Betwixt and Between

Ambivalences

Our company had it’s after-hours holiday party. (Because we’re an e-commerce company we did it after Q4.)

The good: I went en femme — frankly a number of people were expecting me to — and damn I looked good.

The better: I had a number of “woman to woman” interactions during the evening (the subtle changes in body language, etc.) A bit surprising to me, since while people know I “play dress up” and perform, they still pretty much only see my male self. I get the feeling that the women who acted that way probably weren’t even aware that they were doing it.

The bad: People kept introducing me (to significant others, to co-workers who didn’t know me, etc.) as [boyName] who works in [department], and using masculine pronouns.

None of it was malicious, that’s just how they know me.

But each time was a little dagger straight through the heart.

I can handle the contradictions as long as my lives are separate. But the moments when they’re intersecting are becoming harder and harder.

And it does make me wonder how easy a transition in place might really be.

I don’t feel my male persona is all a facade. It’s more it’s feeling less and less like me anymore. Again, shades of “Orlando.” But it’s a trusty old work truck that I can drive when needed. Does the job, both literally and figuratively.

It’s more that as I’m establishing my identity as a semi full-time woman, the stakes are higher so having that identity not acknowledged (utterly unintentionally) hurts, where it used to be a minor annoyance. I understood intellectually how this is a sensitive issue for transitioners, especially during and shortly afterwards, but now I’m understanding it a gut level. Fortunately, I’ve had a decade out in public, so it doesn’t feel invalidating — I know who I am, even if I’m not quite sure what I am — but it was definitely uncomfortable, in large part because it was so many incidents in a short amount of time.

Normally it’s not a huge issue, since outside of work I’ve carefully staked out my identity as a woman in burly circles, and even in drag circles people rarely saw me out of drag. The only real exception was the charity group board meetings, but even there I am (like most drag queens) referred to as Joie and female pronouns even while in male mode. So that’s doesn’t bug me.

This just happened to be a rare case where I was presenting as a woman where people are used to dealing with me as a man. If I’d known I’d react this strongly I wouldn’t have gone.

Milestones and Realizations

Milestones….

  • Did my 20th hour of electrolysis today. A few bare spots, the hair along the upper lips is definitely thinning and softening. But still a depressingly long way to go. Although hopefully I’m a fifth of the way through (at least until I’m generally clear and go more into maintenance mode).
  • Scheduled my first consult for potential facial feminization surgery. I’ll be down in LA in February for Mom’s birthday and one of the surgeon on my short-list is down there. Later next month I also want to schedule a second consult with a surgeon who’s local. In part because I want to get a read on whether I could start hair transplants now, or whether I should wait until after some facial work — and whether the facial work might need to wait until after being on hormones.

Realizations

  • That I’ve been reluctant to go to sleep on Sunday nights, because I want to delay having to go back into male mode during the work week. Yeah, I supposed that does mean something…
  • It’s bit odd to be in a semi-public transitional state. If I do transition to full-time, it’ll be a presto-changeo as far as work and family. But with my friends (and Facebook friends), it’ll be more of a “what took you so long?” since I’ve been talking about what’s going on.I realized it’s a bit akin to the trans guys who try the butch thing until they realize that’s not enough. Admittedly, I’m not deeply plugged into the local lesbian community, but periodically I’ll see fundraisers to help someone with his top surgery, where obviously his transition is well-known and being celebrated. One of my poly partners offered to provide in live-in help if I need it after any surgeries (now that she’s self-employed), and knowing her, I’m sure she’d organize a crowd of caregivers if needed. I see it in the burly community where some well known performers who do male characters are acknowledged to be male-identified, even if female-bodied.In my case, community, even though people in the burly community obviously know I’m male-bodied — hard to disguise when I’m down to pasties and panties — there’s numerous people who’ve made it clear they’ve seen me as a woman, even from the times I ventured into the burly circles as a drag performer. ‘Course I’d been very careful to almost always appear a woman in those circles (except for when it’s been unavoidable with a few select friends) and these if I had to go to in event in male mode, I just wouldn’t go.
  • It’s been pointed out to me on several occasions that cats and dogs respond to me the way they do to women, not men.
  • After my initial ambivalences about whether to use Marlena as a “forever name” (part of me was feeling it might be something to move beyond should I transition), it’s now feeling like me again. Even tentatively have a middle name: Christina (as in Christina, Queen of Sweden). I’ve got new Gmail account under “Marlena [RealLastName + PlusRandomDigitsBecauseI’mNotTheFirst].” Maybe not an email address I’ll use forever, but now that I’m contacting surgeons and other health care practitioners, I felt like I needed email that matched.
  • As I mentioned, part of me has been doing a bit of second-guessing on my Teh Tranz shift, mainly there’s been no obvious cause for the shift: there hasn’t been a moment of accepting that I’m trans, of overcoming guilt and shame, etc.Then again, a decade ago my need to express this side of myself suddenly intensified, including the need to get out of the house. Literally and psychically. I’d cross-dressed off and on since I was 10 or 11, but this was different. There was a bit of obvious trigger — I was going through a tough time in my life and being someone else was part of the appeal — but that was far from a complete explanation. What was the complete explanation? I still really don’t know. Something shifted and that’s all I could say. Something’s shifted again this past year.Still not sure why.  A friend of mine did point out that we only have so many coping resources inside us, only so many things we can keep clamped down. So when we’re overwhelmed by other things, our real gender is able to escape, at least temporarily, and make itself apparent. Which makes sense to me. 2014 was an extremely stressful year for me. By the end of the year I’d hit the wall mentally and emotionally, and it took several months to decompress. ‘Course also hitting mid-life crisis was undoubtedly also a factor — I turned 51, and for whatever reason the “1” birthdays have been much harder than the “0” birthdays (likely because that’s when it’s really clear I’m in a new decade of life). Not in an “I don’t want to die as a man” kind of way, rather the sort of taking a look at your life stuff that goes on. But whatever the reason, just as before, it’s something authentic that I need to acknowledge and embrace. Will I be on the lookout for Pink Fog? Sure. Do I know what it’ll take to address that need? Not yet. But hopefully I won’t be second-guessing myself as much.

To make a long story, long…. The meandering path sure seems to be a lot less meandering these days.

Dancing Closer Along the Edge

Part of my anxieties about potentially transition are because I didn’t feel like I was female from the time I was four — plus years of assuming I wasn’t seen as female — make it a lot easier for me than some other people to focus on how people are behaving towards me, not what they’re thinking.

But I’m working to internalize the advice in this essay: “How to Love Being a Non-Passing Trans Woman in 9 Affirming Steps” Albeit I’m still finding #2 a challenge.

However, it’s clear things are changing in significant and probably permanent ways. It’s just not clear how far the road I need to go.

With a number of months of partial-“real life experience” (i.e. full-time not the weekends, etc.) I think I have a reasonable idea what a post-transition life looks like — which the huge caveat that I don’t know what the workplace would be like. Sadly, I’m sure it would be very different given I work in Silicon Valley — because gender discrimination.

It is a balancing act between feeling like “I’m sick of this shit, I wanna be done with it” vs. knowing that a step-by-step approach is the best one. Realistically I’ve probably got another eight months of electrolysis so even if I wanted to strap myself to the Pink Rocket Sled, it’s not practical to do it before then.

Although I am interested in getting facial feminization surgery, what I want done is reasonably subtle enough that it’s not necessarily a point of no return. Most people don’t notice hair transplants anyway, and if they do, a number of men my age get them. Obviously a nose pretty noticeable, but I can chalk it up to other reasons. Getting a lip lift and raising the eyebrows/opening the eye orbits, does make a big difference in feminizing my face from what I can tell from playing around with the photos from Virtual FFS, albeit it’s still a subtle difference since my face is surprising androgynous to begin with. But definitely something to me mindful of.

Breast implants definitely would mean transitioning. So a key factor will be how dysphoric I feel about not having larger (height/weight-proportionate) breasts beyond what hormones might do.

Nothing But Darkness, More Reverberations

The body dysphoria was more acute seeing the photos from the “Nothing But Light” photoshoot, but it’s not a new feeling. It’s something that’s grown during the past two years of doing burlesque. Burlesque is definitely a two-edged sword — OTOH, it eases my social dysphoria, but it’s worsening my body dysphoria. Much as I try to think of myself as a glamazon, all too often I feel like Fiona from “Shrek.” And yes, the rational part of me knows that there are fellow performers who are also “larger than life” (one of my good burly friends is 6-feet tall and big boned (and not in the euphemistic way)). But until their come up with shoulder feminization surgery (and hand- and foot-size reduction surgery…) it’s not something I can change. Thankfully, it’s not really about body parts that I hate, as much as ones I wish I had.

I don’t really think of myself as a man anymore — my homme self is definitely akin to a trusty old pick-up, reliable, not particular exciting  — but I don’t quite think of myself as being fully a woman either. Yes, it is a bit of not feeling “authentic enough.” A bit of it is also still feeling somewhere in the middle, and not in a bad way.

OTOH, I definitely do seem to vibe “woman,” as far as I can tell from the way other people see me.

A friend asked me if I’d been noticing any emotion truths in my reactions to the photos. There’s a couple:

  • The extent that I’m feeling increasing uncomfortable in my own skin. I look into the mirror and see myself with boobs and hips and it just feel so right. (Home is where the bra goes on.) The way I should be. I know society makes life tough for larger women, but I’d be fine being an oversized woman if I was curvy in the “right” ways. Being stripped of the props I use to bring my (clothed) body in line with the image of myself in my mind’s eye was… disconcerting.
  • The extent that being seen as a woman is important to me. From the time I first started going out in public, my working assumption is that people aren’t going to mistake me for someone who’s female-bodied. But as long as they treated me as a woman, it was/is OK. But being visibly and overtly male-bodied…. that definitely gets in the way. Much of my body dysphoria is tied to what’s publicly visible (i.e. I’m not particularly bothered by the furniture in the playroom); the social signifiers of “woman.”
  • The extent that I’m trying hold it together. Ms. High Functioning that’s me. Dealing with the short-term about how trans stuff is taking over my life. Electrolysis twice a week. Plans to start working with a speech therapist twice a week. Researching FFS surgeons. Looking for a good gender therapist… Admittedly, I can always push some of it out if I hit overload. But part of it is wanting to feel like I’m in control of things when things are feeling a bit out of control.

There’s no obvious reason why I seem to be changing states. I was reasonably happy on the middle path for years. It’s not like I finally admitted to myself that I’m trans, nor that I finally worked through guilt, shame, etc. But suddenly the slope has become slippery and all that is solid melts into air. So how do I know what I’m feeling is the “real me”? Can you see the real me, can ya? Other people seem to, so why can’t I fully do so myself.

Then there’s holding it together in the face of a huge unknown, one that scares the fuck out of me. The rational part of me knows that things should work out OK. There will be prices to be paid, including the loss of male privilege. Prices I think I can accept. But having a lot of privilege also means there’s potentially a long way to fall, and it’s a long way until retirement.

Nothing But Darkness, Revisited

I went through the photos from the “Nothing But Light” photoshoot tonight. Vodka and tears were involved, both in generous quantities.

At first it was hard to see anything but the things I hated. The bad hair day. My face, dotted red from electrolysis. The discomfort. The sadness. The trying to be home in my skin, and not succeeding. The trying to hold it together.

But ultimately it was cathartic. Confronting images from a photoshoot where I’ve felt the ugliest I have in awhile, there were bits and pieces that I could look at and not flinch at, sometime even embrace. The occasional look in my eye, the curve of my calf, my nails looking long and elegant. The times when the vulnerability showed through. Even the wariness and guardedness.

I’m still having trouble being self-accepting of the body I see in the photos. In the mirror I can see what I want to see, but the camera is a harsh mistress that sees things as they are, not how I’d like them to be. Seeing the body I have now, not the body I desire. But I can now look at the photos and… well… maybe not embrace what I see, but rather come to a detente with it. That’s a start.

There’s ultimately about a half-dozen photos I’m giving the photographer permission to use publicly.

BTW, the photographer has a new website: http://www.nothingbutlight.io (NSFW, since the point of the project is that it’s nude portraits.)

Doing a Transition Cost/Benefit Analysis

A post-transitioned friend mentioned that she’s run into a lot of older potential transitioners who have decided not to pursue their transition because they fear the cost will be too high, i.e. loss of job, loss of family and friends, etc. Whether all those things would come about or not is irrelevant because they don’t want to take the chance.

Am I doing a cost/benefit analysis myself right now,? Yes. To answer another friend’s “Trans Turing Test,” if I could magically transition tomorrow, would I? Yes.

But I don’t think it’s as simple deciding not to transition out of fear.* It’s also possible that one concludes that the benefits aren’t sufficient.

As I’ve said before, I don’t hate being a man, but I’m finding I’m more comfortable as a woman. With the added overtones of: I’ve done the guy thing for five decades, why not try something new (shades of “Orlando”).

So the benefit for me of relieving dysphoria is less than it seems to be for many people who transition, i.e. for me it’s not “transition or die.”

Even if I do end up transitioning full-time, I don’t see that’ll be for “transition or die” reasons. It’ll probably be because of the desire for body modifications that can no longer be disguised in guy mode (i.e. for me, D-cup breasts are appropriately-sized given how stocky I am (I’m a 44-46 bra size), and binding them to go to work doesn’t seem particularly desirable or realistic). Would I die without big boobs? Nope, but I might be somewhat yearning.

So yeah, for me it’s more about how much happier will I be after each step, electrolysis, FFS, hormones? (Obviously the first two do definitely come with a financial price tag.) Will true dual-living be sufficient? Yes it means putting on the “guy suit,” but then again, like most people I put on my “work persona” anyway. Would full-time transition make me happier enough to justify all the various costs of transitioning full-time? Specifically the cost of what it might do to my career, and all that implies financially. Lots to ponder…

So I think it’s also that middle-pathers (even one like myself who seems to be tiptoeing up to the line of transitioning) are more comfortable with handling ambiguities and contradictions. So the costs and benefits are less clearcut as well.

At the point the reasonable course of action seems to be take a step and seem how things go afterwards.

* Which isn’t to say there aren’t would-be late transitioners living lives of quiet desperation.