Shields I was recently listening to one of my favorite radio programs, The Focus Group, on XMSirius Radio. It’s a business show and the hosts were interviewing a guest who had recently come out as transgender. One of her comments about never being discovered was she always had her “shield” up. This reminded me of something my lady friend said to me a number of months ago. She told me prior to coming out to her, she never saw one indication of anything in my behavior that was feminine. She then asked, “How can you be a woman when I never saw it?” I told her all my life I had always been a pretty good actor.
Bullies I was that kid growing up who was different. I didn’t like sports and spent a lot of time alone. I was short and plump. This was a small Ohio town where farming and football were the two most important activities. I played music, was active in theater, hung out mostly with girls and was quirky. I started being called queer and fag and homo from junior high on. I was the target of the occasional shove or slap to the back of the head during class breaks. I was bullied and I hated high school and I hated my home town.
My shield I quickly learned I could be funny and the class clown and I would be mostly left alone. I still played music and hung out with the same people, but around school, I was the goofy, funny guy. The last two years of high school passed quickly. I worked and played music, had a girl friend and kept away from everyone. I excelled in writing and literature and theater. I was also a band kid, so between the band, rehearsals, working and performing, I became invisible. No more physical violence, very little verbal abuse, so I discovered my shield and plotted my escape from my home town.
More shields I ran off to the service, then moved away as soon as I could. I left all the pain behind and built a new life in a place I was unknown. I was still funny and occasionally goofy, but I also became good at working with customers, selling software and flirting a lot. Everything geared to fitting in and excelling and never being bullied again. My wife didn’t know, my friends and associates had no idea what was constantly going on in my head.
No peace I continued to keep my shields up until I was in my mid 50’s, but nothing I did gave me any peace. The more I hid and denied, the more confusion and unrest. Finally all snapped and I crumbled into depression. Only once I was at the bottom, did I drop all pretense and begin accepting and embracing my authentic self. Then I began to find peace and freedom.
Peace at last After eleven years out of which three were gruesome, my truth has been explained, and to a lesser degree understood, and accepted. I am living authentically and I have grown to really like who I am. Do I wish it hadn’t taken sixty years to get here? You bet! But I made it. The moral of the story is I finally embraced who I was. When I did that, life got very rewarding.
Transition I recently came across an article in The Huffington Post, online at www.huffingtonpost.com. It was by Stephanie Mott, Executive Director, Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project. Ms. Mott is a transexual woman, educator, writer, speaker, and transgender advocate. The premise of the article is she did not transition, go from male to female, she has always been female and began to authentically live as who she truthfully is and stripped away the facade of being a male. This has made me rethink how I use the word transition and my process of transitioning.
Please read the article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephanie-mott/-why-i-stopped-using-the-t-word-transition_b_7279304.html?utm_hp_ref=transgender
Dictionary definition of Transitioning Noun – movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, subject, concept, etc., to another; change: the transition from adolescent to adulthood.
During an on-line discussion with my friend, Pamela, she commented we transition from girlhood to womanhood. This added more for me to think about and I agree with her and Webster.
Stripping away the facade The concept of stripping away the facade of my gender assigned at birth to reveal my authentic self made so much sense to me. Upon reflection, I see how it applies to all of us who are gender non-conforming. As I came to understand my true self, I began the process of removing my outer layers and to expose the real me. It started with small, secret steps, then venturing out and finally with coming out and sharing my authentic self. Each step was not moving from one place to the other, it was stripping away the false and revealing the truth.
All of us I thought about my dearest friends and those wonderful souls I’ve met along the way. For my friends and those who identify as crossdressers, they strip away the facade and let their true selves appear. They may only have an afternoon or a weekend, but for that short period, they are living their truth. Gender queer, gender neutral, genderless, agender and non-gender people all have discarded what was not them and live as themselves.
Do we have to present to be real? No! If you are unsure of your true identify, and we’ve all been there, and are questioning, exploring, searching and discovering, you are stripping away your facade. Those of us who are unable or not ready to reveal their truth, by understanding and accepting and knowing who you honestly are, have thrown off the most difficult piece of the facade. Nothing is more difficult than seeing and accepting who we are and loving ourselves. That is the greatest step we can take.
Living authentically Living authentically, whether you are gender non-conforming or cisgender, it is so important to us all. Will I be transitioning? Sure I will. I’m in the process of transitioning from middle-aged woman to a frisky old lady. The most important thing to me is I’ve stripped away all that wasn’t me and am now living as my authentic self.
Trans Bodies, Trans Selves – A Resource for the Transgender Community, Edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD, MA Over a year ago, I heard of a project to write a comprehensive resource guide for the trans* community based on a ground-breaking book from 1971, Our Bodies, Ourselves (OBOS), By the Women’s Health Book Collective, a book by and for women. Trans Bodies, Trans Selves (TBTS) follows in the footsteps of OBOS in that it is for trans* people by trans* people. I received my copy a few months ago and it is the only book I keep on my desk.
A Resource for Us When I began my journey and I was reading everything I could lay my hands upon, I wanted a book like this. I would think of a question and then wanted to find an answer or an article or talk to someone. The Internet was hit and miss back then and I couldn’t find very much concise information. I was also still deep in the closet, so having a support group of people I trusted hadn’t developed then. On-line information is much better now, but I still cherish my books and keep a small, but important library in my den. If I’m researching an article, get asked a question from a reader, friend or acquaintance, or just want an answer for myself, my library is where I start.
Anecdotal Information In my early discovery days, when I was in deep-stealth mode, I wanted so very badly to talk to others to find out if they were thinking, feeling, fearing and longing for the same things I was. Did they lie awake at night agonizing about being in the prison the wrong gender had placed us? A book like TBTS, with its huge number of trans-written, trans-answered questions would have been a lifeline and the voices I needed to hear back then and still need to hear today.
A Fitting Legacy As a recently-wed husband in the 1970’s, I remember seeing Our Bodies, Ourselves and reading it with interest and delight. Here in 2015, and beyond, OBOS continues to bring it’s vital information and messages to new generations of women. Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is serving in the same way the trans* community of which I’m proud to be a member and the book will aid the generations to come. I know it will be indispensable to trans* people everywhere.
Trans Bodies, Trans Selves – A Resource for the Transgender Community I urge everyone who reads this to get a copy, assist the organization, donate a copy of the book and share all that you find. Here is the information where you can read about the project, buy the book and assist the organization.
The book: Trans Bodies, Trans Selves – A Resource for the Transgender Community, Edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD, MA Oxford University Press 2014 ISBN 978-0-19-932535-1 (paperback)
The website: http://transbodies.com/
The organization: Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to education and empowerment of transgender communities. The major goal of the organization is to provide free copies of the book to organizations and individuals who would not otherwise be able to obtain it. We gladly accept donations. Make a donation by credit card or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to send a check.
The cost: $39.95 plus shipping and handling
Availability: Books can be purchased from the website, directly from the publisher,
independent bookstores and www.amazon.com in paperback or a Kindle edition
Any day is a good day, when I’m wearing a dress! Not long ago I was at a convention and was riding down the elevator when one of our sisters got in. She was tall, Asian, drop-dead gorgeous, impeccably dressed and had the most perfect long legs I’ve ever seen. I wanted to hate her immediately, but I was too in awe. (I’m often described as ‘cute, with a nice personality’ and we all know what that means.) I said hello and asked how she was doing. She replied, “Any day is a good day, when I’m wearing a dress.” She is so right. In the beginning and over the years I’ve been like everyone. I dressed once or twice a year. Then it got to once a month. I’d often under-dress, just to be doing something. As I progress to full-time, I still get a thrill every time I put on a dress.
The reality of everyday living The cruel mistress, life, forces us to mow the lawn, take out the trash, change the oil in the car and one hundred other mundane, but necessary tasks. My grungy work clothes, paint-spattered t-shirts and sneakers come out on the weekend so I can take care of business. No one is going to pressure wash the driveway in heels and hose. However, having been born and raised in the 1950’s and 60’s, my mother was of those bullet bra, cocktail dress and patent-leather pumps wearing women. “No matter what,” she explained to my sisters, and me too, unbeknownst to her, “always wear a little lipstick and a squirt of cologne.” She wouldn’t hang up the laundry on the clothes line (remember those?) without a touch of bright red lipstick and the ever-present scent of Taboo.
The lessons passed from generation to generation Skip ahead to the early 2000’s, to my beautiful daughter and at-the-time college student in Zoo Technology. She would brush her hair, apply makeup, check herself in the mirror and then run off to jump on alligators, handle venomous snakes and feed monkeys and African animals. All of it important work that needed a beautiful, talented and fearless woman with her makeup in place. As a dad, I’d see the chaos left in the bathroom and wonder why it had to be thus. Now, as I prepare for work or going out, and as I scramble to make it out the door, I look at the mess all over the bathroom vanity and I understand. My lovely daughter, you have my most sincere apology for complaining about the mess.
The little things that got me through Remembering many of the things I learned from observing the strong women in my life got me through the rough periods when I was still so deep in the closet, light couldn’t get to me. A little lipstick would change the whole way I saw myself at times. A pair of panties instead of my tighty-whitey’s always felt good under my jeans. If a dress-up day isn’t in the cards, there are always ways to get you through. It just takes a little creativity. Try it, you’ll feel much better.
Any day is a good day, when I’m wearing a dress! I’d love to find the woman I spoke to in the elevator so I could thank her. In less than a minute, she sent me a clear message and reminded me that anything I did that helped me on my way to where I am today was a very good thing. To all the wonderful people from whom I learned, either unintentionally (Thanks, Mom) or my new and experienced sisters who have shared and cared, I am ever so grateful and I thank you. Now I’m off to fertilize the roses, where’s my Chanel No. 5?
Becoming The Visible Woman Back in 1959, the toy company, Renwal, introduced a toy that endures today, The Visible Woman. It was about a foot-high, clear plastic model of a woman and all of her internal organs and bones were visible. You could remove the front of the torso and pull out all of the organs. Because of its popularity, soon followed The Visible Man, The Visible Horse and The Visible Dog. A clear plastic outside and all of the insides on display. I remember having one. They were fascinating then and, I’m sure, still are for many. But this is a blog about and for mature trans* people and what has that got to do with old plastic models? I am transitioning on the job and it feels like I am becoming The Visible Woman.
Stripping away all of the exterior When I started this process, I began much like all of those brave people before me. I walked into my director’s office wearing my guy clothes and exchanged guy greetings and sat down. The question came I knew would start it all, “What can I do for you?” My reply was, “I am transgender and I want to transition on the job and finish my career as the person I truly am, Cate O’Malley.” With that, I peeled off the very first layer. The visible woman wasn’t showing yet, but she was getting closer.
Over and over again I repeated the process of walking into offices and peeling off a layer two more times. Human Resources and then the second in command of the entire operation. Each time another piece came off. By the end of the day, the outer layers were getting thin. I shared the link to this blog with the executive. The next morning an e-mail came revealing this person had taken a look at what I’ve been sharing. Off came some more layers. Because of the nature of my work, government, and the size, about 1,000 employees, there were steps that need taken, a plan put into place. The people I came out to had to talk to their people. Even without me saying anything or meeting face-to-face, more layers were stripped away.
Step by step Meetings held on what to do with this person who is transitioning. Policies formed and committed to print. General announcements made with no names given. Then a couple of weeks of vacation while gender markers changed and a judge banged her gavel and a new name began and an old one retired. A department meeting held and the announcement made. Old what’s-his-name is now Cate. Even many miles away, I felt more layers slide off.
The Visible Woman The big day comes. I’m sitting in my car in the employee parking lot wearing a nice, modest dress, heels, makeup and a smile. Cool, calm, collected on the outside and moderately terrified on the inside. A line from an old commercial runs through my mind, Never let ‘em see you sweat. I walk across the parking lot, all old pretenses, all the hiding, my old life left behind. I stop, stare up at the three story office building, now totally exposed. I am the visible woman, all the old stripped away. After fifty plus years, I’ve made it. Whatever happens after I walk in the door will never be as bad as it was before I became visible.
Purging Can there be a more painful, depressing, and shame-causing experience as purging? If you are unfamiliar with the term in its relationship to trans* people, it’s the process of taking all of your gender-affirming attire, accessories, jewelry, shoes and anything related (your stuff) and throwing them out. It is something almost all of us have done in the past, may be doing as you read this or will do. It is guilt based, for the most part. You get in a confused, anxious state where you want to stop your desire to present or live as your true gender because circumstances are keeping you from it. The mere existence of your belongings only add to the hurt, confusion and guilt, so you take your stuff out and throw them in the nearest dumpster or donate it to the local Goodwill.
No Relief As you drive away from where you purged your belongings, the hoped-for relief is not there, or if it is, it’s short lived. We all hope by throwing away our feminine or masculine clothing, we are also throwing away the urge to be a different gender. As we all know, it doesn’t work like that. Not only does it not go away, the desire, at least for me, increases. The pain grows, the guilt builds and soon I am in a state of depression. It’s doubly harsh for us because we are also denying who we really are.
A Suggestion I was chatting with my dear friend, Elayne, who recommended I discuss this. We have both over the years thrown away thousands of dollars worth of clothing, shoes, wigs, jewelry and countless other items. We both lamented some of the prize possessions we pitched in the trash, wishing we had never done it. We continued to talk and both of us admitted it would have been nice if we had someone with whom we could have called upon to talk to, who understood, and also was able to take our belongings and keep them for us. That would have gotten our stuff away so we could think about our real reason for purging and also not to destroy a considerable investment.
The Flaw The flaw with this thought, for me when I purged my last time, was I was still way back in the closet, under the blankets. I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t want anyone to find out about me. I didn’t want to even acknowledge what was going on with myself. I had not reached out and been able to build friendships where I could have asked someone to take my stuff for a while. That would have added to my depression and guilt was what I really wanted to purge.
My Wish What I’m hoping to accomplish here is to let those who are just starting their journey or not even sure what their journey is to know the feelings you may have are ones most of us have lived. Use forums like this one to seek out advice and build friendships. Form a network of people you trust, whose advice you can depend on. Hopefully, you will avoid guilt-inducing activities, such as purging. You find you are not alone and have a lot in common with many of us.
If you can help a brother or sister by talking to them, befriending them and listening when they hit the tough patches and even stashing their stuff for a while, you will go a long way in helping them on their journey.
A New Page
Property of Dad Just a couple of weeks after the 2014 Christmas/New Year’s holidays and I’m back in the rat race: work, home, eat, sleep and repeat. I schlep into the bedroom, kick off my heels, remove my necklace and earrings and place them where I always do. The picture above is the image I see. There sits one of the ever-present reminders of what was, and the journey to get to what is: the real me.
A New Page While Christmas shopping with my beautiful daughter, the idea bloomed for a new page on the blog. I currently spend all my blogging time discussing my transition, the challenges and joys of our lives and hearing from our brothers and sisters, but rarely do I hear more than a comment from a family member, spouse, friend, colleague, ally or interested cisgender person. I decided what I needed was a page where their thoughts, feelings, rants, raves, curses, kudos, tears and fears or joy and elation can be expressed. That is why you now see a new page listed above called For those whose lives we’ve changed.
For those whose lives we’ve changed There is not a trans* person in the world who has not touched and/or altered the life of someone else because of their gender expression. I am asking those cisgender people with whom we’ve come in contact, live with, or influenced in some way, please let me know what you think about all this.
What do you think about us or this? This page is a place where you can tell us, the trans* people in your life, what you really think. You can remain anonymous if you want. Use this place to get it off your chest or try out the things you want to say to the your trans* person. If you are afraid for your sister who is transitioning to male, tell him here. If you are proud of your dad who just started taking estrogen, tell her now. If you’ve decided you can’t live with your husband now that he is crossdressing, but don’t know how to say it. Try it out here. This is a judgment-free, guilt-free zone.
Honesty IS the best policy If I have learned anything in this life, it’s honesty truly is the best policy. So, if you love us, tell us. If you hate us, tell us that too. If you are so confused you don’t know which end is up, we’ve been there and we want to know. This is a place for sharing honest, truthful and sincere feelings from your heart and soul.
For those whose lives we changed Now you know the reason for the new page. Please, please, please let us hear from you. Please share your feelings, what your inner voice is saying or your frustrations and fears that keep you up at night. Use this space also to tell your trans* person the moments that make you proud, joyful, happy or hopeful. This is a place where we can honor, respect and listen to you.
That’s kinda weird Ever since beginning my transition, I’ve run into instances where it was either me or the person with me who said, “That’s kinda weird.” These little life episodes, never imagined, but once they occurred and passed, I looked back on them and thought, Never in a million years could I see that happening.
Wardrobe malfunction One of the first instances was when my dear departed Becky and I were getting ready to go out to a movie with a couple of friends. I got ready first and was standing in the bedroom when she looked at me and said, “I was going to wear that blouse.” “Okay,” I replied, “here, you can have it,” and pulled it off and handed it to her. She slipped the top on, paused, then looking bemused, said, “That was kinda weird, wasn’t it?”
Bag lady My lady friend was flying to her great grandson’s first birthday and was looking for a travel purse to carry her stuff: Kindle, wallet, snacks, etc. She couldn’t find that exact piece she wanted and was getting frustrated. I recommended she look over my collection of bags and purses and maybe she would find one that would work for her. I pulled the biggest ones from the closet. She looked them over then stopped, slowly shaking her head she said, “I can’t believe I’m looking at my boyfriends purses.” Yep, kinda weird.
Bringing the bling A while back, I was at work and, unfortunately, still in drab but out to most. One of my friends and associates was preparing for a cruise with her husband. She had all her clothes and shoes and resort wear, but needed a boost in the jewelry department. Cate to the rescue. I brought in a few pieces I thought would work and she was set for her week of fun in the sun. A little weird? Maybe, but she looked fabulous!
Soggy shoes My daughter was home for the holidays along with her wonderful husband, twin boys and joining us was my son. It was a great Christmas with the family home. On the first day of their vacation, it rained and my daughter soaked her ballet flats. She had planned her wardrobe for the trip and only had this one pair of black shoes. I asked her what size she wore and discovered we wear the same size shoes. She put them on, they fit and passed her fashion standards. She did stop briefly and said, “I can’t believe I’m wearing my Dad’s flats.”
It’s only weird the first time I’ve found myself saying to family and friends through this process when I see them uncomfortable with the changes in me and the new and different ways we all coexist, “It’s only weird the first time.” Things that were once foreign to them are now commonplace. It’s how we grow together. There will be more ‘weird moments’ in the years to come, for me as well as those around me. What is now kinda weird will become just everyday business and there’s nothing weird about that at all.
Holiday Greetings Here we are in December 2014. Christmas is around the corner, Chanukah has begun and families are gathering in a time of joy and thanksgiving. I’m especially excited to have my son and daughter, son-in-law and twin grandsons for the holiday. Like so many families, we’re spread out and coming together is a special occasion. If I was any more excited, I’d explode. We are all looking at a new year and I can’t help but be the cockeyed optimist and know it is going to be a fabulous 2015!
2014, What a year! This year has been an amazing time for the trans* community as a whole and me personally. This year we’ve seen more and more local, county, state and national advances in the rights of trans* people in housing, employment and civil rights. Miami-Dade County and the City of Sarasota recently added gender expression and preference to their Human Rights Ordinances. Now over half of the citizens of my beloved Florida are protected. Next year lets get everyone in Florida and the nation protected. This year we saw Laverne Cox on the cover of Time Magazine and a cable show, titled Transparent, about an older transgender woman coming out at the age of 72. (Kind of hits close to home, doesn’t it?) Visibility is key to our gaining the rights we all deserve and we as a community are visible more than ever.
2014, For me I enjoyed more blogging, attending and presenting at the 2014 Southern Comfort Conference and am becoming more active in promoting the rights of trans* people everywhere. I’ve been blessed with more friends, allies, contacts and readers than I ever imagined.
2015, What lies ahead? One thing we know, there’s plenty of work for all of us. We need more Human Rights Ordinances to protect trans* people. Marriage Equality needs to be recognized and embraced in every state in the country. There must never be another victim of a hate crime, violence or murder just because some one is trans*. I pray that we never need to have another Transgender Day of Remembrance again because no one was killed for being their true selves.
2015, All work and no play makes us dull folks My wish for all of us, besides doing the work that must be done, is to enjoy ourselves more. That wish includes more laughing, singing, dancing, loving and friendships. I urge you to grab all of the joy you can and love and cherish all the people who matter to you. If I learned one thing it’s this, “We all think we have more time.” Let’s not waste a second of time we have on Earth.
Thank you To all of you how read my blog, let me ramble on Facebook, I met at SCC and those who I came in contact, written, talked to on the phone, I thank you. You have enriched me life.