I have been quite lax in my writing of late and I need to get back on the wagon. In my last few posts I’ve been going through my life story, and got as far as my mid twenties. Basically after taking six months off to find myself I got a good job at an office, then got a better job in a call centre, along the way I broke a few hearts and learned to fly airplanes – as long as those airplanes are a Cesna 172. Ok now we’re all caught up 😀
A solid two thirds of recent TG related headlines have revolved around Bruce Jenner. I think that’s awesome, I didn’t know much about this person until very recently but I’ve come to respect and admire them a great deal. Their journey seems to have a lot of parallels with my own, in particular the near obsessive pursuit of masculinity and social isolation. I think it’s fantastic news that they’re conservative, a lot of people seem upset by this which confuses me just a little bit. My personal views are definitely left leaning, but Jenner being Republican means we have an advocate, someone who can dine beside the movers and shakers in the GOP and influence positive change.
Anyway enough politics, for me Jenner is the latest in a line of people who have helped pave the way, personal and cultural heroes who have made my own transition infinitely easier. One such hero is the first transgender person I ever met. I don’t want to go into any detail out of respect for their privacy, but they have had a huge influence on my life and they were one of the first people I spoke with when I began my transition. They were kind enough to tell me about their personal journey and provide some insight into the social and medical landscape.
Laura Jane Grace is a major factor in my decision to transition. It was while reading the Rolling Stone article ‘The Secret Life of Transgender Rocker Tom Gabel’ that I had my epiphany, her story helped me realize it was possible to find the strength to live my truth. Also the story is pretty cool, basically the lyrics from one of Laura’s songs inspired a fan to transition, which in turn inspired Laura to transition.
Christian Beranek, writer of Validation Comics. My life was in a strange place in late 2014. I was almost a year into a serious relationship that was quickly moving towards a turning point. This cute, down to earth webcomic gave me a lot of insight and relief, and really helped me sort through my own issues. The protagonist of the strip is a delightful young woman who just happens to be trans, it gave me perspective on the trans experience and made it all seem so normal.
Lavern Cox, really what needs to be said about Lavern Cox? She’s bold and gorgeous with a powerful message.
Janet Mock is another name that deserves mention, I didn’t learn of her until a few months into my transition but her story is absolutely incredible. I would recommend her book ‘Redefining Realness’ for anyone looking to understand not only the trans experience but also concepts of intersectionality and privilege. Having lived my life as a heteronormative white male there are a lot of problems I’ve simply never had to deal with, and this book provides a fair bit of insight into a lot of things I’ve taken for granted.
Everyone on WordPress. You, reading this right now, you are awesome, I seriously love every one of you. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and share your own story. Stay strong and know there are people who care about you.
Some more about me
In my last few posts I’ve talked about my childhood and teenage years, and got to the point where I was a failure at everything, cutting myself and contemplating suicide. Actually the cutting was oddly disappointing. The pain barely lasted and there was no end of questions, it was like trying an ineffective off brand after years of top shelf. I may be just a little warped. Anyway that was about the time I dedicated myself to giving up self harm, or at least redirecting it. These days I cope with dysphoria through exercise, but it was something of a long road.
I dropped out of school and stopped going to the army reserves, I lingered with the naval band for a few months before dropping that as well. I got a job as a night baker for a well known canadian coffee chain. Working nights didn’t mesh with the band and I gradually stopped going. An officer (naval reservist, not police) showed up at my house one night to claim my barry sax and that was that. I lost touch with my friends and sank deeper into depression.
One of the most significant turning points in my life was my twenty first birthday. I was set to have a small family celebration at my grandma’s. To my immense delight a number of my friends showed up, this was a surprise because at the time I didn’t believe I had any. Ash and his brothers were in attendance, so were a number of school friends and acquaintances. One such friend was a man we will call Sam.
Sam got me a remote control inflatable robot, it was just as cool as that sounds. I remember this because Sam was a big part of my twenty first birthday, but I missed out on going to his. His twenty first birthday was about two years after mine. On that night during his party he fell from the balcony, his memorial service was simultaneously awful and beautiful beyond words. Nothing brings people together like tragedy, the event made our group of friends draw much closer to one another. It also created a housing opportunity for me.
By then I was working at a video store, a much healthier environment than night baking. I was still living with my parents and it was time to leave the nest. My cousin Han was living with three of our mutual friends and planning to move out of town for school. Sam was slated to take his room. They needed someone who could move in on short notice and that ended up being me. I had always felt like an outsider, and honestly still do to this day, what I learned living with my friends is that this is true for most people.
The house was basically everything you’ve seen in a movie frat house. The first year I was there we hosted a new years party with over a hundred guests. On multiple occasions I would come home to witness two strangers asking each other who lived there. Over the years the bathroom was cleaned about twice, and I may be inflating that number. I had a lot of good times and picked up a few bad habits.
The day I dropped off the key to the landlord he and his family were scrubbing the walls, a wife and three kids, the air stank of rotten cabbage (“of course I’ll eat the cabbage, cabbage is really good for you…”).
I studied the scene, and all I could manage was, “I’m sorry.”
“You could help.” Said one of the children rather bluntly.
I left quickly after that.
In my time there I certainly learned a lot about the male creature. Women have a lot of unspoken rules, rules about appearance, rules about behavior etc. Men really just have one, stay cool. If you can manage this you can fit in with guys. That’s not to say this is an easy rule to follow, guys will often do everything they can think of to get a rise out of one another. My friends are very creative and tenacious, I learned to stay calm, for the most part. I got a lot of practice is what I’m saying.
There were other important milestones at the house. I left my job at the video store over what we’ll call a personality conflict and spent six months on employment insurance. The time off was really good for me, it was a chance to breath and put some serious thought into where I wanted to go with my life. It was after this that I really started to take control of my fate. I was bound and determined to make myself into a man.
I’ve made casual reference to a number of my friends, I suppose I may go into more detail in a later post. One thing that occurs to me is that I have more male friends than I can easily count, each of whom I would trust to take a punch for me, but I have depressingly few close female friends. Thank you Matron, by the way 🙂
Every bigot I’ve ever met has insisted they are not a bigot. They usually have a speech prepared, something very eloquent and verbose detailing all of the many objective and concrete reasons they are not a bigot, and they will deliver this speech right before saying something incredibly bigoted. The technical definition of bigotry is intolerance towards people with different opinions. The way I see it is a bigot is someone who is looking for an excuse to be a jerk.
I was nineteen when I started playing with the HMSC Tecumseh Naval Reserves band. I was a civilian member, to become an official member I had to go through basic training. The band was a good group of people and I had a lot of fun touring with them, we played at events all over the province, parades and legion halls etc. Months went by and I wasn’t hearing back from the recruiting office about basic, by the time things got sorted out it was too late to enroll.
The Tecumseh naval base is located smack in the middle of the prairies, why we have a naval base in a landlocked province is a long and boring story. What’s relevant is that they shared the base with an army reserve unit, the 746 Comm Squad, and their basic training was still accepting recruits. So I joined the comm squad, and initially it was a really positive experience. I was steadily mastering the act of presenting myself as a ‘normal’ human being. Of course a few cracks were still showing.
It was mostly little things, despite my efforts to present as tough and manly the reality is I’m pretty sensitive, my reaction to certain situations was enough to draw a few disapproving eyes. Another issue was my bunkmate, who was initially quite keen on the idea of comrades in arms, buddies watching out for each other through thick and thin. He asked me about all the women I had been with. I was twenty years old, tall and fit, and had never been with a woman. Needless to say his enthusiasm for camaraderie diminished with that revelation. He was never openly hostile, but definitely less friendly.
Most of the people I went through basic with were pretty great, though I did have a few vocal detractors among my peers. Our leaders were of course professional but I got the distinct impression that none of them thought much of me. People aside, basic (as it was called) was a lot of fun, particularly the field training, which was essentially camping but we got to carry rifles. When all was said and done I returned to Calgary with some new skills and a number of good friends.
It was because of those friends that I held off transferring to the navy reserves. I was still playing with the band, which practiced on Wednesday nights and a weekend gig every few weeks. The army reserves met on Thursday nights (I might be getting those backwards, but whatever) and went on weekend field exercises about three times a month. I was going to school full time, which meant that my free time was Monday and Tuesday night, sometimes I would have a Sunday evening off as well. It was exhausting.
My grades suffered, money was becoming an issue and my self-confidence was at an all time low. By November it became clear that I simply couldn’t keep up with both reserve units, so I submitted an application for transfer. I mentioned that I had a number of good friends and a few vocal detractors when I came back from basic. Well the scales shifted after I requested the transfer. Imagine if two rival sports team shared the same stadium, their locker rooms are within shouting distance of one another, and a player shows up one day wearing the ‘wrong’ jersey.
Discrimination is an insidious thing, people only do what they think they can get away with, they tell themselves their actions are warranted. There were a few things said to my face and quite a few more behind my back. When you hear the same comment from different people on different days you know you’re being talked about. Also I was given a fair amount of seemingly vindictive work detail, not because of the transfer of course, but for you know, ‘reasons’. Oh and the comm squad denied my transfer, something that is normally seen as a formality. They said I would have to resubmit the application and wait another few months.
This is about the time my life fell apart, I eventually dropped out of school and simply stopped going to either reserve unit (note that you can’t just stop going to the reserves, I had to go in and sign a form. They said they let me off easy, if they wanted to they could have pressed charges but anyway…). Some people are just jerks, they are looking for an excuse to be cruel, that doesn’t mean they aren’t on to something. The comments hurt, but worse it added to the mounting evidence that I was a failure, worthless. Wrong.
Obviously I was broken, and no amount of effort would make me normal. That was the only time I cut myself, and I gave some serious thought to suicide. The reason I didn’t was my family, I’ve read studies that indicate a supportive family drastically lowers the rates of suicide, and I have a good idea as to why.
If not for the love from my family and friends I don’t know if I would have made it this far. Discrimination is awful and unacceptable in any context, attempts to justify it are an even greater offense. Sometimes when I tell someone they are hurting me they stop, and may even apologize. Others have tried to tell me why I deserve it. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that their response says a lot more about them than it does about me.
Dysphoria is a difficult feeling to explain, so too is whatever you might call the opposite. I’m talking about the feeling of looking into a mirror and seeing myself looking back, of when I was fourteen and stole a pair panty hose in a rare moment of experimentation, of presenting full fem and the calm confidence that chips away at my inhibitions, of being surrounded by other women who accept and recognize me for who I am. I don’t know what the word for this feeling might be. I might call it relief, affirmation or just plain magical.
I work from home but occasionally have to go into the office for a day. Yesterday was the first time I went in fully as myself, and though my heart was racing all day it was wonderful. The company I work for is pretty great, progressive and people focused, everyone there has been incredibly supportive. At lunch I sat with a number of female co-workers who were all very happy and excited for me, they really made me feel like one of the girls. Several people told me I’m pretty. When I was presenting male comments on my appearance barely registered, but as a woman they make me downright giddy 😀 something I wouldn’t have expected.
I’m well aware of how incredibly lucky I am, I’ve spent my life terrified of how people would treat me if they knew who I really was, and have come to learn that there is actually a lot of good in this world. That said I think it’s important to acknowledge the countless stories of poverty, violence and tragedy. My own teenage years weren’t exactly smooth sailing, and while there was certainly some harassment, incidents were few and far between. This was because by that age I had learned to make myself mostly invisible.
In elementary school I was picked on constantly, tormented by my peers at every opportunity throughout the day. In retrospect I can see many of the ways that I brought it on myself. In retro-retrospect that’s a load of crap and no one should be treated like that no matter how strange their behavior. The first social skill I focused on was how not to be noticed. In grade seven I moved from the french emersion program I was in to an english school by my house, mostly to get away from the people I went to elementary with.
My good friend Ash also switched to the english school but we were still only acquaintances at that point. We saw each other at cadets but rarely outside of that, and while I made a few friends I spent most lunch hours wandering the school grounds by myself. My grades were mediocre, I tested well but never bothered with homework. I was trying to figure myself out, and when that prospect became too uncomfortable I focused on trying to figure out the rest of the world.
One of the things I learned early about male behavior is that they will give no end of grief to anyone who doesn’t fight back. There were a few times someone saw me as an easy target and I had to prove I wasn’t. Eventually I did manage to make some really good friends that have stayed with me over the years, but of course even my friends were kept at arms length. I rarely talked to girls and never went to parties. My favorite classes were band, drama and art, each would prove significant in their own way.
In band class I learned to play the baritone saxophone, a skill that carried over into cadets and ultimately led to my joining the reserves. My high school drama class was heaven on earth, I had a great group of friends and the teacher was phenomenal. It was a very open environment and there was even a semi out lesbian in the class. Admittedly I couldn’t look her in the eye let alone talk to her. At the time I told myself my interest in her meant I was some kind of pervert, but the truth was I admired her a great deal.
The problem with drama is that it struck way too close to home. I loved it but that also meant peeling back the layers, one day my teacher observed that I was starting to come out of my shell. This comment filled me with a deeply irrational sense of panic. It was art class that I felt provided a nice balance of creative release and heteronormative appearance. After High school I spent a year working to save money then enrolled in the Alberta College of Art and Design.
My savings got me through most of the first year but without being able to work full time I couldn’t quite afford the second. I needed a job that paid well and only required evenings and weekends. Since I had all that cadet experience and even played in the sea cadet band it made sense to join the HMCS Tecumseh Naval Reserve band. They needed a bari-sax player and it seemed like a perfect fit. The money from basic would take a healthy dent out of my tuition and the regular pay would hopefully cover the rest. Too bad a problem with the paperwork meant that I missed out on the navy reserves basic training for that summer.
There turned out to be an alternative though, it was too late to get into the navy reserves, but the army comm squad still had another week open for enrollment. So I joined the 746 Comm Squad. There were rough spots throughout junior high and high school, obviously the chronic self harm was troubling. I had entertained a few suicidal thoughts but never more so that as a result of my experiences in the Comm Squad, though admittedly it had almost nothing to do with my gender identity. Well as I think this over maybe it did on some level. Anyway that’s a story for another day.
Oh and while I was in art school I came up with an idea for a book about a young artist who is one of a select few able to shape magical energy with her thoughts. Because of her artistic skill she has much more control over this energy that others with this same ability. It’s been going through my head for years and some of it has made it’s way to the printed word. The first chapter is posted under my menu. If anyone likes it I will post chapter 2 next week 🙂
It surprises me how often I come across people who still view gender identity as a choice. Obviously I disagree with that statement but it’s not necessarily the word ‘choice’ that I object to. It’s a semantic distinction, the point is moot, it’s resolution doesn’t affect the outcome of the argument, let’s accept the word and move forward. The word I disagree with is ‘a’, as in singular.
When I was about eight years old I chose to live and act as a boy. That was one choice. When I was in the store and my mother told me to select clothes for myself, the colors and styles I liked were far to girly. I chose boy clothes, typically blue or black. Saturday morning, I chose G.I.Joe over Gem. G.I. Joe is still pretty cool after all. I didn’t like music as a kid, I mean I love music, but it was the wrong music, so I didn’t listen to much of anything.
That’s not to say my life was constant misery, all told I had a pretty great childhood – self harm notwithstanding. Could I have lived my life more fully if I had embraced my true self when I was young? Hard to say, I would have been presented with different challenges and perhaps fewer opportunities. Living as a girl with the body of a boy comes with many hurdles, but I’ve learned that the alternative isn’t any better. A girl trying to live as a boy is pretty awkward, even when everyone else believes and supports the lie.
I love the outdoors. My father was a Cub Scout leader, they called him Bagheera. My relationship with my father is complex. In short he is a good man who taught me how to be strong, as well as the price of weakness. I was in the scouting program effectively since birth, and had a number of absolutely incredible experiences through Beavers and Cubs. When I moved on to Boy Scouts my enthusiasm wained. It was a smaller group, there was less camping, and they were all very much boys.
Around age eleven I enrolled in the Navy League of Canada, a precursor program to the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets. I stayed with the cadets program until I aged out at nineteen and joined the reserves, but that’s getting ahead of myself. Cadets had all kinds of wonderful outings, things like camping, skiing and kayaking. I toured naval bases In Halifax and Victoria, I even had the opportunity to go on an exchange with American Sea Cadets. To me one of the biggest appeals of the program, one that I would never admit to myself, was that there were boys and girls, and no one was treated any differently.
I mean sure I was still a freak and an outcast, but I wasn’t because of my gender identity. Everyone else always seemed to know instinctively how to be. I was always guessing, and many times I guessed wrong. My attempts to emulate male behavior were often cringeworthy. I’ve said and done many embarrassing things because I was trying to be aggressive, or make a lewd joke. Sea Cadets provided a sense of order, there was a structure I could follow. I didn’t excel, but at least I could blend in. So long as I never said anything.
I mentioned in my previous post that the Nintendo game Metroid had inspired me to explore the world in search of strength, Cadets was the vessel that carried me. Cadets is also where I was able to foster many of my strongest friendships. My cousin and de facto brother joined cadets a few years after I did. And then there is my oldest and closest friend, who we will call Ash. He and his two younger brothers are the reason I joined cadets in the first place. The three of them have very different personality quirks but they each have the ability to make unfortunate circumstance work in their favor.
I have heard more criticism directed at Ash than anyone else, to be honest I have often been the one directing said criticism. Yet he succeeds and excels through sheer force of will. It’s almost maddening. When I speak of loosing my temper he has suffered the brunt of it, taken it in stride, forgiven and stood by me. He and his brothers count among my strongest supporters in fact. And this seems as good a place as any to leave off for today. Next post I’ll go into teenage school life and joining the reserves 🙂
A few days ago I used up the last of my initial 30 day prescription for HRT and so far… not much noticeable change. My skin is a bit softer and I find it easier to relax I guess. There have been mood swings and bouts of depression but those are nothing new, and can be attributed to environmental factors, i.e. people. I have gotten more comfortable being out and about in full fem, in fact I’m starting to enjoy it. Word of advice, full fem is hands down less conspicuous than androgynous. In the stores by my house the latter caused wide stares and quickly turned glances, but the former evokes little response other than a few genuine smiles.
I suppose it’s time I talk a bit about myself. I’m completely out so there’s no reason to be vague anymore. I was born and raised in Calgary Alberta to a conservative religious family. The words conservative and religious seem to mean something a bit different here than in other parts. In my family religion has always been about being nice to people, and being conservative is more about geography than politics. Even so it was a apparent to me at a young age that coming out would be a struggle at best.
I attended a french emersion elementary school called Banff Trail starting in grade two, I changed schools after grade one because my family moved. The new house was definitely an upgrade but it meant loosing all of my friends. I made friends with some girls in my new school and would often describe myself as a tom girl. This of course led to a fair bit of harassment from fellow students, boys and girls alike. In my efforts to be more masculine I alienated the few friends I had managed to make, as detailed in my introductory post.
I wouldn’t say I was ever confused about my gender identity, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on. The questions that plagued me were things like why, why did I think I was a girl? Was it a result of some experience or trauma such as pulling that deep fryer on top of myself? Was it because I had mostly female friends when I was younger, along with two sisters and no brothers? Perhaps it was that whenever my father had a bad day it meant I was going to have a bad evening? Would these feelings, this irrational belief ever change? Could any of it ever be proven? The biggest question of course was what to do about it.
Talking about it wasn’t an option. I was already ostracized and the best case scenario would mean giving my tormentors added ammunition. I knew I would be called a liar by some, I knew I would be outright hated by others. I wanted to fit in, I wanted to be normal, more than anything I wanted to be left alone. As I write this I can’t help but reflect that I’ve certainly managed to make myself alone.
In grade 3 I became friends with a fellow outcast who happened to be a big fan of video games. I had wanted to get a Sega Master System but he convinced me to get a Nintendo instead. It was there that I found my escape. In particular there was a game called Metroid, an exploration based platformer about a space age bounty hunter with a twist ending. If you beat the game under a certain time limit the bounty hunter, Samus Aran would remove their armor to reveal they were a woman. Needless to say this appealed to me.
Another significant element of Metroid is that when the game starts Samus is relatively weak, throughout her adventure she finds a variety tools and ancient relics that allow her to become quite powerful. Here was a viable solution to my problem. I could be myself on the inside, and my body would become my armor. I felt thoroughly unprepared to deal with the world, as a boy or girl, but I would make myself stronger. My post on self harm elaborates on this.
That seems like enough self indulgent rambling for one day, I may pick up where I left off at a later time 🙂