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Archive for September, 2010

Reaching Out to the ‘Rents

Yesterday I set a goal for myself to write a letter to my dad fulfilling the vague purpose of “reaching out” to him. I started it over my first cup of coffee in the morning. And went back to edit / rewrite / finish it throughout the rest of the day. Many hours and a whole lot of tears later, this was the letter I finally sent last night.

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Hi Dad,

I’ve been having trouble figuring out how to write this letter, so please bear with me if it’s not the most eloquent.

I’m writing to figure out where I stand with you and how you see things going forward between us. I realize you and mom may not have the same answers here. I’d really like to know this from both of you. But if I can get even one of you to respond it would help me immensely.

Over a year ago I came out to you to let you know I was transsexual and intended to fully transition to live as a woman. I got the message loud and clear that I needed to give you both time and space to adjust to the idea. I’ve tried to respect that.

But it hasn’t always been easy. I had hoped that part of sorting through your feelings would involve engaging in some dialogue with me about it at some point. There has been very little of that, and none at all from mom. This leaves me guessing about things I would like to know for sure.

The biggest worry anyone coming out to their parents has is that they’ll be shunned by them. I personally know people experiencing this, and it’s awful. You’re not doing that, and I really appreciate it. But it may not surprise you that my ideal relationship with my parents doesn’t end with “not shunning me.”

I want to be your daughter. I know you have a hard time changing your thinking to see me that way. But I wish you would understand what a struggle it has been for me to try to be your son.

I fear that you think I was always your son before, and that suddenly something has changed. That’s not how I feel at all. I have always felt like I have been your daughter, but some cruel trick made you see me as your son instead. For your sake I have tried to play along. I have done that for a long time. A very long time. Eventually it just wore me out. I couldn’t do it any more.

That’s important for you to understand. I didn’t “decide” to change. I just wore out. I couldn’t pretend any more, and it didn’t matter how good the reasons to keep it up might be. I came to the end of my endurance.

There’s a story you and mom have told all my life about the time when mom was expecting with me. You’ve said that both of you were absolutely convinced she was pregnant with a girl. You were both certain about it, and shocked when the doctors told you I was a boy.

All I’m trying to tell you is that the doctors were wrong, and you were right. You had a daughter that day, you just didn’t know it. She’s been staring back at you from behind my eyes for forty one years.

I want you to be a larger part of my life. I want to figure out how to make that happen. I can’t do this without your help.

Can you help?
-D

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Yesterday I awoke already exhausted, which is not the best way to start a work day. I barely moved quickly enough to get out the door in time to get the kids to school and catch my train. I made it, but feeling very out of sorts.

I wasn’t sure if the stress level of the previous week had worn me out or if I was coming down with something, but I tried to ignore it and focus upon getting in to work. Unlike a couple of days ago I really didn’t care what anyone else on the train thought about me as I boarded. I was annoyed by the many rude people who had positioned themselves and their bags in such a way as to deny the seat next to them to anyone else. But I didn’t have the energy to make an issue of it so I just plopped down in the nearest empty seat I saw, staring straight ahead barely aware of my surroundings.

By the time I got off the train to transfer to the light rail the vision around the corners of my eyes had started swimming. This concerned me a little bit. But not nearly as much as the wind which was whipping my hair around, making it almost impossible to keep it from the front of my face. When the light rail pulled up, I was the first one into the car, grabbing a window seat and trying to use my reflection to put my hair back into some semblance of presentability. And that’s when I noticed the sparkly zig-zag lights popping up in the center of my field of vision and slowly migrating out to the edges where the world now looked as if it was made of water.

I walked from my station to my office beginning to really worry that something was wrong to me. I tried to remember the early warning signs of pulmonary thrombosis my doctor had warned me about as a potential risk of my estrogen supplements. This visual stuff didn’t seem to fit, but I wasn’t convinced. Something was definitely wrong. Between the lights and the swimming one of my eyes could now barely see at all, and the other seemed to be headed in that direction. I felt trapped by my commuting choice. Had I driven into work I would have turned around and gone home before I came to this point. But by now I realized I couldn’t trust myself to drive in any case until the vision cleared up, so it was all the same.

I made it to my desk without incident. I paused to check e-mail briefly willing my vision to clear. Slowly it started to do so. I grabbed a cup of coffee and pulled up some relevant documents in preparation for an upcoming call from our offshore testing team. In near perfect synchronization with the beginning of the call I felt the throbbing behind my right eye pulsing and growing. Before we were fifteen minutes in, I was in the full throes of a staggering migraine – the worst I’ve experienced in a long time. You know the descriptions of migraine pain as an ice pick being stabbed into your temple behind your eye? It was like that, only the ice pick was covered with bees and accompanied by waves of nausea and near blindness.

By the end of the call I wanted to curl up in a corner under my desk. I pressed my temples as if trying to shove the migraine back into some imaginary box inside my head, with all the effect of shooting a squirt gun into a raging inferno.

I tried to consult the bus schedule to find a way home. The trains wouldn’t run that direction until the evening commute, but busses ran all day. I tried to enter the address of my office as the “from” location in the metro transit website. The system couldn’t find anything close. I knew I’d done something wrong, as that address is right in the heart of downtown Minneapolis near every bus major bus stop. The problem was I couldn’t focus well enough to figure out what I’d done wrong. My brain was full of searing pain rather than coherent thoughts. I gave up and wondered what I might do.

I became torn between asking my supervisor for help – which I needed – and trying to tough it out hoping it would pass shortly. I really didn’t want to leave my first week post-transition with the impression that now I was going to be fragile and prone to illness. No, let me restate that, I was SURE that if I left that would be the general impression I’d embedded. All the good will of the first week squandered by my sudden need for a quiet, dark room and rest.

I went back and forth on this idea throughout the day, as I maxed out the daily amounts allowed without consulting a physician for over the counter pain meds. The pain did lessen ever so slightly with the meds in me. But as for the migraine going away, it never really came close.

Somehow I successfully struggled through the day, engaging in conversation only when necessary and trying my hardest NOT to seem like I was suffering. I was out the door at 4 o’clock, willing myself to fly home but settling for another round of mass transit.

At home I found stronger pain medication, a dark room, and sleep. By the time I awoke the migraine had finally passed, but I was left with a pretty strong dose of migraine-aftermath, which consists of having all my energy drained, a serious intolerance for loud noise or bright lights, and a dull, bruised feeling behind my right temple which lends my thinking a “fuzzy” feeling.

And so my first week of on the job gender transitioning was capped by a inner battle with a migraine too distracting to allow me to assess the previous days. Instead I found myself with serious medical worries.  Are these migraines going to be more frequent going forward? I know two major contributing factors – estrogen and stress – are part of my life in major doses for the foreseeable future.

I suppose it was about time to see my doctor again anyway. There are some kinds of pain transition can’t cure.

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Here’s a brief update about the past couple of days.

The biggest news is that there isn’t really any big news. The transition has gone smoothly. Everyone is using my new name every time, even if it’s still not coming out sounding natural yet. Pronoun slip ups have been minimal and accidental. The number of warm responses and congratulations far outnumber the occasional cold shoulders.

In a way I feel that I have such strong management support, that it’s making people extra nervous around me – even the ones who are being very nice and accommodating. Or maybe the nervousness is just natural because they’ve never seen a trans woman up close before. Anyway,  I figure time will help that pass.

Commuting into work has been a little strange. I actually think I’m fitting in better among all those strangers who didn’t hear any announcement about me than among my well-meaning co-workers. The strangers just treat me like any other commuting woman. While at work I’m now kind of … ahem… special. But that’s a trade off we had discussed well in advance – between calling it to everyone’s attention, versus keeping it under the radar. Better to let people hear the full news in a respectful and complete way than to let them catch it from the rumor mill, we decided. I can live with my co-workers’ temporary discomfort as the downside of that.

Another observation I’ve made is that I’ve been fooling myself for months about being “full time outside of work.” I now realize there’s no such thing. You’re full time only when you’re FULL time. If you’re jumping back and forth between gender roles on a regular basis you’re not truly confronted with the full implications of gender transition. I think I benefited greatly from a few months of “full time rehearsal,” beginning last May when I decided to present only as Diana outside of work. It was helpful to me in preparing for this week, and I don’t intend to slam the practice. But I now realize that the full-time clock didn’t really start until this past Tuesday with my work transition.

Anyway my small “trans posse” at work has taken me under their wing and helped me feel supported and balanced through this surreal first couple of days. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had friends who showed that they cared so pro-actively! It feels good to be a part of an actual community [about which, more thoughts later]. Here’s hoping it’s only the beginning to a healthier, more-engaged life.

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Precipice of an Ordinary Day

The hour has finally arrived. I am about to walk into my workplace as Diana, and never again look back. You’d think such a moment is fraught with nervousness. I thought it would be. But I’m finding it not to be so.

A kind of serenity has come over me that I never thought to expect. Imagine a hang-glider pilot all suited up and strapped in surveying a valley below. If the nerves were to have helped, the moment is already past. The thoughts crowding the mind now are all about tactics and optimism. If disaster awaits, it’s coming now regardless. Time to just let that stuff go and enjoy the experience.

E and I went shopping today to fill out my wardrobe. I got some pretty cool things over several stores and hours. But in the end, after trying on a lot, I decided my first day outfit would be one E assembled from items we already had in the closet. I think there might be a metaphor hiding somewhere in that anecdote.

I’ve still got a hundred and ten major criticisms of my appearance. In summary: I wish I was thinner, younger, shapelier, and had better teeth. None of that is going to happen by tomorrow, and you know what? That’s okay. Once I made my peace with all of that stuff, most of the rest of the world seemed to stop staring so much. How timely of them!

So tomorrow morning I get up, like usual. Get showered and dressed, like usual. I spend a little extra time on hair and add in some time for makeup. Not so terribly different. Then I pack a lunch and head off for the train. Doesn’t that sound like a rather ordinary day, rather than the prelude to any dramatic climax? I’m finding it so, and really enjoying it for that same reason.

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Circles

One of the least expected – and most rewarding – aspects of my transition has been the merging of the various groups of friends and acquaintances in my life. In the closet I was never able to be myself. So instead the person I presented to the world varied as I moved from situation to situation. At the extremes you might even say I appeared to be a completely different person when I moved between distinct groups. I came to think of these different groups which called for distinct portrayals of myself as my “circles.”

I defined my persona within these various circles in an unintentionally reactionary way. I never had any belief that I could simply be myself within any of them. So I adapted myself to “fit in” in a way I deemed appropriate for each one.

It wasn’t done by wholesale fabrication. Only on rare occasions (mostly when it came to things striking too close to a transgender topic) did I ever pretend something that wasn’t true to some aspect of my real identity. It was more about overplaying things that seemed to play well within a particular group, and underplaying or completely concealing the things that may not play well. I’d be a passionate partisan politico in one circle, and completely agnostic and non-political in another. I’d be passionate about theater and the arts in one circle, and I’d never make the least mention of it in another. And of course I never let on any interest in topics that seemed too loaded with a cross gendered identity (e.g. women’s fashion).

Over time this resulted in a near phobia about people from one of my circles meeting people from a different circle. The “person” I pretended to be within one circle might not be accepted at all by another. So those from different circles must never be given an opportunity to compare notes about me. Sounds silly, I know. But it was never really a well thought out thing. More like an instinctual fear built by layers upon layers of reaction to different social situations over time.

Through transition all this pretense caught up with me. The greatest secret aspect of myself – the part I wanted to conceal most of all – was about to become very public and unconcealable within every circle in my life.

My choice at that point was to either cut all ties to all the various circles or… stop pretending.

I chose the latter, and I’m very glad that I did. But I’d be lying if I said it was an easy decision to make. I have been tempted constantly to disappear from the radar of one of my former social circles rather than show them the real me. But then I would never have encountered a level of sympathy and compassion I never realized was possible. This has been all the more wonderful for having been so genuinely unexpected.

And so, last night, I merged the circles about as thoroughly as is possible in a single move. I came out to every contact on Facebook, from old high school friends, to working relations and everything in between. I updated my name to Diana, sent a brief statement explaining things to all those who didn’t already know (and many who already did) and… well then it was done. I expected to see a bunch of friends dropping off the list almost immediately. Instead I received a bunch of supportive responses from people I never would have guessed might react so well.

So now I no longer need to be a different person based on the circle I’m within. Now I’m just me. I may not always be liked, but I won’t let that change my identity any longer. Let my various circles meet, merge, and mingle all they like. I no longer have anything to fear by it.

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The Morning After

In the middle of September summer is fading into fall very noticeably where I live. The morning chill isn’t quite ready to leave frost, but it’s beginning to hint that it’s considering the matter seriously. The leaves are still mostly green, but in odd little places you see bright splashes of red, yellow, or orange. It’s not terribly different than mid summer, but if you know the signs you realize a major change is already underway.

This morning I awoke in a very good state of mind. I felt more right with the world than I’ve been in a very long time. Yesterday the final shoe dropped. The world didn’t end. If anything it got quite a bit brighter.

Another possible factor in my lightened mood is that I celebrated yesterday’s milestone by treating myself to a new hairstyle. I’ve previously been confined to keeping my hair in a state that could be pulled back into “guy with a ponytail.” I don’t need to do that anymore. The change is more liberating than I expected.

I find myself with a new confidence. Last night I went to a potluck dinner at the park for my kids school. It was one of those affairs where a bunch of adults who barely know each other make small talk while trying to keep an eye on their scampering own. I’ve avoided these sorts of things in the past because I didn’t want them to know me as a guy. Now that I’ve gone I have to say… wow, those things are dull. But… just the conventional kind of dull. I didn’t feel left out or isolated for being trans. E introduced me to a couple of people as her “other half.” I kind of liked that. And after putting in a suitable appearance I walked home (the park was only a block from our house). For the first time at one of those things I wasn’t escaping from the feeling that all eyes were judging me. I was just bored. Just normally, conventionally bored. I never knew that could feel so good.

Today the goals are modest. I’ll be taking the middle child shopping for a friend’s birthday gift. I’ll be picking up some new shampoo. My favorite football team will be on the television (Go Big Red!). I’ll start laying out my wardrobe options for work next week. At some point E and I will come up with some creative dinner out of all the stuff on hand in the fridge.

It’s just a normal Saturday. And normal has been a long time coming.

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Letter to Colleagues

Today, at 9am Central Time, my co-workers are being informed of my transition. Immediately afterward my supervisor will read them the following letter I wrote for the occasion…

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,

By now you have heard about the transition I am undertaking. When you next see me I will no longer be [my old name], but Diana. I apologize for keeping this a secret for as long as I have. Changes like the one I am undergoing are frequently misunderstood, so I wanted to take the time to inform you thoroughly and professionally.

I want to assure you all that the main theme surrounding this announcement is really, “Not much is changing.” That is surely the way I intend to approach it. I can still perform my job as well as before. But more than that… I’m still the same person you have come to know. I have the same personality, same interests, same habits (mostly the good kind, I hope).

Obviously some things will be changing. I will be going by a different name. The style of my clothing will be different. Different pronouns will apply to me. I fully understand it will take some time to make the appropriate mental adjustments. But I think you’ll find that once you do, the changes will amount to very little within the big picture of our working relationship.

I want to share something which I hope will illustrate my belief in our future together.

I first came to [the Company] as a consultant to work on a six week contract. At the time the idea of moving from one contract to the next had strong appeal for me for one big reason – when I transitioned my gender I would be able to leave one company behind and start fresh in a new one where they would not have known me before. All my old working relationships would be washed away and I would start building fresh new ones in my new gender.

But, after a couple of contract extensions, when it finally came time to leave I realized I didn’t want to go. Maybe, I thought, I had found a place where I might be accepted even after my intended transition. And if that was so, why would I ever choose to leave [the Company]? I have never worked for a company I more strongly believed in. I believe in the mission. I believe in the vision. And most importantly I believe in the people.

Those who have sat with me during interviews can attest, whenever a prospective candidate asks what I like most about working for [the Company] the first words I respond with are: “the people.” And it’s true. I worked as a consultant for eight years. During that time I worked for a lot of different companies. But none of those companies ever impressed me as much as [the Company] in terms of the quality of the people I get to work with day in and day out. A company like ours is a special place to come to work every day. I want to do my best to keep it that way no matter what changes may arise in any of our lives.

Friends and colleagues, I’m asking for your understanding and support during this transition period. Some awkwardness is unavoidable at first, even with the best of intentions. I hope we can make our way through this period with mutual respect and a sense of humor. If so we should see little interruption to that extraordinary state of working collaboration we call “normal” at [the Company].

Your friend,

Diana

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