Authenticity and “Passing”

I originally wrote most of this as a comment to another blog I follow. But I realized it’s useful and wanted others to have the chance to consider this as well.

I really really dislike the term “passing” but I’m going to use it here because so many people in the community understand it. I prefer to think of it as just acceptance of who I am.

One of the things about “passing” seems to be a lack of effort. And I don’t mean that in the way some people might think. In fact, perhaps I mean it the opposite way.

When we’re unsure of ourselves, when we’re not authentically ourselves (which I agree is hard!), we start to “act”, and our role in society becomes performance art rather than just who we are.

But the funny thing is that people seem to be able to detect performance art versus authenticity. Maybe we try too hard. Maybe we make subtle mistakes or maybe we’re acting so hard that we don’t make mistakes. Maybe we “act” too hard and it sends signals to others.

I’m not really sure. But what I do know is that as I acquired personal inner peace, as I began to simply “be me” as opposed to someone society thought I should be, my issues with “passing” vanished.

Yeah, I admit I’ve had medical help along the way as an MtF trans woman but that help, while it definitely helped, wasn’t the final piece of the puzzle for me.

It was when I finally found a way to “be me” that I stopped acting. And almost as soon as I stopped acting, I stopped getting misgendered, etc. I know it’s not that easy for everyone. I know that hormones need time to work. I know that there are other aspects. But regardless of all those things, it does seem to me that “passing” includes being authentic, just “being you” rather than a construct.

NOTE: Part of finding that inner peace, for me at least, did come from surgery. Once I completed GCS, then I began to finally, for the first time in my life, begin to feel positive about my own body. So surgery played a role there too, but only a role.

Some of My Personal Trans History

This needs to be recorded so I can easily relay it to others, and for those interested in parts of the background about this. There will be additional blog entries about this history, different aspects of it, but this is the first.

I was born in 1957. The 1950s were the era when PSAs ran on black and white television, sponsored by the government itself, about the perversions of homosexuality and how early “help” could “turn” a child away from these “perversions”. Further, my father was a steel mill worker and I grew up in eastern Ohio – coal mine and steel mill country. Being “queer” in that region and that era could literally get you killed. That was the atmosphere in which I grew up, just so we understand that as reference, ok?

I apparently showed girlish tendencies from early on. My grandmother initially indulged these, according to reports, until I was about 3 years old and my mother and father didn’t want that. There are surviving photos (that I’d love to get copies of) that showed me with bows in my hair and frilly dresses on. But that ended and unfortunately, I currently don’t have any copies of those photos.

My first crude understanding that something was “wrong” with me came again, at the hands of my grandmother, though I am sure she intended no harm. Up until I was about 5 years old she would take me with her on her regular hair dressing appointments. It was a family ritual. Hair dresser, Elby’s Big Boy restaurtant, then a bit of shopping in downtown Wheeling, West Virginia, always concluding at the LS Good and Company Department Store. We always finished there because her name was known there, and her younger sister worked there as a regional buyer and senior saleswoman.

We were in the children’s clothing section and I must have been about 5 years old or so. My grandmother saw this navy blue boy’s summer dress outfit. Navy blue shorts and jacket, white shirt, bow tie, for a child. She picked that up off the rack and knelt down to hold it up to me and said “This would be so cute on you!”

I distinctly remember pointing across the aisle at a yellow sundress with flowers and saying “I want that.”

My grandmother, bless her heart, reacted as you might expect someone in that era. She didn’t raise her voice, and truthfully my memory of her voice was her trying to be calm, quiet, and loving, but the look of sheer horror on her face didn’t leave despite her trying to talk to me as if I had not just done something completely evil. She explained, softly, almost in a whisper, that I was a little boy and little boys didn’t wear dresses.

We didn’t buy the navy blue outfit that day. And that was my last trip with my grandmother to the hair dresser. You can see from the results how my words caused a reaction – she wasn’t going to risk “feminizing” me any further lest I turn out to be a “queer” stain on the family.

That was my first inkling that something was wrong. I was pushed by my parents to play with the boys in the neighborhood, Charlie, Greg, Steve. But truthfully, I preferred playing with Virginia, Cindy, and Linda. I remember being embarrassed as others made fun of me early in school for getting in line with the girls. I quickly stopped, because of the ostracism but that’s where my initial reaction led.

Now I had no language to describe how I felt. I didn’t identify as a girl because I was constantly reminded that I was a boy, but it didn’t feel right. By the time I was 9 years old, I’d begun wearing some of my mother’s clothing whenever I could get away with it. We lived with my grandmother after age 9 when my father divorced my mother and left my life never to be seen again so consequently, I could slip into my grandmother’s extra bedroom where she kept entire wardrobes of dresses and clothes (she was a clothes hound) and play there. I never dared try on her clothes though. For some reason I feared her retribution more than my mother should I be caught, but I wanted to wear those clothes. And I played with her scarves, her jewelry, etc.

My grandparents ran a motel they had built themselves back in the early 1950s. Because of that, we had a regular maid staff who cleaned the rooms daily. And we had regular guests among the random guests. Those regular guests were traveling salesmen on regular trade routes. They made up maybe a third of my grandparent’s motel’s regular occupancy. And many of them read porn. These magazines would be gathered up by the maid staff and placed in the large industrial trash bins. I would raid these bins to get these magazines.

I would take these magazines deep into the nearby woods and sit and read. Or I would read them in my grandmother’s extra bedroom, often hiding them under one of her beds. This was “safe” because no one but me regularly went into those woods or those bedrooms. My younger brothers turned out to not like the woods, at least at that age and they had no interest in those bedrooms full of clothing.

I read these magazines to try to understand sexuality, and why I felt as I did. I admired those women and really didn’t lust after them at all, at least at that age. And I read the articles. Yes, I really read the articles and that’s what also got me in further trouble.

You see, I found a magazine with an article about “sex change” operations and I was fascinated. There were pictures of women who had been men. I had no idea up to that time that this was even a possible thing.

Normally, I read with all ears alert, because I didn’t want to get caught. The few times my grandmother had walked in on me, I’d heard her coming, hid the magazines and began reading a sci-fi book. If she ever questioned me, I told her I liked the quiet of those bedrooms to read because nobody would bother me there. She accepted that.

Until the day I was reading that article about sex change operations. I must have been about 12 or 13 years old. That day I became so engrossed that I didn’t hear her coming. I didn’t even hear her enter the room until she was standing over me. She snatched that magazine from my hands, glanced at it, and began yelling me at me about perverts and degenerates, and how only evil, vile people did this, and I wasn’t an evil, vile abomination, was I?

I was totally cowed. My grandmother was the matriarch of the family. My grandfather bowed to her will as did my uncle and everyone else. When she spoke, we listened. When she yelled, we all cowered in fear.

The psychological impact of that moment stayed with me for years. I could not even intellectually conceive of engaging in a “sex change” operation because it was burned into my mind as something totally aberrant and evil.

Between that moment and bullying from many of the “jocks” at school (which is an entirely separate discussion), I began to try to force myself to be the male that everyone expected me to be. And I largely succeeded for two reasons – I was exceptionally fast, which made me stand out in football and track, and because one of my best friends was one of the best athletes our high school ever saw, before or since. Those two things got people off my back about being “queer”, but they still whispered behind my back, just not in front of me or my friend who was defensive of me about that.

I only began to shake off all that negative early cultural imprinting about trans people in my early 20s while in the Army (yes I joined the Army partly because they “make a man” out of you and partly because I needed a job with a pregnant wife at that point) and taking college sociology courses at night.

I vented my frustrations by reading sci-fi with strong women characters, and later by playing video games with the option to play as a woman. It took me clear until 2004 to admit to myself who and what I really was but I was then convinced that if you didn’t transition early in life, you never could, so I kept on soldiering as a male through life, being a father and husband.

That lasted until 2010 when I experienced what I called the “mother of all dysphoria” episodes that simply would not stop. All the time prior, I always found a rock that I could shove my dysphoria under, an obsession that would take most of my free time so I wouldn’t obsess over my dysphoria. That always worked before. In 2010, starting in September, that didn’t work anymore and culminated with me planning a suicide that would look like an accident so my spouse would get the insurance money in February 2012. Fortunately, a friend realized I was depressed and pushed me towards therapy.

And the rest, as they say, is herstory. 🙂

Looking Back at 2015

The year 2015 will be a pretty important year for me in numerous respects. A lot happened and I learned a lot along the way. 2015 was the first year I lived as myself full time. My legal paperwork was done in September 2014 and I was full time thereafter, no looking back.

In January of 2015, I decided to make things happen and stop waiting for them to happen. I have one life to live and I decided I wasn’t sacrificing that life for my spouse’s retirement, especially since she no longer plans to be with me. So I cashed out one of my IRAs and put that money to work.

In February I scurried about getting paperwork submitted for my passport, which I paid extra for “express” handling and I got it just a few weeks later. My name, photo, and a nice big “F” in the gender box made me smile. March became a waiting game, basically waiting for April, and also further realigning myself at work as my colleagues continued to become accustomed to my new presentation.

I underwent FFS in April with Dr. Cardenas, in Guadalajara, Mexico, where I also met the amazing Anne Kelley. We shared a particularly powerful moment during both our recoveries that was bonding, and was a revelation. It was about Anne so if people want to know the details, they should ask her, but for me it was emotionally powerful to see someone coming to terms with themselves in such a beautiful and loving manner.

May was recovery. Let me tell you right now that FFS was far worse and harder in terms of recovery than my GCS, which came later in 2015. FFS was so worth it, but it was a bear in terms of recovery for the first few weeks. I’m happy with my appearance though and I’ve gotten compliments on it, and most importantly, it helped me to stop seeing “him” in the mirror anymore.

June was more waiting and continued recover. Friends and I began planning for Ren Fest in November. We always try to plan several months in advance to give people time to plan for a specific weekend. There were also details to complete, medical tests and exams before my GCS surgery, all of which had to be submitted to Dr. Chettawut’s staff in Bangkok before I even left.

July came and a good friend, Ashley Wilson headed to Thailand ahead of me by about two weeks. I did get to see her while I was there later, before she flew back to the US. And after seeing her, it was my turn. I awoke from GCS and really wasn’t in much pain at all, mainly just uncomfortable. They kept me pretty well controlled with pain meds and such. And my dear, dear friend, Julie Jeznach, had traveled to Thailand with me and was there to visit while I was in the hospital and to help me with my recovery for the three weeks afterwards. We had a lot of fun for the month we were there. I over stressed myself once, got scolded for it, then spent a day and a half recovering from it. Fortunately, no permanent damage. And I learned the tedium and the joys of dilating! And yet we saw things, ate fascinating food, met people, and Julie got to see the Tiger Temple!

In mid-August we flew back home. It seemed almost surreal, Julie and I going our separate ways. I also know that Thailand had been good for Julie too. Good food, regular exercise, walking (for us both as little as I could do) all contributed to Bangkok being a positive experience for us. But then it was over. I rested another week then returned to work while working from home. Working from home was a blessing. As circumstances turned out, and as the changes on our team at work developed, it would arise that I wouldn’t need to actually go back into the office until some time in January, 2016. The rest of 2015 was 100% from home, which gave me time to adapt to my dilation schedule, take breaks as needed, etc. Often my work day the rest of the year went past 6 pm, but that included time for breaks and medical necessities throughout the day as well.

September and October were much the same, except the reminder and the ongoing lesson that I don’t really have family anymore.  I know there are some who might disagree, but being ignored, having things said behind your back, pretending you don’t exist on important family days (birthdays and holiday), does not constitute “love” except in some sort of deranged “religious” mind. I won’t comment further about that except that their behavior reveals a lot more about them than it does about anything else.

Out of that comes a lesson, for me at least. We’re repeatedly told to remove toxic people from our lives. I subscribe to that idea, but implementing it in practice is complicated and is often a process, not a single decision. It’s a process because our hearts don’t always listen to what our heads tell us, and vice-versa. In this case, my head knows I don’t have family and I need to let go and treat them like I treated my father, someone to whom I was biologically related but who are anything except family, based on their behavior. But the heart takes time to let go, often not wanting to accept what the mind otherwise knows to be true.

The last few years have been that process for me and I think I hit rock bottom and was finally able to put this behind me in December of 2015. And no, there was no danger of self harm, just a great sadness and listlessness as my heart realized what my mind has been telling me for a number of years now – you have no blood family.

I also began an online dating experiment in autumn of 2015, and discovered that clearly stating that I am a post-op transgender woman, up front, is a sure way to not get responses from anyone except thoughtless men, who in turn blocked me when they did find out, or from identity thieves, whom I seem to be getting better at identifying, especially since some of them are so pathetic. Out of nearly 400 messages received thus far, only 4 read my profile and realized I was trans, and only 2 of those were really interested in some sort of friendship or relationship. Unfortunately, both of them were very far away and both they and I were looking for someone closer.

November was fun, with time at Ren Fest spent with my friend Elizabeth and myself both dressed up in garish costumes. But I think I want to modify mine more for next year. Maybe replace the heavy leather shoulder pauldrons with fur ones and a few other changes. There were also minor outings, manicure and pedicure, buying some new clothes, and otherwise enjoying myself.

November blended into December, and for the most part, I ignored the Christmas season. Dwelling on it too much was painful. And my mind and heart had to work that out in their own way, as I described earlier.

2015 ended and I was in a sense, relieved. It was over. Time marches on and 2016 is before us. I’m hoping to carve out time for at least one trip this year, perhaps back to Memphis. And maybe, if I can financially swing it, a trip elsewhere. We’ll see.

Choosing to be myself has had a cost, a saddening cost but one which I would still pay, because the alternative was no longer being able to live with myself. Despite rejection from those I’ve loved and to whom I’ve literally given my heart, my life, and even my finances for over thirty years, I still would make the same choice. My choice was to live and I am content with that choice, despite the costs.

September 7th, A Day To Remember


It was 19 years ago today, September 7th, that I was wheeled into surgery to remove the remains of a tumor that had been destroyed by months of chemotherapy. Prior to that chemotherapy, I had been about 195 pounds. By the end I was around 140, and honestly probably more in the 130s. By the end of chemotherapy, most days were enough time awake to eat, maybe watch a single TV show or two, and then sleep, 20-22 hours per day. And then I was told the tumor was dead.

Chemotherapy was over in mid-July of 1996. I was given basically 6 weeks to gain a little strength, then the surgery would ensure that the remains of that tumor were gone.

What was supposed to be a 4 hour surgery became 10. The tumor had apparently been wrapped around my aorta and in dying to the chemo, it had become this rock hard substance. My surgeon visited me later and apologized for the extra time but said he was literally chipping that stuff off my aorta, like flakes of cement.

The tumor had also been wrapped around the nerve to the left vocal cord. That nerve is a bit weird and shows how evolution does things, not always in the most sensible way. That nerve comes from the spine, over to the heart first, then back up to the left vocal cord. There was no way to separate the remains of the tumor from that nerve so it got cut.

This left me unable to speak since the left vocal cord was flaccid and unable to flex to meet the right cord, since no neural signals could now reach it. To correct that, a plastic implant was inserted in that vocal cord in another surgery in early November of 1996. I still have slight numbness in my hands and feet from chemotherapy. My scalp was ravaged by chemotherapy and never really recovered. And my hearing, already a 20 decibel loss in my good right ear, became a 50+ decibel loss and I finally admitted that I needed a hearing aid.

Despite all this, I survived. But this all also made me think very hard about myself, who I was, what I’d done to myself emotionally and psychologically to get to where I was then. I also got to see my children graduate from high school, get married, go to college, have children of their own. It took me another 8 years, to about 2004, to really learn about and understand the words transsexual and transgender but I’d bought into another lie – that if I hadn’t transitioned early, I couldn’t transition at all. It was six more years after that, 2010, that the mother of all dysphoria episodes began that simply would not relent and which drove me to the brink of suicide, before I finally admitted I needed help, and with prodding from Julie Jeznach, I finally sought that help.

The rest, as they say, is “herstory”. People to whom I gave my life, my time, my love, my earnings, have rejected me. That’s their choice and I have to accept that, but it’s still bitter. And knowing what I know today, I can honestly say that I do have regrets. We’re not supposed to have regrets and I know that I can’t change the past so I don’t plan to wallow in these regrets at all. But I do acknowledge them. And if I’d known 30 years ago what I know now, I would have just walked away instead of worrying about other people’s emotions and opinions.

So I write this today with my younger trans friends in mind. Being trans can suck. People can be ugly, cruel, callous, hateful. But we’re trans and we can’t escape that truth. My advice to you, to each of you, is make your decisions for yourself first. Anyone who can’t handle the decisions that you need to make for you neither loved you nor is your friend so is not worthy of your consideration of their opinions.

While I am very happy with where I am in life right now, in one sense, I write this today to my younger trans friends to say “Don’t be me.” Don’t put others ahead of yourself. Don’t defer what you need to be happy to make others happy first. Most of the time they won’t care about you. Not really. And those that do care? They’ll have your back and be there for you.

Have a good September 7th, a good Labor Day, and a good day for yourself first and foremost.

Unexpected Blessings

When I came out as transgender to my adult children, the reactions varied. The strongest and most negative emotional reaction came from my youngest son. My daughter was, as she told me, heartbroken, not because I was trans but because she realized what would happen in my marriage to her mother. My eldest was angry, and it turns out, the most dead set against me, but it was my youngest son who showed the strongest emotional reaction.

I wasn’t sure I would ever get to speak to him again, or that I would ever be invited into the presence of himself and his wife. His first child was born in January of 2014 and I was not welcome so I stayed away.

Each year, I tried to ensure that happy birthdays were sent, holiday cards sent. I expressed wishes to convey to them through my spouse to them. And I continued to work my way through my transition.

In early September, 2014, my youngest son reached out to contact me. It was an email, brief, but wonderful to see. He wanted me to know that he still cared for me, that he loved me. I’ll be honest, part of me wanted to ask if he felt that isolating me for two plus years was really a form of love but I didn’t. I fought down that temptation because I knew that would create division and instead focused on the wonderful fact that he had reached out to me at all. I wanted healing for us, not further separation.

Over the next few months, our communications continued, sporadic but they continued. About Thanksgiving they became a little more regular. And then, the week before Christmas, my son, his wife, and the grandchild I had never seen came to visit. That was a moment of pure joy, both at seeing my grandchild for the first time in person, but that both he and his wife came over and still cared. That wasn’t the only visit that week. I’m deeply appreciative of those visits, and at seeing my grandson.

More communications followed as 2015 dawned. He came over a few times and one time we chatted for a few hours. We didn’t and probably won’t ever agree on everything, but we can disagree with love between us. And importantly, despite disagreements, he doesn’t want to see me or anyone like me denied our basic rights, and for that I applaud him.

Later, we became friends on Facebook. His wife has been friended to me on Facebook for a long time. It was through her that I got occasional photographic glimpses of my grandson, until that day when I could finally hold him in my own arms. But now I could interact with my son directly, which was a pleasure.

JohnsPost2And then yesterday, this happened, which made me and lots and lots of other people happy too.

We were discussing the Supreme Court marriage equality decision and there was some back and forth about either side not being considerate of the other side. I saw this piece and I sent it to him via Facebook PM, because this article wasn’t about sides, but about opportunities the body of Christ missed this week by focusing on “sides” rather than showing love, joy, and support.

Yes, he misgenders me. 🙂 Yes, he uses the wrong name for Caitlyn Jenner, And yes, I gently remind him of that. But thankfully, he says he’ll try. I don’t expect perfection on that front, at least not at first. But he said he would try! Do you know how good that made me feel? That made cry, happy tears, but I cried.

My daughter and her husband chimed in as well (all names other than mine removed) and lots of people close to us both “liked” that post.

I don’t feel welcome in Texas churches anymore. There are very few trans people I know who feel welcome in churches around Texas these days. But this week I got to see the Holy Spirit move, in my family and then in a separate article about someone whose eyes finally opened about his LGBT brothers and sisters.

We (LGBT people) are not demanding special privileges. We just want the same rights as everyone else. And the way that will happen, eventually, is just like what happened here this week, the Holy Spirit moving to bring my son and myself closer together again and heal those wounds. And that was the miracle this week for me. May you each have blessings and miracles in your own lives as well.