November 2007


I’ve been thinking about the end of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead” a lot lately. One of the images I have of myself (and one Mary Jo has mentioned a couple of times) is that of the male side of me (George) slowly fading out of existence as the female side of me (Joyce) is slowing fading into existence. On the past page of “The Dead,” Gabriel Conroy is lying in his bed next to his sleeping wife. It’s a typical Joyce short story like Araby, where the main character has an epiphany about his or her life, and here at the end of “The Dead,” Gabriel is thinking about his life and how how his identity as an intellectual, a husband, and Irishman now seems to him to be false. The story is about transition — not one about gender or sex, but rather one of maturity, of life-and-death, and of history — and when I read it these days, I cannot help but see myself in Gabriel’s place, confused, deflated, flickering out of existence, but with the beginnings of a plan to get moving in a new direction.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Chuck and I talked today almost entirely about family stuff, following my lead on the John Bradshaw book. I feel remarkably naive, not really having recognized how deep my pain is and how ingrained these family issues are in my psyche. It’s actually embarrassing to me and painful to think about these things, and I think I recognize that feeling from my upbringing — to avoid any family criticism or discussion in order to protect the facade.

I remember someone, some woman when I was in college I think, who was going on about how she liked to tell stories, embarrassing ones, about herself, then laugh about it. I recall feeling horror and repulsion at this. How could she retain dignity and talk like this? I’d never be caught dead laughing at myself or even making mistakes, thought I.

It’s not perfectionism, at least not the kind that produces paralysis, but I wonder where it came from? What would have happened if I had failed at something? Shame, ostracism? When my marriage fell apart, that was easily the first and most colossal failure in my life. I recall being embarrassed and not wanting to tell my family or friends because… why? because they’d think I was a loser. They’d know something about my life, and I wanted to be in control of what people knew. They’d be disappointed in me.

Removed from that experience by 20 years, it’s easy to say “so what? What if they knew?” But I can still recall the extreme shame, along with my preference for remaining isolated and lonely and trying to fix my own problems, never asking for help. It’s funny now in a pathetic sort of way, but it was no laughing matter at the time.

There is a wonderful (and wonderfully sad) thread this morning on Susan’s Place called “What does growing up in the opposite gender body do to the psyche?” People on this thread say it has made them less secure, guilty, self-conscious, ashamed, and confused, to name a few. It has always stuck me as I have read different discussion boards and different participants’ stories about how similar the experience is. Which is not to say that we don’t all have varieties of human experience because we all have other parts of our psyches that don’t necessarily involve gender: race, class, geography, trauma, and so on.

In thinking about my life, I believe that I’ve really been blessed with intelligence, luck, good relationships, loving kids and wife, challenging job, and a generally optimistic outlook. The only thing I don’t like is my sex, and I honestly don’t even have a suicidal rage against it, either, but rather a long-term, slow-burning dissatisfaction with it. But I think that constant dissonance affects all other parts of your personality, sometimes in radical ways, sometimes in very small ways.

I’m beginning to think that while it’s all about my body, it’s really all about the way I relate to the world, and the body is only the outward manifestation of my self as it tries to relate to others.

Having looked at my body and felt it evolving over the past months, especially in the past two months, I decided two things. First, whatever the literature says about HRT eliminating or reducing body hair is either wrong or far to subtle or slow on me. Second, I don’t think hairy boobs are very attractive.

So for this month’s visit to the torture… er… laser hair removal session, I asked my operator when I called for my appointment if we could do the first pass at my chest and belly and while we’re at it, my scruffy neck. Sure, she said, and I prepared by taking my electric shaver (the one I used to use to trim my beard) and set it to “1” (which is a little like setting it to “11,” but I guess that’s another story, and trimmed the hair down to a millimeter or so from my neck down to where the pubic hair ought to start (they blend together currently).

After the beard was done (and that awfully painful upper lip), we dove into the body, which had had numbing cream on it for 30 minutes, and it was easy, easy, easy — no pain, just good conversation and zap, zap, zap. It’s a little red this evening, and we shall see about the efficacy of laser on my body in a few weeks.

We have this idea in the TG literature about a real self buried inside a fake shell, or some variation of that. True Selves would be good example. I find myself thinking about those terms and wondering about authenticity as a part of this issue: am I more authentic now, as a result of self-examination, therapy, some insight into my nature, and the slow removal of all that inauthentic dead-weight hanging off me? If so, then would my voice, tone, and identity be more real, less distant? Was my voice before fake? What is real or original?

These concepts bother me because I’m not sure if we can find a real core inside a TG, or any complex individual, for that matter. Let’s think of synonyms and antonyms as a way of brainstorming terms we might use to talk about our selves. Original is troubling to me because it suggests that we are best when we are closer to our origins (sexual, gendered, cultural, class, ethnic), and I’m not sure I buy that idea entirely. Real is also loaded with positivistic difficulties, and is set against either imaginary or unreal. True is in the realm of logic and doesn’t appeal to me as the opposite of false. Both authentic and genuine suggest a sort of true-false split, but is opposed to fake or counterfit and thus might be more to the point where GID comes in.

In thinking about voice, I’d like to play with the idea that a subset of voice is tone, stance, ethos, and subsets of those would be diction, etc. Might we think of voice not as a foreign language or a dialect to be learned through hard practice, but rather clothing and presentation? It’s easier to visualize because while we all don’t learn a foreign language, we all know what clothes feel “natural” and which ones feel “artificial.” But we also understand shades of formality in clothing in ways most of us don’t when it comes to language. Would the act of moving from one voice to another be a trans-

  • formation?
  • vestment?
  • gression?
  • sition?

If it’s not dread I’m feeling, then it must be something really similar to dread because I don’t really want to have to go through with coming out and transitioning. I realize it must be difficult for an outside observer to understand. After all, doesn’t the transsexual want to change? Hasn’t the transsexual always wanted to be a woman?

There is a difference in wanting to be something and wanting to go through the trouble of getting there. If I had my way, one day, we’d all wake up and I would have always been female, married with the same children, holding the same job, living in the same house, and basically living the same life. Everyone would only know that version of reality and wouldn’t have the foggiest idea that there was an alternate reality where I am male because it never would have happened.

I would hope that most people can understand this mindset because it’s a common thing, wishful thinking: “I wish I were 20 pounds lighter” — ” I wish I weren’t so short”

Of course, that’s not how things work, is it? We don’t magically “lose” 20 pounds; we have to work hard, diet, exercise and change our self-perceptions in order to make that weight-loss happen.

A sex change isn’t like changing your political party or losing weight. It involves a lot of painful self-seeking, visits to doctors, laser hair removal, embarrassing disclosures, and so on. Since you’re proposing to change a fundamental (and very visible) aspect of yourself, everyone will notice when you change. Everyone will have to know, in fact. They will “have” to know not only because of obvious things they can see with their eyes, but they will “have” to know by virtue of needing to understand whether their relationships have changed with you. In other words, for a variety of reasons, everyone you already know must be told, even if you don’t want to tell.

For me, what I don’t want to do is open myself up to this kind of disclosure. I like to keep things to myself and this requirement to be an open book simply feels both terribly wrong and horribly frightening. I can see where young transsexuals would prefer stealth over public transition, as stealth affords you the ability to start over. But if stealth would cause you to lose your life, job, and friends, that sort of strategy simply isn’t possible.

As I reflect on this discomfort, I realize that I am mostly aftaid of being vulnerable of having to sit as judged by people. I’ve been independent, distant from this sort of openness for so long that I think it’s a lot scarier than chancing sex.

Is that an odd realization for me to have? I don’t want to minimize how big changing sex is (or seems to me most of the time), but look, I’m doing just fine right now, and this stage involves medicine, doctors, therapists, etc. In other words, it’s not that I’m afraid of taking action, as I seem to be able to do that.

And honestly, although I’ve been telling Mary Jo and myself (and you, dear reader) that I really don’t want to have to disclose my GID and plans for transition, that I’d do just about anything to avoid doing it, the disclosures do get easier the more people I tell. Talking to my most recent doctors was nothing like my first visit to Dr. Clinton, which almost killed me in embarrassment. So yes, it’s hard, but not insurmountable.

I think I’m actually afraid of rejection–by family, friends, and society. I’m afraid of being mocked, laughed at, gossiped about, pointed at. I’m terrified of not being accepted, which is precisely what I’ve worked all my life to insulate myself against. I’m afraid everyone will finally know I was a fraud all along.

I’ve been afraid of similar things all my life. Afraid of speaking up in class for fear of being discovered. Fear of playing music for people for fear of not being good enough. So I’ve worked privately, secretly, to be smart, musical, or whatever other area of insecurity I have in order to avoid those embarrassing disclosures. But here’s the perverse part: having formed a solid intellectual base, having honed my musical skills, I withhold them from others because I don’t want them to have the satisfaction and I think I will still be judged.

Why this fear? Is it related to GID, or is it just me? Is it a defense mechanism I developed in response to my fathre’s constant criticism?

What would happen if I let go of the fear?

I think it’s time to confront the fact that my father really made it hard for me to develop. I believe that these issues of fear, of withholding love and music and opinions, probably stem from my reaction to unrelenting mental and verbal abuse and pressure during my formative years.

Everyone could see it, but did nothing. Did everyone just figure it would make me tough like the Boy Named Sue? Did they think it was normal for a little boy to be hounded every day? Did I think it was normal?

Damn it. It’s one thing to be proud of your history and heritage and tell stories of family feats — I’ve done it all my life and I was raised where it was done all the time. But not to be able to confront the pain, to feel as if it’s all ok and that you can’t react to it without feeling like a betrayer simply isn’t right.

How can you assess a person like your father honestly, seeing both the good and the bad? Maybe I don’t need to assess — maybe I just need to respond, to write to my parents, to talk with my living relatives about the pain in the family.

My mother could see the happy little boy slowly getting crushed, turned into a withdrawn, depressed, isolated person, but she did nothing. Where does “Stand by your Man” turn into enablement and collusion?

Before you transition from one identity to another, you are in a state of longing.

When acceptance is given, then comes be-longing, or the end of longing to be part of that new group.

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