Transmen, where are you?

Transmen, where are you?   I don’t know any transmen.  I am ashamed to admit it and 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 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 concentrate on those, like me, who waited until after they were fifty 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 the transmen, young and mature, who are on their journey, please let me get to know you.

Help me to understand   What I want to understand are your challenges, your goals, your desires 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 your challenges and goals are.  We each have experiences, feelings, emotions and pain we’ve endured by being who we were when we were growing up and who we are becoming know.

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 when you think about the fact that your are leaving a life that I am so desperate to have and vice versa.  That alone can generate many hours of wonderful, heartfelt and interesting conversations.

I look forward to meeting you   So 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.

Our Message

Our Message   I have been encouraged over the past few months because I am seeing information, interviews, advocacy and press about trans* issues in all of the media.  I recently heard a radio piece on National Public Radio, a TED Talk by model and advocate Geena Rocero, Laverne Cox’s amazing interview on The Katie Couric Show, and an article in the newspaper talking about the challenges facing trans* people.  From my local newspaper to television, major news outlets and all areas of local, state and federal government, trans* people are being seen and heard.  As an advocate for Mature Transgender people, I believe the more exposure, and the more that is known about our community and our challenges, the better for us all.

“You transgender people are everywhere.”   This was an interesting statement made to me recently.  The person went on to say he thought trans* people were something fairly new because he never heard of anyone being transgender until a few years ago and now we’re everywhere.  I assured him that trans* people are nothing new; we are just more visible than ever before.  His statements added to my encouragement.  Someone who would be more than willing to ignore most people who didn’t look, sound and think like him were seeing us.  We cannot be ignored.

The Tragic News   Becoming more visible and getting our message out is a double-edged sword.  Almost everywhere we are being seen and heard.  We are also getting the message out that we, as a community, have horrible challenges.  The most recent statistics I heard yesterday are almost two thirds of all trans* people have suffered physical, verbal and emotional abuse.  Our suicide rate is nine times the national average and in most states in the country, we have no protection in housing and employment, just because we are trans*.

Transgender Day of Remembrance   I heard recently on National Public Radio a story which mentioned our Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR).  Again, this is an under reported, yet extremely important fact of life for trans* people.  Each year a significant number of our brothers and sisters are being killed just for being trans*.  I’ve heard from so many cisgender people that they know nothing of these tragedies or our TDOR.  I tell them last year we mourned the loss of over two hundred members of our community.

The Victories   We must celebrate and revel in our victories.  Whenever a trans* youth attends their prom as their true self, that’s a victory.  When a transwoman is appointed to a high position in the Federal Government, that’s a victory.  The day Forbes Magazine announced Jennifer Pritzker as the first transgender billionaire, that is a victory.  And lastly, when the young man at the supermarket bags your groceries and says, “Thank you, ma’am.” That’s a victory!

Much Work Left To Do   We have much work to do and a long way to go.  This is the reason I rejoice when trans* people and trans* issues are brought to the attention of the public.  This is why it is important we remember our victories.  That way we can see we really are making advances.  We also must never forget those who have suffered and who we’ve lost.  So whether we are on the nightly news with the big three networks, on the cover of Forbes Magazine, we are getting the Our Message out.  Maybe you’re posting a comment on a Huffington Post article, writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or buying produce at the farmers’ market; you, too, are getting Our Message out .  We are getting Our Message out where it belongs that we are here, we’re real, we’re not going away, we’re your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers or the transman at the barbershop getting a trim in the chair beside you.

Our Message   Get used to it, we’re here to stay.

Get Healthy, Stay Healthy

Get Healthy, Stay Healthy   My health and well being has been heavy on my mind a lot for the last year.  I admit I haven’t lead the healthiest lifestyle, but I didn’t think I did too badly.  However, after going through all that we do to transition, I think about it a lot.  I’m not going to discuss my decision to begin hormones with a doctor’s prescription.  There are a lot of people I know and love who are doing it on their own and I respect their decision.  I just thought it prudent for me to do it with the guidance of a physician who is experienced in gender medicine.

My process, I’m sure, is similar to others, but if you haven’t gotten there yet, or have chosen not to take hormones, here’s what I’ve gone through.

Therapy   It started with long term therapy with my psychologist who is a specialist in gender-related issues.  It took me a long time for oh so many reasons, but I made up my mind to transition.  Once I got to the point where I was ready to go on hormones, my therapist “wrote the letter”.  This letter states I had decided and he agrees, that I am ready for hormone replacement therapy (HRT).  Off the letter went to the physician and he agreed to see me.

Physician   I met with the physician the first visit and it was a general ‘get to know you’ and a physical.  We talked at length about what was the hormone therapy does and doesn’t do, what the risks are and what are possible side effects.  He asked me half a dozen times if I really wanted to do this and each time I say, “Yes.”  Off I was sent with an order for blood work.  This was to check standard values and also to check testosterone and estrogen levels.  This would give him a baseline as I progressed. After two weeks, I went back and we reviewed the blood work.  He wanted to have an additional look at some of the values, so off I went with another order for specific blood work.  It only took a week for the results and most everything was in the ranges they need to be, so I marched off with my prescriptions for Estradiol, Spironolactone and a new cholesterol medicine.

Minor Complications    Because I was on a blood pressure medicine that wasn’t compatible with the Spironolactone, I went off it and my blood pressure went up and it took about two weeks before the right additional prescription and dosage were all worked out so I was back in the pink.

Pharmacy   As I’ve written about in the past, there are always things about transitioning that just seem to scream, “This is out of the ordinary, so I’m going to ask you about it.”  The first time I took my prescriptions to the pharmacy, one of the pharmacists who happens to be my neighbor asked, “Did the doctor order Estradiol for you?”  A nod of the head and off he went to fill the order.  About a week after starting the Estradiol and Spiro, I got another call from another pharmacist who wanted to discuss my new medications and wanted to know if the doctor had indicated some of the physical outcomes.  After a nice conversation, he seemed satisfied that I was aware of the physical changes and the possible side effects of the HRT.

My Journey   I’m going to make this an on-going post.  I know before I started what was it like and I wanted to know the minutiae.  If this is old stuff for you, then let’s compare notes.  If this is new and uncharted waters, I hope it helps to hear how it is going with me.

Get Healthy, Stay Healthy   That was my beginning of the hormone stage of this transition. I get my check ups and the blood work, take my blood pressure, cut way back on the salt and deserts and am working very hard on my diet.  I’m feeling better, the clothes are fitting a bit better and I feel good. Now, if I can just fall in love with exercise, I’d be in a perfect place.

We are family

We are family   Back in the day when I was not a member of the mature crowd, I loved to dance the night away.  I remember fondly the 1979 hit by Sister Sledge, We Are Family.  I got to thinking about this following a trip to see my daughter, son-in-law and to celebrate my twin grandson’s first birthday.  To say it was glorious, memorable and a wonderful time would be an understatement.  Members of my son-in-law’s family were there along with my daughter and son-in-law’s friends.  My son was able to make it from Southwest Florida.  It is so nice to be surrounded by family for such a wonderful and fun event.  It renews the soul, creates lasting memories, and serves as a reminder of what is truly important in life – family. 

I have lived in Florida since 1972.  Because I moved from Ohio and my family, I spent many years not being able to spend holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations that normally bring families together.  It was being separated by miles and not from estrangement.  We love each other very much, but the mobile society is the norm, not only for me, but for most of us.  Because of the distance, I was able to develop my “other family”.  These are friends and special people who have been a wonderful part of my life.  The people who were there for holiday dinners, births, deaths, marriage, divorce, all the milestones we all have.  We may not be of the same blood, but we are of the same heart.  It was this “other family” that, on occasion, sustained me and my family, when we needed it most.

We are family   Why do I bring this up?  Because my trans* sisters and brothers are also my family.  We share something that transcends DNA.  We share our same struggles to live our true lives.  We share the pain of rejection, fear of discovery and the birth of our new life, looks and identity.  My trans* family has the unique understanding that only they can have as to what it is like to be us and to endure what we have.  They know the simple joy of presenting as the person we really are and the triumph after the first time leaving our homes.  It’s these experiences that make us, all trans* people, a family. 

We are family   Like all families, we may not always get along.  Maybe we can’t stand each other.  I know there are favorite family members and there are duds.  Some members are saints and some are losers.  No matter what, we are all connected by a bond that only we can feel.

Some of our trans* family have suffered horribly from their biological families.  Some have been cast out, shunned, forgotten, verbally and physically abused.  Some of our family have been so injured as to take their own lives in order to eliminate their pain.  Many of our trans* family members are closeted and see no way they can ever reveal their true selves.  It is these trans* family members that I feel and worry for.  Those who can only see and feel pain and loneliness.  We need to watch out for and befriend those who need us the most. 

I often hear from trans* people who are in the closet and may never step out.  Let us be aware that even a friendly e-mail or a post on a listserv can be the one spark, the one connection, that someone who may never know another trans* person can find that they are not alone.