So lest you think that Maryland has been a complete disaster for me, there have been some positive developments– I’ve not just been wallowing in a deep pit of despair. Hopefully this post will contain some small evidence of that.

From the remains of two suicide attempts since November of last year, I realized that I needed to get busy living or get busy dying, if I may borrow a phrase. Dying, since it seems to be so damn hard for me to actually do, gave way quickly to looking at what on earth I was living for. I figured if I couldn’t find a good reason to get out of bed in the morning, I could always go back to the tylenol and the razor blades. Maybe just the razor blades. Or something else.

What I came up with was this: no one gets up each and every day so they can go to some crappy job. In fact, I’d imagine that even a person who loves their job probably rejoices with the weekend just like the rest of us. So, I concluded, I’m definitely not living just so I can work. I do like my job, but just not in that way (I almost feel like I’m giving that break-up speech where I say, “It’s not you, it’s me.”).

The next thing I considered were things– possessions, stuff, crap, junk– whatever you want to call it. That one probably seems pretty obvious– I don’t know anyone who’s ever said, “I live for my awesome flat screen TV.” Sure, we all love a good movie, but if the Wiimote goes flying through said TV, as I’m sure it inevitably will, I wouldn’t kill myself over the loss of either of those things. The things we own, just like our jobs, are replaceable, or at least, not so singular that we are unable to live without them.

I found myself running out of things to consider living for. And then it dawned on me. I had friends. I have friends. There are people I know and love; there are people who know and love me. I may not live for my job, but I certainly enjoy the time I spend with my co-workers, talking, laughing, joking, eying the cute pre-doctoral intern in the next lab over.

My friends, the people who wrote to me while I was in the hospital last year, the people who have either stuck with me through this transition or who have become my friends after and in spite of it, I realized, have become more important to me than family. That foundation is important, especially since the solid base I thought I had in my family disintegrated over two years ago.

What I have realized is that our connections make our lives worthwhile. I’m not talking about those Facebook friends that I added because I wanted to kick ass at Mafia Wars. I’m talking about the ones that got added and I only later realized were cool people, chatted with, maybe cybered with. Those connections, those genuine moments where we can be ourselves and allow others to be authentic at the same time, I believe, are the greatest gifts we have to give and receive.

My connections with most people back in California, sadly, are starting to drift, but I’m also starting to make solid connections out here. One of those new friends I’ve made is a woman who is probably the best amateur therapist I’ve ever met. She’s not just someone who listens, she’s someone who can actually give you decent advice, not by telling you what to do, but by asking you questions and letting you figure out on your own what needs to be done.

As I was talking to her about my transition, I had said to her something that I’ve said here probably a dozen times or more– of course I hate the man that I was, the body that I have. If I didn’t hate those things, I wouldn’t transition. In truth, that was a driving factor in my decision to make those changes in my life.

My friend then asked me whether I wanted surgery. Of course I want surgery, I replied. Wouldn’t I just love to have things the way I imagine them, the way I envision them?, she asked. Of course I would. Won’t I love my body after all is said and done? I imagine so. Do I really want what I will eventually love to be born from flesh, from a life, that I hate so much? Of course. Wait. Maybe not. No.

I want to be beautiful. I just don’t think I can get there from a place of hatred. That’s been a hard thing to admit and a harder thing to put into practice. I wouldn’t say that I love myself, nor would I say that all my discomfort with my body is gone. Those palpable problems still exist, but the form, the experience, is slightly different.

This same friend, interestingly enough, has challenged me on some of my behavior in the midst of my social experiments. I’ve referred to these experiences in the past, but if you’re reading the last post first, let me put it this way– if you’re not used to being treated like a woman, it’s a little hard to know how to respond in any given situation, especially if you identify as a woman and like being treated like a woman. So, in some cases, I act, I perform and I take mental notes on the reactions of people around me.

How do people react if I wear heels? If I wear flats? What draws the least attention? I’ve gotten quite good over the last few years at blending in, at being invisible, at deflecting attention. The guy working in the supermarket will forget me as soon as he tells me where to find the ranch dip powder and I’m out of eyesight.

If I were to try and build an analogy, I’d say I’ve moved past the phase of being in middle school where I’m going to do all I possibly can to make sure that I fit in. I know that I fit in. Now I’m at that point in high school where I can branch out, where I can explore a little bit and determine, stylistically, what I consider cool and where I want to go as me, as an individual. I no longer want to be the forgettable woman in the supermarket.

Since I’ve mastered (more or less) how to be invisible, now I’m trying to learn how to actually hold someone’s attention, to control it through my own behavior and elicit the responses that I want. It may sound manipulative and it is, but it’s also something that every single one of us does every day when we address a customer as “Sir” or apologize for standing on someone’s foot.

While what I’m talking about may sound too deliberate for a behavior to ever appear as anything but a performance or an act, I would argue that all of our interactions are scripted by a social feedback loop from which we’ve been learning since we were children. The information I’ve been working off of for the last twenty years doesn’t hold for a woman, though. So I had to scrap all of it and start over and figure out what kind of behaviors are acceptable for girls. For young women. For older women.

In an effort to accelerate the learning process, I will, on occasion, deliberately throw a monkey wrench into the cogs of the machinery just to see what breaks. It’s not willfully destructive– I’d actually say it’s quite the contrary. I have always believed that one of the best ways to learn how something functions is troubleshooting it when the proverbial smoke is pouring out of the wreckage. But just because something may stop working temporarily doesn’t mean it’s broken.

What I’m talking about above is more theoretical. To put these ideas into practice, I’ve learned that the best way is just to go ahead and try it. I’ve already taken bold steps, done daring (and probably stupid) things. Eventually though, all belief, all theory, must be put into everyday use. Just like with my clothing, my hair, my make-up, I try a bevy of different things. Simply because they get tried, though, doesn’t mean that they’re a permanent part of me. I’ve always discarded the things that don’t suit me (have I ever told my story about blue eyeshadow and red lipstick?) and reinforced the things that do until they become second nature. In fact, once I find those things that suit me, they barely need to be reinforced. At that point, I find myself, I find my style and I find all of it feels incredibly natural.

Another friend recently said something to me that nearly knocked the wind out of me the moment I heard it– the woman I am just is. I like that because it rings true. We are who we are. But I also know that we are all meant to change, to evolve. If that must happen, then I want to learn how to change gracefully. I hope that my stumbling steps at the beginning will give way to something more fluid as I understand myself better.