May 31, 2013
“What can I get you ladies?,” said the barista at the first floor Starbucks, to a co-worker and me.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to be constantly aware of how others are viewing you, always paying attention to signals that let you know who they see you as. That’s got to be exhausting.”
“It is,” I respond. “I wish I didn’t have to be so aware. I wish I could just turn my brain off and not pay attention to whether someone calls me ‘sir,’ or whether they call me ‘ma’am’ or ‘miss,’ but I can’t. As much as I’d love to, I can’t help that my mind is always aware, seeking validation from others.”
Thinking about that conversation, I know that I don’t need validation from anyone when it comes to my identity. There are a lot of things that I don’t need. That doesn’t make the want for those things any less. I’m getting gendered correctly by strangers on a more frequent basis. This is a very good thing. Months ago, I could be wearing eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, blush and lip gloss… and still be called “sir” by every person I came in contact with. Lately, though, I’d say that probably 95% of people I run into will either gender me correctly or won’t use any gendered honorific when addressing me. This is amusing when someone is speaking to a line of people, saying, “sir, ma’am, ma’am, sir, miss, sir…” and then hesitates and just smiles, nods, or just says “have a good day” to me, for fear of guessing wrong.
That’s okay, though. It’s kind of ridiculous that we feel obligated to call complete strangers “sir” or “ma’am,” anyway. When someone skips it, hey, that’s a push; deal the cards again, we’re good. When someone calls me “miss” or “ma’am” or if I’m with another woman, “ladies,” that is an amazing feeling. As amazing as that is, though, being called “sir” pretty much sends me down an emotional spiral of negativity for at least the remainder of the day. I begin obsessing over features of mine that bother me.
My hips are too narrow!
My shoulders too wide!
My face too masculine!
My boobs too small!
I know that nothing good comes of it, but my brain goes on autopilot, veering off into very negative spaces. Why do I do that? Why can’t I just say, “ah, screw that guy?” Because, overall, I want society to see me as nothing more or less than any other woman. I don’t want to be seen as trans, a man, or a freak. I know that this teaches me to be patient, but sometimes it’s more difficult than it’s worth.
I’m hoping that there’s still a fair amount that hormone replacement therapy can do for me. I’m hoping that I don’t plateau in this in-between stage. I do know, however, that there are limits to what hormones can do.
In the meantime, I wish I could just shut my brain off, and stop worrying.
May 21, 2013
It’s been nearly a year since I came out as trans to anyone. The days leading up to coming out were some of the most intensely stressful times in my life.
I felt tired and scared. The thought of losing everything in my life for a chance to be myself was too much to even fully process. Thinking about it made me feel sick.
I was going to lose everyone and everything that has ever been important to me. Could I do that?
On the other hand, this was getting worse with age, not better. This doesn’t go away. It saps the life out of you. Things were getting worse. I felt tired all the time. I was so irritable. Life just made me angry.
It wasn’t fair. The various prescriptions for anxiety, depression, and tremors (Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Xanax, and Topiramate) stopped having any net positive effect on me months before. Life was crushing me.
It was time to make a choice.
I went on long walks during my lunch breaks, debating this in my own head. Can I do this? I’ll lose everything. I can’t ask my girlfriend to have to deal with the reality of me… I can’t do this anymore. Each day is more agonizing than the last… I need to do this, but is it even worth it? I’m a freak… If I end it all right now, at least I’d die without anyone knowing what a broken person, broken freak, I am. What do I do?
Honestly, I was so very unsure of how I would handle this. Up until the day I came out, my brain was fighting itself, trying to determine the better of two horrible outcomes: lose everything in my life, be ridiculed, be known as a freak; or lose my life, but retain my dignity.
Early, the day I came out to my girlfriend, I felt incredibly sick. We had plans to go to a friend’s apartment for a Memorial Day get together. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to do anything. I never wanted to do anything. On the way, we stopped at the local grocery store to pick up some beer. At the check-out line, I got carded. Unfortunately, my drivers license had expired a month earlier, and the store clerk wouldn’t let me make the purchase; nor would she let my girlfriend make the purchase, as she was with me. In one of the more embarrassing moments of the past year, I threw what can only be described as a temper tantrum.
Stomping out of the store, the adrenaline from my overreaction still washing over me, I began to question why something so small made me so mad. Whatever the answer, I knew that I simply didn’t want to do this anymore. This would be the day I do something.
We get to my friend’s apartment, and I immediately look for a couch. I needed to sit down. People came and went, having fun, drinking beer, socializing. I was having a silent mental breakdown, frozen and not really there.
After a while, we went home. Still glassy-eyed, I rested on the couch at home for some time (hours?). I slept on that couch, and I had a dream. In it, I just felt… better. I felt light. I felt clear and focused. I felt a way I couldn’t really remember ever feeling before.
Maybe this could be my life. Maybe life doesn’t have to be pure torment. Maybe I can do this. I need to try. I need to fight.
Later that evening, in the scariest moment of my life, I actually said the words, “I’m transgender” out loud to another person. At that moment, I knew that I had revealed something about myself that I couldn’t put away, that I couldn’t hide anymore, that I needed to see through.
Nearly a year has passed, and I’m certain that I made the right decision. I am me.
May 20, 2013
Here I am, answering a few questions from my ask.fm profile.
May 13, 2013
Every so often, I have a day where I just don’t feel like I’m me. I feel like the world doesn’t see me as a woman; like the world doesn’t see me as trans, even. I just feel like the world sees me as a guy, as a person who isn’t me.
I ran into a friend when I was out walking the other day, said “hi,” a quick exchange of pleasantries and a hug; then I was on my way. Later, she said (and she meant well, I know) “that was the first time you’ve sounded like [birth name] in a long time.”
Thinking about it, I feel like I sink into the autopilot of the “old me” when I feel threatened or not accepted. This presents a problem for me. How can I expect people to take me seriously as myself if I keep falling into mannerisms I used to force myself into following in order to seem “normal?”
I don’t know. I guess I need to work on breaking down some walls within myself. If I can’t accept me, no one will accept me.
May 9, 2013
I’m exhausted. I used to really enjoy my job. I used to look forward to getting to work every morning. I used to get along with my coworkers. I used to get invited to events put on by vendors my that my company does work with.
That doesn’t happen anymore.
Most Sundays, I find myself sinking into an anxiety-filled state of dread. I find myself afraid of what the work week will bring.
Before I came out to anyone at work, I really felt like things were moving in a very positive direction. I received an amazing performance review, I was told that I was mere months from a possible promotion, and in the interim, I’d be taking on some tasks that sounded fun and challenging. I was the department “rock star,” for all intents and purposes. I was the go to person for questions related to the work my team did.
Then I came out.
I was assured that my trans status wouldn’t negatively impact the trajectory of my career, that I was still on pace for promotion, and my hard work would pay off.
This hasn’t been the case.
No, no one on my team has blatantly said anything negative to me regarding my “trans-ness,” but things are certainly different. I no longer feel like I’m anywhere near contention for a promotion. I’m no longer the go to person for items related to my work. I’m just… there. (People who aren’t on my team have been slightly less welcoming, including an overheard conversation between two women who were lamenting the fact that they had to share the women’s restroom with a “tranny” – *sigh*)
I was shifted into a role that took me outside of the familiar tasks I was used to. I would have loved the opportunity to bulk up my skill set, to be able to further my career. The only issue: there wasn’t any formal training that came with these new assignments.
When I’d reach out for help, it was either begrudgingly given (I understand, everyone is super busy, and doesn’t necessarily have time to spare for my training) or it wasn’t provided at all. Example: for one assignment, I struggled for 3 days, repeatedly asking my coworkers for guidance. When a coworker finally came to my rescue, she became a little frustrated with me. It was at that point that she misgendered me. “Can you send him this file?” I corrected her, saying, “her, please.” She simply replied, “um, okay.” I sent her an instant message, trying to explain why this matters to me, hoping she’d reply with a quick, “sorry” or “I’ll be more careful next time,” but she didn’t reply.
I know how petty this must sound to someone who doesn’t have their gender challenged by people every day, but being misgendered just feels like a punch to the gut.
Right now, a number of my coworkers are at a vendor event, one of many that I didn’t see an invitation to.
I know this all sounds paranoid, but I can’t shake these worries. Things were going so well, and then I was put on work that I don’t understand (which will obviously take a toll on the quality of my performance).
I just feel so out of place these days. It seems like the level of credibility has taken a massive hit, and it all started around the time I came out at work.
I just don’t know what to do. I want to enjoy my work again. I want to contribute. I just want to not feel so anxious about this.
May 6, 2013
In May of 2012, I was feeling tired. I was feeling worn out. I was feeling like I didn’t have anything left to give.
Life wasn’t supposed to be so hard. Life wasn’t supposed to be non-stop sadness. Life wasn’t supposed to just be a series of situations where you find yourself saying, “this isn’t right. I don’t belong here.”
But that’s how I was feeling. I was 26, but I felt much older, much more exhausted by life.
I knew that I had some gender issues. I knew that it always seemed wrong to be a guy, but I still didn’t think there was anything I could really do about it. While I had looked into the process of what transitioning genders typically consisted of, I didn’t have any point of reference, there weren’t prominent, mainstream trans people (that I knew of) other than people like Chaz Bono.
Basically, I thought that transition would be an impossible undertaking, beyond my ability.
I went to bed on May 8th, feeling irritable and restless (which was the norm).
On May 9th, I’d finally have what I needed to give myself the push to transition.
I woke up to a large number of my Facebook friends sharing the same Rolling Stone article:
“Tom Gabel of Against Me! Comes Out as Transgender“
What’s more is the fact that this article was surrounded with praise, happiness, well-wishes, encouragement. These were my friends, and they were openly embracing the idea of someone transitioning. Wow. That was… unexpected. I don’t know what I expected, but it sure wasn’t that.
During the course of the day, I read and re-read the article dozens of times. The initial post was only 224 words long, but I kept going back to it. “Is this me? Is this something I can actually do? Is this possible?”
I waited patiently for the extended article to become available. I needed to feel less alone in my feelings. Reading it, every beautiful word resonated with me:
It’s a feeling of detachment from your body and from yourself. And it’s shitty, man. It’s really fucking shitty.
On her biggest pre-transition fear:
For me, the most terrifying thing about this was how she would accept the news. (referring to telling her wife about her impending transition)
It probably had a lot to do with where I was puberty-wise, and hormones,” [she] says, “but that was a period of extreme dysphoria – of just not wanting to be male.” Some days, [she] would pray to God: “Dear God, please, when I wake up, I want a female body.”
All of this. Just every bit of it. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought the article was written about me. My biggest fear pre-transition was how I would tell my partner. I love her. I didn’t want to ruin what we had. Just because I was miserable inside, didn’t mean that there weren’t some wonderful things in my life (my relationship being one of them). I remember being a kid, in bed, maybe 10 or 11 years old, just wishing and praying that I’d wake up and be a girl. “Dear God, please. I haven’t ever asked for anything. Please, please just make me a girl. Please.” These prayers got more desperate: “God. Why would you do this to me? Why do I feel like this? This is so messed up. Please, I’m begging. Make me a girl or just don’t let me wake up in the morning.” Eventually, it became, “Fuck you, God! Why the fuck would you do something like this to me! You are awful! Fuck you! Fuck you so much!”
It was around that time that I stopped believing in God.
This article, about someone I didn’t even personally know, changed my life. Sure, I’d always been a casual fan of Against Me!, but that was the extent of it. My first exposure to them was when I’d cue them up on my playlist while I waited tables from 11pm to 7am at Pick Me Up Cafe on Chicago’s north side, in between chain-smoking breaks. Never did I think: hey, the singer of this band will eventually do something really awesome that may, in a lot of ways, save my life.
That article came out roughly 1 year ago. My life has changed in so many ways, directly or indirectly as a result of it.
Thank you, Laura.