Last week, I participated in my sixteenth panel discussion since beginning last September. Fourteen have been exclusively transgender Q & A sessions, and two were LGBT panels; fifteen in classes at Indiana University and one for Walmart managers. Panel sizes have ranged from a high of five people to as few as, well, on three occasions, only me.
Most of the questions I’ve fielded have been asked again and again—How did you choose your name? How did you come out? How did your family take the news? Where do you buy your clothes?—and they are either fun or important ones to answer. Every time we get one we’ve never before heard, I comment, “Wow, that’s a new one and an excellent question!”
Here are some of those unique questions. I tried to recreate my answers closely to how I responded at the time.
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Q: Will you always have gender dysphoria?
A: (After one person said, yes, gender dysphoria would always be a problem, I offered this:) I am pleased to report that I no longer have this. Since dysphoria means ill feelings, I no longer have ill feelings over my being male and feeling like I should be a female. Being on hormones calmed my brain by putting my hormones into order, and then living as a female completed the picture. This is not to say that I have ceased having struggles—and who doesn’t have them?—but they no longer have to do with the root cause which led me to transitioning; not from gender dysphoria.
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Q: At what point do you feel authentic, after you start hormones, or have surgeries, or what?
A: (Other folks answered this first, with a wide variety of responses, before I chimed in.) I feel authentic now, but I have never felt un-authentic in my life. I’m not one who goes in for this “I’m finally living a genuine life.” I wish Indianapolis Monthly had not chosen “The Real Me” for the title of my article, because I don’t agree with it.
I’m always the real me. What I have showed people is who I am. I wear my heart on my sleeve. Yes, I struggled terribly with myself, but I’ve always known who I am—I am a genetic male—even though I could no longer enjoy living as a male. Since I’ve been on hormones, my calmed brain has provided peace, and living outwardly as a woman has unified my life. I intend to have sex reassignment surgery, but I don’t feel like a less-genuine person while living as a woman but still having a penis. I’m me. I’ve always been me. I have always felt authentic.
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Q: Do you feel free?
A: (A huge smile busted out across my face.) It’s crazy! I feel so free! Here I am, this person who fought so hard to remain male, who doesn’t blend in as a woman. (I stood up.) I’m tall and have a male-shaped body. My voice is a guy’s voice. But I go out into the world and don’t think twice about these things. Being as outgoing as I am helps. I love talking with people, and I use that to my advantage. And if I feel like they might be suspicious about me, I’ll find a way to make a little joke about me, like, “Not bad for someone who’s only been a chick for a year, eh?” and flash them a big smile, and they will chuckle, and all will proceed just as when I was out in the world as a guy. I never hesitate to go anywhere as Gina. I’m still not crazy about bathrooms, but I’ve done dozens of them now and only had good experiences, so I even feel free about them.
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Q: Do you ever experience the old person in you?
A: (The question which immediately preceded this one during this panel had me feeling very emotional, with a few tears, so I already was on edge and this one hit me hard. Trying to speak, I choked up. A young man stood up: “I want to give you a hug!” I walked to him and we hugged hard. I returned to my seat and began my answer.)
When I do certain things, especially jogging and working in the garden, and I’m wearing the same clothes as I used to wear—they are pretty generic-looking, but they still were Greg’s clothes—and everything feels like my entire life’s experience, it is hard on me. I feel like the man I tried so hard to still be when I’m physically exerting myself. I didn’t hate being a man until I hit my fifties, even as I always wished I were a woman. So when I feel Greg coursing through my veins, I can find myself pining for him. This has happened so many times that it’s getting easier because I know it doesn’t last, so I just ride it out. As soon as I get into the house and am done with the activity, the sense has passed and I feel good again.
I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this, but I hate being transgender. I fought this so hard. If there where a cure—oops, I know so many trans people reject this idea (I looked at the other panelists), but it is how I feel—if there were a cure, if someone could tell me, “We have this medicine, this therapy, this thing you could do, and it has a very high success rate,” I would be in a real pickle. I would be scared to try it—what if it didn’t work and I had another terrible setback?—yet, for so many reasons I would want to do it. Since there isn’t anything like that, I keep moving forward.
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Q: (Asked by a Walmart manager:) What are the most important things we can do so that we treat you as well as possible?
A: This is the question I was hoping you would ask, and I’m going to stand up so that you have the full visual.
Look at me. I am six foot one. Despite my chick glasses and makeup and hair, I have the face shape of a man. These are growing (I placed my hands on my chest), but these are going nowhere (I moved my hands to my hips). I have the build of a male, and as soon as I open my mouth, no matter how I am dressed or how feminine I act, I begin to hear the male pronouns.
Please, instruct those under your supervision to take note of how their customers are presenting themselves. Clearly, I am presenting myself as a female. At times, your folks might not be confident regarding the gender of a shopper. In those cases, they would do well to use the pronoun which is becoming common: they, them, their. Yes, this is a plural form, but it has been adapted to singular use. It works.
Just treat us like every other shopper. Like regular people. That’s what we are. When you do, we will want to continue shopping in your stores.
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Q: Your first memory of all of this is from when you were nine. What if you were nine, today?
A: Certainly, I cannot know anything for certain. The huge difference, though, is that in the mid-‘60s there was no way for me to know that I was experiencing something that other kids feel. I never once considered talking with my parents about it. Today, I could easily run into it in a number of ways—there could even be someone in my school who’s trans. With the current culture, I might have had a voice in this. I might have been able to go to my mom and say, “You know about my classmate, Jenny, right? I feel like her.” And, because my parents were smart, compassionate people, I can imagine that they would have listened. Then, who knows?