Monday, September 28, 2015

9-28-2015 Entry: Emma's First Birthday


 

Hello my darlings, I hope you have been well. Today is a big day for me, although I’ve only just realized the significance of it. September 28, 2014 is a day that will forever be a day of remembrance for me.

You see, 1t has been exactly 1 year, to the day, since we began this transformative journey. Exactly 1 year ago today, we awoke from a peculiar dream in the early hours of the morning and were forced to face a truth we’d been hiding from our entire life. Robert was really a we, and we were really something much closer to female than male.

As I go back and read over the words I wrote on October 6th, 8 days after the dream that changed everything, I am struck by how much has changed over the last year. In some ways I can scarcely recall what life was like before all of this happened, yet I can still vividly recall the fear, anxiety, shame, and uncertainty I experienced upon realizing that I wanted to change genders. At the time it seemed like such an insurmountable task, not to mention a little insane.  People just didn’t really do that. Sure, I’d met a few people who had, but they were such a small minority, and they seemed so sure of themselves.

I can remember how confused I felt and how unsure I was that this was even a thing for me. My transgender friends had all seemed so certain that they were supposed to be their identified gender, but I didn’t feel the same way. Was I really a girl? That was the question I kept asking myself over and over again. In many ways the answer was a resounding yes, but in other ways there was a hesitation. Eventually this question evolved to look more like: Am I just a girl?

Through some much needed self-exploration, guided in great part by Auntie Kate Bornstein, I eventually realized that the reason there was some hesitation was that I was, in fact, both male and female. I discovered that there really were two of us inhabiting this body, and that together we were both male and female, and yet something entirely more or different. There was no real word in our language to describe who and what we were. Transgender was a great place to start, and non-binary was even closer to the mark, but even still there is no accurate descriptor for our gender. We made our own, calling ourselves a non-binary transwoman (one word) and felt a degree of relief knowing that it was okay to be something new and different.

So, what has the last year taught me/us? For those who’ve been tagging along for the entire journey you probably know that I’ve learned an enormous amount this year; far more than the few preceding years combined. I’ve also gained or been given so much; Freedom being one of the greatest gifts so far.

The freedom to be me, to be myself, to be the person I want to be has been just unbelievably fun, exciting, and rewarding. I have learned to see the beauty I have inside of me in a way I never could before. I have learned to look at and overcome the shame I felt and inflicted upon myself. I have discovered the power of forgiving yourself for mistakes. And above all else I have learned why it’s important to love yourself and to believe that you are worthy of good things.

I spent so many years hating myself and believing I wasn’t worthy of love. I felt broken on the inside and believed that there was something wrong with me. The thing that was wrong with me, however, was my belief that I was wrong or bad for who I wanted to be. It was only when I could really look at myself in the mirror and see Emma begin to emerge as the months went by that I realized she had been there all along and my shame about her was misplaced. She was not to be ashamed of. We were not broken. Perhaps broken apart from one another for a long time, but never broken.

I have felt my soul begin to mend as I have stepped into this new life as Emma and have felt the renewed spirit of love and infinite possibilities surround me. Overcoming my greatest fear gave me the momentum to make huge life changes and to fix a lot of malfunctioning portions of my life that I had previously been content to leave in their degradation.

I have gained so much in the last year. I have gained confidence. I have gained self-esteem. I have gained assertiveness. I have gained personal empowerment, and I have gained a voice. Never again will I be timid and meek Robert, so unsure of himself that he will not stand up for the things he must. I am now a force to be reckoned with. Instead of timidly hoping for acceptance I have learned to demand and assert my acceptance. I am who I am, and no one can tell me otherwise. Not my family, not my friends, and certainly not society. I have gained a solid self and now know what I want to do with my life. I will not be ignored and I will make a difference.

Although I have gained much, I have also lost much as well. I have lost many friends. I have lost the respect of those who refused to accept me. I have lost the love and admiration of family members. I have lost a strong bond with my mother. I have lost the man I used to be. Although Robert is still part of this collective we, he is also forever gone. We will never be Robert again. We will never live as Robert did. We will never think as Robert did. And we will never love quite the way Robert did.

We have lost the firm foundation that Robert constructed for himself and have been forced built a new foundation. This foundation is more solid and more capable of holding up the life we’ve begun to build, but the remnants of what was is still buried beneath this new foundation.

We have lost the privilege that comes from being cisgender. We have lost the acceptance that comes from conformity. We have lost the ability to be invisible in the crowd. We have lost the ability to be considered “normal” and must now take on the burden of being an “other” or “different.”

People stare at us. People say mean things to us. People treat us as less than human. People mock, ridicule, and degrade us. People hate us. Ours is not an easy life. Ours is not a smooth path. Many things that once were easy have now become truly difficult. Much that was simple has now become forever complicated. Much that was complicated has become tragically simple.

Our body is different. Our mind is different. Our heart is different. Our life is different. We are forever changed, forever altered by this past year. We have felt the greatest joys we’ve ever known and the deepest despairs we’ve ever seen.

We have taken a new name, a new place in the world, and we have made it our own. There are no limitations here, no borders to stay within, no expectations to live up to. We are who we are supposed to be, and we have paid a heavy price to achieve that.

We have known joy. Love. Happiness. Confidence. Excitement. Eagerness. Fun. Peace. Kindness and brilliance over the last year.

We have also known sadness. Loss. Despair. Pain. Anguish. Anger. Rage. Heartbreak. Frustration. Entrapment. Suffocation and the fading will to live over the last year.

In the end, however, we have found beauty within and we will never hide it again. We will shine for all to see so that others know what is possible when one overcomes their fear and live a life true to oneself. The inessential has been stripped away, and what remains is the raw, unfettered will to live this fleeting life to its greatest potential. We will achieve great things. We will tear down barriers. We will fight for what is good and right. We will be victorious over the pressures to conform. We will display beauty and confidence outside the margins, outside the borders, and beyond the limitations of the gender binary. We are Emma, and this is just the beginning.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

9-24-2015 Entry: Applying for Jobs While Transgender



Hello my darlings! I’ve missed writing. Life has been just go, go, go with work and school. This past week was particularly grueling as I spent 28 hours in class on top of working full time (including homework, I probably spent at least 75 hours either doing work or school). Needless to say things have been a bit overwhelming. I have so much homework to do and so much reading to accomplish I barely know where to begin or when I’m going to have time to do it all.

By time I finished class Tuesday night (my last one before next Monday) I pretty much had a total mental breakdown. Emma is certainly not used to spending this much time fulfilling formal obligations. Even when I was in school the last time, studying to become a paralegal, I was only working about 20-30 hours a week. When I worked on my B.A. I only rarely worked more than 32 hours a week (and those were usually really easy jobs that I could do HW at sometimes). This time, however, I’m working full time AND the curriculum and expectations are WAY HIGHER than anything I’ve ever done before. I cannot recall a single time in either undergrad or my paralegal certificate program when I was assigned 300 pages of reading in a week. Couple all of this with the fact that as I move more and more towards my eventual goal of becoming a therapist, my motivation and appreciation for my current job is plummeting faster than Donald Trump’s approval ratings with anyone who has a sense of common decency

This past weekend definitely exacerbated this freefall of “giving a fuck” stock prices towards my career in the legal field because the class I had was all about the steps to becoming a therapist. We talked for hours and hours about so many different aspects of becoming a licensed Marriage and Family therapist, not to mention finishing the M.A. program itself. In approximately 2 years, I will begin working as an actual therapist, even before I’ve finished school. It will likely be working for free at first (because let’s face it, who wants to pay for a student therapist?), but I will intake new clients, begin to see them on a regular basis, and develop therapeutic relationships with them as they navigate some of the hardest stuff in their life. I will begin to do the work I believe I was always meant to do, but there is a catch. It’s the same catch that’s always there in any field you ever try to work in… you need past experience.

What?! Before I can even volunteer my time to work for free as a student therapist, I have to have experience in the mental health field?


Well, okay, maybe I don’t HAVE TO HAVE experience, but when I’m competing for a limited number of practicum sites with every up-and-coming clinical social worker, psychologist, and MFT from my own school and others around the metro, then having experience makes that a lot easier. True, there is a chance I could get a practicum, finish the M.A. and find a decent job that helps me become licensed after 4000 hours of work, all without any relevant experience, but it’s like I’m in the professional mental health hunger games, and the odds are definitely not in my favor. I’d be like the out of shape kid who’s only skill is remembering entirely too many details about the different types of Pokémon. I’d definitely be one of the first to die. (envisions throwing poke-ball only to be struck in the chest with an arrow).

Anyways, so what do I do now? How do I get experience? Well, there are really only two ways, right? First, you can volunteer your free time. There are definitely a lot of places that take and need volunteers in the mental health community. It wouldn’t be hard to find somewhere to volunteer, but since I’m working full time and going to grad school full time, which we’ve discussed is already an unprecedented and difficult situation to navigate, is volunteering really even something I could manage? Can I really add another five to ten hours a week on top of the already at least 55 hours a week I’ll be doing for the next 2 years? (work, class, reading, papers, studying for tests)

Can I really sustain 65 or more hours of things to do every week for another 100 weeks? If I did that, I think I might end up on the wrong side of the “severe and persistent mental illness” equation that many therapists work with. I did it for one week and nearly fell to pieces, I’m not sure I want to repeat that another 100 times. So, what’s option two? Yep, you guessed it because you are a smart cookie and remember that the title of this post is about job hunting: finding an entry level job that doesn’t care (as much) if you have zero experience.

That’s right, Emma has taken to the cruel, dark, and often confusing and confounding streets of job hunting. Can we get a collective “Uggghhhh, cover letters… FML” groan of despair from the audience? Thank you.

Yes, cover letters are the worst damned thing that anyone ever fucking decided was something people needed to do. Cover letter??? Really?? You want me to explain to you in less than 500 words why I’m different from the other candidates because you are too time-crunched to actually review any of our resumes? You want me to somehow articulate to you in less than 500 words that I’m changing careers and need to get some damn experience before I’m lying face-down next to a pretend Poke-ball in the hunger games river called No experience = No job? How do I do that without you immediately thinking “they have no experience, Next!!”

You said entry level on the job description. You said it was a great place to begin a career in the field of mental health. You said you offered training to help me get started… but you actually just want someone with experience?! You said entry-level… I don’t think this word means what you think it means. It’s that familiar catch 22 of you need experience in order to get the job you applied to in order to get the experience you need……….

 


 

But all of that is pretty standard for anyone out there trying to find a job. True, the economy is “better” and it’s easier to find work than it was 5 years ago, but I have a somewhat unique hurdle to overcome, I’m transgender. Well, if you are reading this blog then maybe it’s not all that unique because you might have faced it yourself, but for anyone who hasn’t experienced it this is a VERY REAL hurdle to overcome. Coming off of the heals of my 99 problems entry last week, it’s important to remember that my legal name is still Robert and my legal gender is still male. Don’t worry, I’ve filled out the paperwork I need and figured out which courthouse/room I need to go to in order to file it, but I haven’t done that yet since I was busy spending 75 hours on work/school.

So what does this mean when applying for jobs? Well so far it’s meant a whole lot of confusion both for myself and I’m sure for those reviewing my applications. Do I apply as Emma? Do I apply as Robert? Do I apply as Emma (Robert)? Do I put down male? Do I put down female? If I put down Robert and male, won’t I just shock them when I show up in a skirt, wig, and makeup? If I put down Emma and female, then won’t I have to explain things when they try to do a background check on me? If I put down Emma (Robert) do I put down male or female? Either way, won’t I be shooting myself in the foot by opening the door immediately to discrimination based on transphobia? I know that in Minnesota it is against the law to discriminate based on gender identity while screening candidates, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen all the time, and it is so hard to prove when it does. If they don’t give you a reason why and reject you before even interviewing you, then you can’t really PROVE that it was because you were transgender.

I applied to 6 jobs this week alone, and I was already, within 24 hours, rejected by one of them. Why did they reject me? Was it because I didn’t have enough experience for the entry level job? Or was it because I applied as Emma (Robert) the female? Did the hiring person take one look at my resume/cover letter/application, feel confused why a Robert was calling himself Emma the female and say, “don’t even want to begin dealing with that mess, NEXT!!” ? Or did they give my application a thorough look through and decide that I didn’t meet what they were looking for in work experience/education?

If it was the first scenario how do I prove that? how do I even begin to go about suing them for discriminating against me because I’m in the midst of gender transition when they didn’t say anything outside of their generic form-letter rejection? I, like countless numbers before me, have no choice but to accept that there is nothing I can do about it either way. If they legitimately weeded me out or discriminated because of my name/gender situation, the result is the same. I didn’t get that job and will never really know why.

Things, however, become even more complicated when you look at it from a legal responsibility angle. Technically, I’m supposed to give my legal name and gender on the application. I am supposed to say Robert the male. To do otherwise begins to look like fraud because I’m intentionally being deceptive to secure an unfair gain. One could argue that saying I’m Emma the female when I’m legally Robert the male gives me an unfair advantage to be considered as something I’m legally not. But what happens when one socially unfair act is in contradiction to another social unfairness? It could be unfair for me to say I’m Emma the female but if I put Robert and show up as my authentic self, Emma, I could be discriminated against rather harshly. Which deception is the lesser of two evils? Who is the actual person they are going to hire? Robert or Emma?

This is the dilemma I’m currently facing, and I don’t really have an answer to it. I’m actually going to go about it in three different ways to see which one is the most effective. I have applied as Emma (Robert) the female and I have applied as just Emma the female. I think I’m going to apply to the next one as Robert the male and let the cards land where they may if I get an interview. Until I get a court order to change my name and sex, then I kind of have to be in limbo with this. There is no right or easy way to do it. To be considered for who I am instead of how I’m labeled means I’ll likely have to implement some degree of deception. I’ll either have to lie and say I’m nothing more than Robert the male, or I’ll have to lie to say that I’m legally Emma when I’m not. This struggle is something many trans people face all around the U.S. and even oversees. If it’s not easy or straightforward to legally change your name/sex then you have to make hard decisions on who applies and who shows up to the interview.

I’m starting to see just another way that “passing” becomes a survival mechanism out in the world. If I could just pass as Emma the female physically and legally, I suspect that my life would be easier. The binary stratification of our society dictates that in order to operate successfully inside of it, you must adhere to its rules, otherwise face the consequences. How does an out and proud transwoman find traditional work when the majority of the traditional system is built to put a person like myself into poverty and unemployment? I have the job I have now because I was Robert the male when I applied and was hired. Had I been Emma (Robert) or Emma-but-legally-Robert, would they have hired me? Would they have offered me a job within 24 hours had I shown up to the interview in a skirt and blouse when they had expected a suit and tie? I can’t guarantee that they would have. If I had Futurama’s what-if-machine I think it would be interesting to watch that scenario play out. Sadly we don’t live in a wacky animated future so I’m forced to navigate the path ahead in darkness, completely unsure of myself.

And what about the interview? How will it be different as a transwoman? I can’t imagine that it would be exactly the same, not unless I found a truly progressive hiring professional who could look 100% beyond gender norms and the gender binary. Even if they don’t realize I’m trans, I’ll know it, and that will inherently change the way the interview goes. I’ll be concerned about my voice, about my appearance, about whether or not my facial hair is visible through my foundation, and whether or not they are wondering about the bits between my legs when they should be listening to me speak. I remember how nervous I was to interview at grad school as Emma, I can only imagine how a job will look.

Universities often celebrate diversity and believe it’s an integral part to achieving the best education possible, but employers generally care about money. Is this person going to make us money? Are they going to accept the lowest possible wage we think we should offer? Are they going to be disruptive or distracting to the other employees and therefore cost us money? Will we have to invest a lot of time in them? Are they going to be difficult to employ for any reason?

And what about money? It is no secret, shameful as it is, that men in this country make more money than women do for the similar or same work. It’s just a really, really sad fact of our current economic system (propagated by the inherent power disparities that are a foundation of the gender binary, I might add), so where do I fit? If women are seen as lesser than men in the binary pyramid of power game, and gender non-conforming people (aka those stigmatized by transphobes as sexual deviants or mentally ill) are even lesser than women, do they get paid even less? The statistics tell us that being trans really hits a person hard in the wallet, both by limiting access to jobs and reducing overall economic stability, so what can I expect going into all of this? Will I be paid as a man, a woman, or something else? Ideally it wouldn’t matter, but we don’t live in an ideal world.

Years of white, male privilege have given me opportunities to ask for and make more money than others in similar situations, but if I try to ask for the same in my current status of “other” will I be laughed off the reservation? “OMG Bill! That freak thought we were going to pay him the same thing we’d pay ourselves!!!” /uproarious laughter

In class the other day we watched a brief video about transgender issues because I have an amazing professor who has been really sweet to me and is really concerned with trans issues. In that video one of the trans women said something similar to the following (I can’t remember exact words 4 days later, sorry) “I bought some land, I built my own house, I raised a family, I created my own business out of that house and slowly achieved everything I wanted. Since coming out as transgender, however, I have slowly lost all of those things.”

I don’t want to be like her. I don’t want to slowly lose everything, because I shouldn’t have to. It really struck me because she was voicing the very same thing I’m discussing now, the social power she gave up by going from being a white hetero male, to a trans woman. I imagine she lost her house, business, and land (not to mention family) because of her reduced ability to succeed in the binary-stratified economic system. I can only guess, but I’m sure her business dried up because people didn’t want to work with a trans person. I’m constantly fretting over whether or not my transition will prevent me from succeeding as a therapist for that very reason. Will people want to see a trans therapist? I honestly don’t know. Only time will tell.

The point to all of this, however, is that job searching sucks for everyone, but it is particularly difficult and complicated for trans people. I’m almost positive I won’t be able to find a job until my name is legally changed and I don’t HAVE to come out as trans as part of the application/interview process. That’s the tragedy of all of this. The easiest way to succeed in our society is to “pass” and so many of us don’t or can’t. It’s an impossibly high standard for many and something that really shouldn’t be a standard at all. I’m just a person. A good, capable, creative, hard-working, ambitious and intelligent person, what more is there than that when it comes to hiring someone? The answer is, there shouldn’t be anything, but there is because our system still needs to grow and adapt to the trans revolution.

All I can do is hope that the future ahead is bright and happy. I deserve a great job, just like anyone willing to work does. I deserve to be judged on my merits, not on my gender conformity or your gender expectations. That first job missed out on someone who would have worked their ass off for them, and if they missed that because of my name/gender situation, then they are even bigger fools.

-Emma

 

After-thought!! If my trans* readers wanted to email me about their experiences with jobs and job hunting as a trans* person to be shared with others, I think it could be really good to get some more voices in on this issue. Were your experiences the same as mine? Did you have a great experience? Did you have a terrible experience? Did you learn any important lessons that others might benefit from hearing? Email me! (my email is in the contact/follow Emma tab at the top)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

9-16-2015 Entry: I've Got 99 Problems... and 97 Deal With My "Legal" Name


Hello my darling readers! I hope you have been well. I’m happy to report that I seem to be recovering somewhat quickly from this dreadful cold/cough I came down with last week. Needless to say my weekend was filled with a lot of sniffling, coughing, and actively wishing for death (not in a suicidal way, just so we are clear) while I tried, and failed, to muster the motivation to do all the homework/reading I have for grad school. Unfortunately this setback in motivation has put me further behind than I already was, so I’m currently in an uphill battle to get my shit together before the consequences become too dire. But I’m sure you didn’t come here to listen to me expound on the ways I need to improve my scholarly efforts. No, I’m certain you came here to read about the transgender side of things, which is, honestly, much more interesting; that I will admit without reservation.

So, what’s been happening? Well, honestly, a lot actually. I’m not sure I can put everything that’s transpired over the last few weeks into this entry without it becoming novel-length, and while I would love to do that and I’m relatively certain you would find it entertaining there just aren’t the hours at hand for such an in-depth retrospection of the past few weeks. As such, I am forced to cherry-pick the highlights and wrap them together in an overall theme that (hopefully) keeps your interest.

I think the primary theme of today’s entry is going to be the name change burden that comes with transitioning genders. It goes without saying that many transgender individuals that transition genders in public life are tasked with the ever burdensome effort to change their name. At first glance, this seems relatively simple, but it’s more complicated than you might think.

So, my situation is perhaps not all that unique in that I’ve been living full time as my true self, Emma, for about 3 months now, but I am still legally my old self, Robert. There are a lot of reasons for this. The first reason is that in order to change my name/gender I have to:

 1. Go to a courthouse across town, during regular M-F business hours (AKA the time I’m always at work) to request a hearing with a judge.

2. I have to provide the correct paperwork, which is different than a simple name change like my wife had to do when we got married, so I have to get the correct paperwork from the actual court clerk. Then I have to pay $300, which I rarely have just sitting around thanks to student loans.

3. Get a court date, and show up to that court date with 2 or 3 witnesses.

4. Convince the judge I’m not trying to hide my identity for criminal purposes.

5. Get the court order.

6. Go to the DMV, and give them the court order.

7. Have them make the changes, and then ultimately get a new license.

And all of that is just for my driver’s license. That doesn’t include my social security number or my birth certificate (which is already weird because I was a U.S. Citizen born abroad in Panama, so god only knows what hoops I’ll have to jump through for that).

But the madness doesn’t stop there, as I’m quickly coming to find. Not only are all of my bills, credit cards, loans, car titles, paychecks, college transcripts, taxes, credit reports, and ID’s in the name of Robert, but nearly every secondary stage of paper-identification of who I am is/was in the name of Robert. What I mean by secondary stage ID’s are things like (to list a few), Facebook accounts, Amazon accounts, Gmail accounts, Yahoo accounts (for junk mail purposes of course), the books I published, the copyrights registered to those books, the diplomas/degrees/certificates I earned, my phone, and every new account that’s been created for my graduate education.

That last one has been the newest battle in my struggle for worldly recognition as Emma. Because my legal name is Robert and all of my transcripts were in that name, (not to mention the financial aid portions) I pretty much HAD to apply to grad school as Robert. Thankfully all of my professors and the program director for my master’s degree have all been super affirming and amazing about calling me Emma/referring to me as her/she, but they are not the same people who dictate how the university sees me.

The university sees me as Robert, because that’s who they accepted. Robert was the one who complete the B.A. that allowed him to apply for grad school. Robert is the student getting financial aid. Robert is the one registered for classes. Robert is the one who gets credit for passing courses. Robert is the one signed up for blackboard, is the one assigned a university email, and is the one associated with student number 123456.

So what does that mean in practice? How does that affect my day-to-day life as a student? The first way that it affects me is that every class I take from now until I can legally change my name with the government/university means I’m registered as Robert. If I haven’t had the professor teaching the course before, then that means I have no choice but to come out to them on the first day of class. “Hi, nice to meet you. By the way, I’m trans* and the person you have registered as Robert is actually me, and really I’m Emma, so I hope you aren’t transphobic, thanks!”

Tied hand and hand with that aspect is the fact that I pretty much HAD to come out to all of my classmates. I ultimately did this willingly as discussed previously, but there wasn’t much of a choice. I suppose I could have emailed the professors beforehand that I was trans* so I didn’t have to out myself in class, but even that would not have saved me the anxiety and consequences of outing myself publicly. I say that because the next way this “officially Robert” aspect affects me is that my email and Blackboard account (online tool where there are discussion boards/quizzes/ect. for class) both have me listed as Robert. So, every time I submit a discussion thread or comment on blackboard it comes up as Robert. Every time I send an email to my classmates or professor, it reads as Robert. Every time the professor does roll call they see Robert listed and have a brief moment of confusion until they remember that Robert is Emma.

Beyond being just a nuisance there is a very deep psychological component to seeing the name Robert pop up when I submit things or send emails. Every time it happens it’s like being punched in the stomach. That’s not who I am anymore. I’m not Robert. We aren’t Robert anymore. We are Emma, and we are so much more than Robert ever was.

We are struggling to find a situation comparable to this one to illustrate what this is like to experience. Imagine being forced to go back in time to something lesser than what you are now. Imagine being in college and them deciding that no, actually, you have to go back to being a freshman in high school again and pass all 4 years before you can progress further. Imagine being a full grown, autonomous adult living a happy rewarding life and being suddenly transported into the body of a 9 year old where no one believes you when you tell them you’re supposed to be an adult (like the movie big, except in reverse and a lot less amusing). That’s what this is like. It’s like being forced to wear shoes that don’t fit anymore and honestly kind of hurt to put on.

This issue came into the spotlight this week when I approached one of my professors about my name being displayed as Robert in blackboard. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to be confused when I submitted my homework or that my classmates wouldn’t be confused during our discussion boards. Thankfully this professor was awesome and was like, “No, that’s not okay. We need to change that now because it’s important that your real name be displayed. Your identity is important and it matters. It should be Emma, not Robert. I’ll email them right now and ask them to change it.”

Within 24 hours that professor and our program director had the IT people change my name in blackboard to Emma. When I apologized for being a pain and for them having to go to extra lengths to accommodate me they said:

You are not a pain, your identity is significant and important, we are here to make this process LESS painful if possible, and I really appreciate you taking on these kinds of questions and burdens so that you can show up authentically.  Not only will it pave the way for other students after we've done this a few times, it'll serve your clients well to have a therapist who knows who they are

Which, of course, made my day. The victory, however, was not without additional consequences as this change in my name created confusion for another party involved with my participation in blackboard. Not 2 hours after the name was changed did I get an email from a confused eBrairian (electronic librarian who does part of the grading for one of my courses) asking me about the change. I had submitted an assignment the day before and she had graded it, but now my name was different so she wanted to know which name she was supposed to use. This was a person I have never, and may never meet in real life, so heaven knows what she is thinking about this change.

The point I’m trying to make is that changing your name is much more complicated than just getting a new driver’s license. It’s part of almost every level of your life, which brings me to my next subject, the hidden pressures of social visibility as a transgender person. More specifically, social networking.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Facebook is my social network of choice. I know it isn’t for everyone and it has its limitations and issues, but it’s my drug of choice, as it were. I’ve dabbled some in twitter (especially in recent months), Instagram, Pinterest, and tumblr, but in the end I always go back to Facebook. It’s the place I first came out to the world as trans, it’s the place I keep most of my pictures, it’s the place I visit the most, and it’s been in my life since shortly after its launch (back in 2004 when you had to have a university email to use it and only college students were allowed on it).

So, as it goes, my Facebook account has a lot of my personal history on it. Pictures of me from the ages of probably 11 all the way to last month, my coming out posts, all the trans activism things I share on there, and a shameful number snark-eCards. As such, it is a bit of an intimate place for me (I know, the contradiction of a public profile being an intimate place is just lol-worthy) and honestly isn’t necessarily always a great place to network with new people, especially when they don’t know I’m trans*.

I actually ran into this issue this past week or two. I might have mentioned this in a previous post but a few of the people I’ve been playing World of Warcraft with created a Facebook group for our guild in order to help facilitate in-game event planning and a better sense of community. I know, some of you are judging me but alas, I am unashamed about my WoW addiction.

This news was rather stressful for me because these people know me as Emma/she/her, and if I joined this group with my rather intimate FB profile with the pictures of Robert growing up, then all of that could change. I don’t want to hide who I am per se, because I’m not ashamed of my past as Robert, but I kind of wanted to continue with their assumption that I was female. It was comfortable, it was nice, it was almost relieving to not be out and proud in that circle. Even this transwoman extraordinaire grows weary from the activism from time to time and just wants to be a lady out in the world sometimes.

I stressed about this issue all day and all night after receiving the news, unsure of how to proceed. These people liked me, and I liked them. These people wanted to include me in their social network, and I wanted to be included, but would the whole/real/true me be? I didn’t know, and I was honestly worried that I wouldn’t be given the same respect and kindness that I had been before once they found out I was trans*. The internet is rather mean, after all.

WoW was my escape from life, my little vacation into the realm of fantasy to help reduce stress and bolster confidence. Passing as a girl in the game and over voice chat accomplished that. Not only was I getting excellent practice at using a female ranged voice on a regular, consistent basis, but I was even getting positive (unbeknownst to them) feedback from the people I interacted with. They will never know how much confidence I developed because of my conversations with them and their believing me when I said I was female. Did I really want to jeopardize that? Did I really want to risk losing that?

So, for perhaps the first time since starting full time as Emma, I caved to the cisgender social pressures and decided that perhaps the time had come to create a new Facebook account that only included my pictures and info since my gender transition. For the first time, I didn’t want someone I liked to know about my true history, and I still feel torn about that. On some level I feel shame, or like I’m hiding my true self like I did for all those years I spent in the closet, but at the same time I also feel grief at the loss of my past as Robert.

I created the new account with the name I will be using once I do legally change my name and only included pictures since going full time. I didn’t even link the account to my wife under “married to” section because I didn’t want people to link me with the wedding pictures she has posted of her and I (as Robert). I’m not ashamed of those pictures but wouldn’t that be a dead give-away? This profile was literally a smoke screen from my trans* history and I haven’t decided how I feel about it.

Is this something that was inevitable? Would I have ultimately decided to do this in the natural course of my transition in say, a year or two? At what point do I let go of my past and move ahead with my future? Everyone in my family now knows that I’ve transitioned; even my grandmother who I’d been waiting to tell knows (my mother told her. Yes, there will be a post about that later because OMG). The longer I live as Emma, the further away from Robert I grow, but when am I supposed to put those chapters of my life up on the shelf and move on from them?

Will I always want to be the out and proud transwoman extraordinaire, Emma… or will a day come when I don’t want people to know my past anymore? I struggle with these questions because as I’ve embraced this new FB profile, expunged of my history as Robert, I’ve been debating what to do with the old intimately revealing profile. I decided that it was time to make that profile less publicly visible by changing the privacy settings to hide all of my info, pictures and posts from anyone who wasn’t a friend.

Going through the pictures of Robert, and especially of Robert and his wife before their wedding was rather difficult. I felt so strange, almost as though I was looking through someone else’s pictures. More than just strange, I felt sad. I wasn’t that person anymore. My wife and I weren’t those people anymore. These pictures, while they were of me, weren’t of me at all, not anymore. They didn’t feel like they belonged on my profile anymore, but could I really just erase them? By creating a new profile, a public profile expunged of this history, was I already doing that?

So just like with changing my name, this social media thing is turning out to be more complicated than expected. In some ways being just Emma has its advantages, both in the professional world and the less-than-intimate social world. Sometimes the importance of visibility can be overruled by the advantages of invisibility. Regardless of my decisions about Facebook, I will continue to share my stories and thoughts here until either I have no more to share, or no one cares to read them. I will never sacrifice my visibility here for conformity to a binary or social pressures to appear cis.

I am still who I am. I guess, though. that I’m becoming more discreet with who I share that with and who I don’t.

Well, that’s all for this entry. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed the read. As always, stay fabulous!

-Emma

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why I Think We Should Reframe the Way We “Remember 9/11”


Today's entry isn't going to be a regular entry about gender, transition, and the transgender mystique because there is another topic I wish to address, so I apologize for the interruption of our typical programming.

 

Yes, I’m going to diverge from the typical 9/11 discussions. I honestly think it’s time to move on from our current annual, nationwide patriotic remembrance of 9/11 and reframe the way we remember it. Perhaps you already think I am unpatriotic or are discounting my thoughts before you even hear the reasoning behind them, but if you have an open mind I hope you’ll keep reading.

I’m not saying that we should forget those who lost their lives. No one who recalls that day will ever forget them, especially their family and friends. I’m not saying we should forget the firefighters and police officers who died or survived as heroes in the tragedy either. My mother is a police officer and the risk she and others take every day for our benefit cannot and should not be discounted. I’m not saying that the attack was an inside job like so many “truthers” do, although many of the reported “facts” of the situation are pretty questionable if you take a minute to look closer at what actually happened (compared to what was reported) that day.

I’m not saying that the event didn’t wound and scar our nation. I’m not saying that I won’t always remember where I was or what I was doing that day,  because I won’t. I doubt you will either, but I think it is time to reflect on (and stop) the nationwide sponsored patriotism of this event.

No more all day star-spangled news coverage, reminding us of the tragic day. No more presidential speeches about a united country and American spirit. No more social media inundation of “share this 9/11 meme otherwise be publicly shamed as being unpatriotic.” No more bringing patriotic treats to work. No more patriotism overload with American flags and “we remember” signs, billboards, commercials, memes, tweets, status updates, and news stories for a few days before returning to our regular programming of cat pictures, Facebooking, complaining about work and grim news stories about other daily tragedies.

Very few think about 9/11 approximately 350 days a year, and that number is increasing every year, so why do we spend two weeks every year around this time reliving a tragedy and rehashing the same stories and the same American-flag-flying patriotism/nationalism we forget about so quickly come September 15th? Has 9/11 become a grim version of Christmas? An annual festival in regret and sorrow? If so what purpose does it serve?

That’s my question, why should we keep remembering 9/11 the way we do? Everyone just assumes it’s the thing to do and everyone seems to accept that it HAS to be that way, but whenever something is just assumed to be right thing to do, closer examination is required. In the immortal words of Mark Twain:

 

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

 

And so that is what I’m doing and asking you to do as well, to pause and reflect.

 

Why do we “remember 9/11” in the way that we have been? Why is it always a public spectacle of patriotism? What exactly are we supposed to be remembering? And what could we be remembering instead? These are the question I believe are important to reflect on and wish to discuss.

 

So why do we “remember 9/11” the way that we have been? I suspect that we as a nation have created this grim annual festival of regret and sorrow because of the nature of the event. Because of the technology of modern day television, we as a nation all got to experience the events simultaneously. We all got to experience the chaos and the fear, confusion, and anger it brought with it. We all watched in horror as lives were cast aside like they had no meaning, and we all grappled with the pain of not understanding why the events we were beholding were unfolding. We all felt angry. We all felt afraid. We all felt unsafe. We were all worried our town might be next (for those outside of New York city). We wanted answers. We wanted resolution, and above all else we wanted justice.

9/11 blinded us with rage and despair. We all cried out for war, and our government happily obliged, almost a bit too eagerly (more on this in a moment). As a result of the nation-wide nature of this event, I believe people all across the country felt a certain togetherness; a unitedness that we hadn’t experienced in a long time. Someone attacked us as a people, which meant that anyone who stood by us was a friend and an ally. We banded together under the American flag, forgetting about all the problems we had as a nation as we openly embraced the warm arms of patriotism. It was us vs. them, regardless of whomever “them” was.

I think part of the reason we revere this day with such a fervor and public spectacle of patriotism is because it was one of the few times over the last several decades that we as a nation put our differences aside and united in mind and spirit. We lifted each other up instead of tearing each other down because we believed that we couldn’t afford to fight amongst ourselves. There was a mutual enemy, and so our old rivals became our allies… for a while, at least.

So what exactly are we supposed to be remembering? This message seems less clear than the patriotic overtones would have us believe. Some remember heroism of firefighters and police officers. Some remember the devastation and fear; and still others remember lost loved ones, but there is no unanimous “remembrance” we are supposed to be having. People share “we remember’ pictures and stories all day long, but what are they remembering exactly? And what are they wanting us to remember?

Perhaps the more pertinent question would be what are we forgetting? As we listen to presidential speeches, as we watch news stories, as we tweet and status update about the events, losses, and heroism of 9/11 isn’t there something we are forgetting about? Isn’t there an enormous piece of this historical puzzle that we are minimizing while we maximize the events of a single day? As some proudly fly their American flags with the vague remembrance of the brief united front we experienced as a nation (one that has all but vanished over the last 10 years), aren’t they forgetting something?

The things we are forgetting about with the way we “remember 9/11” now are the consequences of that day.

No, I’m not talking about the consequences we vowed to repay on those who allegedly orchestrated this event. I’m talking about the consequences on the American psyche of turning to war in a blind rage of patriotic fervor. I’m taking about the consequences of laws like the Patriot Act being enacted overnight without people reading it. I’m talking about the freedoms we sacrificed out of fear of the unknown terrorist threat. I’m talking about the war crimes our military and Presidential branch committed against many people who were completely innocent. I’m talking about the consequences of the increased instability and volatility of the middle east as a result of our blind rage.

If those in the middle east had been the victors instead of us (although victory is a debatable description of what’s happened in either Afghanistan or Iraq), then people like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney would have been tried in a Nuremburg-style court and executed instead of the other way around like Saddam Hussein was. The things that went down in places like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib under Bush/Cheney’s supervision and oftentimes direct orders border on the atrocities that occurred in the Gulags of Stalin and the concentration camps of Hitler.

There is an old adage that says that history is written by the victors, and right now America is the victor trying to rewrite history their way.  Our current “remembrance” of the events of 9/11 is a mechanism of that rewriting of history.

Ask yourself, what do we remember about 9/11? What do we talk about when 9/11 rolls around? We remember our heroes. We remember the crimes committed against us. We remember how united we became. We never remember the enormous mistakes we made in our reaction to 9/11. We never discuss the innocent people (men, women, and children) we killed and tortured because of our blind patriotic pursuit of justice. We don’t talk about how the middle east is even more unstable and volatile than before as a result of our dealing of “justice” to the terrorists, who have only multiplied since.

9/11, to me, symbolizes a dark day in our history, not simply because of the tragedy of that day, but the long chain of tragic events that resulted from it. We like to look back and wash our hands of the blood we shed as we sought out revenge like we had no choice in the matter. We remember the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11 while we conveniently forget the 2400 casualties in the second battle of Fallujah (the bloodiest battle involving American troops since the Vietnam war), 800 of whom were innocent civilians. We remember the first responders who gave their lives, while we conveniently forget the 57,000+ American troops that were either killed or wounded in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. We fly our flags proudly, remembering how united we were while we conveniently forget how united anti-American groups have become in the middle east out of a desire for the same kind of revenge we sought against them.

So, today, on 9/11, I refuse to remember only the events of a single day. I refuse to feel patriotic as I reflect upon the crimes committed against us and our “just” reaction to them. I refuse to see America as a country united against an outside threat. Instead I remember 9/11 by recalling the dangers of blind patriotism. I remember 9/11 by recalling that war is never the answer. I remember 9/11 by recalling that when the government is eager to go to war and the people clamor for it, that is the time when we most need to be cautious and cool-headed. The justice of an angry mob is seldom exercised justly.

To me, 9/11 symbolizes the greatest mistake we’ve made in the last 40 years because it caused us to allow the actions of a few to blind an entire nation from reason, rationality, and critical discussion. We were united, but that unison was bound in the blood of innocent people slain in the fervor of nationalistic patriotism, many of whom had nothing at all to do with the tragic events at the twin towers, the pentagon or the planes. So while many remember the events of a single day, I will mourn the tragedy of more than a decade’s worth of bloodshed. I will always remember the regret I feel for how quick even I was to believe war was the answer. I will never make that mistake again. I will never allow bloodlust to blind me from understanding that an eye for an eye is never the answer.

I suspect many won’t like the discussion of our mistakes after 9/11, and that’s the greatest tragedy of all: how quickly and easily people are to forget the important parts of history in favor of the convenient parts that play to their sympathies. So, while many of you go about participating in the star-spangled remembrance ritual that’s been created over the last 14 years you’ll have to forgive me while I opt out of the comradery. I will mourn the tragedies* of 9/11 in silence as I recall all the lives that were lost not only on that day, but all the days that followed as a result, and I invite you to do the same. Remember those who died on 9/11 by vowing to never make the same patriotism-filled mistakes we made the first time around.

 

-Emma

Thursday, September 10, 2015

9-10-2015 Entry: More Life Altering Decisions



Hello my lovelies! I have missed you! Have you missed me? I mean, how could you not miss all of this fabulous? ;)


Anyways, inflated self-importance aside I wanted to check in since it has been awhile since I last wrote. Things are going pretty well over here in the Emma-verse. I’m not sure if I divulged this previously or not but a few weeks ago I made a huge life decision.


Up until this point in my life (nearly 30 years) I have struggled constantly with depression since about the age of 12 or 13. A great deal of this depression was tied to my gender dysphoria, as we have discussed at length, but not all of it; and that’s the important thing to understand right now. Despite taking back our identity, despite burning the proverbial closet to the ground, and despite beginning a new, amazing, rewarding, and free life as Emma, we were still struggling with a great deal of depression.


Certain factors in our life definitely exacerbated this depression by triggering some of our deepest and darkest traumas and beliefs about ourselves that take root all the way back to the very beginnings of our life. Beliefs and ideas that have been part of our personality since the foundation of us as an independent, conscious being were wreaking havoc on our life and our mental stability.


We recently divulged to many of our friends that we were struggling a great deal with thoughts of suicide. So many good things were happening in our life, and so much positive change was occurring, yet we still wanted to stop living. Life just felt so difficult and draining. It felt like even just breathing and moving about in the world was an exercise in futility. We kept thinking what was the point? Why keep going? It wouldn’t matter if we were gone anyways…


Three weeks in a row we went into our weekly therapy appointment and had to confess to our therapist that we’d been considering suicide. One time we even had to confess that we had made a plan and had decided to finally do the thing we’ve been so afraid to do. We ultimately decided we couldn’t put our wife through that pain, at least not on that day. It wasn’t a decision to forgo suicide altogether as much as it was a temporary stay of execution. She had just started a new job and to inflict such a terrible loss upon her during an already stressful time seemed too cruel, even in our hopeless state. It was ultimately the fear that she would choose to follow after us into the great beyond that stopped us.


We couldn’t bear the thought of being responsible for her death as well as our own, and so we decided to wait. Perhaps time would reveal a more opportune chance to depart those we loved in such a way that they could have stable enough ground to hold them up while they grieved our death.


Our confessions of our thoughts, ideas, and plans regarding suicide three weeks in a row prompted our therapist to ask us to make a formal agreement that we would call her if we found ourselves so close to the edge again. We said that we would, but we knew that the agreement was a hollow promise. The crushing loneliness that we felt during the darkest moments were far too powerful to permit us to reach out to others. We believed that if the day came again that we made a plan to kill ourselves, nothing was going to stop us. There would be no phone call, no last minute reaching out for help, no more trying to find a reason not to do it. It was going to be the end.


That day nearly came a few days after we made our hollow agreement. Sitting in our cube at work, overwhelmed by the crushing emptiness and loneliness we felt about our life, we started to write our goodbye letter; something we’ve never had the nerve to do previously. Enough had finally been enough and it was time to say goodbye. We had to explain to those who loved us that there was nothing that any of them could have done to prevent this. We had to let them know that they hadn’t failed us. It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was simply the inevitable outcome of our life and the decisions we had made.


We wanted them to know that we were coherent in our decision to kill ourselves. We wanted them to understand that we had done this willingly and by our own volition. We wanted them to take comfort in knowing that it was a deliberate choice, taken after great consideration, and that they were not to blame. We wanted them to know we loved them, and that we didn’t want them to mourn our loss too much. We wanted them to know that all of their extensions of support and love were appreciated, but in the end, there was nothing anyone could do to stop this from happening.


We didn’t want to go out of this world like one of our friends who took his life without much explanation. The anger and devastation left behind was too great, so we wanted to explain why we had done what we’d done. We wanted those left behind to understand that we had chosen to do this deliberately, and that it wasn’t meant to hurt them, only to alleviate the pain we felt inside.


The letter finally came to the part where we were going to address our wife directly, and that’s when everything unraveled. Our somewhat controlled demeanor up to this point melted away and we couldn’t hold the tears back anymore. We had to leave our computer and seek out a private space to cry. How could we explain to her why we’d left her? How could we convince her to keep living when we’d chosen to do the opposite?


Stepping away from the computer and letting our emotions wash over us did something we cannot really explain. As we sat, weeping almost uncontrollably, we thought about what we were doing and the enormity of the decision we were making. What we experienced then can only be described as fear. How had we allowed things to become so bad? How were we at this point in our life, closer than ever before to killing ourselves when so much good was happening to us?


Something was wrong, and it was beyond just circumstances at work. Something was truly amiss if this was where we were. We had spent so many years struggling with depression naturally by stubbornly refusing to take medicine, believing that we could overcome our issues through diet, exercise, and positive thinking and life changes without the help of big pharma, but was that struggle worth it if we were just going to kill ourselves anyway?


Our therapist had suggested anti-depressants a few months earlier and we had dismissed the idea completely, convinced we could survive without them. Prozac and Paxil in our teenage years had done little more than to numb the pain by stealing away all of our emotions and leaving us incapable of feeling anything at all, but was it time to reconsider our stance on anti-depressants?


We had a doctor’s appointment the following day, and so, as we sat in our private place, crying, feeling overwhelmed and terrified at how dire things had become, we decided maybe it was time to stop being stubborn. Maybe our therapist was right and we should talk to our doctor about anti-depressants. We decided then that we would at least consider opening the door to that discussion which had previously been forever barred.


We returned to our cube, looked over our suicide note and decided to delete it. Not today, we decided. We wouldn’t kill ourselves until we’d exhausted every possible means of feeling better and there was still one alternative, however unappealing, left to explore. We went through the rest of the day feeling a bit better. When all had seemed completely lost, a door, even if it was one we’d vowed to never step through, appeared to remind us that things are never truly lost.


The next day we went to the doctor’s office feeling slightly better than average; probably because we were eager for her to see us for the first time as Emma instead of as Robert (our last appointment had been right before going fulltime). The day had been so much better than the one previous that we almost didn’t want to talk about our depression. As we sat in the waiting room, filling out the intake form, we debated if we were really going to open the door to anti-depressants. We’d removed the bar that had sealed it shut the day before, but were we ready to unlock it as well?


We hadn’t talked with our wife. We hadn’t talked with our therapist. We hadn’t talked with anyone about what we were considering. We didn’t want to be influenced either way. If this decision was to be made, it had to be our own.


After several minutes of debate, we ultimately decided that we had to do it. There were no other solutions beside suicide or the complete unravelling of our life, which would ultimately still probably lead to suicide. If we were ever going to overcome this problem, then now was the time. With more reluctance than words can do justice, we put depression down as a reason we were there to see the doctor.


Once we were called into the office the intake nurse reviewed our form and saw depression listed. This prompted her to hand me that test they always give you where you circle the numbers next to questions like “have you had thoughts of suicide in the last two weeks?”


I filled out the form after answering some questions for her. The doctor came in, didn’t really say much about my vastly different appearance, although she seemed pleased at the sight of me. She eventually remarked that she thought I was feminizing really well, which I took as a good sign. The majority of our visit, however, centered around the depression. Again, I had to confide in another person that I’d been considering suicide recently, which of course raised the typical red flags.


She discussed the various options available to me. She explained that anti-depressants have come a long way since the days of the Prozac and Paxil I tried 12 years earlier. She asked me a few questions about my energy levels and whether or not my anxiety manifested in jitteriness or just depression. After some discussion she said that if I was going to go on a med that she had a recommendation and that’s when the life changing decision happened.


The amazing thing about this moment was that it occurred simultaneously with a very powerful bout of déjà vu. Throughout my life I have very frequently dreamt very peculiar dreams that ultimately came to pass in real life some time later. Sometimes they are random, passing moments without much significance, but more often than not they come right before I make a decision about something.


There is a line in the second matrix movie that the Oracle says to Neo and it goes, “we can never see past the choices we don’t understand,” and I have found that to be the case at least 7 out of 10 times I have déjà vu. This time was no exception. If anything it really was the most significant deciding moment I’ve ever foreseen. As I sat in the office, trying to answer my doctor’s question of whether or not I wanted to go on the anti-depressant everything became so familiar. The art on the wall, the look she had on her face, the way I was twisting my hand inside the palm of my other hand, the smell in the air, and the feeling I had inside. I had lived this moment before.


I had dreamt it, but in the dream I didn’t understand why I was in that office. I didn’t know why the decision I was making was important but I knew that it was.  I started to laugh, just as I did in the dream. My doctor gave me the same confused look she had in the dream, and I responded exactly as I had seen previously. I told her that I was having a major bout of déjà vu and that I’d dreamed this moment some months ago. She gave me the same, “okay…?” look that she had in the dream and the feeling began to subside.


I was finally here, living this moment a second time, and the words of the oracle rang in my ears. We can never see past the choices we don’t understand, and I realized that this was the turning point. The choice I made right there, right then, would forever alter the course of my life; of our life. It could very well mean the difference between life and death, and there was a reason we’d seen this moment. We knew then that we’d foreseen that moment because of how critical it was that we made the right decision. Everything would change based on that choice. Like Neo being asked to choose between Trinity dying and risking everything to save her, we were being asked to choose between allowing ourselves to mentally decay into suicide or risking everything we thought we knew about ourselves to save our life.


We knew then that we had to take the pills. We had to try them. We couldn’t go on as we had been, even if it meant we might lose some part of ourselves to the influence of the medicine. The risks were too big, the stakes too high to keep gambling on our ability to handle everything on our own. We had to sacrifice our mutual pride in order to keep going. We would take on the stigma of mental health medicine if it meant we could finally live in peace and happiness.


That was 16 days ago. We have been taking the medicine for two weeks now, and the difference is unbelievable. Within about 2 or 3 days we had an epiphany as we marveled at how happy and at ease we’d felt right away after taking the first dose. As we looked back upon the recent months and years, we realized just how sick we’d actually been. We use the word sick with reservation, although there is no word to better describe what we saw as we reflected on our life.


 Our brain, for all of its intelligence and ability to solve complex issues, was unable to solve or even really see the biggest issue of all: it, itself, wasn’t working properly. Somewhere along the way something had broken, or gone amiss. Like a car engine that misfires and sputters, something inside of our physical form wasn’t running the way it was supposed to. Eventually we had become accustomed to the sputtering engine, learning ways around the misfires; that is, until HRT.


Going onto hormones was somewhat like throwing gasoline on a small, relatively contained fire. The longer I was on them, the more gasoline was thrown onto the fire until it could no longer be contained. The flames raged and started to burn down things around it. Little by little the inferno spread until everything was engulfed and all seemed lost.


Taking the medicine was like a sudden raincloud appearing above the fire and unleashing a downpour of rain. Within 24 hours we felt better than we had in ages. We felt amazing. Life was so good! Everything was going so well for us! Why had we even been sad at all? There was nothing to be sad about, really. Everything was working out magnificently! Sure our job sucked, and we were denied not only a raise that we requested, but also a request to reduce hours as an alternative, but otherwise so much was going so well. Being Emma was amazing!


And that’s when the epiphany hit us. We weren’t sad because of life circumstances, we weren’t sad because we had no worth, we were sad because our brain didn’t know how to shut off the sadness valve. That’s a technical term btw =p::


Our brain just couldn’t stop producing the chemicals that were driving us into depression, and the stress of living was increasing the flowrate. We were literally drowning in depressive chemistry and the nature of that chemistry can blind a person from seeing the cause. Now we see the cause. Now we understand, but it wasn’t until we started the medicine that it became obvious just how bad things had become. This is why we say we were sick, because we really were.


No amount of positive thought, no amount of meditation, no amount of healthy eating, no amount of exercise, and no amount of denial could cure our mental health disorder. Are the pills a permanent solution? Only time will tell, but for now they have cured us of our depression and our suicidal thoughts. They have shown us just how clouded our vision had become, and just how sick we’d become.


Most days we are happy, sometimes even elated to be alive. Some days stress still gets to us and a lack of sleep hasn’t helped recently, but overall the difference is enormous. We haven’t thought about suicide since we began the medicine and we haven’t been anywhere near depressed. Frustrated, sure, irritable, maybe, but never depressed.


So, if you are struggling with depression and nothing seems to be helping, I promise medicine isn’t as bad as it might seem. It has helped me enormously already, and it might do the same for you. There is nothing to be ashamed about. Mental health disorders are real, and they can kill if not taken care of properly.


With love,


-Emma

Friday, September 4, 2015

9-4-2015 Entry: An Open Letter to Lila Perry.



Dear Lila,
Hello darling! I don’t know if you will ever read my words but I want you to know you are not alone in this fight against the systemic permissibility of delegitimization of transgender individuals.

First and foremost I want you to know that there are so many of us out in the world who are proud of you and your willingness to stand up for who you are. You should NEVER be forced to use separate accommodations to ease the misplaced fears of bigots and religious fanatics. Your unwillingness to take that “compromise” of a gender neutral bathroom means so much, not only to me, but to others who will follow after you.

I am a transwoman who uses the women’s facilities at my place of employment and out in the world, and I want you to know that I had to fight for that right, just like you are doing. My employer tried to convince me that it might be better for me to travel 10 floors down in my building to use a unisex bathroom rather than use the women's room. I ultimately won my right to use the women's room because I was unwilling to take no for an answer and I was able to appeal to the powers that be to institute a policy of acceptance rather than intolerance. I can promise that you will ultimately win as well.

I can only imagine how painful or upsetting seeing so many students protesting your very existence in their space must have been, but please know that just because there are people who are filled with ignorance, intolerance, and hatred towards transgender people like you and I, there are also so many people filled with love, acceptance, and kindness. I have been fortunate to meet so many of them.

Highschool is so hard already, and to add being openly transgender to the mix makes it even more difficult. I don’t know how you are handling things, but I implore you to keep living, and to keep fighting for your right to be accepted for who you are and your right to self-determine your identity. No one has the right to tell you who you are or aren't, only you can determine that.

So many of our trans youth struggle with depression and often turn to things like drugs, alcohol, or even suicide. I implore you, if you are thinking about turning to any of those things, especially the last, that you stay strong instead. I know it’s easier said than done, but I know a thing or two about turning to those things to deal with the pain of intolerance and the shame people try to use against your gender expression, and they aren’t worth it.

I welcome you to email me to talk any time. I really mean that. That isn't a hollow gesture. I talk with people all around the globe who are transgender or non-binary and have helped so many of them come to better terms with who they are and what they are experiencing. Sometimes you just need someone who understands what it is like, and I can promise that I understand what it’s like to be met with hatred, bigotry, and intolerance for just being who you know yourself to be.

Please stay strong. Please don’t give up. Please don’t allow cowards and bigots to ruin your god-given right to self-determine or to be treated with decency and respect. You matter, you are important, you are brilliant, and you are beautiful, darling. They hate, not because you are wrong or bad, but because they themselves are filled with suffering and fear. Their reaction is a reflection of their own insecurities, not a reflection of your worth. I am proud of you and your resolve to not be treated like a second class citizen.

I hope that my words find you and that you find meaning in them. You are loved and admired, sweetheart, even by those who’ve never met you. Please stay strong and continue to shine!

-Emma

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

9-2-2015 Entry: First Week as a Trans* Grad Student


Hello my lovelies! Sorry it’s been a few days since I’ve checked in. Unfortunately today’s entry is probably going to be pretty short since I don’t have much time to write before obligation starts calling my name again.

This week I started school and it brought with it a few first-time-evers for me. This is the first time I can say, without technicality or reservation, that I am a graduate student!! Yay! It only took me 6 years after graduating my Bachelors to finally get to this place! I say the bit about technicality because I went back to school a few years ago to become a paralegal and it was a post-bachelor certificate offered through the graduate school but most of my classes were essentially undergraduate classes. So, I usually said I was in grad school when too much explanation wasn’t warranted, but inside I always felt a bit like I was being deceptive.

Now, however, I’m not being deceptive at all! I’m a grad student! In a couple years I will have a masters degree!! And, possibly eventually, I may decide to get a Ph.D. but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Dr. Emma does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? ;)

Anyways, along with being a legit grad student for the first time, I also went to school as a woman (kind of; oh the technicalities, they do abound don’t they?) for the first time. This has been a rather interesting experience, especially considering that of the two classes I’m currently taking with about 50 students in the program, there is only 1 male and he is only in one of the classes.

 As an aside, he’s a minister, so I suspect some philosophical differences between us will emerge before the end. You know how God likes to keep things in a binary… only with gender though, everything else in nature is the “exception”. He does seems nice so far,  so I’m trying not to prejudge him too much, but that’s likely because he hasn’t had to interact with me directly. I’ll definitely let you know when that happens, as I’m certain it will be interesting.

Moving back to our topic at hand, I’ve finally experienced what it was like to go to school as a girl* and it’s been really nice. I’ve also experienced, pretty much for the first time, being outed (with my permission) to a group of people who likely had no idea I was transgender. The first class I had on Monday went pretty smoothly with regards to me being outed to others. I basically only told the instructor of the class, for roll call purposes, and the person I was partnered up with for one of the exercises. Everyone else thought I was a ciswoman, or at least didn’t seem to notice that I might not be.

The second class that I had yesterday, however, went very differently. Not only did I not get a chance to tell the professor about my name on her class list, but the first opportunity there was to introduce myself was done in an exercise that I didn’t get to control. Basically this is how it went down. We were supposed to partner up with someone sitting next to us to find out what they did this summer that was noteworthy and then to also find out what they would be doing if they weren’t in class tonight. After discussing that for a few minutes the exercise was for the person we worked with to introduce us to the class by telling them our name, what we did this summer and what we’d be doing if we weren’t in class. Are you seeing where this going yet?

If not, then let’s run through it real quick (just for fun, of course). What did Emma do this summer that was noteworthy? Hmmm… She went to Madison with her wife… maybe not so noteworthy even if it was a nice getaway. What else? Hmmm… she worked and went to therapy… probably still not all that noteworthy and honestly a bit too personal on the second half (social stigma in mental health as it is). What else? Oh! That’s right! Emma transitioned genders by going fulltime as a transwoman instead of a man! Yep, that’s definitely noteworthy!

So, yes, we’ve arrived at the moment when shit gets awkward. We’ve arrived at the crossroads that every trans* person arrives at, at least once in their life. That crossroads that goes: do I tell everyone I’m trans and live out and proud? Or do I allow them to keep guessing or believing I’m a ciswoman/man?

Thankfully my partner, who happened to be a sociable and nice lesbian (1000+ cool points for her in my book already) recognized the potential awkwardness that was going to come up when it came to our turn to introduce one another. She kindly asked if I wanted her to share that portion of our conversation with the entire class or to leave it out. I honestly answered Yes I was okay with her sharing it before I really thought about it or considered what it meant for me.

I think the fates have been kind to me in that I am relatively passable already after only 6 months of HRT. I would say 90% of the time when I’m in public people have no idea. When I told my lesbian class partner that I transitioned genders she seemed completely amazed, like she would have never guessed that I hadn’t always been a female. (BTW I know I don’t have to refer to her as a lesbian, she is much more than that, of course, but I love lesbians, so I’m using it as a term of endearment as I try to keep her identity anonymous). I honestly think most of my classmates also had no idea that I was trans*, so for my partner to tell them all that I was trans would likely create a huge difference in the perception that they had about me (because for some reason it does, even though it totally shouldn’t).

Up until this point, it had honestly been really rewarding and somewhat comforting for me to be seen as female. No one treated me differently, no one gave me the cold shoulder and no one stared at me unashamed of how rude they were being. No one misgendered me or called me by the wrong name/pronoun. No one saw me, likely without understanding what they were doing or why they were doing it, as inherently different than themselves. Once my lesbian class partner told everyone, however, that veil of “passing” would be torn away and I’d be seen as something other than female. Instead of being one with them, I would suddenly, almost imperceptibly, become an other.

So, after I told my partner that it was okay to share that piece of news about me, I started to feel really anxious. What if I didn’t want them to know? What if I wanted them to keep calling me Emma without question or curiosity? What would the repercussions of that decision be, both on myself and on my classmates?

Thinking about it now, a day later, I know that I made the right decision. I know that it was a good thing that my partner did, in fact, reveal to the entire class that I had transitioned genders this summer. It was a beneficial act, and a beneficial sacrifice on my part.

The selfish (and there is nothing wrong with being selfish in this regard, don’t get me wrong) thing to do would be to stay passable, to stay out of the sight of others, to continue to be perceived as a cisgender woman instead of being seen as trans*. The selfish (again, not bad) thing would have been to go through my whole program not really telling anyone at all so that none of them became aware of the fact that I was “different” than them. My own comfort would have been met had I not willingly been outed to all of them.

I could have done that. I’m passable enough that many of them would have likely never guessed anything was amiss, but I didn’t do that, and for several reasons. The first reason is that it would have been a disservice to them. I know you are probably thinking “huh?”

What I mean by that is that if they didn’t know they were being exposed to someone who contradicts their perceptions on the gender norms and gender expressions, they would go through their entire education living in the happy little binary bubble of delusion that there are only men and women. Our text books are written by cisgender individuals who categorize people into cisgender, binary, categories of men and women. The definition of gender in our text book was 100% binary-centric. Our professor, is cisgender and works primarily with cisgender individuals/families. Everyone in both of our classes is cisgender (except me).

Under such circumstances, were I to continue to present as a cis female, these people who are going to become therapists one day, would be robbed of the experience to see what non-binary and transgender can look like. They, despite my discomfort in being examined, are given the opportunity to learn about something that is not only very important, but also somewhat rare. Transgender people make up less than 1% of the human population, and transgender individuals working towards graduate degrees are also probably about 1% of grad students.

Their exposure to me, to my experiences, to my perspectives, to my understanding of something that can seem so mythical to some cisgender people, is truly a blessing to them. I know, I probably sound so full of myself right now but regardless of my ego, they are being presented with a very rare and unique experience to learn a great deal about what non-binary can look like. I will make it my mission to challenge their assumptions as much as possible when it comes to gender and gender expression. I will do everything I can to question their assumptions about sexuality as well. I am a lesbian transwoman married to a cisgender hetero woman and we’ve made it work, so I know a thing or two about the fluid nature of sexuality.

The next reason I decided to be outed was that it’s important for me to face my fears, and I was afraid to tell everyone I was trans*. The only way I will ever manage to feel confident in who I am and what I am capable of is to step into the spotlight and be seen for what I really am. I spent so many years hiding who I was because I was afraid to show what was inside. I spent so much of my life taking comfort in anonymity, but in order to grow and to become the things I want to be, I can’t be anonymous. I can’t be a background person and expect to make waves or foster change or growth in others. Perhaps if I was trying to foster different kinds of change and growth I could be anonymous, but as we’ve discussed so many times before, staying hidden in the trans* movement doesn’t really propel visibility or acceptance.

Lastly, I did it because I have a duty to live up to you and what you expect of me. That’s right, I thought about you, my darling reader, when I decided it was a good idea to be outed. How could I sit here, typing these words, doing all that I could to encourage you to push past your fears, your boundaries, and the expectations placed on you if I couldn’t do that myself? I refuse to be someone who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. I refuse to talk a big game but have nothing to back it up. If I can be brave and succeed as a result of that bravery, how much more likely are you to follow in my footsteps? How likely are you to be convinced by me to stop hiding who you are or to stop allowing others to tell you who you are if I can’t even do it myself?

I have asserted time and again that I didn’t come to change the world, I came to rock it, and if I hadn’t willingly been outed in front of 30 strangers because I’d shrunk back in fear, those words would just be that, words. People may say all kinds of things about me, but I refuse to give anyone the opportunity to say that I’m not true to my word. If I say I’m going to do something, then I’m going to do it dammit, or I’m going to try and try again until I either succeed or my continued failure opens the door to another avenue of success (which happens often actually).

Well, that’s all I have today. I have another entry I’ve been working on but just haven’t had time to finish. I’ll try to post it sometime this week.

Thanks for stopping by and always remember, the only person who really knows who you are, is you. Never let anyone else tell you who you are supposed to be, because they have no idea what they are talking about (chances are, they have no idea who they even are themselves).

Much love for all of you,

-Emma