Why “Why???” Doesn’t Really Matter

IMG_E7460
Why do I feel like this?

Why can’t I be like other people?
Why am I the only one like this?

Why me?

Why can’t I just be normal?

 

n.b.: As always, these are my thoughts, based on my own personal experience. I do not presume to speak for others or to anyone else’s experiences. Remember, your milage may vary – void where prohibited by law – do not fold, spindle, or mutilate. 😉

That last one is the killer: “Why can’t I just be normal?” … As if normal were something one could actual be. 😐

I’ve invested a huge amount of emotional energy over the years asking ‘why’ questions. I mean, it’s understandable – a 13 year old boy goes to sleep at night, hoping to wake up and find they have transformed into a girl – one might wonder why they would want that – and I did. As I got older, the feelings didn’t go away, but I became aware that whatever it was, there was something wrong about it – whatever it was, it wasn’t ‘normal’. I didn’t know of other people who felt this way, and I (incorrectly) assumed I was the only person like this. So I hid it as best as I could, building a ‘me’ that did his best to fit in with everyone. And all that time, I would ask myself “Why me?”

I would learn that there were other people who cross-dressed – that this was some kind of ‘kink’ (it’s not.) That kind of helped for a while, because I rationalized that everyone has some kink or another. But I realized it wasn’t a kink, and I was back to asking why. When I went ‘on-line’ and found there were other people who actually felt like I did, I thought I had found my answers. As it turns out, none of them knew either. I read books that talked about ‘brain sex’, hormonal imbalances, chromosomal anomalies, psychological issues… The most useful comment I found was from another trans person, who summed it all up: “Nobody really knows what’s going on…”

It’s true – they don’t. So many people, most of whom are not transgender, all spouting theories and suppositions about why trans people are trans. They want to (try) and explain the why of trans people, but never address the how… How do you live in the world as a trans person?

Once I began to deal with my transness, I rediscovered some of the philosophy I studied in college. What really helped to clear some of the ‘why’ fog was Albert Camus​ and the Paradox of the Absurd​. Camus explains:

the ‘Absurd’ is the result of the “confrontation between human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.”

“…the unreasonable silence of the world.” Sounds about right… 😦

We all have questions – a lot of questions – and the world tends to be unyielding of answers. “How can we live in such a world?” Camus tells us that we need to we accept that ‘absurdity’ is a part of our lives – that we will likely never get all the answers for which we are looking – and that we need to continue on, in spite of ‘the Absurd’.

I found myself asking, “Do I really need to know why I am trans? If someone was able to explain it all to me in painfully complete detail, how would that help me?” It became clear to me that answering ‘why’ was not going to provide for me what I needed most: a way to move forward, and to live my life ‘in the world’ as a trans person. I realized that knowing why ‘I am’ did not change who ‘I am’ – or what I needed to do.

So, I stopped asking why. I stopped ‘researching’ and sifting through opinions and suppositions, and I started working on what I needed to live and to thrive as a person. I put all of that energy that was ultimately holding me back, into living. I stopped fighting and trying to be everything everyone else thought I ought to be.

Twenty years later, people are still debating and opining as to why we are trans…

Twenty years later, still, “Nobody really knows what’s going on…” 🙂

Sometimes ‘why’ is important – although in my limited experience, most of the time ‘why’ is a distraction. It pulls us a way from the real issues of “What do I need to do, and how will I do it.” Many years ago, I mentioned to my therapist at the time that she had never given me a diagnosis. Her goal, in her words, was to help her patients figure out what they needed to be happy in life, whatever that was. She smiled at my comment, and asked me “Do you need one?” I paused and told her, “No, I don’t think do, really.”

We are who we are – no explanation required. 😎

Happy Pride Everyone!

p.s.: Readers interested in a trip down the rabit hole of my philosophy can look here: Donna’s Philosophy: Why I believe What I Believe

It’s Pride Month, Isn’t it?

IMG_E7460Happy Pride Everyone!

I was never especially into ‘Pride Month’ because for me, it was always about ‘Gay Pride’, and I do not identify as someone who is gay.  The truth is that I am not really sure what my ‘sexuality’ is, but it isn’t something that’s important for me to label, so it’s all good – to me at least.

Last year, though, I attended my first ever pride parade. Not only did I attend, but I marched in it, along with my wife, daughter and her girl friend. We all marched with NYL Pride and it was such an empowering experience – so much so that I decided then, that I would march again this year… Clearly, that’s not happening. 😦

It’s feels weird this time, doesn’t it? It’s a bit surreal, and there is a whole different vibe to the month – and the year. Maybe it’s just me, but I am having a hard time mustering the celebratory spirit this month. A big part of this is due to what has been a somewhat dismal first half of 2020 for trans people.

  • January 1: Trans man Dustin Parker, 25, was fatally shot in McAlester, Oklahoma.
  • January 16: Nine federal agencies – Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, and Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Agency on International Development – all proposed rule changes that would eliminate the rights of people receiving help from federal programs to request a referral if they have a concern or problem with a faith-based provider and to receive written notice of their rights; and that would encourage agencies to claim religious exemptions to deny help to certain people while receiving federal fund.
  • February 12: Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a new rule that could block transgender people from accessing emergency shelter and housing safely. The rule seeks to greenlight discrimination by faith-based organizations and undermine protections for marginalized people, including a 2016 HUD rule that clarified transgender people are protected from discrimination in emergency shelters and housing programs.
  • February 27: The Department of Justice filed another court brief, this time in the Western District of Kentucky, expressing the view of the United States that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is not “a sufficient government interest” to overcome the objections of private businesses who want to deny “expressive” services such as photography services to LGBTQ people, and that these businesses must be permitted to opt out of complying with local nondiscrimination laws.
  • March 5: Trans man Yampi Méndez Arocho, 19, was killed in Moca, Puerto Rico.
  • March 18: Black trans woman Monika Diamond, 34, was killed in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • March 26: The Department of Justice filed a court brief in the District of Connecticut in opposition to a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy that allows transgender athletes to play sports with their peers.
  • March 28: Trans woman Lexi, 33, was killed in Harlem, New York on March 28.
  • April 11: Trans woman Johanna Metzger, was killed in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • April 13: Trans woman Penélope Díaz Ramírez was killed in Puerto Rico.
  • April 21: Trans woman Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, 32, was killed in Puerto Rico on April 21.
  • April 21: Trans woman Layla Pelaez Sánchez, 21, was killed in Puerto Rico.
  • May 3: Black trans woman Nina Pop was killed in Sikeston, Missouri.
  • May 6, 2020: The Department of Education published a final rule encouraging schools to dramatically weaken protections for student survivors of sexual violence and harassment, and eliminating a provision that encouraged religiously-affiliated schools to notify the Department and the public of their intent to discriminate on the basis of sex under a Title IX waiver.
  • May 6: Trans woman Helle Jae O’Regan, 20, was killed in San Antonio, Texas.
  • May 8: The Department of Health and Human Services published a final rule eliminating collection of sexual orientation data on foster youth and foster and adoptive parents and guardians and rejecting proposals to collect gender identity data.
  • May 9: Trans woman Jayne Thompson, 33, was killed in Mesa County, Colorado. She was killed by a Colorado State Patrol trooper and misgendered in initial news reports.
  • May 15: The Department of Education issued a letter declaring that the federal Title IX rule requires school to ban transgender students from participating in school sports, and threatening to withhold funding from Connecticut schools if they do not comply.
  • May 27: Black trans man Tony McDade was killed in Tallhassee, Florida.

And in just June alone:

  • June 6: J.K. Rowling tweets, mocking ‘People who menstruate’, saying she is sure there is a name for those people.
  • June 8: Black trans woman Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells Fells was found dead in Philadelphia, Penn. Her death has been ruled a homicide.
  • June 9: Black trans woman Riah Milton, 25, was shot and killed during a robbery in Liberty Township, Ohio.
  • June 10: J.K. Rowling rambles for close to 4000 words on her “Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues” – doubling down on being a big old transphobe and TERF.
  • June 11: The GOP announce they are rolling over their 2016 platform, which includes rolling back same sex marriage, supporting conversion therapy, and of course reversing Roe v Wade.
  • June 12: Trump had transgender protections in the ACA rolled back. That was special – I actually cried that night. 😥 Why can’t they just leave us alone?
  • June 15: SCOTUS rules that federal law prohibits discrimination against gay and transgender people in the workplace.

OK, the last one was a huge win for the LGBTQ+ people in the US, and I was genuinely surprised to fine it was Justice Gorsuch authored the opinion. 😎

But the rest… Ugh… And we’re only half way through the year. (There were twenty eight trans people murdered in the US in 2019 – we’re already past the half way point.)

If the above list comes as a surprise, don’t feel bad: transgender related issues continue to get little press coverage. This is all the more reason to highlight them this month: not because they are ‘more important’, but because they need to not be overlooked. Much of the current administrations actions against trans people disproportionately target trans youth. Trans people have been – and continue to be – ‘low hanging fruit’, with transgender children an even easier target. And of the fifteen transgender murders so far this year, five were black, four were black women. In 2019, nineteenof the twenty eight murders were black trans women. The murder of trans women of color in the US is a huge problem.

The rights (or lack thereof) of any one group have an impact on all the others. Everything being done against trans people intersects with others along race, gender, class, age, sexuality, etc.

:: Sigh ::

I really wanted to be positive, but, you know, reality. 😐 So in the spirit of actually celebrating something for Pride Month, I will close with this: I came out as trans to my fraternity, on Facebook. Not that I wasn’t already out on FB, but I made it really clear.

This was my post:

tep_jerseyFun fact: in 1982, I pledged a fraternity. IKR? 😯 I was still an egg at the time (as trans then as I am now) and thought that it would somehow ‘fix’ things for me: it didn’t – go figure. What it did do, however, was give me a great group of friends. 🙂

We had a ‘virtual happy hour’ last night, and it was the first time in 30 odd years I had seen most of my brothers. I was too lazy last night to dig out my jersey – so I humbly submit to you: moi, in said jersey from 30 years ago.

It was great to see everyone last night. Looking forward to the next gathering!

Their response was overwhelmingly positive – not that I expected otherwise.  But, you never know with people. 😉

All of the above has only served to strengthen my resolve to not be erased, and to do what I can to make the world that much better for us.  We were here before the hate, and we will be here long after it is gone.

Be safe – be strong – and above all, be you!

black_trans_pride

 

Transgender Day of Visibility – Covid-19 Edition

TDOV 2020, and we are all stuck indoors. I had good intentions of a meaningful post, maybe even a little video.  I got up this morning and ‘got my girl on’ so to speak: did my hair and make-up, found a nice top – I even took a few selfies… I was unimpressed with the results. The truth is that I just wasn’t in the mood. I’m on week four indoors, and it all just felt, well, kind of silly. So the pretty top went back in the closet and changed into a t-shirt, which is probably more practical at home anyway.

See, for me, TDOV is about being out and visible to the world. It’s about normalizing trans people in society, and demystify us. It’s showing the world that we are really no different than anyone else. We are husbands, wives, partners, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, young, old ,executives, baristas, electricians, and everything else in between. We have families, mortgages, college tuition, taxes, car loans…

We are is simply people, trying to live our lives – just like everyone else.

There are trans people who want nothing more than to become invisible – move through society unnoticed. I think that is great, and I support those who can do that. I personally will never be able to do that, so almost every day for the past twenty or so years has been a ‘trans day of visibility’ for me. I have made peace with that, and use my visibility as I mentioned above: to demystify ‘trans people’ by being right there in front of you…

Except, I’m not – at least for the time being.

So, in the spirit of trans visibility on this decidedly invisible TDOV, I’ll leave you with this naff t-shirted selfie from earlier today:

Yes, I know, I should smile. The thing is, smiling on command is a talent I have yet to cultivate. 

If you have a friend or loved one who is trans, please check in on them – especially if they are not ‘out’ yet and / or in a non-supportive environment. Let them know they are valid and loved. 🙂

Be well, stay safe, and I’ll see everyone on the other side. 

Donna

Ups and Downs @ Out & Equal

I had the unexpected opportunity to attend this year’s Out & Equal Workplace Summit: a gathering of more than 6,200 ERG members, HR & D&I professionals, LQBTQ+ people and allies, from across 42 countries, “to share strategies and best practices to create workplaces which are inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.”

It is hard to quantify the (overwhelmingly positive) impact the entire event had on me. It was possibly the first time in my life where I really felt totally comfortable in a ‘public-ish’ setting. I walked around with my head up, proud of who I am, as opposed to simply looking to get from point A to B without attracting too much undo attention. Because I do not have the privilage of navigating public spaces unnoticed, I view my day to day life as a public act of defiance against a society that would rather I not exist. To be someplace where I was openly welcomed was very much a new feeling for me. So much of my life has been about acknowledgement and tolerance: if I can have those, I can make things work well enough. Acceptance is harder, more elusive – because tolerance can be easily mistaken for acceptance, especially in a corporate setting, where the rules of engagement are different than they are ‘out on the street’. I felt accepted – it was difficult to have to leave that space and return to ‘the real world’.

All the workshops I attended were excellent, and I have good information and ideas to bring back to both our Pride group and our diversity office. Two of those workshops were round-table discussions that I attended specifically for me. The first was an open round-table on non-binary identities, and as I identify as non-binary, this was especially exciting. A room that should have comfortably accomidated maybe thirty people had well over fifty, with people sitting on the floor and standing along the walls. It was encouraging to see so many people there, both enbies and allies. After a few common misconceptions about us were raised – that non-binary people are almost all AFAB (assigned female at birth), young, masculine leaning, and that non-binary is some new fad started on tumblr – I felt compelled to offer counterpoint. I stood up and shared that I am a 55 year old, AMAB (assigned male at birth,) trans-feminine enby, and how twenty years ago, I stared an online group for non-binary people, and even created a term for us, as we didn’t have one. People in the room had no idea that this was a discussion we were having decades ago. I later ran into several people who were at round-table, who stopped me, and thanked me, and told that I created some buzz (in a good way.) It is important that younger people know that we have a history, and they can use that when others want to (try to) invalidate their identity.

The second round-table was a closed session of just trans-identified people. There were maybe upwards of 20 trans women, 4 trans men, and me. It was a more intimate and personal discussion then the 50+ who showed up for the non-binary round-table. Being there stirred a lot of feelings I wasn’t expecting. One was a sense of regret at taking so long to figure myself out. Many of the trans women there (and at the conference as a whole) were young(er) compared to me, and the ones my age had transitioned many years before. It underscored for me this sense of lost opportunity which I keep pushed down below the surface – and it has been a long time since I have felt so profoundly aware of that.

The other feeling(s) are a bit more complicated. I know who I am and that I am trans, but in that room, I was acutely aware of how different I was from the others there. Most were trans women, who all have a common set of shared experiences – a set of experiences very different from mine. It brought back all the feelings from the past when I was workng through all of this – where other trans women made it a point to tell me how I was not really trans, or not ‘trans enough’ – how ‘people like me’ were ruining things for them, because we dared to state that we did not have a ‘mental disorder’. (Twenty years ago, if you were not surgery tracked, the trans ‘community’ was not a welcoming space.) It’s difficult to not internalize some of that over time.

The name for this amalgam of feelings is Imposter Syndrome, and I only ever experience this overwhelming self-doubt in a group of my ‘peers’, so thankfully it’s not often. This may be why I have never made an effort to seek out many other trans people – it’s just been easier to not open myself up to that. I shared this with the group, which wasn’t easy, but what’s the point of a roundtable if you don’t share. 🙂 It was reassuring – and so validating – when one of the women there responded that we are all a part of the same family, regardless of our differences.

So, a bit of a roller coaster: ups and down – definitely more ups than downs – and lot of feelings to process and sort through. 🙂

Transgender Visibility: How do people see me?

n.b.: As Transgender Day of Visibility 2019 was Sunday, March 31, I thought I would close out the little ‘social experiment’ I’ve conducted for twenty years.  My previous post on this is here: Riding the Long Island Railroad.

I often wonder how people are gendering me.  Sometimes it is clear (e.g. being addressed as sir or miss) while other times I can only guess, based on looks from people and other nonverbal cues.  It would be interesting to track how I am being gendered – to see if there is any pattern to it over time.  The problem with this idea is that it would require I solicit feedback from people (i.e. strangers) and keep some sort of running log: something that is not at all practical.

Or is it?

Prior to the end of 2017, all monthly Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) tickets used to have two boxes on them: a ‘M’ for male and and an ‘F’ for female.  The idea behind this was, supposedly, to help prevent people from sharing tickets: the efficacy thereof being questionable at best.  One thing it definitely did was to create discomfort for trans and otherwise gender non-conforming riders.  Under pressure from several advocacy groups, the MTA finally relented, and eliminated the ‘gendering’ of tickets at the end 2017.

I was featured in a 2016 public radio news piece about the MTA policy.  Those curious can listen to it here: Should the MTA Get Rid of Gendered Passes?

I have saved my monthly LIRR tickets for the past twenty years. It started April 1998, when my ticket was ‘mistakenly’ punched as female: I found it amusing, so I saved the ticket.  This was the genesis of an ad hoc experiment to gather some long-term data with respect to how I am gendered.  Each ticket is a physical record of how, for that month, the conductor gendered me.  It’s not a huge sample set, just one person one day a month, but it is a physical record – enough to yield some interesting insights into my gender journey over the past two decades.

Here is a sample of a monthly ticket:

lirr_aug_06

At the start of the month, the conductor would take your ticket and punch the ‘M’ or ‘F’ as appropriate – with ‘appropriate’ being whatever gender the conductor thought you were.  This was usually a quick, couple of seconds procedure: take the ticket, punch it, hand it back.  In my case, however, they were not always sure what to do, and sometimes got creative.  There have also been a few instances where my ticket was punched one way, only to be ‘corrected’ by another conductor later in the month.

APR2016PIE

These usually have PIE (punched in error) written on them by the conductor who ‘corrected’ this most egreguious of errors.  I have tickets originally punched ‘male’, later changed to ‘female’, and originally punched ‘female’, later changed to ‘male’.  With the sample above, the conductor took my ticket, punched it ‘male’ and handed it back to me.  Then a few seconds later, fumbled about and finally said, “I made a mistake, can I have that back for a sec?”  I handed him my ticket, which he re-punched as ‘female’ and then circled the first (‘male’) punch and wrote PIE.  I had to smile, finding the entire exchange rather silly and pointless.

All in all, I have tickets punched male, female, neither male nor female, male then female, female then male, and some not punched at all.  I have pulled all of this together into a Tableau dashboard, because of course I would. 😉
genderdashboard

Clicking on the above will take you to an interactive dashboard where you can filter by ticket type, year, total punches…  It’s a very clicky dashboard. 🙂

Notes on the data:
  • My gender issues came to a head in 1998. I considered the ‘mispunched’ tickets that year just that, mispunched.
  • Late 1999 through 2001, I started presenting ‘less masculine’ at work.
  • During part of 2002, I was required to dress in standard ‘Business attire’ (i.e. a suit and tie.)
  • From 2003 through 2017, I was presenting more trans / gender non-conforming (TGNC) on a regular (and increasing) basis.
  • 2017 shows my ticked not punched for seven months. It was in the latter part of that year that the MTA stopped punching tickets, finally removing the male and female boxes for 2018.
Observations:
  • The degree to which I have been gendered ‘female’ corresponds to my increasingly TGNC presentation since 2003, which had been pretty consistant.
  • Winter months seems to be the most likely time for me to be gendered as ‘female’
  • Overall, I was gendered ‘male’ only 24% of the time, opposed to being gendered ‘female’ / not sure 57.5% of the time.

What’s My Gender?

Back in June, for pride month, I gave presentation about being transgender and non-binary. It was attended by 100 people in the room, and about 200 people remotely in our other offices. Despite being nervous (I have never spoken publicly like that before) it all went quite well and I received a lot of good feedback. It is important that other transgender voices are heard, and that people get to know the diversity of people in the transgender communities.

This was my presentation, save for a few ad lib comments. Enjoy. 🙂


Hi everyone – I’m Gary.  I am a BI Lead in the Enterprise Data Management group, and I have been with NYL for just over a year now, based out of beautiful Jersey City.  A little bit about me: I am married for 32 years, have two daughters ages 25 and 21, three cats, one chicken – I am a fan of horror and Sci-Fi, I’m a photographer, I built an electronic music studio with way too much gear in it – and I am transgender. I mention being transgender last because it is just one aspect of me as person. I realize that I may not look like what some of you expect a trans person to look like, but like everyone else, we come in all different flavors.  It is important to realize that there is no one way – or correct way – to be transgender.

I also go by the name Donna, a name I have used on line and with friends for over 20 years.  I have a rather long history on-line and was a somewhat prominent voice on Usenet in the late 90’s with respect to discussing transgender identity – specifically what is now referred to as ‘non-binary’ gender identity.

Choosing the name ‘Donna’ has served two purposes. The first was it provided a modicum of anonymity online, as I was anything but ‘out and proud’ back then. The second, I would come to realize, was it helped me to define and own my identity.  A thing is real insofar as you can name it.  Choosing a name for myself served to root my identity with me as opposed to with someone else and their expectations.

Growing up, I was never emphatic about ‘being a girl’ as a young child.  In fact it wasn’t until I hit puberty that found myself wishing I were a girl.  I was alone, confused, conflicted, and never shared these feelings with my parents.  All I knew was that whatever was going on with me, it was somehow ‘wrong’.

I am (possibly) what would have been referred to, back in the day, as a ‘secondary transsexual’ – meaning it wasn’t until later in life (my mid 30’s) that this all came to a head, and I recognized (acknowledged, accepted?) that I was transgender.  Up until that point, I managed all the conflicted feelings I had by telling myself I was just a ‘regular guy’ who had a quirky side.  That worked pretty well, until it didn’t work anymore – go figure.

So… What am I?

My gender is Non-binary / Trans-feminine, and my pronouns are they/them or she/her.  I do not ‘identify as’ or refer to this as my ‘preferred’ gender.  This is my gender.  This is who I am.

“Non-binary / Trans-feminine” … yeah, I know – it sounds a bit like ordering at Starbucks, and I’m sure some (most?) of you are wondering “exactly what does that mean?”

The ‘non-binary’ aspect of my gender is my ‘gender identity’ – i.e. how I see myself in relation to others in society.  I am neither a ‘man’ nor a ‘woman’ as is colloquially defined by society.  I have no strong ‘kinship’ with either of those ‘binary’ gender categories. 

There was a time where I assumed I was a man, but that never ever felt ‘right’.  When I started to address all of this in earnest, I assumed I had to be a woman, because if I wasn’t a man, what else would I be?  It wasn’t until I realized that there was more than just ‘men’ and ‘women’, that I was able to entertain the idea that while I wasn’t a man, I wasn’t a woman either.  

See, there is this whole idea of ‘feeling’ like a man or a woman – I don’t understand what that is supposed to mean.  Despite the efforts to socialize me as one, I know that what I feel is not ‘being’ a man.  At the same time, I have no sense of feeling like or being a woman, either.  All I can assert, with any authority, is that I know what it feels like to be ‘me’ – whatever that may be.

The ‘trans-feminine’ aspect of my gender is my gender presentation.  I present myself, and prefer to interact, in a way that society would colloquially view as ‘feminine’, despite having been “Assigned ‘male’ at birth”.  If you are not familiar with the expression “Assigned ‘male’ at birth”, it simply means that after a cursory visual inspection, my sex (and therefore my gender) was recorded as male.  Also, at that time, my weight was recorded to be somewhere around 5 pounds.  As you can see, a lot has changed since then.

My ‘Trans-feminine’ gender presentation has a definite ‘binary’ feel to it, I won’t deny that – and that’s totally OK.  From the standpoint of interacting with other people, this is more comfortable for me.  This is a presentation that is ‘affirming’ for me.   But it’s just that – a presentation.  It is a set of cues and signifiers to (hopefully) convey how I want others to see me and interact with me. 

My ‘non-binary’ gender identity is not something that is necessarily visible to other people.  I am almost never ‘gendered’ correctly, and every day, I am assumed to be, and gendered as, something I’m not.  My ‘trans-feminine’ gender presentation is visible and can be very apparent. I have forfeit the luxury of moving anonymously through society at large, in favor of being true to myself and as ‘authentic’ as I can be.  I am always visibly trans.

I have been told that what I do is courageous or somehow brave.  The truth is, what I do is completely selfish.  I do this for me, so I can live.  This is not for anyone else’s benefit.  That said, I feel that having gone through all the anguish and effort I have, something more needs to come of this.  There is so much misinformation out there about transgender individuals…

To close, “It’s hard to hate someone you know.”  To that end, to the extent that I can, I try to be that ‘someone’.

So for everyone in the room: if you didn’t before, you all now know at least one trans person.

Thank you.

Godzilla Haiku

And now for something competely different…

Back in 2014, I found out that Godzilla haiku are a thing: a friend of my daughter posted on her Faceboook wall about it.  I was inspired to write a few of my own, which of course  prompted my daughter to write a few back. Just a bit of silliness we shared. 🙂

From Facebook:

Nadiya to My Daughter:
Google “Godzilla haiku”. There is a surprising number of them in Google Images.

Daughter:
Whoa, when did this become a thing…?

Nadiya:
I don’t know, but it’s awesome.

Me:
So misunderstood
A relic from a dead age
He is Gojira

Off in the distance
Kaiju Goira appears
Soon Tokyo falls

A gift from Gaia
Abused and destroyed by man
He will cleanse the Earth

Daughter:
I like that you spent 1/2 an hour finding these

Me:
Silently weeping
He is the last of his kind
Alone for all time

No, I actually wrote them – I felt inspired

🙂

Sceptical she is…
Unable to believe that
maybe dad can write.

😛

Nadiya:
These are beautiful. Bravo.

Daughter:
Why would Godzilla
Who is of Japanese birth
Write these in English?

Not really alone
With all those other kaiju
Lining up to fight

Me:
With feet planted firm
Tail and breath at the ready
Awaiting attack

Tonight’s episode:
A special ‘Iron Poet’
It’s ‘Battle Haiku’

Daughter:
Perhaps Gojira
Is a nation’s lens to view
Nuclear horrors

Hey, wow, look at that!
Meta take on Godzilla
Damn, such a hipster

And such was my brief stint as a poet. 😀

Transition

n.b.: What a long, strange trip it’s been…

I’ve had a rather tenuous relationship with the word ‘transition’.  For me, in the context of being transgender, transition has had a very specific connotation.  It involves a whole process – hormones, surgery, name changes, etc. – to move from ‘male to female’ or ‘female to male’.  For a long time, it was a word I avoided because of the implications – and it was a word I never considered that applied to me.

Sometime early 2000, I started dressing more feminine / androgynous at work.  Pants one day, top another – bits here and there.  Over time it became more overt, and I even went to HR to discuss my situation.  What I wanted was their blessing that what I was doing was ok – I received said blessing within a week.  Later, in 2006, I was having a discussion with a trans woman on-line who told me that despite what I might call it, I had transitioned in my own way, and I had done it rather formally by approaching HR.  I was taken aback some by this, because I never considered what I did to be ‘transitioning’.

It would be three years (2009) before I heard this again.  I attended a panel discussion hosted by J P Morgan, about HR policies regarding transgender employees.  Afterwards, I was chatting with one of the trans women who had spoken, and she asked me (quite matter of fact) “So you transitioned on the job?”  There it was again, that word, being applied to me.  By now I was starting entertain the idea that perhaps I had, in fact, ‘transitioned’.  I continued presenting as I did until January 2011, when I was laid off and had to find a new gig.

In general, transitioning is a gradual, drawn out process.  It can take years (if ever) before everything is done and dusted – but once it’s done, it’s done.  My transition wasn’t like that.  See, for me, it was about my gender presentation – what I needed to feel good and to be authentic to myself.  You might think that this made things easier – and in some ways it did.  Where it became an issue was when I needed to look for work.  Interviewing as an ‘out and proud’ non-binary transgender individual would likely tank my chances of finding a new gig, so it was back on with the suit and tie, as I did my best impersonation of a ‘man’.  It worked – and I found a new job.

The cost of this new job was my own personal ‘de-transition’.  I went to work, once again, ‘as a man’ for three months before I approached HR to ask for permission to present as I had before.  As my wardrobe was not overly feminine, the change wasn’t especially drastic, but it meant a lot to me to be able to dress as I have been doing for close to eleven years.  I would continue doing this for the next eight years (up to 2018.)

The last few years at my previous gig had seen me dress more feminine, as I became more active and vocal in the firm’s LGBT group.  I was getting positive recognition for my contributions, and my ‘transition’ encompassed more than it ever had in the past.  I was feeling good about myself, good about how others saw me, I felt I had finally found my place, found my voice.  The low grade depression which has been with me my entire life had truly taken a back seat to a more positive and optimistic outlook on things…

And then it was 2011 all over again.  I was laid off at the end of 2017, this time loosing all the support and good energy I had found over the past few years.  Days at home were isolating, depressing, and stressful.  Looking for work once again required a suit and tie – and that I bury my gender non-conformity.  For a second time, I had to ‘de-transition’.  It would take me five months to find a new job here at New York Life.

Once again, I found myself going to work ‘as a man’ – but I refused to give up a few feminine embellishments: my earrings (nothing near what I had been wearing, but still there), Pandora bracelet, Tiffany heart necklace – anchors to ‘who I am”, all overshadowed by the fact that ‘I am a guy’ as far as everyone know.  I settled in, trying to intuit the right time to contact HR, ‘come out yet again’, and have the discussion about me and what I need.  I had few reservations that the discussion would be anything but positive, but one never knows.  What stressed me the most was the impending discussion with my immediate management. I was pleasantly surprised to find I needn’t have worried as I did.  That was a year ago now – how time flies…

No two trans people will have the same experiences as one another.  While I share many experiences with diverse cross section of people under the ‘transgender umbrella’, each of our journeys is deeply personal.  I have walked a path that is very much my own.  It is path I continue to travel.

‘Transition’ used to frighten the crap out of me, because it carried with it a sense of finality: having left something far, far behind, and having passed a point of no return.  Close to twenty years later, there is no reason to deny or misrepresent what I have done: I have ‘transitioned’ – and I have made peace with that.

No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.  –  Rudyard Kipling

Why I Marched in the Pride Parade this Year

n.b.: I have a whole backstory as to my issues with the pride parade.  After writing it all out, I realized that none of it really matters, as I have clearly overcome them this year.

It has been a long road getting here, but I made it: I marched in the Pride Parade this year.  Having never attended the parade before, my ‘first time’ was to march in it, on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.  Go big, or go home I suppose. 🙂

Twenty years ago, when all my trans issues ‘came to a head’, my wife’s position was “This is your problem, not mine.”  Her support / tolerance / acceptance of all this ‘trans stuff’ has waxed and waned over the years.  She never signed up for all of this, and there have been more than a few times where she made that known.  This put it on me to somehow ‘make it work’ and keep everyone ‘happy’.  Happy, of course, is a very subjective term, and for many years, I described what we had as a sort of detente with respect to my needs and what she would tolerate.

Twenty years is a long time, and people do not stay together that long by mearly ‘tolerating’ one another.  It is within the past few years, though, that I think the bigest change has happened.  I became more ‘out’ at work, more involved, and that had a positive effect on me.  I began to be recognized for being trans, and making a positive impact.  I began to feel ‘good’ about myself and what I might have to offer others.  That is not something easily hidden.

Getting laid off end of 2017 hit me hard, and it visibly ‘undid’ everything I had gained.  I think that maybe for the first time, my wife saw just how deeply this all impacted me.  I was not able to ‘tough it out’ as I might have in the past.  It was one of the few times in my life that I acutely felt the dysphoria many trans people experience.

It honestly took all I could muster to put on a suit and tie, to do my best impersonation of ‘a man’ when I interviewed here at NYL.  I was shaking when I left the house, but got it under control, and ultimately, I pulled it off.  Two weeks after startng here, I reached out to ODI about ‘being me’ at work – and within a month, I ditched the ‘man drag’.  I was aprehensive, but feeling better.

Fast forward one year here at NYL.  I was asked if I was going to march with NYLPride.  I said that I was considering it, but that I hadn’t decided.  As my n.b. above mentions, I have had mixed feelings about the pride parade in the past.  However, this was the first time in twenty years that I felt that I was at a place, personally, where I wanted to march.  I felt a real sense of being a part of a group that acepted me, and I found that I was comfortable with the idea of ‘marching’ publically, and with this group of people.

Before even offering that I was going to march, I asked my wife, “Would you be interested in marching in the pride parade this year?”  I honestly didn’t know what she would say.  She took a few seconds and answered, “Sure, why not!”  I was a bit stunned, but happy – and it became immediately clear that I could not back out now.  I was going to march, and so was my wife.  I then asked my daughter, who is home from college, if she and her girlfriend would like to march as well.  There would now be four of us.

If my wife has said no, I’m not sure I would have gone… maybe I would have – who knows?   For all the support I get at work, It cannot compare with the support of family.

And so after twenty years:

  • with my straight(?) wife, holding a pride and trans flag up high
  • with my bi daughter (and her girlfriend)
  • dressed as a big ‘ol trans pride flag
  • surrounded by a decidedly amazing group of colleagues and their families

I marched – not in the back, but up front – unapologetically owning who I am – perhaps more publically than I ever have before.

BM_Me_Vic

Here’s looking forward to 2020… 🙂

The Importance of Being Earnest

n.b.: Transgender Day of Visibility 2019 was this past Sunday, March 31. While I am out and visible, it took me a while to do so in ‘earnest’.

It was 1997 when I discovered Usenet, and the various public transgender related forums it hosted. That discovery, and the realization that I was not as alone in the world as I had once thought, marked the beginning of my exploration of my gender related issues. As these were public forums, I needed some ‘online identity’ behind which I could maintain some anonymity: I was light years away from being ‘out and proud’. The name I decided on was Donna – specifically Donna Lynn Matthews. I think it took me all of five minutes to settle on it, and to create an e-mail account for her. And thus was born my alter ego.

Donna has posted online for over twenty years. During that time, I have joined new forums where people have ‘recognized’ me from pieces I have written, I have found references to my website and blog in online course notes for college classes, and as I mentioned in “Why Can’t You Just be Trans?”, a humble glossary of terms I wrote is referenced as “[o]ne of the missing links between wider popularization and Usenet” of the term ‘cisgender’. For over twenty years, I have literally maintained two identities: Gary – who pretty much kept his head down and did his best to get through life, and Donna – who has been the voice for all of my musings on gender.

In 2006, I reached out to the LGBT group at Lehman Brothers, and ultimately had my profile posted on their intranet site. That was really the start of my being ‘out at work’ as transgender. Lehman Brothers / Barclays, FXAll / Thomson Reuters, New York Life… It has now been thirteen years, with the last two or three where I have really been the most out and vocal – the last two or three years where ‘Donna’ has lent her voice someplace outside the Internet.

For the past twenty years, my ‘gender expression’ as a trans-person has been largely at work, with me downplaying it while at home. This is because for the past twenty years, I have walked a line between what I need, what I can ‘live with’, and what my wife is comfortable with. It has been a delicate balancing / juggling act, and truth be told, I have dropped the balls more than a few times. It is an imperfect solution to a difficult situation, and there are no rules for making something like this work. Time and perseverance have brought us to what seems to be a relatively stable place.

I joined Facebook in 2009. ‘Back in the day’, the only options for ‘gender’ on your profile were male and female. I choose male and hid that information. For almost ten years, save for the very occasional repost, my Facebook wall was transgender free. I did not ‘like’ or repost any transgender content. I did not comment on posts regarding transgender issues. There was next to nothing that would lead anyone to think I was transgender. When Facebook finally offered (in 2015 I think) expanded gender options, I seized on the opportunity to ‘self identitify’, and I changed my gender there to ‘Trans, Gender Nonconforming and Non-binary’. I felt safe with this, because, really, who reads profiles? This was also when I started ‘liking’ transgender related posts. At some point in 2017, in response to Trump’s general attitude towards transgender people, I began re-posting transgender related content. I could not remain silent in light of the current political climate. But even with this, I was still not ‘openly transgender’ on Facebook: I was a supporter, an advocate – at best, an ‘ally’.

On October 21 2018, the Trump administration issued ‘memo’ that would effectively erase federal recognition of trans and nonbinary gender identities. There was an immediate online response with #WontBeErased. Trans and otherwise gender non-conforming people were putting the administration on notice: we will not be erased. That morning, I took fresh picture of myself. On Tuesday, with no fanfare, I updated my Facebook profile picture, including a “WontBeErased” graphic on it.

Gary was now out, publicly, as a transperson.

I received supportive comments, as opposed to the negativity for which I was bracing. What touched me the most was a private message from a woman who was a classmate from high school:

Gary, I’m not on FB much anymore bc I found it raises my blood pressure! When I was checking in more often, I always appreciated your intelligent posts, not knowing what u were living thru until u recently changed your profile pic. I just want to tell u how profoundly touched I am by your courage and how deeply I respect and honor u and feel grateful that our paths crossed at one time. While we were never close, I still want u to know that I am here for u if u ever need a friend. I hope u are living your best life and r happy. Please know that there r many of us out there who have your back 👍🏻❤️😘

The genie is out of the bottle, and she’s not going back inside.

I celebrated this past Transgender Day of Visibility with a new picture. It seemed appropriate:

55943909_2350271538316161_5650348465109073920_n

I have been ‘visible’ for a long time, while very much ‘hiding’ in plain sight.

Time to be ‘me’ in earnest…

In Our Own Words

I am a member of a Facebook group for non-binary individuals.  As you might imagine, it’s a pretty diverse group.   In it, a thread was started, asking the following:

What is something that you wish the greater population knew about nonbinary folks?

 

I thought would be interesting to see what other non-binary members wanted to share:

  • We are regular humans just like everyone else.
  • We aren’t “currently identifying as X”.
  • I’m real.
  • We aren’t “undecided”.
  • I’m not “just trying to be a special snowflake”.
  • Sexuality is not defined by gender identity.
  • I wish mainstream society could understand that we are not a single stereotype, we are an extremely diverse community of people. You may not realize someone in your life in non-binary because we don’t have a shared look or a fixed set of behaviors. We are each unique individuals.
  • That we can look and behave variously.
  • It’s not just “something the kids are doing”. A.) It’s an identity, not a fad. B.) There are plenty of nonbinary folx over the age of 30. We just haven’t always had the language to express this.
  • Not many of us are comfortable being referred to as our gender assigned at birth.
  • Asking about surgery and medical transitioning is invasion of privacy and you shouldn’t do it. If they want to talk to you about it, they’ll bring it up.
  • THEY IS A VALID SINGULAR PRONOUN, YOU’RE JUST OVERTHINKING IT.
  • That we exist, it’s not a phase, we’re not seeking attention, it’s not what we “want others to think we are” etc…
  • We’ve existed for years; being non binary isn’t just some trend.
  • We aren’t all the same.
  • That you can’t possibly tell whether someone is nonbinary (or trans, in general) just by looking at them. Nonbinary isn’t a single look.
  • I also wish people wouldn’t assume that just because you don’t identify as the gender you were assigned at birth doesn’t mean you are taking some kind of medical treatment.
  • Also that denying the existance of non binary people won’t do any good.
  • The world isn’t going downhill because people are embracing who they truly are there are actual problems to worry about like war and poverty.
  • Even if being non binary was a choice/trend it’s still in no way a problem or issue nobody is getting hurt from people being harmlessly happy.
  • Presentation != Gender
  • We are not looking for attention, we are just trying to exist.
  • I am not obsessed with my gender, they are.
  • There’s no one way to be nonbinary, you can feminine, masculine, or androgynous, or none of the above. Expression =\= identity.
  • While I do admittedly love attention, no, this isn’t a ploy to get it.
  • Adults can be nonbinary, and it’s not something you had to have realized when you were a little kid (goes for all trans people.)
  • No, I’m not intersex (about which there needs to be a LOT MORE EDUCATION in general.)
  • This really isn’t the main keystone of my identity, it’s just something that’s true about me. The keystone is way, way nerdier than this.  And frankly it’s not even that important; just don’t address me by the fact that I have breasts, and listen when I have an idea at work.
  • That the gender binary is an inherent part of the white supremacy. Also that you can’t know who is cis or trans, so no one can accurately say they aren’t attracted to nonbinary/trans people, because you literally can never tell just by looking.
  • I just want the same respect you give a dog when the owner corrects the gender and you apologize and correct what you said to the correct gender. Is that so hard?   Also I don’t like my birth name I just want to be called Jess. My birth name makes me cringe.
  • That “I never wanted to wear dresses as a girl,” or “I had lots of sisters and grew up ‘sensitive’,” while still feeling comfortable in the gender labels assigned to them by society, is not the same thing at all.
  • It’s not “woman-lite”
  • We’re not just “over-labeling” ourselves to be “more complicated”! We have found words that align with how we identify. That’s all. (this is something my mother in particular cannot wrap her head around.)
  • That just because I still sometimes wear traditionally feminine things it doesn’t mean I’m faking it.
  • I’m not doing this to be political, edgy, or a snowflake. I just want to exist in a way that makes me happy.
  • That gender isn’t binary and it’s more “unnatural” to force yourself into the binary than it is to reject it. That everybody has their own relationship to gender, and that people don’t have to adhere to what society says gender is or must be.
  • That its easier to title/introduce things using ‘they’ etc rather than writing ‘he/she for EVERYTHING.  Legit one time I tried to educate someone on it and they corrected the sentence to ‘he/she/they’ and I’m like BRUHHHH.  The cis complain about they being a plural pronoun but can’t use it as a plural pronoun anyway.
  • That we’re not a new thing or a trend. We’ve always existed, it’s just that the language and societal space is starting to exist to allow for us.
  • I’m ambonec. Just because you haven’t heard of a term before doesn’t mean I made it up. Same goes for all non-binary terms.
  • We don’t have to want to look like what a cis person thinks androgyny is.
  • There are more than two genders.  My gender isn’t made up, the fact that I’m femme presenting and afab doesn’t make me less non-binary.
  • We’re not all skinny white people. I’m sorry but in the main that’s what I see when I see stuff about being nonbinary.
  • It’s not all about appearances for everyone, so you should respect someone’s identity regardless of if they fit your idea of androgyny or not.
  • We have always existed, and we will always exist.
  • That non binary is not a single identity, there are infinite ways to be non binary and you should never assume someone is/is not non binary because of how they look. And never ever think it’s your place to tell someone what you think their identity “really” is.
  • That we aren’t freaks and that we are just like everyone else.
  • That respecting our identities is just as important as respecting that of binary trans people. Also that it’s NOT an afab club. I get that a lot. Even from other trans people….. Anybody can be non-binary.  So basically, just respect non-binary folk as much as anybody else.
  • That just because some people don’t go on HRT or have any surgeries, doesn’t make them any less non-binary. That just because they wear clothes that might “correlate” with their assigned at birth sex, doesn’t make them any less non-binary.
  • I just want people to know that non-binary doesn’t have a correct look. Just because I wear makeup doesn’t mean I’m a girl. Respect how I look and my pronouns.
  • Also language is an ever-evolving social construct and they/them and neopronouns are in fact “grammatically correct” because humans literally create language as we go.
  • That it’s not “too rare to bother moving away from binary language”.  That using gender inclusive/gender neutral language or the correct pronouns isn’t difficult.  It’s about effort and maybe it will take effort at first, but then it won’t – and telling me it will be “difficult” for you is something I have zero interest in hearing.
  • We exist in all ages, all socioeconomic situations, basically all varieties of people imaginable.
  • Gender being a social construct doesn’t make our experiences any less real.
  • That some people have no gender, and that some of us without a gender use ungendered (as opposed to gender-neutral) pronouns like “it/its”.
  • I have no gender, and am not some in between of masculine and feminine. I’m off the spectrum altogether.
  • That we are real and not just internet gender memes.
  • That we’re not an ideology.
  • That we lived our whole lives as something we are not, and now we get to decide who we are – so why not escape the societal tropes of the gender we were assigned at birth if we don’t at all identify with it.
  • Some of us don’t even know we’re nonbinary yet – might take years to find out.

The overwhelming message from the comments:

We are real, we are valid, and we just want to be respected for who we are.

Recognition

I recently had the pleasure of attending the NGLCC ERG Roundtable on Transgender, Non-Binary, & Gender Fluid Talent in the Workplace.  NYL hosted the event, which featured an excellent speaker, and some very good breakout discussions.  I enjoyed the event, although I did experience a moment of cognitive dissonance, the likes of which I have not experienced in quite a while…

I discovered that, against the odds, I was not the only TGNC (trans / gender non-conforming) individual in the room….

kXnk60D

I know, right?  Like, how the heck did that happen???

There were at least five other individuals who were either trans or some flavor of non-binary – I cannot remember the last time I experienced that.  Once I realized (and fully processed) this fact, something interesting happened to me…

I relaxed… In public…  That is not something that happens too often to me.

In unfamiliar public situations, I usually scope out the room, looking for the safest (i.e. least conspicuous) place to sit.  I may (or may not) relax a bit as things progress – it all depends on the vibe I get from the room.  I am sure that I make more of things than I should, but when you are the only one in the room, you become hypersensitive to things: the glances, the stares, the whispers…  This is because you have experienced these things, having been the topic of casual discussions before – discussions which happen as though you aren’t even there… except that you are.

Last Wednesday though, I didn’t feel the need to be ‘on my guard’ like I usually do in unfamiliar social settings.  The theme of the event helped to put me at ease; the recognition of other people like myself that made me less self conscious, and allowed me to relax and enjoy the event: a rather welcome respite.

Trans visibility is important, because it serves to normalize trans and non-binary individuals, moving us from the realm of ‘curiosity’ to that of ‘commonplace’.

Trans visibility is important, also, because it helps us to feel a bit less alone in the world.

“Why Can’t You Just be Trans?”

There is a graphic that has made the rounds on the web, listing 32 distinct ‘genders’ and the symbols to represent them:

gender1-768x503

It’s cool that we are living in a time where as a largely invisible class of people, we are developing our own legitimizing lexicon: the language through which we can talk about one another, and that others can use talk about us.  This is not just a linguistic evolution, but a social one as well.  A ‘thing’ is real only in so far as there is a name for it.  Our identities are real for the same reason.  We need names for who we are in order to be recognizable and intelligible within the greater context of society.

Let’s hop into the Wayback Machine and see what things were like when I was coming to terms with my own gender identity.  (n.b.: this is a simplified overview but suffices for the purpose of the discussion.)

It was the late 1990’s, there was no ‘social media’, and Usenet – the public Internet discussion forums – was the primary gathering place for discussions about transgender related issues.  At that time, the individuals who now are colloquially referred to as ‘transgender’ were, back then, referred to as transsexuals.  These individuals considered themselves ‘women’ who sought (or were guided by the psychiatric community) to change their ‘sex’ to align their bodies with their gender.  As a rule, these individuals did not identify as transgender.

Also at that time, there was a group who started to use the label transgender (a term coined / adopted by crossdresser Virgina Prince in 1987) to describe themselves.  This group, as a rule, did not feel ‘compelled’ to change their sex like the transsexuals did.  Where transsexuals felt that their sex to be the opposite of what it was at birth, transgender individuals felt that their gender to be the opposite of what it was ‘at birth’.  While really two sides of the same coin, the two groups clashed, rarely finding common ground. (please see postscript below)

At that time, I pretty firmly identified as ‘transgender’, as it wasn’t an ‘umbrella’ term back then.  It was specific, and positioned me separate from the transsexuals, and from the cisgender individuals.  It should be noted that ‘cisgender’ did not carry the political baggage which it does now.  For a bit of context, please see: Researching Early Uses of “Cisgender”, where, as I was both surprised and pleased to find, I am mentioned:

Koyama, in turn, cites a glossary maintained by Usenet regular Donna Lynn Matthews as an authoritative source on cisgender, who was also one the term’s most frequent users on Usenet. Matthews’s glossary becomes one of the missing links between wider popularization and Usenet.

So, yeah, I’ve been at this a while… 🙂

It wasn’t long before I found that transgender, as a ‘gender’, just did not fit right.  I realized that my ‘gender’ was not something that fit the binary, or at either ‘end’ of the gender spectrum.  In 1998, I coined the term Intergendered in an attempt to capture what my experience of gender was and how it was different from transgender.  I even went so far as to start my own Usenet group for discussions related to this ‘non-binary’ gender: alt.support.intergendered (which is now listed in the Digital Queer History Project, and is in the process of being added to the Transgender Usenet Archive.)  Contrary to those who look to invalidate non-binary genders as something ‘new’ and ‘a fad’, I knew I was non-binary in 1998, and there are countless others before that who simply did not have the language to express what it was they experienced.

Over time, transgender became both an umbrella term for all things ‘gender variant’, and the ‘gender identity’ of those who used to be called transsexuals.  As I continued to evolve, I eventually replaced ‘intergendered’ with genderqueer, as it was essentially the same and had gained some ‘mainstream’ use.  I would later find that genderqueer was used almost exclusively by AFAB (assigned female at birth) individuals, and having gotten some pushback from people online,  I would ultimately abandon genderqueer in favor of ‘non-binary’, as it came into use.  At this time, I do feel that ‘non-binary’ fits me the best of all the other labels I have used.

So, why can’t I just be trans?  I agree that it might make it easier for everyone else, but my ‘gender’ isn’t about everyone else, it’s about me.

I am non-binary / trans-feminine.  The ‘non-binary’ aspect is that I am neither a ‘man’ nor a ‘woman’ as is colloquially considered by society.  The ‘trans-feminine’ aspect is that I present myself and prefer to interact in a way that that society would colloquially view as ‘feminine’, despite having been gendered ‘male’ at birth.  And while I acknowledge the ‘non-binary’ aspect is not something that is necessarily visible to other people, and that the ‘trans-feminine’ aspect is much more apparent, it does not change the reality of who I am, and my lifetime of experience.

We have been asked, “Why can’t you just be trans?”

We cannot ‘just be trans’, because it isn’t who we are.

We deserve to be seen for who we are.

We deserve to be real.


postscript: It is important to note that the transsexual, crossdressing, and transgender discussion forums were frequented almost exclusively by AMAB (assigned male at birth) trans people.  This demographic was the most visible, most vocal, most controversial, and most ‘studied’ from a psychiatric perspective.  The AFAB individuals started out largely in the lesbian communities, and seemed (to me) to have a much better established social support network.  It was, in my opinion, easier for then to blend into society than their feminine trans counterparts.  There was not a lot of online mixing of the two groups, and I will admit to a large degree of ignorance with respect to the history in the trans masculine space.

A lot of the ‘non-binary’ gender presentation started in the lesbian community.  Women toying with gender bending has always been ‘less problematic’ than men looking to play with gender.  The early genderqueer community was almost exclusively young, college aged lesbians, making a masculine / androgynous presentation.  Because of this, there is still some echo of this idea that AMAB individuals cannot be ‘non-binary’, which is, of course, not the case. 🙂

 

What’s in a Name

“Hey Donna!” Jasmine, one of the women at the registers, waves me over to take my order.

I have been frequenting a Starbucks on my way to the office. When asked for my name, I have been using Donna – which has been my ‘online’ name for the past twenty years. I also use it casually sometimes, as well as with people I consider closer than casual acquaintances. At my previous job, a had a number of friends there who called me Donna, or simple ‘Dee’. 🙂

The staff at the Starbucks only know me as Donna there. No one questions or second-guesses my name. In that microcosm, I am Donna and nothing else.

SB_Donna

I point this out because trans people often get a lot of pushback when we ask people to refer to us in a way we prefer – in a way that is validating to us. People are quick to accept celebrities naming themselves: Sting, Lady Gaga, Bono, The Edge, etc… No one calls these celebrities out, saying “That’s not your ‘real’ name…” No one accuses them of being dishonest or deceitful. People accept and respect that this is how they wish to be addressed, and they do so without question. However, when a trans person chooses a name for themselves, it is often perceived that there is something ‘dishonest’ about it. We often get the question of “But what is your real name?” This perception is rooted in the notion that transgender identities are themselves not something ‘real’.

Trans people spend the first part of their life with a name that carries with it a lifetime of baggage: the expectations of parents, family, friends, colleagues. These are expectations that often do not resonate with how we feel and who we know we are. For us, the act of choosing a name can be a re-birth of sorts. Choosing a name is an act of self-affirmation – one which roots the ownership of our identity with ourselves, as opposed to with someone else. It is very much the case that something is ‘real’ only in so far as we can name it: by choosing our names, we become ‘real’.

For individuals who have legally changed their name, that is their name; it’s use is not optional. Referring to a trans person by their birth name is called dead-naming, because for these individuals, the person with that previous birth name simply no longer exists. Dead-naming is never appropriate, so please just don’t do it.

For individuals who have not legally changed their name, there is still no good reason to not respect how an individual wishes to be addressed. If you can respect the use of someone’s ‘nickname’, you can respect a trans person’s ‘preferred’ name. My story about Starbucks illustrates just how much of a non-issue ‘preferred names’ should be. As I said above, no one questions or second-guesses my using ‘Donna’ as my name. As a result, I get to start my day with a bit more of a smile. 😀

I worked with a woman named Pamela – she hated her name and told everyone to call her Pam. If someone called her Pamela, she corrected them. In very short order, we all called her Pam, and it was a non-issue. If you meet a trans person (or anyone for that matter) and are unsure how to address them (name, pronouns) just ask. We like when people take the time to respect us enough to ask. And if a trans person ‘corrects’ you, don’t be offended – simply make a note of it and move on. The goal is not to make you feel bad, just to let you know, “Hey, this is what I prefer…” 🙂

Come out, come out, wherever you are…

“In for a penny, in for a pound” as they say.  I have been ‘out’ for years now: very out at work, scaled back some at home.  It’s been a complicated dance I perform between the two worlds, and to be honest, I ‘leak gender’ all the time.  Some people just realize it, others just think I’m quirky, and some are oblivious.  In the end, all I care about is being treated respectfully.

On Oct 23rd, early in the morning, in rersponse to the White House memo about ‘redefining’ gender, I posted a new profile pic on Facebook.  A few minutes later, I posted the following to a closed FB group for non-binary individuals:

I kinda ‘officially’ came out on FB this morning. It’s not like I have been hiding – under ‘Gender’ on my profile I have Trans, Gender Nonconforming and Non-binary, but who reads profiles. 😉 I have never really stated explicitly ‘I am trans’, but I feel you would be hard pressed to miss that fact. Anyway, now it’s out there – new profile pic, of me, with a #WontBeErased frame. So there you go. 🙂

I am ‘publically’ transgender now… Whoa…

As I expected, members of the group were quite supportive.  We do like to support one another for things like this.  Many of my FB friends liked / loved the new pic, and several left encouraging comments.  It feels good to know you have the support of your friends, even it you are all not overly close.  But there was one reaction I wasn’t expecting…

I received a private message from a classmate from high school.  We were never close, I’m not sure we even ever spoke to one another, but that was what high school was like for me.  As I wrote when I was invited to our 30th reunion, it was rather cliquish and I never really felt like I fit.  But late last nite, I found this waiting for me:

Gary, I’m not on FB much anymore bc I forind it raises my blood pressure! When I was checking in more often, I always appreciated your intelligent posts, not knowing what u were living thru until u recently changed your profile pic.  I just want to tell u how profoundly touched I am by your courage and how deeply I respect and honor u and feel grateful that our paths crossed at one time.  While we were never close, I still want u to know that I am here for u if u ever need a friend. I hope u are living your best life and r happy.  Please know that there r many of us out there who have your back👍🏻❤️😘

I stared at the message, reading it several times in (somewhat) disbelief.  Few are the times when someone has reached out to me like this, and each time had been emotional for me, because it can be hard sometimes to see past the selfishness of what I do.  I’m ‘out’ for me – because I need to not be hiding; that’s not always easy for others.  I still tend to discount the (positive) impact I have on others, despite having been told so more times than I can count.  Thank you for reminding me. 🙂

The gains we have fought hard to make are likely to be erased in the blink of an eye.  It’s a hard time for anyone who is not white, cis, and straight, but we need to be strong.

Know that we all have people like my friend who support us and want the best for us.

National Coming Out Day

Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day, a time when we celebrate coming out as some flavor of LGBTQ+ and share our stories.  I thought I would share the first time I ‘came out’ to someone in person.  It remains, to this day, a powerful moment in my life.

I was a VP in Human Resources Information Systems for Morgan Stanley in 1996. There was some buzz one morning about a new consultant who would be starting there: a transsexual woman.  I remember finding it rather disconcerting that there was gossip like this before she had even stepped foot on the floor.  I was also intrigued, as to my knowledge I had never met a trans woman.  Later that morning, we were introduced to Riki Wilchins, who would be doing Visual Basic development.  I remember thinking how unremarkable she was; I don’t know what I was expecting, but she wasn’t it. By the end of the day, the ‘novelty’ seemed to have worn off and things were business as usual.

We would chat on and off over the next weeks, nothing specific, just the the usual day to day idle chit-chat.  She did share a bit about herself with me, more so than she did with others I think.  We often have a sense for others like ourselves, so maybe she picked up on that.  One morning, when I was feeling especially ‘distracted’ by the trans noise in my head, I asked Riki if she had a minute.  She said “sure” and we went into my office and closed the door…

I told her “I hope you don’t mind, but you seem like you might understand…”, and then the floodgates opened.  I spent the next twenty minutes telling her my story, everything up to that point in my life.  I paused, looked at her and said “I’ve never shared this with anyone, not like this.”  She smiled, and said “I know.”  She was very understanding, empathetic, and offered suggestions for support groups, reading, and was just genuinely supportive.

Riki would go on found GenderPAC and has published a number of books.  Many years after Morgan Stanley, I had reason to email her, and introduced myself as “the guy who came out to you at Morgan Stanley”.  She said she didn’t remember that specifically, but recalled that I was the only person there who she felt treated her as just a regular person, and that that meant a lot to her.

Since that first time, I have ‘come out’ many times: at my last three jobs, to friends, coworkers…  I have come to accept that I will never stop ‘coming out’; there will always be some person, some situation, that will require me to explain this all over again…

… and by now, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

I can be ‘X’, but should I be?

New York City Will Allow Gender-Neutral ‘X’ On Birth Certificates

For individuals born in New York City, it is now possible to have your gender (sex?) on your birth certificate recorded as ‘X’. This is seen as a big move forward for TGNC (Trans, Gender Non-Conforming) individuals, and I am seriously considering having my own birth certificate updated to ‘X’.  It would be the first step it some sort of legal recognition of me as non-binary.

I went and dug out my birth certificate to confirm that I was eligible.  I was born at Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital (back in the day) in Manhattan, so I am good to go.  As I look over my birth certificate, it clearly states Sex: M – this is what would change to an ‘X’ if I follow through and do this.  But as I stared at the document, I began to question just what that change really would mean.

My birth certificate says ‘sex’, not ‘gender’. Given the antediluvian year of my birth this is not a surprise. For all the cisgender (‘gender conforming’) men and women out there, this is very likely a distinction you have never considered.  In fact, most people use the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably; for them, they are one and the same thing: men are male and women are female.  For (most) trans people though, equating sex and gender becomes problematic.  Our ‘sex’ (how our bodies are configured) and our ‘gender’ (how we see ourselves in a social context) tend to be in varying degrees of ‘alignment’, from close to not at all. Regardless of the bodies trans individuals inhabit: trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary individuals are non-binary.  All trans people inhabit ‘non-conforming’ bodies to some degree.

For the cisgender majority, their genitals define their sex – and their sex defines their gender.  I am considered AMAB (assigned male at birth), meaning that after a quick visual inspection I was recorded (or assigned) as ‘male’.  I have never taken exception to that: even though there are things about my body that are not ‘usual’ for males; my body is what it is.  When I started seeing a new primary care physician, she asked me what I wanted recorded on my medical chart: male or female.  I told her ‘male’ made sense from a medical (sex) standpoint, as that was the body I have.  I could not see what advantage being recorded as ‘female’ would provide me.  To me, my ‘gender’ was irrelevant from a medical standpoint; what matters is what body I have and that it is treated as is appropriate.

So I can have a ‘gender neutral X’ on my birth certificate, but it will be in spot labeled ‘sex’.  Just what was recorded when I was born: my sex? my gender? both?  What does that designation mean, now that my sex and gender no longer ‘line up’?  As far as I am concerned, my ‘sex’ is not ‘X’, even if my gender may be… So does ‘sex’ now mean ‘gender’ but only if you have an ‘X’ there?   The problem here is that there is no good reason to record the sex (or gender) of an individual at birth, but they’ve done it and made it a part of all sorts of bureaucracy.  It is now an outmoded codification, becoming meaningless, into which some new meaning is trying to be injected.  My birth certificate is now about my gender, which matters how, exactly?

:: sigh ::

It’s odd to be so conflicted about something so small – except that it doesn’t feel small.  We all want to be recognized and accepted for who we are.  For TGNC individuals, this is a start – a bit ill fitting perhaps – but a start nonetheless…

Now where did I put that form…

Lassitude

n.b.: This comes on the heels of yesterday’s generally upbeat post.  As such, this is not a refutation of that. I have bright spots of positivity, things where I look back as think, “That was a good day.”  They happen far too infrequently compensate for the overwhelming weight of the rest of my existence.  This has been kicking around as a draft for months, and I hesitated posting it as it was written while I was out of work.  I thought perhaps time would want me to rethink this.  It hasn’t… Go figure. 🙂 

On with the show… 

I truly am so very tired of living.

Lassitude : weariness of body or mind from strain, oppressive climate, etc.; lack of energy; listlessness; languor.

I was in a car accident in 2010 – t-boned by a pickup truck on the driver’s side, just missing the driver’s door.  I was lucky – it could have been worse, so much worse than it was.  As it was happening, I recalled:

It’s already too late when I see the headlights: I am mid turn and the lights are almost on top of me. There is no where to go – nothing to do. I look at the approaching lights and think, “fuck…”

There was nothing I could do in the situation – I was going to be hit.  However, instead of feeling panic or fear, I felt a sense of calm resolve about the situation – and maybe even a sense of relief:

The irony of the situation was not lost on me. I found it morbidly amusing that things would end this way. I had thought about this before – many times in fact… What I never anticipated was that this might *actually* happen. That which I had been unwilling to pursue in earnest was now in full play and I was helpless to stop it. I remember thinking, “Be careful what you wish for…”

I survived unscathed, save maybe for the sense of disappointment that I did, in fact, survive.

Several years ago, I came across this on Tumblr:

suicidal

I have felt this way for the majority of my life – often contemplating how I might put an end to my existence. The first time was the summer after graduating high school. I thought about quite a lot really: thought about it, planned it out…  In the end, I lacked the courage to go through with it. Over the years this feeling has waxed and waned, but it has never really left me.

I am quite sure that I have suffered from Dysthymia for the majority of my adult life – maybe even before that.  Dysthymia, which now is called persistent depressive disorder (PDD), is a sort of low grade, on-going depression that permeates one’s life, to the point where it’s just their normal.  I have ‘happy times’ in my life, and I come across as a generally positive individual, but  I cannot say that I have ever really been in a place (mentally) where I have felt good about my life.  My life has been (is) filled with contradictory thoughts and feelings about who I am, who I should be, what my place is in the world.  It is a life where I feel as though I have no firm footing – it is a life wherein I have never known quite what to do.  It is a life where nearly everything I have done has been for the benefit of other people.

It is a life of trying to take some control, only to have that yanked away from me.

I watched a documentary about the now famous picture of “The Falling Man” from 9/11.  One of the people interviewed was a husband who’s wife did not make it.  He identified her as one of the people that day who chose to jump, rather than die inside the building.  He explained her choice this way: in a situation where his wife had no control over what was happening, choosing how to die was the one thing over which she did have control.

Hmmm…

I spent New Year’s in the hospital, diagnosed with multiple pulmonary emboli – blood clots in my lungs.  The morning of New Year’s Eve, I became dizzy and had trouble breathing after walking up two flights of stairs from the basement.  My wife got my daughter, who is now a third year med student, and they both wanted to take me to urgent care.  I resisted, saying I was fine and just needed to relax a bit.  Ultimately I relented, and when an EKG was done, the doctor did not like what they saw, and told me to go to the emergency room.  Another EKG, then a chest CT… By the next morning, I was informed about the clots.

While PE are serious, it is something very treatable.  I was given an IV blood thinner to get me going, and when I was sent home, I spent the next ten days giving myself four injections a day – two in the morning and two at night.  My abdomen was covered in bruises from the shots, which slowly faded after bridging to an oral blood thinner.  I spent the next month getting blood drawn twice a week – next month, once a week – then finally every three or four weeks.  I suppose I was ‘lucky’ to be out of work so I could make friends with the lab tech who took my blood.

Six months later, the clots are gone, but I will be on blood thinners the rest of my life.  I supposed I dodged another bullet; I really need to learn to stand still.  I am also on meds for type 2 diabetes – more joy.  My wife, who is well intentioned, makes sure to remind me to ‘take my pills’ – which I do.  But each time I do, I ask myself “Why? To what end?”  She wants me to be healthy, to get better, but again, “Why?  Why am I doing this?  For who’s benefit?”  I can tell you this much, it is not for my own.

I don’t see myself ever being happy – I don’t even know what that would look like. What I do know is I cannot find a reason to spend the next 20 or 30 (if I’m lucky) years being unhappy.  To what end?  I want a reason, a good reason – a selfish reason.  I want to know what I get out this deal – laying awake at night crying in the dark. Give me a reason that makes it all worth the effort, for me.

You can’t – no one can – because there is no good reason.  Hell, there isn’t even a mediocre reason.  Every reason will somehow be about how other people might be impacted.  No one will have a reason that speaks to what’s in it for me.  And that, me droogs, is the crux of the biscuit.

I do not see the point.  Everything dies: whether it’s today, next month, next year, twenty years from now – it’s going to happen. I have accomplished what I needed to: provided a reasonable good home for my family, raised two amazing daughters, made it so my wife could be home with them as they were growing up, sent them to college (with no loans), and taught them all I feel I have to teach them.  All in all, I would say I was successful, so what’s left to do?  What is left undone that requires I continue to exist this existence?

If you have read my philosophy page, this may seem to be a contradiction.  I have not decided, with any degree of certainty, that it is better to not be, than to be.  This is, after some forty years of living in hope,  my acceptance that despite the positivity of online campaigns like It Gets Better, sometimes it doesn’t get better. Sometimes, this is as good as it will ever be.  This, is one of those sometimes.

I’m just tired – truly so very, very tired of living.

 

A Little Validation

There is much written along the lines that one should not look to others for validation.  As a rule, I don’t, but now and then, it feels good to get a bit of external validation, especially when it’s unsolicited.  That is exactly what happened the other day on the elevator at work.

A woman and I got on the elevator coming up from the cafeteria that morning.  It was just the two of us, and she works for another firm (I could tell from her ID badge.)  As I stood there, looking down, not wanting to make eye contact, I could tell from the corner of my eye that she was looking at me.  Not that this is anything new, but it was making me feel rather self-conscious, so much so that I considered saying something, but decided there was no real point, as I’d be off the elevator in a few seconds anyway.

“That’s a really nice color, your blouse. It looks good on you.” She said, breaking the silence.

“Oh… Thank you!” I know I had to be blushing.

“It’s a great – compliments your hair color.”

Blushing more, “Well thank you! You have just made my day!”

She smiled as the elevator door opened on my floor.  I walked out, giving a little wave, “Have a lovely day!”  I headed back to my desk with more than just a bit of a smile.

I have long contended that people do not go out of their way to pay a stranger a compliment unless they are sincere about it. This woman was under absolutely no obligation to speak to me at all, but she did – and she chose to say something complimentary.  I’m inclined to believe she meant it.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m doing something right with all of this after all. 🙂

 

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

I start my new job tomorrow, which is a good thing for a number of reasons.  First and foremost is that we need my income: it takes money to live and we cannot do that on my wife’s salary alone.  Next is getting back into a routine: five months at home has really worn away at me and I am looking forward to getting back into a regular routine, where I enjoy what is the next reason: being productive.  I like what I do for work, and not being able to do that has been frustrating and a bit depressing – it will feel good to be ‘back in the saddle’ again, so to speak.  And then there is the human interaction: as much as I am an introvert, I need to interact with people.  Being at home effectively cut me off from my entire social network, so I am looking forward to meeting people and re-establishing some social interaction.

I lost a lot more than just a paycheck when I lost my job.  See, changing jobs was not something I planned to do – nor was giving up my team, my friends, my support network, or the environment where I truly felt accepted and respected.  I had finally found my place, and found my voice, as an out and proud trans person.  Rather than being excited to start something new, I am filled with anxiety over the whole thing, and that will continue until, well – I don’t know when it will go away.

When I left Barclays (who purchased Lehman Bros after they went under,) there was the inevitable conflict around how I would dress / present to interview for a new position.  It was ‘decided’ that I would cut my hair, wear a suit, and do my best impersonation of a ‘man’.  This was really difficult because I had been out and open as a trans person, and now I was again hiding, pretending – all to make sure I get hired.  I got a job with FXall, and within three months, much as I had done at Lehman, I approached HR and asked permission to follow the women’s dress code – to present in a way that was authentic for me.  Essentially, I had to ‘come out’ for a second time, asking for permission to be ‘me’.

The conflict around how I would present to interview was worse this time.  I have been presenting authentically for seven years, and now told to just stop.  I had to buy a suit, and I could feel a part of my self wither as I put it on.  Every time I wore it afterwords, I died just a bit more inside.  Ultimately, I did my impersonation of a ‘man’ and have found a new job.  However, in my mind, they a have not hired ‘me’, but rather have hired an imposter, which means coming out all over again.

Lehman was the first time, FXall was the second time, and now my new job will be the third time.  And while it’s a ‘business casual’ environment, I will still be going to work as a ‘man’ and not as myself.  People will meet someone who is not who I really am.  I will need to wait (I don’t know how long) and gauge the ‘right time’ to go to HR, have my talk (i.e. come out, again) and ask for permission to be my authentic self at work.  And then, likely, have some other discussions with people who will want to understand what is going on.

I’m just so tired of fighting for a little comfort, for a little recognition and acceptance.  Yes, I have done this all before, and I will do it all again.

Ultimately, I know it will all work out…

:: sigh ::

I wish it could all be a bit easier.