LGTBQ

Six truths about my gender transition.

Since transitioning, more and more truths bubble to the surface as the weeks and months tick by. Having come up on the three-year mark, I've noticed some trends, assumptions or misconceptions that I thought I could address and clear up. Rather than writing from the "don't do or say these things" voice that speaks for everyone and no one, I'm writing to YOU about ME.

Did I not cover something else you're interested in hearing more about? Do write me a sentence with the subject line: OTHER TRUTHS and your question. I'm collecting ideas and questions.

Here we go!

 

credited to Maggie Kuhn

credited to Maggie Kuhn

  1. I don’t identify as male

That's right. I don't. Since transitioning, I do identify as a transgender person, because that's what I am. If there was a third socially acceptable pronoun to use, one that was widely used and convenient, I would choose and use it. For now, I tolerate "he/him/him" because it feels more right than "she/her/hers". Many people keep commenting on my pictures putting me in the "other box" but it's not who I feel or know myself to be. I wasn't female before and I'm male now: I was ALWAYS transgender. 

       2. My family does not support me or my decision

Someone came up to me at a panel I sat on and congratulated me on all my career and personal success. "Your mother must be so proud," she said. Unfortunately, it's not so. My family severed communication with me around 2009 and haven't really responded when I've reached out since. I try to connect with my mom here and there and have hope that she'll get some support but I'm not sure. I don't feel animosity or anger toward any of them, but it's important to me that people know the truth because it's a huge part of my transition process. It's something many people fear when making a major life change and I hope my truth will help people make choices despite the opinions of others. And live lives they love despite the absence or disapproval of their family of origin. It's an unfortunate challenge, indeed, but not impossible.

       3. I wasn’t born in the wrong body

While I did have a procedure to alter my physical form, I don't feel I was born in the wrong body. I lived quite happily for most of my life and then, when it felt time to change things a bit here and there, I did that. I wasn't "wrong" and now I'm "right", I'm just a bit more comfortable. Both trans and cis people use this narrative which underscores the truth of us all being works in process, especially our relationships to our physical selves. Ask yourself when your body became a battleground? The parts of my body that bugged me before STILL bug me but I'm not going to chase the dangling carrot of perfection for the rest of my life. I'm content, for now, as much as I can be on a daily basis. A bit more, and a bit less than my whole life. If or when I feel compelled to change anything else, like adding more tattoos, I will. 

       4. It didn't make me perfect

Just because I share my story, which is rare compared to some, in positive ways as often as I can, I am not perfect. I see people casting me in this incredibly favorable light but trust me, I have bad, very bad, days and I often feel very discouraged, frustrated and angry. It annoys me that people ask me for free advice or send me news stories of other transgender people but don't lift up my voice by sharing my blog posts or invite me to their workplace to give a training. I put a ton of pressure on myself to be rather Jesus-like about this and sometimes I let myself feel exploited or victimized or tokenized more often than is productive for me. And then I let that go and I phone a friend (trans or cis) and sauté some kale or read a book and go back to being a human being. I'm a work in progress, trying to take care of myself and treat others well, just like everyone else. Well, those who are trying to do those things, of course.

       5. I struggle with being objectified.

I always felt like an ugly duckling. As a young person, I wasn't sought out for dates or relationships. I was pretty asexual throughout high school and college. It wasn't until my early 20s that I began to experience myself as "attractive" to other people. Since transitioning, I struggle to know or trust that the comments or compliments people make are genuine or coming from fetishizing me as a rare or unique transgender person. Also, it makes me sad because I'd rather be celebrated for my character traits than my physical appearance. But human beings objectify people, we sort and categorize because we are genetically and biologically hardwired to do it. And we do it for certain people who match certain acceptable cultural norms and every time someone compliments me, my heart hurts for people who don't receive the same compliments for physical traits they can't control. 

         6. I've never been undressed by more people.

It's true. Since transitioning, I've never before experienced so many people undressing me with their eyes or checking out my body during conversation. Having never experienced this in my former identities, I find it amusing, mostly because people think I am not smart or savvy enough to notice. A surprising amount of glances go to my chest and nether-regions and it catches me off-guard most of the time. I wonder if cisgender people do this with other cisgender people as often, if they are as deeply curious about "what lies beneath". Do they realize the wide variety that occurs with human anatomy of all beings, trans or not, and ponder it during networking events, lunches, presentations and meetups? Do they? I wonder. Interesting stuff!

Signing up to be stigmatized: why it's so hard to come out and why we celebrate when someone does

I woke up this morning and heard the news that Ellen Page came out as gay, which was great because it left me wondering, “hmm, not a lesbian? ok. cool” and there was that question in my mind about her choice of label. Maybe it was intentional, maybe not. I also noticed the way her right hand shook and moved about, keeping time and meter with her speech, as if its motion provided her comfort that as long as it moved, she could keep talking. I’ve felt that same feeling, rather like facing a firing squad. It is exhilarating and horrible, in equal amounts.

ellen
ellen

And then all the People of the Land rejoiced that yet another person stood up on a stage and shared something extremely intimate and personal to “help others”. All the People of the Land celebrated another person facing and overcoming the decision to face a lifetime of being stigmatized based on one identity of many that made that person a whole person. And they applauded her courage and bravery and welcomed her into The Club--the association of people who lead the pack of being open, honest and vulnerable while others live their lives off the radar of dissection, opinion and criticism.

Ellen Page came out. Michael Sam came out. We see these headlines and then we see the backlash and the flag-waving supporters and it’s a media frenzy. I sit and wonder why we are still dealing with this issue of stigma. What are we being taught? What have we not yet learned about stigma and difference?

"Overcome the notion that you must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary."  

-Uta Hagen

Something that occurred to me while reading the post on Autostraddle about Ellen and the video of her coming out at the HRC event was the bittersweet quality of coming out. It prompted me to write this piece about what it means to sign up for a lifetime of being stigmatized, why it’s hard to take it on and why we celebrate when someone does.

First, I gotta say this. LGBTQ people aren’t the only ones living outside the lines and they aren’t the only ones being brave and outspoken. The big elephant in the room here is that there are no lines. We celebrate people coming out of the closet, specifically about sexual identity, because we think it signifies someone defying norms and not being afraid to be different. It’s a hoax, folks. There actually is no such thing as normal. There is nothing but difference all around us. We fool ourselves into thinking this isn’t the case and the truth is staring us in the face. Coming out moments are mere reminders that we aren’t honoring the reality, the pure, naked, obvious reality that this country (and world) is still a place that sees differences as differences instead of the truth about us humans. Uniqueness is the only true norm we share in common.

Coming out represents what it means to be stigmatized, to be separated from “the pack” based on something that makes you different in some way. It’s hard to do that, to expose this thing (or things) that make you different because often that becomes the only thing that people see. They miss the kaleidoscope of your complex identity because “the thing” blinds them.

It’s also hard when others get to play it safe and not be so brave because their identities make it easier to cheer from the sidelines. People, like Ellen Page who are "lying by omission", get to choose the level to which they open the closet and expose their skeletons, or whatever the heck else is hanging out in there.

It’s hard to come out when you know the things people hide, things that aren’t socially acceptable, and yet everyone does a great job of faking it. They hide it. They play the part so well that everyone else is convinced they are the broken, weird one and then no one feels comfortable to be authentic. And because no one feels comfortable, many people hurt the ones who DO step outside the lines (those lines that aren’t real, remember) to make an example out of those who dare to live out their difference. Sometimes, the brave ones get tired of being brave and take out their pain, called internalized oppression, on each other. The “community” can sometimes become anything but a safe place to be different.

That’s why we celebrate so much when someone does come out--about something, anything that is stigmatized. Divorce, abortion, rape, religion, weight, height, adoption, stay-at-home dads, mompreneurs, learning disabilities, to name just a few. When someone speaks up or comes forward we celebrate, individually and collectively, because it shifts the culture one notch closer to the reality we all seek and crave: a culture that accepts human uniqueness and complexity as a given and the only true norm. It reminds us of something we understand but is deeply nestled in our brains: stigma only exists because we’ve failed to make it obselete.

I look forward to the day that coming out becomes boring and commonplace and people don’t feel like they are facing a firing squad of their peers, who, ironically, would probably be facing a squad of a different sort.

But for now, every time someone comes out, we will celebrate. We will celebrate the surmounting of silence over the persistence of stigma. We will celebrate the liberation of a hidden truth and we will feel inspired to be a bit more authentic, ourselves.

In other news, how did I NOT KNOW about this HRC "Time to Thrive" conference? #signmeupfornextyear

We All Want to Feel OK.

  We all want to feel OK. We want someone to tell us that our dress looks nice, that our haircut works and our cooking skills are decent. That we are good parents. That what we do makes a difference in the world.

Day in and day out, we get all these messages from the media telling us how to think, feel, act, walk and even talk! I remember the facebook group I joined years ago that was called, "I judge you when you use poor grammar". What an ass I was back then.

If I've learned nothing else from this past year, I learned the universal need to feel included, to not feel weird, to feel OK. Belonging and acceptance are things we all need and crave, no matter who we are. Whether it's my LGBTQ friends who just had a baby and got asked some wacky questions or my heterosexual friend who painted her son's toenails yellow while on vacation this summer.

Wait. I'll slow down for a second.

Yes, she's heterosexual and cisgender (meaning, her birth sex and her chosen gender are a good fit for her) and she painted her sons toenails. He's two and adorable and he saw his mom using a brush with colored paint and wanted in on that fun. Um, sounds like something any kid would do when something that looks like art supplies are around, right? Right. And for some of my queer and queer-friendly pals, this is like a no-brainer. Freedom of gender expression at age two? Why not?!

But this was the response my friend got:

"Oh my God. His toes are painted"

"Ehhh, how does his Dad like that?"

Not only were these people judging her choices as a parent, they were also making (negative) assumptions and assertions about her friends. Not cool.

Many people in the LGBTQ community spend a lot of time focusing on the courage it takes to be themselves. There is a lot of focus and talk about the challenges people face just waking up and being our amazing selves each day. Add different identities to the mix like race, physical abilities and class, and the challenges multiply.

We all want to feel OK and be treated with respect. 

And everyone else feels the same way, LGBTQ or not. The courage it took for my friend to paint her son's nails is the same courage anyone needs to face any sort of rejection. She probably knew that she'd get a different reaction from folks that day than if someone more open-minded were sitting there beside her, cheering her on and telling her she missed a spot, but she took a deep breath and did it anyway. It was an expression of who she is, as a person.

Her need to feel ok is the same as my friends, a lesbian couple, who adopted a baby, recently. Instead of the normal questions like, "so, how much does he weigh? is he sleeping through the night?" they got asked things like, "so, which one of you is the man?"

That's another post for another day.

But hopefully you get the point. Putting yourself out there takes guts, no matter who you are. We all want to be OK and there's really no hierarchy when it comes to vulnerability, shame and the desire to feel accepted and included, exactly as we are. 

Brene Brown is rocking this topic like a champ, lately, so if you need more inspiration around shame, I highly recommend her work.

and while you're clicking around, go visit my friend Michelle Pfennighaus, the toenail painter I mentioned, and send her some love for being her brave, authentic self. Her website is right here: http://findyourbalancehealth.com/

If we all want the same thing, what are you doing to help make it happen? Are you focusing so much on your own feelings of fitting OUT that you are missing how connected you are to others?

Do you think you can change the world, one person at a time, just by being yourself?

I'm doing a lot of work on this lately, so I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Please share below.