Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving and the holidays

I'm currently at my parent's home for Thanksgiving. We will be having Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparent's house tomorrow with most of my family. I love my family and enjoy spending time with them. We get along well and I am thankful to have such a strong relationship with my family but as I've often written about on this blog, times like this always make me very aware of the differences in our feelings about who I am as a transgender person.

The holidays in the past have always made me acutely aware of my feelings but I feel it's going to be especially hard this year because I feel I've made very important strides in understanding and expressing who I am as a transgender woman in the past year. I am now living almost entirely full-time as a woman and I am beginning to explore the possibility of becoming a woman through hormone treatment and surgery. The only time I'm not a woman is when I am with my family.

They are still unable to accept that I am transgender. They firmly believe that crossdressing is wrong and they have a very definite image of who I am, an image that doesn't include being a woman. So whenever I am with them, I feel like I once again have to hide an important part of who I am.

Some of the decisions I will be making in the future will make it more difficult to hide that I am a woman; I don't know how they will react to these decisions so next Thanksgiving they may not want to see me at all.

For now, I'm going to be thankful for what I have, time to spend with my family and the freedom to be who I am when I'm not with them, and worry about the future later.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Transgender Day of Remembrance

As many of you know, today is International Transgender Day of Remembrance.

A day like this always makes me pause and reflect. Not only pause and think about the 162 known trans people in the world who were killed in the past year but also to think about my own life as a transgender person.

I've made some important decisions and changes in my life in the past year, changes that make me much more visible as a trans person in the community I live in. I consider myself lucky that I've never really been threatened with physical violence because I am transgender, but I know it's always a possibility.

A day like today brings up the fears that I am sure all of us have. But we can't let these fears stop us from being who we are. It's only by being out there and being visible that we'll be able to become a part of everyday life. Many people today have still never really met a transgender person. It's only through personal experience that transgender people will become human to most people, instead of something weird they see on the news or read about online.

And it's only by becoming a visible part of everyday life that we'll begin to reduce the levels of hate and violence directed toward trans people.

Today is a day to remember those we've lost and continue to work on building a better tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hot for Teacher

The title of this post is, of course, a nod to Van Halen. I don't really have much to say, long day, but I was just so happy with how this outfit that I wore to teach today turned out that I wanted to share it :)

I've got a busy couple of weeks coming up as the semester starts winding down. I'm trying to get as much done as I can before Thanksgiving. I remember when I used to look forward to the Thanksgiving break; now it's a reminder of how little time I have to get stuff done...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Speaking Engagements

I had the opportunity recently to speak to a couple of Intercultural Communication classes about being transgender. Before I share some of my thoughts on the presentations, I want to share a couple of pics of the new dresses I bought for the occasion :)

I wore the red dress to my first presentation and the blue dress to the second. Both dresses were purchased from Chadwicks, which is one of my favorite stores :)

Both presentations were structured in the form of an interview, which is a format that had been used in a speaking engagement earlier this year, with the Instructor for the course filling the role of interviewer. It is a useful format because it keeps the discussion on track.

Both talks began with definitions of transgender terms about which most of the audience was unfamiliar. I personally use transgender as an umbrella term to include all forms of cross-gender behavior, as many researchers do, and I also discussed what being transsexual means to me. Talking about being transsexual was interesting for me because this was my first opportunity to discuss this with a large group since coming to my own understanding that I am transsexual.

Both talks also featured long discussions of religion and dating/relationships. One class found the dating part especially interesting as evidenced by the furious shuffling of paper when the topic was introduced :)

When the floor was opened up for questions at the end, I was impressed by the level of respect from the audience. Some of the questions were very interesting, particularly one about raising children, but everyone who asked a question was respectful. The university I attend and teach at is very conservative so I can never be 100% sure of the reception I will receive when sharing my transgender identity with others. But so far I have found that the undergraduate students are mostly respectful, particularly in the context of the classroom.

I also feel that one reason I have received the reception I have is that I don't come across as angry when discussing transgender issues. I am passionate about discussing my own experiences and the treatment of transgender people, but it's not in my nature to be angry. I try to live by example and to me it's more important to be myself on campus and in the classroom than go off on some angry rant. I feel that the students pick up on that.

I hope to continue speaking to students on campus. As one instructor said, most of the students just don't have any personal experience with transgender people and I think that it's important to give them the opportunity to learn more about what being transgender means.

In the future, I believe I will structure my speaking engagements as talks instead of interviews so that I can be more focused on what I want to discuss. I also hope to start talking to groups outside of the campus environment. I believe it's important for everyone to have more exposure to transgender people, not just college students.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Not a Mistake

The above clip is from an episode of The Tyra Banks Show in which Tyra interviews Isis King, the first transgender finalist on America's Next Top Model. Many of the other finalists raised concerns during the show about living with Isis and in this segment of the episode, Isis talks with Clark, one of the other finalists from that season, about her concerns. Clark, a self-identified Southerner and Southern Baptist, raises an issue that is often echoed by Christians who do not agree with transgenderism in general and transsexualism in particular which is that by wanting to change your body to match the gender you feel you are, you are implying that God made a mistake by putting you in the wrong body and this isn't possible because God doesn't make mistakes.

I use this clip as an example to discuss my feelings about this argument. I am a Christian, and was also raised Southern Baptist, and while religion will not be a major focus of this blog, it is an important part of my life. My transgender/transsexual feelings and my faith are important parts of who I am today.

In response to Clark's statement, Isis says "God doesn't make mistakes and I'm not a mistake." This is the same way I feel about my transsexuality. This issue was one of the major barriers I had that prevented me from understanding my own transsexual identity. I repeatedly heard and read other transsexuals say that they felt that God had made a mistake and that they had been born in the wrong body. But my faith had led me to believe that God doesn't make mistakes. It took a lot of self-reflection and prayer for me to reconcile these disparate feelings.

This reconciliation came out of my wish that I could one day just magically wake up a woman. I would constantly pray to either wake up the next day a woman or for the past to be changed so that I had been born female. I always felt things would have been so much simpler if I had been born female but I found that as I thought about this idea, I would spend a lot of time trying to think about how the events of my life could have been basically the same so that I would still be the same person, like the same things and have the same friends.

Then, one day I had the realization that if I had been born female, I would not be the person I am today. I might have been a very similar person personality wise and in terms of the things I like, but I would not have had the exact same life or the exact same experiences. And I realized that I like who I am. Even though I may feel that I am a woman and want to change my body to match that feeling, I like who I am as a person and wouldn't want to change that. That's when I had my epiphany.

God made me who I am and being transsexual is part of who I am.

He did not make a mistake, either for Isis or for me. Being transsexual is not "fixing a problem," it's just part of who I am. I was a man before and now I'm on the road to becoming a woman. Sure, it's not the same path that the majority of people take but that doesn't mean it's wrong. Being transsexual isn't a problem to be fixed or overcome, it's part of who I am.

I'm proud to be transsexual!

Now, this doesn't mean I won't have my doubts or concerns but it is something I'm feeling more confident about each day. All I know is that I can't do this alone. I love everyone who has been there to support me so far and I hope I will always have great friends by my side as I walk down this path. I also hope to someday have a partner, that special someone, who can walk this path with me. But that's a post for another time :)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ripping the band-aid off

I went home today to celebrate my sister's birthday and every time I go home, I leave feeling stressed and upset.

I love my family and we get along for the most part but the more I move toward becoming a woman, the more I feel like there's an 800-pound gorilla on my shoulders weighing me down every time I see my family. The disconnect between who I am and who they see me as/want me to be is growing larger all the time.

I had hoped to talk to my sister today to feel out if she might be a potential ally in the family but I didn't get the chance. I had hoped to show her pictures of my Halloween costume as a way of gauging her feelings about crossdressing in general, since Halloween is sort of "safe" since everybody dresses up as unusual things for Halloween, but her computer was running too slow to load the pictures before my parents got there. And a couple of things my sister said while I was there made me question if she could even be supportive. Right after we sat down to eat lunch, she made the comment that my hair is too long and I need to get it cut. Then after I mentioned a woman's name, she asked if I liked her and after I said she was married, she asked if I have a girlfriend and if there's anyone I like. Finally, when we were playing a board game later, she said my fingernails were too long.

To me, these comments make it apparent that my sister has a very particular view of me as an average, if someone quiet and nerdy, guy and I don't know how easily being a woman will fit in this view. It doesn't mean she couldn't be supportive of my decision but it does give me pause about discussing the subject with her.

This is the disconnect that I mentioned before between my family's view of me and the truth. And I'm all alone in dealing with this disconnect; my parents want to ignore it or just hope it will go away and the rest of my family doesn't know about it at all. Trying to deal with this all on my own often leaves me frustrated and upset.

Sometimes I feel guilty about how nice and generous my family is to me, questioning if I even deserve it; if they knew that I want to be a woman, would they still be nice to me? At other times, I feel angry about having to hide who I really am. And many times I feel the same at once.

I sometimes feel like just ripping the metaphorical band-aid off and dealing with the consequences because that would be a lot better than trying to hide an 800-pound gorilla.