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.

Daylight?

My spouse relayed to me a story that she heard from a 90-year-old acquaintance. The elderly woman, who I will call Kate, doesn’t look a day over 70 despite having retired from a long career in science nearly 25 years ago. She was eager to share a most unusual experience.

Kate has lived in the same house, with the same neighbors for decades. She had a casual, “friendly neighbor” relationship with a couple who lived directly adjacent to her, but when the wife died a couple of years ago, she lost touch with the husband.

Over time, she began to realize that she hadn’t seen the husband at all, and she began to seek him out. More than a year had passed when one day she saw him as they were pulling into their respective driveways simultaneously. She took the opportunity to get caught up. What she heard was entirely unexpected.

After some small talk, and routine answers to the questions about what he had been up to since his wife died, her neighbor drew a deep breath and explained to her why he had disappeared when his wife died. He told her that he was transgender, but never transitioned because his wife objected. She explicitly had told him, “Just wait until I’m dead and then you can do what you need to do.”

He told Kate that he had done exactly that, and now that his wife had died, despite his grieving, he had decided to transition, and to keep a low profile in the neighborhood while doing so. Kate, despite being taken by surprise, didn’t bat an eyelash. She offered congratulations and a vow to be supportive in whatever way that she could.

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After finishing the story, my wife paused and then fixed her gaze on me. “I’m OK with that,” she said. “Just wait until I’m dead and then you can do what you need to do.”

I don’t know what she saw in the look on my face at that moment, and I don’t know what I had put there, but she quickly added, “Or not. Maybe you don’t have to wait. I don’t know.”

That she was willing to raise the subject is monumental enough. She has regular contact with several people who have transitioned, and is an advocate for LGBT rights as part of her professional life, but we tend to lapse into complete silence between us whenever exposed to transgender issues in the media or in our everyday lives. We recently watched a profile of a college-age transman on 60 Minutes and yet acknowledged nothing between us about our own personal closeness to the issue.

To her comment, I protested that the thought of her dying before me was a horrible thought. I would be too sad to do much of anything if that were to happen. Transition would probably be the last thing on my mind if she were to die young, and not practical if she were to die late. And anyway, I said, it’s far more likely that I will go first. (She is five years my junior.)

But her story started a short conversation between us on the subject of my gender identity. It was positive and casual. Nothing was resolved, but some built-up tension was released.

A couple of years ago we had some only very difficult conversations on the subject. She told me then that she was suffering great distress — to the point of physical nausea — at the thought of me transitioning. I resolved then never to raise the subject again, out of compassion for her. And she, I think, resolved to do the same, for the same reason. A twist on Gift of the Magi, I suppose.

But now I think time may have mellowed her reaction. Now we might have more meaningful conversations.

I think I see a light.

Mary

e1ca50e8039f4fc4c28972f445a906d2So many little girls wanted to grow up to be Mary Richards, and I was one of them. Only I was a boy, and such thoughts were really confusing and seemingly inappropriate.

Yet there I was on many occasions, dressed in my mother’s clothing, sitting on the couch late at night, watching reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and wishing I would grow up to be Mary.

I loved Mary’s look and her clothes, of course. But my affection for the character and the actor went much deeper. She was, in many ways, something of a feminine ideal, especially for transgirls like me. She carved out a niche where she could be fully who she was, even when that meant exposing her insecurities, navigating embarrassing situations, being imperfect. Beneath it all, she was confident, centered, and full of meaningful self-knowledge. She was always gloriously herself, and showed that full self to the world.

Mary Richards sometimes seemed to long for things, but it never diminished her. She was self-aware, and, even though sometimes reserved, unwilling to let the world tell her who she could and could not be. She did not hide herself, and I always envied that. Even when circumstances might have made her want to crumble, she did so in a way that told you she was showing you who she was deep inside. I never got to do that then, and I still don’t.

hbz-the-list-housewife-hair-07I’ll never forget putting it together that the same actor had also played one of my other favorite TV women. The Dick Van Dyke Show had been running in syndication during the afternoon for just about as long as I could remember. And Laura Petrie was another example of confident femininity that was formative for me.

Unlike Mary Richards, Laura walked in someone’s shadow, and yet she never cowered, or allowed that shadow to obscure how fully-formed she was as a woman. Even though much of her life revolved around her husband, she was still her own person — and fully her own person. She wore her femininity like a beautiful dress, even when she was in capri pants!

This all means that I’ve spent a whole lot of time looking at Mary Tyler Moore and wishing I could be her in one or the other of her incarnations. It’s not exaggerating to say that she created two of the prototypes which laid the groundwork for my understanding of what it means to be a woman.

When we spend a lot of time watching actors, we start to think that we know them. But it isn’t true. What we know of Mary Tyler Moore through the characters she created is very hard to quantify. When I have seen or heard her interviewed, I always got the sense that she was neither of those women, even while encapsulating both of them within herself.

And though it’s certain that she had insecurities, personal demons, and benefited significantly from Hollywood magic and from the wonderful words written by others for her to say, she always had the same air of self-awareness and deeply pure femininity found in both Laura Petrie and Mary Richards. I think it’s likely that, just as she animated those characters in the beginning, they ultimately came to animate her.

I would like to have known her.

If I had ever met her, I would have wanted to say thanks, but probably would have tripped over the “for what” part of that. For the laughs. For the many hours of entertainment. For giving herself to those roles. For caring about story and character, and for being generous to her costars. For being feminine — for not being afraid to be feminine — at a time when the role of femininity was changing. For forging a modern femininity and then embodying it. For being herself, and revealing herself.

But also I would have wanted to thank her for helping me locate the woman within myself. She didn’t set out to do that, but it happened. She was, in many real ways, a midwife to my (still ongoing) birth as a transwoman. And I am forever grateful to her for that most personal of gifts which she never knew she gave me. (It is not coincidence that my female name derives, in part, from one of her characters.)

I will carry her influence with me always.

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Inner Worlds

4e92ffe3d7d2af2b88991c7821bc19a2This week, I began to think that the most significant lesson my parents taught me is how to reveal as little as possible of myself to the world. Then again, maybe they didn’t teach me, but merely bestowed that instinct to me in my DNA.

I don’t mean this in a harsh or bitter way, but rather as a statement of discovered fact — discovered, that is, in the cache of my father’s web browser during some tech support work. It is not exactly news to me that he prefers gay porn (there have been hints), but the knowledge was easier to process when it didn’t have actual images attached.

I don’t care about his sexual preferences. But the confirmation that he hides something so significant about himself from the world is still a bit startling. How much does my mother know/suspect? And for how long? How long has he lived a life that has been fundamentally dishonest — to himself, to her, to his children, to the world? How might his life, and ours, have been different — more authentic — if he had been willing to reveal himself? It might have been more complicated, but also more meaningful. Then again, maybe not.

His cousin, with whom he was close during childhood, came out as gay in the late 1970s, and it utterly destroyed his family. His wife divorced him instantly, and then she sank into depression and something bordering on insanity (which may have been lurking beneath the surface anyway). His daughter turned to sex (professionally) and hard drugs (recreationally). His son turned to religion — and not in a healthy way (though he has had, by far, the least troubled life of his family members). If my father ever considered coming out, his cousin’s cautionary tale may have been one reason why he did not.

I will not ask him such questions, or even let on that I know. If he were younger, perhaps that could lead to some sort of meaningful conversation between us. Perhaps it could lead to the peeling back of masks. Perhaps he would be relieved. But he is 80, impaired by stroke, becoming more fragile by the day, and I could not be that cruel to someone who is so near the end of his life.

And it would be cruel. It’s not a conversation I would desire under any circumstances. More than anything, I think it might humiliate him. It might be taken as a moment of, “Aha! I caught you! You’re a fake! You have been all along.” Or perhaps he is still in denial. He may not have even come out to himself. A person’s sexuality is deeply private, and should only be daylighted if that is their desire. I do not have the right to out him (even in private) any more than he would have to out me.

But this is its own cautionary tale. Perhaps this is a moment of waking for me. Maybe I need to break the chain, tell the truth about myself, and become someone better in the process. Maybe I need to daylight that significant portion of myself which I have aggressively hidden all my life.

Last night, my 11-year-old son asked me if I thought I’d be a different person if I had been born a girl. (Timely question.) “Of course,” I replied, and that led to a conversation about the differences between boys and girls, how the perceptions are sometimes wrong, and the presence of people in this world who wish they had been born differently. We worked briefly through the meanings of the letters in LGBT. While not specifically a pre-coming-out conversation, it may as well have been. Groundwork must be laid.

polar-shiftHe revealed that one of his new teachers this quarter is gender fluid. It was a matter-of-fact disclosure, in the way that you might say that your teacher has red hair, or wears funny ties. I asked if his teacher, who prefers “they” as a pronoun, had been born a boy or a girl. “How should I know?” he answered, somewhat indignantly. It had truly never occurred to him to wonder about that. At 11, he’s farther along than I would have realized, and I am farther behind than I realized for even asking such a question.

His response is just another piece of evidence that the long arc of history bends toward inclusion and tolerance — despite what election results sometimes suggest. We pause, perhaps take a step backwards, and then resume the march toward inevitable love and peace, acceptance and understanding. Let’s hope this pause is a short one. But I digress.

My spouse has shown some signs of decreasing discomfort and increasing acceptance, but that, too, is not a straight path.

Within the past couple of years, she became aware that her father, who maintained an absolutely straight persona, and remained happily married to her mother, also regularly frequented gay bars. He died in the mid 1980s, ostensibly of a blood disease officially recorded as a virulent and fast-moving form of leukemia. Now she wonders if that was perhaps a euphemism for AIDS.

In a recent conversation about my gender issues, and in the context of whether our sons should ever know about me, I asked her if she wouldn’t rather have known his truth while he was alive. She said it was appropriate for him to take that identity to his grave, and that she was glad she did not know about it while he was alive.

She might be right. Absent the knowledge of their father’s sexuality, both she and her sister turned into healthy, happy, productive and successful adults. If he had come out, and the family fractured, the results might have been starkly different, as in the case of my father’s cousin. But, of course, those were very different times.

So, where does that leave me?

My own inauthenticity nags at me. Does hiding myself really benefit my family, or am I perpetuating a cycle of distance between fathers and sons? Could it be that overcoming the instinct to hide my true self represents the great challenge of my life? Or could that challenge be to maintain the ongoing containment of an identity that, if revealed, has the potential to damage lives that I care deeply about?

Playing Myself?

The act of playing yourself can be loosely defined as working against your conscious intentions. It’s what you do when you think you’re serving your own interests but are actually betraying them—often through significant effort, often in a spectacularly public way.

A post on the NewYorker web site made me stop in my tracks today. Am I playing myself with thoughts of transition? Or am I playing myself with the notion that I can avoid transition?

They are opposites, and yet either could be true.

The first idea is that I only think I want/need to come out and transition — that it’s the best possible course for me, and even the only possible course — but that I would quickly discover it to be a life-devastating mistake.

I’ve said before that my spouse is deeply uncomfortable with the idea of me being trans. Coming out could potentially lead to her deciding to move on, a move I cannot bear to contemplate because our marriage is otherwise amazing. If she felt that she had to leave, it would, in turn, have potentially catastrophic consequences for our young sons, and our collective finances. I am already significantly under-employed, and making a living would not become easier after coming out, that’s for sure.

Because of her job, which has a public component, she could also be greatly harmed by my coming out. Even if the harm was offset by an outpouring of support for her (a distinct possibility) and the vilification of me and my decision (also possible), the stress alone could become debilitating for her. We often observe the great difficulty that various friends, who are single parents, have in the routine tasks of life. We often feel deeply grateful for having each other as traveling companions on life’s road. I cannot bear the thought of going life alone again.

Divorce, fractured parenting, and a doubling of the household expenses could lead to some very dark places. I could easily realize in short order that I had played myself. Getting what I (thought I) wanted, could turn out to be nightmarish.

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On the other hand, the strategy I’ve developed over the past couple of years could be just as fraught with peril in the long term. I have tried hard to avoid the subject altogether, to spare her the agony I know she feels when she thinks about it, and place strict limits on my own considerations about transition. As I’ve written, I’ve concluded that it may be best for all concerned if I simply give up the idea.

The good that this strategy would do for my family seems obvious. But it’s easy to imagine a darker side.

It could easily place too much stress on me, and lead to deep regrets which manifest themselves as anger and bitterness (at worst) or simply sadness and grief (at best). What if not becoming the best person I could be means spending the remainder of my life longing for something, and growing ever more detached, forlorn, isolated? I see potential signs of these things within myself already. What if my intended path leads to anxiety or depression (if it hasn’t already)? These would certainly have a spillover effect on everyone around me.

I could easily get to a point where I realize that this approach, which I’ve thought for a while is in my and everyone’s best interest, turns out to lead to a different type of marital downfall, stresses with my children, and financial hardships? What if one of the reasons I am underemployed and sort of misanthropic is that I find it so hard to deal with people because of the constant need to hide this gigantic portion of myself?

Will I get to a point where I think that not transitioning amounted to playing myself?

There are no answers here. It’s potentially a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t situation. It may be a choice between two bad choices. And yet, it’s possible that either will work, at least to some degree. There is no way to make this decision, and the idea of “playing yourself” only brings that fact into stark relief.

It is Schrödinger’s Cat played out in real life. Both outcomes exist in potential, only one can become real. And there’s no way to know whether the cat is dead or alive until you open the box.

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Trigger Happy, Part 2: Hawaiian Honey

Note: This is the second of a three-part series where I sort through what triggers my dysphoria, and how understanding that is essential to accepting that I am trans.

Across the room I watched her, trying not to watch her, and trying not to admit that I wanted to watch her, and making sure she did not know that I wanted to watch her, or had even glanced twice.

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It wasn’t that I couldn’t take my eyes off of Meli (Hawaiian for “honey”), but I didn’t want to. So I allowed myself only glances, occasional, fleeting, harmless, unnoticed.

She has volcanic black hair that frames a face filled with mystery and youthful cheer. She smiles a great deal, and it is beautiful. Her Asian eyes are expressive and alert. She wears a sweater, a scarf, and jeans which perfectly frame her perfect frame. In her mid-20s, she is just now becoming who she will be, and she is not quite half my age.

I am not interested in romance. I am not interested in sex. I am not interested in friendship. I am not interested in conversation.

I am not interested in her youth, or her social life, or her ideas — at least not specifically. I am interested only in her transparent, integrated, and overflowing femininity.

And I am interested in the fact that I am interested in her. As I look at her, I think she is magically attractive. I think that she is a magnet to every man in the room, and perhaps some of the women. I think that her beauty, rooted as it is in her femininity, would meet anyone’s definition of attractiveness.

But I am wrong.

As I collect quick looks at Meli, I realize that her attractiveness is not something emanating from her, but rather something that is — and I can barely believe this at first — entirely within me. Her attractiveness is not a quality that she possesses or exudes or broadcasts, but rather an interpretation that I make within my own mind from what I am seeing. I am experiencing it because I am creating it.

I might assume that others would have the same reaction toward her, but even if that is true, it’s irrelevant. All that matters to me, indeed all that I could ever have access to, is within my own mind. And in that space, she may as well be a Chinese-Hawaiian goddess of femininity.

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Now, before I get too carried away, I should be clear that I’ve known Meli for some time, and had a variety of reactions toward her, ranging from complete indifference to pure lust. This is, in fact, another clue that my reaction to her is entirely my own creation, and entirely internal. It can be triggered or affected by what she wears on a given day, or how she has pulled her hair to one side (or not), or how she holds her hands, but it is not a quality of those things. It is a reaction, my reaction — distinctly separate, detached, independent, and outside of Meli, and within me.

Because we don’t have (and never could have) any sort of romantic connection, I can be reasonably certain that she does not make choices about her appearance in consideration of how they will affect my reaction toward her. It’s possible that she makes such decisions in consideration of someone else’s reaction, but I do not know this one way or the other. (I’ve never known her to have either a boyfriend or a girlfriend.) It’s more likely that she just makes decisions about her appearance the way everyone does, in the routine course of leaving privacy to enter the public sphere, where appearances reverberate in unexpected but occasionally measurable ways, and are therefore meaningful.

As I glance at her again, I realize that she is likely completely unaware that her decisions have any affect on me specifically. She certainly has no idea of the depth of my reaction on this particular day. I suspect that she has a general sense that she’s “looking good” (or not) at any point, but is probably never fully aware of whose buttons she’s pushing (which is probably true for all of us). She likely has no idea that she might ever push my buttons. She would probably be repulsed by the thought.

Oddly, if she knew that I was so keenly noticing her, she might erroneously assume that I want something carnal from her. Were she to start noticing my glances, she might begin to feel uncomfortable (or excited, I might fantasize), not realizing that I am keying on her femininity in a way that is essentially detached from any carnal desires.

The truth for me is that I find her femininity attractive. And there is a clue to the mechanism at work right in that word: attractive. She attracts my eye. She attracts my attention. She attracts my curiosity. She attracts me.

And it is that attraction — that invisible and unconsummated and non-reciprocal link between how she looks and how I react — which triggers my dysphoria.

The flower does not create pollen with the intent of attracting a honeybee. It creates pollen for a specific purpose which the honeybee unknowingly participates in, its own motivations completely unrelated. This is an important relationship to understand because it is central to the transgender mechanism, at least inside of me.

bee-postI think she is beautiful, but there is no objective standard for beauty. And even if you could put something like that together, there is no guarantee that anyone else would agree with me that she meets it. I can decide that she is beautiful to me, but I cannot decide that for anyone else.

Everything that I think about Meli is exactly that: a thought within my mind. It is not something that is essential or true about her. It is something I impose on her.

And then I hit on the greater realization: Exactly the same thing is true of Meli’s femininity. Her femininity is also entirely within me. I read her as transparently feminine because I decide what that means, and I decide that she possesses it, and I decide that I like it.

And on this particular day, it triggers my dysphoria.

Now, unlike the concept of beauty, femininity is somewhat easier to define. But there are so many types, and so many different expressions, that I doubt you could actually put your finger on it. I have no doubt that others — perhaps even everyone in the room — would describe Meli as feminine, though it might not be their first adjective. And I doubt that everyone (anyone?) else would be as admiring of her femininity as I am. It’s unlikely even that others would have keyed in on that aspect of her the way I have.

Indeed, I am interested in Meli primarily for the femininity she displays — at least as I perceive it. It is instructive to me because it tells me something about myself. I like what I see in her, and I call it femininity, and I wish that I could express that same thing as easily and totally as she does.

This is the definition of my trigger: That which resonates within me, making me ache to express what I contain but cannot reveal, let alone live fully.

Meli’s femininity appears to come completely naturally to her, but I don’t know this. Her femininity, including the way her hips swing as she walks, and the way she flips her hair, and the delicate way she holds her hands, could be an act. Or maybe not an act, exactly, but merely a product of her biology.

Her hips are, in my estimation, perfectly proportioned to her height. She is ideally curvy, and I doubt that she could walk any other way. Is this walk then a sign of some sort of inner femininity, or just the manifestation of her body’s shape? I cannot know.

But I read it as femininity. I read it as an open expression by her of who she understands herself to be inside. And this is where I begin my real exploration of why I might give these things any thought at all.

I watch Meli, and I find myself face-to-face with my inner woman, clamoring to be expressed in the casual way that Meli expresses hers. And I slowly begin to realize that not only is Meli expressing her inner woman, but that expression is not complete until someone else has picked up on it and completed the feminine equation by seeing her in that way — as I am doing when I look at her.

Meli’s femininity requires my observation to exist. Likewise, my femininity requires the observation of another to actually exist. It absolutely requires the eyes of another, and that is what I crave. As long as my femininity remains contained within me, unseen by anyone else, it does not exist. It is but potential — frustrating and utterly wasted potential.

I do not require consummation, or reciprocity. I just need to be seen. Call it Quantum Femininity: It exists as an equation, a range of potentials, which cannot collapse into reality until it is observed.

This is quite a rabbit hole to climb down into.

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Trigger Happy, Part 1: Carmela’s Boots

Note: This is the first of a three-part series where I sort through what triggers my dysphoria, and how understanding that is essential to accepting that I am trans.

fashionable-womens-snow-boots-uqggr1vkqDoes she have any idea what those boots do to me?

Does she realize, when she puts them on, that for a segment of the world — which includes me — she is sexualizing her legs most powerfully?

I don’t suppose that she thought about me when she put them on, but does she know that I see her very differently differently when she wears those boots?

Does she realize that, even though I know and respect her, and don’t think of her as an object in any way, that the hormones in my body react to those boots in a way that makes it nearly impossible for me not to objectify her?

Oh, Carmela. I do not want to be toward you the person that those boots make me want to be. You are a person, a whole person, and I respect you. You are smart, and valuable, and a whole person well beyond your body.

And I don’t think that you put on those boots this morning with the idea that they would over-stimulate my sexual conquistador juices — or did you? Did you know that they might cause me to become transfixed, consumed, obsessed with you? That they might make me want to seduce you?

This is not an academic question. It’s very real. But there is an equally important second set of questions that I must also ask of myself.

Do I realize that those boots only sexualize Carmela in my mind? Can I remain fully aware of the fact that she likely did not put them on with the intention of attracting me? Do I fully understand that the attraction I feel for her when she’s wearing those boots is not something she created through her decision, but something I created through the act of observing and contemplating her?

Those boots engaged my eyes, and then my testosterone surged, and my thinking became laser-focused on her and nothing else. It was the boots that grabbed me, and only a few drooling moments later did I notice the night-black opaque tights which bridged the gap between the tops of those amazing boots, and the equally transfixing hem of her sweater dress — a hem which descended to exactly the right height on her powerful thighs.

The full truth is that, when I saw her today, I wanted to walk up to Carmela, put my hand around her waist, compliment her beauty and her clothing, smell her hair, touch her arm, and get lost for a few minutes in her shapely smile. I wanted to flirt with her, and convince her to go with me to some quiet place where I could explore her curves and lips.

Perhaps this description makes her appearance sound provocative, but it was beautifully muted. She is a 40-ish mother of two who has retained the most beautiful femininity and girlness. I know her well enough to know that it’s not an act, and it’s not for the benefit of any man. Her beauty, which perhaps not all would see, is about who she is, her clothing being only a visual manifestation of that.

As I glanced at her, carefully short and calculated glances, I tried to keep myself aware of the fact that the power of her thighs was only in my mind. She did not place it there, nor was it something inherent about her anatomy. She did not reveal her deep attractiveness by her choice of outfit. She was, in sure fact, just being herself. It is only in my mind that Carmela became, in that first moment, my ultimate dream of womanhood — both for my male hormones, and my female sensibilities.

Because, while the male part of me would love to kiss and hug her, and hold her hand, and tickle her ear with a whisper, these are not the thoughts I had about her which really interest me.

What her boots, and indeed her whole outfit, even her whole persona, did to me was create very real and deep envy. Whatever things about herself she may hold inside, and there certainly is plenty, through her choice of outfit she was giving herself to the world as fully female, and fully comfortable with that identity. She was confident, open, and plainly herself. And once I got over the testosterone surge (through sheer will power), that is what I realized was causing me to remain transfixed upon her. If anything, it wasn’t even the femininity which attracted me, but just her overall comfort with herself, and her seemingly effortless ability to project her true self into the world.

Setting aside the great distraction provided by male hormones, which I truly wish I could be rid of, her boots — as a proxy for her whole appearance — didn’t make me think, “Gee, I wish I had boots like that,” or, “Gee, I wish I could wear such a thing,” or, “Gee, I wish I looked like her,” or even, “Gee, I wish I could be a girl like her.” What her boots really did to me is make me think, “I wish I could be that open and honest about who I am as I move about the world. I wish I could just say, ‘Here I am, all of me.'” That’s what her boots made me wish.

Sweet Carmela

Sweet Carmela

As my male hormones retreated into self control, I came to realize that she wasn’t wearing tights at all, but just tightish black pants. And her “sweater dress” was really just a long sweater, falling down to its full length, and falling about where a miniskirt might. But it wasn’t the bombshell look my instincts had at first assembled. It was much more sensible. The boots had just taken my mind into flights of fancy about her clothing decisions today.

And that would be the point. To Carmela, everything she did, wore, decided, was about her, and not about me or anyone else. She picked clothing which she thought looked attractive on her (it did), but she did it not to attract me or anyone else. She certainly didn’t do it to sexualize her body. All of those ideas arose within my mind, stoked by hormones, and did not come in any way from her. It was all me.

Sometimes I wonder if my desire to be a woman is about being able to arouse such thoughts in other people. I mean, it’s perfectly possible that she did want to turn guys on with her look today, though I think that unlikely. Even if not today, I’m sure there have been times when she wanted to sexualize portions of her body to attract a man or men.

But Carmela is someone who I sense has some insecurity in this area. I think she would be genuinely surprised that I had any of these thoughts when I saw her today. Even setting aside my trans thoughts, which she could have no inkling about, I think she would be surprised to know that I wanted to embrace her. I even suspect that if she knew she were having that affect on someone (not just me, anyone), she might have chosen a different outfit for the day.

But the lesson is in the mechanism. What she wore caused a reaction within me, but that is all. I observed her and reacted. Part of it was instinctive, animal. Part of it was more than that. But what I can gain is the sure knowledge that my reactions are my own, even if caused by someone else’s clothing decisions.

She made me understand that what I want is to bring my whole self to the world, and that I cannot do that right now, as a man. My hope is that I could do it as a woman, but that’s only a hope.

But the episode made very clear that, when I understand my reactions, and accept that they are mine alone, and that they serve to explain me to myself, then I might understand myself better by way of women (and others) like Carmela — something she will never know.

On Giving Up

…there’s also the simple possibility of giving up, of deciding there’s another kind of life to be lived. [She] did that for a while. It was both horrible and a great relief. ‘I felt split in two,” she writes. “The person I had hoped to become was torn away, leaving only the person I had always been.’

This is not a quote from or about a trans-person, but it might as well be. It might as well be about me.

It’s actually from a New York Times book review. The author wanted to have a child, and found herself dropped into a subculture that she did not even know existed. Given how little the larger world knows about trans culture, the language immediately reminded me of what it’s like to be part of the trans community and working toward the goals of transition:

For about five years, Ms. Boggs…struggled… The experience made her a citizen of a shadow nation we hear little about — a place with its own rites, institutions, even language…(…online message boards…) For the first three years, Ms. Boggs attends a support group, in part to hear horror stories. “I’m hoping to detach from the process,” she writes, “to see what I could spare myself if I gave up.”

But giving up is difficult, as she soon discovers. There is always one more treatment to try or redo, provided she’s willing to spring for it or disappear into a canyon of debt. …there’s also the simple possibility of giving up, of deciding there’s another kind of life to be lived.

Ms. Boggs did that for a while. It was both horrible and a great relief. “I felt split in two,” she writes. “The person I had hoped to become was torn away, leaving only the person I had always been.” She eventually resumes trying.

2ab2fac75d9bea4e3093e2f16043d581It resonates with me because I’m trying hard to give up on transition, and I find it alternately horrible and a great relief.

My therapist has not returned my calls. She may have retired. She may have a full schedule. Or she may have been scared off by my questions about insurance.

The thought of starting over with a different therapist is discouraging, but it doesn’t really matter because the cost is completely untenable regardless of who it is. Our family policy has a high deductible (meaning we must pay out of pocket for the first several thousand dollars worth of treatment each year) and explicitly excludes treatments for gender identity issues without “prior approval” from the insurance company. This clause appears structured to get potential transitioners to come out officially so that their intentions can become part of their permanent medical records, thus following them (medically) wherever they may go.

I’m not exactly scared of coming out — in fact, I’m actually ready and somewhat eager — but the potential ramifications to my family’s ability to get coverage later are scary. (Healthcare in the USA is f-ing crazy. There is the very real potential that some future potential insurer could turn down my family because of my being trans — just because they don’t want to incur the expenses.)

My spouse has hinted at slightly more openness to some transitional steps (which I will write about in a separate post). But I find myself hindered less by her reaction to my issues (which she at one point described as “making me sick to my stomach whenever I think about it”), and more by my own need to avoid disappointing her. In that way, it isn’t really her discouraging me that makes me want to give up, but me discouraging myself because of what it might do to her. (I wonder about my kids, but think they would do much better than she would.)

I wonder if I have the courage to actually come out and transition anyway, especially knowing that I would probably disgust (or at least confuse and put off) a large portion of the people I would come into contact with throughout the rest of my life. Sometimes I relish being invisible. (Actually, that’s most of the time.)

The only thing left pushing me forward is the nagging sense that I have always been merely a blank slate onto which a more whole person might someday be drawn. I’ve never been my whole self to the world, and I think that would be, well, better by far. That potential is what has always fueled my gender questioning.

Woman's hand writingAnd that’s why the quote at the top of this post hit me so hard. I have always thought that there was a better me out there waiting to be realized. My current attempts to give up on transition thoughts leaves me grieving the loss of that potential.

My birthday was this week. I’m now 53 years old. I’m grieving a lot of intangible losses these days, including those related to my art and my vocation. It appears as if I will never reach the many potentials that I once had, and the rest of my life will be a continuation of the grayness I have become accustomed to.

The lone exception is my family. What joy I have in life comes exclusively through my spouse and kids. It is this fact which continues to push me away from a transition which might have devastatingly negative consequences for them, and damage or destroy the one aspect of my life which has, in fact, reached the greatest of its potentials.

And so I am trying to give up. It is not easy. And the hardest part may very well be, as with the quote from the book review, that the person I had hoped to become is being torn away, leaving only the person I have always been.

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Unremarkable, Remarkable

As I watched the closing ceremony for the Olympics, it occurred to me just how unremarkable it is to be female. There were so many of them, and they all seemed roughly the same — at least from the distance of a television camera. Some variations were vaguely visible, but the overall effect was one of identity-free interchangeability.

A full fifty percent of the world’s population is female. That’s a whole lot, right?

eight_col_Closing2At the same time, it also seemed unremarkable to be male. Again, there were lots of them — the other fifty percent, obviously. How odd, I thought, that anyone should be on one side of that divide and wish to be on the other. You merely move from being an anonymous member of one gigantic group to an anonymous member of the other. How could such a change mean anything to anyone? Any one person is only a drop in the gigantic bucket of those who share their gender.

It’s especially mystifying to me that someone would be on the female side of the equation and wish to be on the male side. Obviously, my own desire to switch sides would mystify the vast majority of these seemingly interchangeable people.

I frequently have such thoughts when confronted by, or even just considering, crowds. In the context of a crowd, that one person would have crossed that line, or would even have formed such an idea, seems absurdly unimportant, a trifle, as minuscule a thing as there is. No one would notice or care. If they did, the moment would pass, and each party would be on to the next moment.

Sadly, it is only on the scale of our personal relationships, where we spend the bulk of our lives, that such notions are significant enough to cause discomfort. This is where the real problems of the transgendered are experienced.

But back to Rio.

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In recognizing the unremarkableness of being born in one gender or the other, I suddenly became aware of the remarkableness of being transgender. Though our numbers continue to climb, it is still a very tiny slice of the world which experience what I (we) experience. Most of those gendered people out there will never once ask themselves if they fit their gender. In that way, we are remarkable.

This should give me comfort, but it does not. It seems like the one thing which can separate a drop from its ocean, and deposit it somewhere to dry and disappear like meaningless dust. A crowd can be a great thing, but ultimately we each stand alone. Scale matters.

So I am unremarkable. And I am remarkable. And I am unremarkable.

My Hand

Last week I was involved in a group art project. The first instruction we received was to trace around our left hand on a piece of paper. Then we were told to draw within the hand a representation of ourselves.

I thought for a very long time — long enough that one of the other participants asked if I needed something. I said that I did not, but was just thinking about what to draw.

I surveyed the supplies on hand: colored markers. I listened to other people describing to each other what they were doing and why. Many included symbols of skills, interests or activities. The woman next to me began by drawing in her wedding ring, and then putting stick figures next to it which represented the members of her family.

I had no real interest in doing any of these things, but also was a bit annoyed with myself at how long it was taking me to consider what I should draw. This was not fine art we were making, or anything that anyone would ever really see or care about.

And yet I couldn’t just toss it off. I couldn’t just draw symbols for my occupation or hobbies or family members. I had been asked specifically to draw something which represented my identity, and that instruction cut right into me, somewhat unexpectedly, because I had no idea what that was. I was facing a great big blank, and starting to grow agitated and somewhat sad.

As others began to wrap up what they were doing, and the inevitable next part of the project grew nearer, my only option was to begin drawing and hope that something came to me. As I picked up the first marker I had literally no idea what I was going to do with it.

It was red, and I used it to draw a horizontal line across the middle of my hand. Right away it looked to me like a horizon, so I sketched some blue lines above it to represent a sky, and then a yellow sun emanating from my fingertips toward the palm. Then I found myself adding an orange road heading toward that horizon, and some grey, craggy rocks along the road. With a green pen I drew three trees.

I had picked colors essentially at random based on what was available at that moment in the box, and then just decided spontaneously how to use them. Now I put the green pen down, and took the only color remaining in the box: pink. I didn’t know why, but I used it to draw mountains, and that’s when I realized what I was drawing.

hand

The road of my life is blocked by the large, pink and lavender-flecked mountains of my transgender issues. I need to cross that horizon and climb those mountains. I need to find a path because, beyond them, the sun shines.

And that’s how a silly little art project taught me who I am, and what I need to do, right now.