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“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.

Publicly Speaking

Don’t get all excited, this is not another story of one of my public speaking “opportunities” where I get caught in the face with curve balls and manage to sweat through a suit coat. I’m sure further instances will arise, and I promise, fingers crossed, not to share. I know that made little sense, and was just a taste of what it’s like to have to hear me stumble through a PowerPoint presentation, and you guys are not even a hostile audience for the most part. I’m talking about being transgender and living a life less private.

The question popped up over in PinkEssence where another blogger was contacted by a person purporting to be a documentary maker who wanted to ride the wave of trans chic and make one about her life. There was considerable debate about whether this is a good idea from a personal perspective. I don’t remember how it ended up. They have these infuriating Adobe Flash ads all over the place that lock up my browser every time I go there and try to be social. Technical difficulties aside, I had to think about what I would do in such a situation. It’s not an easy question.

I spent my first 30 some years living as private a life as possible. I had reasons I wasn’t super jazzed about being looked at too closely. I hated attention, the limelight, lights that were not citrus based at all, and became adept at throwing distractions over to the side for people to look at instead of me. I even advised my boss I hated any sort of personal recognition. Seriously, who does that? Now everything has changed. In a building where I preferred to think the majority didn’t even know my name, I became a water cooler discussion topic over night. Amazingly, it all turned out not to be the end of the world. Yes, I still like to just live my life and do my job, but it is a little flattering when people take an interest. Who knew that could be a good thing?

The reality that all my reasons for being secretive are now gone. On top of that, I went and published all the details to boot. One stop shopping in case I ever decide to run for president. Don’t give me that look, I’m almost rocking the Michele Bachman haircut now, never mind that outdated old Gravitar over there on the right. I might even get further too, with my sensible ideas and correct first name spelling. Don’t hold your breath. The point is that it doesn’t get much more public than this. As of now, everyone I’ve ever know who is still in contact with me has one stop shopping to discover everything I ever found mortally embarrassing and I don’t even care. I’m good with all that.

So yeah, I think I would do it, not that I’m expecting anyone to ask. So what if strangers are suddenly privy to the details of my life? I already have zero interest in what they think anyway, so no reason for that to change. On top of that, I’m not really so interesting that the majority of people wouldn’t flip over to a reality show about hillbillies trying to make quiche after a few seconds. The whole concept of fame is an illusion anyway, and I’ll just never be that girl who cares if her name is in the paper. Worst case scenario is that it’s cleverly edited to have me come off as Snooki’s dumb ass cousin or something. Ugh. Fucking Snooki.

Making the grandiose assumption that anyone else thinks like me (aside from my twin in Scotland), I have to make the statement that even if it makes no sense personally, and assuming further that there is nothing to lose, I don’t see the harm in getting the exposure. For me it would be a zero sum game, but the possibility exists that it could help someone else. People like Jenny Boylan, Chloe Price, and Caroline Temmerand put themselves out there, and when I was still struggling, hearing these stories helped me a ton. A population of pre-transition trans people lurks in the unspoken periphery of the world, ticking away, and just waiting to really manifest full steam in the shittiest, most inconvenient time possible. If we can make it easier for them, we should. If we can make it easier for their friends and loved ones by giving them something to read or watch about someone they don’t give much of a crap about, even better.

Long story short, if we can and the personal cost isn’t so onerous, I think we should. To me it just seems like one of those doing more good than harm situations, and let’s be honest, when we are struggling, we sure are glad others looked at it this way too.

Sunday Night Outing (Not the Fun Kind, the Other One)

After nearly 40 years of paranoia about such a thing, it would seem that I’ve been outed. It happened Sunday night, just as I was going to bed. I received a text from one of my employees asking, “Are you OK?”. I had no idea what it meant, so I went ahead and asked. The last time I got such a cryptic message I came to find out that 4 colleagues and friends had been killed in a plane crash I had been blissfully unaware of, so naturally my mind went there. He got back to me quickly. “Got a weird text from C.W (a former employee) asking if ‘it was true about Mike’” Crap. There was only one thing it could possibly be.

Just to give you a little back story, I’ll happily disclose that I’ve been working with HR for months now on my at work transition plan. They have been great, but frankly I’m getting sick of it and just want it done already. Part of the process was for the director of HR to interface with our security department to determine what, if any, effects could be expected. They are really, really detailed like that. It took me two seconds to establish the vector. Hmm… C.W. is living with L.O., who got let go back in Jan, but is still close friends with the guys in, you guessed it, security. Ladies, I think we found our leak.

I went to bed Sunday with every expectation that my “big secret” was racing through the workforce faster than a child’s sneeze into the salad bar. I got to sleep relatively easy and slept surprisingly sound. There is nothing so empowering as knowing you are about to be revealed and simply not caring all that much. The next morning I made my lunch and went into work with a spring in my step. I had no idea what to expect, except that there would probably be a lot of questions and odd looks. I mentally set aside the day to have talks and whatnot and see where things landed from there.

Approaching my desk I could see all 4 guys huddled around the cube next to mine. “All right Michelle, I guess it’s go time.” It was not. Fascination was focused on a slightly ribald email sent in from a customer. All they had to say was that they were glad to see me alive. Seriously, WTF? I pressed a bit. “So, what was all that about anyway?” They had no clue. C.W. sent the text and then went silent. Their take was that he was just being silly. My take is that he didn’t want to be the one to break the news. OK. Sooooo…. now what?

I met with the HR director and filled him in. He wasn’t terribly pleased about a leak in his tightly controlled vault, which other experiences tell me is about as porous as a fishing net, or in some cases, air. So we talked it out. What to do, what to do. In the end he was happy to keep things on schedule for the most part, with the “big reveal” now moved up to the week of July 9th.  Yay! Even a week shaved off this onerous waiting process is better than nothing. I’ll take off an extra 7 links on my sweet construction paper chain right now; a countdown to the day when ‘male mode’ finds its way into the Goodwill bags.

That’s the long pole date anyway. In reality, the information is out there. I’m dead sure of it. I would be shocked if it hadn’t found a way into the building yet, creeping silently toward my group. It’s like being blindfolded, being told you are going to be plonked in the nose “soon”, then hearing the room door close. Did they leave? Was it a ruse? Is it coming now, or when the door opens again. For the love of god, will you just fricking plonk me already? We all know there is nothing a girl loves more than a good surprise plonking. Ugh! No, I didn’t mean it that way! Get sarcasm much?

The wonderful part about it all is that none of it is causing me any distress. Come what may, and I have no inclination to click my heels together and wish to be elsewhere, especially god forbid Kansas. What this tells me is that I’m more than ready. I’m over this charade; let’s have it done. Plonk.

Early Out

I was recently conversing with someone who self-identified as a cross-dresser rather than transsexual (I still prefer the umbrella term transgendered for the latter, but want my point to be clear) and much of what they were saying was eerily similar to thought processes I had some time ago when still struggling. It was very tempting to hit her with a grand revelation regarding her true self and sit back smugly as she mentally transformed in front of me, awash with gratitude for plucking the scales from her eyes. I made it a rule to do nothing of the kind and simply let her talk and listened. I wish C had done the same for me.

I’ve been slowly sharing some anecdotes regarding my personal journey here, and going to skip ahead a few years for the sake of making this point. I like how Homer Simpson begins tales from the past, so I’m going to begin the same way. You just can’t top that level of exaggerated style. It was the early aughts; a more innocent time before America dreamed of having a minority president and a tea party was still regarded as being something pleasant. The country was awash with the heady victory of vanquishing the Y2K juggernaut and I was riding the wave of optimism to take the next step in my journey of self discovery. Utilizing the ingenuity of new fangled web crawlers, I had discovered the presence of a local transgendered organization, the Buffalo Belles. Eagerly, I filled out the membership application, signed the check and walked it down to the mailbox in anticipation of a quick reply within the next 4 to 6 weeks.

Each day I arrived home and checked my mailbox and my caller ID. I assumed of course they likely had posh business offices downtown and would show up on my call box under the organizational name. My wait was rewarded, and I did receive a personal phone call when I happened to be home. An interview was required to vette me as acceptable for membership and we set up a time in my apartment. I dressed in the ‘Heathers’ style I was rocking at the time and slipped into my most enormous fake breasts. I waited anxiously for C to arrive, and she did, right on schedule.

I don’t remember much about the interview. I was pretty nervous but still tried to act natural and told at least a boiled down version of my life story. C disclosed early on that she was not a cross-dresser, but a transitioned woman. I’m reasonably certain I asked more than my share of inappropriate questions, and she was a very good sport about it. The concept of living that way, out there in broad daylight and all, seemed terrifying to me. At this point I had only ever taken brief walks in the wee morning hours or used the Halloween free pass to full advantage. I was also bewildered. She had been married and had children. She didn’t resemble Dr Frank in any way, shape or form. Somehow she was able to refrain from belting out half familiar show tunes.

My abilities as a chameleon extended to hiding extreme social discomfort, so I can’t blame her for getting the impression that I was casually relaxed when inwardly I was freaking out a little bit. She finally laid it on me. “I don’t think you are ready to hear this, but I really don’t think you are a cross-dresser, gigantic breasts aside, but transsexual like I am.” I agreed with the first statement. I was not ready to hear that. Not one tiny bit. I covered by giving her a wan, condescending smile, and begged to differ. She didn’t stick around to debate the matter, approved me for membership, and left.

Once she was gone, I changed back to male mode. Her words bothered me more than I felt they should. Over the next few weeks, anytime I even touched on the notion that her assessment could possibly be true, my mind drew up bleak and terrifying images of a future swallowed in pain and despair. My inner drama queen was rampant, a real bitch on wheels. Ultimately, I rejected the assessment as far too inconvenient to possibly be true. I packed away my wardrobe to the basement. I never ventured out to a Belles meeting. I threw myself into career, friends and family. By the time my membership expired, I was already exploring on-line dating and had constructed a vision of the future where I was a solid, dependable family man, and nothing more. C’s visit was regulated back to a subconscious whimsy that when surfaced was pushed back down with detached indifference. I lost a decade that way.

Right in her assessment, but oh so wrong for speaking it to me! What if she said nothing and simply approved my membership? What if I showed to meetings and met others, some like me, some not? What if I was able to gradually draw my own conclusions born of self-discovery in an environment populated by friends who would understand and support me? What if, what if, what if. It does no good dwelling on it. It didn’t happen that way, so the only thing worth focusing on is what did happen.

Now, over 10 years later in C’s position, I’m talking to someone who could be me. Desperate for opportunities to let her inner woman fly free, but cowed by the incalculable price we all pay for being ourselves instead of who so many want us to be. If she is she, then she she’ll be. Dammit, I hate when I come up with these cutesy tongue twisters. Yes, or no, it’s not for me to say, and I hope everyone else can give her the space she needs to make these discoveries on her own terms. So many of us are anxious to validate ourselves by uncovering our likeness in others, whether it is truly there or not. Don’t read me wrong, I have that too, but bowing out. I think it might be the kinder path.

Under the Radar

I’ve always been doing it really, but ever since I came to admit to myself that I am a trans woman, I’ve considered myself flying under the radar in the male world. Being in the world, but not of the world, as the Zen inclined would phrase it. Flying under, incognito, in disguise, and undeclared, I have been accepted by the demographic as one of their own, albeit an outlier on account of my quirky nature and disdain for piling on anyone other than “us”. It’s becoming less sustainable.

Estimates vary and I’ve seen quite a few numbers reported by various sources that put the incidence rate of transsexual type transgender people at a population of 1 in anywhere from 10 to 40 thousand. Regardless of the huge margin of error, that isn’t a very big population however you look at it. Experience seems to validate that as of all the people I have come out to, a very rare few have ever even encountered someone like me. I know I hadn’t. I can see now why I always lose at gambling; my luck manifests in other arenas.

Last Friday I was hunched in my cube preparing a report when  the endless chitter-chatter I’m exposed to erupted yet again amongst my direct reports. Mind you, other than HR, no one at work is aware of my true blue identity.  It’s not easy, but until the current massive layoff is complete, I’m laying low. I start catching snippets of the conversation and freeze up.

“Holy shit, remember Roy* who used to work in Dept X? Get this, Lew got a call last night from someone calling herself Penny. It was Roy!”

Now what are the chances of that happening? The funny thing is, I always wondered about “Roy”, whom the others used to call ‘Boobies’ due to ill concealed breasts under thin tee shirts. I wondered more when “Roy” grew very long hair, and sported a very androgynous appearance. At the time I was still in a losing battle to convince myself I was really male and not ready to think too much about it, but was still disappointed when “Roy” was let go in a previous layoff.

I froze when I heard the conversation begin. I know I have looming before me the task of letting my staff know they are actually working for a woman who will be appearing as such in the near future. As usual my face flushed and I pretended to be very busy as I got the inside scoop of what they really thought about someone who is transgendered.

As expected, they were having some fun with it, and not always in a very nice way. They immediately began scouring the internet for images of ‘Penny’ and debated as to whether they wanted to look or not due to ‘Penny’ being “really a dude”. There was considerably speculation as to what “he” would do with “his” penis once it was cut off. The idea that “he” was probably wearing women’s underwear at work was apparently “gross”.

I really wondered if this was my time to stand and educate; to defend my trans sister from the cruel barbs of ignorance. I didn’t. I just wasn’t ready for the speculation about why the front of my own sweater was beginning to swell (and far more rapidly than my endo indicated it would, not that there is anything wrong with that).

So yes, I remained under the radar and took it all in. It wasn’t easy. At least now when the clouds part sometime within the next couple of months and I fly above, I know the lay of the land. Forewarned is forearmed, and I know what work I have cut out for myself. Wish me luck, I’m going to need it.

*Not her real male mode name.

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