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Like seeing color for the first time

In fact I feel, well, alive. Like I’ve been living my whole life blind and now I’ve opened my eyes.

Victoria Aveyard – Red Queen

It’s a common thing to hear from people who get their first pair of glasses, that they finally understand what it feels like to see with good vision. Their eyes have been opened to the world that exists around them in a clarity they never thought possible. My brother in law said “oh my gosh you can read the words!” when referencing a video game he had been playing. It makes you wonder how people can go so long and have no idea they needed something so vital and important.

This week I read the AMAZING book Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard. It is such a wonderfully crafted story about a young girl named Mare Barrow, who finds herself among a world of silver blooded elite, as she pretends to be a silver herself, while also trying to keep everyone around her from discovering that she has “lower” red blood. This story really gripped me from the moment I started reading it and never let go. I stayed up two nights in a row until about 1 am reading, just so I could finish it. If you have the opportunity to read this book, I highly recommend it!

The quote at the top comes from Red Queen, and I bring it up, because that’s the way I described my first time out in the world in women’s clothes. I was 29, it was July, and I had just come out to my parents. I was on my way to a therapist appointment to discuss my gender issues, and she encouraged me to go out and get an outfit and wear it in. She said it would help me start to feel at home in my body. Up until that point, I had spent almost 20 years dressing up in secret. 20 years hiding from the world, borrowing clothes from the women in my life without them knowing. I have since apologized to those women, but at the time, I needed an outlet for my repressed inner woman and didn’t have a better way.

The night prior to walking into the world, I went to target to go shopping. A nice saleswoman helped me pick out a dress that was way too big for me, under the guise that I was shopping for my wife. I was too scared to tell her the dress was for me. But even with the setback, I still had made progress. I had a new dress to wear. The next day, I went, to my appointment in a dress, the first time ever having stepped outside my bedroom in women’s clothes. I had a full beard, and looked mighty hilarious, but it was an important first step. People saw me like that, I interacted with 3 or 4 people at the therapists office. This was no longer something that was just myself. This was my future, who I was destined to become. When I got home, I was asked how things went, and my only response was, “It’s like seeing color for the very first time.” It was a relatively mundane drive across town, and yet, it was so important to my self esteem and who I was, that I cherish that memory.

So back to my very first question, how can someone go so long, without knowing something is wrong. I don’t have an answer, I’m not sure anyone does. But when you are transgender, something a large chunk of the world doesn’t “agree” with, it becomes hard to accept that about yourself. Who can you safely talk to when you start to feel different? Will your parents understand their 12 year old “boy”, when they goes to bed wishing they could be a woman? Will your friends shun you at the pivotal time where how you’re perceived at school is everything? Or is it easier to ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist, and repress for 20 years, even if it hurts to do so? It’s so easy to fall into a routine of unhappiness that it becomes normalized. It’s your daily life, you hardly notice it. It’s background noise.

But, when you finally gain the courage to come out, to accept yourself, to begin making changes in your life to get better, you become so very aware of everything that was wrong before. Immediately, I could remember things about my life I never remembered happening. Feelings of dysphoria that I didn’t understand at the time. I also saw an exit. A way to get better. To be happy. It was like seeing color for the first time.

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I am because I say I am

How much “what it means to be a woman” is bound up with strength and not feeling fear or pain.

Naomi Alderman – The Power

Last week I read a very interesting book by Naomi Alderman, called The Power. This book came recommended to me by one of my friends I’ve known for years. It’s a book where women evolve almost overnight to be able to produce electricity and inflict pain against others. What happens afterwards is a quickly escalating conflict where women have all the power over men.

This book has done an incredible job of turning the power dynamics of gender and sex on its head! What starts with simple things like segregating men in school for their protection, leads to a much larger issue where women take over completely. I must warn you, this book gets VERY dark in spots. So know going in, this isn’t a children’s book.

What is brought to my attention most in this book, is this quote, about “what it means to be a woman”. This is a question asked of trans women on a constant basis when they come out. “Well how do you know you’re a woman?”, “What does being a woman mean to you?” It’s also an extremely hard, if not impossible, question to answer. The reason being, it’s different for every woman.

So many women tie their feelings about what it means to these grand ideas, like motherhood, or being a caretaker for her family. Some women want to shirk their femininity and others still want to prove to the world that women can do “male” things like fix a car or be physically strong. All of these are valid things that a woman might say to themselves, what being a woman is all about.

However, no one asks the assigned female at birth women if they really are a woman just because they are pursuing something male dominated. Or want them to prove that they are actually a woman to someone else. Yet trans people are subjected to this kind of scrutiny all the time. Like somehow our words are less real, less true, than someone who was correctly assigned at birth.

It’s an almost universal struggle for trans people, to prove to society that we are what we say we are. Often, it leads to us being very stereotypically masculine or feminine. Of course then cis people say “you’re just putting on a show, playing the part. You are actually just playing dress up!” For some people, that’s actually true. Butch lesbians exist, queen gay men exist. That holds true for trans people as well.

But if we go down that path, then we get “well you aren’t a woman, look! You’re masculine! Why don’t you just stay a man?” It’s like they’ve forgotten entirely that people can have gender nonconformity! So we get stuck in this no win situation, where if we’re too stereotypical, we get called out, and when we try to break the norms, we also get called out. It’s like us trans people have to walk a non-existent line of what it means to be our gender. That we have to conform to 7 billion unique views of that gender based on who we are talking to at the time.

This kind of thinking doesn’t help anyone. It only serves to be combative and minimize our existence and erase us. People are varied, they always have been. There will always be someone who defies expectations of what your notion of gender is. It shouldn’t be on trans people to hold all the responsibility of falling into your box. It should be you, who makes a bigger box to fit everyone in it.

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Always make history

And remember, you too are making history each day. Let’s make a history that lifts up all people, erases no one, and leaves behind nothing but hateful ideology.

Katherine Locke – The Girl with the Red Balloon

I found this quote recently. It was the very last line of the acknowledgements section of a wonderful book by author Katherine Lock, The Girl with the Red Balloon. When I read this quote, it struck me. Everyone can make history. Everyone can make a difference, and everyone can help make the world a better place. It’s something I’ve been trying to put into words for over a year now, as my transitional journey has progressed.

The journey Ellie, one of the main characters in The Girl with the Red Balloon, faces, is one of hardship, and how to adapt to life in a new, and hostile environment. She is ripped from her family and friends, and taken to 1988 East Berlin through no fault of her own. She must find a way to survive, and in that process, she thrives, finds love, makes friendships, and grows immensely as a person. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it!

The reason I bring Ellie up, is because there are certain parallels between her time spent in 1988, with my life. On July 25th, 2017, I came out as a transgender woman to my friends and family. I had long repressed, and hid, and refused to acknowledge that fact. When I finally had the courage to come out, my life was ripped from me, and I found myself in a new world. One that has half the country hating me just because I exist. One where nothing will ever be easy again. How do you tell someone you want to date that you’re trans? How do you deal with the stares, the mocking, the hate, and discrimination from employers, landlords, and random people on the street? In this new world, where hate is around every corner, I also had to learn to navigate a transition. What medical needs I have, when to change my clothes, how to go through the legalities such as a name change, or fixing the gender marker on all my important documents. It was no easy task, and some things are still, and will forever be unfinished.

But in this world where I was afraid everyone was against me, I found love, acceptance, and support as well. People who were acquaintances became close friends, family became my rock to stand on, and grow from, and I have learned more about myself than ever before. “You’re so brave”, “You are changing lives”, “You are an inspiration” are phrases that became common to hear, even if I didn’t believe them. To me, I was just trying to survive, and live my life. But others saw bigger. They saw that in my effort to navigate my medical needs, I was beginning to change my company for the better. It’s not done yet, but I am actively working with my HR department to get medical benefits for trans care, beyond hormones. They saw me walking into the world, even before I could pass. They saw a strong brave woman who wasn’t afraid to take the hate and the stares, to help normalize transgender existence in society. They saw someone who was willing to risk everything, to make a better life for herself.

I’ve now been on hormones for 16 months, and I am proud to say I get to live my life as a woman, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. To me it felt like a necessity, that I was doing this for myself, that it was my life that was getting better. But I’ve learned that I am making history, working to prove hateful ideologies wrong, and leaving the world a better place than when I started. And just like Ellie, I have struggled, found friendships, and grown as a person. Still waiting on that love thing, but I’m sure it’s just around the corner!

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The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

I never thought I’d be one to start a blog. What do I have to say that’s important to anyone? I’m just a normal person out in the world trying to survive.

That’s exactly what I’m hoping to achieve here! Everyone has something important to say, and I hope to prove that right here. Whether you have no following at all, or if you are an A list celebrity that is a household name, we all should strive to make the world a better place, by showing how important we are.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton