Open Space for Transition

I’ve been almost confused at times in the past few weeks as to why my mood is suddenly so much better than it has been in months. I realized today that a good part of the calm I’m feeling is the fact that I am no longer being misgendered* countless times every day. The few times it’s happened in recent weeks, it has stung just as much as it did in the past, but having it occur once a week doesn’t deplete my mental resources the same way more frequent misgenderings do. In addition, I’ve been getting “he/him” pronouns in one of my social media groups, which, although inaccurate, is much less painful than the ones I’m used to getting.

I can simply be myself now, and don’t have to put much effort into my appearance or being “read” correctly. Every now and again, I remind myself that I’m on T and that it will continue to affect how I look, because I’m a little worried I’ll first take a good look at myself in August, which is when I anticipate having to return to in-person work, and not recognize myself anymore if I don’t attend to the subtle changes that are happening.

I absolutely love not having to contend with others’ views of me and not needing to absorb their judgments unless I want to (in that I can choose when and how I engage much more than I could in the past). I don’t want this way of life to end, but I don’t think I can maintain my income anywhere near its current level if I try to work from home on an ongoing basis after this crisis ends. It is important, though, to know that enjoying minimal in-person contact isn’t a false fantasy I’m conjuring, but a lived reality I’m appreciating.

I have to fully re-start working from home tomorrow, so it will be highly interesting to observe how much of my positive attitude relates to the decrease in transphobia I’m experiencing and how much relates to the PTSD triggers which will start to pick up once I have more online interaction. I have seven weeks to get through and then I will have a few months off this summer. At the minimum, doing everything I can to be able to take the summers off consistently is a top priority for me in order to meet my personal and mental health needs as much as I can.

*My heart goes out to trans people that are currently trapped in abusive and unwelcoming environments because of stay-in-place orders. Here are some resources specific to COVID-19 and the trans community.

  1. Trans Equality
  2. Trans Lifeline
  3. Trans Advocate

As a Matter of Fact…

We are moving into a time of year that feels expansive, active and dynamic. There is one aspect of how I approach people, though, that I feel still needs to be shed to allow me to open to the growth that awaits. I feel the need to prove my intelligence, knowledge and intellectual capacity to others and/or to educate them out of their ignorance. Were I a man rather than a non-binary person, I could see myself easily labeled as someone who “mansplains.” Gender aside, I am definitely a “know-it-all.”

I was raised by parents with little education; my mother did not attend college and my father did not go to high school. They were genuinely lacking some of the skills and information needed for the modern world. For example, I had to learn everything about colleges, scholarship and financial aid on my own. Being able to grasp information without any assistance was a requirement for me to be able to succeed; there was no hand to hold onto.

I then chose education as my career, a form of employment that is heavily focused on disseminating knowledge and helping others develop critical thinking skills. I am talented in altering how I explain a topic based on the abilities and capacity of my audience members. I am not nearly as good at guiding people in terms of de-emphasizing my own role in their intellectual gains, even though I try to encourage others as much as I can.

These intertwining factors have led me to need to precise and accurate in what I say, and to say it with conviction. Tentativeness tends to get read, especially for people who aren’t seen as men, as a lack of knowledge. I speak forcefully and with conviction.

Where things go awry is perfectly illustrated in gleaning information about the coming pandemic. I am anxious to my core about the potential fall-out of the situation and I cope with my anxiety by arming myself with a wall of research and facts. This information, though, simply bounces around in my head without direction or purpose, after I take all the logical steps for myself that it implies I should. I then struggle and fail to contain it to my own preparation, but instead attempt to inspire others to take reasonable steps to avert danger. All this ends up in me reciting information such as pandemic death rates to people who are overly optimistic, ill-informed, disinterested and/or secure that their unacknowledged privilege will shield them. I keep telling myself “they aren’t worth the effort” and “my energy is being wasted” but, at the same time, I have nowhere to channel what I’ve digested.

I want to be able to influence people. It feels unbelievably validating to hear someone tell me they thought about something I told them or that they took an action because of a message I shared. In all my years growing up, despite my knowledge base and capacity outweighing my parents’ education, I did not feel heard or seen. It felt like the energy I devoted to try to better the life of my family went into a black hole. When my current life touches that thread, I retreat to avoid getting pulled into a “help me; you’re useless” scenario.

I find two streams of thought emerging from this reflection. First, I need to find additional outlets for my abilities, and, second, I need those avenues to be fruitful. I would rather bite my tongue than be dismissed by someone unable to recognize that, in regards to most topics most days, I do indeed know what I’m talking about. Or, I at least want to stop the flow towards those unyielding shores as quickly as I can. I found myself drawn to playing online games like Sudoku and crosswords this past week, and I see now that the increase in my desire to do so is a direct result of both feeling like I am not being intellectually challenged enough and, at the same time, that there is no place for what I’ve absorbed.

As I sit with this a moment longer, I see that, even if I find ways to occupy my mind that I deem useful, I must work as well on my delivery. I know I come across in a graceless way at times. I want to inspire intellectual appetite and curiosity in others and I have a lot of personal growth I need to do in order to achieve that end-goal. Knowing things is one skill; leading others to want to know things benefits the greater good. What is your relationship with obtaining factual knowledge and sharing it with others? Are you more likely to call others “know-it-alls” or be labeled as one yourself? In what ways do you keep yourself intellectually engaged, and/or encourage others to learn?

Coloring to Reflect (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I finally started a page in the “Trans Affirming Coloring Book” I purchased a while back. I do not like to engage with the human figure in any way artistically, for reasons I do not fully understand. The adult coloring book seemed like a low-risk way to explore some of my feelings and thoughts on this.

I recall having dolls as a child, and sketching human figures as a young teenager. I then went on to develop an eating disorder which may have been the start of my lack of comfort. I think it was when I came into awareness of the extent of my trauma history and my dissociation that I not only disliked looking at myself in the mirror, but also began to have substantial difficulty in connecting with any form of artwork that related to a person/the human body. I prefer visual art that is either abstract or of natural settings with no people present.

The longer I’m sitting with this topic, the more it makes me think I need to create a self-portrait so that I can approach rather than avoid this topic. I didn’t think twice about the fact that the coloring book sat unused for months on my living room table, but I now see that it represents a huge block I have inside of me in regards to how I relate to myself. I want to ease myself into the idea of sitting in front of a mirror or looking a photograph of myself to create an image, so I will start by completing more pages in it. How do you feel in regards to images of people? Have you ever created a self-portrait? What reflections have coloring books shown you?

Appreciating Risk

Being on T has led to so much unexpected personal growth for me; I was unprepared for the mental effects I would experience. The best way I can describe it is having an internal slider that can shift from a fine-grained, nuanced painting to one with broad and bold strokes of color. When I need clarity and decision-making, the lines are clear and I can make a choice. When careful deliberation and a weighing of multiple competing needs is relevant, I can zoom in with great detail. I hope that the easy/simple option doesn’t start to outweigh the more nuanced one over time if I continue to use low-dose T.

A specific area of my life where this new experience of flexibility is showing up is in interpersonal relationships. I find myself speaking where before I would have suppressed my voice; my inner bravery in being honest with myself is being shared with others. Alongside my growing fondness for hearing my own voice (cringe!), I find myself feeling calmer in confronting others. The feeling of “this needs to be said” is taking precedence over “what harm might I experience if I say this.” It isn’t that my assessments of situations are necessarily changing, but my risk/reward balance is shifting. Almost bizarrely, people are starting to listen to me! I find myself being taken more seriously, although it is too soon to tell if it is in regard to a particular situation or a general shift. I do not know what will continue to change physically or cognitively, but I am here for it and am appreciative of being able to see the simple and complex at the same time. If you are on HRT as a trans and/or non-binary person, please feel free to share if anything I’ve described fits for you or if your experience has been different.

Owning My Depth

I’m definitely in a mood today after the experience I’d predicted might lead to marginalization and transphobia did not let me down in its vexations. I’m not certain as how much my perceptions of others are accurate right now and how much they are colored by a T-inspired blunted depression, but I feel as though, much of the time, I am surrounded by shallow people. People who are flippant and who, although they are capable of being loving and caring to those who are like them, do not concern themselves with the needs of those whom society pushes to its fringes. Indeed, they are the ones, through their complicity and outright discrimination, who encourage the different to be viewed as deviant.

I’m as flawed as the next person, as self-centered and self-righteous as anyone you’ll meet, but I know it. I do not deny the bitter, the ugly and the hating parts of who I am. I may struggle at times to rein them in and to befriend them, but I’ve explored the cracks between the veneer of civility I wear when I feel like being “nice.” I check my assumptions and examine my motivations for areas of bias. I have blessed to know a few people who have depth not only in the integrity of their character but also their willingness to acknowledge where they lack character.

I don’t know how to relate to people who are shallow, especially when I think they are causing harm by their un-examined way of gliding obliviously through life. It isn’t that I take the ignorance that they spew personally, it is that I view them as, at the end of the day, a bad person. A person who denies and invalidates the suffering of others and who refuses to listen or change when they are told their actions are harmful is not merely misguided or incompetent. They are willfully making the world a worse place and I find accepting that they are able to do so unchecked to be an injustice.

Perhaps all I can do right now is to focus on the persuadable, those who are interested in exploring their own inner assumptions, and to know that, because they can potentially do better and do good, they are worthy of much more of my attention and focus than are those who show no interest in being challenged. There are lost causes when it comes to addressing privilege. To the lost causes, I can try to stand up to them in group contexts and to mitigate the harm they cause. It is likely, if I sit with it long enough, I will come to know that my willingness to write someone off and declare them “cancelled” reveals not only the shallowness of their character, but also an uncharted territory of inner contempt I hold into which wells of compassion may need to soak.

How do you handle responding to people you perceive to be shallow, if that is a characterization you hold of them? How do you stand up to injustice? How do you come to know your own assumptions and biases?

OUT AND LOUD

I have been out as a non-binary trans person for about ten months and on low-dose T about six months, so I thought it would be a good time to spend some time processing my experiences thus far. I want to consider both how I am relating to my body as well as how I am relating to others from this place of a deeper understanding of myself. Finally, I want to consider what I would like to focus on going forward.

PHysical Changes

I have had ambivalence about being on T ever since I started it. I want my voice to drop, a bit of fat redistribution, increased muscle mass and mental changes. I am a lot less interested in hair changes. Thus far, it has been a mixed bag. My body hair is darkening but is not extremely different than it was. I also find myself not caring about it at times and bothered by it more at other times. I have had some increases in feelings of depression since starting T, but I do not think they are all due to the physical effects of it. In general, I feel more alert and my body aches are so much better than they used to be. My voice has lowered slightly but not quite as much as I would like it to. Because my job involves speaking, it has been so nice to feel like I can project my voice with less effort. I keep waiting for an internal indication that I need to cut my dose or go off of T because I am being more affected than I am comfortable with, but so far, it hasn’t come.

Social Changes

I have lost a few friendships since coming out as a trans non-binary person. I think being true to myself has led me to be more willing to follow through on creating a safe environment for myself and less willing to tolerate people’s ridiculousness. I’ve always been a decisive person, but T has helped me back up my inner knowing with action.

As a trans person, I’ve come to understand what it means to center advocacy work around the people who are most affected by bias and discrimination in a particular social justice realm (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.). This understanding, coupled with the intensity with which I’ve always approached moral issues, had led me to have a “no shits given” response to cis people’s lack of understanding and/or concern for the needs of trans people, and has helped me to better understand why I need to step back, listen and elevate the voices of others in areas where I have privilege. It has made it harder for me to engage in close relationship with people who lack this insight, but also more appreciative of those who grasp it.

Future plans

I need more (any!) trans people in my everyday life! I am hoping to be more engaged in pride events and such this summer and will hopefully meet people with whom I can form a connection. I have been presented with several opportunities to talk with cis people in a formal training setting about the experiences of trans people as well as how to act in solidarity, but I would love to be able to find places to direct support trans people. Finally, I want to continue to be vocal at least in my state in regards to the rights and needs of trans people. Things are going badly on the legislative front for trans youth in several states and, in addition to advocating for their needs, I want to be vigilant to ensure similar discrimination doesn’t ensue where I live.

If you are a trans and/or a non-binary person, are there topics that you would like to read about and/or discuss? How has your experience been going this last year?

Dulled Senses, Empty Body

CW: Discussion of dissociation, PTSD and effects of trauma

After a long weekend during which my illness and the weather has kept me house-bound, I am finding myself feeling and acting disconnected and detached. As part of my chronic PTSD, I struggle with dissociation, which manifests in varying degrees. At its most extreme, I feel physically numb and unbound by the normal constraints of time and place, unsure of where I am, who I am and what is happening. Today isn’t like that, but is instead a more subtle form in which I feel deflated, apathetic, mentally dulled and aloof. The more I try to find myself in terms of sensing my body, the farther from it I feel.

I’ve been in and out of crisis mode after a series of severe triggers last holiday season. I know that seeking accommodations at my job is likely to lead to a confrontation of some sort, whether it is in needing to advocate further for what I need or dealing with the fallout if I get what I’ve requested. On days like today, where I know a storm is coming but the weather is perfectly calm for now, I shut off to a degree that all of my creativity, spirituality and even my connection to my physical being feels severed. Internally, I’ve gathered all the valuables and am boarding up the windows and doors, even though I feel so calm in my actions that the shift seems invisible.

As I sit with this reality, the relational disasters I’ve endured make more sense. Someone triggers me, but only the parts of me who protect me fully perceive the danger. They scatter inside me and prepare to abandon ship, but I’m still listening to the band play and enjoying my dinner, oblivious to the coming calamity. When everything lists and panic ensues, I’m somehow already at the head of the line for the lifeboats, but can’t understand how the small gesture or unkind word was the tipping point. In other words, I perceive events through multiple filters, and have already pulled the plug without knowing I was about to do so, yet am conscious of my decision to jump overboard after a more minor rattling or shaking–
“the final straw”–occurs.

It’s terrifying to feel that the leavings I take are pre-ordained and mostly out of my control. Yet, I have not regretted very many of them, irrational though they seemed at the time. It is scarier still to feel hollowed-out in the moments between the initial decision and the final withdrawal, abandoned yet waiting to run. I think I’m afraid but I can’t feel fear, because fear could quicken my footsteps too much and I wouldn’t successfully plot my course. So instead I am feeling and knowing nothing but the awareness that an signal is coming and I will need to, with immense speed and focus, react to it when it occurs. I’m living wartime again, the battle of a childhood of indifference and hatred punctuated by sheer terror and violation.

Self-care is only conceptual to me right now. I can try to rest but will drift into flashbacks. I can reach out to a friend but may endanger my relationship by being easily triggered. My main coping skills are to immerse myself in television and stories, so that other people’s stories replace my singular one into which all the threads of my life weave and to gorge myself on unhealthy foods so that the confines of body become known to me again. I intensely and spontaneously craved junk food yesterday for the first time in weeks and couldn’t understand why, but its purpose now seems clear. I shut down to conserve energy for the fight to come, even though my methods likely soften rather than harden my defenses.

I will come back to myself and will come more whole again. I’m in a temporary state of dissociation after repeated triggers that overwhelmed my healthier abilities to cope. Were I hysterically crying or having panic attacks, it would be easier to first detect and to then address my needs. It is substantially more difficult to notice the lack of a normal reaction as opposed to an exaggerated one, but they can both be equally destabilizing. Have you ever dealt with dissociation? How does it tend to affect you? What do you do to cope with apathy and detachment?

Not Backing Down

I’m back at work and the misgendering is already in full gear. I also received several lectures about how asking people to treat me the same way I treat them (by gendering me correctly) is way too much to ask. It’s invalidation after invalidation. When I’m invalidated, I’m sent the message that I don’t matter and that the other person’s comfort is more important than the recognition of my full existence. The harm is multiplied when someone then goes into why what I am asking for is such a burden and so difficult for them to manage.

In sitting with these experiences, I feel prodded to share the pain that they cause me with the people who cause them. The issue with doing this is any guilt they feel will likely lead to increased defensiveness and additional invalidation. I do think that it is worth speaking about the dysphoria misgendering causes to a wider audience, as those who are capable of empathy and compassion will be motivated to stand in solidarity with trans people and to correct others who harm us.

One of the biggest costs I am enduring is increased isolation because putting myself in environments in which I know someone will harm and no one will do anything about it is Retraumatization 101 for me. My complex PTSD/dissociation issues are creeping into my experiences as an open trans person in that I am triggered by feelings of betrayal and elements of abuse when people carry on as though I am the binary gender I was assigned at birth. These same people ignore my mental health issues on the whole as well, so the layers of invalidation are starting to stack quite high.

As I sit with this experience for a longer period of time, what I realize is that the powerful vulnerability I set as part of my mission statement for 2020 has to be targeted in its application. I do not need to open up to the people who are hurting me. I need to open up to the people who can do something about it, namely to my HR department and potential legal resources at my disposal.

I don’t have an option to run away when my employment is at stake, so I need to assemble my game plan. What disgusts me in this is the fact that trans people can be stereotyped as being litigious, when, along with other marginalized groups, I’m coming to see the reason we may be viewed that way is that our attempts at soliciting respect through interpersonal means are completely disregarded. A person can only take so much mistreatment before they have to stand up for themselves. I have little faith in the legal system, but I know any progress I might make will pave the path for anyone who comes after me.

In considering what I am dealing with in the context of the many forms of oppression and marginalization that exist in American society, the commonality that I find is a commitment to responding to the whims and proclivities of those who already have a disproportionate amount of power. In my situation, those who are cis-het are sheltered from the consequences of their exploitation of those of us who do not or can not conform to their worldview. This toxic stew is further concentrated in the power of its poison for those who face racism, xenophobia and the like.

I feel so disgusted in knowing that the people who mistreat me have vulnerable young people who trust them and look up to them, ripe for harm as their unchecked prejudices and biases play out. As this feeling of revulsion rises in me, I always come back to the same thought: I can never slip fully into us/them; I am vulnerable to the same prejudices and biases and must be vigilant in my own inner work in this area. I must do better and I must do what I can to force those whose bias harms me to do better. We can only change ourselves, but we can seek consequences for bad behavior. If you are trans and/or non-binary, where are you at on a scale from acquiescence to riot in terms of how you respond to misgendering? Where have you turned to for support? How have you taken care of yourself in these experiences?

Trans-Androgynous, Non-Binary and More

As it’s the end of the year and I’m engaging in a lot of internal processing, I decided to spend some time reflecting on my journey thus far being out as a trans and non-binary person. I will be discussing my current way of conceptualizing my gender. I will also talk about both social and physical dysphoria and how they affect me.

Self-Understanding

It has taken me some time to find language to describe my experience of gender and I still don’t feel that I’ve quite come to a perfect phrasing. I label myself as trans and non-binary. In terms of being trans, even though I am on T, I feel that trans-androgynous fits me better than trans-masculine. I want my gender and sex to be read as non-binary, not as a man or a women. Although I connect with both masculinity and femininity, my primary experience of gender is outside of that framing. I don’t yet have a complete ability to describe what I consider this to be, I just know that it exists.

Community

I have significantly more social dysphoria than I do body dysphoria. For me, this means that I am affected by being misgendered more than I am by looking the mirror. What makes cis-centric viewpoints especially painful is that most cis people in my life try explain away the pain I feel when I’m misgendered, rather than validate my perspective.

Because of my social dysphoria, I find non-binary affirming spaces to be places where I feel more comfortable. Unfortunately, the only ones I’ve been able to find thus far are online. Many people in the queer community still divide trans people into trans-femme and trans-masc perspectives only, leaving those of us who don’t fall into this fuzzier version of the binary with limited places into which we feel we fit.

Gender is a primary way humans sort themselves, so, in interactions with people who don’t understand my gender, I tend to feel a sense of invisible alienation. Most people will place me on the binary without my consent and then react with shock or surprise when I remind them I don’t belong there. I am hoping my continued advocacy and attending pride events and such will help me connect IRL with others who can relate to my experience.

Embodiment

I’m taking both low-dose T as well as combination birth control. This isn’t a recommended HRT plan, but is necessarily for me because of the medical conditions I have. I feel quite a bit of conflict internally about being on T, as I don’t particularly want hair changes. I have gotten some but they are not yet past a point where I feel totally uncomfortable.

Even though I have issues with some of the physical changes associated with T, I absolutely love how my body feels on it. My physical stamina has dramatically increased and my chronic pain has diminished. I am quite short but have always seen myself as a bulldog; T is affirming my sense of strength and allowing my natural abilities at being handy/mechanically-minded to come through more fully. Many people describe a narrowing of their emotional range on T; mine has actually grown and I’ve been able to cry in situations where I would not have before. My viewpoint on certain situations has shifted and I feel more certain of myself.

Conclusion

On the whole, I experience a bit of ambiguity about some of the physical changes I’m undergoing. I have a decidedly stronger reaction to the social issues that affect me as a trans and non-binary person. I feel excitement about continuing my journey of self-understanding and coming to a more complete understanding of myself in terms of my gender.

At the Center (Daily Works of Art)

In the last half-year, there has been an internal shift unlike any I can remember experiencing. I’ve started T during this period of time, so I’m certain that coming into alignment with myself as a non-binary person has played role in this change. My image of myself has been transformed as I’ve created my present.

I’m a relationship disaster. I get close to people, building up connection and hoping that “this time” something will stick and it won’t go sideways. Every single time, though, that there is a breach of trust, when I feel betrayed, used or mistreated, my trauma surfaces to an insurmountable level and the whole thing breaks apart. My deep-rooted attachment issues win the day, no matter, it seems, how much I try to will them into the background or how hard I work in therapy to undo them. I get re-traumatized and cut more deeply after every experience. I do not heal and I do not grow in my capacity to love by failing at it. The only beings I’ve ever loved are my dog and myself. Relationships with others matter and I will continue to engage in them, but they do not complete me.

My career is equally unable to give me a sense of fulfilment or meaning, despite the fact that I know what I’m doing is valuable. Every trigger I experience there makes it harder to show up the next day. I wade through it, but I don’t derive my joy or sense of purpose from it.

I care about the human condition and the planet, but I’m not an activist. Even though topics such as human rights stir my passions and I advocate for equity, I am not enough of a True Believer ™ in any cause to dedicate my life to it. I find meaning here, but it is fraught with disappointment and despair to an intensity where it is not enough, on its own, to sustain me.

I’m left, then, with the possible sources that most people turn to for their deepest nourishment a shallow bowl of thin soup. Finally, after twenty years of suicidality and less-than-ness, knowing myself to be a loner, a Not a True Believer ™ and an unmet career potential achiever, I may have hit on why I’m here. This dish is a rich stew, with layers of flavor and body.

My core is my inner world. I know my interior to a level of detail I’ve rarely encountered in others. And yet, I scrub the corridors of my mind and sweep the reaches of my heart and still I uncover things about myself I didn’t know before. And I refuse to see the gift of self-knowledge through the lens of navel-gazing self-absorption. We die alone. Life is coming to that realization and finding a reason to keep living.

I haven’t found my inner world in order to escape there and shut myself off from reality. Instead, my physical experience is at the center of my inner world. I live embodied. No, I’ve found my core because it is the root of my spirituality and creativity. I have something to honor and something to express because, in knowing myself, I find my entryway to the universe. I do not live to romance a perfect love, to make the world a better place or to achieve a capitalist monument to money, fame or innovation. I exist to live present, sacred and as a witness to the present and the sacred.

I’m a nature photograph of only the trees and the mountain. No caption to draw attention to the threats of the future. No human figure outlined as the subject. No metaphor for the accolades I’ve garnered. Only the holy now and the lens to see it.

My way of being is not the best or the singular way through life. I fully support those whose center is the periphery of my image—the happy family camping, the environmentalist chained to the tree, the goal-setter summiting the peak. There is pain in finding my focus, because I think it is trauma more than biology that has led me to it. A life unspoiled as mine was might have a depth I cannot achieve in which everything I’ve described is blended into a harmonious entree. But my point is simply that I have something for which I exist, even if it isn’t typical, appreciated or noticed. I’ve found my purpose. Attempting to compel myself to locate it elsewhere is a distraction from my fundamental source of joy and hope. I’m in this light, of this breath, reflecting divine presence.