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.”

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!


The Hurdles are Higher for us Introverts

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…