I haven't posted in awhile, but I recently had these pics sent to me and wanted to share them - also to observe that I do want to share them! That's been one of the more amazing parts of transitioning, before that I didn't want my picture taken, if it was I didn't want to see it, and I certainly wouldn't have shared it.
These were taken at a lunch that we had after the completion of a recent round of supervision with the volunteer organization I belong to. The person taking them is one of the group members and was just taking lots of pictures, so I had largely forgotten that he was even doing it :-) (clearly I also didn't realize that he was occasionally zooming-in, as in the first picture).
So I wanted to throw this out for discussion - I've been thinking recently about the term "transition" as it relates to the trans community. For starters, I hope nothing that I say here will suggest that I think everyone needs to use the same terminology, particularly for their own experience and journey - it's our story, it's our terminology!
But in a broader perspective, I have some concerns about the term "transition." Transition is defined as "the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another." Put simply, my fear of it's general use, with respect to trans-identified people, is that it perpetuates the narrative of being born X and "transitioning" to Y. In my view, I was NOT a man who transitioned to a woman, I was born a woman with some wrong parts. My "transition" therefore was essentially a medical correction along with a change in my personal presentation.
And of course that does reflect a transition, so the word works. The problem is that there is an entrenched history of believing that we were born one gender and changed to the other - and I think that the term transition is linked to that narrative. Perhaps it's time to look for a new word, or stop using the word entirely? I think back over my process and wonder if I could have gone without it - in what circumstances did I need the word? For people who knew, I could say that yes, I'm getting some medical support to correct some things, and I'm working towards living my authentic self.
The "trigger" in this case was discovering that my field placement location uses the initials "CGHT" (cross-gender hormone therapy) for HRT that is being prescribed to trans-identified clients. I'm working on that issue, but I realized the big problem I had with it is that it reaffirms that same narrative with staff who see and use that terminology - I DO NOT take "cross-gender" hormones.
I am by no means sold on all of this, it's a thought I've been having and wanted to share and see what others in the community think
Last night the feminist group I belong to had a discussion about trans issues in the feminist movement - I was the organizer/moderator of the event. The event was titled "Are Trans Women Real Women?" (the title was intentionally provocative with an obvious "YES" answer).
I was pretty nervous going in - public speaking isn't really my thing, or at least hadn't been - the group organizer asked me, before anyone else was there, if I was nervous - I said "Yes." But I also said that it would pass as soon as I started talking. I realized later what a change that was - in the past I would have been nervous until it was over, not just until I started talking. But that is what happened, my anxiety peaked right as she introduced me, and then passed immediately. The rest of the way was pretty easy going. We played 4 short videos, the first was from a TERF (just so that they're perspective was shown) and then 3 trans people (the video links are below - the 2nd one is so incredibly moving, I still can't watch it without crying). They we had people pair off to discuss the question "What is a woman?" Then we came back together as a group and talked for about an hour.
So that put me in an interesting place - I was the only trans person present, and I was the moderator. So early on in particular I tried to hang back and let other people talk, even when I had a clear answer to a question or point. That worked nicely, there was a lot of value in letting the group work through issues that they hadn't before. The question proved particularly good as it was one that most people hadn't thought about before ("What is a woman?"). One person acknowledged that she probably had always gone through life without a definition but with a "I know it when I see it" belief.
It's a really good group, we always have good discussions, and I think some good came of this, particularly in terms of people having a better understanding of trans issues and cisgender privilege. They even came to recognize that by even having to have this discussion suggests that the feminist movement is largely a cisgender movement (in addition to being a white movement).
On a personal note, I'm thrilled at having done this. It's one more thing that I would never have thought about doing pre-transition, and now not only did I do it, but I want to do more of it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLG6rqN8vjU (Jenni Murray)
https://youtu.be/E0v_idyvjco (girl with cards)
https://youtu.be/S8DwxjDrNNM (Lee Mokobe)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsowxKx_-_c (Janet Mock)
Much has been said on this website about dressing - obviously! - here was my experience this morning. I'm at my field placement today, which is a social work internship, so it requires a good balance of looking professional, without going too far and creating the appearance of a power imbalance. Add to that mix that I had a dental appointment in the morning before I came here. Usually that wouldn't impact anything, but I go to the NYU Faculty Dental Practice, and the student I go to is really, really cute. So, add to the equation trying to look as cute as possible for the dental student :-)
Last time I saw him he mentioned a girlfriend (which was admittedly a little painful to hear), but that was back in June, so who knows! More important though is that I decided it doesn't matter if I actually have a chance with him, I want to learn to act, and dress like I do (not just for him, but generally). So I think I found a good balance :-) (had it been a non-internship day I would have worn one of the tank tops that I have that I think are very flattering)
Of course then I get to the appointment and the first thing that happens when you're in the chair is that they put that protective bib on you - why even have cleavage to show!?!? Then they have these goggles for you to wear to protect from the spray while they're doing the cleaning - so at this point there's no way I look at all cute :-(
But the takeaway remains! I want to date, I would like a relationship, so I have to take that into account now and then and dress accordingly :-)
I'm pretty excited about an upcoming event that I'm involved with - it's part of a feminist Meetup group that I belong to. Each month we have a moderated discussion on some issue within the feminist movement (last month was about racism in feminism). This month I'm moderating the discussion on transgender issues - the title is "Are trans women real women?" (the title is meant to be a little provocative, and to have a very obvious answer - the organizer was worried about using it, but since I was ok with being identified as transgender in the blurb about it she was ok with the title).
We're going to show a couple of short videos - one by a TERF explaining why she doesn't accept transgender people as women, and then one by Janet Mock, explaining how she realized that she was a woman (well, a girl, she was 5 when it happened). Then we'll have a discussion about it! The topic is really "what is a woman?" which should be pretty interesting - I expect some discussion about nature vs. nurture ("Female brain" vs social construct).
This is another example of where I've gone over time, since it was only within the last year that I was trying to pretend I'm not transgender - now I'm openly leading discussions about the topic. That of course is another huge thing - I told a friend about this, she's known me for 8 or 9 years, and she was thrilled, but also recognized how far I had come, back when we met there's no way I would have been willingly doing a public speaking event.
I met on Tuesday with a person who is working on a book project about "transformations." Although not gender-specific, she indicated that most of the people she thinks will be featured will be female. One section of the book will be dedicated to trans-identified people, and it looks like I'm going to be one of them
Each person featured will have a short blurb, something about their story of transformation, and then a few related pictures. I'll write the initial blurb myself - my slant on it, as of now, is the idea that what started as a transition that I viewed as being to "become a woman" turned into a transition that I viewed as being to "become me." I'm also going to write the general introduction for the transgender section - her goal is to elevate our stories through this book, so that should be a really awesome project to be part of.
This is a topic I've been thinking about a lot, and have been wanting to write something about - so here goes!!! It's the concept of a transgender "community" - does it exist? Should it exist? It came up during the support group that I facilitate on Saturdays, so I thought it might be time to look at the issue myself a little more deeply - and see what others think :-)
In 2 separate contexts I was told by people - who knew I was in the process of transitioning - that they knew trans people who would "disappear" after they transitioned. In one case it was with the LGBT tennis group I belonged to, that person wasn't talking about anyone with the tennis group, just a trans person they knew who basically left their entire social world behind as they transitioned. The other was a trans meetup group, where a member (who is a cross-dresser), commented that members who transition tend to disappear from the group. Well, in both cases I did exactly that. I joined a new tennis group this year, a non-LGBT group. I was going to maintain both memberships, but there isn't enough time to play matches with 2 groups. And I've pretty much stopped going to the meetup group. It should be noted that the person in the meetup group who made that comment also, on another occasion, half-seriously criticized me for dressing "boyish" (I wasn't, I just wasn't dressed up since I had been out doing things all day). Part of the reason for dropping that group, beyond the fact that it's essentially just a bar-hangout group, is that it mainly seems focused on people who really want to get totally dressed up. I'm not criticizing that, but it's not what I particularly want or need right now.
So aside from this website, I'm not really part of a transgender community - and I feel ok about that? (I also co-facilitate trans support groups, but as a facilitator I don't consider myself to be part of the "community" that might arise from membership). To me it makes sense that gay men and lesbians have their respective communities - beyond the need to support each other socially and politically, they want to date each other (pardon the binary language). While I could certainly see dating a transgender man, it isn't my only option.
On Saturday, after the group, I made another foray into the non-LGBT social world. I went to a bar where they show NC State football games - I'm happy that I went since I felt nervous about it, but disappointed as there didn't seem to be any other NC State people there :-( (Worse still, the few people there seemed to be Syracuse people!!! I was not only alone as an NC State fan, I was in "enemy" territory).
I suppose all of this is really just me trying to reconcile my transgender identity. It's been a source of strength, since living it out has required some level of courage and persistence, but it's also a source of depression - I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish I had just been born a cisgender woman. There have been times that I've tried to pretend that I'm not (if you look through my blog entries there will no doubt be a gap of a few months, that's when it happened), but then I do the support group, and I'm pretty open about it at school and my internship and even socially - so clearly I'm not trying to run away from it anymore. But still, living with it hasn't gotten particularly easy yet.
So that was a bit of a ramble I suspect - but let me know what you think :-)
Last Friday I was having lunch with a friend from school - he and I were at the same field placement last year and got into the habit of going to Taco Bell for lunch every Wednesday, we've moved the day around but have continued the practice. I would say he's the best friend that I've made so far in school, we always have great conversations - if neither of us have anything else scheduled our lunches often turn into all afternoon things (we don't stay at Taco Bell the whole time, we walk around).
Anyway - last week we were talking about the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - a guidebook for mental health diagnoses) and Gender Dysphoria vs. Depression. We were in pretty complete agreement on the topic (see below), but I was still getting a bit energized by the topic. As I was talking at one point I noticed that he was smiling - when I finished my thought he said "I really like this side of you." The "side" he's talking about is basically the activist side (the thought I was on was something critical of the DSM). Later that evening I texted him to specifically thank him for that segment of our conversation - I like all of our conversations, but that one in particular helped me connect some dots that had been wandering around loose. Along with the general thank you and explanation I mentioned that it was an area that brought together my personal, professional, and activist life, which I really liked.
It then occurred to me that that happens a lot now. For example, when I was at the Trans Health Conference a few weeks ago, that whole few days were about all of those parts of my life. But in school, at my internship, and in other places I feel like my personal, professional and activist lives are all coming together. This is compared to say 5 years ago when my professional life was a job I hated, my personal life was virtually non-existent, and my activist life was completely non-existent.
The reason for bringing this up in a post is that all of this is a result of coming out and transitioning for me. We talk about being "authentic," which is what I think is one of the most important aspects of coming out (and transitioning if that's what you do), and this reflects on what being authentic has meant for me.
Side note about Gender Dysphoria and the DSM - Gender Dysphoria (GD) is a step in the right direction for the DSM, away from Gender Identity Disorder (GID). With GID they were basically pathologizing being transgender (the diagnosis just called for the person experiencing a dissonance between the gender they were identified with at birth and their experienced gender - it didn't matter if that dissonance had any negative effect on them). GD requires the presence of the dissonance, but is only diagnosed if it causes some problem in the person's overall functioning. So that's a good step, but my criticism of it is that it seemingly disregards the impact of bigotry on the person. There are passing references to this, but it doesn't seem that important that much of the dysfunction that can result from being transgender is in response to how it is perceived, and often stigmatized by others. So it's virtually (but not quite) pathologizing a perfectly reasonable response to bigotry. The question I've asked people is, if transphobia dissappeared tomorrow, would GD still be a problem? I think it would, but a much much more manageable problem - someone saying that they're transgender would be greeted with "ok, so what do you want to do?" That could still be a difficult question, but easier to deal with if you weren't also facing rejection from family, friends, and society as a whole.
Ok, I'm done :-)
So I anticipated being more detailed, but that wasn't really very practical in this setting :-) Suffice to say I really enjoyed the conference and got a lot out of it. In some cases it was learning that I already a fair amount of what they were talking about, which is always nice, but I definitely learned a few new things.
The only downside was one of the last panels I attended - "White Supremacy in Trans Relationships." The title probably should have been a warning - the fact that they used "white supremacy" instead of "white privilege" definitely reflected the views of the moderators, there was a good amount of hate going on and attempts at shaming. I plan to write to the conference organizers about it - I have no issue with being made uncomfortable about my white identity, but I don't think it should have happened at this conference and certainly not in the way it happened. This conference is about community in our gender identity, it's not right to shame people about other parts of their identity - not here.
Otherwise everything was great! I had dinner with a couple of friends from NYC on Friday night - they had gone down on Friday, but I had just finished 2 full days. I commented at one point that "I had never had to be transgender for so long before" - I meant it to be humorous by with a point too. I was feel good about the conference but also pretty exhausted, and I think part of that is that I really don't activate that part of my identity for such long periods at a time on a regular basis. It's fine, I survived, but it was an interesting learning experience.
Maybe the biggest thing I discovered - about myself that is - compared to when I attended last year is that I'm so much more comfortable about who I am now than I was back then.
So day 1 is done - such a long day! I volunteered to help with set up, so I was there starting at 6 a.m. But all totally worth it :-)
On a matter of personal achievement first - during one of the panels I actually spoke during the Q&A. Perhaps seems small, but 3 or 4 years ago there's no way I would have done that - it was a fairly large room with about 50-60 people. No way. So that's a nice sign of what transitioning has done for me :-)
The most interesting/controversial part was a lecture on "The Biology of Gender." It was a single presenter discussing the science and theories behind gender identity and gender variation. During the Q&A several people criticized it from the perspective that it was very binary - and he generally agreed (that the research itself tends to be biased in favor of the binary). Fair enough. However, I think this is an area where science and culture get conflated sometimes. Leaving aside the terms "sex" and "gender" for a moment - in my view there are 2 things going on: (1) there is what we are born, physiologically, biologically, neurologically, etc., and (2) there is the social construct that got built on top of that - sometimes with some basis, usually not.
Regarding #1, I think we all exist on a spectrum from male to female - some in between, some "mixed" at birth (at least I think that's the prevalent theory about being transgender - genitalia developed one way, the brain the other). I also think that most reputable scientists - although they shorthand it as "male or female" - acknowledge that it's a spectrum and not a binary (they don't, for example, deny the existence of intersex individuals).
Anyway - I'm not sure why I just started that, but curious if others have thoughts :-)
I arrived in Philadelphia today - the conference starts early tomorrow so I decided to get down here a day early. I got a hotel at a decent rate and it's about 1/2 block from the Convention Center!
Anyway - last year I did the free version of the conference, this year I paid for the professional track (for a student it was $85). The tough part is deciding what to go to! Initially I went through the schedule and just put everything I was interested in on my calendar. Then earlier this week I went through to pick which ones to actually attend - that was the hard part! I gave 1st priority to Behavioral Health panels, since that is the professional track I'm on. Then I leaned towards panels covering topics around F2M and gender non-confirming individuals, since I have decidedly less experience there. Of course this is a mixed things for me - personal and professional, so I don't want to forget the personal side :-)
I'm volunteering in the morning - helping with set up, so it will be a long day, but worthwhile! I'll post more tomorrow after Day 1.
I've read a few articles about part of Hillary Clinton's upcoming book (which I just pre-ordered! I can't wait to read it, and I don't usually read books by politicians). This was specifically about the debate in which Trump kept wandering around the stage and seemingly (not seemingly, he was) stalking her. She spoke about how creepy it was (it really was, even watching him do it was creepy) and how she continues to second-guess the fact that she didn't say anything to him right then and there.
An op-ed in the Times talks about how common an experience that is for women in many settings (ok, for most of us it's not in the context of a Presidential debate) - both the experience of men trying to intimidate through stalking behavior, and the thought process that we go through when it happens - do I do something? do I just ignore it? How will I be perceived if I say something? This writer suggested - I think accurately - that there probably wouldn't have been any political benefit to Hillary challenging him. Anyone who would have viewed that positively was probably already supporting her, the others would have just kept talking about how "shrill" she is.
I was thinking about this in the context of my own - transgender - experience. First, with respect to Hillary, I'm not sure how I would have felt about it if I was still living as a man and she had spoken back - I'd like to think I would have been supportive of her, and I think I would have, but I wouldn't have totally understood what she was experiencing and why she was reacting. For that to happen I had to be living as a woman. In the couple of years that I've been living openly as a woman I've had several experiences that, while not the same as what she went through, are similar. These were basically situations in which men, strangers on the street (or in a bus in one case) got overly assertive - they approached me with whatever intention they had and didn't back down despite my clear lack of interest. In all cases nothing ended up happening, I was able to walk away from it and they eventually did give up - but while it was happening I went through that same thought process, do I say something? Do I just ignore it?
Like I said, nothing ended up happening - but because of these incidents I've had to adjust certain things. In one case it caused me to adjust the route I take going to and from the PATH station (because he works at a parking garage that's along the route I used to take), and in another how I choose seating on public transit (I stay close to the front of the bus, in an aisle seat). In another case there's really not much I can do, it was someone who aggressively approached me in a supermarket - short of changing stores, there isn't much to do. These aren't major life adjustments, but it's an indicator of ongoing sexism that I have to do them - men don't (that probably isn't 100% true, but much more often than not men don't find themselves in similar situations).
I have thought about self-defense classes, I should continue to look into that.
I'm curious about what experiences others have had and what steps they've taken?
I just wanted to do a quick post, yesterday was "officially" my 2 year anniversary of transitioning. I arguably started before that, but August 10, 2015 is when I began "presenting full-time" as a woman, and I haven't looked back :-) It was shortly (like days) after that I started on HRT. It's also now been almost a year since my breast augmentation surgery.
When I look back, especially in the approach to my GCS (in December last year) I remember thinking about whether or not I would regret it. I really didn't believe I would, I think it was just that even the remotest possibility of that could have been devastating (since GCS is, for all practical purposes, irreversible). I haven't spend even a short moment of regret, so that fear didn't come to pass. The only moment that was even like it (but wasn't regret) was after 2 days of bed rest after surgery when I first had to stand up - it was such a weird, disorienting, uncomfortable feeling that I remembered wondering why I would have done this to myself - but that was just a response to how I felt at the moment, it wasn't a regret about what the surgery was for.
I think the key for me to not being in a position where I would regret anything was that I took my time. It may not seem like it, given how much happened in just 2 years (and I recognize that objectively that is a pretty quick transition time), but when you're actually living it day to day, it's a pretty long time. But the process also mattered - at each point I took a small step, I figured out how I felt about it, and if it felt right, I took the next small step. I didn't try to immerse myself in living as a woman (not that that can't be the right approach for others, but this is what worked for me).
The first few steps were in simpler acts of feminizing my look, until it drifted to a point where I had to go full on. Even then I was fortunate to have a friend who did a drag show and she let me guest perform, which gave me a "safe" place to present as a woman in front of a bunch of people. I did that quite a few times (she was really amazing, she pretty much let me guest perform whenever I wanted, I give her so much credit for helping me through the transition process).
Each step not only felt right, but it felt like it wasn't enough, so moving on to the next step was easy, even necessary. I recall at an early early part of the process a good friend asked if I thought I would get "bottom surgery," and I said, totally sincerely, "probably not." I meant it completely at the time, but through the process that I went through I came to realize that it was something I wanted.
One important thing that I've learned (or at least tried to learn) over time is to be aware of my privilege. I'm not Caitlyn Jenner, I'm not a rich white woman who could basically disappear and then re-emerge a few months later as a woman - I had to do it in real life, I had to transition while going to work, while riding the subway, while grocery shopping, etc. But still, I was fortunate to have insurance that covered most of the expenses (and the benefit of working in New York, where insurance companies are required to cover transition expenses). I also had a job that was not only ok with my transition, I think they really liked that I was doing it. And I was especially privileged in having close friends who were totally supportive and helped in so many ways as I worked through the process (especially my friend who was thrilled to have a new make-up shopping buddy and to share her knowledge of doing make-up). I'm also fortunate to have this website and the collective experience of everyone on it!
There are so many people who don't have that kind of access and that kind of support - so I'm always looking for ways to help out (not financially unfortunately, being a full time college student doesn't leave me with much - any - discretionary spending money). Ways to be supportive individually, and ways to advocate more publicly for changes that will benefit transgender people with less resources (right now we have to fight Trump to just not lose ground - but there's always room for improvement).
So that's all I have for this anniversary edition :-)
This started as a journal entry for myself, but I decided that it would be better to put out in the “public” instead. My summer classes ended on July 11, and the fall semester doesn’t start until the end of August – leaving a “void” of about a month and a half (I had hoped to find work to fill in that time, but that didn’t happen). Before it started I had been at times excited about the “void,” and at times terrified – and for the same reason.
I knew that this would be a good time to do some personal reflection. The past year has been pretty big, as I’ve talked about in other posts – leaving my job, going back to school, and having breast augmentation surgery and GCS. The GCS was probably the biggest, but with being in school and dealing with recovery, there wasn’t much time to reflect.
Anyway – in an earlier post I mentioned that I considered GCS to be effectively the end of my transition (it isn’t really, but going forward there aren’t a lot of active decisions to make) and the beginning of my “evolution” (as I called it). This turned out to be more meaningful, and far more difficult than I thought at the time. I think the way I described it was that I had transitioned to become a woman (physically) now it was time to see what I wanted to do with my life as a woman.
There is so much tied up in this that it’s hard to know where to start – obviously the big “mistake” in my life was that I was identified and lived as the wrong gender for my entire life until I was about 48 years old. That fact alone makes it hard to just pick up and live. But in that are also the many, many decisions I made over time that were directly or indirectly linked to my gender dysphoria. There are far too many of those decisions to try to sort through, and I doubt it would be worthwhile if I could. One part of me wonders what my life would be like if I had realized much earlier that I was a woman and been allowed to live that way – but the more reasonable part of me realizes that doesn’t really matter, I can’t achieve that now, I can move back to some point in the past and do it over again.
A big problem now is the feeling that I can’t, or rather won’t, move forward. It seems strange considering how much I’ve accomplished over the past couple of years, but I don’t believe in my own ability to move forward from here. I’m able to almost dismiss the past couple of years as having simply erased a deficit rather than actually advancing in life. And it’s not that I don’t think I have the ability to do the things that I want to do, it’s that I don’t believe I have the will to do it, which I think comes down to lack of self-care, lack of self-love.
Which brings me to the main point of this post, “Childhood Emotional Neglect.” In concept I’ve been aware of this for some time, I just recently came across that specific name for it. It’s basically the idea that your parents didn’t give you enough emotional attention as a child and so you don’t develop proper emotional health for yourself.
I realize this sounds like – and truly is – another “blame the parents” approach. I truly have moved past that point, with help from my former therapist. In one session I talked about how I thought my parents had failed, vs my sister who felt like they did the best they could. My therapist responded with “they might have done the best they could, but you needed more.” Which was a very helpful way of reconciling the past and bringing up to today – they probably did fail me, that isn’t going to change, so I have to fix it now.
I’ll stop my rambling now J That’s the point I’m at right now, and I hope to use the rest of my time until school starts to process some more of this. While writing a paper last semester I was doing a review of an article about working with transgender clients which pointed out that “completing” physical transitioning is not the end of the process, which I was very happy to see addressed, it truly isn’t the end, it’s yet another beginning, and often (always?) a pretty scary one.
My birthday is technically still 2 days away, but since I have access to a computer right now I thought I'd do this now. It seems like a good moment to just reflect on the past few years. First a quick timeline!
March 2015 - this isn't really the beginning of the story, but this is when I actually recognized that I am transgender, and then shared that with my therapist. There was about a year or two of cross-dressing and exploring that lead to this point. One vital take-away is that from this moment on a lifetime of depression went away. I'm not saying I haven't been depressed about things since then, but the underlying, existential depression I experienced until then was gone - I stopped asking myself "Why can't I just be right?"
August 2015 - I began "presenting full-time" as a woman, both at work and everywhere else. Working at a school helped this as the school was pretty empty during the summer, so I had time to acclimate without a bunch of faculty and students around. Also during this month I started taking hormones.
July 2016 - I left my job to go back to school. I had been planning to go to school anyway, but part-time. My employer needed to reduce staffing, so they offered a buy-out which made my school decision easier ("easier"). It was still a tough choice to make - I had been there 10 years, it was secure, I had no idea what would happen if I left. I eventually spoke with my best friend on the phone about it (he had moved out to LA recently) and he asked "in 5 years what do you want to be looking back at?" - my decision was made.
August 2016 - I had my breast augmentation surgery.
September 2016 - I started school, pursuing a Masters in Social Work at NYU. For so long I had been trying to figure out what I really wanted to do in life, this choice seemed so obvious after I made it, but I know I couldn't have made this choice before coming out and transitioning.
December 2016 - I had my GCS - YAY!!!
May 2017 - finished first year of school - YAY!!!
And that brings us to today. A lot has happened, and I'm thrilled with it, but I know that more still has to happen. For one thing I don't think I've quite fully internalized my own sense of being a woman, at times I still feel like an imposter. I suppose after living for 48 years identifying as a man it's bound to take some time. My recent decision to stop wearing wigs helped - I had put too much of my gender identity into them.
I still very much fear being alone forever. I often find myself thinking that no man will ever accept me as a woman and be in a relationship. There is something to it, there are definitely men who would run away from the idea of dating a transgender person, but I also know that some of that thinking is part of what I said just before about not fully accepting myself as a woman. There's work to be done.
I wonder if my sister will ever come around. I'd prefer to think that I'm fine just leaving her behind, but I know I'm not. We never had a very, very close relationship, but we generally had a good relationship and I miss that. I also know that I made the choice, I told her I didn't want to hear from her until and unless she was ready to accept me as a woman, and I can't back away from that.
I'm often unwilling to accept some things that are simply true and can't be changed - they all focus around the fact that I was not born a cisgender female, and I will never have been. As a result I will physically never be a cisgender female, I will never have the experiences that a girl has growing up, etc. It's silly to reject those facts, but I still try sometimes.
So that's more or less where I am right now - see what happens in the next year :-)
I took a somewhat unexpected next step on Friday - and it came with a pretty big bit of self-realization.
Since I started wearing a wig regularly (going on 2 years now) I've been rather relaxed about haircuts. The last couple of haircuts were self-inflicted - I mean "self-done" - and so my natural hair has, I'm sure, not looked so great. But it didn't matter, nobody was seeing it - even if I just went downstairs for laundry, etc., I'd at least wear a baseball cap.
It occurred to me that if I actually met someone and started dating, they would eventually need to see it. So I've known for a little while that I at least needed to get a real haircut and not keep doing it myself. At a practical level I wasn't sure how that would work - would I go someplace without a wig on to get it done? Unlikely. Would I wear it and take it off when I got there? That seemed likely, but possibly awkward.
I had lunch with a friend on Friday (Bastille Day!!!) and mentioned all of this, and showed her a picture I had found on-line of a hair style that I thought might work for me (BTW, my hair is quite thin, and there is some male-pattern baldness, that's what's made going natural so difficult for me). She agreed with the style, and with my "plan" to go to Supercuts after our lunch. To help me along she insisted that I send her a selfie when I was done :-) I like that kind of thing, being "backed into a corner" helps overcome any last-minute jitters.
So I went to Supercuts. There was one guy and two women doing hair - I was hoping not to get the guy - I didn't. I explained to the person who did my hair that the last cuts had been my own before I took the wig off, and I showed her the picture I found. I knew she couldn't do exactly what was in the picture, I don't have enough hair :-( But she got the idea, she knew what I was going for, and she did a great job!!! I had fully anticipated that I would put the wig back on when we were done, but then I didn't, I went home "natural" (and mind you this was in the city, so "going home" involved a 10 minute walk in Manhattan to the PATH train, a 20 minute train ride, then a 10 minute walk home). It's not my "fantasy" hair style, but I'm not likely to ever have that (see above re "not enough hair", plus I don't think the Farrah hairstyle is so popular these days).
Below is a picture I took after I got home (so my hair was dry). A "pixie cut" as I came to learn is what it's called :-) Pardon the exposed bra strap and lack of any make-up!
The self-realization happened because as I was walking home I felt a sense of liberation from not wearing a wig. I realized that I had let my wig(s) represent my gender - subconsciously I only felt like a woman with a wig on. Not that I won't ever wear them again, but I need to work through this (especially now that I'm on summer break, so I have some freedom to ease in). Friday night I had to make a trip to Rite Aid, so I decided to do it without a wig. Then yesterday when I went to play tennis I didn't wear it, and again today I went to the gym and the supermarket without it. It really does feel good, it feels like another step towards authenticity :-)
***Please know that I'm not criticizing wearing wigs!!! I know a lot of trans people do, and obviously I was for 2 years and probably will continue to do so. I just personally need to know that I'm fully me with or without it***
Here's a pic -
And unrelated to this post - here is a picture of Cinammon. I got her a few days before my GRS (at Duane Reade when I was getting my surgery-related prescriptions), she went with me to Philadelphia for the surgery, was with me through the entire recovery and ever since :-) Particularly in the few weeks right after surgery, when I couldn't really write in a journal, I often talked with her about things that I was feeling...she's a great listener, she doesn't judge, she just smiles :-)
It took me a little to figure out how to get my pics on here (apparently I can't do it on my phone, it has to be on a computer so that I can resize the pics). Below are three pics - two of them show the top that I wore for Pride - they gave us the t-shirts for marching with NYU, I modified mine, cuz ya know, boobs. It worked out nicely since the "Y" in "NYU" is centered so that I could cut the V into the top of it. One of these also shows the Trans pride flag that I had for the march :-)
The march itself was fun, except for the beginning. We met at our staging area at 3:30 p.m. and didn't step off until 5:30 - it gets really hard standing around one area for 2 hours! But it was a lot of fun marching with NYU (this is the only year that I could do it as a current student, I didn't want to miss that). We had a couple of hundred people show up for our contingent (apparently about 1000 signed up, not all showed up of course).
I broke off at around 7:00 (we were a little more than 1/2 way done with the march). Pattaya (my friend who does drag, who used to let me guest perform at her shows all the time) was doing a show at Le Singe Vert that ended at 8, so I didn't want to miss it. The last picture is of the two of us :-)
So overall a good experience - I probably won't march again though, I'll just watch, it's more fun :-) But this was the first Pride that I could do as physically a complete woman, so marching seemed right :-) It also helped me overcome some of the ambivalence I have over identifying as transgender. When it came down to it, I marched carrying a trans pride flag, so clearly I'm ok identifying as such.
Sunday is NY Pride, it will be my first as a physical woman!!! Last year I was presenting full-time, but no surgeries yet. The year before was more of a gender-bending year.
I'll post pics - I'm marching with NYU, so I have the shirt they gave us - I altered it to make it a v-neck, I wanted cleavage 😛
Since I took another step in socializing today, I thought I'd post something about that topic generally.
Before coming out and transitioning, I had identified as a gay man. As such, my social life was largely built around the "gay community." I hadn't thought too much about that initially, since coming out and transitioning are pretty time-consuming for a while, and it was generally easier to do that while staying within a familiar social environment. But I knew it was going to have to change - although I admit to having some thoughts in the past about seeing it being Lesbian could work for me, I knew it wasn't right (I was leaning that way because (1) I have a little bi-sexual tendency, and (2) I thought it would be easier to meet a woman who would accept me as a woman in a romantic relationship than a straight man).
Anyway - since I would like to date at some point, and even be in a relationship, I knew that I was going to have to break out of the LGBTQ "bubble" that I was in, and I have taken some steps. It helped that I did have a couple of straight female friends. And then of course I started school so I started meeting new people, many of them straight. Then, for after-school relaxation I started going to a little jazz bar in the Village.
Today I took an even bigger step - at least in my head - I had joined a new tennis league (I had already belonged to an LGBT tennis group), and today I had my first match with someone from that group. I'm in a women's division, so initially that's who I'm going to meet, but that's a good starting place. It made me a little anxious since she had no way of knowing that I'm transgender going in, and not knowing how she might react. Well, she didn't. There was absolutely no awkwardness, it was great - and it was a really good tennis match (we had to play all 3 sets, and we were going point for point most of the way).
There are still temptations to reach back and cling to the social world that I knew - but I have to give up some of that (not all of it, I'm not just ditching all of my friends!)
I cannot believe I haven't written about this yet! Last Friday I saw "Wonder Woman," and it was truly amazing.
There are things I could be critical of (the messaging in a few spots was a little heavy handed and the effects in a couple of areas a little cheesy), but overall I think it's a truly great movie (and I'm not really into superhero movies).
I won't say much about the movie because I don't want to do any spoilers - but there were moments when I was moved to tears, and moments when I felt more like a woman than I ever had before. I don't know if I can explain what that second one is about, but it happened.
On Saturday I had lunch with a friend from school - and then we hung out for a few hours. I know him well, we were at the same field placement during our first year and we share a love of Taco Bell :-) A discussion we had along the way on Saturday was about being "out" in class. With me it's about my transgender identity, with him it's about being a military veteran. On the surface for both of us is a desire to not be "the ___ student" (me "the trans student"). For him that might really be it, for me I think it goes deeper, I think it's a real desire to maintain my identity as a woman and the fear that being open about being trans undermines that. Even deeper is that internally I still see being trans as somehow making me less of a woman.
The result of all this was that during my entire first year I had never said anything about my gender identity in class. I had said things about it individually to other students, but never during class - and it is a social work program, so there were many, many opportunities where I could have - and should have - said something. We both agreed that not sharing is both bad for us individually (it's hiding something) and we miss the opportunity to add something to the educational process for others (leaving out a major part of our life perspectives).
That changed on Tuesday. We did a quick in-class exercise where she gave us each a short scenario, something that was designed to generate a negative response (mine was that I had applied for an apartment, and although I was fully qualified and the only person who was applying for it, the landlord rejected me). My initial response was confusion and assuming that it was because of my gender identity. I had a minute or 2 to think of an alternative, but I didn't. So for the first time I openly acknowledged my gender identity in class :-)
I recently finished my first year of school (I'm doing the 2-year MSW program at NYU) and decided that I needed a little get-away (emphasis on "little" - I don't really like traveling all that much, and can't afford much). So I decided on a day trip to the shore - my goal going into the day was to not think backwards or forward, just to try to be in the present. Of course, as I mentioned to a friend later, it was a little weird that I chose to go to a place that we used to go to all the time when I was a child if I didn't want to think backwards - but it still worked out.
On the train ride down it occurred to me that through everything that's been going on in the past year I hadn't really taken any time to just reflect specifically on transitioning. It makes sense, I was in school and recovery from GRS, while it wasn't ever particularly painful, is still distracting. But now, school is done for the year and the recovery is very well along - so I did reflect. In that moment I just felt really, really happy about all that had happened.
But here's the bigger thing. Either that night or the next it was very warm - it got up to the 90s here and didn't cool off over night. Since I've been too lazy to put my a/c in and only had a fan, I ended up sleeping au naturel. With the lights out and a jazz radio station playing, I closed my eyes. Without really thinking about the fact that I was doing it, one hand came down from a stretch, landed on one of my breasts, and then down to my lower regions - nothing erotic going on, just a casual stroke if you will. But the sensation was wonderful! Again, not erotic, it was just that I actually felt a woman's body - my body was now a woman's body!
Just wanted to share that :-)
It's been awhile since I've written anything here - that was partly (largely) because of school and recovery. My recovery from GRS is going well, I've now been cleared for everything (including tennis and sex!), and I'm down to dilating twice a day (until the end of June). There was some granulated tissue, but that's been taken care of. And I've now had the delightful female experience of having my feet up in the stirrups for a medical exam! It doesn't make you feel at all vulnerable (sarcasm). I'm glad that my surgeon's staff is entirely female, I suspect that part of the process would have been a little more uncomfortable if her PA who was checking me was male.
I recently finished co-facilitating an 8-week support group for transgender people, this one was focused on those who had recently come out and/or were in the early stages of transitioning. The most interesting part for me personally was that going in I saw myself as in a very different place than the group members (since I've pretty much come out everywhere, and my physical transitioning is largely done), but there was definitely a common thread that made me very much part of the group (since it's a peer-run support group it was fine that I was sharing as well, thought I always made sure it was after anyone else had shared, I never took a priority position for myself). Specifically, the sense of alienation and rejection that people felt because of their gender identity, that's still definitely a very big part of my life - especially now that surgeries are done and I'm thinking more about the prospects of dating :-(
So my recovery seems to be going well. I had my follow-up with the surgeon and they removed the packing and tubes. That felt so much better! They showed me how to dilate - wasn't too bad.
Yesterday I came home - I've never been so happy to be home! Recovery is easier in my own place with my own stuff.
For 4 weeks I have to dilate 4x a day for 20 minutes each. I'm still working on my positioning, it gets a little uncomfortable and tedious, but I'll survive :-)
Otherwise for now it's a lot of TV and reading. Barring complications I should be able to go back to school and my internship the week of the 23rd.
At a more fundamental level - as swelling starts to recede it's easier to see what I have now, and it's pretty awesome 👯
I wanted to post some more now that I've actually had my surgery (YAY!!!!), especially for anyone thinking about or planning the surgery themselves - everyone's experience is different, but this might give some things to consider:
Monday, Dec. 26 - I arrived in Philadelphia and checked-in to my hotel. Went to a Target Express nearby to load up on food and beverages for the days after surgery when I'd be at the hotel, knowing that getting out for food would be tough. Around noon I started bowel prep (Magnesium Citrate and Dulcolax, and a couple of other prescriptions). That went on through the day, culminating in an enema at 4 a.m. I unpacked and tried to set things up as much as I could to be ready for when I got back - then I packed my bag of stuff to go to the hospital (including Cinnamon, my new stuffed bear).
Tuesday, Dec. 27 - I had to be at the hospital by 10:30 a.m., and it's only a few minutes away from here. I was still up early - nerves no doubt. My brother called to check-in and asked if someone could call him when the surgery was done. Around 9:30 I got a call from the hospital asking if I could show up early, Dr. Rumer was running early. So I left and got to the hospital before 10 a.m. (Hahnemann University Hospital - it's affiliated with Drexel University).
I went through check-in - a bunch of questions standard for any surgery. Got changed into the gowns they gave me. Then the anesthesiologist came by and put in the tube (or whatever it is they put in). I saw Dr. Rumer and her PA quickly - people kept asking if I had any questions, but really I didn't.
Got taken into the operating room at 11:09 a.m. (they call it when the patient is brought in), and got moved to the operating table. Next thing I know I wake up in another room. They had called my brother at 1:40, so I know it took about 2.5 hours in total. I called him around 4:00 when I was more coherent
I spent the next 2 days in a hospital bed, unable to get up or move much at all. My only real complaint is that the bed had about a 2" mattress, which I think is way too small for being on bedrest for 2 days (I told the PA about that later). The nurses were nice, but it took a long time to get almost anything. I do know that I couldn't do their job, and they don't make enough money (I don't know how much they make, but it can't be enough).
So my new vagina is still packed, and has 3 tubes coming out of it - 1 going to a Foley bag (urine) and 2 going to smaller containers collecting blood. The nurses periodically emptied them. I had no hunger, which was good because the food was truly awful (how do you make scrambled eggs not good!?!?).
Thursday, Dec. 29 - I got discharged - yay!!! It took forever, but it finally happened. Before that I had to actually get up and start moving, which was so much harder than I expected - I did fine with it, but there was light-headedness and nausea.
They sent me back to the hotel in a taxi - and I've been here since. Pretty much staying in bed except to go to the bathroom (including emptying the bags) and getting food.
I don't really feel any pain from the surgery - the biggest pain is my butt from the hospital bed, that's the main reason I've been taking the percocet since then.
On Tuesday morning I got for my follow-up, which is when they'll remove the tubes and packing. Then I stay one more night (to make sure everything is ok after they take the stuff out) and go home the next day.
Emotionally - I won't lie, on Thursday I had moments when I thought I might be feeling regret, but it was entirely about how I was feeling and knowing that the surgery caused that - as I've started feeling more normal any such thoughts went away and I'm getting back to feeling thrilled about this :-) (I think that will be complete when the packing comes out and I can actually see it)