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Welcome to the Trans Lantern Corp

“You have been chosen for your ability to overcome great fear”, or something like that, came as a disembodied voice informing test pilot Hal Jordan that he was the best candidate to wield a Green Lantern ring. Come on, I know I’m not the only geek here! I know I already talked about courage and whatnot, but thought it worthwhile to advance a few more thoughts on the matter. In my estimation, we would all make pretty kick ass Green Lanterns.

Let’s give ourselves a little credit to begin with. We almost all had to overcome great fear to even begin the transition process. I think the exception are those kids who declare their correct gender well before puberty swoops in and kicks them in the caboose. Their single minded purpose leaves me in awe and wishing I hadn’t wasted almost 40 years struggling in the wrong direction. I’m not saying they have it made, but given a choice, I’d trade them in a second.

The biggest fear to master is that of perception and perspective. Here in Buffalo we have a bridge going over Grand Island leading to Niagara Falls. It’s a truss arch bridge, which means when approaching, there is a magnificent steelwork hump, under which the traffic passes. As kids, it is a universal phenomenon to think the car is going to have to go over the top of that monstrosity of a truss to get to the island; a venture that looks just doomed to a watery grave. We screamed, cried, shut our eyes, and wet our pants as dad would sail underneath and wonder about the hubbub and smell that was coming from the back seat.

Transition is like that as well. Before it is really in full view, we, or at least I, had naive thoughts about completing a checklist and whammo, begin life in the right gender. Marching right up to it, however, the way looked very daunting. Burn or shock my facial hair out? Wait, some of that hair too?  Go out in public, like in daylight? Tell everyone my deepest darkest secret? Tell work? Year-long test, you mean before I do much else? Yeah, I was one of those who went to my first therapy appointment with the vague notion that take a few pills, then snip-snip tuck-tuck, and voila, no one would ever be the wiser. It also never occurred to me that even after all this the strong possibility existed that I would forever have people wondering, “say, did you used to be a man or something?” I had about the same reaction as with the Grand Island bridge.

We break it all down for ourselves to make it less scary. Some create detailed spreadsheets, gant charts, Venn diagrams, or in my case one of those construction paper chains used to countdown to Christmas. Approaching each thing, however, simply created a series of bridges, each as big as the first. Great. When I heard of the Benjamin standards of care, I thought there would be some team of Benjamins guiding me through the paces. Not so. My therapist, for a tune of many Benjamins, simply advised that I should probably talk to others to figure out what to do, and that the proof in the pudding is where the rubber meets the road. Nice, the desert to my Kung Pow chicken told me the same thing.

The toughest part is that it turns out to be just as hard and scary as expected. It’s like dad craned his neck into the back and said, “Yes actually, we do have to take the car up and over those rounded girders. I sure hope we make it!” Midway though my first laser treatment and I was sure I was walking out of there the spitting image of Rocky Dennis. After 9 months of hormones I still have the breasts of an 11 year old. I’ve been stared at more times than I even notice now. I got publically reamed out by a relative at a large family celebration. My marriage is over. I have yet to overcome a reputation as the Grand Deceiver. I spend days riddled with anxiety and depression. But I still press forward. I have to. We have to. If overcoming great fear is part of it, just sign me up for a ring. Compared to this, thwarting evil Sinestro (what were his parents thinking?) seems like cake.

Conditions to Transition

I saw a newsfeed come up on Jenny Boylan’s FB updates that seemed to cause a lot of hullabaloo. Rather than get lost among the many dozens of commenter’s, I thought the notion deserved a little more thought than a quick “yeah!” or “here are 17 points of disagreement that will never be read”. Imagine, me with opinions! I’ve become such a cheeky lass in my middle age.

The big issue was that Jenny congratulated a FB trans friend for having the courage to decide not to transition, or at the very least delay it until a later date. Yes, yes, I can hear you gasp from way over here, but stay with me a moment, because it’s the reason behind the gasping outrage I would like to discuss. It does hit a nerve though, doesn’t it?

We all know no one transitions on a whim, waking up one morning, stretching, and thinking, “yeah, I think today I’ll start living as the gender other than the one I had been.” I can only speak for myself, but until I was able to come to terms with my identity, make the leap forward to do something about it, I was seriously starting to lose it. If I could look into a parallel dimension and view the me who decided to tough it out as a male, I’m very sure I would be looking at a wretched wreck of a human being, probably jobless and single but due to a much less amiable path. Ugh. No way! If it looks like I’m going out either way, I’m at least doing it as me. Those of you on the path of transition know what I’m talking about.

Here is why it strikes a discord when we hear of those who decided not to transition, or worse yet, changed their mind mid transition. It can be frightfully invalidating. After all the endless explanation to everyone affected by our transition, defending the absolute necessity in the face of all catastrophe, anyone can point to this person and say, “well, she didn’t have to do it, are you sure you did?” It was a real piece of work convincing yourself to begin with, then everyone else, and right there is an example to the contrary. It’s hard not to get rankled by the concept. It falls in parallel with a gay man saying he acknowledges his homosexuality, but is sticking with women.

Where I understand naary feelings this idea engenders, and I do get them as well, I also have to acknowledge that we don’t really know what it’s like to be in those shoes. In mortal terror of both the devil and the deep blue sea, sometimes going with the known evil is all a person can muster. They certainly aren’t doing it to give you a harder time with it all, but making the best possible decision in alignment with their capabilities. We know what it’s like to be hanging on by a thread, and sometimes that thread is all we have until the right time comes.

Did this person have courage to make this decision? I think so. Think about it and take your own sensibilities out of the picture, because really, aside from a little kick in the cred, it doesn’t mean much to you. They got to the point where they were able to admit being trans. They probably already told a whole lot of people about it. They may have begun the process. Then to go back and decide not to continue. Ugh! No one who knows is going to look at them the same again. Everyone is going to wonder when the shoe is finally going to drop. The specter of transition out of necessity to survive always lingering, just waiting for the right moment of mental weakness. It takes courage and grit to know thyself and chose the other path. I’m reasonably certain it is not any less bloody than our own, but without the benefit of at least being you. I don’t understand it. I just don’t have that. I can admit it sounds much harder than anything I would like to do though.

At the end of the day, no matter what our feelings are about it, this person is going to do what is best for their situation. Whether we agree, disagree, hate them, applaud them, or ignore it completely, it doesn’t matter. On that point I think we can all agree from experience.

Just a Wee Drop O’ Courage

Some of us tend to get, well, a little snippy when someone calls us courageous. I’d like to talk about that for a second. A great many of us have written about the whole courage thing, how cisgender allies like to paint us as individuals who soar where eagles and angels fear to tread, and how much that notion ruffles our feathers. Yeah, it does, but it shouldn’t.

To anyone trans who might be reading this; you know what I’m talking about. A trans writer I deeply admire. Natalie Reed,  put if best in her epic post 13 Myths and Misconceptions About Trans Women over on Skepchick and Queerika. She likened us to someone running through a dark and stormy night, chased by wolves, finally making it to the safety of a well lit cabin and once inside, breathless from the terror inducing flight, are told how brave we are. The point is that very few of us perceive ourselves as brave. We usually transition because we are at the end of a pier that’s in the process of burning down, so the water suddenly looks really inviting, even if we think we can’t swim. We do what we need to in order to survive and continue living a productive life with at least a chance of happiness and fulfillment. We all understand that.

We use a lot of pretty language to describe our feelings; lord knows I never shut up about it, but attempting to convey our experience to the cisgender world is basically for naught. They are never really going to get it, nor should they, anymore then we really understand what it’s like to be cisgender. It is very validating, however, when they try, and that is what I think our focus should really be on.

When someone cisgender gives us credit for having great courage, it’s really them trying to put themselves in our shoes. If I understand correctly, the very notion of leaving the house presenting as the gender opposite as that they were born into is anything from uncomfortable to icky to terrifying. In trying to imagine that, they are attempting to visualize our experience and having the reaction appropriate to their own identity. Speaking for myself as someone afraid of heights, I find the notion of climbing up on the high board at the pool and voluntarily diving head first from it very naary and have a hard time understanding how a high diver, called to do this unimaginable thing for some reason, can. Frankly, I think it’s pretty awesome for them to try and we should recognize the empathy and support they are showing in this. It’s the thought that counts, and I for one am grateful.

We don’t see ourselves as brave because we are both in a “have to” situation, and at the same time are doing for ourselves to achieve peace and happiness. That said, let’s be honest. Who here prior to embracing their identity didn’t think that if they were caught in daylight cross-dressing they would instantly die. I certainly did! Peering out the front window for a safe time to run to the car, sitting in the car outside Wegman’s trying to psych myself to go in, teeth chattering and knees knocking. Even after the incredibly empowering experience of being in the Pride Parade last June, I found myself scared shitless walking a mile to my car alone because I stupidly asked to be dropped off in the wrong place. Sure it all seems silly now, but we all have to overcome some degree of fear to begin living our lives.

Whether these things make us incredibly brave, insanely foolish, or apathetic to negative societal opinion and danger I don’t know. Probably a little of each. It’s not always a warm and cuddly world out there for trans people, and we are well aware of that. The option to hide is there, but we push ourselves anyway. The dangers are real, but we face them. Maybe there is something to notion of trans-courage after all, even if we do acknowledge that we had to do it. I’m very certain that even as I write this, someone is hanging lifeless at the end of a rope, unable to face what lay before them, leaving all around them to wonder why and never know. If our friends and allies want to recognize that because their heart is in the right place, I’ll graciously let them and thank them. We just might deserve it, just a little bit.

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