The 2020 Census

I took advantage of the super quiet Saturday when we were all avoiding our chances to meet the virus to respond to the census. I went on the web site (impressed that one could use so many languages other than English) and started with my household of one, which didn’t take very long. Really, I wondered, didn’t they used to ask how many cars and bicycles we owned, or how far we had to go to work?

Anyway, the thing that bothered me was, of course as a non-binary person, that we only had M or F to choose from. The one-line Help said something about choosing our biological sex. Of course that has happened before, and I put what is on my passport, which I guess is my official “sex” for “those people,” the people who don’t care…

I suppose trans people who have completed a medical transition didn’t have a problem with it, which is somehow comforting. But then I thought, there are all the intersex people who probably have to put whatever the pediatrician selected for them at birth… The rest of us, the ones who don’t like their biological sex, who may, as we joke, go to bed as another sex (the joke being how do you define one’s gender as opposed to one’s sexuality, sexuality is whom you go to bed with, gender is whom you go to bed as), have to just put up with it.

It started to bother me more an hour after I completed the census. My address is now tagged as being occupied by a person that I am not. Even if I have, of course, a long history of being tagged on the binary, now it just feels odd. I’m not lamenting that it’s a microinvalidation, as I learned this just attracts comments that I’m a crybaby. No, I’m just noticing that it could be useful to the users of census data to consider that we exist.

The oddity of the census grew in my mind also because the race question had a very long list of people types and origins, which for some people must feel perplexing if they’re from mixed race ancestry. I forgot to check if one could check all that apply. I found that the blank line under “White” to fill in a qualifier if “White” would mean you were never asked where you’re really from… Or if “White” feels like you’re included in a class of people who routinely discriminate against all the others… Anyway. I’m being facetious, but there may be people who hesitate to be identified so precisely on a federal government form, a government that is not particularly nice to them.

And perhaps that should be my view of the “biological sex” question: any answer outside the binary might be held against us because the question is asked by a government that is hostile to us… I wonder how it feels to work as a statistician when you know the questions are generating questions like that.

Perhaps the morale of the story is: when in doubt, toss a coin.

A New Level of Happiness

It’s been several months already since I last found it worth writing about myself… I had so many realizations coming together that it would be difficult to enumerate them in any logical order…

I continue to buy any new book, fiction or non, that pertains to the issues of trans people. The latest that I found greatly illuminating was Gender: A Graphic Guide, by Meg-John Barker and Jules Scheele. It is very detailed, and at the same time simple to read. It helped me realize how growing up being asked by your adults and culture to hide your preferred gender can become your self-destructive story in your head during your entire life.

This coincided with conflict with specific people, and I wondered why it affected me so much. I realized that the other person was fitting my story of a person who requested of me to “man up.” Conflict was calling the male in me, and it seemed the other person expected to fight at that level. Later I figured that they had their own reasons to be so assertive, it was not about them. It was that the more I felt I had to fight, the more the self-destructive voice in my head became strong. Actually a similar but more intense situation 20 years ago came to an almost tragic conclusion, the voice in my head having taken over to finish it all. But luckily it failed. In a weird way it fails once I get rid of male energy (the T thing). It works every time.

Shouldn’t I take T-blockers and that sort of thing? It has been a big huge question that comes in conflict with my own health concerns. I never take over-the-counter drugs unless the pain is so intense that I cannot function normally. In fact I think that youth of not finding relief from adults has made me indifferent to pain. Yet, I am extremely sensitive to pain that is deliberately inflicted. In other words, if I have a headache, I will seek my own ways to fix it quietly (it is often muscular), whereas I will nearly faint if I see a needle coming at me. Last year, I had an accident that required a trip to ER, and I had to tell myself to surrender because there was no way to just go home with an open wound.

But I’m finding I am demonstrating the power of having positive experiences on the mind. You will find there’s science behind it, in the works of people like Rick Hanson, and near me at the Greater Good Science Center… What I discovered was a positive environment for me to practice a satisfying activity. For me, it’s been sewing, and I am so lucky to have found a sewing studio where I can drop in and try various projects while being surrounded by people who so far have only given me positive reinforcement. I always say that it’s great because I can always undo-redo, but more important to me seems to be that I have been accepted in a mostly women environment.

Why would that be an issue? I explain it by the fact that I grew up with rather negative feedback from my mother and my grandmother. More recently, I became aware that some cisgendered women don’t like trans women, and in my head it just fit my rejection story. So repeating several days of a positive experience among women has allowed me to wipe out that story. Combined with the realization that someone who seems upset with me may just be upset with the entire world and not particularly at me, the anger in my head subsided. It’s a success story!

In recent days and weeks, I find people (mostly women) smiling at me on the street. I had taken the habit to avoid checking people’s reaction to me (so not to absorb negative energy), but something may have happened that I don’t know. It may just be that I am more relaxed in my own identity. I’m not conscious of a change in appearance, because I have been wearing a dress (and leggings) on a daily basis without fear for a while now…

That also changed, the filtering of what I will wear indoors vs. outdoors. It is now a matter of how I feel when I get up, and the temperature! There are no more second thoughts before stepping out, imagining how others will perceive me. It’s a very good feeling, actually.

That led to another realization. I was trying out a shirt I sewed from a very nice Japanese fabric, and saw me passing before a mirror. I saw that I looked like a transgender woman, but that image, maybe a year ago, was how I didn’t want me to be… There’s a sad side to it that it means I was judging others unfairly (I thought the only acceptable trans woman would be passing 100% of the time), but that was also blocking me from affirming my gender at my more advanced age.

Who knows what is happening, but I have this experience to tell that it feels like my body does not generate the male T when I’m having positive and feminine experiences. As I see it, it rises only when needed (in a subtle and unconscious way, when I feel I need to fight). It has been very calm, recently, and that’s a good thing.

I didn’t mention the holidays… Having to meet many people who tell me their lives, while I seem to be unable to tell them mine. Of course, they try to look indifferent to my changes in appearance. I wouldn’t like to have to defend myself in any way.  But it felt invalidating at the end (add to it that I’m always someone’s host). It felt good to be back in my positive, affirming environment. I don’t feel like traveling at all (a good thing: I can avoid the new virus).

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: www.npr.org/2019/08/06/744121321/even-a-grammar-geezer-like-me-can-get-used-to-gender-neutral-pronouns. 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!

 

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!