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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

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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:

Dear 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.

Emma

Here is the email I received from Susan:

Emma,

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.

Susan

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.

Emma


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18 Comments

Posted

Emma,

I'm so sorry you had to go through that! It's horrible to be confronted like that in any situation, but especially in a group therapy session that should be supportive. I hope Susan can do something to resolve it in a fully satisfactory way.

Personally, I can certainly understand the desire to understand why Pamela did what she did, but it might just lead to greater frustration since you can never be sure unless she tells you. If she's already prone to be like that it might have been made worse by something going on in her life. I don't mean to suggest that as an excuse, it's not, but a possible explanation.

I think the most important thing to remember is that whatever it was, it was on her and you shouldn't internalize it (and believe me, I know that's easier said than done, i'be let myself feel hurt over far less incidemts).

At least you have this space as an alternate venue, certainly not a substitute for in person meetings, but it's somewhere to turn.

XOXO

Christie

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Posted

Thank you, Christie. In some ways I really don't give a darn what set her off, nor do I really want to hear it. What she owes me is a deep and sincere apology. Maybe then we could be friends. I hope so.

I have decided that I will continue to attend the meeting in August. I'm not going to let Pamela "win" or know she got to me, or allow her to control me. But I will be careful when I'm around her, you can be sure of that.

Hugs

Emma

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Posted

You go girl! :)

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Posted

Sorry to hear about her badgering you like that. There are always going to be one in many groups that are on a high horse.

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Posted

Have news for "Pamela": When you make "you" statements, that is the same as pointing a finger at someone; you have three pointing back at you. Secondly, the most important thing is NOT how you pass as a woman. The most important thing is what is going on between the ears! Being a woman starts from the inside and works it's way out. It is NOT how you dress; it is how you ACT!

Monica

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Posted

Emma -

I think you had every right to feel like you were being interrogated, belittled, and discredited. And it's certainly understandable how she brought back feelings and emotions of a time that was not so happy.

Pamela sounds very much to me like the type who believes that if you're not about to kill yourself, or castrate yourself, you are neither serious nor truly transsexual.

She also reminds me of the type that believe there is no such thing as a different path for each of us - if you are trans, you will do everything within your power yesterday to transition.

Pamela is just one person in the group. No matter where we go...there's always that one person. That one bully. Or that one butthead. It sounds like at the moment, you are the "youngest" of the group (not in age, but in experience), the vulnerable one, the kind she likes to prey on. Sounds like she's damn good at it too.

I think maybe you have allies in other members of the group, and hopefully in the therapist. And of course, as Christie pointed out, you have TGG, too.

-Mike

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"The most important thing is how well you pass as a woman."

I think what I said in a post I wrote before is important here. Being authentically transgender isn't about reaching a supposed ideal (particularly an ideal founded in patriarchal cisheteronomativity), it is about becoming most authentically ourselves and the best versions of ourselves. The concept of 'passing' is problematic. Being transgender isn't about reaching a particular destination or goal that satisfies the requisite gatekeepers. Being transgender is a life-long journey about self discovery and we reach many destinations along the way that mean a variety of different things to different people.

Love

Charl

-o0o-

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Posted

Hi Everyone,

Thank you so much for such heartfelt and supportive comments. Sigh. I'm very lucky to have found you and to be part of this group. I love you all.

I don't want to sound silly, but... Remember when Sally Field was accepting her award and said, "I guess you really do like me!" I feel like that now, thank you. (She is so sweet, I've always loved her. When she played The Flying Nun I was about ten years old and yeah, I wanted to be a nun too.)

Yes, there is always someone like Pamela in every group. We all know that, we've all experienced it. I was just so surprised and caught off guard. And sure, allowing oneself to be off guard should be normal in a support group.

I think that's the main point that I need to take away from this episode. It's okay to be myself and be vulnerable. But there are wolves in sheep's clothing everywhere we go and we need to watch out for them and try to be prepared.

I hope you all have a wonderful Wednesday! Hopefully my new top/shirt will be ready to pick up at REI today. :-)

Emma

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Posted

Hey Veronica,

Great points, thank you. "The most important thing is how Emma feels about Emma." Indeed, Emma was nervous, and allowing herself to trust and be vulnerable, so sometimes that's what happens. But it takes vulnerability to grow. And honestly? I like feeling vulnerable. So I will do it more.

"If you're 72, had surgery, and taking the measure of how you see yourself through the narrow prism of 'how well you pass'?" I think, Veronica, that's a wonderful observation. Evidently that's how she thinks, and well, I wish I'd thought to ask that of her at that moment! But I will say that it's too bad, and a bit sad, if that's the way she feels after going through so much. I've wondered before if she's lonely. Maybe that's why she attends these meetings.

Thank you for your kind thoughts and comments. I appreciate you.

Emma

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Posted

I don't think it matters how well you pass. There's one helluva lot of genetic women who don't "pass" too good out where I live. So much so that I do okay without making any attempt to do so.

I'm told that used to be some counselors did consider how much reasonable chance for success there was for a given client in a new gender but passing was only a part of the arithmetic that they used to figure. [Most of the figuring seemed to be based on whether the client could be expected find a job and make a living in in the new gender.]

Wouldn't have been surprised at something like what you experienced happening to you at a non-counselor led support group but I am kinda surprised at such happening at a counselor-led support group. Sounds like the counselor kinda lost control of the group. Or maybe she never really had control of the group since you say this Pamela woman has a reputation for acting this way.

I don't think I'd have gone out to eat with this outfit afterwards though, least not if this Pamela woman was going too. But then I'm kinda particular who I break bread with. Sounds to me like this Pamela's been getting away with this sort of thing for a long time which makes me think again that maybe the group could be moderated a tad more tightly.

I'm glad that your counselors are not pushing you to present more obviously femme in your outward appearance. I've heard that some counselors do that. I read in a book someplace that Christine Jorgensen never wore a dress in public until after she had her sex-change surgery. [i heard she actually made the dress herself too!]

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"Sounds like the counselor kinda lost control of the group. Or maybe she never really had control of the group since you say this Pamela woman has a reputation for acting this way." -- Daniella

I had a similar thought... hopefully, the counselor has made amends by not only discussing this with Emma, but also by making sure dear Pamela doesn't assualt anyone like that again.

-Mike

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Posted

Interestingly, she has not talked to me further about it although yesterday I reached out to her via email to see if maybe she might need someone to share with. After all, it appeared to me that she was shaken up too, but maybe I was mistaken.

This morning I had a one-on-one with my "regular therapist." I told him that I didn't feel that Susan's comment that I should try to get over it, and that Pamela isn't important in my life, isn't especially helpful. Interpreted in the worst way (which I don't believe she intended) it's kind of dismissive.

I expect that this will be (or should be) a topic of conversation at our next group meeting, which is unfortunately four weeks from now. Not to talk about Pamela (she won't be back until August) but, I think, to hear about what was going on for Susan, and how we might have better handled the situation. No doubt it will happen again, somewhere, someplace. For me I need to try to remember that something as simple as "I don't appreciate being talked to in that way" is probably a great tool for me to keep handy on my Sam Browne. :) (Now, we'll see who of you know what I'm referring to!)

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Posted

Bender does indeed rock! Benders always do ;-)

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Posted

LOL! I'll try to remember BMSMA (bite my shiny metal ass). That brings up some images that I'd better not share...

I'd never even heard of Bender, but just looked him up. Thank goodness for Wikipedia. Looks like a cool robot. Man, I'm so OUT of it!

Take care girls! Stay sweet! You all rock like CRAZY, you know? At least for me you do. Thanks so much for all your support and kind wishes. :-)

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Posted

Oh Emma, you definitely need to find and watch Futurama! It's one of the greatest all-time animated series, and (in my opinion) Bender was the best part of it!

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Posted

Hi Emma,

It sounds like your sister at the meeting has some of the same qualities I see in others of her generation. Specifically, the idea that because it was hard for them then it should be hard for you.

I should expect she had to spend a lot of her life being someone else, pretending. Finally, when she knew who she was, she probably had to spend a very long time explaining it. Justifying it. She may even feel like being transgender is almost a 'club', for which the price of admission is soul-searching, justification and suffering.

Anyone who has not done those things is not really transgender and needs to shape up or find somewhere else to sling their hook.

Naturally she's mistaken, and whilst I can only sympathise with her for whatever hardships have given her a flint-like edge you are well within your rights to feel hurt. She hurt you and must take responsibility for that.

There is no admission cost, there is no minimum level of suffering or pain one must go through. Being transsexual is as much a part of us as the sheen on our eyes or the subdermal scattering of our skin.

There's an old joke that goes something like this:

Q: "How many transsexuals does it take to change a light bulb?"

A: "One. But only after they have first lived in the dark for at least two years and have the agreement of two psychiatrists that the bulb is, indeed, blown."

The lengths we have to go to 'prove' who we are can have bad effects on people. They must take responsibility for inflicting that down on to others. You don't have to prove anything, however. There is no timescale, no measure and no schedule except your own.

I'm sure the shirt and ballet shoes looked very nice and suited you well. Personally I found the first time I wore a long skirt to be almost like breathing freedom.

Kaylee.

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Posted

Hi Kaylee,

Such a nice note, thank you. And, I really did laugh out loud reading your light bulb joke. I'm definitely going to remember that one!

You put into words a vague feeling I had about what was behind her words. I was also wondering if I was being tested to see if I was worthy of joining the club. I've heard that she may not come again to the meetings but the earliest will be August.

Actually, I am also thinking of wearing a skirt at the next meeting! I ordered one that should arrive tomorrow. I'm confident the therapist would allow me to come a few minutes early to put it on. I'm feeling excited by that, like stepping a little further into the pool.

Thanks again,

Emma

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Posted

Good luck with the skirt :)

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