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Archive for November, 2010

Well it turns out that my infuriating experience at the DMV was worth it after all. Today the mail brought my new Minnesota Drivers License. The name is the new name. The gender marker has been changed to female. And all it took was about an hour of my time filling out forms and trying to explain my situation to earnest but perplexed state employees, followed by 39 days of guessing what would happen.

For all the drama this is one of the most satisfactory results of my transition so far. That “F” on the drivers license is for keeps. It won’t slip-up or forget the change. And I believe it will prove a darned effective shield against the passively curious.

Of course my already gained holiday weight makes the weight portion of the license a bit of fiction. But there are plans to deal with that (which began today – hear my tummy growl!).

Anyway, now I have my primary documents all changed. Time to plunge into all the secondary ones which require photo ID. The documentation aspect of transition may not be a terribly fun hobby, but its variations are endless.

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This is a question mostly for my transsexual readers, but all you non-trans people are free to follow along.

Suppose that there was a cure for being transsexual. I don’t mean the current treatment, which involves things like hormones and surgery. We’re looking for something else here.

In this case I mean you take a pill. One day you’re a gender dysphoric guy or girl who can barely stand another day as your birth sex. The next day you take a pill and you’re better. You suddenly just “fit” that body that used to feel so wrong. No more gender dysphoria. You’re healed.

To the non-trans world the answer would seem obvious. Of course you’d take such a pill. You’d keep your job, family, and friends intact. You’d finally be able to find happiness without resorting to drastic, expensive, and frankly embarrassing measures. What’s the down side?

The down side is that any such “cure” gets to central issues of identity. And that’s a bigger deal than most people realize.

If a trans person took a pill and was suddenly okay with their birth sex, non-trans people assume they would be the same person. That’s simply not true. Change someone’s inner gender identity and you fundamentally change who they are.

Don’t believe me? Then why is it so difficult for society at large to accept gender transition? Same person, right? You simply have to recognize that they now have a different gender identity from what you thought before. What’s the problem with that?

The problem is bigger than anything immediately apparent. People base a lot of their concept about who people are around what gender they are. I’ve stopped counting the number of people who tell me they have “lost” someone due to my gender transition. I’m still here. But without the old gender identity they see me as a fundamentally different person, and I can’t convince them otherwise. Why should it be any different when this perception of gender identity is focused upon oneself, rather than someone else?

Which brings me back to our “cure.”

Would you take a pill which would completely reverse your inner sense of gender identity? If so, what would that mean?

I know one thing it would NOT have meant in my own case. It would not have been a simple matter of remaining the same person, only more happy and well adjusted to life.

None of the people who knew me in my male days can quite appreciate this, but my gender expression as a male back then was a conscious act. But it was an act. A facade. It was the projection of how I thought other people expected a “guy” like me to act, as filtered through the lens of someone who could barely stand to keep it up but dared not stop.

Had I been “cured” I have no idea what I would have been like, but certainly not like that person.¬† It’s unlikely that a well-adjusted male “me” would have made the same friends, or been interested in the same things. I would probably have pursued a different career, and had different values. I simply can’t imagine what life would be like as that person.

But the person I am now, who never took any magic pill to “cure” my gender dysphoria, is finally finding happiness, peace, and a life that feels right. I didn’t have to obliterate my inner identity to achieve it. Instead I needed to be true to that identity, and follow that through to its logical end.

So I suppose the real question is: Which option sounds like it really deserves to be called a cure?

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And… We’re Back

We lost our internet connection this entire weekend due to a snow storm. Because our television and phones come from the same cable as the internet connection, I’ve been completely out of touch with anything going on in the world until I made it into the office this morning.

I haven’t checked yet, but I’m presuming nothing hugely significant happened in the past 48 hours. No new wars. No outbreak of the zombie apocolypse. No additional Cher farewell tours.

Anyway, in my spare time I’m going to try to catch up on people, events, and blogs I’ve missed. But you know how these things go. Once you’re behind you feel like you never really catch back up. So if anything truly important happened and it seems like I’m intentionally ignoring it, please understand.

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Why?

A big question the trans world struggles to address with the non-trans world is about why we do what we do. Why do we feel like we’re the opposite sex from that of our external bodies? Why do we transition? Why do we make such a big deal out of gender in the first place? Why? Why? Why?

This came up again as I was reading Juliet’s latest article on her transgender journey. Near the end of the piece (which is about the invasive and personal questions people routinely ask transsexuals) she writes:

Most questions came down to the single word (which drives parents of small children mad): “Why?”

The very first comment posted after the article states:

I guess, despite reading all your columns, I still don’t understand “why?”.

So you see, we’re not dealing with a simple problem of ignorant or hostile people. We’re dealing with a fundamental lack of comprehension. It feels like one of those problems that initially seems too obvious to require an explanation. But then when you try to explain it you realize it’s not obvious at all. Despite the volumes upon volumes of first person narratives from trans people attempting to address our motivation, the general public remains largely stumped. Yet I don’t think they need to remain stumped forever. We need to do a better job explaining our “whys” in terms non-trans people understand, and they need to do a better job listening to our actual words without presuming they already know.

There’s an old joke about a man who goes to a doctor and says, “Doctor it hurts when I lift my hand over my head.” The doctor replies, “Then don’t lift your hand over your head.”

That joke  is eerily akin to the transsexual experience.

If you went to your doctor explaining that something was causing you pain just by going about your daily life, they’d try to figure out what was causing the pain and then try to cure it. That’s not what it’s like for us. We go to our doctors explaining that we hurt because we feel like we should be the opposite sex. In many cases now (and virtually all cases in the recent past) our doctors then respond as if the problem is all about our “wanting” to be the opposite sex, rather than being about our pain. “Don’t lift your hand over your head.”

But if you spend time listening to the voices of transsexuals you find that there is very little talk about wanting to be the opposite sex, and a whole lot of talk about the pain and isolation caused by being stuck in a sex that feels wrong. That is not the way most people think about “wanting” something, and so I would suggest that anyone trying to figure out why we want to transition our sex is already off track. Or at least they’re putting the cart before the horse.

What we actually want is a way to make the pain go away. It’s a kind of pain that non-trans people have a hard time understanding because it’s a kind of pain they have never experienced, and there isn’t really anything like it in the common experience one could use for comparison. But surely it can’t be hard to understand why someone might want a lingering pain that occurs every day and intensifies over time to stop. There should be no mystery to the “why” there.

I once quipped that I had a hard time understanding how non-trans people thought about gender, because for so long I experienced gender as pain. Lofty discussions about gender roles within society, and all the talk about patriarchy and privilege seemed like utter garbage to me. It seemed like all such discussions were based upon blithely ignoring what gender really was.

But I now see that my own view was skewed because non-trans people don’t experience gender as pain like trans people do. An anecdote from psychologist Anne Vitale illustrates:

One of the most extreme cases I have treated was that of a 50 year old genetic male, married and the father of 3 grown children with an international reputation as a scientist who reported to me that the reason he finally sought out treatment for his gender issues was because the number of times he found himself curled up in the corner of his office in the fetal position muffling his cry was increasing. That is not dysphoria, that is pure misery.

Is it really all that mysterious why someone would not want to live like that any longer? Gender transition leads to gender congruence which in turn makes the pain of gender dysphoria go away. That’s why we do it. All the rest – the hormones, the clothes, the awkward second puberty – is just detail. Non-trans people will never understand the basic “why” by focusing upon that stuff.

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Today my family is celebrating TransParent Day. This new holiday was thought into existence by other trans people with children in response to a very real awkwardness our children feel when confronted with Fathers Day and Mothers Day. Sometimes they struggle with how to celebrate their relationship with a parent who has transitioned away from their former gender role – and we struggle along with them.

For our family TranParent Day came as a bit of a god-send.

I discovered the concept this past year (and I wrote about it here: Fathers Day for a Transgendered Parent), just after my kids struggled with whether or not to include me in Mothers Day, and just before they felt obligated to celebrate Fathers Day. I was personally struggling with the situation as well. Trying to play the “father” role was one of the most stressful and gender dysphoric aspects of my former life. Far from something to celebrate, it’s something that hurts to be reminded about.

Besides, my kids don’t call me “father,” or “dad.” And they don’t call me “mother” or “mom” either. They call me “nai” (and occasionally “mama”). But I love my kids as much as any other parent. They’re so central to my life – to my entire concept of who I am – it could never feel right to just do nothing to celebrate those special relationships.

“Happy TransParent Day!” were the first words I heard as I rolled out of bed this morning (delivered by my middle child, the 8 year old Mighty-B). Dinner will be one of my all-time favorites (coq au vin – the Alton Brown version). Then we’ll share a little pumpkin cake, because it’s a special day for all of us. It’s going to be a little holiday for the whole family, and that elevates the whole weekend in my book.

But more than all of that I’m happy to have a special day to mark our success together in navigating the gender transition of a parent while remaining a family.

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Strangely Positive

Strange days lately. Unexpectedly, I feel my life coasting into the decidedly non-turbulent waters of middle-class normalcy. This comes in sharp contrast to the previous years of inner conflict, massive depression, and social chaos caused by my pending crisis, coming out, and subsequent transition.

It turns out that, underlying all of the previous tumultuousness, the basics of my life are rather pleasant.

These days for the very first time in my life I’m able to spend time with my family at home while feeling entirely present and entirely loved. It’s an amazing feeling, none the less so for its seeming banality. Those of you who have known this sort of thing previously, please indulge me as I get to enjoy it for the first time in my life.

However there is a downside to all of this. Pleasantly banal lives lived in the enjoyment of ones family make for mighty good living, but not very good telling. The blog posting is certainly suffering. I’m not apologizing, just explaining.

I feel like I’m starting my real transition, which isn’t so much about changing gender as it is about changing my life. I feel like I’ve been suffering from congenital illness all my life and, while I believed I was in the process of getting better, suddenly I’m actually feeling better. The difference in outlook is striking.

There’s still a lot of sadness and anger in the trans community and I think I’m developing some survivor guilt about that. I’ve been there, and you don’t have to go back too far on this blog to see the evidence. But now I feel myself getting out… getting away from a tormented trans life, and getting into just living a life. I feel like I’ve escaped something horrible, and I wonder why I got to be one of the lucky ones.

Truth be told, I never wanted to be a trans person. I’ve always aspired to just be a person person. The trans thing was simply an unfortunate condition I had to deal with. And even though there is still more “dealing” to do, it’s feeling more and more like that’s just minor details. The main stuff is over. My “trans” life is being replaced by my “life” life.

None of this is leading up to an announcement of ending the blog or anything. I still have more I want to cover here, it’s just coming up less frequently. It’s sad but undeniable that it’s easier for me to write out of pain and torment than out of more positive emotions. But if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hang onto those positive emotions all the same.

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