The End of the Fear of Touch (or Things I Notice About Estrogen)

Okay, let’s get this part out of the way right off.  Now that I take estrogen, I have a figure and having a figure is why I started taking estrogen.  But whether I am a B cup or C cup or whatever is nowhere near the deal our culture makes this out to be.  The best part of estrogen is about what happens in my mind, how I relate to other people.

Prompted by this essay by trans man Thomas Page McBee who speaks about what it means to be a man in this world with personal space, here is my perception about what it means to be a woman in this world who never felt at home with that space.

As male I went crazy inside every time any person I didn’t know extremely well got physically close.  I too gave off an aura in a crowd – stay away from me and my testosterone, stay out of my way, give me the respect of space.  Unlike McBee and, I think, many men, I didn’t like feeling that way.  Those boundaries always felt forced; I hated testosterone with an unholy passion.

And then along came estrogen.  Estrogen is not a miracle drug, but finally I feel inside how I ought to feel.  In the space of one year, I no longer flinch, glare or push away people who touch me.  People touching me and myself touching people back feels as normal as breathing.  

My female friends started doing it first as the estrogen started to have more effect.  They place their hands on the back of mine or on my forearm while they are talking.  They bump up against me playfully when sharing a joke.

Personal touch and permeable personal space is the most important part of estrogen for me.  This change confirms that I was right all along; I was never truly male no matter what the birth certificate said.  

And I like this.  A lot.

Love, Denise


Living on the Bare Minimum

I was a lot younger when I worked for minimum wage. Having any money at all that I had earned was an important rite of adolescence. I worked hard at the drive-in for that $1.70/hour, but I also made more money than any of my friends. Of course, gas when I first learned to drive was $.28 per gallon!

Living on the bare minimum requires courage and determination. I dispute any notion that the working poor are somehow deficient in work ethic and I believe they deserve better. Difficult as it is to live on the financial minimum, it remains difficult to live on the respect minimum as well.

A certain notion floats around this world (which often includes the LGB community as well) that transgender people should be satisfied with toleration. We should feel lucky to be accepted by even that much. Sometimes this thought is manifested in the argument about public accommodations – trying to assert rights to use gender-appropriate restrooms is pushing the envelope too fast.

I’ve lived, sort of, on the bare minimum of respect my entire life. I dreamed countless nights of at least being tolerated for who I am as a gender-variant person. But with increasing time in recovery and a new spiritual awareness of being created in the image of God, I’ve come to a new understanding.

Toleration is no longer enough to sustain life. My time has arrived. And so has the time of other gender-variant people around me. We’ve paid our dues. The larger community around us needs to celebrate our lives. We are entitled as productive citizens to a respectful attempt to understand us. It is time to move beyond toleration.


Beyond Tolerance – Gustav Niebuhr

I Never Meant to Do You Trouble

It’s a simple fact of recovery – I take personal responsibility for my interactions with other people. Acceptance of responsibility is a big step for addicted people who have always passed the buck to anybody or everything other than where that responsibility belongs.

Every now and then I meet a person in transition who manages to hold a marriage/relationship together in the process. These are extraordinary people with a certain undefinable depth of love in their lives and responsibility to each other. I wish I and other people like me were able to express and to experience that level of responsibility.

I was mentioning to a friend a few days ago what it felt like in terms of personal responsibility to have lived in multiple marriages, what that means in the context of alcoholism and gender identity, what it is like to start telling the truth. My friend responded to me, asking me if I really meant to do somebody else harm. I gave an honest answer after some thought – no.

Transitioning people (and I imagine gay and lesbian people as well) don’t intend to cause another person pain. I think a great deal of the angst of transition is the realization that I in fact did cause somebody else pain. Encountering another’s pain when recovery leads me to personal responsibility and to living outside of my own little world is discouraging.

I want to leave other transitioning and recovering people around me with the word of honest hope. Recognize your personal responsibility, but don’t let that grow in such a way that it leads you back into depression or into addictive behavior. The key to a brighter and happier future is to recognize how the problem happened in the first place and to speak truth to yourself about it. The best insurance against repeating the past is to recognize that you and I are created to be essentially good people.

Grace happens:)

Love, Denise

A Level Playing Field

Every time I update or create a new job profile, I have one more reminder of just how good my skill set is. Years of experience working in online communities, advanced knowledge of software, especially Microsoft Office Suite and QuickBooks, developing and tracking projects – I don’t always appreciate or realize what I have accomplished until it is down in actual words.

So why is it that I don’t get e-mail or voicemail replies from recruiters? I work on improving my resume with the help of the Minnesota Workforce Center. I attend job fairs. I make sure that every asset I have is out in public view including my veterans status.

It starts to look to me sometimes like I don’t stand much chance not because I’m a woman but because I am a transgendered woman. And I have it better than some because I live in a state that includes gender identity as part of its labor nondiscrimination regulations, which is not to say that discrimination does not happen. In this economy any employer can find a reason to not hire me without spilling the beans of expressing a personal opinion about transgendered people.

I have just one basic message for prospective employers. My name is legally Denise; I am legally female in the state of Minnesota. I am a Vietnam era veteran who earned everything she has ever gotten. I have spent untold hours educating myself in the tools I need to do my job. I have excellent references from professional people who not only appreciate what I can contribute to the team but also appreciate my friendship without caring one whit about my gender identity.

If you do not hire me, if you do not return my calls or my e-mails, you will miss out on what could be a very profitable decision for your business. If you don’t call back because I am a transgendered woman, you are, as we used to say down on the farm, cutting off your nose to spite your face.

I have no interest in special treatment. I only expect with the law says I should expect including veterans preference when it is offered. I expect a level playing field just like any other woman. I expect to give full attention to my time that an employer purchases. If I can’t do the job, I will be the first to tell you. Fair enough?


Deja Vu and a DD214

A copy of my DD214/honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy arrived yesterday. I was missing out on veterans preference availability on jobs by not being able to submit that as well (not a smooth move on my part). But I wasn’t exactly prepared for the emotions attached to a simple piece of paper from a portion of my life that started 39 years ago.

I knew I was flunking out of college and for only one reason. I’d rather drink during the day then go to class. I know that I’m also not the first person (nor probably the last) whoever decided that was a good thing to do.

I woke up one morning with the mother of all hangovers and came to the conclusion that life just couldn’t go on this way. I got THAT part right. So I went down to a nearby recruitment center to join the Air Force. The Air Force office was closed. As I was walking up the hallway past the Naval office, a chief petty officer standing outside the door stopped me with this, “Why do you want to do something as dumb [that’s not exactly the right word, but I’m not going to use it here] has joined the Air Force? You can do a lot better here in the Navy!”

The next thing I know, I’m on an airplane to sunny, humid Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois. Making life decisions with blurry eyes and a pounding head is not a good choice.

But here are things that I have learned from that experience:

  • When I drink, my life is unmanageable. Simply put, this is why I don’t drink anymore. It is difficult enough making some choices about life when a person has all her faculties. It is impossible to make sane choices with a brain marinating in a chemical stew.
  • The answer to the internal pain which results from looking in the mirror and not seeing the person looking back at you that you expect to see is not engaging in hyper masculine behavior and cultural expectations. The answer is facing reality full in the face.
  • The county veterans worker has never worked with a trans-veteran before. She had no idea there were as many of us as there are. I suggested that she get ready. Even in a rural county there will be more trans veterans behind me, sooner or later.
  • Living in an environment that socially encourages heavy alcohol use is obviously not a good mix. On the Naval submarine base in New London, CT, I could walk out the barracks door and be in the petty officers club in 100 yards. In those days I could drink as much as I could hold for well less than $10. The biggest building project on base that I recall was the remodeling of the base liquor store.
  • My oldest child was born in the hospital on that base. After all these years, after all that has happened, after all the failed family and personal relationships, I look back on those days with a wistful sense of loss and of expectations unfulfilled. I don’t live in that past, but that past is without doubt part of me.

The only reason I’m sharing this is in the hope that maybe the one person who reads this and who is facing similar questions will think a lot more carefully about the future than I did. Whatever decisions you make as that person, let them be your decisions that are open and honest and realistic because you are going to own them forever.

Love, Denise


The Arc of Forgiveness

Step 8 – Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. – Matthew 6:12

Last night I had an opportunity to share in a small group how spirituality and recovery have intersected for me, the opportunities for healing in those successful moments and the obstacles created when they have not intersected. I have done this exercise some in writing, but this time was the first I have actually verbalized what this means.

As an alcoholic I was unable to forgive anybody for anything. I was unable to forgive the world around me for its seeming lack of care. I was unable to forgive family not for the lack of understanding but their unwillingness to make the effort. I was unable to forgive the church composed of people who still carried their own spiritual and sometimes mental dis-ease. I was unable to forgive God for being silent. I was unable to forgive myself for the consistently poor and insane choices I made, for lack of courage in facing the reality of who I really am.

All told, that is one heck of a lot of baggage to carry around, yes?

I still struggle at times with forgiveness, usually when another person fails to make that effort to stick with me, to at least try to understand. I’ve started to learn to forgive myself for a disease beyond my personal control and for my unwillingness to continue to live in painful inauthenticity. Sometimes I still wish I’d had the foresight and the courage to not lose all those years.

But forgiveness is an arc stretching from the beginning of creation into a future that I can only anticipate. Forgiveness is a day-to-day affair just as is recovery. Forgiveness is a spiritual exercise and discipline which requires effort and attention on my part and an acceptance that it does not require that same effort on the part of the divine. That particular battle is already fought and the verdict for grace is in. It would be easier to understand maybe if there was a to do list to check off to achieve forgiveness and to express forgiveness. But would it be real?

And so today, when a hurtful thought occurs to me, some perceived injustice, some pill of bitterness which makes my spirit grimace, I will remind myself that I can and will make amends where I can, within and without, and where I can’t, I will depend on that which I cannot always do for myself…forgiveness.

Love, Denise

Stories of Rabbits and Change

When I was quite little, I remember a record player I had.  Those old children’s 45s were my prized possessions, especially The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I think people remarked on what kind of boy I must be when I got so emotionally involved in the part where Peter is nearly caught by Farmer MacGregor.  Everybody but my mother.  She always seemed to understand even when she remembered those days as I became an adult.

And now I’m getting reacquainted with The Velveteen Rabbit, a Beatrix Potter story of a stuffed rabbit that the rest of the world thinks is merely a toy but becomes Real because of another’s love.  Go ahead.  Read it again in the dark of night if you don’t want other adults to know you’re reading nursery stories.  But this time when you hear the Velveteen Rabbit speak, try imagining a girl who knows she’s a girl inside and so desperately wants to become Real, only the “real” girls (and everybody else in the world) all know so much better that she’s not and can never be a real girl at all. 

You read it that way and you tell me with a straight face it’s not emotional.  You read it and understand it and you won’t know everything, but you will know a lot more about me.

Love, Denise

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