Post-Transition

The Desperate And Divided Years

#MomentsInTransition — The other part of the emotional root canal I’ve been doing with my therapist is coming to terms to the damage to my life from all those years of having to hide my true self — the desperate and divided years — and the ways in which my survival strategies played their own part in that damage.

The stereotype of being in therapy is sitting on the couch while your therapist intones: “Tell me about your childhood….” There’s a lot more to it, but yeah, sometimes issues do go back to your childhood.

One of the hard breakthroughs was realizing that I never really got much nurturing from my parents. They were both (German/Scandinavian) emotionally-constricted, workaholic loners, who while they might have been loving, weren’t really able to show it, nor able to give me the support I needed as a young child. Later on, I was one of the first-generations of latch-key kids — I was literally on my own when I got home from school with no one to talk to about the ostracism and bullying that became an all too frequent occurrence.

In these circumstances, it’s common for children to “become self-reliant and independent. This is to avoid any possible feelings of rejection from an emotionally distant caregiver. They learn to stay quiet on any issues or upsets they may be facing and/or find a way to deal with things themselves rather than seeking help from others.”(1)

I feel personally attacked…. Seriously, seeing that, everyone of them words rang true and glowed like burnin’ coal, pourin’ off of every page like it was written in my soul. Ms. High Functioning, that’s me. I built up a defensive shield of self-esteem and self-sufficiency.

Growing up as purported boy didn’t help either. As after all, boys don’t cry, right? I don’t think most women truly understand the ways men — at least men of my generation — were trained to shut down their emotions, even from themselves. As bell hooks aptly put it: “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.”

It also didn’t help that I was the sort of little boy who sucked at the conventional expectations of boyhood. I was an introverted, dreamy, artsy, highly intelligent, clumsy boy who was always chosen last for sports teams — in a neighborhood of meathead jocks.(2) When your day-to-day reality sucks, withdrawing and putting up walls is defense mechanism. Don’t let anyone in, and I can’t be hurt. I wasn’t bullied for being trans per se (I would’ve gotten the same treatment had I actually been a cisgender boy), but it was definitely for being gender non-conforming.

I first started cross-dressing around 11 — an extremely common age for us late-life transitioners. Unlike the young transitioners you hear about today, who as young as 3 or 4 assert their true gender, impending puberty surfaced a feeling that we were “different,” often without  really knowing why. There wasn’t any internet back then. Eight television channels (which was far more compared to many areas). There might have been information about trans people lurking somewhere in the local college library — if I’d even know what to look for.(3) But I didn’t. I thought was the only person in the work who felt that way.

I was extremely fortunate that unlike so many of my peers that I never felt guilt or shame about my crossdressing. I knew it was problem, but it was *society’s* problem, not mine. But I also sure as hell knew that it wasn’t safe to be open about it. So like many of my late-life transitioning peers, I built up the facade. I may have sucked at being a boy, but I wasn’t femmy, in the ways that young-transitioning trans women are often overtly femmy as kids, their femininity too powerful to be able to conceal.

It didn’t help that in high school I was the odd kid out. A liberal in Orange County, CA. An atheist during an evangelical revival. A misfit who didn’t even fit in with the other misfits.

And so more walls went up. Don’t let anyone inside, if they see who I really am, they’ll reject me. Maybe even hurt me. Emotionally. Physically.

Isolating myself. Telling myself that “I don’t need others, and they aren’t really important to me. I am fine as I am.”(4) Elsa isolated in the castle lest anyone discover her strange and terrible secret. But also Anna separated from the world outside and longing to be part of it.

It’s kind of been that way the rest of my life. I tried. I developed people-pleasing habits to my own detriment in a variety of non-reciprocal social and romantic relationships.  I threw myself into workaholism and busyholism to distract myself from the that feeling that: it’s so lonely over here, it’s a cold part of town. Never quite fitting in, feeling like I always had my nose pressed up against the glass. Never having some someone to rely on — having been let down too many times. Always having to go it alone.

In retrospect, I realize that part of it was internalizing the transphobia and misogyny in our society. It’s hard to swim in a sea of poison and not swallow some. To feel, despite my defense of apparent high self-esteem, that I was unworthy of love. Plus all the other side-effects from living in a society that hates who you are. (For you younger folks, the world was far different, far less tolerant place — even from within the LGB communities — back then. Even as little as 5-10 years ago. Even now as TERFs still viciously assert that trans women aren’t women, and trans women continue to be excluded from “women only” spaces.) I think pretty much everyone who belongs to a stigmatized minority group deals with some degree of life-long low-level PTSD.

Armoring up, not letting myself feel, not letting anyone in, was my way of coping. Compartmentalizing was necessary for survival. I’m privileged and lucky that my transition went as smoothly as it possible could — but it was still by far the most stressful things I’ve done in my life. Far more stress than even the death of my mother from cancer last year. Tunnel vision is what enabled me to get through it.

Especially since I essentially transitioned single handed. Yes, there was plenty of people online were supportive from afar, and for that I’m greatly appreciative. But there was no one in-person to show up for me, and rarely did people online reach out to me. I’m not blaming anyone. Like a lot of “strong friends” it’s hard for me to ask for help.(5) I’ve mastered the art of masking my pain. To look like I’m hanging strong even when I’m falling apart inside, and could really need Aunt Beast(6) to comfort to me. Someone who could actually hold me tight and tell me it was going to be OK.

So what now? The first step has been admitting that I have a problem. That my past solutions aren’t working anymore and have become my current problems. I’ve known in my head, but I’m finally allowing myself to actually *feel* this in my heart and in my gut. To grieve the damage and the years I wish I’d been able to live differently. To come to terms with past that I can’t change the past, but move past that and focus on changing my future.

I’m working on it. I’m still socially awkward, still have that inner teenage wallflower standing by the wall at the school dance (plus when I do go out to lesbian spaces, it seems like everyone’s two or three decades younger) but I’m forcing myself to get out there. To get outside my Fortress of Solitude. Working on building up a social network and finding new friends. Which is a hella harder at my age, since there’s less inherent places to meet people compared to when you’re young and in school, or going out clubbing regularly.

I haven’t felt centered enough yet to do so, but I’m planning to just embrace the suck and get out there and start dating again. Which when you’re trans is extra fucking hard. Disclose upfront in your profile that you’re trans and you’re unlikely to get many replies, except from chasers who are attracted to the *kind* of woman you are, not who *you* are. (Plus, now I’m now longer a “chick with a dick,” I’m not of interest to them anyway.) Don’t disclose, and lots of people will ghost you when they find out.

It sucks to deal with all this stuff again my 50s, but there it is. The only thing I know how to do is to keep on keepin’ on, like a bird that flew. Tangled up in blue pink. I’ll get through this. I always get through things. But maybe going forward, I won’t have to do it alone. At least that’s what I hope. Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have — but I have it.(7)



1 https://www.thrivetalk.com/avoidant-attachment/

2 Of course there’s jocks who are smart, and jocks who aren’t assholes. Unfortunately, they didn’t live on my street.

3 There had been trans people in the public eye periodically over the years — such as Christine Jorgensen and Renée Richards — but none during my teen years, at least that I was aware of.

4 https://jebkinnison.com/bad-boyfriends-the-book/type-dismissive-avoidant/

5 https://humans.media/check-on-your-strong-friends
https://sherijbooker.com/2018/06/12/what-it-really-means-to-check-on-your-strong-friend/
https://www.brit.co/how-to-support-your-strong-friend/

6 https://avidly.lareviewofbooks.org/2019/02/08/queer-aunt-beast/

7 “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have — but i have it” by Lana Del Rey, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY2LUmLw_DQ

Having My “At Seventeen” Moment

During the past weeks, I’ve been having my “At Seventeen” moment about 37 years too late, which has been a bit crippling and one reason you haven’t seen me out at shows. I’ve hesitated to write about it, because it seems so… damn adolescent. I’m talking about my looks, or lack thereof.

I’m not talking about sexy. The stage has taught me how to turn the sexy on when I want to. I’m not talking about beauty. The various “we’re all beautiful!!!” ad campaigns and body positivity affirmations have ended up really talking about how everyone is valued, how everyone is worthy of love, etc. Although, it’s telling that for women, all that gets lumped under “beautiful.”

No, I’m talking about pretty. And not everyone gets to be pretty — it’s simply statistics. A few of us are ugly, most of us are average, and a few pass the cis-het bar of being considered pretty or handsome.

Me, I’m coming to grips that I’m plain.

The head understands this, but the heart, and especially the gut, aren’t rational. It had gotten so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to attend some of the burlesque shows I really wanted to, because the wormtongues kept whispering in my ear: “They’re all so pretty — and I’m not.” I couldn’t even bear to see photos from the shows. I haven’t been able to bring myself to debut a new number that all about loving your body, because I feel like a fraud. I’ve even flirted with the idea of quitting burlesque.

I know I’ve written about my body issues before, but now it’s more about how the goalposts have shifted. Now I’m feeling the full weight of being a woman in a woman’s body being measured up against the beauty myth.

ETA: It’s not that I didn’t feel many of these pressures during the year I spent living as a woman outside of work to socially transitioning. But back then, there was the psychological defense mechanism that “not bad for someone whose male-bodied.” I blended in as a woman far more than I’d ever expected to. On stage, with stage makeup, I could be joie laide — unconventionally beautiful — I could make audiences feel I was sexy. But ordinary life isn’t on-stage, and now that I’ve got a woman’s body, that crutch of “not bad for someone whose male-bodied” has been taken away.

They don’t tell you about that when you’re thinking of transitioning. As the story goes — as least for those of us who feel the need to modify our bodies — you make the physical changes and your body dysphoria goes away. If only…

While I’m far more comfortable in my skin than I was three years ago, free of discomfort that I wasn’t fully aware of at the time, my body still misrepresents me in ways that no amount of self-love can change. I still get “sirred” at least once a week. It’s no longer the dagger in the heart it once was, but it’s yet another in a series of a thousand cuts. A reminder that I wasn’t blessed by the androgyny fairy and I’m still seen as a man at least part of the time.

Trans people have a remarkable ability to handle cognitive dissonance about our appearance. To look in the mirror and see, not the reflection looking back at you, but who you really are. To know that you’re not really “passable” and yet tell yourself that you are. It’s necessary if you ever want to leave the house.

For years I’ve had an image in my head about what the “real me” looked like. But post-surgeries, it’s been coming to grips that I ain’t her, despite the enormous blood and treasure spent over the last three years. So I’ve been having a bit of a requiem for a dream.

On top of all that there’s the new and improved Body Dysphoria 2.0 in the same ways that virtually all cisgender women feel about their bodies. I thought I understood this pre-transition, thought I understood the pressure society puts on women about their appearances, but I vastly underestimated it. It’s one thing to understand, it’s quite another to live it.

It’s also an odd thing to transition to living as a woman at an age when women become invisible. I know many women welcome that after a lifetime of unwanted attention, but for me, there’s a sadness that I was never seen as a woman, a young woman, with those who called to say “come dance with me” and murmured vague obscenities.

It’s especially hard in the burly world, where most of the other performers are two, even three decades younger than I am. Aside from not having the beauty of the bloom of youth, time and various injuries over time, mean that my body simply can no longer do the things they can.

That constant reminder that I’m not a young woman, that I’ll never have been a young woman, is the hardest of it all. It’s a reminder of the all the years lost. I’m so envious of the trans kids today who will be able to live out their full lives as themselves. In the words of Mama Rose, I feel like I was born too soon and started too late.

I am getting better. Part of the emotional root canal I’ve been doing my therapist is finally let myself *feel* and grieve for all of this. To feel the anger about being cheated out of four decades of my life. The frustration about what testosterone did to my body.

I have to let myself work through it in order to work past it. To lance the boil and let out all that which aches like tetanus, all that which has been festering underneath my consciousness. Perle Noire’s “Healing Through Seduction” online course is also helping me find ways to love my body and myself.

I’m not there yet. I’m not yet at the point where, as friend advised me to do, I just say “fuck that shit.” But I’m working on it, and that’s the important thing.

And Forget About Everything

So today is Transgender Day of Visibility, and this year I’m feeling extremely ambivalent about it as far as myself. <tl:dr, long soul-searching post ahead>

OTOH, we need visibility and activism, especially in these times, and I’m one of the examples that, yes, it gets better. Likewise, when I was young, I didn’t even know other trans people existed — or that trans itself existed — and I don’t want other 11-year-olds to feel “different” but not know why, and feel like they’re the only ones in the world who feel that way.

But OTOH, there’s a huge difference between coming out as LGB and coming out as T. The former puts the focus on who you are, while coming out as trans inevitably puts the focus on who you were — at least for binary trans people like me. That’s one reason that I haven’t been posting much about my transition lately. And who I was… that’s a part of my life that I’d prefer to leave in the past.

Especially right now. My divorce from masculinity may have been amicable, but like many divorces, the past three years still have been hugely stressful with Teh Tranz dominating my life.

A friend who’s watched trans people transition for decades once observed that three years after transitioning, the vast majority of them had not only changed job, but changes fields; and many of them had moved as well. They weren’t necessarily going “stealth” —  i.e. living a life where no one knows that you’re trans — but they, consciously or not, wanted to start over, free of the preconceptions of people who knew them “before.”

I’m really feeling that pull myself. To start over. To not hide the fact that I’m a trans woman, but not have it be the first thing people know about me, and have it be the third or fourth most interesting thing about me. But to do so would mean giving up performing, which is one of the few things that has given me joy in life. So I’m feeling a bit trapped.

This year, I’m also coming to terms with how much not being able to be myself, and having to hide myself, really damaged my life. (I’m in the middle of some necessary, but painful work with my therapist about this.) So it’s for me hard to say “being trans is wonderful” given what it’s cost me — although I’ve got no desire to be cisgender. And it means Teh Tranz is still dominating my life right now, as I work through the anger and grief at the decades that were stolen from me, the life that I didn’t had, the life that I never will have, the other damage it’s done to my life. Hiding my core self, and walling myself off so that I couldn’t get hurt was a necessary survival strategy, but one that’s left me feeling lonely and isolated.

So lately I’ve been wishing I could move away from Baker Street and settle down in some quiet little town and forget about everything. Sometimes part of activism is taking time out for self-care, and trusting that other will take up the fight. That’s where I’m at.

Consequently, to paraphrase The Waitress’ Christmas song: Happy TDOV, happy TDOV, but I think I’ll miss this one this year.

 

Tap, Tap… It This Still On

I realized that it’s been months since I’ve posted. Mostly it’s because no news was good news. The short version is that the physical recovery went well, and I’m back to normal. Although I’m going to have to return to Thailand for a revision to fix something that didn’t quite heal as desired. (Fortunately, it’s more of a cosmetic issue.)

I’ve also been dealing with a massive amount of burnout from the past three years, and so I haven’t felt much like writing about trans issues.

Plus there’s less to say day to day, now that I’m more or less through my transition.

But I’l still be posting occasionally.

 

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.