Sunday, December 30, 2012

Facial Surgery - Notes from the other side

As I mentioned a little over two weeks ago, I went in for facial femiinization surgery (FFS) on December 13. I promised a post from the other side, and here it is. 

Disclaimer - boring surgery stuff ahead

This post is for anyone who is interested in what FFS was actually like. As is my usual practice, I won't name names (not even of my surgeon) but if you want more specific information I'll be happy to talk about things like that privately. On the other hand, if you're not interested in what it takes to have your face redone, feel free to bail out at any time.

What is "the works"?

The first question is what exactly did I have done? While I didn't have the world's most masculine face, I did end up getting pretty much everything done, "the works" as you might put it. And I realize that for those who haven't been there "everything" isn't a good answer. NOTE: this is NOT an attempt to use technical terms. If you want the technical terms for all of these procedures consult with a more complete FFS reference or surgeon.

Let's just start at the top of my head: 

  • hairline advancement - that means my scalp was partly detached, pulled/stretched forward, and stuck back down, advancing my hairline by about one inch. 
  • forehead lift - my forehead was pulled up, tightening it and pulling out the wrinkles. This was really more for rejuvenation than feminization
  • brow reduction - the ridges over my  eyebrows were ground down to remove the prominence that males have there
  • eyebrow lift - my eyebrows were slightly lifted
  • under eye skin peel - the skin right under my eyes was about 70% removed by a chemical peel, to make it grow back smoother. Again a rejuvenation thing.
  • cheek implants - soft plastic implants were put in each cheek to make them project forward, as opposed to the more hollowed male look that I had
  • nose work - my nose was reduced slightly, the "bump" was taken out, and my deviated septum was repaired. I can already breath better than I ever have in my life
  • fat grafts - fat removed from around my navel was centrifuged and re-injected at my temples, and around my upper lip, for more youthful and feminine fullness.
  • jaw muscle reduction - the muscles at my jaws which tend to give a squarer, more masculine appearance, were cut down
  • jaw angle and projection reduction - basically my jaw was ground down to both project less and be less square
  • tracheal shave - my "adam's apple" bump was reduced
  • neck lift - my neck skin was pulled and tightened to get rid of the "turkey neck" effect that is both aging and a bit masculinizing.

So that's "everthing" pretty much. It means that almost every part of my face was disrupted in one way or another. A fair amount of this work was done from the inside, so the number of incisions you might see is not as great as you might think - I have an incision at my hairline, pretty much all the way around each ear, under my nose and under my chin.

So how does all of this come about?

The process starts with consultation with the surgeon and their suggestion of what shoud/might be done and how much it might cost. Not surprisingly, the surgeon will have his opinion and you'll have yours on both points. Coming together on what willl be done or not done and why is the biggest issue you have work out - feel free to get other opinions, ask questions, and even argue with the surgeon. I did a fair amount of soul searching in deciding whether I wanted to do everything or not. And some of it is more for youthful appearance than anything else - I was okay with that (as I've mentioned). I even paid for someone knowledgable to use photoshop to simulate what each procedure might do for me.

Once that's worked out, and you have reserved a date (I decided to save up my time off from work and do it during the slow time at the end of the year), there is a ton of administrivia to take care of - paying (let's just say my credit cards ended up with a truly amazing amount of reward points), getting medical clearance, laying in needed supplies (including a few gross of q-tips and gallons of hydrogen peroxide), signing what seems like a hundred pages of releases, arranging post-op care, etc. 

Day of Surgery

There were a few pre-surgery restrictions, like stopping vitamins, supplements and hormones, but nothing much else except for the final two - a head to foot shower with antibactierial soap (yep, good old yellow Dial) and NOTHING to eat or drink starting at midnight before surgery. And nothing means NOTHING, not even a sip of water.

I actually managed to get a little of sleep before we got up to get to the surgeon's at 6 am. People tend to assume, since this was surgery, that it would be in a hospital, but a lot of surgeons have their own facilities for surgery. Hospitals are expensive and full of sick people and bacteria, so they're not always the first choice for elective surgery. 

From that point things moved pretty quickly - I changed out of my jammies (yes, I wore jammies to surgery) and into a gown and associated paraphenalia. An IV drip was inserted, a few final pictures were taken after the surgeon used a marker to decorate my face, I got on the table, and... I woke up about 12 hours later in a tiny recovery area. (Clearly there must have been something in that IV.) And some stupid heartrate monitor was driving me mad with it's continual beeping... (I did not fully appreciate at the time what it would have meant if it hadn't been continually beeping!)

After a couple of hours I was "recovered" enough to be dressed, wheeled to the door, and to be helped into the caregiver's car for the drive home.

Here's where accounts diverge. What I recall is walking slowly but steadily and being coherent enough to give the caregiver turn by turn directions from the interstate (she did have written directions as well, but it was dark) to our house. What my wife remembers is that when we arrived, she looked out the door to see a heavily bandaged figure who couldn't figure out how to open a car door, mumbled unintelligibly, and who on standing immediately drooled on her own shoes. I'm sticking with my version, thank  you very much.

How long does it take to heal?

For the first three days, I was propped up in bed and fed pudding and vicodin, punctuated by occasionally getting up to walk a lap around the apartment. Then I got the main dressings removed and took a wonderful, but exhausting, shower. Painkillers continued to be my friends for most of the first 10 days, but things steadily progressed, and by two weeks after the surgery I was starting to feel more normal. Sure, I still got exhausted easily, but I was starting to sleep normally and had said good-bye to the nasty paranoid dreams vicodin gives me. 

So right now, that's about where I am. I have to massage the swollen areas and scars for an hour a day, and wear a supporting head "garment" for 18 hours a day, but I'm starting to feel better. Taking a shower no longer exhausts me. Sensation is returning to some areas, like my forehead, but others, like the top of my head and under my chin remain pretty numb. I'm told that things are going well, and I expect to be working in a few days and mostly of back to normal in a few more weeks. 

The swelling will take months to fully go away and it will also take that long to get sensation back everywhere, so full recovery will be an ongoing project in 2013, but one that I think will be worth it.

Are there pictures?

In case you're wondering, yes, I have been taking pictures. And no, I'm not sharing them now. I'll hold them until I can put together a more triumphal procession than I can now. Even my tolerance for being a work in progress has limits!

Are you happy? 

So am I happy? It's still a bit early for wild celebration. It's also surprisingly hard (and demoralizing) to see yourself so bruised and swollen. The fat grafts have left my upper lip way too thick, the swelling has given a bit of a snub nose, and so on. But all of those things are improving, as the surgeon promised. So things are getting better every day as I continue to heal.

For a while there I was looking in the mirror, searching in vain for some sign of someone I recognized. That has all been more than a bit scary... but today I looked in the mirror more closely and caught a glimpse of someone... it was the first time I'd seen her, but there could be no mistake...

It was me. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Facial Surgery

A lot has happened over the past 10 months. I started seeing a therapist, started hormones, came out to friends and family, transitioned at work, and mostly traversed the legal hurdles of changing my name. I braved air travel and the TSA, hotels, car rentals, even Las Vegas, with my new identity and escaped unscathed. Some of those milestones were scary, some of them caused me to lie awake in bed worrying about how I would get through them, but in the end, none of them was as hard as I'd feared. Particularly transitioning at work, which absorbed hours of stewing and fretting, was so much more positive than I'd ever dreamed it might be.

So now I'm charging full speed towards a different milestone - facial feminization surgery. In just under 36 hours I'll be in surgery to have almost every aspect of my face remodeled. I'm excited, scared, doubtful, certain, eager and hesitant.

FFS, as it's called, is a controversial subject. Not having it says that you're confident and comforatble in the image you project amd that you don't care about society's judgments on feminine appearance. Or perhaps it says that you are naturally feminine in appearance or that you don't have or care to spend the astromomical  sums a thorough face remodeling requires.

On the other hand, having FFS may say that you are vain, that you are a slave to conventional views of feminity, or that you have delusions that changing your face will fix your life. Or it may say that you want to blend in, be invisible, or  just  have the luxury of not being read the first 30 seconds someone sees you.

I like to think in my case it means that after all of this time I will be able to look in the mirror and see someone who matches my internal view of myself just a bit more. It should make me appear younger, and I happen to like that. It seems to me that it will go a tiny way towards giving me back a few of those many years of seeing someone else in the mirror.

I'm aware that this will come at a fairly high price. It's costly, it's time consuming and a burden on those around me. It's major surgery - almost every part of my face and the underlying tissues, from the hairline to the base of the neck will be sliced, diced, ground down, built up, or otherwise disrupted. It will be painful and the recovery will be measured in weeks and months. I'm aware of all of this and in some ways I dread it. 

When it's done, I have no illusions that I'll be, in the words of my surgeon, "stunning". Nor will all my problems go away, nor will a lifetime on the wrong side of the gender tracks be erased. But if I can look in the mirror and sometimes see a bit more the person I've always been inside, if it makes me feel a bit more confident and a bit more relaxed out in the world, above all if I look a bit more like ME, then I think it will be worth it. 

So the bottom line is that I'm determined to go forward. From Thursday on I'll be out of touch for a little while... wish me luck - I'll see you on the other side.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why I left the dog obedience world

I guess this is partly a tribute to Molly, partly a farewell, and partly a love letter to obedience teams. And if anyone happens to care, it's an explanation of why I left the sport of dog obedience. If none of those interest you, then you probably had better find something else to read.

Some of you know that I (or that guy named Vern, anyway) was privileged to have Molly, the smartest dog in school. With Molly I spent almost a decade involved in obedience competitions, learning how to train and show, writing a column in Front and Finish called "Sanity Check", and doing a bit of judging. 

And then I left.

I stopped showing when I lost Molly. She was one of the closest and wisest friends I've had, of any species, and when she died of cancer in 2011, I didn't really have much desire to train or show. Molly was the wellspring of my obedience carreer - it was part of our bond, a common language that we shared, the thing that made us, both as a team and even individually, somewhat special among many that knew us. Molly grew from that training into a poised, calm dog of the world, meeting a stream of students, teachers and visitors in my office at school every day. And she met them not only with dignity and poise, but she also made it clear the world that she was a trained dog, dammit, and she answered to me alone. I often wished that some of those top trainers who sneered at us when we were having a bad day in the ring (and I do mean sneered, literally) could have seen her in action during one of her days at work. 

About that same time I'd moved to a new job and was putting in 10 hour days, so in addition to lacking motivation to train and compete with Aeryn (the young dog in the house) it was harder to find the time. It may even have been that Aeryn promised to be so much better in the ring than Molly ever was - that wasn't so hard to take while Molly was alive, but once she was gone, in the back of my mind it felt almost disloyal to train Aeryn to surpass Molly's admittedly checkered obedience career. 

I continued to judge for a while, in spite of the heavier work schedule, because I honestly enjoyed judging, seeing the same sort of bond that Molly and I had being developed by other teams. 

Sure, judging had it's downsides - I had to get up early on weekend mornings and wear a tie. I had to be there, on my feet, basically working the entire time. But I loved to watch the teams and I had the best seat (well, "stand") in the house. I could see the good, the bad, and the ugly, from the little tricks of the experts to the shaking hands of a first timer.

I loved the less skilled teams most, and the first timers. The people who were clearly out of their comfort zone competing (in a dog show for heaven's sake!), with dogs that maybe had a few "issues". Those handlers who didn't quite know how to get the best out of their dogs and the dogs who didn't quite know how to please their suddenly nervous handlers. There they were, both sides trying their hardest, and many times it was out of love. I never was an easy scorer, but man, did I do whatever I could to help those teams legitimately qualify.

But last summer, I resigned my judging licenses. 

Of course, my decision to transition from male to female was behind that. The rest of this blog is devoted to that process, so I won't belabor it here. It was a huge decision, with joys and rewards, as well as risks and costs, and I'm glad I did it.

But the reason I left obedience was pretty simple - I didn't trust the sport to accept me. 

I didn't trust the sport of obedience to accept me as a transgender woman mainly because I didn't believe that the sport had really accepted me as a man. In my early years in obedience, outwardly a male in a sport predominately female, I was less than warmly received. In fact, I can remember many times when many of the people at a trial actively avoided speaking or even making eye-contact with me, although they would be quite willing to chat with my wife. She figured it must be because I didn't look "needy" enough for people to go out their way to talk to. Maybe I just wasn't outgoing and friendly enough.

But to me, as a transgender persion, it seemed like one more case of being on the outside looking in, caught again on the wrong side of the gender divide. Maybe that perception wasn't true. I do know that once I started writing for Front and Finish and particularly after I became a judge people became much, much friendlier, and I liked that. 

But I also never escaped the feeling that acceptance came not because of anything about me, but mainly because I was now useful. And as I started transition I didn't want to go back to being the ousider again. I didn't want to have people staring at me, not making eye contact, not being willing to talk to me, all the rest. 

Maybe that wasn't really a risk. Certainly it hasn't been a problem at the tech events I've participated in. Judges are in demand enough that presumably even a transgender judge might get an assignment here or there, right? And no one would be foolish enough to insult or ignore the judge, right? And maybe some of the people I'd met over the years would even be sort of nice about it, right? Probably. But I just didn't feel confident enough to risk it. 

It's kind of a conservative crowd, and while I can think of many exceptions, I can also think of too many I knew who wouldn't be able to accept me at all. Besides, my new voice isn't as powerful as Vern's was - I was afraid I'd just heel all of those ladies who warned me they were hard of hearing right into the wall. More to the point, my new self wasn't (isn't) self-confident enough yet to stand in the middle of the ring and be watched all day. Maybe someday she will be.

So that's the story. A few people I knew from the dog world have reached out to me on my transition, and they have been postiive and supportive (thanks!). They've even suggested I should come back to judging and showing, and I have to admit it I thought about it. But I don't think so, at least for now.

To all of those obedience teams out there (particularly you green, new, struggling ones) I wish you joy and success, and that you and your dog will cherish and grow that relationship for as long as you can.



Naomi now lives with her spouse and two Aussies, Riker, who was Molly's dutiful flunky for many years, and Aeryn, who in spite of her relative youth and lack of embarrassing obedience performances still managed to make an occasional precocious appearance in "Sanity Check" back in the day.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Luckiest Girl in the World

The eventful first week of transition has passed. After a morning of sitting on a very hard courtroom bench listening to people wrangle about rent disputes, my name change became legal. Everyone at my company was informed (and thank god, educated) about my being trans. I got my hair styled and my nails done professionally for the first time in my life. I walked back into work as Naomi with my head held high and it was fine. I braved a visit to the DMV and ended up with a new drivers licence with the desired new name and gender. I even went to my first Python meetup as Naomi.

So much was squeezed into this past week that it's starting to blur. This was the time that I had feared all of these years. This was to be a change so scary that I referred to it as "leaping off the cliff". I honestly didn't know how I was going to get through it all - standing before a judge to change my name, telling the people I cared most about at work, and even walking back into the building after everyone knew the truth. These were the things that I had struggled with for years... the kinds of fears that had held me back for ages. 

The reality turned out to be far different than I had imagined, in many ways. I went to my name change hearing with extra documentation, mentally preparing arguments to counter a conservative judge's reluctance. In fact, he sized me up, asked the formulaic questions, and then smiled and congratulated me as he signed the decree. I had thought that my fellow managers might be a tough audience, but they listened intently, politely, and sympathetically, and were instantly supportive. 

I had imagined that telling my team might be easier. Instead it was the hardest of all, taking just about all I had. This wasn't their fault, mind you - they also were supportive, sending me messages of support that very night.

And so it went. Where I had feared rejection, I received a welcome. There were hugs instead of scowls, sincere messages of support instead of haughty silence. In other words, they did what I had feared would never happen - they saw me as I was and welcomed me back. 

There were some negatives during this week of transition, some people being ominously silent or even openly unsupportive, but they were few and they didn't come from the people I work with every day.

Where it really counted, when I really needed them, the people around me came through magnificently, in a manner I had never dared hope for. I won't forget that. And no matter what else happens, thanks to them I count myself the luckiest girl in the world. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Public Coming Out Post

A Little Personal News

So if you're reading this, you've either heard this elsewhere and are looking for confirmation,  or I've pointed you here via some other message or post. Yes, I have some news to confirm... I'm transsexual. My full coming out post is here and of course you are welcome to browse the rest of this blog if you want to see a bit of what I've been through on my journey. The good news is that my name change is now official and I'm transitioning to living full time as Naomi. To be honest I wish I'd done it sooner.

Part of the reason it took me so long to even begin the process of transition was my long time position at the school, and my enjoyment of teaching. For quite a time I thought that might be enough, that the satisfaction of teaching might carry me though my life without having to deal with the truth of who I was. But eventually time and the truth caught up with me.

To My Former Students

My enjoyment of my time with you may have delayed my transition, but I don't consider that a bad trade at all. I cared for all of you, and I enjoyed your various personalities, senses of humor, and learning styles. I got enormous satisfaction from helping you learn and watching you grow. I suppose you will have various reactions - some of you may be stunned, perhaps disgusted, maybe feel somehow betrayed... others may be (and have been) positive and accepting, supportive, even happy that someone they value has finally found a bit more peace for herself. Knowing all of you, I think that the latter group will far outnumber the former. I hope so, since I have fond and proud memories of you all.

To my old school and former colleagues

I suppose you, too, will have various reactions - probably also ranging from shock and disgust to being happy for me. Perhaps the latter group will even outnumber the former, I'm not sure.

I imagine that some of you may have now guessed that the reason I left teaching and the school (and the dog obedience world, for that matter) was to make this change. And I think it's pretty clear that it would have been orders of magnitude more difficult, if not impossible, to transition there. And I was extremely fortunate to land a cool job with a company and with people who are willing and able to support me as I make this change.

It's ungracious of me to admit it, but I didn't trust the school, neither as an institution nor as a community, to stand by me during such a risky and difficult time. That realization was very hard for me to take at the time. It felt like a betrayal as I realized that an institution I'd put so much of my life into, and a community I'd seen rally around so many others in tough times, would not be there for me. But it was probably a gift, now that I think of it, since it made it that much easier to seize opportunity when it arose. But please, for the sake of others there who are LGBT, don't stand on the wrong side of history too much longer.

To all of you

I've moved on quite a bit over the past couple years, and I have an even longer journey ahead of me, but I'm still pretty much the same person. I'm happier now, and a bit more at home in my own skin, a little more authentic and honest about who I am, but that's about it. (Don't get me wrong - that's HUGE!) That, and now I get to wear cuter shoes on occasion... ;)

I'm not trying to reject my past or deny who I am or where I've been at all, so if you have the inclination to make contact again, I'd be happy to hear from you. On the other hand, if you don't feel comfortable, interested, or otherwise motivated to get in contact, that's fine with me, too. Best wishes to all.

Kindest regards,

What about Naomi?

What about the choice of the name "Naomi", that is...

On October 22, I legally became Naomi Renee Ceder. In a way it was a second birthday, one that I'd dreamed of for a long time. But how did I come by those new names?

The easy one is "Renee". Just about a year ago I asked one of my dearest friends to give me a middle name. She agreed and after much deliberation found what she was looking for - a name that matched the time I was born and had a special significance. She wanted something to indicate a fresh start, and Renee was moderately common in the 50's but not so much after that. And Renne means "reborn". That seemed quite apt to both of us.

The Naomi part is much more complex. I chose that name more than 15 years ago, when I was in the very early stages of coming to terms with my gender. I wanted a name that was compatible with the time I was born (so no "Tiffanies" or other names that were trendy when I was already in my 30's or 40's), and one that was just about as popular (or unpoplular) as Vern - I didn't want to become one of the many Susans or Deborahs my age - that just wouldn't match my experience.

As I thought about it Naomi struck me. Perhaps it was seeing Naomi Judd sing, maybe it was watching Naomi Campbell strut the catwalk, but somehow it occurred to me and once it did, there was real resonance there. As it happened one of my mother's friends was named Naomi. I never knew her very well, but I remember thinking she was pretty in a quiet and reserved way. And in some later interactions with her I learned that she was a tireless worker, full of dedication and attention to detail.

But there was more to it than that. It had the same popularity in the 50's as Vern, and it also echoed in my head from all of those Sundays in church. Our Lutheran church had several women's groups, or "units", named after women of the bible, and announcements of activities of the "Naomi Unit" seemed to echo out of the past. I don't remember if my mother was part of the Naomi Unit or not, but thinking back, that name seemed always to there.

While not a Christian, I felt obligated see what the biblical Naomi had been like. The story of Naomi and Ruth strikes me as a nuanced one. I've read many contradictory intrerpretations of her character and her relationship with Ruth, but it is clear that she suffered great loss, that she inspired great love and loyalty from her daughter-in-law, and that she hacked the social system to provide a better life for Ruth and herself. I like that view of the story - I too have sometimes felt "bitter" at the fate dealt to me, but I'm also trying to find something better.

So... Naomi Renee. 


I've just looked back over these posts... I'm sort of struck by how negative they all are. Honestly my journey hasn't been as dark as those posts might imply. I've posted mainly for two reasons - to let people know what I was doing, so that I wouldn't have to write the same emails over and over again, and I've posted to help myself face and deal with my doubts. 

Unfortunately, the doubts have gotten more prominence than they deserve. That's partly the effect of having to slog away in guy mode, keeping everything thing secret as the details of transition got worked out. That was tremendously isolating and tiring. It's also partly because nothing helps me work out my own thinking/feeling about an issue quite as well as writing something about it, particularly something that's going to be posted. That process forces me to think more clearly, to reflect more deeply, and ultimately helps me come to a decision better than anything else. 

In turn, many of the positive things haven't needed that process and so haven't been "important" enough to be mentioned - things like the lift my spirits got when I could go out as myself, the pleasure of seeing someone a bit more familiar in the mirror, and above all, the support of friends.

Today, as I've said before, I leapt off the cliff... my name change became official and the rest of transition was set in motion for the rest of this week. And to equip me for this, I recieved two gifts from dear friends far away. 

One of those gifts was practical - a magic bubble to surround me and ward off any negative thoughts. It's really quite amazing - it totally surrounds me and totally deflects the negatives - you can just see them bounce off and float away. And even better, it's an extensa-bubble so it automatically grows to surround all my friends. The friend that gave it was quite insistent that I use it, and so far it has worked brilliantly.

The other gift is even more poetic - a pair of wings so that when I leap, I will soar and fly away and end up home. They are beating strongly and bearing me up over the mountains ahead.

So thank you for those gifts, and thank you to all of my friends for your warm thoughts and support. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012


It's begun. No, check that, it's almost done. It's strange... I've been counting down for months, and suddenly it's down to days. On Monday my name change should be official. Then, the day after that, I'll start telling people at work.  I'll leap off the cliff... and things will never be the same.

Everyone tells me it will be fine, and I expect they are right. I do hope it will be. The people I work with are good people, so I have every reason to expect that many of them will be just as kind and accepting as the others I've told, who have surprised and encouraged me with their acceptance. 

And yet I've been obsessing over what I'm going tell people at work, writing and re-writng the message I want to give them. Too much? Too little? Why should anyone care at all? And so on... Honestly, I've spent more time thinking about their reactions than any other group, including family. I'm hoping that somehow that I'll find the magic formula that will guarantee their kindness and acceptance. And at the same time, I know that there are no such guarantees.

Unfortunatley I can't help but remember a couple of episodes of transphobia that I've witnessed at work that really bothered me. They bothered me not because they were brutal or extreme (they weren't at all), but rather because they were so routine and unthinking, so casually contemptuous and so easily accepted. They flowed so naturally that I'd bet that the people involved can't even remember them, while I felt those incidents in the pit of my stomach for days. I wish it didn't bother me, but it did.

And even without that memory I sometimes still find it hard to believe that anyone will accept me, let alone with kindness. Why should they? Crossing the gender line, particularly at my age, is not something society respects or even allows. And god knows I will be far from perfect (whatever that might be) in presentation. My voice will be laughable, my face a wreck, and I'll have that ugly damned stubble on my face for electrolysis to work. In short, I'll be an easy target for trans contempt and ridicule - easy to be seen as an old man trying to be a girl... and failing.

I know that I'm worrying for nothing. I know that everyone's behavior will be professional. I also know that behavior is all that I can ask for, and that is enough. 

But regardless of what might happen, regardless my fears, no matter how unjustified or justified they might be, it won't stop me. I've come too far to get to this point, to accept and embrace both who I am and who I have been, and to get to a point where I can finally allow myself to be happy. 

When the countdown finishes, I'm making that leap. Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's not about extra credit

As I've approached transition I've found myself doing something I'm not happy about. I didn't realize exactly what I was doing at first, and even after I did realize it, I didn't fully appreciate its significance at first... and why I shouldn't be doing it.

I've caught myself trying to store up good karma, particularly at work... I've been asking myself if I've done people enough favors, if I've solved a tough problem for everyone recently enough to get some extra points to tide me through this transition. That's right - I've been thinking that maybe I can earn enough extra credit to balance out the process of transition so that people will still accept me.

At first this seems reasonable, prudent even. Why not be sure that everyone is favorably disposed towards me before laying something like a transgender coworker on them? Reasonable enough, eh?

But then it also hit me that this whole way of thinking about it is wrong - so very, very wrong.

First of all, solving problems for people at work isn't doing them a favor, it's my doing my job. If the problems are hard ones that no one else can handle, that's the reason they hired me. Besides that, I like solving hard problems and I like helping people out - I'd do it anyway if I could. And I like to do what I can to have a postive balance of karma, but more for the satisfaction it gives me looking back, not as something to cash in. So as I think about it, there's precious little "extra" or "credit" in just doing my job well and in doing what I can to help people out.

But the real thing that makes this thinking wrong it is its underlying assumption. It assumes that I will need to get people to accept me, support me, and like me in spite of being trans, and that I'll need a fairly large inducement to achieve that, as if I'm trying to outweigh a huge flaw.

And as I think of it, that's just wrong. Being trans is not some huge flaw that needs to be outweighed.

It's part of me... and people liked me before, were willing to support me before, accepted me before.

Not everyone will agree, but I need to hold fast to this. I've chosen to be more honest with the world and myself, but nothing inside me has changed. I haven't done anything wrong, and I haven't let anyone down. Those who see that will remain my friends.

And those who won't try to understand that were never my friends - they never even knew me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

That Still, Small Voice

I have bad days when I look at the people around me, and a small, still voice inside my head says with absolute certainty, "they will never accept you. Not one of them. Not ever."

Lately I have those days more frequently than I'd like to admit... and I never have an answer to that voice. I tell myself that of course some will be accepting or at least not care, that with time acceptance will grow, I even tell myself that it doesn't matter what others may think or accept as long as I can finally move forward.

The voice is not swayed. "Never," it says, without a doubt in the world, "Not one of them. Not ever."

It calls me a fake and a fraud... self-deluded and far worse. It mocks me for thinking that I could ever feel right or be happy in this world.

But worst of all, that voice makes me feel alone. It makes me doubt all those friends who have supported and accepted me and it cuts me off from the world. It tries to revive those feelings of isolation and self-loathing that lived with me in the closet for so many years. 

And as I say, I have no answer for that voice, no way to refute it or silence it once and for all.

Except... if I listen closely enough, there is another voice. This voice is even smaller, even stiller. It is often weary. This voice cannot silence the first voice, nor does she speak with absolute certainty.

But she is absolutely determined. "You will go on," she says, "because you must. You will make it... because I will not let you down, your friends will not let you down, and you yourself will not let you down. It may not be easy, nor pretty, and it may be awkward... but you will make it. You must remember this."  

And I know that this voice is right. And that is enough.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Letter of Safe Passage


I now have in my purse a "letter of safe passage" from my healthcare provider. That phrase evokes in my mind those "letters of transit" that Viktor Laslo and Ilsa Lund so desparately needed in Casablanca - absolute guarantees that they could get where they wanted to go which "cannot be rescinded". Or maybe something that the great Khan gave to Marco Polo so that he could travel to new and mysterious destinations. Jeez, why didn't I get one of those sooner?

Unfortunately my letter of safe passage isn't quite so glamorous. In its several somewhat stilted and awkward paragraphs it does its best to explain why the bearer might have one name and gender on their official ID and yet be going by another name and presenting as the other gender. It gives a rough physical description to reassure the confused and it claims that (contrary to what the reader presumably will expect) I am a sane and "highly functioning and emotionally stable" adult. It further asserts that I have the "right" to be called by a feminine name and pronouns, to not be beaten up, and to use the appropriate bathroom. Wow. I think I'd rather have a guaranteed seat on that evening plane to Lisbon.

I have to admit I'm happy to have this letter - it represents a major step forward and gives me at least some claim to official status as I start to venture out into the world. On the other hand, it's really just a permission slip, a hall pass from the teacher, a note from my parents. A permission slip explicitly giving me permission to go about my business without hassle, and to do things that most adults would never even think of asking permission for.


One of the most striking thing about my current process is that if one is trans, particularly a trans female, and trying to do something about it, one needs permission for everything. From everyone. Almost any time I meet someone else who is trans and they find out I'm married, their first question will be, "And your wife lets you do this? Wow, that's great!" I used to internally bristle at that - thinking, "look, buddy, she's not letting me, I'm able to decide." But of course the more I thought about it, the more I realized that she is letting me, that without her permission (and support) I wouldn't be where I am now. I never before felt that anyone else had such veto power over who I am... and she's not the only one... 

The process of even thinking about transition is a maze of permissions. First you need to see a therapist and, in effect, get permission to explore transition. Assuming that you get that permssion (and I have known some who have had problems with that part) the next step is to see a physician for the physical side of things. In my case, I go to a very enlightened informed consent clinic, but even there you need to convince the doctor to write the prescription, in effect getting his permission, to start hormones. And yes, I know that there are very sound medical reasons for that, but the person granting the permission has an enormous amount of power over you, should they decide to use it. And surgery takes even more permissions, from multiple people, who may or may not have the same standards. And it's not just the physician - I talked to one voice therapist who would not offer therapy unless I "dressed" for it in a way that she approved as sufficiently feminine. Beyond that, one needs the permission from one's family, one's friends, and one's employer.

If any of those withhold permission, we are faced with a dilemma - either one's progress comes to a halt or pay the price for ignoring that lack of permission. In some cases, that price can be prohibitively high, and that leads to the desparation behind so many suicides, so many ill starred attempts at DIY treatment, and so much agony in general.

I know that I personally don't have a lot do complain about. I've been extremely lucky so far - most of my permission givers have been reasonable and their permission has been granted without hesitation. But the fact that they've said yes doesn't mean that I don't need to ask, and at every step of the way. As do all of us.

Honesty and Courage

Just for the record, I'm not particularly honest or brave. For some reason, several people have responded to my giving them the news that I'm trans with praise of my courage and honesty. While it's sweet of them, I don't think it's really true.

To my mind, courage would mean overcoming one's fear to do something for a lofty goal. That's not me - I'm no more courageous than someone jumping off a sinking ship. Sure the water's cold and I might drown, but if I don't, I'm sure to go down. 

Likewise, finally telling the truth after over 50 years of concealing it is hardly a praiseworthy example of honesty. Here again, I'm no more honest than a child who's stolen some candy and ifinally can no longer live with the secret and confesses. Yes, it was hard to finally start telling the truth, yes, it seemed impossible to do so earlier, but others have done so earlier and with more grace. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Ancient History - a bit about how I came to this point

In case anyone cares, which is admittedly a pretty slim chance, this post is a quick sketch of how I came to realize (after so many years) that I was a transsexual woman.

This has turned out to be a very hard post to write. That's partly because I'm not that proud of the process, the mistaken beliefs, the stubborn denial - it's sort of like the history of a lost battle, or perhaps of a scientist's dogged pursuit of one wrong theory after another. It's also partly because it's so hard to put it into a few paragraphs in any meaningful way, and in some ways it's hard to be sure that what I remember is the truth. Be that as it may, I believe everyone needs a story make sense of things and this is mine.

So Why Didn't I Know Sooner?

In retrospect I can see that there were signs of gender incongruence as far back as I can remember. As a very small child I tended to be more interested in girl things and what the women in the family were doing. I know I got a firetruck for Christmas when I was very small, and it was darned cool, but what I remember more was wanting a girl doll to keep the lonely boy doll company in the toy box. (To everyone's credit I got and was allowed to keep that girl doll.) I also was never really that interested in the rough and wild stuff that my boy cousins or the boys in school loved. More often than not I was the scaredy-cat and the cry-baby. And as that was pointed out to me by family and friends I began to learn society's expectations.

I adapted to those expectations, but I was never all that good at being a boy - at best, I did it well enough to get by. As I got older I did the things that males in my family did - I learned how to shoot, hike, hunt and fish. I even learned to fly, which while it wasn't really that masculine, counted as such. Those things were enjoyable enough, but interestingly, once I was away from the influence of family and on my own, I stopped doing all of them. On the other hand I never got into sports nor most of the testosterone laced posturing that adolescent boys enjoy.

In any case, I really wasn't clearly aware of my gender issues until about the age of 10. From that point on the subject was close to an obsession. I would fantasize about being a girl, think about the clothes, dream about every aspect of being a girl, every single day. In all of the fantasies and daydreams becoming a girl or being transformed into a girl was always the most compelling theme. 

But of course, I wasn't a girl, and boys didn't just become girls. That's just the way it was, and I accepted that. In part I accepted my lot because almost immediately with the realization of my gender identity came the realization that everyone around me, literally everyone - family, friends, teachers, the community in general - would consider it sick and wrong. Back in those days, the late 60's, in spite of free love and the counter culture in some places (or maybe because of it) there was no tolerance for such things in a tiny central Nebraska farm town. The teachers and other adults I loved and admired were quite open with pretty harsh homophobia, leaving me to just speculate how they would deal with something as freakish as a transsexual.

Not Qualified to be Transsexual?

To make matters worse, what I did learn about transsexuals lead me to belive that unfortunately I didn't qualify - the emerging trans narrative back then was that transsexuals were women trapped in male bodies, so desperate that they openly acted femimine from the age of 4 or 5 despite the pressures of society, and/or considered suicide, self mutilation or worse. And the best they could expect was to get the rare and expensive operation and go stealth, leaving their old identities behind and entering a weird sort of trans witness protection program. 

That was't me, much as I wished it was. I just wasn't "qualified" to be transsexual - I didn't have the courage to be openly feminine in the face of society, my body felt wrong but not alien, I never seriously considered suicide, I would never have the money for the operation, amd I could never leave behind my entire life. Since I couldn't be transsexual I figured I must be something else, and there didn't seem to be many choices. I thought maybe I was a cross dresser - ridiculous, slightly perverted, but mostly harmless (such was the best spin I could put on that, at the time). I knew that wearing girl's things made me feel good, so while it didn't feel quite right, that seemed like the only option I had. 

And if boys couldn't become girls, I could at least think about it, and I could dress like a girl sometimes. As I grew older I assumed this was some sort of fetish, but in fact it wasn't the objects themselves that I cared for, so much as the seeing myself appear feminine. It was heartbreaking to look it the mirror an know it wasn't true, that it was a temporary illusion, but it was also all I had.

And so it continued for years. I would dress when I could, increasingly enjoying the feeling of "being" a girl. And the rest of the time I would think about being a girl. I knew it wasn't right, but that's the way it was. I continued to try to make sense of it, to figure out what I was and why I was, but with little success. I didn't feel like a crossdresser, but by then I had convinced myself that I couldn't be a transsexual. I truly felt like I was stuck in the middle, lost in (literally) no man's land. 

Alternate Realities

The rise of the web actually helped me (and many of us) enormously. Before that I could occasionally find books in libraries (which had to be quickly scanned there, since I wasn't bold enough to even check them out) but once the web became available I could find much more, including the personal narratives of people at least vaguely like me. I could even chat with others, and in and amongst some truly creepy encounters were some gems of insight and friendship. But more important I started to realize that there were others, many more than I'd imagined, like me, and that our stories were both similar and widely divergent. There were many ways to be transsexual and many theories (almost all by non-transsexuals at first) of how and why that might happen. There were even other "crossdressers" who had finally figured out that they had been transsexual all along. 

So getting more contact with others opened the way for me to reconsider who I was. That was not a quick or an easy process - I had gotten used to my life as it was, I had even told myself that I could be happy continuing that way forever. And yet... the more I considered the possiblities, the more I wondered.

And when I finally decided to face myself, I it was clear which I had to choose. In fact, I think it always had been clear, but I was finally ready to accept it. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I Thought I Knew What Coming Out Meant

I thought I knew what coming out meant. It meant finally being honest, it meant a sense of relief, and it meant actually moving another key step forward on this long journey. When I started telling people several weeks ago that I was trans, I really thought that's all there was to it. I also expected that coming out would mean concerned questions, awkward hesitation, some polite toleration, and probably also some skepticism, even some push-back.

So I really wasn't ready for what I've experienced, particularly this past week as I've told several friends. There was some concern, a little hesitation, yes, but very little, and it was far outweighed by other things. There was also unhesitating acceptance, praise for embracing the truth, and unstinting support. And more surprisingly there was joy. Imagine that! My friends saw me for who I really am, and there was joy. 

I wasn't ready for joy. I'd steeled myself for many things, but I wasn't ready for joy, and it affected more deeply than I could have imagined. It not only made me happy, it made me feel strong, even confident... and those two are rare and precious commodities for anyone, at any time.

So finally it comes down to this - my coming out to you and your acceptance has been a gift beyond measure. It's given me a feeling of finally being real and welcome in the world. I will cling to that acceptance and joy as a talisman when (as it must) acceptance is not so forthcoming from others. For this I thank you.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Coming Out Post...

Coming Out...

This is for family, friends, and various acquaintances. I've directed you here, probably from a social networking post, so that you can get the full story. I didn't send you a personal note because frankly I don't have the energy to keep picking out the lucky winners and telling them individually, and I'm also somewhat embarassed by the thought of clogging the inboxes of people who may not really care with a somewhat long story. So if you don't care, just skim and move on - tl;dr, as it were. This post is the starting point and probably all many of you will need to see. However, if you want to see even more, feel free to browse this entire blog - will take you to the top.

[This post was originally written in June, 2012, but has also been edited as of 08-22-2012, 09-16-2012, and 10-21-20102 to reflect changes in my timetable moving forward.]

On the other hand, read on if you wish and if you do want to get in touch that would be great - just shoot me an email at my regular email address or comment on the post that sent you here. Messages of support are quite welcome, actually, and I'm open to concerned questions as well. If I hear nothing, I'll assume that this information leaves you at a loss for words or completely without interest and that's okay - I'll try not to bother you again.

I'm also aware that this isn't the world's most secure channel, but I'd ask you to keep this more or less confidential (by that I mean off the Internet and my former employer, colleagues and students) until the end of October, to let me work through the remaining people that I'll want to tell myself. I am not out to most people at work yet - that will only be done right before full transition, which is aimed for the last week in October. [edit: I have started the process of coming out to senior management at work, and they promise to be supportive. However my coworkers do not yet know.] [later edit: I am working with our CEO, the HR department, and an outside consultant in preparation for transition, which I think will go as well as it can...]

[Edit: There is no longer any need for confidentiality. I do thank all of you who did respect my earlier request, but from now on it's no secret.]

This is me. Really.

Since I sent you here, let me first put your mind at rest. No real names are used here because I'm not ready to be out in a global Internet-searchable way, but this isn't a joke, and I'm really me - the same mid-50's, Linux using, former Latin teacher, Pythonista you've always known. Or at least partially known. Except for one detail...

I'm a transsexual woman.

I'm slowly getting used to saying that. Slowly because "transsexual" sounds like such a clinical term, unreal and abstract, nothing at all like what I've felt for all these years, and also a bit because I had convinced myself long ago that no matter how much I wanted it, I'd never "earn" the chance to call myself a woman. Paradoxically I suppose I'd also have to admit that I've internalized society's implicit misogyny all too well, and I've had to deal with that as well. But while "transsexual" is clinical and abstract and maybe I don't deserve to call myself a "woman" in the eyes of some (and perhaps being a woman is a loss of status in the eyes of others), the fact remains that's what I am. A transsexual woman.

I fought it for years. I grew to resent the amount of time I "wasted" thinking about gender and being a woman, time I could have spent more productively. I decided that anything more than the most furtive and grudging accomodations to my nature would be selfish and wrong. I got to the point where I told myself that if I could just hold on without giving in to it until I died, it would all be okay. Except I wasn't holding on... And it wasn't okay.

Fortunately I finally got to point where I didn't want to just hold on until I died - I wanted to be me, to enjoy people and things and live authentically. But before I got to that point, the strain of living a lie had given me high blood pressure, put me in the habit of drinking more than I should, and stunted my personal relationships, since I felt I could never reveal my true self - I was always watching myself, guarding myself and thinking "if they only knew."

(If you want to read an account that conveys something of my experience - except for the being a punk rocker, the drug addictions, and various other cool stuff - look at the story of Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace in Rolling Stone. The details are wildly different of course, but her emotions and their progression are very similar to my own.)

So a few years ago I told my wife, who has responded with more love, understanding, and support than I deserve, and I set out on this road. Next I told a very dear friend from my high school days and her love and support helped me move forward. The initial progress was slow - so much had to be done, old habits torn down, new possibilities considered, etc. I had to find a different job, a different city, and so on - not to hide the truth, mind you, but in order to find a place where transition might be tolerated and with an income that might support it, neither of which were possible where I was.

I also had to be sure I was what I thought I was. In February I started seeing a therapist to find a final bit of clarity. She helped me find it, god love her - as she said, there was no confusion in me as to who I am, just doubt as to what to do about it. She added, "you don't need therapy because you're trans, you need therapy to help you deal with others dealing with it." ;) 

Over the past months that doubt as to what to do has been decreasing. While I don't have every detail worked out yet, I know that I need to move forward, and "forward" means doing what I can to live authentically, and to acknowledge and embrace who I am. For way too long that was simply not an option.

I've been on hormone replacement therapy since April. The first effect has been lowering my blood pressure significantly (I think of it as recovering from a lifetime of testosterone poisoning. ;) ). Slowly other physical changes are also beginning. More importantly, internally things are starting to feel so much more right, in many ways and as I venture out in female mode more, that feels right, too. If the success of the treatment confirms the diagnosis, then I'm pretty sure we've got a winner.

OTOH, while changes are in the air, there is much that I have no intention of changing - my love of both writing and teaching clean elegant code (and Python), my delight in solving problems, my joy in dogs, my appreciation of smart remarks, the open source software community and a good beer [edit: strangely, the hormones have changed my tastes so that I'm much pickier about beers...] or single malt scotch, to name a few... the main difference will be that going forward, I'll be able to enjoy those things in cuter shoes. ;)

The whole process of transition is usually measured in years, so it will be an ongoing process. Right now I'm planning to start my transition this fall when my name change becomes official, but in any case I do hope that the next time we run into each other the difference will at least be noticeable (and for the better ;) ).  

As transition is getting nearer, I'm starting to tell people, people I like or have felt close to, people who, if they learn about it in some bland after the fact announcement, might legitimately wonder, "now, why the hell didn't I hear about this sooner?"

Again, I'd ask you to keep this kind of quiet, mostly just off of the Interwebz so that I can work through the remaining people that I'll want to tell myself as I go forward.

Most of my contacts in the tech and Python communities already know, since it's become too confusing to even try to keep track of who knows vs. who doesn't know. I want to thank you all for your support and understanding. It has been greatly appreciated and has helped me through a tough time.

And finally, I realize all too well that this message will inevitably change our relationship. To what degree and in what direction, is up to you. But at least now I'll no longer have to think "if they only knew..."

Love and warmest regards,


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Be-All - This was the first time I really felt "it"

This past weekend I spent two days at the Be-All, a 30 year old Chicago gathering of T-folk. It was a hugely worthwhile time for me in a number of ways.

First of all, the presentations were very informative. I went to ones that focussed on gender re-assigment ("the" surgery that non-trans folk always think of first when talking about MtF transitions), facial feminization (the surgery that trans folk often think of first) and one on the process of transitioning at work. The latter was enormously helpful, giving not just a gameplan but people to contact (and have our HR contact) for more education and support. I talked to several knowledgable folk about it and the unanimous consensus was that I'm in a pretty good place to transition, paritculary if I can manage to point some HR folks the right way at the beginning.

The GRS and FFS talks were useful in that I got to hear different surgeons explain their philosophies and approaches, which has given me a much better understanding of the process and what's involved. It won't be easy, but knowing the lay of the land makes me understand that it is doable. I also had facial feminization consults with two different surgeons, since they were free. For those who aren't familiar, FFS is plastic surgery that adjusts bone, skin, etc to make the proportions and shape of the face more feminine. While I don't have an extremely masculine face, it's not very feminine either, and several things could be done to help that. A plus for someone my age is that the process would include several things to make me look younger, at least 10 years younger, according to both doctors.Oh yeah, and let's fix that slightly deviated septum while we're at it.

A parenthetic note - all of the surgeons I talked to were extremely personable and charming guys in their own different ways, more so than I would expect... However, each and every one of them was pretty clear that they were the only one who knew anatomy and all the others were amateur hacks. That must say something about their business, but I'm not quite sure what.

In my case, even though FFS is insanely expensive, I'm seriously considering it, providing I feel comfortable with the doctor. I know it's impossible to make any choice in this area without implicitly making a political statement - about the perception of beauty, the position of women, the evils of the medical system, "good trans", "bad trans", etc. and all of the various ways they interact, and I have to admit that for a while I was pretty sure I'd try to avoid that surgery as much as possible. However I've slowly been changing my mind as I think and learn more about it, and I have to admit that I've been increasingly attracted to the idea of looking younger, and there are some things that I'd just love to change. So having a couple of surgeons size me up and give me some recommendations and estimates (for no charge) was great.

But perhaps the most important thing wasn't exactly connected to the conference itself, even though I'm sure the environment made it possible. I've been on full HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for just under 6 weeks. At first I wasn't really noticing any mental (or even much physical) effect. My blood pressure did drop right down to normal, but that's more the function of the spironolactone I take to block testosterone than is of the estrogen. From the estrogen I'd been expecting more - both physically and mentally. The physical development has started (let's just say I need a little support when I run now), and last week I noticed that I was working harder to run and bike slower. Both would be expected effects of estrogen.

However on the mental side, I was not seeing much of the expected good feelings others had spoken of, beyond flashes of feeling at peace and maybe a slowly building feeling of mellowness. Until this weekend, that is. This weekend the feeling of well-being, of satisfaction, of being "right" really hit me. Every time I looked in the mirror, I'd smile! I could see that I hadn't really changed that much, but still it just looked right!

Looking in the mirror... and smiling...

Looking in the mirror... and smiling...

I was also more relaxed and willing to enjoy the social side of the event. After dinner on Friday night a local blues band was playing and for the first time in my life I felt the urge to dance! Of course, I've danced before in my life, but mainly because of the circumstances of the situation, who I was with, etc. And I've always loved slow dancing with my sweetie, but in all of those cases it wasn't the dancing itself that was the point - never felt like fun just to dance. This time I just danced and I meant it!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Blog Reboot

I originally started this blog a few years ago, as I was just starting to come out (mainly to myself and to my spouse). Then in the press of too much other business I let it go fallow. Now I'm thinking I should revive it for various reasons - I want some way to record the changes in my thinking and feelings as I start to move towards transition, and more importantly I want a platform to explain and articulate things for others, so that I don't find myself answering the same questions over and over again.

This is a complete reboot, a reset to factory setting, as it were. I've removed and archived the old posts - they are really only of interest to me, and have little to do with what I'm thinking, feeling and experiencing these days.

So that's the idea behind what I post here. My plan is to do several posts as they come to me, articulating what's going on, why I'm acting the way I am, and how I got here. Since this will be public, I've decided that I'll mention no one by name. If you know me, you should be able to figure out who I'm talking about, but in general, no one else will be "outed". That may lead to some odd nicknames or initials, but I'll do the best I can.

So if I've directed you here, this is for you. You probably know me well enough to understand that I'm not one to enjoy endlessly rehashing my personal life, but I do want to have a way to tell you as much of my story as you care to read.