It’s okay now

I conferred with my family at length today about whether to come out to my grandpa. It wasn’t encouraging. They told me there was no way they saw this ending well. They told me it would cause a rift. They told me I was putting them in a difficult position.

And yet everyone here told me it would be okay. You told me he’d probably guessed something was up already. You told me he might be more understanding than I expected.

So I told him. He understood, and he just wants me to be happy. He says he’ll always love me and be there for me. And that we’re a family.

It’s over. It’s done. We took care of this.

No more secrets, no more lies, no more fear.

Thank you.

It’s okay now
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It's okay now

I conferred with my family at length today about whether to come out to my grandpa. It wasn’t encouraging. They told me there was no way they saw this ending well. They told me it would cause a rift. They told me I was putting them in a difficult position.

And yet everyone here told me it would be okay. You told me he’d probably guessed something was up already. You told me he might be more understanding than I expected.

So I told him. He understood, and he just wants me to be happy. He says he’ll always love me and be there for me. And that we’re a family.

It’s over. It’s done. We took care of this.

No more secrets, no more lies, no more fear.

Thank you.

It's okay now

The last closet: Why I won’t be home for Christmas

“Just don’t tell grandpa.” It’s been my family’s constant refrain throughout the entirety of my out, public queerdom. It should be easy enough, right? We just… won’t tell him. But no matter how well you keep it, a secret won’t stay contained. It seeps from the black box where we tried to censor it out of our lives, growing little tendrils that infect everything they touch. Any other thing your secret would change is a secret now too. We always end up with more than we bargained for, until we’re desperately leaping across the chasms it leaves in our world.

My grandpa doesn’t know I’m a woman. How am I supposed to hide something like that?

Sure, it was easier when I was 19 and came out to my family as a “gay man”. As I tearfully hugged my mom and sister, I was so grateful just to be accepted that I probably would have gone along with anything in return. But it was my own cowardice too. It did seem safer, after all. What was the harm in letting grandpa – racist, Palin-loving grandpa who goes to church every morning and evening and gets mailers about the UN’s “homosexual agenda” – keep believing whatever he wants?

The holidays and birthday parties at his house, the weekly dinners together that had become a tradition for us since grandma passed away, the avoidance of politics as we barely concealed our disgust, everything continued as usual. It’s not like I ever had any boyfriends to hide, anyway. Maybe that should have told us all something.

By the time I first came out, I was well on my way to feminine territory. But breaking out of assumptions, especially big ones like what gender you are, can take some work. You’ve lived as a guy all your life, you find you have an attraction to men (even if not an exclusive one), you lean toward the effeminate, and that’s the role society offers you: gay man. It was just the nearest place I could find for myself. I wasn’t yet ready to consider that I might actually want to be a woman instead.

Timeline
Nope, nothing to see here

Sometimes I wish I were one of the people who had “always known” in some sense that they were really a man or a woman, the people who eventually have that epiphany all at once, and know exactly what their path is if they choose to take it. Sure, I knew what it would mean to be trans – and people who knew me online were already starting to see me that way – but I had to carve away at the space of possibilities until the only remaining option was too obvious to ignore.

So I spent two years putting myself together into what I wanted to be, for the first real time in my life. Two years of going by “he or she, either’s fine”, while being she’d and ma’amed in public more and more often. Two years of growing into something more than a gay guy. “Drag”, I jokingly called it. But really, it was just… me.

You’d think people would notice their child, their grandchild, their sibling becoming a woman right before their eyes. It’s obvious in retrospect, but you might not recognize what’s happening if you don’t know what to look for. For my little midwestern family, the idea that one of us could be trans wasn’t even on their radar. “Sex changes” were just some abstract thing that happened to other people, somewhere else, in the realm of Jerry Springer and Maury and bad comedy movies. When something is so utterly remote from your experience, you don’t even consider the possibility that it could happen in your own home. Not even if you see it every day.

And that’s how things stayed, with nobody really sure what was going on, not even me. I settled into what I had begun to call the “gender demilitarized zone”, not quite trans but maybe, definitely not a guy but still partially “he” for no reason other than the inertia of the years, not yet countered by enough of an opposing force to push me over the hump into outright womanhood.

Then I met Heather. We hung out in the same queer chatroom, but we hadn’t really noticed each other until we both ended up arguing with some guy who thought all LGBT people should come out, no matter the personal cost. She’d recently realized that she really was lesbian after all, and that things weren’t going to work out between her and her husband. And somehow, once we started talking with each other, we couldn’t stop. We marveled at having finally found someone we could talk to on the same level, who truly understood what the other was saying, who never ever got tired of being around us. We talked for hours each day, only parting when we had to, staying up late into the night, inexorably growing together. And she called me “she”. It felt so right, for both of us.

After just a few months of the closest friendship I’d ever known, we decided we had to meet. We counted down the days – 63, 62, 61… – until she arrived in Chicago for a long weekend together. We dreamed of what it would be like, of holding hands and holding each other, of looking out on the world from the top of the Sears Tower and promising we’d be together forever.

The top of the Sears Tower

I’m nothing if not oblivious. Maybe it runs in my family. Afterward, she told me she’d been afraid of telling me how she really felt and scaring me away. Me, I’d just never been in love before, not like this. I didn’t know what it looked like. I couldn’t put a name to it, even when it was right in front of me.

She ran to me and swept me up into a hug the moment she saw me, holding me tighter than I’d ever been held. It was like everything I needed in life came together as we embraced, bathed in the light of that moment we’d dreamed of, finally made real. We held hands and ventured off into the city, not caring where we ended up as long as we were together, stopping at whatever bookstores and sculptures and museums we encountered along the way. At the end of the day, we closed our eyes and leaned on each other in a dark room at the Art Institute, ignoring some black and white film about tunnels.

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in bed, lips against lips against skin against skin for hours until the night descended. Neither of us expected that. We didn’t know where this was going, and it didn’t matter. If this was where we’d been heading the entire time, then it was right. I never wanted to let her go.

Before she had to go back to Florida, she asked if I would be her girlfriend. Sometimes, all it takes is one question to put everything in perspective. I was not a boyfriend, I would not be a boyfriend, and we both knew it. We were nothing like a straight couple. And I was nothing like a guy. I cried as she got into her taxi and promised her we’d be together again.

When you’ve already come out to your family as a gay guy, it can be kind of awkward to tell them you have a girlfriend now. It felt like taking something back, even if I was actually queerer than ever. But it would have been even more awkward to give them the full story, explaining the intricacies of gender identities and the true nature of our relationship. It wasn’t until months later, when I was about to move to Florida to be with Heather and her kids, that my famously non-confrontational mom finally asked if I was still gay. The most I could bring myself to say was “…yeah, just not only gay.” We were both content to leave it at that.

Adjusting to life as a stay-at-home mom was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but it’s so normal for me now that I can’t really remember what made it such a struggle. My family was worried that this was a big step for me, being so far away from home for the first time. Really, it was better for me than I ever expected. I was with Heather every day, and I was finally in a place where everyone had always known me as a woman. She’d even taught her kids about “girls in boy bodies and boys in girl bodies”. I didn’t know how valuable this kind of unconditional support was, until I experienced it firsthand and found out what I had been missing.

People who love me for who I am
Left to right: People who love me for who I am

Being with someone who had been through her own journey of self-discovery, who had dated trans women before, who saw me unambiguously as a woman, I knew that she understood me. I knew that I was safe with her. When I finally reached a point where I had to find a therapist, a doctor, to take the leap into starting hormones, to file for my name change, to pick out my first bra, she was there with me. And when I decided to call up my mom and sister and explain that I’d really been her girlfriend all this time, she held my hand as they spoke those same words: “Don’t tell grandpa.”

Where does this all leave grandpa, anyway? He never knew I was gay – back when I was the other kind of gay – so it came as no surprise to him that I have a girlfriend now, that I have kids, that I have my own family. We still talk sometimes, and he loves to hear about how we’re all doing. “It’s almost like you’re the mom”, he said as I told him about Heather’s new job. Yeah, almost. I don’t have to hide anything about my new life, except for this one little detail that could tear everything apart.

I haven’t seen my family for over a year. Even if we had room in our finances and our schedules for a trip across the country, I don’t think I could do it, not while I’m still some secret they’re keeping. Not if I’d have to pretend to be someone else. For all the ridiculous fearmongering about how any mention of transgender people will just “confuse” children, I’m certain my sons would be much more confused to see their stepmom treated like a man, called by a name they’ve never known.

I won’t put us through that. I’m not going to act like Heather and I are straight, I’m not going to be a “stepdad” or a “husband”, and I’m not going to hide what my body has become. When I see my family again, I won’t be the person they want to pretend I am. I won’t be someone else. This is too important to compromise, so until something changes, I just won’t be there. I can’t do it.

The family he won't get to see

Despite how scary it is, how likely to end in disaster, I still want to tell him. I’m convinced that he deserves to know, even if he hasn’t necessarily earned it. When Heather and I get married, I want him to be there. The alternative, the ultimate passive-aggression of leaving him out of it all or waiting for him to die without ever knowing who I really am, is even more unthinkable. I want him to know that he has a granddaughter, that I’m making the most of myself and I’m finally, truly happy for the first time. He’s our last connection to the grandma we all miss so much, who never got to see me grow up, and I know she’d want to be a part of my life no matter what.

I still keep putting it off, and I don’t know why. Maybe I just want to have as many days as I can where I know I’m still loved and appreciated, even if it’s on false pretenses. Maybe I don’t want to have it confirmed that my own grandpa would hate me for who I am. Maybe I want to hold on to the hope that it might not be so bad. But every day he doesn’t know is a day I won’t get back, and that’s the price I’m paying for this secret.

It’s not that big of a deal… is it? I’m still the person he’s always known. The rest of my family treats me just the same – it hasn’t changed anything between us. It’s just who I am, and it should be the least important thing in the world. Why does it have to matter so much?

This can’t last, and we all know it. Everyone in my family has always valued keeping the peace above all else, and none of us are looking forward to blowing the whole thing wide open. But it has to happen. Some things are more important than peace, and too valuable to hide away forever. What am I waiting for? Just courage – the courage to put that missing piece back into my life, to wipe out that spreading ink blot of secrecy. This time, I’ll be the one to fill it in with the truth.

The last closet: Why I won’t be home for Christmas

The last closet: Why I won't be home for Christmas

“Just don’t tell grandpa.” It’s been my family’s constant refrain throughout the entirety of my out, public queerdom. It should be easy enough, right? We just… won’t tell him. But no matter how well you keep it, a secret won’t stay contained. It seeps from the black box where we tried to censor it out of our lives, growing little tendrils that infect everything they touch. Any other thing your secret would change is a secret now too. We always end up with more than we bargained for, until we’re desperately leaping across the chasms it leaves in our world.

My grandpa doesn’t know I’m a woman. How am I supposed to hide something like that?

Sure, it was easier when I was 19 and came out to my family as a “gay man”. As I tearfully hugged my mom and sister, I was so grateful just to be accepted that I probably would have gone along with anything in return. But it was my own cowardice too. It did seem safer, after all. What was the harm in letting grandpa – racist, Palin-loving grandpa who goes to church every morning and evening and gets mailers about the UN’s “homosexual agenda” – keep believing whatever he wants?

The holidays and birthday parties at his house, the weekly dinners together that had become a tradition for us since grandma passed away, the avoidance of politics as we barely concealed our disgust, everything continued as usual. It’s not like I ever had any boyfriends to hide, anyway. Maybe that should have told us all something.

By the time I first came out, I was well on my way to feminine territory. But breaking out of assumptions, especially big ones like what gender you are, can take some work. You’ve lived as a guy all your life, you find you have an attraction to men (even if not an exclusive one), you lean toward the effeminate, and that’s the role society offers you: gay man. It was just the nearest place I could find for myself. I wasn’t yet ready to consider that I might actually want to be a woman instead.

Timeline
Nope, nothing to see here

Sometimes I wish I were one of the people who had “always known” in some sense that they were really a man or a woman, the people who eventually have that epiphany all at once, and know exactly what their path is if they choose to take it. Sure, I knew what it would mean to be trans – and people who knew me online were already starting to see me that way – but I had to carve away at the space of possibilities until the only remaining option was too obvious to ignore.

So I spent two years putting myself together into what I wanted to be, for the first real time in my life. Two years of going by “he or she, either’s fine”, while being she’d and ma’amed in public more and more often. Two years of growing into something more than a gay guy. “Drag”, I jokingly called it. But really, it was just… me.

You’d think people would notice their child, their grandchild, their sibling becoming a woman right before their eyes. It’s obvious in retrospect, but you might not recognize what’s happening if you don’t know what to look for. For my little midwestern family, the idea that one of us could be trans wasn’t even on their radar. “Sex changes” were just some abstract thing that happened to other people, somewhere else, in the realm of Jerry Springer and Maury and bad comedy movies. When something is so utterly remote from your experience, you don’t even consider the possibility that it could happen in your own home. Not even if you see it every day.

And that’s how things stayed, with nobody really sure what was going on, not even me. I settled into what I had begun to call the “gender demilitarized zone”, not quite trans but maybe, definitely not a guy but still partially “he” for no reason other than the inertia of the years, not yet countered by enough of an opposing force to push me over the hump into outright womanhood.

Then I met Heather. We hung out in the same queer chatroom, but we hadn’t really noticed each other until we both ended up arguing with some guy who thought all LGBT people should come out, no matter the personal cost. She’d recently realized that she really was lesbian after all, and that things weren’t going to work out between her and her husband. And somehow, once we started talking with each other, we couldn’t stop. We marveled at having finally found someone we could talk to on the same level, who truly understood what the other was saying, who never ever got tired of being around us. We talked for hours each day, only parting when we had to, staying up late into the night, inexorably growing together. And she called me “she”. It felt so right, for both of us.

After just a few months of the closest friendship I’d ever known, we decided we had to meet. We counted down the days – 63, 62, 61… – until she arrived in Chicago for a long weekend together. We dreamed of what it would be like, of holding hands and holding each other, of looking out on the world from the top of the Sears Tower and promising we’d be together forever.

The top of the Sears Tower

I’m nothing if not oblivious. Maybe it runs in my family. Afterward, she told me she’d been afraid of telling me how she really felt and scaring me away. Me, I’d just never been in love before, not like this. I didn’t know what it looked like. I couldn’t put a name to it, even when it was right in front of me.

She ran to me and swept me up into a hug the moment she saw me, holding me tighter than I’d ever been held. It was like everything I needed in life came together as we embraced, bathed in the light of that moment we’d dreamed of, finally made real. We held hands and ventured off into the city, not caring where we ended up as long as we were together, stopping at whatever bookstores and sculptures and museums we encountered along the way. At the end of the day, we closed our eyes and leaned on each other in a dark room at the Art Institute, ignoring some black and white film about tunnels.

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in bed, lips against lips against skin against skin for hours until the night descended. Neither of us expected that. We didn’t know where this was going, and it didn’t matter. If this was where we’d been heading the entire time, then it was right. I never wanted to let her go.

Before she had to go back to Florida, she asked if I would be her girlfriend. Sometimes, all it takes is one question to put everything in perspective. I was not a boyfriend, I would not be a boyfriend, and we both knew it. We were nothing like a straight couple. And I was nothing like a guy. I cried as she got into her taxi and promised her we’d be together again.

When you’ve already come out to your family as a gay guy, it can be kind of awkward to tell them you have a girlfriend now. It felt like taking something back, even if I was actually queerer than ever. But it would have been even more awkward to give them the full story, explaining the intricacies of gender identities and the true nature of our relationship. It wasn’t until months later, when I was about to move to Florida to be with Heather and her kids, that my famously non-confrontational mom finally asked if I was still gay. The most I could bring myself to say was “…yeah, just not only gay.” We were both content to leave it at that.

Adjusting to life as a stay-at-home mom was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but it’s so normal for me now that I can’t really remember what made it such a struggle. My family was worried that this was a big step for me, being so far away from home for the first time. Really, it was better for me than I ever expected. I was with Heather every day, and I was finally in a place where everyone had always known me as a woman. She’d even taught her kids about “girls in boy bodies and boys in girl bodies”. I didn’t know how valuable this kind of unconditional support was, until I experienced it firsthand and found out what I had been missing.

People who love me for who I am
Left to right: People who love me for who I am

Being with someone who had been through her own journey of self-discovery, who had dated trans women before, who saw me unambiguously as a woman, I knew that she understood me. I knew that I was safe with her. When I finally reached a point where I had to find a therapist, a doctor, to take the leap into starting hormones, to file for my name change, to pick out my first bra, she was there with me. And when I decided to call up my mom and sister and explain that I’d really been her girlfriend all this time, she held my hand as they spoke those same words: “Don’t tell grandpa.”

Where does this all leave grandpa, anyway? He never knew I was gay – back when I was the other kind of gay – so it came as no surprise to him that I have a girlfriend now, that I have kids, that I have my own family. We still talk sometimes, and he loves to hear about how we’re all doing. “It’s almost like you’re the mom”, he said as I told him about Heather’s new job. Yeah, almost. I don’t have to hide anything about my new life, except for this one little detail that could tear everything apart.

I haven’t seen my family for over a year. Even if we had room in our finances and our schedules for a trip across the country, I don’t think I could do it, not while I’m still some secret they’re keeping. Not if I’d have to pretend to be someone else. For all the ridiculous fearmongering about how any mention of transgender people will just “confuse” children, I’m certain my sons would be much more confused to see their stepmom treated like a man, called by a name they’ve never known.

I won’t put us through that. I’m not going to act like Heather and I are straight, I’m not going to be a “stepdad” or a “husband”, and I’m not going to hide what my body has become. When I see my family again, I won’t be the person they want to pretend I am. I won’t be someone else. This is too important to compromise, so until something changes, I just won’t be there. I can’t do it.

The family he won't get to see

Despite how scary it is, how likely to end in disaster, I still want to tell him. I’m convinced that he deserves to know, even if he hasn’t necessarily earned it. When Heather and I get married, I want him to be there. The alternative, the ultimate passive-aggression of leaving him out of it all or waiting for him to die without ever knowing who I really am, is even more unthinkable. I want him to know that he has a granddaughter, that I’m making the most of myself and I’m finally, truly happy for the first time. He’s our last connection to the grandma we all miss so much, who never got to see me grow up, and I know she’d want to be a part of my life no matter what.

I still keep putting it off, and I don’t know why. Maybe I just want to have as many days as I can where I know I’m still loved and appreciated, even if it’s on false pretenses. Maybe I don’t want to have it confirmed that my own grandpa would hate me for who I am. Maybe I want to hold on to the hope that it might not be so bad. But every day he doesn’t know is a day I won’t get back, and that’s the price I’m paying for this secret.

It’s not that big of a deal… is it? I’m still the person he’s always known. The rest of my family treats me just the same – it hasn’t changed anything between us. It’s just who I am, and it should be the least important thing in the world. Why does it have to matter so much?

This can’t last, and we all know it. Everyone in my family has always valued keeping the peace above all else, and none of us are looking forward to blowing the whole thing wide open. But it has to happen. Some things are more important than peace, and too valuable to hide away forever. What am I waiting for? Just courage – the courage to put that missing piece back into my life, to wipe out that spreading ink blot of secrecy. This time, I’ll be the one to fill it in with the truth.

The last closet: Why I won't be home for Christmas

Revising the self III: History, cistory

Zinnia hasn’t appeared in the top 1,000 American names for the past century. This makes it an excellent and recognizable “brand”, but for me, transitioning involved finding a name that blended in, didn’t draw the wrong kind of attention, and was appropriate for my age.

Revising the self: The names we use

How do you pick a new name for yourself? It’s a frequent question from fledgling trans people, as well as others who want to know more about us. Like transitioning, renaming yourself isn’t really a widespread practice, and when we do make that choice, it’s typically something we only do once. A lot of thought goes into it – after all, that’s going to be your name now, so you’d best choose judiciously.

So, how do people find new names? However they want, really. Just as with any time someone is given a name, there are plenty of considerations and sources of inspiration, and ideas can come from anywhere that names are used. What sort of associations and feelings does it bring to mind? How does it sound? Does it feel right, like it fits you, like it’s yours? Sometimes a name has a certain appealing meaning, or acquires it through one’s personal history. Some people ask their parents what other names were at the top of the list if they had been born differently. Some ask their loved ones and friends for ideas. Others might use a direct feminization or masculinization of their former name, though it’s probably nowhere near as common as popular depictions of trans people make it seem. Sometimes it can be as simple as picking a name that’s popular, or was popular in the year you were born.

Social Security name rankings
That last one verges into another class of considerations. These don’t solely involve what you think of a name, but rather what you have to think about due to how the rest of society uses and deals with names, and the attitudes they hold toward them. For instance, how might everyone else feel about a name? Will they be able to spell it and pronounce it? Is it a common name or a unique one? Do you want something that stands out, or something that blends in? Is it typical of someone in your age group, or was it more prevalent among another generation?

In other words, just pick a name you like… within certain parameters. And wherever social norms come to bear on individual choice – especially choices made by a broadly maligned and misunderstood minority, involving something so personal as how we name ourselves – there’s probably some interesting stuff to explore.

Using the Social Security Administration’s records of popular baby names by year to find a name that was common around the time of your birth is actually a pretty well-known method among trans people. Certainly not everyone uses this trick, but it’s an easy way to narrow down your choices to a set of names that come across as more suited to your age, given how the popularity of certain names rises and falls over time. Most people I’ve seen do seem to take this criterion into account in some capacity, and in trans-focused forums full of people who’ve grown up using computers and the internet, you’re more likely to find plenty of women named Emily, Sarah or Jessica – and not so many named Mildred, Gladys or Gertrude.

Recently, I found another tool that provides even more detail: typing a name into Wolfram Alpha, which will show its peaks and declines and resurgences in popularity over time, and the most common age of people with that name.

Wolfram Alpha name statistics

When I shared this interesting find, fellow trans FTBer Natalie Reed pointed out something I should have recognized earlier: that this is just a way of ensuring that a certain name fits into – and implies – a personal cisgender history that never actually happened. It means aiming to choose a “normal” name, one that blends in with the rest of society and with people your age – which is to say, blends in with our cis peers.

I hadn’t thought about it like that before, and I don’t know why I didn’t, but it seems like a pretty accurate description of this particular constraint on name choice. Not only that, but practically all of my own personal criteria when I chose my name were tied into this mimicry of a cis history in one way or another. What I wanted was a name that shared as many key features of an assigned name as possible. I felt this would help make it easier for me – and, yes, others – to accept it as my own, for the same reasons that I had regarded my original name as my own for most of my life. I had to think about this for a little while, before I figured out what requirements this would entail.

The most important was that my name be as not special as possible, almost arbitrary. After all, my original name only seemed “special” to me because it was given to me, and not for any other reason. If it wasn’t mine, nothing about it would have stood out from my perspective. This also meant choosing a name that was effectively meaningless to me – not looking for a certain meaning in order to find names that expressed this, but rather ignoring this aspect entirely. I never really cared what my original name meant, I don’t think my parents did, and it’s not all that important to me now, either. (Most English names seem to mean something vacuous like “God loves” or “random Bible character” anyway.) Finally, one of the most difficult features of my original name to replicate was the fact that I didn’t choose it. I mean, choosing a name without… choosing? How the hell do you do that?

The closest I could get was, instead of even taking the time to search for a name, just going with one that I had randomly used on a whim as an example when asking someone else if they thought it would be better for me to pick a more common name. Obviously, the final decision was mine – but I didn’t bother considering many other options. I went with the first one I saw, ran with it, and it worked for me. I wanted it to fit neatly into all the mental nooks and crannies that the old name occupied, and it does feel like my name – it is my name.

Nonetheless, it’s unavoidable that wanting my name to share the features of an assigned name meant wanting it to share the features of a name given under the assumption that I was cis. When parents name their children, they recognize that the child is most likely going to keep that name for a lifetime – stuck with it for as long as they don’t feel like going through the personal, legal and practical hurdles associated with finding a new one. That’s just going to be their name, with the person whose name it is having had no role in deciding it. And so I, too, chose a name that gives no clue as to its self-determination and self-definition – as though I’d never changed my name at all, and this was my name from the very beginning.

Like an imaginary cis history.

It’s about looking like you were born that way.

Writings of a Trans Activist: Passing as a (cis) woman

Of course, this approach to choosing a name is only one of many practices that imply, or are designed to be compatible with, a personal cis history that never took place. Particularly in the case of the detailed name statistics, all the numbers and graphs do seem to reduce an intensely personal choice to a cold and clinical calculation, but trans people often do plenty of other things to blend in as cis: things meant to avoid tipping people off that they’re trans, and allow people to maintain the assumption that they’re cis.

Being known to be trans doesn’t mean that you’re any less of a woman or man – but in practice, many people will unfortunately no longer think of you as a woman or man if they know you’re trans, and those people are likely to think less of us in general if they find out. That can make life hard for us in a variety of ways, and outside of certain rare “safe spaces”, this is something we’re forced to deal with out of necessity. We have strong incentives to give the impression of that imaginary cis history, even if we shouldn’t have to.

It’s not always easy. Think about it, cis people: how much work would you have to go through not only to present as another gender, but to do it so well that nobody notices you’re even trying? Transitioning means running that gauntlet on a daily basis. Presenting as our identified gender isn’t the real challenge of it. The truly hard part is doing it with such precision that no one suspects our preferred gender is any different from the one we were originally assigned. And the difficult and personally compromising dimension of it is that in order to achieve that precision – to make our everyday lives easier in terms of interacting with others who more than likely don’t look kindly upon us – we may be forced to present ourselves in a way that we may not always be entirely comfortable with.

The need to blend in when we’re already at a disadvantage to start with can often mean having to compensate. Wearing certain things we may not want to wear. Acting in ways that sometimes feel awkward or pointless. Talking in ways that are challenging to sustain for any length of time. Shaving places that we might not really feel like shaving, if failing to do so didn’t jeopardize how our gender is perceived. And so we sometimes sacrifice our comfort personally, in the hopes of greater comfort socially.

We face the same restrictive gendered standards that everyone else does – the unpleasant realities that some of the distinct attire and mannerisms that are demanded of men and women are plainly frivolous, and should by no means be that important to anyone – and then some. Life is already hard enough in this regard for masculine cis women and feminine cis men, who often run afoul of these standards and suffer for it.

The difference is that their genders are still recognized: they’re being held to overblown social norms, but they’re the overblown social norms of their identified gender. Their gender is still considered legitimate and real, even as people may despise how they express it. But trans people face the additional risk of having their identity itself invalidated for any perceived deviation from these norms. In a world where being known as trans means being seen as “less real” in terms of your gender, people will instead revert to seeing us as the very gender we sought to escape, and holding us to that set of standards – thus reducing us to “men in dresses” and so on.

Given what’s at stake, it shouldn’t be surprising that so many trans people (in addition to cis women, and gay/bi people, and gender-nonconforming people) despise the social forces that demand we navigate this narrow, twisty, spiky maze of expectations that no one should ever be subjected to. And at the same time, it’s unavoidable that our own feelings and decisions are mediated and influenced by being immersed in a culture with some very ugly attitudes toward gender. If we really, honestly want to understand what’s going on in our heads and what’s going on in society, we need to recognize that – just as how women who protest that they choose to shave their legs regardless of social expectations should consider how much of a choice they were truly allowed to begin with.

Likewise, while I think my wardrobe is pretty awesome and makes me look great, I also have to think about how much freedom I really have to choose otherwise if I felt like it. And I love my name, but there’s no denying that I specifically tailored it to simulate the experience of having a name that was given on the basis of my presumed cis-ness. It fits people’s expectations, and it fits my personal needs as well. I did want it to feel just as real to me, as though it was always my name, even if it wasn’t. And the features that make it so imitative of an imaginary cis history – its arbitrariness, its meaninglessness, and the fact that I grew up around plenty of people who shared that name – are also what made it so easy for me to accept as my own.

I think a lot of trans people have similar needs. For much of our lives, however joyous or tragic they were at the time, we missed out on living as our preferred gender. We don’t get that time back. Many of us feel it would have been easier if we had a different body from the start, if we had a different name from the start – we want to have had a cis history. And while we can’t change the past, we do what we can to make ourselves as comfortable as possible now.

Sometimes, the things we do for ourselves conflict with the things we do for others. But sometimes, more confusingly, those things overlap, as in cases where our well-being is contingent upon how comfortable others are with us. The line blurs and disappears, and we’re forced to question who we’re really doing this for.

For the sake of our own comfort, but also for the sake of our own survival in a hostile society, we do often allow that illusion of a cis history to persist. We dress like we’re supposed to. We talk like people expect us to. We choose a name that won’t surprise anyone. And we let people make their assumptions, without bothering to correct them – because maybe the average person on the street doesn’t need, or deserve, to know all the really interesting parts of my life.

Maybe things will be different someday, and it won’t matter anymore whether people know this about me or not. It won’t matter whether anything tips them off, and it won’t matter what they think. We’re just not there yet. Like everyone else, we want to be seen as women or as men, and right now, this is what it takes.

Revising the self III: History, cistory

Putting up a PayPal donation link

I’m setting up a PayPal donation button in the sidebar for anyone who feels like helping me with transition-related expenses. These include things like a legal change of name, as well as medical bills. We’ve found a local paralegal group to assist us with the complicated process of a name change – while changing your last name is a simple matter, changing your first name in our state involves a court hearing and a criminal background check, among other pricey hassles. The counselor and doctor I’ve been seeing charge us on a sliding scale, which has been nice, but they’re specialists and quite a drive away.

Heather and I both work very hard, but we don’t have a lot of expendable income at the end of the month. After feeding, housing, and clothing two young children as well, there’s not much left for transitioning, and so it often falls to the wayside. This has left us with about $700 in expenses that we’re struggling to cover.

I know that all of my fans have been extraordinarily supportive of my transition thus far. If you’d like to help me further in this, donating just the price of a movie ticket would significantly ease the burden. Once again, thank you so much for everything you’ve all done for me.


Putting up a PayPal donation link

Gelly Rolls: The circle closes

After my last post about Gelly Rolls, the unforgettable glittery pens that brightened up my childhood before they were abruptly taken from me, I was surprised to see how many people were moved by the story of my odd obsession with this one little thing. I didn’t expect it, but it’s heartening to see that others can relate to the seemingly trivial bits of history that come to hold such personal significance in our lives. Even if they didn’t grow up during the era of Gelly Rolls, they understood what it was like to find something meaningful, lose it, and eventually rediscover it years later.

But it didn’t end there.

The day after I wrote about it, I was contacted by someone at Sakura, the makers of Gelly Roll pens. You won’t believe what happened next. As it turns out, Gelly Rolls are alive and well, and when they heard about my story, they did something I never would have imagined. They wanted to give me back what I had lost.

So they sent me a Gelly Roll care package.

A plethora of Gelly Roll pens

How many pens is that? All of them! And there they were, right in front of me, in my hands once more. The real thing, at last. Finally safe in their pencil case, I would never have to lose them again.

A case of 58 Gelly Roll pens

Naturally, I had to try out every single one of them immediately. They were just as I had remembered, and yet I had forgotten how many varieties there were. These aren’t just pens, they’re art supplies: colors that shine, sparkle, glow under blacklight, colors that grow their own gold and silver borders right before your eyes… It feels more like holding some kind of wand.

Heather got into it, too – if you’ll recall, her artful penmanship is miles ahead of me:

Heather's drawing

Laying them all out on the bed, scribbling glitter in page after page of our notebooks, we touched the past together. And we made it ours.

Thank you, Sakura

Gelly Rolls: The circle closes

Revising the self, continued: Penmanship

It’s been a few months now, and my newly adopted real-life name has become much more natural. Our families and friends know me by it now, and it’s no longer something I have to remind myself of just to get it to sink in. I sense I’m quite a ways into the arbitrarily-designated third phase, incorporating it as a part of myself, but not quite at the point where it’s just as deeply and thoroughly entrenched as my previous name was. It’s still a notable thing in my mind, whereas a name that’s become natural to you is a non-thought.

Regular usage for a lengthy period, by myself and others, seems to be crucial to accepting it as actually being my name – there’s no way around that. Everyone changing my name to it on their phones, listing it as “parent 2” in the contact information for our son’s school, signing it on his behavior sheet every day, registering a new Gmail account under it, generating a PGP keypair for it, filling it out on forms for my doctors, drawing up papers for a legal name change, all of these otherwise mundane instances are small pieces helping to bridge the gap between an old label and a new one. But there are also ways to nudge the process along.

It’s sometimes helped me to run through my very early memories and visualize them as being revised to include my new name. My mother asking me if I want to help mix the cookie batter. My kindergarten teacher calling on me when I raise my hand. My grandparents getting me a bicycle with training wheels and a custom “license plate”. Slowly typing my name into the crude word processor of ClarisWorks for Kids. And learning how to sign it.

That last one is significant. After spending a few days in the first grade, I was subjected to a battery of tests, and then placed in the third grade for the remainder of the year. One problem, among many others that would eventually manifest, was that we were supposed to learn cursive in second grade. Of course, they were used to making special accommodations by now, and I was given two weeks of individual instruction so that I could catch up. The teacher for the gifted students spent an hour with me every day as I scrawled words nearly half my height onto a chalkboard. For me, the result of learning cursive in two weeks was forever adopting a writing style that closely mimicked the look of the archetypal examples of all the letters, filtered through a slow and unsteady hand. I honestly have no idea how people like my partner can let the words flow from their fingers in such graceful, swooping, personalized, soulful arcs. My writing has scarcely improved since I was 6 years old – it’s still the same process of slowly and deliberately drawing out the loops and lines.

This is why I rarely bother writing by hand, except when it’s unavoidable. One such instance would be my signature. The concept of a signature was initially explained to me as nothing more than writing your full name in cursive, which is basically accurate but fails to capture its purpose as a personalized mark. My signature is no more special than anything else I write in cursive; nothing about it stands out, and it could just as easily be anyone else’s name that I’m writing. No barely legible split-second scribbles for me – it’s as drawn-out and deliberate as ever. Years of practice have not changed this, and cashiers probably imagine I’m sending coded messages to terrorists through the banking system or something. Of all the challenges that have accompanied taking a new name, learning to sign it hasn’t been one of them.

But there was one thing I found that, for a short time, made writing by hand almost fun: Gelly Roll pens. Sakura Gelly Roll gel pens were the thing to have when I was in the sixth grade. If you’re too young or old to have experienced these as a milestone of your upbringing, they were right at the apex of the hierarchy of needs when it came to pens. Yes, they wrote, and they wrote very smoothly – but they didn’t just write. They wrote in pale blue, chartreuse, pastel pink, deep purple, mint green, teal, gold, silver, and almost any color you could imagine. Colored pens? What’s the big deal? Well, these had glitter in the ink. I loved them, and so did everyone else.

Some people might interpret an intense interest in multicolored sparkly pens as an early sign of feminine identity on my part. But this wouldn’t really be indicative of anything like that, because we all had these pens, boys and girls alike. It wasn’t even about actually writing with them most of the time – sure, it was nice to have so many options, but the teachers strongly discouraged using glittery ink on our work. Instead, they were more of a status symbol, bridging the trend gap in our little town between Tamagotchis and Pokemon cards. The more Gelly Roll pens you had, the higher your social standing. These things take on an inordinate importance when you’re in sixth grade.

Indeed, they were so important that someone – still unknown all these years later – was compelled to steal them out of my starry cloth pencil pouch. It really did hurt. For all of their meaningless, artificial social value, they made it seem like my crude cursive squiggles were alright, like it didn’t matter how wobbly they were. They sparkled just the same. It wasn’t long before holographic Charizards were the new rage and everyone had moved on from those strange and frivolous pens. But they stayed with me. Their unmistakable translucent cases revealing the color inside, rounded glittery caps and bar codes on the side would be recognizable for life.

After the stores stopped selling them, I gave up hope of finding them again. What else can you do when you’re 9 years old and it’s 1998? Your world is pretty small, and your reach is even smaller. Where would you get them from? How would you know where to look? We didn’t even have the internet at home, not that finding something like that online would have been very easy at the turn of the century. People remember 9/11, but they sometimes forget how primitive the web was back then. (It was that long ago? Yep.) After enough time without seeing them anywhere, I accepted that they were nothing more than a memory now – and one that hardly anyone else seemed to cherish.

I rarely thought about them until earlier this year, when I took my new name. In an attempt to brute-force it into my identity, I would sign it over and over, filling sheets of paper with it, trying to get used to the feeling of it coming out of my hand. You can only write the same thing so many times before it starts to lose all meaning, but that wasn’t really a problem – it was supposed to become instinctual, something I didn’t have to think about. Still, something occurred to me as I watched my fingernails in motion, an iridescent blue against the dull, flat black of the ink. Didn’t there used to be some way I could feel like my handwriting was truly mine?

On a recent trip to Target, we stopped in the office supplies aisle to look for more of the composition notebooks my partner uses – when penmanship comes easy to you, filling hundreds of pages with artful cursive must be a joy. Then I caught a glimpse of something buried on the bottom shelf. Those rounded caps, sparkling: “Gel ink pens. Fashion and glitter pack. 10 assorted colors. Lovely lines.” No, not real Gelly Rolls, but the closest thing I’ve found in the past decade.

I couldn’t wait to try them out, and the lovely lines were just as incredible as I remembered.

The same old sparkle was still there – tacky, childish, and completely awesome. At last, it flowed right out of my fingertips and onto the page. This is how we rewrite history: in hot pink glitter.

Revising the self, continued: Penmanship

Lady pills: Talking about HRT in a sexist society

I’m usually very private about my medical history, but many of you have been with me for the duration of my whole “project”, and I just see this as another chapter of our journey together. I started hormone replacement therapy a little while ago, which means a lot more estrogen, and a lot less testosterone. And plenty of people have asked me: What’s it like? This curiosity is completely natural – I wanted to know, too! – and I would love to tell them about it. This is something the vast majority of people will never experience, and there’s a lot for all of us to learn from it. The problem is that there are so many issues that can get in the way of discussing this and distort it into something completely divorced from reality.

Talking about how it feels seems like it should be the simplest thing in the world. Unfortunately, it’s far more complex than you might expect. First, I haven’t been on HRT long enough to experience any physical effects, aside from softer and clearer skin. It’s not magic – most of this won’t happen in a week, or a month, or maybe even a year. At this stage, almost all of the effects are mental. And paying attention to what’s going on in your mind is hard enough already, whether you’re transitioning or not. Trying to pick out what might be due to your shifting hormones is a whole other level of difficulty, and it’s really easy to fall prey to the placebo effect. Sure, maybe I’m in a ridiculously good mood because of estrogen, but that could just be the elation of finally getting started. Did I cry at a movie on the Oxygen channel because of hormones, or was the movie just that good? I can’t tell, because there’s no way to blind this sort of thing, and having a sample size of one certainly doesn’t help.

I’ve also relied on those around me to point out any differences they’ve seen in me, such as being somewhat more expressive. If these changes are real, I might not always notice them. We don’t “have” brains, we are brains. And likewise, we don’t just have hormones – we’re made of hormones. It’s not easy to examine a phenomenon within yourself as though it were distinct from yourself, because it really is a part of you. Of course, the people around me aren’t blinded either, and they might also be highly attuned to any apparent differences, and inclined to attribute them to hormones. And we might also only notice what seems to be new, while failing to look for things that haven’t changed. People pay more attention to the times you cry than the times you don’t.

But figuring out what’s actually changing is only half of the problem. Talking to other people about it presents a whole new array of difficulties. We live in an incredibly gendered world, where so many behaviors are classified as inherently male or female. Even when those behaviors are obviously and unavoidably shared by both sexes, we still find ways to create artificial distinctions of gender. Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that women are naturally drawn to the kitchen, but when men grill up some steaks with their friends, that’s a “manly” thing to do. And when dolls are dressed in G.I. Joe outfits, it suddenly stops being so “girly” to play with them.

Because certain behaviors are seen as being male or female in themselves, people look for ways to connect this to male and female biology. And that’s where hormones come in. When I describe how I feel now that I’m switching from testosterone to estrogen, it’s disturbingly easy to fall into the trap of talking about it in a way that’s based on the common mentality of “men do this, women do that”. And even if I do my best to avoid that, everyone who’s listening will still be inclined to view this in terms of common stereotypes about men and women – whether they know it or not. This is the result of all of us spending our entire lives in a society that conditions us to think that men and women have a fundamentally different existence.

Just look at how the Nashua Telegraph described one woman’s transition:

Cynthia, now 48, has developed a new love for chocolate and ice cream – possibly a side effect of the hormones. And a half-hour isn’t enough time to get ready anymore.

Yes, because women spend all day eating Dove bars and taking forever to do their hair. “Men, eh eh eh eh, women, doo doo doo doo!” No. That’s not how the world works, and if we continue to believe this, we’ve got a problem.

Even just saying that I now feel more in touch with my emotions comes with an absurd amount of gendered baggage. Not only will I be more inclined to attribute this to HRT because of everything I’ve heard throughout my life about the supposed essential natures of men and women, but those who hear it will take it as yet more evidence of “Ah, yes, women are emotional creatures tossed about on the winds of their feelings, but men are cold and rational!”

If I didn’t make a conscious effort to think more deeply about this, I might not have realized that what I’m actually sensing is a greater control over my feelings – an ability to see them more clearly, observe their features, and not be as unduly influenced by them as I used to be. If I hadn’t been able to put aside those crude stereotypes about men and women, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate all of that nuance to everyone who wants to know what this is like. So, is this a “male” or a “female” phenomenon? If I’m a man, a greater grasp of emotions might mean I’m diplomatic, understanding, and good at handling conflict. If I’m a woman, it makes me “sensitive”.

Likewise, if I were to point out that I now find it much easier and less stressful to deal with cooking, cleaning house, and taking care of the kids, most people wouldn’t be able to avoid seeing this as further evidence that women are somehow optimized for domestic life and men are just naturally lousy at household duties, as illustrated by every commercial ever. These beliefs are so pervasive and occluding that it would be easy to stop at that shallow observation and ignore the fact that this just happens to be what I spend all day doing, and maybe it only feels easier because everything feels easier for me now. Is it male or female to be happy? If I’m a man, it makes me a stronghold of enduring optimism. If I’m a woman, it makes me “perky”.

This is why talking about HRT is such a minefield. Switching from male to female hormones provides an ideal example that people can grab hold of and plunder for anything they can use to reinforce their ideas about the attitudes, behaviors and abilities to which men and women are “naturally” predisposed. Transitioning is about many things, but it’s not about going from one stereotype to another. Hormones don’t do that, because no one is that one-dimensional, trans or not. It doesn’t do us any good to pretend that this reflects reality. The darker side of the assumption that a certain set of behaviors and preferences define manhood and womanhood is the belief that the absence of these features makes someone less of a man or a woman. When cis people don’t fit into this model, people use these standards to strip them of their worth. And when trans people don’t meet these standards, we’re stripped of our genders. This isn’t helping anyone.

Perhaps because of the implication that manhood and womanhood are inherently different modes of existence, I’ve been asked whether I feel “like a new person”. I feel different, but that doesn’t make me an entirely different person. It’s really not that stark of a division. This isn’t like being injected with Borg nanoprobes that start whispering inside your head. It’s not like turning into someone else. You’ll still be yourself. This isn’t a cure-all, it won’t make you superhuman, and it won’t destroy who you are, either. It might just help you feel better, and if it does, then this could be what works for you. The grass is the same color as it is over there – I’m just seeing it a little differently now. And I’ll let you know if anything changes.

Lady pills: Talking about HRT in a sexist society