Sunday, July 24, 2011

Damaged Goods

Thinking about trans people I've met either online or in person, something stands out.  Late transitioners fall into two groups.  Those that had lots of support, encouragement and resources and those who don't, to some degree or another.  And there is a strong correlation with how successful they are in their transition, how well they fit in with their identified sex and gender, post-transition.

The group that had good support tends to have had a significant other, family, family of origin and/or friends that are not only aware of their status during transition but were also accepting.  They gave support and advice and practical knowledge about how to "be" the target gender in our society.  They accepted the person as a member of that sex and gender.  I think the key is that they wanted the trans person to be successful. Something else that first group seems to have in common is that they had significant financial resources, enough that transition was not a overly hindered by a lack of insurance, employment, income or other  practical worries, or fear thereof.

From those I've met, this first group tends to do extremely well in their transition and afterward.  They figure out what is wrong, get done what they need to get done and then they simply, "move on".  They disappear into their target gender and begin to live life as they should.  They don't identify as transgender, transsexual, HBS, or whatever; they identify as male or female as the case may be.  Just like everyone else.  They mostly acknowledge their status when it's pertinent, but otherwise they see no more reason to discuss it than they would any other health issue.  Obviously, they have passing privilege, either naturally, via surgery, training, etc.

The other group is not so lucky.  They are the ones that talk of "losing everything", and they may actually be the lucky ones.  The ones that truly "lose everything" lose their lives trying to get through transition (I guess they are the least lucky, but I'm not so sure).  The ones that remain are damaged.  They are the ones that the WTH/HBS crowd complain about, the ones that have completed the physical steps to transition but don't fit in with their target gender.  Maybe it's that their innate personality matches their assigned sex.  Maybe it's that they really are damaged by the process.  Maybe neurologically they are only partially of the identified gender and sex.  But I've noticed that each of them had to complete their transition alone, without help, and it seems to have marked them.  They tend to not have had all of the resources to complete transition to their identified sex and gender.

So let's review: To successfully transition you need supportive allies willing to help you, financial security, and a fair amount of luck.  It also helps if you don't have any pre-existing mental illnesses before attempting transition, either.

If you don't have these things, you will likely fail in your attempt to transition.  This can mean either dying, giving up and living the rest of your life in your assigned sex and gender *if you can*, or pushing through against all warning signs and come out the other end of transition as something not quite right. To someone who truly identifies as the sex and gender opposite that assigned at birth that would be hell.

I'm so screwed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

labels and buckets

Last Tuesday I had an epiphany.  No, not of the religious sort, I'm pretty confident that will never happen.  This one was about my wife.

We IM a lot throughout the day, a habit that stems from a time when we both worked in cubicles fifteen miles apart.  She lets me know which kid of ours is beating up on the other and I let her know how fantastically bigoted my work environment is.  No, I'm not 'out' at work but I'm not 'in', either.  I'll explain about work later.

Something interesting about us is that most if not all of our really good communication happens when we IM.  When we're face to face we both get too emotional and offended and stubborn.  It's a tool we discovered years ago and it works for us.  Well, last Tuesday I brought up a discussion we've had many times before about how she can be so incredibly supportive of a certain trans kid but not feel or act the same way about my need to transition or have support of some kind, any kind.  And I finally got it.  I finally was able to understand what she's been saying in her usual roundabout way colored by my rose colored glasses.

She is my spouse.  She is my soul mate. She is my lover.  She is my friend.  But she is not and will not be my ally.  She'll accept with resignation the changes to her life that are forced on her.  She can see a future where we are two old women that are still married, still soul mates, still lovers, still friends.  But she's not going to volunteer any part of her to help me get there that she's not forced to give.

I finally understand how she can seem pro-trans.  How she can clearly understand that people have to live as who they really are, inside.  And yet she cannot give me words like, "she", and "her", or any name other than some variation of my birth name that's been used on me since it was given to me.  She can't and won't help me learn how to be myself, or how to do the little things that will help me be seen as myself instead of a guy.  She sees any of that as her having to 'mother' me and has let me know she won't do it.  She's not willing to compromise her social and emotional needs.  She won't stop me from transitioning but she won't help me one iota, either.  She is able to see our future together, once thing settle down into a new life.  But she won't help me or us get there.  Maybe it's resignation on her part, or maybe she'll leave at some point, I don't really know anymore.  All I know is I hurt.  All I know is that whenever I'm vulnerable or insecure she lashes out at me and has every time, since we started down this path four years ago.  But that too is another post.  I'm tired.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Stickiness

I have a wonderful family, with two very unique and creative and smart kiddos, and a wife who loves me.  I have a job that appears very stable and secure, pays good enough and offers vast flexibility.  Flexibility that we need, to take care of the more troubled of our two children and her special needs.  I've somehow built a good life, one that should make me very happy.  The funny thing is, it's even the same life I would want after transition.   Yet somehow it's like a glue trap and I can't see how get out.

I've been told I'm smart and creative.  Like Mensan smart, according to the little card in my wallet.  But that's of no use here, apparently.  Heck, it's what got me in trouble in the first place.  When I was six or seven I devised this great plan to avoid any more pain.  I locked my Self away.  I don't just mean my gendered self, or my True Self or any of that.  I mean my entire sense of Self.  My identity, my sense of being an unique individual and human being.  Me.  And I did a really good job.  My folks helped as best they could by expressing their shame and their anger and their beatings for me trying be a girl.   From what I have gathered they received their advice from conservative pediatricians and a lifetime of very close connection to the Church.  Classic reparative therapy kind of advice as was the rage with that crowd in the 70's.  With their own corporeal punishment enhancements, to make sure the lessons stuck.

As a result I have very few memories in-between say, 6 and 37 years old.  The few I have or can be reminded of have no emotion attached, they are like reading a news story.  Even now I tend to try to block out most of my existence from my awareness where ever it is, but those tools I fashioned years ago broke when I had my gender crash.  They don't work quite as good anymore.  Oh, they still get me through the day but now I'm painfully aware of every moment.

Gender roles

Our family is moving soon, to a smaller town about 45 minutes south.  It'll be closer to my work, in fact it'll be the shortest distance I've had, and opposite the commute.  So, that's good.  And the new house is much bigger with plenty of bedrooms and even a spare.  And all those little amenities that modern houses have.  So, that's very good.  The neighborhood is a good step up, I'm guessing that we'll won't ever hear gunshots and street traffic is very light.   So it'll be quiet and not at all like living in the heart of a city as we do now.  Oh, and it's on a hill almost backing on open space.  All good things for our family.  The skies are even much darker, should I decide to keep sky-gazing as a hobby.

It's getting there that's tearing me apart.   Somehow having to prep the new house (mostly just paint and a few odd repairs) has prompted everyone to revert to treating me full on as a guy in both my family and my family of origin.  I'm learning that gender roles aren't something you get to choose, they are something that everyone else *grants* you.  Just like everything else about gender in our culture.

The kicker is that I already know that I will have to do these things for the next few months.  I have to take care of my family, it's who I am and I love them.  And we're a single income family so we don't just hire people to do things that one of us can do well.  So I'll paint, I'll fix and I'll move everything, and all that.  It's the little things about it, the social aspect that gets to me.  The assumptions that both my families have about me doing things that the 'man of the family' typically does  because that's who they know me to be.  I don't know how to break free of it, and it hurts.  A lot.

And that seems to be a summation of my entire transition right now:  I don't know how to get people to see me different from what they think they've always known and who they want me to be.  I can't seem to find a way to get those closest to me to let go and find out who I am.  I can't get them respect my identity.  I'm stuck, in so many ways.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Miss Personality

I'd mentioned in a previous post that my personality is that of nurturer and caregiver.  It's been my history that I was the one people could open up to with their problems and would tell me what a great listener I was.  I've never believed my needs had value greater than anyone else's needs, and often mine were subjugated for any reason, given or assumed.  Likewise, my children and my family are the center of my life.  Their needs and their well being supersedes my own.

Those are intrinsic personality traits; I've never thought of changing them.   They are who I am, and they were enhanced by my family of origin, who taught me that I was right about the importance (or rather, lack thereof) of my needs and wants.  This is confirmed by my Myers-Briggs and other indicators of personality traits.

Now, here's where it gets interesting, or at least starts to make sense.  I'm convinced that personality type predicts transition success, given external circumstances.  I'll have been trying to transition for four years this November.  during that time, I've met a handful of transsexual women and studied and followed the history of many more online (I've now watched as three waves of them 'Move On', but that's another post).  The women who are considered successful in their transitions  fall into only a few categories, despite seemingly wide variations.  But it's late and I'll have to follow up on this later.  At least I got it down before I forget.

Forgotten analogy

I got so wrapped up in the previous post I forgot to mention that to people who are not TS, it is not real.  If they know, they tolerate it as a behavior, as one tolerates an eccentric cross-dresser who is inoffensive. The reality is that it goes much deeper, of course.

The best analogy I've come up with to describe what being a transsexual surrounded by non-TS people who only see the external is that of someone who has some physical impairment.  And before you email me with complaints of able-ism, let me state that there are many, many parallels between the way people treat those with physical disabilities and the way people treat transsexuals.  Enough to make you think about it, a lot, from a sociological point of view.  So much so that I'd highly recommend reading the book, 'Nothing for us without us' for perspective.  The parallels are everywhere.

But one big difference is that in the case of transsexuals, the able-bodied (ie sex and gender consistent) people simply do not believe the condition is valid.  It's as if they were thinking, "just get up and walk".   Oh, it's never that overt.  It usually takes the form of statements like, "let's take the stairs instead" to someone who is in a wheelchair.   Where's the parallel?  Gender roles.  If someone knows your history, they might accept your proclamation of internal identity.  They'll even accept your gender expression.  But their behavior toward you is based on the gender role they assign you and that it seems, is the hardest to change.

By Analogy

Sometimes even the most sympathetic people are unable to comprehend at all what it's like to be TS.  That's to be expected, I guess.  It's out of their person, out of their experience, no matter how close to a trans person they may be or have been.  From their perspective, being TS is about the outer trappings, the obvious external things in their loved one that have changed.   Hair is a big one, as is clothing.  They don't see my naked body or even much skin as I'm not in my twenties, so that aspect remains politely private.   I have a feeling that those closest to me will for a long time treat me as an eccentric cross-dresser instead of a woman despite anything I do or say.  

Sometimes they notice some of the internal things about me that don't fit who I was pretending to be for years, but only in how it affects their lives as friend, spouse or lover.   Those things which change my interactions with them.  But it feels like I have to point those things out to get the people closest to me to realized that they're not the same as they were.  Maybe they're only a big deal to me, because they are things that I have been able to change.  Maybe from the outside they are lost in the noise of who I am "supposed" to be.

All of these things make up gender expression, not identity.  I assume those closest to me understand and accept that my identity is female, but maybe I'm wrong.  I assume that the changes to my gender expression are still too small to be noticed.  And that brings me to gender role.  In my immediate family and the one in which I was raised, my gender role seems to be immutable.  My social role in my family now is that of provider and that can't be changed.  My emotional role with our kids is and always has been that of nurturer and soother, but that seems to make no practical difference; like the female aspects of my body and those of my appearance, it's lost in the noise of what I'm "supposed" to be.

There's just too much of my life built up over years based on who I was supposed to be to allow me to change any of it.   Because, you see, at some point it's not just my life that was built up, it was also my wife's life and my children's life and the position I occupied in my family of origin.  And everyone has made clear that those positions that I occupy are not going to change if they can help it.

"You must do what's right for you", people say.  Well, that's great for some personalities.  Others not so much.  I've always existed to be a pleaser.  I was raised, ironically enough, to believe that my needs are secondary to those of my spouse and children and family of origin.  Perfect woman in our patriarchal society, right?  If only that were so...