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


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

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

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

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.


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