Posts Tagged ‘ journey ’

Twitter Hater

“…Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.…” The Honourable Jack Layton.

I had my first ever troll engage with me the other day on my twitter feed. This person was full of vitriol and hatred, calling me a freak and consigning me to hell and damnation. We sparred back and forth some on twitter, him (I’m presuming male here) ranting and raving about the aforementioned hell and damnation, how The Church (in this case The Roman Catholic Church) has history to back it up (not that he was clear on that point) and reminding me several times that I was a freak and a sexual deviant.

It would have been very, very easy to take offense to what he was saying. It would have been easier still to consign him to the rubbish pile of village idiots and simply assume he was speaking out of mean-spiritedness and hate. After all, when I look back on what he wrote, there was nothing but hatred and intolerance in every post. Nowhere did I see a willingness to talk respectfully about our divergent views. Oh yes, it would have been very easy to hate this man.

Except, I don’t. I don’t hate him; I don’t even dislike him. Truth is, all I feel for him is compassion and a deep and quiet sadness.

As some of you may, or may not know, I am a public speaker. I speak about what it’s like to live as an openly transgender man. I tell my audience that no question is off-limits, and I mean it. I’ve been asked about everything from masturbation (do I?) to organ donation (no, you can’t donate your penis to me, but thanks for the thought) and everything in between. Several folks have asked me if I’ve ever been the recipient of hateful interactions. Until recently, I said no. I would often then go on to tell them how I believed I would reply, should I ever be in that position.

As it turns out, I replied exactly how I figured I would. I found myself staying strangely calm and detached. Not dissociated but rather, removed from the emotional dung that he threw at me. I found myself reading the posts repeatedly, trying to parse out what the deeper message behind them was. I firmly believed, and still do, that one does not engage that much if there’s not something deeper driving it. I suspect part of that is having practiced that detached reaction with my 6-year-old son who deals with some profound behavioural issues. When he was younger, tantrums lasting a couple of hours were not uncommon. I learned that a cool, calm and collected reaction to his emotional firestorm was the best way to calm him down and re-ground him. I’ve spent several years perfecting that kind of reaction in the face of white-hot, uncontrolled tantrums.

As I think on the interaction further, I realize there is something deeper at work in my non-reaction. It’s love. I don’t know this man and have no idea if he’s the kind of person I would choose to have in my sphere of friends though, given his reactions to me, I think it’s safe to say I wouldn’t. It wasn’t the charm, or the eloquence with which he presented his arguments. In fact, the arguments themselves were weak and didn’t contain a single shred of verifiable evidence to support them. It wasn’t his willingness to hear me as a person (there was none) or so see me as an intellectually competent contributor. Rather, my love for him was the love I would have for someone who is acting out of blind fear; lashing out at something they don’t understand and are too afraid to investigate.

In short, what I feel for my son when he loses complete control over himself and his actions is the same gentle, patient and sorrowful love. I found myself wondering who had hurt him so badly that he was unable to see the humanity behind the words. I wanted to know what about himself did he see in me that provoked such fear. I asked myself to think on what it would be like to walk in his shoes; would I feel the same, as I believed he did. I caught myself hoping that if he had family, none of them would have to see this side of him. I found myself concerned that perhaps he DID have family, and had driven them all away with his soul-crushing fear. I realized that I felt indescribably sad if that was truly the case. I know what it’s like to feel utterly alone and isolated. I can’t imagine how it would feel to know that you’re the one who was the cause of your own isolation.

I also prayed for him. I prayed that wherever he was in his life, his road ahead be filled with healing and love. I prayed that if he had family, they would support him in his journey out of fear and hatred. I hope that if he ever is given a chance to leave this all behind, he takes it. I want those circumstances that change him in such a profound way to be gentle and done with love, not forced on him with anger and hatred. My heart says he’s had enough hate in his life to last several lifetimes; I want him to know peace and love.

Although he may hate me, I don’t hate him. Truly, love is better than anger, hope is better than fear and optimism really is better than despair.

this post can also be found at PositiveLite.com

On Becoming A Man (expanded from On Death and Dying)

I wrote this piece for my own blog last June. As I review and expand on it I realize that at its core, it is still as true today as it was when I originally wrote it, in fact even more so.

What prompted me to write this post was hearing my father’s diagnosis of prostate cancer. I had already been thinking of writing a post dealing with grief. However after hearing about my father’s health, I was overwhelmed with fear, sadness and anxiety about what his future held. Writing this at that time was an impossible task for me. I’m not going to bore you with the details of my dad’s health any more than to say that he’s had surgery, has had radiation and is currently cancer free, so far as they can tell. At the time however, it was very much a hurry-up-and-wait game. These events resonated very strongly with me in light of my own transition.

I remember when I first came to realize (that is, had the language to explain) that I identified as trans; my very first reaction was simple denial. I spent some time trying to convince myself that I was just searching for something to blame for the lifelong dis-ease I had felt. Maybe I wasn’t one of those happy people I saw around me day in and day out. Content to live their lives in the best ways they knew how. After all, I am a recovered alcoholic/addict and one of my recurrent lifelong themes is that I almost NEVER take the easy road so I simply figured this was another way for me to avoid dealing with things.

That only lasted a couple of weeks and then I decided that MAYBE this was just a phase. Perhaps this was something for me to try out and try on while I got my bearings. To that end, I packed away all my ‘girl’ clothes and said that if I hadn’t gone back to them for very practical reasons within 6 months then perhaps this thing had legs. That was almost 3 years ago, and I only went back to the clothes once for a sweater. I’ve decided it’s not a phase.

I’d like to say that everything from there on out was all fine. I want to tell you that I lived happily ever after in my new tranny identity and it was all smooth sailing. If I told you any of that however, I’d be lying through my teeth. As much as I talk about the physical and social challenges of transition, I very rarely talk about the emotional ones.

Transition has a price and that price is my life, my identity and my past. In order to become the person I believe I am, I must, in many ways, walk away from the person I once was. I must die to myself and to my past in order to become the person I am becoming.

I grieve the loss of my identity. While I have all this history locked up in my head, sharing it with new people in my life becomes an exercise in anxiety and trust. Do I trust the person I’m talking to enough to reveal my other gendered past? Can I share that history in a way that removes all gender references? What happens if they find out?

The loss of self that I grieve isn’t just for my past; it’s also for my present. Here I am, presenting as a fully-grown (but still short) adult male and I have almost NO points of reference from my childhood to fall back upon. For better or for worse, we as parents often raise our male-bodied children with certain social cues. Even if we decide not to, society will provide the male-bodied child with reminders and cues about how they should behave.

I’m not here to debate the rightness or wrongness of this. At present, it is what it is and what it is not is the cues and lessons taught to me as a child. I am a man without a boyhood and I grieve this. Growing up female as I mentioned in an earlier post, the best compliment I could receive from a roomful of men is that I blended right in, and rendered invisible. Now, the men invite me to participate and I have absolutely no idea how to do that ‘as a guy’. My female identified friends tell me ‘you’re such a guy’ while some of my male bodied friends say ‘you still socialize like a girl’. I struggle to make my place in the world and leave a legacy of strength, flexibility, sensitivity and warmth in my wake. Often I don’t strike that balance and I lie awake at night wondering when I will learn.

Recently I’ve become involved in a men’s circle and the experience has been profoundly terrifying and rewarding at the same time. To my knowledge, I am the only trans man in the circle at present and this has brought no small amount of fear into my life in a way that stands sharply contrasted to the general fear I live with every day. The brave men who attend commit themselves to radical honesty, supported self-awareness and ask of themselves a level of emotional engagement that simply astounds me. There are men who are taciturn and men who are boisterous; men who come from many walks of life and bring with them years of accumulated shame and guilt and self-loathing. Within the circle, these men share some of those hurts and fears and hopes and ask the others in the circle to hold them safely while those emotions flood through them and are released into the ether so that peace, joy, love, honesty, openness and the experience of being present can enter in. Emotions and qualities I want for myself.

In order to become that man, I must first wrestle with my past. I must own my own history with its disjointed narrative and surreal feeling. I must become ok with experiences that, for years, are ones I raged against and tried so very hard to reject fully. Most importantly, I must learn to silence that voice inside of me that says I don’t belong. The one that chatters constantly to remind me that I am an interloper, a fraud and that I do not belong. I have told the men in my circle about my physical past. They welcomed me in my present self into the circle; I need to do the same.

I need to put my past to rest for I am not that person any longer and yet, those experiences have shaped me into being the man I am today. It is time to let that part of me die a graceful death, to mourn and thank my past for giving me the gifts I bring to my every day. To do this, I must grieve. And that, my friends, is what I need to learn how to do

Hi, my name is Wes and I’m three years old…part 2

“Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. You will hate yourself for it and the effort to maintain the façade will exhaust you.” ~ Larry Winget

I came across this quote today and just had to laugh. The truth of it hit me like a truncheon in the stomach.  I wished someone had sent me this quote some 14 years. ago. With that being said, I don’t believe I was in a position at that time to truly understand what I was doing to myself and to the people around me.  I had weathered a rough childhood marked not only by parental alcoholism but also sexual assault, abusive relationships, stalking, homelessness and street life (the last two in downtown Toronto, no less). Sure, I had days where my paranoia could be said to border on unhealthy; where the movement of a small shadow would bring flashbacks of some of my past but honestly, who would blame me? All in all, I thought I was doing fairly well with the lot life had handed me. Little did I know the first of many explosions was about to occur.

You see, I had discovered the internet. In particular, I had discovered a subset of folks who professed to enjoy pain with their sexual pleasure, who would play various roles during these ‘scenes’ and who were not afraid to take societal norms and muck them up a bit. I found that a hard charging executive by day could become a pliant submissive by night and that the meek secretary who got the boss’s coffee every morning could become a hard line Top who didn’t take flak from anyone. Even more importantly, I was introduced to the concept of gender play. My explorations lead me to understand that, in these particularly constructed scenes, one’s gender did not have to be about what biology you were born with. Towering men could be called girls; diminutive women could be called Sir or Master. I was flabbergasted. I had no idea that your biology did not absolutely have to dictate the way you moved in the world.

In retrospect, this was an inevitable step along my journey through gender. In my childhood, I was often mistaken for a boy, even well into puberty, so long as my back was to the speaker or I hadn’t opened my mouth to speak.  You see, I had favoured short hair and boy clothes for years; and in fact, wasn’t at all bothered when I was mistaken for a boy. Rather, I would often smile and feel just the smallest bit of joy, as if someone had truly touched something intrinsic to me that was deeply buried. Realizing, through the discovery and interaction with the leather community (even if it was only in online form at that time), that biology was not destiny, gave me the tiniest bit of permission to start building space for my masculine side to come out and play.

For a very long while (round about 5 years actually) I was more or less content with playing with these ideas in the context of anonymous chat rooms. From a physical standpoint, I just wasn’t in a position to go out and seek these people down, having lost two pregnancies and dealing with the assorted fallout that can result from such losses. As a result of some fairly significant events in B.C., I ended up moving back to Ontario in about 1997, still with the father of my first child. By this point, we had begun to experiment with bringing in some of the things I had been thinking about. It worked with only moderate success at best. Again, looking back, I realized I was in the very early stages of uncovering what turned out to be the very core of most of my issues. No matter how much we tried to make things work, we eventually parted ways after I disclosed to him that I was interested in seeing someone else, and that someone else was a she. After all, that’s what lesbians do right?

A stint at home, a move to Kitchener and the dissolution of that first lesbian relationship brought me to a point where I could interact fully and completely with the kink community I had been slowly building ties with. I had decided that although I wasn’t a lesbian, the dyke community called to me in a way I couldn’t articulate and so, as a result, I would tell prospective partners that even though I identified as a dyke, I wasn’t at all hung up on biology. The last half of that statement is, still to this day, a fundamental part of my sexual orientation.

I was reasonably happy in the kink community. I was known as Spike, had developed a relatively masculine persona to go along with it and by and large was OK with keeping that side of myself firmly within the context of kinky relationships. I thought I’d had it all figured out. I’d met another gentleman who would later become my husband and the father of my only living child. We had agreed that my masculine side could safely come out to play when I was out at play parties (he declined to participate in my kinky explorations) and I had come to realize that in addition to the ADD I had been diagnosed with in my early 20’s, I had also been dealing with the effects of bi-polar disorder. I would proudly claim that I was crazy and had papers to prove it. Life, as it was, was humming along more or less nicely… that is until I met my first transgender partner and she blew the door right off the closet.

To be continued . . .

Hi, my name is Wes and I’m three years old.

 Ok, that’s not exactly true, my body is 36 yrs. old however the person everyone knows as Wes has existed for only about three years. You see, I identify as transgender and spent much of my life living, loving, socializing and interacting as a woman.  When I was born, I’m sure the doctor said “Congratulations, it’s a girl” and from that perspective the doctor was correct. My body was born female, two X chromosomes and everything (and before you ask, yes it’s been checked. I really do have XX genetics) and as such, I was raised and socialized as a girl. Well, mostly as a girl anyway.

In many ways, I was lucky in that my parents by and large left me to my own devices as I was growing up. They let me hang out with whomever I wished (boys for the most part) and I was expected to do all manner of tasks around the house from getting the firewood to mowing the lawn when I was old enough. I was the oldest of three kids and we were expected to help out around the house period. It didn’t matter that the youngest child was male; I was expected to learn how to help around the house and do all kinds of useful things from starting a fire in the fireplace to where the dishes go when they’re dry. In fact, all the kids (three of us in total my youngest sibling being my brother) were expected to learn these skills as my parents simply considered them the price of living in the household.

I would like to say that I had an idyllic childhood, but I’d be lying through my teeth. My mother drank and my dad worked, a lot. Life was tumultuous at best, and downright nasty at its worst.  I suppose it didn’t help that I was dealing with ADD (something I didn’t find out about till I was in my 20’s) and that as far as my parents and the school system were concerned, all I had to do was pull myself together and BOOM, all would be well.  If only it were so easy.

I spent my childhood, and in fact a large portion of my adulthood, thinking there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I knew I wasn’t like the other kids around me, and it wasn’t just because I wore glasses and had a heart condition. No, I knew there was something fundamentally different about me; I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I was pretty smart, loved to read, hated school and had a hard time physically keeping up with the other kids at times; however that wasn’t it.

As I grew older, I left the small town I was raised in and landed in Toronto, my own personal City of Hope.  It was the first time I’d ever had exposure to the ‘rainbow’ community and boy was I shocked! I saw other girls who dressed like me, who seemed to think and move like I did.  I was able, at least on the surface, to see myself mirrored in faces around me. The tough looking butches that strutted down the street, the leather clad dykes that hung out in bars resonated in very deep places within me.  I felt like I had come home…and yet, there was still something I couldn’t put my finger on.

Looking back with retrospectively perfect vision, I can see that what wasn’t resonating was the fundamental acceptance these women had of their biological ‘woman-ness’. Granted, like every female growing up, they had absorbed images of what was acceptable and what was ‘allowed’ with respect to being a woman in society however these women had stepped outside those boundaries. By the simple act of being in love with other women, they had begun to disregard what society said was acceptable and carve their own paths. This was what appealed to me; this sense of self determination.  These women (because let’s face it, the gay men scared me for no sensible reason) embodied the boldness, the fearlessness and the sense of adventure that I wanted to have or rather, that I did have but needed to become comfortable with. Seeing these women live their lives gave me permission to start living my life the way I wanted. 

There was only one, small, tiny problem. You see, I wasn’t exactly consummately sexually attracted to women. Fact of the matter is I rather liked men. I liked their smell, their bodies and the general way they carried themselves. I felt at home with men, comfortable and in many ways, felt like I belonged. You think this would have set off warning bells right? No such luck. I tried very hard to fit myself into the straight girl mold while at the same time, to others I looked more and more like a butch lesbian with each passing day.  I didn’t know it, but I was setting up an internal dynamic that would take nearly 14 years to resolve.

 

This was first posted at PositiveLite.com. The second part of this story will be available there on the 29th and will be posted here a week later.

A rose by any other name?

As some of you may know, I occasionally go out into my local community and provide information sessions/educational presentations to our local universities and colleges regarding transgender issues. I often talk about my experiences before and after transition as well as some of the obstacles i face in day to day life. My presentations are open discussion styles and I always encourage my audience to ask their questions so that i can address the needs of my audience, rather than just rambling on aimlessly.

I also provide at least one interactive component to my presentation to get my audience engaged and thinking. At this last one, I asked the folks to write down three things that are related to their gendered identity starting with their name. Once they’d all indicated they were done, I asked everyone to hand me over their names. I explained that they didn’t get their names anymore as part of transition. They looked startled and I explained that often when one is transitioning, one of the first things given up is your name. Granted, there are some folks who choose to keep their name, or alter it ever so slightly however if one is planning on going through the Gender Identity Clinic (GID) at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), one needs to realize that the name they pick will be subject to just as much scrutiny as everything else about that person and if the name is found wanting, it could result in denial of service.

Names are also how we identify ourselves to the outside world. They can immediately indicate to people very important things about our identity and possibly even how we wish to be addressed. Most people who hear the name ‘Lisa’ are going to assume they are dealing with someone who is female/woman. Likewise, most people who hear the name ‘Wesley’ are going to assume they are dealing with someone who is male/man. I was at the doctors the other day when the nurse came out and asked for ‘legal female name’. I sat very still for a moment seeing if she would correct herself. Rather than that, she went back to the receptionist, looked at my chart/file and called ‘legal female name again’ only then pausing and asking for me by name.

I was infuriated. It’s very clearly set out on my file that I am transgender and that I prefer my ‘use name’ to be used. By way of apology she said “I’m sorry, I looked so quickly I didn’t notice”

I was restrained and polite. Very, very polite. I simply nodded and said I see.

She indicated very vehemently that it wouldn’t happen again from her. I’m willing to believe she won’t make that mistake again. However, this is the second person in this office (and the second appointment in a row) who has made this mistake. This is not ok.

Before you ask, I didn’t bring the issue up with my doctor. I’m trying to find a way to approach it that doesn’t go straight for the jugular while also not being so passive as to have the point missed. It’s a delicate balance. How do I explain to them that outting me that way could potentially be a fatal mistake? How do I explain that slowing down and actually reading my name isn’t really going to take any more time than going back to check the name on the chart? I understand they are busy however names are one of humanity’s defining features. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect that if you go back to check the name, you actually read the whole of it.

I ask you dear readers, how do you make the transition from your birth name to the name you want used. What do you do when you can’t afford the legal name change? Do you educate folks as you come in contact with them or do you just sigh and answer to your legal name?

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