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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Halloween Dreams

Halloween used to be one of my favorite times of year. You can probably see where I’m going with this, but let’s drag it out, because the way I write you would think I get paid by the word. Someday maybe, for the time being, each syllable is simply helping me put off something I probably should be doing instead. OK, back to Halloween. For children it’s about the candy (OK, fine, it’s still about the candy for me, as anyone could tell the way I race my son around well beyond his endurance just to grab every free and heavenly morsel), and for some it’s about the dark spookiness (fine, that’s me too – when I saw ‘The Addam’s Family’ I deeply envied their lifestyle), and others still it’s about the costumes. Yeah… the costumes.

As a younger child, I was generally consigned to that neoprene boxed bullshit from Gold Circle, but as I got older, I started making my own costumes. Not the ones I wanted to make, but nevertheless, I got to be creative. One year my dad took us up the Kenmore Fire Hall for the costume contest. I won second prize for my Viking outfit – a Timex calculator watch I wore up to my senior year of high school – but first prize went to a cheerleader. The cheerleader was a guy. While I wasn’t super excited to not take first, I was thrilled to find out that this kind of thing was an option. Who knew you could just do that? It was the early 80’s and the very notion of anyone who didn’t answer to Dustin Hoffman going in drag was, as Vizzini put it, inconceivable. It was too late for that year, but my mind was a whirl with possibility.

As it turns out, my mind was to remain a whirl for a good long time. Each year my anticipation would grow and I would plot out how to make this happen. The problem was that my severe phobia around the subject prevented me from broaching it, and the actual day of Halloween always ended up a total bummer as I stomped around in some stupid male costume. What the hell? In 8th grade my friends and I all talked about going around female. It was an idea I didn’t originate, but heavily promoted thereafter. We planned too early and somehow it changed to just telling our friend Jeff that we were going to do this, and then show up in male costumes to embarrass him. I thought this was just far too mean to both him and me, and got them to change their minds. So close!

No longer a child, and pressured by society to put aside childish things, I refused to capitulate. Every year I planned to make my breakthrough first public appearance female and it was going to be great! My nemesis was my absolute inability to get over my worry that if I showed even a tiny slice of my femininity, I would be found out and horrible, terrible things would happen. I’m still not sure what, but it all seemed very real and pressing at the time. Eventually, I finally got my chance.

I resigned myself that it was never going to happen with my friends around. One evening in late October when my roommate was a work (and before the dreadful couch incident), I dressed and went out the front door. I had the perfect cover – I was on my way to a Halloween party and isn’t this costume a hoot? In reality I was hoping that this was a fallback plan and that I would move about undetected. I walked a few blocks over to the 7-11 just for the sake of buying cigarettes. Yes, I used to smoke, but long since kicked the habit. I felt I was passing up until I asked for a pack of Camels and the cashier gave me a startled look. Just like now, I thought I was talking very feminine but apparently not. I nervously laughed off what my “girlfriend” put me up to while sweating off layers of dollar store foundation. I practically ran back to the apartment.

This did embolden me, and I decided to try the same thing a few nights later. Nothing better than a roommate with a swing shift job! This time I gave up the notion that people were not going to know and climbed the hill up to Tops, the grocery store in back of place. This was the night before Halloween, so I was very comfortable that no one was going to think this was really the real me. There were a lot of people in costume there, and for the most part, nobody paid me any attention whatsoever. In the checkout line, a girl in front of me told me she thought my shoes were really cute and it made my night. I was absolutely flying about my accomplishment and began scheming how maybe I could be doing this every night he wasn’t working, even after Halloween. It never happened. I was caught not long after and ended up joining the Air Force instead.

Now here I am 15 years later and Halloween is on our doorstep. My son is wildly excited and keeps changing his mind about what he wants to be, even though he already has a costume and will be wearing it. Me, not so much. I’m me now, and the idea of dreaming up a costume seems almost silly. I’m too old and too embarrassed to dress up in any of that cute and sexy shit they sell at Spirit, and after working on my appearance for a year and half, not loving the idea of going the gross or scary way. Maybe next year. My ex suggested I take the opportunity to cross-dress and go male. Yeah, I just don’t think so.

Confessions of a Formerly “Male” Miss Smartypants

Having a female brain in no way guarantees one understanding of certain things until actually living the life. Like the whole nature vs. nurture debate, some things are innate and others just have to be learned, often the hard way. Being born gonadally and endocrinally challenged virtually guarantees a bevy of opportunities to learn the hard way, or at least with a New Jersey assload of redacted opinions and practices. If a bunch of words have to be made up in the process, so be it.

In my more masculine life I used to like making little jokes about women and the whole thing about not having pockets, or at the very least, not putting anything in them. “Seriously, do you really think that if you stuck a wallet in there, people would look at you and think you naturally have a large square lump on your ass? Or that it makes you look fat? Please.” Yes, I was a real cut up; loose and free with my witty sarcastic observations. So smug. So smug.

Flash forward to now, and yes, I do feel pretty much like a giant jackass about all that. Just the other day I stuck a folded up twenty in the front pocket of my khaki pants, agonized in the mirror for a few moments, and then took it out. Instead, I choose to lug around a now 20 pound purse with lord knows what inside rather than risk someone think I was sporting a perfectly symmetrical pocket of lard in a unlikely location, as if that would be the pressing thing to worry about in regards to my appearance.

I also used to smirk about women who looking exactly as they did the last time I saw them, go on and on about looking like shit that day. In male life “looking like shit” means you just crawled out of the swamp after being lost for a week, or ripping open the seat of your pants on a crate and then tried to fix it with staples and a wool pea coat tied around your waist. The definition has since been modified. A lot. Now looking like shit means I spent 5 minutes less time getting ready in the morning. Maybe my eyeliner smudged just a tiny bit, or a slight puff of wind mussed my hair. Sometimes it’s just that I dared have a slice of cheese on my sandwich and gained 11 pounds overnight, leaving me feeling like an overstuffed sausage in the same outfit that used to be falling off of me.

We’ve all heard the long running joke about the woman circling around for the closest parking spot to go to the gym. Guys get a real kick out of this ridiculous looking paradox and have a really good chuckle every time it’s brought up. Me too. Well, that is until it finally sunk in that men have virtually zero risk of having someone lying in wait for them because they happen to be wearing easily removed clothing. When the mental trade off suddenly becomes ‘burn 5 more calories or significantly reduce the risk of rape’, it suddenly doesn’t seem so silly. I will, however, hold on to the idea that it is kind of silly that I’ll circle to park close on occasions when I’m wearing ridiculously uncomfortable shoes.

Speaking of which, I also never understood why anyone would subject themselves to wearing ridiculously uncomfortable shoes. Most of these are heels of course, and some are real foot killers, not to mention impossible to run in. It was beyond me that women would wear shoes that not only made her feet feel like they were caught in a bear trap, but also leave her prey to less fashion conscious assailants. Honestly, even now it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Well, except for one factor that trumps all. But they look so pretty! Laugh if you want, but it’s good enough for me.

Book Review: The Collection from Topside Press

A few weeks ago I was asked to read and review the long awaited compilation of transgender themed short stories by Topside Press titled The Collection. OK, that isn’t quite accurate. I heard they were looking for reviewers and jumped up and down yelling, “pick me! pick me!” until they finally sent me a review copy in the mail. I’ll be totally honest here as well. Aside from the subject theme, much of my interest was rooted in the fact that I submitted a number of stories for consideration, all of which were rejected in the compilation process. Don’t get all snitty for me, they were right to do so. Yes, I was a trans woman, but none of my offerings had a trans theme as all were written back when I was still writing all male like.

After reading the choices that were included I was forced to wonder if I would have made the cut anyway. As with any collection, some were better than others, and a few were downright outstanding. Overall The Collection is a symphony of many disparate transgender voices that manages to come together with poignant harmony. Each story truly deserves its own review, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll talk about general impressions.

I loved the mix that was selected for inclusion. I’ve noticed that an awful lot of trans literature tends to be a bit, well, dreary. This is reasonable since the trans experience in life often tips heavily toward the negative. There were a number of inclusions that had a very dark and pessimistic feel to them, but all were refreshingly bereft of the whininess I detest. Instead, many of these packed an emotional punch that only a well told story can. It’s not easy to attain emotional identification with characters in the short story format, but this was achieved multiple times, and often with characters the reader has almost nothing in common with.

I was also very pleased by the lighter offerings included. Aside from appealing to my own personal bent, they counterbalanced the heavier. A few even resembled superhero and ‘Buffy’ style fan fiction, though of a higher quality grade than often encountered in the sites dedicated to such.

As the content, the mix of authors and themes was inclusive to most of the trans community. Most. Equal space was allotted to trans women and trans men, with a few gender-queer offerings included as well. There was a notable absence of cross-dressers at least in terms of protagonists, but my understanding was that the focus was always intended to be transsexuals and GQs. I did, however, notice that for the most part, character representation was limited to those under 30. Some could conceivably be older as age wasn’t mentioned, but the work in general could be described as Millennial. This by no means turned me off, but I will admit that it will be harder for the over 40 crowd to see their own lives and experiences reflected.

My only other impression that isn’t absolutely glowing is the potential lack of accessibility to cisgender readers. While anyone trans will be pulled right into this and find it hard to put down, I’m not so sure someone cisgender will have the same experience. There is a good possibility that the contents may prove to be too alien and hard to relate to. I could be wrong; after all, what do I know of cisgender thinking? While this will surely be a huge hit in a ‘for us by us’ kind of way, a barrier may exist that prevents this from being propelled into the mainstream. I am hoping to get some allies to read this and give impressions, so expect a follow up.

My final verdict: if you are transgendered, you should definitely read this. You will identify with it and you will enjoy it. Lord knows if you are here on my site swallowing down my ramblings, this is going to be a big spoon full of sugar. If you are cisgender and looking to expand your horizons, this is an excellent read and a window into minds you probably don’t quite understand, but we love you for trying.

Finally, on a more personal note, I think supporting the work being done by Topside Press is important. It’s not always easy for us to get our voices heard, and the idea of a publication company devoted to transgender literature is both refreshing and an absolute necessity. Each time we are heard and perhaps understood by the world at large, it chips away at transphobia and other negatives we continuously deal with. Helping them helps us, plain and simple, and trust me, you get a bang for your buck here.

The Collection

Edited by Tom Leger and Riley Macleod
Topside Press – $32.95 hardcover, and 19.95 paperback

Also,  if you could go ahead and click the link above so they know I sent you, well, super appreciated!

“That’s Not Her Real Hair You Know”

I originally dubbed the theme of this year as ‘Embrace the Awkward’. I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far and there has been no shortage of awkwardness to embrace. In fact, some days I’m positively smothered with it. My original hope of course was that the necessity would just fade away from conscious thought, just like that thing I was probably supposed to do but can’t for the life of me remember. If you are reading this while waiting for me to pick you up at the airport, I’m really, really sorry and probably already in bed, so…

Last weekend we took a nearly 200 mile road trip just to get a grilled cheese. I know, but this was supposedly the most awesome grilled cheese there has ever been. Even Guy Fieri said so. On the way there, my 5 year old was getting pretty antsy and was failing to recognize the jeux de vie and eclectic delight of driving for over 3 hours just for a sandwich I often make at home. We decided to pull over and find a playground where he could run off some steam and tire himself to hopefully sleep for the rest of the trip. We found one. A good one too of colorful plastic with those bouncy pads all around it, much unlike the steel frame monstrosities sunk into concrete slabs we delighted in back in the 70’s. We had it to ourselves until a little girl showed up to play.

I got my first compliment of the day when she asked our friend Amy if that was his mom over there, pointing to where my ex and I were sitting. She answered yes, and girl asked, “yeah, but which one?” Seriously, it made my day. Not long after though, when she and my son were sitting on the swings, he casually mentioned, “that’s not her real hair you know.” That’s nice, I finally get a wig that looks like my real hair and I’m blown in by a kindergartener. The little girl was too curious to let this go by and came over to question me about it. My ex thought on her feet and explained that some women lose their hair for a variety of reasons and thoughtfully excluded ‘male pattern baldness’ as one of them. She was satisfied and went back to playing.

Aside from the occasional “Mike” or “he” that is just going to come out of the mouths of people who have known me a long time, the gender shift has gone pretty smoothly with this one exception. Not the disclosure to the little girl, but having a very open and honest 5 year old. When we are out in public, I have pretty much given up any expectation of trying to pass. When I bought him a little wooden model, he told the cashier he was going to put it together with his dad. She asked a question, and he pointed right to me, “this is my dad right here!” He’s been calling me Maddy for months now after we adopted the naming convention thought up by Jenny Boylan’s sons, but somehow whenever we get in public, I’m all of a sudden back to dad.

In case I’m painting a whiney type picture, I need to say that aside from the mental expletive when it happens, this doesn’t bother me. I’m thrilled that he’s trying and that our relationship hasn’t suffered an iota since my change. The truth is that no matter what my gender, I’ll always be his dad and it’s never wrong for him to think that or say it out loud. It might catch me off guard, and it might be terribly awkward at times, but compared to what so many others go through with children, I’ll take this in a heartbeat.

7 Warning Signs of Post Traumatic Guy Syndrome

No matter what symptoms I plug into Web MD, Post Traumatic Guy Syndrome never seems to come up. I may, however, be at great risk for either scurvy or kuru, even though I eat lots of fruit and hardly any human brains. It stands to reason I guess, since I just made the term up while stepping on the toes of our veterans who have very real, and very debilitating problems as the result of being put in situations of high risk of imminent death. I really think I might be at risk though, and if you are a trans woman, you probably are as well.

If you are a trans woman, or at least know some or one, you may have noticed that some of seem just a little bit off. OK, to be less PC, some of us come off as batshit crazy, or at the very least, went through a long adjustment period as they settled into womanhood. I think the root cause of all this is having to have lived for so many years as a male; an endeavor that was bound for failure, but attempted with great vigor for decades at a time. We like to tell children that they can be whatever they want to, but the reality is that over time, if what you want to be just isn’t you, it’s not going to bode well and you may end up just a little bit fucked up in the process. Prior to the onset of PTGS, there are a number of indicators and symptoms worth taking a look at even though I just made them up on the fly.

1. Sporadic Dickheadness: Guys often exhibit this trait from time to time, and it’s often in good fun. The medical terminology often refers to it as “ball busting” which is known to manifest in the presence of other men, especially when camaraderie is high or alcohol is being consumed. Sometimes the effects are felt by women, but they are often dismissed as just boys trying to be funny. When a woman, particularly a trans woman, shows signs of this, it’s not good. Other women do not lightly suffer this type of crap from other women. As a trans woman, sporadic dickheadedness will probably show up from time to time as a latent effect from male life. Fortunately, the worst side effect is simply being asked out to lunch with the girls a lot less. Secondary symptoms: mild depression and suspected alienation.

2. Minor Adjustments: Until surgical correction takes place, even the very best of restraining methods tend to fail from time to time, or become unbearably uncomfortable at inopportune times. In male life, dealing with this area was simple and expected. A quick look around followed by an over the slacks crotch adjustment, or a more covert hand in the pocket fix was socially acceptable. Women, however, never publically adjust their crotch for a variety of reasons, the least of which is lack of necessity. When discomfort arises, it’s easy to forget you are wearing a skirt and pantyhose, and that grabbing yourself in that area, unless in total privacy, is bound to get noticed. This symptom is unconscious and nearly unavoidable. Secondary symptoms: burning embarrassment lasting for moments to days.

3. Stoic Silence: When men are not interested in a topic being discussed, it is socially acceptable to remain in stoic bored silence until a conversation shift occurs. Women generally ignore this since they are under the impression that the men will probably not add much anyway. A woman, however, displaying this trait is often written off as being a real cold bitch and someone not to be invited again. After decades of enjoying this symptom without repercussion, a trans woman may be surprised and dismayed by the impression they are giving as being cold, or worse yet, just a guy. The only remedy is getting used to talking in groups about shit you really don’t care about. Secondary symptoms: more depression and perceived alienation.

4. Speaking in Tongues: As a male, it was expected that you know at least a dozen lines each from ‘Monty Python: Quest for the Holy Grail’ and ‘Scarface’. Chances are, you played along unless you are like me and unable to remember movie lines. Hopefully you did, and didn’t just stand there feeling like a schmuck like me. If you were successful, it’s now ingrained and going to come out from time to time. Remember though, you never, ever hear women drag out the infuriating ‘Knights Who Say Nee’ bit. This is good, because no one needs to ever hear that again. As a trans woman there is a good chance you will, and be left standing there feeling like a schmuck as you suddenly become aware of the disgusted and annoyed faces around you. Secondary symptoms: crippling embarrassment.

5. Benjamin Buttonitis: This morning I dressed my 5 year old for school, then came to work and noticed 30 and 40 year old men wearing essentially the same thing. Well, except for Spiderman sneakers that blink. As a male you probably got used to doing this, because aside from formal affairs and high power business, men’s and boy’s styles are virtually indistinguishable. Because of this, many trans women fall into the same trap and think that cute skirt in the junior’s section is perfectly all right to wear. It’s not. Unless you occupy a demographic where dying your hair Smurf blue is all right, there is a rigid age demarcation for clothes. The real kicker is that nobody is going to tell you to your face, because female culture doesn’t lend itself toward making others feel bad about their appearance, so this symptom can persist for a long time. Secondary symptoms: constant paranoia that people are talking about you and judging you, mainly because they are.

6. Space Invader: While never specifically taught, casual observation will reveal that when sitting or walking, men take up the maximum amount of space humanly possible, while women tend to fold themselves into the most compact package, often at the expense of comfort. Think of a man on a couch. Arms spread out over the back and legs splayed open to display his crotch. Now think of a woman. Arms and elbows tucked in, and legs demurely crossed at the knees or ankles. He’s taking up at least 2.5 seats worth of space, and she’s scrunched into three quarters. Trans women easily revert to the male configuration because it’s way more comfortable, but end up looking like a lumberjack in drag no matter how pretty they might otherwise be. Secondary symptoms: more paranoia caused by weird stares and people standing rather than risk sitting next to you.

7. Up In the Sky, It’s Super-Guy!: Men are expected to jump in and solve problems first, and listen second. Women often to the opposite and provide a good ear to listen, and assistance only when requested. This can get confusing if you are used to firing off the means to solve everyone’s worries or worse, jumping into a physical situation. When you do this as a woman, other women get annoyed, because if they wanted someone to go off half cocked, they just would have told a guy about it. With men it’s worse. While they will tolerate this from other men, they really don’t so well with women, and sure as hell don’t want it from you. Secondary symptoms: feeling left out of the loop; sometimes punched.

There are probably a lot more, but these should be a good start to watch yourself for as regularly as you check your breast for lumps. These items along with the secondary symptoms may indicate you are a candidate for PTGS, unless you are naturally an insensitive asshole, and then the secondary stuff doesn’t apply so much. While not fatal, PTGS can leave you depressed and lonely, and wondering if this was all worth it. Caught in time though, a full cure is possible along with a long and happy life as the correct gender.

Trans Disclosure: Everyone Loves Surprises, Right?

How many bar pick up anecdotal horror stories have we all heard that ended with the lovely lady Frat Boy Frank brought home really being a dude? I’m pretty sure every male reading this, as well as every trans woman, has heard this one more than once, even if you spend Saturday nights playing a dreary Dungeon’s and Dragons derivative. I know I’ve heard it, and I ran with the uber-geek D&D playing crowd, even though every moment hearing about the imaginary exploits of a fricking wizard named Pantsoff filled me with despondent melancholy. How true is this sort of thing anyway? And even if so, what’s there to talk about?

Before we start getting nickpicky and drill down into the fine details, I have to wonder what the actual incidence rate is of a skanky bar pick-up really being a man in drag. I made a very half-assed attempt on pulling up some statistics on this, but came up with nothing. I’m not sure why this isn’t one of the census questions, but that just goes to show how closed our society really is. I would guess that the majority are either urban legends, or outright lies started by other men who are using the unsavory sounding allegation to engage in ball busting when the victim doesn’t provide them with enough ammunition. It wouldn’t surprise me though if this did happen occasionally.

I’m going to take a moment to wade into uncomfortable territory for some of you. No, no, not you; I’m talking about one of the other readers, so relax. It is my understanding that some cross-dressers engage in these activities for sexual reasons. This bums some of us out because even up close, cross-dressers and transsexuals look a lot alike. Go look at my FAQs if you don’t know the difference. This isn’t an activity I really have any negative feelings about, although it does sound inherently dangerous to me. Some men can react very badly, especially if they are under the impression they are “being tricked into being gay”. Things can get violent from there, and honestly, no one really likes a ‘Crying Game’ surprise, especially after their 243rd attempt with their foolproof ‘tired, ‘cause you’ve been running through my mind all night’ line finally paid off. It probably does happen from time to time, though I doubt the man in question is doing much recounting of his conquest to his buddies after.

When it comes to folks who are in the process of, or who have transitioned, the issue gets stickier. There are two schools of thought on the matter. The first is that successfully addressing a medical condition is really nobody’s business and therefore if they can’t tell otherwise, there is no need to disclose. The other is that intimate partners are due by common courtesy to be given information they might consider critical. “Do you have AIDS or any other STD? Are you going to tape this or wearing a wire? Have you lived part or most of your life as a male who was indistinguishable from other males for all intents and purposes?” Let’s look at each for a second.

I think the tell or not tell question really only applies to those who are post-operative. Having a penis is just a little hard to hide in an intimate situation, whether it’s a one night stand or longer term relationship. I suppose pulling a Tobias Fünke might work for a bit, but not long because nothing looks worse under a slinky negligee than cutoff jeans shorts. The feeling behind not telling is that it falls in line with medical procedures people don’t need to know about. Having an artificial hip, part of your colon removed, or even a nose job are not considered to be ‘need to know’ information when dating. If a person is self-conscious or embarrassed about their medical history, it should be their business if it doesn’t impact the other person. Our condition is not communicable, and therefore no one’s business unless we choose to disclose. If fully passing, the desire to do so can shrink faster than the genitalia of the Polar Bear Club.

True as that may all be, the opposing argument is that one should really disclose if about to get intimate with someone. There are a few arguments for this view. Remember the whole deception thing I went on about? People get really upset, and potentially vindictive, in situation where they feel they have been fooled and may have made different decisions in light of that knowledge. Explaining our pasts is not always comfortable, but it’s less uncomfortable than harsh recrimination, agitated rejection, and potential violence when the other person invariably finds out. Even if we do achieve 100% passability, it’s going to come out at some point given a long enough timeline.

Arguing that it is no one’s business is fine, but there are a lot of lines when it comes to intimacy. If you perceive that the other person will not care, it’s a good idea to say something now and avoid bad feelings later. This is far better when it comes to establishing any kind of relationship. I think most of us have already learned this lesson the hard way. If you think they would care, not disclosing transitions right into the territory of non-consent, or as people like to call it, rape. There is never a good reason to have sex with someone and have them feel violated after the fact. This is a big red line that may be legally vague, but kind of makes you a shitty person if you cross it.

Yes, none of this is at all easy. It does suck that we have yet another source of humiliation and possible rejection on top of all the others. In the end though it’s far better to take the moral high ground and live with another aspect of this condition than risking not only our own self worth and safety, but the emotional well being of someone else as well.

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