Girl in the Boat

Please consider this excerpt from The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (pages 289-290):

Sudden revelation paid Bobby Moch a visit as well. His came as he sat, in the shade under a tree in a wide-open field on Travers Island, opening an envelope. The envelope contained a letter from his father, the letter Bobby had requested, listing the addresses of the relatives he hoped to visit in Europe. but the envelope also contained a second, sealed, enveloped labeled, “Read this in a private place.” Now, alarmed, sitting under the tree, Moch opened the second envelope and read its contents. By the time he had finished reading, tears were running down his face.

The news was innocuous enough by twenty-first-century standards, but in the context of social attitudes in America in the 1930s it came as a profound shock. When he met his relatives in Europe, Gaston Moch told his son, he was going to learn for the first time that he and his family were Jewish.

Bobby sat under the tree, brooding for a long while, not because he suddenly found himself a member of what was then still a much discriminated against minority, but because as he absorbed the news he realized for the first time the terrible pain his father must have carried silently within him for so many years. For decades, his father had felt that in order to make it in America it was necessary to conceal an essential element of his identity from his friends, his neighbors, and even his own children. Bobby had been brought up to believe that everyone should be treated according to his actions and his character, not according to stereotypes. It was his father himself who had taught him that. Not it came as a searing revelation that his father had not felt safe enough to live by that same simple proposition, that he had kept his heritage hidden painfully away, a secret to be ashamed of, even in America, even from his own beloved son.

What the Jews have faced over the centuries is hideous and inexcusable. The scale is beyond comprehension, and anti-Semitic sentiments have regrettably lingered. I am not Jewish, and cannot know what that is like.

But this excerpt also describes how it feels to be trans, to realize that I am someone who feels it “necessary to conceal an essential element of his identity from his friends, his neighbors, and even his own children.” I recoil at the certainty that my children will one day be faced with finding out “the terrible pain [their] father must have carried silently within him for so many years.”

Sugar? Caffeine? Porn? Trans?

Short Definition of Addiction:

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

Whconfusedat are we addicted to? What is addiction? Which addictions do we need to break? Are there any which are OK?

And what if making what seems like a reasonable, albeit rather extreme, decision about one’s life is just based on some sort of addiction?

When I want something, how can I determine whether I’m reacting to addiction, compulsion, pre-disposition, natural biology, biological divergence or mutation, Pavlovian conditioning, brain wiring error, hormonal imbalance, or what have you?

I’m writing this because I need to know if I’m just addicted to thoughts of becoming a woman.

But let’s not start there. Let’s do a little contemplation first.

sugar cubesI love sugar. I eat sugar every day. I sometimes crave it. Sometimes I go out of my way to get some M&Ms or a donut.

Am I addicted to sugar? Can you be addicted to something (say, a food) that you need to survive? Sugar, for example, is fuel for life. And while there are certainly other fuels, many (most? all?) foods are immediately broken down into sugar by the body. Sugar (in moderation) isn’t inherently bad. If I eat too much processed sugar, that can be bad, but does that constitute addiction? What if I crave it? Where’s the line? How do I tell the difference? Is just craving a little bit of chocolate now and then a sign of addiction? How about eating a bowl of sugary cereal once a day?

caffeineI drink caffeine every day. Not in coffee (which I hate) but in soda — roughly 50 milligrams per can, or about 150-200 milligrams spread throughout the day. (That’s about the same amount as in a single cup of coffee.) Is that too much? Does the fact that I do it every day mean that I am hooked? When I don’t have caffeine for a couple of days I get a little grumpy. But it passes. I can go without, and sometimes do. Sometimes I drink more than usual, and I usually feel pretty happy and contented when I do.

But I often start my day with some caffeine, and I go out of my way to make sure I never run out. I may not always drink it, but I always at least want the option. Am I addicted to it?

Secret Garden_0020-3115i_001I started wondering about this subject because of a web site called Your Brain on Porn. It argues that modern porn overwhelms our natural biological responses, hyper-charges male sexuality, and puts men on a very bad path. The arguments are compelling enough to consider (despite possibly being impurely motivated).

And I do sometimes watch porn.

But I don’t like porn very much, and not straight porn at all. Sometimes enjoy trans porn, and it’s pretty much the only kind that I could ever get anything from. Just short clips, once in a while. I don’t see a problem with that, and I wouldn’t want to stop watching such things, but am I addicted? I don’t think so, but I wonder where the line is.

I admit that I can only become aroused by trans thoughts. I haven’t had a “straight” fantasy (imagining sex with a woman) for a very long time. And even though my fantasies evolve, the common theme is and has always been that every single one involves me becoming or being or acting like or dressing like or being seen as female. It makes me wonder: Am I addicted to trans-thinking? Trans-dreaming? Trans-planning? Trans-everything?

Reading about addiction to porn, I’ve tried to substitute my trans feelings in the same equation to see if things line up. Often (but not always) they do.

I’ve asked myself this question before: Is all of my trans-life just the byproduct of some totally random stimulus when I was three or four years old that produced a “high” of some sort, then leading me to seek it out again and again? Have I just needed progressively more of that stimulus in the way that a drug user becomes immune?

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At a very young age, I had a teddy bear on my bed that had a sheer black, decorative scarf. One night, for reasons I really don’t remember and can’t imagine, I tied myself up in that scarf. All I remember is sort of liking the feel of the fabric, and having a sort of abstract curiosity about the feeling of tightness and immobility. The act was arousing.

Around that same time, I remember seeing pantyhose drying in the bathroom. Again, the sheerness was attractive, in the same way that the scarf had been. I remember touching them, feeling them, and being overcome by curiosity of what it would be like to wear them. I remember sticking my arm in as far as I could, and of course I eventually closed and locked the bathroom door and tried them on.

From that moment (at least), I was trans.

If some sort of gender mismatch existed inside me before doing these two things, I will never know. But from there, the feelings grew, and they have never gone away. Of course, how my child brain made the leap from sheer to female isn’t that hard to figure out, given the presence of so many images reinforcing that idea in the culture of the time.

But the mechanism which started then has continued. When I think about trans stuff, I get a shot of pleasant brain juices. Just the release of pleasant brain juices is enough to fuel addiction. But pleasant brain juices are just part of life, right? When we humans discover something that gives us pleasant brain juices, the mechanism of our reward system causes us to seek that stimulus out again. Is that addictions?

I like looking at pictures of beautiful women (and their clothing). Does the simple act of enjoying such things constitute addiction? Where does interest cross into obsession?  Where does enjoyment cross over into addiction?

If it is an addition, and I were in rehab trying to recondition my reward centers, what would I need to do? A return to some sort of straightness? (Wait, it couldn’t be a “return” because I never was there.) I might try that, but it would sure seem weird.

Could I somehow disentangle trans thinking from sexual arousal? Doubt it.

If I were to start hormones, who is to say that a positive effect might not simply be the result of reducing arousal desires? A little bit of E could be just the thing to break the arousal problem. But then what?

There’s so much here, and it seems appropriate, but clearly there is no method of separating all of these things into their component parts. It’s all one big soup.

For example, if it is an addition, wouldn’t transition be the ultimate cure? It just might. That might be a Very Good Thing. But if it didn’t, that would certainly be a Very Bad Thing. No way of knowing without doing.

What next?

In the final analysis, if I were to determine that I have an addiction, it could only be to wishing I was female. I wish it all the time, and I can’t stop wishing it. I’ve wished it enough that I really want to make it a reality, and I can see how that might be possible, even inevitable.

Can you be addicted to a wish? Is that dangerous? Is that the type of addiction which should be broken?

How do you break an addiction to a wish to be female?

Transition, of course.

Fantasy Prequel

The following is a prequel to my earlier post, A Fantasy.

When I first told my best friend that I might become a woman, he did not freak out. At least, he didn’t look like he was freaking out. If he was freaking out inside, he covered it perfectly. He seemed completely calm.

In our earliest conversations on the subject, he mostly found the whole idea confusing. He obviously didn’t share any similar feelings of gender uncertainty, so I had to sort of explain things from the ground up. Even though he isn’t really a “guy’s guy” in any way, he’s still a guy, and the idea of someone not wanting to be a guy didn’t seem to quite make sense to him. But he stuck with me, asked questions, and was totally nonjudgmental.

Better still, he was willing to talk whenever I needed it, and I found those conversations to be immensely helpful, because I suddenly felt known and not rejected. It was a great relief to no longer be hiding this from him.

He’s on the more sensitive end of the guy scale, and over time, I started to think that he found the whole concept more provocative than he first let on.

Because we hang out together regularly, and sometimes do things you might see a gay couple doing (such as sightseeing or just walking together and talking), he gets a little freaked out sometimes. So we have a running gag where he says, “All the people here think we’re gay,” to which I respond, “So what? Who cares?”

But there was a moment, years before I came out to him, when he was especially vulnerable due to certain life circumstances. We had had a memorable conversation in which he confided that, of all his friends, I was the only one that he could imagine cuddling with on a couch. It was a sort of weird thing to say, and it came out of the blue. Given the circumstances, I knew that he was trying to communicate that he felt safe with me, and close to me, that he appreciated our long friendship, and that it was unlike any other that he has had.

After he said it, he had paused to gauge my reaction. Back then, I wasn’t thinking about coming out to anyone, but I didn’t want to mock him or dishonor his vulnerability. My reaction was only to say that I appreciated his feelings, and I didn’t comment at all on whether something like that could ever happen.

He quickly said that it wasn’t a gay thing, and I told him that I understood completely. I’ve known him long enough to realize that, if he has any gay tendencies (like his older brother), they are pretty weak. I’ve never really sensed anything that made me think he was hiding it, or interested in men at all. I could be wrong, of course. People hide things like that all the time — like me and my gender identity. But I don’t think I’m wrong on that count. He wasn’t gay, but he felt close to me, and our relationship was mature enough that he could tell me. I took that as a compliment, and have cherished it ever since.

Practically, I had to sort of stick that little moment in the back of my mind, but as time passed after I came out to him, it popped into my head more and more. And though he never said it, I think it was going through his mind as well. It became clear to me (and probably to him) that he had sensed my femininity, without knowing exactly what it was about, long before I ever said anything to him. And though I had no reason to think he was having fantasies about me, the reverse was a different matter.

The truth is that, at some point, I had started to have sexual fantasies about him — well not exactly about him, but which included him. Like many transwomen, I had fantasies about being sexual with men, but they were always faceless men, and the acts were merely physical things which allowed me to experience myself sexually as a woman.

But over time, my faceless man got a face, and to my great surprise, it was his. And the sexual acts, rather than being the whole of the fantasy, started to give way to just thinking about kissing, and hugging, and flirting, and eventually, yes, just cuddling with him on a couch!

It was a weird, sort of backwards progression, from the highly sexual, to the highly social. Eventually, the fantasy sex became the culmination of fantasy dates, until the idea of the date became more exciting than the physicality in which it might culminate. I was shocked to realize one day that I was more aroused by the idea of an honest emotional encounter with him than a purely physical one.

I began to fantasize about us traveling together, me as an out transwoman, presenting ourselves as a romantic couple everywhere we went, and then enjoying each other romantically before falling asleep together in big hotel beds. I fantasized about just being held, or kissed, or treated like someone that he considered special. I fantasized about being his date to his company Christmas party, and attending family picnics with his grown kids and ex-wife (who he has maintained a healthy and positive relationship with). I fantasized about dressing for him, and trying out perfumes until I found one that he really liked. I fantasized about pajamas, and nightgowns, and waking up with him pressed against me. I fantasized about mornings where I got dressed for work at his house, selecting from a closet full of women’s clothes that he let me keep there, then kissing him goodbye as we each went off to work.

By the time I came out to him, he was the subject of my every sexual fantasy, and many of them didn’t even involve sex (although that remained on the spectrum of fantasies).

I have never been attracted to him physically, and I’m still not. But the idea of the emotional intimacy made me want, in my fantasies, to offer him that physical intimacy, which I then imagined enjoying quite a bit. Not being gay, and literally never having been physically attracted to a man, this whole idea actually freaked me out a bit.

Being something new to my trans experience, I told my therapist all about it. She confirmed that it’s quite common for her clients to have such fantasies. But she could tell that the idea of being a straight woman was an unfamiliar one and scary for me, so she tried to reassure me that most of her male-to-female clients identified as lesbian, or occasionally bi, after transition. She said that, in her many years of experience, it was pretty rare to find someone’s sexuality flipped by the hormones.

But I knew in my heart that I was already, even before hormones, on a path to female heterosexuality. And I actually adjusted to the idea fairly quickly because, in my fantasies, I was overjoyed to feel safe, and loved, and cared for, and known as wholly female. It was entirely surprising to me that the presence of a man might have this effect, but my imagination was, I think, just extrapolating from where I was going as a transwoman.

And then came the most powerful fantasy I’ve ever had: That he wanted to marry me. It wasn’t a fantasy that I sought, but it just sort of tumbled into my mind one day. We were on a date, only he was more dressed up than usual, obviously nervous, and took me to a very nice restaurant. About halfway through the meal, he started stuttering and stammering, and I suddenly knew what was coming. The subject had come up casually before, so it was easy to say yes. Then my fantasy would shift immediately to the Justice of the Peace, with his daughter as my Maid of Honor, and his son as his Best Man, and then he was kissing the bride — me! — as we became husband and wife.

This quickly became my dominant fantasy, to the point of excluding almost everything else. The details varied each time. Sometimes I was post-op when we married, and sometimes I was completely pre-transition. Sometimes I imagined a small church, and other times a judge’s chambers. Sometimes I imagined myself in a full white wedding gown, and others a simple off-white, satin, tea length dress (but always dressed in women’s clothing). Sometimes I saw him in a tux, other times a suit, and still other times I couldn’t see anything but his face. Sometimes I imagined the honeymoon, or just the wedding night, or even our celebration in bed right after getting engaged.

It was the imagination of these “celebrations” which actually motivated me to visit my local adult fantasy store. I’m hesitating to say what I bought, but I will admit that I bought it because I wanted to be prepared (i.e. sufficiently accommodating) in the event that someday he wanted to make love to me before I had a proper vagina (which I may never have). Subsequently, my use of that item made the fantasies even more intense, though also more emotional. I regularly began to cry while imagining him wanting me to be his wife, in every sense of that word.

In short, I kind of got “bride brain,” another very new experience for me.

The fantasies were incredibly powerful, and changed me profoundly. I realized that being dressed as a woman caused me to think in different ways, and consider things that I would never consider any other time. I already knew I was trans, but now I also knew exactly where I was headed. It brought me great joy, and not a little bit of terror. I wanted to admit this all to him, but had a hard time even imagining the words I might use. The possibility of rejection was simply too great.

As time passed after I came out to him, our friendship remained stable, essentially unchanged by the revelation. Well, unchanged in most ways, but I saw a new tenderness in him whenever the subject came up. He didn’t want to talk about it all the time, though he never shied away from the subject when I brought it up. He asked questions, and even gave advice. He quickly accepted that transition was inevitable for me, and started to get used to that idea. It was the sweetest approach I could have hoped for.

And then one day, in real life, and much to my own surprise, I actually did start to flirt with him. A little. Tentatively. Playfully. And he was willing to come along for that ride.

When I told him that starting hormones might mean growing boobs, he asked if he’d ever get to touch them. “Maybe if you buy me a drink!” I answered.

When I mentioned that I had pictures of myself dressed, he was excited to see them, and his eyes grew wide as he told me how cute I looked.

“That was a while ago,” I admitted. “I’m not exactly that sweet young thing anymore…” He smiled.

When I told him that I was afraid I’d be an ugly woman, he said, “So what? Just be who you are.”

When he asked if I thought I would ever become attracted to men, I said that I didn’t know, but I could imagine it. He seemed intrigued.

When I told him that my wardrobe of female clothing was pretty tame — much like that of any other woman — he replied by saying, “You should show me sometime.”

Then he asked if I had any stilettos, and I said that of course I did.

He asked if I was blonde or brunette, and I said that he could choose!

Suddenly, my hopes of him actually being into this grew until they were almost overwhelming. So I packed a bag full of girl clothes that I could take with whenever I knew I’d see him alone. The first time I brought it with, I left it in the trunk of my car, but I told him it was there. He said, “Bring it out! Let’s see you!”

Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t right that night. His roommate was due back, and neither of us wanted to have to explain ourselves. But I had begun flirting with him, and he flirted back. Heaven!

But from that moment, I — well, actually, we, I think — began looking for opportunities for me to dress up for him, and show him what I looked like as a girl in real life. I couldn’t really tell at first whether he actually wanted to see me that way, or was just humoring me because he could tell that I wanted it. He played his cards pretty close to the vest. But I started to imagine that he was fantasizing about that happening just as much as I was.

And that is when I became obsessed with finding some way to experience at least a little of this in real life. Knowing that fantasy and reality often diverge in significant ways, I never assumed that this was something he would ever want or even consider. But I began to concoct a plan to get him into a bridal photo session, with me as his bride, just to see what might happen.

To get to that point, however, I knew that I would have to lay some more groundwork with him, so that’s what I put my mind to, and that’s exactly what happened.

To be continued…

Gender? Dysphoria?

So many transwomen say that they “just feel” like a woman inside, and that’s so not my experience.

When I really think about it, I don’t experience any gender whatsoever in my deepest inner core. It’s a significant enough feeling that I wonder if it may not be universal, even though our socialization clouds this fact from the very beginning.

More specifically, in my deepest self I do not feel like a woman, or a man, or anything in between. My deepest self is utterly without gender. Everything related to gender feels superimposed onto this genderless core — in the way that a white light looks blue through a blue lampshade.

I was socialized as a male because I was born with a penis, and the soup of male hormones has shaped the rest of my body. But that identity was not there in the beginning. It was imposed on my genderless self by the social environment that I was born into.

As proof, let me offer that different cultures have different norms and expectations of males. If I had been born in a different place or into a different tribe, my socialization as male would have likely been very different. And there is the possibility that such an alternate socialization would not have been a problem for me. In other words, I think there’s at least the possibility that I would not be trans if I had been born in a different culture.

Indeed, when I distill my own “trans-ness,” it comes down to a simple desire to reject the male socialization that I received, and adopt instead the female socialization that I have observed. And the reason for this is that I think the male socialization I received has instilled hard limits on my emotional availability where I see considerably less limits in the female socialization that I have observed.

It’s tempting to claim that I felt this way all along, but I don’t think that’s the case. My earliest cross-gender desires were about clothing. I liked the pretty clothes that I saw girls wearing and which were simply not available to me. I wanted to wear skirts and tights and do my hair and be pretty and smile.

To this child, that’s what constituted girlness. But at its heart, even in my earliest longings, was a degree of vulnerability and self-care that I simply couldn’t allow myself given the rules I was conditioned with (by whatever mechanism). There was an attractive softness to being a girl which I had no way of accessing or expressing. Part of that was provided by the clothes and other trappings, I’m sure.

It’s not that expressing emotions was disallowed, but that my early expression of emotions was met by something (as yet undefinable) which discouraged me from that. It may have been something which came from my family of origin, or the culture of where I grew up, or something even larger.

But my point is that the expectations were imposed on me, and I could not find a way to be the whole me within those constructs. That is at the heart of my dysphoria.

I do not claim to be female inside, but rather that my genderless self could meet the world in a much more authentic way if it could do so without the restrictions of “maleness” and within the framework I have observed of “femaleness.”

As they always say, YMMV. But I am beginning to wonder if this is a more useful way to understand gender, and to understand and react to the transgender instinct. This is something at least worth considering.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Thinking too much is dangerous. I did that today.

I started wondering about my first ever experiences with images of femininity, and how they may have laid the foundation for my transgender feelings. Specifically, I thought about The Bugaloos (Caroline Ellis), Marcia Brady (Maureen McCormick), and Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney). These three famous women, each in her own way a concentrated expression of overt femininity, made deep impressions on me just as I was beginning to seriously wonder about myself.

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Those images came through the media, but I had causes for thinking within the real world as well. I remember a Mother-Daughter banquet at our church. My mom had only sons, but our neighbors had a daughter just about my age. She got all dressed up and went with my mom as a stand-in daughter. I was confused at my own reaction, because I so wished it had been me getting all dressed up and going along. (I may have even asked if I could — probably to laughs.)

My fascination with women’s clothing also started very early. I remember seeing pantyhose drying on the towel rack in the bathroom and, confusingly, wanting — no, longing — to try them on. I don’t know how long I held out, but it probably wasn’t very long. And I have a vivid memory of the first time I did it. The memory isn’t about the feeling of the fabric on my legs (perhaps because that’s become something of a familiar feeling since then), but of my heart pounding with the excitement of trying on femininity, of doing something that only girls do, and that made me feel amazingly good beyond even what I had imagined. (My heart is pounding right now as I recall the experience).

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That was when I was probably about six years old, maybe seven. But by then I’d been daydreaming about becoming a girl for quite some time. I think Marcia Brady really got me started.

I had a long-term fantasy that I had auditioned for a role on the show, and been cast as Marcia because they thought they could make me into a pretty little girl. After a year in the part, and after proving that I could fully be the pretty little girl they had imagined, I was overjoyed when they told me there was a way to make it so that I could stay a girl forever. I agreed immediately.

Thinking about this today is an attempt to parse what I initially felt about Marcia, which actually seems pretty obvious now that I’ve described it. I know that it wasn’t a desire to kiss her, or date her. After all, I was only six when the show premiered! But I remember that I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, and all I really wanted was to be close to her — but also to look like her, and be treated like her, and wear the things she wore. In short, I wanted what a lot of other little girls wanted when they saw Marcia, and nothing like what little boys wanted (who wouldn’t even notice her until she became a bit more curvy after a couple of seasons).

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

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Around that same time I saw Star Trek for the first time. To this day I love that show (the original, of course). And I loved a lot of things about it, but one of those was the miniskirts. And the pantyhose. And the boots. I dreamed of being a female crew member of the Enterprise and spending my days dressed like them. My favorite was Yeoman Rand, who had a femininity that I just wanted to be more than anything else.

I was a geeky enough fan that I actually bought a copy of the Star Fleet Technical Manual, but largely because it contained this amazing image, which I could — and did — stare at for hours:

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I wasn’t attracted to the woman, specifically. I thought it was the clothing, or the legs, or the boots with high heels. But I know now that it was the whole package. I wanted to travel the galaxy in a starship, but I wanted to do it as a female.

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The Bugaloos was a morning show which I saw sometimes before going to school. I know there were four main characters, but I couldn’t pick the other three (males) out of a line-up. It was the one in the pink skirt that I loved to watch. I didn’t see anything else. I loved the idea of wearing something like that and showing off my legs (in pantyhose, of course). Watching the show was complicated because I didn’t want to give away my real reason for watching, and it happened to air just before my school bus was scheduled to arrive. Often I would push my departure from home to the very last second so I could see as much of her as possible without missing my bus. Somehow I knew that she was in some way who I really wanted to be.

If I had met Yeoman Rand, the only thing I would have wanted to do was rub my hands on her legs. If I met Marcia Brady, I would have wanted to try on one of her dresses. If I had met Caroline Ellis, I would have wanted to feel the fabric of her skimpy pink costume.

These three came to mind when I started thinking about this subject, but there were plenty more. Here’s a quick line-up of TV women who had serious impacts on my gender identity. (See if you can spot the theme.)

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I didn’t understand these feelings then, and I don’t understand them now. Was I reacting in a pre-sexual way? Even though I didn’t want to kiss these women, was I feeling sexual attraction but not knowing what that meant? Did I not know what to do with that sexual energy and simply misplaced it?

Was I simply reacting (predictably, in a male way) to media images of highly concentrated femininity? Did the era, with its miniskirts and go-go boots and soft feminine hair and clothing, set me up and condition me to want something I might not have otherwise wanted? Did the TV producers, who likely just wanted me to keep watching their show, actually trigger some reward system in my brain that set me on the path to gender identity confusion?

On the one hand, I’d love to be able to blame TV producers or advertising executives for my condition, but the fact is that whatever role they played, I was probably predisposed to react to it as I did. If they did anything, it was only to reinforce something that I probably already had inside me. (At least, that’s what I’m going with these days…)

In a very important way, the reasons behind these feelings don’t matter. The feelings were real, and I felt them. The reasons were a mystery, and will always be. Even if I come up with a theory, it’s the actual feelings that matter.

So the deep down truth is just that I wanted to be near femininity. It’s the same reason that I had a girlfriend in first grade — and the girliest girl in the class! If I couldn’t be a girl, I wanted to be near a girl, and as close as I could get.

The real reason I’m asking myself these questions today is that I went to a meeting the other night, and for a large portion of the evening I was the only male in a room with nine women, working on a task that some might consider to be a feminine task (related to education). I thought, How would this be different if they knew I was was also a woman? And then I thought, How would this be different if I were out to them and presenting as a transwoman?

I looked at these women closely. Some of them made me long to switch places. Some of them not. The more girly, the more my dysphoria was triggered. The less girly women did not have this effect on me. And by “less girly” I only mean the degree of overt femininity they expressed.

Directly across the table from me was a woman about my age, with shoulder-length straight brown hair. She wore dangly earrings, and a patterned tunic top long enough to be a dress, but worn over jeans. She wore no make-up, but a lovely purple scarf around her neck. I do not think many men would find her attractive. Nothing in her figure or face would set her apart from a random group of average-looking middle-aged women.

But I was riveted. She showed femininity in her eyes and gestures — all of the little things about her. She was also smart and confident, making her very attractive to me — but not to me as a man. She was attractive in the same way as Marcia Brady. I wanted to be near her, or become her.

To my left was a nice but rather unattractive woman with short brown hair, and a sort of sense of uncertainty about her. I cannot remember what she wore, but when I looked at her I felt no need to become more like her. Indeed, I felt sort of the opposite, as if becoming a woman like her — a person like her — with almost no outward nods to femininity, would be without a point. More than that, I do not have much respect for her.

Directly across from the second woman was one who appeared to have made no concessions to her own femininity. Her hair was stringy and pulled back into a utilitarian pony tail, without any sense of intention. She spoke in cliches, with simplistic ideas. There was nothing about her which tweaked my dysphoria, and I felt no interest in getting closer in any way.

To her right was another woman about my age, wearing another scarf, knitted and tied loosely around her neck, falling into her lap. She wore a black skirt and boots, and a pale pink sweater. Her hair is unnaturally blonde, but it looks nice. When she smiles, it is a delightful sight, but when she does not, her face could be described as somewhat stern. Still, she smiles much more than not. Her attention to detail, and her distinct feminine aura, brought my dysphoria to the forefront as I looked at her.

I could continue. The rest of the women mostly did nothing to trigger me. You can understand why I might wonder if I’m really transgender. If I knew I would be unattractive, or unable/unwilling to revel in the details of femininity — to present myself as fully female and be perceived as inherently feminine — transition might be a mistake.

The difference between the women who triggered me and those who did not was the surfacing of their femininity. It was not beauty, specifically, but the priority that each had placed on exposing that inner part of her identity to the world. The others did not seem to revel in, or even acknowledge, their femininity, despite being inherently feminine. It is this revelry which has always determined who I was attracted to — and who made me paralyzingly nervous.

I’m attracted to, and unnerved by, women whose behavior and appearance say to the world, I am a woman!

And I think it’s because that is who I want to be.

On Being Known

Recently, I had a week that was relatively dysphoria-free. That’s rather rare for me.

And when I think about why it happened, I realize that it’s because of a very long conversation I had with a good friend. In it, I helped him understand what it means when I say that I’m trans, and I answered a whole bunch of his questions.

Some of his questions really made me stop and think. Others were slam dunks. But the conversation was so free of discomfort, and so full of mutual respect and kindness, that I was left with a warm glow which still has not subsided.

In short, I felt known. I did not hide myself. I did not hold back. I did not shy away from the discomfort I often feel when giving literal voice to my feelings. It was like a therapy session, only better. Instead of opening myself to a stranger being paid to listen, I opened myself to a person who is part of my everyday life, and has been for decades.

I was accepted. Honored. Respected. Challenged. Loved.

This represents a best case scenario for talking about myself, revealing myself, and just being me.

When I think about coming out, it’s not to tell the world: “Hey, look at me! I’m a woman now! This is a big deal!”

It’s at least not that noisy. It will be a quiet act, an act not of doing, but of ceasing to do. Not of actively pouring my formerly hidden self into the world, but of neglecting to hide it anymore

I would prefer it to be much more like saying, “I just want you to know who I am. I want you to know this big part of myself that I’ve kept hidden. I want to not hide from you any more. I want to stop living in fear that you would reject me if you knew that I’m trans. I want to tell you my truth, and then live it, come what may.”

In other words, I do not think about a moment where I arrive somewhere wearing a dress and make-up and high heels, and then make a dramatic announcement. I do not imagine writing a “coming out letter” to my family or coworkers or friends. I do not imagine placing myself in front of the world to say, “Here is something you need to know and accept about me.”

Indeed, because I’m unlikely to ever be passable in any sense, I suspect that my shift to a more feminine appearance would be pretty subtle, and certainly not jarring. When I think about transition, I’m not sure it’s exactly what I need — at least not all in one big motion. Gradually, maybe, over a period of years.

When I think about coming out, it’s not while wearing a wig. It’s while just looking like I do now, but admitting that I have this essence inside which I need to release.

In other words, all of my thoughts about my gender identity these days are about being known, and not specifically about being female.

My spouse is dealing with a whole lot of stuff about me, and this is part of it (but not the whole thing). I’m feeling pretty despondent about her ever accepting my being known in this way to anyone, even her.

She said I should do what I need to do, but never talk about it. Don’t let her know what’s happening. She wants to know nothing about what I’m going through. She said I should continue talking to my friend about it (as mentioned at the top of this post).

She doesn’t want to see therapy sessions on our calendar, and wants me to pull the insurance papers for those sessions out of the mail so she doesn’t see them and get triggered.

She has asked me to put my clothing away — get it out of the house, if possible. I packed it into black plastic storage containers and tucked it into a far corner of the attic behind a bunch of other stuff.

All of this makes the idea of just even gently coming out, of ceasing to hide, of publicly acknowledging my private self, seem every bit as impossible as any degree of transition.

If you are reading this, you know me better than anyone else. Don’t take this the wrong way, but that truth makes me hopelessly sad.

Rose Play

When I was about nine years old, my younger brother and I played every day with a neighbor girl, Rose, who was exactly between us in age (nine months younger than me, nine months older than my brother). We often played “house,” and Rose always assigned who would play which roles. I was generally assigned to be the husband/father (which my brother hated, because that made him the kid).

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Rose had three dresses, handed down from her mother, hanging on the back of the door of her play room. Two were very plain, cotton, housewife-type dresses. The third was a green, satin formal with a plunging neckline and crinoline underskirt. My hunch is that it was a bridesmaid or flower girl dress that her mother had worn only once and knew she would never wear again.

I loved that dress on first sight, and it remains one of the most memorable garments I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Part of playing “house” was going on “dates,” which Rose would call from time to time (the husband could request a date, but she got to decide, just as it should be). A “date” consisted of getting dressed up, putting our arms around each other’s waists, and then walking in a prescribed path around her basement. The length of the date was spelled out in advance, and she would specify once, or twice, or even up to ten times around that path as the length of the date.

Being basically like a sister, Rose never really triggered me. But that green dress definitely did. When she put it on before one of our “dates,” I simply ached to become her. It was real torture because I still didn’t understand what was going on with my gender identity or sexuality. After putting my arm around her waist and touching the fabric of that dress, I generally spent the date walking around with a bulge in my pants — a physical agony to go with the psychic one I was experiencing.

One day, she decided that the three of us should all switch genders. She put on an old bowling shirt that her dad had donated to the dress-up collection. My brother and I were each told to pick a dress. I picked the green satin dress, of course, but she wouldn’t let me wear it. She said she thought that it wouldn’t fit, and she didn’t want me to rip it or get it dirty. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she detected something more in my request.

So I was relegated to wearing one of the housewife dresses, to my great disappointment. We traipsed upstairs to show ourselves off to her mom, and then across the street to show our mom, who immediately giggled and grabbed her camera — a photo which can still be found in one of our old family albums.

I’ve turned this event over and over in my mind, mainly because I was not triggered at all by wearing the canvas-like housewife dress, a fabric which barely moved as I walked, over my male clothing. It wasn’t exciting, or uncomfortable, or embarrassing, or even fun. I felt the need to exaggerate my guy-like behaviors, assuming a sort of caveman walk, implicitly denying the presence of any femininity with each step.

I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do anything different if I’d worn the other dress, but I’ve always imagined that I might have actually pretended to be a girl in that dress. Instead, I remember most vividly that, as the picture was taken, I felt great relief that I had fooled the world again by doing this little exercise without letting on just how invested I was in the whole idea of wearing a pretty dress and feeling like a girl.

I am half-smiling in that picture, but it’s not because I was enjoying the gender play. To the contrary, I was trying to smile through my heartbreak. In truth, I couldn’t wait until the little stunt was over. And we never did it again.

I think that the only time Rose ever triggered me was when she got dressed up for a special event. Her mother picked out great clothes for her, and she always wore pretty tights or knee socks. It was the 70s, and she dressed enough like Marcia Brady to trigger the same exact sort of envy that I experienced while watching The Brady Bunch, only amplified.

In one of my saddest childhood memories, Rose was the girl of choice for my mother to take to the Mother-Daughter Banquet at church, since my mom had only sons.

Current Status: Stuck (Still)

Here is the short version of how I feel right now.

The thought of dressing in my female wardrobe makes me sad because I know how ridiculous I look. Wearing female clothing does not make me feel better. It makes me feel silly and foolish and worthy of ridicule.

The thought of coming out makes me sad because of the emotional trauma it would cause my family. I actually want to tell people, and I want people to start to know, but the potential ramifications are just too great.

The thought of transition makes me sad because it could cause me to be even more of a recluse than I already want to be. I’ve never thought of myself as having social anxiety, but the older I get, the more I want to stay out of social situations as much as possible. In addition, transition would make it even harder to find employment, which is already feeling impossible.

I am sad because I have no idea what it would mean to be a woman, or why I even think I want that. I sometimes find myself wrapped into the vanity of it (not allowing myself any type of vanity as a man at all), and many of my fantasies are all about stereotypically heterosexual female sexual activity. These are not what it means to be a woman, that much is clear. So if that’s all I’ve got, I’m on a very slippery slope.

I acknowledge that I am trans, but I can see no way to move forward with any type of transition, or revelation, or increase in authentic living. I see no relief in the near future for the distress (stress, anxiety, depression) it causes me.

This language of my old self being “dead” or even just gone after transition seems hopelessly inappropriate. We all evolve throughout our lives. Transition is an unusually large evolution to go through, but it would be just plain wrong and inappropriate to say that my pre-transition identity was somehow dead. Everything I am will always be built on top of my life’s experiences. Call it a fresh start, or maybe a reboot, but death and rebirth? That is unnecessarily scary and dramatic.

But I am simultaneously having trouble believing that a change of gender (or gender expression) would be that beneficial to me or anyone who knows me, despite wanting it very badly. Sometimes I think, even hope, that it’s just a fetish for me, despite the fact that such an idea scares, repels, and disgusts me. The advantage it would have is that there would be no question about transition. It could remain hidden from other people forever.

When I am in the company of other people, I seem able to suppress all of my gender questioning. When I am alone, gender is generally all I can think about unless I get myself to focus deeply on something else. Even then, thoughts about gender are almost guaranteed to break my concentration eventually.

Worst of all, thinking often leads to orgasm, after which I lose all sense that I have any trans in me at all. It is a relief, but also terribly sad. What if all of this is just about self-gratification? I could not bear it, but it might be true.

But here is the saddest piece. I feel like I am sleepwalking through life, unable to feel even the most rudimentary emotions. Sometimes I think it’s just the way I’m built. Sometimes I think I do this to myself — suppress emotions I might feel — to bolster the case for crossgender hormones. Sometimes I think it’s a mental illness. Whatever it is, without some change, I will die having gotten nowhere near the maximum out of what it means to live a human life. This is my real and deep sadness.

So, where do I go from here? Nowhere, it seems.

Set Back

“I am just not available for that. I cannot help. I cannot have it as a part of my life. I don’t want to tell anyone. I don’t want anyone to know. Not my sister. Not my mom. Not my friends. Not our kids. No one we know. I don’t want that in my life. I don’t want that question on anyone’s lips. I just can’t handle it. It’s too primal. Too impossible.”

And with those words, I was pushed back into my closet. What I thought was a potential opening has been slammed shut, at least for now.

I understand her feelings. And I will respect her feelings. And I will push it down again like I have so many times before.

When I said that I was tired of hiding, she said that she could understand that “sort of intellectually, and I’m sure it’s difficult.” But it changed nothing.

When I said that I hated hiding myself from her, she asked what “not hiding from me” would look like. I only mentioned conversation, and mostly about transgender news stories such as the reversal of the Boy Scouts. I could tell from her tone that anything more physical on my part (clothing, shaving, hormones) would be way beyond her threshold, so I didn’t even bring it up.

She said that she no longer thinks about the subject of my gender identity every day like she used to, and finds that to be a welcome relief. But she also said that the one friend she revealed the issue to asks about it in every phone call (which, due to circumstances, thankfully happens only once or twice a year).

I told her how having conversation, which I did recently with a friend, makes me feel known and valued and releases the pressure which builds up. She encouraged me to continue using him as a sounding board, and not her.

The subject came up in a conversation about my mental health. She has made comments recently that I may be suffering from depression or anxiety and could potentially benefit from a low dose of an anti-depressant. I know that’s not true (HRT is probably the only medication which can help me). But when I suggested a return to therapy to explore the options, she was surprised that I would go back to my old therapist, who specializes in transgender issues. She genuinely didn’t understand why I would do that.

“Continuity,” I said at first. I explained that it would be a little crazy to start over from scratch with someone new. It would take too long and cost too much. “But anyway,” I said, “my mental health is always about gender identity to a certain degree, and it always will be.”

She does not understand how persistent the problem is. She doesn’t understand how pervasive the problem is. She doesn’t understand how invasive the problem is. She does not understand how disruptive the problem is. And nothing I say can seem to crack through that shell. She doesn’t want it to, and lives in a sort of cognitive dissonance in which I occasionally have this small crossdressing problem, but it doesn’t hurt anybody, so it can be safely left off of her mental and emotional plate.

I’m disappointed and sad. I had hoped, given her advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community in her public work, that she could find some level of understanding. But it’s a very different thing when gender identity issues invade your own house and your own husband. I get that.

I certainly don’t blame her for this reaction. How else might she react? More than anything, I appreciate her honesty. The worst thing she could do is pretend to happily play along until some line is crossed and she can’t take it anymore.

There was no sign this time that her feelings will ever change. It would be easy if I didn’t love her, and our children, so much. You might think that something this big might be a deal-breaker in a relationship, but it’s not. We are truly great together, and we are a great parenting team, and I could scarcely imagine a better life partner. No, this is a case where self-sacrifice is really my best and only option.

When we love, we sometimes have to do things like that. It’s part of the human condition, and I accept that. Sometimes I think that an overwhelming self-centeredness in our culture is what drives so much of the loneliness. Expecting perfection not only isn’t practical, it’s unwise. We give and we get.

Relationships are always a give-and-take, at least up to certain genuine deal-breakers like physical or emotional violence. I’d also place deceit on that list, which is why I raised the subject and really hoped for some permission from her to be more of myself to the world. I hate deceiving the world, but I hate deceiving her even more — despite the fact that she has made it very clear that this is exactly what she wants.

So that’s where I’m at, and that’s where it seems I have to stay.

At least I’m good at hiding. Maybe no one will ever know.