Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Flourishing through the Dark Patches

Dark Patches

My last post was written some time ago, on the day of my father's death. Since then there have been some bad times. I had to de-transition for his funeral. At least I de-transitioned as much as I was able - people had a hard time recognizing me, and to be honest I think Julie Andrews did a better job of passing as a man in Victor/Victoria. There was much about that experience that was profoundly painful - how I was (or wasn't) received by most of my family, the sheer awfulness of stepping back into a role that had tormented me for so long, the awful finality of saying good-bye and knowing that neither parent would ever know me or accept me for who I really am. 

Unsurprisingly (and yet I was surprised) those feelings have had their echoes since. I have had more than one day filled with dark despair - contemplating a life as a freak, doubting every friend and connection, even hating the world for putting me in this position, then, after so many years of hopelessness, showing me a better life, only to have that better life turn out to be a cruel joke.

I was bitchy and paranoid. Innocent questions became personal attacks, people just going about their business became part of an elaborate conspiracy to exclude me, and just thinking about some people's behavior, particularly at Dad's funeral, caused me to swear bitterly under my breath as tears welled in my eyes.

In short, there were dark patches. And those dark patches were very, very dark indeed. It had been a year since I had started on hormones and had begun the transition process and I was just now facing the outcome. In fact, I now have emotional responses that I never had before, and when they hit me, I didn't have a clue. I'm now convinced that testosterone helped me be detached from emotions over the years (for what it's worth, I gather that the experiences of trans men confirm this). A friend likens the difference in emotional response on testosterone and estrogen to the 8 crayon box vs. that wonderful 64 crayon box, and I think she has a good point. But I'd say that it's also the difference between chalk drawings on a sidewalk and bold markers on white paper - not only are there more possibilities, they're stronger and more vibrant.

In any case, by now the inhibiting effects of testosterone are pretty much gone and after a lifetime of being able to detach from emotions, of relying on that ability to help handle unpleasant situations, I am now much more exposed, vulnerable to emotions than ever before. And I'm still learning how to deal with that. For the child whose favorite Star Trek character was Spock, not Kirk, this is unfamiliar territory indeed. And it's frightening, particularly at first. 

It's frightening not to be able to lock down all those emotions, but it's liberating as well. I know I will never be as unflappable as my male self used to be, but that's okay - I'll also not be as detached and numb.

Those dark spots were very real and I now understand that there will be more of them in times to come. However, they aren't the real point of this post. This post is actually a positive one, as the title implies. The fact is that those dark spots were surrounded by light, light I was sometimes almost reluctant to admit.


A few weeks after my dad's death I got to give a couple of talks at Flourish!, an Open Source Software conference. This was the first time I'd really spoken at a public conference since my transition, and in fact, one of the talks, requested by the organizers, was on my experiences transitioning and my perspectives on the FOSS world as a male and as a female. It was well attended and well received with questions taking us well past the allotted time. People who know me know that I love to speak to an engaged audience and having that experience while speaking on this topic was particularly validating. 

I also navigated all of the hassles of closing on the house, renting a truck, setting up utilities, and so on, all without raising an eyebrow along the way. One of my strengths has always been making deals happen and I still have that. Clearly not bad for someone who was regarding herself as a freak.

About a month after Flourish!, I attended a fundraising luncheon for a women's organization, along with some women from work. It was a great feeling to be attending an event with so many women, and to be a part of it, rather than an outsider. But perhaps the most telling moment was when a woman who didn't work at our company joined our table. She introduced herself as "the odd one at the table". I thought, yet again, "if you only knew." But on the ride back afterwards one of the women I work with recalled the moment and said ruefully, "I think we were all odd ones at that table!" Amen. 

It was a good reminder that everyone has something they consider odd about themselves. We all feel that we don't fit in with the cool kids for some reason, and amazingly being trans is just one reason out of many. In fact, being trans doesn't even necessarily trump anyone else's reasons for feeling awkward, in spite of what I was telling myself during those dark patches.

I also became involved with the creation of an LGBT affinity/resource group within our parent company. When I was getting ready to transition, I desperately longed for such a group, to provide information, advice, and just moral support. Unfortunately, it didn't exist. As I lay awake nights before my transition it was a dream to help form such a group, and give those in the future that support I'd wanted. And now it's happening, and I'm there, a part of of it. 

In the these past two months I've also continued to reconnect with people I'd never expected to connect with again. Former students and colleagues have sent notes and reached out, and there have even been ever so tentative connections with the old school. I told myself that those connections were gone forever and that it was okay. I'd even convinced myself it was just as well, but for all that those reconnections made me feel good. No one likes losing a part of their past, and I've been getting bits of mine back. 

There have even been a few (very few) family members, ones that I'd lost touch with for ages, who've embraced me with love and respect. I knew that when I transitioned I'd very likely lose many, if not all, of my family. Again, I'd thought I'd come to terms with that - if that was the price I had to pay for finally being myself, I was willing to pay it. But again no one really wants to lose that part of their lives and getting each one of them back has been precious. 

The dark patches also helped show me some beautiful ongoing relationships. The night after my father died some friends at PyCon spontaneously appeared and just hung out with me, understanding that the one thing I needed was not to be left alone. The Python and PyCon communities are very special to me, and it was so important to have them around me. Then, the night after the funeral that pained me so much old friends took me in and held me safe in their friendship like a mother cradling a child. To have friends like that in a time of need is a great gift, one that outweighs much evil.

Shortly after transition, I called myself the the luckiest girl in the world. During these past dark patches it was hard to remember that, but in fact the light far outshone the darkness. I am indeed incredibly lucky.