Telling My Story

A couple of weeks of ago, through a small world kind of connection, I was invited to speak at an LGBT program for a group of about 30 people.  At first, I did not know what to do with this invitation.  I mean.  Who would want to hear my story?  What makes my story so special?  What qualifies me to speak on behalf of the LGBT community?

I put off the request for a while as I tried to gather more information about what was being asked of me.  Fresh off of my experiences at SF Pride, I was asked again if I would be interested in speaking.  While I still was not sure I could accurately represent the community, I was more confident of my place within the community.  After much contemplation, I agreed to speak, as I was simply asked to tell my story and share my successes as a “minority.”  I could tell my story, right?  The problem was I had never really succinctly told my story in 10-15 minutes.  That, in and of itself, was a challenge and part of the reason I accepted.  I surmised that while it would be beneficial for a group to hear my story, telling my story would be helpful and liberating for me as well.  Therefore, there was a mutual benefit.

I have told pieces of my story here and there to my therapist, support group, friends, wife, acquaintances, and even in this space.  Transition is a many faceted, complicated journey, and each transgender person’s path is different.  There is so much to cover.  As a friend of my said to me after I gave the speech, a transition story can be told in 2 or 3 sentences or in two hours; anything in between is incomplete.  I was given 10-15 minutes of time to fill.  What do I say?  What do I leave out?  Channeling my inner college student, I wrote my speech overnight the night before giving it (mainly because of scheduling), so it came out as kind of a stream of consciousness.  By the time I was done, I was looking at about 20-25 minute story, but I really didn’t know what to leave out.  I also did not have a lot of time to edit.  So, I went with what I had.

To allay my own fears and to accurately put my story in prospective, I opened with, “Every transition story is different… This one is mine.”  I laid out how my story parallels others they may have heard and how it is different.  I told them how I did not know I was transgender when I was 3.  I shared my early experiments with crossdressing, my extensive Halloween history, how jealous I was of my wife during her pregnancies (even though they were difficult) because I cannot carry or deliver a child, and my depression & the fact that I contemplated suicide.   I told the story of my dream epiphany, how strongly I feel about having a motherly parental title, and how turbulent & rewarding the last two years have been since I first told my wife I had “gender issues” when I first started questioning.  I tried to highlight that some of what I have been through is commonplace; other feelings I have are on the extreme even in my community.  Again, this was my story, not the story of all transgender people.  I hope I got that point across.

In an odd twist of fate, I gave this speech two years to the day I came out to my wife.  In my mind, transition has felt both fast and slow at times, and it is difficult to adequately express those feelings.  Telling my story on this day and putting it down in words forced me to reflect on my transition in a way I had not done so far.  I live in such a day-to-day world that I sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture.  I am learning that my story is worth telling, and I need to find ways of sharing it in concise ways so that people can understand my journey and by extension gain insight to what other transgender people go through.  I am a full accepted member of the community.  Being a member of the community does qualify me to speak because I am always qualified to speak about my story and my life.  I have become much more confident in the last few years, so I am more likely to take on this type of engagement.

The group to which I spoke seemed engaged during my entire talk.  They even laughed a few times.  Several people came up to me afterward to thank me, for being candid, and for mentioning specific resources where people can learn more.  Positive reactions were relayed to me after the fact, including how genuine I came across.  My audience seemed to get where I was coming from. Success!  However, there was a second success that day:  I learned a little more about myself.  I learned that I have a story worth telling, and telling that story is good for my health and the world around me.

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Pride, Community, and Me

Over the last few weeks, I have been feeling a lot of pride lately.  I have so many compliments on my clothing, my makeup, and my courage, I am a little overwhelmed.  Today marks 6 months since I went full-time, and that time has flown by in my mind.  However, in reflection, I have come a long way in the last 6 months, especially when it comes to feeling a part of the community.

When I went full-time in January, I was nervous about how I would be perceived in the world.  How much people would accept my transition?  How the public I interact with on a daily basis treat me?  How would my kids adapt?  At the time, it was all very personal.  HB2 and other bathroom bills were the hot topic, and I did have to pay attention to transgender issues in the news, but honestly, I had to look out for myself.  I needed to experience firsthand how my day-to-day world would change.  Except for a few incidents, I have been showered with support, and even my living situation with my wife has vastly improved.

A friend of mine told me that she never dates anyone in the first year of transition mainly because people in the first year of transition go through all sorts of changes, wildness, and moodiness while that person figures things out, which makes it hard to date those people. While I can see that possibility, it is a blanket statement, and I have found that I have not really fit that mold.  I have been so reasoned and methodical in every transition decision that the last 6 months have not been full of turmoil.  I have felt great, and it is the other parts of my life (like work) that can bring me down.  Because of this relative calmness in my life, and the reduction of fighting in my house, I have been able to begin focusing on my presence in the transgender community at large.

This June, I attended my first Pride celebration.  Last year, I was on the fence about going, but my head was a much different place.  The Supreme Court decision granting marriage equality had just come down, marking it a significant year… but I did not go.  I found it more important to figure myself out than to celebrate a notion of pride that I could not really feel, for I felt I was still too much of a noob to really walk in the community.  I later regretted not going, which meant I was not missing out this year.

On Friday night of Pride weekend, I attended SF Trans March.  I went with a friend of mine, who herself just came out to the world.  I received great information from group tabling (including some things about insurance coverage), listened to politicians get booed off the stage, met up with friends, and experience my community.  I never felt out of place.  I was welcomed by both friends and strangers.  I was not questioned.  I did not feel I needed to fit in or act a certain way.  I was there because I belonged.  And then… the march began.  For an hour and a half, my friend and I marched around 2 miles through San Francisco.  All along the route, supporters of trans rights cheered in support.  Within our community, there were activist chants, free hugs, multicultural contingents, and those protesting police treatment against transgender people.  The struggle of the trans community could be seen and felt in real terms, not just media reports and stories.  These were real trans people on the streets, telling their stories, fighting for equality and visibility, and I was one of them.  I was proud to be walking with my community.  I was proud.

Two days later on Sunday, I returned to San Francisco for the  parade and big celebration at Civic Center.  In a complete coincidence, I met up with a former co-worker on the BART platform, who himself had just come out as gay to the world this year.  He was on his way to Pride for the first time and was meeting up with friends in the City.  And, while all of that waiting around meant I effectively missed all of the parade, it was another opportunity to branch out and meet new people.  So, a lesbian couple, my gay friend, and my trans self spent the day together at the celebration.  And just like it was supposed to be, it was nothing.  While the vibe was entirely different from the activist & protest nature of Trans March, I was a member of a larger community supporting each other, and again, it was my community.  I felt loved & included, and I felt wonderful.  The four of us eventually headed down Market and walked to the Castro District, where we got a drink at a gay bar (another new experience for me) and dinner.

I ended up going home by myself so I could spend a little more time in the Castro.  I stopped at the standing memorial that honors victims of violence against LGBT people, which stood much larger in the wake of the recent attacks at Pulse in Orlando.  I stopped to reflect that while the weekend was largely about celebrating LGBT pride, one needed to also acknowledge the harsh reality of the world we live in.  The Orlando victims need to be honored, and as a member of the community I am so proud to be a part of, it my obligation to acknowledge the challenges and hate that the community faces, and to offset that with expressions of love and warmth.  We are a community that beats with one pulse.  We are strong and united.  We includes me.

The last image I have of the City was looking up at the massive rainbow flag that flies above the Castro each and every day as I walked down into the MUNI Metro station to begin my trip home.  As the iconic symbol proudly and majestically waved in the wind, my heart was once again reminded of the pride the weekend was all about.  This is my community.  These are my people.  I was reminded of the friends in my life and the new friends & strangers I met over the weekend.  Such a friendly bunch of people.  No judgments.  Full acceptance. Welcoming.  Peace.  Equality.  Love.  Pride.

This was an important weekend for me.  I am so happy I went to both Trans March and the big event, as well as to dinner and a few drinks with people I both knew and were new to me.  I am thankful that my wife let me spend the better part of two weekend days in the City to live these experiences.  As a result, I have a better sense of the communities I am a part of as a transgender individual, and I now have a better idea of why I really am proud to be LGBT.