Life is a Journey - Make sure you get the right roadmap to the universe

I'm quite sure I picked up the wrong one on my way out the door....

Friday, January 27, 2012

Degrees of Separation: The Woman Seen

I've come to learn yet another facet of myself this past week.  It's been both affirming yet so very starkly frightening, altogether at once.  It is not something that anyone told me to expect nor is it something I would have suspected.   Even if I did suspect what I saw and what I have come to learn of myself, it would have been denied, like I did for much of my life;  denied, ignored and placed in a box like so many of the other piece of my life had been hidden.

It was a crisp winter's day this week and the snow, brightly shining under a warming late January Sun beckoned for a bit of playtime.  I grabbed my cross country skis and headed out into the backyard to do some laps.  I was not dressed or made up as Christen, save for a set of small earrings I often wear at home in my male mode.  After a couple of laps around the yard, I stopped and decided, in the stunning sunlight and with a contrast of green trees and blue sky, that a picture was warranted.  Planting my ski poles firmly into the crusty snow, I fumbled for the digital camera in my pocket, flicked it on and snapped off a couple of self portraits with the beautiful snow covered woods for a background.  Owing to the bright sunny day, I could not really see the picture in the viewfinder and, after a glancing but unnoticed look at the display, simply shrugged a "whatever" to myself and stowed the camera safely back within my ski jacket's pocket and continued on with my mini ski adventure.

Later, back at the house, I put my skis away, sauntered past the wood stove where I added another log to the glowing orange embers of a dieing fire and sat down at my desk.  Taking the camera out of the pocket of my coat, I took a closer look at the pictures I just took.  What I saw completely floored me.  "I don't know how I could have missed this before", I said silently to myself.   "I really don't know".   For some reason, in that picture, was a woman looking back at me and with a smile on her face.  It was uncanny.  It was unnerving.  What I thought I saw of me was truly and honestly not the person that was looking back at me in that picture.

Up until now, I was pretty sure there was still a guy mode going on for me.  I was sure.  Joanne was sure.  Yet in recent times, and increasing in frequency, there were hints that perhaps this was not truly the case.  Still, we shrugged each incident off as they happened.... the odd and quizzical looks I might receive in a store, or at a restaurant; the hesitancy in the voices of others, seemingly waiting to hear me speak first before they did.  I thought that it was coincidental, yet it happened enough times that it begged to perhaps be questionable.

Now I had, for the first time, a picture which held the answers; ...which explained why.  What was it that I could not see in the mirror; that I could not see of myself; that Joanne did not see in me...yet which in one random picture, depicted of a completely different story?   I showed the picture to my electrologist, just to see what she thought.  She had seen many pictures of Christen but had only seen my guy mode when I went in to see her for my sessions.  Even she had been with me on the slow transition of hair removal.  It was a transition that was slow enough for even her to not have noticed the gradual and unceasing changes occurring within and to myself.

She looked the picture and stared at it.  She stared at it silently for what seemed to me to be an eternity.  She stared with greater care than in any other picture I had shown to her in the past.  I was getting a bit tense at that point, for I knew then that she was having exactly the same reaction that I had had as well.  It was the realization that my reaction was not of my own mind's eye but was a thing of truth.  I crossed my arms together across my chest, pulling myself in towards my self in a bit of an anxious stnace and watched her as she looked.  And then she spoke.

"Is that really you?", she asked.  "Are you wearing any makeup here at all?"

"No", I quietly said.  "I had some colorless sunscreen lip gloss on, and my earrings, but that's it"

"And that is your hair!", she asked half incredulously, half with conviction.

"Yes", I quietly stated.

"That is amazing!", she replied.  She looked up at me and then back at the picture and then at me again.  "This is what you have been working towards these past years", she said proudly.  "You look great.  I mean the wig is fine, but it's still a wig.  This is YOU.  If this is your guy mode, then all I am seeing is an attractive woman."

I felt both a sense of congruity and, at the same time, of tension which I had never felt before and could not explain.

"This is freaking me out just a bit", I said to her.  "It feels both good and it feels like I am me, but it is also scary too at the same time".

After leaving the office, I had the time to think about the reactions I had had and to reflect.  I realized what it was that was causing the conflicting feelings.  At the same time, I realized and admitted to myself, the very answers to the things which others had wondered of me.  The answers were all quite clear.  They were affirming and revealing both.

Others have asked me in the past.... asked me why I seem to spend so much time working with makeup and hair to create my look.  Why was I so obsessed seemingly with my own appearance when out as Christen?  Why was I constantly checking and rechecking my makeup all of the time when I was out?  Was I that vain?  Was I that concerned with the makeup and the visual aspects of being a woman, so much so that it seemed to others as if it was a character game I was playing as her?

No....  That was not it at all.   In one fell swoop, I knew why.  I understood.

There was Christen... and there was the male persona.  This is as how it had been.  They were two artificially separated entities which, in my mind, I used to try to keep separate each from the other.  It has been well noted by others that whether I am out as Christen or whether I am out as my male self makes no difference.  I am the same person either way.  I act the same.  I behave the same.  My girl persona is always a girl persona, thus, it was that my guy persona was really just a girl persona.  Others saw this yet I tried to dismiss their assertions as naive and tried to separate two entities which were in essence always the same.  I sloughed off what others told me of myself.  "Who better to know themselves of course, than myself!", I maintained.

Those two entities... both the male persona and female persona had been kept as separate.  They were kept separate so that I could live my life as the guy when I needed to.  But that guy was not really thereHe never was, and never had been.  Yet now, as I took these seemingly small steps to add more to the feminine realm which felt so natural to me, those degrees of separation between the perceived male and the underlying and real female were diminishing;  collapsing into each other and into one and the same person.

I  recall spending so much time when I was out, checking my makeup constantly.  I knew why now.  I was afraid that perhaps remnants of my mustache might perhaps be showing through my makeup for others to see my guy self or that I did not have enough makeup on to hide my guy self from the woman I needed to see in the mirror as Christen.  I was, in effect, checking to make sure I always saw the girl in that mirror and checking to make sure that the guy was not there to stare back at me.

Now I looked at that picture of myself with no makeup and I saw, plainly and for the first time, the woman no longer within.  Rather, she looked back in that picture with a smile on her face and it was plain to see where in clear view what I had not allowed myself to see before.

I didn't need the makeup any longer to see that woman and to separate that woman from the man.  The two, in an instant, were mergedThey were the same person.  It was a surreal moment, and so telling of who I am and who I am yet to become.  It was at once both a revelation and a sheer terror.  It was as if I was a passenger on a ride of my own life, yet somehow, had also been the captain such that I was able to come to this point in life as well.

It is not the makeup.  It is not the clothes.  It is not the act.   It is not what I do.  It is who I am.

I'm not looking much in the mirror when I go out these days.  I don't worry about the mustache or beard shadow being seen and with fear of being outted as a man.  I don't look in the mirror much to worry that I can still see, without enough makeup, the guy staring back at me.  Now I just see the one and only me and others see that same me as well.

The degrees of separation between the guy and the girl are blending, fading, and reemerging into one and the same person.

It is both a liberation and a calmness which I feel within, yet it is also with trepidation and anxiety for what unknowns are to come.

I may, at times seems like the passenger on my own ship of discovery and destiny of self, but I am also it's captain too.  I am at the helm with my spouse and we are sailing into these new and uncharted waters together.  The horizon will always be too far to see beyond, but if the course is carefully maintained, one day perhaps, at a place yet to be known to either of us, we shall arrive together.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Choose Wisely.....

Two years ago, if you asked me as I took those first steps out the door, if that would be enough.... enough to just occasionally be allowed to present as the woman within.... I would have said.... "YES!"

Two years have gone by.... and in that time of those two years, I have carefully kept close track of my own sense of being.  I've allowed myself to be myself for the first time in over 40 years of my life.  I've expressed as I feel natural and without the constraints I had unconsciously engrained into my own psyche over the years of self repression.  And with my allowing myself to be myself, I have come to shed the shyness I once had.  The panic attacks and anxiety which resembled some horrific cross between complete catatonia and a heart attack disappeared, as did the nervous cold sweats and involuntary twitches and spasms which had become a sullenly accepted facet of who I was.

In expression of the feminine, I became aware, for the first time in my life, that I was truly happy with myself.  I was careful to try to understand if it was a reality or if it was just a means to escape from my former self.  This took time and a perspective of observation  which only each person can determine for themselves.  I felt immediately at home in my sense of being, in my socialization with others, and in my perception of the world and in the world's perception of myself.  The interactions felt right.  The feedback felt appropriate.  In switches back to my "guy" mode, the feedback was there to affirm it as well.  Everything was wrong, and now I had a vision of what was right for me all these years.  It was something I ignored.  

Ignoring my own sense of true self, I had created a parallel path in a male world and set out to control it as best I could.   I affirmed and denied my femininity dozens of times in my life... maybe more.   At times when I affirmed it yet felt trapped, I considered how I might move forward, or, in frustration and shame, end it all.  Being too much of a coward to do either, I simply boxed and re-boxed my feelings... and put them away in a dark closet within my mind.  I focused instead in setting goals and tangibles to achieve things that I could safely control....and safely achieve.

The key word here is control.  In trying to control my world, I obtained what I had set out to do... my American Dream.... yet in the process, I failed to be human, failed to be empathetic, failed to listen.  I was trying to control everything and realizing that something was out of control.  I was not happy and I was not always pleasant a person to be around for it.  I was miserable inside for much of my life, but found that setting and achieving other tangible goals which were societally considered non-threatening was the perceived salvation to my inner misery and torment.   I was wrong....

Feeling gender dysphoric is no cake walk. It can go from seeming to be a fun dress-up and playtime realm and morph into something that can irreparably alter one's life, their relationships and their own and their family's economic status.  It becomes the thing that many cannot run from any longer yet which begs relief only if they do. And as a result of seceding to the very thing many have denied of their selves and run from, they come to behold a sense of oneness of themselves...all in exchange for a plethora of pernicious problems to plague them in its stead. 

I've met a large contingency of transgender women who oft have no clue as to what this dysphoria feels like... no conception.... nor the price is to acquire the physicality of what they envision will be their salvation.   I've had some of the most blank looks from a contingency of those I have tried to relate to and find comfort and empathy from.  For some it is for the sheer fact that they are happily bi-gendered and perfectly content in the bodies they were born with and the primary gender in which they live the predominant part of their lives.  Many find a balance within themselves which others cannot seem to find or to convince themselves of.   

There are also many I have met in my travels who feel that they are more a woman through the surgeries they have, and the hormones they take.  It almost seems a coveting of the material and of the body parts which they feel will make them somehow more congruent.  It is, for many who do undertake such bodily changes for these reasons who come to tell me in later years, that it was but a false panacea for them to believe that in so acquiring, they have "become" a woman.  Who one is truly, is not defined by what one wears, how they deport themselves as the gender they believe they are, or by what surgeries they have; it is defined from within.  It is a range... an infinite range that spans from masculine male to feminine female and every one of an infinite number of points between.  As for myself, I tried to compensate to be more-so like the male that was expected of me by everyone and, over the years, it took its toll, leading to a complete nervous breakdown.

So now I have been able to live a portion of my life as who I am inside and to allow that person to be set free.  The difficulty becomes the inability to continue to play the smoke and mirrors role of male once acted out.

        The veil is withdrawn... we see for who we truly are

Once the truth is known, the challenges change.  Gone are the frustrations of repressing a person who for decades never lived as they felt inside.  Now the frustrations are replaced with a game of playing the person who never really was to begin with... a person who was a social construct derived to try to please parents and friends and a list of expectations by them and by all to be what was expected.  And so then, thoughts of what costs lay ahead in changing a life constructed and lived as the person envisioned by others when one can not even believe the act themselves any longer......

Transition comes with a price tag that is seen only through the haze of jaded eyes and whose full price oft becomes only visible after the final sale has been completed. The reality of what it means to live as female is often lost by many a weekend cross-dresser as they amble from one transgender convention to the next in a fantasy-land bubble of accepting and skewed alter-reality.  Then... each person who completes the journey and who tries to warn their fellow person of the concerns they must judiciously face ahead are met many a time by a headstrong valiance which only the ignorance of a myopic vision can yield. And so they too thrust headlong into the maelstrom, only to repeat the cycle.

Those who know, advise those who do not, to take care and think through who they are and what they want or must have of themselves to be completely whole as a person.  Still, though, many leap before they listen... listen to what only they can answer within themselves... and answer only to what they bring upon themselves as a result. If the scales balance in the favor of those who do choose wisely, then they have met a net gain. But in almost every case, that net gain comes with with it's own set of losses..... and only each person who charts their own unique course in this world can say whether or not it was worth it.

I'm choosing not to choose..... at least right now.  You see... my choice is one made by two.... for I cannot fully 'be' without the spirit who allowed my wings to spread to accompany me.  We have flown too many miles in formation together and know each other like our own selves.  We are moving, but slowly, together.  We both take each day at a time... assess and reassess.  We are both growing and learning; of ourselves and of each other in the process.

The human spirit is an immutable driving force which leads us to do and be more.  Change is a powerful agent of that force.  We grow and we change as a result.  We become self-aware and we gain perspectives in age that we do not and cannot oft have in youth.  As for my own journey.... WE shall see.  We take it one day at a time and hold fast to what the two of us share together, each other.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Crossroads

Each of us has to come to the point upon which we stand in our lives in a unique way... following a unique path which is ours alone. Decisions we have made, paths we have chosen, decisions made for us by others, situations not of our control which have guided us.... guided or confined us... to walk the paths which have brought us to this exact place where no other stands.

As humans we are similar in many ways, and many share similar paths, but no two are the same. In the parting mists, a self-awareness of my own place in the universe has come to unfold. It is as if, with clarity, I can see the cruise control I have been on for much of my life in chasing an ideal which was solely my own, but one contrived and built by others... parents, societal, and peer expectations. As a young child, I so wanted to fit in, that I created a goal at a young age... plans... to achieve specific positions and tangibles in life to that end. In so doing, I created a sense of uniformity and normalcy to shield a maelstrom which had raged within my mind since the earliest of memories.

The maelstrom was in knowing I was not who others saw me as. The rage with a body changing in ways which I knew defied who I was inside was the fuel which propelled me to achievements and to diversions to keep my mind occupied and on to more loft things than simply the seeming frivolity of gender. Gender.... Bah!... a socially derived construct to delineate the sexes into a binary norm. I wooed myself to believe that my own feelings of disparity which fought daily within me were something which could be quelled through ignoring them.

And so, I recall with deft clarity, sitting in a fifth grade class and writing out the timelines of what would be my life on a piece of paper. Marking the years and the completion of various milestones to be achieved by those dates were jotted carefully as I tried to calculate the future. I also recall sitting in the classroom and having feelings of gender dysphoria wash over me and feeling an inner sense of anxiety, stress and panic that I was not who I was supposed to be. For even at that young age and back to as early as age five, I knew that I was different but I could not quantify it. I only knew that I did not socialize like the other boys and that in the years between fourth and fifth grades, the girls started to pull apart from the boys. I so wanted to be with them. I didn't quite realize at that point that I wanted to be like them... just to be with them. Not fitting in with the boys, left me there, at that moment, by myself. Not comfortable with the mindset and social behaviors of the boys, I kept to myself and to my thoughts and studies.... and to the piece of paper which chronicled the milestones I could have control over and could achieve in my life.

And so, for the next 35 or so years, with occasional modifications, I continued to achieve each of the goals I initially had set forth for me in my life. Achieving a degree in Computer Science, a well respected job, learning good financial habits, a car, a home and a wonderful marriage to a woman who only exceeded my thoughts and expectations in so many wonderful ways. It had all come to fruition. Even the house we live in.... even that house was something that I had set my eyes upon as a goal if it became available. I recall riding my bike one day in 1980 along a winding country road and seeing the house we live in today and said to myself.... "I want that house one day....".

This was the degree to which I thought I controlled my life. And in thinking I was able to control the path of my life, I thought as well that I had the ability to control who I was inside as well. In the continuation of these thoughts through the years, I constantly found myself trying to affirm the illogic of the discord... always with a new reason why it made no sense and could not be. But still, she was there, always wanting to be, the woman inside me. And for her efforts I would occasionally break down to allow her to exist for a fleeting moment. Times of cross-dressing at home gave me that glimpse.

The woman manifested in those early years were horrid and crude attempts and the reflection staring back at me in the mirror suggested that such a crudely presenting woman could never appear to the public and the light of day. And... truth be told, she was not presentable back then, much as many may see fit to disbelieve. I was the image of a man with a five-o-clock shadow at 10 in the morning. Makeup could not fully cover it. Fear to shave my arms, legs or chest for what others might think kept me from ever being able to achieve any kind of feminine look. Although it pleased me internally to manifest my female spirit for those few times, it also disgusted me as well to look in the mirror and see such a horrid woman. Shame and guilt and repression would once again take over and she would be banished back to the closet and hidden away... except within my mind, where she lived on in those wistful moments when she gazed at other women and knew she was not to be among them, ever.

The crossroads to my life came later than for many. I was able to control and suppress the woman within by keeping her distracted through goals, and tangibles and in part, through living through my own spouse. In separation from her, I noted my anxieties would increase and with her, they would diminish.... because, in effect, I was able to live part of my life through her. But even these things, and the occasional crossdressing, could not quell my inner spirit forever.

The times of crossdressing at home increased in frequency and fervor. It made little sense to me but I could not stop it. Dressed, I felt that I was at peace, but it was a peace which was becoming more vapid and vacuous each time I did. And so I found myself cross dressing more and more at home in an attempt to resolve the issue, which it did not. And finally, finally, on one night I was dressed at home, I completely broke down in tears suddenly.

Joanne asked me what was wrong.... Did I not like the way I looked? The makeup which she even would help me with? What was it?

I could not answer at first. I just stood in the kitchen, with my arms folded, leaning against the granite countertops to steady myself in the high heels I was wearing. Tears were streaming down and turning mascara and eyeliner into tiny black streaming cascades. I remember telling her...

"I can't do this anymore..."

There was a pause... it was a telling pause for we both knew deep inside what this meant yet she asked the obvious in the hopes that it were the truth...

"You can't dress like this anymore?", she asked.

What I told her was that I could not play this game anymore... treat who I am inside as a hobby or a weekend pursuit. I explained that it was not the clothes... it was never the clothes. The clothes were simply the vehicle to attempt to allow the person inside to glimpse herself for a fleeting moment. What I needed was to be out... to be who I am inside and to be able to live my life in a way that allowed me to socialize as a woman, perceived as a woman... if I was to continue to live.

It was at that point, that I realized that my attempts to acquire the tangibles of life and to control everything and everyone and mold the world around me to suit my needs was a recipe for failure and one which led to this moment of realization.

A quote from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" came to mind that evening and resonated in deafening silence as I heard the words spoken,

"To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

To be true unto others, I first had to be truthful to myself. And so, I made plans... plans similar to those I had concocted and created for my own path of life back in the fifth grade... except this time, they were plans to realize the truth in who I am. They were plans to begin taking the steps I needed to take in order to be able to live out my days on this Earth as the whole of my soul inside knew to be. Truth be told, the person who is coming to light today is so much more alive, so much more whole than the facade of who I played ever was. It is as if I am, at 46 years of age, only now beginning to live and to feel alive.

We do not know what the future may bring and even the most calculated and preconceived plans oft do not come to manifest in ways which we attempt to mold them to be. For in laying those plans, we so often do not have the wisdom, or, perhaps the courage to open our eyes to see what truths lay at our feet. If for nothing else, however, a life lived in truth and honesty to both oneself and then to others, is a life lived where at the end of days, one may say that they lived it without regrets for the choices they have made.... which for me is enough to feel good of the life lived and choices made.