Roots

My wife requested I write this down and share it. It is embarrassing and complex, but I feel like writing it down may help put the final nails in my dysphoric coffin, without me inside. It might work, it might not, but I am ready to face this head on, even if my dignity takes a hit, because I think understanding and expressing the roots of my dysphoria puts me on a path that leads to the end of my dysphoria’s control over me.

I have talked to trans people who were able to put their dysphoria behind them.At times it feels like a pipe dream. At times it feels obtainable. I have more to lose if I don’t see how to work through this.

Because we are so close to its 15th anniversary, let me start in the middle, with September 11, 2001. I lived less than a mile away from the World Trade Center in Downtown Manhattan. My room had a direct view of the towers. It got two hours more sunlight each day after the towers fell because it was literally in their shadow. I was too close. I could see the jumpers without any magnification.

That day was the worst day, as you can imagine. And yet, it was a profoundly amazing day as well. It was glorious in one single way. It was such a profoundly tragic event, it caused a catharsis within me. I suddenly realized there were bigger problems in life than my dysphoria. 9/11 was so enormously overwhelming, it rebooted my brain and I lived for about three years without being a prisoner within my own, full blown, dysphoria.

I am not alone. Huge life altering events temporarily relieve dysphoria for many trans people. The birth of a child for example, or the death of a loved one.

I wouldn’t have found my wife, if it weren’t for 9/11 helping remove my head from my ass, albeit temporarily.

The dysphoria came back though. It came back with a vengeance. More than once, it has tried to kill me. It has come closer to killing me than those terrorists ever did.

And I am beyond ready to go down fighting. One of us needs to go, and if that means I have to tackle my dysphoria head on, and risk another crippling bout if I fail, then so be it.

I have learned that hormones too, keep my dysphoria at bay. And yet, I am just pulling out of a 6-8 month long dysphoric bout. One of the worst dysphoric bouts I have suffered.

I lost my insurance, doctor and access to medication for three months at the start of this year and that was all it took to succumb to yet another extended dysphoric bout. Having someone EXTREMELY close to me, hit me with overt and extended transphobic bigotry at the time sealed the deal. I got hit at my weakest point in years and the hit connected. And like that, I lost my ability to think critically and communicate logically for the better part of a year. Dysphoria is a mental illness. I am a lunatic when a bout takes control of me. It is like being a passenger in my own life. It is tragic, terrifying and crippling.

When I recover, I am able to begin the process of peeling the layers of the onion away, gaining control of my dysphoric triggers, and making myself stronger and less vulnerable to future bouts. This has become my life’s work.

And I always come back to one pivotal day. A day I wrote about at length in my post, A Woman’s Prerogative… but even then, I didn’t see the whole picture. In fact, until this blog, I have only been able to explain all the pieces logically ONE other time. That was earlier today to my wife, who immediately told me to write it all down and share it.

Until today, it had been a topic that was taboo around my home, for what should be obvious reasons, as it concerns my heartbreak over a lost love my wife never knew and could never fully understand. When you are still hung up over events surrounding rejection in a past relationship (and I use the term relationship lightly because it was only me, and an imaginary, emotional relationship with a woman who denied me at every opportunity), your wife is not the first person I suggest you consult.

Over the years, I have leaned heavily on friends who were there in the room on the day when dysphoria took over my life (until September 11, 2001 gave me some reprieve). Those friends aren’t very helpful because of my traditionally lackluster ability to explain things concerning this subject to them. They, understandably, get the impression that I am unwilling to let the past go. They don’t understand that I am doing about as well as I can do, by the time I have peeled the layers of the onion back to the point where once again, I can address that KEY moment in my life.

This story involves theatre, acting technique and whatnot, so at times I will have to teach you some extremely oversimplified bits and pieces of acting lessons (if you aren’t one of my countless actor friends) just so you can properly follow along. It is kind of entirely important.

The story begins around September of 1998, I had completed my BFA the year before and finally moved away from Utah to attend acting school at Circle in the Square, in Times Square NYC. An actor’s dream.

I was a hopelessly romantic, formerly fat, cockeyed optimist of a young man… very much still a virgin, and about 23 years of age at the time. My virginity was overwhelming. I knew I SUCKED at flirtation and asking people out. Why? Because I knew I was trans and really don’t have a dominant bone in my body. I had countless crushes, and failed attempts at even getting to square one with a woman. Nothing is less attractive than desperation. I was as good looking at the time as I have ever been, or ever will be again… but I didn’t know how to be a man near a woman. I wasn’t wired to work that way. It brought me immense shame. And I was extremely closeted and ashamed of being trans at the time, too.

Looking back, I think my shame of being a virgin may have been such an overwhelming thought that it helped keep my dysphoria at bay.

In Alan Langdon’s acting class, at the start of the school year, we did a quick first scene which he assigned us all, Harold Pinter’s, “Trouble in the Works”, which we all did a fairly poor job at performing… such was the difficulty of this delightfully funny and absurd script. Pinter makes Shakespeare look easy. I have grown to love Pinter and playing Pinter, perhaps more than any other English language playwright.

After that scene was done, we were told to pick a new scene and a new scene partner. I don’t remember how Elisabeth and I ended up together. I remember respecting her mind and thinking she was cute. I know we struggled a bit before settling on a scene from Clifford Odets’, “Golden Boy”. I knew little of the playwright, the script, or Brando’s performance of the role in the movie version.

We picked the scene and got to work.

Our teacher had already mentioned how music could open you to new emotions, as a tool to connect with the text, and my character, a boxer and violinist was ripe for music… in fact, in the scene’s stage directions, he whistled a tune I imagined to be an unnamed violin solo. So together with my scene partner, we went to the classical music section of the Times Square, Virgin Megastore and asked the salesman to suggest violin tunes for me to whistle. He highly suggested, Meditation from, “Thais”, a song that to this day, to me, represents everything beautiful in this world. Go ahead and give it a listen. This blog will still be here when you are done.

See? Gorgeous. It may be perfection.

So, I recorded the song to a cassette tape and had it on my Walkman on eternal repeat. It became my routine. New York City baby! With the most beautiful song as its soundtrack. Focusing on a character so madly in love with a woman, a mobster’s moll, he wins her heart, against all odds, and they drive away to escape together as young lovers. Only to die offstage, in a car wreck. It is an interesting, more contemporary spin on, the classic, “Romeo and Juliet” themes.

Through all this, and it didn’t happen all at once, I found myself falling in love with Elisabeth. I had been in love before, but like they say, this was different. It was love on steroids. I don’t know if I have ever felt anything as wonderful as being in love, and not telling her. Just feeling the love. And the song on my Walkman. And being young, optimistic, and studying acting in NYC. It was everything an artist dreams of.

The day of the scene came, and I remember leaning over to my teacher, Alan, and asking him, “Is it common for an actor to feel in real life what their character is supposed to feel onstage?”

He was obviously surprised by my question because, I suspect looking back at it, I had kind of cut through the two years off classes he was going to teach us and somehow just cut to his entire thesis. His reply was starkly haunting in tone, like an old man passing on his wisdom. “It is uncanny.”, was all he had to say in return. Not only was it common. It was uncanny.

I was shaking uncontrollably by the time it was our turn to finally do our scene for the class. My love for her was physically impossible to contain. To others it looked like fear. To me, it was adrenaline. I knew we had to finish this scene before I could finally tell my partner how I felt about her. I wasn’t going to ruin our scene by telling her before we were done. I could not wait.

We did the scene. It was ok.

I don’t have the clearest memories of her first, second, third, fourth, fifth… etc. rejections. She was gentle, at least at first, with a logical, “We shouldn’t date people in our own class.”

Perhaps, it was my being fed up with being a failure at love and an eternal virgin. I don’t know. But I just could not accept that rejection. I didn’t believe rejection was even an option when my love for her was so loud and so clear.

I didn’t go full stalker, although I did come close.

I know. When a woman says, “No.”, a man is supposed to respect that. I wasn’t unwilling to accept it, I was entirely unable.

Around that time, my assigned mentor who was a year ahead of me in school, asked what scene I was working on in Alan’s class. I told him and he almost went white. “You better remember your lines. Once Terry finds out you worked on that scene, she will never stop making you do it for the rest of your days at Circle.”

Theresa Hayden was the elder stateswoman of the school. She taught method acting. She did her early work with The Group Theatre. At the time, she was nearly eighty, and had a world hardened wisdom about her. Eyes that could see through your bullshit and a mouth that would call you on it. I saw more people reduced to puddles of tears and fits of rage in her class than perhaps in all the other acting classes I have taken combined.

I was always absolutely terrified she would just see I was trans and call me on it. Outing me in front of the class.

And of course, one day in her class she asked, “Has anyone worked on some Odets?” and reluctantly, Elisabeth and I raised our hands… and we were sent up to do our scene. It was torture.

We did our scene for Terry a total of three times that year. The second time was the doozy.

Months has passed since Elisabeth’s rejection. Looking back, that was about as close as I ever got to letting go of it while in school. And once again, we were asked to do the fucking, “Golden Boy” scene.

Midway through the scene, I forgot all my lines.

This particular exercise in scene work in Terry’s class was a demonstration of retaining memorized lines for months at a time, even years. In part, it served to show us that we could retain text over long periods of time by remembering our emotional state from prior times we worked on it. It sounds crazy, and it also, works.

Terry recognized my lapse in memory for what it was and asked me why I was holding back. I panicked, lost, I burst into tears and said, “Because I love her, and she doesn’t love me.”

Oh how young and stupid I was.

Obviously Elisabeth was PISSED to be dragged into my troubles like that. Outed to everyone as a person who had rejected my advances.

And I realize now, that WASN’T even why I was blocked from remembering my lines during our scene. I was blocked because I knew getting up there together would only make me feel my love for her again in front of others and I was already well passed ashamed of it. Trying to move on. My love for her over all this time had just continued to grow and grow, like a malignant cancer. What was once just blossoming, New York, youthful infatuation with someone cute had grown into something so grotesque, even I knew it wasn’t right.

By the time my love for Elisabeth had peaked, it was nearing the size and scope of the boy in, “Equis'” love for horses. Not only did I want to be with Elisabeth, I wanted to BE her, body, mind and soul. I wanted to give up my life for hers.

See? Fucking nuts. Even for a trans person. That is not sane. I mean, it isn’t uncommon for a trans woman to covet their partner’s say, boobs, ovaries and vagina… but to want to BE them, body, mind and soul? That is not common, even for us slightly weird trans folk. I was losing touch with reality, and because only I can see my own thoughts, and this was entirely new, I had no way to know something was off. I thought it was just that first love and heartbreak thing almost everyone else goes through too. I thought, because I was an old virgin, that was why it hurt me more than the average person. I was wrong. I was going insane, and having to resurrect this scene and the feelings that surrounded performing it, it was the perfect storm.

And that day, right there in Terry’s class, in front of everyone, full blown dysphoria took over my life. That is precisely when it took control.

After that event, I auditioned for other schools trying to work out a way to transfer and get away from Elisabeth for the both of us. No school would have me. I wore my dysphoria on my sleeve in those auditions and professors knew at a glance I was damaged goods. Not ready for prime time. Not like I had been the year before.

The following year, Elisabeth and I were moved into different classes for what I can only assume was to protect her from me… which helped in some ways and hurt in others because I knew I was to blame. If only I had kept my love to myself, perhaps it would not have turned into this uncontrollable cancer. It limited our time together, but it was unavoidable that we would work together at times. Dance class. Plays. Shit we could not control.

And the cancerous love I felt for her continued to grow in part because I could not cut her from my life. I knew I had to let her go, and my friends were constantly there reminding me to let her go, like an Idina Menzel chorus from a animated Disney feature. Like I didn’t understand that simple fact, like I hadn’t already tried to let her go, or at least get away from her. It was around then, for the first time in my life, I started to feel suicidal on occasion. Suicide could kill the cancer.

I know this is a story about me, but please, if you haven’t already, acknowledge how cruel and unfair this all was to Elisabeth. A brilliant, talented person with the magnetism of a movie star. A young woman, in the prime of her adulthood just trying to live the dream like everyone else. I see it now. I understand. She had NO need for me and my cancer in her life. She was being smart. She was protecting herself from me. Imagine how terrifying I must have been to her.

At the time, I didn’t know about dysphoria. I have since become quite the expert. At the time, I was undiagnosed and out of control. By the end of my tenure at Circle, I was a suicidal, chain smoking, cocaine addict. Anything I could do to escape the cancerous love. The harder I tried, the more impossible it became.

These 17 or so years later, I ask myself what should I have said on that day in Terry Hayden’s class and the answer that comes to me is entirely different from the one I gave. It wasn’t about Elisabeth. It was my virginal dysphoria twisting a wonderful feeling like love into something grotesque and frightening.

Wanting to be someone, body, mind and soul? That is fucking textbook insanity. Before it came out, front and center, my dysphoria was already destroying my ability to feel regular human emotions like love correctly.

When Terry asked me why I was holding back, my real reason was, “I am trans, and hiding it and not talking about it is driving me insane. I am not thinking clearly. It terrifies me.” I still would have broken down in tears. The class still would have seen what looked like a miraculous acting breakthrough. And seventeen or so years ago, I would have started my path to transition, skipping the endless suffering. I could have had girl friends instead of just trying and failing to get a girlfriend. Woulda, coulda shoulda…

Instead, I blamed love, and dragged an unwilling partner down with me. Trying to steal her away from the mob so we could drive away to somewhere safe. And in a way, it resulted in my death. “It is uncanny.” Yes Alan, it is.

If you don’t leave it on the stage, the emotions you should have released can follow you everywhere else you go.

That is the Method. That is part of the reason why method actors can seem so devoutly religious about their craft. It is partly why they can be so reverent towards their teachers.  It is like a tangible form of magic and it happens every single time you act, if you do it right. All you do is follow the Method.

Not me though. On that day in Terry’s class, I stopped being able to Method act. I mean, I still have access to it, but it is not the first tool I consciously reach for. It became too hot. Too near. Too painful. And I didn’t know HOW to always leave all that on the stage. How could I?Hell, I am only just now learning how to put this into words that I think most people will begin to understand.

So, of course, by the end of my schooling I had things like cocaine addiction to peel off my onion, slowly, meticulously, removing the layers of dysphoric damage so I can get to the root of it all.

And the root of it all, was that day in Terry’s class.

Now, imagine you’re my wife, and I start talking about this one time when I tragically loved another woman, and how that experience haunts me to this day. How would you feel?

Imagine you are one of my former classmates and I hit you up with a drunken Facebook messenger diatribe about that time in Terry’s class. Wouldn’t you want to continue keeping Elisabeth as far away from me as possible? Keep her safe from me?

In Terry’s acting class, when she addressed the oh so notorious, emotional recall, that oft misunderstood, bread and butter of Strasberg’s acting Method, she always said we need to give peak emotional experiences a full seven years before they would be reliably useful for us on stage. It sounded odd at the time but with age comes wisdom. With age and time, comes acceptance. Until you can accept a past peak emotional event, it is almost useless. A fresh memory, if used to say, help you connect emotionally with the text, may not be reliable tomorrow. Why? Because using a fresh memory helps you work through it, thus changing your interpretation of it. It changes how the memory impacts you. Also, a new memory can be too hot, prompting uncontrollable and unpredictable emotional outbursts that cripple your ability to retain control on stage.

By now, I know seven years is an arbitrary, average number. By now, I can feel when a past event is ready to be used for acting. It has to do with assimilation, understanding and acceptance. You have to get past it before you can reliably come back to it.

When we did our emotional recall project in Terry’s class, I struggled to come up with one single seven year old, peak emotional experience. I had to use my grandfather’s death, which was closer to six years old at the time. Such was my privileged and sheltered upbringing in Utah.

Well over seven years after 9/11, for example, I know the memory. I know how it makes me feel. It is not particularly useful as an actor, because it is not full of the emotions you would expect it to be full of. Again, for me, it was a release from dysphoria. A catharsis. Something I have learned is quite common for people in war zones. Since you aren’t dead, you feel more alive than ever. Odd. Unexpected. And there it is now, properly aged and ready for use.

Fresh memories can be triggers. You know what I mean? You are suddenly put right back into the emotions of a situation without any control.

Those 7 year old memories are reliable. They mature like a good Scotch. They don’t trigger uncontrollable emotions. They are accepted fact. The emotions they bring up can be used by an artist to help put that emotion to voice and text.

Actors reading this, if you have not studied Strasberg, in many ways it is an alternative to vocal technique. Vocal technique is incredibly useful and in ways, far more specific than Strasberg’s method alone, and also, far more technically difficult because you are not substituting your own life experience for your character’s, you are easing some of the most tense muscles in your body to allow emotions to flow freely through your voice and out, to the audience.

But some things are just archetypal. Like a first kiss. EVERYONE’S first willing kiss shares the firstness and the kissness in common. You know? There is something universal about a first kiss.

The Method can be SUPER efficient, and it can really help with fast paced projects like auditions and film shoots. In a play, when used expertly, it connects an audience with the actor in a way only method actors like Brando in his prime, or Phillip Seymour Hoffman whilst alive, could pull off.

So WHY, after seventeen or so years, do I keep going back to this day in Terry’s class? Why has it continued to trigger me for so much longer than seven years?

Simple. It is the root of my dysphoria and I can only process it properly when I am not fully dysphoric. I have not had seven years of non dysphoric time to process the root of my dysphoria.

I keep being drawn to it, like a moth to a flame. My friends who were in class that day must think I am playing with fire. My wife, for years, thought she was competing with my ideal, lost love. It almost ruined our marriage. It has ruined several friendships.

Over the years, I have attempted to contact Elisabeth myself, only to be met with blockades that only things like an ocean between us and a Facebook block feature can provide.

What people don’t realize, and I am just coming to terms with it myself, is I can only process that day, my single most peak emotional experience, in a class ironically intent on teaching us to use our peak emotional experiences onstage, when I have cleared all the other outer layers of my dysphoric onion. My time to process this root of my dysphoria can be fleeting. All the time, I am growing new layers of my onion, and they are trying to cover the core root.

The way I see it, I have had about six years of non dysphoric time, a few years after 9/11, a few years after starting hormones and the occasional, engaging acting gig. The right project always makes my dysphoria go away until completion.

And finally, I am starting to put this whole mess together. Finally I am understanding it and coming to terms. Finally, I accept it.

When I say Elisabeth’s name to people who knew me at the time, and when I say it to my wife, I can feel the immediate sigh. I feel it before I see it or hear it. They think I am still responding to her rejection and trying to win her back.

No. At first, I too thought it was that, and God knows I did keep trying to win her back, long after the fifty seventh rejection. I eventually came to terms with that. Years ago. Before I started transition. I get it. I accept it. I have, much to my own surprise, moved on. And I feel terrible for dragging her unwillingly into all of this.

I am TRYING to confront and process that time in my life so it fades away, like peak emotional experiences do. When it does, I theorize I will have creative control over my dysphoria and it will no longer control me.

Time IS of the essence here. Eventually, if I keep falling into dysphoric bouts, the dysphoria WILL win. My perfect survival record will not hold through many more of them.

And I am so close to processing this all emotionally. I mean, here I have explained it clearly to people who aren’t necessarily lunatics, trans folk or actors. Something I was incapable of doing just last night.

About last night. Fuck. I contacted a friend and asked her to contact Elisabeth on my behalf. She freaked the fuck out. I freaked the fuck out. I got drunk. Classic.

I have addressed my addiction to the point where often, I talk about it in the past tense, but I am still prone to the occasional alcoholic binge. I know how I get. It is ugly. Not mean. Not in a Hulk-y way. I just don’t quit. I keep beating my points over and over with a relentless rhythm. And usually, I sober up eventually and feel ashamed.

This time I sobered up to an epiphany. I explained everything to my wife and she finally understood. It was never about Elisabeth. She was an innocent victim of my undiagnosed dysphoria before I had a modicum of understanding as to what I was dealing with. She was the first in a long line of victims just for being too close to dysphoric me. She was more than just in the room where it happened. I dragged her in and even blamed her for it. I shamed her for it. I moped around, making sure everyone knew how sad I was because of her rejection.

I blamed my teachers too. Lashed out at them. Blamed the Method.

And yes, I even blamed myself, which for some reason never rang entirely true although it is entirely my fault.

It was the early signs of dysphoria. When my love went beyond regular love and became some illogical, fantastical obsession. And then, it was full blown, undiagnosed, bat shit crazy dysphoria. Something nobody knowing what they knew then could have prevented. Not me. Not my teachers. Not Elisabeth.

So, here I am.

This is me.

Dysphoria is my psychosis.

Today, I am not dysphoric. So I have to drop everything and write this all down. It is that urgent. It is that important. I need to know this makes some kind of sense to others before I can trust it to assimilate into my collection of past, peak emotional responses. It has to add up. It has to make sense, otherwise it takes longer to come to terms with. I need the memory to fully mature. I need to conquer the triggering effect it has had on my life. I have to understand what tangibly happened on that day in Theresa Hayden’s classroom.

My fear of suicide has caused me to take drastic measures like growing boobs… and another drastic measure, recently asking a friend to reach out to Elisabeth on my behalf. To tell her I understand what I did. That I never stopped searching for the roots of the problem and that I think I almost have it conquered. I asked to see if Elisabeth could finally reach out to me. Something I had stayed away from for quite some time, because I know the harm it has done in the past. I just think some sort of acknowledgement from her would help put this behind me. Just a smoke signal. An aknowledgment that we are now 40 and in different places with our lives. A sort of totem.

I know what dysphoria can do now. I know it will kill me if I don’t kill it first. It makes me want to move fast when I am able to see the root of the onion.

But that desire to see some

kind of a sign from her, once again, in my own special way, negates her fucking right to say, “NO!”

I see her name pop up on Facebook on occasion, unbolded, because she has blocked me from ever talking to her again. And it crushes me. It reminds me of all the damage I did to her.

I see how our old class dispersed in a way none of my other theatre classes did. And I feel like I broke the fucking wheel. I feel like I broke our ensemble. I broke the circle.

I didn’t rape her. I never hit her. I didn’t stalk her. I came very close to what you would call stalking, but I never followed her or went places I was not invited.

What I did was negate her right to say, “NO!”

And behind rape and stalking, right behind them in fact, is that. A woman gets to say, “NO!” No questions asked.

I didn’t realize at the time how my actions, all masculinely douchey, and frightening have been like for her and those closest to both of us.

To me, I was a submissive trans person in crisis and with a broken heart. To me SHE had all the power.

To her? I had to be one of the WORST men.

I do want a chance to connect with her. To tell her I am still working on it. To tell her I am so close to being through this I can taste it. That I am on mile 25 of the marathon. That I am exhausted. And that my love for her, not the gross kind, the real kind, has evolved, deepened, ripened and matured. It has helped me keep pressing through at times when I couldn’t do it alone, because I don’t want to hurt anyone again like I hurt her. That I have learned and still am learning from all this mess.

And I get it. It probably won’t happen. Nobody has more claim to their rights and reasons to avoid me. Nobody I have ever known. And it all happened because I loved her madly. Literally. Madly.

It may take longer without her acceptance than it would with it, and I have tangible reasons to fucking need to move this process through as quickly as possible before another layer of onion grows and I must peal it off yet again to get back to the root of the issue.

And…

I have to respect her right to her, “NO!”

I hope this sheds some light on why I have been so fucking slow to work through this and why I must keep going back. It is the keys to creative control over my dysphoria. I have to play with fire, because if I don’t while I can, it will consume me. The same thing that prevents me from putting my essence, my soul into my acting, is also what wants me dead. It is me or the dysphoria. I am fucking done sharing my life with my dysphoria, and having to take responsibility for all the terrible things I have done whilst batshit crazy, or recovering from an extended bout of being batshit crazy, that fucking sucks. It is like taking the fall for your evil twin.

Much gratitude to my wife, because she patiently listened to and understood this all for the first time today, once I finally was able to provide a logical context for her, and she showed me the importance of writing it all down and sharing it with others. Being able to explain it is a HUGE step in coming to terms with it. Thank you, Shmoopy.

Elisabeth, wherever you are, I am deeply sorry.

Aloha,
Tori

Trigger Warning: DO Read the Comments

Let’s take a look at ways to communicate about trans issues online with strangers who show an anti-trans bias.

Far too often, I see postings from trans folk that begin with things like, “Don’t read the comments” or, “Trigger Warning (TW)”.

Trans folk can be far more sensitive than your average Internet savy folk. The reasons for this vary but to oversimplify, let me just say that trans folk are far too often victims of violence, sexual abuse, bullying… etc. in real life. The suicide rate for trans folk is ridiculously high. The murder rate. Rate of being assaulted. Harassment. Unemployment… etc. The amount of subtle discrimination we are faced with each and every day can be overwhelming.

It is no wonder the trans community will circle the wagons from time to time and try to protect their own. Damn near any member of the trans community knows at least one trans person who was either murdered or committed suicide.

To label something with a *Trigger Warning or to say, “Don’t read the comments.” is a way for trans folk to communicate about our darkest issues without sending a fellow trans person into an unintended dysphoric bout.

Today, I will discuss the opposite. What is it like when you DO read the comments? What is it like when you ignore the trigger warnings? Why is it important? How can we have higher success rates in online discussions? Why should trans people stand up for themselves?

I have been researching this post since, well, since I first logged onto the Internet. Really though, I have had this post in mind for over a year now because of all the news stories leading up to, and following the Bruce Jenner interview (which was what it was billed as before she came out) which gave me plenty of opportunities to chat with folks on Facebook comment sections. Now we have these terrible new bathroom laws to talk about. It doesn’t look like trans issues will be out of the media spotlight any time soon, and someone has to speak up for trans folk in spite of all the trigger warnings.

I had a few rules for this experiment:

1: I only used the Facebook comment sections on, “Reputable” news feeds. I couldn’t be the only pro-trans person who dared to comment.

2: I would turn on notifications and follow the comment thread as much as possible.

3: I would try to out myself as trans whenever it might fit into the conversation. Sometimes without provocation of any sort.

4. I would work to communicate with anyone, no matter their beliefs.

Facebook seemed like a good place to work from, mainly out of apathy. You get a plethora of news stories to comment on and, I did not want to register on a bunch of different websites in order to talk with people. Also, people are less prone to use aliases on Facebook. That suggests they may be more likely to behave as they normally would with a stranger, although anyone’s behavior is typically worse online. Almost all of us have a little bit of a public profile on Facebook as well, so sometimes I could glean more info about the person I was engaged with in the hopes of improving my communication with them. I rarely looked at a person’s profile unless they were really being troublesome.

Facebook also has a system for people to report posts, which I will get into later. It comes in handy in the most interesting of ways.

In the end, I learned some huge lessons about how to better communicate amid overt bigotry. Here are my findings. You may not like them all, but they certainly work for me. That does not mean they all work every time. They just work a higher percentage of the time than other tactics I have tried. Let’s face it, getting someone to admit they are wrong online RARELY happens.

And do I follow these rules all the time? Absolutely not. It is the Internet. Sometimes I want to let of steam or let my hair down. Having a mature discussion with bigots online is exhausting and sometimes I just said, “Fuck it!” and ignored my own rules. But I know that when I do this, at best, I will only be preaching to my choir which does little good in the grand scheme of things.

I look at interacting with anti-trans posters like a salesman looks at potential customers. You use your best tactics and know they will only work a certain percentage of the time on a good day. When a new tactic is found to be more successful, I switch to that tactic. No salesman expects to sell everyone that walks in the door. They just want to sell more than the average salesperson would. They want to beat their last record month.

Also, posting on public boards is a lot of smoke and mirrors. I sometimes lie about personal experiences if it works more often than telling the truth. If people believe it is true, and it gets them to think, it may in fact be the truth I need to be telling. In many ways, having an online discussion with a bigot is very much an act.

Humans are very good at pattern detection, so if they see two or three trans people misbehaving online, they are prone to thinking we all act that way so, if you out yourself online in a comment section, in a way, YOU REPRESENT ALL OF US, and your behavior reflects upon all of us. It is vital that some of us go out of our way to be exemplary.

What I am going to walk you through will take at least a few hours of continuous discussion each time you attempt it. It does not happen with a quick post. It requires patience and diligence. This is a slow game approach.

Ok, without further ado… here is my favorite system.

1. Play to your audience.

Ok. Someone makes a post you disagree with like say, “All trans folk are mentally ill.”

How do you reply? Are you going to get through to this person? Probably not. They have their mind already set and yet, their point is inaccurate and should be corrected for others to see.

So, make a calm post quoting the DSM-V, the diagnostic manual of mental disorders used by American doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. It clearly states, “It is important to note that gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder.” and that quote from the DSM-V text is freely available online for people to see if they wish to confirm it as accurate.

You post this, not for the person who you are replying to, but for your audience. They have not already made an inaccurate statement, so they will not have a vested interest in defending themselves against facts. You may never get through to the person you are replying to, but you corrected their statement which goes a long way towards helping others see why it was false.

2. Try to establish common ground.

Many of my friends HATE it when I do this. What they fail to realize is my intent is to SWAY HEARTS AND MINDS not to preach to my choir. My choir is already on my side.

So what if someone says, “Transgenders will never be female! Their lifestyle is a choice!”?

Well, I WANT to start by explaining how calling us, “Transgenders” is incorrect. Then I WANT to tell them that not all trans people are transitioning to female, that there are trans men too and in fact, “Transgender” is an umbrella term which includes many other folk. We aren’t all transsexual or in transition. Many of us are non binary… etc. I WANT to explain that gender and sex are different. That I was always female. I WANT to explain how it isn’t a lifestyle. I WANT to explain how I had no choice in being trans. That transition was a choice and a very difficult one but being trans was not at all something I chose.

But… clearly, from the imaginary comment I am hypothetically replying to, I can already tell that this fictional person knows very little about the science and medicine behind being trans and that they already have formed a bias against folk like me for whatever reason.

To correct their every mistake is commonly seen by them as aggression. And when you are offensively aggressive towards someone’s thoughts and feelings, they are prone to becoming defensive. Once that happens, any chance of a real discussion is probably lost. So, what do I do?

I try to find the thing I most agree with and build on that. I look for common ground.

They told me I will never be female. Ok.

So I say, “Well, I am a trans woman. That means I have a Y chromosome. It is kind of the whole reason I am a trans woman and have to carry the trans prefix around with me. Without that Y chromosome, I wouldn’t be trans. Of course there are limitations to medical transition and I am well aware of them.”

And a small part of me dies for not going for the jugular… but finding common ground or a middle ground is your BEST CHANCE at starting a good discussion.

The person you are talking to is like a sapling and you want them to grow into a mighty oak that some day could bear the weight of all your points and corrections. But at this point, you will kill them by simply stepping on them too hard.

3. Turn the room.

This directly relates to step 2.

Often times a bar will hire an early evening band to play loud, youthful music and it is used to annoy their regular afternoon bar fly patrons and move them out of the bar in order to make room for the kids who will be spending WAY more money to see the main act later that evening. It is called turning the bar or turning the room. Clearing one crowd to make room for a new one.

Many of my friends HATE this step too.

Look, even people who have anti-trans views have feelings and can feel like they are being attacked. If you join a conversation already in progress, it may have already devolved into insults and tantrums.

A GREAT way to strike common ground, especially if the anti-trans poster is not the one who is throwing around insults, is to smite the pro-trans people who are. You don’t have to press it too hard, just a quick, “Hey now, how would you like it if I said that to you? We are better than this.”

You turn the room. You show your choir, the choir you could be preaching to, that you have a more mature and civilized way to handle this poster. They either shape up, or they stop participating. It works because they are not used to being disciplined by their own advocates. They rarely argue with you if you are on their side of the LGBT debate and are only correctly pointing out that they are being rude for rudeness’ sake.

This clears the room for you to have a more personal discussion with the anti-trans poster.

If you have tried to find common ground, and then defended them from attacks, you have already done two things people RARELY see their opponent do for them online. It greatly increases the likelihood that they will start to listen to your opinion instead of just blocking everything you type from their mind as soon as they see you made a new post.

More on this later.

4. Kill them with kindness.

This one is hard, especially for younger trans folk, but it is worth it’s weight in gold. It is also fairly self explanatory.

Be patient, READ their replies and respond in exhausting detail, always looking for common ground and respect their opinion even if it is respectful disagreement. They really DO feel this way. That a woman doesn’t want a stranger’s penis in their restroom with them does not make them evil. Many women are raised to be skeptical of men. Many learn their own skepticism from their own traumatic life experiences. You know?

The more cruel to you they are, the nicer you MUST be to them. It will be worth it. Do not resort to name calling, passive aggression or even sarcasm (Now do you see why young folks struggle with this?).

Always look for common ground even with the most vile of people. Always respond with the kind of respect and detail you would respond with if someone you love was showing a sincere interest.

Never let them see you sweat.

Keep it light and feel free to use humor if it is not at anyone’s expense. Humor humanizes you.

5. Let others do your heavy lifting for you.

Remember step 1, talk to your audience, step 3, turn the room, and step 4, kill them with kindness? Here is where they pay off.

People will see and read the thread, and they will see you reprimand your rude and immature choir, they will see you patiently, exhaustively and politely communicate with a potentially lost cause and they will come in, reinforce your arguments, say the things they wish you were saying and almost without fail, follow in the more civilized tone you have established.

This further compounds as others stumble upon, see and read the thread. They see a SANE and MATURE trans woman talking to a cruel and biased opponent. They see others coming to your defense. You may even stand out to them as an exemplary human being.

If your reinforcements misbehave, you gently smite them as well and show them you are still in control of the tone of the discussion. This is often easier at this point because you have clearly invested more time and effort into the discussion than they have and people typically respect that, especially when they agree with you ideologically.

Will you win? Almost never. But what you have done is played to your audience and compelled others to empathize with a thinking, feeling trans person. A person who was likely called, “Pervert”, “Mentally ill”, “Predator”, “Freak” multiple times during said discussion. Why? Because you have handled yourself with maturity, intelligence, dignity and class.

Some other tips:

* You will never win the Internet, and even if you are factually correct, you will rarely find an opponent who changes their opinion publicly while you are talking to them. It is simply too embarrassing to admit it when they are wrong.

* Memes suck. Avoid them. You may as well say, “I don’t have my own thought on the matter so here is someone else’s condescending and oversimplified thought typed out over a picture of some shit.”

* Links are garnish. Make statements you can back up with links if asked for them, or add a link to the end of a post, but a link in and of itself is an ineffective post. Many won’t read them. They will just read the title or the website name from whence it came and tell you it is bogus.

* The block feature is great, especially when you are trying to talk to one specific person and are making progress, then out of nowhere, some immature asshole tries to cut in and distract you from your goal. Remove them from your feed. It will look to others, like you were able to ignore them like a meditating monk would.

* The Facebook notification system is a surprisingly good tool. I know… I know. Facebook rarely does anything about notifications, but if someone makes a comment filled with threats or hate speech (especially when it is excessively vulgar or violent) it has a higher chance of working. But after you notify about a post, BLOCK the person and get them out of your life. If you keep fighting them, FB seems less likely to respond in your favor.

But the BEST PART of notifications is using them as a threat. “Hey, just letting you know, and I haven’t done it myself, but that post could get you banned from FB for violating their hate speech policy if it gets reported. You may want to edit it before it causes an issue for you.” That bluff works FAR more often than FB’s team actually does. And, you are still killing them with kindness.

* If you want a more active discussion, pick a developing thread near the top of the comment feed. Many people won’t scroll down 20 or more posts. Your best audience is at the top of the feed.

* If you want to start your own comment thread, get there early. Once a news story has more than 20 comments, the chances of yours staying near the top are greatly reduced. It is kind of like winning the post lottery unless you get in early and make a point people feel like replying to.

* Be prepared to have your profile stalked by strangers. They will really want to see your pictures (especially if you are trans), and some creeps will look for private info to use against you. BE VERY AWARE of what you share with the public and what you share only with friends.

* Avoid God like the plague. God in online discussions about trans issues is a classic straw man. If someone gets you talking about God, facts have gone right out the window. It is a tactic of religious people who know they are losing a debate to throw God out as a last ditch effort to regain control. Pretty soon, a trans person is berating a Christian and looking like the irrational bully. You will lose some of your audience. Stick to facts and avoid getting drawn into a God fight. You just lost any chance of changing a person’s opinion once you do.

* Peer review is a red herring. If you or your opponent demands a peer reviewed study, y’all’re obviously are not walking the walk y’all talk. Scholarly studies published in journals typically cost between $10-30 just to read online. They can’t be shared with others online. Not for free. To do so is illegal. The best you can typically hope for is an article about the study written by someone who actually read it. A sad truth.

* Copy and paste are your friends. If you spend a half hour or more writing an extensive and polite post answering a question or addressing a point you always encounter, and it works, save it and use it again in another discussion. See if it keeps working. The Internet is vast and very few will encounter you more than once to see that you are not painstakingly writing each post to order. Just tweak a few words or sentences to fit the new discussion and use it again.

*  Avoid any news site that seems to have an anti-trans bias, or you will find it nearly impossible to find an audience and all the while you’ll keep getting tag teamed by multiple opponents.

* If a discussion reaches its natural conclusion, or say, the person you are talking to has to go to bed or work or something, shake their virtual hand. Opposing professional sports teams do this after a big game in spite of one side having lost. Thank them, in spite of your disagreements, for the engaging discussion. Remember, they will RARELY change their mind in public, not online, but their last memory of you will be one of you thanking them for listening. It means they will be more likely to reconsider their position and what you had to say the next time the subject comes up.

So, that is it. A post over a year in the making. A post that ground this blog to a halt while I wrapped my head around how to simplify all this into a fairly concise read. I hope it was worth it.

Until next time, aloha,
Tori

Bathrooms: Number One

It is time I came clean. I am not really transgender. I always knew the day would come when lawmakers like Fla. State Representative Frank Artiles (R) would see through my ruse and decide to propose legislation that will protect the sanctity of bathrooms from progressive thinkers like me. His law would make it illegal for trans people to use restrooms that correspond with their gender. In other words, I could be fined, jailed or both for using the woman’s room if this bill passes. At least in Florida.

I hatched my plan decades ago. All I had to do was feign dysphoria, struggle with addiction, attempt suicide, come out to my friends and family, convince psychological and medical professionals I was trans, get my blood tested, start hormone replacement therapy and wait for the hormones to start showing some results, become sterile, grow boobs, get my beard lasered off, learn to apply makeup, buy a bunch of new clothing, lose my muscle definition, work on my posture and voice, start this blog, give up my male privilege… etc. and after all that, I would be able to go into the women’s room whenever I wanted, you know, just to hang out and pick up chicks.

The beauty of my plan was its simplicity.

Ah well…

It was fun while it lasted… hiding in stalls, waiting for just the right woman to step inside. Not just any woman, mind you, I had to reject many and just keep waiting. Imagine their disappointment, the ones I rejected. After opening a stall door (keep the door unlocked, this is key) and discovering the majestic me, in all my glory, hunched on a toilet seat like a sexy gargoyle, so neither my head nor my feet were visible, only to be sent on her way to look for another stall, an empty stall, because she was not good enough for me. It was worth it though, because eventually, sometimes minutes, sometimes hours later, the perfect woman would enter my stall.

At these times, I typically like to start with a joke. Something to win her heart, “Hey baby, you come here often?” or sometimes a line even more clever than that.

Every time I have done this, the woman of my choosing swoons and moves to me for an intoxicating embrace, immediately forgetting why she came into the bathroom in the first place. She’s under my spell, at least until I reject her a few days later and go back to work, stalking female restrooms for my next.

It is so simple, my plan. Elegant. Seductive. Effective.

At least it WAS, until Representative Asshat, and others like him decided to ruin it for people like me.

I guess it is time to give it up, before I get into legal trouble. Hard to imagine after all this time, there were never any laws already in place to protect people who use restrooms from this type of behavior…

So, I am sorry to my friends, family and wife. I am sorry to all the followers of this blog. I misled all of you, just so I could use the women’s restroom… and I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for these meddling lawmakers.

It is time to pack up my dresses and makeup and donate them to some worthy cause. It is time to stop taking my hormones. It is time to return to life as a man.

Aloha,
Steve

When Did I Know I Was Trans*?

At five years old

I was putting my baby sister’s

diapers on.

I saw her vagina.

I wanted one.

I wanted one.

– Eve Ensler

The Vagina Monologues

 

I’ve quoted this portion of Eve Ensler’s play because it really sums up the realization I had at a very young age, although I had no sister. I was an only child. Many details surrounding my realization are hazy as they tend to be with early memories, because so many of the details surrounding the event were incomprehensible at that age and therefore, not stored away like other more mature memories.

Also, worth noting, I was a very sick child. I probably would not be alive today if it were not for modern medicine, but I also would likely have clearer memories from my early years had I not been on some pretty hard drugs for quite some time.

In ancient times, the combination of my early illness which I overcame, combined with my non-binary gender, would have made me a great candidate for a shamanistic position within the tribe. Instead, I became an actor. But hey, a storyteller and a shaman were not that different in ancient times. Both were unique and valued positions within a community and they stood outside the typical hunters and gatherers. I am hard wired differently than most people, and it is frequently misunderstood in these modern times.

As I transition, my ability to see things from multiple viewpoints has increased exponentially. Male and female, liberal and conservative, religious and secular, all these things and why they lead to silly conflict that could easily be avoided are becoming as easy for me to read as a Dick and Jane story.

If only my own inner conflicts were as easy to decipher.

The human mind does not grasp the concept of gender until 3-5 years old. Most trans people realize they are different during this window of time, although a fair percentage learn later, around puberty, and a few learn even later still. The vast majority make the discovery before the age of eighteen. The amazing thing is in spite of this realization most remain closeted. It is as if, as soon as they know they are different, they also realize that their difference will not easily be accepted by the society around them. Typically, a society that has already told them time and again that they are a boy or a girl and nothing in between. Even 3-5 year olds come to this rather complex conclusion.

Perhaps society has become so large, global even, that the collective hive is more important than the individual who is unique. Perhaps that is a good thing in many cases. We can’t have people who disagree with the meaning of traffic lights and one way streets on our roads without increasing the mortality rate of others.

I have a deep respect for religion. It serves a purpose. I am also one who tends to look at things from a secular perspective, especially when it comes to concepts like society and gender, things most people silently agree upon even though they often enough do not realize these very things are completely conceptual. The only reason society is real is because most people agree to live within it. Same goes for gender.

I know some of you are already in disagreement, and that is one of the fun things about having a blog. You can disagree with me all you want, but the post remains. I will appreciate any comments after this post and will respond if further clarification is needed. So much time is spent on the Internet trying to prove yourself right at the expense of others. It can be a delightful waste of time.

Why is gender conceptual? Well, those of you who read this blog regularly already might have a hunch where I am going with this. Gender lives between the ears. I am the gender I think I am, and I am also the gender others think I am. That means I can simultaneously be both male and female within the concept of gender. Physical sex works differently and legal sex works differently too, although legal sex, like gender, is conceptual. Physical sex is based in gonads and chromosomes. Legal sex is based in a societally agreed upon piece of paper. Gender is invisible. One could argue it does not really exist at all, outside the mind. It is both a complex concept, and yet one most of society agreed upon at a very young age without even realizing it. If you see a woman, you gender them female. If you were to learn that they have or had a penis, that they are chromosomally male, it might change your opinion about their gender or it might not. Because gender is a concept, it works on a spectrum even though most people see it in black and white or ones and zeros, which is known as the gender binary. Gender fluidity is a thing, because people can present as they will, or even change their own opinions from day to day or moment to moment about who or what they, or someone else happens to be.

As for religion, I find it to be one of the most useful constructs within society and also one of the most harmful. People like to be right. Religion is yet another place where people can convince themselves of how right and righteous they are. The most adamant are frequently the most polarizing and incorrect in the eyes of others.

And yet, humans have a huge capacity for spirituality. Spirituality as a concept is as important as society or gender, it is one of those things we agree upon often without knowing it. What is spirituality? It is belief in spirits. What are spirits? They are things that exist, but not in a tangible form. Concepts like society and gender are by their very nature, spiritual. They only exist in the mind or the collective knowledge we share. We live in a world based on, from the cornerstone to the roof, intangible spirits that we agree upon in order to construct a society.

Homer Simpson is a spirit, he is intangible and exists only because people agree, therefore reifying him in the process. One could argue the same about God.

Humans have a huge capacity for the spiritual. Any human with an imagination spends part of their time amongst the intangible world of spirits. It both exists and does not exist simultaneously. Memories too, are spiritual in nature.

And that brings this meandering post back to my point. My memories of discovering I am trans are quite vague and hard to put into words.

The moment I remember most, perhaps it was at a babysitter or a family gathering, was innocently catching a glimpse of a baby girl’s diaper being changed and in that moment having my entire understanding of what was real, who I really was, flipped on its head. It was not sexual at all, as that concept came much later for me. It was just the realization that girls were physically different than boys. It wasn’t just a thing people decided to call us, girls were different physically. Not only that, but my brain matched the female physicality rather than the one I had been born with. It was not a decision, it was a realization, an awakening, an awareness that I spent decades learning to cope with and hide before realizing the futility of that endeavor.

At a very young age, I grasped the concept of gender, like humans do but, my realization at the time caused me to feel mentally incongruous with my physicality. The very discovery children tend to have around that age thrust me into realizing how conceptual and spiritual “Reality” really is. At the same time as my peers were realizing their assigned roles, I was awakening to the fact that I was assigned incorrectly and I feared society had little room for people like me, who didn’t fit their suggested mold. I found a respite inside the theatrical community, where the world of spirits could be made real, if only for a finite period of time before returning to their spiritual form once again.

To me, the imaginary is as real as anything else, because society itself is based upon a collective imagination. You may disagree with my gender. That is fine. We are both right. No need to prove yourself right at my expense.

Aloha,

Tori

The ED

WTF am I doing? After almost a year of transition, I am finally being struck by a BFO, a blinding flash of the obvious. I really don’t have any clue what I am doing. Like The Greatest American Hero, I do this all without instructions.

I realize I have no clue what being female really feels like, so there is absolutely no way to know if I am doing it right. I was raised male.

Even though I knew I identified as female, I did not outwardly rebel against my male upbringing, unless you consider my life as an actor a rebellion. I was never an alpha male, but nobody seemed to think I was trans, or particularly feminine. I did have my share of gay guys show attraction towards me, but I never entertained those options. I was a nerd, chubby until 20 years old. I got by on my personality and humor. I was not threatening.

Nobody doubted I was male. All that time I felt like a walking, talking, falsehood. After almost a year of euphoric transition, that feeling has returned. This time though, I feel like a false woman. At least I am very aware of how far I still have to go.

Perhaps I am just welcome in either club but I do not have membership, just good sponsors. I do not feel the part of a man, and I do not quite look female.

My voice is a pain in the neck. Literally. Try talking in a high range for any amount of time. It can hurt. It takes a lot of work and all the time I feel like a big phony. There is little worse than feeling like a fraud when you are attempting to be more authentic. Alas, I have a low voice. It is going to take time and effort to move past it and into a female range. It is quite possible to get there but voice is the bane of many a trans woman’s existence.

Lately though, I get struck by one screaming question: WHY? Why go through all of this? Why change my name? Why change my gender marker? Why wear makeup? Why change my wardrobe? Why change the way I communicate with people?

I guess the answer is simple. I have already stated it in this post. I already feel like a falsehood as a man.

Everybody accepted me as a man, except ME. Now I have turned the table. I am attempting personal acceptance at the risk of losing everybody else.

Transition is an action. While I am transitioning I am crossing from one place to another. Perhaps some day I will earn my ED.

What is an ED? It is when I finally get to add an ED to transition. Rather than being in transition, I will have transitionED. Perhaps that will never be the case, but many trans folk successfully transition. They earn their ED.

I have had conversations with many people since I began this journey. Most of them do not fully understand why I would ever transition, and yet they do their best to accept me. It just does not compute to them and perhaps that is a good thing. It means they are wired right and even the concept that someone else might not be is hard to grasp. I have been told that trans folk never fit in. They never look right. They never pass.

Well, after meeting a handful of trans folk (literally five) this year, who I had no clue were actually trans, I entirely disagree. Trans folk are very good at clocking other trans folk… but you only notice the trans folk you notice. It is easy to assume you have a perfect batting average because you can tell every single time you can tell. It is egotistical to assume nobody could ever fly beneath the radar. It takes time. It takes effort. It happens. Trans folk can very frequently pass.

Once you know someone is trans, you KNOW. It is human nature to start looking for flaws. Looking for things that make a person recognizable as their former self (even if you never knew them pre transition). But if someone does not know, they do not know.

One issue for trans folk (particularly trans women), and a standard placed upon them by society, is beauty. Trans women are often expected to either be beautiful (it’s a TRAP!), or obvious (it’s a MAN!). The most successful transitions I am aware of, are more often than not, the folk who do not try too hard to look perfect. Overcompensation can out you… nobody in their right mind should look like a Barbie Doll. Many trans women dress far younger than they actually are. I understand. They are making up for lost time. It sometimes makes me sad. So many transitioners are hung up on the fact they did not transition earlier.

Most non-trans folk fail to ever entertain the notion that a trans person may just try to look normal. To simply blend in. It is far easier than I thought. I have good days and I have bad days. Some times I am a hot mess no matter how hard I try. Others, I can blend in, in broad day light.

One trick; you do not want to look your best. Looking good, or even trying to look good gets people to look at you. The more they look, the more likely they are to clock you. Being clocked is potentially dangerous. In 2012, more than 50% of the LGBT hate crime murders committed in America were against trans folk, the vast majority were trans women. Eeeeep!

How do I know if I am not being clocked? People just do not look at me at all. Or their glance does not linger. Knowing glances are not always bad, usually they are the, “I know you are trans and hey, I think that is cool. Keep on truckin’.” kind of glance. But having someone’s face contort into disgust just because they clocked me happens frequently enough to keep me on my high heeled toes.

Even on a good day, I only pass every so often but it is becoming more and more common. My posture and my voice will out me almost every time I move or speak. But hey, I do ok when I stand still and am very quiet.

Sometimes I get to be a fly on the wall as friends or family debate who/what I am right in FRONT of me. “No, if she wants to be a woman, SHE is a woman!” Sigh…

So, WTF am I doing? I am working towards my ED. I am fighting to fit in, to be accepted for once by myself and by society. Self acceptance comes so much easier to me now and due to that, I hardly care if I never pass fully elsewhere. I wish safety was not such an issue. I am along for the ride, so self acceptance is a huge relief. I can’t wait for that ED though… except…

… once I have my ED, then what?

Aloha,
Tori

IMG_1313.JPG

Back to the Future

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I went home for ten days, after eight years of being away. My primary reason for returning was to attend my 20th High School Reunion, as I had seen my parents a couple weeks prior when they’d come to Hawaii. I was quite tentative about going to the reunion. I grew up in a Red State, and I was one of the few in my school who was not religious. I grew up in Utah which is predominantly LDS (Mormon).

Utah High Schools are unique in one key way. The LDS Church tends to buy property next door to the school and, they run a seminary there, a school for studying the LDS religion. Students at the public high school have the option to take one fewer elective class from the high school and instead, go next door to take a class in the seminary building. This allows LDS students to further their religious studies while, “Technically” not crossing the sometimes hazy line that separates church and state. Still, seminary class highlighted who was Mormon and who wasn’t amongst the student body. Also, non seminarians had to take an extra class at the high school. It wasn’t exactly like we were allowed to mess around for one period a semester if we weren’t going to seminary. Most state governments would see the flaws in this system. Not Utah. This was just one example where Utah law served to highlight the differences between Mormons and Gentiles (yes, non-Mormons are Gentiles. In Utah, you can be a Jewish Gentile).

In many ways, I took being non-Mormon in a Utah public school as a challenge. I worked hard to tow the line. To live a life of morality that would put many Mormon class mates to shame. I did not wish to be the stereotypical non-Mormon bad boy. I did not smoke, drink, do drugs or sluff. I remained virginal. I kept my grades up. I even managed to become quite popular accidentally just because I was part of our highly visible, weekly, televised news program and, a member of our school’s state championship winning drama team. Being an actor at my high school was a big deal, when compared to other schools… I mean, we were still drama nerds, but cooler than many other a school’s drama nerds because we reliably brought home a bunch of 1st place trophies. Nobody voted for me and yet, people tended to know of me. Popularity can be such a big deal in high school. I never really sought it out, it just happened all the same. I’d gone from a class of 14 to a class of 500+ and somehow, I didn’t get swallowed up by it all.

Members of the LDS Church are not typically creepy, Bible thumpers. They don’t burn crosses in Gentile’s yards or go out on lynchings. I hope that much would be obvious. They are raised to be polite, loving, hard working and geared towards family. They can be intimidating simply because they are SO practiced in being good people. I mean, like really, really good people. Not phony nice… NICE nice.

The vast majority of my high school friends were/are Mormon. They weren’t constantly trying to convert me and I was not trying to get them to stray. We accepted each other in spite of our differences, and we frequently acknowledged those differences through good natured jokes.

My core group of friends were the folks who over the course of a year or so, decided to eat lunch together. We were an odd collection of people with different beliefs, politics and, ethnicities. For a bunch of Utahns, we were quite the diverse group. The things we had in common were, we were pretty nerdy, smart and, we respected people for their differences. We would spend our lunch breaks debating politics, religion, scientific theory and, whatever else we could come up with. These debates would get quite heated but they never became personal because we understood the need for differing opinions in order to have a good debate and, we collectively were willing enough to look at all sides of an issue even if that meant we may change our own opinion eventually. It is safe to say, they are the smartest, most tolerant group of people I have ever had the honor of knowing, and yes, most of them are Mormon.

Then we graduated. Many of my friends moved away to go to school. Of those who remained, most left on LDS missions a year later. They went around the world to share their beliefs with others, to ride mountain bikes, wear white shirts and dark ties and, to have countless doors slammed in their faces.

I remained in Utah. I made new friends at the University. I continued acting. I started to smoke, drink and, began a love affair with marijuana. I had the time of my life and I learned at a remarkable pace.

Then my missionary friends started to return and, I was filled with a shame that sadly kept me from completely reuniting with them. While they were gone, I had convinced myself that I had fallen too far from the tree. I no longer thought we had things in common with each other. I avoided them like I had some contagious disease and I did not want them to catch it.

It is funny to think about it now. I am sure when I started this post and talking about Mormons, many reading this thought I would talk about how terrible they are. In reality, I did not feel like I could continue living up to the high standards they’d set. I’d convinced myself that I was the terrible one. So, I broke all ties.

After undergrad, I moved to NYC to continue learning, acting and making mistakes. I had already planted the mental seed that I was not as good of a person as I had been in high school, and that continued to weigh me down.

These self doubts were directly related to my gender dysphoria. The feeling of being trapped as a male were taking their toll. Drugs and drinking helped me escape, I thought. Smoking cigarettes was an attempt at slow suicide. I came very close to transitioning. VERY close. Then, the Twin Towers fell.

I will write about 9/11 at length in a month or so. Let me just say for now that it was terrible and I was close. The thing about huge tragedy, tragedy that is unfathomable, is it can bring with it great catharsis. Something so big can really make all your other problems feel extremely small. 9/11 lifted my dysphoria for quite some time. The release from dysphoria allowed me to man up and seize the opportunity, especially when I met the woman who would eventually become my wife, just eleven days later on September 22, 2001.

We stayed together in NYC for a few years before my dysphoria started to innevitably kick in again. A common side effect of dysphoria is it can cause a person to stagnate. I had trouble holding a job, and even more trouble looking for one, or even leaving the house for that matter. I wasted my time watching television and surfing the Internet. Our relationship was deteriorating and my dysphoria was back in full force. I could not bring myself to tell my future wife I was trans. Instead, I did the same thing to her I’d done in Utah to my high school friends. I’d decided to protect my future wife from my stagnating self. I broke up with her and moved back to Utah. She was better than me. She deserved better than me. I would never change. I wasn’t worth her love.

So, I moved back “Home” and once again, i created a whole new set of friends. I avoided my undergrad friends. I avoided my high school friends. I started over. I am pretty good at starting over. In fact, I tend to thrive for a good while before the stagnation kicks in. I got a number of professional acting jobs and, I got full time work at a professional theatre. It was really a great creative time. I also, kept calling my future wife on the phone and, we’d talk for hours. Eventually, she visited Utah and we patched things up, much to her circle of friend’s collective chagrin. After all, I did dump her once.

I applied to grad schools and was accepted to The University of Hawaii. My future wife moved with me, and I got to start over yet again… again. I proposed to her, came out as trans to her and, very shortly after graduation, we were married.

Let me talk a bit about grad school. I started out very well, just like I do, but my dysphoria returned with full force more quickly than it had in the past whenever I had run away to start over. By the end of the first semester, I was dealing with full on stagnation. I would take classes and do well all semester long, only to fail to complete the final project for absolutely no good reason at all. It was a humiliating pattern I was stuck in, and my teachers were quite annoyed by it and, annoyed with me as a student. I was rude, defensive and, I carried myself around with an air of superiority that was oh, so transparently betrayed by my multiple failures. None of my professors could put a finger on the root of my problems (why was I [sarcastically] paying them?) and, at the time, I was helpless to do or say anything about my issues. To this day, the head of the UHM Theatre Department HATES me. I think he gave me my degree just to get me out the door and yet, I did eventually pass all my classes and meet all the requirements. I earned my degree. The hard way. That I made it through, with my closeted and cripplingly dysphoric secret in tow, is damn near miraculous.

The spiral tightens as it spins downward. As I closed in on my degree, the spiral wound tighter and tighter.

Alcohol addiction was getting bad, and it only got worse after graduation until I got all suicidey and realized I had to transition NOW… if only to see if it would work. It is working.

Then, I started the process of coming out to all my friends. Living in Hawaii, and not having many old phone numbers, I had to come out to a lot of people via Facebook. First, I came out to my friends in Hawaii, because they were closest geographically, and Hawaiian culture is generally chilled out, so I did not anticipate many bigotry issues. I was limited in the people I could tell in Utah, and on the mainland in general, precisely because circles of friends overlap and my mother, father and, my wife all wanted to tell some people themselves and that effect would ripple. After a month or two, I rushed my parents and wife along. Eventually, my folks had told their brothers and sisters and, they gave me the go ahead to tell everyone I wanted. My wife lagged behind.

At around the six month transition mark, I unilaterally came out to everyone on my male Facebook account and invited them to friend me over at my new, female account. There were some interesting side effects. The main ones included many friends thinking I was joking or deciding my account had been hacked. Oh, also, my wife was PISSED. Time and again during transition, things that are good for me have an opposite impact on those closest to me. I did not properly respect the fact that by coming out in such a grand way, I had outed my wife as a quasi-lesbian. She does not identify as a lesbian, but she is married to me, eventually she will be a lesbian or bi, in the eyes of the law. Of course, she, at the time, was allowed to communicate with whichever friends she wanted. I was not. Eventually, I felt I had waited long enough and I acted against her will. I never anticipated her reaction being so negative and she didn’t properly understand how isolated I was required to be by being closeted unintentionally by someone else, when I was ready to come out.

I came out to everyone when my wife was too busy bringing home the bacon to keep her thoughts straight, let alone explain to everyone she knew that she’d married a trans woman who was finally ready to be out to the world.

Of course, I had come out to many people individually. Some on Facebook, some over the phone and, some face to face. The Facebook ones were the worst. Imagine having to explain your gender individually to people you have known for years, so they would migrate over to a new, female account where I could safely remain closeted from people I had not yet told.

“Hi,

You used to know me as Tommy, but things have changed, you see, I am trans and… blah blah blah…

Aloha,
Tori”

It got fucking old, fast. Sometimes I would just try to add folks as friends without writing them the obligatory and, embarrassing note but eventually, after Facebook twice accused me of running a phony account thus requiring me to verify my existence in order to continue posting, I changed tactics.

The thing is, I could not bring myself to come out to my high school friends individually no matter how close we had been. They did not find out until I came out to everyone. Not one of them. I was too ashamed.

Once out to all of them, WOW did they support me! Long conversations began with people I had not spoken to in years. Two people asked if I was going to the 20th reunion. I said, “No”. They said I should. Both of them actually promised they would go if I did, but they were not planning on going otherwise, and yes, they both kept their promise.

Of course, I am poor and unemployed so getting to the mainland from my isolated rock in paradise was purt’near impossible. Then the Deus Ex Machina, my father in law, said he would pay for my wife and I to visit them up in Montana this summer (if we paid him back when we could). After my wife did some negotiating and, as she slowly recovered from being outed by me, she got herself a ticket to visit her family in Montana and got me a ticket to see mine in Utah at the time of my reunion.

It really sucks to think that I outed my wife against her will, and yet that very outing is the only reason I was convinced to attend my reunion. I would not have reconnected with any of these people in time for the reunion otherwise. Everything comes at a price. Sigh…

So, word started to get out that I would be attending. I remember having a conversation with one of our former student body officers online that I wanted to be called Tori and not Tommy. If we had name tags I wanted my female name or I would walk out! I was pretty catty about it. Uncharacteristically catty, in fact. Those things really do not tend to bother me that much, but my point was: If y’all can’t treat me as the transitioning woman I am, spare me the time and effort because I am already scared shitless to be doing this at all.

A few days later, he contacted me again with an interesting question: “What should we call you in old photographs?” I did not know. He suggested we go with Tori and, I went with his decision. It was right then that I realized how in some ways, simply by transitioning, I had become a person with special needs. It was an eye opener. It was humbling. I made a point to do my best not not to make a stink about little things like name tags ever again. I do not wish to be THAT trans woman.

And, what on Earth was I going to wear?

I flew to Utah about a week after my wife flew to visit her family. After catching up on sleep, getting a new driver’s license and, going to the dentist, the first social thing I did was call my former high school drama teacher. 81 years old and, she is as sharp as ever. Sharper. She confessed she struggled to come to terms with my transition, but she is still very much my mentor and she freely handed me some amazing pearls of wisdom, which I have been using ever since with amazing results. She is one smart cookie.

Then my mom took me to the University of Utah Theatre Department to get my hair cut. Well, she took me to get my wig cut. Yeah, my wig needed some work. They get old. Shorter is better. Yay! New hair!!!

The first thing I did that was at all reunion related was I went down to Orem to jam with the old garage band. The BAND!!! After high school, a couple friends from our lunch table decided I would make a great lead singer for their garage band (ha!) so they brought me in and for a while, we made some music. We recorded an album. Eventually life and school took us our separate ways. I never thought we would reunite, not even for one night. Getting back together was just like old times and we even got some poor quality recordings out of it. We actually sounded a good deal better than our recording equipment captured. There was something there. A career as rock stars? No. But there is a living pride we rightly share in not just being a band, but in writing and producing our own songs. We weren’t a cover band. We ARE Children of the Mud.

The next day was the first day of the reunion. I am thankful to have hung out with my band mates before because I now knew I had at least two friends who would tolerate me at the reunion. I was very nervous though. I tried my best to prepare for the worst. What if someone said something bigoted that was met with approval by others?

A friend of mine, my best friend from high school in fact, had arranged to drive me to the reunion and then, we would duck out early and catch dinner. It was kind of like a date. Only we are both happily married.

That said, he picked me up when he said he would. I made him wait for a minute or two while I finished getting ready. Then, he drove me to the reunion and walked me inside. Neither of us knew what to expect and yet he still walked me in just so I could hold my head high.

Now, I am a manly-ish, lesbian, trans woman but I confess that having a man there to protect me as I walked into the unknowns of my past and present, made me truly understand and respect chivalry. He asked if he could take me because he thought I might need the support. He invited me to dinner afterword because he thought I might need an exit strategy. All he had done was drive me a mile and walk inside with me and yet, it was a profoundly moving experience; both in needing and, in having his protection. Good friends are hard to find.

Suddenly, I was face to face with the former student body officer, the one who I had foolishly insisted make everybody call me Tori. He smiled from ear to ear and handed me a pre-made name tag with, “Tori” written on it. I noticed everybody else was making their own name tags and that he’d also handed me my own blank one. I wrote my name on it and placed it on my chest. I placed the pre-made name tag in my purse to save. It now resides in my high school yearbook. As a side note, this was the first time I’ve had to deal with the issue of where to place a name tag on a female top, over boobs. Eeeeep! Weird.

The reunion started off slow. In fact, there were so few people there early on, that we were kinda’ forced to talk to one another in spite of the awkward vibe we all could feel. Our high school is HUGE, and with just a handfull of people there, we only made it feel bigger. These early discussions were weird more often than not, even though I quite like the people I talked to. I think we were all getting our sea legs. A reunion is a kind of phony event, it celebrates graduation but it does not take place on the actual anniversary of your graduation. It is a get together where most people in their own way fear they won’t live up to expectations. It took about a half hour and a bunch more people arriving before people seemed to settle into a groove.

After an hour or two, I noticed I was getting pretty good at mingling. Few people dared mention my transition to my face, and yet, everybody seemed to know my name even without looking at my name tag. I imagine word got out. No big deal, I am getting used to that. Be the obvious and only trans person in a room, and people will have a fairly easy time remembering you.

Eventually, I realized I was having just as good a time talking to people I did not know very well or at all, as I was chatting with my old friends. Seems 20 years can cause people to become pretty darn chilled out and interesting.

But then, I couldn’t take it any more. I had to pee. Nooooooo!!! Couldn’t I make it three lousy hours without going? Sadly, a side effect of the testosterone blocker I take is, it makes me need to go quite frequently. I can rarely make it to the intermission of a play before I have to get up and go any more. Here I was, at my reunion and I had to do that criminal thing everyone else takes for granted and, I did not want anyone to find out. I walked around the school and all the bathrooms were locked except for the ones in the indoor courtyard where we were all gathering. Fortunately, most of the people were gathered on one side of the courtyard so, considering how I am now a ninja, I stealthed my way into the empty loo on the other side, did my business and left. I do not think anyone noticed. My discomfort with using public toilets is mostly self-imposed but really, people can argue that I do not belong in either room. I used the women’s, FYI. It is how us ninjas roll.

As I’ve said, very few people dared to mention my transition to my face. I appreciated those who did because they were willing to cut through the bullshit. I mean, I can understand the questions about wife, job, family, where I currently reside and whatnot but – HOLY SHIT ARE THOSE BOOBS REAL?!? Kinda’ seemed like my transition was also important to folks but they frequently enough, didn’t quite know how to address it. I did my best to bring it up myself when folks seemed uncomfortable. Joking can be very helpful.

“What have you been up to Tori?”

“Oh, you know… transing. Transing all over the place.”

Once it was out there and, once people had discovered I had a sense of humor about the transitioning elephant in the room, they tended to let their guards down. After an hour or two, I was no longer waiting for people to come to me, I was freely crashing their conversations… just like old times. The more at ease I became, the more at ease everyone around me was.

I discovered something fascinating. My name was not Tori to some people. To them, I was known as TommyToriOhMyGODIAmSoSorry. Being called by my full and formal name will take some getting used to. Usually I am only called that by my mother and even then, only when I am in trouble.

I suppose it is as good a time as any to mention that this night the reunion was at our old high school and there was no alcohol being served so inhibitions were lifting the old fashioned way. People were having fun in spite of themselves and in spite of the innate awkwardness that comes from attending any large reunion.

My ride and I never found the need to duck out early. We stayed until the end. We even went to an after party at a local bar.

Ahhh the bar. That was a lot of fun, at least it was once we got in. Getting in was perhaps the worst experience of the evening.

So… my ride took me to the bar where we were going to meet some friends. Three of us walked in and Bluto the bouncer, immediately stopped us to check our identification. I am fine with this, although it outs me. The law is the law. I know I do not pass often enough as female, and still, it is kinda’ embarrassing. It confirms my old identity. But first, the bouncer noticed one of my friends was still wearing his name tag from the reunion and demanded he take it off. I guess dive bars have dress codes now. Whatever… I mean it isn’t like we’d just come here from our 20th reunion or anything, and that, “Hello My Name Is” name tag had sentimental value to him or our group or anything like that… my name tag meant something to me.

Eventually, it was my turn. I handed him my Hawaii ID. He looked at it for a while. He looked at me. He looked at it again. Finally, he asked, “Why does your ID look different compared to the other Hawaii IDs I see?” I quickly explained that it was not a drivers license, it was a state ID. They look different. He looked at it again. He looked at me. He looked at it again… again. Finally, I reached into my wallet and pulled out my new, Utah driver’s license. I didn’t before because the DMV had suggested I continue using my old identification until my hard copy was issued (this one was on unprotected paper) because I would likely need a hard copy of my ID to fly home in a few days. Since he already had my other ID in his hands, I gently tossed the paper ID on his desk when he snapped, “Let me give you a bit of advice. Do not throw shit at me!” I guess, since the piece of paper did leave my hand and float through the air before landing squarely in the middle of his desk, one could argue that I threw it, but if it was thrown at him, I had terrible aim, and an even worse choice of weapon. He then compared both IDs, took out a sheet of paper and spent an intrusively creepy amount time either writing ID info down, or pretending to do so. Finally, he let us all in. My friends could see I was upset. It did feel like discrimination. I was clearly old enough to go inside. Don’t flatter me, I don’t look THAT young. I was so flummoxed, I was literally shaking. I have half a mind to Yelp him a new asshole. I did get his name…

Sigh…

Once inside, the bar was great. After a few hours, hanging out with a delightful bunch, including the delightful pixie I, and everyone else I had ever known in high school, had crushed on. My ride, the friend who had to remove his name tag, and I, decided we would soon leave and catch dinner/breakfast and then… my bladder attacked again. Guess where the restrooms were? If you guessed, right across from the stupid bouncer’s desk, you would be right.

Ninja tactics are old and deeply rooted. In order to get past this guard, I had to strategize, so I collaborated with a female friend, my smoking ally. She informed me that if I came into any trouble for using the restroom, our entire group would raise Holy Hell. I am THAT good. I had used the often whispered about, ninja mind trick. Now my whole group had my back.

So I snuck in, like I do, and I did the urine thing like we all do. I walked out, and Bluto the bouncer, or whatever his name is was staring me right in the eyes. I shrugged him off and rejoined my group. Ninja!!!

We closed the place.

Foooooood!!! My ride took me and my friend to a place called Dee’s, which is like Utah’s own Denny’s or Village Inn and yes, it is better. Otherwise, we would’ve gone to Denny’s or Village Inn. The night ended when my ride took me home after we’d chatted for a while in the parking lot where he’d once worked as a bag boy.

The next morning, my Dad, relieved to see me said, “When did you get home?” I explained that it was around 3:30 A.M. “Well, I woke up around 3 and when I realized you were not home, I almost called the cops because I just knew something had happened to my girl!”

How sweet is that? I am so sorry I worried him. At the same time, he quite likely would have slept right through if I was a guy. AND, I had a heckuva designated driver after all. I am not used to the emotions others have simply by thinking of me as female or vulnerable.

That afternoon, I went to The Pie to meet fellow members of our high school Pie Club. Actually, we used the symbol for Pi, so we could use it on our resumes and look like we were in some kind of math club. In reality, The Pie is the best pizzeria in Utah and, I promise you, one of the best in the world. You may like New York style pizza, or Chicago style but Pie is PIE. It is its own thing and, I can not compare it to other pizza without misleading someone who has not tried it. Thick crust, great sauce, TOO MUCH cheese and, grease enough to clog a heart once it coagulates. Good stuff! Oh, and they make 23″ pies. That may not sound too big, until you see one. Keep in mind, Pizza Hut’s largest pizza is 13″, and terrible.

So we filled up on Pie, then I went home and got ready for night 2: The Sequel, which was a more formal event. My Mom did my makeup, and shared tons of tips with me. Dad took pictures of me. It was kinda’ like prom night. Finally, they gave me the keys to the car and sent me on my way. I was running about a half hour late. I’ve got THAT part of womanhood down!

When I waltzed inside… well, walked inside, a group of friends invited me to their table, I grabbed an extra chair and squeezed in. Who did I sit with? Why, the old lunch table gang and many of their spouses. Sad to say, we did not spend the evening debating this time. It felt kinda’ weird going solo. I missed my wife and, I had grown tired of explaining why she couldn’t be there.

As for my wife, when I mentioned being married, I was often met with the question, “You’re married?” After showing the questioner my ring finger, several people asked me, “What’s he like?” I would politely and calmly explain how he was very much like a short woman of Hungarian ancestry.

Night two continued. There were presentations by the reunion committee, videos, lots of silly mid-90’s music, and a montage of fellow students who had passed away in the last 20 years. For a class our size, we had not lost many, but the news was often quite shattering, and the mood had definitely sobered in the room by the time the presentation had finished.

I took the elevator to street level needing to escape for a smoke. This was my first time alone, downtown, at night… and it was a Saturday night. I became self conscious. I was no longer in a safe zone. Eventually, someone else came downstairs, he kinda’ looked like a young Tom Petty and, we struck up a conversation. It was a relief to have someone to talk to. Neither of us really knew each other in school, and he actually did not know if he would even be welcomed at the reunion, because he had a reputation for being a trouble maker when we were young but, time had been kind to him and he was kind to me.

Things were winding down. I discovered that one of the lunch table gang won the award for being in school for the longest time after high school graduation (11 years!). I was jealous because I came close to winning, on top of that, I was kinda’ embarrassed since I had spent ten whole years, post high school studying acting and collecting student loans (Collect Them ALL!!!). Should have gone into medicine… sigh…

I won an award later, not the coveted, Most Changed award (which shockingly was not handed out this year), but rather a pair of comedy and drama masks in our school colors (Black, White and Gold, Forever) for answering the trivia question, “Who played Thisbee in our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”, it was unfair, because I had played this person’s, “Lover” Pyramus, in that production… but I couldn’t resist answering since he had to cross dress in that production, while I played a guy. The irony was so irony-ee. Besides, I had lost the Most Schooling award, and the Longest Distance Traveled To Attend award and Most Changed wasn’t even a thing. I could NOT go home empty handed.

Funny thing about being the most changed; I wasn’t. Not by a long shot. 20 years gave many folks ample time to change. A few were unrecognizable in the best possible ways.

Many more had stayed very much the same. Sure they got bigger in places, balder in others… grey in spots, slight wrinkles in others… but the eyes were the same, and their personalities remained. It seems I fit more into this category. Countless people said things to me like, “I didn’t know what to expect when I first heard you were trans and brave enough to still come to the reunion, but I am so happy you came because now I realize you are exactly the same.” Epiphany time! It was true. I am the same, perhaps, oxymoronically, even more myself now than I was back then because I have nothing left to hide.

There are things that annoy me about being trans. My beard shadow and my voice for starters, both tend to get me clocked by people who do not know me. This is sometimes frightening. People I do not know tend to be polite or awesome… but sometimes, strangers see my very existence as a crime against their own understanding of the way the world as they know it is supposed to work. My body is changing due to hormones. My behavior is changing due to giving myself permission to let my inner femininity out. Passing is getting much more reliable, even in the day time, but things can quickly out me if someone inspects too closely. I know I am passing, because people I do not know are treating me like a female much more frequently. An example of passing, someone holding a door for me for an awkwardly long time because, you know, girls can’t operate doors. An example of being clocked, the look on someone’s face after they realize I am trans as I walk past them while they hold the door open for me.

I am working on my facial hair removal, but that is a long and ongoing process. Within a few months, if things continue apace, I should be able to go out without makeup, and not worry about a visible shadow.

Voice is far more complicated. Why? Because it conveys so much. If eyes are the window to your soul, the voice, at its best, translates your eyes into living language. As an actor, I think of my voice as my instrument. And here is the thing: I always have to listen to it!!! I am damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. I sound like a guy, if I do nothing… I sound insincere if I talk in a high pitch with a soft, musical tone. I sound like a bad, female impersonator. That does not convey honesty. Not to me and, not to those people around me. Eventually, my voice may come around but is gonna’ take work. It is not there yet.

So, I spoke with my natural voice and, although I have been told by several people my voice HAS changed a little, I have not made much conscious effort to do anything to it. My point is, I think my voice was helpful at the reunion, because people heard me and, not someone they’d never known. Not so helpful when dealing with strangers though…

Night two was winding down, and I had to use the restroom. So I said my goodbyes, in order to avoid the post-reunion bathroom rush then, I snuck around the corridor so I could get into the ladies room without being seen by the people who were still reunioning. One stall was occupied, so I ninja-ed my way into the farthest stall away from the occupant. I waited for her to finish, wash her hands and leave before I did my business. As I was putting myself back together, the door opened and someone else entered. I was stuck until she picked a stall. Once her stall door had closed, I rushed to the sink, washed and slipped out. Undetected!!! Damn, I’m good.

It was time for the after party at a piano bar. One of my classmates had invited us all to her dueling piano night. She rocked it and, played a bunch of silly 90’s songs for the reunion crew.

The bar was loud though, and after a reunion, I think many of the people who’d gone to the after party wanted to be able to talk a bit more easily. Eventually, a group had decided to go elsewhere and they invited me to tag along. Off we walked through the SLC streets.

We got to the destination. It ended up being a dance club with a line around the block. My Spidey Sense started to tingle. I am more than just a simple ninja. This did not seem like a good place for me. First, dance clubs are LOUD so, no real conversation and, oddly they tend to be where one goes to dance. I was a bad dancer as a man… my female moves are probably worse. Second, dance clubs are often enough, hook up clubs… and I was in no mood for anyone to try to hook up with me, let alone drunken strangers who might discover I am trans only AFTER they had attempted to hook up. That is when shit can get scary. Third, it was close enough to last call that the long wait in line would have prevented us all from having another round together.

So, I did something that surprised me. I put my foot down. I told the group that had at the last moment, invited me, that this was not a good place. I didn’t feel safe. I was afraid of being killed (that got a laugh). So, I would happily go home and they could have fun at the club. The group decided to give up the dance club plan and, to walk together to a dive bar instead.

We walked into the dive as a fight was breaking out at the door. I was at home. No need to fear for my life in here! THIS was my kind of Irish sanctuary. We ordered drinks and got to chatting.

I realized that this group we’d assembled was an odd mix of folks. We really were the late night equivalent to The Breakfast Club. We all knew a couple folks in the group, but we had never before been a group or a clique until this night, and the collective experience of the reunion and the bars was bonding us together. Young Tom Petty was there, a student body officer, a soccer player, a married couple, one delightful, self-proclaimed bitch, the lady who REALLY wanted to go to the dance club, our hockey star, and me, the token trans woman. We were quite the odd bunch and it was delightful.

I walked past another fight on my way to the loo when… NOOOOOO… a line! My ninja skills had not trained me for this. I made a mental note to get in line earlier next time so I would be able to hold it easier. The good and bad news? It was a single person ladies room. Good because I would not need to share. Bad because it would be even more of a wait. By the time I was next in line, a woman lined up behind me, doing the pee-pee dance. “Do you mind?” she inquired, “The men’s room is open and I’ve really gotta’ go! You can use it, and I will make sure nobody comes in… but the lock on the door’s broke.”

I replied, “You can use it. I am fine waiting right here.” She glared at me like I had broken some unspoken golden faucet rule and, she pee-pee wiggled towards the men’s room. Just as she was closing the door, two men burst in and kicked her out because they needed to pee, and she was in their space. It seems she too, had broken an unspoken rule. She got back in line behind me, embarrassed. I said, “It isn’t easy, this, but that is exactly why I am waiting here. I am in the right line. I hope you now understand.” She nodded, and looked down at the ground. The door opened, I slipped in, locked the door and, went as fast as I could, just so the woman behind me could find some much needed relief ASAP, but only after waiting her turn, just like I had done. I do not know if I actually used any of my ninja skills in that situation. I do know I felt a sense of smug accomplishment. I probably would have let her go before me had she not insinuated I belonged in the other room.

The bar closed, and our group started to walk people to their cars, hotels, bikes and, whatnots. The night was winding down. My old friend the soccer player and I helped designated-drive people to their cars or even to their homes. This took some time but it gave us some ample opportunity to reconnect. I do not know if either of us had realized until then, how much we had missed each other. Women used to frighten me so much, because I was both attracted to them, and wanted to be a part of their strangely complex club.

Before all that happened though, I made one terrible mistake. As we walked along, away from the closing dive bar, some random drunken stranger started hitting on me. I told him to buzz off… damn!!! My stupid voice!

“Holy shit! You’re a DUDE?!?”

Noooooooooo!!!

“Well, uh… hey, you still wanna’ get freaky?”

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!

He followed me, saying creepy things for a couple of large city blocks before I finally turned around and stood my ground. I raised my voice at him in an attempt to make him stop the chase. Epic fail. He began to get upset with me. He physically threatened me. Stupid man. He thought I was a strong guy, just like his uneloquent, belligerent ass was. Now, I may be a ninja, but my training was failing me at this point. I did not want this to come to blows. I told him as much, as my friends gathered to help ease the situation. Then his friends, who had been trying to figure out where he had run off to, joined in. There was a bizarre stand off since all of us were clearly more bark than bite. Eventually, I found their group’s, “Leader” and explained to him how I was being hit on and followed by this kid, when I really wanted nothing to do with him. I was having a night out with my friends for our 20th reunion. This got his group to help remove creepy guy from the situation and, we all went our separate ways.

Still, being seen and hit on as a female is new to me, and it was only after I had opened my mouth that I realized a real ninja would have put her head to the ground, and just kept walking in silence. Lesson learned.

The night had ended and I returned home around 4:00 AM, to my worried mother who hadn’t yet slept a wink. Sigh…

I was up until sunrise, chatting on Facebook with my oldest, and very pregnant friend, my very first crush. We discussed life and stuff… she is tall…

The next day was a family reunion, with most of the people on my mother’s side coming to the house for a, “Hawaiian style” luau. I got to meet many of my cousin’s kids for the first time, and my family got to, “Meet” Tori! One aunt commented that it was all a bit sad because she had lost someone she had known, but she had gained someone new as well. I was warmed by the intended compliment, but it was surreal knowing I was the same person I had always been. Nothing had been lost in my eyes, only gained.

Rising from the ashes like a Fiery Phoenix is an image I have often reflected upon as I transition. I started at rock bottom, and I had already come so far upon returning to Utah. And yet, I had not realized until I returned home, that one thing holding me back all this time was how I had disconnected from my High School friends after we’d graduated.

It was not until I’d shown my face at that first night of the reunion, that I’d realized my friends were always there, waiting with open arms. They’d held me in as high esteem as I had held them. We all, in our own ways felt inadequate. By reconnecting, they’d returned a piece of me that I had long ago forgotten I’d even lost. I hope I’ve done them the same favor.

People kept telling me how brave I was to go to the reunion. At first I just brushed them off. Then I started to believe them. Then, I realized we were ALL brave. 20 years! What if we didn’t live up to expectations?

How many of our classmates didn’t show up because they were afraid they would fall short? That thought they had peaked in high school? Convinced they were somehow less than their peers…

This reunion wasn’t about people coming to brag about their successes. In its own way, it was about people facing their own demons and just taking a leap of faith. People who sincerely hoped, in spite of their wear and tear of the last 20 years, that they could somehow recapture something they’d long missed.

Mission accomplished.

I spent my last days in town, on a nostalgia tour. I visited old haunts. My oldest homes. My old grade school (it got small). I cried a lot of happy girl tears.

The last social engagement, my dear friend, the one who had driven me and protected me that first night of the reunion, took me and his awesome wife out to dinner and a movie. After a short and tearful goodbye, it was time to fly back to Hawaii. Paradise… yes… but not home…

I miss my home. I miss my friends. Thankfully, they gave me something to take with me. ME!

Watch out world, Tori’s got her mojo back!

Aloha,
Tori

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Tranny

I am back after a much needed hiatus. Recharged and ready for Summer!

What have I been doing all this time? I am so glad I asked. I have been delving into a fight between The Jets and The Sharks, or The Bloods and The Crips… actually, it has been a debate over using certain words, between RuPaul, Carmen Carrera and their fans. What is the debate about? Again, glad I asked. If you saw the title of this post, I bet you could guess one of the words in just one try. For those of you who are bad at guessing, I will give you a hint, it is about the word, “Tranny” and also, the term, “She-male”. Still have no clue? Then let me beat a dead horse into the ground. I already told you, the debate is about the word, “Tranny” and the term, “She-male”.

Disclosure time, I am a fan of, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the local drag scene. Local drag performers have been very encouraging of my transition, and sometimes beneficial by donating to my too small wardrobe. Also, while I follow her on Facebook, I have never been that impressed by Carmen Carrera’s trans advocacy.

For those of you who do not know, Carmen Carrera was a contestant on, “Drag Race” a few seasons ago, before she came out as trans and began transition. She now enjoys minor celebrity and a decent modeling career. Carrera is currently one of the most visible trans advocates out there. Her beauty gets her extra press coverage, unfortunately beauty is easy on the eyes but not a skill that is required in order to explain the subtle nuances of the trans experience to the cis world. Carmen is rapidly improving in this area, but she is clearly not a seasoned veteran spokesperson.

Also, a disclaimer, I will call RuPaul by male pronouns and Carrera by female terms. This is how they each identify so it is proper, and not meant as a slight in any way shape or form to RuPaul the character. It is confusing enough, these pronouns… but RuPaul is one of the few Drag Queens whose stage name is the same as his given name. He is RuPaul Charles, she is glamazon character, RuPaul. It is kind of like Steven Colbert, the character is not the person, now, with added pronoun confusion!

Sheesh! There is so much to discuss concerning this simple and silly topic. I have to start back when this became a big issue amongst the LGBT community and catch y’all up from then to the present day.

A couple of months ago, on an episode of, “Drag Race”, there was a mini game amongst the contestants called, “Female or She-Male”. The contestants had to look at pictures of outfits and body parts, and correctly guess if it was of a cis female or a drag performer. Hilarity ensued.

Actually, controversy and hilarity ensued. The morning after the episode aired, the trans community was up in arms. How dare, “Drag Race” compare drag queens to cis women for laughs? How dare they use the term, “She-male”? Almost a week to the day later, Logo, the cable television station that airs, “Drag Race”, relented and decided to remove the segment from future airings and from the downloadable stream on their website. Logo stated they would not support anti-trans language. RuPaul reiterated his support of transsexual people, and seemingly agreed with his station’s verdict.

Oh, they also, got rid of the weekly, “You’ve Got She-mail” segment title, where RuPaul sends a video message to the contestants explaining something about their next challenge. In this case, if you didn’t figure it out, “She-mail” is a play on words, it sounds like, “E-mail” or even the godfather of reality competition show’s, “Survivor’s” own, “Tree-Mail”. Get it? She-mail.

Finally, the, “Tranny” debate took off. The term, “Tranny” was now being deemed inappropriate by the trans community whenever it was used on, “Drag Race”, a show that frequently allows contestants to be called or call each other, “Bitch” or, “Bitches” in both complimentary or derogatory ways. It also, heavily features the terms, “Fish” or, “Fishy”. For example, “Bitches, that bitch is a fishy fish!” For those of y’all who are a little bit slow, the terms, “Fish” and, “Fishy” are in reference to the odor of a cis female’s genital area (as if these queens actually know) and means a drag performer looks convincingly feminine, instead of well, like a typical, over the top, drag queen. It can be used as a compliment or an insult, but it is usually complimentary unless one is being too fishy, because too much fish can spoil the drag. But, “Bitch” and, “Fish” are not the controversial drag terms. “She-male” and, “Tranny” are. Got it? Good. Moving on.

Where was I? Ah yes, “Tranny”. “Tranny” was deemed, “The T-Word” by many of the most vocal trans advocates, including Carmen Carrera and folks, that is when a civil war broke out between the drag queens and the transsexuals.

(Snapping is heard. Then whistles. A Leonard Bernstein overture plays. Drag queens enter.)

When you do drag
You do drag all the way,
From your first time on stage
To your final sashay.

(Enter trans folk.)

When you are trans
You’re a curious thing.
Little boy’s now a girl,
Little girl, you’ll be king.

(End Musical Interlude)

This is where I came in. I follow a bunch of trans news and advocacy communities. It is more than just a hobby, it is a way of life now. Since transition puts me in the hands of the medical community for the foreseeable future, trans news developments can and do have an important impact on me. It is good to know this stuff. On the other hand, I get to listen to the petty issues amongst the trans community, and like most any community, if things are slow, it seems like sometimes, they will just make something up to stir up drama and controversy. With that in mind, and the fact that I am a, “Drag Race” fan, I heard this debate emerge within the trans community and spoke up. I love language, and I am fascinated by its living nature. Language evolves, sometimes quite quickly. Inner cities are often on the forefront of language evolution, now, so is the Internet, FTW… lol… SMH… and not SMH, “So Much Hate”, SMH, “Shakes my head”.

Trans language is also, quite fluid and quick to evolve. And it is complex. Trans folk, who keep their ear to the ground when it comes to the trans community, can lose touch with the fact that cis people are just not keeping up with the ever evolving lingo. You kinda’ need degrees in both Latin, and political correctness.

But, wow! To be on the ground level of language coinage?! Count me in!!!

So of course, I start speaking my mind in online discussions. For the most part, I do my best to calm down the lynch mob, “Tranny is not a slur. Context folks, context. Tranny is an abbreviation. Tran is just part of a prefix.” At the same time, I do not really like the term when directed towards me or any other trans woman. Same with, “She-male”.

It is amazing to me, how sensitive the average trans person can be to words. Try joining a trans online community and see how long you last before you are reprimanded for saying the wrong thing. There are some fragile, fragile trans people and we all are expected to tiptoe around them so their feelings never get hurt, ’cause, high suicide rate and whatnot. And yes, trans folk sometimes play the trans card, even amongst themselves.

The world is not the trans online community. It is full of reality and with reality comes brutal truths. Sometimes that honesty and brutality comes in the form of hate.

The more watered down and convoluted trans language becomes, the more specific it becomes. Along with specificity, comes confusion. Even trans people can not always keep up with the rapid changes in trans lingo.

Drag, on the other hand, is steeped in tradition. Drag performers are harsh. They are the Don Rickles of the LGBT community. Drag is rooted in Vaudeville, burlesque and the difficulties of growing up different in a large city. Drag is funny, rude, crude, histrionic, flamboyant and all kinds of awesome.

One unspoken rule of Drag, which quickly follows the first two unspoken rules concerning not talking about Fight Club, is Rule #3: Do NOT tell a drag queen what to do or what to say.

When the Transgender, PC Police came with sirens blaring, the Drag community fought back. “Tranny is OUR word, bitches!”

“Tranny” is indeed, in many ways, their word. It was an abbreviation that came from within the drag community, as best as I can tell, and to many drag queens from all over the English speaking world, trans folk should not even dare try to take their precious T-word away.

Drag Queens en masse, claim, “Tranny” as their own, as do car enthusiasts who use the term as an abbreviation for both the Pontiac Trans-Am, and for a car’s transmission. “What kind of tranny ya’ll got in yer Tranny?” Car talk. Smokey chased a famous T-topped Tranny. K.I.T.T. was a younger, sleeker Tranny than the Tranny The Bandit liked to ride. Still car talk, folks.

Trans folk are getting louder and louder when it comes to the term, “Tranny”. Many insist it is a slur. I was not so sure.

This is when Carmen Carrera’s advocacy came into the spotlight. She started talking about the term, “Tranny” being a slur, as did other trans celebrities Janet Mock and Laverne Cox. Suddenly, a middle of the pack, “Drag Race” veteran was speaking out against her Mama, RuPaul!!! Drag queens and their fans alike went apeshit!

Here is a smattering of comments I saw, pretty much as written, by members of the LGBT community, about Carrera. I did rephrase them a bit in order to preserve the anonymity of the posters.

“She is a stupid, TRANNY!”

“Tranny bitch will always be a tranny bitch!”

“He is just a penis in a dress.”

“He needs to get over himself, the fucking she-male tranny.”

“That tranny better know better than to bite the hand that feeds him!”

etc…

Then RuPaul himself, ever the peacemaker, broke his silence by tweeting things like, “Trust! LogoTV hasn’t “distanced” itself from me, not while I’m still payin’ the f%kin’ light bill over there.” after Logo had distanced itself from these next two comments made by RuPaul in a recent audio interview.

“No, it is not the transsexual community. These are fringe people who are looking for story lines to strengthen their identity as victims. That is what we’re dealing with. It’s not the trans community, because most people who are trans have been through hell and high water and they know — they’ve looked behind the curtain at Oz and went, ‘Oh, this is all a f**king joke. But, some people haven’t… You know, if your idea of happiness has to do with someone else changing what they say, what they do, you are in for a f**king hard-ass road.”

And…

“My 32-year career speaks for itself. I dance to the beat of a different drummer. I believe that everybody, you can be whatever the hell you wanna be. I ain’t stopping you. But don’t you dare tell me what I can do or say. It’s just words. Yeah, words do hurt… You know what? … You need to get stronger. You really do, because you know what, if you think, if you’re upset by something I said, you have bigger problems than you think.”

Now, the trans community goes even more apeshit than the drag community had!

“RuPaul is a transphobic bigot!”

“How would RuPaul like it if I called him a, “N” word and a, “F” word?”

“RuPaul is such a fucking faggot. I hope he is a victim of a hate crime.”

…and other gems…

Then, a funny thing happened. My opinion of the word, “Tranny” entirely changed. All it took was watching members within the LGBT community using it as a slur, directing it towards a trans woman, and seeing the piss poor response from many within the trans community in retaliation. In this case, “Tranny” was not being used as an abbreviation. It was being used as a demeaning and dehumanizing insult, pure and simple. Comments from the trans side were not any better, but hey, they were responding to a slur and that slur was being directed at them even from within the LGBT community.

Nobody has called me a tranny to my face, not in an insulting way, and I confess, I have used the word myself, often in self referential and/or self deprecating ways. But, back when I was in the closet, any time I was at work or with friends and a trans person came near, someone would elbow me and mutter something akin to, “Hey, get a load of THAT tranny.” or worse… often, much worse.

Also, let’s be honest here, some of you did not know the term, “Tranny” has its origins in the drag world, you learned it from the sex industry. Same with, “She-male”. Even when these terms are not used as slurs, they can shine people like me in the wrong kind of light. Very few transitioners enjoy being out, or being on stage like I do. Many are timid, soft spoken, introverts. Being related linguistically to performers and sex workers is not exactly how people who live the life of a trans person, rather than being a tranny for a living, like to be remembered.

Also, people DO in fact, mistake me for a drag queen often enough, even when I am looking and feeling frumpy. My wife would disagree with people calling me a queen.

A friend recently asked me what I look like in drag. He has not seen me since I started transition. I laughed, and told him I look like a man. He got the point, even though technically cross dressing as a man is being, “In drab”, not, “Drag”.

A man in a mobility scooter complimented my dress, then accused me of being a prostitute, on the night of this season’s, “Drag Race” finale. How sweet.

I had another good friend decide that now would be a great time to show me his dick. I mean, hey! I am trans, right? Must mean I am kinky. Spoiler alert, I am surprisingly Puritanical. I did let my friend down easy though, and yes, that pun was intended. 🙂

Terms like, “Tranny” and, “She-male” do complicate my life simply by confusing even my most tolerant of friends and guys on mobility scooters. They are indeed terms that can be and are frequently used as slurs, frequently enough that they should be discontinued in polite conversation.

It is unfortunate the drag and gay communities had to get involved, since it becomes a lot of infighting under the LGBT umbrella. Besides, I understand the point the drag queens and their supporters are trying to make. In many ways, I even agree. I just have problems with many of their methods of delivery. It is hard to argue the sanctity of a drag term, when even drag fans are defending its use BY using it as the very kind of slur they claim it is not.

So yeah, uh… try not to say, “Tranny”. Yes, I know it is just a word.  KTHX.

Bye,
Tori