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Archive for the ‘Coming Out’ Category

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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Far From The Tree

My parents are coming to visit next weekend. We haven’t seen them since they were here last May, and that seems like ages ago now. What’s more this trip will mark the one year anniversary since I came out to them. I think that makes for a suitable opportunity to re-assess where things stand between us.

I’ve made no secret about my frustration with my parents’ response to my coming out. When I finally worked up the courage to tell them I thought I was prepared for anything. I steeled myself for total rejection, but held out hope that perhaps this could lead to a reconciliation of sorts. After all, we weren’t exactly close before. If they didn’t completely disown me, things could only improve, or so I thought.

However the response they gave me was neither rejection nor acceptance but rather a mushy-mealy hash of confusion seemingly designed to deny me any kind of answer at all. At first I was told they didn’t want to talk about it. Then I was told they needed more time. But time has passed and they still don’t want to talk about it – even when they come to visit and I go out to dinner with them no longer presenting as male. They mostly handle this by trying not to look at me and removing all gender references when talking about me. They don’t treat me like a son or a daughter, but rather as some strange sexless creature associated to them largely through the fact that I live with their grand kids.

I think I’m nearing the end of my tolerance for that kind of relationship.

I’d have a hard time putting into words the amount of stress their visits puts upon our family now. The kids aren’t clueless – they pick up on the fact that their grandparents are tense, judgmental, and don’t show any kind of parental affection for me. It’s confusing for them as they try to understand how E and I will relate to them when they grow up. We’ve actually had to reassure them in response to fears they’ve picked up by seeing my parents visit – Yes, we will always love them and accept them no matter what. It scares them to think their future might hold the kind of emotional abandonment from their own parents they witness my parents displaying toward me.

What’s more the kids are going through enough. If my parents took the time to actually talk to us about what the transition has been like, I would relate how significantly it impacts the whole family. E and the kids have had their own coming out experiences with friends, parents, teachers, neighbors and the like as they have to explain my transition. They’re full of the same kind of fears of rejection and ostracism over this stuff as I am. Which makes us all treasure the security of our family and home. Therefore when my parents come visit and invade both family and home in their passive-aggressive, judgmental style it takes away that single place where we can all feel accepted and loved unconditionally.

My parents aren’t young any more and neither am I. We don’t really have time left for engaging in long, drawn-out games about this stuff. I don’t exactly know what I can do to change things, but I’m not going to let another year pass between us the way this one has gone.

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Road Trip

The time for the much anticipated college reunion has arrived. We’re heading out in the morning for the flat lands of Central Illinois.

Upcoming trip highlights include:

1. Living a Hollywood cliche as the guy who comes back to “his” reunion as a woman.

2. Finally remembering which people I forgot to forewarn about my “changes” ahead of time.

3. Spending three nights with a mother-in-law who has never previously seen me in anything other than guy-mode.

4. Fun with pronouns!

Despite the snarky tone, I actually am looking forward to seeing everyone.  It’s bound to be an emotional trip, but I’m thinking the emotions should mostly be the good kind.

The timing has actually worked out pretty well. One month ago I would not have been ready for this. I’ve gained a lot of confidence since then. The act of reaching out to a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time to tell them about myself has proven a healthy exercise for me. I’m hoping the chance to speak to them in person will be all the better.

Anyway, as a blog detail, I don’t know what my Internet access will be like. I might try to sneak in a post or two during the trip if I can, but I wouldn’t assume I’ll be able to post anything until after we return Sunday night.

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I was reading an interesting column, “How do you tell your family you are transgender?” in The Guardian today, when I came across an anecdote that resonated with me.

…I was more surprised that on coming out, friends and family might initially see my transition as some sort of ‘death’. Carrying on our relationships as normal soon proved that all that was ‘dying’ was my masculine façade.

Ah, yes. My old nemesis, the “your transition is like a death to me,” analogy. It’s a frustrating response to deal with because it’s unquestionably an emotionally honest reaction when coming from loved ones. But, if I’m being equally honest emotionally – hearing it feels like a dig, a cheap shot, and a guilt trip rolled into one. It’s a not-so-subtle accusation that you are taking someone precious and loved away from someone you care about. But the only person involved here is you – and you’re listening to this death talk while you’re standing right there. Like I said – frustrating!

It’s also a difficult reaction to get because you’re conflicted in how to address it. On the one hand you want to respect the emotional impact of your transition on the lives of others. You want to give them time and space to sort things out without rushing or pushing them. “It’s like a death to me,” represents a non-trivial statement relating to the enormity of emotional importance your transition represents to them. That’s not a time when you want to correct terminology, or argue over the aptness of a particular analogy. You just want to listen and understand.

On the other hand, having people tell you to your face that you’re at least somewhat dead to them can’t help but feel like an insulting refusal to accept you for who you actually are. If someone directly says “you’re dead to me,” we understand that means total rejection. The less direct version may be intended quite differently, but it doesn’t feel all that different.

Maybe this disconnect is an opportunity to illustrate how incredibly important gender is in defining a person. After all, most people talk about our transitions like they’re arbitrary choices. Even sympathetic people frequently try to talk us into less dramatic alternatives than transitioning (e.g. maybe you’re just gay, maybe you should wait until after your kids are grown, maybe you can just handle these feelings by cross-dressing in private, etc.).

But if changing our gender expression is like a death for those dealing with someone close to them changing their gender, try to imagine what it’s like to live your whole life trying to repress your own gender. What I mean is, if gender is so gosh darn important in your relationship with one another person, how can the fact that this same thing affects every relationship that person ever has not be treated with proportionally more importance? Why should your emotions about their gender be treated with such respect, while their emotions about their own gender are up for debate?

Because the truth is, we’re not becoming different people when we transition our sexual identity. From our perspective what we’re doing is shedding a mask, allowing us to finally become truly intimate with the loved ones in our life. We’re still the same people, but we’re shedding the main barrier which has kept our relationships more distant than we would have liked. Far from death, we finally feel like we can fully participate in life! We’re hoping our loved ones will enjoy relating to us as our true selves, rather than relating to our affected self-portrayal through a mis-gendered mask.

In closing, I want to express that there is clearly a grieving process involved for some people when a loved one transitions. I’ve seen it up close and personal. This is every bit as valid and natural as the feelings of the person doing the transitioning. But if we could just lay off the “death” analogy and find other terms to talk about it, it would probably be a lot healthier for the continuing relationship.

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Time

As I have come out, one of the common themes is that people ask for time to process the understandably shocking news. I’m pretty cool about this request.

The problem is that no one ever sends back the “okay… I’ve had my time to think and process, and now I have this to say,” response.

No one. Ever.

So then I’m in the position of trying to instigate the conversations to draw that out of people who are very likely thinking “You’re a freak. I want nothing to do with you, and I’m already using you as the butt of jokes to my friends.” Fun stuff.

How come people who ask for time about this stuff never seem to feel like the impetus is upon them to get back to me?

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This is a letter I sent, with slight variations, to a few select people after I had already come out to them. It was not the initial coming out letter. This was something I sent only after I felt solid that we still had a relationship worth keeping. The purpose here was to provide a better understanding of the narrative of my life so far… from my actual perspective, as opposed to the way I’ve seemed to others. I think it’s probably decent background for anyone taking the time to follow the blog as well.

I felt like I was a feminine child up until about the age of five. I didn’t think of myself that way at the time of course. I was just me. [My brother] was the one into sports and active “boy stuff.” I was into dolls (even if we called them “action figures”) and playing imaginative games. All his best friends were boys. All of mine were girls. In the days before kindergarten no one cared.

When I turned five all that began to change fairly abruptly. For one thing, [my sister] was born two days before my fifth birthday. There was now a real daughter in the family. For another, [my brother] started first grade at Saint Anne’s. At Saint Anne’s the gender divide was very clearly and solidly drawn. Boys wore one uniform, girls another. They played on separate playgrounds at recess. There were clearly defined differences in all sorts of other things, from bathrooms to expected behavior. The immediate effect on me was that [my brother] and his friends began teasing me incessantly for playing with girls, and not being interested in the normal “boy things.” And of course, when I started first grade at the same school the next year, that constant pressure to stop being feminine and start acting more like a boy was amplified by a thousand percent.

It was right about this time that I started having deeply secret fantasies about being a girl. I’d imagine walking into school wearing a girl’s uniform, and playing on the girl’s playground. But not long after the fantasies took a darker turn. I started imagine being put into the girls’ uniform and then laughed at and mocked by all my classmates. All that teasing and humiliation I was getting from any perceived femininity seemed like it would come to its full and horrifying fulfillment at that moment.

And yet, deep down inside, I knew I wanted to be in that girls’ uniform all the same. And that lead me to start crossdressing in secret not long after. I used to LIVE for the days when I would be left at home alone, and could raid mom’s and [my sister’s] closets. I would sneak soft and pretty nightgowns to bed at night, and put them on to sleep in after everyone thought I was sound asleep. Of course I made sure I always woke up first so I wouldn’t get caught. And in fact I never was caught in my crossdressing a single time in my life. Mom once found a pair of panties I had stashed in my drawer, and she began to blow up at me, but I quickly defused the situation by proclaiming no knowledge of how they got there, and that it was probably just a laundry mixup. She never found anything similar again.

That pattern… secret crossdressing, with an ever growing sense of shame, and yet an equally growing sense of excitement… continued all the way until college.

I dated girls, but tended to prefer more boyish looking ones. Not like… masculine girls. Just more boyish body shapes. I didn’t do this intentionally. But I think it was just a subconscious way to imagine us “switched around” in my head when we kissed or got intimate. Which I did constantly. The only kinds of intimate relationships I have desired in my life involved me being a girl with another girl, or me being a girl with a boy. I have tried and failed my whole life to get interested in relationships with me in the male role. Might as well try to imagine I’m a toaster, or a lampshade – it doesn’t work. I’ve always just faked my way along in that regard, looking to the outside world like I was just like any other guy into girls, while in my mind it was very different.

In college I spent a really miserable and isolated freshman year. But in my sophomore year I met E. I was nineteen and she was eighteen at the time. We started dating at the end of that year. As my feelings for her got stronger, and I thought I may want to ask her to marry me, I decided I would HAVE to tell her about the crossdressing. This was something I had never mentioned to anyone in my life, but I didn’t want to be married to someone and STILL have that distance between us that I had with everyone else. I had no idea how she would take it, but one day when we were spending some time alone, I finally told her. She was shocked, but supportive. That very day she helped me get dressed and made up so she could see. And she said she liked it. You can imagine how blissful that moment felt, and how strongly I was convinced that we were soul mates that were meant to be together.

We had a wonderful relationship for about a decade after that. I joined the group Tri-Ess, which is a social group focusing on crossdressers and their supportive spouses. We even attended a big convention for that group in Chicago in the early 90’s. We also joined a group in Central Illinois  for transgendered people of all kinds, though that was ninety percent crossdressers. E used to help me dress as a woman and help with my makeup for these things, and we’d always go together. So it wasn’t just token support.

We moved to the Minneapolis area in 1993, and joined another transgendered support group up here, continuing the same thing for a few years as well. But then things started to change for me. I was getting more and more frustrated because of two self-contradicting things. For one, I wanted to look like a woman. Not a tranny. Not a pretty boy. A woman. I wanted that body shape; I wanted the clothes to fit me properly; I wanted the smooth skin… I wanted to look completely like a real woman. As a result I was putting more and more effort into looking that way… by the end I was spending 2-3 hours getting dressed before going to any transgendered event. I had specially designed padding, and elaborate makeup tricks to hide the beard shadow AND look as natural as possible. I had learned to style my own hair so I didn’t need a wig. And I was passing better and better but… that lead to the other thing. I felt like a fake. I felt like I was wearing a big phony costume. I had guys hitting on me, and I was desperate to be able to date them.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t LIKE the idea of cheating on E. But these guys were into me as a GIRL! That was sooo much something I wanted to experience. But then I would imagine them holding me to dance, and feeling padding instead of a real body. They’d get up close and see how heavy the makeup was. We’d go to sleep together and I’d have to strip down to my hideously male body. I’d wake up in the morning with a dark beard shadow the makeup couldn’t hide.

The combination of these two things  – the increasing desire to look like a real woman, and the increasing disgust with feeling fake – started to make me angry every time I crossdressed. Eventually it made me so angry I quit altogether.

During this time a couple of older women who had started their transition took me aside and told me they didn’t think I was a crossdresser, but that I seemed more like themselves… transsexual. I resisted their advice strongly. I had talked a bit to E about the possibility that I might decide to transition one day, and she had indicated she didn’t think we could stay together if I did that. She didn’t say it was a sure thing, but I never lost the feeling that transition for me meant losing her. So I convinced myself these transsexual women were just projecting their own desires onto me. I was really a crossdresser and didn’t need to think about transition.

So there I was… I couldn’t crossdress any more, because crossdressing was no longer a relief. It felt like a huge chore and it left me angry rather than relieved. But I couldn’t explore transition either because I couldn’t imagine losing E. And so… and it’s going to sound silly, but trust me I believed it 100% at the time…. I declared myself “cured.” I had “gotten it out of my system.” I told E that I wasn’t going to crossdress any more, and could now live a happy life embracing a fully masculine role. I called this “playing with the cards I’d been dealt.” Sure, I admitted, I would rather that I had been born a girl. But I wasn’t. And the only two paths to rectify it were going to make me even more miserable. So I needed to make the best of things and strive to live a happy life as a man. No more silly fantasies in which I would  pretend that I could truly have some kind of a female life.

And with that I plunged pretty seriously into a conservative view of my Catholic faith, finding out how God would want me to live. And I quickly decided I was supposed to have children – something I had insisted up until then I was not ready for. But I was almost thirty years old now, and it was time to grow up. E agreed, and in a short while we had not just one, but three children. What’s more E had quit working to stay home with the kids, and I took the responsibility of going from a lower paying job which I loved to a higher paying one which was less fulfilling, and also a lot more hours and more stress, because I was supporting a family. That’s what men are supposed to do, and I was going to be a man. I learned to smoke cigars. I learned to drink scotch on the rocks and gin martinis. I took intense martial arts lessons to get tough. I tried to enjoy playing golf.

And as all of this was going on I was growing depressed. Just a little bit at first. It came over me slowly. It was easy to ignore it at first. And then it was easy to attribute it to a hard period at work. And then it was easy to attribute it to having kids. And then… then it became something I just stopped trying to explain. It just WAS. And that’s when it really started to get bad. I pulled back more and more… from friends… from family… from my coworkers… from my kids… from E… I started drinking heavily… then more heavily. I was going to sleep every single night by drinking to the point I passed out. I was hardly able to hold a conversation with E any more. We were living in the same house, but you could hardly say we lived together any more.

And then I stumbled upon a web site. It’s embarrassing to admit it now, but I was doing some kind of search for pornography. As my relationship with E had cooled, I had turned increasingly to such things as a replacement for our former sex life. My memory is a bit fuzzy about how I found this specific site. It was one of those “do a search, click on something interesting, follow a link from there to somewhere else” kind of things. But the result was that I found a transgendered roleplay site. Pretty soon I was spending just about every waking moment either writing up posts for that site, or chatting with other people I had met there on Yahoo Instant Messenger. Many of them were, like me, deep in the closet and looking for friendship even more than roleplay. And that turned out to have an unexpected benefit. Because one of the people I met there had also experienced severe depression. She started gently but firmly advising me to find a therapist. It took a while for me to do it but…

One day I woke up as usual, sitting at the table I had passed out upon the night before, and I made the realization that I was going to kill myself if I didn’t do something to change courses. I would die of alcohol poisoning, or passing out while driving, or killing my liver, or something of the kind just as surely as if I put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger. And I realized I didn’t really want to die. I wanted to have friends and relationships in real life like the ones I had developed online through roleplaying. I wanted to be happy again. I wanted to have a good relationship with my wife and kids. I wanted to look into the future with hope for the possibilities again. But I didn’t know how to do it. I needed help.

That’s when I finally made the decision to find a therapist. And I knew it had to be someone who knew about transgendered issues because, while I wasn’t considering that the cause of my depression, I knew something about that was important to my happiness. I needed to have someone I could talk to honestly about my feelings about that. So I did a little research, worked up the courage to make the first  appointment and just, got the ball rolling.

It took many months of therapy before I seriously considered that I might transition. The therapist didn’t use labels like “transsexual” versus “crossdresser” or any of the other buzzwords. She emphasized that everyone was different. I didn’t need to feel pressure to conform to anyone else’s idea of my life. I needed to find my own path. But… hesistantly… I decided to join a transsexual therapy group. It was while sitting in that group – consisting of people from totally closeted to fully transitioned – that I realized I really was transsexual. Because, for the first time in my entire life, I was listening to people talk about their own lives and feelings and pain… and I was hearing all those secret thoughts and feelings I held inside of me. It was like they were reading my mind. I had NEVER experienced that in any other group of men or women. I had faked it plenty of times. But this was the real thing.

It was also in that group that a post-op transsexual corrected the answer I had given myself a decade earlier when I declared I was “cured.” I told her my reasoning… that I had to “play the hand of cards I’d been dealt,” and that I’d been born male so I had to make the best of it. And very kindly she said, “But you didn’t play the cards you’d been dealt. You weren’t born a male. You were born a transsexual.” And that was a kind of Road to Damascus moment for me. The scales fell from my eyes and I saw how I’d been handicapping myself in any attempt to lead a happy life. My attempts didn’t work, because they weren’t being honest about who I really was.

I decided not long after that I needed to transition. But also that I needed to do it carefully, respecting how majorly it would affect my life and all those in it. I wanted to build a better life, not simply rush through a transition checklist. And that’s how I made my new plan to personal happiness, and it’s been working far better than I ever could have expected.

I expected E to be supportive, but to eventually decide we would have to split up. But after a few months of considering, she made the opposite decision. She decided to recommit herself to keeping a strong and loving relationship – even though I would soon be a woman in all senses. And our relationship is now back to the strong, mutually supportive, and truly loving one it used to be.

I didn’t know how it would effect the kids, but they were all surprisingly easy to adapt to the idea, and I’m now playing a larger role in their lives than ever before. I’m also enjoying them a lot more.

I thought I would probably lose all friends and most family over coming out. But I haven’t lost anyone yet. In fact, I’m now finding it easier than ever to make friends, and grow closer to them. The barrier… the wall of pretense that protected my transgendered secret… is now down. I never realized how much that kept me isolated and alone from those around me.

Even my job is going wonderfully. I’m planning my transition in the workplace now, and unlike my pessimistic former self, I’m fully expecting that to be successful as well. Meanwhile, I find my productivity super-high, because I’m not just going through the motions of my job while dreaming of being someone else. I like my life now, and that has a huge impact on everything I touch and do.

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Re: The Kids

The following is from an e-mail I sent to a relative tonight regarding their concern for my kids as I come out. Names have been altered, but the rest is intact:

Of course, E and I have been keenly attuned to how this might affect our kids. But you know that, so that’s not why you’re worried.

I’m guessing that you’re concerned that we let our first “whew” moment about their acceptance of the immediate news take us off our guard about the longer term attention to their adjustment. I can see how we might do that, but I assure you we have not. If anything, we go in the opposite direction, dissecting the kids’ friends, their friends’ parents, their social groups, their schools, and all the rest on an ongoing basis to try to guess where any challenges might arise for them. And we’re pro-active about it. I don’t think either of us sees this as a temporary situation. We’ll keep looking out for them this way (among others) all the while they grow up. Our whole family has ready access to therapy, and that’s been true for some time. Believe me, in this family access to therapy will not be a problem.

The thing I hope you appreciate is that our whole family is, in a way, coming out as being outside the traditional norms of family life. There are people out there who will pick us out for special persecution for that reason. There will be lots of otherwise respectable people who will cheer those people along in the process without regard for whom it hurts. I know it’s upsetting to you to think of [our kids] bearing the brunt of that kind of thing. Please don’t think for a moment that E and I don’t think about that every night. That thought is one of the reasons I had to be driven to the brink of suicide before I could conceive of coming out.

But… I was driven to the brink. This is the path I chose in order to keep living. I chose it out of love for my kids as much as anything else. Believe me, the alternative was easier, neater, and would have left me with a lot more dignity in the eyes of pretty much everyone else. I just don’t think my kids would have found a lot of comfort in that dignity compared to me being there when they scraped their knee, or got an A on their report card,

So they’re going to get teased over me. I know that. Picked on. Isolated. I can picture it all. Even though none of it has happened yet, I know it’s just a matter of time. It’s not fair, it will hurt them… and it will be my fault. All mine. They would have avoided it if I stayed in the closet, without question. I’ll think of it every time I see them crying or hurt, no matter the reason. I’ll always wonder how much of it was caused in some way because I came out.

All I can offer as way of explanation is that I weighed it against the alternative, and this would seem to hurt them less. I can only hope their family can support them more when others do less.

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