Trans questions from a friend

A cis-gendered friend just got the nerve to ask me about being transgender.  With her permission, her questions and my responses are presented here.

trans-questions

 

Advertisements

Physical Transformation

This essay will be read at the April 2014 Erotic Literary Salon in Philadelphia.

Physical Transformation
Jennifer
April 15, 2014

Last April I first realized I was not just a bit odd, I was actually transgender. Last November I started hormone therapy. I’m taking one drug to suppress testosterone and replacing it with estrogen. I questioned the wisdom of such a radical change at my tender young age, and less than seven months after coming out to myself. But then I remembered: I’m an adult, and I can fuck around with my body chemistry if I want to!

Last month I came out to my family. I think that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I wrote a 3-page letter to broach the subject and try to answer some of their likely questions, then spoke with them on the phone a lot. My dad took it the hardest, but he and my stepmom came to visit during my Spring break, and I think it was comforting to him that I’m still 99% the same person he’s always loved, and I didn’t look like Corporal Klinger. My mom and two of my cousins clearly don’t approve, but I wasn’t taking a survey.

I celebrated surviving my coming out by getting my ears pierced at No Ka Oi.

So as I mentioned here in February, I’m starting puberty again. (God I hope I don’t have to repeat high school!) I was warned that the effects of hormone therapy take a year or two to develop. So what has trading testosterone for estrogen done for me?

  • My skin and facial features are getting softer. I like that part.
  • Only a month into therapy, my nipples got incredibly sensitive. As in, I could brush by one with my arm, and feel a ZING go through my body. Ladies, can we talk? … Is this normal for girls entering puberty?? I didn’t have any sisters and this isn’t exactly something you can Google without getting investigated by the NSA.
  • The family jewels, sad to say, have shrunk some. Mother Nature doesn’t let you be fully male and fully female at the same time. So if you see a trans porn star who’s well hung and busty, *whisper* they’re not on hormones!
    It made me realize that our bodies stay the way they are only because they are carefully maintained to be that way. They aren’t just inert blobs that go along for the ride day after day. This also means that we can change much more easily than I ever imagined.
  • My body hair is getting softer and sparser. Shaving is enough of a pain, this makes it less traumatic for all concerned.   I’m also cheating by getting laser hair removal.
  • I’m weaker as a result of losing testosterone. My physical strength was my only masculine highlight, so I’ll have to be more agile and devious instead.
  • The main feature of hormone therapy will take longer to manifest (hmm, man-i-fest … that word seems wrong here). Fat redistribution. Some of it will reshape my butt, and some will create boobies! My doctor said to expect about the same cup size as women in my family (“C” is not just for Cookie), so we’ll see if that comes true. *pause* You can stop staring at my chest now. My eyes are up here. *sigh*

I’ll close on a legal footnote:

In Pennsylvania you don’t qualify as the opposite sex unless you get reassignment surgery … down there. So in a while I might develop nice boobs, and yet be able to take my shirt off in public because … I’ll legally still be a man. How’s that for fucking with the system?

Both sides now

This was read at the Erotic Literary Salon in Philadelphia in February 2014.

Both sides now
2/18/14

Last April I spoke here only two weeks after a life-changing revelation. I realized I’m transgender. This piece is focusing on the social and psychological changes since then; I’ll save the physical ones (lift boobs) for another month.

I spent last summer working on dating skills, and started to develop my personal fashion style. In the Fall I withdrew a bit, and started asking myself how I felt about this new identity, how I felt in my body.

When I first came out, I was expecting to firmly ride the line between masculine and feminine. That was a short-lived wish, as I soon found myself completely unable to buy any form of men’s clothing. I figured that I might as well look the part a little better if I was only going to wear women’s clothes. After a little research online and a couple of doctor visits, I cautiously started hormone therapy last November. I’m taking a drug to suppress testosterone, and replacing it with estrogen injections.

I promised myself if the hormones had awful effects on me I’d just stop them and cut my proverbial losses. But my body has been very blasé about the whole thing, in spite of this fundamental change. She just said “Oh that’s nice. (Pause) What’s for dinner?” That could be the most important insight of all.

The psychological changes have been amazing. In effect I’m a 12-year-old girl right now – (whispers) don’t tell the bartender! I’m restarting puberty at age 50 and beginning to define myself as a woman.

Last summer I tried a little of the BDSM scene in hopes of forcing a strong release. Now I don’t need to go that route, because estrogen makes you more emotional. I’m amazed that this is seriously listed as a known side effect. And yes it’s true, so now I have to be careful when watching McDonald’s commercials.

My sex drive has mellowed a lot. I used to have to come at least every day or I’d get really antsy, but now … (meh) once a week is fine. I still thoroughly enjoy the stimulation and release, but the URGENT NEED for release is pretty much gone. I was warned that hormone therapy is partly similar to chemical castration for sex offenders, and clearly the lack of testosterone has a strong impact that way.

Orgasm used to be a brick wall that pretty well stopped everything in its wake. Now it’s a fun roller coaster hill, with hopes of many to follow.

I started to learn about makeup, so Sephora really loves me now. How many of you know what the Rouge card means? I’m so excited, my best friend just taught me how not to destroy lipstick while using a napkin.

I’m slowly defining my sense of fashion, playing dress-up a LOT, making many fun side trips to fashion places that don’t work for me, and getting a lot of very well-intentioned “feedback.” I’m past buying everything in sight, now I’m looking for more specific pieces of clothing and willing to pay for good quality.

As my gender presentation becomes more and more female, I have started seeking social acceptance in my new role. I’ve had to face a lot of very personal rejection and been pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t come. I got accepted into a women’s soccer league for the end of winter. And at the end of the month I’m performing in the Vagina Monologues at Drexel. It’s odd because I never thought of myself as a woman, just being myself, which according to our culture happens to be very female.

My transformation has begun quite literally at the hormone level. I must be officially crazy, since the nice doctor at Mazzoni Center gave me these prescriptions to treat … something. But being crazy gives me license to be myself more honestly because FUCK IT, I’m the only person I can really be!

Coming out letter

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.[1]  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,

Glenn


[1] Yes, I’m enough of an academic to cite sources, even for my family!  http://www.glaad.org/transgender/trans101

Exploring the world of transgender

This was read yesterday at the Erotic Literary Salon (http://theeroticsalon.com/) in Philadelphia.

The safe quiet hell

Back story:  After coming out as transgender in April, I’ve gone through a flurry of changes.  Outwardly my fashion choices have become much more feminine, even to work.  To my surprise, the world has not ended as a result.  Of course I work around a bunch of geeks, so I’m guessing half of them haven’t even noticed the difference.

I have become a cliché overnight.  My walk in closet is already packed to the rafters, and yet I still walk in, look around, and realize … I have NOTHING to wear.

But the deeper changes are slow in coming.  I’m trying to find my people, and I can’t quite tell who they are yet.

I spend most days in predominantly female clothing, yet I also don’t see myself living as fully female in the future.  As I look around in the trans community, I noticed that a huge amount of it is focused on crossing the gender binary.  As in: I look like a man, but I want to be a woman.  Or the other way around.  But even in the trans community there is a relatively small minority that either enjoys being both male and female, or sees themselves as neither male nor female.  The gender fluid or gender queer, to use current labels.

And so just like the lost bird in “Are you my mommy?” I find myself exploring, looking for the world that feels like home.  Or seeing if I need to create my own world that doesn’t exist yet.

The greatest challenge for me now is emerging from my social hibernation.  I never understood traditional male roles for dating, so I did it as little as possible until I found women assertive enough to pursue me.  This, for the record, is not a very effective strategy in our culture.

My problem boils down to a severe fear of rejection.  I never could connect with the attitude that you should take a statistical approach to dating, namely if you ask enough women out, some of them will say ‘Yes.’  And likewise, if you ask enough of them to fuck, some will say yes.  Bingo, problem solved.  Got laid.  That always struck me as cold and heartless and to use feminist lingo, objectifying.

In recent months I’ve gotten better at asking women out and basic dating, but making the leap to intimacy is my goal now.  The life I’ve lived has kept me in a safe, quiet hell.  Like the vision of hell as a frozen wasteland, where nothing moves but also nothing ever dies.  It is a land I have to leave, but the familiar hell often seems safer than an unknown.

I’m told that a relationship with true intimacy allows you to experience higher highs than you imagined possible.  And it also requires complete vulnerability, to put your heart and soul and true self on the line.  You don’t get the highs without risking the lows.

A couple of days ago I was reminded that I have an ally on this journey.  Her name is Jennifer, my feminine aspect.  For so many years I felt like I had to apologize for my feminine side, to hide her, to pretend to be the Perfect Man in order to find True Love.  I have discovered that I’m not James Bond.  Or Brad Pitt or even Johnny Depp.  Love and intimacy can’t be based on a mask, can’t be based on an illusion, can’t be based on presenting what I think you want me to pretend to be.

So I need to love and accept all parts of myself, and present them honestly, not just to find someone who thinks that’s exciting and hot, but more fundamentally to be true to myself.  Whoever that turns out to be.