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


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

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

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

Someone in My Corner

I remember the first time I ever went to lunch as Denise with some of my cis-gendered girl friends.  We’d gotten to know each other in a whole entirely different kind of group and unlike the majority of people today, they knew me both before and after I’d come out as a transwoman.

I really didn’t want to go.  I was certain everybody in the crowded place was staring at me.  And when they caught on that one man was staring and snickering, I thought they were all going to march over to his table and rearrange his nose.

Even if the statistics are better than 1 in 10,000 for MtF and 1 in 30,000 for FtM folks, we all just aren’t enough to impact society at large in matters of health and justice.  Sure, get us all together in one place and include all the gender-variant people, not just transsexuals, it’s pretty amazing.  But separately and outside a metro area, transitioning can be a lonely business.

I had visions of restaurant management calling the police to break up a melee.  Thankfully the yahoo in question wilted in the stares of a handful of angry women directed right back at him.  But I need to know other people have my back.  Every trans person (and for that matter, all LGBTQI folks) need neighbors like ours next door.  I walked past the end of their driveway last night at dusk.  M. and P. stopped searching for where they stashed their reusable shopping bags long enough to shoot the breeze with me.  They only call me Denise, they refer to me with correct pronouns and they are pulling for me to find work.  Wonderful neighbors.

I’ve given up on family in my corner in large part.  I’m luckier than some in that I even have a family left.  But into the emptiness comes a terrific variety of people who often don’t understand all this transgender business and aren’t overly concerned.  They actually like Denise.  They like this sober Denise.  When I talk to them about jobs, discrimination, access to public facilities, they listen.  Nobody recoils in horror at the thought I really do need to use female restrooms.  And I believe they speak up even when I’m not around.

I wouldn’t be half as brave as I am without somebody in my corner.

Love, Denise

PS: I believe this is also true of the entire LGBTQI community.  I need and expect LGB people to stick up for me and I stick up for them.  Enough division already.  And we all have allies who support us.  That’s the only way we’ll win the marriage equality battle in Minnesota.


Transition & Divorce

It’s not just gay men who marry and help raise a family with the notion that somehow marriage will make all the other stuff go away.  Lesbian women and bisexual and transgender people do it too.

The Serenity Prayer is crucial to my life because I can’t go back and correct the multiple marriage track I’ve been on (amongst other reasons).  I can’t change that history and the beginning of wisdom is knowing the difference between things I can change and things I can’t.  Past marriages qualify as things I can’t change.  Yet experience has taught me there are things I can change.

Some changes I’ve made already.  I no longer look in the mirror and pretend that who I see and how it makes me feel will pass.  I can’t bury it,  I can’t kill it, and I can’t drink it away.  I wish I had come to that conclusion a long time ago; I would have caused a lot less pain for me and the people I’ve loved.  The fact is I didn’t.  I didn’t dare.  I didn’t have the courage.  But I have the courage now and that is the key to a future.  I don’t have to drag another person through my personal hell because 1. I no longer live in that personal hell and 2. I can tell him or her the unembellished truth from the first.

Divorce is visible on the horizon now.  I can see it.  I don’t like it.  I don’t want it.  But I won’t try to stop it.  The other person in my life deserves a better chance to recover, a better chance to discover her own serenity.

I admire couples who are able to find a hidden path through the brambles.  I stand and stare at the bramble patch and no path mysteriously appears for me.  But I can change this: I don’t have to be stymied in my life.  I don’t feel compelled to wound myself flailing against the thorns. I can let it go and I can walk around the patch.  Life will have other struggles soon enough.

Love, Denise

Mixed Orientation Marriage

Straight Wives