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

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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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Feeling Emotional

I have been traveling lately. It was wonderful visiting my parents on Kauai for two weeks. I thought it would make a great blog entry but really, the trip was quite mundane. Delightfully mundane. Things were normal. First time I have seen them since I started transition. They have embraced and processed my change and well… now I do not think it will make a very good blog post. Hey, I had a normal, great time. The end.

The thing is I have not posted in a while and I know writing begets writing. If I go a long time without posting it can be very hard to get the wheels turning again. So, I went to Facebook to ask friends and family for suggested topics and the requests were all about feelings and/or emotions.

Eeeeeep.

I guess I have not really posted about this topic in a lot of detail and that is partly because it is hard to put my finger on. I will do my best, but know that like a lot of my transition, my feelings have been evolving and have not really seemed to end up where they will be for the rest of my life.

Describing emotions can be like describing a color. If you do not already know what it is, I am not sure I can properly explain it. As for feelings, I will address them as different from emotions like, how does it feel to wear a wig and a dress in public?

The last time I addressed my emotional state in this blog, I was still feeling the overwhelming euphoria that came with starting transition. I really was so frigging happy and it was weird. This lasted for about three months. Then I was hit with an epiphany. I wasn’t happy. Well, I was but I was happy because my extreme dysphoria had lifted and that brought me immense joy. Over time the joy faded but the dysphoria never returned. I was happy to not be constantly depressed. It was an emotional afterglow. I had a lengthy stretch of euphoria simply because I was finally feeling the same way most people spend their life feeling.

I used to be very bitter, snarky and well, a jerk. A jerk you could grow to love but still a jerk. I learned this in NYC, where being rude is often a sign of affection. I found it useful when I was in the closet because if people could put up with me being a jerk, they would likely not mind me if I eventually transitioned. It was a defense mechanism. It was an expression of how ugly I felt. I wouldn’t offend people by being trans but I still practiced being offensive. If people couldn’t handle it, I didn’t need them in my life.

While I can still be quite rude from time to time, and I sometimes wonder if I am on the autism spectrum because I can really struggle with empathy, my demeanor has really softened. As Tori, I am a nicer person. That may be hard for people to believe if they have only known me since transition, but those who have known me for ages really notice the difference. I have no more need to be a jerk to keep fragile people away but old habits die hard. I am making a conscious effort and the lack of testosterone does a lot of the work for me. Testosterone can cause aggression when there is too much of the hormone present, this is much of the reason why men are more violent and we have the term “Roid rage”. Anything higher than female levels of testosterone in me is too much, and while I was never very physically aggressive, I can be very emotionally and verbally aggressive especially when testosterone is running rampant. Good men amaze me because it is not easy with all that testosterone veering you towards aggressiveness and sex. People neuter their pets in part, to keep them docile. Testosterone made me a worse person, and the damage done continues to ripple from me. It is miraculous that I still have a wife.

Oy. This post is tough to write. I feel like it will be more non linear than most.

So, how does it feel now as compared to before emotionally? After nine months, it feels pretty normal. You adjust to change. I remember when my emotions started to feel more female from hormones and it was like switching from black and white to color. I wouldn’t say my emotional range is broader, instead, it is far more nuanced. I am less likely to feel rage, but almost every other emotion is readily available. In fact, I can feel conflicting emotions at the same time which took some getting used to but now is just how I feel. I cry more frequently, and often enough those tears are happy tears or an expression of conflicting emotions coming to the surface before I can logically process them.

When an emotion comes to the surface, I will likely express it… then it is quickly gone. It passes through me faster now because I do not have as much ability to repress it, and frankly, I’ve allowed myself to be feminine so I now allow myself to be far more emotionally expressive.

I am developing what I like to call the, “Awwwwwww cute!” reflex. Babies and toddlers are so much cuter to me now. Same with animals. I really get caught up in the female plot lines of shows now, as if I learned how to understand a new language overnight. It is quite a trip.

Actually, I am finding it harder and harder to slip into guy mode, and when I do, the results can be disastrous. I tend to overcompensate and I am uber aware. It is strange. I frequently feel uncomfortable presenting as female because of the stares and I feel uncomfortable presenting as male because I feel like a fraud. I can play male better than I can play female right now, but it is getting icky. Androgyny is really working for me lately. It gives people around me time to adjust. Female hair, waxed eyebrows, a gender neutral hat, capris and a shirt for example.

It is unfortunate that I have to wear makeup to cover my beard shadow. I kinda have to wear more than most, and that makes me more noticeable. Learning to blend in is a skill I am developing all too slowly.

But I digress. This post is about emotions and feelings.

I am more passionate now. I am much more vulnerable to romance.

When I feel blue, it tends to pass within a day or so, which is by far the most amazing change. I used to slip into depression by default. Now I have built some immunity.

Before transition, I was really down about how terrible of a spouse I was. I was emotionally detached and I didn’t understand what that did to my wife.

Now, I get really mad when people try to meddle in my relationship. It is not easy for her when friends or family try to lovingly steer her away from me. I know my past combined with my transition gives people valid reasons to show concern. That is when I am most vulnerable. It is nearly impossible to explain to someone who cares deeply about my wife, that this transition is perhaps the best thing I can personally do for her because it keeps me much more positive, safe and sane. It is humbling to know and admit that I was abusive, emotionally abusive to my wife and even myself for years. The problem is, that by admitting it, people find out about it and then they offer up their negative opinions about me. They can see this transition as a continuation of the emotional abuse, and I suspect they do so out of the best possible intentions. Still, it sucks to know that my very presence can drive a wedge between some of the people who are closest to my wife. I have asked my wife to leave me on several occasions since transition began but she won’t. I do not wish to be her burden, but she took her vows seriously and so did I.

I have a remarkable capacity for love now. Not just romantic love. The love of friends. The love of food. The love of socialization. The love of love. And my need to express this emotion can be easily misunderstood. I think I repressed it for so long that now with these newly girlified emotions, I just let it bubble to the surface. It can be embarrassing, but I would rather share love than its opposite. It helps me forgive more easily too, and that helps me move forward. It is really hard for me to dwell on a person’s worst qualities.

Overall, my newly developing emotional spectrum is keeping my stress levels lower and my mood more healthy. It is not all butterflies and sparkles, but life would be boring without the occasional speed bump.

I suspect emotional acuity is one of the reasons women tend to live longer. It just seems healthier to feel things fully and then let them pass. On testosterone, I really needed to logically process things. On estrogen, logic is not as important as feeling something flow. It is less important to understand why you feel grief or joy and more important to just experience it as it happens. Feelings of regret used to consume me. They were my Kryptonite. Now I feel regret, forgive myself and move on. I am thankful for this development particularly because I would have been overwhelmed by regret that I did not transition sooner. Also, I continue to make mistakes, and my ability to deal with regret allows me to live more fully in the present rather than in the past. In some ways I had been stuck in 1998 until I started to transition. I was stunted by regret, confusion and unrequited love. By 1999 I was slowly spiraling towards my suicide attempt some fourteen years later.

One person asked me how I handle the excitement of transition. Honestly, it is not too exciting because it moves at such a slow pace. Then one day, you sit down hard on a chair, and your boobs bounce for the first time and you feel proud for a moment, then a little worried… like, this is suddenly very real, and who knows how much bigger and bouncier they will become? Then you feel a kinship to women that you never felt before. Suddenly your eyes start to water, and through tears you start to laugh because you realize you are crying over bouncing boobs. Then you feel your face turn red and flushed. Then you stand up and sit down again to feel them bounce one more time. Then you wonder if this means you need to wear a bra all the time now. Finally, you look to see if anyone was watching you, if nobody was, you cop a quick feel.

Aloha,
Tori

What’s in a Name? Update

Update:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Act II, Scene II (The Balcony Scene)
Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare
This is a quick epilogue to my post, “What’s in a Name” (link http://www.passingandfailinginparadise.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/whats-in-a-name/ ). It may be worth reading that post first.

Last week, I asked my father if he and mom would come up with a middle name for me. Dad’s first name, and the middle name I was given at birth, is William, a name that has been in the family for generations. A nice, good, Irish name.

Since my last name ends with me, and the middle name does too, I have felt quite a bit of guilt. Funny, transition is great, it is just the name thing that has proven difficult. Ok, lots of things have proven difficult. The name thing is one of them.

My father told me yesterday that he and mom had settled on my new middle name, Rose. It was my dad’s idea, he suggested it to mom, she slept on it, and really liked the name when she woke.

My father says he first thought of Rose Kennedy, a strong woman who overcame multiple tragedies, and lived an amazingly long life. Then, he did some research into the name and stumbled upon an article about the poet, Ranier Maria Rilke, who had a love of roses. One of Rilke’s poems in particular stuck out to my father.

rose, o pure contradiction, desire
to be no one’s sleep beneath so many lids.

Rilke’s mother raised him as a girl, until he started school, probably because she lost her daughter a year before his birth.

My dad says he wanted a name that had some sort of personal meaning and resonance to him and mom.

With all this information in tow, and due to other details I may never fully understand, my father suggested the name to my mother and she approved. Now, I have a new middle name.

I love it.

Now, the rest of the story.

The importance of being given a name from my family was a surprising part of transition I had never anticipated. It makes this real to me. Real in a new way. My self image has changed overnight. In my mind’s eye, I now keep seeing the woman I am becoming. That may be hard for some of you cisgendered folks to understand. With a full name, I can finally work on changing my ID, and start making this legal once and for all. The name hurdle has kept me from seeing myself as female. You all do not have to see me as female, but I am happy to see myself in that light, thank you very much.

It is also a sign of permanent acceptance from my father. My mom has not struggled with my new first name and pronouns like he has. I linked to the blog post where I discussed this situation at length, at the top of this post. That blog entry was called, “What’s in a Name?”. That was a reference to the line from, “Romeo and Juliet” I quoted at the top of this post. I know my dad read that post before picking my middle name and I wonder if it planted the Rose seed in his head.

I know the seed had already been planted in mine. In fact, I had discussed middle names with my wife before I asked my parents to pick one. The only two we both liked were Grace, which we would have named a daughter or… you guessed it, Rose. I haven’t yet told my dad this. I wonder if he spoke with my wife… I do not think he did.

So, not only was I pleased with the name, my wife was too… we were already leaning that way. Grace, while nice, seemed odd because it was stealing the name of the daughter I now will never have. Rose literally was at the top of a very short list.

Another funny thing? When I asked for them to pick my middle name, I said, “It doesn’t have to be anything flowery.” Thankfully, that advice was ignored.

Finally, Rilke. Remember, the poet who sealed the deal for my father’s name choice. I have never read his poetry, I never knew of his love for roses. What I did know? His book, “Letters for a Young Poet” was one of the most influential and inspirational books I, as a young artist, ever read. I have often suggested it as required reading for anyone I encounter who wants to pursue a life in the arts. He was a gentle, caring, passionate and extremely human mentor, both in life and on the page.

So, I am happy as a clam with my new middle name, although I do not know how you can determine a clam’s emotional state. Perhaps it is because clams never call depression hotlines…

Aloha,
Victoria Rose

The Question

I am comforted by the question everybody close to me, either by blood or through life experience and friendship, has asked when I have come out to them. What do you think the most common question I would be asked in that situation?

The most common question I get asked, by far, is a variation of, “What does your wife think about this?”

It is comforting. It is interesting.

What does your wife think about this?

It is as if people are reserving judgement until I answer that question and yet, sometimes, it also seems like a veiled threat that they will judge me if I answer the question, “Incorrectly”.

This blog post has taken me a good while to compose in my head. Why? Well, for starters… as well as I know her, I can not with 100% accuracy say what my wife, “Feels”. She feels it. I do not.

Also, this is my blog, not hers. If you have been reading my posts here, you know there is very little I am unwilling to discuss, examine or talk about. And yet, I respect my wife and her privacy. I respect our special relationship.

If this post comes across as egotistical, there are at least two reasons. 1. I refuse to speak for my wife. 2. Like you all, I am human and therefore, egotistical.

I think #2 is rather self explanatory so allow me to explore #1.

My wife, like myself and my parents, has a list of people she wishes to, “Come out to.” herself, before they hear it second hand or whatnot. This process is ongoing and surprisingly complicated, as we often have to structure the order of people we tell in such a way that our collective circles of friends and family don’t hear it first from someone else. This takes a LONG time. So far, I average 12 or so people a week, my wife goes at her own pace. We wish to give people time to absorb the info, and to keep the influx of new people and questions manageable, so as to give everyone the time they need. Most people’s responses are best summed up with the words, “So?” and/or, “Wow!”. Some people, myself included, have needed a fair bit of time to mourn the loss of my male self. Very, VERY few have reacted in a transphobic way.

You will notice, my wife remains nameless in this post. She very much has a name. It is her name, not this blog’s. You will notice I do not name people in general if I post about them. That is for their potential safety, not just their anonymity. Being out can bring trouble, although I have been lucky thus far.

My relationship with my wife is the closest thing to, “Sacred” I have experienced. I want to keep it close to heart, not a public display of how great we both are.

Therefore, this blog post has been tough to write, and the question, although I now have a bit of practice, is still tough to answer.

If you wish to read about the intimate details we share, keep dreaming.

I will say this. What I do share with my wife, what I have shared, would boggle some minds. What I have not shared with her is rather boring and unimportant. Every prior relationship, love, mistake, desire, tantrum… and even the good things… every single important thing I have done, good or bad, every single person or event which has lingered in my mind, I have shared with my wife, for better or for worse.

So… What does my wife feel about all this?

Well, for starters, I came out to her several years ago. It was after we were engaged, but that engagement was pretty long. The answer though is, “Yes!” if you ever wondered if I told her before we tied the knot. I also told her I didn’t think I would ever transition, and other sweet nothing’s which ultimately turned out to be incorrect. I am better, I suppose, at reporting the past than predicting the future.

Confession time. I think I may have been set on transition by the time we finally got married. I am not entirely sure she knew this at the time as clearly as I did. I do know I was more of a Bridezilla than she was. I can finally laugh about that fact

So, my wife knew I was trans well before she became my wife. I also dumped every other surprise I could think of on her before the big day. It was less an attempt to make her run. More a way to learn how adventurous she truly is. She still wanted the wedding. I’d confirmed what I already knew. I was very lucky. Also, I have exquisite taste.

How does my wife feel about all this?

“All this” does not matter. If our relationship as a wedded couple ever ends it will be my fault, not hers. It will not be because I am trans. It will happen if I insist on continuing the terrible behavior patterns that led to my suicide attempt. Imagine the unfair weight THAT places on my wife! We BOTH are done with Tommy. He was a dangerous asshole. Sadly, he meant well. May he rest in peace.

Things are far from perfect between us just like any relationship. Things can be quite mundane. I have put a lot of stress on her due to my alcoholism and unemployment. She is all kinds of supportive of my transition as it makes room for behavior changes and progress on my part.

So when people ask me, “How does my wife feel about all this?” I am kind of at a loss as to what to say. I know what they are really saying is: “If you blindsided your wife with this transition, I will really struggle to support you.” My wife has been the barometer for others to gauge the weather.

To have a wife like mine is to be very lucky. She did not sign up for all I have burdened her with. I am improving but these improvements are quite burdensome as well. I am so filled with positive emotions, I can not control myself. I can literally be insanely happy at times.

Imagine being so incapable of feeling positive things for decades, that when you finally do feel the good feelings you do not know how to manage the emotion. I never learned how to harness my positive energy. And my wife has a front row seat. Sure, things are better than they were, but my wife frequently has the unfortunate task of taking care of a toddler rather than being with a spouse.

How does my wife feel about all this? I am surprised she is still kicking. She has seen me through my most volatile and dangerous time. If she ever needs to leave me, that will be her choice. I mean this in the most positive way possible. Because of her, I have finally found a place in life where I do not need a full time caretaker. I do want this to last. We are finally going to have a chance to have fun!

Aloha,
Tori