Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Sound of Change

You know, in all this discussion of interactions with people and events, I hardly ever seem to have touched on the actual practical realities of this transition. The things about yourself that you want to change, or the things which need to change in order to feel comfortable feminine, or even the things which change without you actively even trying to change them just as a function of "taking off the mask."

One thing I have discovered about myself was I had clung to the mask so very tightly for so long that there are a lot of behaviors and patterns of thoughts and speech and such that become so ingrained that you find them jarring when you realize what you are doing. Often things that people don't even notice as they go through life. For example, I've discovered that a woman, when referring to a generic unknown person usually says "she" and a man says "he." When I was training my census people I noticed this. If I refereed back to something the production person who came before us (we were QC) did, I'd catch myself saying "he probably did..." and I noticed that the women inevitably said "she probably..."

Another example is the tendency to have difficulty accepting compliments. As much as I LOVE it when another girl brags on my nails or earrings, I never know how to respond. I'm not used to having the door held, or having a man offering to carry something for me. Most of all, I'm learning to control my urge to be right all the time. But all these are things that can pretty easily be adjusted to and in time you get used to it. I am certain of this much: I covet that role. I've heard other transwomen speak of "losing the male privilege" or being condescended to because they are now women, and I don't want to offend any of them, or any of my GG friends, but that sort of thing is big time affirmation to me. I long to be treated as a woman both in the ways that are positive and in that which is generally seen as negative. Probably if I'd spent 40 years living with that I'd feel differently.

Of course, there's also the very practical stuff. When I go through the world presenting a female identity (and when I don't speak, as much as it might shock some of you, I get away with that almost all the time - outside of my home area- as far as I can tell) there are certain things which become an issue. For instance, I can hardly use the men's room (nor would I want to) and yet if I am clocked in the ladies room, there's the potential for serious drama. I have no wish to be the source of drama or discomfort and go out of my way to be subtle but if it happens, it's humiliating (so far only once).

Another big beef I have is with the person in a service industry job who clocks you and can't get their honorifics right. Understand, if I disgust you and you can't be moved to use "ma'am" I can certainly respect that (to be sure, it makes my day when it does happen). But if I'm standing there in full makeup and a skirt and holding my purse, it's safe for you to assume it's bad form to call me "sir." I find that when this happens, it's almost always here in town here people know me or at least know about me. Still, after all this time I think people have had time to get up to speed. At this point I'm thinking that person is trying to make a point, which is not what they are getting paid to do.

But the changes obviously go beyond such social interactions. There is of course a huge slug of physical changes which need making, most of which are prohibitively expensive and all the more so when you have my income history. If I may go off on what is pretty much an unrelated tangent for a bit here, I'll give you a brief overview of what is involved in the physical transition-

I'm too fat, obviously - and I'm working on that one. Laying aside the ridiculous cost of diet friendly groceries, that one isn't cost-impossible. The next biggest thing is the beard. Of a truth I'll tell you that I can't wait to get rid of the facial hair, but that's gonna cost probably a thousand dollars or more. But it's so crucial to passing because the amount of makeup necessary to cover both the shadow and the chronic razor burn on my next is just stupid.

And that's not the end of the hair story. I'm half Wookie I think, and were I blessed with the funds, the laser would visit my back and front as well. I've had great success with the epilator in terms of controling hair growth elsewhere, but there's that big stretch of back I can't reach and if I ever take HRT (more n that later) I'm gonna guess that plucking hair from growing breasts is gonna be . . . a bad idea.

Probably the biggest factor is hormones. I'm not taking them now - pretty much entierly out of respect to my wife's opinion (not to imply that I'd lightly regard the loss of certain functions as long as I'm in a relationship but one must accept that this comes with the territory). but they are the pivotal players in transition. Most everyone knows that taking hormones and anti-androgens have the potential to produce breast growth (if one is lucky/blessed) and potentially change the fat distribution pattern, as well as causing the decline in size and functionality of . . . other things.

But it does some other things as well. It shifts the fat deposits on the face, feminizing the facial appearance some, it can decrease the amount and distribution of body hair (sadly, no effect on the beard) and it apparently has considerable influence on one's emotional connection to the world around them. A friend of mine said she was stunned at how much more of a "feeler" she became, fawning over babies and puppies and crying over love stories. As a person who's usually been a pretty stoic type, emotionally, I find that fascinating. It will get me in trouble for saying so I suppose, but I seriously covet that sort of transformation. I really don't enjoy being so "cold" emotionally.

Eventually, depending on what the overall plan for physical transition is, a M2F transsexual can have an orchidectomy (removal of the testicles) which allows them to stop the AAs and lower the dose of E both of which are considerably kinder to the liver (assuming you were taking those meds orally - there are injectables and patches but they are notably more expensive). The cost of this procedure isn't so much (compared to other sorts of surgery transsexuals undergo) and isn't unrealistic to look forward to.

Beyond that of course there's many other things. Breast augmentation for those who don't develop properly (mostly a function of genetics and age) isn't cheap, but isn't insane. Facial feminization surgery is growing in popularity and seems to work wonders, but is more costly. Obviously, the actual SRS would be the ultimate goal - a procedure which averages in the range of $20K not counting the lost income while recuperating and the cost of travel and lodging and so forth. I despair of ever having that kind of money to spare.

But there's something else - something which hormones have no effect on and surgery is not reliably effective and is somewhat dangerous.

The Voice.

It's the voice which ties the physical transition back into the original subject of how one interacts with the world around her.

I've made considerable effort to soften my voice and speak in a "gentler" pitch and cadence but, damnit, I still have an unmistakeably male voice. There's nothing else a transwoman has to put more effort into (in general terms - there are always exceptions) than their voice. I got a rude awakening on that point when I found out I had to call the members of my crew before training started and confirm the date. invariably they found themselves saying "yes sir" even after I'd identified myself as Laura. To their great credit, they were almost flawless in treating me as female while we worked together but I can't forget how impossible I found it to sound female on the phone. I record myself practicing and I can tell a dramatic difference from my "old" voice to what I use most of the time now but it's like having covered the first five miles of a walk from here to Dallas.

This presents an interesting dilemma. There's a very real possibility that during the next census operation I'll be a part of, I'll have to call people on the phone first to try to connect with them for a follow up interview. There is no way I can do that job credibly as Laura, with my voice. Yet I cannot in good conscience be so stubborn as to decline the job and lose all source of income. This situation, along with some discussions on the home front, forces me to consider the possibility I'll have to revert to a presentation that is not fully female in order to do that job. A thought which I find repugnant, but seems unavoidable.

But I'll put a pin in that thought for now, it's too big a subject to get into in an already long post.

To get back to the opening point, every interaction goes under the microscope when you are transitioning. So often something will happen or be said which, if you were known to all around you as a "real" female would be a matter of the utmost routine, but when you are like me - there's a bit of an awkwardness to it. Not that I find myself uncomfortable in the feminine role, quite the contrary. The awkward feeling arises from my inability to be certain those around me are likewise comfortable with me as "one of the girls." Probably the thing I thank God for most in this experience is the wonderful women I have become friends with who HAVE boldly accepted me as "one of them" and never fail to make me feel accepted and loved in that role. Words can't express how much that means to me.

Some of these friends have advised me - correctly of course - to "relax and be myself" and to be confidently female, and while I know intellectually that this is true, I still find myself afraid to fully step out on that limb. Perhaps I am being overly sensitive to the impressions and reactions of others, which would be ironic given that I came out with considerable boldness for such a small town. But there seems to be a disconnect which I think goes back to my disinclination to be a source of drama. I have a lot of work to do in accepting the possibility that the people around me really do accept me as a woman rather than just hiding their discomfort behind a mask of civility and politeness.

I long for the day when I can have the peace of mind that comes from not even doubting that those around me have no doubt that I am a female. I think that might be the actual capstone of transition - the first day you go about your business with neither you nor anyone else finding it remarkable that you are a woman.

To get there, though, I have to conquer the Voice.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Shaking off this mortal coil

My nephew's death has got me thinking, not for the first time, about how someone in my position should, could, or will be "laid to rest." Not that I am making any such plans. The days in which I would have taken my own life are long in the past and if they come again, none of you will have seen me in a long time or will have any idea where I went and what became of me. I have no active intent in this regard.

But I definitely have a situation which is just as much a "no win situation" in the event of my death as in life.

You see, if I were directing the events which followed my death, they would be 180 degrees opposite how I am certain it would play out if my loved ones had to bury me tomorrow.

So I'm going to take an opportunity here to describe just how I'd do it, so that it cannot be said I never told anyone. You are surely asking whether or not I've told my wife these things. I've mentioned a few of them in passing but there's little point in giving instructions I know full well she couldn't bring herself to follow, and would upset her to hear me request. That's not to say she won't read this - I assume she will. But there's a difference in having an open discussion of my thoughts and imposing upon her the burden of me specifically asking for these things to be done. I see no point in adding to the burden she already carries because of me. So this is not a round about way of creating that pressure - I acknowledge that it is a given that if she is the one who sees to my final arrangements, pretty much none of this will happen.

Since I'm not going to be there, who am I to protest?

So, here it is. It's actually pretty simple. I would wish to be memorialized (if I am at all) as Laura, rather than as my former male identity. This wish would be the more stronger the longer I have lived my life in this role. not so strong now, but very intensely if I have been transitioned many years or even decades.

I would ask that if anyone has occasion to speak, that the acknowledge freely that I have traveled this road and that not everyone agrees or approves but that I did so with a sincere desire to understand and accept my place in this world and with a humble understanding that I screwed up more than I got right - and that not just a matter of gender.

Further, though, I would hope that such a eulogy NOT take place at a traditional funeral. It would be my will that my body be donated to science - ideally to research concerning the brain science of gender issues first and the rest as practical. I would prefer not to have a"funeral" at all (or a casket, a plot, a stone, etc). Rather, I would hold a wake or some other such informal event in which those who love my wife and kids and the few others who would grieve my passing could express that love for them. It's my opinion that such an event might set a record for low attendance, but I would definitely hope there was an opportunity for those handful of folks to support each other.

I'd hope for a few songs - which I won't bother to list here - which would speak from my heart be played, and that only those who could sincerely say they loved me without judgment (despite my flaws) raise their voice to speak. I'd also hope that those who let their bigotry stand in the way of loving my family, whatever they thought of me, kindly consider this their invitation to fuck off. If I had my way, they would not pollute the day with any falsely professed sentiments.

Mind you, in none of this am I setting out expectations that those who sincerely feel I am in the wrong should change that view just because I died - merely that they put things in perspective, just as if they believed divorce was wrong but would still love their divorce friend or brother just as sincerely in spite of that view. I'm aware of a lot of my acquaintances professing that this is their position - but I'm also aware that in many cases their words and actions belie the claim.

Above all else, whether in my life or my death, I ask only sincerity and kindness. Do not fake a concern you do not feel, and be kind regardless of your judgments. Especially when it comes to those in my household who have no fault and no control over this situation. When the day comes that I move on to find out once and for all what God thinks of me, I hope a few folks will be mature enough not to act out their feelings of superiority in the sight of those few who do mourn me.

Now, over against that, what do I think WILL happen - or would if I were to pass in the near future?

My hair would be cut and died, I'd be dressed in a suit and buried (and by this incur debt on my survivors) in the traditional manner, with the traditional song & dance pretense of sadness by a lot of people who really don't care (and thus mock the pain of the few who really do) and everyone would studiously pretend I'd never shamed myself with any nonsense about being a woman.

They would remember me as they wished I had been, rather than as I was. Or, more charitably, as I had pretended to be. which, I suppose, there's no great harm in. After all, funerals are really for those left alive more than they are for those who have passed. if it makes those who matter feel better to cling to the illusion, I suppose I shouldn't worry about it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


On a message board I visit regularly, a thread was posted discussing the "things you didn't think about before you transitioned." There were a lot of good replies, about things big and small. One thing that occurred to me lately is not answering the phone in the ladies room, because if you hear my voice without seeing me I'm "outed" and that's not where that needs to happen. There are probably a thousand of those little considerations that you just can't see coming until you get in the middle of the situation.

But the reason that question is on my mind right now is something a bit bigger and more complex. Those of you who know me in real life know that we had a death in the family this week. My brother-in-law's son shot and killed himself Tuesday night. For someone in what is still, in many ways, in the early days of transition, that presents a complex situation.

Let me be clear up front, I do not consider my situation to be the center of the universe and thus everyone else has to put up with whatever results from it. I do think I'm within my rights to expect to be taken seriously and to not have it dismissed as trivial, but I do not mean my observations here to come off as complaints.

That said, the occasion for this train of thought is how to reconcile my right to be myself and express my identity with the fact that a funeral is the most delicate and emotionally raw of all situations. I have chosen to give up some aspects of my presentation in order to respect the sensitivities of the family (and, to their great credit, there's been no backstream messages telling me I needed to do so) and I can live with that. But it does make me wonder, what happens when I'm well into transitions and no longer even own any male clothing? When I'm physically past the point of a male presentation? where is that line in which I have "crossed over" so that those around me, regardless of their level of approval, take it as a given I'll show up in a skirt and heels instead of a jacket and tie? And when that day comes will I be "disinvited" rather than sully the event?

As an aside, I suppose I should be offended if that were to happen but I don't think I would be. I really am not interested in forcing you to accommodate me in your personal space if it can be avoided.

Thankfully, this one is made more easy by the fact that the family insisted everyone wear jeans - but it's not really this one I'm thinking of, so much as the future.

Not, of course, that I have a firm grip on the future anyway. I know that ultimately this transition will be completed (insofar as money allows) or I'll die before I get the chance (which, by the way, I could write a whole other post - and probably will - about what happens to this shell when I do pass on) - but what sort of reversals, delays, and consequences appear along that road I cannot now predict. Certainly it might never happen to occur that some loved one passes and I'm in a position of not being able to present a credibly male image. But it might.

This world turns out to be a damned messy place. And if it's anything we've learned in my household in the last year, it's that many situations don't have a "good answer" - only a less bad one.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Getting It Right

A lot of times, I think, some people wonder just what it is people like me want. What do we expect will happen? How are they supposed to act? I don't just mean here those who disapprove, it's just as true of those who WANT to be good to you or even supportive but just simply have no experience with what is obviously a potentially awkward situation.

Well, let me take a moment here this evening to sing the praises of a group of folks who, with very few exceptions, have gotten it exactly right.

As some of you may know, I am again this year in the employ (temporarily) of the U.S. Census Bureau. When the clerk called to confirm my interest and extend an invention to work this year I informed her of my status and she assured me that it wouldn't be an issue. Several days later my future boss called and he I again put my cards on the table and his reply was "if anyone has a problem with you, they have a problem with me" and his boss confirmed that position.

Still, I was a bit nervous. After all, I was potentially going to be a crew leader and the effectiveness of up to a dozen people was going to depend not only on my ability to do my job but on the comfort level we would share. During the CL training it was a relatively small group and most of them people I wouldn't be directly working with after the training, but gradually as I began to have interactions with the office staff I found more and better than I expected.

Look, I understand that the law requires a government agency to extend equal rights to me. I understand there are very specific policies which would apply if anyone overtly harassed me or whatever but - that's not what was happening here. I also can discern the difference between thinly veiled contempt lurking behind a facade of plastic politeness (by "plastic politeness" I mean, for instance, when a store requires a checker to say "how are you?" when everyone knows she isn't interested in how you are) and genuine warmth and acceptance.

The latter is what I experienced among the office staff and it's what I have experienced with my crew. It may seem odd to some of you that I would use this expression and find it remarkable but, in short, they treat me like a lady. They speak of me and react to me and respond to me pretty much EXACTLY like they speak of, react to, and respond to any other female in the room.

Which is a dream come true for me. I don't want to "stand out" - I want to be "one of the girls." when you encounter a person - someone who handles the payroll so you KNOW she knows your secret (even if you tell yourself some folks don't) - in the ladies room and she chats you up about the weather or compliments your earrings or whatever without a bit of apparent discomfort that you are there - that is PRICELESS.

When you are in a car with two other women and a man and someone mentions the possibility of running out of gas - and the man (who is no fool) says "I hope not because I'm the only man in this car and I know who'll be pushing" that's a "make my day" moment.

Yes, there have been a FEW times when I got a "Yes Sir" - 99% of which can be attributed to my HORRID voice (Yes, I know there are women with deep voices but not like THIS) - and one instance when I was calling my crew before I met them (the voice is at it's worst on the phone) in which I was asked flat out if I was a guy. But even that person treats me well, and everyone else - and I am assuming here I don't pass well enough that they are all in the dark - has shown no sign at all that they have noticed anything other than a normal woman just doing her job.

Frankly, it is HEAVEN!

I could say, in passing, that it is a bit bittersweet that complete strangers can deal with this so well while those who love me most struggle, but it is also not anything that should surprise - the strangers never met "him."

But I won't dwell on that tonight. Rather, I want to just rejoice that even in Mississippi, we've come far enough that the things I have described can be true. As much as I know how many out there prattle my name in every other conversation and judge me as anything from a perve to a bad husband to a blackhearted sinner - more and more I realize that maybe there are not so many as I have thought - and when they do gossip and judge, they are not giving me any worse treatment than all sorts of other people with less shocking behavior that they consider themselves better than.

It's a far better situation than it would have been had I accepted myself and transitioned 25 years ago.

Ah, but I digress again. the point of this post is to say, even though none of them may ever read it, that I thank God for the people I work with and the acceptance I have received. It's too bad this is a temporary job.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lose end

A tiny follow-up here to the last entry, based on some feedback I've gotten.

Let me be CRYSTAL clear - I said this in the previous post but perhaps not loudly enough - I do NOT intend to imply that she is acting vindictively, or deceitfully, or with any other malicious intent. My comments refereed to the sort of actions that arise from subconscious desires of the sort most of us are generally unaware.

Anyone who read that post as me "airing dirty laundry" and bitching about her on here doesn't understand my intent. I'll admit here, for the record, that if she were making the choice, I'd never say anything at all about her here - so I try to be very aware of the distinction between chronicling my journey and "talking out of school." I don't believe I can tell the whole story without making SOME reference to the people closest to me, but it is my intention to never try to cast those people as villains in this story.

I would not be completely honest if I didn't admit that I am hurt and disappointed when someone who's been important in my life refuses to compromise their prejudices to accept me inspite of my flaws, however large. I would not be telling the whole story if I didn't say that there's a significant gap between how I had hoped she would react and how she actually did react. But that doesn't make her the bad guy and it doesn't mean i am here to tell you how she has failed me or let me down.

Let me be blunt - I KNOW who has failed who here, I KNOW who has come up short of reasonable legitimate expectations. If you ever desire to comment on one of these posts to tell me how sorry i am, save your breath - I get that. All I ever asked is that people understand the true nature of my flaws instead of imposing their preconceived ideas upon my life. I tell you again as I have before - the odds are you haven't spent 10 consecutive minutes in your whole life thinking about the nature of transsexualism, and the implications thereof (like how it fits in with being a Christian) - meanwhile I've spent almost my whole life processing the subject from every possible angle and - far from trying to justify it - spent the great majority of that time clinging desperately to the idea that it was and is nothing but sin that I could be delivered from.

With all due respect, it is astoundingly arrogant for one who has given no significant thought to a subject to presume to lecture someone who has made it their life's work. You might just as well be a ditch digger and presume to lecture Stephen Hawking on Quantum Physics.

In any case, I digress. the point of this post is to re-emphasize that you won't see me write in this space to give you the blow by blow of how hatefully my wife has treated me. Even should I ever come to conclude that she has I will not dishonor her by advertising it. I can't say that of anyone who lives outside my household however, anyone else is fair game. But not her. If you ever think you see that in my writings, you have misunderstood.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Emotional Blackmail

No long rants this time. In fact, due to my new (temporary) job, I really should be heading for bed right now but I wanted to throw out a rhetorical question. not rhetorical because I wouldn't like an answer, but only because there are only a couple of people who comment on this blog at all. But anyone who reads it is welcome to send me your thoughts on the subject by whatever venue.

The basic idea is this - If I continue forward living "full time" in this identity, I risk the literal mental stability of my spouse and thereby create real issues in terms of my children.

Or at least, that's what I'm supposed to believe.

You see, I'm stuck in this conundrum in which I have suspicions I am uncomfortable with. Not that I am attributing deceptive motives - not at all. But the basic problem is that she so desperately wants "the man back" that I fear she will say or do anything in order to leverage that decision. If I get the impression she might kill herself, or run away, or have a total breakdown - well, if that makes it more likely I will "straighten up" then that's not a bad thing, from her point of view, right? I'm not saying she is aware of this, but rather that on an instinctive level subconsciously, there's blackmail going on which boils down to "if you don't do what I want, I'll make the price you pay more than you can bear.

After all, consider - if she did kill herself or try to because of my actions, there would be not one ounce of sympathy to be found for me on the whole earth. I would be the most hated person any of my acquaintances could imagine. what better retribution could one exact from the person who tore your world apart?

So I'm stuck in a place where I must offer unconditional surrender of all that I believe about myself, live a lie and wear a mask that everyone knows is a mask, in order to avoid emotional devastation to her . . . or I choose to be truly alive and fulfilled in a way I never have before now, and know that by doing so I wreck another person's very existence - and that a person I love beyond words.

I confess that I can see no good outcome here. I do know that if I were to revert to something less than female in my appearance and behavior it would be for a temporary and relatively short period - I will NOT grow old as a man, whatever it takes to keep that from happening. But would I suspend that transition for three years or so while the boys grow up? I just might. But that would come with a loud and defiant statement that I AM Laura and she will NOT be put back in the closet. But I honestly don't know for sure that I can, especially if I see no effort on her part to grow in her tolerance for people like me.

So, the question is this - is it the right thing to do to succumb to such tactics, or to not dignify them by submitting? Honestly I see a good case for both choices. I'm sure that those who think I am wrong would be only too happy to see me surrender, and only too joyful to dance on "her" grave as if they had won the point - that galls me. But at the end of the day I will not decide one way or the other how to deal with this based on the opinions of the judgmental. Laying aside those for whom it is an easy call to tell me to "knock it off" - I find that I'm very convinced of the legitimacy of both competing arguments here. I know of no easy solution to the contradiction.