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!

Oh The Irony

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

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

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

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

No thank you!!

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.

 

Wardrobe Malfunctions and General Grumpiness

I had one of those mornings today where nothing i put on to wear felt right to me.  Strangely, I had thought those days were long over since I now have the luxury of wearing anything I want.  Apparently they aren’t.  I used to blame my tantrums over my wardrobe on hormones, or my period, or chest dysphoria.   I didn’t want to wear another polo shirt today and I didn’t want to wear jeans.  I’m getting sick of wearing the same old crap day in and day out.  But I work in a shop and I don’t dare to wear anything nice to work either, so I have about 5 black or navy blue polos that I usually wear throughout the week.  It’s pretty boring and I was wanting something different today.  Part of my problem is that I’ve lost weight in the past year and top surgery has made my shirts all much looser than they used to be, so I end up feeling frumpy in even my nicer clothes.  I found a pair of black chinos that I had forgotten I had and put them on.  I couldn’t decide on a shirt.  I must have put on four shirts until I settled on a light blue plaid button up that I used to really enjoy wearing.  It’s way too big now but I tucked it in and it looked a lot better.  I surveyed myself in the full length mirror in my bedroom and decided that it was the best I could do so I proceeded to get myself out of the house.  About a third of the way to work (I have a 20 minute commute), I started getting a panicky anxiety attack about how I looked today and I turned around to go back home.  I made a deal with myself that I’d just get a t shirt to take in case I needed to take the shirt off later in the day.  Once I was home, I ended up changing into one of my better v-neck t shirts and, though I still wasn’t in love with my reflection, I decided to stick with it and go to work.

So what’s the problem?  What did that shirt trigger in me?

What I saw in the mirror looking back at me was an old man.  A grumpy old man.  A fat, grumpy old man.  I have a grumpy resting face.  I wish I didn’t, but I do.  I have a lot of extra skin around my neck from losing weight and it makes me look older than I am.  I don’t love my face like I used to and that upsets me.  I like it better than I did before I lost weight and started T but it’s still a very different face than I used to have for most of my life and I don’t like it as well.  I look in the mirror and don’t really recognize myself anymore.  And I’m not in love with the new look.  Plus, I need a haircut and that always puts me in a grumpy mood.  And my hair is a bone of contention that I’ve been trying to ignore for a while now.  I used to have really nice thick hair and I really liked it.  T has thinned it out and I’m still getting my haircuts from the same lady that did them before I started transitioning.  She does a little clipper work on the bottom and sides now but the top is still styled like it used to be.  I’m not 100% happy with it.

Maybe I’m just in a bad mood today and nothing is going to make me happy.

Maybe it’s the black chinos throwing me out of whack.

Maybe I need to go to a barber and get a proper men’s haircut.

Maybe I need some clothes that fit me properly.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m still struggling with my identity and when I wear button up shirts it makes me feel like the whole world sees me and that makes me feel naked and vulnerable.

Maybe this is one of those days where I just don’t have it in me to go to work and present as male and deal with that if someone who I haven’t come out to happens to walk in and wants to talk to me.

I’m tired.  I’m tired of thinking about gender all of the time.  I’m tired of not feeling comfortable in my own skin or the clothes I want to wear.  I’m tired of seeing my old, grumpy, sad face reflecting back at me in the mirror.  I want to look younger and happy.  I’m tired of feeling afraid to be out in public in fear of running into someone I used to know before I transitioned and dealing with their shock or having to explain.  I want a fresh start in a new place where I can just be myself and not worry about going about my life.  I want to go to work and do my job without the fear of some old “friend” popping in to say hi and asking for Dawn.  I’m tired of being ashamed of myself and living in fear.

Maybe it’s just all getting to me today.

 

 

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