Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Becoming Yourself

“No matter where you go, there you are.”

An interesting post on a popular internet forum pondered: Is it better to try to become the person you want to be? Or to come to terms with the person you are?

Sometimes the most basic questions are the most important and this one is pretty fundamental. I don’t know many people who are perfectly content with themselves. Everyone I meet wants to change something. Some people want to change so much it’s almost like they want to be a totally different person. I used to be one of those people.

The problem is that the question poses a false dichotomy – one that is embraced all too readily by anyone filled with shame. There is no such thing as a “person you want to be” which can be based in anything other than the “person you are.” Who you are is a combination of who you were in the past, who you are today, and who you will become in the future. Any projection of a future self which isn’t fundamentally connected to your present (and former) self is a fantasy.

And yet, despite its unbreakable tether to the potentially unbearable past and present, I don’t consider anything about that concept limiting. In fact I consider it liberating. It’s the liberation that comes when you realize how much you have the power to actually do, rather than only imagine. It frees you to fulfill your actual life rather than speculating about (and/or envying) potential lives. Realizing this truth transforms you from a supplicant pleading with the universe to an actor with the power to become.

Here’s one thing I wish I knew earlier: You must, must accept who you are to ever have a chance at becoming any kind of person you’ll truly want to be. You don’t have to accept where you are. You don’t have to accept your present circumstances or your current habits. You don’t have to accept the company you currently keep or the life you’re currently living. But you have to accept yourself deeply and unconditionally. After all, there is no where you can go in life where you are not coming along for the ride.

There’s a huge and often under-appreciated lesson relevant to gender transition in this notion. Despite appearances to the contrary, gender transition does not – cannot – fundamentally change a person. It can change your shape. It can change your life experiences. It can change your relationships. But it cannot change who you really are. Nothing about the mechanics of transition – the hormones, the surgeries, the lifestyle changes – is going to make you another person. It can’t take away your past. It can’t change you from hating yourself to loving yourself. Transition may open up promising future possibilities, but those can never be more than part of the greater whole of your life.

The way to walk into transition – any life transition – is to embrace it as an opportunity to become. But you can’t become something you’re not. You can’t become someone without a past. It’s all you – all of it. If you despise yourself, even in part, you hold yourself back from your true potential.

So, here’s my answer to the question posed earlier: Is it better to try to become the person you want to be? Or to come to terms with the person you are?

Yes, and yes, but not necessarily in that order.


Read Full Post »

It was a strange weekend. The Superbowl used to be such a big deal to me. It didn’t matter much who was playing in it. I was a fan of the spectacle, the manufactured drama, and the capstone of another season of my favorite sport.

These days it’s simply not that big a deal in my life. It’s mildly entertaining, provided I have nothing better to do. The values that drive my life now have very little overlap with anything done by large men crashing into one another on a bright green field, no matter how clever the surrounding advertisements might be.

My disconnected emotion between the Superbowl now and Superbowls past has me thinking about a topic I rarely see emphasized in transition stories, though I find it pretty common among us. It’s a form of displacement, which plays into our pre-transition lives in a peculiar manner.

During our prior lives we very commonly place absurd amounts of emotion and energy into various pursuits we believe to be acceptable within our gender role. It’s not the same as pretending we like something which we don’t (though we often do that too). It’s more about taking things we find interesting and pouring ourselves into them with enthusiasm bordering on obsessiveness as a means of distracting our minds from our gender conflict. Our participation in most other aspects of our lives suffers as a result.

I look back upon my prior life and see one example of this after another. In addition to an obsession with football (appropriately masculine, no?), I had phases in which I was driven to obsession pursuing gaming, medieval recreation, martial arts, fine wine, religion, politics, and heirloom tomato gardening (the “heirloom” aspect had enough history, science, and elitism within it to feel more masculine than “gardening” alone). There was a kernel of legitimate interest in all of them at the start, but in each case I exploded that interest into borderline mania. In different phases I did the same thing with my job. At least in that case I was left with tangible rewards for driving so single-mindedly into something. Most often the only “reward” came in social situations. I had such voluminous information about all these “masculine” pursuits I could fill conversation space in a gender-appropriate manner while keeping the topic safely distanced from anything personal.

For those of us who eventually pursue transition, the transition journey itself becomes an all-encompassing obsession for a time, more than capable of absorbing all the emotion and energy we might care to invest within it. For some that becomes a problem, as transition eventually comes to an end with no clear replacement obsession to take its place. This can leave some people feeling lost and adrift.

But I think transition can be a nice half-way house for learning to de-couple obsessive interest from authentic living. You get a little (maybe a lot) of obsession as well as authenticity during transition. But then, gradually, the obsessive part begins to calm. You’ve hit the major milestones. The ones remaining begin to seem more like dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s than making fundamental changes. And you’re finally left with a life you don’t feel the need to run away from or distract others from seeing.

But then you’re faced with an unanticipated problem. You suddenly have a lot of time, and an embarrassing inexperience in knowing how to use it. There’s no mono-manic obsession to account for any unplanned hours in the day.  As I hit these moments today I can see the temptation to retreat back into old habits and patterns. Even if I don’t need them any more, at least I know how to live like that.

But I think it’s important to resist this temptation. Something I am coming to appreciate these days is that running from obsession to obsession is not a natural way to live. If you’re living a balanced life you have neither the time nor the need for such obsessions. Once you’re relieved of the need to disassociate your mind from your life it suddenly becomes clear that the world was not designed to make obsessives happy. If happiness is your goal, obsession should be your enemy. Balance is critical.

And so, with the irony duly noted, I believe the next phase of my transition will be devoted – perhaps single-mindedly at times – to developing a balanced life. I’m sure with some work that I can have a family life, social life, career, and ordinary hobbies – all playing a healthy role in my life without any one overwhelming the others. The world is full of examples of people doing this. I need to teach myself how to do the same.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

Mid-Holiday Reflection 2010

In some ways this is my favorite time of year. Christmas and all the associated stress has passed. But there is still another (less stressful) holiday yet to come – the celebration of the New Year. Therefore no one is really in the mood to get back into serious work mode – even if they happen to spend the week at work. I spent almost a decade consulting at various companies, and in all that time I didn’t encounter a single company where this inter-holiday week was anything other than “relaxed.”

Mind you I was personally very “un-relaxed” this time of year over the same time span. The Christmas holiday always brought melancholy, which was usually compounded by seasonal affective disorder (SAD). During my depressed years SAD set in late November and passed around the middle of January, compounding my general and growing malaise with a perpetual physical weariness. On top of that I was beset with fear that my work achievements were never good enough, so if I relaxed over the holidays that would be the final straw (just for the record – this was pure paranoia. my work reviews over this entire period were invariably stellar).

But now that I am experiencing life with a calmer, healthier mind, this is a most excellent time of year. The kids have new toys to play with. The adults have food and drink; parties and cookie exchanging.

I took some extra days off this week, partially just to enjoy the free time. One of them was today. I spent it at the mall. Lunch with a good friend (sushi and ceviche – yum!).  New purse. New earrings. A lot of ideas for outfits I’ll find at better prices elsewhere. Overall just a wonderfully low-key way to spend an afternoon. If this is what is meant by “peace on earth,” Hark me some Herald Angels! I’m a fan!

It’s hard to remember what this week felt like even a single year ago. Things had started getting better, for sure. But this ability to simply relax and enjoy a quiet, simple week was still completely foreign to me. The past year has brought me that much. One can only imagine what the next year may bring.

2010 has been a very good year for me. To those who read this blog, I hope your holiday season will be just as good… if not this year, then another one soon.

Read Full Post »

There has been a lot of sharing and discussion about trans narratives in the blog world lately. I’d like to focus on one particular element common to many of them. I’m calling it “the wall.”

The wall is the moment in a transsexual’s life when he/she realizes – usually very suddenly – that it’s not possible to go on with the charade of a wrong-gendered life. There are almost always early warning signs that this moment is coming. And in some of the happier narratives, the warnings are heeded leading to transition. But in most narratives the transsexual deals with those warnings by repressing them. “I can handle it,” or “This will eventually go away,” or “I’ll find a way to cure myself,” are just a few common rationalizations delaying corrective action.

And then one day – SMACK – they hit the wall. The time for rationalization has passed. Now this thing needs to be dealt with one way or another, right now! I have yet to find a trans narrative where the transsexual was prepared to deal with this moment when it hit them. It jolts us like a bolt of lightning and makes a mess of our lives almost instantly. Many of us (perhaps even most?) don’t survive our encounter with the wall.

The period before hitting the wall involves an attempt to avoid gender transition by living life some other way… and finding that it’s becoming ever more difficult. There’s no single age and no single kind of life that seems to be a predictor for hitting this impending wall. I’ve heard narratives from those who transitioned as early as their teens which described hitting the wall every bit as clearly as narratives where the transition came very late in life. But generally the longer one puts off transition the more likely one is to smash into the wall.

And when you think about why someone would transition late rather than early, this makes sense. This is a group of people who obviously had some motive for repressing their gender identity up to this point in their lives. Something important to them – job, family, friends, finances, social acceptance – was deemed at least as important, and usually more important, than their personal happiness. These are generally people who have made a conscious choice to NOT transition.

But the thing that distinguishes “the wall” from earlier moments is an impact smashing rationalizations and coping mechanisms to pieces.  The earlier rationalizations don’t work any more. Repression has become impossible. An emotional time-bomb has been ticking for a long time. This is the moment it explodes.

I’ll describe my own experience of that moment to provide a single illustration of what it’s like.

I awoke one morning sitting at the table at which I’d passed out from the previous night’s drinking binge. I woke up this way more than half the time these days – the other half I made some attempt to get from the table to my bed before I passed out. For the past few weeks I’d been trying to think of different ways I might kill myself but still allow my family to collect on my life insurance. I needed to leave them enough money to get by for… oh, about a year I figured. By that time my spouse could find a good job of her own, so my income wouldn’t really be needed anymore, removing the final reason I had left to live. I hadn’t quite come up with the plan yet, and hadn’t truly decided to carry through with it even if I did. It was just an option I was kicking around because I seemed to be on a downward spiral, and maybe it would be better to end it all rather than wait to hit bottom. I was about 50/50 when it came to any suicide decision, like I was about most decisions any more. I had almost entirely lost the ability to care about anything. No option seemed especially better or worse than any other. Life or death. Pleasure or pain.  I was running on pure momentum. My life had become senseless routine devoid of any purpose. All the days seemed identically grey. I reacted to the needs and demands of others as little as necessary, and the rest of the time retreated into isolation where I could escape from reality while I shut down my brain with alcohol.

None of that stuff above is what I’m calling “the wall” mind you. This was just the final phase of what I should have recognized as “early warning signs.”

I hit the wall that morning as I roused myself. I looked around the room and in a stunning moment my grey world splashed back into color. At that same moment a realization hit me with pure clarity and rock-solid certainty: I was going to die. Soon. This wasn’t some psychic premonition. This was a simple fact. I knew it like I know that if I drop a heavy object, it will fall. Pure reality. This is just how the world works, and it doesn’t matter if I understand why. I was about to die. My opinion on the matter made no difference. This life was about to end. Period.

Then came my second thought… maybe I wouldn’t have to actually die when this life ended. I realized that I had exactly two options. I could end my life by accepting my impending death, or I could end my life by dramatically changing it … leaving the current life behind and creating another one. However this wasn’t exactly an easy escape. I knew the fundamental transformation required went far beyond simply “stop drinking.” It meant THE change I had always tried to avoid. The change I had in fact promised my spouse I would never do. The change I had promised myself I would never do.

I wasn’t certain I could survive an attempt to make this change either. I thought I might already be too late. I might have waited too long. The end of this life was the certain thing. My ability to change quickly enough to avoid loss of life itself seemed only a faint possibility. To adopt an American football metaphor, my life was down to the last few seconds of the game clock, and the only possibility of  avoiding a loss was to call a hail mary pass on my final play.

For reasons I don’t understand, the momentary recession of my grey state of consciousness allowed me to care again. Once that was restored I realized I wanted to live. I needed to take my single chance and try it… even though I had very little hope it could ever succeed.

I spent most of that day researching mental health specialists who treated gender identity issues. And the rest… well the rest is the story of my transition. You can read about that in plenty of other posts here. In short, it has gone well. Better than I could ever have believed when I decided to give it a try as my last chance for life.

The old life did, in fact, end. When people ask me if I could ever “change back,” I just smile and shake my head no. There is no life to return to now. That life is over. That person no longer exists. I couldn’t “go back” if I wanted to. Neither my intentions nor my opinions can change this. It’s simple reality.

I think about this a lot when I talk to younger people who are experiencing the first notions that they might actually be transsexual, and even more when I talk to older people who seem to know they are transsexual but have decided to never transition anyway. In both cases I’m torn about the advice to give, and mystified why I feel so compelled to give it. I suppose it’s because others are out there giving advice who have no experience with “the wall,” or are skeptical about how common such a thing could be.

I have heard more than one person offer the advice to “do as little as you must” to relieve gender dysphoria. Among other things, this means that if you don’t feel like you must transition, then don’t. That’s terrific advice… presuming you know they’ll never hit the wall. It’s damned cruel advice if you know they will hit the wall. And it’s irresponsible advice if you have no idea.

Because my own experience followed that very advice right into the wall. Then it was “transition or die.” And “die” seemed by far the more likely outcome by that point. I would NEVER advise anyone else to do the same.

But I would also never advise any kind of  “pre-emptive transition,” just to be safe from hitting the wall. If you’re not transsexual, transition is going to kill you as surely as not transitioning would have killed me. And you won’t know for certain that you’re transsexual until you either hit the wall or sort out your mind well enough ahead of that point.

The WPATH Standards of Care begin with psychiatric evaluation for an important reason – when transition is on the table you’re putting your life on the line.  Those who don’t understand “the wall” see the danger if you DO transition. But those of us who once hit “the wall” know very well there’s just as much danger if you don’t.

So my advice to anyone who is pondering transitioning OR not transitioning while battling with their gender identity is to seek professional help. Seeking therapy does NOT automatically put you on the road to transition. The purpose is to help you figure out what is the right path for yourself before it’s too late.

Transition radically transforms your life, your relationships, and the lives of those closest to you. That’s major stuff and should be never be undertaken for the wrong reasons.

But looking back I now see that the most damage I did to myself, my relationships, and my family came during the period where I was avoiding getting the help I needed. That was so close to being the final chapter of the life.

The wall is not a benevolent moment of clarity saving you from the risk of transitioning for the wrong reasons. It’s a crushing encounter with reality that may kill you all by itself. It’s not something to look forward to meeting. Once you hit it is your final, not your best, chance to fix your life before you lose it.

Read Full Post »

Now that it’s barely in my system any longer, I’m beginning to appreciate the role of testosterone in human history. Or at least as much of it as I can intuit from its effect on sports fandom. Hear me out here. It sounds silly, but I’m actually kind of serious.

Before transitioning, one of the many things I tried to use as a proxy for the repressed emotions of gender dysphoria was fanatic devotion to my chosen sports teams. I didn’t really fit the normal “guy” stereotype for being  a super-fan in any sense except the emotional intensity I invested into the games. I really, intensely cared about the outcome of each game – and especially the outcome of the season as a whole. If one of my favorite teams lost I reacted like someone close to me had died. E learned over time to leave me alone and keep the kids away following any… and I mean ANY… loss by one of MY teams. This seems a little silly to me now, but it was pretty serious stuff in our household. Any time it means the difference between yelling at your kids or hugging them, it’s not a minor thing.

And then came transition. And with transition came a hormone adjustment which stripped nearly all the testosterone out of my system (last checked I was in the very low normal range for testosterone in an adult female). And since I didn’t realize this would change anything about my sports team emotional ride, I’ve been prepared for the same thing. But then… it hasn’t happened. And I’ve got three solid examples now to draw upon for evidence.

This summer I was happily following baseball through the Minnesota Twins. The Twins had a great season, made the playoffs, there was talk of a World Series run… and then they promptly lost three straight games to the New York Yankees, ending their season. I was disappointed. But that’s all. No big emotional toll there. Life went on no worse than if I had disliked a particular episode of any other favorite television show.

I mostly chalked that up to the fact that baseball is not my favorite sport. That would be football (the American kind for you readers from elsewhere). And football season was already underway. My favorite pro team and favorite college team both looked poised for big seasons. Surely this explained why I wasn’t so impacted by the baseball loss.

The pro team, the Minnesota Vikings, faltered first. They lost their first game. Then their second. Won their third. Lost their fourth. A horrible beginning. And in each case I shrugged it off with no more serious an effect than I did with the Twins.

Once again I chalked this up to another factor. Pro football was not my favorite anyway. That would be college football. And my favorite team there was undefeated and rising fast in the polls. With my busy life I supposed I only had time to truly care about this one team.

And so, today, the mighty Nebraska Corkhuskers lost yet another heartbreaking game to the Texas Longhorns, dropping four perfectly placed potential touchdown passes on the way to a single touchdown loss. Many shouts and gasps were uttered as hopes shattered over the course of a few hours. Devastating.

E grew very silent and shooed the kids from the room. Surely, the expected emotional avalanche was about to ensue. I was prepared for it as well. I had been really into the game just like always. And it was a game I had really wanted them to win.

But suddenly I realized… even before the final seconds ticked off the clock… I was already getting over it. It had been a good game. It was exciting. My team was still good. They made too many mistakes, but they’d live to play another day. Why let it ruin my mood? And just like that, I was over it. There was no bout of pouting or “leave me alone” isolation. I not only wasn’t emotionally broken up over the loss, but  it didn’t even make sense to me that I should be.

I was suddenly of a mind to remember how my mom and sister – big football fans both – reacted to such things so differently than my dad and brother the whole time I grew up. They’d cheer just as wildly as the games were played. They’d cheer the big wins and curse at the losses (though perhaps more politely). But then… they were over it. Time to get back to the important things in their life. Some game played by other people – no matter how beloved – just didn’t have a serious effect upon them after it was over. Dad and brother (and myself in former days) carried the joy or pain from the wins and losses with us much more tangibly and personally and far longer.

I had never before associated these different reactions with hormones. But I’m starting to think they play a major role. Because I spent forty years watching this stuff with lots of testosterone in my system, during which I reacted just like the men in my family – even though in recent years I was well aware of my transgendered nature, and didn’t feel like I must act that way any more. But  just about exactly one year since going on a full dose of female hormones it’s just… different now. Now I’m reacting much more like the women in my family, and it’s not due to any kind of conscious  effort to change on my part. Heck I sort of tried to get devastated over the loss today, and I certainly expected to. But it’s simply not there anymore. I simply can’t make myself feel with the intensity I used to feel about the results of a competitive game played by third parties. It’s still exciting to watch and to cheer for. But it’s no longer personal to me or my life.

Now carry that thought into how it might relate to human history. I happen to believe (thought it’s surely an arguable point) that competitive sports fill a social role in modern society much like wars between tribes, cities, and nation states played in the past. Competitive sports provide an acceptable (and less destructive) channel for the same kinds of natural urges to compete and dominate and establish honor which seem universal to human societies across history and culture.

If my first hand observations are correct about the effect of testosterone upon the importance of competition – and especially the emotional importance based upon winning or losing – then just imagine how many wars must have been fought for reasons not all that unlike feeling upset over ones’ team losing a football game.

For all the talk about estrogen making one more susceptible to emotion, and for all the stereotypes about women being more sensitive and emotional in general, I frankly don’t think most women have the faintest idea how seriously and deeply men are driven to be emotionally invested in competition. The depth of caring that goes into competitive results seems to ride along with testosterone level.

So maybe it’s time to stop blaming Helen for launching those thousand ships.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »