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Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Issue Of Men

Somewhere along the line I went from being a conciliatory male apologist to a big angry feminist. That the time just so happens to coincide with my transition is pure coincidence. I mean, how could it not happen? If the home team just happens to be superior in every conceivable way to the rival franchise, it probably has nothing to do with the fact that I just moved to the city. Ugh! A sports analogy… how male. All kidding aside, I want to address something along those lines as I received some constructive feedback that my constant kicking of sand in the face of men comes across a little vitriolic. Let’s talk about that for a second.

First off I think I should clarify a few things. I don’t hate men or even masculinity in general. The vast majority of men, both cis and trans, have been genuinely good people with intelligence, sensitivity, empathy, and just and honorable intentions. My father was a very good man, and I hope to god my son will be as well. In the past and in the present, men have employed me, promoted me, helped me move, listened to my problems, worked for me with such engagement I burst with pride, and even now it is a man who is helping me transition here at work. No question about it, men can be very noble and do great things. “Yeah, yeah, men rock, so what’s the deal Michelle?”

Well, being born of unfortunate outer appearance, I’ve been shoved in with groups of boys and men since birth. One of the things I’ve noticed all through school, college, the Air Force, in various shit jobs, and even in a professional environment, is that men seem to like to be unbelievably nasty to each other and consider this a good time. I went on about ball busting in an earlier post, and it’s that I’m talking about. I’ve never fully understood it, but it led me to believe that men lack sensitivity about anything at all when said in jest, even if that wasn’t the underlying intention. This seemed like an open invitation to smack around these impervious galoots with no harm done. The gotcha of course, which I failed to realize, is that this only applies to each other. When women do it, it’s a whole different story.

Having a female brain, I never quite got the whole importance of the masculinity thing and considered it more of an affectation than a core identity issue. In truth, men can be very sensitive about it and get hurt feelings really quick or become defensive if they consider it threatened in some way. Women, including trans women, poking at it can be a bad time for them. It can be a little like the N word that way, but not quite understood by females to have the same level of impact. Sometimes it doesn’t, but sometimes it does. I’m not sure what always sets this off, but the comments received indicate that ball busting by females is clearly one of them. The others aren’t so clear to me, except for certain unavoidable things like my existence and gay male existence. That is where we can all run into some real problems.

Now that I have advanced my understanding of the lay of the land a little better, I can say with certainty that any negative comments toward males are emphatically not aimed at trans men, gay men, and the vast majority of the male population who are decent, noble, and chivalrous. The big angry feminist in me, however, can make no promises about the super testosterony types who wear their ball cap backwards, have contempt for women and the aforementioned types of men, and operate under the delusion that my existence is some sort of threat to their masculinity or that I have any intention of (yuk!) tricking them into sex. On them it’s open season; I simply don’t have patience for that kind of foolishness.

In conclusion, if you are one of the decent guys out there, cis or trans, of which I think you are the vast majority, you have my sincere apologies for any offenses I lobbed your way. Even having lived among you, I still don’t totally get you yet, but we can work together to understand each other. As for you other “men”, in the extremely unlikely chance you happen to read my material, game on.

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Fit To Be Tied

I bought a copy of ‘Women’s Fitness’ the other day, and my first impression was, WTF? Seriously, what a load of crap. The big angry feminist inside me came roaring out like a banshee. I should probably explain a little bit how a glossy periodical had the power to make me see red.

Back when I was still on a decade’s long quest not to be myself I ended up exploring a lot of dead end roads. Oh, so many, many roads, but we’ll talk about the rest another day. One of them had to do with the shape of my body. After marriage, apart from other changes, I went and gained close to 100 lbs in a little less than a year. Looking back, I think this was about an unconscious need to ensure I would not be tempted to go out and start a new wardrobe of clothing. Instead, I would be a happy fat man and that only.  I could be content being a junior Santa in training I thought. As it turns out, I was not and found panting in someone’s office after climbing a single flight of stairs fairly ridiculous. This was definitely not me.

If I wasn’t happy being a fat man, perhaps I would go in the other direction. I put together a killer diet and exercise plan that yielded fantastic results. I would build the body of a Greek god, bulging with toned, powerful muscles; a ripped dynamo of exemplary masculinity. I would resemble that guy I saw in a magazine curling a huge log with chains wrapped around it, fully ready for the Festivus feats of strength. I worked out every other day, bought increasingly heavy kettle bells and Craigslisted a weight machine. It was actually starting to work, until I came to the realization that my new bulging musculature was making me just as uncomfortable with myself as the spare truck tire did. What the hell? No matter, I was mere months away from admitting the truth.

During my quest for muscle nation domination, I subscribed to Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness, both excellent guides packed with medical and nutritional information, exercise explanation and demonstration, biology, featured subjects, personal testimonials, and product reviews. The focus was there, and I felt several magnitudes of healthy better just having read them. These were real men’s magazines! Screw ‘Maxim’ and its puerile little fart jokes and Downey-soft core porn; these are what “real” men read.

I picked up the women’s version of Health and Fitness expecting the same thing, but you know, for women. No. Not even close! Sure, there were a few good hints and tips and feel good stories sandwiched in with the unending stream of cosmetics ads, but it was nothing like the raw “you will be healthy and like it, fucker” feel of the male versions. Essentially, these read like Cosmo with a different cover theme. If I wanted yet more new techniques for painting my nails, getting rid of crows feet, telling what he is thinking in bed, or how to shellac a whimsical footstool I was all set, same as if I bought any of the other dozens of interchangeable magazines out there. If I wanted to understand the intricacies of muscle tone to achieve a killer caboose, identify various nutritional techniques to prepare for a marathon, or even how to work against this bloating thing I now seem to be getting about every month, I can go fry an egg. Sure there are some good recipes, but they seem just a little geared toward making sure “he” will like them too. Total, total bullshit.

Worse yet, I’m beginning to suspect this is only the beginning. Feminists have been saying for many decades now that it’s a separate but unequal world in spite of appearances and assurances otherwise, and I did believe them. There is, however, a difference between believing it and experiencing it. It’s not hard to understand why people get mad. Don’t worry, I’m just a little pissed, but I’ll be all right. Understanding is the first step toward change.

My Big Gay Roommate

In my sophomore year of college, one of my roommates came out as gay. It took some time as he struggled with everything that comes with being out to society, but unfortunately for him, some members of our little circle are intrusive by nature. The discovery of Playgirl magazines finally tipped us all off, after his joining the university Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Alliance (I think T’s were tacked on in later years), pink shorts, and having a boyfriend failed. I never said we were collection of junior Sherlock’s. I found this process incredibly threatening.

If you read some of my earlier posts, you are aware that I struggled long and hard not to be me, and often won for even years at a time. In college, with roommates, it was almost impossible to dress and the lull by necessity looked like a cure for my condition. I would try many such cures in subsequent years, but that is a story for another day. When my roommate was sexually ambiguous, I felt a little uncomfortable around him. When he was full blown out, and quite flaming at the time, my alarm bells were going off big time. Young and ignorant, I had no idea that trans and gay were different things. One cause of alarm then was that although he was gay, as I suspected I might be, he also exhibited behavior and tendencies that didn’t quite match up to my own self identity. This was confusing and produced big old bucket loads of anxiety.

My anxiety came out in unfortunate ways. I always had a bit of a blushing issue with LGBT issues, but it had never actually been a problem. After my roommate came out, I had my first big “episode”. I was taking a poetry class where the professor had us all sit in a giant circle to facilitate everyone seeing each other. I detested this arrangement, but loved the class and didn’t drop. One morning he launched into a discussion about Walt Whitman being secretly gay. I felt my face begin to flush, triggering profound panic, which led to exacerbated sweating. I was certain everyone was looking at me, and remained seated to avoid drawing further attention to myself. After that class a girl I had a small crush on suddenly became much more chummy and stopped with the constant references to her boyfriend every time we talked. I was no rocket scientist, but had a really good idea what that meant.

It got worse, leading to some real problems. Come to think of it, I’m amazed I graduated at all. I took a Psychology of Sexuality class and determined I would suffer though. I hid in the back corner where I could blush my prudish flushes in relative anonymity. When we started the chapter on gay and transgender issues I was unable to force myself to go and never returned to the class. Hooray for my only incomplete! Then it happened again in late spring when I was applying to be a Resident Advisor to score a single room, rent free. It was a group interview and sure enough, the question came up “how would you advise someone complaining of a gay roommate?” They had to be kidding me. My face turned as red as a Looney Tunes character who just ate a hot tamale, and my Secret was neither strong enough for a man or woman that day. Needless to day, I didn’t get the job.

It was time to explore this gay thing just a little bit more. My now former roommate liked to frequent the area gay friendly clubs like Underground, Cathode Ray and the long gone Buddies, and we took to going with him. I needed to get a better feel, as it occurred to me maybe my experience was “normal gay” and he was an outlier of some sort. I was comfortable enough going; at least these were people I didn’t worry about blushing in front of. If they thought I was gay, all the better. I didn’t get hit on much, although I once had a guy chat me up for a while and finally tell me I had beautiful eyes. I thought it was sweet, but it didn’t do anything for me. Apparently I wasn’t a gay man, so what the hell was I supposed to be anyway?

It took me a number of years to come up with the right answer, in spite of all signs that seem really, really obvious in hindsight. For all the tortuous freak outs his presence caused me, I’m very grateful for the experiences that helped move me forward toward an answer, even if it took a really, really long time. Since then we have stayed in touch more or less, and he has been immensely supportive since I came out, even though I was kind of an asshole back in day, super gluing spare change to his dresser and whatnot. I could not be more grateful that he let it go.

… OK, I just realized he might read this, so… by “big” I do not mean out of shape. In fact, he has better legs than I do. Seriously, he’s  a “too bad he’s gay” gay. 🙂

Just a Wee Drop O’ Courage

Some of us tend to get, well, a little snippy when someone calls us courageous. I’d like to talk about that for a second. A great many of us have written about the whole courage thing, how cisgender allies like to paint us as individuals who soar where eagles and angels fear to tread, and how much that notion ruffles our feathers. Yeah, it does, but it shouldn’t.

To anyone trans who might be reading this; you know what I’m talking about. A trans writer I deeply admire. Natalie Reed,  put if best in her epic post 13 Myths and Misconceptions About Trans Women over on Skepchick and Queerika. She likened us to someone running through a dark and stormy night, chased by wolves, finally making it to the safety of a well lit cabin and once inside, breathless from the terror inducing flight, are told how brave we are. The point is that very few of us perceive ourselves as brave. We usually transition because we are at the end of a pier that’s in the process of burning down, so the water suddenly looks really inviting, even if we think we can’t swim. We do what we need to in order to survive and continue living a productive life with at least a chance of happiness and fulfillment. We all understand that.

We use a lot of pretty language to describe our feelings; lord knows I never shut up about it, but attempting to convey our experience to the cisgender world is basically for naught. They are never really going to get it, nor should they, anymore then we really understand what it’s like to be cisgender. It is very validating, however, when they try, and that is what I think our focus should really be on.

When someone cisgender gives us credit for having great courage, it’s really them trying to put themselves in our shoes. If I understand correctly, the very notion of leaving the house presenting as the gender opposite as that they were born into is anything from uncomfortable to icky to terrifying. In trying to imagine that, they are attempting to visualize our experience and having the reaction appropriate to their own identity. Speaking for myself as someone afraid of heights, I find the notion of climbing up on the high board at the pool and voluntarily diving head first from it very naary and have a hard time understanding how a high diver, called to do this unimaginable thing for some reason, can. Frankly, I think it’s pretty awesome for them to try and we should recognize the empathy and support they are showing in this. It’s the thought that counts, and I for one am grateful.

We don’t see ourselves as brave because we are both in a “have to” situation, and at the same time are doing for ourselves to achieve peace and happiness. That said, let’s be honest. Who here prior to embracing their identity didn’t think that if they were caught in daylight cross-dressing they would instantly die. I certainly did! Peering out the front window for a safe time to run to the car, sitting in the car outside Wegman’s trying to psych myself to go in, teeth chattering and knees knocking. Even after the incredibly empowering experience of being in the Pride Parade last June, I found myself scared shitless walking a mile to my car alone because I stupidly asked to be dropped off in the wrong place. Sure it all seems silly now, but we all have to overcome some degree of fear to begin living our lives.

Whether these things make us incredibly brave, insanely foolish, or apathetic to negative societal opinion and danger I don’t know. Probably a little of each. It’s not always a warm and cuddly world out there for trans people, and we are well aware of that. The option to hide is there, but we push ourselves anyway. The dangers are real, but we face them. Maybe there is something to notion of trans-courage after all, even if we do acknowledge that we had to do it. I’m very certain that even as I write this, someone is hanging lifeless at the end of a rope, unable to face what lay before them, leaving all around them to wonder why and never know. If our friends and allies want to recognize that because their heart is in the right place, I’ll graciously let them and thank them. We just might deserve it, just a little bit.

Chameleon Karma

One of the harder parts of coming out to family, friends, and even the woman who greets us at the door every Sunday morning at Wal-Mart, is explaining away the deep and abiding skepticism. “Well, I certainly never saw anything!” True, true… but all that really means is that I was doing really well at my primary focus; hiding who I really was. Most times it was so deep down in there I was able to fool myself for years at a time. Remember as well that it’s not like people ever look at a little “boy” and say, “hmmm… I have to wonder, are they really a girl inside?” This certainly makes it easier for us, at least for a while.

People place great importance on their ability to detect profound differences in other humans around them. I’m sure it’s hardwired as a evolutionary advantage to protect ourselves and loved ones from malevolent predators like pedophiles, serial killers, and of course the ubiquitous aliens among us. Somewhere along the way most individuals let this kind of ‘Spidy sense’ atrophy because we have people for that now. Just like the 1% lost the advantageous skill of cleaning the toilet; they have illegal aliens who can do it. A rigorous deportation program means they can exchanged for new ones so you don’t even have to feed them. The point of course is that most people assume others are like them, especially if they look the part. It shouldn’t be a super shocker then that they couldn’t tell.

The reality is that if I can hide it from me, I can hide it from you. People still feel tricked and betrayed, or that if they weren’t able to tell, you might just be making this whole thing up. I totally understand not liking to be fooled, but when you think about it, how much of a horses ass do I feel like? I live in this body, and it wasn’t until I put all the pieces of evidence together on the cork board that I had a, “shit, that was Keyser Soze!” moment. It was really, really obvious in hindsight, but until the magic moment it was like looking at one of those maddening pictures you can see a sailboat in or something if you focus just right. Worse in my case, because someone actually told me 10 years ago and I was still able to let the information skim off my brain like a frictionless surface, only to be buried in my subconscious for a decade.

If we can’t admit we are trans, we can’t tell anyone. As for the indicative behavior, I’m always surprised when people are surprised we hid all that for so long. Really, they are sometimes. The reason of course is that the cross-dressing and thoughts, etc are things we are deeply embarrassed about and in many cases  would rather die than have someone find out. When the most powerful form of insult one can throw at a man is that he may be even a tiny bit ladylike, no one is in a hurry to fess up they know their shoe and bra size, the differences between woman’s, misses, and juniors, and how to put on pantyhose without getting a run. I saw a movie recently where one cop insulted the other by saying the sound of his pee hitting the side of the urinal was a little bit feminine. OK, that is pretty funny, but you see where I’m going.

Our ability to hide and blend for years and decades is excellent for getting by during that period, but like all things, it must be paid for. Most of us find that out when karma comes due when we start to transition. First come the examples of everything you have done that is “stereotypically” male, even if there are women who do or like the same thing. “You like ‘Star Wars’, that is such a male thing.” Pointing out that her female friend loves ‘Star Wars’ way more than I do, the reply is, “Yeah, but she’s not typical with that.” Seriously, like ‘atypical’ wouldn’t have been my middle name had I given the selection process a little more thought.

It’s all right though. I’m very willing to pay karma her just dues, her fair share, and everything she has coming to her. I may be deep in arrears for enjoying the benefit of some sweet camouflage, but I took the second notice seriously and now the balance is swinging in my favor finally. Who knew it could be so expensive not to be yourself?

Somebody That I Used to Know

“Seriously Michelle, you are going to reference ‘Glee’ yet again? God, I think I’m going to try and find some handmade steampunk themed stirrup pants on Etsy rather than read more of this crap.” I hope not. In spite of my comedicly flat opening here it was my hope that we have something to talk about, plus you simply don’t have the ass for those pants. OK, so I was watching ‘Glee’ and heard the Gotye song, “Somebody That I Used to Know” and thought it was something I thought I would like to hear again. My spouse/sister looked it up on YouTube and we watched a delightful video by the original artist a couple dozen times.

I’d explain the song in detail, but honestly, you are already in front of a computer so go look it up and come back to reading this. Really, it’s worth it. If you are rolling your eyes because everyone already knows about this, all I can say is look, no one who has even read one of my posts before would fling the words “hip” or “with it” or “not pathetically dorky” in my general direction.

The reason this is so popular, other than the gratuitous use of a xylophone and naked people covered in paint, is that it speaks to a very universal phenomenon. To stay on topic and not just write a teenagery gushy tribute to the song, I’m going to take a big leap and say that so many of us in the transgender community have a collection of such somebody’s as a direct result of our existence. I think the goat man [Editors note: Gotye did not choose his name on account of his resemblance to a goat] said it best, “and that feels so rough”. It does feel rough.

Now, I’m not bringing this up as an excuse to air some grievances at individuals who turned away or instituted a policy of radio silence once I came out as trans. OK, maybe a little bit, but I’ll leave out names. Been down that road before in a blog from years past where I under estimated the tendency people have to dive 38 pages deep into a Google search of themselves. I got quite the verbal spanking and promised not to do that again.

Most of the people I came out to reacted way more favorably than I could have hoped for. I will say this, no one told me off or anything, well, except for that one time, but I don’t think that happens much anyway. I wrote to one of my oldest friends and let him know. We were best friends in the first grade and virtually inseparable through all of grammar school and high school, lost touch sometime in college and reconnected on Facebook a few years ago. Just last March he came to my dad’s wake and we pledged to get together for dinner and catch up. Anyway, I wrote him in December. Nothing. I pinged him on my old male Facebook account and asked if he got my letter. Nothing. Now that it’s late spring, I’m beginning to think he’s now just somebody that I used to know.

I had a very close friend in the Air Force whom I loved with an intensity that has only been surpassed by my love for my spouse/sister. We worked together, spent every day together, talked almost every night after I came back to Buffalo, and she even came to my wedding. I wrote her a long letter as well and received only deafening silence in return. Honestly, I would have well preferred a nice venomous “fuck you, freak” because at least then I could have mustered some righteous indignation over the severance of the relationship.

“But you didn’t have to cut me off; Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing… But you treat me like a stranger and I feel so rough… I guess I don’t need that though, and now you’re just somebody that I used to know.”  It’s true really; all of it. So you all don’t take this the wrong way, yeah, it hurts a little, but just part of life in general. On getting my letter they may very well feel exactly the same way. “Michael” was somebody who they used to know and just got the news that he’s no longer there, and maybe never really was to begin with. Hurt feelings in transition often go both ways, and as much as tell ourselves it’s really only about us, we know that isn’t true, even if we want it to be.

So, as with anything in life, I say goodbye to some old friends, embrace even tighter those who stayed, and welcome new one’s who are happy to know the real me. All said and done, it’s a pretty fair trade if you ask me.  Maybe not so rough after all.

If I Were Mechanical Michelle

I was attempting explain to my therapist what the tipping point was like where I realized my mind was locking up leading my pursuit to transition. As usual, I relied on a common analogy to explain a more complex issue. It’s a habit of mine, often hated by others who bank on the avoidance of understanding to curtail further discussion. I like achieving that effect, so I do it all the time now.

“It’s like when you have the Task Manager open on a Window’s machine and the CPU usage turns bright green.” The first thing he asked me was what a ‘Task Manager’ is. I should not have been surprised as I had to explain what Facebook was the previous session, and spent half of another teaching how to back up his Outlook file. He never did make good his joking threat to refund his fee that week, but nevertheless. We have all struggled through a thousand and one clumsy ways of trying to describe our feelings to cisgender people. It’s no easy achievement, and as far as I know, it hasn’t been accomplished yet. It’s harder than those fifth grade assignments of describing what a peanut butter sandwich is to someone who never heard of bread. Even if we could take that approach, the listener is as likely to tune out as quickly as old Mrs Eckert did reading, “So there is this stuff called flour…”.

I thought using an analogy would be a wickedly clever way of at least capturing tiny aspects of this, even if they were wide right of the mark. Of course I didn’t take into account the possibility of having to describe the universally understood elements, putting me right back into sandwich land. It was like explaining an exceptionally funny joke, punch line and all, but I finally got the message across. Once I did a few fancy demonstrations, locking up his PC to the point of forced reboot, he understood and felt it was as an apt an analogy as he had heard. I’m not convinced he got it though, there being a suspect motive of saving his clunky old machine from my crazy experiments, so thought I would put it out there for critique.

Computer operation over the years has come to resemble the workings of human thought. They really have to in order to make them marketable, as an operating system that mirrored a cats thoughts would be infuriatingly difficult. To make them even more intuitive, an exploratory trepanation hole was installed in the form of the Task Manager. This allows the user to see all the various process currently running, in both the forefront and the subconscious of the machine, and how many resources they are using. Each use some percentage of both the memory and  processing capability. Usually, any given process is decent enough to use only what is needed, leaving enough for all the other necessary processes. Sometimes, however, things go wrong.

No one really know why (If you do, shush! Don’t ruin my analogy, please.) some background process chugging along suddenly goes crazy and starts sucking up more and more of your resources. At first you notice things are just a bit… off… but no importance. Sometimes you don’t even know it’s there, and if so, usually it was easy to put it out of mind. The situation becomes harder to ignore when drafting a simple document takes hours because that little “I’m doing something, you are going to have to wait” icon starts popping up more and more. After a while, forget trying to start something else, or god forbid, attempt to surf the web. Now the document has turned translucent with a little “Not Responding” message at the top. Great. Just great.

You may not have been ready to stop what you are doing to go and try to address this, but it got to the point where there is simply no going forward until you hit ‘ctrl-alt-delete’ and launch task manager to figure out what is going on. Sure enough, some bugger of an application is hogging 100% of what you need to even function anymore. You try to do the easy thing and ‘end process’, but either a warning of dire consequences comes up, or the computer simply refuses to let you. This thing is way too critical, and you need to either address it for real, or throw the whole damn machine away. Such is the chain of analogous events that bring one to transition. It comes down to this if the world expects to get any further use out of you.

OK, I do admit this isn’t perfect, and might not even apply to everyone’s unique experience, but it sure does mine and I can guess I’m probably not alone in this. Any comments are greatly appreciated. Yes… I know some of you are Mac users and my little example doesn’t apply in your wonderful little land where nothing ever goes wrong and apples grow on trees.

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