Monday, June 22, 2015

6-22-2015 Entry: Two Weeks Fulltime as Emma



Good morning my lovelies! It is raining here in Minneapolis, and even though it should be bright at this time in the morning, there is a gloom in the air, disrupted only by the bright flashes of lighting and the rolling of thunder. Today is not at all like my mood, however, as I couldn’t be happier.
Things are going so well! I feel so… at home in my skin. I see my reflection in the windows of the buildings I walk past and I cannot help but smile. That’s me! That’s really me! No more frumpy Robert reflection. Now just Emma!
Anyways, vanity aside, I feel like it would be a good idea to update on how things are progressing along, now that I’m entering my third week living full time as a transwoman. Obviously, as I said earlier, I am very happy with my decision to finally step all the way out of the closet. Actually, not only did I step all the way out, but I poured gasoline all over it, left the can inside, and burnt that confining box of fear, shame, and disappointment to the ground!
Like the line from Let It Go, “I'm never going back, The past is in the past!” I have vowed to never go back to that old life. I’ll never walk around as Robert again. I will always be Emma, from now until my death. The consequences of that decision are not small, as anyone who has been reading this blog for some time definitely understands. Changing your gender literally affects every other part of your life. There is almost nothing about my life today that is identical to what existed a year ago. True, some parts of my life have remained constant, like the fact that I’m married, the fact that I’m a patent paralegal, and the fact that I still love crappy action films (i.e. anything with Van Damme in it), but the way I see those parts of myself has drastically changed. My relationship with my wife is vastly different than it was a year ago. My job, although the same kind of work at the same law firm, has been greatly impacted by me coming to work as “one of the girls”. My love of crappy action films persists, but I see them in a different light than before; they excite different kinds of emotions and thoughts than they might have in the past.
A lot of these changes are a result of the effects of Hormones on my mind and body. I cannot say, without blatantly lying, that estrogen hasn’t dramatically changed the way I think, the way I feel, the way I perceive the world around me, or the actions that I take. I know to assert such a thing can be dangerous because misogynists are always on the prowl for a reason to justify their different and oftentimes oppressive treatment of women. I know that many feminists (sameness feminists I believe is the label) hold a particular distaste for anyone asserting that women are different than men for fear that it will only justify unequal treatment. I do not wish to ever justify unequal treatment because of sex. I do not believe for one moment that my change in mind and body as a result of HRT has made me lesser to any extent, but I would be remiss to assert that it hasn’t made me different than I was before. The only solace I can offer to anyone out there cringing at me openly discussing how estrogen has made me different in mind and body than testosterone did is to say that every person is affected by hormones differently. Just because I experience certain effects of estrogen in my body doesn’t mean that every XX chromosome’d person walking the planet experiences the same thing.
My change in hormones has not made me suddenly feel like I need to take up baking and child rearing. On the contrary, my change in hormones may have only further solidified my disinterest in those things. I cannot say that there aren’t things that I find much more interesting than I did before I began my transition (like the color pink) but I cannot say with certainty that the hormones had anything to do with that. I think my love of pink existed inside of me long before I started taking estrogen, but it was buried under an avalanche of shame and fear. Perhaps the alteration in my perceptions of the world by actively taking on a more feminine gender identity has altered the way I see the color pink, but that altered perspective is likely more a social construction than a biological response to estrogen.
On the macro level of my life, transitioning genders and going fulltime has had major consequences. It has, for lack of a better descriptive, set me on a new path in life. My life is going to unfold so differently than it would have had I decided to keep living in denial about who I was. Assuming I hadn’t killed myself in that scenario, I would have never started this blog, I would have never reached out to Dara Hoffman-Fox, I would have never started volunteering to help other transgender/gender confused people, I would have never decided to become a therapist as a result, I would have never applied to grad school, I would have never started writing a memoir, I would have never probably adopted my two new fur-babies (who I absolutely adore), and I might have self-destructed my marriage out of depression. I would have likely stayed a paralegal until I could bear it no more and then I would have done… god only knows what. The consequences of my decision to transition have truly changed the entire course of my life, and those consequences have only further solidified with me going full time.
On the micro level, going fulltime has had profound consequences on my everyday life. My entire routine for the day has been altered. Before, I showered in the morning, washed my hair every other day, shaved in the shower every other day, got dressed with simple and boring man clothes, strapped on my backpack with my lunch in it and left. Now I shower at night, wash my hair only twice a week since I’m not putting any product in it, shave at the sink in the morning, put on makeup after shaving (dear God, please give me the money for laser hair removal), get dressed with more complicated and interesting clothing, put on my wig, brush it so it doesn’t look dreadful, check my reflection 20 times to make sure I don’t look totally tragic, grab my purse, either cram my lunch into the purse or carry a second bag with my food in it, and head to work.
My workday has changed as well. Before going fulltime I would arrive at work as frumpy, disenchanted Robert, eat breakfast, use the men’s room (where I frequently had to wait for a stall since men take FOREVER to take care of business) and go about my day with a handful of my coworkers knowing the truth about me but otherwise having to conceal who I really was while everyone just assumes I am normal, male Robert. Now I go to work as Emma, dressed all pretty, feel all frisky and happy, eat breakfast, use the women’s room where there is always a stall because the women I work with don’t fuck around at all, and then go about my day dealing with people either smiling at me because they are proud of me and happy for me, or dealing with people who actively avoid me when they didn’t used to or approach me as a last resort with a sort of chagrined expression. When I walk to work from the car, or from work to my wife’s work I used to walk past people without 99% of them even looking at me or noticing me in any significant way; I was just another dude out in the world with a practical “nothing to see here” sign over my head. Now when I walk to work or from work I get stared at, gawked at, and sneered at with much greater frequency (I’d say, somewhere around 30-40% of people I pass by). I’m no longer invisible. I think most of it has to do with the fact that I’m so tall and big. People aren’t used to seeing such a tall, broad shouldered woman, and so they look closer than they might otherwise, and when they do, they find something they REALLY aren’t used to seeing. Their reactions are immediately betrayed by their expressions, so much so that I’m about 100% sure they don’t even realize how obvious they are being.
Before I went fulltime, I used to be able to go into a store or restaurant and be treated with typical kindness and respect that any “normal” person could expect. Now the experience I have is often more like customer avoidance rather than customer service. It’s like I’m constantly playing Russian roulette with the employees of any establishment I enter. They can either not notice anything is different, notice something is up but still be very nice (like a waiter I had yesterday who very clearly read me as trans but still decided to refer to my wife and I as “ladies”) or completely short circuit by either giving me cold/unfriendly customer service (usually while avoiding eye contact) or by telling me they can’t help me and running for the hills.
Since going fulltime my relationship with my parents has changed, as well. The distance between us, especially with my mother, seems even greater than before. Whether that is simply my perspective or whether there is any truth to it, I feel less connected or close to my parents. My father has been very good about all of this and has supported me 99%, saying that as long as this is what is making me happy he doesn’t care. I only give him a 99% because he still thinks of me as his “son” and still calls me son when he talks to me. I know this is almost assuredly out of habit, but it would mean the world to me if he stopped seeing me as his son and started seeing me more as a daughter. I’m not sure he ever will. My mother seems to have been triggered once again with all of this. Me telling her about my experiences going fulltime seemed to only exacerbate her discomfort with the whole situation. I suspect that she was hoping this would eventually pass and that I’d decide I wasn’t transgender, so me taking the opposite path by leaping into this life as a transwoman head first hasn’t really sat well with her.
My relationship with some of my oldest friends has changed too. It’s difficult to maintain such friendships when one of you is committing to such drastic changes. Although I am mostly still the same person I have always been, the fact that I look so different and am so concerned with different things than I used to be has altered the way my friends and I interact. The fact that my mental health has changed and my thoughts have been affected by HRT, compounds this change. Many of my more distant friendships (those that I’ve tried to maintain to a degree via social networking despite moving away from Colorado) have practically vanished overnight. My distant relationships with extended family have also vanished. I suspect most of them just don’t know what to say or do about this decision I’ve made.
My self-perception has probably been the largest change since going fulltime. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I get excited at my reflection. To most people that might seem truly insignificant but to me, it still hasn’t gotten old. I find myself eager to look in the mirror. I’m afraid my vanity is starting to spin out of control as a result of my change in appearance and gender presentation. Sometimes I’ll just stand in the bathroom and stare at the mirror for minutes at a time, almost as if I’m afraid that should I look away and then return later, the same person won’t be there to greet me. It’s like I’m worried that I’m going to wake up one morning and all of this will have been a dream.
My understanding of psychological development tells me that I’m probably just reenacting the infantile development stage of associating with an externalized representation of myself to further solidify my Emma ego. It’s like every time I gaze in the mirror and see this transwoman presentation staring back at me, I become a little more “real” or permanent. Rather than feeling the dissociation with my reflection that I’d become so accustomed to, I’m slowly but surely building positive association with it.
Along with that positive association I’m beginning to build an entirely unfamiliar confidence in myself. I can’t say I was ever truly unconfident, but years and years of depression and dysphoria definitely left me oftentimes feeling pretty worthless as a person. I used to be prone to such negative self-talk; always blaming myself for my problems and constantly attacking any failure I had. When I discovered the Law of Attraction, which I still subscribe to pretty strongly, I made efforts to change that negative self-talk and was even somewhat successful at it (my life situation improved quite a bit as a result). I found that meditation and discovering the stillness present in the now moment really helped with this depressive state. It, however, despite my greatest efforts, never fully subsided. I could go along pretty positively for a while but I always fell back into the same self-doubting, self-loathing state of depression. I certainly still experience that to a degree, but it’s in a very different way.
This newfound confidence has altered my states of depression from being driven by self-loathing and self-doubting, to more of a general frustration with how slow transition can be. Instead of falling into practically incurable fogs of melancholy, I tend to bounce back a lot faster. Going full time has greatly increased the bounce-back factor because I’m actually happy with who I am and what I am doing. Before transition, and even before I started actually presenting out in the world as Emma, I didn’t have that safety net to catch me when I fell. When I dropped into that state of melancholy, I tended to stay there for days or even weeks at a time.
As I look back over some of my older posts on here I can see how much my mental health has improved the closer I got to full time and since I have gone full time. The melancholy is more fleeting, and actually a lot easier to identify and deal with. Before, it tended to get mixed up with all the other emotions, fears, and shames about my gender, so it became nearly impossible to really sort out. Now that I have the gender identity part figured out, and I’m succeeding more and more at living my life authentically, the depression is easier to understand and easier to address.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not cured of my dysphoria. There are still a lot of things that I feel really icky, for lack of a better word, about. I never used to have a problem with my boy bits, and having a penis never felt all that “wrong” per se (it certainly offered my primary means of sexual pleasure which was hard to dislike), but now that I’m Emma 100% of the time, it has really started to feel wrong. Before it felt like it was just another part of my body, but the longer I go living as Emma, the more it feels like its some foreign object that’s attached itself to me.  
Again, knowing what I do about psychological phenomena, I suspect this is just my mind’s attempt to dissociate from this part of me because it no longer really fits with the identity we (Robert and Emma) have constructed. And yes, I truly do mean constructed. I believe that all identity is, at its deepest level, a mental construction. Michel Foucault alleged that Identities were simply a product of the discourse in which they found themselves, which I believe is partially true. That’s not to say, however, that I believe there isn’t a spirit or a soul that’s lurking beneath the surface of that identity, picking and choosing aspects from the Foucaultian discourse it is part of, but the identity itself is just a mental fabrication.
Robert and I are in this body, animating it and channeling our will through it (now in unison), but the identity Emma is simply our attempt to build a mechanism through which we interpret objective reality. We choose various aspects of the world we find ourselves in to construct our identity and it becomes the lens through which we view and understand the world around us. Instead of living our life as the victim or product of social programming, social norms and taboos, and gender expectations, we have chosen to create our own identity; picking and choosing aspects of our experience we favor in order to build a new world for ourselves, one that we can call comfortably call home. In that world, having a penis just seems to fog up the looking glass we use to experience objective reality, so it’s easier to dissociate from it; to pretend it isn’t there.
I suspect that as time goes by, and we become more and more this identity Emma, our dissociation with that physical part of us will only increase until it becomes absolutely necessary, contrary to what most health insurance companies choose to believe, for us to undergo sex/gender reassignment surgery. When we lived in denial about who and what we were (forced to inhabit the house society had built for us that never felt like a home), it was easier to “deal with” the fact that we have male genitalia, but now that we are no longer living in that denial, it’s hard to cope with this foreign body part. It’s like we moved from our old house to the new one, but were forced to bring the faulty plumbing with us. SRS/GRS (whichever acronym you prefer for new plumbing) truly would be a mental health improvement procedure for us right now. Not everyone who is like us would feel the same, for this transwoman, it really would alleviate so much of our constant anxiety.
The worst part of going fulltime and having to cope with this increasing anxiety and dysphoria regarding our genitalia, is the fact that I cannot currently see any way to be able to afford the procedure. Just yesterday an event triggered this well of anxiety in a big way for me, in no small part because I feel really depressed about the prospects of SRS/GRS. Barring a trans-friendly change in healthcare laws that require health insurance to cover the cost, me suddenly having dramatically increased income, or the money simply falling from the sky right into my lap, I am kind of S.O.L. over here. I guess if my credit is good enough in a few years, I might be able to convince a bank to loan me the money, but somehow I believe that my bank isn’t going to go for that one. All I can really do now is just have faith that a solution will come to me and leave it at that.
More than anything, I want to stress that even though I have just outlined a lot of aspects of my transition to fulltime that aren’t really all that exciting, or even all that positive, I want you to know that I DO NOT FOR ONE SECOND regret my decision. I knew that doing this was going to be a mixture of good things and bad things. Everything always is, and to expect that something will be nothing but positive is just na├»ve in my estimation. I knew that people would stare at me. Maybe I didn’t grasp just how BLATANTLY they would stare, or I didn’t understand how fucking irritating it can be sometimes, but I knew it was going to happen. Maybe I didn’t expect to experience customer avoidance (I’m trademarking that btw) on such a regular basis, but I knew that it might happen sometimes. Maybe I didn’t realize just how demoralizing it can be sometimes to have people lose all sense of decency when interacting with me because I’ve chosen to transgress the gender binary norms, but I went into this knowing that some people were going to be assholes (that’s true no matter what, really).
I think it’s important to understand as well that just because I’ve started living fulltime as a transwoman, that doesn’t mean that I’m anywhere near “finished” or “completed” in my transition. If I’m honest, I don’t believe I will ever be “done” transitioning because I don’t believe that is how it works. I don’t believe a person can ever be “complete” while they are still alive because I believe we are eternally growing spirits just along for the physical life ride. I, as a Buddhist, believe in reincarnation, not because I’ve seen proof or because I think I was Merlin in my last life, but because when I meditate and I find the silence inside where no thought, no mind, no past, no future, no ego, and no desire exists, I FEEL the truth of reincarnation. When I sit in that state of complete stillness I resonate with the force that creates all life and matter, and it voicelessly whispers to me that I am a part of it; that I’ve been through life and death countless times before and that this will be my last entry in that long chain of lives. After this, I (we) will move on to other types of growth; other realms of existence beside the physical one. My (our) job in this last life, is to completely overcome fear and completely embrace the creative power of love, hope, and faith.
Just know, my precious reader, that you are loved and you too can overcome fear to create a life filled with love, hope, and faith. You just have to keep going, to keep trying, to keep growing and pushing your limits. Today’s obstacles are tomorrow’s success stories. Today’s failures are tomorrow’s opportunities to do things differently and better. My life as a transwoman isn’t perfect, but it’s better than it was yesterday, and yesterday was better than the day before. Tomorrow holds the potential to be even better still because I know that I’m on the right path. My heart tells me so, what does your heart tell you?

-Emma

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