Hello Dysphoria My Old Nemesis…

Today something happened and I don’t know why. Dysphoria came back in a really strong and acute way, something I haven’t felt for a very long time. I had simply decided to change out of my workout clothes that I had been wearing since I went to the gym this morning. As I was changing my underwear, I removed the tight briefs that I wear when I work out (help with the tucking as I work out in leggings) and was going to put on a much more comfortable pair of everyday panties.  That’s when that demon that so many transgender people know all too well, decide to rear its ugly head.  Welcome back dysphoria, you sinister bastard.

It started simply but escalated fast. As I selected which pair I was going to wear, I could feel a disconnect between the body I was looking at and the clothes I was about to put on.  I thought for a moment about the reality that underwear I was about to put on was not designed to fit with those male attributes of my body.

I began to analyze.  Looking at the gusset, strategically placed in just the right spot for someone who has a vagina but certainly not providing coverage for a penis. I tried telling myself, these are the underwear I’m supposed to wear, I am female.  Yet all I could think about was how cis-women never have to worry about such things. As I started to pull on my underwear, I thought about how their panties just fit their anatomy (maybe not perfectly, but certainly in much better fashion that a trans woman like me). And that was it, that old familiar feeling of how wrong my body is slammed into me like a freight train.

My body froze, I stopped moving with my underwear only pulled up to about calf height. I started to feel that disgust, that loathing of my body, the self-hatred over my condition, and of course all the questioning of why the hell did I have to be born with this mismatch between my body and my gender. As I thought about my identity, I shuddered when I realized that I feel trapped.  I’m not a man, men don’t have breasts like mine, they don’t dress, act, think or behave like me.  I rattled through every gender stereotype. Yet while I may have breasts, I may finally be free to act the way I feel in society, how can I be a woman with this thing between my legs?

For the first time that I can remember, I felt a true hatred for that thing, that quintessential male feature that brands me as less than a woman. While I feel blessed for the three children that it helped create, in that moment I wanted nothing more than to see it gone. But I’m stuck with it for now.  All the legal, medical and insurance related hoops I have to jump through first prevent me from getting the one medical procedure that would address the situation anytime soon.  This overwhelming frustration even fostered a very brief and passing thought of what if I got rid of it myself. Thankfully, the overwhelming logical side of me kicked in with all the reasons that would be a tragic idea.

As I finished getting dressed, I analyzed my overall appearance.  I saw the attributes that I don’t like, the features that I hope the hormones will change. I felt disgusting and had to turn away from the mirror, quite literally. I felt all that hatred all that shame all that depression that I’ve been fighting for so long to conquer just rolling over me now like a rogue wave in the ocean. I was drowning once again, wishing that I could just feel right in my own body. I broke down on my bedroom floor against my bed and sobbed for what felt like hours (in reality it was merely minutes). “I don’t want this, I don’t want to be this, I just want to be normal” were the phrases I struggled to blurt out as the tears continued to fall.

So now I’m sitting here, pondering where this came from.  I’ve been overall very happy for months.  I’m living authentically to my gender every day.  I have an amazing support system of family, friends and co-workers all of whom are just glad to see that I’ve found happiness. I’m treated as a woman by almost everyone I encounter every single day.  Yet somehow I’m still not feeling like it’s enough.  I still have this body that does not have the feminine features I long for. I’m in awkward area of transition now where I don’t feel my physical appearance fits either binary gender. It’s a very familiar feeling, in fact it was a few very specific instances where I felt this emotional entrapment that led me to transition.  But I hadn’t felt this in so long, why is it back?

Unfortunately I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t know that even if I had the answer that it would really help me feel better. I’m not sure these feelings ever go away completely.  I can have surgery, I can take hormones, I can do all these things but will I ever feel that inherent connection to my body that cis people cannot even recognize and therefore take for granted?

Judges and Clients and Doctors…Oh My!!

So it’s been a really long time since I wrote my last blog.  I could probably write 10 separate blogs (and I still may) to cover each of these topics in their entirety, but for now I want to give everyone and update the crazy myriad of things that have occurred since my last writing.

Since the end of August, I’ve hit some major milestones.  My legal name change was completed at the end of October.  I elected to petition the court for a confidential change meaning that I would not have to publish an ad in the newspaper announcing my name change prior to the court date. It also meant that the court records and my updated birth certificate would be sealed once the case was closed. However, there is an added burden as well.  In Wisconsin, a confidential change requires you to prove that publishing the ad would likely endanger you. So I went into court that day armed to the gills with evidence of harassment I’ve received, general stories & statistics of transgender violence and even supporting letters from my therapist and doctor.

As is often the case for me, it was a case of over-thinking on my part. I ended up not needing any of the materials.  The two sentence explanation I had included with my petition was enough for the judge.  So much so, that before he even called me to testify to the court (confirming my identity, where I live, etc.) the judge had already told me he was going to approve my petition.  In literally 4 minutes, I became legally recognized as Alyssa Miller.

Thanks to a letter from my OB/GYN (managing my hormone treatments), I was able to update my gender marker on all government documents except my birth certificate. Wisconsin’s antiquated laws and ridiculously conservative government still require documented surgery to change gender on the birth certificate.  But wow, what a feeling having my driver’s licenses and (finally) my credit cards showing the proper name.  I will say the name change process itself with all the various government entities, businesses, vendors, etc. has been a complex adventure.  But that’s a topic for a whole separate blog.

I had planned my name change to coincide nicely with my formal transition in the workplace, which in turn would coincide with my start of living full time as my authentic self. Well that plan worked out terrifically. As planned, on November 1, I made the announcement to my full company of roughly 50 people, that I was now officially Alyssa and would no longer be known by my old name.  I got a new email address, a new network user account, everything (although it did take some battling on my part, again a topic for another time perhaps).

A few days before the announcement I spent my last moments physically presenting as a male. As some of you know, I am a soccer referee in my spare time. That Sunday, I worked my last game of the season. Part of the reason for my November 1 date was that I knew soccer would be done by then and I could more easily make the switch.  So that day, I refereed one last game as him.  I took the picture on the left below in my car immediately after the game.  This was truly the last time the public would ever see “him”.  The picture on the right was 2 hours later after driving home, taking a shower and getting myself put together for dinner out with my parents.

Since going full-time, I’ve already had my first experience at client site. I’m not 100% clear on if the client knew about my transition (we had one or two phone conversations with me as “him” the month prior). However, it didn’t matter because the client was great.  I met with many people who knew nothing of me prior to meeting in person and they were all terrific. Other people in the client’s office who were in no way associated with the project I was working on were all very friendly and natural in their interactions with me.  There were a few stares, but those possibly could be the result of seeing a face around the office.  Who knows?  I even had one gentleman flirting with me on my second day in the office.  It was oddly affirming.

As far as my medical transition, I know for many that’s important info you want to hear about too, so I can provide some updates there as well.  I’m two days short of the 8 month mark for hormones and I’m starting to see some really significant changes.  My breast development really kicked in at about the 6 month mark.  At this point I’m somewhere between an A and B cup, much closer to a B and in fact that’s what I’m wearing today.  My hair has also thickened, enough so that a couple months ago I got it colored and styled and decided I would ditch the wig permanently (as you may have noticed in the photo above).  I haven’t gone back.  It is so freeing at this point to finally be able to go out without prosthetics (no breast forms or enhancers, no wigs, just me from head to toe).

I’ve had 5 sessions of laser hair removal on my face now and there is still a significant amount of hair growth/re-growth. Despite being the ideal candidate with light skin and black hair, the results are a little disappointing.  I have one session remaining in the package I bought and then it’s back to electrolysis. Overall I’m noticing my facial features are softening and my skin is definitely becoming smoother. I’m a little disappointed in the lack of body fat redistribution (my hips really aren’t growing the way I’d have hoped), but I’m hopeful that as I progress  toward the one year mark, that will improve.

Finally, also on the medical side of things, I had an initial consultation with Dr. Schecter in Chicago.  We discussed both Breast Augmentation and GCS, both of which thankfully are covered by my insurance. He was someone impressed by the level of breast growth I’ve seen thus far so I’m still hoping that I might not end up getting Breast Augmentation.  He gave me a good checkpoint to use for when I should try to make a decision about whether or not am happy with my own growth.  On the GCS side, it was a little daunting and suddenly all too real when he started showing me post-op pictures.  His work is very impressive and I was happy that he had a nice mix of results to show. In the end, leaving his office I felt more sure than ever that GCS is going to be the right path for me.  The thoughts of recovery I admit make me nervous, but the end result is really going to be worth it.

So that’s all for now, sorry it’s more of just a tactical update than a deep analysis of trans issues so hopefully you still find this information useful.  As I said, I could write complete separate entries on many of these topics.  So let me know in the comments what you want more information about and I’ll use that to guide future topics. I’ll also try to be more active.  A three month hiatus was much needed with all that was going on, but I also feel like I’m letting my readers down.  Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.

 

Why Now?

“Why Now?” Shortly after I came out to my family that I would be transitioning, my father took me out to lunch and asked me that single solitary question. On the surface it seems like such a simple question and that it should have an equally simple answer.  But the question and the response to it are so much bigger than they appear on the surface.

“Why Now?” The question translates into so many things.  Why would you transition now and not wait until the kids are done with school and moved out of the house?  Why did you wait until now, didn’t you know this about yourself sooner? Why would you do this now when you’re at the prime in your career? Why would you start this now when we have political leaders clear up to the president of our country who continue to float legislation and implement policy that targets transgender people specifically?

“Why Now?” When I heard those words, I knew instantly that it encompassed many questions.  My father went on to say he fully supported me but wondered why I couldn’t wait 5 more years until our kids were all off-to or done with college.  I sat in silence for what felt like an eternity as I tried to gather my thoughts. I finally told him that I had thought a lot about this and that if I didn’t transition now, I didn’t feel like I’d make it another 5 years. For the very first time, I shared with him the thoughts of suicide I had experienced and how they were worsening.  I told him how the years of denial, self-imposed shame, self-loathing and isolation had piled up and were amplifying each other in an exponential way.

“Why Now?” The words continued to bounce around in my head as I finished trying to explain why I was doing this in this time and space.  I had asked myself this question so many times that I knew the answer I gave was over-simplified and wholly inadequate. It didn’t truly address the myriad of nuances encapsulated by those two words. They are a powerful pair of words, six letters that evoke feelings of anxiety, regret, fear, depression and even now still…shame.

“Why Now?” Since beginning my transition, I’ve tried to answer this.  Many times I’ve felt the regrets of why didn’t I do this sooner.  With time, I’ve slowly come to realize that everything I had experienced in my life leading up to this moment were necessary steps to prepare me for transition. Had I started sooner, my chances of successfully navigating this rocky and dangerous path would have been very low. So while I wish I had the advantages of being 20-something and transitioning, being 40 and starting now was what had to happen for me.  Accepting this has also allowed me to accept that each new challenge, each tough day, each heart wrenching experience is another encounter I that will prepare me for what lies ahead.

“Why Now?” These words have been echoed by so many people who are my allies and a part of my circle of support.  They just want to understand.  Even my wife has asked me that same question. The fact is I don’t have all the answers.  No matter when I would have come to terms with my gender identity and started transitioning, there would have been reasons why it wasn’t a good time. Outside influences, fears and uncertainty in my own head, the many real threats of loss, all could be used at any time to justify not transitioning.  I had to shed all of this to truly understand what was in my heart, what would finally allow me to feel whole, and the answer was being true to myself and authentic in my gender. That and that alone would make me a better person.

“Why Now?” The question even goes to the heart of my gender awakening. As I try to answer the why, it morphs into a question of how.  How did I finally get to the point where I knew the only way for me to be comfortable in my life would be to transition? I leveraged a lot of sources.  I scoured the internet for any resources I could find.  I watched countless YouTube videos.  I filled out workbooks and questionnaires and took quizzes all trying to figure out just what I truly was.  In the end, I found a few key resources that really helped me be honest with myself and break through the barriers that 39 years of denial had built up between my external and internal realities.  I’ve included links to a couple of the resources that had the most profound impact on my journey. If you’re in that questioning stage, I would recommend any or all of them.

“Why Now?” So why have I chosen to blog on this topic now? It’s is a seemingly harmless question that at least in my experience has come from people who want to be allies and want to understand.  They have good intentions but don’t realize these can still be dangerous words. They can bury us as transgender people under piles of self-doubt.  They conjure up aspects of anxiety we thought we had long since conquered.  They trigger us to relive some of the darkest days of our past.  They often force us to reprocess all the self-discovery we’ve completed as if somehow we’ll find we made a mistake along the way. Because of the potential danger in these words and my own proclivity to revisit them of my own accord, I’ve had to learn to let go and realize that there is no significance in the answer to this question. Gaining an understanding of how we got to this point is really irrelevant in terms of helping us for the road ahead. Attempting to answer this question will not spark some new life altering revelation, instead it only serves to pull us back into the depths of a struggle we’ve battled with our entire lives and thought we had finally conquered.

“Why Now?” When I hear those words today, I acknowledge their power and but I take that power away when I can say there is no need to answer that question.  There is no good that will come the effort to find an adequate response.  So I won’t give those words the power to control my thoughts and drive my emotions.  Instead my answer becomes the very simplistic, oddly sarcastic yet fully valid response to a question with a question.  I ask simply in response, “Why Not Now?”

LINKS:

Dara Hoffman Fox – Dara’s book “You and Your Gender Identity” gave me a ton of self awareness tools that helped me on this journey and her videos help motivate me forward.

Should I Transition – Kristin’s Trans Life on YouTube was a great set of videos for me.  This one in particular, while leveraging questions that are somewhat contrived, got me to really consider my own reality.  The answers to the questions aren’t as important as the thought process they spark.

Let’s Queer Things Up – Sam Dylan Finch’s blog has so many great perspectives on the topic of gender identity and not conforming to the gender binary.  I can’t point to a single post because the who blog is so awesome.

Explaining Dysphoria: What is it, How does it feel

I received a couple of messages following my last blog post asking about dysphoria.  One came from a cis-gendered person who wanted to understand more about what transgender people experience.  Two others, trans sisters, expressed a frustration that I share; how do you explain dysphoria to someone who has never experienced it?  Gender identity is such an innate thing, so inherent to our very essence that most people never have to think about it.  It just is.  Unfortunately, herein lies the issue.

I’ve given this a lot of thought in the past but I’ve never actually tried to describe it to anyone. Today I’ve put together those thoughts and I will give it my best shot.  I write this with the perspective of trying to explain to a cis-gendered person (someone comfortable that their gender identity and body characteristics are a match).  I think the easiest way to do this is with a visualization exercise.  My apologies in advance, for simplicity sake I’ve stuck with binary gender roles, the topic of a non-binary spectrum is something for a later date. So here we go:

Think about your gender for a moment.  Most cis-gender people can easily reply that they are either male or they are female.  So what are you?  You know this inherently, it’s who you’ve been all along.  But what is it that let’s you know that you’re either male or female?  Can you put your finger on it?  Is it your body’s sex characteristics, the clothes  you wear, or simply that’s what you were told you were from a very young age?

Now, imagine that woke up one day and you had the body of someone from the “opposite” sex. In your mind you still know that you are male or that you are female, but your body does not match.  Imagine that everyone looks at you and sees you for the body you have.  They call you by a name that matches your body rather than your own name that matches who you know you are. When you try to explain to people what has happened and that your body is wrong, they tell you that you’re mentally ill or that you’re just going through a phase.  They say, “after all you were born with this body”.  Even though you know that’s not right, they won’t listen.

Imagine how it would feel when you try to wear those clothes that you naturally have been wearing all your life.  They don’t fit right. You’re told that you cannot wear those clothes because they are for members of the other sex.  Instead you are forced to wear clothes that feel foreign to you.  They fit in ways you’re not used to, show off or cover parts of your body that you wish they wouldn’t, and looking in the mirror you feel awful about your appearance.

Speaking of that mirror, look at your face and your body. You know it’s not yours so you feel disconnected from it. When you see your reflection, it is like you’re seeing someone else’s reflection. You’re almost surprised by the image you see when you realize that’s you.  It feels so wrong, how can people see me this way?  That’s not who I am.  Why can’t I see me?  These thoughts consume your mind when you look in the mirror.

When you’re with other people, you can’t act like your normal self.  They tell you that you that you need to act properly based on your body.  You scream at them that this is not you but they simply don’t listen.  You should walk more feminine.  You should be more manly.  Imagine what it’s like to be told that when it doesn’t match who you know you are.

The people you’re used to hanging out with won’t socialize with you because they see your body and assume you’re not one of them.  But if you try to socialize with people who have the same body characteristics as you, it’s awkward and difficult because you don’t connect with them.  You can’t understand the way they act, the way they talk, or why they behave the way they do.  You look across the room at the people you used to socialize with and you long to be in their circle again.  To wear the clothes they are wearing, acting the way they do, doing the things they do.  You understand them and they’d understand you if they’d just accept you in. But you’re not allowed to because your body says differently.

Do you rebel? Do you start wearing clothes and acting the way that feels right to you?  Do you try to force your way into your old social circles. What’s the result if you do?  You get bullied, you get taunted, you get threatened and you get beat up. People shun you.  They insist you’re acting foolish, that it’s crazy, that you just need to accept that your body defines who you are not what you know in your mind is the truth.

Now, how it would feel if you were told that a doctor could fix this all for you, but it will take years of painful treatments, surgeries and medications to make your body right again? The expense will be astronomical and your health insurance won’t cover any of it. Your body will never be perfectly back to normal because medicine hasn’t advanced that far, but its still better than continuing to be in this body and treated like you’re someone else. If you choose to go through these medical procedures, you’ll be forever branded as different, a freak, a pervert. Your health insurance or doctors may refuse you routine health care because of it. You risk your family, your friends, your employer, everyone in your life completely abandoning you.  Your own government tries to outlaw your very existence.  How can you possibly decide between these two options?

Now think about the anxiety you’d feel as a result of this experience.  Imagine that to stay safe you start dressing and putting on an act, trying to match up to the body that you now have. You stop telling people about who you really are because you get bullied or worse when you do. You hold the secret inside you, all to yourself.  It’s a very lonely place when you don’t dare tell anyone.  You feel depressed because you’re so isolated with this truth.  No one will believe you when you tell them who you really are, about who you were before you woke up this morning in this body that is just plain wrong. You fear pursuing the medical solution to your problem because of the risks to your health, to your lifestyle, to your financial situation. So you hold it all in and fall deeper into depression, perhaps so bad that you start to imagine killing yourself as the only option to end the pain.

Finally, take those feelings, all that anxiety, all that pain, that feeling of no one realizing who you really are and not believing you when you tell them. That isolation of being alone in your reality with no one able to believe, understand or help you. Roll all those feelings together into a nice bundle and imagine that this is how you’ve felt every day for as far back as you can remember in life.

That my friends is the best way I can describe what dysphoria feels like.  That is the struggle that the estimated .3% of our population who are transgender have to deal with on a daily basis. We are uncontrollably anxious, we are depressed, and we do feel very isolated from the world of “normal” people. Now you can end your visualization and return back to your real life, in your proper body, and please be thankful that you can do so with such ease.  It’s not that simple for some of us.

A return to the dysphoria

My transition continues to progress, every day I’m living more and more as my authentic self.  However, I’ve not yet reached the date where I plan to go full-time.  There are still aspects of my life (work, other hobbies) where I have not yet transitioned and thus must return to a fully male presentation.  Last night I was thrust into one of those situations.  While painful in the moment, in retrospect it was a really good experience for me that taught me a few lessons about myself.

I am a soccer referee. While the administration is aware of my situation, I chose to wait until after the fall season to transition in that role. As a result, my presentation when working games is still fully male (or as male as I can present these days).  I had my first game of the fall season last night, and so I dutifully donned my old male referee gear and headed off to work the game.

The referees I worked with are not yet aware of my transition.  I got the many comments from them about how different I look with longer hair and no more facial hair. They also mentioned my weight loss.  I thought about addressing my transition right then and there but since we only had 30 minutes before game time, I didn’t feel it was the right time or place.  So instead I reverted back to my old techniques of vague statements that weren’t lies but didn’t expose my gender transition.

Using the bathroom before the match was a terrible experience.  Presenting as male, I of course chose to use the men’s restroom.  I would later realize that this was the first time in 4 weeks that I’ve used a men’s public restroom.  It was awful.  Standing at the urinal, I literally had to fight back tears.  It felt foreign and awkward, it just wasn’t right.  When I went to the sink to wash my hands, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror.  It was a decidedly feminine appearance and I started to panic.  OMG I’m in the wrong rest room!!!  I washed up quickly and got out as fast as I could.

During the match, I found myself reverting back to old habits.  Men’s soccer matches are a testosterone fest.  To survive it as a referee, my approach was to meet or exceed the level of testosterone on display while remaining in control.  This meant puffing up my chest, using the biggest most booming voice I could, and basically giving off the aura of “I take shit from no one”.  It has worked for me for 12 years, but not anymore.  I just can’t do it.  I felt phony, I felt like everyone could see right through me and I simply wasn’t comfortable trying to give off that level of “masculinity” when I know now that it simply isn’t me.

All in all it was painful.  I hadn’t felt dysphoria like this in a really long time. I’ve been doing so much to be visible as a trans woman, to present authentically even when not presenting to “pass”.  It felt like I was regressing by now attempting to fit back into that male mode again.  After the match, I called my one of my dearest trans sisters and we talked for over an hour.  She let me vent, she listened to my pour out the pain of the night, she no doubt heard as the tears began to fall.  I told her all I wanted to do was get home and go back to being me.

When I got home, I rushed in and the very first thing I did was change.  Off with all the male clothing and I threw on a bra. OMG, the feeling!!  I was finally back to my real self.  I ended up putting on a Wonder Woman tank top I had bought but not yet worn as I thought it would be empowering.  It was.  As I laid in bed, still on the phone with my sister, I was filled with a sense of well-being and contentment.  It was a familiar feeling.  Oh yes, this was that feeling I used to get each time I put on female clothes.  It was a reminder to me of just how awful things have felt playing the male role and how freeing and wonderful it is to finally be authentic and true to myself. I’m ashamed to admit that I had already begun to take that feeling for granted.  It’s been becoming my new normal and thus I’ve become somewhat desensitized.  I think I needed the pain of the dysphoria, returning in a way that it hadn’t in months, to remind me of what I’m fighting to shed and what I’m striving to achieve.

So while in the moment, the pain was real and very raw, it served a much greater purpose.  I woke this morning with a whole new energy.  I feel spectacular, ready to take on the world.  I got up and, despite having worked a game until 10:30PM last night, I got out and did my morning run. Starting the day with an accomplishment, now its time to press forward and continue to accomplish things.

As a final thought,  I have an announcement to make. I am officially out publicly on Facebook.  Last Thursday I made a lengthy post to my friends, family and neighbors explaining the full situation. So far the response has been great.  As a result, you can expect to see pictures of me on this blog from now on.  Starting today with the obligatory before and after picture.  I’m so close to being completely free from the need to hide and to be secretive.  Just over 2 months to go until I’m living full-time authentically and will completely shed this male persona that has shielded me for the last 39 years.

Of Strength, Confidence and Courage…..

As a transgender woman progressing through my transition, I often hear comments about how strong or courageous I am. I’ve never been very good at taking compliments but these statements in particular I’ve found difficult to believe. I feel like I’ve been a scared little girl, hiding in shadows all my life. Even as I creep out now, I fear that one wrong step, one ill-timed event, might send me running back to the relative safety of that hiding place once again. A few recent events allowed me to really analyze the realities of the strength, confidence and courage it takes to be successful on this journey we call transition.

This week was a tough one for transgender folks in the United States.  Our government, at its very highest level, has made clear its intentions to launch an all-out assault on our rights as citizens of this country.  Inspired and emboldened by the announced ban on transgender people in the US Military, I took to Facebook and issued a call all my transgender siblings to push ourselves into new and possibly terrifying levels of visibility within our communities. As I reflected on the still very present threats to our very existence as transgender people, it seemed clear to me that our lack of strength in fighting back against these attacks has made us easy targets for these bullies.  I firmly believe that presenting ourselves in the world with confidence will, over time, erode the will of our enemies in their continued attempts to marginalize and invalidate us.  I, for my part, chose to go to my laser hair removal appointment (where I had not yet announced that I am transgender) in almost no makeup, with no breast forms (just my tiny buds under a bralette), my natural short hair, and a big bold pink shirt that announces “This is what Trans Looks Like” on the front.  My intent to was to make it clear who I am to everyone I encountered that day.  I truly believe the shirt sends a message of confidence and I felt being seen that way was a small token of defiance against the increasing discrimination in society.

The next day, my best friend and I had a girls’ night out at a local club. They were hosting a preliminary round of a drag competition, so there were many drag queens, cross dressers and transgender people in attendance.  At one point in the night my friend and I were approached by a cross dresser.  I’ll use that term and he/him pronouns as that is how he identified himself to us.   He introduced himself and began some small talk with us.  At some point he told my friend “I couldn’t tell that you were a guy from over there”, I believe meant as a compliment but somewhat backhanded.  He then turned to me and said, “You though, I could tell you were a guy” and proceeded to tell me about how my jaw line was too strong and tried to give me advice on contouring to minimize that.

As you might imagine, this was a pretty crushing blow for me.  I was already struggling with my self-image because of the after-effects of my Laser treatment the day before.  The inflamed follicles and redness made my face (which I had been noticing taking on a decidedly feminine quality) now look very masculine again. So tossing this commentary on top sent me into an emotional spiral. I hung my head, said very little, and just prayed for the conversation to end. Thankfully, my friend understood right away, of course, the impact that statement had on my emotional state. After chasing him away, she was able to look me in the eyes and help pull me up from that dark place.

It took some time but I began to think about it and realized that I was not projecting the same confidence I had the day before. I looked at my friend and felt guilty for allowing this person control over my emotional state and to potentially ruin both our night. I was angry with myself for not having the courage to stand up to those comments and inform this person that his statement was out of line and that I would not accept that treatment from him.  Through that anger and that guilt, I was able to summon the strength I needed to turn myself around. I lifted my head back up and refused to let our night be turned sour by this crass stranger.

As my friend and I talked further, we discussed how this was just a small example of the things we have to face as transgender women in this world. That in fact, in the future we’ll have to face more difficult adversity.  My friend pointed out that this could be a learning experience, implying that it could be a positive experience.  She was right.  I chose to turn this event on it’s head.  Through hindsight, I learned how I could have responded to the situation rather than retract from it. Ultimately, it happened in a pretty safe place, so it was good time to get that lesson. Realizing that I had briefly given control over my emotional state to someone else, galvanized me to not let it happen again. I believe I am now better prepared to handle a similar situation in the future.

Speaking about this situation this morning with another very dear friend. She pointed out that my resolve to be authentic and true to myself proved bigger and stronger than that which threatened to topple all the confidence and courage I had mustered so far in my transition journey. This, I believe, is the essence of why others point out to us that we’re courageous, brave, strong, whatever, for pursuing our transition.  It’s not to say that we’re not scared and vulnerable. Rather, it speaks to the fact that we’ve developed a sense of purpose and drive that allows us to face and conquer each of those fears, doubts and insecurities.

As we think about our identities and transitions, many of us (myself included) have regrets that we did not come to terms with it sooner. What I’ve come to understand is that each of us had to reach a point where we were ready to deal with our identity and the need to transition.  We each need to develop that sense of purpose, that drive, that resolve to no longer accept living in hiding.  We need those pieces in place if we’re going to be successful.  Had I not lived 39 years of shame, secrecy and denial before transitioning, I would not have the same motivation to see this journey through and likely would have failed in transition.

With this new understanding, I now see why others see us as strong and courageous, brave and powerful. We truly are! There is no doubt that there are many in this world who live with other secrets, shame and self-loathing who are unable to summon the needed determination to overcome and shine through.  So celebrate who you are today, know that your journey will continue to challenge you but that through each challenge you will find new levels of strength that you never knew you were capable of.  With that knowledge, be confident in who you are, let the world know you will not shrink before their hatred, and find the peace that comes from living authentically in your own true gender space.

Passing? Blending? At what cost?

Browse any transgender focused support forum on the web and you’ll see countless threads with various questions and advice about “passing”.  First, let me say, I hate that term as it applies to the transgender person.  “Passing” is, of course, the idea that we can move through public spaces presenting as our authentic selves and be believed to be someone who was born into the gender we are presenting as. The problem is, the word “passing” suggest that we are “passing” ourselves off as something other than what we are.  I believe this term originated this way in the cross dressing community where the goal of the activity is to appear as something they’re not for a limited time before returning to their typical life.

When it comes to being transgender, the point of going out in public, presenting as a gender that is consistent with the gender we identify with has a very different purpose.  It is us choosing to present ourselves authentically, to be seen for who we are, to be comfortable that our appearance matches our gender. We are not passing ourselves off as something we’re not but instead finally showing the world who we truly are.  I won’t pretend for a moment that the idea of being perceived by others as someone who was born into the gender we’re presenting isn’t important.  There are logistical and safety-related reasons no doubt.  There is also the affirmation of our social transition that we’re finally being recognized as our true gender.  These are all super important factors.  However, this is why I tend to use the term blending.  It suggests that we’re fitting in.  We’re presenting in away that gets us treated just like the rest of our cis-gender siblings.  We’re not doing things that make us stand out from the other folks who share our gender.  So blending is important for many, if not all of us, but just how important?

Now bear with me, the setup for this story is a little long. I recently had the opportunity to take a vacation and hang out in person with a very dear trans friend that I had met in an online support forum.  I got to do a lot of self-discovery on this trip as well as just have very frank and open conversations with her about aspects of transitioning, body image, etc. I was going to Florida to meet her, where she has a gorgeous pool and she makes regular trips to walk on the beach. She suggested I bring a bathing suit. “Holy Crap!!” was the first thought that came to mind.  I’m only a few months into hormones and I don’t even have a bathing suit, can I even get away with this? That was a mantra that played in my head over and over again.  For two long months, I hemmed and hawed over what type of swimsuit to get.  I wanted desperately to wear a bikini but my own concerns over body image kept pushing that idea away.  Finally, about 2 weeks before the trip, I finally decided to take the plunge (very punny, I know, sorry) and bought a skirted bikini with a halter-top.  “Oh, I’ll just wear this at her house in her pool, I’m not going to a public beach in this.  I’ll just wear shorts and stay out of the water there”, was how I reconciled this in my brain.

Fast forward a couple weeks and indeed we did go swimming in her pool. We were both wearing bikinis and given the relative seclusion of her backyard, I was very comfortable.  She, being 16 months on hormones, looked amazing in hers but her unconditional acceptance of my less than perfect image gave me confidence too. So mission accomplished right?  Well so I thought, but things would soon change.  Unfortunately, except for a stop on a quick tour she gave me of the town, I hadn’t been to the beach at all because of uncooperative weather (rainy season in Southern Florida ya know). So I made plans that on my last day in town, I was going to go to the beach for an early morning walk.  That night I laid out a pair of short shorts and a top that I planned to wear to the beach, set an alarm and went to bed.

I woke up the next morning 3 hours before my alarm.  I began thinking about conversations I’d had with my friend the night before.  About how she would love to wear heels but doesn’t because she’s already 6 feet tall and worries it would get her clocked (discovered as trans, not a cis-woman).  She also was lamenting how she looked in this gorgeous dress she bought because she felt people could see her imperfect belly.  I laid there thinking about how absurd this was.  She’s gorgeous.  She has a phenomenal body that many women would kill to have.  She looked better in that dress than the majority of the population would.  Other women have told her they’d kill to have her height and her legs.  So why was she so afraid to wear what she really enjoyed?  Well it was then that my thoughts turned to myself.

Girl, you’re about to go to the beach.  You want more than anything to be able to wear a bikini in public, so what is stopping you.  I realized it was the same fear that was stopping my friend. A fear of standing out.  A fear of being seen as different, not fitting the mold.  A fear of not living up to the standards that society has set for how I should look as a woman. WAIT!!  WHAT?!?!?!  That’s exactly what I’ve been doing for 39 years.  Trying to live up to society’s expectations of what I should be as a man.  Trying to be a proper masculine man when I knew deep down that wasn’t who I was.

So it brought me to this.  Why am I transitioning?  Why do transgender people all over the world make the decision to transition?  In large part is it not because we’re tired of putting on an act?  Haven’t we reached a point in our lives where we can no longer hide who we truly are and we just want to live authentically as ourselves?  So why then would we trade the shackles of society’s expectations of our assigned gender just to struggle with trying to put on an act consistent with society’s expectations of our authentic gender? This is the 21 century. More than ever before, women are demonstrating their capability to break out of social molds, to eschew those expectations and assert their ability to be their own person.  Isn’t that the kind of woman I strive to be, I asked myself.

Suddenly, I was filled with confidence. I sprung up from my bed, got dressed in my bikini and a mesh cover-up, put on some waterproof makeup and went off to the beach before I had a chance to let any doubts creep into my mind.  I went to the beach and walked a few miles, I went swimming in the ocean and took lots of selfies, I even for the first time setup a live feed on my Facebook profile to document the experience and my raw feelings.  It was amazing!  I felt great.  I paid little attention to the others on the beach as they passed by other than exchanging an occasional smile or greeting.  The sands did not open up and swallow me, I was not a focus of ridicule and shame, I was simply left to live my life as those around me chose to simply live theirs.

As I look back on this and on the road forward, I’m left to wonder, how important is it that we blend?  At what point do our efforts to blend start to impact our ability to live truly authentically?  If my natural inclinations are to look a certain way, act a certain way, talk a certain way, etc. and I compromise those because I want to fit in, have I really accomplished anything in my transition?  I’m transitioning because I want to be the real me, not the me that society says I should be so that I fit into one of their convenient buckets of genders X or Y.  I started down the transition path so that I could be free of living a lie, not trade one lie for another.

I don’t mean to suggest that there is a clear and firm line here.  It’s a balancing act for sure. While I want to live a completely authentic and true existence, I do also want to be perceived as a woman and not be treated as some pseudo-female persona.  So I need to temper my desires at times.  But my advice to my transgender siblings out there is that you make sure it’s the right balance.  Don’t give up the things that are truly a part of who you are simply to fit into another of society’s defined roles.  So wear those heels, even if they make you 6 foot 4. You’ll be in good company with the likes of Victoria Silvstedt, Elle Macpherson, Maria Sharapova and many other gorgeous women who share your gift of height.  If you want to wear a bikini or that tight dress, do it!! Quit worrying about those broad shoulders or that little pooch belly, I can find you many photos of cis-women with bigger bellies and broader shoulders who aren’t afraid to rock the 2-piece. Ultimately, please just be true to yourself, the transition road it hard enough as it is.

 

3 Month Hormone Check-in

As a transgender woman, tracking progress of our medical transition seems to be an implied obligation. So last weekend marked three months since I first started Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). It’s kind of interesting because for the first two months, things were very subtle, so much so that I couldn’t even detect them.  Well this month that all changed.  But before I get ahead of myself.

When I started HRT back at the end of March, my doctor put me on low-does Spironolactone and an extremely low dose of Estradiol. The dosage for the Being on low-dose to start with is pretty common. Doctors usually want to make sure you don’t suffer any ill effects from the medications and that seems like a responsible approach.  I was shocked however to find out that the dosing I received for Estradiol was lower than what the clincal guides I was reading specified as the starting point for low-dose HRT.  So that realization along with a lack of descernible physical changes caused me a lot of anxiety.  My doctor had explained her reasoning but it just didn’t help.

Thankfully at my two month appointment, she doubled my dosage of both.  That brought my Spiro up to what the guides said was full dosage and the Estradiol was now at that low-end for low dosage.  Well the increases seemed to have helped.  At about the 2 and a half month mark, it was like someone flipped a switch. Suddenly I was seeing changes, and feeling changes, and that has been very exciting.  So what has changed??

Very early on, the one change I did notice shortly after starting HRT was that my sweat lost almost all odor.  For someone who typically works out a lot and would get so sweaty I couldn’t even stand to be around myself, this was a welcome change.  I also noticed a decided drop in libido which I also didn’t mind.  Both of those happened early on that was all I saw in terms of changes for a while.

Sitting here at a little over 3 months, there’s a lot more to see.  At that 2.5 month mark, my nipples got very sore and were very firm.  That firmness has continued to spread and now covers the entire nipple area.  My areolas are starting to grow a bit as well.  And just this last week, I noticed that I probably should stop going around shirtless in the house.  That’s right, I’m actually starting to see some growth in these girls!!  That’s been super exciting.

I’m also noticing a definite change in my skin.  It’s becoming softer and also a little more fragile.  For instance, I had an ingrown hair that I was trying to pick out.  After a few seconds, my skin was blood red and looked awful.  Ok lesson learned, we don’t do that anymore 🙂  With the skin softening, the features of my face are also starting to soften.  Some of the finer lines and wrinkles are slowly disappearing and there’s a subtle change in my face that I can’t put my finger on but makes it look a little more feminine.  Thanks to these changes and the laser hair removal that is in progress on my face, I no longer need concealer to cover my beard and mustache areas.  Some light foundation and powder is all it takes now. I’ve even started wearing a foundation and powder (along with a little eyeliner) when I got out presenting as male.  On at least one occasion while doing this, I was called ma’am by a kid behind the counter at Culver’s.  So I guess that’s a good sign.

This past week I had another follow-up with my doctor and she again doubled the Estradiol dosage.  So as I look forward now, I’m hoping to start seeing a little more significant change.  One thing in particular that would be grate would be the shift in body fat that everyone talks about.  I’d like to start seeing my hips plump out a bit.  I’m also hoping that my body hair will slow down and that my head hair will start to thicken. These are things other trans women have told me they’ve experienced, so I’m looking forward to both of those.  In three months I go in for more blood work and my doctor has assured me if things look good, she’ll bump up my E dosage one more time.

So things seem to be well on their way.  Maybe when I get to that 6 month mark I’ll post a progress comparison picture with before HRT and at 6 months.  We’ll see folks 🙂

Our Happy Marriage…Just a Sham??

As you’d expect, coming out as transgender at the age of 39, with a wife and three kids,  has had it’s challenges. My wife in particular, while wanting very badly to be supportive, has really struggled dealing with the emotional side, the loss of her husband. You can argue all you want that I’m ultimately the same person (believe me I have made that argument), but the fact remains there is a definite loss here and her feelings are valid.

Just like so many stories I’ve heard of how other wives have reacted, my wife has had her moments where her emotions take over and she can say some pretty painful things.  One of the things in particular that I’ve really struggled with is when she said that she feels like our whole marriage has been a sham. How could we have been that happy married couple that we projected to the world if secretly I was in so much pain. I’ve had a really hard time coming up with a good explanation for this.

A couple’s counselor that we saw for a while tried. She brought up the idea that a person could be very heavy or have features about their body that they hated and wanted to change but still be happy over all.  I thought this was a nice try, but body image issues really fail to capture the experience of feeling dysphoric both physically and socially. I mean if you feel your weight is too high, you can diet.  Don’t like your large forehead, change your hair style, etc.  But being in the wrong body and the wrong role in life is so much more.  So how could I help her understand how I could be happy in our marriage while still dealing with this discomfort.

The answer finally came to me today out of the mouth of a friend. She was sharing her own experience of transition and something she said resonated with me. She said she wasn’t unhappy with her life or her marriage or anything, but she was unhappy with herself. Later on in private, I thought more on this.  It is a subtle but important distinction that I think captures the experience quite well.  I was able to function, able to have good times, able to enjoy time with my wife and kids. But at the same time, when I looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw.  When I saw women engaging in activities that I wished I could be a part of, I hated being who I was.  Finally, I feel like I have the answer that allows me to reconcile the seeming conflicting ideas of a happy marriage yet an unhappy husband.

I’ve also come to realize that for 39 years I was running scared. While I could be comfortable doing things and having fun, I was still hiding out. I had to put on my act, be the man people expected and above all else, never let on how I was really feeling inside. It’s this fear and the exhaustion of hiding myself that finally caught up with me.  It’s the pain of being ashamed of who I am and frustration from not feeling like I could be true to myself that led to thoughts of suicide. While I enjoyed the many blessings I had in life, there was truly always this background noise of something that wasn’t right.

I think for many wives of transgender women, this is a common issue.  They feel like their marriage hasn’t been real.  They start to feel like they have less value because they couldn’t “keep their man”. Not only do they grieve the loss of their husband, they have to deal with the loss of some of their own self esteem. It’s difficult to explain to a mourning wife that there was nothing inadequate about them.  Profess your love over and over, affirm every wonderful thing about them, shower them with signs of affection, yet they still fail to see their own worth.  I’ve had to battle this with my wife.  But now I feel like I have some answers that maybe equip me a little better to fully explain my experience and prove that it is in no way a reflection on her.

 

Parental Support – A luxury few transsexuals experience

Well it’s official, this past week was my 40th birthday and my first as a trans woman.  It was a really big day, not because of the number but the significance of it all.  Since I’m early in my transition and not full time yet, the fact that I’m transgender adds a new dynamic to so many life events and this birthday was just another example.  My parents, who have been amazingly supportive of my transition, realized the significance and gave me a really special gift.  It was one of my mother’s handmade cards and on the inside it read:

So yes, I cried.  What an amazingly sweet thing to say.  What a beautiful way to express it, and what a truly wonderful way to affirm their acceptance and support for who I am.  However, later, as I shared the experience with friends and family, I began to remember how rare an experience like mine is for transgender people.

Truly, my heart aches every time I’m on Facebook or a transgender message board and I read the stories of my trans sisters and brothers whose parents abandoned them.  Many are near my age or older at the point their parents disown them.  How sad that parents, in the twilight of their lives, would throw away the greatest part of their legacy, their own child. Its truly gut wrenching to know that these people, who spent their whole living in the pain of shame and gender dysphoria now are forced to trade that pain for the pain of being rejected by their own parents.

Sadder still to me are the younger trans folks, especially the kids, whose parents cast them aside. It’s well documented just how significant of an issue homelessness is among the trans youth. Children just seeking a life where they don’t have to be ashamed of who they are, instead now are forced into a life they could have never imagined because those that took on the responsibility of child-rearing have ditched that responsibility once the going got tough.  Certainly, this also contributes to the unusually high degree of suicide among trans individuals. It’s shameful and something that needs to change.

When I began to deal with the possibility of transition, I knew the potential consequences.  It’s stated in so many transgender resources that if you’re going to transition, you have to be prepared to lose everything.  You have to be ready to give up your marriage, your home, your parents, your siblings, your job, everything. So I did take that risk into consideration as I explored and ultimately concluded that I was transsexual and transition was the only way I could survive.  But for me it was a choice of life over death, there was no way I would have made it another five years living as I was.

I’m one of the truly fortunate ones.  I have not lost my siblings or parents, in fact they’ve become my greatest advocates.  My children all accept me and have no problems with the fact that their father is a woman. I haven’t lost my marriage completely, while our relationship will never be the same my wife is still here. She’s had major struggles of her own coming to terms with my transition, yet despite her pain she’s done her best to be supportive and to defend me in the face of idiocy from others.   Even my job appears to be stable at this point.  Although the real test will be once I go full-time and they have to use the correct name and pronouns and interact with the real me.  Ultimately, I’ve been amazingly lucky up until now.

I was told recently by another trans woman that I have been an inspiration for her.  I’ve been told my others about how courageous I am, yet I just don’t feel it.  So far, my road has been a lot less rocky than others have had to face. I almost feel like I’ve had it easy.  While I’m glad to be able to inspire others, I truly hope that I’m not giving others a false sense of hope.  We each must prepare for the worst as we embark on this journey of transition.  We can hope for the best as well but chances are the reality will be somewhere in the middle.