Freedom to Be Who You Want to Be (or Alice steps out of the looking glass)

(My riff as a transwoman in recovery on the PurposeFairy series 9 Reasons Why You Should No Longer Care About People’s Approval; all creative credit belongs to to that author.)

I’ve never had an easy time explaining gender dysphoria to people.  The experience of being male or female is so much what it means to be human that folks have a hard time wrapping their heads around the thought that experience just doesn’t make sense to some people, including me.

I’ve had the most success describing the first time that I knew I was different.  I gazed into a mirror and the person looking back was not whom I expected to see.  I expected to see a girl with shoulder-length hair, blue eyes and a bright smile.  Obviously that wasn’t the image.  And this is gender dysphoria.

What did I do about it?  Absolutely nothing, nothing but destructive behaviors, that is.  I knew I was different sometime in the mid 60’s.  I needed approval as an adolescent.  I could not have withstood the disapproval of society and family in those years.  The great paradox is that in the middle of this internal struggle and the need for approval, I rejected approval entirely.

We have indeed come a long way in the last fifty years.  We talk more openly about such matters as gender identity and we are better (not perfect) about encouraging a sense of worth not based upon an unhealthy need for approval.  As a people we still struggle towards a better vision, but we are on the journey.  We are braver these days about moving past that need for approval which usually doesn’t materialize anyway.

My family, church and community are important to me, but they all no longer get to call the shots.  I’m free to be who I am because that girl decided to step out of the mirror.
Love, Denise


Approval Seeking Behavior Drains Your Energy (and I am not a bottomless well)

(My riff as a transwoman in recovery on the PurposeFairy series 9 Reasons Why You Should No Longer Care About People’s Approval; all creative credit belongs to to that author.)

I haven’t been blogging as much the last week or so because I simply haven’t had the oomph to do everything.  Job searching is the hot priority right now.  I did take a little time for me visiting some friends who were camping last weekend, sitting around a campfire getting all smoky and eating s’mores and sharing our mutual amazement at the stunning fall colors and moon.

I have just so much energy to spend and so do you.  I want it to go for something that makes a difference.  Why spend it on something that I know for certain that will never make a difference?

Seeking others’ approval sneaks up on you.  It starts with the nagging sense of never feeling quite rested, never quite on track.  Here is how I stop it:

  • I listen to what people I trust and I know care about me are telling me.  When people ask, “Denise, are you really okay?”, they are asking me if I’m getting off track somewhere.  I need to pay attention to other people.
  • I think about who I’m calling and emailing.  When I find myself spending a lot of time trying to communicate with people I’ve sought for approval, a red flag goes up.  I need to pay attention to warning signs.
  • Following from 1 and 2, my mind starts to fantasize that all that unhealthy stuff from the past could be different now, that people could really like me if I just [fill in the blank].  I really need to pay attention to what I’m telling myself.

Don’t waste any more time today on seeking another person’s approval that you’re never going to get anyway.  It’s the same feeling as when you stop beating your head against a brick wall; it feels so good!

Love, Denise

Approval Seeking Behavior is Time Consuming (and I’m not getting any younger)

(My riff as a transwoman in recovery on the PurposeFairy series 9 Reasons Why You Should No Longer Care About People’s Approval; all creative credit belongs to to that author.)

I and thousands of other Minnesotans are spending gobs of time and energy working to defeat the marriage amendment to the state constitution limiting marriage to one man and one woman.  I believe it’s important to make a distinction here: that investment is not about seeking approval but insisting on rights.  I’m willing to spend those gobs of time telling people why marriage rights are important to me and to our neighbors.  I’m willing to spend that time building bridges of understanding between gender-variant people and the larger community.  I’m not willing to spend time trying to get other folk’s approval.

  • Constantly seeking approval from others takes me down a path where I stop caring about myself.  I stop caring about my own physical, mental and spiritual health because there is no time left for me.
  • Constantly seeking approval from others is not a good investment of time.  The payoff is notoriously poor.  I’ve spent an entire lifetime working to get somebody else to approve of me.  And I have zero to show for all that time.
  • Constantly seeking approval from others misses the grand opportunities of life.  I don’t dare take the time away from other people who aren’t going to give me their approval no matter what to take advantage of positive career moves, traveling through this wonderful world, even the book I’ve always wanted to read.
  • Constantly seeking approval from others feeds on itself in unexpected, perverse ways of spending time.  Addiction robs even more time as it sucks the life out of life itself.

These are all reasons why living a life of constantly seeking approval needs to stop.  I’ve seen dogs who could catch their own tail, not often but I’ve seen it happen.  I’ve never seen a dog who could hold on to it.
Love, Denise

You Can’t Control What Other People Think of You (even if they’re right and it’s nice))

(My riff as a transwoman in recovery on the PurposeFairy series 9 Reasons Why You Should No Longer Care About People’s Approval; all creative credit belongs to to that author.)

I have no problem getting all paranoid about what people think about me when I’m out in public (or private, for that matter). My first venture into the world as Denise was a sweat-soaked, stomach-wrenching, blood pressure-escalating safari into a world where I imagined the very worst.

I registered my car that day at the county office.  The only person that noticed was a little boy standing next to me with his mom.  He looked up at me with a quizzical look on his face.  I could hear the wheels turning – now just what the heck is this? I gave him my best winning smile back.  He shrugged and moved on.  I figured Mom could explain later.

But what I don’t consider near enough is how I respond to what other people think of me when it’s fairly accurate.  I’m getting a handle on listening to “character-building” feedback about stuff that really is important.  I don’t always like it…it makes me want to swallow my gum, but I know its value.  What is more problematic are the gracious things people say and think about me, the kind words and thoughts about who I am and my place in their world.  Weird, huh?

That experience happened again last night at my last transition support group. I’m now ready to move on…yay!  But first everybody took a turn telling me what they thought of me.  One person shared how much it meant to her when I helped her stay positive.  I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shout are you crazy? Were we in the same room even?  Both the therapists remarked on how when they sometimes were at a loss for words, I would be there with the word that would help see us through.  Really?  I’m sure the truth is I’m really an obnoxious extrovert who never knows when to shut up and, if she did, she wouldn’t.

I can live with the criticism, legitimate or not.  Living with the nice things people say is a lot more problematic.  I want to just straighten people out.  And I work every day on making that stop.

I got all emotional, but I did manage to acknowledge my struggle to not control the nice things other people say about me.  I did the only thing I know what to do.

Denise, just shut up and say thank you.

I can’t control anything of what other people think of me, even if it is nice. And I don’t need to.

Love, Denise

Am I Better Off Then I Was a Year Ago? – go ahead, ask me

I confess to being a semi-semi-pro-political junkie. I particularly enjoy Nate Silver’s 538 blog on the New York Times website. The question du jour is – am I better off than when I was a year ago? I haven’t been asked, but I’m going to answer anyway.

If we are talking financially, I have to say no. Willing to work, a skill set in demand and supportive references have not always paid off for this trans-woman (although I am fairly far along in a job recruitment process at this moment). $4.00 per gallon gasoline is not helping. But that’s not the only way to answer the question.

If the question is about –

  • am I healthier, the answer is yes. Sober living rejuvenates my body, my mind, my spirit.
  • am I happier, the answer is yes. Transitioning into a sane lifestyle beckons anybody into happiness.
  • am I more social, the answer is yes. Only a few friends have dropped off my radar since transitioning to be replaced by far more people I count on as friends.
  • am I more spiritual, the answer is resoundingly yes. My Higher Power God speaks with me and I speak with God in an intimate duet of spirituality, confirming for me that I am indeed a woman made in the image of God.
  • am I more sure of myself, the answer is yes. I no longer stare at the person in the mirror as a stranger; I have integrity. I am one person. And others remark on it without prompting.
  • am I more hopeful, the answer is yes. I can persevere through the storm because I already have that experience and am successful. I know the storm will break.
  • am I more ready, the answer is yes. I do a much better job of focusing on the things that I can change and letting go of those things that I cannot control.

I am not about to say that I am at the end. I cannot say that some days aren’t discouraging, disheartening. But I can say that I am better than I was a year ago. I can say that I am better off than at any previous point in my life. And THAT is the truth.

Love, Denise

You Can Live a Happy Life Without “Their” Approval (but it’s nice when you get it)

(My riff as a transwoman in recovery on the PurposeFairy series 9 Reasons Why You Should No Longer Care About People’s Approval; all creative credit belongs to to that author.)

and THIS is how it can be

Every time I hit a Like Facebook button, I take a calculated risk.  I am saying to that person or page and indeed to a larger world that I approve of what I’m seeing, hearing and reading.  The converse – when somebody else approves of what I’ve said, they also share in a calculated risk.

I cannot live purely on the strength of another person’s approval. Approval itself is to0 nebulous, too fleeting. I need to be able to stand on my own when approval does not come. I need to realize that approval from those about me carries a price tag for that person which feels real even if it is not.

I also know that someone else’s approval has to be based on incomplete information. No other person can truly know what is in my mind or in my soul. She can approve of something I’ve said in which I was simply wrong. He can miss the truth of what I said because I did not communicate clearly and not approve.

All told, my personal self-worth, my happiness cannot depend on external approval. But that doesn’t mean it feels any less important or fulfilling when I do get it.

Within my goal in life to be authentic, I work to appear as a mostly normative middle-aged woman. I dress like a lot of other women, appropriate for where I am, whether in grocery store or church. I learn how to walk as other confident women I observe. I meet people’s eyes with an openness but not necessarily with a challenge. My name is Denise and I expect and request that others use it appropriately. In the process of this transition, my authenticity makes me happy and at the same time usually gives me some kind of tacit approval, some subtle validation from those around me.

I wish it always worked that way. Approval is nice when I get it. I’m grateful for the willingness to at least try to understand who I am. But when I don’t get it, I’m no less happy. I’m happy because I finally get who I am.

Love, Denise

You Simply Can’t Be Liked by Everybody (but You Can be Liked by Some)

(My riff as a transwoman in recovery on the PurposeFairy series 9 Reasons Why You Should No Longer Care About People’s Approval; all creative credit belongs to to that author.)

I had a phone call from my sponsor this morning for the sole purpose of letting me know the positive effect I have on some other people.  He likes me; I think the world of him.  It hasn’t always been this way  in my life.

The cascading effect of alcohol on depression is not an abstract.  I spent incredible blocks of time in my previous life obsessing about my lack of friends on Facebook.  I was on an incendiary self-destructive track which only halted when I stopped using…and I stopped obsessing about being liked.  I think the reality was that I wasn’t liked particularly.  Whatever witty and brilliant pearl of wisdom I dropped online was in fact ignored, but I couldn’t find the reason and I’m not sure I really wanted to.

Keeping things simple, I’ve found a causal effect between living authentically, responsibly and in sanity and being liked by enough other people to make life interesting and meaningful.  Luminita Saviuc is right.  Everybody is not going to like me, whether for good reason or who knows why.  But the last couple of years has proved this hypothesis for me.  Not only far more friends I have but far more honest friends who tell me their truth, who genuinely listen carefully even when I try to hog the spotlight, who ask me questions that make me think, who call and message me without agenda other than to find out how I am.

I need to be liked by some people.  Their affirmation fertilizes my soul.  Every now and then I need to spot a friendly smile.  But I don’t need anymore to be liked by every last person in this world.  I do expect to be treated with respect as the woman I am.  But we don’t have to be friends.

I just can’t see any way around this.  Worrying about the people who don’t like me gets generally in the way of life at best and is self-destructive at worst.  It feels so good to stop beating my head against a brick wall.

Love, Denise

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