Post-Transition

Why You Don’t Deadname Someone

Read this. Read this now. I’ll wait.

To borrow a line from Helen Boyd’s essay: I am and always was Jolie Laide;* it just took some effort to make that visible. Need to refer to me “before”? Use Jolie Laide 1.0.

Yes, I sometimes refer to my pre-transition male persona by the name I was assigned at birth, when I need to talk about that aspect of me. He was very real part of me, but not the real me. The best analogy is how Method actors create a character that may be very different than their off-stage self, but it’s drawn still drawn from aspects of their own personality.** Just as my stage persona that’s a larger than life version of my muggle self.

(FYI, “Dead naming” is referring to someone by the name they used prior to transitioning, usually the name they were assigned at birth.)

* Yes, Jolie Laide, is a nom de plume. It allows me to be freer about talking about intimate things here, and with bigots doxxing trans people, I prefer to keep a bit of separation between here and my offline self.

** And yeah, I also find it a bit weird to talk about myself in the third-person, but it’s a convenient shorthand.

Coming Home

From today’s celebration of my transition:
I’m coming home to a country I wasn’t born to.
A country that I looked upon from afar for many, all too many, years.
A country that I finally worked up the nerve to visit.
A country where I eventually became a sojourner, my status conditional and provisional.
No longer. I may still be an immigrant, not completely versed in the ways of the new land I inhabit.
But I’m coming home. Thanks to all of you, I have come home.

The Last Big Hurdle

Got another reminder from Facebook’s “On This Day” about a major milestone last year.

At the time I couldn’t say anything publicly, but I’d just gotten out of a meeting with my immediate managers to tell them that I was transitioning. (Part of the early notification was that it was going to take about 3 months to find a suitable contractor to fill in when I was out post-surgery.)

I was still extremely nervous about the reaction my co-workers would have when I came out in December — nervousness that proved to be utterly unwarranted — but knowing management was wholeheartedly behind my transition was a relief. I’m extremely lucky, too often that’s not the case

And, damn, I have gone through a lot during the past year.

Post-Transition Blues

So I’ve been a bit absent while I’ve been dealing with some pretty nasty pinched nerve pain (I’m out of pain and doing a lot better, thank you.)

But another a big reason is frankly I went through some post-transition blues.

Admittedly with the health issues, I had a pretty hard few months immediately after transition. Especially in contrast to how smoothly things went beforehand. (Obviously other people have hard transitions, losing family, jobs, etc.)

But it was more than that. I’d like to think I went into transition with very little pink fog and realistic expectations about what life post-transition would be like. My attitude was the life pre-transition was chop wood, carry water, and life post-transition would be chop wood, carry water.

And yet…

Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely better.

The background static of my social dysphoria is pretty much gone. And while there’s a big of slog ahead, it’s nowhere near the amount of stress and anxiety I had during last year’s run up to transition. I tell people that I spent the last half of 2016 running on coffee and adrenaline. I’m only half-joking…

In a way it’s a bit like “top drop” in the dungeon. It’s truism in the kink scene that in a scene bottoms get off on endorphins and tops get off on adrenaline. So if you’re topping, at the end of the scene, you’re pumped full of adrenaline and quite literally the best thing to do is go run around the block to burn it off. But you can’t, since you’re responsible for your bottom’s aftercare. Hence you typically get an adrenaline crash, which usually sucks a bit, but you just have to push through it.

Someone one the My Husband Betty forum once wisely noted that hopefully transition resolves your gender issues — but all your other issues remain. And if anything, something else now gets promoted to be your new #1 issue. Which in my case was very true. There’s some other aspects of my life that I’ve wanted to change that are at the forefront.

For me it’s dealing with a lifetime of armoring up. I don’t have many close friends, and the ones who are don’t live locally. And all my more casual friends live 30 miles away in SF and Oakland. I’m single, and while it meant I didn’t have to deal with transition issues related to spouse and kids, it also means on the whole my support system isn’t anywhere what I want/need it to be. All of that was compounded by the nerve pain that kept me mostly housebound.

I’m also having inertia for different reasons. Extreme burn out from 30 years of workaholism to obscure the holes in my life. Not only at work, but 20 years of volunteerism that usually took at least 10-15 a week. Not to mention trying to have a performing career on top of that. People told me frequently they had no idea how I did it all — and in retrospect neither do it. Well, actually I do sort of, a big part of it was sacrificing any sort of personal life.

One reason for the let down was that my work was kind enough to allow me to take an extra two months of (unpaid) medical leave (and yes, I know how incredibly privileged I am to have been able to do so). Which would finally give me a much needed chance to decompress.

But it didn’t happen. There was an unexpected opening in the retirement community my Mom wanted to go, so I had to spend two weeks helping her move. Then the nerve pain really ramped up and I spent weeks in uncontrolled, extreme pain. Not exactly relaxing.

Then finances got really tight. My company switched Jan. 1 from paid-time off to discretionary time-off — so the several weeks of accrued vacation pay I was counting on were frozen (to be paid back when I leave the company). Then California’s EDD, which is supposed to pay short-disability after surgery (even cosmetic surgery) denied my claim on a bullshit technicality, and I’ve not heard anything about the appeal I filed ever since. (Yes, California’s EDD is proof that black holes exist, and they make the DMV look efficient and cheerful.) I didn’t starve, but it wiped out my liquid savings and I couldn’t pay all of my taxes.

I also came back to find out the roof leaked during the torrential rains when had, and needs to be repaired, as well as the interior water damage.

And so on. Sometimes it felt like I was being nibbled to death by ducks.

I tell people that the horrible irony is that the least stressful month I’ve had in the past year is the month I spent recovering from two rounds of major surgery because the only thing I had to do was focus on getting better.

Plus, while my social dysphoria is significantly better, my body dysphoria got significantly worse. That’s a whole post in itself, but short version is that now the stakes are very different from part-time living.

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.)

The Long Coming Out

So today I ended up needing to work with some co-workers who I’d worked with three years ago — and didn’t know about my transition.* After the meeting, they came up to me and said they thought we’d worked together previously. I said yes, and that I did look a bit different back then. Which addressed the question that was hanging implicitly in the air.

Unless one “goes stealth” — cutting all ties to one’s past — social transitioning is rarely a one and done. Instead it’s been an ongoing series of coming outs, as I run into people with whom I have only casual connections.

* There’s several hundred people in my office, and back in December I only came out to my immediate team and other people that I worked with directly.

A Relief From Stubble Bummed

Yesterday was my 150th hour of electrolysis, and today was the first Saturday (more about that later) that I haven’t felt the need to shave.

My electrologist says I have some the thickest and most stubborn hair she’s ever seen, the only good side is that they’re practically transparent — while it makes them harder to find and kill, means they’re not very visible.

Which is a really good thing, since my electrologist needs two days of growth to be able to find them, and the stubble drives me crazy. I’m doing three hours of electrolysis a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so Saturdays have been the only day I can shave and not have to feel the stubble, which is really gender dysphoric for me.

But this week we’ve been hitting the remaining patches of untouched facial hair, hit them hard. My throat is dotted with tiny electrolysis scabs bearing witness to the battle.

So when I felt my face this morning, it was largely smooth. There’s scattered hairs here and there — it’s amazing how sensitive one’s fingertips are to being to feel an isolated hair.

But it was smooth enough to forego shaving today without feeling dysphoric (although I may regret the decision tomorrow), and it will help on Monday when I go back under the needle again.

Will some of the hair grow back? Undoubtedly. (Fortunately when the hair follicle is partially dead, it becomes finer and downier.)

But it’s clearly the beginning of the end. I’m not sure how long it will take to get there, but I can’t tell you what a relief it is to know there is an end in sight. Because with everything else going on, personally and politically, I could definitely use some hope.

Drag Erased?

What does it mean for me to be doing drag (in additional to burly*) now that I’m transitioned to living as a woman full-time?

For the record I know of at least half a dozen drag queens here in the SF Bay Area who are/were post-transition trans women. One is a pageant queen, where “hyper-real” femininity (i.e. it’s a really stylized version of “real”), several are costumers who do over-the-top outfits.

Whereas my style was always “woman done up for the stage” rather than “DRAG QUEEN!” My drag mother, who was trans, identified her performing style as a female impersonator (sans the implications of doing specific celebrity), and “female personator” was how I saw my style pre-transition.

But what does it mean artistically now that I’m a woman personifying a “woman on the stage”…. There’s several cisgender women locally who do/have done drag, but their style has been over-the-top (as one of them said, “what’s the point of me looking like a woman on stage”). However, that’s not a style that’s “me.” Kind of a moot point at present since I’m still sidelined with an injury. But something I’m pondering.

That said, given my build (I wasn’t blessed by the androgyny fairy), short of having an outfit where my boobs are hanging out (when I get implants), so realistically I know I’ll still probably get read as a male-bodied drag queen by audience members who don’t know me. (Which is it’s own set of issues…)

* I performed for as a drag queen for a number of years, before moving into burlesque — which is my preferred art form these days, but as I recover from my injury I’ll be doing drag first, since there’s a lot lower risk of re-injuring myself. And I still enjoy doing drag because the venue for our show has a low stage, which means I can get off it and interact with the audience in ways during a song that I can’t while doing more choreographed burly numbers.