I originally started this blog to help myself process the myriad of emotions and experiences that come with the decision to transition at this stage in my life. It has also evolved into a rather spotty chronicle of my life and most importantly (to me), an opportunity to offer those who have never lived the transgender experience an insight into what it actually feels like to go through this experience.
I have recently taken to the practice of counting my blessings. It seems like a simple thing. After all, there are tens of thousands of inspirational books, posters, and the ubiquitous Facebook ditties reminding us that we should do this every day. Yet I have had to make a conscious effort to do this and it is usually whilst in the pit of a depressed funk that I resort to this practice in an effort to pull myself up.
The usual result of this stock-taking is the realisation that, in the grand scheme of things for me, life is good. From a purely analytical point of view, the pluses vastly outnumber the minuses in my life. I have a roof over my head and food to eat. I have family and friends who love me. I have achieved success in my vocation and I have reasonable prospects for a future doing something that I enjoy and at which am fairly good.
So why is it that I keep having to remind myself of this? What is it about my life that is serving as the millstone that prevents me from soaring up and enjoying what really is a pretty darned good life?
Oh yeah, that trans thing.
This is the part where I hope to offer some insight to those of you who don't live with this on a daily basis. At times, I try to step out of my own little world and look in to see what others might be seeing when they look at me. I try to judge myself with the same standards that I use on others.
What I see, at first glance is a whiny little girl who really needs to get over herself and suck it up because in one way or another life sucks for everybody from time to time. I'm sure that is what many of you see.
Then I put first impressions aside and try to understand what it is that is causing this reaction that I don't like. It is a skill that I have to give N credit for teaching me, and it is one that has served me well throughout my life. It is much easier to be compassionate towards others and to work with them if you understand both the positive and negative things that motivate them.
Toward that end, I am going to try to describe the little things that are experienced on a daily basis by a transsexual woman that we usually try not to talk about, but our supporters and allies need to understand.
This is not an original thought. I have brought it up in previous posts and it has been well discussed throughout the various trans writers that I read regularly. The thought is this, we are damaged goods. Almost all of us have experienced some level of repression in our lives. Often this repression has been self-induced, but we did it out of fear that the consequence of self-revelation would be far worse than the cost of self-repression. The older we were when we made the decision to transition, the more deeply ingrained the repression became, and the more obvious the scars.
At some point most of recognised that we were different. Strangely enough, this was only partly represented by feelings that we "wanted to be a girl". Modern pop psychology is full of cross gender references. Men are encouraged to embrace their inner woman and vice versa.
Since the sexual revolution and feminist movement of the sixties and seventies, large portions (save for ultra conservative, right-wing, religious extremists) of the world have embraced the idea that men and women share many characteristics and with the exception of biological functions, few traits are exclusive to one gender or another. Because of this, we transgender women didn't necessarily connect the dots and see the big picture. Individual experiences were able to be explained at the time, or we simply chose to ignore their implications out of fear for the potential destination to which this line of thinking would take us. It is only by looking backward with the clarity of hindsight at the sum of our experiences that we can really see the whole picture.
What we did experience, in a way which we were painfully aware, was a sense of being different. We just didn't fit in. Sometimes it was just a benign sense of unease. We knew we weren't getting the same thrill out of these activities that the other boys were. We really were more interested in other stuff.
Just as often we were subjected to outright bullying. In my case, I got the most grief for the way I walked and for the fact that I cried very easily. I began to experience this at a very young age, and I very quickly learned to hide those things that I feared would draw undue attention to myself.
As I matured, I knew that expressing my interest in clothes and pretty things would only attract more negative attention so I learned to keep that totally private. In fact, I became a pro hiding everything I did. I learned to pay attention to every detail. I could return a piece of clothing to the exact position it came from in the drawer or closet, down to the folds and wrinkles or the way it sat on the hanger.
I learned to project what I saw as a stereotypically male image. I memorized sports trivia and learned to fix and build stuff. I learned to project the image of a colour blind, fashion impaired male. Recently, N and I were talking about the way I dressed, and she commented that I used to criticise other women for dressing the same way. I then offered her an aha moment. I pointed out to her that this was her opinion about style, and that I had over the years never expressed my own opinions, but merely parroted hers out of fear that if I was seen to care too much about fashion, I might tip people off to what was really happening in my head.
I used to channel my emotions into sports, a safely male territory. The problem arose, because I was so emotional, that I would cry during especially inspiring performances. If there was a human interest angle to the athlete or game, I was sure to have, at some point to hide my tears or come up with suitable allergy symptoms to explain the watery eyes.
The repression was elaborate and intense.
One does not squash a significant part of one's personality without inflicting some sort of self-harm. I have explained before that I was a bundle of frustration and anger. At work, my peers respected my skill and professionalism, but feared my temper. Certain people, who sensed how close I was to the edge, would regularly push my buttons just to make me snap. This cost me promotions over the years and left me feeling always like I was on the outside looking in.
In the end, this also cost me my marriage. I discussed this in detail several months ago (http://ihaterollercoasters.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/dirty-laundry/). I will not rehash this painful subject here, except to say that I live with the pain and guilt of this every day. No matter how positive and brave a face I put on this, the pain is always there, just below the surface.
Time heals all things, and I am definitely in the process of healing. I no longer repress myself (some wish I would a little more), and I am not that bundle of anger and frustration that I used to be. Sadly though, old habits die hard. I still find myself fighting the urge to hide myself out of fear of the reaction I might stir up. I still react to certain people with anger and frustration (Sorry, N). I'm learning, but it is a slow process, and every failure hurts.
I am also painfully aware of my own shortcomings in this area. Some people, including some of my children, think I am deliberately keeping them at arm's length. The truth is I don't believe, even now, that I have the right to force myself on others. I see myself as damaged and flawed. If I am not specifically invited in, I will stay away. If you don't respond to my first contact and I know you saw it, I will not contact you again. I assume that you, for good reason, don't want me around.
Daily life doesn't do much to build up my confidence right now either. I'm told constantly by well-meaning friends that I should be proud of myself and the image I have built up for myself. They are not wrong. They just don't have the whole picture.
What they don't see is the body I wake up to every morning. Currently my transition involves a number of clever tools to shift my appearance more in the direction of female. They are very effective, but only work on the surface. Underneath remains the fully functional body of a male. Most mornings, my very first sensation upon waking is a very uncomfortable reminder that my plumbing is still male. I can wear the prettiest nightgown and the frilliest panties, but underneath I still have boy parts.
Getting dressed for the day involves, in addition to the regular feminine beauty routines with my makeup and hair, a painfully meticulous shaving of my face and other body areas that will be visible that day. Take a close look at my face and you will be able to see the dozen or so tiny scabs that I can only partially cover with makeup from the morning's shaving nicks. Besides being uncomfortably painful, I know that this only serves as one more tip to the world that I'm not all girl yet.
While we are talking, if you notice me shifting in my seat, it is probably because the clever device that I have fashioned to keep the line of my groin smooth under my tight skirts and trousers has shifted and gone from uncomfortable to painful. It takes me an extra five minutes every time I go to the ladies' room to readjust this device. That whole time is spent in mortal fear that the stall door will accidentally be opened and some poor unsuspecting woman will be subjected to the shock of her life.
If I bend over to pick something up and suddenly turn away from you, it is because I felt something shift awkwardly on my chest and I am now fearing a repeat of the embarrassing moment I had several months ago at a friend's house when one of my boobs fell to the floor.
I go about my life with as much confidence as I can possibly muster, but I hear every single "That's a boy" comment. I control my reactions, but rest assured, I am suspicious of every odd look and I'm always on guard against that person who I encounter at least once a week who doesn't have the good grace to keep their observations to themselves.
The tragedy of all this is that the hundreds of people who see me every day and either accept me as a woman or have enough class to leave me to live my life on my terms get drowned out by the one or two tools who give off the negatives.
When I was growing up, my Dad was police chief in my hometown. On the wall in his office for some time he had a small picture that said something to the effect of "In this office we recognize your work with either an Atta Boy or a Dumb Shit. Be advised that it takes six Atta Boys to erase one Dumb Shit". In the world of a trans woman it takes 100 Atta Girls to erase one That's a Boy.
So when I seem whiny in the face of all the positives in my life, it's probably because I'm still about 25 Atta Girls short.