Buddhism

Five Gifts I’ve Received From My Transition

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  It’s a nice coincidence that Transgender Awareness Month is ending just as we celebrate Thanksgiving. It's true that as part of my gender transition process, I celebrated the holiday this year neither with my family nor as part of the relationship I had shared for the past five years. While there were many painful feelings present, it wasn’t all that was there. My spiritual practice helps me put all things in perspective and, upon further reflection, this experience helped me to realize several gifts I’ve received from my transformation.

Finding and feeling gratitude and joy for the gifts we receive from experiences of adversity help us balance the pain of loss, sadness and grief. 

Some might call this process of introspection and meaning-making to be selfish navel-gazing. I call it my path to enlightenment which basically means I get to feel awesome more often and shitty less often. Whatever can help me do that in a way that works and lasts, I’m all for it. No doubt, if you’re reading this, you’re drawn to the same desire. You’re going through something that has tested you in some way, or have already done so, and want to know what to do with those thoughts and feelings so you can get to the part where you feel some relief.

So, insofar as it’s helpful and enlightening to you, as this month of seeing and understanding the transgender experience more closely comes to a close, here are five gifts I’ve received from my experience so far.

1. Developing a new capacity for compassion. It’s said that those who find and really understand Buddhism (and other religions or spiritual paths) are those who have experienced the greatest suffering. I absolutely fall into that category, from countless experiences before and since my gender transition, and my own awareness of my life experiences helps me to deeply understand and relate to the suffering, struggle and joy of all people better than I ever did before. Before my gender transition, I danced around this experience by picking and choosing who deserved my patience and compassion. Since choosing to transition, I see much more clearly the connectedness, the relativity and patterns of the human experience. Making space for my process and practicing tremendous acceptance and compassion for myself, where others haven’t been able to, helps me make space for others in ways I couldn’t before.

2. Going undercover every day. So, I will admit that it’s pretty damn cool to live two lives in one lifetime. I spent 34 years as one person and now get to move through the world for the rest of my life like I’m wearing a costume or going undercover every day.  Truthfully, I still feel like the same person because I am the same person. The only thing that’s different is how people interact with me based on who or what they think they see or know. More often than not, I find it quite comical and extremely enlightening. It’s humbling to see what I thought I knew about the world. Since processing through much of the pain and anger associated with such profound disorientation and transformation, I actually laugh to myself on a daily basis when women treat me like I don’t have a brain or when men accept me as “one of the boys”. Can you imagine waking up and experiencing the world as a completely different person midway through your life? It is equal parts fun, weird and profoundly confusing. It’s fascinating stuff and I feel like the Terminator, scanning for and detecting data in each human interaction.

3. A whole new relationship to my body.  Like many people, for most of my life, I was at war with my body. Department store dressing rooms were torture chambers and getting dressed every day was an agonizing chore. I cannot explain exactly why just yet, but since my transition it feels like the war is over. There are many daily battles but nothing near what I experienced before making this decision. I think because I had to think so intimately about it, like when I chose to quit being a teacher, and then become a vegetarian, then a lesbian, and then just a person, I reached a real peace and serenity with my choice. I think learning that only I could choose to flip the switch, and making the choice to do it, helped me come to value and appreciate my body more, maybe for the first time in my life. It’s like we’re in this thing together, now. Maybe the hormones help. Maybe they actually turned off some receptor somewhere deep in my brain. Maybe it’s for reasons I haven’t yet determined or will ever understand. Not a day goes by where I don’t reflect on my decision but I never regret it. It was mine, and only mine, to make. The days I spent frustrated and confused in my previous form are over and are now replaced with new and different feelings. The new ones are also difficult but easier, now, somehow.

4. A new voice. I never appreciated my old singing voice until I lost it. The first few months of my voice change were extremely difficult as note after note disappeared. When I finally realized I couldn’t sing along to Brandi Carlile or Patty Griffin, two of my most favorite artists, it was a very difficult few weeks. Now, two years later, my voice almost perfectly matches those of James Taylor and Michael Buble. Don’t tell anyone I sing along to Michael Buble and no one gets hurt, ok? As I grieved the loss of one range and experience, I welcomed a new way of expressing myself as a singer, even if I only do it to make myself smile. I’m also learning a new way to express myself in many ways, how to use my life experience and my “voice” in my writing and speaking in ways that I never have before. Sometimes I catch myself waiting for what feels like persistent laryngitis to wear off and have to remind myself that it’s definitely here to stay. Here to stay in a good and fun new way.

5. A new understanding of love. Transition of all kinds challenges relationships of all kinds. My process has tested my own love for myself and the love others have for me and themselves. We often speak and write of love as a definite like if we define and measure it and put it in a box or summarize it in a well-worded quote, we’ll know where to find it when we forget or need it. Through my interactions with family members, friends, colleagues and strangers the past few years, I’ve come to a new understanding about love. I think love is both a feeling we experience and it happens in real time, each day, as an expression in our words and actions in relation and response to the needs of others. My transition has taught me to see and accept the many different ways humans manifest this. I understand that love, like happiness, begins as an inside job and is a daily practice with ourselves and others. It’s the process of thousands and thousands of choices we are free to make from one moment to the next.

 

I’ve been living openly as a transgender person for two years and six months. I’m so new to this and will undoubtedly have new and interesting insights as the years go by but these are the greatest gifts I’ve received from the process so far.

 

In your own transition process, I hope you find these words helpful in some way.

If you would like my support, drop me a line at dillandigi [at] gmail.com

No One Can Do You Like You Do.

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  There are a lot of coaches doing the work I do.

There are a lot of people in the business of health and wellness, competing for the same time, energy, air space, resources, money, clients, etc. Sometimes it makes me a little nervous, I'll be honest. Industry experts and trade secrets tell me I am either crazy or right-on to tell you this, which is a whole other blog post for another time--that whole authenticity thing. Stay tuned for that one. For now, let's stay here--with fear, doubt and what you can do with it.

It's true. Sometimes, I get especially nervous when I see someone copying something I've just launched, taking material I put out there (maybe a recipe or a blog post or twitter bio) and passing it off as their own without a mention or reference as to the source of inspiration. Despite that old saying, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" sometimes it doesn't feel that way, especially when you're talking about building and sustaining a business. It's easy to get small and concerned and need the validation and maybe even a little frustrated when you think someone is stealing your spotlight--or your brand or your message or __something__ faster, bigger, sooner or better. Can you relate?

Well, it isn't true, because no one can do you like you do. It's just not possible.

For instance, I saw this guy online, a big twitter personality with massive numbers of followers, suddenly start talking about health and nutrition. Since he has built his business around being a guru of marketing, it surprised me that he was now talking about health and fitness considering he didn't really have "credentials" to do it. I got all up in my head thinking about his reach and his advantage, etc. etc. And I even went to that "but he knows nothing about nutrition" place. That dark, small, lonely space. Hmm.

Then, I paid closer attention and realized he was on a path, himself, to become more healthy. He was busting his ass day in and day out trying to find the answers and solutions he needed to feel better in his skin. I instantly got flooded with compassion and, I'll admit, love. He was walking his talk, just like me, trying to get from A to B and inspire people along the way. When I read his posts and followed his pictures on instagram, I realized it was nothing like what I'd do or promote or put out there as advice or ideas but his followers were eating it up, pun intended. It was working for him and that's all that mattered.

It was him doing him. And his followers needed that from him, because only he could do it like that. 

I could go on with more stories but I think you get it. Whether it's someone changing his twitter bio to match what you say in yours (it's happened to me), sending a similar message in marketing, copying your recipes and not giving you credit (it happened to my friend) or heck, copying your interior design as they open a new business right across the street from you (also a true story), it can certainly bring up feelings of frustration, concern or worry. We can go to that place of scarcity and threat, that there isn't enough to go around and someone doing what you're doing takes away from what you're trying to accomplish. Think of the hours spent in litigation (legal or mental) over things like this and how much time it takes away from actually just DOING more of the stuff you love to do?

If you can allow those feelings to come up and get them out, it's a good thing. I can even go the Buddhist place with this stuff and tell you that it's all about impermanence, right? Wanting to hold onto something and make it be ours and ours forever--and not wanting it to end. Get present with that fear, get real with that concern and talk to someone about it or write it down. Then work on getting to the place of remembering that no one, NO ONE, can do you like you do. There's only one person who can say it like you'll say it, do it like you'll do it and sell it like only YOU can sell it.

Your sass. Your wit. Your insights. Your ideas. Your color. Your character. Your wisdom. Your experience. Your perspective.

Social media shows that everyone is doing their thing, adding their two cents to the hustle and competing against hundreds and thousands of competitors.

We can get caught up in the stress of trying to win "the game" with content, messaging and marketing all hours of the day or we can relax and stay true to us and what we love and want to create and share. Besides, we're all saying or doing the same things, in case you haven't noticed. We might as well add our voice to the mix for whomever needs to hear it as only we can, and feel damn good about when others do it themselves.

Reconsider Your Complaint

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If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. -Viktor Frankl

 

If you don't know Viktor Frankl, consider reading his book, Man's Search for Meaning. He was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He wrote about his experience in concentration camps and the enlightenment he reached about making meaning from all life experiences, even the most unpleasant ones.

I've been seeing a lot of complaining on facebook lately, it's nothing new really. And friends have shared their grievances about their lives with me. Times are tough, I know.

I am not suggesting that people stop feeling bummed about difficult things. I recommend reconsidering your suffering and your complaint.

Consider that your life experiences are teaching you something, and it's possible that if you complain, you won't receive the message that's meant for you. If you're focused on the experience being a cause of suffering rather than a means for growth or evolution, it will persist.

Pema Chodron says, "nothing leaves our lives until it's taught us what we need to learn." I've seen this pattern emerge over time in my own life.

When something sucked, it usually kept sucking until I changed something about myself or the situation. When I wasn't able to change something, I usually changed my attitude about it, like Maya Angelou has suggested. Once I had moved on, I was able to see what life was trying to teach me, what the Universe was trying to give me or save me from and who I was now as a result.

This all may sound incredibly lofty and verbose. Let me give you a practical example.

I began my career as a teacher at the age of 21. I taught 5th and 8th grade for several years and loved it. I was really good with kids from a young age, so hanging out with teens was easy and fulfilling for me. During that time, I fell in love for the first time--and it was with a young woman. I myself identified as female at the time, or at least presented myself to the world that way, and so our relationship was rather taboo for where we lived in the year 2000. I never told my students. I never told my colleagues. Here's why:

One day, the vice principal walked into the room where my team of teachers sat for lunch and she announced that she thought several of the kids were "swishy". I had no idea what she meant. I sat, PB&J poised by my mouth, listening as she and the two older male teachers ran through our class roster and listed each kid they thought demonstrated homosexual tendencies. Being "swishy" meant gay, apparently.

Within a year, three months shy of being awarded tenure, I quit teaching at the age of 24. I left the career I had worked toward so diligently, because I was terrified I wouldn't be able to be my true self.

Taking that leap prepared me to take bigger ones throughout the next 10 years. It was the first of many times I realized that I couldn't thrive by hiding or acting my way through life.

For a while though, I complained about it. I kept telling the story that I "had to quit" because it wasn't safe. I told this story about a few other jobs I held, jobs where my skills, habits and patterns didn't match the environment or mission of the group at that time. I complained until I could see the bigger picture. I complained until I started to make meaning from the experience.

Years later, I am developing a thriving business as an independent coach and consultant and use each and every skill I learned to master as an educator. I draw on principles of leadership and classroom management and group facilitation. I factor in Gardner's theory of different learning styles and make my presentations dynamic, interactive and most of all, fun. I tell my groups, "hey, I taught 8th grade. If my kids had fun, I'll make sure you will, too."

If I hadn't chosen to make meaning from that experience, and instead spent the rest of my life complaining that I had to quit teaching due to discrimination, I would not be able to thrive like I am today. I would not be able to share my skills with groups, helping them learn and laugh and love their lives and their jobs more as a result. I would have left my talent sitting in a heap, stifled and stopped by the small minds of a handful of people. I know more than a handful of people don't approve of me or the way I live my life, but compared to the many who do, it feels like a handful I can handle.

I see people complaining about a lot of things that feel new, unsafe, uncomfortable or unfair.

They complain about traffic, the weather, being a parent, not being a parent, having coffee, not having coffee, losing love, broken phones, losing jobs or not getting their way about something.

Again, I'm not judging the complaints or the complainers. I complain, I just don't share my complaints on facebook, social media or these blog posts. I do that because I don't find anything inspiring about complaining, and I don't think my followers would, either.

I prefer to share whatever I come up with as a solution to the complaint I had. When I've worked through the problem, when I've made meaning from the experience, I share what I will use or do as a result.

Next time you find yourself struggling with something, feeling at a loss or overwhelmed or generally stuck in the muck in some way, reconsider your complaint and try to make meaning from the experience, instead. Reach out to friends or family to gain some perspective if that helps. Get out your feelings, vent the frustration you feel--it is a crucial part of the process of getting from point A to point B.

And share THAT, because we all need help and inspiration, more than anything else.

 

photo courtesy of Umberto Salvagnin on flikr