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Archive for January, 2011

It was an odd weekend for me. A blend of old and new.

It began with a long overdue dinner with a couple of old friends. They knew me before… you know… before, before. This couple knew me all the way back in my college days (and one half of the couple all the way back to my grade school days). The reminiscing was strange, what with my gender having changed and all. But it still felt comfortable and grounded. It reminded me that there is never really a break with your former self. You just change. Some friends can handle that better than others. These friends seem to have rolled with it very well.

The electrolysis chair darned near broke me the following day. I don’t know what it was. It’s not like I’m new to the electro-torture needle. But this weekend it just burned and then burned hotter until I couldn’t take any more. I quit my session half way through, which is the first time I’ve ever done that. Maybe the pain decided to match my level of fed-upness with the whole process. The charm and excitement of losing the beard long ago gave way to annoyance, and now I fear we’ve drifted into antagonism. I no longer feel like a man taking a big step toward transition. I feel like a woman dealing with an embarrassment I’d rather not think about. I suppose it’s a sign of progress.

Sunday was spent helping the kids (all three of them) catch up on schoolwork they’d been letting slip. I spent my day playing school marm for our little schoolhouse on the tundra. And it was all I could do to resist finding a big wooden yard stick and whacking some knuckles. Each one of them fought me in their own particular style every step of the way. They’re all smart kids. None of this resistance is based on the work being too hard, which just totally sucks. It shattered my vision of  stepping in with a heart-warming tutorial session, at the end of which I would be rewarded by the light of understanding shining from their eyes and an enthusiastic, “thank you!” before they scurried off to put their new found knowledge to use. No, no. My school marming consisted of battling software installation and configuration, searching for equipment, settling disputes over conflicting study schedules, arguing over how much work needed to be completed, and how many breaks they got to have. *sigh*

Still… I was reminded to be thankful that I have the screwy little rugrats in my life. I wouldn’t give them up for the world. It wasn’t all that long ago when a session like Sunday’s would have been impossible. I was so checked out, disengaged, and distant. These days I’m an active parent with all the same frustrations as any other. And, once I get out of the frustrations of the moment, that feels pretty good.

Later in the day I had occasion to think about other paths people take to keep them active while figuring out their lives-to-be during transition. A friend of mine is volunteering for the Creating Change conference in Minneapolis this week. We got to talking a bit about the conference and how we both feel the urge to “give back” in some way, as we’re beginning to feel like we’re now “survivors” in a sense. Her chosen path for that is a much more activist one than my own. And on one level I really see the appeal of that. So many of the challenges trans people face are very fresh on our minds when we’re hitting our “I survived” moment in our transition. The urge to do something about it is strong.

Personally I’m holding back from becoming too activist, at least for now, based largely on the advice of some trans male friends. In various forms they offered the advice that your first year in transition is … messy. It’s the kind of year you’ll want to forget about five years from now. There’s so much to figure out in terms of your life, social roles, appearance, and relationships. Concentrate on getting yourself right in the first year, is their advice. That’s a huge enough task in itself. I’m trying to focus on becoming the woman I want to be. After that I believe I’ll be far more capable of affecting change in any number of ways.

In the mean time my focus this year is on family, friends, and career. Re-building a life during transition is a little bit like re-engineering an airplane in mid flight. Until you’ve safely landed it’s best not the best time to assume you’ve got it all under control, is my point. All the more reason to admire those who do take the time to give back and still hold it all together.

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The New Scientist reports a potentially groundbreaking study for the early identification of transsexuals. The  new study, about to be published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, identifies a new method for identifying transsexuals before puberty and before hormone treatment by a newly discovered brain scan technique.

Antonio Guillamon‘s team at the National University of Distance Education in Madrid, Spain, think they have found a better way to spot a transsexual brain. In a study due to be published next month, the team ran MRI scans on the brains of 18 female-to-male transsexual people who’d had no treatment and compared them with those of 24 males and 19 females.

They found significant differences between male and female brains in four regions of white matter – and the female-to-male transsexual people had white matter in these regions that resembled a male brain (Journal of Psychiatric Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.05.006). “It’s the first time it has been shown that the brains of female-to-male transsexual people are masculinised,” Guillamon says.

While it’s far too early to blow this out of proportion, the potential clinical implications are significant.

If the new technique is verified the identification of transsexualism would no longer need to remain solely in the variable hands of psychologists, who currently take from months to years to arrive at such diagnoses, and even then allow great latitude for their own individual interpretations. Quicker diagnosis means quicker access to treatment which means much greater overall health – mental and physical – for affected patients.

What’s more this study may prove the tip of the iceberg, allowing clinical identification of a host of related (or perhaps even unrelated) conditions. However it wouldn’t be wise to see this as a panacea, as the lead researcher notes:

Guillamon thinks such scans may not help in all cases. “Research has shown that white matter matures during the first 20 to 30 years of life,” he says. “People may experience early or late onset of transsexuality and we don’t know what causes this difference.”

In other words don’t look at this as a “catch all,” or “litmus test,” but rather one more tool by which science is building toward better understanding and treatment of this previously mysterious condition. Even if some of us (I’m looking at myself here) are pretty excited by the potential of this particular tool.

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Faith in Transition

God is a metaphor for a mystery that transcends all categories of human thought. – Joseph Campbell

One of the topics I have tended to avoid on this blog is the topic of faith. Religion I’ve touched upon, in as far as I’ve mentioned that I was once a devout Catholic but no longer am. But faith in a more general sense I’ve been inclined to leave alone. I’m now going to take the risk of broaching this personal topic in more detail.

Faith once played a huge role in my life. I grew up believing strongly in God, and in the power of prayer. Like many trans youth I saved my strongest prayers for asking God to make me a girl. But after a while I came to believe that the reason God wasn’t answering those prayers must be that I was asking for a sinful thing. Still, I maintained what some call a “personal relationship with God” in the form of my prayer life as a child.

As life went on I fell away from my Catholicism, and indeed away from all organized religion. I dabbled with paganism, Buddism, Taoism, and a lot of New Age stuff that defied easy categorization. But I wasn’t looking for faith during this time. I was looking for some kind of personal religion which fit my persistently strong faith.

Because, religion aside, I still had faith. I believed in something, even if I couldn’t easily define it. It wasn’t really a personal God any longer, but more like a general sense of right and wrong built into the fabric of existence. I believed in a kind of power in the universe which defied empirical observation but, when trusted, brought peace and happiness to life. I didn’t think any of this could be directly observed. In fact I believed once you headed down the path of looking for proof you had misunderstood the nature of the thing itself.  But it was something present in my daily life, informing my decisions and guiding my actions.

All this was jumbling around in my head in my mid-20’s when I hit my first gender crisis. At that time I was confronted with the first serious notion that the right path for me might be transition. I panicked. The consequences of gender transition absolutely terrified me. I freaked out, ran for the closet, and slammed the door shut behind me. This wasn’t just a “purge” in the traditional sense. This was a complete redefinition of my life, my values, my identity – everything.

I decided my gender conflict was over. My logical mind had come to realize the absurdity of it all, and now I knew better. You have to play the hand of cards you’ve been dealt, I told myself. I had been born a male and that was that. As far as I was concerned, I was cured.

Along with that conclusion was a similar self-condemnation of my previous wishy-washy version of faith. No more Tao Te Ching, Tarot cards, or Zen meditations for me. It was time to grow up. The thing my teachers and parents had always taught me about religion was clearly the truth. There was one God, one true Church, and the only real path to salvation and happiness was within it. I stopped looking for a sense of order and happiness in my personal life – because look where that had lead me – and instead trusted that a rigid following of Catholic teaching would provide all that and more.

The following years held a lot of significant life changes, but I can’t say I found much spiritual fulfillment in the zealous application of Catholicism to my life. My prayers were rote recitations – one way communications cast in the direction an unresponsive God. I couldn’t pray the way I had as a child because that seemed too much like the new-age mumbo jumbo I had recently left behind. I found intellectual fulfillment in parsing through intricacies of canon law in order to learn the true teachings of the Church. I found Church approved causes into which I could vent my frustration and anger, providing emotional displacement if not exactly fulfillment. My earlier sense of peace, harmony, and rightness in the universe had become foreign to my mind. I trusted that it would all make sense in the end, but I no longer truly experienced faith in my day to day life.

In the end it all came crashing down around me. My rigid adherence to orthodox Catholicism couldn’t save me from the deepening fog of depression. I was deeply, profoundly unhappy with my life. Not a single path open to me seemed to offer any hope. All I could do was “offer it up,” as Catholics like to say, and accept my lot in life. Except how do you “offer up” anything to a God who won’t take your calls?

And so the color started draining from my life until all that was left was a never-changing world of gray. I existed like that for a long time, neither believing nor disbelieving in anything. Nothing mattered. Give me heaven, give me hell, give me nothing but empty void… I didn’t care. Looking back I can see that the opposite of faith isn’t disbelief or doubt. It’s that emptiness – that void.

Somehow out of those depths, and for reasons I can’t pretend to understand, I spotted the faintest glimmer of hope one morning. It instantly gave me direction and purpose, even if the purpose was simply “live,” and the direction was merely “get help.” I honestly think I followed it largely because the alternative was literally nothing – that’s the meaning of “void” after all. Whatever the reason, as anyone who has hit bottom knows, “live” and “get help” can be pretty strong motivators.

Over the first years of my transition – starting with the initial meeting with my therapist and persisting through coming out and living as a woman – I no longer had real faith. I had an ugly scar where my faith used to reside. In its place I had purpose and direction powerful enough to see me through some very dark and frightening times. I didn’t think in terms of whether I was doing the right thing. I was doing the only thing I knew how to do. A ball doesn’t need faith to roll down a hill. My life was like that ball.

But as I rolled down my metaphorical hill things started to change for the better. The void was left behind. Color began to return to the world around me. I started feeling real emotion again, and real connection to the lives of those around me. And it began to dawn upon me that some day I would find myself at the bottom of the hill. And then what?

For a long time I had instinctively tuned out any talk of faith or God. I pitied people who still clung to such things. But more than that it hurt to contemplate. I remembered when I had believed, and I remembered the smoking ruin that became of my life following such things. There might be wisdom in the occasional words of the faithful, but if so it was human wisdom derived from rational human minds. And yet…

Here I was living my life with a singular direction, everything was getting be better, and I couldn’t explain any of it. The success of my journey defied my own sense of reason. By rights I should have been dead before I started. After all, I couldn’t explain how I got the inspiration to shake off the depressive fog to begin with. Every significant step of the way I had concluded, with good cause, that disaster would follow. I proceeded only because I didn’t see a viable alternative. I couldn’t explain why things were going so well. Every time a seemingly impassable obstacle arose which I couldn’t handle on my own, some unexpected person or event seemed to arise to help me overcome it.

I couldn’t shake the growing sense that something was going on that lay beyond my ability to explain or even comprehend. A feeling that, now that my life was on the right path, the whole universe was harmonizing around me to carry me through my moments of greatest need. This is not an easy feeling for an atheistic cynic to carry around for long.

But recently some unexpected exchanges reminded me of the faith that I once possessed. It may sound strange, but I had all but forgotten. I hadn’t forgotten that it happened, but I completely forgot what it felt like to believe before that word became poisoned in my mind.

But once upon a time I had a basic belief that there was something in the universe laying beyond our comprehension. Something that every religion from the dawn of time had been trying and failing to describe. Something at once very human yet also transcendent beyond any single person.

Maybe it’s time for me to learn to believe like that again.

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The Middle Child

There are many things in life that shape the person you become. Those of us who transition become acutely aware about the enormous role gender plays in our lives toward that end. For a while it seems to us like gender is (to quote Homer Simpson out of context) “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

But as we move through our transition we move past this monochromatic view of our lives. It’s not helpful to focus upon gender as the explanation for everything. Sure, heading into transition we often feel like living examples of how badly gender issues can screw up a life all by themselves. But our lives are so much more than only gender. And these other things need attention for all the same reasons they need attention in the lives of everyone, trans and non-trans alike.

One huge factor in shaping who we become is our relationship with our parents. My own parental relationship has varied from strained to almost non-existent over the course of my life, but it feels like we’ve recently made some progress which gives me hope. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I might do or say to break down the barriers between us. And that mental exercise is telling me a lot about how we came to our strained relationship in the first place.

I appear to have a textbook case of Middle Child Syndrome. This syndrome seems so interwoven with my trans issues when it comes to relating to my parents that it’s hard to focus on either one in isolation of the other. But I’m beginning to think that when I came out as transsexual to them I had it backward. I should have started working with my parents on the middle child stuff before I hit them with the trans stuff. I think it could have explained a lot all by itself, and could have lead quite naturally into explaining that “oh, by the way I’m also transsexual.”

I say this because Middle Child Syndrome seems perfectly designed to be amplified ten-fold if the child in question is transsexual. If that’s not readily apparent, allow me to illustrate  symptom by symptom:

Lack of Belonging
The middle child may not feel a sense of belonging to the family in the same way as other children. He/she struggles to be close to the family because of feeling ignored and ‘unwanted’. Sometimes, the middle child also feels sandwiched between the other siblings. It is important as a parent, to not let such feelings overcome their middle child.

I felt this keenly, but it wasn’t simply about being ignored.  I was absolutely certain that I would NOT be wanted if they ever found out about my secret gender struggles. I felt like an impostor, undeserving of belonging to a family which I was sure would cast me out if they knew who I really was.

Low Self-Esteem
Since a middle child feels that he/she is basically unwanted, he/she may have a very low self-esteem. There is nothing worse than to feel not needed and it can badly affect even an adult. For a child, it has a serious bearing on his/her overall development. Such a child will continue to suffer from a lack of self-belief on growing up. A middle child’s confidence may be shaky due to the feeling of being overlooked upon, by his/her parents.

Due to the gender struggles my self-esteem was already chronically low from about the time I became aware that something was “wrong” with me. Then, as the description above notes, add in all the feelings of being unwanted that come so naturally to middle children.

My older brother loved sports, excelled in school, and could never seem to do wrong in my parents eyes. My younger sister was the adorable charmer who seemed born for the stage, to the delight of our music teacher mother. I was constantly pushed to be more like my brother while being eaten up with envy about the life being lived by my sister. And I felt equally bad about myself looking in either direction.

Reclusion
It is, usually, seen that a child suffering from middle child syndrome is not too extrovert or social. There is a tendency among such children to become loners in life. They feel like an outsider in the family and therefore, become a recluse in other areas of life as well. Such a child believes in spending time with him/her self rather than others, because he/she feels uncared for. And so, he/she tries to create a world of his/her own and lean on his/her own self for support.

If a transsexual ever describes their life prior to transition without using a form of the word “lonely” they’ll be the first. Loneliness is built into the closet of every transsexual. We feel like we don’t belong anywhere, because we know we’re not really the person other people believe us to be. This makes us lonely in every crowd. Which leads to reclusiveness. Which was already my tendency owing to my birth order alone.

A curious side note to this is that I was always motivated to befriend others I perceived as fellow outsiders. As my sister likes to joke, my friends were all “freaks and geeks.” And you know, I think my life is actually richer for that. Still, it did no favors for my relationship with my rather conventional parents.

No Sense Of Direction
The children suffering from middle child syndrome also lack a sense of direction. There is certain disillusionment among them and they struggle to find the real direction of their life. They are not comfortable confiding in their parents, not even in their brothers or sisters. This is not to say that all middle children turn out to be failures in their life. Only those suffering from this syndrome have a tendency to lack any direction in life.

I remember talking to my friends during my high school and college years about where we all expected to be in ten or twenty years. And I remember that I couldn’t imagine it. I mean I literally could not do it. I tried to project myself into the future along any number of potential paths and I kept drawing blanks. I didn’t tell anyone about this. I followed the in-the-closet code and made stuff up to carry my part of the conversation. But it really did disturb me that I literally couldn’t imagine my own future.

Now some of this is surely due to the fact that I kept trying to imagine myself as a happy well-adjusted man, cured of all those silly thoughts about being a girl. My brain could never leap that divide because those “silly thoughts” happened to be hard-wired into my brain in a way these projected male futures were not.

But the other part has nothing to do with gender. It was just the kind of aimlessness you see in a lot of middle children. Nothing grabbed me as a direction in life. In contrast my older brother focused like a laser-beam on becoming a doctor from the seventh grade on, and never wavered from the path. My sister veered wildly in her own direction, but always with passion and conviction in the moment. In both cases my parents played large roles assisting the other two, while I felt like I dare not ask for the same because of…

Trust Issues
A middle child, on feeling ignored and un-loved, may have trust issues. As a child, we first learn to trust and completely rely on our parents, but a middle child fails to do that and consequentially, faces such issues. Such a child has difficulty in opening up and confiding in anyone. However, not every child suffering from middle child syndrome has a distrusting attitude. Sometimes, such a child is pining to trust and lean on someone.

Good lord, does that above section describe me. All of it. Even the parts that contradict, because my coping with the issue changes over time. Sometimes I keep everyone at a distance for fear I’ll be burned and betrayed yet again. Other times I have put my trust in others almost recklessly, because I need to feel like I have someone to trust in my life.

But I have never felt like my parents were among the people I could trust. And some of that is surely based upon my inability to confide in them about my lifelong gender confusion. In my mind my parents were there to judge and to shame. I saved my trust in unconditional love for my relationship with my dog. And I’m not joking.

Lest I give the wrong impression in all of this, I’ve moved past the finger pointing “It’s all my parents fault!” stage. I don’t think my parents intended or even realized that they fell into a classic parenting pattern for alienating middle children. And I’m absolutely positive that they had no idea that a transsexual child might be super-vulnerable to this stuff while remaining completely undetected.

Regardless, I have the worst relationship with my parents of either of my siblings by far. These days some of this is based upon my coming out, but most of it is not. And I really don’t want to continue like this for the rest of our lives.

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A number of people have mentioned to me, upon reading my recent update, that things seem to be going fantastic with me. And in a sense they’re absolutely correct. However, lest I mislead, I feel I need to add just a bit of context to the vibe of that post.

Things are going fantastically, wonderfully, amazingly better than I ever expected they could… as far as my transition itself. I am not exactly living the life of Riley. I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t trade the life they have right now for my “fantastic” life in transition. It looks pretty darned good to me because I can measure it by my previous misery. I worry some people don’t understand that  context.

I mention this because there seems to be a lot of horrible advice being given to gender confused people out there which plays far too casually with basic quality of life issues. So I thought it might be helpful for me to put “fantastic” in my world into context for others.

In my world things are fantastic because…

  • The spouse I have always loved, have always been faithful to, and with whom I share three children… didn’t leave me or divorce me.
  • My children still love me and include me in their lives.
  • I didn’t lose my job.
  • My parents have not disowned me.
  • I am able to go about basic daily tasks in public without being regularly mocked.

For those who aren’t familiar with many transition stories, you might take this stuff for granted. Shouldn’t everyone be able to assume count on these things? Why is this even worth a mention?

But for those more familiar with the average gender transition the above list probably looks like I’m bragging. There’s not a single item I mentioned above which is a given for a person in transition. In fact I’m pretty sure I’m in a distinct minority for at least three of them. Possibly all five.

Gender transition rips away everything you might have once taken for granted. I can say that until I’m blue in the face but most people can’t grasp exactly what that means. It means you’re tasked with rebuilding your life from the ground up.

It starts with an inventory like you’d imagine having to take after surviving a natural disaster. Did you have a spouse and family? Better check to see that they are still there. Friends? Better track them down to see. Place to live? Check again. And, again like in a disaster, often unseen damage has been done to the foundation. Things that seemed solid upon the initial inventory can teeter and collapse later on when you don’t expect it. My initial inventory went well. A still took lot of hard work to repair things that were obviously damaged. Later on I suffered some unexpected losses, cursing myself that I didn’t notice the cracks in the foundation earlier. But all in all, I consider myself one of the lucky survivors.

After the initial inventory you have to look into the things that constitute living, rather than simply surviving. You’re like a stranger, dropped into the middle of someone else’s life. How many of the things around you still make sense now that it’s YOU sitting in the middle of all of it? In my own case I’ve found myself looking back into my late teens and early twenties when I started making the decisions which would shape my life. So many choices were made out of a desire to meet certain gender role expectations and to hide my true nature. Now I’m living a life built upon the consequences of those choices. Does it all really fit me any more? Sorting it all out is perplexing and leaves me feeling very much the confused teenager once again. But, in my case, it isn’t wildly wrong. Some minor adjustments here, a few larger ones there, and I think I’ll have a good and fulfilling life. Considering the odds, that makes me feel fortunate. It doesn’t mean I’m there yet.

My point is, I’m not measuring my quality of life by conventional standards. I’m counting things others take for granted as huge wins.  I’m not doing this because I assume my life must suck. I’m doing it because it’s not realistic at this time to measure myself by non-trans standards of well being. Transition requires a forceful reinvention of an entire life. It’s a gut-wrenching process during which every aspect of your life is continually at risk. If you come out of it alive, that’s a win. That’s not my philosophy, that’s reality.

Right now I’m still in the midst of my reinvention. I still feel like an outsider looking in on a lot of lives that look so close to what my own should look like. It feels more and more natural, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still struggling to emulate the appearance of normalcy. Because my emulation doesn’t entirely suck, things are going better for me than others in my situation. But the emotional part… feeling like I belong… that’s still a ways away. And the distance hurts. Every day.

But hey, I have hope. It doesn’t feel like I’ll never get there. It just feels like it’s going to take years… and this is after spending years to get this far. I heard a fairly well adjusted trans woman say it took her about seven years to feel like she was truly finished with her transition. Even though I’m a ways from there yet, my gut tells me that time period seems about right. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the basic stubbornness to see me through. But I’d hate to imagine someone who went into this for the wrong reasons observing their own state of life about now.

And that’s the deeper context for my transition at this point. I’ve got a lot behind me, but loads still ahead.  The day I’m simply comfortable in my skin, and no longer think of myself as a trans-anything but rather just a woman, that’ the day I get to use the same standard of “doing fantastic” as the rest of the world.

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Word Wars

When I started this blog I didn’t realize that using the word “transgender” could create a reaction not unlike yelling “Fire!” in a single exit theater crowded with Crips and Bloods. Even less did I realize that almost every other word I knew to describe non-normative gender issues could be perceived as “fighting words” by large numbers of strongly opinionated people within an amorphous blob that you had certainly better NOT call a “transgender community” (because that term itself is an invitation to a fight).

The reason the word “transgender” evokes emotion well beyond its semantic weight is that it has become the “umbrella term” used in popular media, professional journalism and LGBT advocacy to describe a whole host of gender-variant people. So when someone says something about “transgender people,” many different groups have a vested interest in the outcome even if they don’t want to be so invested. This has come to be a problem.

A bit of personal linguistic history: Up until my early 20’s I knew exactly two terms for gender variant people – transvestite and transsexual. My understanding was that transvestites just wore clothes. Transsexuals had gone “all the way” and had surgery. Some trans people say they were excited when they first learned about this stuff and read everything they could find on the topic. I was the opposite. If either of those terms came up in any context, I immediately exited the situation. I didn’t want anyone to see me express even a glimmer of interest in the topic, lest they perceive my own mis-gendered inner feelings. So my understanding of these things remained very unsophisticated and uninformed well into adulthood.

After my college years my vocabulary expanded a bit to include terms like “cross-dresser” and “drag queen.” These seemed to be just variations of the previous two terms, but I was a lot less certain about the specifics. To me it was all a big confusing bundle of gender variant stuff. I had no idea how it might all fit together. There was some talk about a “gender continuum,” and that confused me further. Gender didn’t feel like a happy continuum to me, it felt like a dark prison. But what did I know?

That’s where my vocabulary remained through most of the dark period of denial leading up to my eventual transition. Some time over those years I also picked up the term “transgender,” gleaning from the context that it seemed to cover all the previous terms I once knew. As I started working through my own “gender issues” I started using that term to describe myself. At the time I had no word for “people like me,” so a vague word which might mean anything nicely fit my situation.

Group therapy was the big eye opener for me. That was when I realized that I might be something more specific than a fuzzily defined “transgender” person. It was the first time in my life that I met people who seemed to feel exactly like me… who seemed to be battling with exactly the same demons, and be driven by exactly the same motivations. I had known crossdressers in the past but talking to them never felt remotely similar to this.

But here’s the catch: my therapist had put together the group by invitation only. And the only people she invited were people who were – in her mind if not her terminology – transsexual. This included those of us who might not have identified ourselves by the term, because it wasn’t really about labels. Her intention was to say, “You people are alike. You should talk.” Among other things this helped me discover that there really were other people “like me” in the world.

It’s hard to describe the significance of this revelation to me. I started reading autobiographies of transsexuals and saw myself all over their pages.  All the secret thoughts and feelings I never shared with anyone – not even my therapist – were being described in detail by people I had never even met. I went from believing I was a singular kind of twisted freak who could never be understood by anyone, to finding hope and purpose in the shared experiences of others like myself. If the word “transgender” represented my gender confusion, the word “transsexual” came to represent self-awareness and a path to healing.

Anyway, this was my understanding of trans terminology when I started the blog. “Transgender” was a great big open term which might mean most anything gender variant – you didn’t even need to know what. I often used it simply because it seemed more widely known by the general public, but I certainly didn’t mean anything specific by it.  “Transsexual” was my specific word for “people like me.”

What I didn’t know, but quickly discovered, was that not everyone was so casual about these terms. More to the point, some people used “transsexual” and “transgender” to mean “us” and “them.” And like other “us” and “them” situations, this one had resulted in an ugly feud. I was dismayed to see that the feud had resulted in even more terms sewing still more confusion… “women born transsexual”; “women of history”; “Harry Benjamin Syndrome.” New words with new definitions seemed to spring up left and right in spirited linguistic outbursts making the point that “they” are not like “us.”

Of course the hottest battle of all surrounded the term “transgender.” Far from the fuzzy term which had almost no meaning in my vocabulary, these arguments were all about a specific meaning – and whether you believed the word included transsexual people was a butter side up, butter side down issue of division.

I can honestly say the first time it ever occurred to me that “transgender” meant something specific to anyone was when I saw someone claiming to be a “true transsexual” mocking someone else for being “a transgender.” To me that read like “I’m a true piece of celery, but you’re merely a vegetable.” Reading similar insults and flame wars was a very poor education into something that turned out to have a serious purpose.

Over time I began to grasp the underlying issues in these word wars. There are implications well beyond self-discovery at stake here. Once the word “transgender” appears in a piece of legislation – and plenty of people are proposing such things at the moment –  it can’t mean whatever you personally want it to mean anymore. It will then mean something concrete. In that sense fine distinctions within these definitions can impact a lot of lives – potentially in negative ways.

Of course there are some areas where no distinction is needed. After all, basic matters of human rights apply equally to all. But that’s on the basis that they’re all “human,” not on the basis that they’re all “transgender.” Is there really a driving need to take action on behalf of every kind of gender variant person all at once? That’s the implication here, even if it’s not often said in that terminology.

When it comes to such matters do we really want to proceed as if one size fits all for all the many gender variant groups often included under the transgender umbrella term, which might include transsexuals, crossdressers, gender deconstructionists, gender queers, fetishists, and drag queens, among others? That doesn’t sound right to me. It sounds like painting with far too broad a brush. The only thing in common among all these groups is that they all depart from gender norms in some way.  That’s not an identity, it’s a social perception.

To me it makes more sense to think of all these “umbrella term” groups as loosely related but not in any compelling way. Certainly not in a sense that would suggest “if we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.” We’ve got differences. In some cases fundamental differences. Sometimes it makes sense to work together, but surely not always. Shouldn’t that be okay?

A lot of gender variance is a matter of personal expression and choice.  But being transsexual is neither one. I’m quite sure there are other kinds of gender variance just as valid and non-chosen as transsexualism. But even accounting for all of those, clearly some kinds of gender variance are matters of choice. When we carelessly conflate it all together, people raise valid objections on the basis that a lot of this stuff seems like “wants” rather than “needs.” That’s because much of it IS about wants rather than needs. If our language is depriving us of the ability to distinguish wants from needs that isn’t progress.

But such confusion is becoming the norm, and I blame the words. Too many people on all sides of this issue are playing around with the terminology. It’s become a game within a game within a game, and we’ve completely lost sight of what we’re trying to win. I’m quite close to these matters, and I can’t keep up with all the terms, let alone their ever-shifting definitions. How is this ever going to be explainable to society at large? This question is actually really important to those of us who are not interesting in tearing apart the social fabric, but who are keenly interested in trying to live normal lives.

I’m not sure what’s needed to untangle this knot. But I’m pretty sure the invention of even more words, and battling over still more rival definitions, is bound to make things worse rather than better.

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Time for another barometer of life at the moment. Prior to going full time (a.k.a. starting my real life experience; a.a.k.a real life test) I used to think a lot about where I was at the moment compared to where I eventually hoped to be. These days I don’t consciously think in such terms very often. But it’s still an interesting reflection.

I now stand at a point roughly four months into life as Diana – and no one else. I haven’t bothered presenting myself as “male” to the world since the early part of September. I haven’t experienced the slightest inkling during all that time that I would like to do so.

I don’t believe I’m exaggerating by saying I wouldn’t know how to present myself that way any more. Most who knew me before have a hard time understanding this, but it never came naturally. I maintained it by rigid adherence to a set of habits. Don’t use your hands this way. Don’t walk that way. Don’t use that word. When you’re uncertain how you’re being perceived, do this. Stand like this. Pretend to be interested in those things. Ignore these other things. Feign distaste for that. Act aloof. Pretend not to notice emotions. Pretend not to care. Etc. etc. ad infinitum.

I can’t pretend I’ve been able to drop all my old habits so easily. But it’s been easier than I thought it would be. Until I lost the need for them I never realized how much constant effort it had required to keep up that facade. I honestly don’t think I could muster the effort needed to take that all on again. And the intense anxiety and violent visceral revulsion I feel at the mere prospect tells me I’d better not attempt to find out.

Odd things have changed about me without requiring any effort at all. My walk is different. I expected to need to re-learn how to walk in a more feminine way. I didn’t. I actually only needed to stop forcing myself to walk in a way that never actually felt natural. When walking through crowds I used to wonder why I walked faster than almost anyone else. Now I know. I was forcing it. Easier to hide a non-masculine gate if you were practically running. Another one of those habits adopted to hide the female within. When I stopped doing that my natural gate needed little further coaching.

I wish I could say my voice was similarly easy, but on the other hand it hasn’t been quite as difficult as I’d feared. I’ve been paying some attention to it, but not nearly as much as I expected I’d need. And yet in person I rarely if ever get “read” on the basis of my voice. On the phone it’s about 50/50 whether I get “ma’am” or “sir.” Having a cold, as in the past week, drops that a bit. However if I introduce myself as Diana, that seems cue enough to make the voice acceptable to whomever I might be dealing with.

Another strange discovery is that by nature I’m an optimistic person. A closeted life made me so pessimistic and cynical I’d truly forgotten. My outlook on life isn’t Polyannish, but it is definitely on the sunny side of realism. I see the good side in unpopular people, the silver lining in dark events; the hope inherent in the future regardless of the despair in the present.

Speaking of optimism, the most successful areas of life are the two I had been most pessimistic about going into transition: family and work. In both cases I’m now thoroughly integrated back into normal life as a woman. Each one has their own unique quirks, and I can’t pretend I’ve mastered them all. But doing so is now a matter of living rather than an explicit matter of transition.

The family aspect has been strange and wonderful. The kids were young enough when we told them about my transition that I hoped they would be able to roll with it and adjust. That has proven true. In fact they’ve said many times that they like how I’m so much happier and more involved in their lives now. And I truly am more involved. E has been gradually pulling me in to sharing the load of assisting with homework, shuttling them around to their various events, taking them to school, making plans with other parents. It’s hardly glamorous, but just feeling part of a functional family again has a wonderful quality all the same. And it’s something I never had before.

Work is a different matter. I spent a lot of time and effort achieving a very good professional reputation and I feared losing it. That has definitely not been the case. All the people who held me in high regard before do so now. If anything they were a bit impatient for all this transition stuff to be out of the way so I could keep doing the job they’d come to expect. This past week I got another stellar performance review, and have been assigned additional responsibilities (with no extra pay, but we don’t do pay adjustments until next quarter).

The relationship with E is something we both get asked about a lot. Yes, we’re still married. This is certainly so in the personal sense, even if it’s a bit of a legal gray area. But the nature of our relationship is evolving. Now that there are no gender-divided expectations for us, we’re free to negotiate what works for us. This is very much a work in progress, but it actually feels like progress. We’re sharing more, both objectively in terms of household and family responsibilities, and emotionally in that we communicate SO much better now. Socially we’re coming to terms with the fact that we’ll be perceived as a lesbian couple, and we’ve decided we’re okay with that. Getting the extended families to roll with that is another hurdle, but it’s one we’re undertaking together.

Overall life has changed quite a lot, and all for the better in my view. I went from being a checked-out, socially isolated, suicidally depressed loner to being an integrated member of society with a loving family and a rewarding career rather than just a paycheck.

I’m not a finished product yet. The need for confirmation surgery presses on my mind more and more the longer I wait. The financial impact of that event is going to be a burden of its own. E and my coming to terms with our new social identity as lesbians is one thing. Pretending society as a whole treats such people as full equals is something else. The damage done by my years of depression and social isolation has yet to be fully healed. I could use more friends and fewer “causes.”

But overall, life now feels like something worth living. I can now envision a future with me in it. I’ll have challenges to get there, but who doesn’t?

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