Why I Smile…

I smile because it’s part of my social jujitsu toolkit for dealing with situations where I’m misgendered, or I can tell they’re trying to figure out my gender, or they realize I’m a *trans* woman and trying out to figure out how they feel about it. When I see a woman giving me “the look” — the glance held too long, where I can see the gears turning inside their head, I give her the social smile that woman are trained to do automatically. It may look friendly, but as is often the case with other forms of woman-to-woman communication, there’s subtext: It’s the “I know you’re looking at me, and now you know that I know you’re looking at me” smile.

I smile at small children because now I can. No longer does smiling at strangers’ children make people presume I’m a potential pedo-creeper.

I smile because there is a casual camaraderie among women. By no means do I want to romanticize that — women can be just as aggressive and nasty as men, and far more micro-aggressive in ways that most men don’t even perceive. But I can’t count the number of casual conversations — in line at the store, in the woman restroom, etc. — that I never had as a man interacting with other men.

I smile because women are trained to smile automatically, practically instinctively. To be nice, to be pleasant. Of course I, like other women, learned the nuances of when and where to smile. Smile at a man you don’t know and he’ll likely think you’re sexually interested in him. Smiling in the street invites sexual harassment. (And even if you don’t smile, catcalls of “hey baby, looking good,” all too rapidly turn into, “why won’t you smile, bitch.”)

I smile because now society allows me a vastly widely range of emotions. In Norah Vincent’s flawed, but still worth reading book, “Self Made Man” (about the 18 months see spend posing as a man to try to better understand masculinity), at the end of the experience she had a nervous breakdown, which in part she attributes to the stress of trying to living within the emotional straightjacket of masculinity.

I smile because why the fuck not. Emotions are contagious, and with all the shitty stuff going on the in world, if I’m feeling like it, why not randomly smile and brighten someone else’s day. Of course, there’s a huge difference between feeling that one *can* smile and and feeling obligated to do so, regardless of how one is feeling. So I someone doesn’t smile back, I don’t take it personally. Maybe they’re having a bad day, maybe they’re from a culture where it’s not acceptable (it’s notable that the thing that reliably identifies Americans overseas is how frequently we smile at strangers), maybe they just don’t feel like smiling back.

I smile because I’m happy. Despite all the trials and tribulations of being a woman, being a trans woman, in our patriarchal society, I’m much happier than I when I was trying to live life as a man.

Getting “Sir”ed Yet Again

So I got “sir”ed again tonight… It’s happening several times a week, and although it always appears to be unconscious and unintentional, it’s still a bee sting to the heart every time it happens — and enough bee stings can kill you.

It’s usually people who I’ve never met before — store clerks, restaurant workers, etc. — so clearly it’s reflecting their first impressions. Whenever it happens, my reaction is: FFS, I’m wearing women’s clothing and shoes, women’s jewelry, make-up, painted fingernails, and sporting a pair of D-cups — what the fuck else do I have to do to get people to realize I should be gendered as a woman?

As you might imagine, it’s fucking disheartening. I’ve spent an enormous amount of money, time and pain over the past year reshaping my body, and still it happens. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of people treat me like the woman I am, and yes logically I know that I shouldn’t let a small number of people get under my skin. But the heart and the gut don’t think rationally.

There’s practical concerns being a trans woman who — like most of my trans sisters — who wasn’t blessed by the androgyny fairy, and who probably will never look like the “typical” woman assigned female at birth, and who won’t always blend in as one. Probably the biggest concern is safety, particularly since I like to travel, and the vast majority of the nation, let alone the world, isn’t nearly as trans-friendly as the Bay Area. (Right now, even the U.S. there’s a number of states that have become no-go zones for me.)

But more than that, the incidents have been kicking my body dysphoria into high gear lately. It’s just a constant low-level reminder of the gap between the body I have, and the body I wish I had, but never will. Just I’m reminded whenever I try to look for size 13 shoes, extra large sizes in rings, necklaces and clothing, dresses that always 2-3 inches shorter than intended. Or when I’m in photos with other women and look hulking and towering by comparison.

I agree with Laverne Cox that I should be able to love my large hands and feet, my height, my lower than average voice because they’re beautiful, because trans is beautiful. But — and I mean no disrespect toward her own long struggle towards self-acceptance — it’s much easier to love these things when you have a body that’s otherwise considered extremely attractive according to hetero cisgender standards.

As Sam Dylan Finch says in his excellent essay, “I’m Transgender and I Need Body Positivity Too” my body

“tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not. And no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”

I’ve been working with my therapist to shrug off this sort of misgendering, to maybe not love my body as it is but at least reach a detente with it. But it’s a hard place to get to right now.

(And before anyone chimes in with comments like “you’re perfect just the way you are,” or “love your body, no matter the shape or size, exactly as it is,” fucking read Sam’s essay about why those sort of comments are more than a bit… off-putting… to many trans people.)

Mourning the Life I Didn’t Have

Sometimes I am an un-ironic delicate fucking flower.

Today the gender dysphoria hit hard — I’ve been having bouts of crying all afternoon and yet to reach that cathartic cry.

The trigger: my hair. Or rather my my utter inability to style it. I’ve never had long hair before, and being raised as a boy in a household without sisters has left me without even a second-hand knowledge of what do to with it.

It’s times like these that I feel like a 12-year-old girl, on the verge of womanhood and not quite sure how to do it — except that I’m in a 52-year-old body, lacking many of the essential life styles of being a girl/woman that most my peers learned through osmosis by that age.

The head knows that, yes, I’ll learn those skill — albeit having to do so on an accelerated pace (and thank you to all who’ve offered to help).

The head knows that the past is the past, and that I need to focus on the years going forward being able to live as a woman. Especially now I that have fewer years in front of me than behind me.

But the heart is still mourning those lost decades of my life. The girlhood I’ll never have. The young womanhood I’ll never have. The female body — the young female body — I’ll never have. The female friendship and companionship of girlhood that I’ll never have.

I don’t mean to romanticize being a young girl/young woman, because I know all too well how painful those years could be for the various women in my life. And yes, I know women can be just as shitty to each other as men can be, albeit in different ways.

But it’s still hard not to feel like there’s a void in part of me that will never be fully filled.

Mi Cara Cara

Even though I haven’t posted much in the last couple days, I’ve been doing well. Worst of the swelling peaked on Sunday as predicted. Now they have me massaging my face to get the swelling out. I look a bit scarier now, with lots of yellow bruising.

At Monday’s follow-up, the doctors thought I was healing faster than expected, so they’re removing the stitches from my eyelids tomorrow, a day earlier than planned.

Getting stronger each day, and getting out of the apartment for a bit. Good thing, because I was starting to get cabin fever. Per a friend’s wise counsel about not risking overdoing it, I’m only doing 20% of what I think I’m able to do. But I managed to do two walks of 15-20 minutes, albeit punctuated by stops at the parks and for afternoon coffee. Will do another shorter walk in a bit to go out to dinner. I was hoping to go to one of the major art museums today, but they’re closed on Tuesdays. So that’s on the agenda tomorrow.

Hopefully, by the weekend, I’ll have more stamina for some longer trips via either bus or taxi to other parts of Palermo. (Palermo is a neighborhood of Buenos Aires, but it’s got a population of 250,000, and there’s several sub-neighborhoods. Palermo Soho is the trendy shopping area that’s supposed to be reminiscent of Soho in NYC. So that would make a fun day trip. Sadly, I’m sure there’s nothing in my size.

Then Monday, it’s back for the second round of surgery. This time I’ll be smart and take my cell phone, so I’m not bored to death when they hold me overnight, like last time.

The enforced downtime has been a good thing. I’ve been pushing myself far too hard for far too many years. People kept telling me they didn’t know how I did it. Well the answer was that I was not only burning the candle at both ends, but in the middle too. Add transition on top of that, and the past years, and especially the past three months, have been the most stressful in my life. So there’s a lot of accumulated burn out.

I think no matter how much you say you’re not going to let transition take over your life, it still does. Admittedly, I did things concurrently, like electrolysis 3x/week and planning facial feminization surgery that people often spread out over longer time periods. Having to do a last-minute scramble changing ID didn’t help. I’m just so thankful my bosses were willing to give me abundant flexibility before I went on medical leave because I was running around doing ID stuff and getting the necessary pre-surgical tests done.

When I get back, I definitely need to take a look at better life/work balance. Unfortunately, many of the same challenges are there. In Silicon Valley, 40 hours/week is a part-time job, and trying to have a performing career is also time consuming. Not living in San Francisco or Oakland also means I spent a lot of time driving up there, whether it’s for my shows, other people’s shows, or to visit friends. Trying to build up some friendships with people who aren’t 30 miles away will be one of my major goals for the year.

Anyway, is FFS worth the time, money and hassle? For me, so far the answer is definitely yes. I was fortunate to not had a particularly masculine face, but I never thought I had a particularly feminine face either. Through the swelling, I’m starting to see the contours of mi cara cara, and it’s exciting. My jowls, which I’ve hated for years, are gone. My jaw is less square, my chin more pointed. I can’t yet see the cheekbones clearly, but I can definitely feel them. And we’re only half done. Next round, we’ll subdue the hated hairline, although it’ll take a follow-up hair transplant in March to fully fill that in. But lowering the hairline and filling in the corners a bit will definitely help solve one of my major hair styling challenges.

Some people have a bit of a freak out after FFS (or other facial plastic surgery). There’s something about changing your face that can touch something primal. Not me (at least so far). It’s more like the reaction I had after going on hormones, and in the weeks since going full-time — it just kind of feels right. It’s me, but just more so.

Toughest Girl Alive

One side-effect of the enforced downtime from surgery, is that I’m finally getting the first chance in probably at least 10 years to truly decompress.

I’ve been pushing myself far too hard for far too many years. People kept telling me they didn’t know how I did it. Well the answer was that I was not only burning the candle at both ends, but in the middle too.* Add transition on top of that, and the past years, and especially the past three months, have been the most stressful in my life. So there’s a lot of accumulated burn out.

I think no matter how much you say you’re not going to let transition take over your life, it still does. Admittedly, I did things concurrently, like electrolysis 3x/week and planning facial feminization surgery that people often spread out over longer time periods. Having to do a last-minute scramble changing ID didn’t help.

When I get back, I definitely need to take a look at better life/work balance. Unfortunately, many of the same challenges are there. In Silicon Valley, 40 hours/week is a part-time job, and trying to have a performing career is also time consuming. Not living in San Francisco or Oakland also means I spent a lot of time driving up there, whether it’s for my shows, other people’s shows, or to visit friends. Trying to build up some friendships with people who aren’t 30+ miles away will be one of my major goals for the year.

But hopefully, I’ll figure it out.

* I’ve been cataloging some things I’ve been through over the past decade and it’s pretty astounding. 2008, discovering I had undiagnosed sleep apnea. 2009, having a bad break up. 2011 and 2012, the preparation and actual running to head a local charity group (and losing, which turns out of the be a blessing in disguise. 2013, Mom having breast cancer (she’s fine now). 2014, being in excruciating pain for months after having a pinched nerve in my neck and then being rear-ended twice in one week. Then stepping in as the head of the charity group to help pull it from the brink after a disastrous predecessor. 2015, several bouts of severe depression. And of course 2016, transition, compounded by the reoccurrence of the pinched nerve right before Thanksgiving. Yeah, it’s been a shitstorm…. I’m the toughest girl alive,** I walked through the fire, but I survived.

** Albeit not as tough as Candye Kane, or Sharon Jones for that matter.

Life Has a Funny Way of Sneaking Up on You

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful that my co-workers are so supportive that they’re the ones who were asking “why wait?” to transition. And I’m definitely ready myself. But the timing sucks.

Originally the plan was that I’d continue working as a man until Christmas, then take off regular vacation time between Christmas and New Year’s, followed by medical leave for my facial feminization surgery.

Old Me shuffles quietly off to a well-deserved retirement. Perhaps with some sort of moment to say goodbye, and express my gratitude for everything he did for me.

New Me, with a new face, gets some time to settle into living as a woman full-time before returning to work. Time to work much more on getting my voice, where I’d like it. Time to provide more of a chance to do a reset in co-workers’ minds before I unveil Me 2.0.

Instead of it’s amid the mad scramble of having to unexpected expedite changing my legal name and gender. Transition, even under the best of circumstances tends to take over your life, but this added an extra degree of difficulty. As that weren’t enough, it’s also amid the excruciating pain of a pinch nerve, and trying to get that treated ASAP. Which also is enough to take over you life.

There’s minor annoyances: My “regular” hair (wig) is off for a much-need redo, and while I have other hair I can wear tomorrow, it’s not the same hair I’ll be wearing the rest of the time. Plus it’s human hair — and she’s definitely not happy with all the rain. Women’s clothes are so much more seasonal than men’s, and I hadn’t had a chance to ready build up my work wardrobe, so I’m worried about having enough outfits for the next two weeks. Especially since, women are scrutinized far more on their appearance — and I’ll be under ever more scrutiny. How well do I “perform” being a woman? Does the poor dear not know how to dress herself, well, you know he’s really just a man in a dress anyway.

So I’m on the cusp of what should be a joyous moment, and I’m just…. spent. I’ve been running beyond empty for weeks now, and I just want to curl up with warm blanket and watch kitten videos. But of course, I can’t.

Tomorrow I have to go to the DMV. I have to book the flight for Christmas, once I know I’ll have a new driver’s license. I need to call a different airline and see I can book the ticket to Buenos Aires now — before rates start skyrocketing — even though my passport is going to be change. Next week, I need to do the pre-surgical exam, and then pending insurance company approval, they’ll do the epidural steroid injection, which hopefully will put an end to the pain. The week after that, I need to do the battery of pre-surgery blood tests, and I’ll finally be able to go the passport office in person to get my passport changed. All the while, while having to learn how to navigate the workplace as a woman, at a time when I’m probably the least centered I’ve been in ages.

I don’t what to start any blasphemous rumors, but yeah, life does have a sick sense of humor. It’s fucking ironic that I’m actually looking forward to post-surgery recovery because it means I’ll finally have a bit of downtime.

In the meantime, just like I’ve done the during the past year of transition, just keep pushing forward, forward. It’s all I can do.

Thank Yous

About a dozen years ago, a girl-child finally set foot outside the house for the first time. Literally. After midnight on a black moonless night. Because NO ONE MUST KNOW. It was both exhilarating and terrifying.

Of course, she really wasn’t a girl, she’d been sharing the same body as her male protector for decades. Some of her sisters knew clearly from an early age, who they really were, and what they needed to become. Not this girl, growing up she just knew she was “different” but not exactly sure how — and in the pre-internet days, she assumed she was the only one in the world who felt this way.

Over the decades, she was able to come out every so often to express herself, but mostly sat, as if in a high tower, watching the world outside, waiting. Until that day came when the need to be out in the world became overwhelming.

Like many of her sisters, it began with tentative steps. The light-night drive en femme. Once she became a little braver, the late night walk. Venturing out to meet a similar group of peers who went out for dinners — safety in numbers. She he connected with others like her online, she quickly gained the confidence to start going out in public alone.

I’m talking of course about myself. You’ve come a long way, baby. And now I’m facing that feeling that’s both exhilarating and terrifying, as I take the final step to living full-time as a woman tomorrow.

It’s journey I could’ve have made alone. There are so, so many people who’ve helped me on this journey, I can’t possibly thank them all. But there’s some I do want to highlight.

To my namesake, Marla, a fierce femme who adopted me and other of my sisters, when I was just starting get out in the world. We’ve lost touch over the years, but wherever you are, thank you.

Thank you to all the other fierce femmes who have supported and inspired me.

To Helen Boyd, and her wife, Rachel Crowl, who’s been a staunch advocate for trans people and their partners, whose amazing writings helped provide much needed perspective, and whose online forum provides both support and tough love when needed. To the other members of the My Husband Betty forum, whose wisdom and generosity continues to impress me.

To my good friend Erica, and my spirit animal, Darya. To Pearl E.. for always being there when I needed someone to lend an ear, and Arcadia her incredible generosity.

To the burlesque community near and far treating me as just another woman.

And to all those here on Facebook, who’ve supported me on this journey.

Once again, thank you.

When the Illusions Come Off

I suppose I should explain the context of my last post. Burlesque and BurlyCon have always been a double-edge sword for me.

OTOH, being able to be just another woman in the company of woman is hugely helpful helpful to the social aspects of my gender dysphoria. OTOH, it also usually kicks up the gender-related discomfort I have with my body.

I’m fortunate, unlike some trans people, I don’t feel like my body (or parts of it) are completely alien. But I’ve yet to feel really at home in it. With my clothes on, I can approximate the body I wish I had, the body that’s slowly moving closer to the body I have in my mind’s eye — although it will never be that body, I’ve been too fucked over by the androgyny fairy for that. It’s been a major issues I’ve had to come to terms with, and mostly I’ve made my peace with it. Mostly.

But when the clothes come off, well, so do the illusions. In both senses of the word.

It doesn’t help that in burly spaces I’m often around women who, if I could have their kind of bodies, I would do many terrible, terrible things.

Now hating your body is all too pervasive among women, given the way we’re socialized. Unfortunately the body positivity movement often rings hollow for me. “Love your body just the way it is”… well that doesn’t work so well if you’re trans. In fact it often feels damn exclusionary (even if it’s unintentional). It’s not just that I’m fat, but I’m fat in ways that are characteristic of someone who’s male-bodied. It’s not just that I have wide child-bearing shoulders, it’s that they combined with my narrow hips are characteristic of someone who’s male-bodied. It’s not just my large hands and feet make it extremely difficult to find rings and shoes that will fit, it’s that they’re characteristic of someone who’s male-bodied.

Earlier I had reached a bit of a detente with body, but with transition looming I’ve actually become become far less comfortable in my body as of late. The gap between what it is, and what it may be (after surgery and more time for hormones to take effect) seems unbearably wide at the moment.

Being Desired

Still coming to terms with an experience Saturday that was one of my most moving at BurlyCon — and of my life.

I was taking a class on “Eye Contact and Sensuality” — commonly referred to in burly world as “eye fucking the audience.” One of the exercises involved everyone walking around, locking eyes with someone and either: giving them a slow caress from their hair, to their face and down to their arms; or being the receiver of the caress.

With some people there wasn’t any connection, and we’d both continue on our separate ways; with some people it was perfunctory, just completing the exercise, with a surprising number of people it was a quite intimate shared experience with a stranger (more about that later possibly).

And then my eyes met the eyes of one woman….

It’s a cliche of desire to talk of magnetic attraction, of feeling a jolt of electricity shot through you, of getting completely lost in another’s eyes, when you meet that special someone. Honestly I’ve never felt that in my life. Never.

But this time… Our eyes met and we both seemed pulled together by forces larger than ourselves. I caressed her, she caressed me. It got hotter than the passion of a thousand burning suns. (Afterwards other members of the class commented that they expected us to go get a room at any moment — and that was before we met again during the second round of the exercise, when when we were instructed to channel sexual energy (or not) into our gazes.)

In that moment, I felt completely and utter desired. Something I’ve never felt before. Not once.

Unfortunately, I got buttonholed at the end of the class and the woman slipped away before I could talk to her or find out who she was. I never saw her again.

Realistically, at this point, it will remain only a cherished memory. (Though should we somehow connect again, obviously I’d love to talk to her.)

Did she genuinely desire me, or was it just acting? (If it’s the latter, I bow down to her +1,000 mad ninja eye fucking skillz.)

I’ll probably never know, and ultimately it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it happened at a time when I’m feeling particularly unsexy, unattractive, and unlovable. Whoever you are, wherever you are… thank you, thank you so very much.

What happens to [boyName]?

It began innocently enough with a question from my electrologist: “What happens to [boyName] after you transition?”

Good question indeed….

(And before we go further, let me say that I detest talking about one’s masculine and feminine sides as separate people, but for this particular discussion personifying them does seem to be the easiest way to talk about the issue.)

I’ve never liked the metaphor some trans women use of killing your male persona, or at least the notion that your male persona died when transitioned.

So my initial reply was that [boyName] will be taking a well-deserved retirement. My masculine aspect, my masculine history, will always be a part of me even if it’s no longer the active part of my personality. And yet, I’m feeling a sense of loss.

“Caterpillar to butterfly” is also popular transition metaphor, but does the butterfly realize that it had to sacrifice being a caterpillar to become who it is now?

Maybe it’s because I was never one of those trans woman who hid behind a hyper-masculine facade until they were able to come to terms with who they really were. Maybe it’s because I spent a long time on the middle path of identifying as bi-gendered, so that there’s not that sense of relief (of shedding one’s male persona) that I often see with rapid transitioners. To me, [boyName] *is* an aspect of me, just not the true *me.*

To borrow a friend’s analogy, he was the trusty work truck who got me through life up until now. Not flashy, a bit dented here and there, but reliable and always there when I needed him.

He protected me. Rory the Roman, standing guard all those years. Armoring himself against the world, so that I didn’t get hurt. Keeping the scared little girl inside of me safe, until she had time to grow up and begin venturing out into the world. Supporting her as she spread her wings. Building a life that’s now allowing for a remarkably smooth transition.

But the cost… the cost has been so dear. He had a exceeding tough job and did it until he just couldn’t do it anymore. And now, in a final act of self-sacrifice, he’s stepping aside to let me take my place out in the world. I’d like to think he’ll have his toes in the sand, with a drink in his hand. But it feels more like he’s climbing the steps to the high tower, where a girl grew into a woman with only fleeting glances of the world outside, and willingly closing the iron door behind him. Moses helping me across the deserts of living as a man, but unable to enter the promised land with me. To have sacrificed so much, and not reap the joys of what (I hope) will be a much fuller life after transition.

I’m sooooo not woo, but I’m feeling a need to somehow mark and acknowledge this parting of the ways. To honor his service to me. To mourn that it feels like a part of myself is fading into the woodwork.

To [boyName]: I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry. I wish you had a happier ending.