You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2010.

I find that working and actually getting out (as opposed to being unemployed and staying home) helps me a lot– the experiences lead to an introspective evaluation of how I’m handling various issues– my self-confidence, my adjustment to living full-time, the internalization of my name change, of my beauty, of my strength.  Just being at home doesn’t allow for enough variety to keep my brain in an analytical mode and the new experiences aid the examination of parallel events, or at least things that dovetail with what I’m going through.

Since I mentioned working, let me say a bit about the new job– I suppose that it’s going pretty well: the work is interesting (and confidential, so I can’t say too much) and the pay is better than UI. And I had to get a photo taken for a security badge on my first day. I spent some time that morning getting ready– I did my make-up, hair, everything. And I have a picture that’s not half bad. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that it’s good. And for the last several weeks I’ve been spending some time looking at the picture of that woman and realizing that she’s pretty; that I’m pretty, and I wonder sometimes when the hell that happened.

As it turns out, it’s a rare day where I don’t get a compliment of some kind on my clothes, my hair, or whatever. Not that I’m shallow as all that might indicate, but it is a remarkable self-esteem booster when you’re told several times a day by several different people that your hair looks fantastic.  Just this week I was told that I looked like I should be the chairwoman of something-or-other– wearing a snappy jacket and pencil skirt seems to have that effect.  

This particular shift in my perception, that maybe I am beautiful, led me to do something extraordinarily drastic on Memorial Day– I bought a bikini. I’ve never owned a bikini, and even as a guy when I was allowed to walk around without a shirt on, I was usually too shy to do so even at the beach. So I got a bikini. And I went to the beach and actually took off my coverup and walked up and down the beach in not much more than a square foot of white fabric with black polka dots (yes, I’m exaggerating, but for any woman who’s ever walked anywhere in a bikini, the first several minutes are exhilarating and terrifying and liberating and-Jesus-Christ-this-bathing-suit-feels-awfully-small-and-is-it-warm-enough-to-take-off-this-cover-up? all at the same time.

That experience reminded me a lot of last year’s Memorial Day: the first time I ever went to the beach in a proper bathing suit at all.  I was terrified that I was being stared at, that people were ogling the tranny to laugh at her/it/shim once I was out of earshot.  What I realized last year was that I earned as much attention as any other woman in her early 30s in a one-piece bathing suit: which is to say, not much.

This year’s experience with the bikini led me to understand that no one was paying attention to me because I was trans, they were looking because there’s more of my breasts out than in (I’d like to thank all the boys who unknowingly provided their cooperation for this social experiment).  I had absolutely no bad experiences, either at the beach or sunbathing at my condo’s pool.

The conclusion I walked away with, namely that not many people are seeing a trans woman so much as they’re just seeing a woman, is something that’s been circularly reinforced through my experience at work– I’m not out there, except as a lesbian, and while I’m sure that some people may suspect that I’m trans, no one has said anything as yet and I don’t expect them to.  That allows for more confidence, which in turn allows for me to be more daring, more myself, I guess, than I might otherwise get a chance to be.

On Friday, I had a co-worker ask me about being in a married lesbian relationship.  I confess that I wasn’t entirely honest with her and I’m more than a little uncomfortable about the duplicity– I’ve never been ashamed to admit that I’m trans, not ever, not to anyone.  I’ve been ashamed that I am trans– that part of who I am includes having lived as a man for the first 30 years of my life, but I’ve never before deceived anyone about my history.

The reasoning is complicated and I didn’t entirely think it all through prior to answering.  Part of my rationale for not wanting to out myself is my bathroom privilege: I may feel a little unusual about going in the XX’s room each time I have to pee, but it’s getting a lot more habitual.  I don’t feel a complete fraud anymore, just a little afraid of having someone find out that I’m trans and raising hell that I don’t belong there.  In other words, I’m more afraid of others’ perception of my gender identity rather than questioning my own position.  In a way, I’m privileging their misapplication of my gender identity but I’m also at work and just trying to earn a paycheck so we can pay the mortgage each month so it’s not all about upsetting society’s system of gender identity status quo.

I’ve not said much about the reasons for leaving my previous job, but perhaps I can leave it here: I consider outing myself as a transsexual to be a threat to my continued employment.  I don’t want people to see that as a liability and ask for me to be reassigned (read: fired, laid-off or severed).

So, I lied to one of my co-workers.  Well, I didn’t so much lie as just leave out a lot of pertinent details.  I didn’t out myself, I explained that my marriage to Christine was valid through the exploitation of a legal loophole: that while we were still legally married, the current law under prop 8 says that if we were to meet today we’d no longer be allowed to get married.  The question went from there into more legal and less personal terrain, a fact for which I was silently thankful.

The conversation (and the co-worker’s more or less innocent questions) didn’t upset me so much as my own behavior did– I automatically withdrew in an effort to protect my privacy, propping up a facade of having always been a girl.  In fact, I find that the longer I live full time and the better I pass, the more I’ve been re-writing my history, swapping out pronouns and changing little details from my childhood.  Some of those changes are sensible– the way brothers and sisters fight isn’t actually much different than how my brother and I were, so there’s no real need to embellish.  It’s just that… I wasn’t his sister.

As this happens though, what I’m seeing is that parts of my past are being shed, that the facade is replacing the truth, and I’m not entirely comfortable with that.  I’m not ashamed of being trans, but I don’t want it to cost me a job.  I don’t want to lie, but I’m afraid of telling the truth.  I worry that I’m not being true to myself anymore, forsaking the person I am for who others think I should be.

It’s always a tricky thing for a trans person to figure out how much detail they might wish to share with a person.  Obviously, in situations where my economic security isn’t an issue, I make absolutely no secret about being trans.  But in the case of my job, where being trans might be an issue, I’m trying to be more private without necessarily being dishonest.

One of the things I had said when I first started transitioning was that I was still the same person.  All the things that had happened to me previously had still happened to me, they were still a part of my life.  As I go through this, I find that’s not necessarily the case.  Some of those things feel like they happened to a different person and I know about them the same way I might know the details of a movie’s plot– not because I was there but simply because I saw.  It’s not that those things didn’t happen to me, it’s that those experiences don’t resonate quite the same way as they used to.

Male-gender-specific experiences, like renting a tux for prom are part of who I am, part of my collected experiences, but not necessarily useful ones.  There are large pieces of my socialization as a girl that are missing– after all, it’s not like I can really pretend that I’ve been dress shopping for a high school prom, or even a friend’s wedding.  In that sense, it’s the problem that trans people have with being socialized by their birth gender and not their gender of identity.

Some trans people will talk about certain things that make (or have made) their gender dysphoria go away– I could usually avoid thinking about being trans when I was busy having a fun time on a vacation, for example.  Those experiences transcend my gender identity and remain a large influence on my life– I still talk about things I did or places I’ve been.

So what about those experiences that don’t transcend gender, that feel out of touch with my new life– how much of my past am I allowed to re-write?  At what point does it go from re-gendering to excessive fabrication?  I don’t actually want an answer on this– after all, it’s a grey area that constantly shifts and evolves based on various conditions, but it’s still an important question to answer.  My current non-answer for work-based situations is that I will not out myself as a transsexual.  Whatever I need to do to make sure that doesn’t happen is periphery.  I expect that to change over time, this is just where I’m starting from.

A big part of this is that I want to control the situations in which I’m outed, which makes this news so encouraging– unlike our Social Security accounts, trans people no longer need GRS in order to get gender marker changes on passports.  All it takes is a certification from a doctor that transition is complete, and that’s it.  So, after my trach shave this coming week, I’m getting my passport updated.  It’s a different kind of personal history re-writing, but a very vital part– it allows me to move through society without hassle, allows people to see me as I am, not as I was.

Being able to get my passport changed means that trans people are able to define themselves based on their own terms, their own rules, rather than the arbitrariness of the cissexual establishment.  Too, after I get GRS, I can amend my birth certificate and social security accounts– there won’t be a single scrap of anything left to indicate that I was born male bodied.  As I’m wondering about how much of my personal history I can edit, it occurs to me that amending my birth certificate is another way of editing one’s personal history.  How much of ourselves can we re-write without losing those vital components of ourselves, those things that make us uniquely ourselves, without losing the experiences that have brought us where we are?  I see this re-writing of our personal histories as a complete erasure of our trans identities, a thing that is both good and bad.

The positive side is that it eases the person into their new role– effectively aiding those who want to be stealth.  The negative aspect is that, in my opinion, it makes it seem like being trans in the first place is something which we would want to hide, something of which we’re ashamed, which, essentially, is perfectly true, at least for me.  Something that has helped me a lot has been a more positive way of thinking– one of my friends told me that every time I felt bad about myself, I should say something like, “I’m proud of myself,” or “I’m beautiful”.  In other words, that being trans isn’t something which we should have to hide or something of which we ought to be ashamed.  Consequently, the idea of erasing my male past, of pretending that I was never male bodied seems counter-intuitive to the notion of being proud as a transsexual.  It certainly seems contrary to the idea of helping those trans women who will come after me, if I were to act as though I was never in their situation.

On the other hand, there’s certainly some weight to the counter-argument that we, as trans people, ought to be able to control whether we’re outed to someone.  Our identity documents or bank accounts shouldn’t be doing that against our wishes.  Controlling to whom we’re outed is an effort to exert control over our own lives, something that I think is really behind the entire effort of transition.

I don’t think that transition is strictly a means for trans people to control their lives, though.  It’s also a way for the cissexual establishment to control the radical idea of gender variance.  Transition is a means to conform to the world around us, to adapt to society’s bipolar gender system.  Transition is such an effective solution because the alternative, outward gender variance, isn’t a welcome position for a person to occupy in most of the world.  We try to conform to the convention of gendered words such as man or woman when the truth is that those words can sometimes be woefully inadequate to describe the variety of trans and genderqueer people.  As a woman, I feel like I must have breasts, a vulva, long hair and use make-up.  I feel like we’re stuck with these words and conventions that cissexual people use to describe themselves and those words don’t always fit as well as we hope they might.  The best words are sometimes alienating and clinical, disheartening and cruel.  In an effort to fit in, we adopt words that aren’t ours and the group of people for whom those words were designed insist on applying them based on their definitions, not ours, and people get hurt.

The question at the heart of this line of reasoning is this: why ought a person have to transition anyway?  Why the drive to abide by someone else’s notion of “normal”?  Whatever I am, I’m trying to conform to society’s notion of how women ought to be and behave but there are things about me that will always make me worlds different than my sisters, even if only by genetics.  My parents, or at least my mother, seem to think that I won’t fully be a woman until I get surgery, as though no longer having a penis will make me a woman. I think that I have to be a woman first, that the body completes what’s inside, not the other way around.  A man who loses his penis in accident, for example, isn’t automatically a woman by default, so it’s obviously more complicated than that. This is part of the reason I believe that surgery isn’t a magic cure– it’s a tool, a way to accomplish a certain goal, but not the endgame itself.

I’m not trying to badmouth surgery or the concept of transition, just in case you’re wondering.  While there aren’t answers, at least not concrete ones, to any of my questions, the consideration of these various facets is important, a part of weighing the options, of counting the cost.  I’m trying to hold all these different contradictory positions, trying to make sense out of them all, trying to see if (and how) they all fit together in a cohesive whole.  I’m sure it seems that my writing is more than a little bipolar (or contradictory) at times, vacillating between a position that transition is salvation and transition is a tool of the cissexual establishment to control gender variance.  I think the truth is that transition is both and neither and I think that a lot of my posts over the past several months explore different sides of this spectrum, this inherently self-contradictory existence.

Finding my way through the maze of uncertainty, figuring out where the truth of my experiences lies, is something of a moving target– the goal posts will shift again this week after my trach shave and there’s less need to out myself based on an ambiguous physical morphology.  There will be some adjustment required, a period of getting used not only to my own body, but to the way that people treat me.  I won’t, for example, need to select the best photographs based on camera angles that don’t show my Adam’s apple.  A shallow example, maybe, but the removal of the prominent indicators of transsexualism can easily change how people see me, and certainly how I see myself.

This is just one more step in the process.  It seems that as the process nears completion, the man will continue to become less and less important as the woman waxes full.  Part of the final goal is figuring out how all my experiences will work together– how much of the person I was will continue to exist in the person I am, the person I will become?  This has always been an issue, and part of being an out and proud trans woman meant that I wouldn’t have to sacrifice (at least not completely) the person I was for the person I now am.  In other words, I’d always told my wife (and believed it myself) that I’d still be the same person.  Now I’m wondering how much of that statement is really true.