Somehow I know I have made progress in many ways, but then it’s amazing how hurdles swing in my mind after crossing them. And in a sense it is to be expected that going over a hurdle will make it swing a bit, even if the runner doesn’t touch it.
Last night’s hurdle was a meeting filled with people I didn’t know (my university alumni), but also a group where I am known (even by a name badge) in my male name. Earlier in the week, as I anticipated the event, I imagined I could wear a skirt, and that would be really OK. But finally I settled for an elegant mix of women’s pants with cute socks, one of my favorite women’s top over which I wore a super-elegant silk jacket from a men’s suit I had 30 years ago. Oh, and a fancy hat, which in the words of the friend who made the hat, is not very gender-specific. Let’s say an androgynous look in a rather strictly binary environment.
The first hurdle is that I’m a true introvert, and such social occasions can be really draining. Lately I’ve been wondering if I became an introvert in the same process of growing up in an environment where my gender expression wasn’t welcome, or if that was inevitable anyway. Judging from my siblings, I would say the latter, and I would even add that it came from my dad’s side. Anyway, for us introverts, a social event can be draining. I like to go with a friend who would keep the rest of the world happy in conversation, or if also an introvert, stand by the edge of the party and observe while drinking.
It went well for the first half of it: there was someone who knew me and wanted to talk, and then they had a panel. After the panel, little groups started forming, and that’s when I started to panic. I should just have looked for the organizers and said goodbye right then, but I thought I might as well try to say one little thing or two about my days in our computer science department. Big mistake. There are nerds who monopolize the discourse, and even sometimes they have a sidekick nerd to talk over your own discrete comment. So you realize you might as well withdraw, and finally just go home. The thing is, I can’t see how beneficial to me it would be to participate in those “discussions.”
Was there any difference due to my looks? I would say none. I will always be a unicorn. The feeling today is just the same as with any such event: there’s more loneliness in social settings like those than in solitude.
So today I was back to my usual, I went to a class, but I felt drained, in the way I often do after feeling exposed socially. I need to be with friends who will recharge my gender batteries! In a way, they are the replacement of the interaction I didn’t have as a child. They help me figure things out, and also they seem to keep me afloat when I seem to be sinking in the impossibility of reaching the next level in building my gender web. They seem to preserve my self-esteem, and that’s very precious…
I am of a time and culture that bothered more to count the number of children in a family than the care they received. My parents only had sex when necessary, and were guided by people like priests and family doctors who knew practically nothing of child psychology. We were born at hospitals run by nuns who were very suspicious of a mother delivering a baby while the husband was away. I recently determined there was not much love in our family, parents and grandparents were acting more out of duty than desire.
When my brother and his wife visited me with their very young baby boy, I was shocked that they still applied the “do not respond to a crying child” policy of our parents, probably learned from their own parents, which meant that we had to toughen up right from the crib. At the time, I took the baby to my shoulder, and the baby fell asleep in a matter of seconds.
Then of course when I took a Psychology class, I read about the experiment on baby monkeys and something like comparing a food dispensing machine which was soft flannel vs. one that was metallic, and figuring out that (of course, would you really need an experiment to figure this out) babies needed to cuddle.
In my process of figuring myself out, thinking about my early childhood, I knew that I had missed one of my first plush toys, a dog I had called Fido. Fido disappeared one day, and when I asked, I was told it had been thrown away because it was torn and dirty. There was no replacement. I think that is when I took the habit of hugging the pillow I sleep on, something that is very difficult when you’re camping, for example, or when the pillow isn’t soft.
So the other day, on my way back from the grocery store, I stopped at the toy store and bought myself a cat. I was initially looking for a similar kind of dog as Fido, a collie, I think, but there were practically no dogs… There were two kinds of cats, and I let myself be charmed by one. The cat made the trip among raw vegetables, but once in my apartment I let it out to reach my face, and suddenly I was taken by this emotion I could only describe as feeling like a child, but feeling loved.
I know this is odd, especially when you have family members who rejected your feelings when you tried to talk about it. Especially from the masculine group, who already sees you as suspect because you are different. Nowadays I see trolls on the internet just the same way: grown men who were told to hold their feelings lash out at random on the internet, most likely because they never got cuddled and were probably given G.I. Joe and toy guns rather than teddy bears.
My cat is genderless and has a gender-neutral name, Bobbin. So far it is wonderful to go to sleep and wake up with Bobbin’s softness. Who knows, if one day I would accept the more complex live cat, and then later maybe, a person whose motives I do not doubt?
I haven’t written for a while, and it wasn’t for a lack of personal news, but rather for having to process “my ghosts.” I felt it would be inappropriate to mix a narrative of transition with details of how and why it has been delayed. Regardless of what series of events my ghosts have enacted and repressed, I think it has been very useful to identify them and to find myself free.
It isn’t that I suddenly discovered them: this has been a long process. Ghost #1 was identified first, and much good came out of it. Ghost #2 has always been like a bystander, and ghost #3 has always been for me both the one setting behavior rules that made me a very gentle person, and the one pushing for self-destruction and self-loathing… It is just that as I tried to diminish and sabotage my efforts at letting my true self out, I discovered that they were the ones blocking my progress.
The unexpected catalyst in this discovery: I was helping (and here I am, doubting myself) someone process the death of an abuser, by saying what I thought was the key to the power an abuser has on the person, even after they have died. Then I understood I had adapted my story to a general pattern of abusive behavior. In it, finally, I said we have to realize there was no love, but that we spend the rest of our lives wondering how we failed to get that love. In my story, everyone including myself had excused the ghosts by saying they were just living with their times, and with their own baggage. That was not enough, in my experience, and I had to figure out that I had to stop looking for love that did not exist.
It is, I think, like jumping off a cliff with the knowledge that I have wings. The wings are kind of new, I need to try them in the different wind conditions that are coming at me, but only I can move them.
I bought Julia’s book at Bookshop Santa Cruz, where they have a really good LGBTQ section. Sometimes I get tired of reading about people like me, it’s as if I turned into one of my impatient older adults from childhood. But Julia’s book is a series of illustrated one-page stories with a cutie pie of a character having daily observations on life in transition. I discovered that I could relate with almost every experience, which surprised me a bit (I thought I was uniquely hypersensitive, which sometimes turned me agoraphobic). So, in a sense, this book is a great investment that saves me time with a therapist, so we can focus on the ghosts rather than the world with potholes to maneuver around. That’s it! Go buy it, and relax: you are not alone.
I filed for a name change at the county court this morning! In my own way, I am adding the feminine name to my masculine name, blending the two to signify non-binary. Or as if two bits of binary code were ON at the same time to give the number 3.
I cannot believe I have done it! This morning, I wanted to resist, first in the form of a stomach knot, then in the thought I could delay until the afternoon to avoid a crowd. It was raining, and staying warm inside with a cup of coffee between my hands felt like the best option. But I poured the coffee into my travel mug, shaved, put the form in a plastic folder (to protect from the rain), took the book I’m currently reading (Trans Like Me by CN Lester) in case I would stand in a long line… Stopped by the copy shop (yes, they still exist) because the instructions said to make a copy (frankly not necessary), caught the next BART to downtown Oakland… I was thinking there would be obstacles of the sort that one encounters at a government office, like this is the wrong form, or whatever. No. This was one of the easiest official things I’ve ever done.
Somehow we get used to the convenience of doing everything online, so I get lazy as soon as I see an obstacle. In my pathological way I expect rejection by people, who just happen to be actors in my well-rehearsed story that the adults in my childhood created. The reality is completely different, I keep finding. Even the policeman who checked my bag and the absence of metal on my body was nice and welcoming. The gray walls felt so neutral that one wonders if the people behind the windows are trying to hide from you. But at window #2, the indicated first place to check in, I obtained a ticket with number A064 that also said “Name Change – Please have your documents completed and/or your case number ready.” And then it was super easy. The county clerk (to whom you actually make the check!) had that smile that mostly women have when they see me. She entered all the data, stamped the forms, and gave me a copy, telling me that I should hear from it in about 6 weeks, and then I’d be able to get certified copies for all the places I’d want to use them.
That was it! How should I celebrate? I announced it to my closest friends on WhatsApp and via e-mail. I look forward to holding a drivers license with my new name and the X gender marker! I start rehearsing a new signature (who remembers those days when we first signed something, and how it has changed over the years?). There’s some kind of lightness in me, that is hard to describe, but this is the first time for me that I am using a name I have crafted and chosen.
Why did I bother going through formal channels when I could just tell people to use my nickname? It was that moment, when I signed up for a 5K run, that I thought there would be a discrepancy between the name I gave, and the name on my driver’s license when picking up the bib number. Yeah, that simple. People probably wouldn’t notice. Last time, the one giving me a woman’s t-shirt resisted, thought I was mistaken. But I signed up as M (judging that I had the biology to classify my body in the M group) and asked for a W t-shirt (which fit my gender better). Still it will be awesome in the future to still sign up for the biological category while all the rest will be customized for my very own person.
Let me have a moment of gratitude for those who were there before me and fought to have an easier process for name changes that are to conform to one’s gender identity. It feels welcoming now.
oopse. Maybe I showed off by stretching. I stretch that way every morning, up on my toes to reach the ceiling some day, and then down to touch the floor.
“uh, no,” I said shyly.
“You’re very flexible, for a guy…”
The mirror reveals to me what she says. I am a stick figure.
I should have said thank you, but all I thought was, I look like a guy. I had forgotten.
Until, finally, the class started and I could focus on following the teacher, get on my tippy toes, get my long legs up on the barre and stretch. Ballet barre is great, there is no performance in it. I don’t need the mirror. I am flexible, for a person who was barred from ballet by gender rules.
Welcome to my new blog! I hope to find something to say about my journey, but sorry if I bother you, you don’t have to read anything here!
“Sorry to Bother You” is also the title of an awesome movie filmed near where I live. In it, the protagonist learns that if he changes his voice when making telemarketing calls, he can sell people anything. It is funny and sad at the same time, because he becomes rich and famous while losing his identity. It resonates with me because I find that I have spent most of my life making sure that I conform to expectations, and I expect to be rejected if I don’t. My version of “sorry to bother you” is, when approaching someone, to approach silently and submissively until the person notices my presence.
But recently I have come to realize that I am happier if I define myself without conforming to the expectations that I have learned since I was a child. Especially because the people who have implanted those expectations in me are long gone (yet I have siblings who carry them on as well). Also because I see (and read about) younger people who showed variances in gender expression when they were little, who have been able to build (to varying degrees) their own gender web (that’s a term coined by Dr. Diane Ehrensaft in her book The Gender Creative Child – I think everyone should read it!).
Last Thursday I had the chance to be at a poetry reading by Ari Banias, and I thought I might resume writing poetically, which for the purpose of this blog would be an ideal form. However I will warn readers (sorry to bother you) that everything is going to be a draft. Hey, it’s free, and the words may be read more widely than if they were printed in a book. If and when I choose to publish something (in print, or the equivalent), it will have been revised several times to the point it won’t be the same at all.
Thanks for reading! I’ll make sure you can write back in comments!