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Friday, September 10, 2004

The coming out letter (at work)

Enroute to Wenatchee, Washington.
There I would be seen for the last time ever in male attire, and accepting male pronouns.


I posted the address of my blog in an email to my co-workers ... and posted the following:

It's such a tradition now, when re-gendering, to put up a website and talk about one's self. A kind of apologia compulsion. I'm falling prey to the disease; forgive me if you're uninterested and just hit your back button, dears.

I'm in a superbly stable traditional marriage of thirty years' duration. I have outstanding children and grandchildren. I'm productive and a contributor in my work. It's been, I think, about as good as it gets for a guy.

Except ... umm ... not a guy ...

I'm an early MTF pre-op. If you've seen pages like this one before, you already know what that means and you can guess, pretty accurately, at my life story. Spent much of my childhood, beginning around age six, lifting sweaty dresses from hampers and experimenting with makeup. Getting in trouble for it. My parents were only trying to help, sort of ... I mean, I grew up in rural Georgia, in the American Deep South, in the 1950's and 60's; if I were found out, I would automatically have been an "abomination." I would be in constant danger and they would have been shunned just for having had me.

Yet I remember having made myself a promise, about age eight, that I would look into my persistent "girl" feelings in more detail, when it became safer to do so. But it never seemed to get any safer ....

As I write, I'm 55, eligible for the senior park. And in all those years, for fear of loathing, I never claimed my heart. Gave it to others, yes. But ...

Self-acceptance is everything.

From it, all happiness flows. And I think I never had that, though I've been, I feel, mainly what they call "a cheerful sort." With some passive-aggressiveness.

After the first pill I became a calmer, more centered person immediately, and that change appears to be permanent. And very, very worth it, whatever happens next.

Two years ago, I came out to my household. And a very few very close friends, who re-engineered their relationships with me and stuck it out.

I went into counseling.

The first few counselors weren't all that useful. They suggested I was a suppressed gay, a cross dresser, that I had something I didn't work out with my mom, then they talked rough to me about the Real Life Test and about loneliness and danger.

A lot of people do think re-gendering is about being gay. I'm not sure I know what to tell them. I've just never had a gay experience. Maybe the right man never came along? But sexual preference seems to me to be one thing and gender identity quite another.

I can tell you I'm not much of a cross dresser. Not for lack of trying; but transsexuals eventually discover that they aren't cross dressing. It gets us in trouble because society assumes it's about sex. That might be true of CD people, but -- really -- have you ever heard of the effect that estradiol generally has on male libido?

Remember, you did ask (because you've read this far). Transition, I've heard said, is the unsought opportunity to be your most private self in your most public moment.

And I don't know anyone who doesn't have things they didn't work out with their mom. But I don't think I'm going through all this because I like to cook and she doesn't.

The 'Real Life Test' is a strange hurdle. I'm sure the test, as a barrier, helps winnow out some insufficiently committed people, but to what end? There was research that said we we're still unhappy and often commit suicide after transition, so the operation must not be working. Welcome news to the insurance companies, who were looking for an excuse to list us among their exclusions. But, see:

Not accepted by society before transition.

Some of us die.

Not accepted by society after transition.

Some of us die.

It's not rocket science, folks.

As for loneliness, that has never been my problem. I'm a hermit by nature. I feel I could handle that. But it hasn't happened. I have been stunned by the support from all the people who now truly know me.

With 75% of my hearing gone, I have done a lot of solitude. But even though I'm less alone in this than I've been with my hearing impairment, the deafness has been good preparation for everyone. They've had to adapt to my hearing aids, telephone amplifiers, flashing phone lights, assistive listening devices, and the occasional real-time captioner, so adapting to me turns out to be something they already know how to do.

So then there's the bit about danger. The self-defense experts tell us that more than half the danger to any woman is being in the wrong place at the wrong time and projecting vulnerability while doing so. Be calm and centered and believe in yourself; if you do you may not need the rest of this paragraph. Which is: avoid surprises, go with friends, be socially aware and stick to well-lighted, well-kept neighborhoods. If necessary, have your camera cell phone in one hand and your pepper spray in the other. Trust your instincts, know when to kick, when to scream, and when to run -- and in which direction. But what neighborhood were you in that you needed to do all that? What world are you in that you needed to do all that?

A world that hates women?

Yes, it can be rough out there for women. But doubly so for trans women; because those who hate women seem to hate trans women worse. And those who hate gays hate trans people worse. A gay person doesn't necessarily look gay, whereas an easily read transsexual or CD or drag queen does ....

And I'd argue the main danger, in many areas, to people in my situation is from inadequately trained policemen. Transwomen are regularly busted for "solicitation" just for wearing a dress, or using the restroom, then thrown into prisons (among men, natch) where the outlook is for rapes, beatings and more rapes. Don't think this isn't going on somewhere even as you read ...

And the discrimination many transpeople face drives them into earning a living under extremely dangerous conditions. Then they get killed; then the newspaper says something like "John Doe, Dressed as a Woman, Strangled in Motel Room." As in, 'he' had it coming. A vicious cycle, adding to the myth that we are some kind of sex criminals, just for being ourselves.

Meanwhile....

The counselors wanted me to spring for the idea that I could just be a "sensitive man." Like there aren't insensitive women? Look, you are who you are. The mistake was they thought they were counseling a guy, but there wasn't a guy in that other chair over there.

You know who you need to be when you look at yourself and say -- oh, that's me. I couldn't get there from where I was born, raised, what I'd grown into, aged as.

So I did my own research. I took action.

Now when I cross my arms, it feels right.

Granted, puberty at fifty-five can be a little odd. I break into song; I dance around in corridors. I weave patterns in the air with my arms. I have patience with the ingredients of breads and stir-fries. I cry at the drop of a hat.

The hair on my arms is getting lighter and finer. My skin has cleared up a lot (we won't talk about age spots) and seems thinner and more sensitive to touch, even to light breezes. It sunburns more easily. Sadly, I have male pattern baldness, but the hair loss has slowed, even reversed a little.

My face has changed. People I have known now walk by me without recognition. My voice gives me away a bit, though it's a high one. That's fine. I'm not reaching for femme.

I have wider hips -- that 'sexy' sway? That's just those round hips hauling legs around differently. Lots of women will tell you they don't do that to attract a guy, they're just walking.

I do wear sensible cotton stuff, camis, bandannas, MaryJane flats, coordinated turtlenecks and cardigans and boot-cut jeans, size 14. At home and at work, and to compliments, too. The look I've developed is simply the one I like, and as it happens it's fairly androgynous. All of my men's clothing is gone now; how is that not a Real Life Test?

Eventually, I came out to the family doctor. She's very supportive, and I'm getting the baselines I'll need. I'm still looking for a supportive counselor. I don't recommend going it alone the way I have, but -- y'know -- it does happen a lot -- whatever the counselors are looking at in their templates, we think many, maybe more than half of us don't fit into it, and there needs to be some kind of informed discussion around that, where the 'professionals' aren't the only ones doing the decision-making about who counts as a real transperson.

Meanwhile...

Dear reader...

If you've gotten this far but are one of those who still think trans people are bad, ask yourself: who would choose to go through all this on purpose?

Even though it's really scary, presents many opportunities to be humiliated, quite painful, and potentially life-threatening?

Well, for us it's compulsory.

Look, there are three main kinds of gender or sexual deviation.

One out of ten or so of the general population, worldwide (including 'red states') is to some extent gay or lesbian or bisexual. That's sexual preference, and it seems not to be something that evolution is bothering to deal with. Drag and crossdressing tend to fit somewhere in the preference spectrum too, though that's complicated. Well, people are complicated.

Then there are intersexuals, people born with genital features consistent with both sexes. That's one out of a hundred, OK? And it's a birth defect, which is a little different from the gays and lesbians. And our society can't tolerate intersexuals, and they get "corrected" to one gender or the other soon after birth, often to their lasting dismay. But at least no one tells them it's all in their head. Even though they are equally affected by the marriage amendments.

Then there are the transsexuals, which some estimates place at 1 in 10,000 or even fewer. Evidence is accumulating that we too have a birth anomaly, one that is even rarer than the genetic intersexual syndromes. ["A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality." J.-N. Zhou, M.A. Hofman, L.J.G. Gooren and D.F. Swaab. Nature, 378: 68-70 (1995)]

So the sexual preference people have asked to be de-listed from the diagnostic medical manuals, whereas intersexuals and transpeople are still there. I'm inclined to think there's some square pegging into round holes there, but on the whole I think I've got to go along with it.

All three somewhat distinct groups are called 'fag' or 'dyke' in school hallways and beaten up regularly, often with parental approval. And these same parents go to school board meetings to stop anti-bullying programs because 'it teaches kids that this lifestyle (voice dripping with hatred) is okay.'

But, hey! If you don't believe the medical profession, believe me. I can tell you from experience that 'lifestyle choice' is a phrase concocted by cynical fascists and perpetuated through the ignorance they encourage. If you've ever said it, go and write 'I will no longer unthinkingly encourage genocide' on the blackboard 100 times. I'm not kidding. See this <http://www.rememberingourdead.org/>, and this <http://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/people/VictHomo.htm>.

Holocausts begin with cruel humor, then devolve into denying a population work, housing, and other basic human rights and services. The end isn't pretty.

And before you decide that our rights don't matter, consider this: a significant percentage of your kids will be, incurably, L, G, B, T, Q, or I. What kind of world will you offer them?

:::

I've had the privileges. It's all true about the patriarchy: males, white males, white males in management, and I know I'm still partly there, 'cuz I haven't got my new driver's license yet. As I walk deeper into the water, I keep wondering when the sharks will hit.

But I'm letting go, daily.

Some of the smaller stuff that happens is kinda funny.

Like, the company VCR acts up and nobody looks at me anymore to fix it. They look to the guys ... same with the heavy lifting: here, let me do that for you. And guys are holding doors for me. With big smiles of a kind I haven't seen before. Chin up, belly in. Weird. Or holding a chair for me in the restaurant, helping me into my coat! (I said, 'I'm taken, you know.' He said, 'So am I.' Still friends, but the nuances are so different!)

Women have begun to talk to me about -- you know -- guys. Girl talk. So the other side has its privileges, too. They recommend stuff: not gold with silver, honey. That red's too bright. Here's my hairdresser. And they stand guard for me in the restrooms. Women know things about community and inclusiveness -- about friendship -- that most guys will never have a clue about ... poor things ...

And I always wanted hugs to be o.k. Suddenly hugs are o.k.!

Real proof of when you're ready for all this is the electrolysis. To lie still for an hour while every few seconds a needle probes deep into your face and burns a hair root alive ... I admire everyone who's ever done that, and now I admire me.

Since I'm not doing RLT yet, I can't officially demand name and pronoun changes. But I'm out. I' won't police use of pronouns and names, even when the time comes for the new documents. I want to earn the perception, gradually and gracefully. That's begun to happen!

When it occurs to you that it's kinder, you'll take to it on your own.

A co-worker spotted me on our volunteer cleaning day in my hip huggers and apron, facing the other way, and said to herself, 'who's she?'

So she asked what was up and I told her.

She spent the next half hour sharing with me about hot flashes.

'Should I call you Risa?'
'You may, if you like...'
'All right, I think I will...'

-- risa b

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