Archives

Confessions of a bold, shy, inactive activist

My life in three acts. Or maybe one. Or four.

In a world where there are three kinds of people — those who understand math and those who don’t — I’m one who doesn’t. It has always been a foreign language to me, and at the ripe old age of 68 years, I still haven’t found the Rosetta Stone that will unlock those arcane secrets for me.

None of which has anything to do with this story except, perhaps, to highlight just how much my lifelong ADHD influences my thoughts and actions.

I used to be an activist

On the very first Earth Day, I wore a gas mask to my classes at San Antonio College. I was mocked by most of the students, but still I persisted. I sand and played my guitar at sit-ins and various other demonstrations.

We were going to change the world for the better. But I guess we just got stoned and forgot.

Some of the biggest names in what we so sincerely called “The Movement” went on to have brilliant careers as CEOs, politicians, and other similar professions. Me, I sorta drifted from job to job, never really finding what most folks would call a career path. My old guitar sat in its case for years. Over time, I gradually gave away my collection of guitar picks.

A blast from the past

July 2, 1975 found me replacing the strings on my old guitar. That was the day my first daughter was born, and I was able to fulfill a promise I made the first time I heard Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne on the radio: that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Suzanne. Actually, in a bit of my old obstinance, Suzanne became Suzzanne with 2 zees. I played endless variations of Cohen’s classic song over the years. And I remembered my activism days.

What were the issues in those early days of the ’70s and ‘80s? I don’t really know: I spent those decades living in Alaska, where the biggest issue was were we going to move the capital or not? Paul Simon summed it up best:

Time it was, and what a time it was,
It was a time of innocence
A time of confidences

Jump ahead a couple of decades

I’m living in northern California. My second marriage has failed. My depression has cost me several jobs, as I just can’t bring myself to even get out of bed, much less go to work.

Eventually I get my shit together enough to sell my trailer and move to Seattle to be closer to my daughter. I was a mess.

So much so that when she took me to apply for food stamps and medical assistance, I was assigned a therapist who agreed to work with me. I was still so messed up that she scheduled me for twice a week appointments.

On the third or fourth week, I walked into her office, sat down, and burst into tears. After a good solid five minutes of crying, I managed to stop long enough to say, “All I ever wanted was to be a pretty girl.”

Epiphany

There it was, out in the open. Not so much a blinding revelation as a shameful secret. Lock me up now and throw away the key. I’m a sick bastard, unfit to be around decent society.

If you grew up gay, queer, transgender, bisexual, or any other kind of what have mistakenly and harmfully been called perversions, you know the feeling.

But rather condemn me, Nikki (my therapist) explained to me that (1) there was nothing wrong with me, (2) there was a word for what I was, and (3) we would work together to figure out where to go from here.

And so my activism began anew

The discovery that I was transgender changed my life — to say the least! As I began my journey towards becoming my true self — a journey we label “transitioning” — I discovered (among other things) that my lifelong depression, while genetic, was aggravated my my gender dysphoria. Once I started coming to terms with who I was — and accepting who I was — I was able to cut my antidepressant medications from 5 to 2.

Best of all? I stopped hating myself.

I spent as much time as I could researching what I came to call my condition, almost as if it were a pregnancy, another delicate condition. After all, wasn’t I preparing to give birth to a new life?

Do you live in Washington state?

If so, you’re lucky enough to have direct access to The Washington Gender Alliance, which is probably the nation’s oldest transgender support group. They were invaluable to me during my journey. They have an incredible amount of up-to-date information they’ll be happy to share with you.

And if you’re not in Washington, you’re still welcome to use their web site to access that information.

What’s happening now?

I’ve moved to Rochester, NY. I spent over a year volunteering at the Out Alliance, formerly the Rochester Gay Alliance. I’m living in a rented room in an older home, and I have started writing again. Not only here on Medium, but I also blog — although somewhat sporadically — at My Refined Madness.

Most of all, I’m back in the State in which I was born — New York. I have come full circle back to where I was born and am continuing my rebirth.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I’m still shy, but at least I’m brave enough to help people understand who I am.

Instead of suicide, I’m throwing myself a Pity Party

My baby girl is getting married today. For her and her beau, it’s a day of joy and celebration. It would be for me, too, except for the fact that I have been told I would not be welcome there.

My future son-in-law’s parents are conservative and Christian. Rather than offend their sensibilities, since I am a Trans* woman, I have been told not to come. Instead, my “normal” younger brother will be giving my daughter away.

In a way, I’m not surprised. Indeed, I should have been able to predict it—after all, she was raised in a household dominated by her grandmother, who was definitely the controlling Alpha female. Indeed, it took me years after her mother and I divorced that I was able to see that I had been in an abusive relationship.

When I was involuntarily outed—by my ex’s brother—to my family, my father and my daughters immediately stopped all contact with me. It wasn’t until nine years later that my father reached out to me. My older daughter, with whom I had been reunited years earlier, called me and said, “You need to call your daddy. He wants to talk with you.”

My father had had a stroke the previous year, and his health had steadily declined. Now he was bedridden. He and my step-mother had attended a few therapy sessions about me, and he was ready. After an hour-long telephone conversation, we ended by telling each other, “I love you.”

That was a Friday. The following Monday, my wife suggested we drive down to see my dad. We live in upstate New York, and he in Maryland. Apparently my two brothers had flown in to visit him, and had already been there a couple of weeks.
Tuesday morning we loaded the truck and headed down to Maryland. We hadn’t been on the road 30 minutes when my daughter called. “”Your daddy’s gone,” she said.

We continued our trip in silence. Rochester to Hagerstown was about an 8 hour drive, with stops for meals and refueling. It was dark when we arrived, and after a couple hours of conversation, we found a motel and checked in. The plan was for all of us to meet at the funeral home the next morning.

My younger brother was there, as were my daughters and my eldest grandson, the one who had adored my father. I finally reconnected with my younger daughter. It was a loving reconciliation.

A year or so later, I made a futile attempt to move back to Seattle. Futile, because I had forgotten that under Washington state law, between first and last months’ rents, as well as a damage deposit, it would have cost me a minimum of $2400 just to move into the cheapest apartment available.

I ended up taking the train back to Rochester, but not before my younger daughter visited me a few times. I also got the chance to spend time with my older daughter and my grandchildren.

Then, as Don Henley once sang, “I got the call today I didn’t want to hear.”

I told myself it didn’t matter, that she would change her mind. I knew I was fooling myself when she didn’t even have the courage to call me herself. Instead, she saddled her sister with that onerous duty.

And so today is the wedding. At first, when my older daughter texted me how unhappy she was that I wasn’t there, I didn’t even want to get out of bed. After a while, I got up and got dressed, ate breakfast, smoked a couple of cigarettes, and knew that today was going to be a hard day for me. All of my mental issues—my depression, anxiety disorders, dysphoria—are beating inside my brain. The wolf is howling at the door, demanding to be let in. I’ve been crying off and on for the past two hours and considering my options.

As they always do when my depression spirals out of control, my first thoughts were of self-harm. I wanted to die. But then my mantra kicked in: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” and I knew that no matter how this day goes, I will still be here tomorrow. Hell, I don’t even have any razor blades in the house!

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?—Khalil Gibran, “On Joy and Sorrow”

And so I continue. Writing this story suffices for today’s therapy. I’m going shopping with my BFF later today, and we’ve got a full agenda…to be closed out with pizza for dinner….

I Was Inspired by a Facebook Post

A friend had posted this:

Transitioning late in life male to female is very rough mentally. I love it when people say “It’s ok, some women have beards”. But let me explain a bit more. If you think being a woman is rough. Take that and multiply by 2 for the late transitioner. So I just want to be loved, included and accepted. Just like you.

I am also a late transitioner, if there is such a label. I’m 30 years older than my friend. The more I thought about what she said (which I edited for length), the more it dawned on me: We are the in-betweeners. We started late, perhaps too late. We were born before the advent of puberty blockers, HRT, and current scientific knowledge of who we are.

But is it ever too late to be your true self? I used to think of my transition as becoming my true self; now I realize that was an oversimplification: I always WAS my true self—all I’ve really done is to stop hiding her.

I, too, will never “pass.” But I’m okay with that. We are the next stage of human evolution, and despite all of the roadblocks and setbacks, we will outlast the social Neanderthals.

Science fiction and other fantasy genres are full of tales of people who don’t quite fit into their societies. As Trans folk (am I the only person who can’t keep up with what’s the proper terminology—usually placed on us by cis people—to say who we are?), we fit right into those novels.

Indeed, the great master Robert A. Heinlein wrote about our predicament long before most of us even knew what “transgender” even meant. His I Will Fear No Evil  may have been my first introduction to being transgender—although I didn’t realize it at the time.

So while so many of my friends and neighbors are bus worrying about the Trumplethinskin administration heralding the end of the world, I simply smile and think to myself, “We are the ones who will pick up the pieces.”

It’s That Time of the Month…Again

My cycle is pretty regular. Every six weeks I wake up feeling miserable. I’m bloated, I have a migraine, and my breasts hurt. I’m even more depressed than usual, and I can’t seem to care about a damn thing. I spend about an hour moping around the house and wondering just what the hell is wrong with me.

Then I realize: it’s PMS.

The first time was about a year and a half after I started HRT and began my transition. My wife realized what it was and suggested I take a couple of Midol. Surprise, surprise, surprise! They actually worked!

“Wait,” I hear you say. “You have no female organs, so how can you get PMS?”

I’ve been unable to find any formal medical medical studies on the subject, so most of what follows is anecdotal; that is, based on my own experiences as well as those of my sister Trans folks. It is crucial to understand that I am speaking of MTF Transwomen; I know nothing about the experiences of FTM Transmen.

It seems to be hormones, and not body parts, that are the cause of this phenomenon. A steady regimen of estrogen supplements and testosterone blockers causes definite changes in our bodies, and not all of them are positive or pleasant.

For example, my doctor advises me not to sit for more than an hour without getting up and walking around. This is to alleviate the very real possibility (and danger) of deep-vein thrombosis.*

While researching for this article, I found a site that covers the issues far better than I can, given how shitty I’m feeling. Yes, it’s probably cheating, but hey! It’s my period, and I’m dealing with it the best I can: rest, Midol, and chocolate ice cream.


(*-This is specific to me. I have a family history of stroke, and so my health plan is based on that, among other factors. It’s not a generalization for all Transwomen.)

Happy Father’s Day?

Today is Father’s Day, with all of the commercial hoopla that usually accompanies American holidays. Love your father? Prove it by spending money. Publish your advertising saying “Happy Father’s Day! Come spend money with us!”

Here’s the thing: for many of us, there is no “happy” in Father’s Day. I lost my father when he died a year and a half ago. But in a larger sense, I had lost him several years before that, when I was outed to him as being transgender. This turned out to be a larger truth than his parochial worldview could encompass, and he cut off all contact with me. That was his interpretation of Biblical scripture: no matter what Jesus said about love, my father decided instead to follow a vaguely-worded Old Testament verse and disowning me completely.

But the time came when he reached out to me in an attempt at reconciliation. We spoke for over an hour on thee telephone, and concluded by saying we loved each other. That was our last time: he died four days later.

The Point?

If there’s a point to all of this, I think it’s this: don’t give up on love. Don’t give up on your parents, don’t give up on your children. And don’t base your acceptance of each other on the words of primitive sheepherders who thought everything they couldn’t explain was attributable to gods.

Remember, these people didn’t even know where the sun went at night.