Saturday, January 21, 2017

1-21-2017 Entry: Being Misgendered After Almost 2 Years of HRT

Yesterday I was misgendered. Almost exactly two years from the day that I started my journey into the realm of hormone transition. Now, for anyone who has gone through a gender transition or anyone forced to live as a gender they aren’t on the inside, this is rather commonplace. The fact that this was so out of the blue and unexpected honestly speaks to the privilege I have as someone who is assumed the correct gender (or something close to it) on a regular basis. In a way I feel bad even complaining about it because I know how fortunate I am.

For me it is only maybe one in twenty-five people who even bats an eye at me and usually it’s only on the days when I’m not really trying that hard to present as female (aka not wearing makeup, not wearing “traditionally” female clothing, or not paying any attention to my body language or voice). It is extremely rare, however, for me to be in full female presentation and have someone misgender me (Unless they are being a purposely invalidating asshole).

I honestly don’t think the lady even realized that she did it. I think it was a total sub-conscious slip-up with pronouns that she neither intended or even noticed. She knew my name was Emma, she had used the correct pronouns at first (I think, although I cannot really recall) but eventually during out time together working through her background check something must have shifted somewhere in her mind. I was running her fingerprints through the system to make sure she could work with vulnerable adults and I said something to her that made her laugh. She had a friend with her in the other room and when her friend heard her laughing the friend asked what she was asking about. She turned towards her friend through the doorway and said, “He said_____” and repeated what I’d just said.

I was quite literally dumbfounded by her using the pronoun “he” in reference to me. I couldn’t speak, partially because it felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. I wanted to ask her if I’d heard her correctly but I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to bring further humiliation upon myself by having to assert to her that I was a woman and the pronoun “he” was not appropriate for one such as me. If I said something then it was certain, in my mind at the time, that I’d not only be making her feel bad for an unconscious mistake but would be solidifying in her mind that I really wasn’t a woman, because a “real” woman as femme as me wouldn’t need to confront a situation like that. I’m not saying that is true, only that it felt true and accurate in the moment.

We finished her appointment and they went on their way, never-the-wiser that I wanted nothing more than to leap in front of a moving train or that I would spend the next several hours dissecting our entire interaction to figure out where I’d given my non-cisness away. Was it something I did with my body? Was it a blemish in my makeup that revealed my dreadfully present facial hair? Did my voice drop too low? Did I not use the right kind of voice pitch/cadence? WHAT WAS IT???

But there is no answer. There is no way to know for sure why she read me, however briefly, as not-female, and that’s the rub. No matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, there will always be that fucking person who misgenders me, consciously or otherwise.

The lesson here is two fold, I think. First, no matter how “passable” a person might become and no matter how privileged they appear in that regard, they are likely still suffering from being misgendered from time to time. I find this helpful because there are times when I see transgender women who are so completely feminine that I become envious of either their genetics or their financial affluence that’s permitted them the procedures I cannot afford that I forget that they are still fighting the same fight as me, to be gendered correctly. The second lesson is that when I accept that no amount of doing the things I think will make me “passable” so people don’t read me as not-female will save me from ever experiencing this again, then I can find peace with where I am in my journey. Even if I get laser hair removal or have SRS or whatever else I might want I still won’t feel completely fulfilled, which means that the external truly holds no completion for me. I must find completion on the inside and find joy in the progress I’ve made and relief in the changes that have already occurred.

I know, it’s a dangerous lesson to consider because it would be so easy to take a nihilistic approach to it. I could easily think that nothing I ever did would be enough and so there was no point in even trying. I could even take that to the extreme of thinking that I’d never be accepted as the person I know I am so why should I continue living? In the past that’s likely how I would have approached a situation like this, and I won’t lie, it was pretty damn depressing when I realized what she’d done. One little word nearly ruined my day but if I let that be the case then I’m truly lost. I have to be stronger than a pronoun and I have to remember that all that truly matters is that I see a woman when I look in the mirror. Who cares about the rest of the world?

Easier said than done, I know, but please know that you aren’t alone when you are misgendered. Please don’t think that it makes you any less the person you know yourself to be. You are still you. You are still beautiful, or handsome, or amazing, or whatever resonates with you and reminds you of your great worth. So don’t let a pronoun ruin your day, if you can. You are bigger and stronger than a pronoun, just like we are.

Monday, January 16, 2017

1-16-2016 Entry: How to Fight Systemic Racism as a White Person

Hello my darlings. I hope that as you all went through your day today you at the very least thought about ways you could help eradicate racism or ways in which you can use your privilege (if you have it) for the betterment of our society instead of just yourself. I am painfully aware of my privilege nearly every day as a white person, as an educated person, as an American, and as a “passable” transgender person.

But what is privilege? What makes someone privileged over someone else and why does it still exist in the realm of race, sex, sexuality, and gender even today in the twenty-first century? Well, simply put privilege (to me at least) means anything from the freedom from invisible burdens to very visible social roadblocks. As a white person I can walk into a clothing store, peruse to my heart’s content, and then decide to leave that store with no one really batting an eye. Maybe a salesperson will be disappointed they didn’t get a commission but otherwise I am fairly invisible to them. Change the color of my skin and it is too often an entirely different game. Instead of being able to peruse as long as I want, with a different skin color my innocent behavior can suddenly seem suspicious. Deciding to leave without actually buying something might raise so much suspicion that the salesperson begins to think I’ve shoplifted.

Obviously I’m *slightly* exaggerating the details of this very brief scenario, but it becomes obvious that something is amiss here. Two people who could be identical in nearly every regard with respect to education, income, age, weight, height, and attitude can be treated entirely different because of the color of their skin. The first person, with white skin, was free from an invisible burden of being guilty until proven innocent. The second person is assumed to be guilty until proven otherwise and all because of social programming from generations of messages about people who look like them. It’s almost a certainty that the salesperson (who we will assume is white) has absolutely no idea why they are suspicious of one and not the other. To make matters worse, the salesperson is likely oblivious to the fact that they treated them differently at all. If you asked that salesperson they would likely say they treated everyone the same, no matter what.

Does this make the salesperson a liar or just ignorant? If we give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they were truly ignorant of their double-standard treatment of the two almost-customers then can we excuse them from their behavior? The answer to that question is difficult to give because it depends on who you ask. Sure you might find consensus that the salesperson was ignorant of their behavior but you would almost assuredly get different answers about whether or not their ignorance excuses them. A white person who is not aware of or critically-self-reflective of their privilege would undoubtedly say that yes, their ignorance excuses their behavior. They didn’t MEAN to treat them like that, so there is harm.

But what of people who aren’t white? What would they say? As I am a white person myself I refuse to presume to know for certain what they would say but I can guess, and my guess is that they wouldn’t give two fucks that the salesperson was ignorant of their actions. My guess is that they would say it was just as damaging, if not more so BECAUSE of their ignorance. Their ignorance just proves that racism still exists and that it is damaging to our society.

But what about teaching this salesperson so that they no longer act from a place of ignorance but are able to consciously check their socially-programmed biases at the door to ensure fair and equal treatment of their customers? Whose responsibility is it to teach that salesperson? Again, we come to a difficult question to answer because it depends on who you ask. A white person who is not aware of, or critically-self-reflective of their privilege would undoubtedly say that it’s the job of the customer of color to educate them. How can they know they are doing it out of ignorance if you don’t teach them about how they should act instead?

But what about people who aren’t white? What would they say? Again, as I am a white person myself I refuse to presume to know for certain what they would say, but I can guess, and my guess is that they would say it is the job of the salesperson to seek out the knowledge themselves to become more enlightened. It is not the burden of those being mistreated to educate their tormentors on why they shouldn’t be mistreated the way they are.

Okay, so let’s say we accept the second answer (which, I’m just going to admit my bias here, is the right answer in my mind) and we agree that the salesperson needs to seek out the knowledge themselves, where do they go to find that knowledge? Again, this is a difficult question to answer because it depends on who you ask. A white person who is not aware of, or critically-self-reflective of their privilege would undoubtedly think that the salesperson should seek out the closest convenient person of that skin color to ask them questions about how people like them should be treated. Hello Michael, I know we met last week but I really admire what Martin Luther King Jr. did for your people, and I want to make sure I don’t ever offend you without intending to because you know… I’m white… and you… aren’t. Hahaha

But what about people who aren’t white? What would they say? Again, as I am a white person myself (are we noticing a trend here yet?), I refuse to presume to know for certain what they would say, but I can guess, and my guess is that they would say it isn’t their job to teach white people how to not be racist. They would likely discuss how dehumanizing and alienating it is to have some na├»ve, gung-ho to conquer racism white person presume that they (the person of color) are not only willing to discuss racism and how to fix it, but that they are interested in being a spokesperson for everyone who is like them.

So, wait a minute, where does that leave us? Isn’t this a catch 22? The white salesperson needs to desire to overcome their ignorance through seeking out education but not from the person they inadvertently discriminated against or from their trusted coworker (or friend, or in-law, or… take your pick) Michael either. So who do they turn to? Surely they are trapped in this state of racial ignorance for all eternity, right? This MUST be why racism still exists, because our poor white salesperson is unable to find the solution to their answer… /sigh

But wait, our salesperson isn’t just any salesperson. They are a salesperson capable of complex problem solving (those security magnets on the clothes don’t get there by magic, after all) and they realize that there really is a solution to their problem. If it isn’t the job of the person they inadvertently discriminated against, and it isn’t the job of their friend Micheal, then perhaps there are people out there who are willing to serve as educators and spokespersons for their fellow people of color. Martin Luther King Jr. was one, wasn’t he? But he isn’t the last one, right? Surely there are others out there doing the same work, others who are willing to take on the burden of educating their oppressors about the oppression they seem so ignorant of. There might even be books written on the subject, right?  Books that can be purchased online and read in the quiet places of salesperson’s home where they can become more educated on their own without offending their almost-customer or their friend Michael. What a novel idea!! (Pun intended).

Okay, so now what? Salesperson is ready to take down systemic racism all on their own. They’ve read some books, they’ve reflected on their privilege, they’ve become angry at how they were blind to their privilege for so long and desperately want to do something about the inequality that surrounds them. What should Salesperson do? Should they volunteer? Maybe, but salesperson knows that it’s important to not think that they can solve all the problems of people they’ve only just begun to understand. To do that would be another failure to recognize their privilege, so they must be careful with their desires to help out in that way. If they are going to volunteer they need to be very mindful of whether or not they are wanted there and what kind of impact they are having on the people they are volunteering for. If such opportunities aren’t there to be had what is salesperson supposed to do? They have some knowledge, they have some properly recognized and accounted for privilege, and they have a desire to help out… so what should they do?

They remember that they could donate money to causes that impact people of color. Chances are salesperson, while not rich by any means, is privileged enough to have enough money to spare for donations here and there. They also remember that they could donate clothing to places that give clothing to homeless people and impoverished families (too many of whom are people of color) because that is a practical way to contribute. They also remember that they could donate food to food shelves which serve homeless people and impoverished families (too many of whom are people of color) because too many are food insecure.

But Salesperson isn’t satisfied with donating some of their money, some of their clothes, or some of their food. They want to have a larger impact on systemic racism, something that will truly make a difference in the long run. And that’s when they are struck by a bright idea. What if, just maybe, they took the knowledge they’d gained from their studies and shared it with other white people? Wouldn’t that be a great way to erase racism? Maybe it would only be one person at a time at first, but if every person that salesperson taught about their privilege decided to teach another person, or more than one person and those people taught others, and so on, then it wouldn’t be very long before a significant population of white people would become enlightened to their privilege. And with a significant portion becoming enlightened to their privilege, then their kids and grandkids would also carry that enlightened state on for generations until maybe, just maybe, there was no more systemic racism.

Is it too much to take on? Is it too grand of an idea to spread awareness to their fellow white people, to teach them that they must become enlightened themselves through study and contemplation instead of from badgering poor Michael or that poor misjudged almost-customer? Is it too much to hope to inspire others to donate their time, their money, and their resources through a lens of self-aware privilege? Maybe it is, but then again so many other great causes have seemed too great to hope for, and yet they have been realized.

So, my fellow white people, please start educating yourself about your privilege. Please start realizing that systemic racism still exists and there are practical things you can do to fight it. Please remember that it is not the job of people of color to teach you about their oppression, but IT IS your job to seek out illumination on your own through study, contemplation, and a willingness to unflinchingly face the shame of our privilege. Only then will you be able to truly help to erase systemic racism, and once you’ve achieved this level of illumination then it is so important that you encourage other white people to do the same. Together we can achieve Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, but we have to do our part by learning from and teaching others like us.

I’d say my soapbox is put away now, but this isn’t something I only think about on MLK day. This is something I think about nearly every day. This is something I’m always keeping an eye out for in case any teaching opportunities arise, and I’m hoping that reading my words will inspire you to take action so that you can be ready for those teaching moments too. Here are some books to check out if you need somewhere to begin:

First: Pedagogy of the Oppressed
And then:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

1-15-2016 Entry: "Sun is in the sky, oh why, oh why Would I wanna be anywhere else?"

Hello my darlings. I hope you are all doing well. I am, for the first time in a long time, doing really well. My last entry was about trying to reset my thought patterns to something more conducive to joyful living and I have managed to do that. There have been a few depressing days here or there, but for the most part things have been going really well in my world.

The new job I started a few weeks ago is proving to be a job I actually kind of like. I don’t love the work I do but I really enjoy the people I work with, especially my direct supervisor. She is a total sweetheart and has achieved a healthy balance of being directive without being overbearing or micro-managing. The other girl I work with is younger than I am, but with her young age she brings with her a bright and youthful optimism that’s been missing in my life. She’s from Ukraine and as a result has an awesome accent that makes her totally endearing, especially when she misspeaks and uses the wrong word (like saying ostrich instead of asterisk) and we both get to laugh together. In short, the job is essentially exactly what I was wanting for this stage in my life. It is an office job with stable hours and stable pay, but without any lawyers prancing around acting like they are god’s gift to humanity. Also, because I’m working at a non-profit instead of a for-profit company, the environment is dramatically different. It is so much more laid back than my work as a paralegal. Everything isn’t about how many billable hours I’m generating. Instead it’s the quality of help I give to the people who come into our office, which cannot really be quantified. With the exception of a few, almost everyone I work with is pleasant and friendly. There is no bickering like there ALWAYS was among the support staff in the law firms I worked at, at least none that I’ve noticed.

Outside of work I am finding that my life is also improving. Although I am busy all the time now with working 40 hours a week and having upwards of 11 hours of grad school a week, I’m finding that my time is being well spent with lovely people. In fact, just a few days ago I went on a date (well sort of) and it was fun, rewarding, and at the end of it I kissed her goodbye. It was a lovely kiss and one that I’d been longing for for some time now. While we haven’t officially decided that we are seeing each other again, Rose is back in my life and is likely to stay there. We can’t see each other very often but that hasn’t dampened either of our spirits about reconnecting. In a lot of ways this kind of relationship is precisely what I need: Something that’s not super serious, but is completely fun and rewarding. I imagine she feels the same way.

In addition to her I have either strengthened my friendship/bond with people I positively adore or I have met new people who are proving to be lovely individuals.  While there are some friends who have disappointed me to an immeasurable degree, their failures have been eclipsed by the blossoming friendships and bonds I have to other people. What’s that old adage about one door shutting and another one opening? Well I’ve had one door shut and about five other doors open up, and I can say without a doubt that it is a result of my shift in consciousness. Focusing my mind and finding the peace that is at my core has allowed me to better see golden opportunities to not only improve my life, but to improve the lives of others also. Were I still stuck in a fog of depression and mired in self-destructive thought patterns I can say with certainty that I would have missed these opportunities.

And what of my transition? I am quickly closing in on two years of HRT and the differences between me and my body now, compared to when I first started is truly astounding. My darling coworker even remarked that she was struggling to imagine that the person she knows now (and met just a few weeks ago) could have ever been that person before (upon seeing pictures of me pre-HRT). Another friend told me two days ago that had she met me now rather than a year ago, she would have never even suspected I was anything but a cisgender woman. She went on to remark on how much more feminine I looked compared to then.

These outside validations are confirmed every time I look in the mirror. I don’t see Robert looking back at me anymore. I don’t even really see hints of him. That life and that body are gone, quite literally since nearly every cell in our body has been replaced since we started HRT. Just yesterday our closest friend admitted that while she knew that we still perceived masculine parts of ourself, she didn’t see them at all. She only saw the feminine parts of us, and while only seeing the feminine isn’t seeing the whole picture of who we are, we were filled with joy at her words. Her words meant that this whole thing, all of this goddamn struggle and falling apart and saying goodbye to almost everything we loved, was a successful endeavor.

Six-ish years ago we stood in the hall of our apartment wearing a black sequin skirt, a top (we forget the color) and a Halloween witches wig, and stared into the mirror at our reflection with a sense of defeat and despair. The reflection we beheld as we stood there trying on our Halloween costume for perhaps the third or fourth day in a row was a reflection that was not appealing. Sure we had the clothes and we had the hair, but everything was all wrong. We were wrong. It didn’t matter how much makeup we tried on or how many women’s clothes we bought and wore in the secret moments when we were alone, we would never be the girl we wanted to be. We wanted to be pretty. We wanted to be feminine. We wanted so very much to have been born into a different body that made more sense so we didn’t have to feel this emptiness inside.

No… we can’t do this, we thought. We can never do this. We can’t be a girl. We can’t be ourselves. We have to be a boy… we have to be a boy… we are… a boy…… *sigh*

There truly are no words to describe the pain we felt as we took off our costume in defeat. Our girlfriend (we weren’t married yet) was relieved beyond words, but we knew that we would never be happy again. We’d never know joy, not really, at least not as a full person. We would never be a girl. We would never be pretty or feminine. We would never get to wear the clothes we wanted and be seen the way we wanted to be seen. Just a few days earlier a man had mistaken us as a woman when we tried to enter the men’s bathroom at the bar we were attending a Halloween party at, and it was the single greatest moment of our lives up to that point, but it was all in the past and had to stay there. We would never allow ourselves to even really ponder that memory or why it made us feel so happy, at least not for a few years until all of this transition business started. We never even wore those clothes again, at least not that we can recall. We threw away the wig and hung up the skirt and blouse in the deepest, darkest corner of our closet. Why we didn’t just throw them out then was a mystery to us because we’d resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d never be a woman.

But now look at us! Nearly every single person we meet today perceives us as a woman. Nearly every new person we become acquainted with is utterly floored when we come out to them as transgender. Our body has that hourglass figure. Our breasts have grown to the point of completely filling our bra. Our face looks almost nothing like it did before. Our hair now hangs below our shoulders. We have dresses and skirts, and cute outfits to wear all the time. When we put on our jacket with our scarf puffing out of it we look utterly adorable (we might be biased on this one) and more than just adorable we look like a tall, beautiful woman.

What we would give to open a portal in time to that moment when we stood in that hallway looking at ourself in the mirror with dismay and simply say, this is what you could look like Robert. This is what awaits you in the future if you are brave and courageous and determined to become the person you were meant to be. Don’t turn away from your destiny, don’t throw away the wig and bury the clothes deep in the closet, throw away your fear and bury your doubts deep in the ground instead. What I would give to be able to do that, even if it only changed the timeline of that version of me.

Regardless, I do not regret my life thus far. Yes I’ve waived with doubt and wondered if transitioning was the best idea, but at the end of the day I know that it was and always will be. This is who I am. This is who I’ve become and who I will continue to become until the day I die. I am Emma, not Robert, and as long as I can remember that, I know that I’m going to be okay. The sun is in the sky, so why would I want to be anywhere else?

Well, my loves, that is all for now. Things are going well and seem to be getting better everyday. I’ll try to keep you posted as things continue to develop. I strongly suspect I’m going to have a lot of lovely and fun things to write about, so stay tuned.

Stay beautiful. Stay courageous. Stay brilliant. Stay artistic. Stay Fabulous, and remember there is no one out there quite like you, so shine bright for all the world to see.


Song of the day: 

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(Me and my baby-kitty Athena, taken recently)