"The unexamined life is not worth living" Socrates

- - scatterings of ideas sent to my younger self, a sensitive girl who was fooled into believing she was a boy because of anatomy - -

Monday, 29 May 2017

Handling the Pressure

I will start this post with a warning for all my transgender friends: do not put yourself in danger. Know your audience. Be safe and do what you need to do to stay that way. 

This post is a reflection on thriving in situations when others would be distracted and fearful. I am going to use analogies with sports and performance to think about living authentically. 

As regulars here will recall, I enjoy the game of golf - a lot. I used to watch golf on television for hours, but really the best part of golf for me is not watching somebody hit great, sometimes amazing shots. What impresses me has to do with the bigger picture. There are golfers who can dominate in competition. Pressure doesn't seem to phase them. When asked about how they do this, it is clear that their focus stays in the moment. One shot at a time. They aren't paying attention to what others are doing , or thinking about what others might think, or how important this next shot is. They know where the ball needs to end up. They have the skills to get it there. They are oblivious to everything else. 

Similarly, I love playing music. I look forward to performing in front of an audience; it really is the point of all that work after all. As with a sport like golf, one works very hard to develop the skills needed to be able to rely on your body to accomplish your goals. The big picture is the ability to rely on those; to trust them to be there, as you perform for others. I've been asked many times what my secret is. How does one stand in front of others and play, sing, or speak without seeming nervous? Mostly, it has to do with being as totally immersed in the details of the activity as possible. It seems to me that being nervous has mostly to do with two things: feeling unprepared, and letting your mind wander to thoughts of what might happen if ....  In other words, getting distracted. 

If you know you are going to be out in public doing something where others might pay attention to you, get as prepared as you can. Like the old joke says: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice."  Then trust yourself when it is time to head out into the public eye. Self doubt is the great destroyer, whether you are trying to play a sport, or play a sonata, or walk down the street as your authentic self for the very first time. 

Believe in yourself. Be confident. Stay in the moment. 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Forgiveness ~ Acceptance

For what is a lifetime for many (certainly it was a lifetime for the male façade who was blogging here for so long), I looked to others for approval. I admit it as a problem drinker might at an AA meeting; I was a chronic fixer. Everyone else came first. Maybe it happened because, as a child, it seemed like the only way to make grownups stop being angry. I don't know for sure, but that is who I was. Some call it "a pleaser personality". Every day I remind myself that this is an issue and I must stay aware of it.

I looked for acceptance and when I wanted something for myself, it was alway vetted through that filter: Will this make others around me happy too? When things went wrong, I did the quintessentially Canadian thing and asked for forgiveness - I am sorry.

Two years ago, I already knew what I needed to do and who I needed to be, yet fear ruled my life. To be myself I would have to let others down - badly. Surprisingly, when I told the most important people in my life, my children, they told me straight out that they knew I would still be me, but happier and healthier. There was acceptance and no need for forgiveness. We were good. We are good. 

Fear still ruled my life because my wife of many decades was terrified and disgusted by the prospects for her future with me as a woman in public. I wanted her to be ok; I wanted her to come along happily on this journey. But when she told me I will hate you if you do this thing, I froze and thought maybe I could put the life that had to be off a bit longer.

Friends who found out what was going on gave mixed reactions running the gamut from immediate acceptance to outright rejection. But those who spoke to my wife in private told her how disgusting it was and how she should just "take me to the cleaners" and divorce me. They were certain that as a woman I would be ridiculed and so would she. Some suggested that it would be dangerous; some might react violently against a transexual in such a small community. How could I do this to her?

I didn't do anything to her. I forgave and accepted myself. If nobody else in the world would forgive or accept me, it really didn't matter. I had to give myself permission to be myself. Once that was done, everything else was relatively easy.

Because I accepted myself, I acted naturally and confidently around everyone. That put them at ease and made interactions go well. I was not a target in the community.

If you have to break away from a life of maladaptive behaviour, begin by forgiving yourself for all the things you have done to others. Then forgive yourself for what you have done to yourself.

Accept and love yourself as you have accepted and loved others in your life for so very long.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Not doing Nothing anymore

Facebook has been good to me, so I won't slam it. However, it can be very annoying sometimes with repetitious views of the same thing - over and over. 

Some months ago, someone who knows me very well sent a message with this quote: 

"Promise me you'll always remember that you're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."

As beautiful as it is, somehow it didn't feel like A.A. Milne, but every search I did insisted that indeed it is - until today. Wanting to find out which of Milne's books it was from, I found this article that told me. The author of the article, Pat Morden, did some research and discovered that the words above were not authored by Milne at all, but by some uncredited writer, working for Disney. The illustration above is a Disney creation as well. Now, let's be really clear about something; I do not dislike Disney or the cartoons or the movies. However, as Pat puts it so well, "the Disney piece is ideal for Facebook—sentiment neatly tied up with a bow."

The illustration below (or decoration as it says in the book), is by Ernest H. Shepard and is from The House at Pooh Corner*. I find it equal to the heartfelt words Christopher Robin says to Pooh as he is saying goodbye at the end of the book:

"Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!
“Yes?” said Pooh. 
“When I'm - when -- Pooh!
“Yes, Christopher Robin?
“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
“Never again?”
“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
“Yes, Christopher Robin,” said Pooh helpfully.
“Pooh, when I’m – you know – when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”
“Just Me?”
“Yes, Pooh.”
“Will you be here too?”
“Yes Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”
“That’s good,” said Pooh.
“Pooh, promise me you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little.
“How old shall I be then?”
Pooh nodded.
“I promise,” he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.
“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I – if I’m not quite – ” he stopped and tried again – “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
“Understand what?”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”
“Where?” said Pooh.
“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.

So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."

*Copyright, 1928, by E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

She Persisted

My imagination is excellent. I have loads of empathy. Can those admirable qualities over the years have allowed me to know what it means to be a woman in our world? Not a chance.

I watched with anger and frustration as my wife was pushed aside in her work so that a man, with less seniority, who didn't know the job or do the work as well as she did, could have it. "He has to have this job. He has a family to support." She eventually left that company after a year languishing in the typing pool. 

In my heart, I have always been a woman, and yes, I live as a woman. By law, I am a woman; my birth certificate, passport, and driver's license say so. But what do I know of the sorts of hurts and challenges that a woman has faced every day in the world? 

It is International Women's Day, 2017. Last month the drawing below by artist Courtney Privett came to my attention. This Huffington Post article gives the explanation of how she came to create it. The drawing is self-explanatory and its title, Nevertheless, she persisted, says so much about what it has meant to grow up female in our society. 

I will reproduce the content below so that those who speak a language other than English can see what she wanted her daughters to know of her own life. I also feel a compulsion to absorb all of them more fully. I have heard only a few of these sayings directed at me in the past year. 

"What war on reproductive rights?" ~ "Feminists are annoying" ~ "You'd be so pretty if you made an effort" ~ "Stay-at-home mom? Get a job" ~ "Frump" ~ "You're too old to dress like that" ~ "Why are you getting so emotional?" ~ "Your husband is totally whipped" ~ "He picks on you because he likes you" ~ "Working mom? You're neglecting your kids" ~ "You just haven't found the right man" ~ "You run like a girl" ~ "over-sensitive" ~ "You're wearing THAT?" ~ "That time of month, eh?" ~ "Girls can't do that" ~ "Why didn't you just leave him?" ~ " You're going gray. You ought to dye your hair" ~ "You're formula feeding? That's not good for the baby" ~ "Breast-feeding a toddler? Gross" ~ "Catty" ~ "Whoa, take your Midol" ~ "How much have you had to drink?" ~ "That's a man's job" ~ "She was asking for it" ~ "Your clothing is distracting the boys" ~ "You'd be so much prettier if you wore makeup" ~ "You're wearing too much makeup. You look like a clown" ~ "Women will complain about anything" ~ "She's hormonal" ~ "Dyke" ~ "Slut" ~ "Whore" ~ "Frigid" ~ "Feminazi" ~ "Bossy" ~ "*Catcall*" ~ "Let the men work" ~ "Calm down" ~ "Smile" ~ "Relax" ~ "Moody" ~ May I speak to the man of the house?" ~ "Bitch" ~ "What were you wearing?" ~ "You'll want kids someday" ~ "You need to lose weight, for your health" ~ "You're too skinny. Eat a burger" ~ "Your biological clock is ticking" ~ "So many kids. Keep your legs together" ~ "Aren't you cute?" ~ "You're too fat to wear that"

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

... you don't have to understand ...

About a year ago, early on in my transition, a male friend was telling me of a conversation with his father-in-law, who had known me for many years. This older, very traditional male was having trouble with the idea that a person he had known as a man for over a decade was now presenting as a woman; had changed her name to reflect that and so forth. He was worried, wondering what would happen when he saw me, because this was so far outside of his comfort zone. He didn't think it would be possible to accept me, because he couldn't understand such a change.

My friend explained to him that it wasn't really important to understand what was going on with me. It was enough for him to accept that what was going on was right for me.

Quite a few years ago my wife and I were in a restaurant, waiting for our meal to arrive. A group of 'ladies' were ushered to a nearby table. My wife assumed they were crossdressing and made some negative, judgement-filled comment. She then turned to me and expressed great embarrassment at the thought that I might soon be doing the same thing.

Her reaction might have seemed to be typical since none of these women were doing a lot to conceal the fact that they were men dressed up and having a good time pretending to be one of the girls for the day. I wish that I had found the words that my friend found. I would have told my wife the same thing, "What they are doing isn't hurting us - it's right for them. We don't have to understand."

There are times in our lives when we have to decide how we will act in difficult social situations. When we don't understand the way someone lives their life and we need to interact with them, then we should accept them without explanation or if we are interested and caring enough, try to find out more about what it is like to be in 'their shoes'. It seems to me that choosing to discredit another reflects more upon our character than theirs.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Survivor's Guilt

What was I to do? What do any of us do, other than what seems like the right thing to do at the time?

What I did, while it was right for me, was too difficult for others who I cared for. Life said to me "Make a decision. Decide whether this time you will live for yourself, or ... "

When I chose life, that is what was given to me. While nothing lasts forever, I am not going to feel guilt for having survived, and perhaps, through sheer luck, for having thrived.

I am peeling away and casting off remnants of shame and guilt. What is left is me; grateful for every thing that has come my way, whether I deserve it or not.

After a lifetime of trying to please others and living with feelings of guilt and shame that I couldn't control the world, I did what seemed right. Sometimes the universe is benign. Often it is very, very cruel. For me, there was a gift of healing and acceptance in a way I could never have orchestrated.

Monday, 30 January 2017

How Do You See the World?

A week ago, the message on this poster was added to the banner below my sunrise photo. 

The photo in the poster was taken one grey morning after a very heavy snow storm. Everyone was complaining about how much snow had to be removed, how difficult the driving was and so forth. 

I thought it was beautiful!  ~ I still do. 

I have been saying it for so long, I cannot recall whether I thought of it myself, or someone else wrote it first. I'll be happy to add credit if someone can tell me who the author is (other than me, that is).

Postscript: The puzzle is solved. See Lindsay Byrnes' comment below.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Finding the Upside of Depression

I recall a time not so long ago that felt like the end of the world, or at least, it made me feel that I wanted the world to end - so deep into the spiral of depression that the best I hoped for was an end to it that would leave those I cared for deeply, safe and secure, without me.

This morning I was watching the video linked below, and it brought back those feelings. But it also reminded me what it was, and still is, that others did, that helped me climb back out of that deep hole. It was empathy from people who cared to enough to take the risk of offering connection. They let me know that when I was ready, they were there for me - no ready solutions, no platitudes - but simply a hand held out that told me "you aren't alone". 

I will never be done with the journey. If there is an upside to coming out the other side of depression, it is what I learned, and who I've become, by letting others know who I really am, and trusting that I would find some who would connect. 

It is a huge risk to make yourself vulnerable with the truth. Some might have and did hate me for being who I am. But there were others who had survived; others who would take the risk of saying "I am here to listen and care", and in that way pass along their strength. They might not even have understood the details, but they cared, and would not judge.

If there is an upside, it will be my own willingness to be that person who takes the risk and holds out my hand to others and say, I am here. I've been there. I will stay with you.

Dr. Brené Brown narrates the following RSA Short, with animation by Katy Davis and subtitles in a variety of languages, thanks to Amara. Click on the cc for captions.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

And Now You Are a Woman

Sounds like some sort of benediction, doesn't it? Just exactly when does someone like me become a woman

Since mid February of last year I have lived as a woman in all aspects of my life. As soon as it was possible, my identification papers (every single one of them) were written in my proper female name and with the help of my doctors, the designation area of each one says "female" and has since June of last year. I have travelled extensively as a woman and have learned to accept that I no longer hold a door and allow anyone to walk through ahead of me unless they are my senior by a lot, or are infirm. I am a woman, and that means that often the door gets held for me. It is part of our culture to give some deference to women. I always say thank you. 

I have also learned that men's washrooms are clearly larger than the women's...  otherwise why would there be lines of us waiting to get into ours and men walking in and out of theirs at the same time?

What I haven't yet experienced is the dumbing down of any discussion because I am a woman. Granted, I never have been particularly handy with automotive repairs, but who is, in this age of cars you plug into a computer for a checkup? If there is still a carburetor under the hood there, it is definitely not located under the air filter anymore.. where the heck is the air filter?? 

There have been many times when I had to ask myself whether I should still do some of those things I was really good at before. Things like woodworking and snow removal and splitting of logs and hauling big bags of conditioning salt for the water softener are guy jobs, aren't they?

There are new things I'm learning that might seem womanly, but I have always loved to cook. With the help of a friend and the internet I'm learning to crochet. It is fun! 

I will admit that a year and a half of hormone replacement therapy has left some of my anatomy less well equipped to heft 20 kg bags about, but darn it, someone has to get those things from the store home and into the basement and there isn't a guy anywhere about. Someone has to clear the walks and driveway from the blanket of snow that can make walking or driving impossible otherwise. I live in Canada and that means you either operate a snow blower and heft a shovel or you hire someone to do it for you. I am not infirm, wealthy, lazy, incompetent, or weak, or deathly afraid of sharp blades, so I can and will do it myself. 

Will being able to crochet make me more womanly? If I continue to discuss the workings of my car, drive a golf ball 250 yards, heft heavy loads, remove the snow, or make up my own fire in the stove, does that make me less womanly?  I think not!

Oh, and by the way, I have an appointment scheduled for next month to arrange for my gender confirmation surgery and I am over the moon happy about it! 

Surgery won't make me a woman. I have been that for a long time; long before the documents or the hormones. It will give me something that was denied me for most of my life however. Sometimes you have to wait for the world to catch up with you. 

Yup, I am a woman and proud of it.