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.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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

Nobody’s Normal

I used to think no one would really understand me.  Heck, I didn’t even understand me.  I wondered why I couldn’t just be like everyone else and why life couldn’t be simpler.  I wanted to fit in and be “normal”.  The other day I read a post on a forum I belong to from a person who was pretty much saying what I’ve felt for most of my life.  He wanted to know, in a nutshell, if others in the group ever felt like they just wished they were born in the sex they truly were and if others were also tired of always feeling like they didn’t fit in.  Oh boy!  You bet!!  Not only did I read that and nod my head in a knowing “mm hmm, yep” but a lot of other folks jumped in with their own affirmations and explanations for this not so odd commonality in the group.  Some of the comments got me really thinking about why we all want to be seen as “normal”, ordinary, fitting in, so much.  I think I figured it out, at least partly, and I want to share it with you today.

It’s because we’ve all been brainwashed from birth to believe that life works a certain way and that if you deviate from that one true path than YOU are the problem, not the system.  We live in a one size fits all society.  We’re put in pink and blue boxes from the minute we’re born and read fairy tales and watched Disney movies that only have one story line.  Boy meets girl.  Boy loses girl.  Boy gets girl back and they live happily ever after.  Well folks, there is no such thing as “happily ever after”, not all boys want to live happily ever after with a girl and some boys might look more like a girl than a boy.  I’m not saying that people can’t make marriages work for a lifetime.  They can.  There is clear evidence of this.  But, it takes a lot of work and give and take to do it.  And sometimes it sucks the life out of one or both people in order to pull it off.

I grew up watching shows like The Brady Bunch, Eight is Enough, Leave it To Beaver and Father Knows Best.  They all portrayed these perfect families with two loving opposite sex parents and their nearly perfect children.  Even when the kids or the parents did something bad it wasn’t really BAD stuff by today’s standards.  Even in the 1950s that just wasn’t realistic.  It is a nice fantasy, especially for a kid who’s life is far from perfect.  But it’s just further propagating the lies and making people feel like they’re failures when they don’t measure up to Ward Cleaver or Carol Brady.

I saw a meme on Facebook yesterday that asked if we (society) were ready for a lesbian Disney princess.  Heck yeah!  Bring it on!  We need to re-write all of those silly fairy tales out there and put all kinds of relationships and genders in them.  Why not a trans princess?  Or a gay prince?  That would be a start.  I know it will offend some people, but you know, it’s high time they wake up out of their dream land and realize that they’ve been living in the Matrix and sold a bunch of lies.  Life is not as simple as ‘if you have a penis then you’re a boy and if you have a vagina then you’re a girl’ and ‘marriage is only between a man and a woman’.  Nope!  It’s way more complicated than that and it’s time to stop perpetuating the brainwashing and lying about what our children’s futures are going to look like.  Very few of us are going to marry a Prince or kiss a frog and meet the love of our lives and none of us are going to fall into blissful, perfect love with someone and live happily ever after.  That’s all a lie.  And I think it’s destructive.

This destructive brainwashing and programming is what makes us miserable because, when we can’t conform to what society says we should be we think there’s something wrong with us.  The problem isn’t with us.  The problem is with the lies that society perpetuates to keep us all in our nice tight little confined boxes.  If one studies nature at all you can’t help but notice all of the color and variation as well as ‘abnormalities’ that naturally occur.  We celebrate four leaf clovers as being lucky, but really they are an a rare variation of the three leaf clover.  Roses come in a whole array of colors and that’s a wonderful thing.  There’s an animal rescue group in Alabama that house a lion, a tiger and a bear all in the same area because they grew up together from babies and they love each other and get along great.  Tell me that doesn’t go against nature!  People pay money to go see them and think it’s a great thing.  And it is.  But why can’t we allow people, our fellow humans, who are all struggling to just live their lives, find happiness how they wish with whomever they wish without condemning them and spitting in their faces for being ‘different’?  We can.  We just have to wake up and smell the roses and realize that we’ve been lied to our whole lives about what it is to be human.  And, for God’s sake, show some compassion and human decency for each other.  Celebrate the diversity of the human experience in all of it’s colors and glory.  Be you and enjoy your life!