Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Question of Velocity

My friend Rachel and I were running a few weeks back along the top of the parking deck next to the hotel we were staying in for one of the meetings we were conducting and, as we always do, began to catch each other up on our lives since we hadn’t seen each other since before the holidays.  As the conversation unfolded we talked about our holidays and time spent with family – or not.  I shared the story of what it was like on Christmas Eve at my sister’s house with her and my brother in-law and my two brothers and their wives.  We had a nice time, especially since my son was home from college and accompanied Mari and I.  It was good that he could spend quality time with all of his uncles. 

But I was quick to point out that it wasn’t always that way.  Truth be told, I was estranged from my brothers for a few years because they were having great difficulty coming to terms with my transition.  That meant not seeing them at all over the holidays.  It took time, but I explained to Rachel that it was not something I could completely control.  “Everyone in their own time” is what I have taken to saying, as I explained they have now reached a point of acceptance of my true self-in terms that work for them.  Do I think they completely understand me?  Heck no.  But I do believe they have progressed past the point of calling me by my former name and using the wrong pronouns all the time. I do believe - make that I know - that they love me, and I love them back.  Thank God. 

My experience with my brothers has taught me a valuable lesson.  Try as I might, I could not control their path to acceptance of me as a woman.  Lord knows I tried, but at the end of the day it had to be on their own terms and, in their own time.  But that said, I remained steadfast in my sense of self and who I am throughout that entire period.  I had an advocate in my sister, but she could only influence them so much.  That’s why I chose not to go to the family Christmas Eve gathering during those years because I had to stand up for myself.  It was the only way I knew how to make my point.  To perhaps influence their feelings towards me given that it was impossible for me to engage them in a one on one conversation about what it is like growing up in the wrong gender and running from it at every turn.  Did it contribute to them final coming around?  Perhaps.  Maybe one day we’ll actually have that conversation.

For many transgender and gender non-conforming people of my generation there exists a conflict between themselves and those that transition with them about its velocity.  For many, it cannot happen fast enough.  Decades spent in the closet have come to end, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle and one’s mindset becomes “now everyone simply must adhere to my schedule – period.”  It’s as simple as that.  It’s all about me.  Well, it’s not – really.  Wrong answer.  Thank you for playing.  We have lovely parting gifts for you.

All too often, at the moment of coming out, blinders seem to go on preventing the individual from seeing the impact that their transition is having on those around them. Soon one finds that life does not occur in the vacuum they have created for themselves – or at the same speed.  I have had many an interaction with transwomen at this point in their lives and the conversation was entirely about hormones, testosterone blockers, electrolysis versus laser hair removal and who’s the best surgeon for their gender reassignment surgery (GRS).  I try to be understanding, really I do, but is there nothing else going on in your life that you’d like to talk about?  Do you have any other interests? Hobbies?  “All Trans, all the time” is one dimensional and can be just plain boring – bordering on tedious. 

Honestly, I can see where this can happen.  It happened to me.  I completely miscalculated the impact of changing one’s gender can have on the uninitiated. A prime example of this is how I initially handled things with my son – which was a lesson in how NOT to do it. For example, I actually thought that by having pictures of me as my true self with my girlfriends scattered about my apartment would some how create an opportunity for me to have a dialogue with my then 11 year-old. What was I thinking?

I recall my therapist giving me quite a well deserved tongue-lashing when I shared that with her.  She read me the riot act - and I deserved it.  At best I would be confusing him, she explained, and at worst he could be frightened by what could only be seen as very strange images to him.  I distinctly remember her saying:  “He has an 11 year-old brain, which can only process information at a certain level – certainly not as an adult!”

I came away from that near-miss very shaken.  After some much needed reflection and discernment I arrived at a different and, dare I say, more enlightened state of mind.  I needed to ask myself this simple, yet very tough question, “Who do I want in my life after I complete my transition.”  And, I needed to answer it honestly, because the answer would not only guide the tactics of my transition, but also its speed.  I would, more than likely, have to do the one thing that is perhaps the hardest thing for a transitioning trans person to do:  slow down.  Put my foot on the brake, kick it into a lower gear and really, really be honest with myself.  My emphatic answer to that question was “my son.”  To live my life as my true self and not have him in it?  To not share all the moments of his growing up?  To not witness his development into a young man with his own ideas of what he wanted to do with his life and the impact he wanted to make on his world?  That was patently unthinkable.  
So I did slow down, I did find a therapist that would see both of us, I put away the pictures and I let go of the focus of “all me, all the time.”  It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, surpassed only by when I told my son that his mom and I were getting divorced. 

The moral of the story?  For me, it underscores the importance of keeping balance in your life and putting the needs of others closest to you before your own.  In so doing, I believe one can develop a greater sense of self and be in a much better position to advocate on behalf of our community – or be a better parent to their children, or a better sister or brother, son or daughter, or a better friend or colleague. But it doesn't just magically happen. You have to keep that focus day in and day out.  They'll be days when it's easy to do, and they'll be days when it's the last thing on earth you want to do.  But as my dear friend Terri puts it, it is the "inside work" - the work that no one sees but yourself - that may be the hardest you'll ever encounter, but bears the sweetest fruit.

It creates perspective, it creates context for one’s life.  As I have said many times, I am doing a horrible disservice to myself if the only thing I lead with is that I am a transwoman.  Sure, there are times when I need to lead with that because I am in a situation that warrants it - not to mention I am very proud of that distinction.  But I also believe that I bring much, much more to the table, so to speak, as a business professional, a partner, a friend, a parent, a sibling, a contributing member of society – a fully human being.  

Because after all, who really wants to live their life in a vacuum anyway?

1 comment:

  1. Stephanie, your perspectives always make me think. Balance is of such critical importance. And it's such a fleeting thing. Perhaps your blog will be just what I need to be reminded to look more closely for the crocuses, to take in a fresh breath of air tonight on my nightly race to the metro, to pause...