Monday, April 27, 2015

Liminal States: On Pronouns, Names, and the Mechanics of "Coming Out."

To a lot people, including many in the trans community, one of the most puzzling aspects of Bruce Jenner's interview with Diane Sawyer was his assertion that although he was a woman "for all intents and purposes," he still asked to be called "Bruce" and to be referred to with male pronouns for the time being.

I'll admit that I can't understand how Jenner could be trans and a Republican (Hoo boy... That's a can of worms I'll pry open in another post sometime), but I COMPLETELY understand where he is coming from on this, because I've been there myself.

In general terms, it's important to remember that the community of trans women is as diverse as any other population you can imagine. If the general public has any picture in their heads of a trans woman's life story, it's a tale of someone who "knew" at a very early age, was stereotypically feminine as a child, transitioned/got hormones/surgery in their late teens-early 20s, and is heterosexual. As Parker Molloy pointed out in a recent article, this narrative does not apply to a large chunk of the trans-feminine population.  Less than 25% of trans women transition before the age of 24, less than a quarter self-report being at the "heterosexual" pole of the Kinsey scale. and less that 1/4th have had "the surgery" (though 25% report having had an orchiectomy, and 21% report having undergone a breast augmentation).

I'm part of the 40% of trans women who transition between the ages of 25 and 44. I'm part of the 48% who identify as bisexual/pansexual/queer. Finally, I'm part of the small minority (about 10-15%) who don't want ANY surgeries. Like Bruce Jenner, my transition was a long, grueling, torturous process. To paraphrase Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill Vol. 1, my transition was not a straight line... It was a forest, And like a forest it was easy to lose your way... To get lost... To forget where you came in.

I've written before about how I wasn't completely sure I was trans until around age 30. I didn't experience any kind of epiphany- It was more like my defense mechanisms and rationalizations finally lost the war of attrition against my "gender sadness." Even then, it was three more years until I came out to my (now ex) wife, my parents, and a very select group of friends. I came close to transitioning back in 2008, but scrambled back into the closet when it looked like transitioning would end my marriage. I don't regret that decision because my precious, brilliant daughter was born afterwards in 2009- But I was just delaying the inevitable.

Me in 2005, around the time I came out to myself, and me in 2009, after I came out to family and a few friends.

In the summer of 2012 my divorce was final. I also had the support of the love of my life- My current partner. She made me feel like I would be loved no matter what I decided to do transition-wise. I had no excuses left, and the fear of someday being an elderly man crippled by regret became too much to bear. In July of 2012, I started hormone replacement therapy. My girlfriend knew, and later that fall I came out (again) to my family and select friends. However, I wasn't comfortable at that point asking anyone to refer to me with female pronouns, or by a more feminine name. Why? 

Once again, it's important to remember that there is an almost endless variety of trans experiences, and mine isn't any more or less valid than any one else's. Some people ask to be referred to by a new name or with new pronouns before hormones, surgery, or any attempt to "pass" as their "target gender." These are perfectly valid desires, and they should absolutely be respected by others. Those were not my desires or experiences, though. 

I started HRT at age 37, and my goal was to be "done" with transition by age 40. My attitude was to "give myself every advantage." I continued to present as male and use my birth name/pronouns for an entire year before I even attempted to go out in public "en femme." I also believed that a more gradual transition would give the people in my life a better chance to adjust, and increase my chances of a "smooth and successful" transition. 

Me on the day I started HRT in 2012

At that moment, I felt RIDICULOUS asking anyone to refer to me as a woman, or to use female pronouns with me. I was so far away from where I wanted to be that the idea of being referred to as woman felt like a pathetic joke. There was a disconnect between how I was supposed to feel (that my appearance didn't define whether I was a woman or not), and how I actually felt (that until I had an appearance that matched up more closely with my self-image, I would remain "undercover"). Finally, in the summer of 2013, I felt like I was ready to go out in public "dressed as a woman" for a trans support group.. Shield your eyes...

The first time I went out in public "as a woman" in July 2013

At this point, I was still going to work and living my day-to-day life "as a guy." That October I found a more trans-friendly living situation. I started getting increasingly "read" as a woman even in "boy mode,"and by December I was ready to go "full-time" (after being prodded by my girlfriend and my therapist that the moment had finally arrived). 

First day "full-time" in December 2013

It was only then, less than a year-and-a-half ago, that I started insisting that people use female pronouns when referring to me. On top of that, I changed my mind about my name, a decision people in my life are still getting used to (originally I just was going to change the spelling of my first name, but it was less than a year before I realized that was unsatisfactory- And then I started going by my middle name: Ramona). 

I deeply admire trans folks with the courage to cannonball into transition with gusto, but I just wasn't mentally equipped for that. I stuck a toe in tentatively, and then very gradually slid myself into the waters of living authentically. It was an approach that worked very well for me, but it isn't for everyone. 

There aren't many things I have in common with Bruce Jenner, but I can totally relate to the desire to slowly roll out one's transition to the world. Hopefully one of the good things to come out of Jenner's big reveal is greater understanding of the multiplicity of trans perspectives and experiences. Now we just need to work on Jenner's political re-education... Seriously? Ugh. Liberals believe in the Constitution too, girlfriend. 

What does everyone think? I'm very curious to hear about how different people have handled the process of coming out as trans. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

I am Bruce Jenner/I am not Bruce Jenner

Barring some stunning turn of events, Bruce Jenner is expected to come out as a trans woman on national TV tonight. I'll happily join the chorus of people exclaiming "Good for her!" I'll leap to Jenner's defense when the inevitable volley of transphobic and ignorant comments is loosed. I'm already girding myself for battle on social media. Any and all snide comments and jokes at Jenner's expense will hit me personally. Those who take such cheap shots will end up on the wrong side of a blindingly bright line: They'll be corralled onto the "transphobes" side of the gargantuan dodge ball court of my mind. Consider yourselves on notice: I am Bruce Jenner. Insult Jenner's gender identity and you're also insulting me and every other trans person. We'll all be paying close attention to how y'all cis folks react to this.

At the same time, I'll do my best to educate those with open minds and sincere questions. On balance, it's a good thing that Jenner is coming out. Given that less than 10% of the US population self-reports that they "know a trans person," greater visibility for us is an essential component of our efforts for trans equality.

Then why am I filled with much more dread than joy about tonight's big announcement? 

Jenner will instantly become the most famous trans person in the United States. Jenner is not only a revered former Olympic Champion/National Hero, but also a reality TV "star." Overnight, Jenner will be seen as representing trans women (if not all trans people) by a wide swath of the population. 

But Bruce Jenner does not represent me. I am not Bruce Jenner. Jenner has undoubtedly faced immense challenges and should be commended for having the courage to finally start living authentically, but there's a major factor that separates the decathlete from the rest of us trans gals... 

Bruce Jenner is worth $100 million

One hundred million dollars. 

Bruce Jenner doesn't need to worry about affording hormone replacement therapy. Legions of trans folks can't get the medications they need because of a terrible cocktail of widespread employment discrimination and a lack of health insurance than covers trans health care. Bruce Jenner won't have to engage in survival sex work to get money for hormones, therapy, rent or food. Bruce Jenner doesn't have to worry about what a trans friend of mine is going through right now- She moved to the US from Canada to teach at a university, and her new doctor in South Carolina refuses to renew the existing prescription for her hormones... which is, shockingly, perfectly legal. 

If Bruce Jenner wants facial feminization surgery or gender confirmation surgery, it'll happen. Because of the lack of health insurance coverage for such procedures, thousands of less affluent trans men and women aren't as lucky (while the Obama Administration has enacted significant reforms that have helped trans folks, they're falling short here. Obamacare doesn't require health insurers to provide full trans-inclusive coverage.).  

Bruce Jenner can afford a phalanx of bodyguards to provide ample protection from any sort of physical threat. Most trans people, particularly trans women of color, live in an environment of constant threat- We face some of the highest rates of violent crime, sexual assault, and murder in the country. 

Bruce Jenner won't have to worry about ending up homeless and on the street. In 31 states, it is entirely legal for landlords to evict you simply for being trans. Jenner isn't likely to be confronted/assaulted/possibly even arrested when trying to use the women's restroom (remember... bodyguards), but that's still a real possibility for trans folks in every corner of this country. 

While production is evidently on hold for now, rumors swirl that a reality show centered on Jenner's transition is in the works. If that happens. is Jenner going to use that as a platform to inform the public and further the cause of trans rights? Or will it be nothing but a voyeuristic sideshow feeding America's insatiable hunger for all the reality pablum that Kroll Show parodied? I'm not optimistic about it being the former. After the media hype around Jenner finally crests, these real problems will still exist for trans folks who aren't fortunate enough to be fabulously, obscenely wealthy. 

So I'm left to take shelter before Super Shitstorm Jenner makes landfall.. But our struggle will continue until all trans folks enjoy the opportunities and freedom that can be purchased with Jenner's affluence. 

What are your thoughts in the last moments before this whole thing goes supernova? 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Interview with Vox

I was interviewed for an "oral history" piece on transgender folks in Vox. Read it all, but the parts labeled "Ramona P." are all me.

Check it out here and here, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


In 1976, the Seattle Seahawks were born as an NFL expansion team, and their first home was King County Stadium- better known as the "Kingdome." For the mid-70s, it was an architectural marvel. It was the largest concrete domed structure in the world, and it would allow the NFL's Seahawks and then the Mariners of Major League Baseball to avoid playing in the near-constant Seattle drizzle. In 1983, when I was eight years old, I went to my first Seahawks game at the Dome. I was absolutely intoxicated by the entire experience. The Kingdome was awe-inspiring to my young eyes, and I buried the visiting New England Patriots in noise every time they touched the ball, along with 65,000 other Twelves (that's what us Seahawks fans call ourselves). My favorite player scored a touchdown, the Seahawks won, and they clinched the first playoff berth in franchise history. I was hooked, and I thought I'd be going to games in the Dome for the rest of my life. 

At that time, I had no real understanding of my true gender identity. I knew I was "different" from other boys, but that was about it. I was a sensitive, emotional kid. I had soft features and shaggy hair, but it didn't really bug me when I was mistaken for a girl... But I didn't KNOW I was girl at that point. As I grew up the Seahawks sunk further and further into the mire of mediocrity, and the Kingdome became notable only for its ability to concentrate crowd noise and confuzzle the enemy. The Dome itself was a dim, dank place with narrow hallways, cramped restrooms, and uncomfortable bench seating. It was a spartan, practical facility with absolutely no charm beyond the home field advantage it gave to the Hawks.

The Seahawks were one of the few interests I shared with my father and the rest of my family, so it was encouraged aggressively. I was allowed to skip church to watch the Seahawks, and eventually the rest of the family stopped going and joined me in the One True Faith of Twelvedom. During the season, I was allowed to turn the basement/TV room into a Seahawks shrine. Beneath that veneer of normalcy, I was holding onto dark secrets. I would raid my Mother's wardrobe (along with those of my older sisters) during the long stretches when I was left home alone. I would try on their clothes and make-up, and then try to put them back EXACTLY as I found them before anyone came home. I didn't know WHY I needed to do that. I didn't understand what it meant. I was simply compelled. 

As I hit puberty, I realized that I was attracted to girls- But I also realized that transgender women existed (sadly my introduction was via blisteringly transphobic daytime TV shows), and I became utterly obsessed with everything about them. In the early days of the internet, I dove into the transgender message boards on Prodigy. It was another unspeakably dark secret that had to be hidden at all costs. When I left for college, I told myself "You're just a little freaky-deaky. Yeah, you kinda like wearing women's clothes. You are attracted to trans women. But you can't be trans. Nah." 

Meanwhile, the Seahawks were hitting rock-bottom. They had a stretch of abysmal seasons in the early 90s, and attendance at the Kingdome plummeted. They also had been bought by a California real-estate developer named Ken Behring, who stumbled into a huge opportunity: A few of the insulating tiles clinging to the inside of the Kingdome's roof fell after an earthquake, and Behring used it as an excuse to attempt to move the Seahawks to Los Angeles (claiming the Dome was unsafe). At about the same time in my personal life I was recovering from falling in love with my best friend and being rebuffed. Later on I'd realize that the intensity of my feelings for her were (to some degree) rooted in the fact that I wished I WAS her. I also started furtively dating trans women, while denying to myself that I was actually trans. Of course, I was living vicariously through the trans girls I was dating and/or hooking up with. My rationalizations were legion... 

"You can't be trans. You like football, video games, sci-fi flicks, and girls." 

"You aren't trans. You just like occasionally dressing like a girl and you are attracted to trans women." 

"You can't be trans. You don't hate your penis enough." 

"You can't be trans. You would have known when you were 4 or 5 years old." 

And on and on and on. On top of all that internal sturm und drang, I was stressing about my Seahawks abandoning Seattle. Thankfully, Microsoft Billionaire Paul Allen stepped in and offered to buy the team- With the stipulation that a new stadium be built in the space the Kingdome currently occupied. After a statewide referendum narrowly approved the new stadium, the Dome was slated for demolition in March of 2000. And fairly spectacularly, it imploded: 

Years later, I would finally admit to myself that I was indeed trans, and that I needed to transition. I was crippled by an overwhelming sense of fear. I was afraid of losing my family and friends. I was afraid of being left by myself. I was also strangely afraid of what I assumed becoming a woman would mean: That I would have to remake myself into an entirely new person. 

The funny thing was that I never really enjoyed all that crossdressing I did back then. It never made me feel better. It felt fake. It felt like artifice. I was afraid that actually transitioning would mean doing that ALL the time. I was worried that I'd need to wear dresses and heels and grow my hair out longer than I wanted to. I was afraid of swapping out one mask for another. 

Then salvation arrived via a couple of fronts. I read Julia Serano's essential text "Whipping Girl." Beyond all the knowledge Serano provided, she also gave me a blueprint for the kind of transition and life that I actually wanted. Serano wore jeans, tshirts, and sneakers. She liked sports. She dated women. She eschewed surgery. I felt struck by lightning: "Wait.... YOU CAN DO THAT?" I truly didn't even know that was on the menu. 

My mind also kept wandering back to the destruction of the Kingdome. I remembered reading that 90% of the Kingdome's rubble was recycled for use in the construction of Seahawks Stadium. The Dome was largely a dim monument to drab 8-8-ness, but now it had been transmogrified into the most modern and beautiful venue in the NFL (and on a personally significant note, the new stadium now hosted my new duo of favorite sports: Football and soccer. Just as the Stadium supplanted the Kingdome, soccer had replaced baseball as my 2nd favorite sport). It also became the LOUDEST, giving the Seahawks an almost insurmountable home field advantage. In their new home, the Seahawks finally, gloriously became Champions

If the grey cavernous Dome could be recycled into a Catherdral of Victory... Why couldn't a sad, miserable guy be recycled into happy, authentic woman? Why couldn't I keep the things I LIKED about myself, and change the rest? 

This cartoon has been floating around online for a while. I had an epiphany the moment I saw it. I didn't want to look or dress like the trans woman "after." I wanted to look and dress like the trans guy "before." And... Holy shit... That pretty much nailed it: 

As I make more and more progress in my transition, I've noticed a curious phenomenon: as I get more confident about how I look, I'm deciding that there are some traditionally feminine things I just flat out don't get psyched about doing. Painting my nails? Meh. Wearing earrings or jewelry? Feh. Going out in a skirt? Really only when it's super hot and/or I wanna show off my blindingly pasty legs. Wearing high heels? Hard pass. Hard pass. If I felt I could do it without opening myself up to a spike in misgendering, I'd probably want to cut my hair even shorter than it is now. 

I'm a femme tomboy. I'm Sporty Spice. And I know, finally, that this is the REAL me. 

My point is that if you are trans, you don't need to adhere to the expectations of others- Not even those of other people in the trans community. You don't need to abandon your pre-transition interests because they don't conform with what people associate with your authentic gender identity. You don't need to femme it up or butch it up (unless that is what you sincerely want). You get to choose your own adventure. 

What do y'all think? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section! 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Mad Men: The Thematic Connection Between Don Draper's Journey and the Trans Experience

Mad Men is my favorite television drama of all time. Millions of critics and normal folks agree with that sentiment, and with good cause. It’s one of the best written and acted shows to ever appear on television in any era, and it doesn’t hurt that 90% of the cast is scorching crazy-hot. I have my own, more personal reasons for my Mad Men obsession, though... and my own hopes for where the show will end up at the end of this final batch of episodes.


First, it’s one of the best depictions of patriarchy’s awful toll on society I’ve ever seen in popular culture. Beyond the obvious harm patriarchy inflicts upon women (even successful ones- One line from Peggy after being dumped by Ted in the season six finale, “It must be nice to have decisions,” cut down to the marrow), Mad Men also captures the corrosive effect patriarchy has on men. It alienates them from their loved ones and friends, it alienates them from their own emotions, and it can deny them any hope of true self-actualization- Of, as we like to say in the trans community, “an authentic life.”

Secondly, while Mad Men doesn’t DIRECTLY deal with trans issues, it constantly deals with questions of identity. Yes, we’ve seen a number of gay and lesbian characters on the show (I could do a whole separate post about Bob Benson alone), but it’s been Don Draper’s journey that has most closely paralleled the trans experience in a lot of ways.

Draper carries a knapsack full of dark secrets, and the biggest one is about his basic identity: He is not Don Draper but Dick Whitman, the son of a sex worker who died giving birth to him. He was raised in a squalid whorehouse by people who not only didn’t love him, but barely even tried to hide their loathing and contempt for him. He stole the identity of a man who perished during the Korean War, and built a new life- Unfortunately, this life, while financially and professionally successful, was filled with deceit, self-loathing, and self-destructive behaviors (that have shredded the lives of his family, friends and co-workers).

Every trans person, on some level, can relate to Don/Dick. I have had a lot of the same feelings, and sadly engaged in a lot of the same self-destructive behaviors. Every trans person longs to hear what Don’s friend Anna told him before she succumbed to cancer: "I know everything about you, and I still love you."

Thus, even when Don is blowing himself up (along with anyone unlucky enough to be in his blast radius), even when he’s been a loathsome asshole, I have hoped for his redemption. In the season six finale, we might have seen Don’s first major steps towards salvaging his soul- towards living a more authentic life.

The episode started with his usual moves. Hey, I’ll drink! Hey! I’ll flee from my problems! However, during the Hershey’s pitch, he snapped. He told one final lie about his childhood, looked at Ted’s forlorn face, and couldn’t take it anymore. He finally laid down his burdens and told his partners and the Hershey’s executives the brutal truth about his harrowing childhood. He lost the account. He lost his job. His relationship with his daughter was severely damaged, and his 2nd marriage was frayed beyond repair.

My decision to finally start my transition came under similar circumstances. I was in a place where I had little to “lose” anymore (in a traditional American middle-class sense). My marriage was over. I was relegated to “weekend Dad” status with my children. I had no property, no real assets, no full-time job, no benefits, etc. Those things are all still true, but every day I’m a bit more honest with myself. Every day, my life becomes a bit more authentic. I lost all those exemplars of “success,” but I’m happier and more fulfilled than ever.

The season six finale ended with Don taking his children to see the rotting husk of the whorehouse he grew up in. It was a monumental step in his self-actualization, analogous to the moment when I came out as trans to my children last summer. Since then, it's been a journey from my son initially not wanting to speak to me to us now being closer than ever, bonding over shared loves for the Seattle Seahawks and Mario Kart. Since then, it's been an evolution from my daughter incessantly telling me "I wish you were still a boy," to her drawing a picture of her, her brother, and I, with me in a dress.

In season 7.1, we witness Don gaining a previously absent sense of humility- Humiliated by his demotion/sidelining, he rebuilds his intermittently dazzling working relationship with Peggy Olson. Over the final stretch of episodes that start tonight, can Don find the "peace" that Sylvia longed he'd discover in back in season 6? Remember the preacher in the flashback who said "The only unpardonable sin is to believe that God cannot forgive you?" I'm an atheist, so I'm not buying into that, but can Don finally, sincerely love and forgive himself? That's an important question in any person's life, but trans folks have no choice but to peer DEEPLY into that psychic chasm. We have to live the examined life, or we meet a particularly nasty end. Either before our times at our own hands, or decades later, consumed by regret that we never even tried to live authentically.

I don’t think we’re headed for a traditionally “happy” ending to Draper’s saga, but I hope the show concludes with Don finding some of that "peace." I hope that he shows that he can continue to grow and evolve, because I want those same things for myself.

Share your thoughts about Mad Men in the comments. please!