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We Need This

Trans Cabal is a new website for trans people to, in the words of its editor, Sophia Banks:

“…share work, essays, articles, and other projects that celebrate the beauty of being trans and to also help educate the public about trans people and some of the amazing stuff we do.”

I follow Sophia on Twitter and that’s where I learned about the website. The heart and soul of Trans Cabal is a project co-created by Sophia and CN Lester, called Songs Of Ourselves, a place for trans people to celebrate all the beauty they find in their lives and bodies.  This is important.  Positive self-image is a daily struggle, especially in a society that still feeds the public with so many negative images of what it means to be trans.

The premise of Songs Of Ourselves is wonderfully simple: submit a photo of yourself that makes you feel joyous, or confident, or beautiful…a photo that makes you feel good, and explain why.

I’m happy to have submitted a self-portrait along with a few hundred words about the experience.  It was liberating to go public with my smile, something I never liked to do before I transitioned.  There are eleven stories and photos published so far, and I hope the number of contributors grows.  And for all trans people, I hope the future offers many more reasons to smile.



Transgender Day of Remembrance

Tonight, for the first time, I attended a Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial service.  To be frank, I was somewhat apprehensive about going—for a couple of reasons.  Social anxiety is always at the top of my list of excuses for avoiding public events, although I’m improving in this area.  I find myself able to do things I have never been able to do before, like walk into a room filled with strangers as if I actually belong.  Last month, I participated in my first transgender support-group meeting.   I went there alone,  without knowing anyone, and found the experience as transformative as it was nerve-wracking.  So, yes—I was nervous before setting out tonight.  All the old familiar scenarios of embarrassing myself in public decided to play with my head beforehand.  And yet, tonight’s battle with my well-worn anxiety issues was not so much about walking into a roomful of strangers and embarrassing myself….it was more about the guilt I’ve internalized for my entire life.   I was afraid those guilty feelings might be triggered by the service,  reminding me that I had come out late in life—and that sometimes I still feel like an outsider among the people I most identify with.  I guess it’s even simpler than that.  When I hear the accounts of so many young people who’ve had the courage to come out and live their unique lives openly and proudly in their communities (making themselves targets for physical assault, among other terrible things) it fills me with a certain sense of failure.  And shame.  I feel I don’t measure up.  So that’s where my inner child was huddled tonight as I listened to the somber and humbling roll-call of names of those trans sisters and trans brothers whose lives were snuffed out just for wanting to be happy.  But all those inwardly directed feelings evaporated as the names of the murdered accumulated,  filling the room with their presence, these singular lives hovering above us as one.  I felt a sense of community that I have never felt before, a sense of belonging—a need to belong.  Going to this even was important to me—to show my solidarity, to show that I am in this now, to show my kinship with the others who attended…but most importantly, to show my respect to those who were murdered.  It was an emotional evening,  filled with the sad and unnerving knowledge of all these horrific deaths—and the details were particularly horrific.  All these beautiful people, young and old, who died such brutal and lonely deaths….It’s hard to say anything else that matters.  But I wanted to write this down tonight, before I go to sleep.  I wanted to mark this day….I needed to mark this day.  I need to remember this day.


What’s The Narrative?

All trans-narratives share pieces of a common story, but all trans-narratives are not the same.  Class, color, economic conditions, and age–all these things matter.  My personal history is shaped by my place in society.  I do not face the same set of obstacles that many trans people face.  I haven’t had to deal with rejection from my family–rejection that many people are left to deal with.  And I have access to health insurance and a place to live.

It’s hard to realize the amount of grievous loss suffered by many people who come out as trans.  Love, work, friends, home—one or all of these things could be gone in a flash.   I’m someone who’s had a great deal of support during my transition.  My family is 100% on my side.  I have a great therapist.  Due to a history of chronic social-shyness and anxiety, I have limited social contacts.  But the friends I have, they remain true.  In short, there are many bad situations I haven’t had to navigate–at least for now.

Not to say it’s all rainbows and unicorns….

Sometimes it’s hard to realize the amount of losses that can’t be seen.   I count myself lucky to be alive.  (There were several times when things could have ended for me).  It’s scary when I look back at my life and realize how much time was spent waging internal battle with myself.  This was my biggest loss, my biggest struggle.  And it still is.  I’m happier than I’ve ever been, but there are still times when my self-esteem and sense-of-self go crashing to the ground.

After that, rock-bottom could be just a short trip away.

That internal struggle for self-identity is perhaps the one absolute thing that all trans-narratives have in common.  At least that’s what I believe.   Keep mind, I speak for myself and for no one else.  So, whenever I write from my own experience (good or bad), I don’t mean it to be universal.

But in this case, I’m pretty sure it is.

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This is a post I don’t want to write.  This blog is only three entries old, but already I am sick of it–empty words, written by a ghost.  All writing is artifice…I know.  All writing is self-serving…of course.  In fiction, the unreliable narrator is master of the universe.  The best liars make the best novelists.  But all writers want to tell the truth.  Or at least, a truth.

Our lives are myths, so we create tales.  We embellish.  We even put a gloss over pain.

But after “reviewing” the first three posts of Undrowned, I am wary.  Wary of tailoring my story into the kind of narrative expected of a transgender person in the midst of transition.  To make clear—I have no doubt about my decision to transition.  To me, this is a matter of life and death.  (It would be a symbolic death, at minimum, for me to stop transition).

But there are doubts about the voice telling the story.

At this moment, writing down these very words, I feel like a fake.  This is one of the things I’ve grappled with my entire life….

Two days ago, I walked into my therapist’s office feeling quite good about myself.  I had wrapped my recent days into a narrative of genteel positivity.  By the end of my session, I was an emotional wreck.  Don’t get me wrong—this is definitely a good thing.  It’s all about facing my demons, something I’ve avoided for too long. 

Rewinding Tuesday’s session is painful, though.  Yes, it’s growth.  But it hurts.  Growing up Catholic, I am used to guilt.  And to confession.

So consider this new post a confession.

When I was a boy (how strange that sounds) I did my best to fit in.  I’m a middle child, so this comes naturally to me.  I was a scared little boy, timid and anxious.  I always felt like an odd little child, inside.  But from the outside, people saw me as a “normal” child.  So I tried my best to nurture this image.  By the fifth grade, I was acting like the “normal” boy—fitting in, playing sports, acting out the part I was supposed to play.  Which means,  sometimes I played cruelly.

It’s a part of my life that haunts me.  It’s a sliver of my life, yes…as my therapist has gently explained.  But it haunts me.

I’m still trying to sort it out, so I won’t bother trying to analyze too deeply here.  To put things bluntly, there were times in my adolescence that I was a bully.  I’m ashamed of this fact.  I’m 56 years old, but the memories of those incidents still sicken me.  There were two specific episodes I clearly remember.  These are the main ones.  Most of the time, it was part of a group thing–a mean boys thing.  The “proving yourself” shit.

In the fifth grade, there was one boy who was different.  A sweet soul who just wanted to be friends with everyone.  To fit in.  He became the running target for the entire class.  And of course, I joined in.  One time, after school, I ran up to him and shoved a handful of snow into his face.  How else can I put it?  I shoved snow into his face.  To this day, I don’t know why I did it.  To this day, I want to puke every time I think of it.  I remember him crying out in rage and pain, his face contorted in tears, red with emotion and the icy with snow.  He shouted at me that I was “going to be in trouble”.  His reaction baffled me.  I try to recall what I felt at that moment—emptiness?   I don’t know.  His reaction just baffled me.  Somehow, I remember feeling little—and I mean this physically.  His reaction made me shrink back inside of myself.  

Then a strange thing happened.  It occurred one week later, after school.  I noticed an older boy suddenly leap out of an idling school bus that was waiting to fill up with a few straggling students.  He dashed straight for me, scooped up a handful of snow, and shoved it into my unsuspecting face. 

To this day, I don’t know if the two incidents were linked.  I would like to believe that the tormented boy was clever enough to concoct a story for the older boy—a story that motivated this older boy to seethe in anger and come after me for revenge.  That indeed would have been a most marvelous and literary piece of fiction. 

Did I deserve it?  I’ll let you decide.  But I never shoved snow into anyone else’s face again.

(Things eventually got so bad for this bullied student that our gym teacher, along with a few other members of the teaching staff, had to assemble the entire fifth grade class—all the boys, that is—to read us the riot act.  Mind you, this was in the late 1960’s when society still hadn’t confronted the culture of bullying).

The other episode concerns a boy who had previously been a student at the Catholic school in our town.  For some reason, he became a target for a lot of the boys in our class.  To this day I honestly don’t know why—probably due to the classic “real guys aren’t sissies” syndrome.  Oh, how ironic!

I never said mean things to him specifically, to this face.  It was all a part the group mentality…the separating-out of those who were different, who we perceived as weak, as being unmanly.  Yes, young boys certainly know in their confused little hearts what it’s like to be a real man…and sad to say, I played that game.

One day, I was with some guys—older guys–not even friends (I actually had one close friend at the time.  Everyone was a classmate, an acquaintance, or someone to play ball with).  These guys actually frightened me–so I guess I needed to impress them.  They goaded me into harassing this fellow classmate.  Like a good little trooper I followed orders. I probably started mocking him about going to a “sissy” school—shit like that.  Again, how ironic.

He started crying.  He told me that the reason he left his other school was because of the same sort of bullying I was inflicting on him at that very moment.  It’s sad, remembering his face.  I had never seen raw emotion like that.  It stunned me into some kind of recognition.  He was pleading with me, trying to reason with me, and to this day I am thankful that I immediately stopped.  I went back to the group and said, “Just leave him alone.”  Then I headed home.

I’m not saying that I instantly became a saint. I remained a part-time jerk, like every other guy in existence.  But my “phase” of bullying was over.

But that part of my life greatly disturbs me—I wonder how much was society, and how much was just me.  I know my painful memories pale in comparison to the memories of those bullied students.  My pain is from guilt and self-pity.  Self-inflicted.  Deserved (I tell myself).  Their pain is the pain of being victimized, a whole different category.

This is the kind of stuff that comes up in therapy…the dark parts of our lives that need to be examined—no matter how much it hurts.  This is why the  first three entries of this blog seem almost fatuous now.  I know that is a distorted perception. But I have always lived in a stream of distorted perceptions. Those words represented how I was feeling at the time I wrote them.  But somehow, they seem false now. Like much of my life. 

That’s why I feel broken.    

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Of Hormones And Age

Perhaps it’s a generation’s unease with technology, and social media in particular, but the Internet is not exactly boiling over with the voices of older transgender folk. Since my nieces consider anyone over 30 to be “really, really old”, I’ll just say that I’m over 30. Way over 30. By many, many miles!

For years, I avoided stamping the universe with my public presence on the Internet. But now I am on Twitter, Instagram, and…I am embarrassed to say…Facebook. I would like to believe I use these services creatively and with a certain degree of panache. And for the most part, I do. But I’m equally guilty of posting my share of cat photos, too.

When I first began researching the possibility of transitioning at my age (with one heart-attack already embedded in my medical chart), Google yielded…well, not so much. Except for blood clots. Lots and lots of info about blood clots.

But I didn’t need (or want) anymore stories on the statistical probabilities of age+hormones+risk. Due to the stent already in lodged in my one of my cardiovascular arteries, I was well aware of all the associated health risks.

I just desperately needed to hear the personal accounts of people transitioning at my age. I needed to read stories from actual souls, and not just from research papers (although the straight dope should never be ignored–my first piece of advice to my trans sisters and brothers). I needed the calm voice of someone who had been there and done that.

But most transgender people (most people, period) on Twitter and Facebook are under 30. The ones I follow who happen to be over 30? They consider themselves old-timers and veterans. Curse them!

And yet, I’ve learned a great deal from these young people in this great, new age of possibilities. Their stories have not only inspired me, but they’ve educated me in so many areas of transitioning. Especially how to deal with the day-to-day struggles of living in a society that is largely uncomfortable with non-conformity. But still, it is nice to have someone your age to talk to….

One of my hopes for this blog is to reach older people who are considering transitioning. I’d like to be a helpful voice in the wilderness, if I can.

For now, at the very beginning, the best I can do is to translate my personal experience into something more meaningful than mere bio.

One caveat. I have lived a most chaotic and yet insular life, psychologically-speaking. I am not your ordinary trans person. But, then again, neither are you.