Diary: Post- Southern Comfort Conference Thoughts

The last, and my first, Southern Comfort Conference, a convention for transgender people, was held in Atlanta this past weekend. Apparently, attendance is down, and the organizers have been successfully courted by a motivated bunch who are trying to make Ft. Lauderdale, Florida a hub for LGBT tourism, so the conference will soon have a new home.

SCC lasts from Wednesday to Sunday, but I was only able to be a part of the conference for a day and two nights, so the time I had networking was limited. I made a few new connections, got to know some old friends a bit better, and completely missed a few people with whom I should have caught up. My take-away from the conference is two-fold.

Firstly, I better understand that, though I dress up not too badly, I benefit mainly from my natural gifts – towering height and slender weight – rather than my skill in feminine presentation. There were hundreds of absolutely stunning transgender women, utterly unforced and natural-looking. I realize I’ve got a lot of work to do; fortunately, much of it involving simple grooming, nothing that necessarily cost lots of money.

But there are other aspects of going M to F, hormone therapy specifically, that I am now more informed and confident about. I hope to begin hormone therapy relatively soon, perhaps next summer, after I have shuffled my life around a bit.  One of my t-girlfriends began all that hormone stuff on her own by doing her own research while still living at home, and she’s still married, but that’s not the route for me. I need more calmness in my life, and injecting that stressor into my home is not the best choice.

After I got home from SCC, my wife and I talked for about three hours. I am so lucky; though she has declared my intentions “selfish”, we are proceeding toward an amicable separation. No drama, no pointed fingers, no cried accusations; hopefully, we can maintain this level of civility. The original plan was for me to be around full-time during my son’s senior year of high school; but my wife, who has been reading a book about divorce, read that the “announce-your-separation-over-dinner-a-month-after-your-child-has-begun-college” speech is a cliché that is not a good plan when one considers the drugs-and-alcohol temptations my son will be facing away from home. She and I agree it would be a better idea for me, after I’ve moved out, to return to what was my home on Sundays, for example, play some games, help with a few chores, and prepare to start another week as peacably as possible. For the sake or ourselves and our children, I think I can do that. So the plan right now is for me to move out this November or December, and spend the first half of 2015 undoing ties in a manner that is relatively harmonious.

Secondly, I’ve been able to sketch out my professional future a bit. I have twelve years invested in my career as a public educator, and I’ve got at least thirteen more to go in order that I can gain my teacher retirement benefits. I’ve been worried: How can I get through my career while, at the same time, transitioning from male to female? Well, I’ve come to understand that it may be possible, or should I say necessary, to present as male until I retire. I learned at SCC this compromise might in fact be do-able: For one thing, because I am so thin, it seems likely that the changes to my body brought about my hormone replacement therapy might not be so profound that I could not hide them under male dress. One of my best girlfriends who has successfully transitioned fully to female, (and has breasts like missles!), substitute teaches at a neighboring county as a man without any problem. So, I could go stealth for at least a few years, at least until my daughter graduates from high school, and then I could decide if I want to raise a big stink with my employers and risk their wrath, not to mention the wrath of my students, while no longer having high-school aged children who might face the public embarrassment of having a father who might be making a very public, very controversial change.

There are a lot of successful transgender people who transition very quietly, but that doesn’t look like my future. There’s a part of me that wouldn’t mind taking one for the team, putting my job at risk by seeking to teach as female for the last segment of my career. As quickly as the climate is changing now, who knows? Maybe I could in fact be a “Missus” to my students one day. Or maybe not. . .we’ll see.

Laura Jane Grace, Slowly Changing the World

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On July 22, 2014, I spent the day en femme in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  I revisited the excellent Hunter Museum of Art, but the primary reason I drove from Atlanta was to see the band Against Me! play at Track 29.

Against Me! is led by Laura Jane Grace, the first M-to-F transgender person in rock, or at least the first one to be noticed by the mainstream. Their album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, has been getting a lot of attention and critical praise.  Musically, Against Me! has a fairly broad appeal a la the Foo Fighters, but it’s the record’s thematic content that makes it a signpost for its time.

My daughter is a fan Against Me!.  I know this because she “likes” them on Facebook, but I had been hiding their new CD under the seat of my car, realizing that she and my son have, no doubt, been “connecting the dots” about me, and I didn’t want to give them another dot.  What would they think of a father who rocks the title track, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”, in the minivan, turned up to 11 –

You’ve got no cunt in your strut, you’ve got no hips to shake,
And you know it’s obvious, but we can’t choose how we’re made.
You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress,
You want them to see you like they see every other girl,
They just see a faggot.

In Chattanooga, I was determined to represent at the show, realizing I was two hours away from home in a smallish town with little LGBT strength compared to Atlanta.  I guessed correctly I would be the only man presenting as female but, clad in my crème leather skirt, black silky top, and black boots, I went anyway.

Laura Jane Grace and Against Me!, independent of the fact the new record is a favorite of critics and gender-dysphoria-burndened people, are testing uncharted waters.  Against Me!’s music on past records, and the new one, too, might be called angry, thrashy, and muscular; in other words, testosterone-driven.  The majority of their fans are men, men who like to mosh and slam their manly bodies together and pump their fists while chugging a beer.  (Not that there is anything wrong with that!)  But, obviously, Laura Jane Grace has created a possible disconnect between her and a significant portion of her fan base.

One of the thrashiest songs on Transgender Dysphoria Blues is “Drinking with the Jocks”:

 I’m drinking with the jocks, I’m laughing at the faggots
Just like one of the boys, Swinging my dick in my hands

All my life, All my life, Just like I was one of them

Look at all them bitches, yeah, I’m going to fuck them all
Look at all that pussy, yeah, Fill ’em up with cum

All my life, All my life, Wishing I was one of them

(Against Me! did not play this song, one of the best from the new record, at the Chattanooga show, indicative of something, or perhaps nothing.  Other than that disappointment, the show was just great – Laura Jane, guitarist James Bowman, bassist Inge Johansson, and drummer Atom Williard, delivered solidly.  From the floor, the band seemed happy and totally professional, even though the turnout was light, it being a weeknight show in a relatively small market.)

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There are very few “fuck you’s” left to say in rock and roll, but Laura Jane Grace has found one – lyrically spitting on a portion of her fans, but how big a portion?  Will there be fallout?  Obviously, Laura Jane Grace has taken a huge amount of risk, but, on the other hand, she might be making changes in rock and in the minds of her fans that will, ultimately, put her mark on history, and that is a risk worth taking.

When I got back home, I draped my Against Me! concert t-shirt over the chair in my room.  My wife said, “Your daughter covets your shirt,” so I gave it to her, as well as the Transgender Dysphoria Blues CD, which she put on immediately, and she wore the t-shirt to play practice that same day, too.

So now Laura Jane Grace has helped me in two ways.  She’s given me a great rock and roll record that speaks of my values, fears, and hopes, and, perhaps, has also helped bridge the huge emotional gap that currently exists between me and my daughter.  From the first time I’d listened to it, I’d  hoped the album might serve to soften the blow for her, a girl who will be learning, eventually, some hard truths about her dad. Against Me! is playing in Atlanta in October; perhaps she and I will go together.

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If You Discover Me, Read This

This writing is addressed to any person who, by accident or investigation, finds out about my female identity.  There are some things I’d like you to understand, and a few requests I’d like to make.

I have gender dysphoria, identification with a gender different from the one determined by anatomy.  This condition has made me very depressed over the course of my life, and I have come to the conclusion that, if I do not act out in a way that honors my female self, I will continue to be depressed, and I will die in regret.

My wife knows.   I am not acting out behind her back, and I am not engaging in behaviors that disrespect utterly the promises I made to my wife when I married her.  She does not approve of my acting out, but she has come to understand that it is something I must do to be happy, so she has accepted it, reluctantly.

I am sorry for the pain I have injected into my marriage.  My wife knew about my proclivities prior to our having children, and, at that time, I told her that I could put my female identification away.   For almost twenty years, that’s just what I tried to do, at the expense of my mental health.

I don’t blame my wife for being unable to accept my female self.  If she does not wish to deal with this complication, that is her choice, though I’m saddened by it.

I am trying to be the best husband and father I can be.   It would be irresponsible to run from my responsibilities and promises to my family and my employer.

I don’t know how far I will have to go across the gender spectrum to be happy.  The demands placed upon me by the world, rightly or wrongly,  moderate my progress.  The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one, as Star Trek teaches.  I will get to where I am going, but it’s going to take a long time.

SO, if you have discovered me, please –

Let me work through this change in my own time.  I love my job, and I need my job to support my family.  What I am going through does not pertain to my employment in any way, other than that, the further I pursue my female self, the happier I will be, and a happy person is more effective in the workplace than an unhappy person.

If you enthusiastically support my effort, let me know. I don’t mind if you have stumbled upon my female self or have even done some poking around.  I’ve gained a great deal of strength from the people in my life who know about my journey and smile upon it.  If you’d like to be one of those special people, please speak up.

If you think my female appearance is funny, go ahead and laugh – I can handle it.  I realize I will never be Laverne Cox.  I am grappling with the fact that I will never be a beautiful woman.  I am too tall, too old, and too gangly – but that’s okay!

Please be very selective about who you tell about me, if anyone.  The world is changing rapidly.  It seems like tolerance toward LGBTQ people is growing at an astonishing rate.  However, there are, and will always be, people who believe that I am acting immorally, so please keep this fact in mind.  Perhaps we could just keep it between us?

Thank you for considering my perspective and my wishes.  XO, Laura Ann

Top Ten Things that Suck About Gender Dysphoria

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10.  Not being able to talk about what is in the forefront of your mind.  Worries and troubles verbalized are released into the air and dissipate, while the ones that don’t eat you alive from the inside out.  Besides, it’s not like you’re the only one out there with problems.  Everyone is dealing with their own shit, so what gives you the right to unload your shit?  Shut up and shoulder your load like everyone else.

9.  Being surrounded by femininity is depressing and upsetting. Beautiful women are everywhere I go.  They walk by at work, at the mall, in the grocery store, and they stare at me from magazine covers and television screens.  It’s torturous.  Why can’t I be like that?  Why can’t I be them?

8.  Not being able to be one of the girls.  I teach, so I am around women most of the work day, which actually is preferable to a host of alternatives.  When you’re a male teacher, though, the social connections you can make are limited by gender.  Your work friends are much less likely to ask you out to their parties or include you in their personal lives.  They don’t even understand what’s going on in that fucked-up mind of yours.  You expect them to let you throw on a cocktail dress and meet them downtown for drinks and girl talk?

7.  Not being pretty enough to “pass”.  My runner’s legs dress up very nicely, and I have underthings that give me a feminine shape, but I am purely Dustin Hoffman from the neck up.  No amount of makeup is going to have much effect on what testosterone and nearly fifty years on this planet have done to my face. Give it up, kid. You’re fugly.

6.  The urge to self-medicate is very powerful.  I didn’t understand why I, as a teenager, took to marijuana and Budweiser like a duck takes to water, but now I do.  I don’t smoke anymore.  Legal highs only.  But the legal highs aren’t working like they used to.  Must get numb.  Ahhh, that’s better.  Leave me alone.  Snapping at wife and kids.  Insomnia. SHIT, hung over again.  Repeat.

5.  The chances to “act out” are too few.  My dresses and my shoes wait in my secret place, and wait.  No adult with a family has enough “me” time to play dress up.  Gotta mow the lawn, gotta grade some papers, gotta gotta gotta.  

4.  Watching your wife get dressed in the morning, and then having to put on men’s clothes.  It’s a horrible way to start the work day, watching your wife straighten her hair and put on a little makeup.  Admiring her as she selects and puts on the dusty pink blouse and matching skirt, then wrapping her curvy body in that pretty purple ruffled cardigan with the sparkles.  She leaves, and I go to my own closet.  Which pair of pants have I not worn lately, the corduroys or the khakis?  Which button-down will match?  The brown Timberland casuals, or the black?  Ugh.

3.  Worrying about how you will be perceived by your kids when you finally come out.  They’re still in high school, so it seems necessary to be normal at least until they graduate, to provide the stability children deserve, to spare them of the social ridicule they would have to endure. Should I tell them, forcing them to carry my secret as well?  They already know something is wrong.  Stop torturing them and get it over with.  Besides, they need to know that, whatever they are sexually, they are okay.  Don’t perpetuate the shame that was instilled in you.

2.  Feeling like a fucking freak of nature all the time.  “Broken” is the best word I can think of to describe myself, and I’m reminded of my brokenness every day, all day long.  It’s a kind of depression that Wellbutrin does not address.  Hormones. . .when may I start my HRT?  Next year?  The year after that?  Five years from now, when my children are in college?

1.  Knowing that you will never, ever, ever actually be a girl.  Nuff said.

(Credit: The image above is stolen from Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.)

What Happened, Don Ennis?

Update 4/4/2015:  recently, i have become internet acquaintances with ms. ennis. i find her to be a very friendly, likable woman who is devoted to her family, but i’m letting this blog entry stand so as to represent where my mind was at the time. no disrespect intended, dawn; thank you for being a role model!  XO  

There are certain transgender people I look to for guidance and inspiration – Laura Jane Grace, Eden Lane, but also Don Ennis, who, for a short time, publicly announced that he no longer wished to be known not as Don but Dawn, only to revert back a few days later.  Don blamed his mistake on transient global amnesia, “a temporary but almost total disruption of short-term memory.”

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Well, if fucked-up feelings about your sexual identity are no longer a mental disorder according to the DSM-5, Don, you’re not helping anyone’s case.  I read what you wrote when you came out:  You said that you and your wife had struggled with your sexual problems for years and had come to the mutual decision you had no choice but to live as a woman, so you show up at your job at ABC in a dress and announced that everyone was to call you “Dawn”.  You started a Facebook page and a Twitter feed for Dawn, posted pictures of your new self, and enjoyed the vocal support of many hundreds of people.  You wrote of a transgender person’s right to happiness, and of your satisfaction with your decision, yet there you were two weeks later, disavowing everything you had said, blaming your momentarily lapse of reason on amnesia and being fed female hormones as a child.

I can’t know for sure, Don, but I don’t think you’ve been completely truthful about what made you revert.  My suspicion, my deep fear, is that once the novelty of coming out wore off and you had to get down to the daily tedium of living as a woman, you said, “Oh fuck, this is hard!”  Once the rain of praise slowed to a drizzle, you thought to yourself, “Hey! I am not going to be constantly rewarded and reinforced by my friends, colleagues, and internet allies!  The strength I need to live this way needs, in actuality, to come from within!”  You concluded you didn’t have that strength, that it would be easier to live they way you’ve lived all your your life – conflicted and unsatisfied, but at least with a loving spouse to take care of you.  Why would any rational person throw that away?

I’m not mad at you, Don.  If fact, I’m grateful for the reminder that crossing over – A) would be hard as all fuck, B) means a lot more than just a opportunity to be the center of attention in the realm of social media, and C) is fraught with negative consequences.

A Man Needs (to be) a Maid

maid3My need to be as much of a woman as possible is, in part, a product of my sympathy for women and the guilt I carry for the way men have treated women, historically. I had a huge gender dysphoria flare-up five or so years ago when my family and I were staying in a cabin in the Shanendoah National Forest on the way home from seeing the sights in Washington DC. Hanging on the inside knob of the cabin door was one of those vintage “maid service, please” tags. On the tag was an image of a maid – pretty, pouting, and put-upon. I wanted to steal the tag and take it home, but I just stared at it for a good thirty minutes, took pictures of it, and photoshopped it instead. I have tried to find this classic image on the Internet, but have not been able to, so, if you like it, you better steal it from me.

This image speaks two thousand words. First, it reminds me of how uniforms, up until very recently, used to be such a common way to define roles.  I have never had occasion to wear identifying dress, and I long to, for I am a person who feels so much more comfortable in social situations where roles are clearly defined: teacher/student, waitress/customer, maid/lady-of-the-house. In the nebulous world of parties, mixers, and meet-and-greets, I am lost, hopelessly awkward because what people see when they look at me is not what I see or feel when I look at myself. I used to have a uniform of sorts, a beard, which helped me tremendously, defining me as a manly man, but I have shaved it off, determined to lose that crutch.  Also, this image reminds me of the role typically taken by the female – the servant, the helper, the come-behind – the role in which I feel much more comfortable.  Lastly, the dejected “I-must-accept-my-role”expression on the maid’s face makes me swell with sympathy and identification.

Gender dysphoria never leaves me alone, but sometimes it completely consumes and overwhelms.  My therapist said controlling your thoughts is key to controlling your emotions, but I have tried to stop pushing down thoughts like I did that day in the cabin in Shenandoah National Park.  I can’t fight it anymore.  I don’t wish to.

my name is laura

What follows is a fictional autobiography.

My name is Laura, and I am 21 years old today.  In four months, I will have my journalism degree.  My mama and daddy are so proud of me, as I am the first person in our family to graduate from college.  I’ve lived with my parents all my life, but, soon, I will break out on my own, and I’m quietly thrilled at the prospect, even though I love my parents very much.  Will they be as happy when I am gone?  I worry, for I am an only child.

Writing is my passion now. I put the same energy into it that I used to put into ballet when I was small, and to playing the viola in high school.  Pirouettes and pizzicatos have fallen by the wayside for me; now, I want to go to Washington and cover the political beat.  The Equal Rights Amendment is gaining momentum in Congress now.  That’s pretty exciting, but still I wonder sometimes, is the way the world is changing for women the way I want to go?  In my heart, I know that I’m still a fairly traditional girl.

My father, finally, got a desk job at Coca-Cola after driving their trucks for almost twenty-five years.  He is a gentle, hard-working man with a stubbly, sharp jaw who likes watching football.  He and I have probably watched the Jets play a hundred times, though I would be happy just watching Joe Namath.  I could enjoy his handsome face a lot better if he’d just take off that blasted helmet!  I don’t think my father has made a great deal money working for Coca-Cola; perhaps he could have done better, but college wasn’t really an option for him.  I’m sure he must be proud of our middle-class life, considering his hardscrabble existence as a child.

I’m told my mother used to be a librarian before she married my father, but her work since she married has been being the best wife and mother any two people could ask for.  She is a fairly meticulous lady who takes great pride in her appearance, and I have to admit her habits have rubbed off onto me a good bit.  Even though the sofa and easy chair in our den are the same ones I crawled behind and hid when I was five, it’s still in good enough shape to keep, because mom has kept them clean over the years, and even fixed a broken sofa spring, once.

Mom dresses nicely, not only for herself, but for my daddy, too.  When he comes home from work, he would often find Mom cooking in heels and pearls.  Then, later, when she brought him his drink, he’s pull her onto his lap and tickle her middle.  She’d laugh and pretend to struggle to get away.  They’ve always seemed to be playfully in love.  I hope my husband will be sweet to me like that.

Mom taught me everything she knows about looking her best.  Her wardrobe is the size it is because she makes most of her own dresses.  She doesn’t even use patterns from the fabric store, much – she just imitates the outfits she sees in fashion section of the Sunday paper.  Jackie Kennedy still holds sway in my mom’s eyes, believe me, even though she’s not the First Lady anymore.  She’s made a lot of my clothes, too, and has tried to get me involved in making them, though I lack her talent.

I remember my boyfriend Lance Hastings took me to the Senior Prom, so we worked together on a dress made of apricot silk taffeta.  I was complaining, “Mom, please don’t make me wear a homemade dress to my Prom!”  But, when I saw myself in it, I had to admit that I looked pretty stunning.  Prom went wonderfully and, afterward, Lance took me out for coffee instead of going with his gang of friends and their dates to the lake for God-knows-what.  While I was busy stirring my fourth tablespoon of cream into my cup, he slid a small box wrapped with a pink bow over to my side of the table.  Inside was a ring with a tiny chip of Safire.  He put it on the ring finger of my right hand and said he wanted me to be his girl even after he left for college in the fall.  And so I was his girl, for almost two years.  He’d come home from school to see me, weekly for awhile, then every other week, then monthly, then he stopped coming, to my house, at least.  He broke up with me without breaking up with me, if you know what I mean.

My father always said, “Never trust a boy!”, even though he seemed to like Lance.  Lance and I used to go back to that same coffee shop and sit at that same booth, and we’d make plans for our future together.  More and more women were working outside the home, but Lance wanted me to be a housewife and a full-time mother for his children, so I fantasized about being a woman like that.  Later, in his car, Lance and I would go “parking”:  He would kiss me, and I would kiss him back.  He would touch my breasts, and I would let him.  He would put his hand between my legs, and I would open them to him, because it felt so wonderful.  I don’t regret having sex with Lance, even though my parents would be very disappointed in me if they found out.  What I do regret is believing him when he said were forever.  I guess daddy was right, never trust a boy.

I know, though, that I can take the lessons I’ve learned and the love my parents have given me and be successful on my own.  Women can do anything they want these days, but still, secretly, inside, I don’t think I’ll ever change from being the girl I was raised to be.  Feminist?  Possibly.  Feminine?  Always!