transition

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!

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

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There!

Finger String

 

What happens when you sit with a difficult question or feeling?

 

People ask me about change and what to do when they come up against a difficult question or feeling. With thousands of clients, I've seen one major differentiator: the ones who sit with the feelings and the ones who run themselves into the ground trying to avoid them.

There's no denying that change can be hard. It isn't always pretty, awesome or fun. When it's challenging, our first instinct is to run to avoid the pain or difficult feelings and thoughts. I've learned this never works, in fact it often drags the painful process out even longer. As the saying goes, "you can run, but you can't hide."

Running from difficult thoughts, feelings or questions is how we avoid being present. We sometimes do this by busying ourselves with tons of tasks and responsibilities and we call it, "being responsible" or "being busy". We justify our escapism so we can validate our decision to avoid the painful stuff.

I get it. Bills need to be paid. Laundry needs to be done. Dishes need to be washed. Work tasks need to get checked off. But over time, this way of being only reinforces the muscle we have around avoiding and running. We don't strengthen the muscle of staying. We don't become more able to sit with pain and tough stuff, we just get really good at avoiding it so it never feels more likely or more possible to endure it.

We perpetuate our very predicament.

I learned to sit with hard feelings during a few different transitions in my life. When I felt challenged by something at work, with a relationship or within myself, I intentionally told myself to sit. Sometimes I even had to sit on my hands or wrap my legs around the chair rungs. When I did this enough times, I became able to sit with my thoughts, however painful or hard, and eventually I changed my perception of those thoughts. They were no longer painful or hard, they just "were". When I stopped being afraid and stopped being so busy to avoid facing my fear, I became more able to face whatever change was coming my way. I breathed more deeply, got more air in my lungs a thought more clearly.

It helped me plan my next move and helped the change process move more smoothly.

Next time something challenging or painful comes up, don't just do something---something to avoid the tough stuff---just sit there, instead.

You might be amazed how productive sitting still can be!

 

 

photo courtesy of livingaquotablelife