I Think I Passed

Okay, never one to shy from controversy, I think I had my first real experience being “stealth*.” To be fair, I’ve gone to the store many times, and I’m more or less stealth – outside that time I went late at night, about which I blogged previously, I’ve actually rarely felt very stared at, and most of the time I make direct contact with a few people in the process, and none of them do a double take, and the interactions are pleasant, except when someone honks at me, because I swear I looked in the rearview and they were not there when I started backing out. 

It’s often worse at inclusive spaces**, in a slightly ridiculous way, because other LGBT people read me more readily than straight people.  Also, more generally, the funny consequence of this is that only people who know me well ever misgender me, even though I’m just three months on hormones. You can argue the point if you want (people got catty when I suggested this was happening in a trans thread on Facebook). But it’s decently accurate, and no one is more surprised about it than I am.

I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me Blackbird?

But, in the real, not officially inclusive world, the experiences have been stacking up. I do get compliments. They’re flattering, but I also admit that when I get compliments, going out, I assume people know exactly what I am, and they think I’m hideous, and they’re just being nice (because who could ever find me pretty?). So they compliment my bracelet or earrings to be pleasant without having to engage me on my appearance. This interacts a bit with the eating disorder history, too. I don’t have distorted body image so much, anymore, but at some level, those perceptions and those cognitions will always be with me. 

Anyway, little things challenge the pattern of cognition. I sat down at Starbucks the other day, and the woman on one side chatted friendly that she was envious that I could pull of a pant suit, because she can’t. This one I don’t think really had anything to do with recognizing I was transgender, but moreover, it caught me off guard, because I was a little scared to go with the pants over the skirt for fear that the outfit was just a little less clearly feminine, although, of course, with a frilly blouse, heels, and dangly earrings, the point comes across, honestly, well enough. But anyways, I was caught off guard, although the compliment felt genuine and really nice, actually. I quickly recovered with, “Thank you! I’m not always sure I can, either!” Which is actually the truth. My face doesn’t blush unless NARS has helped, but I would have blushed if my complexion allowed for it. The young women on the other side of me liked my earrings. Excellent power up before going into a big meeting, and I felt just plain like a woman all day***. 

But here’s the other, secret part. This is the part I haven’t heard very many trans people who “pass” (either as well as I do, or far better) talk about. Conceptually, I think it’s unlikely no one recognizes I’m, well, a different kind of woman. I also kind of know it’s unlikely that everyone thinks I look like a freak, and they are all simultaneously playing much better poker faces than I can muster, so that no one in the crowd shows it. I can also conceptually accept that some people probably do think I look a little … different … and may not much care for it, and are just being nice. What drives me crazy is not whether I pass, but that I don’t know what other people think of me. That drives me insane, because I’m that girl who wants everyone to like her, and can’t be terribly comfortable with the idea that there may be people who are faking liking me and I don’t know it. There. I said it.

People have written about how it’s hard to be pretty. I’m not going to try to convince you of some absurdity, like pretty people have it worse than ugly people or smart people have it worse than stupid people, or rich people have it worse than poor people, because by and large, the scientific evidence (which has addressed this) does not support the claim. But this is the dark side to … passing is the wrong word. Stealth is the wrong word, because, as I’ve already explained, I’ve made a  nuanced decision not to go stealth, even if I could. It’s the dark side to having a high degree of social acceptability (in a wide range of settings and among people who don’t know me) as a transitioning person, because like pretty people (dare I say other pretty people? It’s taken me a long time to wrap my head around the fact that I’m perceived as pretty, as much as I’ve longed for the moniker all my life), a lot of us hide insecurities, and just … there is a specific hell to not knowing what people think of me, even if the answer would turn out to be not so bad.

* Here I simply mean being in a cisgender space and being pretty sure most of the people with whom one interacts don’t know one is trans. As usual, I semi-facetiously court controversy. So, I don’t pass judgment on the choice of trans people who choose to go into a deep stealth, where they live in such a way that even many/most of their close/intimate friends and colleagues do not know they are trans. As I’ve said before, locally, that could never be an option for me, but were I to relocate somewhere where there isn’t a large neuropsychology presence or other network connections to my perceived-male days, it might be feasible. I don’t have the option globally, unless I were to leave my profession. I’ve also chosen not to do this, because, in my case, I believe I can work and thrive here, where many people know me, and by doing so open the door wider for our siblings. 

** Okay, so I wrote my post about Coolclusion, right? A couple weeks later, at church, one of the same people I mentioned, I kid you not, on the day that the sermon was about what it means to be an open and affirming church, told my girlfriend and me, “If we can accept you [laughter], we can accept anyone, can’t we?” Blithely. What does it really say about us, as a people, if I can go to expensive bars and fancy restaurants, and totally get treated well and feel welcome, and this is the standard to which we hold ourselves in making an inclusive church accepting? How did things come to be this way, and how do we right the apple cart?

*** And they don’t even know what coolclusion is, or who they’re trying to coolclude!

What A Difference A Year Makes

I’m trying to nail down some travel plans for the late summer and in to the fall, to go to APA Convention in Washington, DC and then to Southern Comfort in Atlanta, GA.

I went to First Event in Boston, in January, still quite unsure whether I could do this. It was my first real exposure to trans people outside my support group. I had so little confidence, back then. Just five months later, I feel so strong. Such a difference a year makes – so much is up in the air, and yet I know I can do this. The doubts vanish daily, filled with a gentle knowledge inside that I am so much stronger than I look. 

I’m filing to change my name, and most likely I’ll be flying under my new name before I get on another plane. Delta kindly explained to me that getting my tickets updated, assuming my legal name change goes through by then (it should – I should be able to get a court date in a couple weeks when my fingerprint check clears), is no big. I got this, and, as it turns out, they do, too

This will be only my second APA, altogether (the first was an emotional rollercoaster – it was one of the first conferences in New Orleans after Katrina, in 2006, and a friend and classmate died driving to it, and had I not been so lazy, I would have been in the car with her, but that’s a story for another time), and my first non-LGBT conference (& what a doozy, APA is huge!) at which I will be recognized as a woman. But I’m going to enjoy it. I bought a benefit dinner ticket to eat at HRC’s headquarters down the street from the conference, and raise money and awareness for APA’s Division 44. So I guess I’ll be packing a little black dress*. I’m hoping to see a dear friend and his wife, and re-connect, while I’m there, also, since it’s been almost four years since I’ve been to DC. 

SCC will be my second transgender conference – when I went to FE in January, I wasn’t sure if I would even pack a dress – I felt so squeamish and unsure of my self. This time, I may be packing a skirt suit, too, if my presentation gets accepted (I’ll be talking about what it’s like to transition as a healthcare professional and as a leader). And more to the point, I won’t be packing any men’s clothes, not then, and probably not ever again. I’ll be flying as a woman, on both occasions. I’ll be working as a woman, everyday. I’ll be advocating for the kids and families I serve as a woman. I’ll be back to living a single gender life (well, except for my drivers license, for a little while, at least). But it’ll be my gender, not the one to which I pretended for all these years.

Bring it!

And I’m not scared about checking in at the hotel as a woman, or riding the MARTA to the hotel in Atlanta (no, I’m not staying off it because of what happened recently – because justice will not be meted out by running away), or going through the TSA scanner and generating an anomaly. Not at all, no, I’m trying to figure out an excuse to fly even more in the fall (okay, so I’m also one flight away from a status jump with Delta Skymiles… and right now, I don’t have flight plans from September all the way till January!). 

What a tidal wave. And I am surfing on it, not being swept away. 

* And, erm, semi-comfortable shoes – it looks like an eight block stroll to the dinner. Too bad it’s a short trip and I have to pack carefully. This would be a perfect opportunity to use my über-cute minaudière. 

Coolclusion: That Hip, New Thing

This is gentle criticism, and it’s directed at people I love. I’ve had some really interesting experiences exploring the inclusive church space over the past half year. I’m technically a member, or at least I was, of a certain large Protestant church that is thick as thieves here in West Michigan. I became a member in my 20s, in Ann Arbor, when I was an engineer, after going there through most of college. It was my church home altogether for most of ten years. I left for two reasons. The proximal one was that I was in the process of shipping off to Gainesville, FL, to do my doctoral studies. Of course, the sensible thing to do would have been to re-establish my churchgoing in Gainesville, but I want to be honest and admit I did not do this. The distal, truer, and less public reason, had to do with the fact that, at that time, I knew who and what I was, and I accepted it conceptually, but I was not anywhere near brave enough to do anything about it, and I wasn’t really ready to know how to love myself, either (anorexia, ironically, had already begun to lead me towards knowing how to love myself, but this was early in my disordered eating days yet). I felt a very strong sense in that church of the message from God that no one had the right to separate me from the divine. It almost was like a vision* that came to me, once, actually, when I was late and snuck into the choir balcony, and it was a stern rebuke, not a gentle reassurance. But I had become increasingly convinced, even though at that time, I really was just beginning to understand consciously the issues surrounding LGBTQIA+ inclusion, that this simple message received only lip service, and certainly was not the model of religious fellowship I saw around me, most of the time.

What I saw around me were generally more-or-less good people, with everyday problems (I went to Sunday school with a fellow Ford engineer’s wife, who complained about him “having” to buy Ford cars, which struck me as… disingenuous). I also saw, frequently, that they used the perception of sin as a means to bully each other and achieve submission. The most glaring time I saw this was a newlywed fellow graduate student (whom I legitimately liked) trying to convince me that, even if had not had extra-marital sex, I was an adulterer because I thought about it. These kinds of messages were always externally directed – one got these sermonettes about whatever the “preacher” didn’t personally suffer from, but figured other people probably did, and so they could be cowed by being confronted with it and thereby amplify pre-existing guilt. This is really not the life Christ wanted us to live, and I didn’t (and don’t) pretend to be any kind of saint, but I knew it. So I know it is not my place to bargain with the divine, but I simply told God that I needed to be in placed where people were in need, and I could be of service to them, and to places where I heard the divine voice, and particularly, that, at the time, church sadly was not that place. I also agreed to accept contradictory marching orders – whenever God wanted me in church, to church I would go, without question, but that I would look for divinity my own way until then. I had this negotiation in my own heart, although I transparently told as much to the one or two people who asked about it. For what it’s worth, I do know people kicked out of this church for being what I am (in the sense of my gender identity and my sexual orientation). Although they’ve started taking recent positive steps, my understanding is that I would probably not be welcome as a member, now.

I know it’s just the right size and it has a nice feel to it in your hand, and it swings nicely, but for the love of God, please stop thinking that the correct use of this thing is to hit people over the head with it

I didn’t feel that draw back to church until just the last few years (I went about ten years rarely going to church). Then, I started feeling the tug. I went to Catholic Church. Well, I was dating a Catholic. It wasn’t bad. The priests freestyle over the beat break in the Lord’s Prayer, which I find mildly unnecessary and disturbing (one of my favorite Bible verses is from Quoholeth, “God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”) In this particular case, they also preach entirely too often on the state of their retirement accounts (and not the kind in heaven). Anyways. I actually kind of liked it, altogether. Since I am not Catholic, I extended my decade of not taking communion, and whereas Catholics do this all the time (which is not what Christ asked for), Protestants do not, and so even with intermittent trips by myself to my home denomination, I continued to do without communion.

If you’re not these guys, you do not get to freestyle over the beat break in anything, let alone the Lord’s Prayer

When she and I split up, I started attending a Universalist-Unitarian church. They’re hokey. But a well-rooted hokey – four of the first six presidents were part of this church. Harvard and Tufts are their seminaries. They’re nice, and they even did a transgender inclusion workshop. They’re not particularly interested in scripture, and they take a very hands off approach to developing right-mindedness, and it didn’t ultimately work out for me, but I like them. Now I’m at a United Church of Christ, and I like this so far. What I have to say goes to both of them, and to many other spaces.

Inclusion doesn’t have to be awkward. I’m advocating for “coolclusion.” A wonderful gentleman introducing himself to my girlfriend and me at one of these churches said, “Well, you’re certainly a different couple, but we’re glad to have you here, and all really are welcome.” He was genuinely trying to be friendly and inclusive. I’m not mad at him, and I feel welcome there. Coolclusion is the gentle reminder that “Cool! It’s nice to meet you, and I’m glad you’re here” works just as well. Coolclusion also advocates that one generally needn’t show ally cred by doing any more than being friendly. One needn’t tell me, “Oh! My niece is a lesbian” as if this will prove one accepts my relationship. One needn’t stare at me and grin until I break down and explain why I might look a little different from other women (which, it turns out, is more often because they don’t know many Indians, and although my blood seems to go all the way back to the migration from Persia, I don’t really look like other Indians anyways). Actually, the point is totally applicable to ethnic inclusivity and many other kinds of inclusivity that have nothing to do with LGBTQIA+.

The truth is, before I went to this newest church for the first time, I had sat by a retired pastor of the church in which I was originally a member. I don’t know how well I “passed” that night, but his vision wasn’t so great, which takes the heat off! Anyway, he treated me like any other young lady (don’t even start with me, I still pass for a young lady in some crowds!). We talked about his daughter, about art and music, about early autism interventions and the value in giving young people all the chances we can, about the vicious cycle of poverty, and about economic development being a key to helping the underprivileged lift themselves out of the cycle. He introduced me to his best friend, and briefly to their wives, who were in the row behind. It was a lovely conversation, and I just want to emphasize that I felt absolutely included without a single moment spent affirming my LGBTQIA+ status or anything else that marks me as different. It didn’t even need a rainbow flag. I did send his daughter (whom I’ve never met) a note on Facebook, just to let her know how great her daddy is.

I have to admit I’m dealing with a lot of my own insecurity, too, and this layers into it. I feel like a hot mess many times even when I look my best. I think in my head that people compliment my appearance, my choice of accessories and sense of style, because they feel sorry for me, and not because there’s anything to compliment. I know. I’m working on this. I know it’s absurd – I got compliments on my style and accessories as a presumptive man, and even with the stress of trying to drape a body that’s just been freed of testosterone two months ago, I do kind of know I know how to do accessories. So I’ll try to be less of a bottomless pit of low self-esteem.

In the meantime, in general, I’m advocating for a more laid back, less-is-more kind of inclusion. If you want to include me, please have a conversation with me and talk about whatever we talk about. Please don’t think that you are not inclusive until you interrupt a conversation about something I find really interesting (autism, healthcare reform, politics, farm-to-table, Dig Dug, Coach purses, etc) or whatever you find really interesting (please don’t let it be NASCAR, please don’t let it be NASCAR) to steer the conversation to my ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity. If you get to know me, as you’ve seen in this blog, I’ll happily talk about those things. And if and when you need help knowing how to fit into an environment you’re not used to and not screw it up, I’ll help if I can (because, god, I’ve had to rock being that only girl in a miniskirt at the party before!). And I’ll just say, “use she and her” if I need to (it’s actually only people who know me and are trying too hard, who offer me options I am unlikely to want, like gender neutral pronouns, again, I know they mean well), because I know you have no idea what I mean when I say I “prefer” female pronouns, because, honestly, less is more on our side too, and I’m also not sure why I use this clumsy language.

Slackware. It’s not just for Linux anymore. Look, the girl made a geek joke! Now sudo make me a sandwich, and stop staring at me! 

Just be cool, dude. And I’ll try to be cool and not-a-dude**. We’ll all be fine.

* We’ll have to see if it’s prophetic, also. The only prophetic dream I ever had involved dreaming there were storm clouds raining inside the optics lab I was working in. I told my fellow grad student about it, and then we went out to lunch. When we got back, the receptionist noted the funny pouring sound coming from our lab. A pipe had burst and it was raining all over the setup. I think it did $35,000 in damages. I don’t know if my utter failure to do anything useful with the prophetic dream got me cut off, if or if this is one of those things where one gets a second chance!

** Also I pledge not to use terms like “hip,” “cool,” or “dude” for at least one or two next blog posts.

The Secret Lives of Boys

Reading a novel I just finished*, it occurred to me that, as a trans woman, I (we) have a unique perspective. While I sometimes regret not having had a proper girlhood, and I didn’t really have a proper boyhood, because I was never more than pretending to be a boy, as an outsider, I had an intimate glimpse into the secret life of boys that few women are afforded. Most of the time, I just feel like a survivor, but I enjoyed my strange childhood (bullying, teasing, and my internal dysphoria notwithstanding), albeit not nearly as much as I do my queerhood. As I reflect on my transition from being a perceived-male leader to a woman leader in the workplace, and I continue to learn to understand (& frequently still wonder at) my male peers (although I’ve had more female than male bosses, and even my favorite engineering supervisor was a woman … I’m not so unsocialized as a woman), I actually think it’s quite a gift to have had this.

I’m a feminist, and I really believe I try to be a truly radical one, but the part of me that doesn’t wish I were an upper middle class British daughter in Jane Austen’s day makes me wish I were a 50s housewife**. I’ve adjusted pretty readily to my current life, where I’m the breadwinner, and am entirely likely to make far more than my girlfriend, for the foreseeable future, even if she is the man of the house***. She has taken on some of the yardwork, but I also do the vscuuming and the laundry and the cooking and the majority of the dishes, so I’m kind of the housewife also. And damn me, but I like it, and I even kind of like it when my partner feels me up while I’m cooking instead of helping. It’s fulfilling****.

I also could’ve been the other Boleyn girl, but that ended a bit badly….

But, I did spend my childhood riding bicycles around the neighborhood, pushing how far we were allowed to explore from the house. We put playing cards in the spokes to make motorcycle sounds and our moms got mad when the deck was missing the jack of clubs and the two of hearts. We explored the undeveloped land at the end of my street, which was maybe two acres, but felt like an empty national park, and we played king of the mountain. I sucked at this. Once, we went to the corner ice cream store. I didn’t wear shoes, and my friend Paul didn’t wear a shirt. The sign said, no shirt, no shoes, no service, and I think they wouldn’t have turned away two six year olds, but I lent Paul my shirt because his shoes didn’t fit me. My mommy was mad that time also – Paul’s mom wouldn’t give him money, so I shared mine, against her wishes. We also once ate cat food that came in a sample package in the mail, because the box said it was for ages six and under (now this should go in a footnote where I can minimize embarrassment). I had boy adventures. I got to come up in the treehouse where the (other) girls weren’t allowed. I got to shoot a hunting rifle when we went to see somebody’s hick cousin outside town (I’m Indian … I have lots of cousins and none of them have guns). Sure, there were girls in our little gangs, most of my childhood. There was one in my earliest group of friends (she was a jerk though, and mostly friends with Paul … maybe she viewed me as competition! Probably they’re married now…), and later I occasionally managed to score a separate clique of girl friends, who included me on girl imaginative play that delightfully involved less killing things. But I was also included, especially in those young years before puberty, in pretty much the full boy experience, and they weren’t.

In fairness, there were also eras (most of adolescence) when I also really was excluded from the world of the young men, and I can tell you that sharing the boys’ locker room during puberty was terrible, and where the bruises from the kids punching me for fun, were incurred. Boys making fun of my nipples was pretty terrible (they’ve, erm, grown on estrogen, but they looked more like girls’ nipples even then, just like I’ve always had hips, at least since adolescence).

To some extent, this inclusion in the boys club did pick up again after puberty. By eleventh grade, the teasing had largely ended. I had a clique again of intimate friends, still mostly boys with a few girls, and I started being included in some guy stuff again. I really loved and valued my friendship with my freshmen college roommate, and my two best friends still, whom I met at orientation, although I increasingly seemed like an awkward fit into the boys’ hall in the dorm (my roommate and I were both odd fits in our hall full of Long Islanders).

After college, there was a summer when we would hang out at my friends Calvin and Chris’s place, and play tennis or swim until it got dark, and then Wei would cook steaks shirtless (this looks like the same story you’re imagining where all the people are white, except with less body hair). I was already shifting to spending more and more of my time becoming platonic friends with women (other women, but I wasn’t ready for that clarification quite yet … this was a gradual progression, and as I’ve learned to navigate not getting crushes on them, because I don’t really feel attracted to feminine women, they make way more sense for me as close friends than men, outside of the handful with whom I share decades and who will own my heart until the day I die). And so, yet again, this inclusion faded over time.

Nobody has invited me to a poker party in a long time, and the only Super Bowl party invitation I can think of in years came from one of my female best friends, Lisa. We went out to a restaurant my friend manages. There were root chips in ridiculous quantity. I had a mixed drink and later got food poisoning. Anyways. The truth is I’ve been an outsider to the private lives of men for years, and even any male privilege I retain now is largely eroded by the well known facts that I love pink, watch romantic comedies way too often and cry all the time (also when telling stories about our autism kids), and like brunch way more than yard work. And trunk sales way more than power tools. Way, way more.

These are still way better for making bicycles make cool motorcycle noises, although my friend Wei is now apparently a coolly competent card sharp at the poker table

As for the boys, I retain their sense of adventure, and although it’s shaded with body image issues and shame and guilt that any other woman who survived anorexia knows well, most of the time, I share their sense of agency. Like them, I still thrill when I can use my talents and when I solve problems. Like them, I enjoy it sometimes when life is quick, when it is unpredictable, just as I enjoy (sometimes) running to the next terminal at the airport 10 minutes before boarding, to get Starbucks, and weaving through the slow moving passengers a I dash back to get “in before the lock.” (Okay, I did this right before the flight on which I wrote this post, and, uncharacteristically for me, I did not get a peppermint mocha, nor did I get a birthday cake pop.) And I also have some of their battle hardening, from the time I had to rescue an engineering project that had lost more than three years of its four year development cycle, and get it out the door, essentially flawlessly, in all of eight months. The battle scars from coming into my Center, driving out the people who were killing it like Jesus in the moneychanger section of the Temple or a World War I soldier invading an enemy foxhole. Sometimes I feel like it killed the little girl inside, a bit, but I also am proud of my survival (and overcoming anorexia is a pretty good girl template of overcoming … hardly any guy is strong like a girl who survived that!).

Thus, in ways, I’ve been working on the problem of how to be a professional woman, just like any other woman, long before I transitioned. But some of this won’t really come into fruition until I’m full time, in the next couple months*****. A lot of the leaders around me are women, in this environment, but a lot are men. It is kind of useful to have grown up with their kind, at a level of intimacy girls don’t have. Maybe I’ll make a good double agent for other career women. Like most of my female leader peers, I think our femininity adds to, not subtracts from, the workplace. I think mine already has, because I’ve always been feminine, and when the last vestiges of pretending are gone, it will, even more so.

But I don’t dream some Amazonian vision of the future where men are obsolete. I think they bring a lot to the workplace, too. I wonder at them. I admire their strength, physical and emotional, although I think we push our boys too hard, to be too strong, too hard, and too soon. Nonetheless, I like their strong arms****** and their strong hearts. I don’t think that women are better than men, and certainly I don’t think men are better than women. I think we’re just different. I don’t think that every child needs a mom and a dad (two moms or two dads is great, and one of either suffices for many in a pinch), and I dont think that because it was Adam and Eve, that Adam and Steve can’t look equally cute together. I do think women and men complement each other, and that masculinity and femininity complement each other, on a broader scale (and in my, ahem, private life… I love being in love with a butch). We are better with both, albeit letting both develop naturally, and not policing our boys into masculinity or our girls into femininity.

And thus, I’m thankful that I got to be a girl in deep cover*******, and I think it adds to my womanhood rather than subtracting from it. My therapist thinks I carry way more male privilege than I do, and warns me about how I’ll withstand loosing it. I wish she would listen better and talk less, but my undercover girlhood amongst the boys, paired with my increasing comfort in and confidence with my feminity, will help me navigate my womanhood with grace and courage. And I shall wear my scars, both scars of bicycle crashes and scars of the heart, proudly. They are badges of honor, and even when I conceal them with makeup, they make me more beautiful.

* Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, our at-the-time-of-writing current book club book…it’s excellent, I really enjoyed it. And I didn’t pick it, so don’t start with me!

** Just for those of you who don’t know me well, the vast majority of me is too busy being in love with this moment and and this life to spend too much time thinking how good I’d look with alabaster skin and a corseted dress or my hair in pins and a tweed skirt and cape. Although I do have a tweed skirt and hairpins….

*** Not to be insensitive to my girlfriend or to overdo the idea of the butch-femme relationship mirroring the heterosexual relationship, or to give too much ammunition to the fellas who want to know “who’s the guy,” but this is pretty much the way it is… I’ve even caught my girlfriend mansplaining things to me, like how I should manage the $2M budget of the clinic I build from ashes with my bare hands (and my team, whom I love, it really was NOT all me… After we got rid of all the people who were snakes in our midst, the people we have left are my true family, and it would break my heart to leave them).

**** The tail end of second wave feminism and the very beginnings of the “land grab” era did at least lead to things like questioning the feminism in belittling a woman for liking to keep house.

***** It’s so close. I ordered girl business cards. I have a skirt suit. And a transition plan for work. I probably can submit my paperwork to change my name in about a month. And I just can’t wait.

****** As long as they’re not ridiculous. All the ladies know exactly what I’m talking about.

******* I borrow this – Jill Davidson, a fellow trans woman psychologist, called her memoir Undercover Girl. I like Connected Queer still, but I have to admit she aced it with that title.

The Leap of Faith and Things We Don’t Understand

I had a really interesting discussion with one of my oldest friends about the novel, The Life of Pi, the role of faith, and the idea of accepting things that lack a means to objectively “prove” them. Without ruining the novel (it’s fantastic, and was, I believe, the first book my book club read, 4.5 years ago; the movie rendition is very good, also), a key point is that faith is not something we (only) accept because our beliefs are “right,” but far moreso, because the immediate impact of some kinds of faith is an enrichment of our lives. Faith makes our lives colorful, magic makes our lives magical, and wonderment makes our lives wonderful. To those in a Western religion, this point may seen obscure, although a close look at Christ clearly suggests that he wanted people to have joy in their lives in earth, not (just) in the joy to come. It seems more obvious in the melody of eastern thinking – “Hark! The lotus flower is blooming!” – eastern thinking is very clearly concerned with enlightenment as something from which we can benefit in each moment, a benefit we’ve been missing out on in so many of our moments. 

I have to say, Pi Patel may have been written by a white guy from Canada, but he feels like the older brother I wished I had, to look up to in the girlhood I wished I’d had

As a young Christian (my parents are Hindus, but Hinduism can be fairly giving to the idea of figuring things out for oneself… they did not really argue with or resist my interest in Christianity, driven at first by kinship with my third grade best friend, Andy, a preacher’s kid), much as I didn’t understand my gender identity, I did have an aching, eastern discomfort with the Gospel as late 20th century men preached it, which I couldn’t really explain. Now I can say simply that I am ready to accept the idea of this life as a training, as a honing. Like most people, and perhaps more than many of them, I rejoice at every victory, large and tiny, and I take pride in who I’m becoming. But what I cannot accept is the, to me, absurdist idea that this life of honing has as its ultimate purpose an afterlife in which there is no struggling, no difficulties or privations, no challenges, and no growth. The evangelist’s notion of heaven seems hell to me. I continue to believe in God, and to particularly believe that there is a deep structure* to life that links us together and provides meaning and context to our lives. But I believe most, like Pi Patel, my fictional countryman, in the enrichment faith and belief make in my every moment and every day. 


I’ve been told I have a mischievous smile, that makes me seem like I’m up to something (albeit something good). I am. I suppose that it’s my heritage, as my namesake, Krishna, that avatar of wisdom and the courage to make right-minded decisions, was also known to play pranks on maids. I am not big on pranks, but I do see life as a game to play at, passionately, wholeheartedly, but for the love of it.

My friend’s point in bringing up this thing was in the analogy to accepting the idea of transness in another person**. The thing about being transgender is that it’s not something we have a blood test for, or even a questionnaire or other psychological instrument that can provide a valid and reliable*** “diagnosis” for us. The old standard of care (which really policed trans women far more than trans men, and policed far more than helped) was to ignore us. Hope we’d go away, and, if after a while, we had not, deny us and tell us we’re fakers, and then keep doing this until we can prove we can be ladylike in pumps and seamed stockings. Then maybe hormones and surgeries and a modicum of acceptance****. The new standard of care is to mostly just accept the statement at face value – mostly based on the principal that, if nothing else, who would really want to screw up their life like this if they were just playing around?

The claim is leveled unfairly at broader issues in cognition and psychology. We have reliable and valid means of identifying depression, anxiety disorders, OCD, cognitive problems secondary to a variety of causes, and many other things. My autism diagnoses are valid and reliable without having to do a blood stick or needing a specific genetic marker. So it’s really not true in that broader sense, but it is true when it comes to things like sexual orientation and gender identity. Even if we wanted one, we don’t have a valid and interpretable questionnaire that would correctly identify us, either pre or post hoc.

I think one thing cisgender people don’t really consider, however, is that most of us transgender people are our own biggest skeptics. I spent 38 years trying to be a boy and trying to be a man. I tried being a gay man – it turns out I make an even more terrible gay man than I make a straight man. I thought love would cure me and made multiple lengthy attempts with straight women to try and prove this point. A lot of people, especially now, transition much younger, but had it been 28 or even 18 instead of 38… That’s still a long time thinking about this. When I first came out, I’d say, “I think I might be transgender” or something sheepish like that. Sister, please. I don’t think, I know*****. I think people get this in my story, intuitively. Which probably goes back to how binary and how feminine I am. But out of the probably 200 people, to whom I’ve come out by now, only one tried to argue the point with me. In his defense, we’d just met, and he wanted me to be his boyfriend (dearheart, I’d make a terrible boyfriend to anyone, and I can give you references if you’d like to fact check). 

Anyways, my life has become unimaginably richer in the just seven months or so it’s been since I finally accepted, on faith, this idea, which, on it’s surface, seems quite as crazy as believing in a white haired man looking down in judgment (I believe in God, for the record, but I think that conception of God is cray-cray). I’ve been told, so I don’t guess, now, by several people who knew me as a “man” and now also as a woman, that I make so much more sense to them this way, that I seem airier and now unceasingly bounce and skip through life these past months, and I see in the eyes of my friends that they are benefitting from this new faith, now (when I’m not even full time yet). The (vast) majority of these early people I’ve told have been thrilled to be “in” on the secret and to celebrate with me. 

Let’s be honest, I was made to put on a cute dress and twirl around. But it’s not the dress that gives a bounce to my step. It isn’t the heels, cute as they are. It isn’t the makeup or the earrings. The twinkle in my eye doesn’t come from the contrast increasing benefit of mascara. The lilt in my voice isn’t voice coaching******. It’s the faith that puts the spring in my step and the twinkle in my eye. The faith in me. 

* I’m appropriating this term from Noam Chomsky, because I think it fits remarkably well. Chomsky’s point, in essence, is that language cannot be understood by pure virtue of its surface features – the sounds, character shapes, and so on, because its deep structure lies in its communicating approximations of ideas that humans (and other creatures with language) understand with our brains. This explains why anthropologists and archeologists need Rosetta stones. 

** I hardly ever throw a line to my trans friends who are always looking for excuses to call people traitors, and this is no exception… I am not going into the details, which go beyond my friend’s acceptance of my own journey, but he has nothing to prove as an ally to anyone. 

*** Basically, reliable means that a test could be repeated, at least in principle, by different people at different times, and provide the same results; valid, which requires reliable, means that the test means what it claims to mean, because it can predict outcomes well, because it correlates strongly with other validated tests of the same condition, etc. Although most people don’t know it, most procedures used in most of clinical psychology are held to essentially the same standards of reliability and validity as “objective” biological tests used in medicine. 

**** Jan Morris’s story shows that the standard of care, even back then, was unevenly applied, with far better treatment to educated, affluent women like her or me. 

***** Embarrassing number of parentheticals by your shameless authoress, but I can’t resist the bubble gum comic joke. The teacher says, “Billy, what is the answer to this problem” Billy says, “What do you think it is, ma’am?” She says, “I don’t think, I know.” Billy says, “I don’t think I know, either!”

******* Now I’m just being impertinent. For the record, I am seeing a voice coach on Monday (it’s Saturday the 17th today… I write these blog posts in advance and schedule them out, and I’ll edit and add pictures later, because it seems wasteful to buy airplane WiFi to blog). I’m curious about what she has to say, but I don’t really think this is a big focus area for me, although if there are tweaks I can do, beyond what I do subconsciously and with a little iPhone app training, I’ll possibly do them. Jenny Boylan did this, though, and she felt like she mistressed (I must resort to a parenthetical to opine on my love for neologism, since a footnote within my sixth footnote in this blog would be ridiculous, even for me) it, but it felt insincere, and she stopped doing it. When I did the iPhone app, I felt kind of like this also, but anyways, we’ll see. 

Getting My Ears Pierced

I finally got my earlobes pierced*. It was a good experience. The piercing specialist, who has crazy gaugings with gears spinning in them and most likely some advanced form of clean/renewable electric power generation happening inside, asked me if I would want to gauge my ears at any point in the future (considerate of him to ask, and I’m fine with other people gauging their ears, but #No).

This got me to thinking about something along the lines of the hierarchical sexism problems that Julia Serano writes about. I identify as queer** in two senses. I am gender non-conforming, in the sense that I try to / want to conform well within female normative appearance (happily) and behavior but I was assigned male at birth***. I am also sexually non-conforming in that I am bisexual-going-on-lesbian, in a really amazing relationship with a lesbian identified woman who has always known me and accepted me as a woman, even when it’s under the male mask for work, etc.

And yet, right? (In Japanese, the women especially say あの、ぬ。I find this a lot more artful, but, well, my Japanese is rusty these days, but you think I sound like a girl in English, whew, you should hear me speak Japanese.) As queer people have more and more come out into the open, doesn’t it sometimes seem that being appearance non-conforming is more queer than being LGBTQIA+? It seems like a different thing than the days, back when I was in college, that people called the local coffee chain “Oppresso Royale” for policing tattoos and piercings. Rather, it seems sometimes that queerness of the appearance kind – having lots of tattoos, body piercings, dressing in non-conforming ways, sometimes is a shibboleth for queer spaces. *Cough* really a shibboleth for BTQIA+ spaces and maybe occasionally L spaces (I haven’t had opportunities to go to that many L spaces, but I do get invited). I guess this isn’t really a new thing. Kate Bornstein, of all people, has an experience in her wonderful memoir where she gets read as cis/het in a lesbian bar, and they kind of gave her the “this is no place for a pretty little thing like you” line until it turned out she was kinkier-than-thou.

This is really absurd and is really an element of something between hierarchicalism and what Serano calls Oppression Olympics. It is, ultimately, putting people into different better/worse categorizations based on variables like race/sex/appearance rather than rejecting the notion that people are fundamentally more and less valuable in an intrinsic way****, from one to the next.

Queer spaces should not gatekeep sexual/gender minorities based on stuff that is not fundamentally related to being a sexual/gender minority. Being trans and being a woman who loves a woman make me queer. That woman I love has a number of tattoos, and sometimes I kiss them and sometimes I like looking at them, and other times I really don’t have strong feelings about her tattoos, or even her discussion of getting a sleeve, and occasionally I make fun of them. But my not having any tattoos, and no piercings except my ungauged earlobes, in which I wear girly earrings that match my outfit whenever possible, do not de-queer me, and it’s no more right that I be looked down upon because I am au naturel than for me to look down on someone because they are pierced or tattooed. 

Really fundamental to this concern is the idea of identities, experiences, and behaviors being more revolutionary because they are farther from the mainstream. In that way, my argument is that it is much the same as claiming femmes somehow invalidate the experience of other lesbian women by their femininity or preserve the patriarchy because they kiss women, but do so in lipstick and heels. Maybe it’s even easier to see in the idea that somehow non-tattooed people are oppressing tattooed people with their plain skin. The bottom line is that the truly revolutionary acts are to be authentic to oneself, and to decide that all people matter. And the revolution won’t be over, until life is equal, until love is equal, until gifts are equal. 

* Use a reputable tattoo / piercing parlor, it’s worth it.

** Sometimes I hear people in the trans community use queer to mean non-binary, instead of saying the more specific genderqueer. I’d really like to push to keep queer as an umbrella identification, because there’s no other good word that tries to capture the entirety of people who are gender and/or sexually non-conforming to societies’ expectations. Like the concept of “colored,” the umbrella use of queer is a political construct – because we all experience marginalization because we are queer, like nearly Ll “colored” people have experienced at least some marginalization in a “white” society. It is not my intent to imply that there is a homogeneity to queer people or to straight (cis/het) people. There isn’t, and that’s the whole point.

*** I find this language clumsy and overly indulgent of implausibly constructionist gender theories, but whatever.

**** Careful readers will note I am a Fountainhead-loving libertarian and wonder at this statement. I take a constructionist view of equality. I do not believe that people are born equal, nor do I believe they remain equal over the course of their lives. I think we create societal systems, however, that give them equality in the sense of opportunity. Those societal systems reduce/eliminate, and I reject, the idea of valuating people on many things that they are rather than do, such as race or sex. I also reject valuating people based on extraneous variables – I don’t give someone the kind of respect I value most because of their tattoos – tattoos have nothing to do, mostly, with my loves – passion, creativity, ingenuity. I will give mad props to a really pretty tattoo, though, because I love beauty.

Empathizing, Systemizing, Autism, and Trans People

Some of you may know that a big part of my professional life right now is tied up in the early diagnosis of, comprehensive treatment planning for, and early intensive behavioral intervention with kids with autism*. I kind of ❤ them, and I kind of ❤ their families. I am involved more peripherally and less intensively with adolescent/adult autism advocacy and services, but really it is preschoolers by whom I am surrounded on a daily basis. 

I get asked a fair amount about connections between autism and being transgender. One of the dominant pathophysiological models of autism is called the extreme male brain theory. (Some people in the autism world are fairly angry about this theory, but no one has put forward a scientific argument against it nor a better scientific model of the autism pathophysiology.) Although we don’t know exactly why it happens, this theory strongly implicates an excess of testosterone during a critical prenatal developmental period that essentially over-masculinizes the brain (and, to a limited extent, other parts of the body – surprisingly, hirsuitism has an elevated base rate in women with ASD). According to this model, whose chief developer is Simon Baron Cohen, there is a general pattern that some cognitive skills follow, which is:

F > M > Autism

… And a pattern that other cognitive skills follow, which is:

Autism > M > F

Where M is neurotypical (without autism) males, F is neurotypical females, and Autism is people of any sex with autism. As with most cognitive skills, individual differences are far larger than group differences in range, and so these are small averaged group effects (not every man or woman, NT or Autism, fits this pattern for every or even necessarily any cognitive skill, but on average, large groups of them do). The general pattern in both cases is that the autism population is at the extreme end of the male side of the curve. In the first case (where women have the advantage) these skills fall into a category Baron Cohen and others call empathizing skills. They tend to be holistic kinds of skills, like fine-grain modulation of production and detection and production of emotions and nuance, non-literal and non-verbal communicative adjuncts that “spice” language. They also include a number of skills that, at least to a neuroscientist, are related. The male advantaged skills fall into an area they call Systemizing, and they include analysis, classification, sequential task analysis, and a number of other skills.

So to start with, there’s already a theory linking autism with sex/gender. The theory explains the way in which the sex differences in autism occur both in terms of base rate and presentation (and why mild autism may go unnoticed in girls). To add to this, there has been some recent research linking people with autism and transgender people, with substantially higher rates of people identifying as transgender among people with autism than in the general population. One of the hardest things for this data to explain, however, is why there are autistic trans girls/women – if autism biases to male, it would seem there would be significantly more trans men among XX-karyotype people with autism, but significantly less trans women among XY-karyotype people with autism, because the pathophysiology of autism biases all people with autism of all sexes in the direction of at least certain kinds of masculinization.

I commented on this on a listserv recently, and a colleague kindly sent me an article I had not seen. This one looked at Baron Cohen’s Empathizing and Systemizing variables (EQ and SQ quotients for these can be derived from standardized, validated questionnaires, and a fair amount is known about the performance of various groups on these instruments). It found something interesting. In this study, adolescents who were transgender had EQ scores comparable to cisgender males. Whether they were MTF or FTM! The SQ’s were in the middle, without statistical differences from either men or women. In other words, the EQ/SQ measures did not classify trans youth in a way that concords with their self-identified gender identity, when in the group accuracy sense, it can do so for cis/NT youth.

And … this is how I experience the world, in terms of the same questions (you can take the questionnaire and obtain your scores here, although ideally it’s helpful to have an external source describe us, since they may see us very differently than we see ourselves):

I may not be perceived exactly this way by others, but this is how I feel, not all the pretending I’ve done all my life, to try and fit in with boys and men … on the other hand, I’m a little skeptical of this idea of the Coach store as “other personality testing” … well, the targeted marketers know me well

It’s pretty much the same way that test that classifies people accurately on sex based on answers to seemingly innocuous questions came out. Both put me overwhelmingly in female territory.

One of my observations about this is that this study is in trans youth. That’s cool and helpful, because many of these kids did not go through decades of forced pretending like I did. On the other hand, generally speaking, younger samples of trans-identified people contain relatively more very binary** and relatively less binary (transsexual) people, although there are also youth who are very binary. I am, by my own admission, and no one is jumping up to disagree, also very binary. I reap lots of benefit from the fact that I made no sense as a “man” but, aside from my height, largely fit right in as a woman. I have two more observations I think might be relevant. One is that, in different contexts, I have actually met probably a fair number of trans people with autism. Of them, only one that I can think of was “very binary” in her appearance. The second is a comment a cis-ally friend made, that in reading Jenny Boylan’s book, she doesn’t hear a woman’s voice, but rather hears a transgender voice. Now, Boylan is pretty binary, and I’m skeptical of my friend’s ability to pick a “transgender” experience out of a blind lineup of male and female voices (or really even for anyone to articulate a proposed nosology for what a transgender voice sounds like). But I have to admit, while I at first pooh-poohed this idea, I wonder now.

Is there a possibility that, rather than FTM and MTF spectrums, what is going on with people who are binary transsexuals (meaning they want to transition, and more specifically to transition into an easily genderable masculine maleness or feminine femaleness) is fundamentally different and separate from what is going on with relatively less-binary people (that is, people who may or may not transition, but do not particularly desire to pass or blend, and who are not particularly seeking an easily genderable presentation)? I’m not saying anyone would be a “true” transgender person and certainly not that anyone would be a false one. I reject this whole line of nonsense that calls me some complicated non-homosexual transsexual male instead of just calling me the intuitively obvious trans woman. If this were the case, is it possible that the former category of very binary trans people would generally classify like cisgender peers who match their gender identity? And this less binary group, whose core experience may be gender role non-conformance (rather than a gender identity that is more directly “opposite” their birth-assigned sex), could in actuality have its own place on the EQ/SQ matrix (and perhaps even on some as-yet-unidentified third orthogonal plane, in which these individuals would be highly differentiated and cis males/females would not, nor would highly binary trans males/females), rather than mirroring male or female values? Like the data on the extreme male brain theory, one would also predict that, alongside gender nonconformance, these brains may be optimized, on average, to do certain things way better than the gender conforming brains many of us have. And put all together, could they, indeed, have transgender voices rather than male or female voices? 

And the final what if: what if among people with autism, this latter proposed grouping were represented at higher base rates, but the former group were not? This might explain the presence of so many trans women with autism and also draw a parallel explanation that could shed light on the experience of less binary NT trans people. It might also explain the fight between the spectrum narrative and the woman-trapped-in-a-man’s-body narrative. I have no recollection of being uncertain, ever, of where I really belonged on the masculinity-femininity continuum. I didn’t know it was possible that I could be a girl, with all the external evidence pointing against it and all the internal evidence pointing towards it. But I’ve always known I don’t have an ounce of masculinity in me. I just didn’t know how to get to womanhood without being killed or benefitting from magic or the technology of an advanced alien civilization. Without being able to experience such a world, I can also say that, for me, being allowed to dress and act like a girl but still grouped with and identified as a boy would not have been enough. The spectrum narrative doesn’t explain why, the first time I put foundation on my face (which is pretty much enough to make me look female), I knew immediately that I was seeing me for the first time. It doesn’t explain why, once I finally accepted the insane idea that I could find my womanhood, I knew exactly what it should look like, whereas I’ve never known how my supposed masculinity could look. To be indelicate, it also doesn’t explain why, when you ask many very binary trans women like me, outside of financial, safety, and outcome considerations, once we start transition, the question “do you want surgical options” this is not much of a question at all. That is, of course I do – given that it is very safe, the outcomes are generally very good, and I can afford it, it’s been a question of when and not if, ever since I decided to transition, and again, once I accepted womanhood, this has always been a foregone conclusion.

Let me stop here and take a really deep breath, because I sound like Professor Bailey from Northwestern, and the next thing you know, I’ll be doing the kind of shoddy research that is performed in gay bars and published in sexology journals. That person and others before him get caught up in trying to prove/disprove transness, as well as a host of other things (most prominently male bisexuality). I don’t care about that at all. And they are connected to traditions that gatekeep access to healthcare services to trans people (particularly access to hormones and surgery). Again, I’m firmly against that – I’m not saying less binary people should not transition, and I’m not saying they should. Actually, all I’m saying is that, while I still kind of hate calls to signal amplify, it may be really important to improving trans peoples’ quality of life to better understand the experiences of less binary trans people. And for that to happen, more of them, both autism and NT, need to tell their stories – neuroscience may also be informative, but it’s a concern that non-binary trans people are doubly marginalized, living trans in a cis world and then damned again by living less binary trans in a binary trans world.

Then, if our experiences are deeply and fundamentally different, us very binary people and less binary people, then maybe we would stop bickering over defining our supposedly common space and instead be allies and co-advocate for our common causes, while respecting each other’s right to have and celebrate their own narratives. I’m not saying I’m sure this is the right answer, but I’m curious. I’ve always thought people with and without autism have a lot to offer each other. I do think very binary and less binary people have a lot to offer each other, too. And what if transgender and autistic people were more involved in the process of trying to identify sub-types or sub-entities? Would we ask different questions based on our desire to help each other and understand ourselves, or would be just as driven to be “right” or to prove/disprove our own experiences’ validity as the sexologists are?

* With respect, I am just going to say “autism”; I mean people diagnosable with autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s Disorder, although my hope is that most of them are thriving and living life. I’m also bypassing the question of using the phrase “people with autism” instead of “autistic people” – I use the former because I work with children, and their parents seem to prefer it, but I understand why and respect that autistic self-advocates frequently choose the latter. Finally, I generally use neurotypical, or NT, but I celebrate neurodiversity and I do also like what some people do, which is to say autistic and say allistic for non-autistic people

** I’m making up the wording as I go, sorry, but what I want to delineate is not the difference between genderqueer/genderfluid people and transsexual-identified people, but rather between people who identify deeply with the binary and those who identify weakly with the binary, whether or not they choose hormones, transition, surgeries, and so on.

Learning to Be Loved

I’ve said before that I really haven’t been fooling anyone with the sad drag show that has been my male life. At support group the topic of coming out on social media came up – I’ve always been out here, obviously, and on Facebook. That’s because I resisted joining Facebook for the longest time, and my erstwhile male identity never was on FB. Twitter is a different story – I have a fairly mature presence there, with a lot more followers than anywhere else. So, it’s actually important to me, and I have given a little thought to coming out on Twitter. I joked at group that I would say, “I’m transgender. I’m sorry for my sad impersonation of a man. I know it’s embarrassing, it won’t happen again.” That actually pretty much sums it up – if you follow me on Twitter* you’ll probably actually see that tweet in a few months. It’s probably funnier to me than anyone – it probably won’t be how I finally break into Huffington Post’s Funniest Tweets by Women weekly column. Sigh.

I’m kind of a walking stereotype, which I’ve also said before. I like heels (but not embarrassingly high, and those chunky low heel pumps from Coach are being discounted, hmmm…). I like skirts and dresses (but not too short). I like makeup (but not too much eye shadow, it looks garish on me). I’m not even full time and I have two designer purses (Saffiano is way nicer than I expected it to be, incidentally). I drink cosmos and drink every kind of martini but an actual, normal martini. I listen to girly music. And cry along at the sad songs. Kind of a lot. I still dream of being Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice (the original, not the one with zombies, although in a pinch I’m open to negotiation). I’m flirty, often just because it’s fun, and I understand the concept of a flirty hemline.

The one place where I’m not exactly a walking stereotype is the continuing ambiguity of my sexual orientation. I do find it incredibly liberating to say I’m not really sexually/romantically attracted to very feminine women, although I like them a lot as friends, and I enjoy looking at how they dress and do their makeup, and I try to learn some tricks from them, because I’m pretty moderately feminine myself. That pretending went away immediately when I came out the first time. I want to be a beautiful woman (and the emotionally unstable one, but let’s not get into that trope) far more than I want to be with one. And I always nod along silently when women say they’re not that into guys based on their looks. Preach it, sisters. I was never really attracted to what I was “supposed” to be attracted to. I am attracted to masculinity, though. At least in relatively small to moderate doses, I find it achingly beautiful. I don’t want to be it. I never have, and this is a big part of why my attempt at masculinity is so sad (on a particularly butch day in my en homme form** I’m probably roughly Ellen DeGeneres). But the gap teeth and the goofy smiles and the bravado, I find it all amazingly cute. So I say masculinity, whatever. I’m attracted to my girlfriend’s masculinity. Or butchness. Or agency. Or whatever. It’s so much hotter to me than girly girlness.

I adore how she can wear the same couple of shirts she cycles through day after day without any self-consciousness, while I try to remember the last outfits the people I’ll see today saw me in, to avoid the mortification that they’ll see me in the same outfit again (I’ve been a little bit less like this in my en homme form, recently, because it’s just getting harder and harder to put on a male mask, even a kind of a sad one, day after day, but before transition for some time, I was pretty much like this already). I love that she doesn’t consider matters such as whether her underwear matches her clothes. That her clothes are pretty much not getting ironed unless I do it. That she went to a “bro party” because her friend considers her one of the guys (and I get to tease her and pretend to suspect that there were strippers involved). That she lets me say I’m attracted to her masculinity (I usually say butchness, but I have said it that way) and isn’t threatened by it.

She’s got some issues that we’re working through, too, to be sure, and I’m still kind of holding on to see how those get worked out. But. I’m kind of in love with her. Okay, when I say kind of, I mean my heart’s skipped a lot of beats recently. I want to build a nest for her and not let her do any of the decorating (she’s been trying to convince me recently that her choices are not terrible, and I’m observing the evidence, but so far, #No). Okay, I’ve already begun reminding her that diamonds are the Taurus birthstone and educating her about the importance of truly conflict-free, ethical trade diamonds. Soon I’m sure I’ll start dropping hints*** about my ring size (7.5) and setting preferences (something simple and elegant, probably white gold, just one stone, nothing ostentatious). Okay, I’m a little embarrassed that I actually typed all that “out loud.” And haven’t deleted it (and in fact saved the strikeout text for a much less embarrassing admission in the next paragraph and neither this nor the really embarrassing thing I say in the footnotes).


Yeah. So, erm something like this with a didn’t-leave-a-shorty-armless diamond, please? What… not subtle enough to put a picture of an engagement ring in the middle of a blog post? Can I at least work out some click-through arrangement? Or should I just be really embarrassed at blatantly inserting a picture of an engagement ring in this post?

And…moving on.

In terms of defining my sexuality, I’m really not bisexual-going-on-lesbian in the pansexual kind of sense (being bisexual means a whole lot of things, and covers a really wide range of experiences and orientations, incidentally). I really like a slice of mildly to moderately masculine/butch people. The rest, I feel, is actually *gasp* sort of like how those creepy sexologists describe feminine sexuality – I’m kind of attracted to everything pretty. I don’t foresee myself being with a hairy, dirty-white-cap wearing football superfan, and I don’t really want anyone who thinks his biceps are prettier than I am. But… a sensitive guy with strong arms and a gentle smile? A dog and a pickup truck Prius Subaru-with-a-manual-transmission-so-I-can-borrow-it-in-snowstorms-and-continue-to-drive-pretty-but-impractical-convertibles? Swoon. I know. Stereotype. Total Reece Witherspoon movie moment. And I’m sure if I were not in love, and if he came along, Reece will steal him from me anyway, probably by talking him into teaching her how to drive a manual transmission. Hands meet on the shifter. Happy ending by the two hour mark, and time left over to buy new pink Prada pumps that I would never be able to pull off. Sigh.


Oh my god, oh my god you guys…

I write all of this in support of a really cool story that came up on my timeline recently about a cis/het woman who fell for a trans man. I loved that article.


Seriously, this was such a beautiful piece, it really made me cry

My situation is quite a bit different, but my experience of sexuality is very similar – there’s some level at which masculinity is kind of a separate entity from maleness (particularly karyotype maleness, since I do consider the gentleman in the story to be male). It would be ideal to call it something other than masculinity to avoid policing anyone else’s gender expression. But whatever, you know intuitively, most of you, what I’m talking about. Whether the objects of our affection are cis men, trans men, or butch women, she and I are both attracted to masculinity or whatever else you want to call it. I haven’t met her, but I suspect like me, it might just her heart swoon. It might make her want to preen and do her hair just right. Maybe it makes her want to twirl around so her boyfriend can appreciate her dress. I kind of get that, because I’m enjoying the same with my girlfriend. It is, in essence, the “deep in the binary” feminine experience of romance and desire, and it’s really just like the straight experience of feminine desire, just queerer. It’s what I’m going through to learn how to finally feel attraction without compromise. And it’s an important milestone on the way to being loved and loving, in a romantic sense, again, without the hangups and compromises and unspoken components all this had when I was pretending to be a man.

And let’s not get into a hierarchy discussion of how it’s less queer than more gender or tradition non-conforming relationships, this is a love story, not the Olympics. Everybody should win their own prize.

* For safety reasons, I’m not linking my Twitter account here, until I come out on Twitter. I’m not trying to hide anything, but this blogging publicly with my full intended name en femme when I’m not full time yet is kind of uncharted territory, and I’m making this up as I go.

** I plan to be full time (Mira forevermore) around August. Can’t come a day too soon.

*** Here’s another thing… So in Michigan I can legally marry her, right now and probably for the next year or so, and it would probably “stick” later, even if I were caught wearing a cute dress, and I am for sure not going to be caught dead at my own wedding in a tuxedo. I really want to legally be a bride, though, and I may sound awfully impulsive, but there’s no way I’m getting married within a year … a small, intimate Indian wedding is 300 people and only one elephant. So I’d need to gay marry her, even if that were to happen. Erm. Support marriage equality.

Things Change in a Moment

I had a drink with a friend the other night, at a newer brewery*. It was a really great night. Even though I got carded (I really need a new drivers license, hopefully in 3-4 months I may legally change my name, and at least have a female name and appearance on it, even if it still says “M”), but it was no big deal. They were respectful, and treated me like any other woman. No one stared at me. I not only felt comfortable with my girlfriend and our friend, but I felt comfortable in the place, chatting up waitresses and being my usual bubbly self. We had a little food, but I was watching my waist & my wallet, and I didn’t have a full dinner (I split appetizers with my girlfriend). I only had one beer, so I didn’t get drunk or even tipsy (well, I do get pretty animated after just half a drink, and at home I put plastic wrap and a rubber band over the half-empty beer bottle and save it for tomorrow, hashtag cheapest date ever). But it had been a long week at work. My girlfriend politely ignored all my nonverbal / discreet attempts to say, “Your sweetie is exhausted!!!” So I was loving the conversation, but went home a bit after I was worn out.

Then I did a stupid (albeit very small stupid, in the grand scheme of things) thing. I wanted to stop at the supermarket for a couple of things for making brekkie after sleeping in. So the supermarket that’s around the corner is the kind of place where there are semi-abandoned-by-their-parents groups of kids with bad manners roving around. Kids incidentally who are too old to be awake, let alone in the store, at that hour. Anyhow. I’ve gone in there during the day, dressed en femme, and it was cool, but this was different. These kids did some serious slack-jawed staring. Now, you should know that African American kids, especially, stare at me en homme too, maybe even more. They even ask me if I know I look just like Michael Jackson (I don’t, but I’m polite and say I get that all the time in my best southern charm) or go get their sister to show them. So I don’t even know if they were staring because they knew I was trans or because I’ve just always been something unlike anything they’d ever see before. But tired and late at night and … It really got to me. I cried and cried into my sweetie’s shoulder in bed that night. Everything can change in a moment – it had been such an affirming evening.

I get over myself pretty quickly. As I was crying, my intersectionalist nucleus** was already gently pointing out that these are poor minority kids, who are left to wander the supermarket at 11 PM, and even being trans, I sadly have a huge number of advantages over them, and in most of society outside of a supermarket at 11 PM on a Friday, I am way less marginalized than they are. By the morning. I was proud that I held my head up and got everything I needed instead of bolting out. And … honestly, I don’t feel emotionally different on estrogen, but crying in front of someone else, and for myself (as opposed to over someone else or a movie or story) is something I’ve never been able to do, so I felt really proud of myself for being able to cry in my girlfriend’s arms. And then again, I was chopping cilantro to put in the omelette and listening to country music on the SoundLink, and again, everything can change in a moment. Thank god for that.

* Excellent, incidentally – they have saganaki and sausages they light on fire, and it’s fun to let boys light stuff on fire in a safe environment, and I had a great dark cherry wheat beer. Also my girlfriend lets me make her order things I want to taste, if they look like she’ll like them too, and having been played by that one many times, I am really enjoying being on the other side of it!

** Usually, it’s called a nucleus if it’s in your central nervous system, and a ganglia if it’s outside, but the basal ganglia are an obvious exception. Anyway, I’m trying to internalize my intersectionalism here, people!

Am I a Woman of Color?

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this question, both the variant asking whether I am a person of color, and more to the point, if I am a woman of color (I think less about “Am I a Woman?” … I’m at peace that I am)*. When I’ve asked Caucasian feminists to weigh in, they usually answer with an immediate (and cursory?) “yes.” I think this is correct, but an equally resounding “no” is important, and I think the full story is not told without both the yes and the no.

Before it became fashionable to be Irish once a year for St. Patrick’s day, and whenever Guiness is poured or Celtic music is played, or just because one always fancied red hair, Irish Americans were the targets of a lot of racism by the “white” minority, who were somewhat less white than them

Let me start with the “no.” First, it’s important to consider that, much like the question of whether pink is for boys and blue is for girls, or vice versa, the answer to the question, “Who is white?” has changed. Riots among Anglo-Saxon (“white”), Irish, and Italian Americans in the early 20th century were characterized as race conflicts. The concept of being “white” has always really been rooted in Colonialism and control of people. “White” people were Europeans who exerted control, and “colored” people were the othered people they subjugated – predominantly Africans and indigenous Americans. Asians have long played an indeterminate role in this equation. Some of us, and sometimes, were othered as colored people, but other times, we were not. Even in the Colonial era, India had a more complex and different relationship with the crown than any other nation predominantly peopled with “colored folk.” This did not stop us from getting called names – you will occasionally even see the “N word” used to describe my ancestors by Britons (e.g., in passing in the wondrous Passage to India by E. M. Foster). I don’t want to get too sidetracked on this – complex is really a key word, and it has the funny consequence that, were in the UK instead of the US, there would be a lot more Indian faces around me, and certainly far more Indian food, but I would also be far more marginalized than I am here. I simply want to say that our experience was far different than our sisters and brothers in Africa and South America.

More recently and humorously, the mid-2000s pass-time that was Stuff White People Like listed things, well, that white people like, and I’m embarrassed to admit how many are true of me (this is part of the gag, incidentally – the blog was created by an Asian American). So, much like Othello, I am called often whiter than many of my unequivocally “white” girlfriends (I’ve only ever had one non-Caucasian girlfriend, although I’ve gone on dates with people of a variety of ethnicities). Many of my less-grounded-in-feminism women friends have told me they think of me as white. It’s not as simple as that.

It’s fantastic that Stuff White People Like ended on My So Called Life. And I may be the stupidest woman alive in listening to all this Dallas Buyers’ Club debating and not realize that Jared Leto was Jordan Catalano

However, all of this should actually be easy to think about by analogy for my feminist and LGBTQIA+ friends – there’s a lot of complaining about traditional gender roles within the “binary.” (I was caught by surprise at a recent support group meeting – someone didn’t know the word; it’s come up in so many conversations in the last half year that I guess I forgot it was not a household concept. That binary is the gender binary that misrepresents maleness and femaleness, or masculinity or feminity, as being opposing states of a binary system, most crudely represented by “1” signifying the “presence” of masculinity and “0” representing the “absence” of femininity). If anything, the white/colored “binary” is far more, not less flawed and nonsensical than the male/female binary. The latter has existed across time and culture and is likely a basic (but malleable) part of the human competing strategy, and many animal ones as well. The former is rooted in an extremely narrow and Eurocentric conception of history. So, while I endorse the gender binary (for me – I am a femme and attracted to moderately masculine/butch people – I don’t push the gender binary on others or police their gender), the “race binary” is just dissonant with my experience, and in this way, I am leery of identifying as a trans woman of color, because it endorses the underlying binary.

A corollary to this: it is vitally important for people like me to remember that marginalization and oppression actually make up a relatively small part of our life histories and experiences. I mean, let’s be real. My Brahmin ancestors came from significant privilege even under the oppression of the British Raj. My parents are black sheep in my family, to some extent, because neither have a doctorate (both have masters degrees in Chemistry – in my family, when you tell an auntie you have a masters degree, they ask why you dropped out). My experience of being a trans woman is far more Coach purses and flash sales at the Limited than homelessness or poverty. It’s the kind of experience being trans where, in more than six months of coming out to more than a hundred people, I’ve had no negative responses and only actively felt gaped at twice. By this standard, arguably the President’s daughters are not women of color, either. I recognize that’s an audacious thing to say, and I don’t want to police their choice to identify or not identify as women of color. I just fear that we privileged (but non-Caucasian) women talking about oppression of racial minorities, as if our direct experience of it is enough to offer a fully informed perspective, run a risk of doing something almost as bad as “mansplaining.”

But that answer, by itself, is simply not complete.

There is also the obvious “yes.” I don’t quite have “skin the color of mocha” (my life is much closer to a queer Taylor Swift song than a queer Ricky Martin song). It’s more like honey, but it’s for sure not alabaster. A woman (of whose ethnicity I am unsure) came up to me at a support group recently and said she was glad another woman of color was there (this town is not so non-diverse, but some of it’s spaces can be amazingly over-representative of Caucasians compared to our city population).

I clearly need to consider the subset of products marketed at “women of color,” or at least some of them, anyway, and scads of makeup trends will just never work for me, oh well … I could do worse than these women

Let me go briefly back to leveraging my certainty that I am a woman. I don’t have a uterus, and it’s unlikely I ever will. To my regret, I will never have a child grow inside me. This does mean that I should defer to the voices of women with uteruses (and those who used to have them) in many matters reproductive. But it does not mean that it is not an important part of my experience as a woman to co-advocate with these sisters (I love my sisterhood), and when I do so, I do so in a meaningfully different way than me advocating on behalf of other oppressed groups, in that I am advocating as a fellow woman (just as women stand up for me as a fellow woman – that night I met my girlfriend, her ex did this for me, and it was so amazing).

Furthermore, while I have not experienced so much oppression, I know what it’s like to be othered in subtler ways. I know what it’s like to not conform to the magazine image of beauty, my transness even aside – all the hair colors or makeup that don’t work with my skin, not having the “it” blue or green eyes, and so on. (In spite of having a purely Brahmin Indian lineage going back hundreds of years, I don’t exactly look like most other Indian Americans, either, that’s a topic for another time.) Interestingly, I serve and, in past settings, worked alongside many African American people, and every once in a while, one of the women compliments my having the “good hair,” (if you don’t understand what the phrase means specifically…). To be honest, I am immensely flattered that they sort of considered me one of them, since it’s not a comment they would make to Caucasian people, and certainly not to most people nominally perceived as male, as I was at the time! I know what it’s like to have a name that’s different (the name I chose occurs in several languages, including Sanskrit, but my birth name is common to Indians but not to most Americans, and instantly foreign and “exotic” sounding to Americans… to have fun with them, I point out that it means “mesmerizing” or “charming,” like a snake charmer!). I know what it’s like that the food and customs in my home were “foreign” to my peers.

In essence, I co-advocate with women not only on the basis of our co-humanity, but on shared experiences and interests and perspectives shaped by shared experiences (past, present, and future), which we have in common as women, but which men do not generally share. I do co-advocate, in this very same way, with other women of color, even if we have non-overlapping histories. There are even some ways in which my history as a woman of color (or those of other less marginalized women of color) may be uniquely informative – Lindsey Yoo makes a great case for this. I willingly and gladly take my place alongside other women of color (some of whom were oppressed a lot, and others, like, me, oppressed little or not at all), because I think the world will be a better place when these sisters and I experience less oppression and othering. While doing so, I remember my privilege. I remember that each of us occupies a unique intersection of different forces that privilege us and predispose us to oppression and marginalization. And I stand in the doorway and bid you in – because we are all better together.

* This blog post has an embarrassing number of parentheticals. Radical feminists love parentheticals almost as much as we love footnotes. I just love you so much that I can’t leave the good parts out on you.