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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ode to “Michael”

Me at Saudi Bus StopIt takes a real piece of work to actually go and write an ode to themselves. I mean really, who has that kind of self-absorbed chutzpah anyway? Well, as it turns out, apparently I do. That sounded suspiciously like an opinion, even though we all know you are reading a blog entry titled “An Ode to Michael”. Has Michelle finally lost it? Is it OK to call her a douche-bag, or is that just for guys? OK, perhaps I better explain.

Not long ago I was speaking with someone who recommended that I consider holding some sort of funeral for “Michael”, you know, since I wasn’t going by that identity anymore and because some of those closest to me might have some feelings about it. While not totally opposed to the idea, I considered my audience for such a thing and decided against it. My spouse, someone highly suspicious of the medical care industry and hospitals in particular, already has enough worry over my upcoming operation. I think introducing the concept of a generally death related ceremony at such a time would only fan the flames of anxiety and miss the point entirely. As far as my immediate family goes, I believe such a thing would be characterized as a ridiculously fluffy exercise necessitating either a Crayola decorated shoe box or functional  toilet. Yeah, it’s not going to happen.

I’ve talked before about still casting Michael’s shadow and what that means. At that time though I mainly talked about how other people felt about my change. As this is a very self-indulgent exercise, I think it’s time to concentrate on how I feel about it. There are two stories that usually get told about transition. One is about the complete euphoria that comes from expanded self awareness and the courage to do something about it. The other is about the heartache and difficulty associated with rejections, losses, and the vast number of hoops one has to jump through just to be reclassed as second banana citizens. This is different. I want to talk about the feelings associated with the loss of an identity I put so many years into.

Old, pre-transition pictures of me are still hanging about the house, and my mom naturally has dozens everywhere you look. I sometimes look at them and ask the boy or man in the picture why I couldn’t just remain that way. I had a really good run as Michael and was the for the most part very happy and living an idyllic life. I had the respect of others, a decent reputation, a strong marriage, a wonderful child, family I’m close to, a good job with a track for upward mobility, and a heady sense of self determination. As Michael I could have kept all of that going and added even more into the mix. I could have also completely avoided causing a great deal of heartache, sorrow, and loss in those closest to me. The greater sense of inviolable self determination has left and at many turns I feel but one step away from living out that Bob Dylan song about a Rolling Stone (I really love that song). Why could I not have just kept Michael going and made everyone, including myself, happy?

Well, we all actually know why. Under auspices that it would have been easier and better to do nothing at all, that option was never really on the table. After all, I did choose that from the moment I became self-aware at 4 (or earlier) up until early 2011 when I faced the reality that the identity of Michael was just not mine to keep. The best threats and bribes I and those around me could muster were nowhere close to the asking price to retain it. A happy caterpillar still reaches a day when it’s time to start spinning, even if continuing to defoliate my tomato plant seems like the best of all possible worlds. No power known can halt or slow the ticking of the clock that brings with it the beginning and end of all things.

So to Michael, I acknowledge that you had a really good run. You did your job, had a quiet charm, carried my load, and did little harm (OK, I didn’t mean for that to rhyme, just so you know). I know people are going to miss you, and honestly, so will I. I liked myself as you, and that feeling is just a little harder to achieve at present, but I’m learning and at least now it’s real. Had I been able to afford you, I would have been happy to keep you on, but that account is empty and now closed. If you don’t mind, I’d like to leave with you my fears, my failings, my limitations, and my secret self-loathing; buried so deep none of us knew it was even there. Though you are behind me now, you will always be remembered by me and others and I can only hope that I carry with me forevermore the best parts of you, and farther than you could have ever gone. Rest in peace, still with us and forever inside me.

Clothes Really Don’t Make the Woman

Badly DressedI really used to look like an idiot. I’m not talking about back when I looked male (or more accurately, more male than I do now), but when I first started out in my transition. What brought this to mind was something a friend said about an acquaintance of hers. “It takes her 4 hours to get ready just to go to the grocery store! Then she’s the only one there who looks like they just came from a formal ball and she wonders why people stare.” I laughed at first, but then thought about it and concluded, yeah, that was so me not really all that long ago. My friend was able to admit the same about herself, so I began thinking that this would be a great topic to write about and maybe have a few laughs.

The very first time I ventured out past the backyard and into public was a Buffalo Belles meeting. I wore a black mini with white embroidery, a chiffon lace black top, and large hole pattern tights you would expect to see at Hot Topic. Oh, and heels of course. I accessorized with a big beaded necklace and enough Cover Girl to fill in every pore to the top and finish it with a half inch of powder. I was pretty happy with the way I looked. When I arrived, I felt like I fit right in. I did actually, but this was mainly because the majority of the membership consisted of cross-dressers, most of whom had only dressed for meetings at the super-duper secret location. If anything I was way underdressed for sitting in a dimly lit, well curtained room. It really kind of set the tone for the months to come.

For some reason, I, and probably you if you are trans, completely failed to open my eyes and look at what the women around me were wearing in day to day life. Somehow I was blind to the fact that the other women at Wegman’s or the Eden Corn Festival did not look like they stepped off the set of ‘Heathers’ or out of a 1996 Delia’s catalog. Unfortunately, both the aforementioned sources were great inspirations for me, though two decades removed from the present and my current age. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with having a little panache and a unique sense of style, but neither are things that are really going to help one blend in. I think it’s OK if you are a cross-dresser to look like you are in costume, in private anyway, but when making permanent life changes picking an outfit from Spencer’s is probably not the best of ideas.

For the longest time I simply didn’t get it. I mean I waited three long decades and change to finally express my gender, so why not go whole hog with it? Why not find the prettiest, frilliest, fluffiest, patent, sequined, ruffled, baby-doll, girliest thing in the whole wide world and just wear that from sun up to sun down? Fuck pants. Pants are for men. So are shoes with less than a 4 inch heel, shirts that can’t be used as distress flags, and hosiery that doesn’t have Hello Kitty on it. Thankfully, my spouse wasn’t feeling overly vindictive, and was kind enough to stop me before heading into the world looking like a deranged old Shirley Temple or Pollyanna. Bless you if you get my references without having to look them up on Wikipedia.

I think of it as the curse of trans adolescence. Not necessarily dressing age inappropriate as we’ve discussed before, but putting way too much time and energy into nipping out for more onions and Grilled Bear flavored Doritos. It’s wearing heels when you know you will be walking on gravel. It’s wearing a skirt you didn’t realize rides up past your crotch when you sit because you only tried it on standing up. It’s wearing pantyhose when the situation doesn’t absolutely demand it. It’s all those little things that cause the world to stop for a moment, stare, and wonder, “wait, what the hell am I looking at there anyway?” It’s a painful anxious time, and I could not be happier that it’s over. Well, for the most part. I still get the occasional, “Um, you aren’t seriously wearing that to work, are you?” It’s a process.

The great lesson learned is that clothes do not make the woman. You are the same you whether dressed to the nines or slogging around in old jeans and a tee shirt, except in the latter most people won’t give you a second glance. Well, until you open your mouth and give your best Gary Busey impression, but that is another story.

Another Trans Celebrity? … Crap. Well, That’s Just Great

CelebrityMy spouse, an ardent follower of celebrity gossip, forwarded me a blind item the other day. By blind I don’t mean the person mentioned was blind, but that the name of the person is currently being withheld by the person writing the story, presumably either for liability or complete fabrication reasons. Anyway, as the story goes, the lead singer from an uber-popular band with a boatload of hits in the 90’s, who is married to a super model/ actress or actress/ model, is undergoing gender transition and making a documentary of it along the way. My immediate reaction was a little sour. Great, now I’m going to be bumped down one to being the 24,753rd most influential trans person. Just fucking wonderful. My chances of getting a Wikipedia entry just became a bit more slim. So, let’s dish about trans celebrities, as I gnaw on my bitter bone of discontent.

I think none of us has failed to notice the sudden rise in individuals of full blown, or at least quasi, celebrity status undergoing gender transition. I mean, sure, it’s not exactly unheard of, what with Alexis Arquette, Calpernia Addams, and Andrea James bouncing around since the late 90’s/ early 00’s, but in spite of some amazing talent in that mix, they weren’t exactly making headlines. Then the teens hit and it’s a full blown eruption. Chaz Bono, Laura Jane Grace, Janet Mock, Lana Wachowski, and Chelsea Manning. OK, the celebrity thing is a stretch with Chelsea, but she was still a household name before she came out after the conviction. It’s a wonderful thing, right? A massive injection of trans awareness into the public sphere; bold inoculation against full blown ignorance and demographic degradation.

Here’s the thing that makes me just a tiny bit nervous. Since 1954, I don’t think one parent ever leaned over to their child looking wide eyed up at the movie screen and said, “See those people up there child? You do whatever you can to find out what they do, and dad-gum, you do the same thing.” Famous people hold our fascination almost completely for the train-wreck factor. The tabloids make billions off of the meltdowns of young starlets and crushing indiscretions. Amanda Bynes will always trump the juicy bit that Ron Pearlman likes to make his own quilts with hand ticking on Friday nights. Nobody cares about the good stuff; just those wacky zany antics. DUIs, domestic assaults, head shavings, gender transitions… I think you see my point.

Now, I’m not saying that the general public is going to suddenly think that being transgender is just another crazy trend sweeping Hollywood. I am worried, however, that people are going to get a bit of a misrepresentation. I’m sure serious practitioners of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism were not super excited when Madonna and other celebs jumped on board and made a very old, deep and rich quest for spiritual understanding look like a fashion trend. Not exactly the same thing, but you get my point. Suddenly years of focused study, prayer and meditation appear to be replaced with slapping on a red string bracelet and everyone is equal.

I’m not saying being transgender is not tremendously difficult for anyone; Hollywood, one-percenters (the rich ones, not the crank fueled hog rider ones), and others. The same crushing fear, emotional difficulties, and painful coming out process definitely applies. The problem is that the general audience doesn’t really see all that. Unlike movies where we get a nice montage set to ominous music when someone is struggling with a seemingly insurmountable issue, the real anguish is off stage and in the back somewhere. In spite of tearful Oprah interviews, the main perception is that so-and-so was a dude and now appears to be a chick. Good for them. Go so-and-so! You can barely tell he… I mean she… used to be a dude! It sure doesn’t hurt to have ample funds, private doctors and surgeons, and at-will time off  to manage these huge changes. I pretty much see this ship docking in the port of, “Everyone and their brother is changing genders, Michelle. Doesn’t seem to be a thing to it, so what the hell have you been crabbing about?”

So… yeah. I think it’s good that transgender people who live in the public limelight are demonstrating the tremendous courage it takes to embrace their true selves. They are our sisters and brothers just as all trans people are, and any one of them would be very welcome at one of my meetings; not as a celebrity, but a trans person just like the rest of us seeking community. At the same time I wish they would acknowledge and promote the fact that while their inner difficulties are the same, that it might be just a little harder if they also had to worry about becoming unemployable or unable to fund any of the treatment they need in order to feel like a complete person. They helped the world understand that transgender is a real thing, but now I would love it if they expanded the message that it is also a hard thing.

By the way, I’m very much hoping that the person referenced in the first paragraph turns out to be John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls. He’s official Buffalo NY Royalty and we sure could use him (or her?) on the team. I mean, who could pen a song like ‘Iris’ without a female spirit? Maybe he’d even play at our annual holiday party to his smallest ever audience of 8 to 11 people. I can dream, can’t I?

So You Think Your Child Might Be Trans…

Micky MinnieI received an unexpected email the other day, though to be honest, I now get lots of emails with these types of questions. Usually, however, they are directly about the people asking them. “When you have some time, I could use some advice. My child… has some gender issues.” I won’t lie to you. This kind of threw me for a loop. I’ve gotten used to people with questions about their own gender issues, but this was a whole new ball of wax for me and seemed almost rife with hidden landmines. If anyone is going to step on something and blow the whole kit and caboodle to kingdom come, you know it’s probably going to be me. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

I’m not going to go into details of this instance in the interest of protecting the truly innocent and a wonderfully supportive parent, but for a number of reasons, what this person had to tell me really hit home. It’s a strange thing when speaking to someone parenting a child, who but for a few odd decades, could have been me. How would I give advice to my own parent if I were able to reach back to the mid 1970’s? In an alternate timeline anyway where the 70’s were groovier with sexual orientation and transgender knowledge instead of disco and horrible shit brown outfits. In the timeline that really was, this would have been pointless.

The first thing I decided was a bad idea was to declare the child trans. I mean sure, second person email diagnosis by individuals with no formal training is usually spot on accurate, but I figured pretending it wasn’t might be a slightly better course of action. It wasn’t easy; the natural inclination is to immediately start jumping up and down screeching, “That was so, so me!” It’s just human nature, and I think there are very few of us who don’t eye Phil in Accounting with his Krispy Kreme built B cups and think, “hmm… I wonder…”  Thinking everyone might be trans is the inevitable outcome of decades of thinking no one is trans. In truth, the child is just as likely to be gay, or even a cisgender heterosexual. It doesn’t do anyone justice to start making assumptions about someone of such a young age.

The part that really broke my heart was the enormous amount of crap both parent and child are getting and going to get from “concerned” relatives, friends, neighbors, and total strangers. Most of these folks are still living under the iron rule of truisms from their grandmother’s day, or at best saw a bit of snarky commentary on Fox News and believe these things make them qualified experts. We trans folk are well familiar with this. People put 20 or 30 seconds of thought into the issue and feel they probably have the answers we crave. “Is there any chance this is just a reaction to not getting that promotion?” Good thinking, because most people’s immediate ‘go-to’ for mildly disappointing events is to embark on a protracted, painful and expensive gender change, but no, that’s not it this time. I’m pretty sure it was that armored skirt my He-Man action figure was wearing. For a parent it’s much harder, because (speaking from experience) we all operate under the assumption that we are doing the wrong thing constantly and will ruin our children for life. The commentary from the peanut gallery just adds to it.

All that in mind, the only possible advice I could give was to keep being supportive. It seems lame when someone comes looking for answers to tell them to keep on keeping on, but I didn’t have anything better. Whether the child is trans, cis, gay, or straight, this is what they are dealing with in their little mind right now and there is no way of really predicting where the ball is going to drop. If, however, they have unconditional love and support no matter where that is, the outlook is far rosier than it could be. If the child is trans and strongly desires transition, they will have every advantage. No years of repression and denial eating away at them. No addiction seeking to keep the “bad” thoughts at bay. Huge reduction in suicide risk. Dodging a really shitty puberty. Finally, avoiding the guilt that comes with causing huge ripples of destruction caused by the truth, when it finally comes out, that changes a multitude of lives irrevocably.  Yes, taking a bit of crap from people whose opinions don’t really count anyway to enable a child to live the happiest possible life seems like a no brainer. Right?

Tribe Trans: Live Together or Die Alone

Live together or die aloneNo, today’s post is not about ‘Lost’, though I freely admit that I still miss that show and unlike most, I loved the series finale. Look, you knew I was weird before you set out to read this. Recent events, however, brought me back to thinking about the first season when Jack (played by Charlie from ‘Party of 5’) said to Charlie (formerly a hobbit or something – see, this is why people found the show confusing) that the castaways had to decide whether to live together or die alone. What is bothering me is that the trans community, at least here in Buffalo, seems to be leaning toward the latter. I think this is a problem. By the way, thanks all for bearing with me in my absence – the event that inspired this post helped me procrastinate writing, but I’m back now.

On the second Friday of every month, we all come together to meet, share our experiences, ask each other questions, and bask in an environment where the inner drive and resultant anguish and triumphs are assumed and understood. I think the reason people are willing to give up a Friday evening (other than the fact that the ABC TGIF lineup bites since ‘Perfect Strangers’ was cancelled) is to enjoy the company of others who get us. People who we don’t have to explain much to. People for whom the primary self-identifying factor of gender isn’t a thing. With these people we seek common goals in self-protection and betterment to put us on equal footing with an expensive and socially debilitating gender issue. These understandings, paired with shared obstacles when it comes to employment, housing, medical care, and socialization, are fundamental enough to our collective well being to classify us as a tribe.

A tribe, as I see it, is a collective that takes care of its own. Like a family, we are not individuals who necessarily have anything in common but this one characteristic Like blood, it is fundamental enough to supersede all the other little quirks and rivalries that bring internal strife. We don’t have to be friends, or even like each other, but in choosing to come together in community, we show our colors in unity instead of taking the lonesome road that many others choose instead. What does it mean though to come together as a tribe? How are we supposed to behave toward each other? What does being part of this tribe really do for us? I’m beginning to think very few are even aware. Let’s talk about that.

The Bedouin, one of the few remaining tribal cultures, have a saying. “I against my brothers; my brothers and I against our cousins; I and my cousins against the tribe; the tribe against all.” It sounds pretty harsh, especially since it’s pretty exclusively masculine, but sets up an order of precedence in priority. Looking at it that way, it’s kind of a no brainer. Take care of yourself, those closest to you, and then your tribe. They are your refuge against the whole rest of the world. Whereas ‘Tribe Trans’ isn’t really looking to make a move against the other tribes out there, we have come together under the assumption that no matter what, this is where they have to take you. Much like the old definition of ‘home’ before it became untrue for so many in the Trans community.

Are we doing this? Are those of us who chose to become part of a recognized tribe making the effort to make this home for ourselves and our sisters and brothers? Are we truly here to support each other and give help and encouragement when the needs of a member arise, all the while knowing it will be us eventually? It makes sense, right? After all, if we are not here for that, why be part of a tribe at all? If we don’t come out for community, support, and advancement of the tribe, why are we even trying? After all, there is nothing else to be gained. No power, no fame, no wealth or status. If support and compassion are also absent, isn’t maybe better to stay home and see if Balki Bartokomous has returned to the Friday night lineup?

No one says we have to get along or even like each other. Individual disputes are inevitable; after all, we are still just people. If, however, the tribe fails to come together to support one of its own in need, then it really is no tribe. It is the compassion we show to each other that builds our strength. It’s our focus on our own in need that builds the tribe that can provide hope and encouragement to each one of us when our need comes. And it will. The great truth about being trans is that you will doubt your ability to go on, and probably more than once. Given the choices, I’d rather live together.

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