On the Nature of Bravery & “Slow” Progress

My long silence on the blog is due to making very little progress with my transition (stay tuned, big news on that front later in this post). It’s been a tumultuous time for trans people in general, however. The current administration has abdicated its authority to protect trans kids in our school citing “state’s rights,” something that seems very important to them when it comes to protecting vulnerable kids, but not so important when it comes to legalizing marijuana. We’ve also lost more trans women of color to murder, which is heartbreaking and terrible.

And since my intent with this blog is, quite selfishly, to talk about me and my transition, not trans issues at large, I’ve stayed silent here and very active on FB (and to a lesser degree, Twitter).

And hey, speaking of my transition, you know that the trans in transgender is not referring to my medical transition right? I am a transgender woman, meaning my gender – female – does not match the gender I was assigned at birth – male. I am choosing to undergo medical transition because I suffer body dysmorphia, but if I were not to make that choice, I’d still be a transgender woman with a transgender woman’s body. Gender and biological sex are frequently – and erroneously – conflated and we have more and more scientific evidence that biological sex is every bit a social construct as gender is.

Anyway…

I have, over the last week, stepped up my presentation quite a bit – as you may have noticed from the last two photo posts. The wig and makeup help me a lot psychologically and socially. I feel so damn pretty and it transforms my entire mood, my confidence, and my tolerance for distress.

People have told me that I’m so brave for coming out as trans at the age of 49. And I appreciate the sentiment, I truly do. But I don’t see this as being brave. I’m finally me, I finally am making slow steps towards becoming more me. I’m finally able to hold my head up and meet the world, eye-to-eye, and feel more prepared to deal with whatever it throws at me than I ever did before. I’m now cataloging my painful childhood memories of abuse and filing them away as resolved, all with very little distress and none of the lingering anxiety that marked my previous attempt to do so.

If anything, what took bravery I exhibited was during what I went through for 49 years before I managed to sort out what was going on. Meticulous self exploration, revisiting childhood trauma over and over, trying to make sense of things, trying on labels that didn’t quite fit and undergoing endless hours of self examination to figure out why. Bravery, to my mind, is experiencing the extreme discomfort of fear and moving ahead anyway.

And with the realization that I am a trans woman, I no longer experience the extreme discomfort of fear. Sure, I have moments where I worry about a social interaction with a stranger becoming inappropriate, or even dangerous. I have some moments of mild discomfort when I enter a bathroom in a new space for the first time. But compared to what I experienced daily while trying to identify as male, this require very little bravery at all.

Finally, after weeks of frustrating phone calls about waiting lists at various clinics that can prescribe HRT (hormone replacement therapy), I struck gold! I had resigned myself to waiting the 3 – 6 months before I could begin HRT and four days after buying myself a wig and getting a makeover and makeup tips from MAC to help offset my increasing dysphoria, I called and scheduled an appointment at a recommended clinic for this upcoming Monday! This will be a consultation only, but I have every confidence that I’ll be able to start hormones very soon.

Although it has felt like very slow progress at points over the last several months, in the context of spending the last 49 years trying to identify as male (and not doing a great job of it), things are actually moving along at a decent clip. And while I’m eager for the changes hormones and surgeries will bring, I’m thrilled at the prospect of spending the next 49 years correctly identifying as a woman.

On Pronouns, Gender Identity, & the (lack of ) Importance of Dangly Bits

I am not now, nor have I ever actually been, a man.

I guess you can consider that the tl;dr of this post. Which, to dress it up a bit, is what we used to call a thesis statement in school, right?

I tried to be a man. Well, sort of. I guess I tried to be a different kind of person than the men I saw around me. The traits I’ve always striven to nurture within myself are what we culturally refer to as feminine traits – compassion, nurturing, kindness.

When friends – women – would ask me about guy behavior, “You’re a man, why do men do that?” I always found myself at a bit of a loss. I’d joke that my MANual got taken away when they kicked me out of the Men’s Club for being an imposter. But honestly, the only reasons I could come up with for why men did some of the toxic and self-defeating things they did were the same grotesque caricatures of actual men that I saw reflected in media, books, news, and reality television.

Of course, I came to realize over the years that often men behaved the way they did because they’ve been taught to emulate grotesque caricatures of men they were taught about in school and saw in the media marketed towards them. And while I absorbed a fair amount of those characteristics during my masquerade, they always felt like a toxin, a foreign substance I’d been forced to consume. If baffled me, saddened me, and – often – angered me.

Yesterday a friend, seeing me for the first time since I came out as trans, asked why I’d waited so long. “Surely,” he said, “your liberal creative friends would have accepted you if you’d come out much sooner.” I explained that it wasn’t something I kept hidden from people. That it’s something I’d been keeping hidden from myself.

So, yeah, at 49 I guess I was a little slow on the uptake.

And that brings us to pronouns.

For 49 years I accepted people’s use of male pronouns for me. I, after all, was desperately trying to align my sense of self with the sex – and gender – society told me I was. Now that I correctly identify as a female human being, I am asking people to use female pronouns. And because I spent 49 years being confused about things myself, I’m pretty forgiving when people have a hard time with it. I don’t get angry when I’m called ‘sir’ in a restaurant, even though each time it happens, it fills me with a growing wave of dread and nausea.

But make no mistake – I was living a lie for 49 years. Every reference to me as a man was another sting introducing more toxin into my system.

I wasn’t once a man that is now becoming a woman. It felt like that – even to me – at first. But as I reinventory my life and sort through the harm (both transmitted and received) it’s increasingly clear to me – I have always been female. From the moment of my birth until I came out as a trans woman, I have been misgendered, incorrectly identified as he/him (except by those people in my youth who somehow saw the truth in my nose). And I’ve been misgendered because, penis.

But this body of mine, penis and all, is a woman’s body. I know that runs counter to everything we’re taught about sex and gender. Sex is a binary, we’re told. X chromosome? Female. Ovaries? Female. Y chromosome? Male. Testicles? Male. But the binary is an artificial creation of the modern age. Having a Y chromosome, we’re learning, does not guarantee you’ll have testicles, just as having an X chromosome doesn’t mean you won’t. We’re learning more and more about fetal development and now know that the assignment of sex is a more complex process than we’ve previously believed.

Just remember – binary exists in computers, not in nature.

So while I intend to take steps to make myself appear more traditionally feminine (and while I hope some day to “pass” as a woman when I meet strangers) I am a woman now, and have a woman’s body. I always have. If that’s difficult to wrap your brain around, that’s okay, I’m still working on it myself.

And the biggest help – for you and for me – is not to differentiate between who I was before and after coming out. It’s the same person, I’m still just me, and I’m 100% she/her.