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Monthly Archives: April 2012

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.

I’m Not the Easter Bunny!

I’m always looking for yet another analogy to explain aspects of the trans experience to cisgender people. I’ve got a lot of them, but this time I figured I would go seasonal in order to beat this dead horse just a little bit more. I think I used this one on my therapist, who reacted with great boredom having heard me pontificate on “what it’s like” yet again, after hearing the same types of things for a good 30 years. You probably haven’t, so hopefully you have a few more months before you would rather pour Draino in your eyes rather than read another of my posts.

Imagine being born and having your earliest memories being people coo over what a cute little Easter bunny you are. One of your parents is one, as are about half the people you know. From the get go they are dressing you in ridiculous looking vests, shoving baskets in your hands to carry around, and sticking you in with other bunnies who are all too excited to go hopping around on these giant, giant feet. Problem is, you don’t really feel like an Easter bunny. There are these tooth fairies around without the big ass ears, cumbersome feet, buck teeth and wear much prettier things than the damn vest. Why don’t you look like them?

It’s difficult to even take yourself seriously in situation. The mirror is clear confirmation that you are indeed the Easter bunny. People provide independent confirmation of this continuously and feel the need to correct you any time you start acting too tooth fairy-ish. God forbid anyone catches you waving around a magic wand or ditching the vest for a tutu. Maybe they never do, but your impression is that it would not be good. Why doesn’t this fricking outfit have a zipper anyway?

Getting older is a huge bummer. You and the fairies didn’t really look that different in your salad days, but now the damn ears is growing like crazy and there is fur all over the place. You are pressured into hiding eggs, which doesn’t feel very natural at all. Collecting teeth does, but lack of opposable thumbs makes this a vague frustration. On top of it all, a lot of the other Easter bunnies now act like that asshole tribe of rabbits from Watership Down. Not only will they bite each other’s ears off, but give fairies in proximity a brutal thumping as well. The association with them is downright nasty and uncomfortable. What to do, what to do?

Perhaps emulating fairies here and there will be enough to fulfill you. You find the ears can be tucked down under a tiara, a reasonable approximation of wings can be attached, and fur that can’t be shaved (too obvious when mingling with the other bunnies), can be covered with some opaque fairy colored nylon. It’ not the same, but still, it’s something. Soon you come to find there are other bunnies who like to do the same thing. Finally, you are not alone! You come to find, however, that a lot of these other bunnies seem to have different reasons for doing the same thing you do. Very different! Not quite fairy on not quite fairy stuff. Eh, just not your thing. Again, you feel alone and depression creeps in. Eating carrots seems pointless, and you’ll kill yourself if you have to hide another egg. You are a fucking Easter bunny and that’s it; it gets harder and harder to imagine what this world has for you.

You have heard of these semi-mythical bunnies who live as fairies all the time, and do things that make them virtually the same. This of course involves telling everyone you are not really a bunny but a fairy. Other bunnies like to joke about this because it threatens their sense of rabbitude. Even some of the fairies treat this derisively. Once such a thing seemed like an insurmountable impossibility, but now it’s looking like the only thing left. This is going to be difficult, but a path up to daylight filled with spiders and snakes still seems a sight better than being buried alive. You look for help.

As it turns out, there is a lot that can be done! The thick white rabbit fur you always hated can be permanently removed. A regular infusion of pixie dust and egghiderone blockers can make you look and feel much more fairyish and round out some of your bunnyness, not to mention grow small, but real wings. You can even take the final step and have the infuriating ears removed. A few more nips and tucks there, a grind down of the big buck teeth, and you are downright fairyish! The only thing you can never do is fly. You may have feelings about that, but even some fairies can’t either. It’s the smallest of prices.

Need Some Advice Please

Yep, just like the title says, I’m writing this one looking for some knowledgeable advice, particularly from my trans  brothers and sisters who are out to everyone, or if you are cisgender and have had someone come out to you. All comments are very welcome and appreciated, and I would love to hear as many opinions as possible. I know at least 200 people read each post here at Michellelianna, and another 80 or so in PE, so hoping for some good perspective. J

At this very moment I’m out to family, friends, and pretty much everyone with the exception of work. That is coming down quick, and depends on the completion of the room they are converting to a unisex bathroom to accommodate me without putting anyone out. I’m comfortable with that by the way, and very grateful to HR here for really standing behind me. Anyway, sometime between now and June I’ll be making a series of announcements, or a mass announcement to let people know I will be coming into work looking a little different. I’m pretty excited, and have some conflict with the way the announcement part is going to happen.

My original plan was to: (1) Schedule a meeting with HR and my boss and let him know (2) Schedule a meeting with our president/ site director and senior staff and let them know (3) Schedule a meeting with my staff (6 people) and let them know (4) Talk to individuals I have known a long time here and let them know (5) Send out a letter of announcement and explanation to everyone else. The letter was inspired by the one Jenny Boylan included in She’s Not There and HR seems to really like it. Here was my thinking. People who are closest to this, such as my boss and my staff have the right to be told directly by me as this is the most courteous way of doing it. I felt it showed them respect and gave opportunity to ask questions, etc right away. I also believe it’s harder to hate you to your face for something that may not be so well understood.

Now my mother doesn’t think that is such a hot idea. Her point is that when told face to face it comes across as a blindside leaving the person being told somewhat speechless and caught like a deer in the headlights. Her idea was that it might be kinder to send out the letter to everyone first and follow up with face to face a day or two later after people got a chance to digest the news. Her idea is that some people don’t react so well when surprised and it may lead to something said or felt that would be later regretted by that person, putting them into an awkward position, especially if they work for me. These are some really good points.

I’m on the fence about this. I feel almost cowardly hiding behind a letter, and that there might be some feelings about not being told to their face, especially in cases where I have known these individuals for almost 11 years now. On the other hand, giving people the freedom to have their initial reaction in private while they come to terms with the news may well have more benefit. I truly don’t know. I do know that many are going to inclined to say I should do what is most comfortable for me and let the rest be damned. The catch is that the most comfortable way for me is doing it in a way that is most comfortable for the people being told.

Again, I would love thoughts, inputs and even person experiences here if you are at all inclined to share. In advance, I thank you!

They Burned My Face Off With Lasers

The title may have caught your attention, but I’d like to say for the record that it is 100% accurate. They did burn my face off with lasers and it sure hurt. I’m writing this post to flesh out the description I gave to a new friend who was interested in the process.

My original, actually current, intention is to have my facial hair removed by electrolysis. There is a local fellow who runs Executive Clearance and is a friend and supporter of the trans community in Buffalo. Everyone swears by him, so I went to see James late last summer to get the down low. I received a very scientific explanation of the process that didn’t ring any hokey bells for me. I’m a sciency kind of girl like Mayim Bialik’s character on ‘Big Bang Theory’, only not as smart or fashionable, so I liked this a lot. He did some demonstration hairs on various parts of my face, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had been led to believe. I was offered a great deal, but needed to come up with some cash to take advantage.

In the mean time, I stumbled on a Groupon for 6 laser treatments for $400, allegedly a $1600 value, so I figured what the hell, might as well get started; I’m spontaneous that way. I booked my first appointment on a day off. I had no idea how long it would take or if I’d walk out of there with 2nd degree burns all over my face.  The laser technician was very friendly and had a sexy Russian accent I would love to be able to pull off if I thought I could fool anyone and not sound like Natasha from the Bullwinkle cartoons. She told me right away that it was going to hurt, then had me lay down on the table and disappeared for 15 minutes as I mulled over what “hurt” really meant.

Big, opaque goggles were placed over my eyes and something was wiped across my skin. I felt a slight pressure from the device on my cheek followed by a sharp burning zap that felt like the snap of a hot rubber band and caused a burning hair smell to waft to my nose. Well, no one ever accused the Russians of being a mirthful, exaggerating kind of people. I had wondered if there were going to be long intervals between zaps, during which time she zapped me three more times, kind of answering the question. I began to get really, really worried. Was this going to go on for a whole hour? I have a high pain tolerance, but holy shit! Could someone just waterboard me instead please?

Instead of going through a blow by blow, I’ll boil it down for you. Cheeks and neck, well, as already described. Chin… big ouch, like being jabbed with a red hot poker. Upper lip? Dear lord, I thought I was going to jump out of my skin! I’m thinking cattle prod amped up all the way. All in all it wasn’t that bad. OK, I know what I just said, but I was only zapped about 30 times total, the pain was confined to just when she zapped me, and the whole process took less than 10 minutes. I was a tiny bit traumatized, but she advised me to take some Motrin before I came in the next time. As I was waiting to make my next appointment, she took a high school girl back, I’m guessing for the upper lip as little missy had a ‘stache. I could hear her yelping, and I felt bad, mainly because she yelped quieter than I did.

The results were initially very disappointing. Somehow with all that surface of the sun level heat, the main shaft of hair under the skin didn’t quite burn away. After a few days though and my skin ejected them, very nice! It didn’t touch the grey ones, but my face was noticeably smoother, except for some overlap spots, evidenced by little lines of dark hair over my chin and cheeks. In the weeks following I had to use far less makeup to cover up, something I am very thankful for as I’ve always had to make the difficult choice between the girl with the 5 o’clock shadow look vs. girl who dipped her face in pancake batter.

My second visit was much, much better… kind of. For one, either the Motrin did the trick, or I was better prepared. On the other hand, since there was no visible evidence of the procedure walking out of there, I felt comfortable booking my next one for right before work. Because of this logical fallacy, I got to come to work with big red blotchy burn marks on my neck and cheeks. Nice, right? I was prepared to make the claim that I took to using a new and super irritating shaving cream, but no one asked. Pretty sure they noticed though based on all the, “what the hell happened to your face?” comments I got after I came home.

Well, two down and four more sessions to go! I’ll update my progress if I have anything interesting to add, like if she accidentally obliterates my nose or one of my lips by mistake. Following this, a year of electrolysis! Yay! Who said transitioning couldn’t be fun?

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