My new name

While checking in with my parents by phone, because they’re interstate and not internet users, my mother told me the new name she’d chosen for me. According to the internet, the name means humble flower. As a gardener obsessed with attracting pollinating insects, I think I can cope with that!

I’d invited my parents to choose a new name, for use only within the family. They weren’t using the name I’d chosen for myself, and it had started to bother me. I knew my mother had been particularly attached to the one she’d Christened me with, and she’d been deeply affected by my transition. So instead of asserting myself, I thought this might be a win/win solution.

It’s a shame I don’t feel able to share more about my mother, or about our relationship. It’s the sort of complicated story I’d enjoy in YA fiction. Let’s just say it’s been fraught and our moments of closeness are regrettably infrequent. She sounded happy that I was happy with the name, and I basked in that warmth.

*

To help maintain a positive outlook during the next few months, I’m reinstating the Happy Jar. This success will be going in it. I’ll look forward to rereading everything at the end of the year. Do you keep a Happy Jar?

Name change oversight

Here’s something I overlooked – the name listed for my supermarket deliveries. I’ve used the old name and password combo for years and it’s not been an issue.

Now the rules have changed and grocery deliveries are only available for vulnerable people – the elderly, the disabled and those required to isolate themselves. I qualify. But I need to verify my eligibility, and my delivery info and my ID no longer match.

I can fix this. It might take a while, as the phone and webchat options are both swamped and it’s not possible for me to update my name at my end. I’m just astounded to be still finding areas of my life that I forgot to update the paperwork for. And I wonder who might be in a similar situation.

That’s how I do it

Surprise! Today I’m back to my adventures in gender. Who knew?

***

It’s hard to know what will trigger a person and therefore derail a perfectly good opportunity to come out to someone. Well, sometimes I have a clue and yet decide to use the correct terminology anyway, as a shorthand.

Buzz! Incorrect! Don’t try that again!

It was time to tell someone close to me that I was male and not the female they knew me as. Seemingly out of the blue, they threw in a phrase that told me they had been thinking about it already, or had been primed by a mutual friend. Gathering my courage, I said I hadn’t known the right time to tell them I was transgender. I started to add that they’ve possibly noticed changes in me…

Immediately they were off on an ill-tempered rant about letters of the alphabet and how everyone is human and about the person who had introduced themself at a bus stop as bipolar, and the scourge of political correctness and that it’s ok to make mistakes… and they only stopped when they knocked something to the floor with an expansive gesture. Then we were talking about the item they’d knocked over, and I felt relieved.

It’s true, I’m a person who can claim an alphabet letter. A person who has never participated in a Pride march and whose idea of hell is to be the focus of a roomful of people. I like to blend, because of past assaults. Ideally I’d like to be invisible. So coming out to people I like is done after careful consideration and a fair splash of courage. Not the liquid sort, as it messes with my meds.

I made my excuses and left, shaken, not knowing what to say next.

This person just returned to my door to give me something they found during a decluttering session, as they knew I’d appreciate it. They’re a generous, kind, funny and all round lovely person, which is why I’d decided to let them further into my psyche/life. I guess I just didn’t approach it the way they needed it to go. Now we know that the word, ‘transgender’ sets them off.

I’ve found that a lot of people react to jargon. I do too. Acronyms, business-speak, bureaucratic double talk and spin doctor poppycock, it’s all bunkum to me. Even seemingly innocuous words are catalysts. The other night I recalled a craft workshop where I refused to make hexagonal boxes because I had a bee in my beret about metaphorical boxes and labels for people. I was so painfully aware of not fitting into the boxes others had made for me, and so wary of claiming labels that might box me further in, I kind of went off on a rant on the poor teacher. No doubt she backed away warily, just as I did earlier today with the person I tried to come out to and broach the topic of pronouns with.

(Speaking of pronouns, this person doesn’t use ‘they/them’ pronouns in everyday life. I’m using ‘they/them’ pronouns in this story to preserve their identity, in case they or anyone close to them stumbles across this post. Stranger things have happened.)

It was no skin off that craft teacher’s nose if I didn’t make a box. But I am very careful about going places with anyone who might make my agoraphobic experiences even more uncomfortable. That includes those who might refer to me as “she” as I approach a male-gendered public inconvenience.

No doubt I’ll try broaching the pronoun thing again. No doubt next time I’ll avoid all mention of labels and instead keep the subject light and jokey, so that they can hear me. I feel a bit like a Park Ranger doing landscape interpretation for visitors. This is how we don’t destroy the rock art. This is how we preserve biodiversity. This is how we help trans people feel welcome and included (and keep us alive and well). There’s a lot of invisible work behind our survival. And when we speak, it’s not about showing off or being a pain in the buttocks. If I got nothing else accomplished today, I hope I’ve made that point clear here.

No idea what to call this

Tonight, ABC TV broadcasted an episode of Four Corners that focussed on four Australian non-binary young people – Dakota, Riley, Audrey and Olivia. I ended up crying because I was so happy for them. They had supportive families and so early in their lives had figured out who they were and what they needed, in terms of gender. Suddenly I felt like writing again.

I get sick to death of talking about gender. The more I say, the more I notice, and the more fed up I grow. Occasionally someone will intimate that trans people are obsessed about gender. I’d say that it’s society in general that’s obsessed and we’re the messengers being shot at (or the coal-mine-dwelling canaries, if you’d like a less violent metaphor). My own discomfort with the status quo just sucked up all the air in the room, man. Once I received the medical care I needed, life improved so drastically that I considered everything else to be gravy. I’d much rather talk about the critters I saw at the river, or the latest book I devoured in one sitting. Or, quite frankly, not talk at all.

I started this blog as a way to confront my own anxiety around being seen. For most of my life I’ve known who I was but lacked the ability to get my needs met. At different points in my life I didn’t have the words, the confidence in others’ listening capacities, or the confidence in the existing social systems to support me. (Or, let’s face it, the cash.) Now I finally have those words and have received support. The wider community’s willingness to listen has increased somewhat, along with the predictable pushback. Social change takes time, we know, and I’m so happy to see and hear these kids talk about their lives.

From time to time I wonder why the heck I’m still blogging at all, given that I’m now less anxious and would prefer to stop banging on about gender. When I revisit earlier posts, I see that I intended to help both myself and others. I intended to be the person I needed to read about when I had felt alone and interminably weird. So although I deviate into book reviews and nature observations, I keep trying to share my life in a way that may be useful to others. 

Lately I’ve been quiet because my head’s full of static. There’s nothing useful there, for now. I’m doing some things that are constructively challenging, shall we say. It’s good, it’s growth and there’s nothing I wish to share about that now, so moving on…

My first love recently told me that I’m still very much the person they knew, all those years ago. “Thank God!” I said, laughing. The point of all this gender transition palaver was to make my outside match my inside, not to become someone new. 

Least discomfort zone

When people said, “get out of your comfort zone,” I was confused. They were assuming the existence of comfort in my life.

Instead, there were varying degrees of anxiety, discomfort and exhaustion. So when the therapist gave me CBT homework, I increased my levels of those. I was praised. Then I learned some ‘distress tolerance’ techniques and practised those. I achieved personal bests in levels of least discomfort.

Finally, I slowly transitioned to male. Or to living as male as humanly possible in this day and age. Now there’s the feeling of having been been restored to factory settings. There’s a sense of pause, of reassessment, of finally valuing myself.

My greatest surprise is discovering a newly minted Comfort Zone. I hope you understand that I’m in no rush to leave. I will, of course, but that Zone and I have a lot of catching up to do.

Pity

This is one I am hesitant to post. Normally I’d rather appreciate others than express frustration and disappointment and resentment. But if I bottle this stuff up, it will still be there and will obstruct the flow of those more enjoyable sentiments/posts. I’d prefer it to be a shorter post as well, but here we are.

Mother-loving expletives. Why is it always the mother in the expletive? But I digress.

***

Pity achieves nothing except to annoy the sh*t out of me. My being trans shouldn’t make me an object of pity in anyone’s eyes. Nor should my depression and anxiety, for that matter. Compassion is welcome, but pity feels disgusting. I’m sick of being told I’m ‘brave’ by people who refuse to step up and treat me with respect. They are among the very people who make my life uncomfortable. So that they can keep pitying me, perhaps? Ugh.

The other day I corrected someone’s pronouns for me – first time ever. In general I’m very gentle with those around me, for multiple reasons. ‘Do unto others’ is uppermost, along with a willingness to acknowledge the steep learning curve for those with no trans experience. Unfortunately I’ve paired these with a desire for peace at almost any price, and a general lack of confidence in others. I’ve been overly accommodating, and shot myself in the foot.

You may have heard of ‘spoons’ in terms of energy? Well, I lack spoons to deal with others’ prejudice or wilful ignorance. If someone wants to learn and asks me directly for information, that’s another thing entirely. Those are spoons well spent.

But the other day I was stressed and angry and forgot to be endlessly patient. I was busy mutilating my garden to accommodate tradespeople, and my soul hurt. When a couple of people approached and referred to me as ‘she’, I curtly corrected them. They had the information, they should have known better, and I didn’t feel any guilt for my shortness. Amazing really, for me.

Anyway it made me wonder what it might take for others to get with the program, and what it might take for me to be more assertive, day to day. I don’t want to keep correcting people and I don’t want to be angry. It’s exhausting and pointless.

How many cis people does it take to change a lightbulb? The lightbulb has already changed. Keep up.

What people tend to forget is that they are not the only person I feel obliged to be patient with. I’m amazed by how often it happens. “Sorry, I’m trying!” Yes, I get that. But how slow are you? I don’t usually think of you as slow. Now I’m wondering whether you were ever used as a juggling ball as a baby. If I were a rock icon who changed their name for the sake of frivolity, you’d be on it in a second. What do you think this tells me about you?

A long distance friend was compassionately asking whether I thought my family of origin would ever learn to use my chosen name, and I appreciated the question. I know this cis friend has their own family issues. I said that my family last saw me about six years ago, pre-everything. When I started the long transition process, I wrote to explain everything, then we discussed it over the phone. They’ve heard my voice change over time and seen my new birth certificate. They’ve finally stopped sending me gendered gifts, but using my new name is a different hurdle. It’s started to sh*t me.

I’ve been amusing myself with my wittily scathing letters, all unsent, due to the above-mentioned reasons for sparing them/us any further unpleasantness. I’m letting them get away with disrespecting me, and what’s in that for me? Martyrdom, conserving my spoons, and if I’m completely honest, a sense of superiority – because I know that I would not treat another trans person like this.

Seems like a strange thing, this sense of superiority. Back in the 90s, I observed that queers often displayed such an attitude toward straights. Many queers knew how to treat their partners as equals, free of gender roles and constraints. They knew how to negotiate satisfying and consensual sexual experiences. They were witty, creative and charming and willing to step outside of convention in order to be true to themselves. Taking pride in their superior skills seemed a nice way to counteract the daily disrespect and stigma encountered in the straight world.

***

I don’t want to be the angry friend or the distressed family member. I don’t want to be pitied or told I’m brave. All I ask is to be treated with respect. In this case, basic respect means using my updated name and pronouns. Really, it’s baseline respect. Kindergarten level simple.

***

Cis people could put themselves in my shoes and consider how they feel when others misname or misgender them. Once or twice might be ok. If it happened every day, and only by people close to them, how would they feel? If I misnamed and/or misgendered them every time we met, and endlessly apologised (or not), could I really call myself a friend? Would they speculate about my sanity? Would they want me in their life?

This is what I want to say to some people who don’t know about this blog: “It’s now over five years since I changed my name, and my patience is worn thin. I’m not out to everyone, so if I’m out to you, and you want to remain in my life, try harder. My disclosure was a sign of my trust and respect. For goodness sake show me that you (still) deserve that.”

My pronouns are they/them, or he/him. If your brain explodes, I’ll help you reassemble it (or create an artwork from the pieces).

Socialisation (a ramble)

My mother’s gendered socialisation was harsh; and her mother’s, and hers before. The more I reflect on their lives, the more I understand behaviour I was confused by as a child.

In stark contrast, my father’s socialisation gave him the sense of open horizons, and he struggles to comprehend how we can’t just ‘get over’ multiple incidences of discrimination, sexual harassment and assault. He’s a kind man with a willingness to understand, but his imagination/empathy fails him.

All things considered, I’m happy enough to have been socialised as a female human, although I can’t really know how it might have been otherwise. As much as I’ve complained about things I’ve missed, there was a lot of good. I’ve learned to respect and listen to women and girls, for instance, and I’ve seen for myself that women-only spaces are important.

That said, women-only spaces aren’t necessarily ‘safe’. They simply offer an opportunity for women and girls to discover who they are in those environments. Nor are women ‘safe’. I was stalked by a woman and gaslit by another. Some of my female employers were nightmares, and I’ve worked in places where women were sexually and verbally harassed by straight cis women. Then there was the pregnant female dentist who yelled so much, despite my disclosure of anxiety, that I cried and never returned. This was all while I presented as female and was socially accepted as such. I’m not saying they were worse than the males, but you can see my point.

The queer community is also rife with addiction and domestic violence, just like the rest of the population. I’ve known lesbians who drew a crowd in the street with their nightly violent arguments, and others whose controlling behaviours were legend. So I have no illusions of defiling the community with my defection to the ‘dark side,’ as some characterise it. And I no longer access women-only spaces. I know that I don’t belong there. Trans women do, of course.

Today’s post was prompted by an online review of Greta Gerwig’s interpretation of Little Women (sorry, I’ve lost the link). In it the author focuses on the marriage-averse character of Jo, and talks of the satisfying nature of female-centric experiences. It reminded me of my Lesbian Years.

A cis male friend periodically ribs me about how little ‘classic’ (white male) 1990s rock music I’m familiar with. I have to keep reminding him that during that decade, my partner (an older lesbian), had been educating me in lesbian and women-centric music. We’d also lived without a TV for most of this decade. Apart from occasional male music on national radio, I’d been immersed in the sounds of Hinemoana Baker, Phranc, Judy Small, Indigo Girls, Margaret Roadknight, Meshell Ndegeocello, Ferron, Emma Paki, kd lang, Robyn Archer, Renee Geyer, Melissa Etheridge, Tracy Chapman, Lucie Blue Tremblay, Moana and the Moahunters, Alix Dobkin, Joan Armatrading, Meg Christian, Topp Twins, Cris Williamson, Karen Hunter, Alanis Morissette, Bic Runga, Ani Diffranco, Mahinarangi Tocker, Two Nice Girls… and so on. Here’s a sampler of lesbian love songs.

The other night I was several songs into a compilation of ‘Aussie Hits,’ before wondering what the heck was wrong with it. I turned back to the list of artists and realised I’d heard only one female voice, and she was in a duo. Who compiles these things, I wondered. Who decided that sausages were the quintessential artists? I found this list of others they could have included.

Jen Cloher wrote a piece in Medium apologising for inadvertently excluding and hurting trans and non-binary people with her song, Falling Clouds. I’m not among those who felt hurt because I’ve spent a lifetime making the mental adjustments. Instead, I heard the gist of her message and celebrated her ongoing success. Her apology was appreciated though, and it struck me how often I would like to hear it from others. My respect for her increased in that moment.

I’m due for my hormone shot and feel different. I can sense the low T (testosterone) and imbalance of E. I run better on a higher T level. It’s a four-monthly reminder of how things used to be and how hormones affect my sense of self, of perspective, of wellbeing.

I recently asked a younger trans guy about his feelings on being perceived as a gentle kind of man. Sometimes people think he’s gay, he said, and that’s ok. He would prefer that to trying to become a stereotypically Aussie bloke. He was not socialised as a male after all, and while he’s actively learning certain things, there are aspects he’d rather not. There’s a rich middle ground between femininity and toxic masculinity to explore. He said he’d initially gone over the top with macho nonsense, trying to adopt certain behaviour that would help him be accepted as male. Then he recalled what it was like to be on the other side of that behaviour. He realised he’d rather be himself and to have women feel comfortable around him.

Sometimes I just love my community. 🙂