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Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge: Days 1 – 15

22 November, 2011

Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 1.

1) When did you realize the term transgender referred to you?

I cannot remember when I first realized the term was descriptive of me. It was, maybe, in college when I realized the Internet could be used to find information you cannot ask others about. Of course, the first several sites Netscape took me to were “she-male” porn sites. Imagine, my first exposure to the idea there were others out there like me and it was porn. No wonder it took another decade plus a few for me to accept that it was descriptive of me and I had to do something about it. Despite always kinda knowing, I have only embraced who I am in the last seven months.

Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 2.

2) How did you choose your name, and what names were you thinking about using and why?

Choosing a name is difficult because, like your original name, the plan is you are stuck with it for the rest of your life. You certainly do not want to choose something that will come back to bite you in the ass. At first I was going to go with a feminized version of my birth-name, ——-, but after thought on the issue I decided it would make it difficult for those close to me to remember to use proper pronouns or to see me as I am and not as I was. This is a bit of a sad thing for me, because I liked my birth name (and I do occasionally use it with online games like Farmville, I can’t believe I just outed myself as a Farmvillian).

I had also considered the name Melody or River, but decided against this because the choice was based on admiration for a strong female character from television. This works fine for a nickname that you can disregard later, but I did not want to go with that as my actual name because it seemed a bit flippant and, god forbid, I should find myself hating the character later and thus my name.

I wanted something that would have meaning to me, but also honor my family—as my parents and I still have a strong bond. I talked to them about what name they had considered for a baby girl. Their choice: Guinevere. Now, Guinevere is a bit archaic for my tastes and I cannot stand the nickname Gwen (no offense to all you Gwens out there). I did a little research and learned that Guinevere is Gaelic (Welsh to be exact) and the Anglo-Saxon version is Jennifer. Jennifer also happened to align in popularity with my birth-name from my birth-year (serendipity). My parents liked it and it was confirmed for me by the use of Jenny in Doctor Who—which struck me as a brilliant and subtle reference to a show that inspired my original thoughts on regenerating and identity. It all came together so perfectly that, in retrospect, there could never have been another choice.

As for my middle name, I let my brother pick it for me. I really wanted him to be part of the process and for him to know how much his support and love means to me.

That’s how I ended up Jennifer “Jenny” Caitlin. But I still get a thrill when people call me by my nickname: River.

Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 3.

3) Have you ever been outed?

I have been outed a couple of times. The one that stands out most clearly in my mind happened about six months ago. I was at the grocery store picking up a few items and the cashier in the check out lane decided it was his responsibility to make sure everyone else in line knew I “was male.” The person behind me let me use their Safeway card and the cashier said, “Thank you for helping HIM with HIS groceries.” There was a caustic tone every time he used the male pronouns. He was trying to remind me of “what I was” and to make me ashamed of who I am.

Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 4.

4) How did your family take it when you came out?

My immediate family took it well overall. My brother has been the most supportive. He is a recovering alcoholic so he understands what it is like to be trapped in a state that is not who you are. He has been a rock of stability as the ground quakes with change. My Mum has been pretty cool with it. She is an aging hippie (one of the originals) so she is very into the ideals of freedom and self-expression. My Dad was the one I was most worried about. He is a the epitome of manhood and, although he is accepting and loves me all the same, he was also hoping there was another way of finding peace. He asked why I could not just be a bachelor. I had to explain to him that it was not about who I might have sex with but who I was; I could not be a bachelor anymore than I could be a playboy. He has moments still where he is very sad, but he is supportive and is starting to see that I am still me, just more me.

Extended family has been a mixed bag. My grandparents (surprisingly) have been very supportive. Most of my extended family well that all depends on if we are talking about the maternal side or paternal side. Let’s just say the maternal side has taken the news better.

Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 5.

5) Are you active in the trans community or LGBTQ community?

Yes, I am. One of the unique things about my regeneration is I am more socially/sociologically/societally conscious. One of the major reasons for this is the amount of time and energy I now have.

Before, I was expending all my time and energy on maintaining my disguise. Being who I was (read: who society wanted me to be) was a constant vigil, an unending self-monitoring, that never went anywhere because it took all my effort to stand in one place. People described me as steadfast and a bedrock. That was because I was unable to progress beyond the illusion into deeper territory.

Also, without the Trans* and LGBTQ community I would have no local friends. Zip. Zilch. Zero. People who knew the previous incarnation have expressed disinterest in the regenerated me or, on a few occasions, out-and-out hostility toward me. The Trans* and LGBTQ community, though they did not know me from Lilith, accepted and supported me, so I do everything I can to show my acceptance and support of them.

Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 6.

6) Who was the first person you told about being Trans*?

That is a hard question to answer. I have told elements of my story to people through out the years but because I did not have the terminology or understanding I could not make myself clear to them whom were even more confused by what I was trying to say than I was. The first person to piece my muddled confessions into a coherent picture was my brother. He did not put all the thoughts in order but he gathered enough pieces into one place that he was able to make a clear image of them. He has also been my greatest source of love and support.

Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 7.

7) Who do you look up to?

  • My Mum and Grandam
  • Kate Bornstein, Julia Serano, Jennifer Boylan
  • T. S. Elliot, Carl Sandberg, Elizabeth Bishop, Silvia Plath, e. e. cummings
  • Diana Joseph, Anne MacCaffery, Ursula K. LeGuin, Amy Bender
  • A
  • Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 8.

    8 ) How do you deal with being read/mis-gendered in the beginning of transitioning by people?

    It all depends on the day and my emotional state. Sometimes I get embarrassed and hang my head in shame. Sometimes I get offend and I correct them. Sometimes I just cannot be bothered with it.

    It is the first that is the most disturbing for me. Why should I feel shame because someone else cannot figure out who I am? Why should I feel embarrassed because someone else doesn’t like who I am? I don’t understand the insistent need to apologize to people that I have. This need angers me even more than the mis-gendering (and the mis-gendering is definitely angering, I am in feminine clothing and have breasts, fucking get it right!) It is after the intense burst of shame that I am most angry with myself. Angry that I am so compliant, angry at the damage over-exposure to testosterone has done to my body, angry at the world for being so closed minded I had to wait thirty years before it was safe to admit who I was.

    I don’t hate my life. I do hate how broken and damaged it is.

    Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 9.

    9) What is something positive about being trans?

    Having lived as both genders I have a deeper, richer insight into the human condition and that makes me a better novelist.

    Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 10.

    10) What are some of your fears in regards to being trans?

    I love how this question is phrased. What are some of your fears? If I listed all of my fears, the post would be ridonkulously long. I’ll just go with my top three.

    3. That my body will develop abnormally. This is a rather legitimate concern. I found myself with the wrong physicality to begin with, so how do I know things will not get muddled again. And there is the question of testosterone damage. In spite of being on HRT there were still thirty-four years of over-exposure to T. So I am very concerned about how my body will develop.

    2. Being a trans woman will make it impossible to do my job. As a teacher my credibility is an important issue. If I do not come across as sound of intellect and psyche, the students will disregard my instruction (in regards to both content and life-application). I am ranked, nationally, in the top one percent of English instructors yet my identity as a trans woman matters more to most parents and students than my qualifications as an exceptional instructor.

    1. I will never know anonymity again. At this point in the journey I am open about who I am, partially because I believe others knowing about this journey and condition will increase tolerance and social acceptance and partially because I cannot consistently pass (sometimes I wonder if I ever pass or if on those occasions where I seem to I am just interacting with one of the few people in this world who know how to be polite and respectful). Will I always be open? I do not have an answer to that, but I do know that I would love to walk down the street without attracting attention, without the stares, without the comments, and without the laughter. My biggest fear is how things are now is how they will always be.

    Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 11.

    11) How do you manage dysphoria?

    I do not like the phrasing of this question. “Manage” makes dysphoria sound bland and inconsequential like how do you manage your portfolio or how do you manage your morning routine? I do not manage my dysphoria, or perhaps I do not manage it well.

    One thing I try to do is avoid mirrors. Mirrors always set the dysphoria off. I look in it and the reflection is not the mental image I have of myself. Hair, facial structure, brow. No good. None of it. Mirrors are the enemy.

    When I was a kid that was literally the case. I had this phobia around my reflection (to a lesser extent I still do); because it was so dramatically different than how I thought I looked, I was afraid it was another person. Some mirror alternate in his universe and he was trying to get out and that’s why I did not see my reflection.

    Crazy, huh? That is why I do not like the phrasing. You cannot manage dysphoria; you have to beat it down with everything you have in you and occasionally you win.

    Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 12.

    12) What are you doing to stay healthy for transitioning mentally and physically?

    I am doing the obvious, of course, which is eating right, taking vitamins, and getting enough sleep. I find my appetite is in flux. Sometimes I am ravenous and other times I don’t feel like eating at all. Today it is the latter, but I make sure I eat at least two meals even if I am not hungry.

    Another obvious thing that I am doing is seeing a therapist. I say that is obvious because you cannot transition without a therapist (and a minimum of two therapists when you decide to have surgery). I also have a support group that I try to go to on a regular basis (I have not had the best luck with that lately) and I stay in touch with my immediate family (they are very supportive),

    Making sure I get out and do social things is also important. My natural tendency is to isolate myself. If I follow that natural inclination, though, I will exacerbate my depression, which I have always come by naturally and the dysphoria is not kind on.

    Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 13.

    13) Bathrooms?

    As I am a woman I use the women’s bathroom.

    ‘Nuf said.

    Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 14.

    14) What are some of your passing tips or things you do to pass?

    • Always, always put on a little foundation before leaving the house.

    • Develop a scheduled routine for any prep work you need to do and give yourself time to do it well; this is your safety!

    • Do not throw out your pantyhose with runs in them. Instead, cut the leggings off and you have a pair of binding panties to aid in tucking.

    • Express your style. Trying too hard to look like someone else will result in you feeling nervous an awkward either of which can prevent you from successfully passing.

    • Be confident. If you are confident and comfortable in your self-expression you while pass easier and/or people will notice your confidence and be less likely to bug you.

    Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 15.

    15) How have you embraced your trans* identity?

    Admitting it to myself and to people I know is a big step in embracing my identity. A lot of times I feel like I am going through AA. First, admit there is a problem. Hi, my name is River and my subconscious sex and biological sex do not match.

    My journey has also wandered through the grieving process. I had to give myself time to mourn and to be angry at the universe for having been afflicted with the wrong biology. There were other things, however, that also required mourning. Lost friendships, the change in how people respond to me, the dramatic loss of respect and trust, and—most painful—the end of my marriage. There needed to be time for the pain and time for the healing. I am still healing, but in coming through the pain I can embrace who I truly am and who I have become.

    I see us all as a series of snap shots strung together through space-time, the ultimate foray into timelapse photography. As a result there is me and there is Me. The me I am now is just a single image throughout a lifetime of images whereas the true Me is the sum of those images, a view of the whole. Each me is different from the other mes, sometimes by small degrees and sometimes radical shifts, and each must be embraced for without each one there can be no Me.

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