Post-Transition

It’s Been A Year…

On the anniversary of transitioning to living as a woman full-time, rather than celebration, I’ve mostly been feeling the “is that all there is?” blues.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret transitioning, not for a second. And I did it being well aware that transitioning (hopefully) resolves your gender issues, but you’re still you, and you’ll still be left with your other issues.

Partly it’s the season. I probably have a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the short days and long nights just make me want to hibernate.

Plus it’s the holiday season with all the pressure that puts on people to feel joyous, even when they’re feeling far from it. Especially for those of us for whom family reunions are more stressful than celebratory. To be honest, for various reasons each year, I haven’t had a joyous holiday season in at least a decade, and this one I’ve been both stressed out and sick once again.

Partly it’s looking back and realizing that 2017 has really sucked due to some pretty severe nerve pain problems. Both the problems in themselves, but also how they’ve kept me isolated.

But a big part of it is now that my #1 challenge has been resolved, it’s allowed other issues to surface.

In some ways I’m now less comfortable in my body than before. The contrast between who I am, and what my body is, have become sharper. As Sam Dylan Finch said in his excellent essay, “I’m Transgender And I Need Body Positivity Too,” it’s not that I hate my body per se. Much as it can be frustrating to live in at time thanks to some chronic health issues, it’s otherwise served me well. Rather, as Finch says, “It’s about hating what my body has come to symbolize… the way it tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not.”

I’m exceedingly thankful for the my new face, courtesy of my my surgery in Argentina last January. I can look in the mirror now and see a woman’s face. It’s at the point where my face in pre-surgery photos is the one that looks a bit alien and “not me.”

But the rest of my body…. There’s some parts that I’ve mostly made peace with. Mostly. I will never have hips that balance out with my wide child-bearing shoulders. My hands and feet will always be big, making it difficult to find jewelry and shoes that fit. I continue to need to do facial electrolysis twice a week, with no end in sight.

And now that breast augmentation is at the “so close, but yet so far” stage — hopefully I’ll be having it done early next year — my body dysphoria about that has gone through the roof. I still feel more caterpillar than butterfly. I’ll get there, but there’s that surgery and another next July, the latter with a tough recovery that’s going to sideline me again for the latter half of 2018.

I’m also really starting to feel the financial pinch of doing the things I need to do to make my body congruent with who I am. When all is said and done, it’ll cost me more than $100,000, with a good chunk of that coming up next year. It will be money well spent, and trust me I know how privileged I am to have the financial resources to make it happen. But still…. It’s wiping out a lot of savings, when I’m at an age where one starts thinking about having enough money for retirement down the road.

But probably one of the biggest issues is dealing with the loneliness in my life. Much of it my own doing — for decades I distanced myself from others because if I didn’t let anyone in, they couldn’t hurt me. I’m working on letting the armor down, but it’s harder to make friends in your 50s, especially out in the suburbs. Harder still when the people I am friends with are 30+ miles away up in SF and Oakland. Also, despite all the talk of sisterhood, burly friendships can be a mile wide, and an inch deep. (I’m grateful to the folks who did reach out when I was sidelined.) And yes, I know I need to force myself to get out more. That’s in the plans, and hopefully health problems won’t sabotage that again.

There’s also recent work with my therapist, that’s made me realize there’s things about my own ways of interacting with other people that need to change. Tired of being the long-suffering friend, the long-suffering co-worker, of always ending up having to be the responsible adult. The person who’s always there for others, but not necessarily there for herself. Growth is good, but sometimes it’s also a bit painful.

All that said, while I may be having All The Feels at the moment, things will get better. Changing some of the problematic parts of my life may be challenging, but at least I know that they need changing. I’ve been through worst. I’m high functioning and I’ll power through things. I’ll just keep dancing. If that’s all there is.

But yeah, I’ll be happy to see 2017 go, and not a moment too soon.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

One year ago today, I picked up the court order changing my legal name and gender — the penultimate step before living as me full-time.

Looking at my post about this from last year, I can’t believe how ecstatic I looked. It truly was a milestone. I thought about sharing that post, but honestly, it has a photo with a face that doesn’t feel like me anymore, between hormones and facial surgery. (A subject that’s probably worth a post in itself for another day.)

I still have some parts of my life (various bills, legal documents, etc.) with my old name on them — with the health problems this year, I just wasn’t up to dealing with bureaucracies — so cleaning the loose ends is going to be a priority in the next month or two.

Achin’ To Be

So I’ve started interviewing surgeons to do breast augmentation. It’s honestly the part of my body I feel most dysphoric about, more than my face was, more than my nether regions.*

Not having them** bothers more than I’d even realized. One of the surgeons had an opening in late December, and I wanted sign up for it right then and there. Hell, I was ready to go under the knife the following day.*** Aching was the best way to described.

I realize there’s other women who are unhappy with their breasts, but in my case Teh Tranz adds an extra level of discomfort.

As Sam Dylan Finch said in his excellent essay, “I’m Transgender and I Need Body Positivity Too,” it’s not that I hate my body, rather:

“It’s about how invisible my body makes me feel — the way it 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.”

This is where the language of body positivity — e.g. “you’re perfect just the way you are,” “you should ignore society’s messages,” etc. — falls flat with me, and with other trans people.

Because, as Finch says, sometimes modifying our bodies can be our greatest act of self-love.

I’m not looking forward to the next two rounds of surgery in the coming year — nor the months of after-care after the second one — but I am looking forward to the changes they’ll bring, to them helping what’s on the outside feel congruent with what’s on the inside.

There are prices to be paid physically, emotionally, and especially financially — since probably none of the renovations will be covered by insurance. But peace of mind is priceless.****

———

*Standard caveat about how if you’ve met once trans person… you’ve met one trans person, and every trans person feels differently about their body

**Thanks to hormones, I’ve actually developed what’s probably are probably A+/B- sized breasts. But given my frame, they look tiny by comparison.

***I didn’t, much as I wanted to, because he’s a celebrity surgeon and his price was far steeper than I’d expected.

****I’m fully aware that I’ll still probably face the same sort of body image issues that most women in our society face — in fact I’m already dealing with them. But it won’t be with the extra dose of gender dysphoria.

Super Sounds of Transition

TFW when the woman at the next table, who you’ve been chatting with, compliments you on your voice and asks if you do radio work.

She was right in a way… as a man I had a deep and resonate voice — think of the DJ from “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies” in “Reservoir Dogs.” Consequently, I’ve spent the last two years working with a speech therapist to change it.

My voice is still one the things I’m most self-conscious about, and it’s still one of the things that causes me to be misgendered — it’s a given that I’ll get referred to as “sir” when I’m on the phone with someone who doesn’t know me.

Unfortunately, with everything else that’s been going on this year, I just haven’t had enough time to practice to really get my voice where I want it to be. I’ve more or less gotten the change from chest resonance to head resonance; on a good day my pitch is an octave higher where I want it; and I’m able to do the 180-degree change in inflection between men’s speech and women’s speech. But it still takes conscious effort and all too often, the latter two slip a bit.

So it’s nice, really nice, to know that sometimes it all comes together.

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.