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I found out that I had been outed without my knowledge or permission at work– the panel of individuals that interviewed me all knew that I had transitioned before I even set foot in the door.  I don’t know how that information came up, but someone, somewhere, was claiming I wanted to be upfront about my transition so that we could focus on the job interview.  It might sound good and even though it didn’t hurt my chance of getting the job, it’s still complete bullshit.  Here’s why.

Now that I’m not surrounded every day by a bunch of people that watched me transition, I choose who I talk to about the things that are going on, I choose who I want to let in on my private life, and I can choose how much detail to reveal.  

In short, I have a little more control over my life, especially after feeling distinctly out of control for so long– the long road to and through transition has been littered with attempts to subjugate that part of me that is gender variant, especially using religion.  The thought that ‘if God had wanted me to be female, he’d have made me a girl’ kept me from transitioning for many years and only after I realized that God wasn’t doing anything about it did I decide to take matters into my own hands, to see if there was a better way than just suffering in misery, than trying to deny who I am. 

Once I got to the point of wanting to transition, one of the weird things about it, weird to me anyway, is that it’s primarily a way to help trans people fit in, and I feel like some parts of the process are things over which I don’t have any conscious choice, at least not if I want to actually succeed at fitting in as a woman.  The need to have trans people conform to the cissexual spectrum of normativity is probably at least part of the reason why some of us who don’t are othered for the rest of our lives.  I’m too tall, for example.  That girl over there, she doesn’t know enough about hair and make-up.  That one, well she can’t dress fashionably.  Cis women are permitted some of these deviations but trans women are supposed to be making an effort to blend in seamlessly, not bucking fashion and social trends.  Everyone else is being generous enough with us, thank you very much, and could we please not make people uncomfortable by being too obviously gender variant.

Passing is important, but what does it really mean?  At what point would I be considered to be passing?  Does everyone need to believe I’m a cis woman, or is there an acceptable failure rate, say 10%?  Do I need to actually be stealth, or am I allowed to be out and proud as much as I want?  Some of these ideas are mutually exclusive: if I’m out and proud for example, very few people will think I’m cis, and I’m potentially setting myself up for discrimination of some kind or other. 

Wrapped up in the concept of passing is the notion that all trans people are somehow ‘tricking’ or ‘fooling’ people into thinking that we’re cisgender, as though we are somehow responsible for the assumptions that a person makes about us.  I’ve talked about cissexual assumption before, and so don’t want to spend too much time on it, and I’ll leave it at this: if I’m just being myself, I can’t help what someone else thinks or assumes about my body.   In fact, that people’s assumptions about me or my body should even affect the way they interact with me is proof that (cis)sexism is still alive.  And it’s still bullshit. 

There have been some talk  over the internet about when trans people should out themselves, but we also need to take into account a person’s expectation of privacy (thanks to the good people at Questioning Transphobia for talking about this first).  Whether I get read as a woman isn’t really my fault, especially not if I’m just being myself.  Granted, I’m conforming to certain social norms, but those are norms that I’m comfortable with. 

If society weren’t so intolerant of gender variance such that trans people had to blend in, there’d probably be a lot less confusion and a lot less people crying about being tricked by the devious transsexuals.  Since we were allowed to start transitioning with the help of the medical community, trans women have been practically forced to fit in, and only those who had the best chances of living stealth were even allowed to transition.  It’s only been a very recent practice to allow trans people access to medical transition no matter what they look like or whether they’ll be passable (whatever that means) when everything is said and done. 

Once I found out that I wasn’t passing at work, that most of the people that I’ve worked very closely with for the last few months knew all along that I’m trans, I was crushed.  I felt like a prize idiot, walking around every day like a fucking beauty queen.  As I projected backwards, my memories of thinking that I was passing and doing so well caused me to feel only complete, abject humiliation. 

The stress at work has brought the depression back in a powerful way, but there have been some things that have helped me through it.  First is the fact that no one treats me with anything other than dignity and respect– it’s part of the reason why I’ve been so confident about passing at work.  If it were an issue, I’d be able to tell by the people who avoid me or the boys who won’t say hi when we pass in hallway each morning.

Even if it were an issue, if half the people I worked with avoided me like the proverbial leper, I’ve said before that a lot of trans women are willing to put up with all the bullshit, with all the problems and with all the hassle just for the ability to finally be themselves.  Living authentically is a powerful thing and even when my world is shaken, the knowledge that I am doing the best things that can be done for myself is at least a small comfort.  I told myself at the beginning that I would be happy as myself and that I didn’t have to be passable or beautiful.  In all honesty, all I really wanted was to be myself and to be accepted as that person, to be treated with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves. 

I’m trying a shift in my thinking, namely that passing isn’t about making people believe that I’m cisgender 100% of the time, but more about being accepted as a woman and a human being.  It’s about how I’m treated, how I’m received and not whether I can successfully hide the truth from every single person.

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I think when there’s a lot going on, it’s easiest just to start chronologically and go from there. 

I had my trach shave done almost a month ago.  The surgery was done under a local anesthetic– I was stoned on morphine for most of it and the only thing I really remember is the pressure on my neck as the doctor used a tool that looked sort of like a pair of tongs to take bites out of the cartilage, paring it down until it had a profile that he was happy with.  The sensation made me think of someone doing a very bad job of choking their victim.  The pressure on my throat was damned uncomfortable but I could still breathe.  The surgery took a little over an hour and he was done before I realized he’d even really started. 

Immediately after, I had some bruising and swelling and had to take it easy for most of the time between the surgery and getting some of the stitches removed.  I ended up buying a scarf– San Francisco in June is cold enough to still want it, and it covered the dressing on my neck.  It’s a great city, and I had a very good time with the limited activities I was able to enjoy.  As of now, the swelling is down, my voice is more or less back to normal and I’m really happy with my results.  And the Asian Art Museum, should you ever find yourself up that way, is a great way to spend several hours. 

With that surgery behind me, I’ve cleared my last hurdle—SRS is the only thing I have left to do.  All the documents on which I can change my name and gender have been changed.  The finish line is right there, right over there, and the way I feel right now is that I can’t reach it.  The thing that I most want to fix is the thing that I can’t do anything about—it’s the last, the most expensive and also, the most important.  Here I am, a woman, and it seems I’m having a second identity crisis. 

I struggled for the last couple of years through my transition, to be out and proud as a trans woman and to say “fuck all” to anyone who didn’t like it.  Now I feel like I can’t live in that identity anymore.  I’m no longer out to everyone that I know—no one at work and only a handful of people at church.  I had originally thought my identity as a trans woman wasn’t something I would leave behind, at least not completely; my closest friends will always know but what I’m realizing is that the majority of my day involves me just being another woman, not transgender and certainly not out and proud.  Now, I’m keeping my head down, protecting my privacy, and it feels like such a bizarre shift. 

From the time I wake up in the morning, I get ready for work like any other woman—there’s nothing unusual about my morning routine; I don’t even shave my face anymore.  My whole day at work involves me just doing a job and being trans has nothing to do with who I am as a scientist or why I’m there. 

The catch is that I’m adjusting to a change in my internal identity—I’m a woman but the fact that my body isn’t completely there yet makes some things extra painful—in fact, it feels like living a farce.  One of the things I’ve hinted at in the past is that it’s hard to be in this “in-between” phase.  Jenny Boylan called it being a boygirl—as is her style, covering up that frustration with a bit of humor.  It improves the story without focusing overly much on the pain. 

In addition to the frustration of being stuck, I’ve been having some extreme mood swings—a product, I think, of the bi-weekly estrogen injections.  I seemed to be feeling better but I’ve also noticed that I didn’t seem to have the same stability in my mood that I used to.  I wasn’t having three weeks of everything being fine and one week of PMS symptoms; I was enduring a month of what felt like ping-ponging emotions.  I’d go from happy to depressed in almost no time and then back just as quickly. 

I don’t know how much of what I was experiencing was a result of external stress, but I’m sure that losing my job didn’t help.  I do think that everything taken together created something like a perfect storm for my depression.  I started feeling worse than worthless, and utterly hopeless.  The hurt inside was so powerful that cutting wasn’t going to suffice.  The pain had to stop, and cutting would have felt like putting a band aid on an amputated limb.       

There were a lot of things going through my mind about two weeks ago, and they were all swept away in an instant.  I laid out all the valium I had left over from my throat surgery and started swallowing them two or three at a time.  I remember wondering what was on the other side– oblivion or God.  I was fine with either one.  Oblivion would wipe away my memory of hurt, all the pain I felt, I would be no more.  There would be no knowing, no memory and no regret. 

God, if there is a God, was going to get an earful from me.  It reminded me of the pot saying to its maker, “why have you made me thus?”  If God were going to answer me out of the whirlwind and ask me who I was to question Him, I was ready to say, “you fucker, I hurt.”  If I was going to hell for suiciding, at least I was going to get to say my last words. 

After I got through the valium, I started working my way through the vicodin.  All told, I took over 50 pills.  I remember sitting down on my bed, and hoping it wouldn’t hurt.  After that, I don’t remember anything except for bits and pieces of being in the ER, in and out of consciousness, and have lost most of the memory of the 48 hours after I took the pills.  Some of what I do recall feels like the details from a dream.  I remember being transferred to the BHS at St. Joseph’s hospital in Orange, but the hour long ambulance ride felt like 5 minutes and that was nearly 24 hours after I’d taken the pills.  I didn’t really start feeling more like myself until around Friday night or Saturday morning.  I would go outside on smoke breaks and talk to the social workers and nurses, participate in group therapy sessions.    

For four days I was in a place where I wasn’t allowed to even have a toothbrush or clothes in my room.  I spread cream cheese on my breakfast bagel using a spoon because we weren’t allowed to have knives.  The nurse had to practically watch me while I shaved my legs—I was allowed a little more privacy than normal because I’m trans, I think, but I still had to throw the razor out of the shower when I was finished shaving. 

On Monday night, I was released and Christine drove me home.  The culture shock of being home started inducing panic attacks almost right away.  There were pictures on the walls, a remote control for the TV, and no fewer than 5 dozen potentially dangerous or lethal objects just in the living room.  There were razors in the shower, just sitting there.  I completely freaked out. 

The panic attacks came and went, but the stress opened up the gaping hole in my chest—I couldn’t figure out why I was still alive, why I hadn’t been allowed to die, and I started wishing I had succeeded in killing myself.  I ended up back in the ER, had to go through the psych evaluation again, and they gave me some xanax to ease the anxiety.  Once that subsided, the pain diminished to a manageable level.  I can find it easily, it’s right there, but it just feels sort of numb.  I am at the end of my coping skills and that’s my goal for therapy right now, dealing with that pain. 

The main thing that I’m walking away from this experience with, aside from the factual information that 28 valium and 23 vicodin will not, in fact, kill a person*, is that I made a hard choice two years ago.  I could have waited to transition until I had thousands of dollars in a savings account, enough to get all the surgeries I needed, enough to pay for all the hormones and blood work and doctor visits I might need.  That could have taken me ten years to save up that much money, if not longer.  So I transitioned socially and started living as a woman more and more.  I decided the social experience was worth enough to me that I’d be willing to spend more time mid-transition, stuck in the pipeline as it were, as a pre-op trans woman.  The way I looked at it, at least I’d have the experience of being a woman in my thirties, even if it was only as a trans woman.  What I didn’t realize is how much it can hurt to be so close and so far away from the thing you want. 

For so many trans people, it seems they experience such positive feelings as they transition and their body is brought into alignment with their mind, that I feel like I’m in some kind of mirror-image: every step closer to the end makes what is left feel that much more abnormal.  All of me is right except for this one thing.  The problem is a frame of reference and I think some of it has to do with the fact that my gender identity is not fully integrated—it was quashed by adults, by the church, when I was a child and when I was old enough, I participated in it myself.  I beat down a part of myself– I cut and prayed and cried to be a normal boy and as a result of hating myself for so long, I now have trouble accepting that part of who I am.  That’s why surgery won’t solve all my problems and sometime between now and then, the warring factions of myself will have to find their peace. 

—————-

* I blame The Verve Pipe and their song “Freshmen” for thinking that I would only need a week’s worth of valium—based on that calculation, 28 of the damn things should have been overkill.  The vicodin was just icing on the cake.