A Thank You Note to Someone Who Wasn’t Quite Real

 

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I recently added a photograph to the pictures that currently sit on the mantel above the fireplace in my apartment. These photos include pictures of friends, an inspirational image or two, what I think is a really good recent photo of me, and, now, a picture of the semi-fictional person I used to hide inside.

I should stress that I do not mean this literally. But I am now making a habit of practicing gratitude, and the only way I can think of to be grateful to myself is to employ literary license and speak as if I were someone else.

He was a deeply, if quietly, unhappy person. In some ways he could express aspects of my personality that were close enough to “normal” to be socially acceptable, at least among intelligent adults. My interest in the fine arts and literature and classical music is something that, at least once we escaped the hell that is adolescence, he could channel without getting ridiculed. Some of my “bleeding heart,”  pacifist-leaning politics. Some of my inclination to be formally polite in a world that has abandoned such things. Much of that came through.

Aspects of me that had to be tirelessly monitored and suppressed were distinctly feminine body language that always came naturally to me, an unconscious tendency to speak in italics (using shifts in pitch to emphasize words, to speak in a slightly sing-song manner, and to do quite a lot of emotional expression), my tendency to ready tears when moved by something beautiful or sad, the overall feminine tone of the woman that I am.

His existence was painful. Every day was a struggle just to get through. Pretending to be someone that you are not is hard work, draining work. It exhausts you. It makes you sad. It makes you want to just give up and check out, stage left.

Yet he held on for many, many years although he wanted to die. He held on because he worried about what his suicide would do to the people he loved. He knew that was the only thing keeping him alive.

But there is more. He didn’t know it, but he was also staying alive for me.

Rather than die and take me with him, he stayed alive until I, his real self, was able to emerge into the sunlight.

I am so grateful. I am so grateful that he lived through such misery for such a long time so that I could live the joy that I now have.

Thank you, my half-unreal brother. I, your sister and true self, owe you a debt that I can never repay.

 

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Christine Jorgensen

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Christine Jorgensen was born May 30, 1926. When on December 2, 1952 the New York Times reported on her having undergone what was for that era an advanced medical transition in Denmark, she became the first transgender person to come to the attention of the American public.

When she returned to the U.S. in 1953, she was met by a media circus that ended any hope of her ever living quietly like any other woman. Some years later, she was engaged to a man, but they decided to end the relationship after the press got wind of it, and he became the object of bigoted attacks.

By all accounts she was polite and ladylike (in old clips such as the one here she reminds me a bit of Mary Astor in the Maltese Falcon) and was shocked that many Americans saw her as some sort of sex-obsessed demon and her transition as some extreme kink.

She simply wanted to be able to live as who she was.

By the way, that original newspaper piece from 1952? The video got some things wrong. She didn’t announce her transition. Someone working in the hospital in Denmark saw a chance to sell a sensational story to the press and outed her with no consideration about what that might do to Miss Jorgensen.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

 

When They Really Are Out to Get You, May 2018

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Much of what the Christian right’s political activity is about is trying to make it impossible for LGBTQ people to live our lives in peace. I have had Christians of this ilk go out of their way to get in my face and to be as nasty as possible to me. Some of them, I have no doubt, would have assaulted me had we not been in a space where that could get them into legal trouble.

They want to see people like me fired, evicted, and denied medical care. Some of them are quite open about wanting people like me to die. They do not want us to exist. Period.

If you are not part of some marginalized minority group, try to image what it would feel like to watch a well-funded, politically formidable movement on the march with the intent of making you disappear from the face of the earth.

I can’t find the exact quote, but I think H. L. Mencken once observed that God must not be very powerful if he requires the protection of a state legislature.

“The idea behind Project Blitz is to overwhelm state legislatures with bills based on centrally manufactured legislation. “It’s kind of like whack-a-mole for the other side; it’ll drive ‘em crazy that they’ll have to divide their resources out in opposing this,” David Barton, the Christian nationalist historian and one of four members of Project Blitz’s “steering team,” said in a conference call with state legislators from around the country that was later made public.

According to research provided by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, more than 70 bills before state legislatures appear to be based on Project Blitz templates or have similar objectives. Some of the bills are progressing rapidly. An Oklahoma measure, which has passed the legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature, allows adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate on the basis of their own religious beliefs. Others, such as a Minnesota bill that would allow public schools to post “In God We Trust” signs on their walls, have provoked hostile debates in local and national media, which is in many cases the point of the exercise.”

What Do Trans Women Talk About When We Get Together?

 

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I am sure that no one will be interested in this. Jenny Boylan, who has experienced sex both with male and female anatomy, weights in on the differences. 
 
By the way, due to privacy issues, I will never discuss specific things I have heard in support groups for transgender women, but it is worth noting that as a conversational topic bedroom sex doesn’t come up much, at least not in the groups I’ve been involved with. It isn’t unusual to have a two-hour meeting with lots of lively discussion among fifteen or twenty trans women where that topic never gets raised at all. Mostly we talk about our difficulties in our personal relationships and how we feel about things. Sex-obsessed Christians please take note.
 
 “There are big differences in male and female orgasm, though: female orgasm is longer — over 20 seconds, on average, compared to three to 10 seconds for men. And men have more orgasms — reaching climax in 95 percent of their encounters, compared to 69 percent for women. Another major factor, when it comes to the measure of pleasure, is the type of sex that’s being had: straight men and gay men, for instance, have about the same number of orgasms. Lesbians, meanwhile, have about 20 percent more than straight women — perhaps because lesbian sex tends to go on longer (30 to 45 minutes for the average lesbian couple, compared to 15 to 30 minutes for straight ones).
 
As for me, I have almost 20 years of female orgasm under my belt now (since transition), and before that I had an equal number of years of having male ones. Without going into detail, I can attest that the experiences are distinct. Sometimes I think of it as the difference between Spanish and Italian. Sure, they’re similar. But jeez, che differenza!”
 

The Right to Exist, May 2018

 

I wince when I realize that many millions of cisgender people think that Caitlyn Jenner is a spokesperson for my community.

If anyone doubts that having a celebrity-dominated society results in an appalling dumbing-down of how we treat important matters, I might offer that as exhibit B, exhibit A being the current resident of the White House.

However, I am chilled to my core when I realize that millions of cisgender people think they have the right to question whether I should be permitted to exist.

I am not a sample of the smallpox virus in a lab freezer somewhere. I am an utterly harmless older woman who likes music and art museums.

This piece by Jenny Boylan, as usual, is excellent.  This is the sort of spokesperson that I want!

“I don’t know whether I have ever spoken or written a word about my identity that has had half the effect of simply living my life publicly and without shame. At long last, I have landed on a new strategy for refuting the ideas of people who think I don’t exist.

I refute them by existing.”

Answering the Phone, April 2018

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I happened to be the person to answer the phone  at the transgender center on a call from a trans man in his fifties. I could hear the tension in his voice, and it was obvious that making that call had been very difficult for him. He told me that he had driven past the center a number of times, but had never quite worked up the courage to come inside.

I was the first trans person he had ever been able to have a conversation with.

He wants to come out, but is scared to death. He goes to the Metropolitan Community Church, but when he started hinting about possibly being trans to other church members, a couple of the lesbians—he previously presented as lesbian– ridiculed him in a pretty nasty way, so he stopped talking about it. He told me that his dysphoria in being forced to live in an inauthentic way has gotten so bad that he  has been thinking of killing himself.

I probably spent an hour talking to him. I urged him to come to the trans masculine support group. He didn’t want to because he says he looks feminine. I think this is someone who has been ridiculed a lot. I told him that no one in the group would care what he looks like and that everyone there would want to help him. I told him that he is family and should come and meet us. I told him we care about him. I told him that coming out and living as trans is very hard, but that it is easier than living as someone you are not.

By the end of the call he said he felt much better. There are aspects of his experience that I, as a trans woman, do not understand, which is why I worked to hard to get him to his peers. He said he would come in.

Hope.  We all need a little hope.

It was a good day!

 

 

Friday Night At the Bar, April 2018

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Friday after work at the transgender center, I went out with a friend for a drink at a gay bar here in town. I’ve been in there before. It’s a nice bar, but I don’t see much point in frequenting the establishment because (a) I am a mostly special-occasion consumer of alcohol (Friday I had ginger ale) and (b) most of the patrons are cisgender gay men with a sprinkling of cisgender lesbians with no other trans people in sight.
I don’t find being the token trans woman (see? we’re broad minded and progressive!) in an LGB group all that appealing. Been there, done that.
(I have actually heard drag queens (who are almost exclusively cisgender gay men, by the way) brag about how open minded they were because they had a trans woman (gasp!) as part of the lineup for the evening’s entertainment.
Anyway, my friend wanted to sit and drink and talk, but she was nervous about doing it in a straight bar, so off we went. They already knew my friend, who is a frequent patron, was trans and associated with the trans center. Being with her outed me by association, although my purse-carrying would probably have done it as well since that makes it unlikely that I’m lesbian and narrows the possibilities.
(A few years into living full time as me and marinating in the feminizing hormone cocktail, I have on several occasions gotten read as a lipstick lesbian when I was with someone noticeably less femme than I am.)
The bar employees were very nice. They addressed us as “ladies” and could not have been more accommodating. Within living memory, trans people were not allowed in many gay bars, and I think they were making a point that it was OK for us to be there.
I had a couple of interesting exchanges with cisgender gay men at the bar. LGB folks can be as clueless about us as straight people. I think those guys saw the two of us as really, really, really gay men (wrong! so very wrong!) who live in perpetual drag, even though many of us prefer cisgender female partners.
Oh, for the record, I was wearing women’s jeans, a tunic, and ballet flats, not an evening gown, a bouffant wig, and six-inch heels! And I have the same reasons for needing the bra I was wearing as does a cisgender woman.
But it was fun. I might even go back. But I’m ordering soft drinks!