Monday, September 5, 2016

From the Archives: October, 2013

Note: These were reflections after a year in New York City, just over a year full-time

October 4, 2012: I awoke in a hotel room in Easton,Pennsylvania, got ready and brought things down to the car for the last time in a road trip that began eight days earlier from a small Nebraska town.

It’s a long drive, but not THAT long. Debbie and I spent some of that time in Cleveland with her mom. The trip, with me as driver, Deb as navigator and our combined musical geekery making for an effective musical playlist (along with a random classic rock station with a surprisingly deep playlist in Springfield, Ill.)

It was a trip that featured good food,including stops at a couple places that had been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” (unlike Guy Fieri’s place, the food there was meant to be taken internally). There were visits to the Rock and Roll and NFL Halls of Fame.There was a bit of near white-knuckling as fog rolled in as we were 15 minutes from a hotel in the Pennsylvania hills. 

This was the shortest drive, as the place we were dropping off the rental car was just a couple hours away. From there, a friend of Deb’s was picking us up to go the rest of the way.
In the late afternoon hours of a fall Thursday, we arrived in front of the building I’m sitting in now. We unloaded the pickup of everything we’d taken with us.

It was more than I’d needed. When I left that one-stoplight Nebraska town, I had been on HRT for four months. I had been growing my hair for a while, but I stayed under the radar as far as being out as Kara. I knew I’d be myself here,but I didn’t know exactly when.

I’m reminded of a youth retreat I went on when I was…either 14 or 15. I know my cousin who's like a brother would remember this one. There was a lot of hiking, rappelling and other things. On the way back, for some reason, we stopped at a bridge on the way from our retreat area in the Cascades of central Washington. There was a bridge over a river.
Being young teenage boys (or in my case, wearing an ill-fitting costume of one), the river below was enticing and the decision was made to dive into the clear mountain stream below.
We could tell from where we were that the water was deep enough. I remember looking down at the beautiful water. I could look ahead and see the hills and mountains on the other side of the valley. People were doing some activities or other a little farther downstream where the channel widened and the sedimentary dirt was available.
With that, I looked down again stepped up and off the bridge. This was not exactly leaping off the Royal Gorge, but it was high enough to make a cannonball a really bad idea. I put my arms close to my body and, after what was less time than it felt like, hit the water and plunged down. A splash and I kept going into the water. I didn’t hit the bottom of the stream, but within a couple seconds, I easily kicked my way to the surface of the slow moving river. Most of the others soon followed. It was odd, given that I was usually not the first one to do such things.

Fast forward to many years later and here I was (with the help of the first haircut for my true self) making a trip from Nebraska to New York as Kara. I’m not going to lie and say I had no fear at all. Far from it. 
But I had Debbie along. I also had the words of a trans friend from here who’s 6’7”, who I talked to before I went to get my first wig (at that point, my own hair was only a few months removed from an uber-short cut). She said, “Just walk in like you own the place.”

I did that day, which was also my first extended shopping for clothes for myself. Of course, at that point, I had people thinking I was shopping for my girlfriend, apparently. 
“Walk in like you own the place.” That’s what I did on the trip here and, what do you know? Nobody pointed and laughed. There was no gathering with pitchforks and torches or people yelling, “The trans! Seize it!” or any such nonsense.
From an actual leap I’d never done before to a metaphoric one decades later, “his” clothes never left the suitcase.
I’ve been myself ever since.

While I’d shed the costume, that was far from the only change. I lived in a town that was overwhelmingly white and now I live in a neighborhood that has the most languages spoken in it of any in the country. The quiet nights aren’t quite as quiet, as the rural soundscapes aren’t as easy to find in the five boroughs. There are as many people in my block as there were in the town I lived in.

The experiences started quickly. There was the Afghan Whigs show at Terminal 5,seeing a band Deb and I both really like for the second time in less than a week on the night after we arrived.
There was the eventful subway ride home one night that first weekend where Deb tried to keep an extremely drunk, underage girl from slipping between subway cars and I, not being familiar with the trip time, left the subway car.

I realized my mistake, saw the car doors close and Deb reach out to me as if in a slow motion movie scene, saying, “Noooooooooo…..”
There were shows and sporting events. There have been opportunities to meet some of the folks from here, such as a number of comedy shows where Tammy was performing and, of course, a memorably enjoyable Saturday with Lisa E. 

As most of you know, of course, last winter, the friendship between Deb and myself evolved into a romantic relationship that continues to this day and,hopefully, for the rest of our lives.
For a while, I could still get very paranoid about being “read.” I remember one especially packed subway car ride home where literally not one more person could be packed in. For some reason, in my head, as I could feel the sweat starting to drip down my face, into my eyes, I was thinking, “They’ll know.They’ll know.”
It was all I could do not to bolt out of the car when I had a chance at a later stop, but I didn’t...and I wasn’t ready. Everybody else was just like me, just wanting to get wherever they were going.

I can’t remember when, but that fear subsided as I went out more and more often. Now, I’m focused on what I’m doing and where I’m going.
The changes have kept happening internally and physically with the HRT, of course. That has definitely helped me be more at ease. 

For the first time in my life, I have not felt like I’m living an out-of-body experience. For all my dysphoric moments that can still happen, I feel connected at last. I still need to lose more weight, but I’m not carrying that costume around anymore. Thank goodness.
I liked a lot of my old hometown area, including some of the people (hi, Lisa S!),but that feels like “his” place, his life.

While I carry that person’s memories and friends and family, this is my place,my turf.
I traveled 1,300 miles from a place I lived for over 20 years. That was after moving around a lot as a kid. I’m in a city of over 8,000,000 people, far away from family, but for the first time in my life, I have a home.
Even if I’m not as far downstream as I want to be yet, I am safely above the surface and so glad that I took that leap.
That year is over and, to quote Dave Grohl – “Done, done and I’m on to the next one.”
What a difference a year makes. Why did I wait so long again?

From the Archives-- June, 2011

Note: This was a letter never sent to my first stepfather (not the good one who came later)

Like a lot of us, I had a lot of bullying, teasing and general outcast creation growing up. But it's really hit me how much one bully has affected my life. This bully wasn't found in the schoolyard or in an adjacent locker, but in the home. Because this bully was someone my mother married some years after she and Dad broke up. My time under the same roof was fairly short. Thankfully, she sent me to life with my father after an incident in which said bully ratcheted up the violence quotient. It was a move that possibly saved my life.

Dear Mr. X --
It's been a long time and I'm sure you don't remember me.
But you have no idea how much you set me back in such a short period of time. I'm only now getting to the roots to untangle the damage.
And you never will have an idea, because you'll never hear from me.

But I'll say this anyway -- I WILL walk like that. I WILL talk like that. I WILL hold my hands like that. I WILL be that. Even though you were so blind you thought "that" was something else.

You know why? I deserve to exist. I deserve the opportunity to be truly happy. I can't get back the years your actions helped steal from me, but I can make sure you don't do anymore.
Your influence is gone. I cut the last tendril and walk away.

As I leave, I pray that I was the only child you damaged, that you didn't do this when you created ones of your own.

And I leave with a smile, knowing that my mother found the right man after leaving. She finally found the perfect love for her life, unlike you, he possessed a caring, loving heart and no desire to use a child as a belt workout bag.
Mom was better off without you.
I guess that makes two women who are better off without you.


From the Archives -- February, 2011, Too

It was an up-and-down week here in the middle of nowhere.
Well, technically I don't think I live in nowhere, but I can step outside and see it on the horizon.
It was down for a bit, then up in a good way at the end. "Always finish strong," as the saying goes.

First, the down part. Last week is normally what was the busiest week for me at my old job.
Suffice it to say, it wasn't busy at all and that hit me harder than I was expecting.
I'm mostly at a point where I'm able to keep that job in the past, but the emotions snuck up on me for a while.

That changed Saturday, thanks in part to a headache. Not a fun way to go about it, but I took my Excedrin Migraine, grabbed an ice pack and laid down. Surprisingly, even though I'd slept eight hours the night before, I wound up sleeping another four.
It screwed up my sleep schedule for the weekend, but the angst I'd been feeling before was gone.

Fast forward to this morning. I was talking at a trans site where I'm a member. It's been a good place for me for the most part.
I sit back and listen some times, especially when the women farther along in transition start talking nuts and bolts of the process.
It can be helpful to listen and learn.
Plus, I sometimes feel it's like going off to sit at the little kids' table, where those of us at the Trans 101 stage sit while the grown-ups talk about the advanced stuff.

In the chat at the site today, I was talking a bit about the philosophies I've come to on this journey so far. Nothing set in stone, mind you, just where I'm at during this particular time.
One thing that came up was something that I mentioned in an earlier entry -- that transition doesn't end with the GRS. It's a destination, but not the last one.
As one of the other women put it -- It's not about the surgery, it's about LIVING after the surgery.

The thing that I was left with after the conversation was the fact that I was able to converse with these women, who are farther along than I am and whose viewpoints I respect and be able to not sound like I was talking out of my backside.
I clearly don't have all the answers or know all I need to know.
But it was a little reassuring anyway.

The thing that hit me afterwards was that I was starting to really gain some perspective on things. It's a perspective I might not have had if I'd rushed headlong into things. I definitely feel more integrated than I did before. I don't want to lie and say I feel good about certain things, but I am feeling more comforted and positive about the future.

Limbo sucks. Limbo's not a place to set up permanent residence. But might as well make the most of it to truly think about things while I've been here.
I look forward to jumping out of limbo on the road to womanhood. It's time. Beyond time now.
There's a leap of faith coming. I can feel it.
Always finish strong.


From the Archives -- February, 2011

It's been an interesting run of late in my cyberworld.
When one is on their gender journey, it's not easy. There are stops and starts. There are situations where people are slow to accept.
But there are moments where it's worth it, where there is happiness.
And, with any luck, that's when there's a camera around.

I'll cop to becoming a bit of a picture diva since I've started at least progressing on my look. After denying who I was for a couple decades or so, there is a little bit of playing catch-up before I settle down.

I'm not going to lie and say everything is great in my life, because it's clearly not. There are days where I'm very emotional and it's tough to keep going.
But I have the support of family. I have some good friends. And I have the pictures.

Because you know what? The smile doesn't lie.
I talked in my last blog post about my visit with two good friends in Omaha. The pic in that post was from that trip.
I had an aunt comment on the pics from the trip.
She said, "Kara, I have never seen you smile that way before, it looks very good on you. And you look soooo beautiful. Am so happy for you."
It was a lovely compliment.
And she was right, at least in terms of me never smiling that way before.
When I'm the real me, I am smiling, I am truly happy.
I never liked smiling for photos as "him", it always felt forced, never natural. Smiling as Kara? Totally natural.

I'm not the only one.
I have a friend who, I'm happy to say, took a big step in the last week when she fully admitted that she is a woman and that she plans on fully transitioning.
I'm thrilled for her, due in no small part because we've talked a lot and I have an idea of what it's been for her to get to that point.
It's interesting when you see recent pics of her, both at a makeover and on her own.
You see a smile, a twinkle in the eye. There's a happiness and sense of contentment there.
And in talking to her, there was.
The smile doesn't lie.

I see it in other pictures of friends. Some are post-op. Some are in full transition mode. Some aren't in transition yet, but soon. Others are striking a balance in their lives and aren't transitioning at all.
But when I see the expressions in so many photos, I see that, for whatever is not going right in their respective lives, being themselves can be a good thing.
The smile doesn't lie.

For those of us who aren't there was fully as they'd like to be yet, I hope you get there. I hope that the smiles aren't limited to snapshots, digitally captured moments in time.
Because we are all supposed to have life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. And being trans shouldn't exclude us from that.
Smiles don't discriminate and they don't lie.

Look at the pic above this post. That's me, waiting for my good friends to arrive to pick me up for that trip. I was so looking forward to a trip that was so worth it. I was smiling on the inside just as much as I was on the ouside.
And that's the truth.

From the Archives - End of January,2011

Note: My friends' relationship didn't last, but that was a needed oasis of a weekend for me.

Tonight, I'm trying to stay warm as the wind blows and we're in a winter storm warning until until Wednesday morning.
I'm back in the confines of the good ol' house arrest again.
But...I was able to spend an entire weekend in the company of a couple friends who offered to get me out of this small town for a few days.
Their touching generosity came at a really good time. The walls have been closing in tighter and tighter lately.
I'd met one of the friends, a natal woman, once before. I hadn't met her fiancee, a transwoman, before, but I'd talked to her numerous times.

One nice thing right off the bat was this. For almost 72 hours, I didn't hear "his" name. Not once.
I was referred to as the proper name of Kara. My name. As it should be.

We went out Saturday and Sunday with me as the real me. Or as close to it as I could get.
Due to the previously mentioned current wardrobe limitations (no breast forms, stuck with ugly man shoes). I didn't have the presentation where I wanted it.
My makeup was good and wig looked alright, but...honestly, I felt like I was in neither/nor land.

I felt like an awkward freak...and I almost never feel like a freak.
The first night was kind of a bust. We left too late and there was no place to sit to watch the drag show. We wound up spending more time getting ready to go out than actually be out.
And you know what? That was still good. Plenty of gg's have nights out that don't turn out quite right. Plus, the big thing was that I got dressed and went out as me. Glory in the effort, if not the outcome.
Plus I was in great company. My hosts are both sweet girls.

Sunday night was better. The only real hitch was that the main room was too full, so we had to watch the pageant on the video screen where we are. There were limitations to the technology.
The spotlight washed out any detail in the performers...making it look like a contest to decide Miss Rorshach Test.

The second night further cemented some truths about myself. I was looking at some of the guys in the club and....I kept thinking, "He's cute. Pity he's gay"
I also found myself wishing I looked like the gg' there and checking out their outfits.

It wasn't a "mainstream" outing...but I think I was better off sticking in lgbt territory this time, especially given the presentation issues.

My hosts pointed out I was quiet during the weekend as a whole. Some of this was my natural shyness. I can be real quiet in person at first, but get me in front of a keyboard and I can't shut up.

Plus, I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my desire to transition, my inability to be able to do anything close to what I need to about my true self, the combination of joy and pain I was feeling. I felt really good and more self-conscious than ever about my appearance and mannerisms, even as i've workedd on them.
When asked what I was thinking, all I could come up with was the highly articulate answer of "Nothing."

All in all, there was good food, good company and even a good movie...since one of the other girls hadn't seen "Ma Vie En Rose" yet, we watched that. If you haven't seen that yet, do.

But all good things come to an end and this morning, we started making our way out, to take me and the girlfriend home to our respective cities.
It wasn't a good sign that the parking area outside my friend's place was turned into a rink, but we got out of there and all three of us made it home safely.
I cried off and on during the ride back. To be sure, part of this was being stuck going back to a place that has done me no good. It felt like I was being escorted back to a cell.

But the bigger part of this was that I simply was moved by the whole weekend. These two friends were under no obligation to treat me to a weekend, but treat me, they did. In addition to being a cute couple, they're good people.
It felt nice to have a couple of days with the opportunity to be out as the real me and, even if I wasn't out, to be treated as me...not as "him."
All good things must come to an end, but it means they were good things to begin with.

On the whole, it was 100 percent worth it and I can't wait to do it again, especially once things turn around so I can pay back my hosts by treating them.

All in all, it sucks to be back in relative hiding, but 72 hours of freedom is enough to remind me that hiding will not, can not work long term. No way, no how.

One way or another, the real me HAS to make it out into the world.


From the Archives- January, 2011, Too

One of my Facebook friends posted an interesting status update that prompted a lot of discussion and thought.
She wrote..
Just an observation or thought on some of you. It almost seems like you need to constantly convince yourself your doing the right thing or questioning whether you are really transsexual or not. Having never doubted who or what I was I find it very strange and sad there are people unsure of who or what they are.

Every one of us is different, but in all, honesty, I think questioning is more the norm than not.
There is a lot of societal pressure to not be who we are.
It can start early. Think back to grade school. Kids can be cruel verbally, taunting and teasing the "faggot" or "lezbo" on the playground. They can move beyond that to physical bullying.
Granted, those of us on the receiving end aren't "gay", but trans. But grade school kids aren't going to draw those kinds of distinctions.

Sadly, there are adults who can't distinguish between them, either.
They discriminate against us, deny us housing or jobs, the most ignorant and phobic take those grade school actions to darker, dangerous levels.
That's why there's a Transgender Day of Remembrance...because of those of us killed simply for being who we are.
There are the non-violent pressures from home. Be a man. Go out and hunt and gather and pass on your seed so that we may have grandchildren to carry on the family name. Go and be a good wife and mother.
Many trans people wind up in relationships that create walls. "I love my wife. How can I be a woman? How can I hurt her?"
And how many spouses or partners have said these words (or a variation) -- "If you loved me, you'd stop this."

Whether with malicious or good intent, there are a lot of pressures for us to not be who we are or, at the very least, never, ever act on it.
That creates a lot of denial and doubt over who we are. We might know it on a subconscious level, but we're not ready to admit it.
Now...some people are in supportive environments and come out as trans earlier. Others aren't but, for whatever reason, are unable to deny who they are and do so early.
But for a lot of us, it's not that easy.
There's an internal tug of war in our heads, often times with gender identity and sexuality getting tangled up.
In my case, I denied being "gay" for a long time when that wasn't even the real issue. The issue wasn't that I like men, it was that I wasn't a man.

But there is no set date for that breaking point.
Each individual person has their own individual time where the alarm goes off. The circumstances that prompt that vary.
As a result, many don't come out as trans until later. I didn't admit I was Kara until I was 41. Others don't until they're in their 50s or 60s. Others break sooner, doing it in their 20s.
This is something that requires a lot of work mentally. Not only do we have to do varying degrees of internal heavy lifting, we need counseling to help with it.
After all, can't get the letters for surgery and getting our gender markers changed without it.

Is it sad that so many of us jump through those and over obstacles we put in ourselves, let alone the ones placed by others? Absolutely it is.
Is it strange? Sadly, no.
The obstacles are enough that not everyone overcomes them.
Some of us detransition. Some of those weren't truly transsexual, true. But for some, the external pressures and realities become too great to deal with.
Others would in a heartbeat, but find themselves in marriages and children and sacrifice their true selves for the sake of those families.
Point being, it's not strange to question. It can be good. The fact that there are standards of care forces us to deal with our questions helps.

We might KNOW who we are from an early age. But ADMITTING it? That doesn't always immediately follow. And ACTING on it can take even longer.
I am blessed that I know who I am. I'm blessed that I have admitted it. Acting on it? That will happen when some real-life circumstances change. That's not my preference, but the reality of the situation demands it.
One more thing. I know I'm a woman, but as I've stated before I don't know what kind of woman I am or what kind of woman I'll be as I grow and (hopefully) transition.
It makes it a little more challenging to saw you are something when you don't know the full details of what you are.

But I look forward to filling in those blanks.
As much as I would rather be admitting I'm Kara at the age of 20, I might not have been ready then. I am now and I look forward to being my true self fully.
In the end, the process of becoming our true selves might be sad or strange, but it can also be a happy one, it can carry the reward of no longer having that weight dragging us down, even if we had no idea how much that weight affected us until we got rid of it.
Hopefully those of you reading this who are trans are able to progress towards admitting and acting on who you are. And if you've done both, I hope you're able to keep progressing on your life's journey.
Because we are all human beings, but we are women and men, working and striving towards becoming the truest and best versions of ourselves.
And there's nothing strange or sad about that.


From the Archives- January, 2011

Note: Wow, that seems so long ago, back before the HRT, during the days when I still had to wear the wigs.

Sitting here, in a red paisley skirt and matching gold top (the above pic was taken yesterday, before I watched Nebraska play its worst bowl game that I can remember)...all made up with no place to go.
It's a little after 7 p.m. as I start typing this, meaning there is less than five hours left in a year that was, well.. I'll be charitable and call it "interesting."
New Year's is supposed to be a time of celebration, of looking towards the promise of the year that begins when that clock strikes midnight.

In this corner of the world, it's an occasion marked with a mix of relief and dread.
It's a good thing that 2010 is over for a lot of reasons, noted elsewhere in this blog.
The dread comes in the nagging feeling that the better things will go away, that there will be no way to act on the truths that have revealed themselves.
It's the nagging fear that the isolation, the being trapped will only grow worse
The dread that..,365 days from now I won't have any more hope of being able to live as my true self and to one day shed this body I was given as some sort of prank for God's amusement.
A little harsh and mopey? Perhaps.

But try as I might, I can't be Pollyanna. I can't suddenly become Little Miss Happy.
It's not like I don't want to be more optimistic, but after a time, when nothing changes, those aren't the emotions that come into my head.
The "fun" of all this is that I'll probably feel the exact opposite tomorrow. It's life on the emotional rollercoaster.
Part of the reason I have a hard time being all uber-positive all the time is that it's a set-up to get hurt. It presupposes that positive thoughts have the power to override the universe and cause other people to act differently and circumstances to change instantly. It's like magic, right?!?!?!
Expect the worst. That way, anything less than that is actually good, rather than a disappointment from expecting too much.

But, then again, maybe that's sooo 2010.

It might be time to consider some goals for the upcoming year.
Not resolutions.
That is a word that seems to be a recipe for failure too often. How many resolutions have you failed to keep in a year? Exactly.
So, maybe the first goal is to be more positive in the upcoming year.
Another one? Gotta lose weight, for my health, for my ability to transition and, let's face it, the fashion options are better the smaller you are.
I also want to work more and more to being better able to blend (a term I like so much more than 'pass')
In general, I just want to be some place on December 31, 2011 and be closer to being the real me 24-7.
I would love to not be alone, to be celebrating with friends, maybe even celebrating it with the one I love...or both! Why not? I'm Ms. Positive now, right?
Here's hoping you don't get the worst, no matter what your expectatoins are.
Have a great 2011.