March 9, 2014
Dear Vati, Mom, Paulette, Michael, and Anne,
There have been some big and very surprising changes in my life over the last year or so, and it’s time for me to share them with you. I was waiting to see if they were a passing phase, but at this point they are likely to be permanent (that sounds harsh, but I can’t find a better word).
To alleviate tension in the universe, I’ll get to the big reveal now. This is my coming out letter, but not in the sense you probably just thought. Last April I realized I’m transgender.
I’ll try to answer your most likely questions and maybe a few more. I’m putting this in a letter so you have time to digest it before we talk. I assume that Michael and Anne will figure out how and when to tell Jonathan and Timmy, though I realize the former is certainly an adult now.
What does transgender mean? I’m going to summarize some terms because they have been coined fairly recently. Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is in your head, namely the sex you identify with, in contrast with gender presentation, which is how you present yourself to the outside world as masculine or feminine or androgynous. In this context, ‘sex’ refers to male, female, or intersexed (somewhere between M and F).
Have I seen a shrink about this? Yes, I’m under medical and psychological care through the Mazzoni Center, a local clinic for LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) people.
Am I crazy? Yes, but only a little. The diagnostic manuals (DSM IV and V) talk about gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder, and apparently I’ve been diagnosed with something like that. The good part is that means my ongoing treatment is covered by health insurance. More on treatment later.
How did this come about? I was getting help with dating and developing social skills, in particular focusing on being genuinely myself instead of trying to project the right illusion for my audience. A little light bulb went off that I have a very strong feminine side that desperately wanted to be let out, and incidentally was messing up my social life. At first my mind was reeling and firmly in denial, because I literally never considered this to be possible for me.
Then I checked in with my body, and noticed that it had relaxed enormously and let out a huge sigh of relief. I learned a long time ago from massage therapy classes that the body can’t tell a lie; and here my body was clearly telling me that this shocking revelation was true. Later when I had time to reflect, I traced some early signs to as far back as junior high.
What caused this? Nothing, it’s just me coming to terms with a persistent feeling of not fitting in with the roles I’m supposed to fulfill. It isn’t related to my abuse history, or the diagnosis a while ago of being somewhat intersexed (which was refuted by several doctors), or my birth defect history. I specifically asked my doctor about the first two, and he assured me they weren’t relevant. And no, Mom and Vati, it has nothing to do with anything you did or didn’t do as parents.
What does this mean? Well my wardrobe has gotten a lot more diverse. Almost all of it is now either unisex or came from the misses’ section instead of the men’s. But me the person hasn’t particularly changed. I just found the right way to express who I am, and our society calls that feminine.
Does that mean I’m cross-dressing? Technically no. No because I identify as a transgender woman now, and therefore wearing women’s clothing is only appropriate. But since the outside world can’t see inside my head, they see a 50-year-old man in a knit top and probably think that means I’m cross-dressing. It’s a matter of perspective.
Is my job in danger? Probably not. Drexel and the City of Philadelphia both have very clear and progressive anti-discrimination policies that include protection for transgender people. I’ve gotten some amused looks from co-workers, especially several women, but no one has said anything. Gender isn’t relevant to my job, and frankly this is a very personal matter which isn’t really their business.
Does this mean I’m gay? I still prefer to date women, so the literal answer is ‘no,’ but since I’m trans that means I’m a transgender lesbian, if you have to put a label on it.
Am I going to get surgery ‘down there?’ I don’t know, that’s a huge and very personal decision.
Am I changing my name? Sort of. In a couple of contexts I have started using Jennifer. Why Jennifer? It’s always been my favorite girl name. Unfortunately it’s also the most common girl name for the 80’s and half of the 90’s, so it’s not a very original choice. Most of the time (including professionally) I still use Glenn.
What do I hope for from you? Love. Acceptance. I know this might take a little while to process (it did for me!) but I know that you want me to be happy, and this is part of that journey. That’s the important thing to remember.
Okay, so much for Q&A.
Last November I started hormone therapy. I figured as long as I was identifying and dressing more femininely, I might as well look the part a little better. It felt awkward to look masculine and not identify with it. Hormone therapy means I’m taking one drug to suppress testosterone (T) to the low level typical of women, and periodically giving myself injections of estrogen.
Over the next two years or so, this will result in some feminizing of my body (softer skin, reduced body hair, fat redistribution (away from shoulders and waist, toward boobs and butt), and many others) and reduced strength due to the lack of T. When I cautiously started, I figured I’d watch carefully for negative signs physically or psychologically, and stop right away if there were any. There haven’t been. My body has been almost bored in spite of the major change in fundamental hormones, so I’m taking this as a sign that it’s something my body wants too.
That’s enough for now. I’ve done a lot of writing both before and since this transition started, and I’m more than happy to share more if you’re interested. Just ask.
Love and hugs and stuff,
 Yes, I’m enough of an academic to cite sources, even for my family! http://www.glaad.org/transgender/trans101