process

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

An Open Letter to Myself circa 2006 -- "Being Transgender is a Process, Not a Finish Line"

Hey there.

I am writing this because you will get it. You will understand now. Because you're older and wiser and your Buddhist practice has helped you come to fully understand the concept of karma. Many people understand/misinterpret it as "punishment" but you get it is more how energy sent is energy returned.

I know there was a lot going on back when you moved to Boston in 2006. Even before that, there was a lot going on. There always has been in your life because, well, it was a long climb to where you are. And not an easy climb, at that. For many years.

But here's the thing: you know you judged people. You still do. You do it because you have your own insecurities to work out, still. I get it. But back in the day, when people around you were coming out at transgender--you weren't as kind or understanding as you could have (should have) been.

And now it's you in their shoes. And now you get it.

You Really Get It Now.

You get that being transgender is a process---not an elitist race with an agreed-upon finish line. 

You get that making decisions to change your name, inject yourself with hormones and spend thousands of dollars on surgeries--or not to ever do any of these things--is an extremely difficult and complex process. I mean, damn, how many years has it taken you to get this far? And you've been dressing in men's clothes since you were able to choose what to wear so where was the mystery? You remember how bad Catholic school was-the boys were really mean because you were stronger than them and more concerned with kicking their asses than kissing them at recess. Or because you loved their green polyester ties and would have given your left arm to wear one to school everyday instead of your plaid skirt. But the skirt it was.

You get that burying your identity has been easier than giving it room and air to breathe all these years.

You get that calling yourself gender queer was your way of hiding/stalling another few years--but it's ok, because it felt right at the time.

You get that transgender looks lots of different ways for as many different people and everyone who is brave enough to even mention identifying as transgender deserves a lot of space and patience as they make the decisions they want to make to become or just be.

You get all this because...now it's you.

It's cool that it took you walking in others' shoes to become more compassionate. That's a good thing. It's cool that you can reflect on ways you could have been gentler on people who were doing their best during their own process of coming out to themselves and others.

It's cool----because internalized transphobia is a difficult thing to overcome. It's no easy task to be honest with yourself about who you are so you can be honest and compassionate and in turn, an advocate, for others.

Especially when that honesty means you living it out loud, exposed to the opinions, judgments and assumptions of other people every single day.

No shame. No blame. Just name.

Here's what I'm going to do, because now the ball's in my court.

I'm going to do the best I can to be the best ally possible. I am going to create and advocate for safe spaces for anyone based on who they are---not who they were or aren't yet. Transgender is a delicate, vulnerable place to live in---so I will do my best to make sure (not matter where I am on my own journey) that each person I meet is treated with the respect, patience and compassion you weren't able to summon when your repression was an enormously powerful force.

No matter what comes next on the path, I promise that the journey won't be forgotten and I won't judge people based on their progress toward a self-determined destination. I won't play gender police and have a sign ready when people are "male enough" or "female enough" because maybe the gender binary is not their goal. If or when I pass for male, I won't succumb to heterosexist behavior because I'll remember that passing privilege doesn't erase my past.

I will create spaces and make room where there isn't yet space for people who are brave enough to live out loud outside the boxes that our country and the world have created for the bodies that house our precious, love-filled souls. A soul doesn't know a box. It only does once it's told the box it belongs in.

Some of us feel we got the wrong box, like mail that comes to the wrong postal address. Or a salad when we ordered a burger.

I'll make space where you drew boundaries.

I'll speak up for the times you were silent.

I'll ask for the times you assumed.

I'll do what a lot of trangender people forgot once the privilege to physically evolve became no longer intangible. Even though the past is always present in the mirror and within.

I'll remember that being transgender is a process, not a finish line.

I'll do this because the scars of this process run deeper than those from my acne and tattoos.

I'll do this because you couldn't.

But I can.