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Still Casting “Michael’s” Shadow

ShadowI never really had the words for it before, but at times I am aware that everywhere I go that is familiar, I still cast Michael’s shadow. I hadn’t conceptualized it really before coming across the idea in Jenny Boylan’s new book, Stuck In the Middle With You. She is apparently very earth conscious and chooses to repurpose old song titles rather than stick them in some landfill to take up premium space needed for all those fricking little ‘K’ cups of coffee. Anyway, I liked the notion and decided to do some repurposing myself rather than endanger miners who would otherwise trudge deep into the bowels of the earth to retrieve shiny new ideas.

I think the overall notion, for those of us who aren’t so quick on our toes, is that no matter what changes you make, the shadow you cast is going to be the same for everyone who knew the old version. The reason it came up was in a discussion of why trans people may be best served by skipping town to a new city to start over once transition is initiated. I’m not going to lie, the concept is very attractive. Let’s talk about this for a bit, shall we?

The shadow casting is pretty much inevitable. People who knew me well as Michael probably still think of me that way for the most part, and view me now as some strange alteration of the goofy, eccentric, good time Charlie they spent so many years getting to know. Suddenly there is a goofy, eccentric, good time Charlene in his place. What the hell man? It’s like installing Window’s 8 on your PC. Yeah, sure, it’s probably better than Vista and the same damn thing under the hood, but what’s with all the extra little app accessories? And where the fuck did the ‘Start’ button go? This new you is great and all, but we were really used to the old one, so if you could be more like that please, it would be really super.

The group I manage and I went for lunch a bit back and we took a little extra time to play some darts as time permitted. While I encourage people to speak freely, sometimes it takes a little extra effort and a different environment to really have everyone loosen up. On this occasion, one of them admitted that they missed ‘Mike’ sometimes. I should have been offended, but wasn’t because I’ve always assumed this kind of sentiment can’t be avoided. Besides, not anything I haven’t heard on the home front more than once. I pushed back a little and said I was still the exact same person, just in a slightly different package. “Yeah… kind of.”

Is it better then to run, run away? A few decades ago, 9 out 10 psychiatrists would agree that yes, it is much better and routinely recommended it. They went so far as to urge parents to essentially fake the death of the transitioning parent because this would be easier on the children. Holy shit, can you believe this? Can you imagine believing you lost a parent at a young age only to find out years and years later that your beloved mommy is now a guy named Chuck out on the west coast? We think some of the challenges we face now are difficult but it seems we don’t know the half of it.

Today things are different, and it is very possible for families to move and start fresh without having to traumatize little Willard by telling him daddy is going to die, or nipped out for a pack of smokes and never returned. Under the auspices of that paradigm, doesn’t it seem attractive to move on out to Sheboygan and interact daily with people who never knew you any other way? It is attractive. Very attractive. No more accidental “Mike’s” in awkward, crowded places. No more old stories, or far worse, pictures popping up all the time from the old days. I’m certainly familiar with all of this. I get called “Mike” or have male pronouns accidentally used often enough, and the company has at least 3 different banners up around the building extolling the employee base where I’ve been immortalized with a bald head and whiskers. I could complain, but I find it kind of amusing to be honest.

This one doesn’t have a clear answer that I’m going to try to convince you with. It really depends on you and where you are in your life. If it makes sense and is way more comfortable to move on out, then by all means do that. If what you have built locally is important enough or you feel a tie to your area and opportunity exists to thrive, then that is just fine as well. Remember, you transitioned because you were so inexpressibly uncomfortable with your gender expression. It only makes sense to be where you are most comfortable as well. There will be challenges either way, and it’s up to you to see which ones are those most worth taking on.

For the time being, I’m fine casting my old shadow, even when it means an uncomfortable moment here and there, or even being outed to a confused group of visiting Germans. My friendships, family, and the value I hold in regards to where I am remains the same, even if my shadow casts a bumpier profile. If the time comes to move, I’ll enjoy the benefits of starting fresh and be OK with that. As the old saying goes, wherever I go, there I am, shadow and all.

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About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

9 responses »

  1. What wonderful comments to another mind-stretching topic. Thank you for the kick-start, Michelle. I was mowing the lawn last week, mulling this over and how I wanted to comment. I had a lot of what I thought were interesting things to say, and by waiting, I seem to have lost most of the clever bits. Dang. Oh well…

    I feel extremely fortunate to live in an area with what is apparently a huge and diverse LGBTQ community, western New York. I don’t feel too funny about shopping and traveling around en femme, but it still feels more “cozy” when I’m in the thick of my fellow genderbent peers at any number of friendly places we have here. Odd, because being developmentally miswired in a social sense, I had for most of my life been afraid of difference and non-conformity. My watchword was Caution, my motto was “Obey the Law, Listen to the Authorities, Do As You Are Told, and You Will Avoid Trouble.” It worked for the most part and provided me a safe and boring life. I still pretty much follow those basic guidelines with some modifications, but my life is now far from boring. I’ve learned to let go of my tendency to wrongly associate appearance with character because I’ve been proven time after time that it is a fool’s paradise. I have replaced awkwardly fearing unknown and new situations with an interest in exploration and discovery. Instead of sitting on a stool waiting to be noticed, I’ve taken to noticing others and making friends. Guess what? The world is chock full of interesting people who are just waiting to be friendly right back.

    The flip side of casting the shadow of my male persona is casting the shadow of my feminine one. Nobody knew Deanna Defoe several weeks ago. Today, I can go places and run into people who not only recognize me (sort of difficult with so many looks) but also remember my name. I love to greet them by theirs and lean in for a cheek kiss. For someone with Asperger’s, this is nothing short of a miracle. My new shadow is getting longer, but the old one is still there and always will be. I’m both people, and I accept that the boy will always be loved by a lot of folks he knows, and maybe the only one of us really loved by some of them. That’s okay. Just leave the light on.

    Reply
    • I was told by a transgendered person I was the love of his/her life. She told me this while I was in the comfort and trust of her arms, embraces and kisses. She likes to self diagnose (i.e.: Asperger’s, Autism). My family who adored her as “the boy” is now told they are “intolerant” of her lifestyle since she dismissed me by telling me she didn’t know what was wrong and was “not obligated to tell me” what she was doing. My family is to be understood as including my Mother, father, republican uncle, godmother and yes, 97 year old grandmother. Her reply to finding out that this person was “transgender”: “ooh… that sounds like fun”!. My love pretended it was. See, the problem is that my love BEGGED us on bended knee to fall in love with “the boy”; a person she knew she was not. She now claims we are not tolerant to transgender individuals. (Let it be understood that as “the boy” she was full of unbridled emotion yet en femme she has this non-caring attitude to the point of arrogance-yet claims they were always the same person) It must also be understood that I introduced her to the LGBTQ Community because I knew she would find acceptance there. She threw me away like I was trash after 3 years of walking down the street with her in over the top outfits like Sailor Moon and I even went wig shopping with her because I encouraged her to look her best and to improve her craft of dressing every chance she could. I dressed with her. I gave her every makeup tip I could find in magazines she pretended to share with me. She promised that she would let me in on every aspect of your Transgender lifestyle. She pretended to be so pleased and deliriously happy that she had found someone who knew her “secret” and fully accepted her. Which in my heart I always had. I loved her/I loved him as I had no one ever before. I let her in the secret places of my heart and mind. I know how it is to carry secrets everyday in front of the normal masses since I suffer from OCD and Anxiety disorders. She claimed she understood this too and we seemed to be best friends; soul mates: a concept I never believed in until I met her as “the boy”. One of the things that convinced me to let go of that part of myself is because through contact with the gay aspect of your community I understand how important relationships of any kind are to you. She betrayed this. Toward the end I couldn’t even recognize myself. I displayed anger and anxiety and said things just to hurt her as she had hurt me, since the OCD had returned once I knew in my heart she was keeping secrets even from me. She left us all hurt and confused; leaving behind letters that only mocked our pain, never expressing remorse. You see I was even on the verge of leaving a previous relationship because she was so convincing. I am left hurt and angry and she gives it no credibility. She doesn’t want to understand why anyone could be angry at the level of betrayal she chose. She thinks only she is allowed to go through changes, periods of understanding and adjustments and evolutions. She told my mother to her face she would never get hormone therapy and now writes her to tell her she is in the final stages of preparation. I have always been under the assumption that it took a long time and mental therapy to receive gender alignment therapy. She must have been planning this even as she was planning our life and wedding with me and sharing that with my family. I guess we of the hetero community who would have given up the life we had created for ourselves and even potentially hurt another person to be with one of your own didn’t count to her. I don’t want to blame the transgender community and don’t want to lose my affinity for it. But I am now abandoned and confused. Maybe someone could shed a light on why someone who claimed to only crave love and acceptance would do this to someone. The things she says above of her new friends, she told me too. Now I must be a part of her old boring life that she speaks of and is so happy to have left behind. I wonder if these new friends are what she wakes up thinking of and if they’re the last thing she thinks of when she goes to sleep like she told me I was. It was me who was living in a fool’s paradise of her creation. The damage is irreparable. The love of my life, who I thought she was, would have wept to know what she did to me. I know that for sure.

      Reply
  2. I too, have contemplated moving elsewhere after transition to where I would always be regarded as Deanna.. Then the notion hit me like smacking myself in the center of my forehead like the commercial where the person follows that smack in the head with “I could have had a V-8.’, that no matter how much I transition, there would always be those who would never quite see me as “woman enough.” I have reached the point that I have declared that I am now an autonomous, empowered woman, who sometimes doubts herself, but no longer needs to prove to anyone else that she is “woman enough.”
    Keep on keeping on, sister! I like the way you think!

    Deanna Joy

    Reply
  3. Hiya Sis,

    Two things. First, Scotland is a brilliant place to make a fresh start. Lovely people and beautiful country (kind of crappy weather though). More importantly, as a life-long Wisconsinite, I can tell you that Sheboygan is not the place to go. It is on the outer coast of the universe, but it’s the right coast,not the left.

    Love,

    Becky

    Reply
  4. It is so strange how you’ll write about something that I have been thinking about and trying to think of a way to describe it. This is really well done.

    Reply
  5. When I started the transition from Larry to Laura, I went to the annual local (Perth) SF convention like I usually did. The reaction was mixed. I’d been dressing as Laura at work for at least 6 months, but had almost no contact with anyone in Fandom. I handed out fanzines which went into great dept about what I was doing, so that people would know.

    On the last day of the con the librarian at Murdoch uni (who ran a weekly radio show on SF) turned up, assumed that I was part of the masquerade and greeted me with a “HELLO LARRY, HOW ARE YOU?” When I popinted out that I was starting gender transition, and gave him a fanzine, he put it in his pouch, and then said “GOOD MAN – WELL DONE!” That was enough for me at that con.

    The next year I came back for that year’s con after a “geographical” in Sydney to sort out my direction.(it did – I decided to move to Newcastle and start a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts at the university there). However a lot had changed. I realised that even though I’d spent 21 years in fandom there, that Larry or Laura, I hadn’t really fitted in there or been accepted, no much how much effort I’d made to do so. I checked myself in to a hospital for observation after feeling suicidal. And that was it for fandom for me.

    Thing was I’d realised that it was time to move on – not running away from my past, but running to my future. I made the right decision.

    . . .

    Some years later that guy turned up at the Newcastle “This is Not Art” festival where I was selling home made comics. He saw me at a table, chatted briefly, and said goodbye with a “GOOD MAN” comment. So maybe he was a dickhead anyway. He got into one of my comics after that!

    Reply
  6. In 1996, a bearded , 54 y.o. psychotherapist, father and husband began to explore his lifelong need/dream and life was suddenly in technicolor rather than grey tones. His sons were grown and off at college but sadly his marriage did not survive, Six weeks after he moved out and began transition, his heart failed and he was hospitalized. He was told that he would never be able to work again and if new heart could not be found he had 6 or 8 months to live. John went into that hospital; Joani came out.
    The last big item on her bucket list was to live on her sailboat. She reasoned that she could die as well on her boat as in her apartment.
    I left Denver, home for the past 30 yrs and with the help of my beloved son within 2 weeks I was gone from the cold and living on the New River in Ft. Lauderdale aboard the “Wandering Star”
    Gradually, I made a place for myself in the LGBT community. A wonderful welcoming place and I began to heal. By the time I had been there for a year and a half, I was playing softball on a team of wonderful women. I could have transitioned in Denver all of my support systems were there but I was going to die anyway so why not on the “Star”.
    Joani now lives on land again in north central Florida, fully alive, reasonably well, ensconced in her new community and, frankly, happy as I can be. John’s shadow is not really in Florida, but a picture of “the man I left behind” is on my FB page and I did attend my 40th High School reunion where I learned from many old girlfriends that my real shadow had been there all along. Just one woman’s short take on her experience of a “Geographical Cure”

    Reply

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