Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Perspective on The Journey

Warning:  If you adhere to the popular statements about and from transgender folks, you may not want to read this. You may well find offensive comments within.  On the other hand, if you’re interested in new viewpoints, possibly heretical, that may illuminate some elephants in the room, then please read on.

First off, please know that I am a transsexual woman.  I have not had GRS, and have no plans to do so. I and my wife are very happily married, and have stayed together through this transition.  I went full time in August, 2009, after facial feminization surgery.  We have both been very active in the community for the last 5 years, and she has served on the board of our local group for the last 2 ½ years with me. 
Some may say that by not having GRS, I’m not a true transsexual. Others say I wouldn’t really understand unless I was on the other side of that “divide”.  Some might say that, without that final surgery, I’m “only” a crossdresser, regardless of what other surgeries or hormone treatments I might have experienced.  These are some of the things I want to talk about in this essay.
There are a number of, well, shall we say, social phenomenon that I and others have seen and discussed in the trans community for awhile, and I would like to discuss these.  Please realize these are my own, possibly heretic, opinions.  I’ve shared these opinions with some, and I’m putting these opinions out in a broader arena, because I would like to see discussion.  I realize there are some folks whose minds I will not change.  There may be others who find some value, if not in my comments, then perhaps in the discussions.  That said, here we go.
There are several things I want to talk about, and as you read, I hope you’ll see how they fit together. 

Languaging and Requests
Regardless of what our native language is, we seem to be able to learn to speak, and yet have difficulty communicating at times.  While I was in acupuncture school with Susan, they spent a fair bit of time essentially teaching us to rethink how we spoke and used language.  Here’s one example that is very relevant to the trans community.
As you read the two following quotes, I want you to feel how they land in your stomach – how they hit you in the gut. Read them carefully, and re-read them to see how they feel different in your gut:

“I need surgery”

“I have a strong desire for surgery”

Most folks say that the first phrase comes across as an absolute, the second comes across as leaving more room for discussion and negotiation.  My flashlight NEEDS batteries, without it, it is useless.  Now, some trans folks will say that’s exactly how they feel, and I won’t argue with them.  My point is about languaging, not the validity or intensity of their feelings.  I’ve been there, I know those feelings too.
If we’re in a relationship when we start to consider transitioning, we have to realize that it’s not a person transitioning, it could be the whole relationship. That’s often what we’d like – many of us love our spouses, and yet can’t find a way to keep the relationships together.  This is where languaging techniques can help.  How we state things impacts how our statements are received, and we can close down discussions and negotiations without even meaning to.
It also becomes a matter of priorities.  For myself, and many others I know, transition was not an exercise in pulling the spouse to the final destination, rather, it was a negotiations on how far could we go and still have a healthy, meaningful, and trusting relationship.  It’s a question of priorities, and clearly communicating those priorities to your partner.  There is a huge difference between “I need to transition and I want you to stay with me” versus “I have a strong desire to transition, however, my priority is keeping us together, and I’m asking what you’d be comfortable with”.  The point is that how we talk, how we phrase our words, can be very crucial, and we have to be on guard against unintentionally closing down conversations, and eliminating the room for negotiations that we may want. 
I also want to acknowledge that there are a lot of our relationships that would not have, or will not survive transition, or even the discussion, no matter how we language it. My first marriage had a lot of other problems, and wasn’t healthy in a lot of ways.  My transsexuality was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.  However, I hope we’re seeing more people considering staying together, and so this discussion is for them.
The following bit illuminates how what we say, and how we choose to say it, may also restrict how we see our own choices.

 “I gotta live in Cleveland!”
Many folks transition in a matter of months, maybe 2 years.  Others, such as myself, take several years.  In our particular case, the time from when the “feelings” re-arose after a long hiatus until I went full time was a bit over 5 years, maybe close to 5 ½.  I’ve known other folks to take 8, or even 10 years from when they started hormones to when they went full time (we’ll know for sure when they actually do make full time).  Among many, there’s an attitude of “let’s get this over with, so I can get on with the rest of my life”.  While I understand this attitude, I think there are a number of disadvantages to this course, and a number of advantages to a much slower pace.  Let me explain.
One of the most common post-transition problems that we’ve seen in our friends and acquaintances is loneliness.  They are alone.  In their transition, they lost relationships with girlfriends or spouses, and perhaps also with their children, parents, and other extended families.  The analogy I’m about to present illuminates, I think, one factor that contributes to this problem of loneliness.
This analogy came to me the other day, partially because of the TV show “Hot in Cleveland”, and partially because my son started college at school in Cleveland this year.
Imagine you live in Washington DC (or St. Louis, or Phoenix, or wherever you live now).  You see write-ups, friends talk to you, you read stuff on the internet, and you decide “I’d be happy if I lived in Cleveland. In fact, I’ll only be really happy if I live in Cleveland.  If I live in Cleveland, I will be truly happy, and able to be myself. And unless I live in Cleveland, I’ll never be truly happy.”  So, you hop in your car, and you drive to Cleveland at 150 mph, and you get there. You live there, and guess what? You’re happy. 
There’s a phenomenon known in the psychology of consumerism – if you make a big purchase, like a car, then soon after, it turns out that you’re actually happier with your purchase some time after the purchase than when you made it.  The hypothesis behind this is that you essentially convince yourself that you made a good decision, because frankly, the opposite is too miserable, and so your mind avoids that.  You make yourself happy with your decision. 
But here’s the rub:  you went so fast, there was no way you could observe what all the points in between looked like.  Maybe there were some really nice, I mean REALLY nice places to live, and you never saw them because you had your eyes only on your destination and were going 150 mph. 
This line of thought first occurred to me several years ago – we were caught in stop-and-go, 5 mph traffic on the beltway, commuting home from school one day.  I started looking around, and saw parks, landscaping , trees, gardens, really beautiful things that I’d never seen before when we were going at normal freeway speeds.  And that day, I also had time to look and see a bumper sticker on the car next to us:  “If you lived in your heart, you’d be home by now”. 
The analogy is this:  if we set our sights solely on a distant goal, and work at full speed towards that goal, we never consider any of the intermediate points as truly valid destinations.  And some of these destinations may be the points where our spouses could manage to live with us, happily.  And maybe we’d be happier there too, because we’ll still have our relationship.  But if we decide, in the beginning, that we only have Cleveland as our final spot, well, where is the room for negotiation?

Unintended Peer Pressure
Within the trans community, there is an unspoken (and sometimes overtly spoken) pecking order:  crossdressers on the bottom, pre-op folks next, and post-op folks on top.  Some examples of how this impacts people, friends of mine, and me:
A member of our local group came up to me one night, and in response to my question, responded, “No, I’m only a crossdresser”.   Only a crossdresser”.  Look at the word she chose to use.  She was denigrating herself to a lower social strata, to a lower caste.  She was implicitly admitting that she wasn’t as good, as worthy, as someone who has transitioned and had surgery.  This, to me, is a horrible social situation, and we let it continue. In fact, many of us seem to really believe in it.  We look at a country like India, with their caste system, and we say “how can they let something so awful continue!”, and yet we do it to ourselves, to ourselves.
I’ve also heard said that folks feel like they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they don’t have surgery, that they won’t be serious, won’t be “real” transsexuals.    I too have felt this pressure, and have had these sentiments expressed to me.  One thing that was said to me was “if you have surgery, you can’t go back”.  I find it difficult to even imagine going back from where I am now, and my spouse can’t see me doing that either.  To think that it’s realistic for someone who’s full time, on hormones for several years, name changed, to go back is just an unrealistic criticism of them for being non-op.  Again, the caste system is apparent, where the lower castes are less worthy, their opinions less valuable and less valid, and the speaker’s opinions are less valid, and not worth listening to.  Is this equality?  Apparently, some feel that some deserve equality more than others. 
We have two transgender support groups in town here.  One self-designates as a transgender support group, and is intentionally diverse in the spectrum of members, the other is specifically geared towards transsexuals, defined as those whose aim is to get genital surgery.  There is a definite and very real social chasm between these two groups, and never the twain shall meet.  There are very few folks who attend both.  Again, the caste system. 
Maybe this is the way of humanity – that a group always needs someone to look down on.  I hope not.
And In Conclusion
So, how we language things affects how we think about them, and how others react to what we say.  I think it was the historian Shelby Foote who said about Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis (I can’t find the exact quote):  “they each made decisions that restricted the options of the other, over and over again, until finally neither had any options left at all.”   How we talk about the journey, to each other and to the other people in our lives, impacts what could happen.  We may be shutting off avenues to happiness just in how we select words.  The words we choose impact not only ourselves, and those close to us, but those who follow us, and all those outside our community as well.  If you want to read more on that, try Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand” or any of the other books in that vein.
And our languaging, and our community’s history and culture, have created the impression that there is but one true path.  Many will say, oh, that’s not true, and then also say “welcome to the club” when someone has GRS.  The implicit belief is that people who travel the full path are in some ways a different club.  Maybe this is true, however, the impression this creates on those just entering the community is that only the full journey is valid.  And this is a shame, because there isn’t just one path, no single destination, and I believe that many relationships have been ruined because of this one mechanism.  And this to me is a real shame, and represents an indirect failure of our community to help our members.  We help folks get treatment, we do not help them maintain their relationships.
So, really, the bottom line is this:  I believe we need more discussion of the elephant in the room, and more attention paid to helping the transgender relationship, not just the transgender person.  We’ve made a lot of progress in legal, civil, and medical rights (yes, I know we have more to do, but it’s a lot better than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Get some perspective.), and now we need to work on one of the other major issues in our community:  relationships.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sad News

Awhile back, a sportreporter for the LA TImes, Mike Penner, transitioned and became Christine Daniels. Then, something happened, never fully explained, and Christine "detransitioned" back to being Mike Penner. He continued to write for the Times.

Today, he was found dead in his apartment, an apparent suicide, at age 52.

I so feel for Mike/Christine. Searched for peace, I hope she has it now.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Transgender Day of Rememberance

Transgender Day of Rememberance

Giving thanks to those who have gone before, as they have made our lives easier through their sacrifice.

Paying the debt forward, that we may improve the lives of those who come after us.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How To Make Someone's Day Un-Boring

Well, I spent much of October changing my name on records. Drivers license, Social Security, credit cards, utility companies, stockbroker, insurance company, and just all those stores you deal with online. Still haven't done them all yet (like Macy's - I almost never go there, and they want me to go in person...).

Well, this morning I realized there was one other place I forgot to change my name -- voter registration.

So, after one other unrelated errand, I realized that, and swung back by the house to get a copy of the court order, and headed off to the polling station with both my drivers licenses (old and new, yes, they let me keep my old one...) and the court order. Sure enough, I was on the rolls under my old name (we all wondered why DMV hadn't updated the list when I got my new DL, but well...). Anyway, they asked me to come back and talk to the marshall of the station, a nice young man, who got on the phone to his supervisors.

He was very polite, and referred to me as maam, and simply referred to my case as a "name change - first and middle name only" to his supervisor. They found my records, and I filled out a new registration form, so it should all be good next time, and I got to vote.

Hopefully, I helped break their boredom... ;-)

All is good. Just took longer than normal.

Happy voting day everyone. Although we're not expecting to have happy returns here in Virginia, at least in the govenor's race.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Southern Comfort 2009

We went to Southern Comfort Conference last weekend. No, not the drink, the annual transgender conference in Atlanta. Wetlanta. SCC is almost more party than it is conference - several of our friends basically "held court" as they say, in the bar, from Wed - Sat.

Here are some pics...

Status of other transition-related stuff..

I've been back at work for like a month now, and things are going fine. The department wants me to move into management too, take over one of the groups within the department, free up our current group leader to do more business development stuff. For her, I'll do it, although I'm not keen on moving through management. But it's cool that they're considering me for this regardless of transition or not.

Name change: the circuit court website says it takes 3 weeks. I submitted my first set of forms on Aug. 7. The court lost them. I found out on Aug 26, after surgery. Went down and submitted a second set. They found the first set, voided them and mailed them back to me. The law clerk had 10 days to review, she took more than that. The judge apparently signed the court order last Monday, waiting for the papers to go thru final processing and get back to me. Then off to DMV (Dept Motor Vehicles) for a new drivers license, then to Social Insecurity, then everything else should run smoothly after that.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

IFGE Conference, April 2010

Hot news item just in!!

International Foundation for Gender Education

272 Carroll St. NW

Washington, DC 20012

Contact: Andrea von Kaenel


For Public Release

September 6, 2009

IFGE is pleased to announce that it’s 24th annual conference will be held in the Washington DC area for 2010. The IFGE Capital Conference 2010 will run from April 22nd – through April 25th, 2010, at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center – 5000 Seminary Road, Alexandria, VA. A full schedule of seminars, keynote speakers, events, meals and entertainment is being planned.

A special hotel room rate of $139 per night has been arranged with the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center for the duration of the IFGE Capital Conference 2010. This special rate is well below current room rates for similar hotel properties in the Washington DC area. To receive this special rate, you must call the hotel reservations department directly at 703-845-1010 and request the group rate for “IFGE” – or – use the following special website:

IFGE is a non-profit advocacy organization founded in 1987, devoted to promoting acceptance for Transgender people everywhere through education. For more information about IFGE’s Capital Conference 2010, please email us at the address above, or visit

Friday, September 4, 2009

Here' something interesting I didn't predict...

Okay, so, I went back to work last Monday, as Jude. I've been coordinating with the company since last November, and this went smoothly, just like pretty much everything else has. Got a new picture badge with my new name first thing that morning, and they changed my email and internal web page by Tuesday morning. very cool. all of that went just fine.

So, work was the last place I showed up as Jude. I had been going to the bank, grocery stores, all over everywhere else ever since surgery (Aug 12), maybe a bit before, so, with work settled, I guess that makes me officially full time.

The only hiccup was that the county circuit court lost my first set of name change papers, so I had to resubmit last week, and so the legal part is a bit behind schedule, but that hasn't caused any severe problems yet.

Had my first therapist session since surgery this afternoon. She was very impressed with the surgery results (okay, will get a pic up), and we talked a lot about how odd it can be to realize you're full time and that you've actually transitioned after all this time.

Now, on all the receipts for years now, she's been putting the DSM code for GID - Gender Identity Disorder. She commented near the end of the session that she has to reconsider whether that's still an appropriate diagnosis now that I'm full time. That perhaps I don't meet the criteria for it anymore. I find that hilarious and amazing at the same time.