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Archive for February, 2011

One of the things I have always enjoyed about writing is that it brings clarity to my thought process. The formality of writing something down – the decisions that go into word selection, word placement, punctuation, sequencing of ideas – forces me to think through things logically and coherently.

For this reason I can usually tell when something big is still in the process of coming together in my mind by the exercise of trying to write it out. If I can’t get it into words and yet the ideas are jumbling around all over my mind, that’s a sign that something major is brewing upstairs. I don’t necessarily know what it is, but I can tell when it’s over because I can write about it after the fact.

I’ve got that going on lately and it has severely limited the repertoire of trans-related things I am capable of writing about. Yet I don’t want this blog to be my stream-of-conscious dumping ground. It’s kind of got a theme, you know? It’s written right under the blog title: “Diana’s thoughts about navigating gender transition.” If I start writing about my favorite television shows, and work issues, and the kids’ latest illness it becomes… well it becomes Facebook. And I’ve already got a Facebook account.

So in lieu of my preferred, essay-like writing style, and yet still keeping to the blog theme, here’s a few brief thoughts on my mind.

  • When I see young trans people try to make sense of older trans people’s lives it’s apparent that they cannot conceive of a pre-internet world where information about trans topics was rare and specialized. They seem to think the only difference between the world then versus now was cultural tolerance, and that’s not even half the story. They literally cannot imagine what it was like to not have any information – not even the words – to make sense of your gender confusion. Nor can they conceive that information used to be so localized. Growing up trans before the internet age was hugely influenced by your geography in a way that just doesn’t apply in an age when Google is everywhere. Of course the opposite is just as true. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up trans with all this information around. What would that life look like? It’s so different from what I knew it’s like imagining the life of a completely different person. So yeah… the trans generational divide is fascinating to me. And I’m jealously admiring the green, green grass on the other side.
  • Ninety percent of the advice I’ve seen about transitioning in the workplace is horrible. I got a sense of this when I was planning my own workplace transition. But I see it a lot more clearly now. So I’d like to offer a few items of better advice to anyone still planning this:
  1. Pay attention to your own intuition. If you think your employer/co-workers seem likely to reject your transition, you’re probably right. Take this seriously into account in your transition plan (“seriously” does not equate to “hoping it all works out anyway”).
  2. Even if you do believe your employer will be cool, make a transition plan which includes the possibility that you’ll lose your job. Call it Plan B and feel free to hope you never have to use it, but don’t skimp on the planning.
  3. Hold yourself to a higher performance standard than any of your coworkers – before, during, and after transition. Most employers will be far more persuaded by your value to the business than personal feelings.
  4. Look for others of your target gender in similar positions at your workplace who are well respected (if you can’t find any, remember point #1). Study their habits and their manners of dress, speech, and communication. Use them as professional role models.
  5. Do not, under any circumstances, justify behavior that would be unprofessional in your former gender by assuming your new gender gives you the excuse.
  6. Do not assume anyone at your office has any good information about trans people or gender transition. Not your boss, not your friends, not your HR department. If you want them to know you’re not like the trans people they’ve seen on Jerry Springer, assume that you’ll need to educate them.
  • I am really tired of the constant attempts by some within the trans community to label others within the trans community (i.e. you’re not a trans-this, you’re just a trans-that. you don’t get to be called “her” you’re still just a “him,” etc. ad infinitum). Yes, it is important to discuss ideas about identity, sex, and gender, and in the process labels and categories get thrown around. But at the same time – jebus! I don’t care what the label de jour says about someone. People are not labels. They’re human beings with feelings, and doubts, and a lot more questions than answers. And if they’re battling with any form of the weirdness we call gender dysphoria they’re living through a bit of hell, or at least did at one time. Despite pretensions to the contrary, most of the other-labellers are not skilled theoreticians about all matters trans. They’re mostly just people trying to sort out their own place in the world and lashing out in frustration when others seem to get in the way.  Or sometimes they’re just being a**holes. In any case I wish they’d all stop it.

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I’ve been in a quiet mood lately, and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. But if I’m not going to write anything I might as well pass along a link to something I wish I had written. It’s a wonderful essay called Holding On.

An exerpt:

I believe in trans people because, above all, we know something about the great and terrible worth of the truth.  Not because we have paid that price–it has hit some of us harder, and some of us have come through nearly unscathed.  Not because whatever we have suffered has made us more special than any other person.  Because each of us is a person who looked out at a very dangerous, risky landscape and chose, eventually, to travel through it because the truth mattered most.  We know something about the truth.  We know what it is worth.  And we, as a people, surrounded by those who do not believe us and want us to pretend for them that they are right, chose that truth knowing it might cost us everything. …

I believe in trans people.  I believe in us because we have been honest, at least once, in a way few people on earth have been asked to be.  I believe that is what makes us so frightening.  That integrity is written all over us.  You can see it in the dark.  There is no avoiding seeing in us that choice to hold onto the truth even if no-one else would stand with us and do the same.  That is enormously threatening.  It is no wonder that so many people and communities claim that admitting us among their number might destroy the foundations of everything they know.

Please click over and read the rest. It’s powerful stuff.

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Brighter Days

Sorry for setting such a miserable tone for last weekend with my previous post. I hadn’t experienced a major funk like that in ages. But, as I hope this post will attest, I made it though alright. Things are quickly shifting back toward the optimistic side of life. And all I lost in the process was an extended weekend of blah.

The thing that struck me most as I was going through this mood was how deeply my emotions are driven by my perception of social opinions about me. It’s not that I need to be loved and accepted by all the world. But I don’t like feeling singled out and excluded either. There’s a huge difference between being a rebel and being a pariah. There’s not a single thing exciting or fulfilling about the latter. And when I’m feeling extra sensitive about everything, I feel like a pariah.  Every little glance my way feels like I’m being “read.” Every whisper is surely mocking me.

I’ve always considered myself an introvert. But when I feel like all the eyes that turn my way in a given day are judging me – harshly – I retreat deeper and deeper until I’m the modern equivalent of an unwashed and isolated little hermit. That’s not a personality trait, it’s a dramatic retreat from facing a society I presume will reject me.

And let’s face it, most trans people discover during their transition that they have good cause to fear social rejection. If (in the male to female case) we only lost the privileges that feminist theory ascribes to manhood, we’d consider that a huge success. Very often we experience something a lot more like total dehumanization. We’re frequently cast out of our communities and families – sometimes literally, sometimes as more of a social death. It’s easy to jump from this realistic understanding into a mindset where exaggerated fear and paranoia rules your life.

However it is important to note that paranoia isn’t reality either. Sure, bad things happen to trans people. But so do good things. Yes, family and friends abandon trans people, but new family and friends enter their lives afterward. Yes, some people will look at a trans person and see nothing but their old identity. But others will come along who see nothing but the new identity. What it takes to make it through is a persistent and stubborn effort to live as one’s authentic self and time.

The time aspect is the thing that usually gets to me. Sometimes it feels like I’ll never be through with transition. But all it takes is an honest review of the progress I’ve made through the past couple of years to show this as simple impatience on my part. I’ve moved mountains within mere months. Give me years and there’s no telling what I may achieve.

So, yes, I am feeling better about things. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more tough days ahead. But they’re all just milestones I need to pass on the road to something better.

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Dark Days

The last week has been one of those I’m happy just to make it through. I’ve avoided posting mainly because I didn’t want to broadcast the intensely negative feelings I’ve been experiencing. No special event triggered this dark mood, and no events positive or negative seemed to be able to change it for more than the briefest time. It’s the closest my mood has come to actual depression since I started taking T-blockers, which is over two years ago now.

I guess it’s lingered long enough that I ought to say something about it, lest I leave the impression that my transition only involves the successes and happy milestones. So, with a warning that this is not a happy post, here goes.

I don’t know whether this is the cause of my current funk or merely an effect of it, but I’ve been intensely bothered lately by feeling trapped in some transitional middle ground – neither man nor woman. I realize I’m still fairly early in transition as things go. I still won’t even qualify for gender confirmation surgery for several more months. But my life is beginning to feel dysphoric again. The feeling is not as intense as it was when I was living as a man, but it’s similar in kind if not severity. I thought those feelings were behind be, but apparently not.

A particular annoyance growing on my mind is that I cannot erase the memories of those who knew me before. Those memories prevent those people from truly seeing me as a woman. The good-hearted ones may use the right pronouns and manners, but they still don’t see me as a woman. They see me as a transgender person, and mean no harm by it. However I didn’t transition in order to be some kind of third-gender, in between man and woman. That may be a wonderful state to live for some people, but it’s not for me. That’s not who I am, and it’s not the kind of life I want to lead. But every slipped pronoun reminds me that is exactly the life I have at the moment.

Some may interpret the above as some kind of regret or belated doubt about transitioning, and that’s not it at all. I not only would never go back, I never could. The stress and anxiety of living as a man exhausted all the reserves I had left. That door is closed and locked behind me. If someone handed me a key I’d destroy it.

My challenge is that I must succeed in my transition because I have no viable alternative. I spent thirty some years on my own and still more years in therapy looking for any way I could live short of transitioning. I ran out of options. So I’m not regretting the decision to transition, but the transition itself was never the goal. The goal is to be reached at the end of the transition by being able to live as the person I truly am. And that person is a woman. Period. If I come to the point where I no longer believe I can make it to that goal… well, like I said… there is no alternative way for me to live.

The past few nights I’ve been dreaming of ants. They pop up vividly in the middle of most any dream , so that they’re about the only thing I remember dreaming about the next morning. Big ants with a large nest working diligently, completely oblivious too all else going on in the dream. To those who interpret such things, this probably means something important. But I’ve got no technicolor dream coat, so I’ll leave that sort of thing to others.

On a positive note, I received a hand written note from my aunt this week telling me she’s been reading the blog to try to understand more about my transition. It came addressed to Diana, making her the first aunt or uncle to officially adopt my new name. That was a bit of a mood lifter, and maybe suggests I’m running up against my impatience in wanting this transition to just be over already rather than encountering any actual barriers to final acceptance. As the cliche goes, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

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It was a strange weekend. The Superbowl used to be such a big deal to me. It didn’t matter much who was playing in it. I was a fan of the spectacle, the manufactured drama, and the capstone of another season of my favorite sport.

These days it’s simply not that big a deal in my life. It’s mildly entertaining, provided I have nothing better to do. The values that drive my life now have very little overlap with anything done by large men crashing into one another on a bright green field, no matter how clever the surrounding advertisements might be.

My disconnected emotion between the Superbowl now and Superbowls past has me thinking about a topic I rarely see emphasized in transition stories, though I find it pretty common among us. It’s a form of displacement, which plays into our pre-transition lives in a peculiar manner.

During our prior lives we very commonly place absurd amounts of emotion and energy into various pursuits we believe to be acceptable within our gender role. It’s not the same as pretending we like something which we don’t (though we often do that too). It’s more about taking things we find interesting and pouring ourselves into them with enthusiasm bordering on obsessiveness as a means of distracting our minds from our gender conflict. Our participation in most other aspects of our lives suffers as a result.

I look back upon my prior life and see one example of this after another. In addition to an obsession with football (appropriately masculine, no?), I had phases in which I was driven to obsession pursuing gaming, medieval recreation, martial arts, fine wine, religion, politics, and heirloom tomato gardening (the “heirloom” aspect had enough history, science, and elitism within it to feel more masculine than “gardening” alone). There was a kernel of legitimate interest in all of them at the start, but in each case I exploded that interest into borderline mania. In different phases I did the same thing with my job. At least in that case I was left with tangible rewards for driving so single-mindedly into something. Most often the only “reward” came in social situations. I had such voluminous information about all these “masculine” pursuits I could fill conversation space in a gender-appropriate manner while keeping the topic safely distanced from anything personal.

For those of us who eventually pursue transition, the transition journey itself becomes an all-encompassing obsession for a time, more than capable of absorbing all the emotion and energy we might care to invest within it. For some that becomes a problem, as transition eventually comes to an end with no clear replacement obsession to take its place. This can leave some people feeling lost and adrift.

But I think transition can be a nice half-way house for learning to de-couple obsessive interest from authentic living. You get a little (maybe a lot) of obsession as well as authenticity during transition. But then, gradually, the obsessive part begins to calm. You’ve hit the major milestones. The ones remaining begin to seem more like dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s than making fundamental changes. And you’re finally left with a life you don’t feel the need to run away from or distract others from seeing.

But then you’re faced with an unanticipated problem. You suddenly have a lot of time, and an embarrassing inexperience in knowing how to use it. There’s no mono-manic obsession to account for any unplanned hours in the day.  As I hit these moments today I can see the temptation to retreat back into old habits and patterns. Even if I don’t need them any more, at least I know how to live like that.

But I think it’s important to resist this temptation. Something I am coming to appreciate these days is that running from obsession to obsession is not a natural way to live. If you’re living a balanced life you have neither the time nor the need for such obsessions. Once you’re relieved of the need to disassociate your mind from your life it suddenly becomes clear that the world was not designed to make obsessives happy. If happiness is your goal, obsession should be your enemy. Balance is critical.

And so, with the irony duly noted, I believe the next phase of my transition will be devoted – perhaps single-mindedly at times – to developing a balanced life. I’m sure with some work that I can have a family life, social life, career, and ordinary hobbies – all playing a healthy role in my life without any one overwhelming the others. The world is full of examples of people doing this. I need to teach myself how to do the same.

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