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Archive for July, 2010

A Minor Freak Out

We went to a pool party today. Me and the whole family. I wore a swim suit.

(pause for effect)

That wasn’t a misprint. I actually wore a swim suit. Big ol’ pre-op me. The me still trying to drop another twenty pounds. The me who hasn’t touched the water of a pool for years.

I hadn’t planned on this whole swimsuit extravaganza. I showed up in a nicely conservative non-swimmy outfit. I blame Erica for enabling me by donating the swimsuit.

Anyway… we will count this as another milestone. Even if it’s WAY ahead of where I thought it was supposed to be.

Good weekend.

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Down With Pink

You want to know something that bugs me? The color pink.

No need to check your web browser, you are indeed reading the blog of a male to female transgender person. Based on a good deal of what I pick up on the Internet (which never lies) as a male to female transgender person I ought to have a near fetish for anything pink. Pink represents femininity and all that, so once I embrace womanhood I ought to practically bathe myself in the color pink, blah-de-blah, yada yada.

I call bullshit.

One of the things I am trying to recover from is the sense that I need to glom onto really obvious cues to signify my acceptance of any particular gender role. I did a lot of that when I was trying to pass believably as a guy. I got pretty good at it, but it darned near killed me by the end.

Not healthy, is my point.

This has contributed to a feeling where I instinctively recoil from people trying to shove me into any rigid gender stereotype – including anything color coded. Just leave me be and I’ll be who I am, thank you very much. If pink is the expectation for womanhood, I’m showing up in black. Or green. Or blue. Or anything other than pink.

The other reason the color pink bugs me… I actually like the color. I have some pink clothing I really like because I actually look good in it (at 41 we don’t take such things for granted). And I can’t wear it without worrying if people seeing it will think “Just another over-compensating tranny,” and goddammit for that!

I had to avoid pink even though I liked it when I was a guy because I was afraid people would read me as a closeted trans person. Now I avoid pink because I worry people will read me as a fetishy tranny. Some day I’ll get to just like it the same way I like blue. And when that happens I’ll know I’ve finished my transition.

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I’ve noticed that I bring up scientific matters around transsexualism a lot on this blog compared to most others. The only trans blogs which cover this topic more than me seem to be written by actual scientists (for the record, I’m not one). I thought I might take a moment to explain my fascination with the topic.

Part of the fascination is because I like science and I like things that help improve my understanding of myself. But another reason is that science is just about the only weapon we have to combat the prevailing cultural opinion that being transsexual is a choice.

The better parts of society are ever-so-slowly coming around to the idea that being gay or lesbian may not be a personal choice, or “lifestyle option.” There’s even a very funny South Park episode sending up so-called reparative therapy for homosexual boys (when you’ve won over snarky, iconoclastic cartoonists you know you’re making progress). That said, there’s another very funny South Park episode sending up transsexualism by suggesting it’s about people choosing to live in deluded fantasy.

Our culture so strongly enforces the notion of a gender binary that most people believe it even in defiance of things they know to be true. Take the case of intersexed people. For about as long as mankind has existed we’ve known that not every child is born as either a boy or a girl. Some have bodies which are visibly somewhere in between – and will remain in between without surgical intervention. Since this is true it already disproves the notion of a clear gender binary. The notion that people are either clearly male or clearly female didn’t fit the known facts ever. Yet for cultural reasons most people still resist acknowledging this.

Which is why I like gender science more than gender theory in the cultural sense. It’s a sphere in which you don’t have to believe in order to understand. Science deals in facts.

And those of us of the transsexual condition can use all the facts we can get, because we’re treading against an avalanche of cultural bias everywhere we turn. The traditional values types are culturally inclined to believe we’re perverts and/or mentally deranged. The gender feminists are culturally inclined to believe we’re either deceptive infiltrators or willing tools of the patriarchy. A lot of gay and lesbian types are culturally inclined to believe we’re self-denying gays or lesbians. Even within the broader trans community, there are those with a strong cultural belief that we are traitors unless we help abolish the concept of gender altogether.

But you know what the science says? The science says we’re just people who developed in a gender variant way. Just like intersexed people with visibly non-conforming sexual anatomy, our largely invisible neuro-anatomy doesn’t conform to the standard male/female dichotomy. The body looks more like one sex, and the brain looks more like the other (at least in the areas that seem to drive a person’s sense of gender identity).  The science says we don’t choose to be transsexual, but that we’re born that way.

Should we need science to tell us that before people accept transsexuals for what we have always claimed – that no matter what our bodies look like, our gender identity is the opposite and can’t be changed? Does science need to explain why it makes sense to alter our bodies in ways most people find inconceivable for themselves? Does science need to explain that while most people are strictly male or female some people are just born different? Maybe the answer should be no, but I’ve found for most people it’s actually yes. At least for now.

I talk about science because I don’t want transsexualism to revert to being a only matter of belief, rather than a matter of science. You’re free to believe the world is flat and the moon is made of green cheese. I may never be able to persuade you to change your mind. But if I can prove the earth is round and the moon is rock your beliefs aren’t going to retain much credibility with anyone else.

It’s like Al Capone’s famous quip “You can get more with a kind word and a gun, than you can with just a kind word.” Science is the only “gun” we’ve got in our ongoing negotiaton with a culture that still largely wants to deny we exist.

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Gender Geek Alert

As a geek by nature, and gender science obsessive by circumstance, I was excited to see that Dr. Veronica Drantz just posted her most recent PowerPoint slideshow: Disordered or Just Different? Myth, Science, and Sexuality

Her previous slideshow “Science and Sexuality” greatly helped me understand the nature of gender identity and sexual orientation in the light of the latest scientific research. I’ve tried to get through a number of the different peer reviewed articles on my own, and believe me it’s dense stuff. Dr. Drantz’ ability to synthesize a lot of independent research to describe the emerging scientific picture around gender identity and sexual orientation is incredibly valuable.

Here’s her description of the new slideshow:

“Disordered or Just Different” covers the biology of core sexuality (genital development, sexual identity, and sexual orientation) but then builds on this foundation by distinguishing between sex and gender and adding some anthropological considerations.  This new slideshow presentation culminates with a scientific indictment of the (pseudo)medical practitioners who are too quick to classify the merely different as disordered and who continue to harm gay, lesbian, transsexual, and intersex peoples.

It’s a fairly long presentation, but considering the vastness of material she’s covering it’s actually surprisingly brief. I’d encourage anyone curious to check it out.

For those who find this still a bit more technical than you can handle, I had already begun my next narrative post in the “Transsexuals: Facts not Opinions” series somewhat based (the science part at least) on Dr. Drantz’ earlier presentation. Hopefully I’ll be getting that out soon.

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Reunion Part 2

I am reliably informed that my previous post on the reunion may have left an overly negative impression. That really wasn’t my intent. I’m afraid a bit of my lingering melancholy and poor self-esteem might have tainted what I was trying to say – especially near the end of  the post.  After re-reading the post this morning, it would probably do some good to expand upon some of the negative-sounding points I was making and add a little more context.

First, I should probably emphasize once again that the reunion was a really great experience. E and I talked about it quite a lot on the drive home, and during the following day, and almost all our conversation was glowingly positive. I suppose that’s part of the reason I felt the need to point out a couple of other things on my mind. I’d been over the good stuff many times by the time I wrote the post, and I was exploring different thoughts around the corners of my mind.

My point about missing a chance to explain my transition better is actually a step forward for me. Some people who transition feel the need to exhaustively explain every aspect to even marginal acquaintances (I sometimes cringe reading the level of personal detail involved in certain “coming-out at work” e-mail examples intended for mass audiences). I’ve always gone the opposite direction. I figure that, in most cases, people I come out to just want to get on with their lives. If I didn’t play a big part in their lives before transition, they’re unlikely to care about more than the essentials covering “how does this affect me?” now.

This weekend I was with a number of people I actually wanted more from. For a change it wasn’t just about being left alone to live my life as I wished. All of a sudden I was talking to people I hoped would understand on a deeper level so they could truly accept me despite any doubts my transition caused. It’s not a common experience for me, and I wasn’t really prepared for it. So to the extent that any people there were displaying polite tolerance because they didn’t understand well enough to come to a deeper acceptance, I feel like I might have missed an opportunity. But even in those cases it might not be my last opportunity.

On the other hand (and this was what I didn’t do a good job clarifying in the previous post) I didn’t feel like  I was “tolerated but not accepted” in general. That was not my experience at all. I felt truly accepted by a number of people, and it was really wonderful. I’d hate to leave the impression that I was ungrateful for that.

Sure, I have doubts how close any of us are going to be able to remain. I hope that this weekend reminded a lot of us why we liked each other so many years ago, and the reconnections we made will last.

The trans aspect of my life causes me to distrust how easily I’ll ever fit into that kind of happy ending. That’s something I’m working on. As I told some people over the weekend, when I come out I always – always – assume total rejection. It’s emotionally safer that way. It took me a long time to accept myself. The same factors that made self-acceptance so difficult generate a lot of skepticism around the notion that other people can accept me. I’m learning to counter-balance that skepticism with a new found sense of hope. But that’s a work in progress.

In any case, I hope that makes things a little clearer and a lot less negative than I left things previously. I’m probably not going to say anything more on the blog about the reunion after this point. But anyone who wants to know more (particularly those who were there) should feel free to contact me if you want to discuss anything about it.

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Reunion

The college reunion (technically, college dorm reunion) went well. I’m pretty sure it’s unusual for someone to return to an event like that in the midst of gender transition. I think we’re supposed to skip it, hide the transition, or wait until we’re finished and perfected before daring to make a new impression. I didn’t take any of those paths, and I think I’m stronger for it.

This is, after all, pretty close to the impression I’ll be making when I come out at work. In retrospect it makes a decent trial run with an audience inclined to be more forgiving. I would have liked to thank them all for that, but really it wasn’t that kind of moment. This event wasn’t about me, and thank god for that!

Really the thing that struck me about the whole event was everyone’s desire to normalize our interactions. There was very little talk about my transition. Surprisingly little. I’m pretty sure this was because people felt awkward bringing it up, but it made for a nicely normal experience. That’s not something I take for granted, and it’s something I really appreciate these days.

I’m under no illusions. I don’t pass flawlessly. I’m too tall. My weight doesn’t sit where it should. I spent too much time grinding male posture, gesture, and vocalisms into habit to overcome it all now.

But I don’t think I heard more than a couple slip-ups calling me by my old name the whole weekend – and they were immediately corrected. Pronouns were similarly respected. I know these aren’t easy mental adjustments to make, but it was nice to experience a group of people who cared enough to try. I’ve been working with my parents and other relatives for the better part of a year, and they’re still not there yet. This weekend gave me hope on that front.

But in a way I feel like I missed a chance to explain. I’m sure some of those attending resolved to smile and stay polite even though they couldn’t understand what all this transition stuff was about. “Smile this weekend,” they likely thought, “It’s only a couple of days after all. It doesn’t mean anything really.” I wish I could have spoken to those of that mindset. I didn’t really try at all. I couldn’t have had the kind of weekend I did if I had done so. But it does feel like a miss on my part.

I’m not sure I rekindled any lasting friendships. I have a sense that the weird factor overrode the strength of any reconnections. But at least people were polite enough not to act like it. When you’re young you damn this kind of thing as inauthentic. But at my age, I can appreciate the grace in that kind of polite interaction. After all, these were people who once meant much to me, and in some sense I meant something to them. No matter what happens now, the past holds true.

For me, more than anything, this weekend was about reclaiming my former life – the person I used to be  – and connecting that to the person I’m becoming. In that respect, I’ll call the weekend a success. Any other positives are frosting on the cake.

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Home Again

That was quite a whirlwind weekend!

We got home just before midnight last night. It feels like we’ve been away for several weeks in one sense and only a couple of hours in another. We packed a lot into those few days. Some of that will be examined here on the blog. A lot of it will simply infect my mood, so you’ll have to try to pick it up by emotional osmosis.

The super-quick version of events: The reunion was a huge success, a wonderful time, and a gigantic relief. I’m really glad I went. I even let E gloat a bit about her advice about the trip (i.e. that I should go) compared to my own insecure waffling. Prince Hamlet could have really used an E in his life, rather than his cast of Danish weirdos. Who knew that the secret to coming out to all your old college friends was the same as the Nike slogan (“Just do it”)?

Anyway there will be more focused posts with some more substance coming soon. I need some time to decompress, unpack, and finally get a shower with proper water pressure before I can be verbally coherent again.I just wanted to check in and let people know we made it back; all is well; and the plants survived our absence.

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