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....

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Growing up Transgender: Stepping into the Light

Sometimes we never fully appreciate the dysfunctionality of our families until we are much older.  By then, many years and decades of our lives have passed and we come to look back at our childhood with eyes anew, as if we were looking upon our lives as a different person than we were.  My very wise 17 year old nephew once said to me that we each live multiple lives over the course of our lifetime.  As we grow to learn about ourselves, we grow internally, both spiritually and intellectually.  Our desires, goals and perspectives evolve as we become ever more aware and self conscious of the lives we have lived, the lives around us we have touched or that have touched us in some way, and as we evolve within ourselves.

In looking back on my own childhood, I can sense it all anew from the perspective of having lived through it and grown into a person who has become self-aware of her own identity and the world around her.  I can eerily look back upon my youth and truly feel detached from the person I was, yet fully knowing I lived through what could only be termed as very dark days.  The darkness which pervaded the shadowy world that was my life did not seem so at the time, but then again, it has been said that we often do not see the forest for the trees.  For those who know only darkness, the concept of light is as foreign and alien a thing as any.  Having stepped into the light which age and wisdom have brought me over the years, I can look back now and realize just how dark those times were.

I grew up with an immediate family consisting of a mother, a father and a sister.  My mother was my best friend in the early years of my life and was always the one to provide me with the encouragement and support to go farther in my life and to strive for more.  She was the one who took the time to read every paper I wrote, type every paper I penned and to be an ally and confidant when I needed simply to talk. My father was much more the authoritarian.  While a good provider, he was a micromanager and layed out the law of the household.  While he worked a full time job, my mom was expected to work her part time job, take care of me after school, take care of the housework and ensure that dinner was ready when my father would arrive home.

My father's temper was the most fearsome thing and his arrogance and anger would oft show themselves for such simple things as dinner not being prepared on time to chores not having been completed by my mother.  Although I loved my parents, I grew to have a love/hate/fear relationship with my father.  His temper would often culminate in verbal assaults and occasionally physical ones involving my witnessing my mother being struck.  I would often hide in one of the lower cabinets in the den where the louvered slats allowed me to peer out while safe inside with the linens and towels.  Many of the physically abusive visual acts witnessed were ones I mentally blocked for years and decades,  It was only recently that I began to recount those memories as I first started to consciously document my life.

My sister was hardly ever around in my life.  She was 13 years the senior to me and by the time I was 5 years old, she was 18, graduating high school, entering college and out of the house.  I always wondered for many years why she used a different last name from that of our family's but was not to find out until many years later the true reason why.  When I questioned my mother as to why her name was different, the answer was always the same... that she was the rebel of the family and wanted to be unique.  There was nothing that could be farther from the truth.

It was decades later that I came to find out the true nature of my sister's variant last name.  Although I imagined in my mind that she may have been adopted, it turned out that she was the offspring of my mother in an earlier marriage which was hidden from me by them for many, many years.  My mother had married young, becoming involved with a man who was a tyrant and a wife beater.  Together they bore my sister and very shortly after her birth, she filed for divorce and left him.  Being fearful of her life and her safety, she fled to live with her sister out of state and took her daughter (my sister) with her.

Eventually my mom and my sister returned to Massachusetts where they settled in with my mother's mother.  While there, my mom started dating my father and because she so desperately wanted to have a family and a home life for my sister, they quickly married.  My father's mother, who lived next door to where my dad lived, was appalled that my father would marry someone who was a vagabond and a tramp because she had a daughter from a previous marriage.  She feared the neighborhood, family and relatives would find out and that it would reflect back poorly on her son.... my father.  She argued with my dad to send my sister to live with my mother's sister yet again so that this little "dirty secret" would be hidden from all.  My dad, surprisingly, and because he always wished to please his mother first, agreed.... and my sister was sent off to live with my mother's aunt out of state.

After about three months time, my sister, crying endlessly to come home, was finally allowed to come home to live with my mother and father.  She was instructed to never call my mother and father as mom and dad but rather as aunt and uncle and to use their first names.  Again, this was for the sake of my father's mother who maintained that it appeared shameful that her son married a woman who had a child from a prior marriage. Around me, my sister was only to use first names only and to not use aunt and uncle so as to confuse me as much so, although it was still confusing.  My sister, feeling as if she was the black sheep of the family, and rightly so, was quick to try to leave the house when she was of age and to seek her own life, free from this ruling and the tyranny of my father.

I was dealing with my gender dysphoria from an early age, as early as I can remember, perhaps age four and definitely by age 5.  Although I often looked to see if there was a correlation between the relationship which existed within the house between my mother and my father with me, I would come to find out later that it was not the triggering factor in who I would become.  That is a story for another time and yet another complex and well hidden piece in the family puzzle.

Early years in school were not a problem for me as I immediately took to the little girls in class and they to me, as a girl.  We talked, socialized and played together as little girls do.  I just never realized until much later in life that I was acting and behaving as female and thought I was just being a little boy, yet somehow feeling different from them when I was around the boys.  As the years passed and the girls and boys began to separate socially, I was no longer welcome in the girl's circle.  Not feeling comfortable being in the boys circle I started to pull away into my own worlds and the darkness which pervaded in the often hostile and physically violent home life began to encroach further, pulling me deeper and further down.

By age 10 I was already crossdressing and this became even more an occurrence when puberty started to kick in.  The more I was developing into a boy, the more I tried to be the girl I felt I was inside.  By age 13 I was becoming very proficient in makeup and style and would dress whenever I could get a chance at home to do so while my parents were out.  I hated living in a house where I feared my dad.  I despised developing into the man I felt I was not while at the same time feeling guilty that I could not live up to the expectations of being the man my parents wished me to be.  I despised God and cursed him each night for not allowing me to grow up as the person I knew I was inside and when that brought me nothing, asked him each night to take my life so that I would not have to wake up and live this nightmare any longer.

I found solace in my reading, in science fiction and fantasy where I could lose myself in realities of a world other than the tortuous one I lived my life in each day.  I read and studied sciences and literature and immersed myself in books and learning as a means to stave off the social inadequacy I felt in the world around me.  I became a loner and person who sought solitude and peace.  Weekends were something I looked forward to when my mom and dad would take me away to a small summer cottage in the lakes region of New Hampshire.  Here I could often be found taking long walks alone in the woods to lose myself for a few hours in the peaceful and non-judgmental world of nature and the outdoors.

By the time high school came around, I found myself having regular panic attacks that became violent enough to warrant medical attention.  So self conscious was I of my living in the wrong gender that in social situations and around the girls, I would find myself catatonic at times, unable to speak, dizzy and in a cold sweat.  Being called upon one time in English class caused me to have a racing heart and heart palpitations, a complete loss of feeling in my left arm and passing out on the floor in class.   They were all the symptoms of a heart attack yet it was, in actuality, a severe panic attack of the highest order.

These panic attacks of high school would last until age 45.  I managed to hide them from others by avoiding situations which would trigger them.  For years I thought that it was agoraphobia (fear of people and crowded places) that plagued me, but the reality of the diagnosis was yet to come at that point.  Meetings were affairs that I would avoid at work and if I had to attend, tried to find as low profile a position as was possible to achieve in such an intimate and closed situation.  I avoided restaurants and cafeterias where I found I was so nervous that I could not even make it through eating lunch without breaking down in panic.  Somehow I even hid this from my spouse, who did not even know I was dealing with this affliction all of these years.  I hid it that well and used avoidance scenarios that well.

The panic attacks and fear of social situations which devastated so many decades of my then introverted life came to a sudden end the day I accepted myself as a woman.  I remember the day well.  On most weekends during my marriage, I would spend my Saturday evening getting dressed and doing up my makeup at home.  My spouse might snap a few pictures as a keepsake reminder for me of the person I was able to materialize as fleetingly for these few hours each week.  On one occasion in 2009, fully dressed as the woman I am today, I broke down while standing in our kitchen.  With tears running down my cheeks, mascara and eye liner melting into the mess my face became, my spouse asked me what was wrong.  It was then that I admitted to her what I was failing to admit to myself, that this was more than playing dress-up.  In fact what I thought would satisfy my female energy simply by getting all decked out in female attire was doing nothing for me.  I needed more.  I didn't need or want to simply dress as female, I needed to live my life as the woman I am.  It was on that fateful night that I vowed to move forward with exploring my life as a woman and in the fall of 2009, I stepped foot for the first time outside, after decades of trying to keep my female self at home, and ventured out into the greater world.

Interestingly, my social anxieties immediately faded away into a distant memory as I naturally fell into a life I knew I was meant to live.  I knew I was the woman I had tried to deny simply through the realization of finding such ease with which I related to the world and socialized naturally as female.  It was obvious to me as it was to everyone in the greater world who would come to know me for they all saw and felt me as being female in heart and essence.  It was 2009 that I first found what it was really like to be happy inside.  It was 2009 that I finally started to live a life I wanted to and to not live my life for what I was expected by others to do and to be.  It was 2009 that I realized that for 44 years of my life I was miserable with a dark and dead soul and living in a state of low level omnipresent chronic depression and anxiety.  It was 2009 that I finally found myself free.

And like in the story of the Grinch, whose heart grew three sizes on that day where he learned the true meaning of Christmas, so my own soul suddenly grew almost as suddenly in those weeks surrounding my meltdown and acceptance of who I am.  My fears disappeared and I came to find that I was not the introverted, frightened, panic stricken and socially awkward person I thought for all these years that I was. I was suddenly manifesting the woman that all these years I knew deep inside I was.  It was she who was finally free.  SHE was the socialite who loved to mingle and converse, to share ideas and thoughts and conversation, who was the life of the party and who loved life and her friends.  SHE found as great respect in getting to know others as they would come to find in her.  SHE realized she was blessed with life and love and with friends who cared.  SHE was no longer frightened to be in public settings but, instead, found that she actually sought them out.  Her fears of public speaking were replaced with her wants to command an audience and to share her life and her stories with others.  It was a transformation that she could not see until she stood where she stands now, illuminated and self-aware of where she is now because of where see she was so many years ago in those dark decades of her life before.  Sometimes she wonders what life would have been like if she had not lived through so many dark years, but then she realizes that it was those dark years that allowed her to appreciate more fully the light which illuminates and encompasses her now.  It is a light which shines clearly HER way forward; it is a light which is reflected back by the gift of those who love her as she loves them;  it is a light which permeates her innermost soul and brings song to where there was once only silence;  it is a light which is like no other, and which can barely with words be described, but for the first time in this woman's life, she is realizing happiness through contentment, and that is the best gift of all.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Mirages of the Mind

Many times, people see us as they first came to know us.  An example of this happened today when I stopped in at my skincare aesthetician.  They first came to know me as male years ago when I first started going there for treatments.  I was known by my male name and the pronouns were always "he, Him, and His".  About a year ago I showed up in full on girl mode after announcing just prior that I was transgender.  There was no problem in pronoun switches to the feminine when I did show up in this manner and "She" and "Her" along with my name being used as Christen were the rule.

Today, I showed up in what I like to call my "twilight zone" mode.  It's a gender neutral sort of mode in which I wear no makeup and usually don just a women's polo shirt in either blues, or blacks and a pair of casual, relatively neutral women's jeans.  Interestingly, when I arrived for my appointment the pronouns were "He" and "His" and my name was right back to my male name.  I don't let this bother me one bit because I related a story to the two women I know who work there.   I explained to them that they really need not worry either way because they first came to know me as a male and unless I am explicitly managing to look ultra feminine, that they will continue to see me as male.  This is NOT unusual.

On the other end of the spectrum, I further explained to them that there are those who only first knew me as Christen and will maintain that name and the female pronouns even if I make an attempt to present more male.  Our mind's eye creates a perceived reality of what we see and this often usurps the actual reality of the person that stands before them.  I further related that those who only knew me as Christen are often shocked to find that I could have ever been anything but female all my life.  This in fact happened when several state representatives chatted me up after my visit to the state house and extolled that they could not have ever seen me as ever having been male.  Granted it was quite affirming, but it also stresses my point that I need to find tolerance for those whose mind's eye have become accustomed to what they have come to know from the past.  Change in one's perceived reality of a person into an actuality comes, but it can come slowly I find.

It was funny that I often find my own self doubt in how I am being perceived, yet it is always for naught.  On Saturday, I had just finished up a hike and was in my gender neutral form which my aestheticians see as me still being male.  Interestingly, I tend to follow their stance in how I THINK I appear but just as surprising is the fact that those who have never met me before make an immediate assumption that I am female.

It happened on that Saturday Afternoon that I found myself in a local thrift store wearing no makeup, my medium length curly hair, a generic gender neutral T-Shirt, some exercise pants and a pair of white sneakers.  No sooner was I convinced that I was being taken for male when someone who worked at the store, needing to pass by with some store goods, pronounced quite clearly "Excuse me ma'am".  This was followed up by other run-ins with staff and more female pronouns being used.  I'm typically a hard sell and offer myself as my own worst customer to try to convince so I took it at face value and, as always, remained skeptical.

I was out yesterday doing a little more thrift store shopping in another local venue I had never frequented before.  The shopkeeper and I entered into a casual discussion and at some point, he motioned that he wished to ask me a question.  I said that of course it would be alright.

He started out, "You look familiar!  I'm pretty sure I've seen you somewhere before...."

My mind raced in that moment and my self doubt that perhaps he knew Wonder Woman's Secret that she was once the mild mannered Clark Kent.  It is true that my mind tends to plot courses for all possible failures.... my "Kobiyashi Maru" Scenarios, but they never pan out in such a negative way.  This was to be no exception to that pattern.

"I don't know where you could know me from?", I offered.

"Well, you look familiar", he continued, pausing slightly and then blurting  out, "I know now.  You work at the Concord Hospital.  You're one of the women on the staff there that I know!"

"Wow!", I thought to myself as he continued relating his story.  That was very affirming I thought and my prognostication that I was about to have some secret past revealed was spun around completely and became an affirmation that I was a WOMAN he knew.

It is very interesting, in summation, as to how we are perceived by those who have known us in an earlier life and how we are oft very differently perceived by those who come to meet us in the moment, now, as we are.  Perhaps the most amazing mirage of all is the one we oft continue to see of ourselves when we peer into the mirror and still think we see staring back at us, the person we once physically were.  The visions of who we were remain transcendentally fixed and omnipresent in the mind's eye....but in reality are simply ghosts of the past which, with patience and the melting of memories with time, ultimately find their way fading into oblivion as we ourselves arise anew.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Through the Gateway: Promulgating Change

 I was looking back and reviewing the recent Laverne Cox cover on the upcoming issue of Time Magazine and in awe of this as a yet another marker of how far we have come in transgender issues within even the past year.  We are finding, as transgender individuals, increased visibility within the greater world from all that we are doing.... each and every one of us who proudly herald and proclaim our own sense of self.  The people we touch, whether it be one or one hundred thousand, makes little difference.... because together we ARE bringing light to where there was once only myth, fable and darkness. 

I see Laverne Cox as one of a select few individuals who are as I would call as "keystones" in a gateway to understanding.  She, like many of the popular transgender role models today, fit easily into the "gender binary box".  This is to say that they fit with physical characteristics into either a very male or very female box.  Many of our transgender role models today seem to fit nicely into the visually accepted male or female "box".  Society may not be ready, just yet, to break beyond this.  To me it is a bit disappointing to know that if a person does not possess all of the physical characteristics visually of the gender they know they feel inside, then the validity as perceived by the general world around us somehow and often suddenly comes into question.  I would, for instance, like to see a gender queer person on the cover of Time Magazine but I know the time is not quite right just now for that....but I guarantee that this day will come as society evolves to understand through the help of such "gateway" individuals.

These are thoughts which I have come to consider in my own travels upon the road of life thus far.  The looks and reactions, for instance, of a person who thought I was a natal woman until some moment when a tell tale sign lead them to a revelation of something much, much larger is just amazing.  It is a personal evolution that I witness, time and time again, with almost every person I meet.  It's that wide-eyed look and the look of amazement that I have somehow, in a wonderfully miraculous way, shattered their preconceptions and their misconceptions of a transgender person.

There are certain qualities which go beyond the physical which those who come to know me find to be so transcendent.  Perhaps it is in an open and affirming stance, a willingness to listen and an eagerness to take interest in knowing another and in lauding their own values and their own station in life that is perhaps helpful.

No matter what the recipe seems to be, my way of socializing does seem to be inherently innate.  To be transgender as well simply adds a whole new dimension to allow an individual who comes to know me as a genuine person to also come to realize that being transgender doesn't detract from who I am as a person.  If anything, the revelation of discovery that I am transgender, I have found,  just seems to add a whole new dimension of passive learning simply through their association with me.

That's a huge gift package NOT to use and it's one that I am finding to be an ice breaker of preconceived prejudices and stereotypes of what a transgender person is not and who we really are as people.  So.... I'm out as far and as much as people feel comfortable to want to know about me, within reason of course. I don't talk about plumbing and the physical arrangements, because if they do ask, my response will be that it is non-sequitur to our casual associative acquaintance, just as we do not ask our co-workers and casual friends such personal questions either;  But then I've never had the question of plumbing come up either....ever.  That possibility only exists in my own imagination to date thus far.

I recently was at a local watering hole on a Friday Night.  I often will show up there on those Friday's when they have live entertainment.  I arrived early and my friend, a GG woman, called to let me know she would not be there for another hour or more because of her attendance to her mother's care at home.  I made my self as comfortable as I could in a very crowded and very noisy bar as I sipped my glass of wine and exchanged pleasantries with the bar staff while having a sandwich for dinner.

There was only one open seat just to my left and the owner of the establishment came by and saw me sitting alone, relaxing and just chilling out, my seat swiveled outward onto the many occupied tables and beyond to the band that was playing in the far alcove.  He came right up and sat right down next to me.  We've known each other casually at that bar for years and we always exchanged in some level of small-talk to some degree.  Tonight though was different.  Since he is a pilot and I have work experience in the FAA and in meteorology, we were very quickly, over the din of the music, discussing weather patterns, bombogenesis of storms, relationships of weather to oceanic currents and thermal gradients and much more.

At some point, the conversation shifted and the owner mentioned how he has enjoyed talking to me over the years about such diverse subjects and that he considered me not only an intelligent and articulate individual, but also as he said, "a good person".   That was quite a compliment embedded within those few words.  I reaffirmed his sentiments and added that I considered myself to be a person of scientific principle; a person who felt that all things had quantifiable basis and that everything, if we looked deep enough, could be explained
I thanked him and added that I have always tried to understand the world around me and to explain it in logical means.  I further opened the door by stating that this included garnering an understanding of my own sense of self.  He took the crack in the door I provided and asked me politely if it would not be too much to chat about it sometime under quieter circumstances.  I of course said that I did not find it intrusive and that I respected him in his affirming response to me that he was simply trying to learn more.

I am cognizant of when a person is wanting to learn because of their desire to achieve the same sort of understanding I have to come to know for myself, about myself.  I also realize that the average person who is not gender variant by nature will have many more challenges, simply by virtue of their lack of perspective and an inability to grasp at the concept and fully materialize it.  I see this as an opportunity to be open and to dispel myth from mythology and to replace misconception with actualities.  It is not an opportunity nor a reason for me to say, "This is none of your business"....at least for me.  This is a huge opportunity for me to be able to integrate closely enough with others and to be able to weave in a level of comprehension and of learning that can, in small ways, make HUGE differences.  I see this as well within so many of us who are blessed as transgender and I can envision such an amazing potential.

"Passive learning, through a person's own ability to come to a conclusion, will trump each and every time the achievements which one may try to achieve through lecture, rhetoric and simply demanding.  Prove who you are as a person and most people will naturally come to see what is real and what they held prior to be an intangible illusion of myth and fear."

I believe we all have the ability to become advocates, like Laverne Cox, of our own worlds and the people who surround us in our own lives.  Whether it is one person or one hundred thousand, we each have the power together to achieve great strides in our society.  The gender continuum is an amazing thing and I am proud to know the many people in my life who take up their own place in residence upon any number of points along its infinite expanse in either direction.  We each bring our own uniqueness to the world and our own nuance of color to the mosaic of humanity.  If we only touch one life even in the process, we yet still touch many more in so doing.  One person touched by our journey is a messenger to many others and so we touch, indirectly, a plethora of people in each person in the process.

The gateway is opening and we are seeing the first well known notes of a yet unheard symphony of humanity just beginning to be played.  There is, yet to be heard, the full orchestral movement; the "tour de force"  yet to come.  But the gateway is open and people are beginning to see what once was behind the shrouded veil.  There is much more to come.....the music has only just started.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Some days just reaffirm my faith in humanity

A couple of random incidents yesterday combined to really light up my day and reaffirm my faith in hope for the human race.  I will admit that it is often simply the very few individuals who conspire to make life an obstacle course of hurdles and whose actions shadow the majority of the good and the love which truly permeates the world at its core.

I was in BJ's yesterday stocking my shopping cart with the necessities of life and, for the life of me, could not find the one last item I was looking for.... a case of Annie's Macaroni and Cheese.  I spied a woman busily stocking a shelf and assumed she was a store employee.  I approached and asked her if she knew where the Mac and Cheese was and she replied that she was simply a contract vendor and not a regular store employee.  I apologized for my assumption and we engaged in small talk for a few moments in the crowded store.

I consigned myself to the fact that I would be one item short of my list when I headed to the checkout.  About halfway through my self-service checkout process, I saw the woman I was talking to earlier walking towards me and, with a beaming smile on her face, said she was looking for me and was glad she found me, telling me she had found the Mac&Cheese but was not sure if I had left the store.  She asked if I still wanted it and I replied that I didn't want her to go through the trouble to run half a football field back through the cavernous aisles of the warehouse just to grab me a case of Mac&Cheese but there she was, returning with it, clutched against her chest as she met me at the register.  I reached out to thank her and she could sense that I was visibly moved by the gesture.  Here was a person who I would likely never see again in my life and she had so gone out of her way, not even being a store employee, to offer such a kind gesture.   I reached out as a gesture to her in thanking her and I'm pretty sure she would have given me a huge hug. She made my day and I let her know how much her thoughtfulness and empathy were appreciated.

From BJ's, I headed up to Pizzeria Uno's where I was to meet with J who would be coming in from the other direction to meet up with me there.  I arrived at Uno's about 10 minutes prior to J's arrival and so decided to head in and grab a table rather than to sit in the parking lot.  I must have made a great impression the last time I was at Uno's and talked to our waitress because there was a huge light-up when I entered the restaurant.  Three women: Two waitresses and a greeter were at the entry podium and one was Denise, our waitress I had a couple of weeks ago.  I greeted her by name and the faces just lit up as they all seemed to recognize me.  Denise was getting off shift and said she would put us with Adam who would take care of us and as she indicated, "have us well taken care of".

Adam, our server came by and introduced himself to me as I sat quietly in the booth just across from the bar waiting for J to arrive.   Small talk and a sigh let out from me, gave motive of response from him to ask if I had had a busy week.  I indicated that it was a busy week of work but also that I had been involved with a three hour "staff meeting" for a political coalition to address specific human rights issues within the state of New Hampshire.  He inquired as to what those initiatives were and I decided, right there, to not miss a beat and to go with it.  I told him that in the state of New Hampshire, a person cannot be fired from the their job, cannot be denied public housing or accommodation or discriminated against simply by their race, creed, color, sex or sexuality.  I further revealed that I was working as part of a team to assist in adding those who identify as transgender to that list.

He did not bat an eye when I mentioned the word transgender, which surprised me a little personally, but in a really warm and affirming way.  I was pretty sure that even if I had been under the radar in stealth earlier, that I more than likely just outed myself at that point.  Amazingly, the conversation intensity picked up as he indicated his surprise in the fact that transgender protection was NOT included in the current state constitutional amendments.  His words to me were, "I thought that was over and done with a long time ago and "by the boards"".  He then related his own political affirmations which made it obvious that he was totally for an amendment favoring transgender inclusive human rights.

J arrived and the rest of the evening went superbly as we interacted with a number of the staff who seemed to come by our table to "assist".  After paying my check and proceeding to exit, the manager who was an older gentleman, caught me and engaged me in some small talk for some time as we exchanged pleasantries of rural life.

I cannot help but think that there were impressions made and thoughts left with the interactions with the staff at that restaurant.  I cannot get over what I sense are these warm and affirming smiles for some unknown reason when I bump into people randomly.  It was visibly and emotionally moving to me on that day to find such warmth and outpouring of hospitality, inquisitiveness and human empathy as I found in these simple human interactions on simply a random day.  Amazing.....

I feel that Maya Angelou sums this experience up best when she said:

"People will forget what you said
People will forget what you did
But people will never forget how you made them feel.
"