the gender binary and what their transitions look like.  There is wide variety in what any of us, whether binary or not, consider that point where we’re done transitioning.  I’ve heard trans people who started transitioning 20 years ago state that they don’t feel done or that they don’t completely relate to the opposite gender as they were assigned at birth.  Some are adamant that they are no different than someone who was born and raised as their transitioned gender.

Personally, I don’t even like the word transition.  To me it is misleading.  It means that we’re going from one thing to another.  We’re not doing that, though.  We already are this thing that we’re supposedly transitioning towards.  It’s true that our bodies change and how society sees us and treats us changes, but who we are stays the same.  Because of the brainwashing that we received from birth it might take us quite a long time to realize who and what we really are but it doesn’t mean that we weren’t that person all along.  Sure, hormones can do some wonky things to our heads, especially at first, and make it seem like our personalities have changed, but what’s really happening is that our true self is coming out and we’re being allowed to let our personalities be free for the first time since we were little children.  I prefer the word align.  I feel like I’ve gone through an alignment internally and externally as a person.  My internal and external are in alignment.

The general population of cis-gender people see people like Kaitlyn Jenner in the news and they assume that we all go from being a hyper masculine dude to a hyper feminine woman (or vice versa) in the blink of an eye and that then we’re done transitioning.  This is a fairytale.  Even Jenner, with all of her money, will still continue to transition throughout the rest of her life.  Transition is so much more than just surgeries and hormones.  Those are the most talked about components, inside and outside of the trans community, but they are just the gas that makes the engine run and not even completely necessary for some people to transition.  The nuts and bolts of the transition engine is internal/emotional and social.  Why do we get surgeries and take hormones?  So we feel better in our bodies and to align our internal and external personas to both ourselves and the world.  They change the way we look and therefore how other people see us.  They change the way we see ourselves.  For me, personally, I wanted to experience having the body I felt I was supposed to have as well as be seen by the rest of the world as the person I have always known myself to be.  I could say that once those two goals were met that I was done transitioning.  But that’s not even close to true.  Even though strangers might see a man when they meet me, people that knew me before as a female often still see a female and want to treat me that way.  They are uncomfortable referring to me as he and him and using my correct name.  They say things like, “you’ll always be my old relationship (brother/sister/mother/father/etc) and old name to me.”   I won’t even go into how selfish and cruel this is to say to someone.  Let’s just suffice it to say that the social side of transition is often the hardest and most complicated portion of the journey.  And then, there’s our own emotional, internal world that battles over whether we’re really men or women after all and whether we’re “trans enough” and whether we’re performing our new gender correctly and worries about whether someone is going to be able to figure out that we weren’t born into the gender as we present and kick our ass or worse.  There are people who will crop up out of nowhere for the rest of our lives that didn’t know we transitioned or that we are forced to “out” ourselves to for a myriad of reasons (think doctors, lawyers, judges, employers, etc.)  We can never escape our past.

So, to me, transition never ends.  The human body is constantly transitioning, whether we want it to or not.  As we sit here reading this post our bodies are all in the process of transforming into something new.  Our viewpoints are changing constantly.  Our brain is always in the process of change and adaptation, learning new things, forgetting old things, building new pathways.  Society might see a man or a woman, but our mother will always see that baby girl or boy that they gave birth to and will struggle to honor our truth throughout the rest of her life.  Old employers, even if they got the memo that you changed your name and gender marker, will still mess up your information occasionally.  This is just life as a trans person.  Or life as a person.  How many of us are the same person at 40 that we were at 10, 15 or 20?  Hopefully none of us.  We’re all transitioning, some more dramatically than others, but we’re all doing it everyday, all day long.

As I sit here writing this post I ask myself this question.  When will I be done transitioning?  Technically, I am done.  Society sees me as a man.  I see a man in the mirror.  I’m happy with my surgery results.  I don’t plan on any more surgeries at the moment, but I’m open to the option in the future.  I like the facial and chest hair that hormones have given me, but I want more of it and I know that, with time, it will come.  My body is not done changing and it never will be until long after I’ve physically passed on.  Even after death our bodies continue to change.  We’re never static.  Nothing ever stays the same.  So, I can happily put on the clothes I feel best wearing every day and step out into the world as a man today, but I know that the transition process will continue throughout the rest of my life.  The only difference is that now I can live a more honest and open life and there isn’t anything besides maintaining my hormone levels left to do.  If this is what someone means by being fully transitioned than I guess I am at that point but I know that things will continue to change as I go throughout the rest of my life and there is more work to do.  And I’m ok with that.  I am in alignment, and that’s what matters.

Why I Chose to Transition

First of all, I never thought I would have the guts to go through with a full transition over to living 100% as male.  It all seemed like a nice dream but not something I had the courage to undertake.  I was more likely to sky dive and that ain’t ever going to happen.  So what, exactly, was it that tipped the scale and made me decide to go for it?  I’m not sure it was one thing.  How much better and more alive I felt on T certainly played a big part.  A goal of living more authentically and truthfully also played a huge role.  But, honestly, I think it was a lot of little things that added up very gradually that eventually led me to living as male.

I’ve been counseling a friend who is questioning how to proceed in his transition and I’ve been telling him he needs to make a plan and get honest about what he wants to accomplish.  Yeah, that’s bullshit.  I mean, it’s a great idea, but most of the time even the best plans don’t work out and our reasons for doing things shift mid stream.  I kind of had a plan.  At the beginning, all I knew was I wanted to try a low dose of T and see if it made me feel better.  And boy did it.  I was at one of the lowest points of my life when I started taking it and practically overnight my outlook changed 180 degrees into the positive.  This, to me, was evidence that I was on the right track and should keep going.  Other than T, my wish list included getting a hysterectomy, changing my name, and having top surgery, in that order.  It was important to me to get the hysterectomy done while I still had a female name and gender presentation.  But I never honestly thought anyone would ever see me as male or treat me as such.  It just seemed like a big fantasy.  A foolish pipe dream.

Well let me tell you, I upped my low dose of T to a full dose about six months before I had top surgery and by the time my surgery was over I was firmly entrenched on the male side of the spectrum as far as how people perceived my gender.  It happened really suddenly and completely took me by surprise.  It was disconcerting, but inside I was elated.  Could this really be happening to me?  Are these people just humoring me and playing along with me?  Just a few months prior I had worn a binder and my most masculine outfit to go out to dinner and the waiter referred to us as ladies and called me ma’am.  I left feeling demoralized and defeated.  Obviously, I was failing at this whole transition thing.  I felt like giving up.  Instead, I scheduled my top surgery for the next possible date.  While I was away have my surgery I let my facial hair grow out some.  That seemed to do the trick along with not having boobs anymore.  Flat chest and facial hair = Male.  Now I rarely get called ma’am and they usually correct themselves after they look at me better.  Quite the opposite of what used to happen.

I can’t say that I actually had a plan or made any conscious decision to transition with the goal of living as male.  I stumbled blindly through this whole process and really had no idea where I’d end up or even where I wanted to end up.  I was actually hoping that I could be happy staying in the female zone with a more neutral exterior.  Nope.  When I was in that middle zone I was so uncomfortable I could barely stand to go out in public.  Every day was a challenge just to leave the house.  I couldn’t stand not knowing how people would perceive me and I had no answers for them either.  I dreaded the question, “Are you a man or a woman?”  I had no idea.  I was as confused as they were.  So, even though I applaud folks who relish the confusion of gender neutral and non-binary identities, I need to pick a side for my own sanity.  I need to fit into a clear category that I’m comfortable with.  While neither female nor male fits perfectly, male is the closest.  I’m very comfortable in the male role whereas the female role felt completely wrong to me in every way.

Another thing that made a big impact on my decision to go for it was that I was on the precipice of losing everything I cared about.  My life was about to implode and I really felt like I didn’t have anything to lose by going for it.  I figured that if I didn’t start to transition I was dead anyway and if I did start then at least I had a chance of surviving.  I can clearly see now, looking back with 20/20 vision, that my old self was dying.  Literally, dying.  I wasn’t physically ill, but I had no desire to go on the way I was.  My spirit was dying and I didn’t really care about much at all.  I had ruined my relationship and my business and, while it looked from the outside like I had a great life, everything was about to crumble.  So, when you’re practically dead anyway, what do you have to lose?  I was worried about losing my relationship but once I came to the realization that it was over anyway I knew I had nothing left to lose by going for it.  Starting T was the best thing I ever did for myself, my relationship and my life in general.  I don’t mean to make it sound like a magic bullet because it isn’t, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of my problems stemmed from my hormones being out of whack from menopause.  I should note here that my thyroid was also low and I started taking meds for that at the same time.  Together, the two hormones made a huge difference and I felt better than I had felt since before I started puberty.

All in all, I think this whole process has occurred over the past six years.  I’ve gone incredibly slow intentionally.  I needed the time to adjust to the changes and figure out what to do next.  I’ve had a lot of self doubt along the way and have questioned myself non stop.  Now that I’m on the other side of things though I can confidently tell you that this was the best thing that I ever did for myself.  I’m dramatically happier, less moody, less depressed, less anxious, a better person, more engaged in life and more optimistic than I’ve ever been.  My relationship has been through hell and we’ve come out the other side together somehow stronger than ever and are planning our wedding.  My business somehow survived despite my best efforts to destroy it and, while I wouldn’t say I’m rolling in dough, I actually showed a profit for the first time in a long time and things are pretty stable again.  I’m easier to get along with and I think people like me more now because I’m happier with myself.  I’m a lot less angry than I used to be.*  The only thing I’m really dissatisfied with is my gut.  The T has made all of my fat redistribute to my belly and I have a huge gut now.  I hate it!!  But, I’m working on it so it will get better.  It’s a hell of a lot easier to deal with one issue than a multitude of issues at one time.  Now that most everything else is taken care of I can focus a lot of my energy on my weight and physical health.  I’m looking forward to building up some nice muscular biceps and trimming down my waistline so I look good on my wedding day.

 

* One of the bad raps that Testosterone gets is that it can make people more aggressive and have anger issues.  This is definitely true.  I have noticed that I am quicker to anger and it boils up really fast inside me like a wild fire.  Before T, I was just dealing with a low grade constant feeling of being angry and pissed off on a daily basis.  After T, I’m pretty laid back but when I do get angry it happens fast and sudden.  Learning to control that impulse is a challenge that requires a lot of deep breaths and taking time to let it dissipate before I open my mouth to speak.  Just like a teenage boy has to learn to control his impulses, so do Trans Men when they start off on T, no matter their biological age.

 

Why I’m not a Butch

A couple of my readers have asked me to explain how I came to the conclusion that I was actually a Trans Man and not a Butch woman.  I’ve tried to write this post several times now and I keep running into problems with it.  It’s a complex question to answer.  The first problem is that I really never embraced  the identity of Butch.  Most of my life I identified as a Dyke or simply as a Lesbian.  I knew some older Butch women who dressed like men and had Femme wives and to my young feminist mind that was just too much like heterosexuality for my taste and I was turned off by it.  I was even in a relationship with a Butch for about seven years and she very much wanted me to be her Femme.  I didn’t have it in me and we mostly just stayed together because we loved each other as friends and enjoyed the company.  My current partner is a feminine woman but she isn’t really into Butch women.  She really was looking for someone who’s also a little feminine with a Tomboy side, what she refers to as CatFemme (her own category that she made up based on a woman named Cat that she found attractive a long time ago).  I guess she thought she might be able to mold me into more of a Femme but that didn’t really work out for her.  Instead, I got more masculine as the years went on.

Also of note is that I really didn’t know anything about the T in LGBTQ until about 7 or 8 years ago.  I didn’t understand what it meant to be Transgender until I had a friend who was MTF and she spent a lot of time educating me.  What I realized from talking to her over a period of time was that we were a lot alike, except the opposite.  Where she had hated having a beard, I’ve always felt jealous of men for their beards.  I hated dresses and frilly things and she dreamed of being able to wear them.  Pretty much everything I hated about being female she coveted and everything she hated about being a guy were things that I had always secretly felt envious of.  One day she asked me to read some psychological website that listed symptoms of transgenderism.  I related to pretty much every thing on the list.  After, she asked me what I thought and I told her that it sounded a lot like me.  This is how I realized that I was Transgender.  At the time, I kind of shrugged it off and said that it didn’t change anything.

But I was in denial.  Everything had changed.  How I saw myself and my future changed.  How I looked at my past changed.  I started to question my sexuality and my relationship.  Was I ever really a Lesbian?  A period of intense introspection began where I read everything I could about being FTM and Butch.  I thought about trying to embrace being a Butch to satisfy my emerging masculinity in order to avoid transitioning and keep my relationship safe.  My friend said to me once that she thought living all those years as a Lesbian had actually kept me from realizing I was Trans sooner.  She was right.  What had actually happened was that identifying as a Lesbian only answered part of the question for me.  It identified who and what I was sexually attracted to.  Women.  I thought that was the end of the story but it was actually just the tip of the iceberg.  It didn’t answer a deeper question of why I always dreamed of being male and fantasized about a life as a man constantly.  It didn’t answer why I occasionally felt like me and my Lesbian friends were different somehow.  Why I couldn’t relate to them on some levels.  It didn’t answer why I was so against the idea of ever being a mother or why I was so disgusted when someone referred to me as my partner’s wife.

Back in those days I remember thinking that this was like an onion.  I would peel a layer away and digest it and then another layer and digest that.  I didn’t know how many layers I’d have to go through to get to the heart of the matter.  Really, the heart of the matter boiled down to one thing.  I had never in my whole life ever felt like I was really female.  From my earliest memory, I had wanted to be a boy.  If I could remember further back I’d probably be able to tell you that I actually thought I was a boy until someone told me otherwise.  Every instinct in my mind and body was to be a boy when I was a little kid.  It was the adults who stressed that I was a girl and should act and do differently that taught me that I wasn’t a boy.  They brainwashed me to go against my own natural instincts and thought processes.  So, as many trans people do, I made the best of it and did what I could to play along and keep the peace.  I made a lot of compromises.  Living as a Lesbian was a compromise, even though I didn’t think that at the time.  It was as close as I could get to where I needed to be in order to be happy.

So it should be pretty evident at this point that I was never a Lesbian and I was never a Butch.  I was born a Transgender Male.  I just didn’t know it until I was about 47 years old.  There’s no way I could have known about what I didn’t know existed.  Once I understood, though, everything made a whole lot more sense to me.  I spent a lot of time trying to decide whether I was a Butch or a Trans Man but, honestly, I think I was just in denial and trying to find a way around transitioning.  The bottom line is that Butch’s are women.  They are happy being women and being seen as women.  They are masculine women.  Their gender expression is masculine and sometimes very male appearing, but they are women and do not wish to change that.  Trans Men do not want to be seen as women and are not happy being forced to live as a woman.  This is the line in the sand as far as I’m concerned and for myself.  Lesbians are women and enjoy being women.  They might not love make up or dresses but they are still women and proud of it.  There are Butch women who elect to have Top Surgery to remove their breasts and some even take a little testosterone, but most do not want to transition fully to male.  They want to still live as women.  Masculine women.  Are some of them Transgender?  Possibly, but that is for them to decide.  I think there’s a fine line between Butch and FTM and the deciding factor is how you want the world to see you and how you see yourself.  Personally, I came to the conclusion that I was really male my entire life and that I’d been brainwashed into believing otherwise, so I was never really a Lesbian or a Butch.  I just got tired of hiding my masculine side as I got older and let it out more which made me appear Butch, even to myself.

This really is a complex issue and there is a lot of over-lap between the two identities at times.  What I wrote here is purely my opinion and reflects my own experiences.  I know that others will feel differently about this subject and that is their right.  I was asked how I came to the conclusion that I was Trans and not Butch and I have tried my best to answer that question as clearly and thoroughly as possible.  It is my hope that this helps someone figure out who they really are one day.

 

P.S. I want to say that I actually loved being a Lesbian in a lot of ways and it’s been really hard to let go of that identity.  It was hard to embrace it initially, but once I did, I found it to be a very enriching and enlightening experience.  I feel fortunate to have gotten to live those years as a Lesbian and get to know so many great women.  I was able to attend the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival twice in my younger days and still feel a deep appreciation for those experiences.  Lesbian culture is rich and diverse and delicious in so many ways and I truly miss it.  I often say that I was raised by Lesbians.  My own mother did a poor job of preparing me for “real” life and my circle of Lesbian friends from the 80s and 90s really taught me the skills I needed to survive and thrive in society.  They also gave me the space to be myself and never told me I had to be a certain way to be their friend.  They were my chosen family for a long time and I miss them.

 

 

The Deeper Side of Transition

When I started to transition from a butch lesbian to something on the male side of the spectrum I knew I needed to take things slowly.  I needed time to wrap my mind around exactly what I was doing and where I wanted to go with hormones, surgeries, name changes and the like.  I knew I needed time to wrap my mind around the idea of not being a lesbian anymore.  Of not being a sister and a daughter anymore.  Of being seen as male.  A white, heterosexual male.  I knew that the social side of transitioning was going to be the hardest part for me to navigate.  I wasn’t really sure I could handle it, or if my relationships could handle it.  In general, it’s been easier than I ever imagined.  But it’s also been tougher than I ever imagined too.  The person who’s given me the hardest time about everything is myself.  I get in my own way.  I’m not comfortable talking about my personal life to even my dearest friends.  I still feel like I’m walking around naked a lot of the time and everyone can see all of my flaws, scars and short-comings.  I still struggle with coming out to people, especially face-to-face, or even telling someone I changed my name.

I’ve been fortunate though.  The hormones have changed my looks gradually, lowered my voice to a definite male timbre, and top surgery seemed to seal the deal of helping me look like the man I’ve always felt like inside.  Before top surgery, I probably was perceived as male about 70% of the time and could still use a women’s washroom without too much fear.  I had started to work towards using the men’s but still didn’t feel like I could go in there safely 100% of the time.  Post top surgery, something magical happened and I was suddenly thrust over into the male side of the spectrum and it became clear to me very quickly that I was now seen primarily (98%) as male to the general public.  Generally, I’m happy with this turn of events, but it happened so suddenly that I wasn’t quite prepared for all of the repercussions this would foist on me and my family.  Now I am Candace’s husband, even though we’re not married, and I am my brother’s brother, and Candace’s mom’s son-in-law.  I don’t know if I could manage to pull off a non-binary transition now if I wanted to.  Luckily, I don’t want that but it’s still a little uncomfortable and strange for people to refer to me as someone’s brother or husband.  There’s a part of me that feels like I should be ok with this and it should feel natural.  Sometimes it does feel natural, but mostly it feels strange.  I’ve gotten totally comfortable with being referred to as sir and he/him by strangers but the titles still throw me.  I think it’s just a matter of getting used to it and will take time.  My brother also has to get used to this, and thankfully, has been very gracious about it so far.  He stumbles sometimes, but so do I.  I still avoid telling people I’m his brother by saying that he is MY brother and leaving my gender up to them to decide.

Basically, though, I’m really enjoying being a guy in public.  I went shopping at a jewelry store yesterday and it was really cool that everyone assumed I was shopping for my wife.  When I made my purchase, another man and I had a fun interchange about being good husbands.  Living the role of man, husband and brother in the real world is feeling like it fits much better than woman, wife, and sister ever did.  I feel freer in a lot of ways.  Socially, with the exception of a few people, I’m out to everyone.  It’s still awkward at times and we all have some adjustments to make, but I would consider this transition a success at this point.

Transitioning is funny though because we can’t always count on how the hormones or a surgery will effect how we’re perceived.  Just like a teenager, we can have a sudden growth spurt or physical change.  You could wake up one day and realize that you’re losing your hair at a much faster pace than expected.  Or your beard could suddenly sprout like a lumber jack.  If we’re not prepared socially for these changes it can really play havoc with our progress and mental space.  Whenever we inject a hormone we have to be prepared for whatever side effect it gives us and often, we think we are prepared until it does something unexpected.  In this case, the physical transition moves faster than our mental and social transition and causes a lot of problems.  Sometimes it’s more than we can handle at the moment and we have to make the heart breaking decision to stop our transition, temporarily or permanently.  I can’t say that I started hormones willing to take all of the possible side effects no matter what.  As time has progressed though, I’ve become willing to take them all no matter what.  I don’t relish the idea of becoming a bald guy, but I accept that it could happen.  I’ve seen my hairline recede quite a bit in the past couple of years and I know that my hair is thinner than it used to be up top.  Baldness is creeping up on me and I know it.  I don’t expect to go completely bald, but I do expect to lose quite a bit of hair.

Another, deeper, side to transitioning is erasure of our pasts.  Now that I look male, people make a lot of assumptions about my past that just aren’t true.  I did not have all of the opportunities handed to me that I would have if I’d been born with male genitalia.  I was not raised as a boy.  I never was a Boy Scout.  I never played Little League or any male sport growing up.  I grew up queer, a Tom Boy, a lesbian and I had to fight and prove myself every inch of the way to get where I am today.  I played girl’s softball and was a Girl Scout growing up.  All of that is forgotten now and definitely does not seem to fit with my current persona.  This can be very disturbing and upsetting if we’re not prepared for it.  Personally, I don’t care that much and I never really liked being a “female role model” anyway, so it’s sort of a relief.  I know my history and that’s what matters to me.  No one ever handed me anything and I’ve had to work my butt off to get what I have and I don’t care who knows that about me.  Others, though, could find this to be very upsetting and it’s something to keep in mind.

Balancing the emotional and physical sides of the transition process is tricky and not for the faint of heart.  There are a lot of days where I still wonder if I can handle all of this and even whether I want to.  There are days when I wonder if I made the right decisions along the way.  But then I think about the option of going back to living as a butch lesbian and I know that I could never do that again.  So, it’s onward I go as there is no turning back for me at this point in time.  What the future brings is anybody’s guess, but I know I will handle it to the best of my ability.

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.

 

I’ve Been Published

Months ago I wrote a short essay for a new book that Michael Eric Brown, of TransMentors International,  was working on and submitted it with little hope of it being accepted.  The book was to be an anthology of personal accounts by transgender men who came from a lesbian background.  The book is out in publication now and is actually a pretty interesting read.  Part One is educational and delves into many aspects of gender and sexuality.  Part Two is where Michael put all of the personal stories from folks like me.  I was pleasantly surprised and honored to be included in this book and hope that some of you might enjoy reading it.

If you’re interested, here is the link:

A Herstory of Transmasculine Identities: An Annotated Anthology

 

An Epic Journey

I have a little sun room in my house where I like to sit in the morning, sipping coffee while reading or writing on my laptop.  I remember sitting there five years ago feeling desperate, alone, misunderstood, unloved, depressed, tears streaming down my face as I struggled to decide whether to start moving towards transition or not.  My relationship was near ruin and on the brink of breaking apart.  We had just built a beautiful new home that I dearly loved and all I could see was that if I moved forward towards living as male I would lose everything I had built over the past 15 years, including my partner and my pets.  My business was struggling too because I had been ignoring it for the past couple of years due to a vast depressive period I had gone through.  My life was falling apart.  I had escaped into an alternate reality to escape my life and now it was all coming to a head and there was no avoiding reality any longer.

I had to do something.

But I felt boxed in.  Every direction I looked all I saw was loss. All of my options were lose-lose.  Where was the win in any of this?  I couldn’t see any.  My partner had made it plainly clear that if I transitioned than we were done.  And if I transitioned I’d be alone, poor, probably living on a cot in my shop and eating instant mac and cheese if I could even afford that.  And how would I even attempt to transition without any money or health insurance?  This was my rock bottom and it was pretty awful.

I look back at that time now and I’m overwhelmed by how far I’ve come.  How far my family and friends have come.  How far my relationship and my business have come.  I still have my partner, my pets, my home and my business.  All are thriving.  And me?  I’m living as a man.  Sure, my partner still calls me she, but we’re working on that.  Or we will be soon.

How did I get here?  Well, my partner and I separated for a few months and slowly started “dating” each other again.  I started seeing a gender therapist who sent me to an endocrinologist for hormones who also checked other things and found that my thyroid levels were very low.  So I started taking thyroid pills two weeks before I started taking a low dose of T (androgel).  Remarkably, the thyroid pills made me feel better immediately.  My mood lifted significantly from that alone.  And then I added the T in and my outlook on life shifted 180 degrees.  In my darkest hours, alone, separated from my family, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was all going to work out somehow.  I had no idea how, but I was 100% convinced that it would.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  My partner and I slowly rebuilt trust and our life together again.  I came out to some close friends.  I changed my name.  I had a hysterectomy and top surgery.  I went from a low dose to a full dose of T (about 2 years ago).  And now, I get called sir at drive-thrus and can walk into the men’s room without anyone batting an eye.  It’s amazing!

But before I got to this point I had to go through what, for me, was the second hardest part of transitioning (first being the initial decision to begin).  And that was being in the muddy middle ground between male and female and nobody, including myself, knowing whether I was a girl or a boy.  I struggled hard with my identity at this point.  I didn’t know who I was anymore.  Every day I could feel my old, female self slipping further and further away and this new, more masculine, awkward person emerging.  I wanted to go hide in a cave until it was over.  It was hard to leave my house and go to work, see people, interact with people I have known a long time.  I felt so naked and self conscious.  Vulnerable.  Raw.  Exposed.  My mask was slipping off and I couldn’t hide it anymore.  My deeper voice and receding hairline were giving it away no matter what clothes I wore.  There was no closet big enough for me to hide in.  I couldn’t just stay home all of the time.  This was not an option.

So, with the knowledge that the only way out was through I made a bold decision to just come out about it to as many people as I could as quickly as possible and stop hiding who Shawn is.  I brought Shawn out into the light of day as boldly as I dared, despite my pounding heart and sweaty, shaking hands.  I stood up naked for all to see and it was terrifying at first.  But no one freaked out (well, maybe one person, but she’s better now) and the sky did not fall in on me.  I still have my partner and home and business and pets.  And now I have more friends that I’ve made through blogging and my connections in the trans community.  I have more support than ever and my relationships are genuine and honest, completely honest, for the first time in my life.  No hiding who I really am anymore.  I’m strong enough now to honestly say to myself that if they don’t really like me enough to accept this about me than I don’t need them in my life.  That, my friends, is a HUGE triumph!  I’m so proud of myself for getting to this point that I feel like I could burst.

Last weekend, Candace’s mom had a commitment ceremony with her boyfriend at the annual family reunion.  She asked me to stand up with Candace and her other daughter’s family with her at the ceremony.  She asked me if I wanted to wear what the other men were going to wear.  Yes!  I was nervous.  I’ve never been in a wedding type ceremony before and the whole family was there to watch and SEE who I am now.  Candace reminded me that no one was going to pay attention to me since this wasn’t about me.  Yeah, right!  They noticed me.  Anyway, I did it and a lot of people told me how great I look and no one made any negative comments to me or Candace.  Were they talking about me in private?  I have NO doubt that they were.  And I’m ok with that.

Changing people’s perceptions of us takes a lot of time, effort and patience.  This is a big ship to turn and it doesn’t happen overnight.  Little by little, slowly, gradually, people  start to acknowledge and appreciate who we have always known ourselves to be.  The first step is always in accepting that yourself.  Bringing that which has been hidden out into the light is both liberating and terrifying.  But, just like with anything new and raw, with enough time, light and air, it starts to feel normal and healthy.  Some of us are braver than others.  I am by far not the bravest person in the world.  Most of the time I’m wrought with anxiety, indecision and self doubt.  Most of this process has been extremely slow and gradual.  Excruciatingly slow and gradual.  But that’s the way I had to do it for my own comfort.  Every so often I put a little bit more of myself out there for the world to see and once I’m comfortable with that I add something else.  Some things are bigger than others, like changing my name.  But some things are as small as wearing a button down shirt instead of a polo to work one day.  Or wearing a binder, or a packer.  Will anyone notice?  Will anyone say anything?  It’s all about testing the waters and finding what’s right for me.  And the process continues.  I’ve been growing out my chin and mustache hair for the past month.  I’m sure people have noticed but no one’s said anything to me.  I’m just laying this on top of all the other coming out layers I’ve already set down in place.  This is anything but methodical, but in a way it is.  It’s about testing the waters and gaining confidence.  Do a little thing and observe.  Do another little thing and observe.  Nothing bad happened so lets do another little thing.  Layer upon layer upon layer upon layer.  Thin, delicious slices like a Smith Island cake*.

smith island cake

Classic Smith Island Cake

Eventually you get something that looks like your true self.  Which is continually evolving and changing anyway, so there’s always new layers being added onto the base of what you previously built.  Cake upon cake.

stacks of cakes

Transition, for me, has been more like a death and a rebirth than a transition.  Dawn was already dying when this all began five years ago.  Shawn emerged from the fire of burning down what was left of her.  I’m a better and much improved version of myself now.  Everyone who knows me can see this.  It’s not only about how I look but how much more open and authentic I am now.  I’m still learning to let my guard down, but I’m a lot less guarded and shielded than I’ve ever been before.  My walls had to come down in order to traverse this path.  I’m more at peace with myself and with life now.   I’m less angry.  I’m more patient.  My anxiety and depression is better.  Life is all about evolving and learning as far as I’m concerned.  Staying stuck and stagnant is certain death for me and that’s where I was five years ago.  I’m so thankful that I woke up when I did and had the courage to move forward into a new, uncertain future in spite of all that I seemingly had to lose to get here.  The journey has been incredible and in some ways, it’s just beginning.

 

*Note:  If you’re curious about the Smith Island cake or Smith Island itself, here are a few links of interest:

http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/01glance/symbols/html/dessert.html

https://smithislandcake.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith_Island,_Maryland