This is part of our ‘True Story’ interview series, in which I interview interesting people about fascinating/challenging/non-traditional things that they’ve done. This is the story of Anna.
For the unititiated, could you give us the definition of a transgendered person?
Let me begin with the usual disclaimer. I do not represent every transgendered person and my opinions and thoughts on the matter are just one person’s viewpoint, blah and etc. I think the stock answer is that transgendered is an umbrella term for people who, for one reason or another, cross gender boundaries.So, transsexuals, cross dressers, intersexed, people who identify as gender-queer, butch women, femme men, two spirits, drag kings/queens, and people who present as androgynous could be considered to be transgendered.To strangers on the street, I identify myself as a woman. To friends and people I feel comfortable with, I identify myself as a woman who happens to have started off as a male to female (MtF), preoperative transsexual.How old were you when you realized you were different from other people of your gender?
I started feeling out of place from an early age…maybe six or seven. I think it takes a while for a kid’s gender identity to develop, so for the first five years, I felt like any other happy, almost genderless kid and I behaved how I wished. There wasn’t any one defining moment or realization, it was a lot of little moments. Like, when I was six or seven, I wanted to take ballet classes with my sister sooo badly. I knew that boys could enroll in the class, but I knew it wouldn’t be the same. I’d have to dress differently and would be treated differently, so I never asked.
Gradually, I started to feel out of place and increasingly uncomfortable with having to behave like other boys. I distinctly recall knowing the word transvestite in the fourth grade and I used to wonder if I was one. Writing this, I realize that this experience isn’t much different from the one a lot of “different” kids had growing up.
When did you ‘come out’ as transgendered? What was the reaction to it?I suppose I ‘came out’ to myself during my first year of college. We had a ginormous library on campus and I spent my first year reading everything I could on the subject. This was just before the Internet was widely available, so my reading choices were limited to super boring graduate psychology papers and the occasional mention in literature (Orlando, et al.).
I told my younger sister, my only sibling, about twelve years ago. I had played around and talked to people online before that, but my sis was the first “real life” person I told. Her reaction has never wavered from awesome and supportive and she has always been my rock. Nothing really changed after I told my sister. I still lived a sort of double life and only presented as female after work and in night clubs on the weekends. I wasn’t ready to go further than that, so I spent the next eight years trying to cultivate a “normal” life. I worked, went back to school, graduated with an engineering degree, got engaged, and slowly progressed from merely wistful to a deep, desperate depression. My body’s annoyingly good at showing me the way to go in life and I have major visceral reactions whenever I get lost.
Anyway, after my fiancee and I broke up, I decided it was finally time to change things. I started electrolysis and went to see a psychologist and my physician to get clearance to start hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I sent a novella-sized coming out email to my friends and family about five months later in October 2008. At the time, reactions were mixed. My mother was so not happy and father didn’t reply. Most of my friends were supportive. My cat remains indifferent.
I spent the next five months thinking of a way to come out at work and not drive myself insane with worry. I wrote about it some here and here. I had a meeting with my boss and our human resources representative about a month before I went back to work. The place I work is kind of small, so we decided it would be a good idea to get everyone together to talk about my transition while I was on vaca. My boss read this letter to everyone and then they all took turns whacking a pinata, having coffee and doughnuts, or doing whatever it is you do after having a So your coworker’s a transsexual? meeting. I went back to work the next week and it was a non-issue. I work with a bunch of smarties and they have either been super-supportive or quiet, which are both fine with me.Since then, I’ve reestablished good relationships with my mother and father (they’re divorced), gotten closer to some friends and lost others.
How does being transgendered affect your daily life?Being transgendered is my daily life; it’s not something I can take off or change out of. There are constant physical reminders…I’m 5’9″ and taller than most women, I’ve had about 100 hours of electrolysis and I still go for an hour every Saturday, I take pills every day, and on and on. As I move further away from my first day back to work, I think about gender less and less (and I hope to get to a place where I don’t think of it at all), but I think it will always be there.
I don’t generally have a problem with being accepted as a woman in public, but I’m always evaluating people’s reactions and how they treat me. I am self conscious and still too aware of the 152,396 things that are wrong with my body…but so are a lot of women. It’s easy to forget that when you’re up in your own head all the time like I am, but it’s important not to. We all have our own body issues and crappy days, but they shouldn’t define us and how we move through life or treat other people.
Does being transgendered affect your dating life?
How doesn’t it affecting my dating life? I think dating is an awful experience for just about everyone, but it’s extra fun when you have to disclose your surgical status right away lest you get assaulted or murdered. I wrote about how hard it is to find someone here. I identify as a straight woman (gender identity doesn’t have a thing to do with sexuality) and have been dating for the last eight months or so. I met a nice guy and we dated for the last four months, but just recently broke up. So, if y’all know any really understanding guys…
I guess the thing that’s most troubling about trans dating (and dating in general, I suppose) is that you have to really consider why that person is interested in you. Is it because they like you as a person? Are they into tall women? Are they obsessed with a particular part of your anatomy? Objectification is hardly a new concept to women, but it still stinks to be treated that way. I’ve tried to be painfully upfront with guys about my plans for surgery and I try to screen out the ones that aren’t really into me as a person, but that drains the pool considerably. Still, I’m an insufferable optimist and hopeful that it’ll all work out someday. I’ll meet that one special guy that loves me for who I am (he’s a pilot) and we’ll get married and raise three children (Bonnie, Jack, and Shelby), two dogs and four cats on a small, boutique cheese farm in Vermont or Norway or whatever. 🙂
Are you interested in having gender reassigment surgery? (you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to – I’m not even really sure if this is an appropriate question!)Yes, I do plan on having reassignment surgery at some point. No, it’s not an appropriate question, but I understand why people want to ask it all the time. I say it’s not appropriate, because I was (and I think a lot of people were) raised to believe that health-related topics were private matters and not eligible for open discussion. Honestly, it isn’t anyone’s business, but that doesn’t seem to stop people from asking. If they do, it makes me think about their motivation for asking that question. Sorry, I don’t mean to get all snippy, but I have strong opinions about this 🙂
When I’ll have surgery is another matter. I think a lot of people have some idea about the current, poor state of our health care system, but there is almost no insurance coverage for trans people. My HRT is mostly subsidized through work insurance, but I have to pay out of pocket for electrolysis and reassignment surgery. So, my monthly transition costs are an extra $250 and surgery is around $20,000. Things are changing, however slowly; the AMA now recommends affordable health care for trans people and a recent tax court ruling made the costs for surgery tax deductible.
I don’t have the money for surgery now, but things might get easier in the next three to five years.I’m also not what you would call an “out and proud” trans person. I sometimes write about life as a transsexual person on my mostly anonymous blog and choose to share that information with the special people in my life, but that’s as far as I want to go. People have made great strides in accepting transgendered people, but Angie Zapata’s murder trial was still in progress less than a year ago. It’s still too soon and the stakes are still too high. Also, again, it’s not really anyone else’s business. I choose to tell who I want, when I want, and I ask my friends and family to not share my information.
What are the most common misconceptions that you’ve encountered?
I guess it depends on the sort of transgendered person you identify as. I haven’t had many in-depth discussions with friends and family on what’s it like to be transsexual. I don’t bring it up much because I don’t want people to think that it’s the only thing that defines me as a person…it doesn’t. These days, I’m way more concerned with blogging, dating, crafting, art, my cat, trying to have fun, paying my bills, getting to work on time, etc. So, I don’t have a lot of experience with this, but I have had discussions with a couple of friends about sharing my status with people they knew. I’ve asked them not to do it but one of them had an issue with it. She asked me what I was afraid of in not coming out to everyone.
I think people just apply the lesbian and gay coming out model to us…like, once we tell them, we should be out and proud and not ashamed of who were are. I like myself and I’m not ashamed of who I am, but I’d rather not get murdered or treated differently because of that one detail.I think the more common misconception is that we’re all freaks, perverts, just gay, just lesbians, sick, mentally ill, just in it for sex, hormonally imbalanced, attention seeking, drag queens/kings, someone to be pitied, or just pretending to be something we’re not. For the record, I am none of those…ok, maybe occasionally hormonally imbalanced.
What advice would you give to other people struggling to come out of the transgendered closet?Advice? Eeep! I have a hard enough time taking care of myself/Miss Kitty and I’m certainly no role model, but here goes…
Do some homework:
These days, there are plenty of winning online resources for trans peeps…Andrea James’ tsroadmap.com is an excellent resource for the MtFs, Hudson’s FTM Resource seems like an excellent FtM guide, and Dr. Lynn Conway’s site is an amazing catalog of sane, successful, beautiful trans women. I’ve never read it, but I sent my Mom a copy of True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism-For Families, Friends, Coworkers, and Helping Professionals by Mildred L. Brown & Chloe Ann Rounsley, and she really seemed to like it. Youtube has tons of trans people representin’…TrannystarGalactica is a good group of vloggers, but there are loads more. Read other blogs. Check out your local GLBT resource center, they may offer a support group. In other words, try to figure out who you are and where you want to go next.
Talk it out:
It’s hard to figure this out all by yourself and you’ll feel much, much better after you share this with someone. Talk to your friends or family if you feel comfortable. If not, speak to a therapist or another trans person. Take this time to lean on the people in your life that want to help you and love you for who you are.
Make a plan: If you decide that you identify as transsexual and think permanent transition from one gender to the other is in your future, think about how you’re going to get there. Do you need to make a budget and earn more money? Are you going to change you name? What’s the procedure? How do you change your driver license and records? Do you want to start HRT? When are you going to tell your friends and family? When are you going to tell the people at work? I spent a lot of time planning the details of my transition and I think it helped a lot.
Make it happen: You need to actually go out there and do it at some point. It’s going to be mega scary and nerve-wracking at first, but I believe in you and I know you can do it! 🙂 Take it slow ( you can work on hair removal and saving money anytime), follow your plan, and don’t forget to take care of yourself. Try to find a safe, welcoming place where you can be yourself when you need to relax or when it all gets to be too much. Do something with all that stress; go dancing, ride your bike, or learn how to play air guitar! Take advantage of your homegrown support system and cultivate relationships with the people you love. Keep a journal, blog, or vlog so Future You can cringe about how weird you looked or dumb you sounded back in the day. 🙂 Just kidding…this is an important time in your life and you’ll want to remember it. I guess the most important thing is to just get to it and move on with your life.
Does anybody have any (tactful! respectful!) questions for Anna?