Monday, June 25, 2007

Life in Denial

As I've recounted before I spent over 10 years living in denial of my transgenderism. This was after I was discovered by my wife, and in my poor reaction to this I decided that I would just walk away from my cross dressing. Of course, if you have read any of my writings you already know how this worked out. I just want to document how I dealt with denial and why I now feel it was very naive of me to assume that this was ever going to work.

First off - how am I defining "denial"? It's not as if I didn't think about my transgenderism, or even that I didn't have "lapses" and do some dressing. For the most part, it had to do with me trying to not dress, and for me to publicly not give any hints as to the fact that I had at one time dressed. It was the only time in my life where I can say I went years without dressing.

Anyway, after my discovery by my wife I told her I believe it is a choice and that I can choose to stop, so I put a renewed effort into living the male role full-time. What I ended pu doing was trying to act somewhat macho, to the point of being very curt with people and just focusing on "solving the problem" or "getting over it." Cry at a movie? Men don't do that. Kids acting up? Punish them, let them know who's boss! Wife complaining too much? Women, sheesh! And no shopping with my wife - shopping put me near temptation, and no opportunity, not desire, right? I would complain very loudly if I was being dragged out shopping, in fact. Oh, and insensitive - that was my middle name. Focusing on things that I needed or wanted.

And this I think had extra negative results on our son, who is bipolar. I would practice "tough love" which is about the worst thing you could do for a child with this issue. And I would try to help him to just "tough it out" and tell him such loving things as "don't whine so much" and other things.

What an asshole I was.

Now, sometimes, a show would come on that had a crossdresser or a transsexual character. I would dread those moments, as inevitably my wife would ask me if I still wanted to dress. "No!" I would scream in a huff. "How dare you even ask me that? I said I was over it, and I'm over it!" And she would apologize and pull away just a little bit more. Perhaps if I said it enough, I would believe it, maybe.

And I put on over fifty pounds during that time. I also had a major recurrence of asthma from my youth (I couldn't breath at one point, and needed emergency treatment). I got high blood pressure for the first time in my life. And I had a major asthma attack. So I went on a ton of medication to try to manage my health - so much that I felt you could choke a horse with it. So not only am I being a jerk to everyone, but I'm killing myself at the same time.

I did have two major lapses. We moved to the New York City area, and I was living alone for several months. I discovered Lee's Mardi Gras Botique in the city and visited there once. I met Lee Brewster - an amazing person. It was heaven, trying on clothes (shocked the sales clerk when he saw how well I could navigate a pair of 5 inch heels!). That place was heaven! When I heard she had died I was so very sad. I did visit the area a couple of years ago, but the area has yuppie-fied and there is no trace anywhere.

The second time was during a several month period when I was traveling to another city for work once a week. I bought a pair of heels, pantyhose, and a nightgown (what a combination) that I wore a couple of times in the hotel room. I only did this on one trip, but I still have all that stuff. I decided to file it away in my office and if I ever had the urge again get it out. What was good was that was the first time I didn't purge my stuff. This was a year or two before I finally, irrevocably accepted that I was transgendered.

I was always thinking about it over the years I was in denial. I drive at least a half hour each way to and from work every day. I would often think about dressing, or transgendered people. I really had so few contacts with transgendered people that I just couldn't understand what it was all about. I would mix sexuality and gender identity all up in this one big ball, and even though I said the words "I'm not gay" I was so terrified that I was (terrified because I did love my wife, and if I somehow was gay after all I would end up inflicting a lot of pain on her - thankfully I think I'm now at a point where I know my own sexuality, but that came as part of acceptance and understanding).

As a software developer I would go to conferences, and sometimes I would run into this one person I knew who transitioned. You really couldn't tell she was transgendered. I acted very cool to her, because I was terrified that I might fall out of denial, and I wasn't ready for that.

Towards the end was when I had to evict my father from his house because he had Alzheimer's and couldn't function living alone any more. Seeing him become a shell of his former self was hard, and his death was a big moment in my life. I realized that this could be my future as well. I learned through his ordeal that a side-effect of Alzheimer's disease is that libido goes up, and I started to worry. If I come down with it, will I start running around a nursing home in a dress and being another sex-crazed octogenarian? That really unnerved me.

I also saw the movie Transamerica with my wife. I was very fascinated by this movie for obvious reasons, After watching it We had the usual "do you still want to dress" conversation, but this time I wasn't the jerk I normally was. I was still denying it, but at the same time I was running things through my head and starting to really confront my transgenderism, and I was trying to be more understanding to my wife. So the denial was weaker. Eventually, I came to accept that it wasn't going away, that it was a big part of me, and I needed to understand how to incorporate it into my life so I could manage it. I'm now well into that process with my wife, and I feel as if we got a "do-over" on a lot of things.

In my case a life in denial of transgenderism was a life of fear, deceit, and anger. I was so unhappy and miserable that I often made other people's lives horrible at times. I'm still trying to undo the junk that I've done to myself and to others. I still feel that fear every day, and the lies are very tough to overcome.

And it didn't work.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

25 Years of Working

Today is the first day of summer this year. It's also the 25th anniversary of my entry into the working world. I tend to get wistful and start thinking about how things were then versus now.

  • Then: My father was a month away from remarrying. Now: My stepmother passed away in 1995, and my father went through several years of suffering with Alzheimer's Disease before he passed at the end of 2005.

  • Then: I was engaged to be married to the woman I loved and who I thought loved me. Now: I know my wife loves me a lot now, but then I was a "safe harbor" from a really painful life. I still love her.

  • Then: I was on one of my umpteenth-million attempts to run away from being transgendered. A fiance, a new job, no longer in school. Who had time to be trans? I would dress occasionally, but whenever I did I knew it was the last time I'd ever do it. Now: It's not going away. I have accepted that I am transgendered.

I remember the first day of work, starting out in my best suit, sitting in the Personnel office of the company (Human Resources was still called Personnel then). They did process control equipment, and I had absolutely no clue what the heck I was going to do. I was a programmer - I wrote programs. I didn't really care about things like "System-level" or "Application" tags that were put in front of programmer - I was just happy to be working. That was the way I was raised.

My parents were never all that well off. I was starting a job, no experience, no life experience, and I was already making a lot more than my father made. He was a young child during the depression in the 30's, and thinking back that and his experiences in World War II shaped his attitudes a lot. He was a really great guy, but he wasn't the easiest to get close to, and I'm sure he didn't know how to deal with this selfish 20-something idiot who knew nothing. But I also know he was very proud of how I was handling myself in my life compared to most of my other siblings.

He was also still in pain from my mother's death a few years earlier. It was a car accident - a kid driving the other way on a snowy morning losing control of his car and front-ending my parents. My mother died instantly, and he barely survived. I remember being in college getting ready for a class and finding a note taped to a cash register in the student union with my name on it. It told me to go to security, where I found out my parents had been in an accident. Some campus security guards drove me to the hospital, but the ride is a blur. A woman greeted me there and walked me to the room my father was in. He was being prepped for emergency surgery but was alive. On the walk she told me "Your mother expired, and your father might not survive." So here I was, a stupid kid, about to see my father for what might be the last time, knowing my mother was gone, not knowing if he knew so I couldn't bring up anything. My father was as good as he could be, considering. My brother and two of my sisters were there with him.

All of this was running through my head that morning as I waited for the Personnel rep to greet me. What a strange trip life had taken me on, and I was only at the very beginning of my adult life.

Within a month, though, the company announced financial hard times, and we all had to take a temporary ten percent paycut for about six months, but I was so happy to be working I wasn't about to complain. And there were layoffs in the next couple of months, but I was lucky then as now (I have had a lot of luck here - I've never been laid off, and I've always left a job on my own terms, even if I didn't know what I was doing when I did it).

I used to spend time wondering what-if about a lot of things, but I learned that there's very little point in wasting time doing that. I'm still here, alive, healthy enough, and providing for my family. And I would love to thank everybody who I've worked with, or who took a chance on me, for giving me the opportunities that I have had. I know I've let some of you down in the past, but I have always given the best that I could at any moment. I really appreciate how you all have helped me to become the person I am now.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

One trans community?

When I first started to come out I was searching for ways to get in touch with other transgendered people - crossdressers, transsexuals, etc. I lived under the belief that despite their differences the "trans community" was united by some intangible I couldn't identify. One thing that was amazing was how quickly trans people accepted me - it was shocking the day that I was first added to someone's friends list.

As the days, weeks, and months wore on I started to get a sense of something not quite right with my community view. But I persisted with the notion anyway, and even was taking to the practice I saw of calling some of the trans-people I met sisters. I did this to a very select few. And that intangible was a little smaller in my eyes but still real.

Time marched on. I started to see more divisions - some by economic situation (people railing against rich transsexuals or those who had easy access to medical support), and also divisions between crossdressers and transsexuals, or some people defining transgendered as a person who "chooses" to change their sex whereas a transsexual was a person who had no choice - their physical sex didn't match their bodies. But despite these issues I still stubbornly clung to the idea that we are a community. Hey, we all face discrimination! Any of us could be fired if a boss didn't like the fact that we were transgendered. The non-trans people mostly don't see differences between us.

Some days the voices of division were quite loud to me. I started to question my belief in this trans community. The intangible was so small I started to doubt it existed. But I could see places where there were transgendered people coming together! This didn't make sense to me.

After more thinking I started to realize - yes, I saw a trangendered community. In fact, I belonged to several transgendered communities, some of whom shared members (like me). UR Not Alone, the My Husband Betty forums,, Tri-ess, Renaissance, etc. Overlapping communities of trans people. And sometimes these communities come together, and sometimes they don't, and people join and leave them as they see fit. And there are transgendered people who don't belong to any of these communities and are alone (often closeted and in hiding, but not always).

I no longer believe in the transgender community. It's not important. But that intangible does exist - our right to be treated with the same respect and dignity as people who are not trans. We have a right to live and work as ourselves and not be punished because we don't conform to someone else's views. After all, to quote Shakespeare (from The Merchant of Venice):

If you prick us, do we not bleed?/ If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you/ poison us, do we not die?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Coming Out Trans - Take Two

I've started to put some work back into my web site to help trans-people come out to their family and friends - Coming Out Trans ( I wish I had been able to put a lot more work into it earlier, and I wish I could blame others for the reason why it's taken me so long to get this site up, but a few issues got in the way:

  • I got overly ambitious. I do a lot of design of web infrastructures, and I thought I could come up with a nice, simple, easy-to-use infrastructure for web sites. I think I did, but I needed to put a lot more effort to make it easier for me to let others start making modifications to the site. I still want to finish the framework, but getting the site up became more important to me than building tools and massaging my ego. I'm now using PmWiki as my infrastructure (not a great choice, but it was easy for me to get it up quickly with this).

  • The inital site was ugly and hard to read. With a more standard infrastructure I could change the look-and-feel quite easily (and others could as well).

  • I got overloaded at work and in life. This more than anything else made it important to me that I had an infrastructure that was easier to use. Frankly, the content is very time-consuming to create or find and format, and I need to get another pair of eyes and hands involved.

One other thing that slowed development of the site - I realize that I have a mild form of depression that I'm dealing with. If I could blame it all on being trans it might be easier, but there are a lot of other issues that got in the way. One good thing about this, though, is that I tend to be self-bootstrapping in that whenever I get depressed I tend to find ways to climb out of the deep valleys. The down side is, of course, that I occasionally get such deep valleys.

In my soul I'm an optimist, and when I'm depressed I sometimes lose sight of my optimism , start wallowing in self-pity, and become very self-indulgent. It's not good, and I hate that feeling. On the other hand, my optimism is probably why I can get out of a deep depressed mood as easy as I can.

Anyway, please feel free to check out the site - Coming Out Trans. And if you have any questions or comments please feel free to let me know.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Blogging for LGBT Families

I am adding my voice to this effort. I am a representative of a family where one of the partners is transgendered and closeted. I have a very loving and understanding wife and two wonderful college-age children. Apart from my wife no one really knows that I am transgendered. Telling children at this age is very dicey, and add to that the problem that my son has a depression issue and it manifests itself towards me (the father figure) and it's quite a challenge.

That's a very big challenge that we in the closet face when we have teenage children. Part of it is that our kids are coming to grips with puberty and their own sexuality. How does our "gender variance" affect this? There is a lot of theory and some really good anecdotal stories, but I really don't know if there has been any serious research on this topic (I think not, as the research into transgendered families seems to be very sparse, based on my own experiences in trying to find out what's going on here).

Take my daughter, for example. She is a big All My Children fan. As you may know, they had a transgendered character on there over the winter. My wife was watching an episode with her one day and my daughter told her that she could understand how a person could be transsexual but that crossdressers were "creepy". My wife did challenge her on this point, but not so far as to possibly clue her into me and my situation. I think this is mostly due to the way transgendered people are presented in the media - we're either psychopaths, sociopaths, prostitutes, or buffoons. How is she to think anything else? That she's open to transsexuals is a big bonus. And this is a girl who's been active in promoting gay marriage (she's straight but believes that everybody should be entitled to the benefits of marriage, and sees civil unions as yet another "separate but equal" approach that turns gay couples into second-class citizens).

All that reminds me is that there is still fragmentation in how we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves, and that we have a lot of work to do to reach acceptance. One of my goals is to make sure our children find this path (and my wife has been wonderful in this, too - I have watched her attitude grow here in ways that have amazed me to no end. She struggles with my transgenderism but somehow still shows me so much love. I am so lucky to have her!)