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Folding Up The Transgender Umbrella

transumbrella“I’ve never heard the term transsexual before” This came as a surprise to me when answered by a young trans man who attended the most recent support group meeting. I asked him and the other Millennials in attendance what they thought of themselves as; transsexual or transgender. Let’s back up a bit.

When I first came out four years ago I was introduced to the concept of the ‘transgender umbrella’. Beneath the term ‘transgender’ was anyone considered to be gender variant: transsexuals, cross-dressers, genderqueers, drag kings and queens, two-spirit, and every other variation of non-traditional gender identification and expression. Intersex people had already removed themselves from this umbrella (understandably), but the rest remained comfortably sheltered. I liked the concept and have long since incorporated into my Trans 101 seminar. It looks like I need to make some updates.

“Transgender” was first coined back in the 60’s and was originally conceived as an umbrella term from the get-go. By the mid-80’s, it was already firmly established, though not without some contention as to whom, specifically, the term applied. This was a wonderful evolution from the Stonewall days when anyone not hetero-cis normative was simply labeled ‘queer’. So what’s happening now?

I’ll be honest, I’ve never particularly liked the word “transsexual”. It sounds too… well, sexual. That and it conjures up images of Dr. Frank-n-furter from ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’. It may be a cinematic masterpiece, but I don’t need anyone picturing me in a leather bustier and fishnets. That isn’t good for anyone. Granted the ‘sex’ is intended to refer to physical genitalia, but unless speaking to informed clinicians, the point is lost. As a result, I and many of my Generation X irreverent generation, took to co-opting the term to mean us. It seems the media, for the most part, has jumped on the bandwagon bringing us to today where the next generation isn’t even aware of the creepy old description.

Given that transsexual and transgender have now been conflated to the point where the two terms are virtually interchangeable with the former bordering on complete extinction, I think it’s time we folded up the old Transgender Umbrella. Due to these recent changes, mainly on the part of the media, the other gender variant folks are not particularly excited to be included anymore for the most part. Cross-dressers (less those who are not yet admitting things to themselves) have no desire to undergo gender transitions. The drag performers are just that; performers comfortable with their birth gender, appearances aside. With genderqueer folks it depends who you ask, but many don’t appear particularly fond of labels anyway.

It makes sense. Decades ago when differentiation was finally being made between sexuality and gender identity, it was advantageous for the gender variant people to remain cohesive, if only for the numbers. We pretty much all look the same (at least on the feminine side of things), thus making us virtually indistinguishable from one to another with the general public. In today’s reality, however, we have very different agendas. Put us in a room together and the disparate conversations are readily apparent. One group is talking hormone coverage by insurance while another is recounting tales of near misses in being recognized. A third has strategies for making Lady Gaga look like a plain-Jane, and the forth is explaining third gender pronouns. It doesn’t mean we can’t all remain friends, hang out, and enjoy each other; just that the need to huddle under one cover from the elements no longer has urgency.

Now if only we could set some of the terminology set in stone, at least for a few weeks at a time.

Questioning Caitlyn?

CaitlynEverybody’s talkin’ at me; I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’. Just driving around in Jon Voigt’s car. ~ George Costanza (paraphrased)

The internet is now aflutter. Caitlyn Jenner, looking suspiciously like Jessica Lange, hit the cover of Vanity Fair, and the public just can’t seem to get enough. Many fans of Jenner, fans of the Kardashians, and folks who are fans of neither think this is awesome and praise her for her bravery. Many activists think this is a train wreck, and many others are simply tired of hearing about it already. I’m not a fan of Jenner, the Kardashians, and while not so much an activist as an educator, I think this is a pistachio hot fudge sundae with whipped cream and a cherry. Kool Whip, not that homemade crap. Surprised? Let’s talk about that for a minute.

To give my activist friends their due, I freely admit that the whole rigmarole is exploitative, an exercise in showmanship, and carries forward the archetypal pervasive myth of the boy who gets wheeled through the swinging door of the OR and emerges hours later a stunning woman. It’s true, this is exactly what happened here. Last we saw Caitlyn she was sitting with Diane Sawyer still looking kind of butch, and now just over a month later, which is hardly anything in real life transition time, she’s outshining the spotlights on the magazine rack. With her magazine cover caliber rack nonetheless.

She’s making something often monstrously hard, prohibitively expensive, and soul crushingly depressing look fresh and easy as a summer’s eve. I can see why many who have worked, sacrificed, and made so many tiny forward steps while drowning in a sea of failure and regret might hate her, maybe just a tiny little bit. She’s privileged. She’s white. She’s rich. She’s famous. I don’t care. That’s her life, not mine, not that of anyone I know, so I leave her to it. What I do care about is that people are talking. More importantly, people are asking questions.

Just yesterday a friend asked me, “Is it OK to start calling her ‘she’ now? Is that right?” Some of you reading this just face-palmed. The woman who asked, however, is both big hearted and brilliant. I’m also the first trans person she met, and has treated me from the get go with great respect and genuine interest in my life, non-trans elements included. I was thrilled she asked so I could tell her. I did a Trans 101 seminar about a month back, and during my Q&A, the organizer who contacted me and put the whole thing together admitted, “When I wrote you I wasn’t sure whether to address you as Ms. or Mr.” I was ecstatic that she said something.

Questions and statements like these are gifts I receive nearly every day. I call them gifts because it means the people asking are genuinely interested. People sitting in a seminar are generally being talked at. I know when I’m being talked at I’m usually either a million miles away, or I’ve taken umbrage and tuning them out while I craft my devastatingly clever response. I think it’s the same for everyone. When I ask a question, it’s because I really want to know. I think that is the same for everyone as well. It’s also because I, and I assume we, don’t know. It could be plastered on a billboard in front of my eyes, but it’s still entirely possible, or even probable, that I don’t know anyway. If it’s not a part of my direct experience, my interest is low, and my eyes glaze over as I concentrate on things that are relevant to me.

It doesn’t matter that I’m not a super fan of the Kardashians or Caitlyn. Frankly I wasn’t completely sure who they were, why they are famous, or even that Jenner was a part of their whole shtick. Millions, however, are. Millions invite Caitlyn into their living rooms and bedrooms every week on the tube or in the gossip rags. Caitlyn is part of their cultural experience. They care if she gets into a car accident. They care if she’s spotted getting a Venti Chowdertino from Starbucks. They care if she undergoes gender transition. They are paying attention, and they will ask questions. Startling obvious questions sometimes, but so telling about how far the trans experience has permeated or failed to seep to the core of our cultural consciousness. How sweet it is.

At the heart of it, it doesn’t matter that she’s white, privileged, wealthy, famous, has it comparatively easy in respect to the rest of us, and might even be coming out in this way for all the wrong reasons. It does matter that people are talking about it, asking those questions, broadening their awareness, and gaining the ability to identify with her as a person. I work very hard to achieve that same thing every day; people in my life, people who come to my seminars, anyone who reads my words. In one swoop, flashy, gaudy, and misleading as it may be, she captured the interest of millions, and the questions are flowing. Every one of them is gold, and represents one less person I and every other trans have to talk at.

Why Labeling People “Privileged” Isn’t Helping

PrivilegeBack in October I tabled a Trans Health Initiative conference here in Buffalo. It was a great day and we actually appeared to have more cisgender folks there than trans for a change. This was fantastic because first hand, in person exposure to a trans person is the very best way to create understanding and a desire to be supportive. Usually anyway, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The keynote speaker was CeCe McDonald, and I was pretty excited we got her to come on down to Western New York and spread an inspirational message.

For the most part, her talk was very good, and I was glad I was there to see it. Her message was one of struggle, overcoming overwhelming adversity, and her personal courage. From my vantage point at the Spectrum table I could see that she was resonating with the audience and was overjoyed that she was reaching the cis folks as well. Then she went into privilege and one by one, I could see her losing them. From there she transitioned into white trans privilege and she started to even lose some of the trans folk. Nothing she said about this was the least bit untrue by the way, but nevertheless, the message was building up the very walls she so effectively knocked down moments before.

We speak of white privilege, male privilege, socio-economic privilege, cis privilege and so on. These are all true things, do really exist every day in the real world, and do impact everyone on the basis of whether or not they have these things. There is no denying it. Privilege exists and it has the power to profoundly impact, through opportunity or repression, what a person might achieve in this life. I can see very clearly what a huge advantage I had living as a white male and how far I have fallen as a white transgender woman. I can also see that where I am now is a far, far more advantageous position than if I was a black transgender woman who came from impoverished circumstances. There is no comparison. Here’s the thing though. People, particularly American people, absolutely despise the notion that they have been granted huge competitive advantages simply through the accident of birth.

American culture is funny that way. We admire and celebrate achievement, fame, and fortune. We hate the idea of these things, however, though any means other than overcoming great obstacles. We believe in the underdog, and nearly all of us secretly believes that we fall into that category. We are a nation who worships rugged individual achievement and abhors the concept of aristocratic entitlement by birth. One of our favorite pastimes is comparing how hard we had it growing up, and the guy who brags about his posh school or family’s wealth is generally labeled a complete schmuck. We all know this is true here. Accusations of advantage are overwhelmingly met with defensiveness. Understanding this about our culture, does it really seem like a smart strategy to start shaming the very people we want to support us?

I will reiterate again; privilege does exist, it is pervasive, and it has a huge impact. We can agree on this amongst ourselves and know that it is true. Some of us can also agree that not all trans begin the race at the same starting point, and that many of our sisters and brothers have many more hurdles to clear before even approaching the much cushier spot we drew. If you can, and want to use the knowledge to make a difference, great. If you can’t and the idea makes you pissy and contentious, just try not to think about it. When it comes to the cisgender population, it’s far better that we stop continuously pointing this out.

I can feel many of  you bristling from here. It’s OK. What I’m proposing sounds akin to staying silent in the face of racism, sexism, or any other ‘ism’ out there. I can also hear someone loading up the “… and there was no one left to say anything when they came  for me” quote. We need to recognize, however, that this isn’t about them, it’s about us. Calling out privilege will not take it away nor bestow it on the trans community, but it will create divisions. It’s not about being right, but being heard, recognized,  and embraced as equals. Emphasizing differences in a “j’accuse!” kind of way puts up walls and dulls the edge of empathy. It’s also good to remember that for all the privilege we assume someone enjoys, they may be facing their own struggles that we have no conception of.

Our true inroad to the hearts of the cis folk is our humanity. It is by living our lives, working, and struggling against inequity are the best tools to gain sympathy, solidarity, and general acceptance. Simply harping on how we are owed on the basis of cis advantage and cis privilege brings none of those things. Those capable of the self-awareness it requires to own their advantages and have clarity about the inequity are can understand this without our pointing it out. Those who are not can easily move from positions of support or even ambivalence to adverse, and that is not good for anyone. We get farther and faster fighting the good fight and inspiring the cheers of those who support us than railing against them for their comfortable seats outside the ring.

Trans and Faith: A Needless Dispute

MIS SmileI recently flew to St Louis to be in the wedding of my oldest friend, and wasn’t completely sure what to expect. The venue was a conservative denomination of Presbyterian, and although I had received nothing but unconditional loving support from my friend (whom I consider my brother), the notion that some of the congregants might have some feeling about yours truly up at the altar did come to mind. After all, our demographic does have some history with religious intolerance. The experience got me thinking about the problem of faith for so many trans people, as well as the problem that many people of faith have with the very concept of transgender. Let’s talk about that for a minute, shall we?

As no religious demographic exists that fails to produce trans folk, waters can become challenging to horrendously difficult to navigate depending on the prevalent belief structure. Some faiths are very tolerant and welcoming, while others are downright sadistic in their treatment of the non-conforming. At the same time, trans folk are faced with attempting to reconcile their religious identity with their gender identity and often find themselves unable. Both cisgender and transgender people of faith find themselves wondering what kind of God would inflict someone with such a burden in life, especially if it flies in the face of cherished theology and dogma. The gap is too wide to ignore, and oftentimes the results are horrifying. Leelah Alcorn comes to mind.

In regards to religion, sacred documents and scripture are notoriously unclear how to handle our population, leaving the field open to wild interpretation. Many attempts have been made to shoehorn us into instruction on the treatment of eunuchs or homosexuals, with neither being a particularly good fit. While some genderqueer folk do consider themselves to be neither gender none of us identify as eunuchs regardless of pre, post, or non-surgical status. I do not consider myself a castrated man, I consider myself a woman. While we often align ourselves with the homosexual population for mutual interest, our numbers are equitable to the cisgender population in sexual orientation. Still, many religious entities find it impossible to leave this unclassified and unspoken and ultimately make some ruling rather than let the issue simply be. This sometimes works in our favor, and sometimes not, but in neither case does it intrinsically change our gender identities, but only make them more or less easy to come to terms with.

The secondary problem, and one that goes hand in hand with lack of citation in sacred writings, is an inability to classify what exactly causes the transgender condition. Theories abound ranging from pre-natal hormone wash, multiple souls, genetics, karmic punishment, nurture, sexuality, mental illness, lifestyle desires, and demonic possession. I even had gluten allergy proposed to me a few months back. Some theories are more credible than others obviously. Lacking clear and comprehensible evidence that transgender is a medical condition, psychological condition, lifestyle choice, or divine intervention, religious entities are left to pick one that best matches their particular belief system and provide guidance accordingly. Problems arise when the belief structure fails to match the first hand understanding of the trans person. Calling it a lifestyle choice, for example, when the trans person would gladly choose anything but, creates a crisis of faith. The religion may consider the trans person to be obstinate and willfully disobedient, while the trans person is left in crisis with a rapidly eroding certainty that their faith was well placed.

The answers that trans people come to are varied. A few are fortunate enough to belong to a belief system that embraces their identity. Some eschew faith all together and rely solely on observable, testable, and repeatable science to explain all aspects of the universe, denying even the possibility of a God or spirituality. Others attempt to find a variation of their original faith, or a different one all together, that is more accepting. A tiny handful attempt to stick it out and effect a change in understanding; how their existence is not incompatible with the core tenets of their religion. These, of course, are the ones who survive the process. Far too many, cast out by an inflexible system that includes their family and support network, see no other option than to take their own life and end the disparity once and for all.

It seems that at the core of this is the old duel between science and faith. The scientific process produces more evidence every year that ‘transgender’ is a real, verified, and enduring condition of existence for a certain percentage of the population. Some, but not all, religious belief systems cannot account for this in their cosmology and thereby view it as a willful rejection of God-given identity at birth. Man of science, woman of faith, the two shall forevermore be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. Perhaps, but I don’t think so. I don’t really see why the two should be considered incompatible at all if looked at correctly. It’s only when we try to dissect one with the knife of the other do problems start to pop up.

As it’s the biggest tool in my box, I’ll reach in there and pull out an analogy. If one is a detective, he or she will examine each mystery in a precise and methodical way. Looking for clues, developing theories, testing them, weighing the results against existing knowledge, and eliminating the alternatives, a detective will drive to a conclusion that holds up in court. If one is an artist, however, the endless quest is to reflect the unquantifiable nature of the world and capture the emotional essence. If a crime is committed, the detective is most valuable. If creativity designed to produce an emotional response is desired, the artist is the best choice. Just as an abstract painter would be disastrous in working a crime scene, the analytic skills of the detective are fairly useless at the Louvre unless the Mona Lisa is stolen again. It’s not a perfect analogy, but represents what happens when the mind is used to quantify the heart, or the heart is used to puzzle something logistically tricky out.

When attempting to explain aspects of our physical universe, it makes much more sense to utilize the scientific tools we have to ferret out the answers. Using ancient documents, not so much. At the same time, mankind’s attempts to commune with a higher power, spiritually comfort one another, or find hope against all logic, faith is truly best. Each has its function and place, and reliance on only one for all things seems to be a recipe for failure half the time. Using faith to determine the age of the earth, the evolution of species, or whether Noah’s flood really happened or not is missing the point as these things truly don’t matter in a spiritual quest. Likewise, science is a poor tool for determining the nature of God, quantifying enlightenment, or nailing down the afterlife. Each is best in its own sphere, and left there, the constant animosity becomes irrelevant.

As being transgender almost certainly has a root cause in the physical world, it belongs to the realm of science to answer how and why. In the meantime I think it would make sense for faith based institutions to withhold judgment in this arena and welcome existing and new adherents who can contribute to the congregation and be simultaneously helped by the simple acceptance. Trans people could be relieved of the anxiety and guilt they may feel due to shaky interpretations of what God in any setting has been very unclear about. An embracing acceptance of what simply is seems much more in line with the tenets of love and compassion that run through all faiths.

Finally, I think it’s a mistake to assume one must be either a detective or an artist. A detective may use their finely honed logic to pick through meticulous detail and solve the mystery, then come home, get out the canvas and paint something both beautifully inspiring and wholly unrecognizable. It is the reconciliation of each aspect of our being as not incompatible but complimentary, that brings the best peace and greatest good.

Bigender Transition: The Switcheroo Times Two

bigenderMy employees at work are delighted for some reason when I refer to my transition as “my little switcheroo”. To give perspective, they are equally delighted when I leave for the day and say I’m making like a shepherd and getting the flock out of there. More likely the delight is in my departure rather than my corny witticisms. The reason I bring this up is because I have a friend who is executing the very difficult switcheroo times two. To be clear, male to female and back to male again. Let’s talk about that. This entry has been vetted by him, just so you don’t think I’m pulling the ultimate dick move.

To give some history, he identified as transgender some time ago and began formal transition in recent times. By the way, I’m going to flip-flop pronouns a lot here, so try and keep up. He now is living as a he, but when he was living as a she, I’ll call him her and she. Good lord, I’m already more lost then if I woke up wearing banana pants. Screw that, let’s go with ‘he’. He got as far as coming out at work, going to battle on the bathroom issue, changing his name, and living full time female. I think we can all admit that in the grand scheme of things, that’s pretty far, and required no small amount of chutzpa. I’d say cajones, but you know.

Over the summer he reconnected with the love of his life. She had tolerated his female side, but generally preferred him seven shades more butch. As star-crossed lovers are wont to do, they re-committed and bought a house together. Feeling more at home as a male in the relationship, he made the epic decision to transition back and now going through the undoubtedly onerous process of detransitioning. Name change again, frequent visitor to the men’s room at work, and what must be the worst, uncoming out to people. I’m not even sure how someone does this without a PowerPoint presentation and Rubik’s Cube for handy visual references and analogies. Here I will say that it must take major cajones and big brass ones at that; the kind that roll down ancient mountains and try to crush Indiana Jones.

Now that I dropped this little bombshell on you, I can feel some of you starting to bristle from here. Easy there hoss, let’s talk this through. Some are of the opinion that a single instance of detransition makes every trans person out there a suspect of future waffling. Some think we are arming the opposition with cause to believe transition is a lifestyle choice and not a medical necessity. Some will be inclined to predict dire consequences resulting from a future realization that a grave mistake was made. Those who fall into any of these fun little pools are probably going to argue strenuously with what I have to say next, but hear me out. I think these assumptions are wrong like Chong without a bong. Hard to argue with someone who uses obsolete rhymes, isn’t it?

Here is how I see it. Transition is a journey, a road, a path one takes to find the way home to feeling comfortable in one’s own body. There are as many roads as there are people. Some are straight, others curve, some go in circles, figure-eight, rhombuses, and even loop-de-loop. The whole point of traveling this rocky, ankle-breaking path, in heels nonetheless, is to make it to a safe place where obsessing about our gender identity takes a backseat to a life more ordinary. It’s really the whole point of it, isn’t it?

Most of us in the trans community have embraced the idea that gender is a spectrum. Where we fit may be more masculine, feminine, in between or off the scale altogether. We embrace each other as transgender, gender neutral, genderqueer, two-spirit, and even bi-gender (which is what this person identifies as). How we arrive at the sweet spot is our own journey, and one that often involves landing hither and thither a few times before finding Goldilocks. In that spirit, I find it impossible to wish him anything but joy and happiness for taking a very long and hard journey and embracing what he is meant to be. How can we do otherwise?

Finally, it’s worth remembering that people who incomprehensibly pour their energy into denying our clearly established existence and any semblance of human rights will continue to do so. Someone finding their way and ending up somewhere different than you or I is not going to make a spit of difference. In honoring our brother-turned-sister-turned-brother’s journey, we only validate the twists and turns our own takes. As for his future, who can say? Only he can determine what that is, and we can safely acknowledge that he’s put far more thought, care, and effort into understanding that than the rest of us combined, just as we have for ourselves.

Lionessess, More Grad School, Oh My

Hand RaiseThis is going to shock the bejeezus out of most of you, but I’ve been a wee bit too busy lately to keep up with this blog. Strike that, I’ve not been busy enough. I generally do my best writing when attempting to procrastinate items of consequence. Now that I have a number of those piling up, I expect you will be tortured on a regular basis by my bizarre notions, questionably accurate recounting of events past, and long confusing sentences that I still hold to be grammatically perfect, invented words and all.

I wanted to share with you all, including both of you who actually give a frog’s buttery behind, about my excruciatingly told exploits. I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to meet up with the Lioness of Edinburgh herself, my spiritual sister Becky of lost lamented ‘I Hate Roller Coasters’ fame. She still hates them, by the way, albeit being a compulsory rider of some note(1). We walked the length and breadth of Manhattan, although I’ll share that the Lioness wore more sensible shoes than me leading to the introduction of new mighty scars to my ragged dogs. It didn’t matter that it was our first real life meeting; it was as if we grew up together. Some people you understand from first encounter that you are simply supposed to know them. I love it when that happens.

Spending the time with her was inspirational, and could not have come at a better time. Here I was scribbling a sporadic opinion or two over the year, while she, though brilliant maneuvering, exceptionally hard work, gracious heart, and frighteningly effective interpersonal skills, is now hobnobbing with the upper echelons of government and enacting positive change for LGBT people in the UK and affiliated Commonwealth. While her stories are awe inspiring, they made it abundantly clear that this was exactly what I didn’t want to do. Ugh, I’m just so glad someone else is picking up that fun little horse chestnut. Look, after decades of introversion I’ve only worked my way up to co-chairing a monthly Spectrum meeting and sporadically eating lunch with new people instead of crawling into the bushes to read(2). Give me some time people; my spirit animal is a goat, so there is only so much to work with.

In keeping with the tradition of living a life punctuated by incomprehensible changes, I’ve enrolled in a Master’s program for Marriage and Family Therapy. I truly have no idea where this is going to take me, but the breezes are a blowin’ in the right direction. Not only do I find the material frighteningly engaging, but I also managed to emerge from a marathon weekend of back to back 8 hour classes feeling elated. This is new. Having the attention span of a coked up housecat, I found it nearly implausible that I remained mentally present the entire time and even participated. Instead of pulses of glowering disdain and bits of malevolence at my cheerfully engaged classmates, I truly want to get to know them all better and even establish friendships. I’m not sure what the hell is wrong with me(3).

The truth of the matter is that I have changed. Instead of adhering to the lifelong pattern of pursuing avenues my warped perception indicated were suitable for my misfit gender expectations, I’m simply following my calling(4). If only I had known the road to new directions(5) was as easy as gender transition(6), I would have paid a lot less attention in math.

  1. The Queensferry Gazette recently featured a glossy cover photo of her descending rapidly, hair fanned out in a magnificent mane, with a look of perturbed irritation on her face.
  2. Generally with a book, as I cared little for reading bushes.
  3. Then again, my last program was an MBA with night classes after long workdays with scads of dreary subjects like finance and accounting. I think that’s enough to make anyone not forged in the corporate kiln want to mosey into an ISIS training camp and bust their balls a little bit.
  4. For the last time, no, I’m not hearing voices in my head. When I say things like, “the dog told me to have that last piece of pizza”, I don’t mean literally. It’s just that she’s so obvious about wanting it, and I’ve had enough of tomatoey dog farts ruining my enjoyment of ‘Outlander’.
  5. Not a ‘Glee’ reference. That ‘New Directions’ has been dead to me since they killed off Finn. Yes, yes, I know, but they could have seamlessly replaced him with Drake or something.
  6. Compared to that last Accounting project (that I still don’t fully understand), therapy, second puberty, hundreds of hours of electrolysis, major surgery, and stumbling around looking like Strawberry Shortcake on a bender until I figured things out were cake.

OK, So I Was a B About the Tree…

Witch on WheelsYes, I know, I know, I know. It’s been about ten years since my last post. I hit a wall a while back after I assumed that I covered every major topic I could possibly think of. I have about a dozen or so posts still in the half-completed state, mainly because I was either really reaching to make it trans related, or the topic was covered to death and I didn’t have anything new to add. Plus I have been slowly cranking on the book that will likely see publication only after J. Edgar Hoover rises from the grave to crush us all beneath his massive Christian Louboutin’s. Good times for all to be sure.

Today I’d like to talk about a pretty big change in myself I’ve come to notice over the past few months. No, I’m not talking about the Zetti’s pizza induced two or three stone of extra weight I now carry. Sorry, I know you have to look that up, but I’m not about to go and advertise, am I? Nope, something much different. Seems old Michelle went and grew herself a pair. Not in the “they seem to have come back, Dr. McGinn!”, thank goodness, but in the mental way. Who’d have thunk it?

For the vast majority of my life, I’ve been what you would call a “people pleaser”. Not that I was so wonderful at succeeding all the time, but boy did I try, even when there was no sane reason to do so. At work this is a very good thing because most bosses like see a healthy brown color when deciding who to give the big raise to or mark for promotion. In every other area of life, it simply means getting the rotten end of any deal. Generally, in any situation I could screw myself over just to ensure people often of no consequence in my life, or even reprehensible, might like me for the supreme benefit I was providing them. Contractors, doctors, veterinarians, waiters and waitresses, mortgage brokers, car salesmen, and all manner of affiliated scum all thought dealing with me was just the cat’s ass.

A few years back we needed a new roof and called the biggest name in town, Rott and Son (or Rotten Son, as I think of them) and we joked about how this guy, who asked us up front if we were getting any other quotes (to which we answered no) was going to slide a jaw dropping sum scribbled on a folded piece of paper across to us. We told him this, thinking it was funny, to which he laughed and did exactly that. Thirty-three THOUSAND dollars for some plywood, tar paper and shingles. Our house isn’t even very big. He was very nice though, so we signed and filled out the complex loan paperwork with interest rates that would have equaled a total value of about $50K paid, nearly half the value of the place. For a roof. I did say he was nice and we wanted him to like us? Fortunately pushing the loan through would have required some tricky business with name substitution on the deed, and my laziness overcame my desire to make him deliriously happy. The roofer we eventually got cost less than a third of that with full tear off and torch down rubber on the flat part to boot.

I was a little worried that my GRS/ GCS/ GAS would serve to make me even more of a well scuffed carpet beneath the muddy hobnailed boots of people I pay to do things. Not even close. As Phil Dunphy, the Count Chockula looking dude from ‘Modern Family’ once said, “Looks like this kitty has claws.” I think that sounds a little nicer than what people are really thinking, which is that I’ve gone and become a real bitch on wheels. When Tivo rolled out a software update that suddenly disallowed Netflix to work on my now antiquated CRT TV (look, I want a new one, but I can’t lift the old one out of the way anymore), I got on the horn and negotiated a rock bottom monthly rate in perpetuity. When my neighbor’s tree guy smooshed half my blackberry bush, I marched back there and gave the foreman an earful. When that wasn’t to my satisfaction, I left nasty messages on their phone service and website. I was about to go apeshit on them on Angie’s List when the owner himself came over, offered to fix everything and gave me a hundred bucks cash just to make me happy. Gotta say, I’m not hating this.

I had to think about it a bit before it came to me. Why did the total lack of testosterone suddenly turn me into a confident, non-green She-Hulk when it came to dealing with people? The truth is that I get stared at every day, everywhere I go. My ability to care in the slightest went up in smoke. I used to be filled with existential angst that people would look at me and judge, and it wasn’t even really the real me when I was doing so as a dude. Now for sure they do look at me in judgement, but their thoughts just don’t mean a thing. I am me now, the real me, and even when I leave the house looking like Benny Hill in drag (most days), I have the confidence in knowing I am interfacing with the world as my own true self.

Note: Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, just because I no longer walk around with “sucker” stenciled on to my forehead doesn’t mean I’m any less polite or nice to people. I also tip waiters and waitresses at least 20% unless there is clear evidence they sneezed on my chimichongas. This note probably wasn’t necessary, but even if I don’t care if you like me or not, It’d still be real peachy if you did.

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