Transitioning Early In Life Versus Transitioning Later In Life

This blog post was inspired by a very well written story in the July 2nd edition of the Vancouver Sun, about transgender youth and the difficulties they face.

http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Making+transition/5039947/story.html

Besides being pleased that the reporter was able to get the pronouns correct throughout the article, which doesn’t happen as often as it should, this article got me thinking a little more about that recurrent whine of mine that I wish I wish oh how I wish, I had transitioned when I was younger.

When I was younger, the calendars read 1960’s and 1970’s, and in those days you would never have seen an article written with this much respect and compassion. It would only have been written with some sordid, sensationalist angle, and thus any youth who happened to read it would see that to be transgender (transsexual was the term used then)  was to be a freak and a target. And what young person struggling to cope with all these feelings of difference and isolation already would invite more of that? So, realistically, transitioning when I was younger was something I would not, and did not, even have considered. Not then.

Today, things are different, not perfect, but much better. There is more understanding, more support, more connection for transgender youth. And so I gaze at their unmarked faces, smoothly morphing into their true gender with the help of timely hormone therapy, and my happiness for them is tinged with a bitterness that I really wasn’t given those same opportunities and have lived the greater half of my life as the wrong gender.

But the Sun article made me realize a few things and the more I thought about it the more I could also see the advantage of transitioning later in life, at least for me. When I was young I was immature, more immature than my peers. That was partially from being so isolated and not feeling like I fit in, so I escaped into my own head, where growing up was not really all that necessary. I had no friends, really. I felt tenuous, invisible and easily lost. A lot of marginalized youth feel like that.  Add to that the financial dependence on family, the lack of a long work history, possible lack of independence of any kind, and the risks of transitioning as a youth seem almost as perilous to me now as it did to me when I was young.  A recurrent theme of youthful transitioning is conflict, and possibly exclusion of family, possibly loss of friends when peer connections are most important, and bullying, isolation and discrimination. A young person’s word isn’t always respected as much and they may be doubted more when they proclaim their identity. Add to that a general lack of life experience and the wisdom that comes from being in the world for a longer time, and it is evident that transitioning as a youth is a very difficult thing.

On the other hand… they usually look great, their bodies don’t morph entirely into some horrid opposite-gender thing, and they have a lifetime ahead of them to live as themselves. Those are the things I envy them for, but now I have thought more of the difficulties and compare it to my own path, I can see in some ways it was better for me to have transitioned later in life.

What is not better, is that I spent so many years feeling unhappy and lost, not real, and not even knowing exactly why. I spent many years abusing drugs and alcohol to numb myself. What is not better is that, while it took decades to really settle in, my puberty produced distinctly male characteristics that are difficult to overcome. What is not better is that I lived those years not understanding what true joy and feeling real, what a sense of belonging felt like.

What was better for me though, was that I was mentally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually more prepared when I finally transitioned. I had independence, I had experience, I had a long-term relationship that anchored me, I had long-lasting relationships with people who I had shared life’s ups and downs with. I had roots in a community. I had employment and an extensive and varied enough employment history that I knew how workplaces functioned. I had survived a lot of loss and grief, and learned a lot about how people are. All of this made me much more prepared to face any difficulties when I transitioned.

My transition has been fairly smooth and very life affirming, and I believe that has a lot to do with who surrounds me in my life and how I have learned to understand the society around me. In my teens, even my twenties… all of that would have been tenuous at best. It could have been disastrous for me back then. I was so weak and wavering, so unsteady on my feet.

I may have days where I wish I wish oh how I wish I would have done this sooner, with my whole life ahead of me, but everything happens when you are ready for it to happen.

Besides, transitioning has brought me a second puberty and I feel so young these days that it’s like being twenty all over again. That would have been wasted on someone who already was twenty.

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I Am Woman*

Notice the little asterisk after “Woman” up there in the title?

That’s my reality.
It took me a long time to accept that I was female. Longer to actually embrace it, celebrate it and live it. Now that I have, I cannot imagine knowing myself in any other way.
Except. It is not my total truth.

I was born with male chromosomes and genitals and was raised as male.
To this day my body, despite estrogen, progesterone and anti-androgen re-colouring, seems to believe it is still male. Perhaps there is a slight confusion or hesitation in all that boy blood, what with all these powerful girl agents running around and giving new orders (“We need more breast!”), but my body was created to present and function as a male, and no matter what I do there will always be that humming under everything.

My body wants to grow hair. All over the place. Relentlessly. Oh, sure, the girl agents are sweet talking it into slowing down, growing finer, more gently, but my body is still insisting that lots of hair is needed as it was before. I haven’t completed electrolysis, and I wonder if one ever really does “complete” it, so shaving is a daily component and the feeling of stubble late in the day is a bristly reminder of my asterisk.

That asterisk. You see, as much as my spirit, heart and mind may feel totally free and female, my body, and my history, always trip all that up. I am definitely a woman. I have no doubt about that and I am constantly validated in that. But I am a very different kind of woman and that is what I still struggle to accept and embrace. I think this blog helps me understand and accept myself as a woman*. The only way to acceptance is through honesty and courage. As much as I wish things had been different, were different, as painful as it is to understand that I will never feel like I am ‘just’ female, the truth is I have many experiences that other women don’t share, and I lack many experiences most women do share.

That, in itself, is not a bad thing I suppose. Being unique is a gift in many ways. It can also feel like too much of a challenge some days, though, and on those days I struggle not to feel like a failure as a woman. Sometimes it feels like I am walking a high wire, and when I have a misstep the fall is much further than I thought. One can never think of how far it is to the ground when up on that wire.

On good days, really good days, not only do I accept and embrace that I am female, but also that I am female*, and that being that  is not only okay, but kind of cool and interesting. Unfortunately,  that is still a difficult place for me to reach, and so I continue to look for validation, embracing any words and actions by others that reassures me that I am seen as female, sans asterisk.

The irony is that, I believe, when I finally accept and embrace that I am woman*, that asterisk will vanish, and I will truly inhabit the whole of my self and simply be… woman.

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Casual Cruelty

One of the things that kept me afraid of even admitting my truth to myself, was the fear of the reaction of others when I claimed my rightful space as female. I knew there were would be people who could not, would not, understand how I could even dare say I was female when that invalidated their simple learned ‘truth’ itself; that being born with a penis made you a boy and then a man, and being born with a vagina made you a girl and then a woman. Who knows what they made of intersexed people, born with both genitalia? Because those people are rare, perhaps they are just as easily forgotten, dumped in some sort of “freak” folder, best not to even consider as that would challenge their simple and sure notions of gender.

Growing up, it was obvious this was the case, and any transgender person was slipped into the “freak” folder. If they were smart they stayed there, invisible, forgotten. If they dared claim some kind of life for themselves, by coming out or transitioning, then they had crossed the line and were fair game for ridicule, hatred, and dismissal. No wonder then, that I was a good girl and stayed invisible. I attracted enough bullying and humiliation as it was. I didn’t need to ask for more.

But one cannot live in hiding forever. It takes its toll and it did with me. When I finally found the courage, perhaps the desperation, to step into my true path the world unfolded for me. Truly, it was like leaving a dank, dark bunker and stepping into the sunlight. I have never regretted leaving that place of false safety. And when I arrived into the light, I braced myself for the sticks and stones. Instead I found love. I found acceptance. I found compassion and caring, and I realized THIS is where I am safe, protected by the love of others, and a love that I can now feel from the All, from my Goddess. Where I hid before, no one could even see me, and thus I gave them no chance to love me. I had surrounded myself with pain and fear and I dared not even touch a deeper, divine love. When you are in pain, love seems to sting more than it should, because a part of you knows what you are denying yourself, what you hold at bay.

In the light of my transformed life, I have been generous with sharing my journey, because I know that there are still too many people who do not understand, who have never seen what has been hidden away in that folder of shame and fear. While we are still very much a rare breed, transgender people are more common than many people would care to admit, and more of us are now stepping into the light and asking to be seen properly and respected. If what I share helps others in their own path and helps foster understanding and compassion, then I am glad I take the chances I do in revealing myself so openly.

It hasn’t been difficult for me to continue doing that because where I expected resistance I have instead found acceptance and love. I am encouraged by others to not only be myself but to speak my truth. I have been very blessed this way because many, far too many, of my brothers and sisters have encountered hurt, fear and hatred as they stepped into their own truth. In all my time of being truly me, not one person has challenged me, or denied me…until the other night.

It was on a small online group, one that had already exuded a toxicity and anger that my Little Voice kept telling me was too dangerous to remain with. But Big Ego hushed Little Voice and insisted on staying and then was devastated when someone, casually, cruelly and with forethought, denied and refuted my truth. She was coming from her own place of deep hurting, as often is the case when someone lashes out at you. She made the remarks with malice, but I’m not sure she had any idea of how deeply her words would wound me.

I was surprised myself by the impact of that casual cruelty. It connected directly to a lifetime of hurt and anger. When I was about 6 I stood in our driveway, looking up at the sky and wailing, with all my voice, scolding my Goddess for having made me a boy when I knew I was supposed to have been a girl and how unfair that was, how deeply hurt I was. I stood and screamed for all the world to hear and great heaving sobs wreaked my body, until at last I collapsed from exhaustion. Seeing those words the other night, that anger and hate and ignorance directed at me, that attempt to push me back into that bunker of fear and shame, connected me with that hurt little girl on the driveway and I screamed and sobbed like she did, until I, too, collapsed of exhaustion.

The next day my body hurt, like I had been struck by a bus, and I felt fragile in so many ways. When I thought about what had happened, about those words I had read, anger rolled through me in waves. Gradually, through the day, as I processed all of this with others and was reminded again of the love and acceptance that enfolds me, I felt stronger.

I try and find the positive out of events in my life that otherwise hurt and disrupt, because those are moments that are presented to help us grow. It’s not always easy, but there is always some side I can find that will make me stronger, wiser, more determined to live with love and peace in my heart. I can see now that this was a storm waiting to happen. That little girl who railed at her predicament when she was 6 felt so alone and unheard. She was overwhelmed by hurt and longing and she knew that the safety of the bunker was important. Perhaps she has never really stepped fully out. Perhaps she has been holding the door open, ready to leap back in when the sticks and stones flew. But now she knows. Now she knows that she is held by the love of others, her Goddess and most importantly, her self, and she will never ever be alone again.

What happened has made me more determined, and prepared, to speak my truth. I will continue to do so. Speak yours. No one has the right to shut us in those bunkers of shame and fear.

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Inspiring.

My poor little blog.

Neglected for weeks on end, receiving no nourishment as I studiously avoid looking at it. Out of the corner of my mind I see its starving visage, crying for my attention. “Mommy  Why won’t you feed me mommy?”

If there was a Protection Service for Blogs, I think I would be in danger of having mine taken away.
But I am here, my darling little blog  Mommy is back and she promises, promises to write more, to properly nourish and feed my child and help her grow and flourish.

I have been edging my way back, mulling over possible blog ideas, tossing them back and forth like a pitcher continuously driving a ball into her glove, never quit ready to actually throw the pitch.
But I have heard the call to deliver the ball, so here’s the pitch….

Inspiring.
People say that about me these days. They hear about my life, about my journey, the changes I have made to, quite frankly, just be me. And they tell me it inspires them. That’s an amazing thing to hear, a wonderful thing. When I was a child, I wanted to be a rock star, a famous hockey player, a famous writer, a famous movie star or director, but more than anything, I wanted people to look at me and think “Wow  This person is so awesome I want to be awesome too ” I wanted to inspire people.

My reality seemed to indicate something much different for me. People laughed at me. They teased me and dismissed me. I was so shy I hid under the bed if company was coming, I sat by the window crying for my mommy when she left me at a party. I did my best to be invisible, to sit on the sidelines, escape. In my head, oh, I was so famous and wonderful and worthy. In the world, I was a diminished, frightened soul.

That didn’t change a lot for me as I grew up. I learned to be more functional, on the surface. But even as an adult, I retreated, ran away and hid and lived in my head where I COULD make a difference. I didn’t really understand why I was this way. It was just something that had always been. I was resigned to being a misfit, a little smudge in the masterpiece of a world that seemed always beyond my reach.

And then it all broke. I was at the end of my lifeline linking me back to the world and in desperation I began to reel myself in. And that was scary. It meant looking at myself honestly, finding the love of my self enough to be able to reach in and gently pry apart the facade and walls I had hidden behind. Behind all the hurt, fear, pain, and shame, I found something truly remarkable – my self. My true and pure self. And when I had found her, had known that this was me and always had been, I was able to step into life finally. I was able to breathe, finally. I felt real and present, and since then I have embraced life and all that is in this world, and I have learned how to let fear, hurt, pain, and shame slide past me.

Really, this was always very simple. I just had to learn to get out of my own way. I had to learn to let what’s deep inside me breathe, and carry me forth. And people tell me that because I have done this simple thing I inspire them. What a gift that is to hear and know that.

I am in turn inspired by what must seem a simple thing to others. I am inspired by my partner and her courage in overcoming difficulties. I am inspired by my ancient cat when he carries on his days with energy and enthusiasm. I am inspired by my aging dog when she kicks up her heels and plays like she was a puppy. I am inspired by the teachers in my school who care for a young child crying out for help. I am inspired by so many friends of mine who struggle each and every day with a myriad of things but carry on and embrace those sunnier moments in their lives.

Look around you. See all those people and animals in your life that inspire you? They may not know they do, because maybe to them they are just doing their best, placing one foot in front of the other. Now look at yourself. Are you not doing the same?

You inspire others just by being you.
You ARE important.

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The Power Within Us

When I first began considering the changes I needed to make to make myself whole and happy, I had no idea how I would even begin. I was so shy, so worried all my life about what people thought of me. I hoped they wouldn’t see the real me and now here I was thinking I needed to actually put her out there in full daylight. Certainly I didn’t have the courage, the fatalistic recklessness to do that

But it turns out I did. I had the tools all along, I just was using them in a defensive posture.

Feeling different and out of place all my life gave me a sharp edge, an edge used to both protect myself and slice cynically into the world around me. I was a misfit, on the outside looking in, and I developed a certain unfeeling attitude about everyone else around me. It was the sword in my sheath and I used it to keep any and every thing at bay, even in my closest relationships. I had been hurt too often, felt too vulnerable, and I had a secret to keep.

But I ended up using the very thing that felt weak in me, those places I hurt the deepest, to find the courage and determination to make changes for myself, to dare step out of the place society had set for me.
My cynicism I transformed into a knowing that it didn’t matter what people thought of me. I had been hurt so much already in my life, each day was a day of un-ease, there seemed no reason to keep doing what I had been doing. When I turned myself, shifted into the sun, all the energy and steel I had forged to keep myself safe was there for me to use in going forward now. The distance I had kept myself from others meant I was that much further along in being able to forge my own path, regardless of what people would say or do.

I had developed a kind of warrior spirit, feeling misunderstood, being keenly and personally aware of injustice and pain. To transform into my free being, I needed to draw on that warrior spirit and she was there in strength. I just needed to set my direction and move ahead, trusting in my own ability to protect myself. My courage was merely a blossoming of a strength built trying to survive in the shadows.

It doesn’t matter what it is in your life that needs attention, where you need to change. You can do it. If you feel weak, look there, look into your own shadows. You will see what tools you have armed yourself with, what strength you have built. And then, turn in the direction you wish to go, not matter the odds, and bring those tools into your hands in a new and progressive way.

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Back under Goddess light.

I never thought too much about how my world would change once I began to live fully as myself, as female. I only knew it was something I had to do. It was a flight from decades of pain and feeling separated from life. I could not imagine what it felt like to be whole, to be in my body and in my life, because I had never touched that before.

Touching it has been magic.
It was like I was trying to drive my car from the passenger seat, and now I am behind the wheel, in full control. I always thought that because I could drive from the side that was good enough. I can see how misguided that was now that I am in the driver’s seat. I can see the road better and I can make choices for myself.

Something which throbbed constantly under the surface throughout my life, occasionally reaching in and touching me, is my connection with The Goddess, with feminine spirit energy and power. Now, I am reveling in Her nurturing light. I surround myself with reminders of that feminine power stream and I naturally fall into it and feel loved and safe. I feel more powerful than I could ever have imagined.

There are some regular paths into The Goddess spirit that are not open to me. My body doesn’t cycle, doesn’t remind me of my fertile, nurturing nature. I sense that the earthy connection that is there for most of my sisters is missing in me. It’s a very profound, powerful connection to Goddess energy and as much as I am reminded by my friends that I might want to be grateful for not having to deal with that cycling, I do mourn for it. It makes me feel a disconnected.

But somehow, without the inner plumbing, without the gender guidance growing up, without some of the markers and guideposts in my body, I do feel a very strong rooting to the Feminine power, a very natural, ancient rooting, and each and every day I am so grateful to be back, to be living fully under the light of my Goddess.

May She never let me wander lost again.

not sure who original artist is.. can't read the signature!

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Permission and Pressure.

One of the difficulties I had when I was coming to acceptance that I am transgender, that I am female in spirit, mind and heart, is why I was able to live so much of my life with that truth buried deep. Looking back, I can see there are many different reasons, many influences in my life which kept me scared and hidden. One of those influences was an early awareness that, in so many ways, being male in this world seems easier. I understand now that it isn’t that simple, that men have some roadblocks to their true selves that come with our culture’s gender roles, but in many ways, it was and still is ‘a man’s world’.

Living as both male and female has given me some insight, I think, into how some of our gender role structure affects our lives.

As a male, I was left on my own a lot. People didn’t worry about me so much, I was expected to be able to take care of myself. This wasn’t the best thing for me, though, as I always felt like I was in over my head, but it did allow me the freedom to move through the world unfettered for the most part. I can’t compare that to what it may have been like if I had grown up living as female, because I didn’t get to do that, but as a woman today, I do sense how different expectations are.

It comes down to this.  As a male I was given complicit permission by the society at large, if not my father, to enter the world on my own terms. I was given quite a bit of leeway and open road. I didn’t have to self evaluate all the time.

As a woman, I find that is quite different. There is a larger expectation that I care about my appearance, that I behave in a certain way, that I constantly redefine my self and clarify who I am to the outer world. It feels like more eyes are on me, more judgements are being made. I feel more pressure on me from society and in turn I put myself under more pressure.

None of this surprises me. I have known this to be true since I was a small child and saw how different things were for my girl friends. I remember thinking to myself then that maybe I dodged a bullet, maybe I got lucky, because I was born with a penis and that would make my life simpler. Maybe I should be quiet about how I actually felt about myself, and be glad I could slip through life unnoticed and unmolested. My chances felt better as a male.

I wasn’t brave as a child. I was shy and anxious. When it came time to fly or fight, I flew.  Always. So I do have to forgive that scared little girl in her boy shell. It was understandable she would not step up and proclaim “But I AM a girl!”

She was wrong, though. Life wasn’t easier. It’s not easy being male either, especially if you don’t fit the social norms, aren’t able to avail yourself of the tools laid before you. What I could not understand then, was nothing was going to be easy. Living takes brave work. And the more you practice bravery, the easier it becomes, and the richer your life becomes.

That scared little girl with the boy tags was wrong to hide what she knew in her heart to be true. It isn’t worse being female. It’s worse being someone you aren’t, not being true to yourself.

I’ll take that pressure, anytime. Bring it on. I can handle it because I am a woman, and I give myself permission to live fully and completely in this world.

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