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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Toucha, Toucha, Touchy!

Something I’ve been meaning to comment on for some time is the fact that many of my sisters (not you, the mean ones who don’t read my blog) seem to be, well, extra special touchy about the whole trans thing. Let’s talk about that for a minute. I know I touched on this with the whole ‘Cissexist’ thing a bit back, but the idea needs a little more flesh on its bones, just like Courtney Cox. Seriously, she’d look way better if she went all Kardashian, whoever they are; I’ve never been sure.

I brought my mother-in-law, or former mother-in-law (or alternate mother – I really don’t know what to call my spouse or her family now), to a Spectrum meeting and my friend gave her an excellent pamphlet on some of the basics on etiquette towards trans people. It was well put together, but it also made me feel a teeny tiny bit uncomfortable as well. While it did have a relaxed tone, one could read it and come away with some nervousness if cisgender. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great and plan to use it, but with some caveats.

One of the biggest fears people have aside from sexually unappealing vampires, is fucking up. The pamphlet is very clear that a person is probably going to fuck up if they go with their natural instinct in terms of questions or interest. Yes, people do like to know how to avoid fucking up, but they get very uncomfortable if they are worried it is going to happen. “Yeah, we should invite Kim along, I but I’m worried I’m going to fuck up and call him…fuck!… her, Tim by mistake.” Just great, now poor Kim has to eat her sack lunch alone at her desk because someone is worried she’s going to go apeshit if she hears the name she went by for 40 years. How can we best avoid this?

The way I’m going with is to have a sense of humor about it and not take myself too seriously. I know, there is a fine line there between being a good sport and letting yourself get walked over, but it’s a better risk than coming off like a big prickly Petra. If people feel they can still joke around with you and not have to avoid the subject all together, it helps them understand you are still human and they can relate to you that way. Just be sure to make any attempts at humor about you and not them. For example, if you ask your old ‘muddin’ buddy Deke to come on over and you’ll make him look real pretty, he may take that the wrong way and no longer invite you into his jeep with the detachable roll bar. If, however, you do what a good friend of mine does and tell him he can bust your balls as long as you still have them, he probably will call you next time he goes down to the quarry. Just don’t wear a white pleather skirt. Not just muddin’ either. Ever.

The same general philosophy can be used on rude clerks and wait staff. If the counter jockey at Arby’s calls you ‘sir’ with a smirk you can do one of three things. You can feel ashamed and run out of there, but you end up passing on a delicious hydrogenated beef and cheddar flavored product. You can also call over his manager and ream him out until he cries in fear of losing his vaunted position. This, however, is sure to get you some extra special ingredients in your sandwich even more heinous than what is already there. Finally, you can surprise him with a line like, “Sir? Do I look like your dad or something? If so, she’s hot!” Someone inclined to be a prick usually won’t know what to do with this and try to get you out of their queue as quickly as possible and makes you come off as witty rather than someone who is easily picked on and has hissy fits.

I know, it isn’t right that we should have to be exposed to endless uncomfortable situations, make fun of ourselves, and hold our fury in the face of dumbassness. It’s also not right to be born with the wrong parts, but what are you going to do? We can be extra sensitive to language and our sense of pride and end up consigned to the transgender table, which if you live in a small community, is population: you. We can instead endure the unintentional insults, the intentional ones, have a sense of humor about ourselves, and integrate our true identities into circles of friends, work mates, and society in general.

When I pass out the pamphlet at work, I’m going to do so with a little speech that it is good etiquette in general, but that I am willing to answer whatever questions they have, not take offense when they stray into areas that might be a little too personal, and not fly off the handle or give them the cold shoulder when they mistakenly call me ‘Mike’.  If I’m inundated with a thousand and one questions, so what? Eventually the fascination will fade and life will return to normal. In the end, this will serve me best. If I can make them comfortable with me, I’m going to be much more comfortable in the long run.

We and They

“So you are the ‘they’ in that’s what they say!”, a classic Gary Larson “Far Side” moment depicting a furtive looking man crouched against a very dated phone. Good stuff, but really, who the hell are ‘they’ supposed to be anyway? In today’s world of combative politics, ‘they’ are all over the damn place and working in diabolically efficient unison to ensure that whatever is worst for everyone becomes incontrovertible reality from now until the Big Crunch, the Rapture, or whatever uncontrollable event happens to wipe us out. If they have their way, it’s going to be a real piss of a time until then, except we assume of course, for them.

Anyone reading this is assuredly not part of a they. We all know they are far too busy watching Fox News, plotting to blow up the Occupy Headquarters in the back of that Staten Island Denny’s, oiling up automatic weapons to guard against the liberal military, and installing holy water sprinkler systems in all the public schools. They want concentration camps for all illegal immigrants, forced public conversion of all the Jews, illegalization of all homosexuality to eradicate the unnatural desires, restoration of Jim Crow and smallpox blankets, and the enforced manufacture of all shitty plastic pieces of crap here in the good old US of A. Preferably all before the second coming of Christ, expected literally any second now.

Not one to stand around and wait for them to get me, I decided to see what’s what. If I can understand them, I can defeat them. Also, if I can dodge a wrench, I can dodge a ball. Oh, the agony of cherished sacred beliefs found untrue! I nosed around their camp and heard tale of an even more terrible them lurking about. They are dedicated to the destruction of America, an imposition of Stalin era atheism, Castronic socialism, mandated sodomy in schools, redistribution of all firearms from private citizens to convicted criminals, sensational televised abortions for every woman, Taliban erections, and a Spanish option on bank ATMs. Dear god! How did we not hear about this? This new ‘they’ are just as bad as ‘them’ we oppose!

I’m sure by now you are all rolling your eyes and saying, “Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard the old ‘we met the enemy and they are us’ bit lifted from antediluvian comic strip ‘Pogo’. Can we now assume it’s kumbya time?”. Um, nope. Yes, I do like to emphasize the commonality of all humans, but there is no denying that some severe polarization going on and people have strong opinions regarding many of these issues. What I’m saying is that it’s gotten ridiculous and it’s long past time to dial it back a bit because what is being advertised is not a good representation of the average.

I am by no means non-partisan, but can admit my side does it as well. I myself get riled up at the idea of an evangelical American Taliban regime dedicated to scourging the earth of LGBTQ scum. In reality, everyone who falls in the highly religious or evangelical spectrum I have come out to has been very nice about it and supportive. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to vote that way, especially when it seems the most batshit crazy folks seem to be running. The kind who do go and label the Girl Scouts, arguably one of the sweeter and more wholesome national organizations, radical left wing terrorists, based simply on a quick internet search optimized to their preferences. Don’t even get me started on “men of god” who advocate punching innocent children in the face or creating electrified compounds here in America. OK, maybe the time finally has come around to start flinging about Hitler comparisons again.

We are never all just going to get along. In fact, we are going to go head to head over issue after issue until the end of time, and every time we do, we are going to assume the other side is secretly in cahoots with the evil fiery eye of Sauron from Lord of the Rings. It’s going to happen, but by bringing guns to knife fights the real point of contention gets lost quickly. Personally, I don’t want to wait longer for equal rights because the other side brought a level 28 vorpal sword of ultimate nullification to my game of checkers. That last bit was a nod to my gamer geek friends, who let’s face it, are so terrible they make the Mexican drug lords look like the Care Bears. No exaggeration.

Sorry for the ramble. It’s Memorial Day here in America and I get a little miffed when after serving honorably in the military, and being a swell stand up citizen for 40 years, there is a significant portion of the population who still doesn’t think I deserve the same Constitutional rights as the wacky lunk who’s going to be shouting at me through a megaphone next weekend.

Pride Protestors

Yeah, I know I talk about Pride Fest a lot, but it’s coming up soon, and if you can’t tell, I’m kind of jazzed about it. Now that we are on the same page, in case you were unsure of this before, let’s talk about the strange phenomena of people coming out to protest thousands of people celebrating together in the joyous harmony of self empowerment. Seriously, what’s up with that?

Last year as we stood around waiting for the parade to begin, my friend’s spouse came up to me and suggested we take a short walk and check out the other floats. After a little bit, she stopped me and said, “Michelle, there is something I need to warn you about…” Just great. I have probably been walking around all morning with the hem of my skirt tucked into my pantyhose. No, phew, that wasn’t it. “During the parade there are probably going to some groups of people shouting some really mean things, so I wanted to warn you so you aren’t surprised and have hurt feelings.” Can you believe how sweet that was? Really, I wanted to hug her on the spot it was so nice when she barely knew me and was already looking out for me. I assured her I would be just fine.

Sure enough, my side of the float passed by two small groups of people, with cardboard signs and nasty writing, plus megaphones for shouting out biblical verses and whatnot. Funny enough, they all looked like people one would naturally assume are in the hand painted sign and amplified ranting business. I was really tempted to jump off the float and dump some change in the hat I assumed they had in front of them. If anyone looked like they really needed a beer, it was these guys. Unfortunately, I was wearing the exact wrong shoes for vaulting off a moving vehicle, so reconciled myself to waving at them cheerfully and enthusiastically. Mooning would have also been fun, but that one guy who had been following the float from the get go and looked way, way too excited to see us was still there. He still had film left, even though I saw him reload his old timey camera like six times already.

I tried to get into the heads of these protesters and failed miserably. Clearly this wasn’t some kind of impromptu thing. They must have had the date and time marked on their calendars. They stayed up late the night before with their little pots of paint and repurposed sides of appliance boxes, using their open King James to make sure they got the wording and spelling just right-ish. That morning they woke up, loaded their cars up with the signs, hopefully dry by now, put fresh batteries in the megaphones, made sure they had some good zingers of quotes memorized right, found parking a mile away from the parade route, and set up early enough on a clear patch of sidewalk. Lots of time, energy, and even some cash just to… what?  Shout helplessly into the din of Gaga on every speaker? Hoping to get on the news? Receive a hand signed note of approval from that jackass Phelps? The reasoning is beyond my comprehension.

We can guess that this is something they feel Jesus wanted them to do, even though he didn’t have a big rep for razzing people from the sidelines. Even if this had a heavenly driver, I’d have to wonder what the big guy was thinking in the first place. I mean Pride Fest? I don’t think I saw many people there who looked even a smidge unsure of themselves. The tee shirts printed with ‘I Dunno, Can I Hear Both Some Gay and Super Duper Ultra Conservative Options Please?’ were pretty cold sellers. Buffalo isn’t exactly backwoods, so I imagine everyone in attendance was well aware already of the really crabby god these hucksters were flinging about willy nilly. I’m also guessing this wasn’t a onetime deal for them either, so I would think expectations could not have been good. You don’t have to be Einstein to know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. And there you have it. Insane in the membrane. Case closed!

This year I think I’ll print up my own pamphlet to hand out to them. ‘You And Your Crabby God: 11 Ways To Please Him At Home (Not Here)’ I think they’ll like it.

The Night I Was Caught

Growing up as an unaware trans, the single greatest worry I think we all share is getting caught. Dressing that is. I think that makes it a fine topic for a little reminiscing, don’t you? I’d like to say that never happened to me, but of course, it did. Seriously, what a boring post that would be. This one time, in my parents’ house, I was almost caught, but wasn’t! Isn’t that a scream?

In my younger days I spent the equivalent of the Niagara Falls hydroelectric plant in mental energy devoted specifically to not getting caught. After coming out to my mom last summer, she once asked why I never exhibited signs of this. I was a little taken aback. When it’s your life’s mission to work out every single possible angle of how not to literally get caught with your pants down, you become quite talented at it. I had drive times well calculated, with margins of error, for every place they went and I didn’t. I knew precisely what activities downstairs would allow for bathroom breaks too brief to bother knocking on my door, like a Bills game. I knew what clothes I could smuggle in by putting them on in an alley under my male clothes. I had a clearly defined escape route or plan for every eventuality when I dressed memorized in every detail. I ended up needing more than one as well, but it’s OK, a close call is as good as a total miss. Oh yeah, I was one crafty little chick.

Then it happened. When my roommate had to work at night, I liked to call and bug him, mainly to ensure precisely what time he would be coming home that evening. After I was sure his estimates were eerily accurate, I would use the time to dress and watch TV or whatnot. A good safe half hour before he was due to arrive, I’d go to bed, my clothes safely hidden away in my closet. Seemed pretty foolproof and if he came home early, I had plenty of time to dart to my room before he could unlock the door. Simple and safe, right?

One such evening I put on a comfy sweater dress and plopped down on the couch to drink wine and watch ‘Mystic Pizza’; a very enjoyable ending to a long day. One moment I was watching Julia Roberts suffer through an awkward family dinner with her rich boyfriend, and the next I was opening my eyes to a blank TV screen. My roommates door, always open in his absence, was closed. Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap!!! There are worse ways of waking up, like being peed on by a cranked out Hell’s Angel or something, but not many. All my years of meticulous painstaking planning and subterfuge undone by the simple fact that wine makes me kind of sleepy. I had absolutely no idea what to do. To buy time I scrawled a note that said, “I’ll explain later, in the mean time TELL NO ONE!!!”. Yeah, that’ll keep him from talking. I slept fitfully and when I awoke, he was gone again, as was the note.

The day was a dreadful mess. I worked all morning at Berts – one of the dining facilities at UB – where my friend Dan also worked, and spent my break trying to figure out what he knew without being obvious about it. I wanted to tell him something in order to get the first word in, but came up with bupkis. By the time I came home though, I finally thought of something. Jenn with the tongue. Jenn was a friend, and the first one of our set with one of those 90’s tongue studs, hence the name. I don’t think she cared for it, and she wasn’t coming around much anymore. I could use that. She was alternative enough that any crazy story involving her would probably stick. If she ever was going to come over again, I would have to come clean, but in the mean time it seemed perfect.

When my roommate came home later I greeted him in such a jovial mood. In reality I was dying a thousand deaths, but had to play my part. “Oh, what you must have thought last night! Ho ho!” Yes, I said ‘ho ho’, I said I was acting jovial, didn’t I? He appeared shockingly disinterested, but I launched into my bullshit story with a great ruffle of flourishes. Jenn, the clever minx, conned me into dressing en femme to screw with a straight-laced pal she had visiting from Arizona and boy, was it a hoot! Oh, you should have seen the look on her face! My roommate simply stared at me and said, “Yeah, I figured it was something like that. Another stupid  story.” Apparently, “stupid  stories” were a known thing in my group, because no one at all questioned the tale. “Yep, sounds like something stupid only  would do.” Assholes.

So, that was my great and wonderful tale of being caught and somehow conniving my way out of it. The tragic part about this was that I learned absolutely nothing because the same thing happened a few months later. Once again I dusted off the old Jenn with the tongue story and once again, everyone bought it. Second time was a charm, and afterwards had a strict policy against drinking and dressing. It saves lives.

Troublesome Teeth

I try not to be one to toot my own horn too much, but after coming to personal acceptance that transitioning could cost me absolutely everything and coming out the other side, there isn’t too much left that I’m afraid of. My second worst fear is being forced into a public speaking engagement to a hostile and vocal audience with full knowledge that what I have to tell them is only going to enrage them more. My greatest fear is the dentist. Having had to face both on several occasions, and getting my ass handed to me with extreme prejudice more than once, I can confirm that they remain in the correct order.

After I joined the Air Force I was dismayed to learn that annual cleaning was a direct order; no exceptions. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have joined. It was terrible and the dentist yelled at me for being afraid of him, only adding to the overall shittiness of the situation. I swore that I would never go again once out after my 4 year, 4 annual cleaning, stint. I brush fastidiously and avoid chewing on wads of sticky candy whenever possible. Now I’ve got a problem. Two problems actually. First, I’m pretty sure I have multiple cavities that are becoming more troublesome by the day. Second, I’ve been told by someone that my grill is kind of male-ish, so now I’m all self conscious about it. Damn it. Looks like not only will I have to go in, but probably lots if I’m going to fix this.

The root of my fear is that although I have a remarkably high pain tolerance overall, I have zero pain tolerance when it comes to my teeth. They are sensitive in a way that goes well beyond the capabilities of Sensodyne or even several shots of Novocain. If given a choice between breaking my strongest oath of secrecy or biting an ice cube, I’d be spilling my guts before they even got to the freezer. Seriously, if I fell into the hands of the Taliban, my biggest worry would be that a DQ franchise opened nearby and they were inclined to treat me to a twisty cone. It’s that bad.

Since my company is awesome and not inclined to can me out of fear and loathing, and I survived the last few layoffs, I’m going to up my dental to the premium plan. Once I do, I’m going to find a nice sedation dentist whom I can cajole into yanking out the lot of them. Seriously, I’m more than OK with going with a nice set of falsies, preferably small, feminine, bright white and delightful to look at. Something nice, hard, and in no way connected to my nervous system. My long departed grampa had a fake set he used to delight us with by removing and swishing around in his beer. Yeah, I think I could be very happy being an old lady like that, making use of my chompers for maximum comedic value. I could even get a set with one gold one, right up front, for extra classy occasions. It’s going to be sweet.

The Unawareness of Cissexism

Yes, I know, here I am again critiquing the greater trans population for something we all have a right to be pissy about. I still think calling someone cissexist or labeling something as this is fairly useless and counterproductive. I’m not saying we are wrong to feel this way at times; it is valid and justifiable, but ultimately a pointless exercise. Here is the part where I tell everyone to shellax and just try and stop me from explaining.

Very very few cisgender people have absolutely any idea that they are cisgender to begin with. “Hey Carol, what is your opinion on this? You are cisgender.” “What, holy shit, really? … What is that?” You can put your bottom dollar on the fact that Carol never heard that term before, or even knew it was a thing. Most people have never encountered someone transgender, and being in the super vast majority, probably figure they don’t need a special designation to differentiate themselves from trans folks. After all, they are the “normal” ones. Honestly, I never even heard the term until a few months ago, and since then spent an inordinate amount of time explaining it to people who really didn’t care, but too polite to say so.

The term ‘cis’ is a problem in and of itself. Many people upon hearing it immediately think that we are the ones who should be called cisgender. “You know, cis, sissy, it makes sense, right?” Ugh. Really, I’ve heard this a few times now. Being female does not make one a sissy, and as someone willing to kill spiders by smooshing them with her bare hands, I can attest to this. Be that as it may, I assure you my face is red as I admit I thought this as well and was confused by the term for a while. Getting to the point, using a term almost no one has ever heard before and counterintuitive to boot is fairly pointless. A far greater proportion of the population knows how to say ‘fuck you’ in Klingon or Dothraki, sad to say.

Accusing someone of being cissexist is likely to earn you a blank expression. Yes, it hurts our feelings, self included, when people throw out ‘he-she’, ‘shemale’, ‘it’, and my personal favorite, ‘chicks with dicks’. It doesn’t sound nice, but the vast majority are not doing it to be offensive, they simply don’t know. I probably say things all the time that are horribly offensive to ethnic Inuit’s, but I don’t know any, nor does anyone I know. A small group of them might be huddled around a computer right now reading my blog, filled with seething rage at how blatantly nasty pants I’m being; how could she not know? But I don’t, and neither do most cisgender people.

Right now it’s a good time to be trans. Ever since Chaz Bono came out we’ve been featured in CNN articles, see Dr McGinn looking stunning on Dr Oz, specials on Primetime, and Jenny Boylan’s book flying off the shelves. It’s not going to last though. No one likes to hear this, but we are a flavor of the month and hold a momentary fascination due to the freak factor. It seems like trans-America right now, but in another few months or a year we’ll go back to being an urban legend in most people’s minds. The world at large has a very short attention span. Right now is a good time to try to educate the public, but making it stick is going to be harder. As always, we stand the best chance of reaching those immediately around us, which ends up being like 3% of the population.

So yes, we are going to hear cissexist things and it is going to upset us. We do our best to educate and get the word out, but we also need to protect our own hearts by having reasonable expectations about it as well. Most people are not out to hurt our feelings. Calmly explaining when we can is the best approach and in those cases where it is not, best just to walk away. Nothing we have to say is going to change the mind of someone determined to be mean.

Pardon Me, You With the Red Scunci…. Little Help?

Some of what I have to say here may not be exactly super popular among the trans community, but hear me out. Tis far better to listen and consider than bury our heads in the sand and have our next salad taste like unwashed spinach. I am very much including myself in this, hence the word “we” instead of “you”, “y’all” or “youse guys”.  Here goes. We often kind of suck at being women during, and even after transition. Go on, feel free to boo, I absolutely hate this idea too.

“Really Michelle? Really? We don’t get enough shit from the cisgender majority already about this?” Yes, really. We do. Suck I mean. No, I’m sure not everyone, but many or I dare say most. Plop any given one of us into a group of cisgender women and we stick out like a sore thumb, even if we do look picture perfect in a ogled “I would never know!” kind of way.  We’ll attempt to dominate a conversation, fail to follow the multiple subtexts of any discussion, disregard the group hierarchy and unspoken rules, and often end up passively shunned with absolutely no idea why. I know, the whole idea of it makes me cringe as well. It’s OK though, it’s not totally our fault.

Let me be clear, we are women. I fully believe we have female brains from birth and ended up transitioning because it became way too uncomfortable not to. I also believe that nature and nurture are inextricably intertwined. Cisgender women are recognized as being so from birth (with some exceptions, granted), are socialized as such, develop rules, norms and hierarchies around common experiences and understandings. They all had to live though the adolescent years, which if I understand the experience right, we are just a little bit lucky to have been hiding out in boyville at the time. We also missed a lot of the good stuff as well, and those things shape a person as well. Then comes us, never having had any of these experiences, but attempting to integrate seamlessly into female culture. I’ve come to realize it’s way, way harder than we think without the checklist of ‘must-have’ items on the typical female resume.

And here I go with another analogy. In 1984 Israel kicked off Operation Moses to relocate thousands of  Ethiopian Jews to safety from Sudan. These people, in appearance and culturally speaking, ethnic Ethiopians, were recognized as Jews and folded into the state of Israel. Think about what a culture shock that must have been attempting to integrate into a new place of people who yes, are the same, but came from a completely different set of shared experiences. What a clusterfluff! Sure their core identity was validated but oh how they must have stepped in it time and time again over the first few years. How could they not? I’m certain, however, that they set up their own micro societies and attempted to insulate themselves based on their own unique circumstance. Doesn’t this all sound a little familiar?

The good news is that the Ethiopian Jews stayed, at least most of them anyway. Not everyone adapts, even if they want to. In time many managed to assimilate into the Israeli culture, in no small part due to the efforts of the people already living there. I think you see where I’m going with this. We are women, but women without the benefit of decades of development. We skipped girlhood with all the critical trials and milestones, most often transitioning decades late; strangers in a strange land. Our rights to belong are inalienable, but masked by all of the quirks, thought processes, and social skills beaten into us by boy culture. No wonder we stick out!

With the exception of a few individuals here and there who are uncommonly good at assimilation through observation alone (of which I am not one), we need our cis sisters to help. My personal experience, confirmed typical by my therapist, is that trans hang with trans and cis hang with cis. I very much hope that barrier can be broken. Currently at the trans meetings I attend, the few cis women who show are supportive spouses. I could not help but notice that when informal socialization time begins, they tend to glom together. When they do, the tiny group they form appears very much different than the trans cliques, right down to the way they stand to the patois of their conversations.

In case you can’t tell, I’m thinking aloud as I write this. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we were to admit that perhaps we may be a little socially deficient in an area or two? For those who belong to groups, may it not be helpful to start inviting more cis women allies along with a humble entreaty that we could really use the pointers and encourage them to critique freely? We are smart, social, engaging, courageous (yes I said it, courageous!) women from all walks of life, but exist in a condition where we have a significant disadvantage. If we can admit it and ask for help, we can do much better for ourselves and blend just a little bit better. Face it, this is a much easier problem than big meaty Andre the Giant hands. With those we are just kind of screwed.

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