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. 

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!

I Love The People I Draw Into My Life

Recently, I went to an amazing conference of an organization advocating for youth, of which I am an advisory board member. This is somewhat remarkable. A year ago, my boss made me go to their conference for the first time. I looked at it and was…non-plussed (somewhat mirroring how I hated and feared kids before I started grad school). But I went (I follow orders, most of the time). And I loved it. People took me under their wings, introduced me to their colleagues, I felt like I went home with something like three hundred new friends. And I kind of did. I wormed my way onto their policy committee, and this year I presented part of a plenary on the position paper I helped write (my first plenary). And I got invited to my board position. I sort of love these people.


Friendships complete your heart, or,
erm, if you’re alone on business travel,
a mirror works also.

I feel like, as I’ve started coming out, I see queer everywhere. The next paper we’re doing is on LGBTQIA+ issues. So this is the twelfth paper, and it’s quite random that it happened to be on that topic at this time in my life. I took a deep breath and offered to help the author in any way I could (since I’ve done one of these now, and others outside of this organization), and a deeper breath and explained to him the personal side of why. And he was amazing and gracious and I’m helping him along, although he knows what he’s doing by himself. One of the first conversations with a friend reconnecting when I got to the conference was about how her contract was coming up and she was thinking about leaving her organization. Why? Because the organization had taken the position that a trans young woman referred to them was “a man” because she has a penis. And she is seriously considering quitting because of it. Amen, sister. I did not actually cry when I heard this story, but the tears were welling up.

I came out to several more people while I was there – because at some point, and since and I see this family twice a year mostly, and like for my parents in Florida, this change may come quickly for them. I have to stop here and say that, after coming out to probably sixty or seventy people, at least, in the last six months, I’ve had all of one neutral response, and no negative responses. Everyone else has poured love and acceptance on me. I know this isn’t typical, and I grieve for my brothers and sisters who find rejection, fear, or hatred. But the love I got here, again, overwhelmed me. How it was okay to pause in talking about kids and talk about me, in this professional context, and I even felt comfortable to talk about my eating disorder history, about which I’m still very secretive. And how people were interested in my experience, and actually understood it pretty well, and saw me as bringing yet another strength to the table.

If I delve into my self-esteem issues, over time, I’ve learned how to accept a compliment, I’ve mostly learned how to respond to criticism. I have to admit I’m still expecting people not to love me, and I still melt when I’m loved and don’t always know how to say thank you adequately enough, although I want the people who love me to know that my heart beats with thankfulness for them. I don’t always have good boundaries. I don’t do anything terribly embarrassing, but people who see that I’m “smart” don’t really understand how much a creature of my loves and passions I am (I don’t think I’m stupid, but I feel profoundly misunderstood when people see being smart as a primary strength of mine, because I have never felt that it was the central unifying principle of my identity). I take everything personally. Apropos to my blog about signal amplifying, I have a tradition of drawing people into my life that don’t care about me, and want to be celebrated for their lack of caring about me, and I’m ashamed to admit the extent to which I have celebrated them for what they’ve done to me.

On the other hand, and bewildering to me that I achieved it, I have had the luck to draw into my life so many people who don’t fit that pattern, and the rate at which these people who challenge my older experiences come into my life is increasing. They don’t want to be celebrated at all but love me without cost or regret. When I started transitioning, a part of me wished I didn’t do all these things like committees and boards and all this frenetic networking. It adds hundreds of people to the list to whom I’ll eventually have to come out. But when I am loved (not just respected) in professional spaces like this one, my heart is overwhelmed, yet again, and I view all these daring people, who accept me, who love me, who pledge to stand up for me (and for others), not as a burden on my coming out parade, but as the very blood that flows through my veins and keeps me alive.

A Coming Out Story

I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t start this blog with a coming out story. I spent most of my childhood feeling different from other boys, wanting things that girls wanted, to do the things that girls did, but always knowing I’d get in trouble if I didn’t “act like a boy.” It only got worse as I progressed into young adulthood. I think I let myself stay overweight in part because I felt a bit like an amorphous blob, and I could be a little agendered. At least, I could stay a boy, and like Kate Bornstein, boyhood was far less scary than manhood, with which I wanted nothing to do. The odd experiences continued. My English literature friends would comment on how men and women occupy space, how they sit, how they talk, and nothing would seem to match me. I could try to act like a man, but trying felt awkward and made me loathe myself. I remember I took an online quiz, around the dawn of the web, which purported to be able to classify people’s sex based on responses to seemingly random questions. It classified all my friends correctly… I was stuck amidst the pink dots, where I felt, but not where I was perceived. I laughed and joked about it. Inside I cried a little.
 ImageOkay, so she got intersectionalism, as a cis white woman in 1970.
If only more people had been listening…
When I started thinking seriously about leaving my life in engineering and science, I took psychology classes on a whim. I had always found psychology intriguing, and I’d read a number of psychology and psychiatry classics, incluing Piaget and Freud, for fun, alongside Nietszche and feminism. But I fell asleep in psychology classes in high school, and I made my freshman roommate angry by knowing all the answers to his intro psych questions, althogh I never took college psychology. Perhaps surprising no one in hindsight, I signed up for the human sexuality class. It was good. I was hooked. But moreover, I understood now that there were transgender people. This was about 2002, and at the time, sadly, there still weren’t role models of professional trans women. I knew what I was, but from everything I could see, what I was, was a monster. Although I let myself be more androgynous, I had to suppress the idea that the underlying reason was because I was struggling to grow into the woman I needed to be, not the man. Some of this was good… I embraced fashion, and I found a niche where I could be pretty but not really argue the point of being male, which was at least an improvement. I also started dieting with a vengeance, and it went well into the land of anorexia, and although I made some great friendships with other eating disordered people, I have to admit in hindsight that the biggest drug for me was how much more feminine I felt as I lost weight, and it was the biggest barrier to getting healthy again.
I kept this inside for the next 12-13 years. Then, last year, a theatre company I support and love locally did a production of Looking for Normal. The play itself has its ups and downs. I understand a trans woman friend of mine went to see it, a different day than me, and she was heartbroken when people laughed at the main character. But, the night I went, they stood up and cheered. In my conservative city. My eyes opened to the possibility that I might not be a monster. I took to the books again, but by now, there were so many role models, chief among them Jenny Boylan. I could do this. People did this. They weren’t the serial killer on Silence of the Lambs. So I started therapy. I found a support group. In October, I came out to my therapist and then to the first friend, ever. And she accepted me. In November, I attended my first Transgender Day of Remembrance. In December, I got comfortable enough to go back to support group and start going to other safe spaces “en femme.” And then as I came out to more and more close people, another accepted me, and another, and another. In February, I came out to my parents and finished coming out to my best friends from college.
I don’t do before and after pictures!
I have a lot of crossroads to journey past yet. My life is a very strange thing (and a very queer thing). In my personal life, I’m amazed that my ex-girlfriend is one of my most ardent supporters. And I’m in a new relationship, in which I’m accepted as a woman by the woman I love, and again, this adventure has already been more than I could dream of. Being in a “lesbian” relationship comes surprisingly naturally, and makes more sense already than my kind of embarrassing impersonation of a man. My professional journey is particularly complex, because I do have some small amount of local name recognition, and lots of professional contacts. So far, everyone I’ve come out to professionally has been amazing. Our Chamber of Commerce started OutPro, to help LGBTQIA+ professionals feel welcome here. I’ve even started building a whole other set of professional contacts and business relationships that exist in the queer community.
I think that this story, and the thousands or millions of coming out stories in the modern age, emphasize a new world where we can be connected queers. As we come out of the closet, we have the new opportunity to live richly connected and integrated lives. And it’s going to be amazing. Welcome to the journey, and thank you for sharing it with me.