Dear Abby and the Crossdresser’s Friend

Sigh… I’m going to show my age by recognizing I read the daily newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle, and right next to the comics (Pearl Before Swine is my favorite) and the Challenger puzzle, is the Dear Abby column. There may be a web site for Dear Abby, look it up [here it is, here is the letter]. Dear Abby is like an incursion into the minds of ordinary people. So it should be no surprise that someone had an issue with a friend who is a crossdresser, but the whole letter from the friend in Tampa and Abby’s response were leaving me with the feeling that we have a lot of work to do to end the prejudice against trans people.

The letter is from the “best friend” of someone who just came out to him as a crossdresser, swearing him to secrecy. I already wonder how is the friend’s life to be crossdressing in secret for so many years, so secretly that even your best friend didn’t know about it. From the description it would seem the friend has discovered crossdressing when going through puberty, and I suppose that means it’s become more of a fetish than a way to express their gender. Yet I want to continue commenting about it because both friends seem to be homophobic and transphobic.

They explicitly say they’re not gay, as if this were extremely important to establish, but also as if crossdressing were a gay man’s thing. It’s true one sees it most often in gay circles, because the culture of drag makes it so visible, and many gay men have less fear of expressing themselves with nice clothes and manners. I personally have taken permission to wear dresses in a gay men’s circle because they were doing drag, but I quickly found a chasm in our intentions, theirs being to make a fun show, mine to discover my gender. The “not gay” understanding of the best friends, however, just reminded me of how some cisgendered men reacted to me if they had been attracted to my feminine semblance at first and “discovered” they might have been attracted to a man. Their facial expression shows anger, and it’s better to hope they aren’t the violent kind. I think of a young trans woman named Gwen Araujo who paid with her life in this situation. Why men become violent when they become aware of our existence, while they don’t seem to mind women they aren’t attracted to is hopefully the subject of someone’s graduate work at this time.

So I resented the “not gay” disclaimer in Tested in Tampa’s letter. It said both friends were so homophobic they had to make sure to reaffirm their sexuality in trying to open to each other. Maybe the crossdresser didn’t want to be killed by his “best friend” by swearing they were not to ever be attracted to each other.

But now the crossdresser friend who made it “sworn to secrecy” wanted to go out in the real world “as a couple?” How often had these best friends been out as not a couple? Had they never been together in one’s or the other’s living room in which it would be a lot easier to put a dress on and ask “how do you feel about it?” without the difficulties added by onlookers?

It’s true that this is a country, and a state (Florida), where one can be fired for being transgender. One can get killed for being transgender. It is entirely possible that the friend is transgender, and unable to safely express it. That is the point where I object to Abby’s response. She proposes to invite the writer’s girlfriend (first time I saw that mentioned that the writer had a girlfriend) along in the outing to make it clear the “best friends” weren’t out on a date. In other words, let the secrecy agreement go to hell, and open it to potentially murderous others (what if the girlfriend has a big brother who interprets it as the boyfriend being gay, as it seems to be the modus operandi there, and decides to beat them all up?).

Now I would like to hear about the friend. I wished they could find friends who not only understood, but embraced their personal exploration. I was lucky to have the safe environment of the gay men’s retreat to try putting a dress for the first time, and later to have friends in my house while I wore a skirt. I now wear a dress or a skirt on a daily basis, and I don’t care about passing. Passing has not only put pressure on me to spend interminable hours in front of a mirror, it has made it stressful to have things go wrong while out, and it has made me aware of the presence of transphobic men. When I don’t pass they just see me as weird and continue to scan the room for someone more attractive to them, whereas my true friends think I’m great as I am. Just as I don’t judge my friends’ appearances.

I think again about the friend. According to the letter, they have been crossdressing since age 12. A quick calculation tells me they would be about age 30 now. The letter doesn’t give enough detail about what they mean by “best friend.” They could be so homophobic that they never even spent a night in the same hotel room, which also means that they never talked their mind until the crossdressing disclosure.

And now I think of myself again. It is true that for so many years, all my friends had assigned me the default gender and sexuality. The “best” friends also thought it best to push me towards a life modeled after their own. It all came crashing after many years, and I was fortunate enough to find new friends who talk about possibilities instead of certainties. They welcomed every bit of my gender expression, adopted my new name faster than I could, and supported me when I perceived the world was against me. They were the pillars of my coming out to the rest of the world.

If I were Abby, I would have answered to support the friend or get out of the way. Maybe you can support your friend by accompanying them to a support group… You could wait outside or at a cafe nearby, but you would make it safe, because your friend is vulnerable. Also, if you could let go of your fears, accompanying your best friend out in their true gender is one of the greatest gifts you could give, because you can’t imagine how wonderful it is to be out in the real world, safe in your true gender. And if you do have a girlfriend who doesn’t understand it, maybe it’s time to question the “friend” in “girlfriend.”

The T Word

I was about to board a 6-hour flight from Montreal, and I picked up an easy read at the bookstore (they still have paper books, fortunately!), Louise Penny’s Kingdom of the Blind. I won’t give it a review, but I literally hit turbulence in the chapter where the action is vaguely located in the area of Montreal that used to host sex workers and drug dealers. In recent years it has become hardly visible, due to extensive construction. I stumbled upon “the junkies and whores and trannies” and I was reminded of the first time I’d heard the word, supposedly to designate sex workers who are transgender.

I was in a gay writers group a while ago (when I tried to fit in the gay male world, but that’s another story), where I mentioned a monthly reading event that I thought was very good. But then someone explained “it’s this event at the back of a bar led by a tranny.” This was not so many years ago, but at the time nobody was aware of respecting others with language, but as I had great respect and admiration for the organizer of the event, who is transgender, I took offense. As I am the introvert who will not say anything out loud, I lost respect for the speaker of those words.

Fast forward to today, when white people are shocked they’re accused of offending by uttering the N word. There is a subtlety they don’t get. They hear rap songs with the N word in them, or hear it in movies, and take it as license to say it. We have a similar issue with the T word, in that it has been used extensively to insult and diminish the transgender people who do sex work. There’s a whole can of worms to be opened to explain why being transgender doesn’t automatically make you a sex worker, but when I read “the junkies and whores and trannies” (which is repeated several times by the author, for emphasis), I sense there is an intent to bunch all sorts of problematic low life together. And then I find myself wanting to defend the low life. I guess now that the high life is experiencing the wonderful world of opioid drug addiction, they may even start avoiding the word “junkie,” but continue to call sex workers “whores and trannies.”

To their credit, the protagonist corrects the medical examiners when they insult the corpse of a transgender woman, although you would think the civil servants would have had some sensitivity training…

End of rant…

Will You Please Use They, Please?

I went to the bank to finally get a new signature card (they had rejected my name change at first for some technical issue). It was a very hot day for San Francisco, and I really thought I presented myself as feminine of center, wearing a skirt and a shirt I made that has ruffles, and earrings (which my brother seems to think is the definitive sign that one has shed masculinity). So I was surprised when the bank person, talking about how to do this over the phone to a manager, referred to me as “he.” All along, I thought I should correct them to say “they,” but this was an already difficult situation, what with a bank being the ultimate conservative environment. Yet, I pointed out I have an X on my new driver’s license, and that I now get mail addressed to me as “MX” instead of “MR” or “MS.” So I let go. These are minor interactions, after all. They pointed out I looked younger than I actually am (scoring points with my esteem), and when I mentioned it may be because I didn’t have kids, they pointed out they had one on the way (pointing at a belly) in addition to another one.

Still it would make sense that they would use “they” when referring to clients, regardless of their opinion when they have the client in front of them. I could tell they were trying to remain discrete when talking about me on the phone, and using “they” would be even more discrete. Especially when it’s obvious the person in front of you is dressed in what you perceive as cross gender. I’ve been told it’s the shoulders that betray me, and on a hot day like today, I wore a sleeveless shirt. Do I have to be stressed out about that too? Not showing shoulders, as if entering a church in Italy? Oh, wait, in Italy they would see me as a male, so they would ask me to take my hat off… It makes me rather antisocial, to think that someone should be the judge of my gender and then ask me to conform to their gender-specific code of conduct.

But I diverge. Listen to self-described Grammar Geezer Geoff Nunberg about the use of “they” and other gender neutral pronouns here: And if you still object as a grammar queen, know that I have been a grammar queen until I realized that most people haven’t studied grammar, or weren’t listening when they did, and they seem to be perfectly alright adopting new terms heard on TV shows. One objection is that “they” is confusing in a sentence, but I just encountered a sentence where “she” was confusing (just have two women in a story)… Perhaps it would be a good thing to try using “they” just because it would point out that your sentence wasn’t correct in the first place…

At least the bank person didn’t call me “Sir…” It is possible that they’ve been told not to use hierarchical deferential words like “Sir” and “Mam” – although they pointed out some people like to add “PhD” to their name, and I wondered if they ask for a certified copy of the diploma…

Anyway, I can now use my new signature, and it feels just great…

p.s. this is also a great introduction to they/them: A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns

p.s. my good friends use “she” when referring to me, which is sort of ahead of me in transition, if only I wanted to conform to the binary…  Smashing the binary for me is a way to allow myself the exploration, but also to prevent the deluge of objections to my adopting one of the two options that doesn’t match the assignment at birth…


I Am Such An Introvert

The first time I took the Myers-Briggs test, I was young and English really was my second language in that I had to reread some of the questions… But my then Jungian (a distinction they made back then, which was kind of fun because I learned to write down my dreams) therapist said I was definitely an I, very much an N, but the other traits were not too clear. As a matter of fact, I had answered as I thought I should, a bit in the way I lived back then, which was living as others want me to… Several years later, with a larger English vocabulary and a better knowledge of myself, I took the test and came out definitely INFP, still with a 100% Introvert.

Today I’m not sure I would test any different, but my friend once remarked I had been outgoing and cheerful during a bike ride, and that would be a demonstration I’m not such an introvert as I claimed. But I didn’t feel it that way, I still wanted a quiet night after that bike ride. And I didn’t socialize much at the lunch stop, I remarked. I think my friend imagined an introvert is automatically antisocial and brooding. I do have social anxiety, especially with people I don’t know, but above all with people who act like the adults of my childhood (I only recently figured I’m now older than many people I see as “adults”). They seem to expect something from me that I never can deliver.

We introverts often share stories of difficult relationships with parents, of course. It makes sense that we came to this world feeling parents and adults didn’t invite our self-expression. For me as a potentially trans person (it took decades to figure that out), they expected something I couldn’t deliver, and they appreciated peace and quiet otherwise. Yet many of my siblings are introverts, even though they wouldn’t want to be recognized as such. There’s a societal expectation that being an introvert is a major flaw. For me, however, it is an integral part of my personality, and it somehow explains why it took me so long to recognize where on the gender spectrum I feel I can rest comfortably.

I have also learned not to sound like I complain about how adults interacted with me when I was a child. Perhaps that is making everything more difficult now, that coming out as transgender I feel that my friends and siblings want an explanation, but then they will challenge it, not intentionally but sometimes sending me into the spiral of lost self-esteem.

I am not unhappy about being introverted. I must say I found great help from a single book called The Introvert Advantage, and sharing it with introvert friends. I found other books sounded like they had been written to fix us, or make us join a union of introverts (so unlikely!), as opposed to just understand how we can be happy navigating within a world that favors extroversion. But I have questioned whether I became more introverted after the first few years of my life.

It would make sense to me now. If not outgoing, I wanted to dance, but that was frowned upon. I tried to touch the piano, but was told not to. I held my little brother with apparent care in a photo. But there was the period when life was just very difficult, and it seemed to define how I operated thereafter as a quiet child trying to bring only good results from school, never really bothering my parents for advice. Once I had found Computer Science as the greatest place to be quiet while being creative and productive (and I should be grateful that I felt protected by a small group of friends, and an advisor who just let me run with my ideas), life went on without gender nor sex… Things got complicated later when people wanted me to be “normal,” but that’s another story. Let’s just say that I was saved a few times by knowing how to deal quietly with chaos (but yes, there were really hard moments I’m not going to share).

It makes sense that not being able to express my gender early in life made me more of an introvert. But I like being an introvert, even though it feels like I would have fully transitioned many years ago had I been less so. Let’s just live as best as we can with what we have!


New Shoes, Old Hometown

It was like… I don’t know, Christmas? I am in Montreal, which would be my “hometown” if one can call it the city where they grew up, but I grew up in the suburbs. A few years ago, from the far suburban home of my sister’s TV, I had learned about an organization whose founder had died. My ears perked up when they said it was “Aide aux Personnes Trans” (roughly “Trans People Help”), so I looked for it on the web. At that time, I had found from its resource list a store that carried shoes in larger sizes, and made a point to visit some day. Several years later, here I am at that very store, a full aisle of shoes in my size and preferred styles! So it felt like Christmas. I even said something like that to the young person helping me, that I was overwhelmed by the sight of it.

The photo doesn’t come up right, but it gives you an idea. One is in a pink tone, the other is really red, while the photo suggest it’s a tan color. It took me a long time to decide, because my old feet are a bit peculiar, they’re different sizes, and the right foot has expanded a couple of times, so it’s better if I wear my custom orthotics. That just means I’m always wearing running shoes #2, the older version of running shoes #1 which I use exclusively for running (see my other articles about running, which is one of the things that keep me alive and well). But when I want to wear a skirt, they don’t quite look right. And right now, in Summer, my feet yearn for something with a lot more ventilation than running shoes. Yes, I have old Teva’s men’s sandals, but no, they just don’t look right…

It’s the end of a nice summer Friday, and I just walked to the store in the red sandals, a black skirt, a daring hat (so rare these days that I wonder if everyone is waiting to be told they’ve got melanoma). I was in heaven. So after the Christmas experience, I just couldn’t believe that I had arrived in my “hometown” in the gender expression that makes me so relaxed and happy. I’m quite sure if anyone looked closely at my face they would see many markers of my birth assigned gender, but now I’m going to ignore the possibility that in this crowd someone is going to raise hell about it.

But the shoes… Is it possible that they would transform my self-image in such a significant way? Why do I look envious when I see my friend at the running shoe store with shoes in the color I want, while I get men’s shoes that are optimal for my feet and my aspirations at winning the next 5K in my sex and age category, which is not the same as my gender? One reason is that for now I run faster than most men of my age, and definitely faster than women my age. It’s a matter of body shape and composition (and I think, quite frankly, the ideal categorization would be a matter of your most recent running history, not just what sex you are – this way we might encourage people to show up in new categories unheard of before).

So this is an incredible moment. The moment in which I am myself where I thought I wouldn’t ever be.

The shoe store is here: on Rue St Hubert, which I discovered also features lots of fabric stores!



I Am Transgender!

So many little things have happened that I was not going to talk about on this blog, but over time I think I have seen significant changes in me that would be fun to share here.

When I traveled to visit friends and family, and also with my niece to Italy, I somehow lost a bit of enthusiasm for my quiet transition. With older people, a group that now includes all my siblings and friends, every bit of change is just more difficult. Add to this that when I travel, I resort to very practical clothing, and I rarely have private space, so I become somewhat neutral, definitely risk-free. With hair loss as I have it, a flight attendant will call me Sir regardless of what I wear. Also I haven’t changed my travel documents, as I have not yet reached the confidence to switch to the other binary gender (there’s no X gender on international travel).

But just today, a few hours ago, I went to the DMV and got a reissued driver’s license with gender X (they call it sex!), and my new middle name and signature which uses the middle name. I was ecstatic, even laughing at the confused DMV person calling me Mam/Sir, Sir/Mam, Sir, Mam. I also updated my weight and height (I may have grown!) and since my friends have told me I have blue eyes, not gray, I updated that too!!! Since I was catching a bus from the nearby mall (by the way, access to DMV buildings aren’t pedestrian friendly!), I stopped at Hot Topic to get some new hair color…

Some time ago, I wanted to warn the youth who feel offense at being misgendered: it happens a lot, even to some cisgendered people! Yet I totally understand. Every time I am called Sir, I feel like I failed, that it is my fault not to pay attention to how I can pass, that I really should make more phone calls (I hate phone calls) to get laser hair removal, that I should reconsider hormone replacement therapy even though I am afraid of the side effects at my age… They make me believe that there’s no life possible outside of the binary, but also that they are afraid not of misgendering people, but misgendering men who could be upset and angry about looking like they may be perceived as women.

But these past few days, I became more enthusiastic about who I have become. I volunteered with Gender Spectrum for a couple of days, and found an environment in which I was perfectly comfortable. There were others like me, of all ages. I reimagined myself at a younger age, and thought I was doing quite alright given the circumstances around me at the time. I discovered that others showed any comparable level of imperfection (because somehow we’re led to believe the magic of transition depicted in movies featuring non-trans people).

And then I read two novels by Meredith Russo, both supposedly for a younger reading public, but so very significant to me because I could identify with the young protagonist. One very late night I was reading her most recent novel Birthday, and I cried at the climactic moment when she must reveal to her best friend:

I am transgender!

It has impressed me so much that at least twice in my journal I have ended my entry with the same phrase. And then the other day I said it to a friend in the middle of our lunch conversation, as a matter of fact. And then I was at a sewing class in an all-women group, presenting myself in my transitory imperfection, feeling completely accepted.

The lesson learned is that I can find the right environment that will be affirming. I should not waste any time wherever people question my journey, or question my appearance. I go around road blocks, instead of bumping into them. I shall also not listen to (mostly old people’s) arguments against pronouns (I’ll just point out that oh, I use they, and I’m happy about it), and really develop strategies to ignore the voices that criticize us for resisting the order of things as established in their heads.

It’s a good day. I will end with:

I am transgender!


So Tired of the Vatican

I just spent a wonderful week with my niece in Rome, where I had been maybe 30 years ago “in a previous incarnation,” and surely we ended up entering a couple of churches where we were told to either cover ourselves or discover ourselves according to the guard’s gender assessment of us. It made my niece nervous to enter, as if she had to pass a test. As for myself, they presumed I was male and requested a removal of my cap, which is the easiest sun protection to travel with, but it demonstrated to me that these rules were no different than the head and body covering rules of other religions that some people (especially Catholics) are quick to judge as wrong. In fact, entering the basilica at St Peter’s (the Vatican), they had a barrage of men scanning the visitors and running to confront offenders, in a manner reminding me of the Taliban. Okay, they didn’t have guns and didn’t threaten to kill or torture people, but they were rude, and masculine. The nuns we saw seemed unhappy, as if they had been asked to wash the floors for these men (maybe they had been).

Anyway, I vaguely remember, having been raised catholic, that these were supposedly personal rules of respect for the god that was in there, but they became rules of the society that attended church. In that respect, I’m sure it’s the same with other religions, and if you’re a guest anywhere, you abide with their requests such as taking your shoes off when you enter… But at a catholic church, the rules are different according to your sex (and one of the assigned genders), so if you’re somewhere on the trans spectrum, expect to be judged on appearances.

So much for the Vatican, we were both confirming that this institution didn’t need us. But a few days after I was back home, some press release from the Vatican came out to tell everyone how they didn’t approve of gender fluidity, which they seemed to confuse with sexuality, and even marriage. Everything in the same strictly binary concept of the family they’ve been peddling since… I should research that, but so many have who had an interest in it, I don’t think it’s always been so strict with these rules. Of course, they hardly changed anything over the centuries, while civil society has. Even the parallel patriarchal structure of the military had to change (I still disagree that only cisgendered women can wear a skirt, and they’re given a different hat). But while floating along the incessant flow of tourists in the Vatican museum, I saw a reference to the birth of the concept of the virginity of Mary being invented by a pope not too long ago, something like the 19th century, not surprisingly, Victorian times when all things male were starting to be challenged.

Anyway, I was triggered (as we now say) by the catholic church’s reaffirmation of their strict belief-based rules that there shall be no gender fluidity, because that is exactly the kind of ideas the priests put in my mother’s head. Were she alive today, she would remind me I’ve been having bad influences, and the priest told her to tell me. I recently got rid of my lifelong self-destructive ideas by figuring out that my mom was a bad influence, and she failed to act out of love. Once I figured that out, and now that I consider myself as a person and not an anomaly, statements like those of the catholic church reinforce my understanding that they are just trying to preserve their institution by keeping their people ignorant. To me that means they should not be given any attention, and especially the people as represented by their governments shouldn’t give churches charitable statuses unless they are truly inclusive and charitable.

That was on top of my mind these days, blurring my thoughts. I had wanted to ignore the church, but the church made its way to my newsfeed to insult me, so remaining silent wasn’t a good choice.