Trans*forming the Dialogue: Cassidy's Contribution :c)

Monday, June 1, 2015




I am participating in Trans*forming the Dialogue, Simmons College’s Online MSW Program’s campaign to promote an educational conversation about the transgender community. By participating in this campaign, I will be offering my perspective on what TO ask and what NOT to ask trans*people.


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The good folks at Simmons College's Trans*Forming the Dialogue program very kindly invited me to take part in their wonderful program. I hope I can contribute in some small way to this worthy endeavor. It is an honor. Please check them out at the link above; they're working on something quite meaningful, and well worth our support!

My thoughts are below the jump. :c)


Before I get to the questions, I thought it might be interesting to include a few pictures of me from just before I started to transition to now. It might give you some idea of the changes that have taken place since I started my journey four years ago.

The physical aspect of transitioning, while important, isn't really the most important part. The self-acceptance we gain as we progress is. That said, enough people have mentioned how much happier I am in photos as my transition progresses that I thought it might be worth sharing a few photos.

So, here's how I looked at the beginning of my journey, back in May 2011:


This is me the day I started hormones, Saturday, November 19, 2011:


(The five o'clock shadow - and those eyebrows - still make me cringe!)

And here's how I look now. (These were taken within the past two weeks):




Thus concludes the show-and-tell portion of the program; on to the questions!!!

***

Question 1: What are 2-3 questions that one should NOT be asking a transgender person?

I guess I’ve been fortunate for the most part, in that I've encountered very few truly eye-rolling/offensive questions. When I come out to someone, I make it a point to let them know that they're welcome to ask me anything.

The most common reaction? Relief!!!

Typically, I get some variation of the following:

"Oh, thank God - I was so worried I would say something offensive without realizing it!"

That makes perfect sense. After all, the vast majority of people have never (knowingly) met someone who is transsexual. It stands to reason that they would therefore have no idea what is/is not OK to ask.

So, I always tell people they're welcome to ask me anything they want. If there's something I'm not comfortable answering, I'll just say so.

That said, I’ve been asked a few questions that do fall into this category.

The first is somewhat painful.

“I just have one question,” they said, their voice laden with contempt. “Have you given any thought at all as to how this affects anyone other than yourself?”

It was one of the most insulting things anyone has ever said to me.

ANYONE who has decided to transition has agonized over that very question.

It is the reason so many of us wait so long to transition - if we ever transition at all.

The crippling guilt and shame and loathing we feel our entire lives - and it is debilitating, I can assure you - pales in comparison to the intensity of those same feelings when we think about how transitioning will affect those we love.

It is nearly all we think about. Believe me.

We spend most of our lives trying desperately to be someone we are not because we understand intuitively the pain and confusion it will cause those closest to us.

I will share a brief story about M, my electrologist, that might illustrate this struggle.

If your beard is as heavy as mine was (I could grow a full beard in ten days), transitioning means you will spend many, many hours with your electrologist. Inevitably, you form a close bond. I have been beyond fortunate to have M in my life these past three years, as you will see.

M is in her late seventies. Before she met me, she had never met, let alone worked with, anyone who was transgendered. She was happy to work with me, she said, although she confessed that she didn’t really understand transsexuality. I assured her she wasn’t alone, which made her laugh.

“Well, maybe I can learn something from you, hon!” she said with a warm smile. As we both found out in short order, she wasn’t the only one who could learn something.

M is Italian, while I’m Irish (as anyone looking at my photo will likely surmise! lol). It was perhaps two or three months after we had started working together. We were having a light-hearted conversation about how differently the Irish and Italians are in terms of our ability - or lack thereof - in expressing emotion.

I told M about a remark my mother once made when I was in my teens. I had been struggling with an issue for some time that was causing me some distress. I mentioned in passing to my mother that I’d discussed it with several of my friends.

She shook her head, a bewildered expression on her face.

“All you ever want to do is talk about your *feelings*!” she exclaimed, her tone equal parts puzzlement and exasperation.

M burst out laughing - so much so that she had to stop working on me while she struggled to regain her composure.

I opened my eyes after she moved the overhead light and looked at her, thoroughly confused.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “What’s so funny about me talking about how I feel?”

Her eyes were bright as she reached out and put her hand on my shoulder, squeezing it gently.

“Because that’s what *women* do, Cass,” she said, smiling.

“Oh,” I said after a moment. “I see.”

But the truth was, I didn’t. After a moment I just made a mental note that this was just another of the many things that eluded me.

That isn’t the end of the story though.

The following week M brought the matter up again.

“I had an interesting conversation with my husband about you, Cass,” she told me.

“Really?” I asked. “About what?”

“Well, I was telling him about our chat last week. I mentioned how confused you were when I laughed. And then he said something that stopped me in my tracks.”

“What was it?” I asked, intrigued.

“He said, ‘Well, of course she didn’t understand, M. After all, she was just being herself.’”

She looked at me for a moment.

“And suddenly I understood, Cass. You aren’t trying to hurt anyone. All you’re trying to do is to be yourself. That’s all. And how on earth could anyone possibly be opposed to that?”

M stated it far more eloquently than I ever could.

I think you meet certain people in your life for a reason. M is one of those people. I am beyond fortunate to have met her, and many others who have allowed me to share my journey with them.

***

The second question is one I have been asked several times - fortunately only once with any degree of distaste/hostility:

“Aren’t you really just a gay man who isn’t willing to admit it?”

Once again, I will share a story about M, my electrologist.

In the first six or so months after we started working together, M would periodically ask if I thought I would be straight or gay after transitioning.

I replied that I had no idea, but that since most people are straight, then most people who transition will also be straight. So odds are I would be too, but that I would be OK with whatever happened.

"So... you’ll probably be attracted to men, then?" she asked.

"I suppose so," I replied.

"Then why go through all of this, hon?" she asked, genuinely perplexed. "Wouldn't it be much simpler and less painful to just be with other men now?"

"Because I'm *not* a man," I replied. "I know I look like one right now, since I just started on hormones. But I'm not."

She shook her head.

"I'm not sure I understand, Cass,” she said.

“Well, I have trouble understanding it too, M,” I said with a grin.

“Oh, well, then,” she said. “Now I don’t feel so bad about it!” And we both laughed.

The following week I read her some notes I’d made from the HRC website to try to explain the difference.

“So sexuality is basically who you’re attracted to - men, women, or both. And gender is how you identify yourself - male, female, or, for some people, something else.”

“They’re two completely different things. And one has nothing to do with the other.

When I finished, M still looked thoroughly perplexed.

“I guess I'm too old to understand, Cass,” she sighed with a wry smile.

I assured her that wasn't the case at all, and said that I was happy to chat about this as much as she wanted, noting that *I* struggled to explain the difference.

And we did, over the course of several sessions - until one week when she flashed a bright smile as she began to work.

"I've been thinking about our conversation, Cass,” she said. "And I think I might finally understand! Want to hear it?”

“Absolutely!" I replied. "I'm all ears."

“I was driving home the other night, and was thinking about you,” she said. "And all of a sudden I had a flash. I actually pulled over and wrote it down so I wouldn't forget!"

“Okay,” I said, laughing.

“Here’s what I wrote down,” she said, referring to her notepad. “You’re transitioning to become who you always should have been.”

“Right,” I said.

“And who you always should have been is a woman.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And once you’ve transitioned, then you’ll figure out if you’re attracted to men or to other women. Or both, possibly. So, you might be a straight woman, like me, or a lesbian. Or possibly bisexual. But you’ll be figuring those things out as a woman. Which is who you are.”

She glanced up at my over her reading glasses.

“So how did I do? Did I get it right?”

“You sure did!” I said with a grin. “That’s exactly right!”

She was beaming.

“Not bad for an old gal, eh?” she said, laughing.

“That’s not bad for anyone, M,” I said. “I’m proud of you!”

“I’m proud of me too!” she replied. “See, Cass? We’re both learning something new!”

Leave it to M to explain it to me so that even *I* could understand!!! :D

***

Now that we covered a few things folks might best avoid asking, how about something they might *want* to ask?

Question 2: What are 2-3 questions that one SHOULD be asking a transgender person?

I thought of several, but once again I think I might share something wise that a friend said to me, since they seem to have a knack for teaching *me* lessons in compassion and empathy.

I’ve known my friend M (no relation to my electrologist!) since we were in college. He’s been a dear friend for many years, and is one of the funniest people I know.

M is a fellow exercise fanatic, so it made sense that I would come out to him while we went for a post-work walk. I had mentioned that I had something to tell him, so he knew something was up.
After some small talk, I said that I had something I needed to tell him.

As I related in one of my blog posts, here’s how the conversation went:

Him (breezily): “I know what you’re going to tell me. This is about you being a chick inside."

Me (eyes wide, stunned): "Uhh... yes."

(M later told me, “I didn’t think you could possibly *get* any paler than you usually are… but you did!”)

Him (nonchalant): "Yeah, I always thought you looked like a Zelda Morgenstern."

(Aside to reader: No, in fact I do not. ;D)

Me: "Uh, M... I'm serious. I'm a transsexual."

Him: "Wait - what?"

Me: "I'm transgendered, M... I'm a girl."

Him: "Oh, wow... Wow."

(thinks for a moment)

"So... does this mean I can have your clothes then?”

And that is how M found out I am transsexual!

It was a few days later, though, when M showed me exactly how much he intuitively understood what I needed most during my transition.

I had asked him if he wanted to watch a few transition videos on YouTube to give him some idea of what the process is like. He said absolutely, and that he wanted to see what would be happening to me.

We picked up a pizza one evening, then sat down to watch a few videos on his flatscreen TV.

As we watched, out of the corner of my eye I could see M looking at me surreptitiously - no doubt trying to figure out what I might look like in 12-18 months.

After a few videos, M expressed his amazement at what he had watched, and that he never would have guessed the women in them had once been men if he hadn't seen it.

He asked if I had any idea what I was going to look like when my transition was finished. I explained that no, no one really knows that when they begin. Various factors (age, genetics, health, etc.) all play a part in how your body responds to HRT.

"It isn't the biggest reason to transition - or at least it shouldn't be - but the general rule of thumb is that you’ll look like yourself, only in the opposite gender. So, for example,” I added, “If you're a cute boy, then you'll be a cute girl.”

"OK," said M, nodding slowly.

He then reached over and patted my knee.

"Just remember... looks aren't everything."

I still laugh every time I tell that story!

Later that evening, though, as I was leaving, M said something that touched me deeply.

“I think I asked you this already, M, but is there anything you want to ask me?”

He replied without hesitation.

“I’m happy to listen to anything you want to tell me. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to carry this inside your entire life. The very least I can do is listen.”

That is the M I knew my entire life. First in his own, uh, unique way lol, but then far more plainly, he was telling me what I most needed to know:

He was going to be there for me.

They were *all* going to be there for me.

And they have been.

I could not have come this far without them.

As each of us embarks on this journey to points unknown, that is what gives us the strength and courage we need to move forward: your friendship and love.

Never underestimate how much you mean to us.

Ever.

***

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I hope you find something in it that might help. And please check out the site at Simmons College's Online MSW Program for more stories. I know I will be. :c)

Take care!

6 comments:

LL Cool Joe on June 1, 2015 at 2:27 AM said...

Brilliant post!

Jenna on June 1, 2015 at 3:30 AM said...

Hi Cass,
Like you I've always been happy to answer any questions people might have about being transgender and transitioning. I think that yesterday I had the best question I've ever been asked. It came from one of my neighbours.

The phone rang in the morning, my neighbour was having a problem trying to contact a taxi firm to cancel a taxi that had been booked for her brother. As we were talking it came out that I'd been in to have my operation. It was at this point that she said that she wanted to ask me something. It seemed that she'd been watching something on TV where a post-op MtF had been interviewed. It was this that resulted in the question that she asked me.
What was the question? "Did you get to choose how your vagina looks?"
A new one on me for sure.

Alice Broule on June 1, 2015 at 10:41 AM said...

Hi Cass, I see you've been busy.
This is a very nice post, Knowing what to ask or not ask will be very beneficial to the community and to the civilian world.

Captain Nemo on June 2, 2015 at 4:21 PM said...

This TG thing has brought on a lot of confusion. and many are still coming. Now we have to watch what we say and how to say it, and master new vocabularies and a whole new legal system concerning it; the total effects of going TG will become fully manifest in some years time when all the lives affected in one way or the other start manifesting the effects.
A lot of people have too much trust in psycho analysis and psycho-therapy. The truth is that psychiatry has failed in truly understanding the underlying issues. I submit that no single person in this “world” can truthfully explain what the root cause is in TG issues. Therefore nobody can truly understand people with TG issues.
Don’t blame your doctors or people who make hollow compliments when anyone finally trans genders. In truth, many are horrified; its like smiling sheepishly when you see a 65 year old man playing like a toddler in a sand-pit. A part of you wish he had grown up.
The scriptures give a clear source and cause of some of these underlying issues. This is what we share and remind people of with the hope that some of this confusion and uncertainty and the dangers therein may be cleared in a loving atmosphere.
You can bend a rule only so far, but at some point you have to reckon with the consequences.

Cassidy on June 2, 2015 at 6:05 PM said...

@ Joe, Jenna, & Alice: Thank you, ladies & gent. :c)

@ Captain Nemo: I have no clue what the hell any of that meant. Oh, and by the way, what you sneeringly refer to as "the TG thing" is what *I* call "my life." Say... who was it again that said "Judge not, etc. etc."? Perhaps you should look it up yourself; it sounds as if you could use a refresher course, jackass.

== Cass

Diana Nicole B on July 7, 2015 at 1:59 PM said...

your 2nd point is soooooo verrry true. as i have had to explain to sooo many people. i understand my self in terms of being transgendered - TV and maybe borderline TS but i am still not sure about the other stuff like the sexuality it may be bi but there are to many diseases out there to experiment and find out maybe borderline lesbian. i know i prefer a lesbian type relation ship but on the guy side of me definitely not gay in the traditional sense. originally as Diana i didn't think i had any attraction to guys and yet at one dignity church event i found myself attracted to a really cute guy next to me it felt good to hold his hand during that part of the church ceremony but the fact that he smoked sooooo heavily that it oozed from every pour and that at the coffee hour after (this was a anniversary event for diginity) he spent most of his time on the phone was a total turn off. then there is a gay couple and one partner is verrry cute but alas he is taken *sigh* so i now know as diana that there is some attraction to guys so maybe i am bi i am not sure but ether way when i go out as i have told everyone i go out as diana just for me and NOT to attract anyone. being diana is just part of who i am. people i have told say it can get confusing and i say "oh yea your confused we as transgendered don't FULLY understand everything such as the sexuality of it so how can we expect others to understand it all"
the latest questions have been about the Bruce Jenner change and once again it presents an excelent oppertunity to educate the public esspecially in the term "transgendered" the public now equates this with being transsexual and i explain that it is a blanket term for both "trans"-vestite or TV AND "trans"sexual or TS. i have a 2nd cousen i only found about 2-4 years ago who is the same age as me 57 lives 3-4 states away and doesn't have a computer we didn't know each other existed till recently but we are both Transgendered she completed srs about 2 yrs ago over a 10yr period and i am TV borderline TS hence i feel it must be genetic we now talk on the phone at least once a week or so. and she feels so much better now that she is her true self BUT she is still trying to find herself sexually and in where she fits in to that part of the picture.
interestingly enough my dad used to say "NJ is a expensive state to live in in that one needs 4 seasons of clothes" but i say i actually need 8 sets of clothes that is 4 seasons times 2 for both my guy and gal sides" LOL :-)

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