Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gay for Obama

I ordered an Obama sticker online. After much deliberation I went with "GLBT for Obama." I actually thought twice about ordering it. I felt almost disgusted with myself. I used to be such a proud and outspoken queer person. I had rainbow stickers on my car and although I gave up the rainbow jewelry and freedom rings when I hit my twenties, there was still no mistaking that i was a dyke. Then i transitioned. When you transition it almost feels like you're being shoved back in the closet, sometimes against your own will. If you look like a dyke you will not look like a man. If you present as queer you will not pass as straight. I struggled to reconcile these feelings, but still transitioned very much in the open. Then i returned to Philadelphia and although many knew me from before, so many people knew me only as Eli that I could slip so easily into just being a man.

Drawing attention to my transness brings up obvious base concerns. What will my neighbors thing? What will they think of me, what will they think of Anna? On one side they're very Catholic, on the otherside they're raging conservative christians (with McCain signs and stickers all over their house, which started this bumper sticker shopping in the first place). I hate that these concerns creep into my mind, but i have spent so long feeling uncomfortable in my own body. I do not want to feel uncomfortable in my own neighborhood or home. I hate being reminded of all the awkward fear and hyperawareness that i felt when i first came out over ten years ago. I want to be open and out, but even beyond these concerns there's something inherently different between being an out dyke and an out FTM.

When i was open about being a dyke i was allowing, sometimes forcing people to see who i really was. When i come out as trans there is a fear that people will see what i am not. I fear that they will look closer at me trying to find the woman in my past, that that they will look at me and say "I never would have guessed you're woman," forcing me to remind them that i am not. There is so much emphasis put on passing and when you come out as trans you in some ways cease to succeed in what could be considered the most important part of transitioning--presenting as your chosen gender.

I still bought the sticker. I still put it on my bike. Nothing has happened, no one has said anything and i doubt that anyone will. Sometimes it's just as important to remind yourself as it is to remind others of who you are and where you came from.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The power of truth

I have to rent a car. What should be a completely mundane task is wrought with anxiety for me. I haven't changed my ID yet. I know I should have taken care of this a long time ago, but I didn't. It's a lot of time, a lot of money and a whole lot of hassle. In my every day life I am honestly not that affected. I do still look like my ID picture for the most part. It's the name Elizabeth and the glaring "F" that cause the problems.

I try to get myself psyched up for the confrontation, but avoid it at all costs. I carefully shave in the morning and put on baggy clothing. I even honestly consider trying to make it look like I have breasts. These parts of me that I spent a lifetime trying to pretend weren't there I am now trying to hint at. Imply breasts to prevent an even more awkward situation.

One time a few years ago, I presented my ID. The woman at the counter examined me and the license carefully. I was then asked to sit down. A few moments later I hear them call "ELIZABETH?" I turn and walk deliberately back to the counter. A second woman turns to the first and says, "See, that's Elizabeth. She answered."

A second time I made it into the car fine, but had to show ID again to get out of the parking lot. The attendant had apparently just gotten yelled at for not checking ID's well enough. She wasn't taking any chances with me. She looked at the ID, looked at me and said "This isn't you." I stammered that it was. "No. It's not. This is a woman's ID."

I choked on the words. "I know. I am Elizabeth." I wondered why on earth anyone would believe that if I wanted to steal an ID I wouldn't just take a man's. Finally, after considerable back and forth, after trying to ignore that my identification didn't match who I was anymore, I decided to take a chance on the truth. "I was Elizabeth. I was a woman. Now I am a man. I haven't changed my Driver's License yet." She looked at me. Looked closer at my picture. Saw hints of the man now was in the face on that picture.

"I am so sorry." She began gushing. "I am really really sorry. I just got yelled at by my boss and I just..." she went on an on, apologizing for something which I could not blame her for. I would have questioned me too.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I've been blessed with parents who not only accepted my transition, but wanted to take this journey with me. I think sometimes we forget that for our parents it isn't just a matter of accepting but they are coming out as well. In my case it was telling everyone in the small town I grew up in that they now had a son when before they had two daughters. Its a complex road full of twists and turns that seem to sneak up on you when you least expect them.

My parents recently told their story in their church. My sister said that some people even stayed through he second service to hear it again. I asked them to send it to me and as long as they approve I will post that as well.

Note: Parts of this story may have been recycled into "Living my Legacy" which was also posted here so if pieces sound familiar, forgive me.

In May my mom came to New York. I would be visiting the doctor for the first time to investigate hormone replacement therapy and I wanted her to be there. It wasn’t anything as metaphoric as my mom being present at my birth as a girl and re-birth as a boy. Rather, she had been there when I broke my leg, she had been there when I got my first and second set of stitches, she was there for my first visit to the GYN appointment and it seemed only natural that she be here for this. She arrived at my house and we immediately opened a bottle of wine. What began as idle conversation had, by the third glass of wine, turned to tears. I didn’t know how to explain to my mom, who had tried to raise me to be a proud woman, that I had made the decision to become her son. She was supportive and respectful, but also sad. She cried for the childhood she felt I had lost and she cried for the woman I would never become. “Your dad and I are just mourning. It feels like a loss.” These words stayed with me long after they were uttered. I suppose I understood what they were feeling, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Doing so would have meant that a part of me was dying and for the first time I had begun to feel truly alive.

The next day my girlfriend Anna arrived from Philadelphia and we all went to the doctor together. I stayed quiet during the visit and let my mom and Anna ask the questions. A form was passed around that listed possible side effects, everything from acne to death. They asked a few questions about the drug’s safety but not what was really on both of their minds. That was a question that the doctor could not answer. I knew they were thinking was, “Does he really have to do this?“
I tried to treat the rest of the day like a vacation for my mom, but this just wasn’t possible. The two women that care about me the most had spent the morning asking questions about whether or not testosterone would kill me. Suddenly becoming a tourist was out of the question. We ended the day with dinner in SoHo, not talking about what was on all of our minds. Anna was scared, my mom was concerned and I was exhausted. I knew they were thinking about the risks and whether it was worth it. Hormones had been my plan for months, but for them it had only been a reality for a few hours. I wouldn’t have been able to defend my choice if asked, I would have only begun crying. Thankfully, both these women knew me well enough not to ask. They allowed me the comfort of talking about books, school, art, and the food on our plates.

On Sunday my mom left, but told me she wanted my dad to come visit. She said that after twenty-five years I finally seemed comfortable in my own skin. She wanted my dad to see this. So, in August my dad flew from Michigan and I met him at my front door. He did a slight double take before hugging me explaining later that he expected to see me with a full beard after being on testosterone for only two months. I didn’t tell him I had run home expecting whiskers after only two hours. Clearly neither of us knew what to expect. The next day we boarded the subway and road to the West Village where we rode the elevator up eleven floors to see my therapist. I needed to say some things to him that I wasn‘t sure I could without the help of a mediator and the motivation of paying $100 an hour. All the effort I had made that summer to keep them updated on my progress seemed oddly unimportant to them. The weekly phone calls as my voice changed, the photos, the stories about my new support group, it all seemed so common to them. A daughter becoming a son is not an everyday occurrence. It’s hard to learn a new name when you worked so hard to choose the first one. It’s hard to know what to do with the memories of a daughter when he’s creating new memories as a son. Things felt like they were changing every moment of every day, and there they were all the way in Michigan. Why weren’t they struggling like I was? Why didn’t they feel as unbalanced and turned around and spit out as I did? “Well what would you like me to do?“ he asked. “I don’t want to question your decisions or make you think I don’t love you and respect what you are doing.” A loss of respect wasn’t what I was afraid of--it was loneliness. I needed them. I needed to feel confused and scared and excited with people who knew me and not just what I was becoming. Mom, him, my sister, and Anna were the only people close enough to me to really experience this transition the same way I was. I needed them to see me as I changed even if I was five states and 750 miles away.

Before he left I asked a favor of my dad which turned out to be the more difficult than any other part of my transition. I asked for a picture of his chest. I wanted my nipples to look like they would if I had been born his son. “Honey, I love you, but that’s a little too weird.” He could not forget the female chest in front of him. “I don’t think I can look at you with your shirt off and think ‘that’s where my nipples are,’” He paused and sighed. “I’ll think about it.” It wasn’t the changes in my body that concerned him as much as the relationship they suddenly had to his. I was beginning to inhabit a body like his. Eventually he would see me with my shirt off for the first time since puberty and seeing his body reflected in mine was maybe too much. Still, he would think about it. That was all I was asking for.
In November we all traveled to Washington to share the holiday with my mom’s family. Surrounded by extended family my dad turned to me, patted my hand and said, “Honey, it’s still a little weird for me, but if you want a picture of my nipples you can have that.” What began as a routine holiday dinner became a most intimate moment between father and son. Not only had he offered me his chest, he had done it in front of the entire family.

In December I asked my mom if she could take the picture of my dad’s chest and bring it with her to my surgery. She arrived in January two days before my consultation with the surgeon and told me he just couldn’t do it. “He tried, he really did, but it was just too weird for him.” That was ok. I would have to leave my nipples up to fate. Surgery would create a piece of me. I needed to accept the stitches and the scars however my body saw fit. This recreation was not something I could control. My parents had no control over the daughter they gave birth to, and in two days we would travel to Baltimore to create the son I always was.