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!