Trans Ed 101: passing/blending

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For the transgender person, who wants to transition to female or male (and not be gender fluid),

  • passing is being seen by others in such a way that they do not notice that you are transgender, while
  • blending refers to any trans person, no matter her or his appearance, who achieves the goal of fitting into the environment.

Many transgender women and men are able to transition to where they may be “stealth.”  “Stealth” literally means to be in secret, covert.  That is the idea, that one is able to keep secret that she or he is living opposite of the sex in which they were identified at birth. In other words, the transgender person appears to be cisgender, that is, a person whose gender/identity and sex/body type match.

Because of the many hurdles and potentially harmful situations faced by trans folks, those who are able to pass often prefer to remain stealth, to keep their birth identity secret.  It’s not that they are ashamed to be transgender; quite the opposite, they simply are acting wisely, protecting themselves bodily, economically, and potentially in many other ways.

Many transgender women and men are not able to transition to where they may be stealth.  Lots of things factor into the challenge, including physical size, facial structure, and voice.  One does not want her or his presentation to be a factor, which takes us to blending.

Blending is key, even if one passes, but especially when we don’t, so that passing is not constantly on our mind, and so that we don’t stand out.

I recall the advice that I read before I ever went out as Gina.  Act as if you belong, dress appropriately, and do nothing to draw attention to yourself.

The first place I ever went by myself was to a grocery store.  Women don’t put on a dress and heels to get groceries.  Women wear whatever they’ve been wearing around the house, likely jeans or shorts, flats or sneakers, little or no makeup.

That’s how I dressed.  I entered the store, mustering every ounce of my usual self-confidence, and shopped as a woman as if I’d done it a thousand times before.

Everything went smoothly.  Making my usual friendly small talk with the cashier, she was not responsive, and I felt the look on her face was not positive—that she knew I was transgender and was unapproving—but that might simply have been her usual demeanor.  In the parking lot, when I finished putting the groceries into my trunk and looked up, a few cars down I caught a woman staring at me.  I smiled.  She quickly looked away. I got into my car and headed home.

Upon arrival, I knew that I had been tense because when I entered the kitchen my entire body relaxed.  Finally, I rejoiced that I had done it, and I used the event as my springboard to going anywhere and everywhere and, now in my third year I blend in wherever I go—and I still don’t pass worth beans.

Later that year, I met a trans woman at a public event.  It was outdoors, midday, a weekday, and not a dress-up event.  She came in a dress, very high heels, and lots of makeup.  She stood out, and terribly so.  I wish I could have found a way to gently tell her that she’d overdone it, that she was not blending.

As I think about blending, I am reminded of liars.  Liars tend to talk too much.  They have a subconscious need to convince others that they are telling the truth, so they feel they have to create a truth, a story for people to believe, something on which to latch instead of the thing on which they don’t want them dwelling, the thing that will expose them. People who are telling the truth don’t oversell it.  Since they know what they are saying is true, they don’t feel compelled to over-elaborate.

We trans folks want to appear in public as if we are telling the truth—indeed, this is why we transition; we are seeking to live authentically—that we are whom we are presenting ourselves to be.  This means that we don’t want to appear, act, or speak in ways which make it seem that we are overselling it, that we are trying to cover up anything, that we are striving, if you will, to keep a lie from being exposed.

How do we do this?

  • Dress fitting the place and occasion, and always appropriate to your age.
  • Act as if you belong.
  • Though you might feel that everyone is looking at you, they probably aren’t.  (This was one of the best things my therapist told me, and repeated until I got it.)  People are busy doing their thing; they aren’t on the watch for the next trans person.
  • If you see someone look at you, give them a friendly smile.  This is the best way to turn a potential negative into a positive.
  • Be wise about where you go.  Don’t go places that are unsafe, or out late at night when punks are more likely to be feeling their oats or using the cover of dark to do their vile deeds.  (A trans man once told of the beating he took at a bar, and displayed some of his injuries which were still healing.  He told of trouble he had there before this event.  I thought, “What a dumb thing, to go back to a place you knew could hold danger.”)
  • Use your gifts and abilities.  Example, if you have the gift for gab, chatting with clerks, or wait staff, or doctor’s office receptionists and nurses will smooth your path.  Friendliness is a marvelous cure for many ills; it sets people at ease.
  • Build on your successes and learn from any failures.

It’s okay to be scared.  We all experience fear in certain places.  For example, though I have never had trouble in a public restroom, I always enter with a bit of trepidation.  It’s okay to be scared—a bit of fear can help us to remain vigilant—but it is not okay to be stifled by fear.  Overcome fear with logical thinking and practical steps.

This is how we trans folks blend into society.  While most of us would love to pass so that no one can tell we are transgender, we recognize that the world is filled with a wide variety of people.  There are tall women and short men.  There are females who don’t have hips and men with big butts.  Some males have high-pitched voices and some females’ voices are taken for males’.  And on and on.

There is no standard.  We are wise to remember this, that we not obsess that we can’t achieve stealth, but always striving to blend in—just another regular person out doing regular things.

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Lifestyles of the trans and middle class

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The public debating over bathrooms has been hot and heavy this week. Inside the debate, that thing that sounds to a transgender person like fingernails on a chalkboard has been repeated often enough that it needs addressing: “I don’t agree with that lifestyle.”

I know what is meant, but still I must ask: What “lifestyle?”

Let me tell you about my lifestyle.

1. I am a Christian. My lifestyle is to worship the Lord every Sunday morning. My lifestyle is to attend Bible class, to be on church committees, and generally to try to be a blessing where I am planted. My lifestyle is to read from the Bible every day, the first thing I do, and to listen to a podcast devotion, and to read from two devotion booklets, and to pray throughout the day.

2. I am a husband, and father, and a grandfather. My lifestyle changed a bit since retiring from the ministry to where I now take care of my beloved Julie by being the house-spouse. My lifestyle is to cook and do the laundry and you name it, to make her life at home comfortable because she works hard five and six days a week bringing home the bacon for us. We also have one of our children and two of our grandchildren with us these days, and I have supper on the table for them every evening, and work to make a good home for them. And when I can I visit my other three children and other five grandchildren, and live the lifestyle of a typical parent and grandparent.

3. I am an active person. My lifestyle is to garden, to make good use of the variety of vegetables the Lord gives me through the earth each year. I have been a runner since I was in my early twenties—this is my thirty-seventh year of jogging. My lifestyle is to work to stay healthy so that I can live well and long and take care of my family and enjoy the gifts with which the Lord blesses me. My lifestyle is to write and to speak, to educate what it means to be transgender and a Christian and a spouse and so forth.

4. I am frugal. My lifestyle is not to be wasteful. I will not hesitate spending money on groceries or nice restaurants, but I’ll drive my car till it no longer pays to drive it (I drive a 2001 Chevy Impala that still gets great gas mileage), and gladly shop at thrift stores for clothes (the top and jeans I’m wearing right now came from one at a total cost of less than $10), and watch movies on Netflix than go to the theater.

5. I am about as common and boring as the most common or boring person around. My lifestyle is that I drink coffee and water, and that’s about it. I rarely drink alcohol. I’ve never gotten drunk. I’ve never smoked. I’ve never tried pot or any illicit drug. I don’t gamble. I have no tattoos. I set my cruise control so that I don’t speed. I mow my own lawn, and not on a riding mower. I can the tomatoes I grow so that I have them all year.  I compost my kitchen and yard waste.  I recycle.  Yawnnnnnn.

I pray that I’ve made my point what my lifestyle is. Being transgender has nothing to do with it. Indeed, here is the number of things that have changed in my lifestyle since I transitioned:

ZERO.

Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zip. Zilch. The big goose egg.

So, if you don’t like, approve of, or otherwise dig my lifestyle now, you didn’t like, approve of, or otherwise dig my lifestyle before.

My being transgender is, well, I said it in the word before transgender, my being. It is who I am, as another person’s being a cisgender female or male is their being; as a person’s being Caucasian or African American or Asian is their being; as being a lefthander is my being.

A great stigma is placed on people when “lifestyle” is thrown about. It seems to me it is always used as a pejorative. Derogatory. Belittling. Looking down one’s nose at another. Disapproving.

I, too, can talk about lifestyles which I disrespect.  I point to my fellow Christians because they are my spiritual family and the ones who most abuse the use of “lifestyle.”
• Drunkenness—and I know a lot of cisgender Christians who regularly get drunk.
• Gossiping, lying, backbiting, and trouble-making—and I know a lot of cisgender Christians who excel at these sinful traits.
• Sex outside of marriage and unbiblical divorce—and I know a lot of cisgender Christians who fall into these two categories.

I could go on for awhile. That’s enough. The point is made. One’s “being” has nothing to do with one’s “lifestyle.”

Let’s debate everything that is worthy of debate. As we do, let us do so wisely, kindly, and correctly.

Julie speaks

December, 2016

Note to new readers: I posted this July 7, 2015, five days after I undertook the transitioning which finally took hold, but six weeks before I made that public.  That’s why Julie refers to me as “G” throughout.

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Before we were married, I told Julie about my condition. Generally, half of women bail at the news. For those who stick with their husband, if his gender dysphoria erupts as mine did, half of them will leave at that point. If the man decides he needs to transition, half of those left will divorce. Of those who determine to stay, when the transition finally happens, half of those will not stand by their spouse, leaving around 90% with no mate by their side.

My Julie provides me with complete confidence that she is not going anywhere but down life’s path with me. Her faithfulness is second only to that of my Lord Jesus.

I am pleased to present to you the one whom I call My Heart.

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September, 2016

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I am privileged to be married to an incredible human being. A compassionate, kind, friendly, considerate, heart-on-sleeve, easy-going, funny, super likable human being. Depending upon the audience, I use three different names for my love, but they all refer to the amazing goofball I call my own. Here I’ll use “G.” G is more or less a nickname that allows me to maintain neutrality without confusing the vast network of family, friends, associates and acquaintances that know my spouse. The name G has also served our attempts at a middle ground—a highly elusive zone of objectivity we’ve tried desperately to carve out of the quandary that is gender dysphoria.

What’s it like being married to a person struggling with gender dysphoria? It’s like watching the development of a chrysalis. A fragile existence for certain, but with the hope that something healthy and whole and beautiful will eventually emerge. Now, imagine that chrysalis riding a roller coaster through a hurricane. I suspect the only thing worse than going along for that ride is actually living inside that chrysalis, being wrenched, constantly and tumultuously, in opposite directions. It is heart-breaking, because when you witness your spouse so distressed and anguished, you want desperately to ease the pain and you are powerless. It is frightening, because when you see how deeply tormenting this condition is, you can’t deny the disturbing reality of that statistic—41%. 41% of people just like your spouse will try to alleviate the torture by ending their lives. Please, Lord, not mine. Please not mine.

Those of us who are cisgender (people whose gender identity aligns with that assigned at birth) have the luxury of skating through life never questioning our gender roles. We wake up each morning and go about our day oblivious to the fact that our gender of brain and sex of body match. A dysphoric transgender person is denied this basic privilege of biology. Imagine, every minute of every day of your life, reconciling a disconnect between your brain, body and societal role. We can’t, because we never have to think about our gender, and whether we’re supposed to be referred to as he or she, or have male or female body parts. The hormones of our ovaries and testicles interact with the signals of our female- or male-wired brains and we go about our business. It takes a massive amount of mental energy—both conscious and subconscious—to reconcile the miscues between brain and body, and to contrive a gender-centric social interaction that comes naturally for most of us. It’s hard. It’s insanely hard. Some have compared it to having a pebble in your shoe you’re not allowed to remove. Always discomforting, often painful, impossible to ignore. I wish I could live a day as my spouse so I could fully grasp the challenge. I wish everyone would take a walk in those shoes. There’d sure be a lot more empathy for the people trying desperately to take them off.

When G sat me down in early 2013 to disclose how severe the dichotomy of brain and body was, two things were very clear to me. One, that my spouse was in complete and undeniable agony, and two, that we would confront this challenge together. The reality is that most transgender marriages do not survive. It is sad, but understandable. Is there anything that flips a marriage on its head more than a partner’s gender change? If ever there was a justifiable reason to declare “this is not what I signed up for,” this is it, right? I would never fault any spouse who finds it to be more than he or she can bear.

But this is what I signed up for when I married G. I signed up for a union of love, respect and esteem—and that is what I have. I signed up to be crazy about my spouse, and to have my spouse be crazy about me—and that is what I have. I signed up to share with my incredible G all the stuff of life—all joys, all tribulations, all straightaways, all detours, all circumstances of birth and all the consequences thereof.

I mourned. I felt loss. Not the loss of a person, because the person I loved wasn’t going anywhere. It was the loss of an identity. I was familiar with “Greg and Julie”, with how we sound, how we look, how we fit in the world and how the world sees us. I feared the loss of that familiarity because I thought it meant the loss of us. And losing us wasn’t an option. Then came the list. A short pro list on one side, a tall column of cons on the other. Topping the cons: What if we lose us? Once a fear is identified, verbalized, it starts losing power. I mourned and fretted for a week or two, and then I realized: We will be fine. The “us” part will be okay. And the cons, which seemed paramount before, suddenly didn’t matter so much.

When we met the first time with G’s therapist in April 2013, G recounted a text I had sent the day after the big reveal, during one of many times over the years we were on the path of transitioning. I hadn’t specifically stated so the night before, so I texted “I want you to know I am with you no matter what.” Doc looked at me and said “For better or worse?” I answered, “I don’t consider this worse. Worse would be learning my spouse was an axe murderer or drug trafficker. Worse would be a marriage to someone cruel. Even if Greg transitions, it does not change the fact my spouse is the second best thing to ever happen to me.” (The first being my baptism in Christ).

Besides, I really, really, really like my spouse. Despite the hurricane-battered roller coaster, despite some redefining of identities, despite some significant hurdles in the road ahead, I am blessed because G signed up to be with me, too, no matter what.