Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Misconceptions Shatter

There was a point in time, when all I really wanted was to be able to be myself. Then, as I opened up my heart to my friends, and began to venture out into the world, I thought I could have much more. In public, there was never a laugh from anyone. Mostly, I have felt safe and secure since my presentation started to come together earlier this year. My friends have always encouraged me about my appearance and my passibility.

I suppose all the positive attention and interaction went to my head, because somewhere over the last few months, I began to believe that I could lead a fairly normal life after all. There was this feeling that passibility could be within my reach; that I could some day safely go wherever I want and that people would correctly perceive my gender. Does it sound a lofty goal? Delusions of grandeur perhaps? What does it mean, when wishing for what most people already have, is expecting to much?

At any rate, as the title indicates, tonight those rose tinted misconceptions were shattered.

It was a lovely Saturday, and I had the day to myself, so decided it would be fun to drive over to London for dinner and a look around town. I got ready at home, in complete convenience instead of getting ready in my car. It was such a fun and relaxing experience. Dinner was magnificent. Service was very friendly and respectful. I walked through a couple of stores without finding anything I really wanted to buy, then my day took a turn for the worse.

As I stepped out on to the parking lot, a car load of teenage girls drove by, and a few were looking in my direction. Perhaps initially they looked because I was way overdressed for the store, having just came from the restaurant, which I was probably also overdressed for! (I can't help it! I only get to go out occasionally and I like to wear something fun when I do.) As the car rolled by, windows down, no one looked amused. They seemed casual, appraising looks but then as the car got past me, someone inside yelled loudly "Oh my god, that was a man!"

I was shocked. I had just been clocked, from a moving car, at a considerable distance. The speaker was not just suspicious. She stated it with no room for hesitation. She was certain she had been looking at a man. It was a bit of a blow, especially because of the distance involved. My confidence was shaken a little but still there.

My intent was to go home after that store, but after this incident, I decided I wanted to make another stop, so I could end the evening on a positive note. I went to Starbucks. The barista was all smiles, and incredibly nice, but completely unreadable. I'm almost certain she knew I was transgender, but the transaction went well and the other patrons didn't pay a lot of attention to me, so my confidence was partially restored.

Then, things got much worse. I walked into a gas station to buy a bottle of water on the way home. The clerk was a teenage or early 20s girl, and there were two younger girls inside the store. As soon as I pushed the door open, the laughter started. I've never experienced anything like it. There was a point in time, when I would have probably ran back to my car, but I am stronger than that now. I kept my poise, worked my way back for my bottle of water, and returned to the counter, while these children still laughed sophomorically, openly staring at me.

I had to walk within inches of them to get to the counter, then realized they may actually be in line, so I turned and asked. They said they were not, obviously trying not to laugh or smirk, then went down an aisle and continued snickering.

As I checked out my bottle of water, I was still smiling and completely calm. Then the clerk asked "Why are you all dressed up? The dress, and the wig, and all that?" My brain was struggling for something to say. Not only was I caught off guard, but baffled by the notion that I was wearing a wig. I was caught between wanting to correct her about my hair, and trying to decide what kind of answer such an obtuse, clueless person deserved. My sanity was starting to slip but I kept calm, and with an easy smile I looked her right in the eye and just said "It's a long story." My mind keeps going over all the things I wish I had said instead.

I was numb in the store, but once I got in the car, my social survival instincts disengaged, and I started to feel the hurt of what had just happened. The girls in the parking lot had clocked me at a distance. The girls in the store made up their mind while I still had one foot outside the door. No hesitation. No "maybe she's not a girl" suspicions. They knew I was a genetic male, without even getting into complex things like talking to me. Just looking at me from a distance, they knew.

And her question. "Why are you all dressed up? The dress, and the wig, and all that?" In the end thats what it comes down to. To some people, that is always going to be the perception. To someone, so inattentive that she thinks I am wearing a wig,when you can see traces of scalp through the first 4 inches of my part, I am obviously a genetic male after literally a few seconds of observation. Even to someone that clueless, it is that obvious.

My misconceptions shattered in an instant when I finished analyzing the events of the evening on my drive home. Suddenly and painfully I am aware that I am not nearly as passable as I thought. Probably most people recognize the truth of my genetics as soon as they see me. Most of them are probably only polite to humor me. To most of them I am probably a man in a dress. A man. I will probably rarely get a sincere "ma'am".

I used to say one of my worst fears was the possibility that I might never pass well enough to feel safe, and that I would be caught between genders, since I can not bare to live as a man again. I'm afraid I might be there. Everyone tells me how lucky I am, and how obviously feminine my nature and movements are. My body is doing what it is supposed to do on hormones. Still there is something about my appearance that can get me flagged as male in seconds . I'm not sure more hormones will ever change that. Its probably something facial; some combination of angles too sharp, and a forehead not smooth enough. But I'll never have the money to fix that. Maybe its the adam's apple I so despite. Maybe its a heaviness of the neck, of a broadness of the shoulders. Perhaps some combination of everything. Unfortunately most of that, I'll never have the resources to fix.

The dream of a normal life, where I can feel as safe as the average person walking into a convenience store, and socialize with the comfort that no one in the room has misconceptions about my gender, is dead. I'm always going to be a curiosity, and a joke to a few people, and to many people, I'll always be a man.

It hurts.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Social Anxiety

I am finding that in the wake of an outing as myself, I have trouble going back to my male program. It gets a little harder each time. Today I am back at work and after having a stress free day Saturday, almost completely devoted to social interaction, I am finding that here, I want no interaction at all. I hate the way I look today. I'm insecure. There is the realization that everyone around me sees me as a man.

In girl mode, I am almost fearless. In guy mode it takes all my resolve just to make eye contact and have a conversation with someone. Some part of me just wants to run and hide. Memories of my troubled school days mingle with more recent insults from school kids, and make me a nervous wreck around the children here. Just walking quickly through the halls, I am fine around them. But working in rooms full of them, or standing still in a hall participating in a conversation with them passing by stresses me. I find myself wondering what they are thinking. I feel their eyes on me. I am waiting for the punch line; for the girl who giggles, or the boy who is sure to shout "Fag!" any moment and embarrass me in front of whoever I'm talking too.

Just the idea that everyone around me percieves me as a guy, and a rather odd one at that, makes so many situations awkward. I feel inferior to all the genetic women around me. And the men make me feel a range of anything from awkward to defensive, depending on who it is. I just don't know how to act any more. It all feels overly complex, compared to girl mode, where there are no rules except be yourself; where I feel good about myself and can hold my head high in the presence of anyone.

I wish I could lay this tired act aside. It becomes more difficult, more frustrating, more of a challenge, with every passing day.

I will find the confidence to cope with this. It will be at least a year until I can move, and I can't spend all of it blushing and nervous. Its just a matter of finding the self confidence to face the world in this strange mode, between genders. As I walked in to work today, there were tons of kids in the computer lab adjoining my office. For anyone, eyes would lift, to see who had entered the room, but for me, many of those eyes didn't turn away. A casual glance around the room showed many openly staring. As their glass dismissed, and they filed past my office, many of them turned to look though the window. One boy hesitated as he looked in, then turned back to his friends and said "I thought that was a woman a few minutes ago!"

It was not meant to be, but it was very flattering. Still it illustrates my problem. I refuse to go back to masking my body language. I will not waste effort trying to rediscover my male voice when I hold be focusing on finding consistency in the new voice I'll use the rest of my life. I like my hair, and I will wear it as I wish. Basically, at this point I am willing to make no concessions to appease the people here, beyond tolerating male pronouns, and wearing Doc Martens and big baggy men's clothes in layers. That is my decision, so I really can't complain about the consequences. I'm just trying to live with as much authenticity as I can for the moment without pushing the envelope too far. Its a dreadfully hard balance, especially, right after recovering from laser.

Right now I've shed almost completely, but there are a few patchy, odd shaped places that were missed. Smaller than usual, but they are there, and I'm sure they fuel the suspicions that surround me here. I'm loving my progress though, especially when I am in settings where its okay to be myself. Even here, I am proud. Just, a little awkward, and doing my best not to rock the boat too far.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Day on the Road.

Saturday was an amazing day! I've been feeling a little trapped at home lately, staying to keep from worrying Mom, always worrying about when the friction between us will flare into another inferno of argument. Saturday I decided to take a day and see my friends. I really wasn't sure where I was even going. Tina, Sylvia, Lisa and I decided to meet up in Lexington and decide from there whether to go to Louisville, or shop in town.

I told Mom and Dad Saturday morning I would be out for the day. Mom knew right away that meant I would be out as my true self, and did get a bit emotional. We had a long hug and she told me to be careful. Just as I was leaving she said she would be praying that I would follow God's will. For the first time, she didn't imply that she knew God's will already and that I needed to comply. She said "I'll pray that you do God's will. That's something we can both pray for isn't it?" I told her yes, and we departed on good terms, though she had tears in her eyes. I left in boy mode. My parents have still not truly met me presenting as my true gender.

The easier than expected departure left me free to enjoy my day. We started to get things coordinated by phone as I drove and decided to meet at Lisa's. Everyone else was basically ready so I was holding up the works as usual. But Getting ready at Lisa's was a lot easier than in my car. Things went really smooth and fast.

I had not been out in a while, so decided to wear something fun! The outfit of choice was a black, blue and white floral strapless dress, black satin oxford style pumps, and a tiny black tote. My friends gave me tons of compliments, temporarily inflating my usually low self esteem.

Our first stop after chatting for a while at Lisa's, was a Lexington Goodwill. The diversity of garments was staggering. Everything from practical, to bold, to humorous! I wasn't out to spend money, so my eye mainly caught the most outrageous things. Lisa and I roasted all the most hideous stuff we could find with humerous critiques. Time flew by, and we ended up behind schedule. By this time we had decided to continue to Louisville and attend the Sienna support groups monthly meeting.

Checking out from Goodwill, the clerk told me she wished she were as tall as me and complimented my legs. Then she inquired "What are you anyw-I mean, how tall are you anyway?" She thought I was going to misinterpret her question the way it was initially phrased. I was obviously read, or she would have never felt a need to change the wording. Still, the compliment was very kind, and it was nice that she was trying to be sensitive.

In Louisville, we arrived just on time for the meeting. They have recently changed meeting formats and it seems like they are started in a positive direction. They have big plans for increasing their presence in the city. I only wish I lived close enough to contribute. The last half of the meeting was devoted to snacks and socializing. I got to talk to a few of the Sienna members I had not had the opportunity to before. Sylvia, Tina and Lisa seemed to enjoy it as well.

After the meeting, Chris from Sienna brought me a wide assortment of shoes and clothes she no longer wears. I've not had time to try any of it on, but some of it looks very promising, especially the shoes!

After Sienna, we dropped by Debbie's house for cocktails. For those who don't know, she is basically my mentor in the art of makeup, and my Mary Kay rep, as well as one of my dearest friends. It was great seeing her as always. A few of the other Sienna girls came along as well! One of the last conversations I had before departing again for Lexington was with Rachel there at Debbie's. The subject of my long drive home was discussed, and I mentioned that it would be even longer because I would have to change clothes somewhere. She suggested that I go home as I am. "They are probably worried you are out in public as a crude caricature of a woman. They need to be worrying about you as a daughter."

The thought had occurred to me before. I explained to her though, that I'm not confident enough in my presentation. In my mind there is always the worry that seeing me would make things worse. What if I don't look good enough? What if they are ashamed? What if I scare them even more when they realize what I look like out and about? Rachel's suggestion almost gave me the confidence. I was feeling pretty, and maybe it was time to show them that I'm not some offensive creature, that I am a lady; a daughter.

After our goodbyes at Debbie's I drove my Lexington crew back to Lisa's house. Rachel's idea stayed in my mind all the way home, despite very engaging conversations most the way.

In the end, I couldn't do it though. I would be awake 22 hours by the time I got home and I knew I would not be looking at all my best. After another good chat while changing clothes and removing makeup at Lisa's I started the final strip of the drive again in boy mode. Actually Lisa and Tina are both adamant that I do not have a boy mode. :)

All the great social interaction and positive compliments of the day left me feeling happy with myself despite the gender mismatched clothes. I'm a woman, and most people can see it. For now, that's enough to make me very happy.

As Monday approaches I'm already missing all my girlfriends. The lively conversations, the acceptance, and the comfort that comes with true friendship. The day has left me feeling great about everything. I'll be starting this work week with a smile.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

...and then came the crash...

Sometimes even when you know you should feel blessed it can be hard to keep things in perspective. Yesterday was an entire day of that for me. There was flash flooding in the early morning, and as a result my office was just short of being totally closed. With the staff mostly gone, I was free to drag around, come in late, and then sit around thinking entirely too much.

When I think too much, and have no one to talk to, my mind turns sometimes to depressing thoughts. At the moment my face is recovering from laser, and yesterday I was feeling kind of bloated. So my mind kept thinking of things like: "Why can't I be curvier?, "Will laser ever work, am I wasting money on it?", "Why do hormones have to be so slow in every way?" Then there is the debate which has become such a major stress in my life. "Should I stay home this weekend and try not to stress my family, or should I run off to Lexington, have a good time and leave them to worry?" I need to be able to get out sometimes, dress the way I want and actually participate in society. I don't think they'll ever understand that. So for now I am always stuck with either being stifled, or upsetting people I care deeply about.

So to make a long story short, I spent the day feeling ugly, isolated, frustrated, and just depressed. I slept away a good part of my evening. Yet the whole time, I was feeling guilty for being upset, because deep down I know I am making good progress. Most days thats pretty obvious to me. Most of my evening was wasted on napping, but I did wake up in a better mood.

Today I woke up and washed up. When I looked in the mirror I thought about how much closer I am to where I need to be, and felt very content. I don't see any of my friends as often as I would like, and most the time I am surrounded by people who I have to interact with as a male. But I'm not just biding my time. The hormones are always at work. Each paycheck brings my finances more under control. By the end of the school year, I am almost sure I should have things in order to move and go full time.

So, I need to stay focused, keep my chin up and just enjoy the steady pace of my progress, and the times I do get with my friends, and even with my family, despite our differences. There is fun to be had, and studying to be done for certifications before the big job hunt. I need to realize all that is coming up soon, and starting getting things done.

So today I am happy, and feel very blessed as I should. Maybe I'll study for CISCO certification when I get home. :P

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Insomniac Quandary

A series of seven cinquain, written by me earlier this morning, for no particular reason at all. Ha!

*~*~*~*~Insomniac Quandary~*~*~*~*

How strange,
how sudden quick,
a frozen heart can melt
in heat of words from silver tongue.
How cruel.

Must I
wait and ponder
upon your true intent?
Is this for you a game of words,
or real?

If "real"
is your riposte,
query I surely must,
what you would hope to glean from me
dear prince?

For you,
am I to be
a weekend trip to quench
a fascination you hold for
my kind?

I yearn
for your embrace,
but my needs run deeper.
I hope we have a chance to find
much more.

Your words
honeyed so sweet,
mask the taste of your wish.
Asked, would you tell me, are you as
you seem?

To ask
I will dare not.
I will invite you in.
We will discover each other
in time.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Week, at a Glance.

It has been a very interesting week for me, with emotional and social challenges. With laser and physicals over as of last Friday, and nothing left to do for the next two weeks except work and carry on with my home life, it seems this should have been a good chance to rest. It was not that simple though.

First there was the matter of laser recovery. I tend to look very suspicious for the first 5 days after laser, as I have mentioned before. The hair gets charred from medium brown, to solid black. The black hair makes the shadowing look worse rather than better initially, which makes the odd gaps in my facial hair, and strange shape of the remaining beard stand out in stark contrast against. Even worse, my skin tends to get irritated, and even peels in sections. The fried hair becomes too stiff to shave, while my skin gets to sensitive to tolerate a blade.

So only 3 days after laser, I reported back to work. And then two days after that, the students returned. The adults were all very professional with me, and my work environment is mostly pretty comfortable. But the kids! The first day they came was pretty rough, with lots of laughing, snickering and stares. I haven't had to deal with that since May, and my emotional ressistance is not what it once was. Initially I was haivng a hard time with it, being nervous every time I had to go to a classroom to work. But there was too much work for me to waste time hiding in my office, so I got out, stood tall and did my level best to stay professional.

By Friday, I was getting fewer stares. It is probably due to a combination of kids getting bored with the situation, and the quick recovery of my face. The hair seems set to shed thoroughly over the course of the next week.

Other than the kids though, its been a great five days. Busy, but in a good way, with everyone coming together to make things run. I feel productive, human, and dare I say, a little talented, maybe? :P

At home things were mostly good, except Thursday Dad called me home to help pour 90 feet of concrete. It was extremely hot, and the cement truck driver was there the whole time, so I ha to do all the work in two layers of shirts. I was hot, and the sweat on my face was further irritating my skin. The concrete was too hard for me to work, and my side of the drive looked terrible, leaving me feeling both guilty and insufficient. One thumb is blistered so badly it still hurts to bend it today.

I think Dad could tell after we started, how awkward it was going to be for me. I think in the end, he was feeling guilty for asking me to come, and I was feeling guilty about the results. I almost cried twice, looking at the messed up places in the concrete. Dad has thanked me many times since for coming though. And I would do it again. Its so nice of them to let me stay and I'll always do everything I can for them.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Beautiful Sunday

I finished my weekend project at work last night. Most of the muscle stiffness from my fall Friday is gone. Mom and Dad are treating me well. My face is slowly recovering from the laser treatments. Aside from all the stress, aches and pain abating momentarily, its a beautiful summer day with hummingbirds outside my window. All together it puts me in a bright, hopeful mood. There are some days when you have to constantly remind yourself you are blessed. And then there are days when you truly feel it without needing to try.

Today I feel lucky, and I know everything is going to be okay.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Trouble With My Parents

Something happened today that perfectly illustrates why Mom and Dad can't really understand or accept me.

Mom and Dad were away this morning, and for a rare moment, I had the television remote. After a glance through the channels I came upon the opening of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. I really didn't feel I was in the mood for a romantic comedy, but I got pulled in. By the end I was thoroughly engrossed; laughing, crying, and enjoying the emotional release. It was a welcome little break after the stressful Friday I had.

Then, just as Bridgett messed up Mark's opening for a wedding proposal in the end, Mom and Dad broke through the front door. Everything after that was reflexive. Without a conscious thought, I was flipping through the channels for something less girly and worrying whether it was possible to tell I had been crying.

I thought I had learned to loosen up around them, but the shame and defensive habits are still there. They don't see the real me. They see me, trying to relax and be myself, but holding back, or alternatively overcompensating as a cry for recognition. I just can't relax and let them see the me my friends know. Instead, they get a mechanical version of me, with every action governed by either shame, or a demand to be seen as my true gender. I don't know if it well ever get easier. I feel judged, and it makes interaction hard, and overly complex.

If only every day could be like last weekend, surrounded by accepting friends. I have found I love to socialize when I can just be myself, and say and do what comes naturally instead of finding myself overly aware of every word and every action. Its really too much work.

Laser Drama, Laser Trauma

I almost remember typing this exact line for some other blog, but there are no better words. The last 48 hours have been hectic.

At work Thursday, my boss asked if I was going to be there Friday. I explained I had a vacation day with and was planing to take it Friday and make a little extended weekend. He said he thought so. Which makes me curious, because I don't believe I have ever mentioned my upcoming laser appointment outside of blogger and twitter. Perhaps my secret is out and a few people around home know of my sites. Maybe a few co-workers in technology know because I occasionally check sites from work, over a proxy. If so, I don't blame them. It is well established that it is not a private connection, and personal communication does violate the use policy, so if something I did got flagged and they checked it and found my site, then no hard feelings.

But, putting my curiosity aside and returning to the story, I volunteered to work late to keep my absence from causing a problem. Then he told me I could count the extra hours toward Friday and not use my last vacation day. And so it was that Thursday I worked until 1 Am, though I had a 9:20 AM laser appointment friday morning, in a town 3 hours from home, not counting stops!

When I got home from work, Mom found out what I was doing and launched the first gender related argument we have had in a long time. She basically told me I had lost all my friends, and that I would lose all my family and wouldn't have a life, and as always credited me with destroying her life. I felt guilty and helpless as always. She doesn't understand. She is not ready to try to understand. So it doesn't matter what I say. She gets angry that I want to talk to her, but she opens every conversation by saying, not that she thinks, but that she knows, I am wrong. She leaves no room to discuss. It is my decision, my life, a problem I have grappled with silently through most of my days. But she insists I don't understand, haven't thought this out and that she knows exactly what I should do. She makes it clear I should be listening, and she should be telling me the truth I am supposedly to blind to see on my own.

By the end of the argument, I was locked in my room like a defiant teen, and she was standing at the door shouting unanswered questions into the silence while I huddled in bed, feeling guilty and ashamed. It was 3:30 am, and the fight was over, but I was too keyed up to sleep, my mind occupied with all the things I wish I had tried to explain to Mom. But she was not in a receptive mood. It is just as well that I didn't try.

At 5:30 I got up to start the drive. But Mom heard me. As I was closing the front door behind me, I heard her yell for me to stop. I was terrified we were going to get tangled in another lopsided argument so I ran. I closed the door, turned and ran out into the dark and rain. In my emotional state I forgot that the drive was being worked on at that a 3 foot high piece of rusty metal mesh was standing between a gravel section and a concrete section. I ran full speed into it, and fell into wet and muddy gravel. I still heard Mom calling behind me, so I got up and ran to my car.

As I started my car she was in front of me. I think she intended to block my path. But after a moment she stood aside. As I pulled past I could see the hurt on her face. She obviously expected me to roll down the window and talk. But I couldn't. I was remembering the argument from the night before and I knew nothing could be said that would change her mind or mine. Neither would say anything that would make this departure easier on the other. I pulled away without a word.

It turned out I had cuts on both my legs, and bloody, muddy cuts on an elbow and a palm. I stopped by wal-mart for bandages and alcohol, grabbed a little breakfast at McDonald's and changed into some clothes that weren't muddy.

Laser went okay. even though there was less hair this time, it hurt more than ever. I think my skin is getting more sensitive as my hormone therapy progresses. I cried the entire time, partially form the pain and partially form thinking about Mom. My dermatologist probably thinks I'm unstable now. Aside form all the crying, the whole session was awkward. I was traveling in boy mode when I left, because immediately after laser, I don't have a choice. But the only clean clothes I had in the car were a women's stretch knit tee and some jeans. So I showed up looking strange, tired, out of sorts and caught between genders.

The drive home was uneventful, and halfway back, I finally got past the hurt from the argument to put things in perspective. Yes, Mom and I are experiencing some strain. And yes, I had to show up at my appointment looking strange, and I am cut up, and have sore, tense muscles all over my body and a dry achey face. But, no matter what happened, I stayed on course and did what I came to do. And now I am a step closer to where I need to be. I started thinking over how far I have come since last year, and how much I have to be thankful for. My friends, my family, my happiness now that I am finally doing what I was meant to do, and all the successes i have had in transition.

I arrived home tired, but with a smile. I decided not to let a few minor set backs rob the joy of the moment. Its all going to work out.