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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.

The Whitehouse, Washington, D.C.

My friend Kim McKinstry posted the following email she received Monday:

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for writing, and for your service to our country. Throughout our history, generations of Americans have brought us closer to fulfilling the ideals at the heart of our Nation’s founding—that all of us are equal, and that all of us should be free to make of our lives what we will.

Our country has come far in its acceptance of transgender Americans, but transgender individuals still face terrible violence, abuse, and poverty here at home and around the world. I know that some people have a hard time understanding what it means to be transgender, especially if they haven’t had the opportunity to know someone who openly identifies that way. As brave individuals come out at all levels of business, government, sports, and entertainment, the power of their example is slowly but surely changing hearts and minds.

We need to ask ourselves what kind of society we want to build for the many young people struggling with their identities who deserve a childhood free from harassment or ridicule. Too many transgender people, especially youth, take their own lives because of discrimination and violence, and no one should ever feel so alone or desperate that they feel they have nowhere to turn. That’s why my Administration took a stance against the use of conversion therapy on minors, and why we have been working to address bullying. And when schools sought advice about how to ensure learning environments are respectful and inclusive for all students, the Department of Education provided guidance to educators—because all of our children deserve to know that their safety is protected and that their dignity is affirmed.

We have also taken actions to help ensure that transgender Americans have the same rights as any other Americans. I issued an Executive Order that prohibits discrimination in employment by Federal contractors based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and I signed legislation that includes protections against hate crimes. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there are now important protections in place against discrimination in healthcare, including discrimination based on gender identity. And this year, my Administration lifted the ban on transgender individuals serving in our Armed Forces—because no American who wishes to serve our country should face unnecessary barriers, and our military is strongest when it draws on the skills and talents of all our people.

Again, thank you for writing. Please know I will keep pushing to advance the safety and dignity of every American as long as I hold this Office and beyond.

Sincerely,
Barack Obama

Another Sleepless Night

Well, to be honest, it wasn’t a sleepless night. It was a sleepless morning. No matter how I try, I can’t seem to sleep beyond 6 a.m. And that includes even if I go to bed at 3 a.m.

depression is

And THAT, dear friends, is what it’s like. Invisible. Insidious. I’ve moved beyond the suicide stage; tried that, didn’t work. Now I’ve arrived at the point where I wish I had never been born.

— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 19-28)

Futility rules my moods.

My own depression is compounded by the fact that I’m transgender.

not all its cracked up to be

It’s another reason I isolate and tend to stay indoors.

That’s it for now. Talk to you later.

For Arianna, On Being A Role Model

(I wrote this in response to a question on Facebook)

Dear Sister,

For sisters we truly are. And as the “big sister,” I’m going to exercise my prerogative and sit you down for a lecture. No, not really! I am, however, going to share some insights I’ve gained over the years. You’re free, of course, to do what you like with them. You might agree with some of them, and some of them might even help you on this difficult and rocky road you’ve chosen.

Your mileage may vary; like you, I don’t claim to be a role model or a spokesman for anyone but myself.

Role models. It’s a word that people will use over and over again with you. At first, as it seems to be doing, it will piss you off. “I’m not a role model,” you will say, and rightly so. It’s not something we set out to be, and it’s definitely something we hate to have people say we are.

When I first began my transition, a little over 6 years ago, my trans “mother” told me something I’ve never forgotten, and it has helped me through some of the darkest hours. She said, “Transitioning is the hardest thing you will ever do in your life.” Yes, it’s been hard. It has cost me friends and family. But the hardest thing I will ever do? No. It hasn’t been that.

Hardest has been those times I’ve decided nothing was worth it, and looked lovingly at razor blades, pills, and so many other ways I’ve considered ending it.

Hardest has been putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to walk this path I have chosen, even when everything in my soul tells me I’m wasting my time.

Hardest has been realizing that–through simply trying to be who I am–I have become a role model for others. I never asked for it, I never wanted it, and I’m definitely not comfortable being it.

“You’re so strong!” they say. “You’re so brave!”

They don’t see the nights I’ve cried myself to sleep, realizing that I will never be the woman I want to be. The nights I’ve cried myself to sleep because I have a father and a daughter who won’t speak to me, grandchildren I’m not allowed to see because I’m a pervert, and I’m going to hell when I die.

They only see the makeup and the dresses and the forced smiles I have to show just to get through another day. They don’t see that even though I have a lot of trans friends and acquaintances, anything I write or say about my journey is only about my own journey–that I can’t speak and don’t pretend to speak for anyone else.

They don’t see the number of younger trans folk who write me asking for advice that I’m not qualified to give. And they don’t see you, Arianna, another trans woman who suddenly finds herself thrown into the unwanted roles of being both a role model and a spokesman for an entire community.

And that is so unfair to us.

So when asked, I always tell people that I’m not strong, that I’m not any kind of a spokesman for anyone but myself. Strong? No, I’m a coward. It’s cowardice, not strength, that keeps me going. Cowardice because I truly believe that if there is any kind of an afterlife, we start out there in the same condition we leave here, and I am too seriously fucked-up to want to start eternity in this condition.

And so I have no choice, really, but to keep going. To strive to be the strong, courageous woman that people think I am. Not to be that person for them, but to be her for me.

If that makes me a role model, then that’s just a price I have to pay to be myself.

My dream is to go back to school and get my Master’s degree so that I can be qualified as a counselor. I want to specialize in people–particularly young people–with gender issues. I hope to be a resource they can turn to, a resource who can honestly and without exaggeration, take someone by the hand, look into their eyes, and say, “I’ve been there. I know exactly what you’re going through. It’s painful, yes. But in the end, it is so worth it.”

So keep on hating the fact that people have forced you into the role of a role model. (Does that sentence even make sense?) Don’t try to live up to their expectations, or I guarantee you’ll fail. Just keep on doing what you are already doing: living up to your own expectations. When (not if) it gets too hard, reach out to a friend. Reach out to a sister.

Reach out to me.

Lovingly,

Robyn
(Your big sister)

On Genders, Binaries & Fluidities

Let’s Define Some Terms

Gender: (noun) the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones).

Sex: (noun) either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions.

Binary: 

(adjective)
1. relating to, using, or expressed in a system of numerical notation that has 2 rather than 10 as a base.
2. relating to, composed of, or involving two things.  “testing the so-called binary, or dual-chemical, weapons”

(noun)
1. the binary system: binary notation. “the device is counting in binary”
2. something having two parts.

Gender Fluid: (noun) Gender Fluid is a gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of boy and girl. A person who is Gender Fluid may always feel like a mix of the two traditional genders, but may feel more boy some days, and more girl other days. Being Gender Fluid has nothing to do with which set of genitalia one has, nor their sexual orientation.

Gender identity: (noun) is a person’s private sense and subjective experience of their own gender. This is generally described as one’s private sense of being a man or a woman, consisting primarily of the acceptance of membership into a category of people: male or female.

Gender identity disorder (GID) or gender dysphoria is the formal diagnosis used by psychologists and physicians to describe people who experience significant dysphoria (discontent) with the sex and gender they were assigned at birth. (I have a lot to say about this later in this post. In the meantime, just remember that these are the same “experts” who for so many years considered homosexuality a mental disorder.)

Cisgender: (adjective) denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender.

Masculine:

adjective: having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness. “He is outstandingly handsome and robust, very masculine”
synonyms: virile, macho, manly, muscular, muscly, strong, strapping, well built, rugged, robust, brawny, heavily built, powerful, red-blooded, vigorous

noun: the male sex or gender. “the masculine as the norm”

Feminine:

adjective:
1. having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness. “a feminine frilled blouse”
synonyms: womanly, ladylike; girlish; soft, delicate, gentle, graceful; girly “a very

noun: the female sex or gender. “the association of the arts with the feminine”

A Rule To Remember

This is the perfect time to remind you that unless I specifically quote or cite other sources, everything on this blog site is my own opinion. I do not nor can I speak for anyone other than myself, so don’t use my words as an “all trans people are like this.”

Just like every other person on the planet, we are individuals. We have our own thoughts and feelings, and no one can presume to speak for any group. Besides, my opinions, thoughts, beliefs and feelings change over time.

This post is a perfect example of my changing ideas.

Who Am I?

All ideas of existential angst aside, I am a trans woman; that is, I was born into a male body, but I identify as female. I don’t consider myself “a woman trapped in a man’s body” (although at one time I did, before my knowledge increased). I did have a couple of women friends say that I was a lesbian trapped in a man’s body once. And that was prescient, since I hadn’t yet come out or, indeed, realized who I was.

So I identify at various times as wife, mother, daughter, sister, and grandmother. But that’s not really who I am; after all, I also call myself a writer, blogger, photographer, and baker. All these things are only parts of who I am: they are not who I am.

Some Background

For the longest time, once I understood the reasons I never felt as if I quite “fit in,” I considered myself a trans woman. Later, as my views evolved, I started to understand what it meant to be gender fluid. To paraphrase an old candy commercial, “sometimes I feel like I’ve nuts, sometimes I don’t.” In other words, although I mostly identify and present as female, there are still times when the boy comes through. So in this sense, I guess I’m gender fluid.

Not that I have ever been comfortable with the gender binary. It’s like the Kinsey scale as it pertains to sexual identity. Alfred Kinsey discovered that the majority people identify not as exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual, but rather somewhere along a continuum of sexualities.

Science today is discovering that the same thing holds true of gender—which is, after all, merely a social construct. And to me, all that being gender fluid means that I’m quite comfortable living on a continuum…

…most of the time:

genderfluid


Gender Identity Disorder, and Why It’s Frustrating

I consider the fact that my gender doesn’t match my sex to be an unfortunate fact of life. And fortunately, there are things I can do to bring my sex more in line with my gender. Indeed, I am already doing some of those things: I take a testosterone blocker, and I take estrogen supplements. All well and good.

But even with new insurance “reforms,” all too many of us are locked into a Catch-22. I’m referring specifically to sex reassignment surgery (initialized as SRS; also known as gender reassignment surgery (GRS), genital reconstruction surgery, sex affirmation surgery, gender confirmation surgery, sex realignment surgery, or, colloquially, a sex change).

Why do I call it a Catch-22? Because in order to obtain necessary treatment (indeed, it is life-saving in so many cases), we have to claim that we have a recognizable and diagnosed disorder, in spite of the fact that very few of us who experience it consider it to be a disorder.

Consider: if you had been born with amblyopia (aka lazy eye), you could simply consult with an ophthalmologist, schedule your surgery, and have it corrected. You wouldn’t be required to consult with a psychiatrist both before and after your surgery, nor would you be required to live for a full year as someone with normal vision before you could get the surgery.

But that is exactly what I would have to do before I could get my necessary surgery. Why do I say it’s necessary?

According to surveys, 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population has self-reported a suicide attempt, with that number climbing to between 10 and 20 percent for lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents. By comparison, 41 percent of trans or gender non-conforming people surveyed have attempted suicide.

The most recent, comprehensive data on suicide attempts was gathered by The Williams Institute, in collaboration with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Its report, Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults, analyzed responses from 6,456 self-identified transgender and gender non-conforming adults (18+) who took part in the U.S. National Transgender Discrimination Survey. The results are staggering. (http://www.vocativ.com/culture/lgbt/transgender-suicide/)

In the case of trans gender people, SRS can truly be a matter of life or death. And yet in order to qualify for it, I have to live as a woman for a full year before I am eligible. I would have to see a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist both before and after my surgery. And above all, I would have to “admit” that there is something wrong with me mentally.

This is the only type of reparative treatment that has these kinds of requirements.


What it All Means

To me, in practical terms, it means that I am no longer worrying or wondering about who I am: I accept myself as I am, with all my questions and wonderments. And having accepted me, I like myself. I’m comfortable with myself. Above all, I respect, admire, and love myself—and none of this is affected by any labels other people may hang on me.