RSS Feed

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.

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.

Dawn of the Day

OK, I know this sounds like it’s about zombies, but seriously, it’s not. I’m talking about that very first magical time we step out the front door, out get out of the car, in broad daylight just like real people do every day. Yes, I do mean dressed gender appropriate. Those of you in the trans community know what I’m talking about, or at least plan to sometime I would imagine. Since this is kind of a one way forum, I’ll begin by sharing my own tale of terror and how I somehow did not burst into flames of have a mob of spun up villagers chase me with pitch forks. Really, I told you, this is not about zombies!

In earlier, much more confused days, I used to take walks in the wee hours of the morning when no one sane was awake. It was good to get out of the house as myself and found the experience invigorating, even if the chance that I would encounter another human being was next to nil. I was still well in “this is something I feel I need to do for some reason but it doesn’t mean anything” land, and many, many moons from “this is who I am” space. Our awkwardly painful trans adolescences can span decades. At the time I could scarcely imagine making my way though crowds in downtown Buffalo, or nipping into Tops to replace the rutabaga the dog got to first. Had I any inkling those exact things lay ahead, I would have dramatically uttered “the horror, the horror!” and quickly expired.

Last summer my time came around at last. Sure, I had been to a few Belles and Spectrum meetings already, but they started after dark and I was able to park right nearby. In early June Pride rolled around and I had volunteered to ride the Spectrum float in the parade; an event that started at high noon. I didn’t have anyone to go with, my friendships with the other members still in the nascent stages, to whom I was still “that other Michelle or something”. I got in the car, drove downtown and parked on some random side street; something that would haunt me later that day, but not because there are zombies there.

OK, I have to come clean before everyone starts cooing, “Ooooo! You’re so brave!” and all. Dropping myself off in the middle of a Pride fest, I could not have picked a safer location. I was nervous anyway, partially because there was a big empty spot where the Spectrum float was supposed to be. I stood fidgeting amongst the twinks, bears, and hoards of teen dykes, standing out like a sore thumb. I was dressed waaay too conservative in a black dress and pantyhose, plus was still under the impression that shellacking on pounds of Maybelline foundation looked good. A woman came up to me out of nowhere and launched into a conversation about both her recent marriage and the whole history of the Buffalo trans movement, something I was grateful for, even though I had no idea who she was or how she was able to tell (seriously) that I was trans.

It turned out to be an immensely empowering day all things considered. The float and friends showed up soon and I had a dilly of a time whooping it up on the float with my girls. It did occur to me that riding a float right past the Channel 4 news camera covering the event might not be so wise considering I was still out to less than 5 people. It was OK though. I had on shades that the Olsen twins would consider way too big hiding 75% of my face. It felt really, really good to be alive and under the sun.

Trying to get home, well, that was a bit scarier. My finely detailed planning ability didn’t account for the parade taking me miles and miles away from my car, leaving me to wait until the festivities were over to catch a ride back. I probably could have walked, but the people I considered allies were all clustered around the waterfront and would not be there to protect me. Plus, I wore the exact wrong shoes that were already cutting into my instep. Braving the certain gauntlet of roving gay bashers in bad shoes did not seem like something I wanted to do, but did so anyway due to a clerical error. After waiting for my ride, I had myself dropped off over a mile still from my car. Someone misremembered of the side street name.

Oh and what a gauntlet it was! Keeping a brisk pace as my shoes filled with blood, I was assaulted with half disinterested glances and head turns as I blazed down Elmwood, occasionally ducking down one of the plethora of ‘L’ named side streets in case my car was there. Sheer and utter brutality! Somehow, in spite of the callow disinterest in my existence, as well as a dearth of zombies, I made it back to the car. Phew! Turning down my street, however, I encountered the old lady who’s always walking her dog giving me a big dose of the hairy eyeball as I dashed from my car into the garage. So much for months of peering out the front window for the exact right moment to leave so the neighbors didn’t see.

Mild tribulations and all, it was an incredible feeling breaking the seal like that. I have to smile looking back on it now. My long held belief that the world would crumble or trumpets would blast from the heavens just because I let my true self be seen were dashed. It’s proven to be a much friendlier world out there than I anticipated, aside from some occasional mild awkwardness like a waitress cleaning the same table three times just to get a better look at me. And of course, still no zombies.

Yeah, This Isn’t a Hobby

A recent event, of which I’m not going to go into too much detail here, led me to understand that to some of the willfully ignorant, my transition is something of a hobby. Really, it’s true! For some reason it never occurred to me that someone would think that, so I was very surprised when verbally accosted when least expecting it. It didn’t help that the venue was such that responding with any real oomph would have escalated the melee and ruined everyone’s good time instead of just mine. I know, I know I can sense the outrage from a distance, but I ask you trust me that I did the right thing for the situation. Really, you had to be there.

Yes, I used ‘willfully ignorant’ on purpose because this person has known about my transition for a solid year now and apparently hasn’t even bothered to take the 5 minutes to look it up on Wikipedia to gain a rudimentary understanding. It’s fine if people simply don’t want to know, but another to speak to it as if in possession of anything other than silly prejudice. In case you can’t tell, I’m still just a tiny bit riled. No worries, I will not be caught unaware again.

I have to wonder, however, how prevalent the opinion is out there that transition is some sort of hobby or whimsical pastime? It makes sense I suppose to those who have a very murky understanding of the difference between transsexuals and cross-dressers. If one is aware though that we are undergoing a second puberty, growing breasts, being shot in the face with lasers, and planning to undergo some major remodeling in our genital area, one would think common sense would prevail at least to some point. “Wait, could Michael (gotta love it when people refuse to call you by the right name as if it will change anything) possibly be doing all this for reasons other than giving me a hard time?” Sadly, this rarely occurs.

Clearly the bloody discomfort of all of this is nothing more than an attempt to get her goat. “Remember that time you insisted I make you coffee even though I was ass deep in a muddy project out back? Zing! Gotcha!” For some if it’s not about them, it can’t possibly be about anything. I believe the condition is called ‘low differentiation’ wherein if it is not true to their own experience, it can’t possibly be true to yours. “I’m not horribly uncomfortable with my gender, so I can’t fathom why you would be. Why must you punish me by pretending the world might be different than I think by your presence? Can’t you understand it is far more unpleasant for me to have to see you than you feel being stared at like a freak?” Yeah, that was pretty much the take away from that conversation.

I would like to imagine that any ill feelings were born from a sense of outrage regarding the consequences to a well loved family member who is affected the most by this. Feeling mad on someone’s behalf is a very human thing and can be very empathetic and beautiful. If, however, the aggrieved party is no longer upset, any righteous indignation a supporter feels is then about them, not the original aggrieved person. Make no mistake about it. If they let it go, and you feel the need to get upset on their behalf, that’s all about you. It’s perfectly fine to have negative feelings on your own, but attempting to mask them by saying there is no problem but for this other person is pure bullshit.

OK, this sure was one of my rantier posts, but needed to vent a little bit. Please don’t trouble yourself by feeling pissed on my behalf, I’m over it now and came though just fine and better armed for the future. As a college friend used to say, I’m not bitter, just vindictive.

To Pass or Not to Pass

One of the most important goals of transgender people, especially those who identify with a gender binary existence, is to pass as the gender they identify with. Speaking first hand, what a royal pain in the ass this is! People like to trot out the old hypothetical aliens when seeking to demonstrate how alike we humans all are and highlight that to an outsider, there is no difference between a native Samoan and white guy from Duluth. The same could apply to gender. These aliens, usually imagined as the cute grey guys with the huge eyes, probably wouldn’t see much different in terms of gender either, at least any more than we can tell the difference between chimpanzees unless the male has a hard on. Good for them and their adorable anal probing ways, but people sure can, and do.

Keeping with my first hand perspective, it’s not at all comfortable for me to be perceived as male, even when I happen to be in male mode. It feels like a misrepresentation, a lie, and often even a costume. Transforming a middle age male body with a pot belly, ungodly thick beard growth, and severe balding is just as hard as you think it would be. I’m not looking for sympathy or anything. This is my lot and I accept it and happy to be living in an age where the option of having someone burn part of my face off with lasers is available and affordable. Living in the sixteenth century and relying on thick lead based makeup and the possibility of being burned at the stake would have been much worse.

The point I’m looking to explore is, what happens when all that can be done, is done, and it’s still not quite enough? What if I finish zapping the beard, get fitted for a kick ass wig, let the hormones do their thing, get all Mary Kay’d up, and still get read by everyone this side of Stevie Wonder? It does happen. Some trans women are naturally built like Refrigerator Perry or have faces that would pass for the Hulk with a little green paint. The only real answer is that you just live with it.

A female impersonator might consider going into another line of work, like an accountant bad at math. It might not be a fit if you can’t meet the basic qualifications for employment. For trans women, that isn’t a consideration. No one is transitioning with a qualification that they come out looking like Evangeline Lilly in the end or no dice. Once we figure out what we are, anything is better. To highlight my Gleek status, we may want to be Quinn Fabray, but if Coach Beiste is all we can manage, it’s still better than the alternative; she’s still a woman.

Passing is way more comfortable of course. Being accepted as a woman is far better than being accepted as a trans woman, and way, way better than being perceived as a man in a dress. Some of us tell ourselves we are more femme then Ann Hathaway just to make it out the front door. Others feel they may as well be wearing a tee shirt that reads, “I have/ used to have a penis” in sparkling neon letters no matter what they do, but have found a way to be OK with that. I wish I was in the former group but stuck in the latter. It’s driven me to work on passing – getting off my ass to start beard removal, dressing low key, learning to do makeup so it doesn’t look like I have 5 lbs of pancake batter on my face. Still, when I go out, I assume everyone can tell.

Everyone is different, but in the end we have to live our lives. This is who we are no matter what we look like. If we pass, wonderful, it will always be the goal. In the mean time I’ve developed a mental exercise to make the day to day a little bit easier. If I’m going to the grocery store, I think about all the people there or on their way to buy cat food and toilet paper. Not a one of those people has a thought or opinion I care about. Who are they to me? If that is the case, what changes in 10 minutes when I’m at the store with them? Yes, I know some will see me as affront to their god, or just plain silly, but most couldn’t care less. Me either and it makes life good.

%d bloggers like this: