Monday, September 26, 2011

It's Okay

It's okay when your friends forget you're transgender
For the last few days I've been staying with an old friend who knew me before transition. It's been wonderful to catch up with him and enjoy each other's company. Now that I'm living authentically I feel as though there are fewer barriers up, and we're able to have deeper and more meaningful experiences together.

One thing I've had to work through is the occasional slip he's made into my former name and no-longer-correct pronouns. When he first said it I was a little shocked, mainly because I hadn't heard that name for a long time, and it took me a few moments to realize who he was referring to.

As soon as he said it you could see him trying to reel it back in. It was almost like the cartoon character that grabs words from the air and shoves them back before they can be all the way heard. He accepts me completely as Vanessa, and he was clearly distraught about his slip up.

After he'd said it, I had a realization of my own - It's okay. I don't need to be stressed, or feel invalidated, or self-conscious. When I do this I feel bad, and make my friend's inadvertent mistake seem more catastrophic than it really was. I put emotional intensity into a moment that is best handled by leaving it cast aside in the dim veils of memory.

The next time he made this mistake I thought about how he was feeling. I smiled, said it was okay and told him how much I appreciated his effort to get it right. I diffused the situation, and let him know that I care about him and his efforts.

We all make mistakes, and that's okay.

How do you handle the times when a well meaning friend or family member slips up with your old name or pronouns?

Photo courtesy of dollen

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meeting Those Who Dont Know

When I first came out as a transgender woman I told everyone. Most of my family and close friends knew already, but I blanketed my social circle just the same. All my coworkers, all my friends, long lost acquaintances and colleagues from jobs of yesteryear on LinkedIn.

Naturally, all my transgender friends had known for a while. It's almost a given that you'll be outed when you meet the friend of another transwoman. It's a story for another time, but trans women love to talk about trans stuff. Even if that subject never came up, it's easy for the new introductee to do the math. Tall girl, friends with my trans friend - lets look for other signs. And they're always there. Hands a bit larger, voice not quite perfect - there's something.

Given how thoroughly I came out, it's still a rare experience when I meet friends of friends who know nothing of my history. And I'll admit, it's a somewhat daunting challenge. It's one thing to pass in the brief collisions through daily life, quite another to do so over a meal.

I'm spending the next two weeks in California with some friends. They know all about my transition, but every other night I get to meet the new friends they made since moving to Cali - over dinner, at a party, in other close contact social situations.

While I'm looking forward to meeting new people, I've already decided that I won't talk about my past. I'm not trying to fool anyone, just live my life and meet some great folks. I'm eager to move as quickly as I can from circumstances beyond my control and take my place in the concert of womanhood.

How have you handled similar situations? What was your best or worst experience?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Token Woman

Society still treats woman as outcasts
While I've been recovering from facial feminization surgery I've had far too much free time. As much as I enjoy writing, for many weeks I couldn't muster the cognitive energy to write much of anything interesting.

When I did have energy I often used it to interact with others - whether it was my dad and his girlfriend who were taking care of me, or friends who came to visit, or friends and family I spoke to through Skype.

These short bursts sapped my strength, and left me needing long stretches of vegetative restoration. Time that demanded to be filled by something requiring no energy. Thankfully - and I say this with telegraphed irony - man's ingenuity had provided just such a device with flashing lights and squawking noises that bore an uncanny resemblance to real life.

There's nothing quite like TV to distract one from pain and discomfort. During my infirmity I noticed a disturbing trend. In just about every show the women were there merely as tokens. Either to serve as sex symbols to appeal to men, or to propitiate the other half of the population.

Women as a token sex symbol

It was almost always a man or group of men who lead. The men were expansive, could evolve and change character easily to adapt to situations. While the woman were more often than not typecast, solidified in the role as humorous distraction, or sexy color or devious villain. The roles they played weren't filled with the complexity of life. It's almost as if someone had once read about woman and tried to cast a character based on what they had read, rather than what they had experienced.

Now, it's quite probable that the shows I tend to enjoy aren't as good at expressing the full richness of women's interactions as others. Yet even as I think back across the years of TV I've watched, I'm hard pressed to name many woman who were as complex, rich and engaging as their male co-stars.

In recent years I've become more of a feminist. Not the chauvinistically created stereotype of an angry, man hating, bra burning, hairy armpit feminist. Rather, someone who notices the small everyday injustices against women, the additional burdens we bear, and is not willing to accept that status quo. I'll resist with quiet, polite and kind determination being typecast.

The realization I had about women in the media today is one I'm sure many others have shared. I'm shocked at how subtle it is, how it trains our daughters to stand in the shadows of men even if they're bright, hard working and competent.

Please share your examples of how women in the modern media are portrayed differently from men.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Woman Come In All Shapes and Sizes

Woman come in all shapes and sizes
It stands sentry all day and all night. Waiting for the chance to taunt you, to shame you with the flaws it exposes. It draws your gaze with tempting promises of a feminine reflection and then shines a spotlight on everything that is out of place.

The mirror boldly declares, "Too tall". It shouts a litany of insults meant to dissuade your self confidence, "Shoulders too broad", "Feet too big", "Arms too long". It joins the chorus of refrains heard by woman blessed to be genetically so, "Too fat", "Breasts too small", "Hips too narrow", "Stomach too large", "Thighs too large", "Flat butt", "No curves".

Even the most self confidence trans-woman needs to steel her defenses against the mirror's barrage. In a world obsessed with image, we seem to be cruelly caught between the body dysmorphia common to so many women, and the fear of not blending that is unique to those in the transgender community.

What I don't like about myself
I am blessed that I'm generally not questioned out in public. Most of those who look twice are men not so subtly staring at an image I can only presume they appreciate.

When I look in the mirror there is much I'm grateful for. My smile, my eyes, my figure, my hair. I can even appreciate my nose on those days when the swelling from facial feminization surgery subsides. And I furiously cheer on the hormones that have caused my breasts to nudge against an A cup.

But some days my countenance is not quite so bright. Like postprandial cramps I find myself unable to digest my imperfections no matter how lovely the appetizers were.

I look at myself and lament my height - at almost 6'2" I tower above most women. I don't wear high heels much for fear that even pro basketball players will be too intimidated by my height to ask me out.

I notice how the long sleeves don't quite reach all the way to my hands, and curse the dearth of arm shortening surgeries available. My size 11W feet taunt me - so large they are like sails fueling the ocean going ships of yore. Too large to shoe shop at most real world stores, yet just a few tantalizing sizes away from being able to wear any style I'd like.

How I Love Myself Inspite of My Flaws
I use three strategies to prevent myself from falling into despair. On the best days I can even accept my flaws as beauty, on most days I do enough that I'm able to ignore them.

Compensate: While there are things I don't like about myself, I choose to focus instead on everything that is good. I take an extra moment to linger on my face, appreciating the blessings God gave me and the surgeon enhanced. I step on the scale and smile at the three digits staring back at me - feeling sexy for all the hard work I put in to get to my ideal weight.

Commiserate: I'm not the only woman who goes through this. The winner of America's Next Top Model just last season is taller than me - her height was achieved even with being genetically female since birth. In fact there are websites devoted to celebrating tall women. My heart is warmed when I see so many beautiful women who are taller than I am. Doubtless their shoe size and arm length follow in proportion, and they have the same struggles I do trying to buy shoes in the department store.

Perspective: Physical beauty as defined by our society fades with age. True friendships aren't formed because of how fabulous you look, and lasting happiness in marriage does not depend on whether you  grace the covers of beauty magazines. My spiritual growth, emotional strength and loving relationship with others are far more likely to determine my life's joy than my body. It's merely a mirage covering my soul.

What do you consider flaws in your feminine appearance, and how did you learn to love yourself?

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Dude.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How To Go Full Time When You Don't Pass

As a woman we need to pass out in the light of day
I've heard from a few ladies who struggle with this. There is a deep longing inside them to express their feminine side, to live as themselves, to begin their transition. But there is an equally strong fear - fear of embarrassment, of rejection, of having others stare at them and mock them. Sometimes this fear is born of a dire imagination run wild, but other times it's hard earned through experience. Regardless of the source, this fear holds them back, and turns what should be the joy of blossoming into their new life into tragedy and heart ache.

How can one hope to go full time when you don't pass in public? When walking in public puts your safety in jeopardy, and using the restroom threatens to incite violence from those who share it with you?

I'm blessed that I've never had much trouble passing in public, but that doesn't mean I haven't had my own demons to slay, or had occasions when I failed to make the necessary grade. Today I'd like to share with you four strategies for ladies who feel trapped. If you're feeling trapped by passability, read on.

Arm Yourself With a Smile
I remember an occasion where my birth assigned gender was discovered while I was out in public. I was with another trans-woman, at a restaurant in Portland. She's a lovely woman, but both of us are quite tall, and two tall woman together are bound to draw attention regardless of what they look like. On her way out the restaurant a lady looked over at us with a look of disbelieving incredulity. And she kept looked, perhaps bend on starting through our clothes to verify the truth for herself.

When I noticed her I turned to her and gave her the biggest smile my face could hold, and after a few seconds she started smiling back.

Now, at no point did she seem intent on making a fuss, and she was more perplexed than threatening. Yet it is amazing how much difference a smile made - her whole countenance changed, and I'd be willing to bet that she walked out of the restaurant with a better impression of transgender women.

There is nothing as disarming as a smile - this should be the first weapon in your arsenal of public acceptance.

Walk Like A Girl
Before going full time there's likely not a lot you can do about your appearance. Facial surgery is a drastic step without the certainty of full time. Hormones and weight loss are both valuable tools to use in passing, but neither will put you over the edge if you move like a caveman coming home from killing a wild animal.

No matter how tall or stocky you are, feminine movement will make the difference between instantly being outed and being given the benefit of the doubt. This is also something that you can practice in the privacy of your own home while you build up confidence for going full time. I highly recommend Denae Doyl's feminine image DVDs - they're a bit pricey, but well worth it. I find that she errs on the side of being overly feminine, but that's exactly what you need when starting out.

Talk Like A Girl
If your eyes are a window to the soul, your voice is the door. If you've managed to keep composure and pass in passing, a deep masculine voice will undo all your hard work in an instant. I remember an occasion early on, before I'd begun voice training, when I walked into the bank to deposit some money. Before I spoke everything was fine, and when I opened my mouth the teller reacted with such shock you'd think I had slapped her. Clearly I had passed up until the point I opened my mouth, and clearly I no longer did. It wasn't the end of the world, but both she and I felt quite uncomfortable for a few minutes.

I still stress about my voice, but after 18 months of hard work I'm to the point where I'm hardly ever misgendered because of my voice, even on the phone where that's the only clue they have to my gender. If you live in the Seattle area I can't recommend Sandy Hirsch enough - she's not only a sweetheart but a very accomplished speech pathologist. If you'd rather do a self study course, Kathy Perez has a very solid set of training CDs to get you started.

There is No Pass or Fail
If you're spending every moment in public wondering whether you pass I have news for you - you're doing it wrong. At the end of the day it's not about whether you pass. As Abraham Lincoln once said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

Do your best to blend in, and then be satisfied with your effort. Accept yourself as you are, and others are more likely to accept you. I know I still need to work on this area of acceptance - I can be a bit of a perfectionist at times, but I'm trying to head the advice of some good friends who tell me that I'm doing fine, and I shouldn't stress about it.

It can be daunting to go full time, but try to have fun.

Good luck ladies!

P.S. Follow me on Google+ for great discussion about transgender news and issues. If you don't have an invite, you can get a free invite to Google+ here.

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Dude

Friday, September 9, 2011

Womanhood, feels like... nothing

What does womanhood feel like?
For the last 9 months and 28 days I've been living as a woman all day, every day. At home, at work, and out in the world I am a woman. Whether I'm exercising or relaxing, spending time with friends or alone I am me.

I know that many transgender woman who haven't transitioned long for a few brief hours to express themselves. Like a child before Christmas morning they're enraptured by the experience, and the intoxication of being yourself seeps into your pores like an addictive drug. You might find yourself swinging from highs to lows based on how true you've been to your soul this week, or this month.

I've had a few ladies mention to me that they'd love to present as a woman whenever they want - no doubt anticipating the rapture that authentic living provides. But what does womanhood feel like?

The Resonance
In my experience womanhood feels like nothing. There is no spectacular fireworks display and no mind blowing bliss - merely the harmony of life dancing in time with itself. The song that was sung out of key is now as it should be. The notes in my soul resonate, and create a melody where before there was noise. But the music doesn't overwhelm you with it's presence. This is no rock concert that shocks your system awake. Rather, it's the gentle lapping of waves on the shore - bringing peace, bringing calm. Ultimately it's the backing vocals to the symphony of your life. Enhancing and supporting, never leading.

To me, being a woman feels like the most natural thing in the world. It feels as how everything was meant to be - it's not something special, it's just who I am. My transition hasn't solved all my problems, but it has allowed me to approach them without a cacophony of discordance drowning my life force.

Womanhood feels like nothing, and that's the best thing I could ever have hoped for.

If you've transitioned, how would you describe your feeling of womanhood?
If you haven't, how do you imagine womanhood would feel?

Photo courtesy of nathalielaurie

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A More Appropriate Place

Greetings gentle readers,

Thank you for following me here to this new portion of the web I call my own. I have deep love and care for all those wrestling with gender issues, and for their loved ones who wrestle alongside them. However I found it more and more difficult to write with authenticity about my own life at Crossdresser Heaven. In particular because I can no longer identify with the title. In fact, since transitioning I haven't crossdressed once, or had any desire to. I now live my life in the gender I was always meant to.

As those who have chosen this path can attest, it is most difficult, joyous, challenging, exhilarating, liberating, traumatic, heart wrenching and beautiful. This is my path, the path I was born to walk eventually. I look forward to sharing each step along the way with you. My hope is that this website can become an important resource for others who are considering transition - to that end I'll be reposting some articles I wrote for Crossdresser Heaven that are particularly relevant to the those going further in their transition.

I went full time in November 2010. During the last 10 months I have experienced the world with the delight of a newborn. Thank you for joining me in my rebirth - I look forward to hearing from you.