Last week I had a disturbing experience at the therapist-led Transgender support group meeting I attend each month. It left me sad and disillusioned, and depressed. Today, five days later, I'm feeling better so that's good. I've thought about writing this in my blog but I've been very torn. I don't like to hear myself complain or whine and I don't know what the point of this post is anyway. Maybe we'll learn together.
Prior to the support group meeting things were looking brighter. My wife had told me that she wants us to stay together, and that while she still has lots of reservations about what I'm dealing with, she wants us to work it out. And on Wednesday evening we had a couples meeting with our therapist that was very productive.
Thursday evening was the TG support group. I'm gradually feeling a little more confident/adventurous so I wore my ballet flats as well as a new women's long sleeved shirt that I ordered from REI. It's pretty androgynous but with its sleeve details and boatneck it's definitely not male. One more little step for me.
As usual, the moderator/therapist (I'll call her Susan) called on the members around the room one by one to talk about what's going on for them. There were four transsexual women (at least on HRT and a couple have had their GCS surgery). The first one talked about some things going on for her at work. Evidently she's an executive at a local technology company. The second one talked about lectures she's been giving at Stanford and some papers she's writing or contributed to. The third one (I call her Pamela, more about her later) talked about having a retaining wall built at her house and travel plans she and her wife have coming up, and the fourth was tired and didn't talk much. Finally, Susan got to me.
I was surprised that no one seemed to have anything to say about being transgender or whatever. I figured, okay, I'm the new girl and not nearly as far along. So, I started by giving them an update on how things are going better for me, how I'm finally internalizing to myself that I am in fact transgender. I made a small joke that I'm probably the first person to question that about themselves.
Pamela, who is 72 and fully transitioned, often tends to set herself up as the know-it-all and this evening was no different in that regard. For some reason she started firing questions at me and making statements, like:
"The most important thing is how well you pass as a woman." I responded that I am not ready for that but that yes, eventually, I may want to, but I may end up being satisfied coming only "part of the way out" in public.
"If your gender is female then you need to decide what kind of female you are. And if you don't know you'd better do some serious introspection." I told her that in fact I have done one heck of a lot of introspection and that gradually I think I'm making progress.
"Or maybe you're just going to give up on this?" As if I might purge or otherwise decide I am not transgender. As if she cares or has a reason to care? I told her that no, at this stage in the game for me, it's clear that I cannot deny it.
About this time I asked her why she was hectoring me like she was, "pushing my back against the wall." She responded that I had asked her questions (which I had not) and that therefore she has the right to ask me questions too.
She went on for a while longer. I felt like I was on the witness stand and unless I kept answering and in a nice way I was going to lose. I almost started crying a couple of times.
Finally, Susan (the therapist) said I was doing fine and we kind of stopped. Since I was the last one, we then made plans for where we would meet for dinner. As I left the office I noticed that Susan's mouth and lips were kind of trembling. I wondered why but later on reflection I think she was also deeply affected.
The following morning I woke up very sad, despondent. I realized that the whole thing had affected me very deeply. I wrote this email to Susan:
You asked me at dinner how I was doing and I thought I was fine. This morning I'm sad. Pamela was mean and rude to me last night. Maybe it sounds silly but I came close to crying a couple of times; even now as I think about the interchange with her I am tearing up.
To me, "transgender support group" is a meeting where it's understood that we're all at different places in our journeys and its members are there for each other, to support, provide their thoughts and ideas, and overall, provide a safe place to be vulnerable and open among what might become a group of friends and compatriots.
Instead, Pamela took the opportunity to question everything about me, if I'm "woman enough", committed to being trans enough, present feminine enough, ... all cast in the "reasonable" light of "Well, you asked me questions so I can ask you too." I asked questions of the group, not of Pamela specifically, and certainly not of the insulting nature of her's.
I suppose she has her own issues and maybe that's one reason she attends the group. On the way to our cars Katie kindly patted me on the back for standing up to Pamela, saying she needs to be taken down a peg or two from time to time. Fine, but that's no excuse for Pamela's being a bully.
Our conceptions of what it means to be female are based on inner feelings, observations, and perhaps some wishful thinking. To me, part of being feminine means it's okay to be lighthearted and sweet, vulnerable and feeling, sensitive and caring.
So, I am saddened this morning as I consider what happened and what I should do next. Pamela gave me an insincere apology at dinner. I am glad she will not attend the meeting until August. I'm not sure but I doubt I will attend future meetings when she will be present.
Here is the email I received from Susan:
I was upset re group interaction last nite as well. I could not sleep. I plan to talk to Pamela via phone later this afternoon or before she leaves for Paris. She was definitely confrontive. I am not sure what she was trying to do. I do understand your feelings and suspect the others felt the same way. I agree with your description of being feminine. Try to put it away. She is not important in your life.
So that's it. This confrontation brought up so much for me. Like arguments I had with my mother when I was preschool and could not express myself. Or when I was taunted and teased by neighborhood bullies in elementary school, whom I wanted to be friends with. The weekend sucked, as I kept replaying the whole thing.
I'm sure we'll discuss this at the next support group meeting when, thankfully, Pamela will not attend because she'll be travelling. Unfortunately that will be four weeks from now. I don't know what set her off. Not that there is a reasonable justification for her behavior. Maybe she's impatient with me. After all, she's transitioned, about 10-15 years ago, maybe she thinks I'm being whimpy. Or maybe she was pissed that I seem to be making slow progress, and that I'm not at all sure I will want or need to transition.
Like I said, I thought this meeting was supposed to be a safe place. Susan didn't interrupt Pamela and I don't know why. I suspect she was caught completely off guard. Maybe what seemed to take 10 minutes to me was only a couple and it took her a while to react? I forgive her nonetheless. And here again, I'll be asking about it when we meet again.
So what's the point(s) we should take from this? I guess that it's just real life in action. Crap happens. I'd like to say it doesn't matter. I feel like I'd be a better person if I did. Over time I'm sure I'll be okay.