This is one of the most important posts I will ever write. I’ll have a follow-up post in a few days.
There are a lot of things that are challenging about being transgendered. A comment I often get from kind friends is something along the lines of, “You are so courageous.” I don’t feel courageous; I did what I had to do to be whole and to survive. Yet from another angle, all of us who transition or transgress (not in the sense of “sin” but in the sense of violating the sanctity of the binary gender norm) are courageous.
One of the biggest challenges about being transgendered is when and whether to “come out” to the people in your life. With close family and friends, there really is no choice in the matter if you intend to see them again. Once you begin transitioning, the gradual changes will be noticed, and if for some reason they aren’t noticed immediately, they WILL be noticed eventually.
Telling close family and friends is a scary prospect. If you are lucky, most of your loved ones will readily accept you. Even the ones who don’t accept you initially will eventually get on board. If you are not lucky, there will be a few who are horrified, who will treat you like an alien from another planet, who will tell you that you are hell-bound, who will refuse to call you by your chosen name or use the correct pronoun, and who will take every opportunity to get in a dig. If you are VERY unlucky, you will be ostracized by your entire family, you will lose many beloved friends, you may lose your job and your home — or worse. That happens less these days, thanks to the ones who have gone before us and paved the way, but it does still happen.
I had a friend named R who transitioned from female to male. R lived on the east coast and his father lived on the west coast. R was afraid to tell his father for fear of his father’s reaction. So he didn’t make any trips back to his home state of Oregon for several years, but only penned hard-written letters and talked to his father on the telephone. As his father aged, R knew he had to bite the bullet and disclose or he might never see his father again, and so wrote his father a letter. R’s father took the revelation gracefully, and R was finally able to make a trip to Oregon. His father died a couple of years after that, but at least it had a good ending. Being accepted for who we are and not losing the love of someone important in our lives is precious to all of us who are transgendered.
In “coming out” as transgendered, your health care providers — podiatrist, dentist, chiropractor, ophthalmologist, etc — will need to know. Also, you will want to carefully manage how and when to tell your employer and your co-workers, and cross your fingers that you don’t get fired — either directly or under some pretext. Every time you tell a single person, you risk being hurt and rejected for simply being who you are.
As you transition and after you have transitioned, you will have to deal with the more peripheral people in your life. The cashier where you shopped before you transitioned. The person you always called to repair your appliances. The neighbor 3 blocks down the street who you used to wave to when you went jogging. The person who always stood at the bus stop while you waited for the bus to arrive. You will have to figure out how to handle each situation as it comes up.
Then, once you’ve fully transitioned, you will have to decide how and when to come out to the new people you meet. When it comes to casual new acquaintances, different transgendered people have different preferences and perspectives. By now, you’ll have had lots of experience in coming out. As an FTM, you may want most casual new acquaintances to know you as the man you’ve become. In most cases, there is not a “need to know.” Having fought a hard battle to transition from female to male, some transgendered guys will want to bask in their new congruity. Other transgendered guys are proud of their battle scars and will want to make the road a little easier for the ones coming after them so as to further public awareness, and they will be out to everyone they meet.
When a new acquaintance crosses that mysterious threshold into being a close friend, most FTM guys will want to share who they were and how they got to where they are. You can’t have an authentic friendship with your past kept in the closet. If it so happened that you went to an all-girls school, how could you share your memories? Here, too, you face possible hurt and rejection for simply being who you are. But if the friendship is meaningful enough, it will be worth the risk. As ‘they’ say, “Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”
Probably the hardest stepping stone is when you stumble across that rare new acquaintance and feel, zap!, you’ve been struck by lightning. That indescribable ‘chemistry’ and the hint of romance. Could s/he be THE ONE? This is a hot topic in the FTM community. Much wringing of hands. Does s/he feel the same way about you? When should you tell her/him? You surely don’t want to jettison a fragile new relationship by having “the talk.” Because what if s/he doesn’t feel the same way about you? Or what if she DOES feel the same way about you, and now what was light-hearted, free-flowing, and ecstatic with anticipation becomes somber and serious? It’s almost like asking someone on the 3rd date, “If things keep progressing as they seem to be going now, will you marry me in a year?” Who could answer that question while they are only just beginning to feel the butterflies flutter in their stomachs?
This is a tough question for most FTM guys I know. From observation, 99.9% of transgendered guys want to disclose to a potential romantic partner as soon as possible. For me, I would be loathe to hold hands with a woman in a romantic way without having disclosed. But it’s hard to say, “Hey, I’m transgendered, can I hold your hand?”
After I transitioned, I met a woman named E. We enjoyed playing Scrabble together, had some similar interests, and it dawned on me that the friendship might have “potential.” I wasn’t exactly sure yet, mainly because I still had unresolved feelings for my ex. But E definitely had feelings for me. One night, I walked her home after a Scrabble game at a local restaurant, and I thought she was going to jump my bones. Really!! (Those were the days!!!) E invited me inside, and I picked up on her intentions, but I declined and quickly made my departure.
Each time we met for some activity, E upped the ante. I remember her kissing me on my front porch one night as we were saying goodbye. I wasn’t quite ready to disclose because I was still unsure of my own feelings toward her, but I knew I had to disclose, and soon. She was pressing me faster than I was prepared to go, and I didn’t want to end up in an awkward situation. So I told E we needed to have a talk, and she went on her way for that evening.
The next time we saw each other was probably Christmas 2005. E knew I didn’t have any family nearby, so she invited me to Christmas at her parents’ home. E’s four siblings, their children, her parents, and other guests were present. It was a huge house on the eastern shore of Maryland, as her father had been an architect, and kept building new additions on the home.
Everyone was grouped in clusters, laughing and chatting. E grabbed me by the arm, dragged me upstairs into a room with a sofa, and closed the door. “I want to have that conversation.” E said. “Now!?” says me. “Yes, now,” says E. Panic, oh, panic! What if she reacted badly? I was surrounded by her family, and was dependent upon E for transportation back home.
I summoned my courage and said, “I’m transgendered.” E literally flung herself on top of me and said, “Oh my God, I thought you were going to tell me that you were married!” I was relieved and wanted to laugh at the same time. Imagine that — a straight woman thinking her love interest being transgendered was less a calamity than him being married!!
E and I dated for several months, and had our intimate moments. I no longer retreated when she kissed me, and I didn’t shy away from holding her hand. But in the end, she wasn’t THE ONE and the time wasn’t right, and so we parted ways.
I have held myself to high standards in disclosing I’m transgendered, even with acquaintances who become close platonic friends. 9 times out of 10, I have had good experiences. What happened with E was probably the funniest story. I would NEVER deceive anyone, and most ESPECIALLY not when the relationship seemed to have romantic undertones.
Now I won’t claim that all transgendered people keep similar standards, but I believe most do. A few years prior to transitioning, I was on the opposite side of the coin. I was only partially aware of my repressed gender dysphoria, and still lived as and considered myself a lesbian. It was then that I met a woman named B. As a matter of fact, B was a turning point in my own journey.
B and I dated several times and “clicked” immediately. We’d already had several dates, when B took me to a movie. During the movie, B leaned close to me, and touched the tip of her finger to my hand. There came that bolt of lightening. It was sweet and tender. After the movie, B invited me to her house, and I spent the night there. Of course, the inevitable happened…
It was such bliss to be snuggled up with someone to sleep. But the next morning, B was sobbing tears. I have seldom seen someone sob so hard. What on earth could be wrong??? I held B and pushed back her hair, and invited her to tell me what was wrong. It was her turn to summon courage, and she told me she was transgendered, MTF — male to female. We’d been intimate and I hadn’t even realized!! While I was still largely repressing my own issues, I’d managed to do enough reading that I was well-informed. After all, I’d taken a course in Psychosexual Behavior in college around 1974. Between sobs, B said, “I’m a freak. No one will want me.”
I did my best to hold B in my arms and comfort her. “You’re NOT a freak,” I said, “It doesn’t matter to me at all.” B calmed, and she told me how her father had been a pilot in the Navy, and how her entire family had rejected her. Life is strange — can’t say it often enough. B was a software engineer for a military contractor with a top secret security clearance. With her security clearance, she was able to give me a mini-tour of the Pentagon, and one of the precious memories of my time with her was when she took me roller-blading in the vacant Pentagon parking lot at night.
B was a turning point for me because she sensed my masculinity. She knew what I was before I was far enough along to consciously admit it to myself. B identified as a lesbian, and I was heartbroken when she announced, “I can’t be with you — you are a guy.” Bittersweet memories… So B and I parted ways, too. I had seen how hard it was for her to disclose — she’d lost her entire family. I didn’t judge her, but I’ve still held myself to a higher standard.
A picture of B because she was cute:
Too many transgendered people have ended up beaten or dead when they were outed. In 1995, Tyra Hunter was a young MTF who was a passenger in an automobile accident in Washington, DC, that wasn’t even the driver’s fault. She was lying on the pavement of the street, paramedics trying to save her life … until they had to cut off her jeans and saw that she was a “man.” They laughed at her and made jokes and refused further intervention, and Tyra died on that street. This sad story really hit home for me because I was living in Washington, DC, at the time.
In 2011, Chrissy Lee Polis was brutally attacked in a McDonald’s in Baltimore, Maryland, simply because she was trying to use the restroom. Another one that hits a little too close to home…
Chrissy Lee Polis, transgender woman attacked at Baltimore McDonald’s, calls assault a ‘hate crime’, from the New York Daily News
The hate crimes against transgendered people are endless… And they still go on. Just for being who we are.
Then there was the murder of Angie Zapata….
A Colorado man was convicted of first-degree murder and a bias-motivated crime and sentenced to life in prison for killing a transgender teen he met on an online social networking site. […] The jury deliberated for just under two hours before returning the verdict shortly after 3 p.m. […] According to prosecutors, Zapata, 18, and Andrade, 32, met online in summer 2008 and arranged to meet. Zapata brought Andrade to her apartment in Greeley, Colorado, where they spent nearly three days together. […] Andrade told police he thought he had “killed it,” referring to Zapata, and covered her with a blanket. Realizing what he had done, he then cleaned up the crime scene, the affidavit said. Andrade told police he heard “gurgling” sounds coming from the victim and saw Zapata sitting up. He hit her again with the fire extinguisher, he said, according to the affidavit.
When we think about the transgendered martyrs, the ones who have paved the way for us, we cannot forget Brandon Teena. Brandon Teena was a young FTM in Nebraska born Teena Brandon. Unable to afford any aspect of transitioning, but passing as a guy, yet not able to get a job because his ID listed him as female while he was living as male, he gravitated to a small rural town where no one knew him as female and accepted him based on his male appearance. He found a girlfriend who surely must have known he didn’t have the male “equipment” — that one is still hotly debated in some quarters, and only his girlfriend knows the truth. Things were going well until Brandon was picked up on an old hot check charge from the past and was then outed by being put with female prisoners. When thugs / acquaintances found out he was born female, they brutally raped Brandon to teach him to be a “woman.” Brandon reported the rape to the police chief of the small town, but no action was taken. In fact, the police chief of the small town taunted him and treated him with inexcusable scorn. Hearing that the rape had been reported and not wanting to be sent back to prison, the thugs found Brandon staying with a friend, the mother of an infant. The thugs slaughtered Brandon, the female friend, and a another male visitor. The infant was unharmed since there was no witness potential. The main thug, John Lotter, was sentenced to death on February 21, 1996. His accomplice, Tom Nissen, admitted to being an accessory to the rape and murder. Nissen testified against Lotter and was sentenced to life in prison. Hilary Swank won an Oscar for best actress in 2000 (over Meryl Streep!) for her portrayal of Brandon Teena in the move Boys Don’t Cry. Aphrodite Jones had written Brandon’s story in a book with the same title. Pet Shop Boys recorded a song in honor of Brandon called Girls Don’t Cry.
Two Decades After Brandon Teena’s Murder, a Look Back at Falls City, from The Atlantic, the “interrogation” Brandon faced by Richardson County Sheriff Charles Laux:
C: [A]fter he pulled your pants down and seen you was a girl, what did he do? Did he fondle you any?
C: He didn’t fondle you any, huh. Didn’t that kind of amaze you?…Doesn’t that kind of, ah, get your attention somehow that he would’ve put his hands in your pants and play with you a little bit?
C: [Y]ou were all half-ass drunk….I can’t believe that if he pulled your pants down and you are a female that he didn’t stick his hand in you or his finger in you.
B: Well, he didn’t.
C: I can’t believe he didn’t.
C:…Did he have a hard on when he got back there or what?
B: I don’t know. I didn’t look.
C: You didn’t look. Did he take a little time working it up, or what? Did you work it up for him?
B: No, I didn’t.
C: You didn’t work it up for him?
C: Then you think he had it worked up on his own, or what?
B: I guess so, I don’t know.
C: You don’t know…Did, when he got in the back seat you were already spread out back there ready for him, waiting on him.
B: No, I was sitting up when he got back there.
C: And you had never had sex before?
C: How old are you?
C: And if you’re 21, you think you’d have, you’d have, trouble getting it in?
C: Why do you run around with girls instead of, ah, guys being you are a girl yourself?
B: Why do I what?
C: Why do you run around with girls instead of guys being you’re a girl yourself?
B: I haven’t the slightest idea.
C: You haven’t the slightest idea? You go around kissing other girls?….[T]he girls that don’t know about you, thinks [sic] you are a guy. Do you kiss them?
B: …I have a sexual identity crisis.
C: A what?
B: I have a sexual identity crisis.
C: You want to explain that?
B: I don’t know if I can even talk about it….
Brandon Teena’s mom: ‘We’ve come a long way’, from JournalStar
The message I want to convey is this: When a person confides in you that they are transgendered, they are handing you their heart. It’s a priceless treasure. Do not betray that trust. It can never be replaced….
Roberta Flack’s lyrics from The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face:
The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless skies, my love
To the dark and the endless skies
And the first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
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