Let’s Start at the Very Beginning (Part II)….

If you haven’t read Part I yet, I strongly encourage you to read that first in order to get the full perspective.

So my wife and I were high school sweethearts, while we were dating, I made what I can look back on now as my first attempt to explore my feminine identity with her.  For Halloween one year we were going trick-or-treating with some friends and I decided I wanted to go as a cheerleader.  Well of course she had uniforms so she gave me one that I could use as a costume.  However, when we got to her friends house and I changed into skirt and sweater, upon seeing me she freaked and insisted I take it off and go as something else. As I look back on it now, I realize that I felt safe enough with her to try exploring my feelings of gender.  However, her extremely negative reaction simply reinforced all the shame I had internalized throughout my childhood.  So I continued to deny what I was feeling and tucked it neatly back in that little box.

Throughout the rest of high school and into our college years, I continued to crossdress in secret, fantasizing over what it would be like to experience being a woman for just a day, but still denying any possibility that this was more than a fetish. A few years into our marriage, I brought up my crossdressing in a more direct way.  I told her it was a sexual fantasy, a fetish, something I wanted to try.  She was very freaked out at first.  She asked me if I was gay or if I was a woman trapped in a man’s body.  Of course I told her no, it’s just a sexual fantasy, I said, nothing more.  So she humored me for a while.  I got to dress up, we did some role play, off and on, for a few years she indulged my desires.  Little did I know she was merely suffering through.  But when she went all out to give me one of my fantasies on my birthday one year, that all came to the surface. She couldn’t handle it anymore and told me how much she hated it and didn’t want it in our bedroom.  So back into the closet I went, shamed and rejected again.

I continued to crossdress in secret.  I looked for ways to feminize my body a bit.  I wanted to shave my legs but she hated the idea.  I searched for any legitimate excuse to do it but couldn’t find one.  Then finally one year for Halloween, I got her OK to go as a drag queen.  Finally, I got to shave my face, my legs, really my whole body.  I won a prize at the party we went to for my costume but again when we got home I was reminded how much she hated it, hated my shaved face and legs, and how she couldn’t wait for it to grow back.  Again, all the pressure to fulfill a stereotypical male gender role was placed on my shoulders and I did what I could to meet that obligation.

*** Now let me take a quick aside here. I realize as I’m writing this that it may come off as I’m blaming my wife for my repression and denial. That isn’t the case. She has her attractions and desires and she can’t help that anymore than I can help who I am. She has a right to feel as she does.  I bring these up only to further explain how I got so far down the road without ever coming to terms with the reality of my gender identity.  It’s easy to look back in hindsight and see these events for the part they played in my denial, but neither of us at the time understood that of course. ***

Fast forward to 2016.  By this point I was learning a lot about transgender issues, in particular non-binary identities, from our oldest child who had come out first as bi-sexual and later as gender fluid. As I learned more about the experience of being non-binary, I began to identify with a lot of the feelings. On top of this, the repression I had been managing for years was really starting to take its toll.  I was starting to feel resentment toward my wife over being forced to keep this part of my life hidden. I was experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts as a result of being stuck in the closet and living in my own personal shame. It was time that I sought professional help.

I made an appointment with a therapist and told me wife about it.  I didn’t tell her why and didn’t plan to until I had an answer as to the reality of my gender identity.  However, she cornered me a couple weeks before my appointment and I told her what was going on.  I told her I thought I was non-binary but that I needed to explore it more to confirm.  Despite her past reactions to my crossdressing, she had always been very liberal and open minded, even with our own child.  So I honestly thought she’d find some relief in finally knowing what was going on with my need to crossdress.  Well I couldn’t have been more wrong.  She was destroyed, absolutely crushed, she told me she married a man, not something in between.  It was horrible.  Many tear-filled sleepless nights would follow between the two of us.

As I started to do things to make my appearance more androgynous, she really struggled with it.  Many cruel things were said, and she slipped into deep depression.  Later we would discover that my gender issues were not the only cause but rather the trigger that set off many mental health crisis for her. For months I talked to a therapist, explored female presentation, setup rules with my wife for when and where I could be more feminine and of course other boundaries too.  The most important one she set was that if I made permanent physical changes to my body (i.e. Hormone Therapy or surgeries) that she could no longer stay with me.  At the time, I told her it wasn’t a problem.  To use her words, I told her I would not “go Caitlyn Jenner on her” and that I liked my male equipment.

But through the coming months, we had many talks in which she expressed a gut feeling she had that I was going to discover I was transsexual and that I would transition.  Many of those late nights she spent asking me very direct and challenging questions.  As a result, over time I became more open to the concept that maybe I was more than gender fluid.  Maybe my connection to a male identity was just another form of denial, a way of holding onto what was familiar out of fear of the unknown.  So I explored this more with my therapist.

Then, in February, everything hit in one fateful night.  We went out for a nice dinner to celebrate the anniversary of our time together. While dinner went very well, at one point of the night she made a comment about me being something between a man and a woman and it crushed the mood entirely.  There were a lot of tears and talking on the way home and then as we laid in bed that night.  As she had done many times before, she reiterated her desire for me to be happy, that she wanted me to figure out who I really am, in many ways it was supportive and actually helped me be honest with myself.  But she also expressed her fear that who I was would be more than she could handle.  She again asked pointed questions, pressuring me to consider the impossible, that I might just be a woman born with the wrong body.  At some point, I don’t remember what she said, but suddenly it just clicked.  This IS who I am and the only way I’m going to truly be happy is to transition.  Her last question was “Why is it that I just know transition is what you’re going to need to be truly happy”.  My simple response was “Because it is”.

With those three words, I finally admitted what I had buried so long.  With that short little statement, I completely broke my wife’s heart, shattered her world, destroyed the very foundation of the  relationship we had built, and rendered invalid the hopes and dreams we had for the future. Yet I knew this was what I had to do.  I knew that there was no way I could survive not pursuing an authentic life where my body and social roles match my gender identity that I had always kept hidden even from myself. With those three words, I opened the door to transition and living my truth.  Finally it had become fact, I am a transgender woman.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning (Part I)….

“Let’s start at the very beginning”, in the words of Julie Andrews, “it’s a very good place to start”.  So how did I end up as a 39 year-old who has thrown their whole life into upheaval in order to transition to living as female?  How did I not determine this sooner?  Why transition now?  Did I always know I was a woman?  It’s taken me some time and a lot of psycho-therapy to find the answers to these questions but let me dig right in.

As I look back now, the reality is I always knew something was off.  As a kindergartner in a Catholic school, I can remember being curious and a  little jealous of the plaid jumpers and tights that the girls in my class got to wear. Often times I wanted to play with the girls but was shunned because I was a boy.  I learned very quickly in that social setting that any talk of doing things the girls do was shameful.  I dared never share the fact that I wished I could wear their clothes and play their games.  Shame and fear taught me to bury my feelings and just be a boy.

So that’s what I did all through elementary school. I played sports, I hung out with the other boys, I tried to fit in. I struggled often. I got into fights at school and was a regular visitor in the principal’s office. I had a hard time making many friends other than just a couple key friends.  As we got closer to high school, I started to figure out that I had a much easier time understanding and talking to girls than I did boys.

My cross dressing started while I was in elementary school as well. I can still vividly remember the first time, while playing with my sisters, that they had me wear pantyhose and a pair of my mothers sandals. The feeling was exotic and exhilarating.  However, I dare not tell anyone.  I started cross-dressing in private. I had ample opportunity when I would be home alone to steal my mother’s or my sisters’ clothes and dress up.  As puberty started to settle in, my activities took on a more sexual tone and I started to look at my cross-dressing as more of a fetish.

It was in my middle-school years when I remember Jerry Springer and Maury Povich had very popular daytime talk shows.  I can remember seeing many episodes where they had transsexual guests revealing themselves to lovers or family members.  Secretly, I’d fantasize about what it would be like to become a woman. Yet again however, these were shameful thoughts that I needed to tuck away and ignore. While it was a fun fantasy, I just “knew” I wasn’t like them.  They were portrayed as freaks and I was not a freak.  So add in more denial.

As I entered high school, things didn’t get better. In a much larger setting, I still had all the awkwardness that I had experienced in elementary school.  I didn’t make many male friends, but I was great at getting into the “friend zone” with the girls. My cross-dressing continued in private while in public I tried like hell to fit in as a guy.  I was bullied, I was picked on, I got into a few fights and I tried to fit in with any crowd that I could.  It just didn’t work.  In my freshmen year, I met this cute little cheerleader who would later become my wife.  After being friends and her switching to a different school, we started dating in our sophomore year.  He was this cheerleader, a girl who had all the popular friends, dating me.  The scrawny geek who was picked on and tormented.  Truly, the geek got the girl!!  I did everything I could to try and be more of a man for her, even if I didn’t really understand how.

To be continued…..

 

 

Finding Allies In Unexpected Places

We’ve all heard plenty about the characteristics of the so-called “Millenial” generation.  They’re lazy, they’re entitled, they’re activists just looking for a cause. Personally I’ve always felt the labels given to this generation are unfair and judgement passed upon them are even more so (especially since it was my generation that created them).  What often goes unseen is their prevailing level of desire for social justice.  In the area of all things gender identity related in particular, they’ve taken on a far more open minded view than traditional culture.  In fact, this generation seems to actually vilify those who do not share their viewpoint, and it seems they’ve taken it to an extreme.  I’ve watched as my eldest child (who identifies as non-binary themselves) has blasted potential allies who simply were trying to understand but asked the wrong question or asked it in an inappropriate way. It’s this almost belligerent approach to demanding acceptance that I want to address.

I’ve heard all the arguments about why we as trans people shouldn’t have to put up with this.  It’s not our job to educate people, why do we have to be understanding of them when they’re understanding of us, etc.  I agree with the validity of these viewpoints but the fact is we in the transgender community are the ones with something to lose. We’re the ones that seek equality and justice.  Indeed if you look back at every social justice movement in the history of this nation, each was only won when the marginalized group stood up and worked together to be heard.  Long held social preconceptions had to be overcome in each case and that could only be done through educating those who may be sympathetic to the cause if they understood the facts. This is no different today when it comes to transgender people. It’s not the ideal world, if it was we’d already have equal treatment.  The fact is while this type of education of others can be burdensome and repetitious, if we’re not willing to put in that work we’ll never achieve equality.

We have to work to build allies because ultimately the transgender community or even the larger LGBT community will not win this battle on our own.  We need allies in the form of heterosexual cis-gender people whether they be black, white, Asian, Arab, whatever. If we look at those previous historic examples of struggles for equal treatment, their progress only began in earnest when members of the dominant social groups began to see the value of their cause and support it.

Our enemies are master manipulators. They drive a message of whining minority groups who want special treatment and aren’t willing to play within the socially accepted processes. They fabricate stories of violent and hypocritical lashing out from our ranks in order to erode sympathy we may gain for our cause among the masses. When someone who is open-minded enough to potentially become an ally, parrots one of these stories or expresses concerns consistent with that falsified message, responding with venomous indignation only play’s into the manipulation that has been perpetrated against us. It is incumbent on us to play the “bigger person” role and exercise extreme levels of restraint in order to overcome the messaging of those who hate us.  But that is our path to success.

I’ll detail two recent stories from the last month that illustrate how often times those that may seem like enemies can be converted to allies through just a little education.  The first was one of my in-laws.  While not hateful toward me, she expressed many of the prevalent anti-trans biases that we hear in the media today. We were talking about bathroom bills and she of course parroted her concern over supposed threats to women and young girls if “men” are allowed to use their bathrooms. Calmly and quickly, I pulled out my phone and pulled up a recent picture I had seen of a trans-man in a bathroom.  He was of muscular build, had a full beard and was wearing a cowboy hat, the traditional “man’s man” if such a thing there ever was.  In a very cool and collected tone, I showed her the picture and asked, “so you would rather that this person use the women’s room from now on?”  Of course she balked and said no.  However, when I pointed out to her that this person was born with a female body and based on the wording of current and proposed laws in North Carolina and Texas, would be forced to use the women’s room, her tone changed completely. Suddenly she was open to hearing more about the transgender experience.  By the end of our conversation she stated that we have separate stalls, so what does it even matter.

The second story comes from Facebook. I received an alert that a friend had commented on a story about a cis-male and trans-male couple that were pregnant. I looked as his comment and found it incredibly offensive but it also exhibited the type of ignorance that plagues are society in terms of transgender issues. I calmly started a messenger session with him and suggested he view a video I had posted the previous day in which a professor discussed in detail, the physical characteristics of brain formations in transgender people versus cis-gender people.  I respectfully but directly suggested that it might clear up his confusion on how a pregnant trans man is actually a man.  Ultimately I got him to agree to watch it.  Afterward he admitted it was eye-opening for him and that he didn’t realize science had made such discoveries. We ended up having a long conversation in which he expressed a view that everyone should be free to do what they need in order to be happy as long as they don’t harm others. He still mentioned his fears about straight men in women’s bathrooms, but I figured I had still made a huge dent so I calmly disagreed but left it at that.

Now sure, these to anecdotes are kind of a best case scenario.  Not everyone is so open minded. However, not everyone we perceive as close-minded and ignorant is really a lost cause. Some respond well to scientific facts which we have on our side.  Others I’ve found respond well to the opinions of medical doctors and mental health professionals, again on our side. Sometimes just the social dignity aspects are the key to opening someone’s heart to our need for equality. However, the surest way to reinforce the false stereotypes these people harbor, is to assume they’re bigots and react with anger or disdain.  Sometimes all it takes is the patience to determine how we can best appeal to their sensibilities and leverage that with some factual education to enlighten them.

Welcome

So bear with me as I’m just getting started.  For now, please check out the About Me page to learn more about who Alyssa is and why I’m writing this blog.  In the future I hope to share all aspects of my transition with the goal that other middle-aged trans women getting started on their journey may finally have a resource they can identify with more easily.  There are so many 20-somethings and 50+ trans women on the web sharing their experience but that middle group seems to be under-represented.

I’m not a professional or trained blogger. I only plan to share my story in the best way I can. Bear with me as this is a project in its infancy, but I hope to build a lot of content rather quickly.  Eventually, when I’m fully out living full-time as Alyssa, I’ll have pictures that chronicle the early stages of my transition which I’ll share.  For now, I have to keep a lower profile until I’m ready for the world to know just who I am.  It’s a shame it has to be that way, but sadly it’s the world we live in.

Thanks,
Alyssa