July 2008


I am in my hometown on a Wednesday right now, where my 30th high school reunion (Empire Falls High School, whose mascot is the Reaper, I kid you not) is slated to occur on Friday night and all day Saturday. I went to my 10th and 20th reunions, but seeing as how things are different this year, I’m debating whether to go to the official events or not.

It’s not a matter of being comfortable with being myself, because I am, but my best friend from high school, Slade Taggart, has implored me not to go and make a fool of myself or cause a sensation. My first reaction was that he was just being foolish, but upon reflection, I also think that he may be right, and I’m at an impasse.

Let’s assume he’s got a point, and my presence would cause a sensation. Not being an “in-your-face” kind of person, and not being interested in bothering people, I wouldn’t be interested going. But it may be the case that I would cause no sensation, and the only discomfort lies with Slade. Even then, I would hate to go to these events just to tear up what is left of our friendship, so I probably won’t go in either case.

But it’s not like I’m sitting around crying. I’ve contacted my old friends and told them I’m in town and said we should have a beer or pizza or a chat — or better yet, they ought to come out to my place and visit for the downtimes in between official “Class of ’78” activities. And so far, the schedule is filling up, so it may be the case that I’ll get almost all the benefit of a reunion without burning my bridges with Slade.

Slade and I are having lunch on Friday, an appointment he’s called at least twice to confirm, so I take this as a good sign after our last communication. It may be the case that Friday will soothe his fears and help him realize that Joyce isn’t terribly different from George. Or it may be that Friday is going to be his opportunity to break off our friendship.

I hate being indecisive, but I’m stuck at this point. I have had good interactions with my bankers and accountants today, and they didn’t run screaming from their offices when I showed up, but then again, I didn’t go to high school with them.

If we reap what we sow, then what exactly am I planting here?

I visited Electrology 3000 (E3K) yesterday. After a year of laser on my face, I had come to the following conclusions. First, laser is only semi-effective on beard hair — in some places, it has been very effective, in others, only so-so. Second, all my gray (er… blonde) hairs in my face are immune to laser, and they were becoming more and more obvious and annoying. Third, visiting my local electrolysis woman, Opal, was glacial in its pace and remarkably painful. It’s one thing to be able to withstand the single sting of a bee on one part of your face, or perhaps to withstand 10 bee stings distributed across your face. But to have hundreds of bee stings in approximately the same place as the operator goes from one hair to the next — this was really awful. I had even asked my dentist if he’d shoot my face full of Novocain, and after some consideration, he said he didn’t feel it was ethical. Thus I came to E3K in Dallas, a company that specializes in clearing transsexuals’ beards.

I had to avoid shaving for 3 days, which has been emotionally painful, but here in the summertime, with my exposure to other people at a minimum, I suppose I shouldn’t complain. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I looked like the hermaphrodite at the circus, and went about my daily routine as androgynously as possible. I began taking 1 tablet of ibuprofin a night to build up the anti-inflammatories (who knows if this works, but I didn’t have any headaches during this time).

Wednesday came at last, and I woke at 5:00 for flight planning — it was a beautiful day, so the flight plan was easy. I flew the Cirrus SR20 plane down early in the morning, taking off at 6:45, as the flight was planned to last slightly less than 2 hours and my appointment time was set for 9:30. E3K is literally just off the north end of the Addison airport, so all I needed to do was have my feet on the ground by 9:00, and I would be fine. Made it to Addison uneventfully, touching down around 8:45, called for a cab, and began my long day of beautification.

E3K is on the second floor in a strip mall directly under the flightpath of the Addison airport, a strip mall that houses insurance companies, dance studios, and a pizza parlor, to name a few. Having arrived early, around 9:10, an finding their door shut and locked, I realized that when they said 9:30, they meant it, so I plopped myself down alongside my flight bag, briefcase, and overnight bag and answered email on my trusty PDA.

An entourage arrived at 9:28 and opened the door, at which point I gathered up my things and went inside. After filling out a patient information card, I was ushered to the back room, where Denise, one of the three sisters who owns the place, talked to me about electrolysis, follicles, insulated needles, and after-care. Then she was joined by her sister Tisha, and the two of them said they’d both be working on my face all day.

Since I had surgery a month ago and my scars in my lower gum were still healing, they couldn’t administer any Novocain on my chin or lower lip in the mouth, relying instead on injections on the face itself. There is no pussyfooting around this issue: those shots really, really hurt. The needle kind of hurts, but I think it’s the liquid that burns and expands just under the skin that makes the pain so great. And once you know it’s coming, there’s nothing to do except to take some deep breaths and squirm. To her credit, Tisha rubs the area and pauses a bit to let your brain resume working before wielding the needle again.

Since the lip is a small area and since there were two operators, we started off the morning by numbing and zapping my right mustache and my left cheek, after which point they switched and worked on the left mustache and right cheek. [The way they distribute the work across my face reminded me of the way typewriters were designed to keep their keys separated so that they wouldn’t bump into each other and jam when you were typing really fast.]

It took 3 hours to do the mustache and the cheeks, which brought us to 1:00, when they customarily have their lunch break. I grabbed my bag and went for a walk to find food and to stretch out. If the shots are painful, lying in the chair for hour upon hour is also extremely annoying, eventually becoming almost unbearable. I found that the back of my head, where it was resting “comfortably” on the headrest, became a real sore spot for me as the day wore on. So walking around was a joy, even though Dallas was already hot and muggy by lunchtime.

I chose Long John Silver’s because of some weird idea that chicken planks would be soft and easy to chew. What I discovered was that my lip, numbed and swollen and looking like a Simpson’s character, wouldn’t create suction in my straw, and I just dribbled my drink all over myself. I finally figured out that if I placed both lips over the straw and used the thumb and forefinger of both hands to press my lips around the straw, I could drink. Accordingly, I felt it was my civic duty to choose a corner booth facing away from all the other lunch patrons. The chicken was tasty, but I had to take great care not to chew up my tongue or cheek, which had the same texture as my chicken.

As I left the restaurant on food, this older black woman wearing a Long John Silver’s uniform came outside and cautioned me to take it easy in this heat, and to find every shade tree along my route that I could. I thanked her for her kindness and ambled along the two blocks back to E3K, seeking shade trees along my short route.

The afternoon went much as the morning had — the horribly painful shots, the tag-team zapping on opposite parts of my face, the increasingly annoying position in the chair. Eventually, we were done, and what a glorious statement that is for the patient to hear. We did all of my face and jaw and went a ways down below my jaw onto my neck, where my black hairs are virtually non-existent. In 8 weeks, I’ll return and we’ll do the whole face and neck.

Tisha took me to my hotel room, where I applied an ice bag and took some ibuprofen, but honestly, no amount of medical tending will change the fact that I received 14 hours of electrolysis on my face in one sitting (7 hours times 2 operators).

I walked over to a sports bar called Cape Buffalo for a beer, it being the only eating establishment around, and I drank a couple of very tasty beers and ate a huge, stuffed, baked potato. It was a smoky, annoying place, the kind of joint I might have enjoyed when I was 22. Most of the customers were in their 20’s and perhaps their 30’s, and the decor was supposed to be cool, but it simply struck me as trying (but falling short) for coolness. The most interesting part of the evening (besides a brief discussion with this 40-something bartender about the existence of a tomato-juice flavored vodka) was that a couple sat right next to me at the bar and started (and maintained) an increasingly heated argument about breaking up, some of it in English, some in French (she kept saying jamais, or never), and some in a middle eastern language. The guy was apparently clueless and the woman got increasingly frustrated with him, recounting all sorts of wrongs and slights in the past.

As fun as eavesdropping was, I felt the swelling in my face and the fatigue in my body, so I walked the two blocks back to my hotel, applied more ice, and got a good night’s sleep. Upon waking, I felt my face (or I should say I felt something like a large balloon that an overnight prankster had placed on my face) and jumped out of bed to see freakish, inflated lips, cheeks, chin, and jaw. I looked like a cartoon, and the sad thing was I was out of ice. I put a cold washcloth on my face and while it felt good, I don’t think it achieved much reduction in swelling. Not wanting to sit around any longer, I called for a cab to the Addison airport, took 4 ibuprofins, and vowed to deal with this when I returned to Bedford Falls.

Theres Got to be a Morning After

There's Got to be a Morning After

The trip home was pleasant as I skirted the puffy cumulus clouds blown into the Dallas area by Hurricane Dolly. The clouds petered out by half way and I had a great tailwind as I averaged 165 kts. When we met for lunch at an Indian food lunch buffet, I could tell that Mary Jo could barely contain her laughter at seeing my face. I think it’s funny, too — in a few short days, I’ve gone from regular old Joyce to androgynous George to monstrous, cartoon George, and it feels like I’m backsliding. Or maybe I’m just pleased that for once during this transition, I actually get to embody the monster that I have sometimes felt I am. It’s not bad for a few days, but just as the physical monster recedes, I believe the psychological monster that I am (or that I imagine others see in me) will also vanish until all we’re left with are writings and photographs from the past.

[See also

“What is Laser Like?”

and

“What is Electrolysis Like?”]

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know how highly I think of my friend Allyson Robinson. I knew she was a finalist for this high-visibility position for the last month or two, but today she was officially named Associate Director of Diversity for the HRC (Human Rights Campaign). She’s a great thinker and communicator and this position certainly calls for those skills. Many GLBT activists are still awfully angry at the HRC for supporting an Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) last fall that did not include transgender people, and many of these same people see Allyson’s hiring as a Machiavellian move by the HRC to smooth over the hard feelings.

And maybe it is.

But knowing how patient and intelligent and loving and savvy Allyson is, I think that being the first transwoman ever hired by the HRC — being inside the biggest Washington lobby for GLBT issues — is a mighty impressive step, and bears attention.

Good luck, Ally.

WASHINGTON–The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights group, today announced that Allyson Robinson has been named Associate Director of Diversity of the organization. Robinson, a longtime activist and ordained minister, will lead HRC and its volunteer base in promoting awareness of transgender issues and ensuring that all program areas demonstrate measurable commitment to transgender equality and inclusion.

“I am delighted that Allyson Robinson has joined the HRC team and I am eager to begin the hard work of educating the public and our elected officials about transgender issues with her,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Allyson’s background of facilitating communication and fostering meaningful relationships make her the ideal person to fill this crucially important role.”

“Advocacy to me means being a voice for the voiceless by ensuring their perspectives are heard and their needs fully considered,” said Allyson Robinson, the new HRC Associate Director of Diversity. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to join HRC at this crucial moment in its support of full inclusion for the transgender community, and look forward to working with HRC Steering Committees and in partnership with other fair-minded and LGBT-inclusive organizations to lead that effort nationally.”

Allyson is a 1994 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, where she majored in physics. She received her Master of Divinity degree in theology, with a capstone emphasis in Social Justice, from Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary in 2007. Prior to her transition, she pastored congregations on two continents for nine years.

Robinson’s hiring has been applauded by leaders of the transgender community.

“Allyson is a committed activist for trans people and the people who love them,” said best-selling author Jenny Boylan. “A lot of work needs to be done to mend fences between HRC and the trans community, and Allyson, by dint of her dedication, compassion, and articulate insight, is the one to do it. I am sure her wisdom, poise, and humor will do well for all the members of our community, and I wish her all the best.”

“Allyson is a great addition, and as someone who works closely with HRC nationally and locally, I’m delighted to add her energy to expand the quantity, quality and awareness of fully inclusive workplaces and to support our diversity initiatives in Boston,” said HRC Business Council and Steering Committee member Diego Sanchez.

“Allyson comes to the position with my full support. Her ministerial teachings and learning, combined with her West Point training will be a great asset to HRC and the LGBT community where she will be able to listen to hearts and emotions of all people”, said Meghan Stabler, HRC Business Council and HRC Houston Steering Committee member. Stabler continued, “As a transgender person, she will be able to educate internally within HRC and externally with the community and allies on key issues, including HRC’s call for an inclusive ENDA.”

Robinson was selected to be Associate Director of Diversity following a four-month national search.

“The idea to create this new position came to life in spring 2007, just weeks into my new job. I envisioned strengthening HRC’s capacity to fulfill our stated commitment to transgender equality and inclusion,” said Cuc Vu, HRC Chief Diversity Officer. “Allyson now rounds out our diversity team and we will continue striving to meet our goals.”

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

From the National Center for Transgender Equality

Achieving our goal of transgender equality requires activism at the local, state and national levels. While NCTE focuses on federal policies, we strongly support and encourage the vital work of grassroots activists. Each week during 2006, we featured an idea for action that you can take at a local level. Some are challenging, while others are relatively simple; all are effective ideas and include links, resources and thoughts to help you get started. Some are things you can do on your own, while others are ideas for local groups to work on. We hope that you will take on projects that spark your interest and that meet a need in your community as we work together for equality for all people.

I’m reading the list to see what I’ve already done, what I can do reasonably in the next year, and what strikes me as really hard. What about you?

Here are the first 10:

#1: Take a Trans Person to Lunch
#2: Ask your library to carry books that deal positively with trans people
#3: Attend an anti-racism training and put into practice what you learn
#4: Run for Office
#5: Invite your mayor or other elected official to address a trans group or town meeting
#6: Plan an Art Show of Works by Trans Artists
#7: Create and publicize a calendar of local events and encourage people to attend them
#8: Start an online community or a blog that deals with an issue that is important to you
#9: Change the Policy of an Organization You Belong To
#10: Donate money to an organization providing direct services for transgender people
…….

Read the whole list with explanations and print a poster if you want …

Forced to avoid shaving my face due to an impending trip to Electrolysis 3000 in Dallas, I am quite a sight. I don’t look much like my old self or my new self, but something hybrid, resisting category. I avoided going to town all weekend and instead got a lot of chores done, but the time came to go get groceries.

I briefly considered wearing a skirt, tight blouse, and makeup, and thought better of it. I wasn’t interested in causing a scene, and I knew that no amount of makeup would disguise the fact that I’ve got 2 days’ growth on my face, diminished though it might be through laser treatments. No, I put in trousers and a work shirt, paying homage to Joyce with diamond earrings. I combed my long hair back and put on a straw hat and then headed out into the world.

At the store, I must say I felt very, very odd — I’ve been Joyce for quite a while, and I felt (and you’ll no doubt recognize the hilarious irony here) like I was in drag, or drab, to be more precise. [If drag is shorthand for “Dressed as a Girl,” then the opposite is drab, or “Dressed as a Boy.”] I still had my backpack purse and my mannerisms and I certainly felt completely Joycean, but I also was aware of being tentative and feeling like hiding, and it reminded me of years ago when I first went out in drag: afraid, tentative, feeling as if I didn’t fit into society at all.

I did my shopping as I always do and talked to the butcher as I bought 4 nice ribeye steaks to cook tonight and I had almost forgotten about the disconnect between my appearance and my essence, when an interesting thing happened in the checkout aisle. I was thumbing through O[prah] magazine while a young woman scanned my items, and the bag boy, a youth of perhaps 16, asked, “Do you like Oprah?”

“Well, I don’t know. I suppose so. Why do you ask?”

“I used to like her,” he said, “but she said some things about religion that really turned me off.”

I told him of hearing a news story on NPR this past weekend about a woman in Chicago who is living the entire year of 2008 adhering to every single bit of advice Oprah gives, whether it be from O magazine, her show, or the internet. This woman was having quite a bit of trouble with it, but found it an interesting exercise.

His eyes got big. “Really? That sounds fascinating.”

“Well, it’s like doing anything to its extreme, isn’t it? That sort of thing reveals a lot about the system you’re adhering to, or studying, if you think of it.”

We started walking out to the car, still engaged in conversation, talking about avoiding the extremes of life, like whether this past weekend’s productivity was better than a couple of days on the hammock.

He shook his head. “I’m going to have a hard time balancing it all it this fall — I’m in a university track at my school, which means I go to school three days a week, but have homework the rest of the week. I have to balance that schedule with my work here at the supermarket, and with my dual-credit courses.”

I told him this 3-day-a-week curriculum must operate under the assumption that the student is self motivated since it can’t use absences or tardies to control students, and he agreed entirely. “I’m very motivated!”

The groceries loaded, he looked warmly at me and said, “Thanks for talking. See you around.”

“Yeah. Good luck balancing all that stuff on your plate.”

As I sat in my car and reflected on my outing, it hit me (although I’m sure it hit you, dear reader, a lot faster than it got through my dense skull) that the reason this bag boy and I were getting along so great is that he was a young gay man and my androgyny and chattiness was taken as a sign that I was a gay man and we were flirting. I didn’t mind it, not being homophobic, but I found myself chuckling at the layers of irony, that I appear to be a scruffy gay man instead of a transsexual woman, that I can’t “butch up” any more, even with a beard, that I am gay in the sense of being in a same-sex relationship with my wife so that that bag-boy got something right, but just not the flavor of my same sex existence.

It was interesting and even somewhat pleasant, and I have one more day of drab adventures before getting to return to my normal self, and that will be quite a relief.

With Mary Jo at an equestrian event and the boys over at the Rapido household playing all day, I found myself reading this blog and my trans* oriented correspondence from the beginning. I was surprised to feel quite a lot of sympathy for the writer, who was obviously struggling in the beginning to find her voice, fumbling along in the first few months. Along the way, however, I believe I have found a good voice, stumbling upon it perhaps in November or December.

What’s really strange about reading this chronicle is that sometimes I feel like I’m on auto-pilot, or that there’s a prime mover or a puppeteer making things happen and I’m only along for the ride, kind of sleep walking in a hazy and surreal existence. In other words, I know I have deliberated and reasoned the various decisions I’ve made, but having done these things (hormones, therapy, FFS, laser, electrolysis, coming out, full-time, etc.), I sometimes don’t remember having been as deliberate as I believe I was.

I can think of hundreds of moments — epiphanies, if you want — where I find myself a bit surprised at how I look or what I’m doing. I find myself in a hotel lobby with a hundred trans*people and ask myself what brought me here? Or I’m chatting with a mechanic about a flat tire, and then it strikes me that I’m someone different — I’m in drag…no, wait, it’s not drag, it’s normal. It’s like the Talking Heads song “Once In A Lifetime,” about those moments of shock when you ask yourself “Well, how did I get here?” or “My God, what have I done?”

At the same time, having written and thought and processed every minute facet of my life and relationships, it seems unlikely that this is truly some kind of auto-pilot, but maybe the kind of forgetfulness that comes from great struggle like childbirth or wilderness survival or extreme grief. Maybe this forgetfulness comes from the fact that there is no time to pause because we’re careening around a track and it’s very important to have eyes forward, scanning back and forth for the next problem to present itself. If this is the case, then the paradox is that while a transsexual transition is most definitely a long-term project, the transitioner in question employs a relatively short-range focus that involves close relationships, the next hormone appointment, the state of her beard, and the constant anxiety about whether she’ll “pass” today or not.

Both the past and the distant future fall away in a haze like the curvature of the earth, and I find that despite living and breathing and thinking gender for quite some time, I find that I an fairly confused about what it means to be moving towards my goal of being a woman.

There is no doubt I’m a real transsexual, but a woman? I’m not so certain — perhaps I’m a faux woman because I feel I’ll always be a transsexual and never a real woman. How could I, with 48 years as a boy and man and husband and father? Intellectually, I don’t really mind because I think trans* is a legitimate category of human being, someone with an interesting past, like your friend who tells you over cocktails that they used to live in the circus — who isn’t attracted to that sort of history?

The more I reflect on the subject, however, I suspect it’s probably not a matter of real vs. faux, but rather real vs. idealized. During a lifetime of envying the other sex’s bodies, I think many transsexuals have spent so much time imagining an idealized body (female or male, depending on your flavor of trans* dysphoria) that when we finally take steps to do something about it, being a “real woman” (or a “real man”) carries risks of not being enough, of not being able to match that lifetime of imagining. We complain about being too tall, too short, of not having big enough hips, or too-large shoulders, and in doing so, we aren’t really in the realm of trans* psychology, but rather in the realm of body image issues, where we have a picture of the ideal (from our friends, advertising, movies, magazines, and so on), and we feel deficient in our “real” bodies.

When I complain about having no hips or no waist, my women friends rattle off their various imperfections and say something like “welcome to the club.” Maybe that’s the way to emerge out of the transsexual transition, accepting the fact that I, like real women, have to accept a real and imperfect body and to find comfort in who I am. If you’re short, you make “short” work for you — if you’re big, you embrace your bigness and make it work for you. I see photos of myself and I like my smile and I think I’m genuinely happy and project confidence in the new me, so I know that at some deep biological and psychological level, I have come to a spot of peace with myself. Maybe I should just say this is my body, and this is what I’ve got to work with: tallish, thin, striking features, and an interesting history?

For those of us engaged in a transsexual transition, it’s important to get out of that short-term forgetfulness, perplexity, and fixation on today’s body, hair, clothes, and work hard to be mindful of how we got here and also how we’re going to live our lives after all this dramatic turmoil is over. I don’t think we want life to be the same as it ever was, an unbroken chain of repetitive thoughts and fears that keep us stuck in fretful sleepwalking and confusion. We want to see clearly with eyes of the world opened to our past and our futures, awake, alert, and content.

Early this morning, I was just reading one of my online forums and saw a horribly sad piece of news: a member of this particular forum, a 50-year-old transsexual who’s at the same spot in transition as me, died yesterday of a drug overdose, a suicide. She posted infrequently, but I remember her avatar with glasses, face against a tree, inquisitive and wise. Her posts were thoughtful as she grappled with her transition and how it impacted her two daughters, her spouse, and her job. She had written in the springtime of an amicable divorce and a date of July for her workplace transition — she had been talking with her HR department in anticipation of the big announcement.

I don’t know what to say. I didn’t know her, but this news feels so personal it might be me. I can imagine the despair.

Dear readers, I know that sometimes it seems that your transsexual friends or colleagues or family members are going through life in a self-absorbed trance like beauty queens with their emphasis on makeup and shopping and physical changes.

And perhaps we are.

But when we’re by ourselves, when the computer is turned off, when the upbeat facade is removed and put away on the shelf, there’s nothing to hold back the demons. There are very dark spaces in trans*people’s heads, and I worry about all of us sometimes. As much as we beat our chests in defiance and celebrate our gender freedom, I fear we’re an awfully vulnerable lot.

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