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.
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.