Passing Part 3 – The Finale

Passing Part 3 – The Finale   I know you must be tired of me droning on about this by now, but I swear, this is almost the last I’ll talk about passing.  It really should be titled something other than passing, because what I hope I’m stressing is the need to present yourself in a way that reflects the very best in you.  So, the last thing I will discuss is getting a second (or third, fourth or fifth) opinion on how you look.  Since we can’t see ourselves, we will need to rely on others to tell us what we are doing right, what can use some help and, if needed, what to avoid at all costs.

Our trans* friends   My first lessons on dressing, presenting and mannerisms was from my oldest and bestest trans* friend, Elayne.  She has been doing this for many, many years and studies all aspects of feminine behavior.  She taught me how to walk, how to point my feet and plant my heels.  We have over the years talked about undergarments, slips, bras, garters, stockings, pantyhose, thigh-highs, shoes and dozens of other topics.  She takes great care and is always fashionable and appropriate for any situation.  She inspires me everyday.  No matter how much you read or how many YouTube videos you watch, nothing beats the careful eye of an experienced friend.  Thank you, Elayne, for everything.

Unlikely sources   I know you will be shocked to read this, but I talk a lot and I talk to everyone. I’m not afraid to ask questions and seek advice.  I’m amazed at how many people will give me pearls of wisdom, just for the asking.  It happened to me one afternoon at the electrologist.  I asked my favorite beard-zapper about hemming a dress.  I was stumped on how I was going to pin it by myself and, girl, did I get advice.  We went from a hem markers, to wearing the shoes I’d wear with the dress while measuring, to hem heights for flats, low heels and stilettos.  What started out as a “straight pin vs. safety pin” question turned into a detailed discussion on getting the proper length of a skirt.

Make up advice   I’ve had good luck with the makeup folks at the mall.  This can be your local mall if you are comfortable there or go out of town.  Sit in the chair, get out your credit card and you will get a lesson in makeup and then walk away with a bag full of all you need.  The other good experience I’ve had is from my local Mary Kay lady or any number of other home-makeup companies.  Give them a call, explain what and why you’d like to see them and 99 times out of 100, you will get a friendly and knowledgeable person who will come to your home.  This is great because you can take all the time you want, try out a number of things, get some good advice and have all the products you need in hand when the makeup lady leaves.

Your cisgender BFFs   I’m blessed with great friends. You know the kind. The ones who love you enough to tell you what a huge mistake you are making wearing coral lipstick and too much rouge.  Have a dress up day with you BFFs.  Break out the wine and snacks, pull all your clothes out of the closet and try them on for your friends.  They will give you thumbs up or thumbs down.  Some may be brutally honest while others are tactful.  Ask their opinions.  If they love you, they’ll tell you the truth.  If you are like me and a petite plus size and you pull a white leather mini skirt out of the closet, you’ll hear about it.  Just be happy you still have the receipt for the white, patent-leather go-go boots.

Ask and it shall be given   I’m the type of person who will ask, “How do I look?”  My wife would be gentle and tell me, “You might want to try . . . “  I’ve got other friends who’ll blurt out, “You are NOT going out in that!”  The first tip I received from my daughter was, “Dad, you need Spanx.”  Harsh, but I love her.  Let your family and friends see you dressed, watch you walk, stand and gesture. These will be the best lessons you’ll ever receive.  Plus, you will become stronger together and they will see that, yes, this is who you really are.

Passing Part 2

Passing Part 2   When I first started going out, I was absolutely sure everyone was going to stare at me, point and make rude comments.  Boy was I wrong!  What I’ve noticed more than anything is nobody cared, very few notice anything and most people are in their own worlds, dealing with their own stuff, so much so, I wasn’t even on the radar.

My first big outing   My first big trip out was with my Becky to Orlando and IKEA on a Saturday.  Talk about jumping into the deep end of the pool.  There were easily fifteen hundred people roaming the aisles, spending money, looking at everything.  You could barely turn around without bumping into another shopper.  Becky  was very nervous as this was her first time out with me also.  She was using a wheel chair by then and, at first, she looked at everyone for signs I was getting made.  It took us a couple of hours to roll through the second floor of the building and ended up at the restaurant.  (You can’t go there without getting the Swedish meatballs and a fabulous desert.)  We were having lunch and she said to me, “I don’t think anyone noticed.”  We soon agreed the fifteen hundred or so people in the store that day were interested in only what they were doing and didn’t notice and, more importantly, didn’t care about me.  We spent another couple of hours there after lunch and only one time did I know I had been noticed.  We were waiting in line to use the ladies restroom, chatting with the other ladies in the queue, when I saw a young woman give me the eye, whisper to her husband and disappeared around the corner.  If there were others, I didn’t notice, no one made a scene and we had a great time.  The rest of the weekend included dinner at a nice restaurant, continental breakfast at the hotel with the other lodgers, a stop at McD’s for lunch and a trip to the outlet mall.  We had a marvelous time and Becky was much relieved.

Why did it go so well?   On our trip home we debriefed.  First of all, I don’t stand out.  I’m 5’3” tall.  I’ve got a few too many pounds, I was dressed in a nice, but simple blouse, jeans and sneakers.  That is to say, the same way 90% of everyone else was dressed.  I didn’t go with the intention of totally blending in.  I dressed comfortably for serious retail therapy in Orlando, nothing more and nothing less.

Dress appropriately for your age   I think this is the best tip I ever received as I began my transition.  Let’s face facts.  It’s 2014 and I’m 64 years old.  Would I like to look as good as Janet Mock?  Hell yes!  Do I like how I look and who I am?  Absolutely.  Nothing is going to change the fact I am a middle-aged woman and I’ve earned every wrinkle, crinkle and laugh lines.  This is the biggest reason I dress age and occasion appropriate.  I don’t wear my short skirt, stilettos, garter and stockings when I go to the grocery store.  Believe me!  No one wants to see that.  I’m owning who and how old I am.

Accessories are your friend   Classic, well-made clothing are an investment.  With the right accessories, you can dress up or dress down a piece and always look nice and fit into any situation or place.  Play with your look, have fun and dress your best.

I’m proud of who I am   I take pride in who I am and who I am becoming.  Part of that pride is in how I look, the work I do and serving and appreciating the trans* people I come in contact with daily.  It’s one of my ways of respecting our community and myself.

Passing Part 1

Passing Part 1   Hardly a day goes by where I don’t read or hear about passing.  If you don’t know what Passing is, it’s when the gender you are presenting as, is assumed by other people to be your birth gender.   A whole lot of trans* people spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about, worrying about and trying to pass.  If you don’t pass, then you get made.  A lot of people fall into the  ‘passing is good, getting made is bad’ camp.  Not me.  I’m in the ‘I don’t think about passing, I just want to look fabulous (or at least good)’ group.

Made   Have I been made?  Sure I have.  Was it terrible?  Not to me.  Can it be terrible?  It can be deadly!  The reality is everyday trans* people are verbally and or physically assaulted for just being trans*.  Trans* people are killed just because they are trying to live their lives as their true selves.

WE MUST BE CAREFUL AND TAKE PRECAUTIONS NOT TO GET INTO A DANGEROUS OR DEADLY SITUATION, IF WE CAN HELP  IT.   THINK SAFE.  LIVE SAFE.  BE SAFE.

This isn’t advice just for trans* people, but for everyone.  I gave this same speech to my daughter and son.  My wife, Becky, said this even when I was just going to the grocery store and my friends, trans* and cisgender, tell me the same thing ALL THE TIME.  It can be a scary and dangerous world.  We must all be vigilant.

Philosopher Alert!   As one of the world’s great philosophers, Bob Marley, said, “Don’t worry about a thing, every little thing is gonna be alright.”  That’s what I think about when I pull myself together in the morning.  I don’t worry about passing or getting made.  What I worry about is looking the very best I can.  This was drilled into me and my sisters from birth.  Our mother wanted us to look our best when we left the house.  I can hear her words and I can still feel her hand as she punctuated her statements, if you know what I mean.

I’m a girly girl   My personal preference leans toward the more feminine.  I love dresses, heels, makeup, lingerie, jewelry, purses, stockings, gloves, hats, you name it.  High heels, an LBD and pearls to take out the garbage – you mean you don’t!  Freshen my lipstick before mowing the lawn makes perfect sense to me.  This is the way I am.  If you are a little more sane than ‘Old, weird Cate down the street’, then good for you.

My point, and I really do have one   Whenever we step out of our homes, we become ambassadors for all trans* people.  I need to conduct myself as if the world is watching and not only judging me, but all of us.  I may be the only trans* person some people ever come in contact with.  When they think of trans* people, I may be their only flesh and blood point of reference.  I want them to have the most positive, enlightening experience possible.  I hope they stop me and want to talk.  I hope they ask respectful questions and genuinely listen to my answers.  I hope when we are done and we both walk away, they will say, “She’s really nice.”  I can’t ask for more.

Transmen, where are you?

Transmen, where are you? I don’t know any transmen. I am ashamed to admit it and I am working to correct that error. I’ve been at gatherings where transmen were present and I briefly spoke to them, but I have yet to get to know any and have meaningful conversations. I know I’m missing out on a whole segment of our community that is vital to who we are, what makes us wonderful and I know it’s my fault.

Why? I am working very hard to understand my journey and the struggles of all transgender people. I have chosen to advocate for those, like me, who waited until after they were fifty-seven years old to come out and begin our journey to our true selves. Because I am a transwoman and all of the people I know and hear from and associate with currently are transwomen, I have not had the opportunity to meet and get to know any transmen. To all transmen, young and mature, who will allow me, please let me get to know you.

Help me to understand I want to understand your challenges, your goals, your desires, your pain and your joys. Help me to understand what it is like to know you are a man in the wrong body and what courage and strength it requires to make the changes you desire. Help me to learn what common experiences we share and what challenges we both face and our common goals. We each have experiences, feelings, emotions, triumphs and tragedies we’ve endured by being who we were when we were growing up and who we are becoming now. Are they the same? Are they different? Let’s learn together.

Let me share my story with you Just as you have your experiences and your unique story, maybe you will let me share mine with you. As someone who waited until she was fifty-seven to come out, I may have a perspective much different than you. I’m sure we will find much in common as well as learning many new things from each other. I think our conversations will be extremely enlightening. Just think about the fact that you are leaving a life that I am so desperate to have. That alone can generate many hours of wonderful, heartfelt and interesting conversations.

I look forward to meeting you Soon, I hope, we will meet and get to know each other. I know you are someone I am going to really enjoy knowing.

It’s difficult to explain

It’s difficult to explain   I was having one of those discussions this weekend about ‘the gender thing’.  You know the ones, where you are trying to explain what is going on in your head and heart about your true self and your gender identity.  I have them with my children a lot and with close and dear friends who are struggling to understand just what the heck is going on.  It is so hard to put into words what can only be felt in your heart and soul.  It’s like being with someone who is seeing the ocean for the very first time.  They look out, see the waves and the horizon and the enormity of it and then realize they are only seeing the top, and the essence, what makes up all that exists, lies under the waves.  We are like that.  People look at us and see a former male or female and judge us from the outside and are unable to see the essence of who we are.  In their defense, it’s impossible to know fully.
There’s not a man side and a woman side   I get questions asked me that start with, “Now that you’re a woman . . . ?“  There’s a misconception because I identify and live as a woman, the male side of me has disappeared.  I’m sure transmen get the same questions, but changing ‘woman’ for ‘man’.  Hormones and surgery do not erase who you were, it corrects the body to align with who you are.  There isn’t a man side I’ve managed to eliminate and replace it with a woman side. It’s more complicated than that.
I am me   What I can tell you is, I am me. The way I felt as a kid and a teenager and then into adulthood isn’t much different than how I feel now.  What I was able to realize, understand and finally act upon was how my outer appearance and my inner feelings did not align.  When I finally began presenting as a woman, I didn’t feel feminine, I felt complete.  I could look in the mirror and see that the outer me matched the inner me.  For me it was that simple. For everyone else who is not trans*, you may never fully understand.
My gender test   There is a question I love to ask and I used it a lot to help me come to my understanding of who I am.  I would ask friends, male and female, “What does it feel like to be a woman or a man?”   I was much relieved to find they couldn’t answer the question any better than I can answer it.  Most of them know that the outside and the inside match and that was usually the best they could come up with. Try it out on your friends and acquaintances.
I am the sum of who I am   If there is only one thing I can hope to get across, it is this.  If I am a good person; if I am a good parent; if I am a loving partner or spouse; if I am honest, trustworthy, clever, funny, happy, sympathetic, sensitive, helpful, patient and oh so many other good traits (and maybe a few not-so-good ones I’m working to correct), then it is because of this.  I would not be me without living as both a man and a woman.  I can’t separate the two sides and say this is from the male side and this is from the female side.  The person I am is because of both sides that make up who I am, what I have experienced and who I am becoming.  So you see, I live my life as me, a woman who used to be identified as a man, but who and what I am is only one thing: ME.
It ain’t easy being green   To paraphrase Kermit the Frog, “It ain’t easy being us.” When you look at us, you see the man or woman we truly are.  We are blessed with an additional understanding of the human condition and because of that, we have so very much to give and share.  Get to know us, really know us, and you will see who we truly are.  Be prepared, you will find we aren’t that much different than anyone else.

How to start going out

How to start going out   Recently in an e-mail I received, I was asked how I started going out.  This brought back such strong memories, so I can really understand the question because I didn’t know where or how to begin.  There I was feeling trapped in my house, in my body and in my head, convinced terrible things were going to happen and I had real fear of leaving the safety of my home.  I don’t look back on it now and laugh because it was all too real and had me frozen.  I went out of town for a makeover and got some great advice from our friend, adviser and ally, Josette.  The advise was simple and safe and I used it.

Go out your door   At night is a good time to start.  I went out in my backyard first and then the front.  I admit I stayed in the shadows to begin with, but eventually stepped into the glow of the streetlight.  It seemed like such a small step, but at the time, it was monumental to me.

Take a drive   It wasn’t long before I got into my car and took a drive.  I was gone an hour and remember loving every minute and mile.  I pulled into a big gas station and filled my car, paying at the pump. It was the first time standing in a public place with other people around me.

McDonald’s drive thru   This was a big test for me.  I ordered and then pulled around to the payment window.  Here was someone I didn’t know a mere three feet away and we were eye-to-eye.  I had to talk to her, give money and get my change.  Then I moved forward and there was a young man who was very chatty.  Again it was eye contact and talking. I was both relieved and exhilarated at the same time.

Out-of-town shopping adventure    My big adventure came with an overnight stay in Orlando and a trip to IKEA on a Saturday.  There were hundreds, if not thousands, of people shopping on a typical weekend day. We shopped for hours, ate meatballs in the restaurant and even stood in line for the woman’s restroom.  I came to realize everyone there had their own agenda and I was just someone else to maneuver around with a cart and barely worth noticing.  I did get a couple of glances, but after an hour, I was having too much fun and didn’t care.

Going to the mailbox   I considered this my biggest test.  It was a Saturday and I went to the mailbox and got the mail.  The neighborhood was abuzz with activity.  The world didn’t stop and my neighbors of over twenty-three years didn’t notice or if they did, kept it to themselves.

This is what worked for me   I’m sure if you asked anyone else, they have five or ten steps that worked for them.  These are mine and I hope they help.

What a difference five years have made

What a difference five years have made   When I first came out to my wife five years ago, she immediately jumped on her laptop computer, typed in ‘transgender’ and was shocked at what she saw.  She was inundated with pornography.  The good, safe sites were outnumbered ten-to-one.  Her first thought was, “All my husband wants is sex!” because that was just about all she was seeing.  I struggled for a very long time, finally convincing her that being trans* was who I was and that it was not sexual.  I remember clearly asking her not to jump on the Internet because what she was going to see a lot of has nothing to do with me.
The Internet is our friend   Today I Googled ‘transgender’ and there were page after page of safe links, information, news stories, articles and trans* resource material.  I’m sure if I continued to look, I would eventually find questionable and/or offensive material, but after four pages of hits, I was happy at what I was finding.  When the Internet was young and we were all dialing in at 9,600 baud into AOL, it was a sparse place for finding information of any kind.  Today there is an explosion of material fit for your mother and your children.
There’s sad news out there   Along with a lot of excellent resources, I found a lot of news stories that detailed abuse, violence and death of members of our trans* family.  With more recognition and awareness the wrong done to us is also news.  Additionally are details of the challenges we face as far as discrimination in housing, employment, healthcare and social services.  The realities that we are ten time more likely to be victims of suicide and there is a high number of homeless trans* youth who have been kicked out of their homes for just being themselves.  We can’t expect to make strides in our recognition and acceptance without making the world aware of our struggles.

There is joy to share   Every few days there are reasons to celebrate and rejoice.  Just last week I came across a story in The Huffington Post, The Whittington Family: Ryland’s Story.  Please stop whatever you are doing and watch this amazing story here.
 
So much good to share   Where I was once terrified for anyone I cared about searching the Internet, now I am a contributor and an advocate.  I speak with members of our trans* community from far flung places and hear how the Internet is their primary link to our community and for information.  Where we were once isolated and alone, we are now connected.  Our community grows because we can reach out at any time, find safe and accurate information, find people with whom we can interact and get to know and also share our stories. 

What’s happening to me?

What’s happening to me?   I’ve been asked repeatedly questions I’m not used to hearing. “Are you okay?” “Why are you so quiet?” “Is everything all right?”  With each question, I give my standard answer.  “I feel good. Nothing is wrong. Nothing is bothering me.”   During the past week I’ve talked about this with my son, my therapist and a couple of friends.  One of my friends is a cisgender female and the other is my trans* friend Charla.  The conclusion is the hormones.  Things are changing.

Mental ups and downs   One of the things I’ve mentioned to you in earlier posts, I’ve experienced mood swings regarding my presentation.  If I was wearing guy stuff, I hated it and wanted to dress the way I should, en femme.  The pendulum would swing the other way and I was ready to purge and throw everything into the nearest dumpster.  This was the hardest part because it caused me the most distress and anguish.  I never knew when a trigger would hit and I’d be back on the roller coaster.  I’m so happy to tell you the crazy mood swings are gone.  I’ve leveled out and have been pleasantly content.

Testosterone poisoning   For a long time before I began this journey, I was a pretty driven person.  I worked hard, played hard and wanted to be the center of attention.  I wasn’t a very nice person at times and was self-centered.  The first thing that began changing this behavior was becoming a parent.  Talk about the world changing!  The second big change I see is as my testosterone level drops, so does a lot of my aggressiveness.  Where I was often consumed with getting ahead, I now feel contentment and satisfaction.  Accepting who I am and beginning to make the transition to living my own life and the calming affects of the hormones have made me something I hadn’t felt for a long time: happy.  Will this have the same affect on everyone?  I’m not sure, but everyone I know who is on HRT tells me the same thing.

Learning to live with the new me   As I grow and change and become the real me, those who are close to me; family, friends, associates, will need to get used to someone who not only looks significantly different, but is also mentally, emotionally and personally different.  Firstly, I am someone who really loves who I am.  I am someone who feels deeper and stronger emotions.  I’m becoming a gentler person.  I feel I have more love and understanding, compassion and caring to give to those I know and love today and those I will meet, know and love tomorrow.  I like who I am.  To quote RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else.” Give me an AMEN!

What do you do?

What do you do?   How many times have you been asked this question?  It seems to be the standard opener at most parties, conferences, gatherings, any where people gather.  The usual answer is to state your profession/job title and a little bit about yourself.  The other person then responds with their profession/job title and a tiny fraction about themselves.  Within a couple of minutes both people find out the other is employed and often a comparison of their social status is made against yours.  Over the past twenty years, I made a point of not giving my profession when asked, but usually reply, “I do so much, it’s hard to know where to start.”  This generally disarmed the other person and soon we begin learning a bit of the interesting and important facts of each others life.

What would you like me to know about you?   I think this is a far better question to ask.  This would immediately eliminate the ‘who’s higher up the ladder’ contest and get into the substance of who and what is important to us.  It gives the other person an opportunity to tell me what they really want me to know about them.  I think of it as a personal elevator speech.  If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘elevator speech, it’s a common term that means in two minutes, tell me what you want me to know, why I should buy your product, read your book or give you my attention.  Imagine you are trying to sell a product and you get on an elevator and there is your best prospect.  You now have the time it takes for the elevator to get to the prospects floor to tell they why they need your product.

What’s your elevator speech?  There’s the question.  What would you include in your two-minute window with someone?  What is so important or passionate or critical that you would want someone to hear.  Do you have multiple ‘elevator speeches’ based on where you are and to whom you are speaking?  I most definitely have multiple speeches.  I have one for when I’m trying to sell a book.  I have another if I’m at the Southern Comfort Conference.  I have a speech for almost any situation.  It’s my sales and writing background coming out.  I know, it’s a curse.

My most important elevator speech   During my transition, I have whittled my coming out speech to just a few minutes.  I’ve adopted the less is more strategy.  When I need to share this part of my life, I do it simply.  I want those to whom it matters or want more information to feel safe or comfortable enough to ask me questions.  To those who don’t want any or anymore information, I don’t beat them over the head.

What would you like me to know about you?   Prepare yourselves for when I have the extreme pleasure of meeting you in person, I will not ask you What do you do?  Instead, you tell me what you’d like me to know.  You’ve been warned.  Will I mention my gender identity?  Probably not.  It’s one part of me and not the whole.  Truth is, I think you are more interesting than me and I want to get to know you better.  I really do!

Talking to Your Spouse or Partner

So many times when I’m talking to or corresponding with our trans* sisters and brothers, I get asked about how to talk to a spouse or partner about gender dysphoria and the many feelings we all have.  I don’t want anyone to think I’m an expert on this, but I’ll share what my wife and I experienced as we worked through three years from the time I came out to when we were able to go out together.  This includes a lot of our conversations and how we approached it all.  It was a process and at times I felt like I was going backwards, but with love, patience, perseverance and commitment, we worked through it.

Don’t Babble   One of the things I heard about a year after our first conversation was the night I came out, I just babbled and talked way too much.  I know it was partly due to fear, partly due to nerves and partly because I thought I needed to get it all out.  Becky told me that after I started to talk, about a minute into it, she was so confused and surprised and shocked, she didn’t remember a word I said.  I talked about an hour, but she only remembers me saying, “I feel like I’m a woman and not a man.”  I’ve adopted the less is more approach as not to overwhelm those to whom I’m talking.

I need your help   I knew I could not get through this without my wife’s love and support.  I needed her help, so I asked for it.  “Becky, I need your help.”  That was the start of the conversation, one of many, but it was also where we began to come together.  I told her I was confused and scared and frightened and my emotions were running out of control and I needed her help.  That was the night she asked me, “What can I do for you?”  That was the night when we began the helping, healing and understanding.

Be Honest   We built a wonderful marriage, relationship and friendship by being honest with each other.  If she asked me a question, I answered it as truthfully as I could.  If asked a question that I didn’t have an answer or didn’t know, I told her that.  The hardest question for her and me was, “How far do you want to go?”  In the beginning, I wasn’t sure how far I wanted to go and that’s what I told her.  As I progressed and when I came to the realization that I couldn’t live the rest of my life as a man, I told her that too.  This is a difficult spot to be in, as we know.  I asked her if she could stay with me if I was a woman and in the beginning she told me she didn’t know. Hard to hear, but honest.

I Love You   I love my Becky.  It was something we told each other daily and often.  It is always said from the heart and with much thought.  Even during our most difficult moments, and there were many, we still loved each other and that love continued to grow.  Please understand, there were a lot of tears, cross words, raised voices and difficult times, but there was always love and we always were able to come together afterwards with hugs and kisses.

Will This Really Work?   I would like to think every couple will be able to work together, love together and live a long and happy life. I would like to think that, but I also know it will not happen for everyone. This worked for me and my Becky. It also took over three years of working at it to get to where we were able to go out together. I hope this helps and I pray you and your partner or spouse can continue together, loving, living and growing.