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Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Game of You

This is probably going to really surprise a lot of you, but believe it or not, I am a huge geek. Seriously, it’s true. The reason I’m willing to disclose such an awful shocking truth is to explain how I was exposed to my first transgender comic character. No it wasn’t Jimmy Olson in one of his wacky psychedelic adventures from the 60’s; I’m talking about the 90’s when our favorite ginger lad was back to being as dull as corduroy slacks. I’m talking about Wanda from The Sandman story arc, “A Game of You”. To me, this made Neil Gaiman the best comic book author ever. (BTW, Annie, don’t read this until you finished the book. Jodi, Annie is reading a comic book and is a total geek as well.)

I see that blank look on your face and yes, I am just a little bit pissed. OK, just in case you were still trying to pull off a “cool guy” or “girly girl” façade back in ’91, I’ll explain a little bit. The Sandman was an edgy 90’s era comic book published by DC comics under the Vertigo imprint. The main protagonist was Dream of the Endless; one of seven eternal embodied concepts who all had names that began with a ‘D’ for some reason. This particular story line was about a shattered divorcee getting hassled by some dream adventures she had in the past. If you are interested in knowing more, you should pick up the trade paperback available on Amazon. What I liked about this story were the supporting characters: Thessaly, an extremely old but hot witch; Hazel and Foxglove, two butch looking lesbians; and Wanda, a trans woman too poor to get any medical intervention.

The role Wanda played in this story was that of Barbie’s, the aforementioned divorcee, best friend and confidant. It was a very positive portrayal, although I do have a few nitpicky issues. In one scene Wanda appears in her underwear, and naive neighbor Hazel notices and points out that Wanda has “a thingie”, to which she replies that it isn’t nice to point out a girls shortcomings. Clearly Wanda, or more likely the author, was not well versed in the art of the tuck.

The only part that genuinely irritated me was a scene in which the ancient witch Thessaly barred Wanda from participating in a moon ritual to take them to dreamland and rescue Barbie. Thessaly explained that Wanda wasn’t really a real woman as would be recognized by the elder powers that be. Grrr. It would be one thing if the words came from some doofus of a character with an opinion, but by having this one declare it, it was akin to saying that is truly the way it is. Many of us, self included, get a little bit prickly about such statements. It was, however, 20 years ago and hopefully the author has come around to recognizing a more enlightened status of things.

Toward the end of the story, Wanda, having been declared a phony-baloney girl, is left behind to watch the coats and purses as the “real” women traipse off to dreamland. This is doubly unfortunate as soon thereafter the building collapses, ending Wanda’s brief tragic existence. The epilogue deals with Barbie, grateful for not being crushed to death, traveling down south for the funeral of her friend. To her dismay she finds that Wanda came from holy roller caricature stock, and that the extended family considered “the boy” to have been living in sin. For the funeral, they cut her hair, dressed her in a suit, and insist on referring to her as her original name, ironically ‘Alvin Mann’. The family is mortified by Barbie’s wacky goth ways (she draws a black veil on her face using an eyebrow pencil) and shoo her off. Her last act is to use a cherry poppin red lipstick to cross out “Alvin” on the tombstone and write in Wanda.

The very, very end does have a redeeming scene in which the ghost of Wanda appears, and looks like a gorgeous cisgender woman. Why the moon goddess couldn’t see that and left her behind to cool her heels in a remarkably unstable building I’m not sure, but I was happy that it was made clear that her soul was female and no longer had to worry about displaying a package in her panties. For 1991, I have to say I was impressed at the decent treatment, even if there was a bit of misguided opinion thrown in.

As an addendum, I want to add that my other favorite part about this story line was that the positive portrayal of LGBT characters prompted the Concerned Mother’s of America to send in a pissy prissy boycott letter. What made me cheer was that the publisher saw fit to include the letter in the letter column of a follow on issue, and made great fun of it. The country having just emerged from the Regan Moral Majority era, was still a bit skittish about ruffling feathers, so it was a pleasure to see DC crank the mighty bird up in response.

I Used to Sit In a Cage (or life as a Freudian example)

When I was 9, I dragged home a large rabbit cage and took to sitting in it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Freudian kind of girl in any respect, but you have to admit that kind of thing is eerily apt. Really, who does that kind of thing? Unfortunately to my shame and the great chagrin of my parents, it was hardly the only example.

I found the cage at a garage sale for a quarter and it didn’t take me long to choose it over the well scorched ash trays and old bowling trophies (those I garbage picked after the sale was over). After I brought it home, I quickly found a good use for it. Always with a snack and good book, I’d sit in the thing for hours at a time reading and enjoying the outdoors. For dramatic effect I added a padlock to the front since I found it much easier to enter and exit from the top anyway. I can’t say why it was so comfortable, but it was.

On one occasion I got it into my head to bring it out to the front on the small porch leading up to the door. Looking back, it’s a minor miracle armed CPS agents didn’t immediately descend from the trees on zip lines, crashing boots first through the bay window to tase and drag away my excellent but unsuspecting parents. Who did show was my mom’s friend and her daughter Melissa who was in my class. I did say hi, but they just looked at me strange as they walked on back to the side door. (I live in Buffalo where use of the front door is a huge taboo for some reason) Moments later the front door was flung open, and my view of the neighborhood from my favorite seat was expressly forbidden. It was OK, at least I had the backyard. I’m not going to say that withdrawing into a cage was symbolic of my transgender existence, but you have to admit, it’s pretty weird.

When not in self imposed solitary confinement, I dabbled just a smidge in alchemy. For the unfamiliar, alchemy was the medieval pursuit to find a chemical or method of transmuting one substance into a far more desirable one. All they managed to accomplish was the foundation of modern chemistry while acquiring acute toxic poisoning. I can’t say why exactly, but I found the notion of being able to change one thing into another pretty appealing. I wasn’t trying to make gold or anything that would tip the world economy (I’m more of a sterling silver kind of gal anyway); I just wanted to see if I could do it. I can’t imagine what my motivation could have been!

As an aside, I will say that I was convinced once that I actually did it. You can’t imagine how excited I was. I fished the penny out of the electrified mucky solution of random chemicals and was astonished to see it had turned bright and gleaming silver. I think I actually ‘whooped’, which is something you usually only read about and seldom do. I ran up the stairs to show my father. He was pretty surprised, first thinking I somehow stripped the copper cladding of one of the new zinc ones, until he noticed the date was like 1958.

My dad had a real knack for figuring things out and turned it over in his hand. “Mike… have you been playing with the mercury?” Crap. Of course I had! For reasons as yet unknown he brought a plastic bottle full of the stuff home from work, showed me how cool and wonderful it was, strongly cautioned me from ever touching it, and stored it away in an easily reachable location. What did he expect? He wasn’t really mad, but I was devastated. I didn’t give up, and consoled myself with the fact that I managed to at least make the dull old penny look beautiful.

It’s decades later, and I’m back at it, trying to change one thing into another, what it should have been in the first place, all without the benefit of a cage. This time though, I’m winning.

Cross-Dressers: Equal Under the Rainbow

I got very annoyed when a sister trans woman accused me of being “just” a cross-dresser last summer. It bothered me on two levels. On one, no one cares for their sense of identity to be questioned in such a manner that it is clearly meant to be an insult. On the other, the nature of the insult was to imply that cross-dressers are somehow a lower class of citizen under the transgender umbrella than transsexuals. It’s one thing to say ‘fuck you’ to me, but you have to go and say ‘fuck you too’ to an entire group of people whom we have every reason to embrace as sisters? Since then I have heard similar statements expressed, labeling cross-dressers as “perverts”, “fetishists” and whatnot by trans women. That is some elitist royal bitchery right there.

I do understand there is some history there. A few decades ago when the Tri-Ess (Society for the Second Self) organizations sprang up, some of them were very exclusive to cross-dressers and transsexuals were not welcome. I’m not entirely clear why. It may have been a bias against what was perceived to be a ‘deviant’ lifestyle on our part. It may have been a secret identity issue. I will concede it may be difficult for people very conscientious about being found out to congregate with people comfortable having their identity splashed up on a billboard. If Wonder Woman went public, I don’t think the rest of the Justice League would be super psyched having her hang out at the Hall of Justice where they try to keep it all on the down low.

Those days, however, are pretty much over and on a monthly basis I attend Belles meetings with a mix of both. Yes, there are differences. We tend to go on about coming out, transition, and hormones, while the cross-dressers may focus more on getting out, clothes, and other experiences. The commonalities we share well outweigh any differences. There is a reason cisgender people have a hard time telling us apart. Many of us understand that pre self-realization, more than a few identified as cross-dressers and felt very comfortable labeling ourselves as part of that demographic.

To those who like to point out that for some (but not all), the cross-dressing has a sexual or fetishistic component to it. So what? Are we that prudish that mere idea that someone might be stimulated by wearing opposite gender clothing at all an issue worth discussing? How can one huff and puff indignantly because a transphobe has judged them for wearing a skirt, then turn around and judge someone else for the same thing, just because the drive behind the need is different.

Aside from the very human need to identify a group of people to put down and feel superior to for completely arbitrary reasons, I think many of the feelings stem from being reminded of the past. Almost all of us at one time said, “well, I guess I must be a cross-dresser” and went with it for a while. We aren’t so humiliated by the labeling, but that we were unable to face our true selves just yet and hid behind a façade in such close proximity to the truth. I’ll be the first to admit that yes, I do feel embarrassed about my CD days. I was dancing right up against the real me, obsessively photographing myself in dozens of fairly ridiculous outfits I wouldn’t be caught dead in at the grocery store. This is not the fault of cross-dressers and it would be horribly wrong to consider myself better because I moved on from that identity.

Cross-dressers and transsexuals are cousins in the same family. We have different mothers, but we are close enough for kidney donation The foundation of any feelings of primacy under the transgender umbrella are both meritless and mean in spirit. Besides, she may turn out to be more like you than you thought.

Love From the Comment’s Section (not here, elsewhere)

Every day I like to torture myself over breakfast and scan CNN for the latest world news, home in on a story that is trans or gay related, and scroll down to read all the comments. If you haven’t, I would not recommend it. It’s pretty bad.

Scads have been written about the anonymity of the internet and the ability for one to spew ignorant hatred into the body of human experience without it ever coming back to haunt them. When you pick a handle like “GodLKillU”, it hard to link that to Larry LePew of Dunstan Ave, and he knows that. More so he clearly has nothing much to do except to log on CNN and advance his pure version of the world by taking issue with the story itself, or other people who have commented on it. Oftentimes it seems clear he still isn’t aware of spell checking, the prohibition against using all caps that goes back to the early 90’s, and sounds suspiciously like the crazy cat lady from The Simpsons.

For a while, I was letting this hurt my feelings. This was pure nasty stuff, often backed up by obscure scripture passages or a third grade level knowledge of genetics. “Come on Michelle, a lot of these people are just trolls!” I still don’t know exactly what that is. Someone deliberately acting extra ignorant to make the marginally ignorant look worse? Assholes who really think this? No shit bona fide trolls like the ones who like to give the three billy goats gruff a hard time? I’m not clear, but at some point I started finding these comments amusing. Disturbing if they are real, but as long as Mssr LePew isn’t really going to utilize industrial staples to ensure my birth genitalia remains in the original configuration.

My favorites are the homespun horse sense kind of wisdom the writers seem to think will light a million bulbs. A great one came from a Texassy sounding moniker, complete with phonetically spelled out drawl intended to answer a transgender related post. Word for word, “Whut yew do is take ‘em and say, “Naw stand in front of thet mirror boyah, and drop ya’lls drawers. Ya see that thar boyah? That is whut yew are!” I took ‘that thar’ to mean the person’s unfortunate male genitalia. I like to think this is real, both because it’s funnier that way, and I knew someone in the Air Force who talked exactly like that. His use of what seemed to be a silver plated toilet seat as a belt buckle added to the charm.

After Texassy bon mots and crazy cat lady, I like the bible thumpers who can’t come up with a quote to back them up. “God hates it, it’s in the bible, ‘nuff said!” They are pretty sure anyway, but just can’t point to where at the moment. The mini mad scientists are less enjoyable because they think they know what the sex chromosomes do, but clearly don’t. That actually seems to be most people, so it might be worth advancing the idea of incorporating more genetics in our attempts to educate the public to our condition.

All said and done, yes, I used to get upset reading this crap, but common sense prevailed. It’s a questionable level of commitment to an ideal if you won’t put your name to it. If you can’t sign the note of intent, it is doubtful that you are willing to risk being featured on the evening news for carrying out one of the heinous fantasy actions you like to write about. Even if Hitler came again today, I don’t think we would have another Beer Hall Putsch kicked off in the commentary of a CNN Money interest rate article.

People who do put their name on it are a different story. I do worry about them because they are willing to put their intentions out there, signed, sealed and delivered. Just yesterday I Googled Santorum and it seems he’ll put his name on just about anything. It’s guys like that we have to watch out for.

Baldy Sour (or why I wear a wig)

“I look like an old baldy sour!”, my beloved late grandma, Mim, used to say every time she donned her bathing cap for a dip in pool. I didn’t know what that meant, but have since looked it up, and as suspected it’s an old-timey term for a bald head. Who’d have guessed? It’s not a term I’m particularly fond of, good memories or not, because it is far too apt in describing me. That’s right friends; those lustrous locks you see in the postage size pic of me over there to the right did not spring from my scalp. In truth, I am a baldy sour and it kind of sucks.

Growing up I was always told how lucky I was that male pattern baldness was inherited from the mother’s side. Rightfully, I should have been spared my father’s fate and enjoyed the nice thick hairline on the Irish side of the family. I was 25 in basic training when they buzzed the thick mop of unruly hair right down to my bare scalp. In the coming weeks, guys would peer into the mirror at the fuzz quickly growing that allowed them to feel like people again, and not just whatever shitty nickname the drill sergeant screamed at them. I did my share of peering with growing dismay. Yeah, hair was growing back all right, but in a very distinctive horseshoe pattern even the most “I can give a shit” type of guy dreads to see. I tried my best to develop a delusion that this was stress related.

It was not, and got progressively worse as time went on. I looked into Rogaine, but on an Air Force enlisted salary, the stuff was considerably outside of my price range. I took to wearing a baseball cap at every opportunity, although the insanely rigorous regulations regarding dress code in the military forbade this inside. When I got stationed at my first duty post, one of my first actions was to order from a wig catalog, even though I had a roommate and zero opportunity to dress. It was more important to at least have the means, if not the privacy.

Since then I have resigned myself to being a wig girl. When dressing only occasionally, it wasn’t such a big deal. Now that I’m moving rapidly toward full time, I’m once again bothered by it. When I started hormones, many people were quick to point out that HRT can re-grow lost hair. Yeah… if you have a small missing patch or something, but over half my melon is apple smooth. It’s just not going to happen. Here and there I get mad that I can get breast augmentation, remove my beard, get facial surgery, get bottom surgery, but no matter what I do, I’ll never have real hair again; just one part of me that will never quite be ‘natural’ looking.

For a while I stressed about the bad parts. Wigs are hard to care for. They get tangled so easy and when you try to unknot the hair, it tends to come out. Wearing a wig in the summertime is like having a nice warm hat on your head. I’m always afraid of it getting caught in a door or something and yanking it off. It gets caught in my purse strap, the seatbelt, and in my winter coat. People who would never, ever say boo about your real hair feel free to critique it as a fashion accessory. It goes on and on, but I can’t go without. Nothing gets you made at a distance like the George Costanza look.

Once I get it out of my system though, I can see an upside. I can affix it to my scalp for longer wears. I don’t have to buy nearly as much product. I can change my look in seconds, never victim to the arduous process of waiting for a bad cut to grow out. I can buy real human hair, hand tied to a perfect fit lace cap that can be cut, styled, dyed and dried. Finally, cisgender women buy wigs as well, and sometimes for the same reason. Thank god, because otherwise the market just wouldn’t be there to make them! All in all, in terms of problems to have, I think I can live with this one.

Hormonapalooza Two-za

“Is it me, or is it hot in here? Oh, it is me… great.”  Back in a more masculine life I used to scoff at the fact that my spouse would wrap herself up in Russian sleigh ride style on a warm August evening, shivering and begging for hot chocolate. I would assist by turning the thermostat up two degrees, achieving the effect of giving her an immediate heat stroke. Yes, her comfortable temperature range is a one degree window, and rarely the same degree from day to day. Oh, how little I knew.

Although I have in the past purported medical knowledge on a ‘Trapper John, M.D.’ level, in reality it’s more like when George Costanza pretends to be an architect. Because of that I have no idea why taking a couple tiny, tiny blue pills every day has managed to send my internal thermostat into a catastrophic tailspin. I probably would have known this if I bothered to read the printed out info sheets my therapist gave me, but I’m more of a ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ kind of gal, and don’t remember which purse I left them in anyway. Yes, I’m also losing things much more frequently as well.

I’m not complaining mind you, just observing. I never understood the power of testosterone to create complete immunity to temperature variations. I live in Buffalo and prior to this winter I would routinely venture out without a jacket, or lounge around the house barefoot in shorts and a tee as frigid winds whip through my poorly insulated dwelling. This winter I schlumped around the house in an enormous bathrobe with the heat cranked up to 73. On several occasions I lost coloration and feeling in several fingers just driving home from work. Conversely, at any moment I know I may suddenly feel like a strong candidate for spontaneous human combustion.

I have to wonder if my metabolism morphing into a Katy Perry song is causing or coincidental with the fact that I sometimes get, well, a little cranky. I used to be an emotional vegetable, allowing insults, slights, and a sink full of dirty dishes roll off my back. I know I talked about this before, but only as a cyclical thing. Aside from having things get under my skin just a wee bit easier, they take a lot longer to work their way out as well. I should probably provide an example.

I got ‘defriended’ on Facebook by someone for, as far as I can tell, absolutely no discernable reason. Second time by the way. Now, when I was maintaining my male account, chances are I was defriended dozens of times and never noticed, even when I checked the thing three times a day. This time I noticed immediately. “Hey, where the hell did ‘so-an-so’s’ newsfeed go? What, we are no longer friends? WTF?”  Now the old me would have either not noticed, or if so, not cared or found it mildly amusing and immediately forgotten about it. Now I find myself obsessing over something that is relatively meaningless. I mean, it’s Facebook, one of the most irrelevant of interactions I have with people. I only ever see this person about once every two months and spend about ten minutes each time conversing with them. Why do I care?

Honestly, I don’t know and it baffles me. I have definitely become more social (not a big leap – I was a reclusive introvert to begin with), and more socially aware. Human interaction and relationships have gone from “not at all important” to “well, a lot more important”. My theory is that this mental circuitry was always there, but just not getting the right juice to run. Now that I am chemically balanced, my present but disconnected capacities have suddenly become enabled. It’s surprising, yes, but also pretty darn cool, even if it does mean getting occasionally pissy about things I would have once found irrelevant. Starting to feel myself finally is also giving me a huge boost of confidence. I like this!

Here’s Where The Story Ends

It makes me tear up every time I hear it, and for so many reasons. This was before I even started hormones, back when no one on earth had the power to make me cry. It seems so strange now. Most of you have never heard of “Here’s Where the Story Ends” (linked), performed by the Sunday’s own Harriet Wheeler in her indescribably ethereal tones. The title alone evokes a deep and profound sadness and my theme for the previous year in oh so many ways. I’m not vain, I know this song isn’t about me, but listeners rights allow me the privilege to take it anyway.

To give some context, I first heard this during my time of greatest fragility. After several horrendous experiences, my father elected to forgo further chemo treatment and let the aggressive cancer do what it may. We all knew what this meant. At the same time my internal struggle was almost over. There was nowhere left to hide in my own mind, seconds away from my inner sanctuary being flung open. I knew what that meant as well. It was the end of many stories and without having the comfort of knowing what the next one was. My father’s life (yes, we were very close), the end of this “Michael” I purported to be, the inevitable end of my marriage, and the strong possibility of family, friends and employment left by the wayside. These were some beautiful, moving stories full of hope and light, but over. It’s hard to see past the end of a really good story.

The song is really about woman who admits falling for someone for the wrong reasons, succumbed to indiscretions, bore shame, and learned to look back on a “terrible year” and allow bittersweet memory to turn it colorful. Unable to relate to exactly that,  I took the lyrics to reflect my own experience. I played it over and over the night my father passed, using the haunting title to release the pent up feelings of loss and sorrow, sobbing the whole ride home. I played it over and over as I came to the dawning realization of my own identity. It’s not a transgender song, but a transition one, so close enough.

“People I know, places I go

Make me feel tongue tied.

I can see how people look down

They’re on the inside.

People I see, weary of me

Showing my good side.

I can see how, people look down

I’m on the outside.”

I think we have all felt that and the alienation it can bring. As we bring our inside out to others, inevitably, we transition to the outside; no longer really in with those who knew us for the costume we wore. Now appearing as ourselves, they stare until we notice and then look down or away. The story where we move inconspicuously through oceans of public approval is over, at least for now. So many, even the people close to us, think our efforts, often extreme, are born out of vanity or even lust, without understanding it’s all just not to be noticed at all.

“It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year

Which makes my eyes feel sore.”

There is no denial that we take remnants of these experiences with us; it’s impossible not to. No matter how many times we thank god for that time being over, the experience of it always remains. Each time we come across the little souvenirs in our own minds, brought up by some innocuous trigger, the pain is invoked fresh.  Just as real as the sounds of the gulls and sea smell in the air when holding a shell found a long time ago on a memorable day. Many of my trans sisters and brothers show subtle signs of transition PTSD, and I suspect I very well may as well.

“I know where I belong.

The only thing I ever really wanted to say

Was wrong, was wrong, was wrong.”

Oh, so true. How many of us are pouring our hearts out, on-line, in person, in front of audiences of many or even a single family member, simply trying to communicate what this feels like. No voluminous flowery description, analogy, or poem comes close describing it. The cisgender lexicon that all human languages are constructed from lack the right words and phrases to capture our meaning, intent. We aren’t truly silenced or shut out, but attempting to build towers out of marbles. In this way our story ends at the ground floor.

“It’s that little souvenir of a colorful year

That makes me smile inside.

So I cynically, cynically say the world is that way

Surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise. “

I love this part of the song best. It was a terrible year, but oh what I colorful one as well. There was great fear and awful sadness, but along with it came the heady excitement of self-realization and understanding. The opportunity to take on what seemed an insurmountable challenge, plagued by heavy losses and catastrophic surprises, but oh such a reward to be gained! I do likely have a plaque of cynicism build up on my soul regarding the world, but such is expected for all but the most ordinary of lives. Here is where the story ends, but life begins.

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