Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bathrooms and Make-up.

Bathrooms and make-up are gender designators that all trans and intersex people come up against in one way or another. When was the last time you saw a simple crescent moon on a bathroom door instead of a symbol of male and/or female? Did you know that Ms. magazine lost it's advertising for daring to have a picture of a woman without make-up on the cover? This post is about my relationship with both as played out on two consecutive days.

I had managed to avoid using the bathroom at the club where I've been dancing dressed femme. That changed on July 24th. Basically, I couldn't "hold it" this time. I was faced with the decision to either use a bathroom or go home early. I was aware that fear was operative here. Two fears presented themselves to me; 1) fear of getting beaten up if I went to the men's room. 2) fear of being yelled at and told "you don't belong here" by cisgendered women. I discovered I was less afraid of getting beaten up than I was of being told I didn't belong, and so I went to the men's room. Nothing happened beyond a startled look or two.

Underlying my fears was how I expected cisgendered people to react to their own fears. Cismen's fear of threats to their masculinity do not seem legitimate to me at all. A ciswoman's fear of men invading their space has a basis in real danger all women face in this world. My dilemma in respecting ciswomen's fear, however, is that in doing so I am letting someone else's perception of my gender outweigh my own. This had something of a depressive effect on me.

I began to focus not on my own internal experience, but on assumptions about how others perceived me. I began to think about the fact that my being dressed femme did not communicate transgender. I worried that others saw me as a transvestite. More accurately, I was worried that people saw me as a BAD transvestite. When I decided to begin dressing femme, I realized I had to be willing to f*ck with peoples heads. Not maliciously at all, it was simply a reality that by expressing femininity (especially without the intention of passing) I would blow people's minds*. Particularly the unquestioning cisgendered mind.

The next day as I hovered outside a make-up store, waiting for Tammy to arrive and help me select lipstick and eyeliner, I noticed a woman inside the store giving me a severe look. I assumed she thought I was loitering outside a cosmetics store to ogle the ladies within, but I have no idea what she was thinking. Whatever the actual case here, one phenomenon that transforms my gender dissonance into dysphoria is when other women view me with fear or suspicion because of my physical form.

Tammy arrived and we went inside. She introduced me to her preferred salesperson, who I will call Kitty. Kitty had bright yellow eye shadow that could have been outrageous, but totally worked on her. At first, Kitty and I each deferred to Tammy. Kitty wasn't disrespectful at all, but did ask what I wanted make-up for. Tammy looked at me and asked who should explain this. I ended up giving Kitty the contexts in which I would use the cosmetics (daytime Milwaukee excursions and clubbing at night) without going into being transgendered.

We started with eyeliner. Kitty suggested a waterproof gel applied with a brush for two reasons. One, because I have a significant eyelid fold, and water soluble eyeliner would fade. Secondly because brushed on eyeliner is versatile and can be subtle for daytime and more flamboyant at night. While applying the eyeliner she remarked that she wished her boyfriend would let her make him up. Both Tammy and Kitty remarked on how my face brightened when I saw myself in the mirror.

We moved on to lipstick, the impetus of this excursion (see the P.S. in post "Flow"). I wanted an everyday daytime lipstick and a "slutty" red. We looked a various shades and chose a hot pink color to try on as well. When I saw the hot pink on me, I was just thrilled. My five o'clock shadow (and it's always 5 o'clock it seems) did interfere with the aesthetics for me, but even so… it was exciting to see myself "dolled up." Tammy and Kitty pointed out that I was giggling xD

Now I still have not fully understood intellectually how wearing the outer trappings of femininity expresses my inner sense of gender. From an abstract left brain point of view, my femaleness exists no matter what I wear. I would suspect that hot pink lipstick is a right brain phenomenon. I don't feel "more" of a woman with it on. I don't think I even "look" more like a woman with it on. What I am doing is letting my own perception of my gender outweigh someone else's.

Something I'm struggling to articulate is the relationship between my sense of myself as a woman and my desire to be feminine. I am fully aware that there are ciswomen that aren't particularly feminine. There are feminine cismen as well. Logically, it doesn't follow that wanting to be feminine is the same thing as being true to my own perception of gender. Nonetheless, that is my experience of it.

When Lumi first took me to her closet and had me try on her old clothes, I was overcome with emotion and was at a loss for words. Later I named that experience, "I'm home." Upon reflection I'd name the experience of seeing myself in make up, "that's me." I was using color I found beautiful (sentimental even) to augment my face, my body, in a way that touched my inner sense of femininity. Was some of that sense of femininity cliché? Iconic? Did it matter?

We next tried on two shades of red. It turns out the darker shade gave me the effect I wanted. Kitty showed me how to get the classic bow lip shape. I joked about the effect being slutty, but really I wanted to broadcast feminine sexuality. Intellectually I understand feminine sexuality is not about lip color at all. What I ended up doing was kissing Tammy's wrist and the lipstick print on her skin was nonetheless an icon.

One of the most important aspects of my trip to the cosmetics shop was that it reminded me of my vision about going forward with gender expression. That vision seemed to say, "remain playful." The bathroom dilemma, in hindsight, was an indication that I was starting to take this too seriously. I SO needed to play with make-up the next day <3

*God bless Tammy (and Kristen & Toast) and my other cisgendered friends who have blown my mind by showing me such loving support <3

Friday, July 4, 2008


I went dancing in a long skirt last night :) I realized I hadn’t since my “debut”, other dancing nights I wore a short dress or Capris. I noticed a remarkable difference. My dancing may not have looked too different, and I can’t say I had more fun in a long skirt, but… There was fluidity to my dancing. There was an added ease or grace to my movements. For example my sexy moves were more sensual. There were some erotic feelings not because of the skirt, but because of the flow with which I moved. I did often notice that my legs “felt” less constricted, though I don’t think they actually were. I noticed that feeling my hair brush against my face (which I usually feel when dancing) added to the sense of flow. I was more free to move somehow. Anyway, just thought I’d mention this *shrugs*

P.S. I was back in school this week and it seemed like at least once a day I’d get some comment such as, “You know (i.e. experience) ‘fill in the blank’ because you’re a guy.” I wanted to rebel and I texted Tammy yesterday asking her if she could do my make-up that evening. I wanted full eye shadow visible in a dark club on the dance floor and bright lipstick. She texted back “define bright.” Slutty Red I replied. She said red was tricky and we needed to go shopping for that some other time, so she used eyeliner under the brown lipstick I had to punch up the visibility.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

To Mace or Not To Mace

Prior to my “debut night” (see ‘Big Deal’ post), my SL friend Bau suggested I get mace. I took hir seriously, but didn’t get around to it. I’ve since been out femme-dressed a few times with no incidents… until last night.

I went dancing with my friends Tammy & Toast, but at a different club than I had before. Because the club was a) more mainstream and b) in my own neighborhood, I didn’t want to go QUITE as femme as I have. I wore a leopard spot headband and leopard spot skin-tight Capris, a black sleeveless shirt and a short sleeved black hoodie, plus eye-liner and lip-gloss. Toast (a cisgendered male) has long hair and wore a skirt and make-up. Tammy was in black with a short skirt and spikey hair.

I first suspected trouble when I saw the baseball cap guy pushing shots on his friends (who were sitting alongside the dance floor). He was drinking liquor and beer and obviously drunk off his ass. He came onto the dance floor and was deliberately dancing backwards into Toast. He had that drunken trying to get away with it but telegraphing what he was doing thing (for example he kept looking back over his shoulder to make sure he was heading for Toast). Finally Toast exchanged some words with baseball cap guy. Toast then stormed off the dance floor. I positioned myself in such a way that ‘b-c’ guy couldn’t pull the same shit on me, but I didn’t want to let the guy stop me from dancing. Eventually Toast and Tammy came back to the dance floor and ‘b-c’ guy started talking to Tammy and she told him off as well. He continued to look and point at us as he talked to his friends. I noted (just in case) that he was wearing sandals and I was wearing combat boots.

Eventually he and his friends left and I thought that was over and enjoyed the rest of my evening. Until closing time came and as we were getting ready to leave, baseball-cap guy showed back up without his friends. Now I was spooked. I started to discuss with Tammy and Toast arrangements for walking home together. I didn’t think it was safe for any of us to walk home alone. The DJ (a friend of Toast) overheard and said “which guy?” Toast pointed him out and the DJ started yelling at the guy to get out of the bar. Baseball-cap guy started yelling back at the DJ that he was going to call the cops. Eventually the owner of the bar and the bouncers took over and got ‘b-c’ guy out of the club. Potentially, however, he was outside and angry. When Toast, Tammy & I left the club, we didn’t see him. We put Tammy in a cab; Toast walked me home and had his bike to ride home. So we all were unscathed, but I’m thinking I better get that mace now.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Few Thoughts

I went north to spend a few days with Lumi. We went out quite a lot “dressed”; me in femme-dress, Lumi in boi-mode. We went to the post office, ate in restaurants, shopped in local quirky stores and big chains. We got a lot of double takes, and in one case got the “evil eye” from an old man. I did find that my normal hyper-vigilance ratcheted up a few notches to the worrying about “who’s going to come running to beat me up” level. I hate to admit it, but I was feeding into stereotypes, being particularly wary of construction workers and large men. I also had some fear that we would be refused service, but no; in fact all the shopkeepers and restaurant staff we’re as cordial to us as they were to anyone else. Other than that there was ease and comfort and naturalness to being dressed femme. I’m just me and this is how I dress.

In a conversation about some “survivor guilt” (waiting to come out late in life when I’m relatively stable and knowing I’ve avoided a lot of suffering that my fellow gender transgressors suffered), Lumi reflected on the difference in reaction to transwomen based on age. Zie said something about the threat to manhood and sexuality that a young transwoman has on cissexist men is stronger than the threat an older transwoman would have. I thought later that this could be related to what I’ve read about older women’s invisibility, going off the radar after a certain age. Some idea is forming about this but it hasn’t developed yet.

The day after I got home I was with a group of friends and acquaintances and the subject came around to what boys are like. Some of my friends were new moms and one in particular was talking about a book promoting the currently popular idea that our education and socialization no longer lets boys be boys. There isn’t enough aggression allowed in the classroom and playground these days. The book apparently suggested that parents play rough with boys. Both mothers agreed that their sons responded well to jumping and being tossed about. Then it was suggested that one child’s interest in trucks and big machines was because he was a boy. A non-mom told a story about a recent encounter with a young boy who giggled upon seeing her cleavage. She then jumped to the conclusion that the child was a “guy” already. This angered me. In trying to express my anger to some trusted friends I found myself confused…

You see, when I was in denial about being a transwoman, I used to take the position that there were NO inherent gender traits. I was all nurture and no nature in my philosophy. A factor in my taking this stance was, no doubt, due to the fact that very few traditionally male gender traits were part of my experience, and many traditionally female ones were. In a way, I suppose, I was claiming there was no such thing as gender at all. The social construct was a lie. Coming out of denial, however put a different light on this. I found that I wanted to claim the female-gendered traits as my own, as some kind of proof of my true nature; though I couldn’t say my sense of being a woman comes from these traits. I am still uncomfortable with assigning traits to a specific gender. Certainly not everyone who has untraditional gender traits is trans. No doubt there is some balance between nature and nurture, but what is it? Lumi asked me if I had read Serano's “Whipping Girl”. Zie suggested I read it with the caveat that zie didn’t agree with everything the book said. I picked it up today and will report back when I’m done reading it.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Big Deal Is That It Wasn’t a Big Deal

May 29, 2008: My public debut* in femme clothing**. I went dancing in a club with two cisgendered girlfriends, Tammy & Kristen.

I SO didn’t do this alone. Besides the physical presence of T & K, there were those who helped me put my debut outfit together. I wore in a bright red long spandex skirt, the first I bought since I was 28. My friend Mary went out shopping for that skirt with me (God bless her). This skirt flares out beautifully when I spin xD. My orthogendered friend Lumi (who has given me most of hir femme wardrobe) provided me with the empire waist paisley red white & black top; which is cut in points at the bottom and hides my belly really well. Lumi also hand-made the magnetic black bracelets I wore. Rather than buying one, my friend Toast suggested I got to the craft sore and make my own velvet choker ribbon. Toast helped me shop for the leggings I bought (but didn’t wear – more on that later). Tammy sent me to the store where I got my killer combat boots with frilly swirl detailing ::grin::. Then there are all the friends who have given me emotional/spiritual support, to name just a few who specifically gave my butt a push towards public expression; Shiva, Beta, Talia, Alison, John and so many more.

Tammy not only went with, but did my hair and make-up first (Tammy is my hairdresser as well as my friend). I had discovered before I got to her house that the tights just wouldn’t stay up. Partly the material, partly I’m the wrong shape for them I think. Tammy pulled out of her drawer a pair of seamed fishnets for me to wear (God bless her). She said fishnets will stay up (and they did). When putting on the eye make-up, she gave me a blow by blow explanation of what she was doing and would hold her hand up to show me where to look. It was so sweet :) She also did amazing things to my hair with a flatiron. I looked in the mirror when she was done and was just awestruck. I looked beautiful. Really beautiful***.

Off to the club. Tammy drove. In the car there was a moment when I wasn’t even conscious of what I was dressed like, which I thought was a good sign. I was at ease already. Earlier in the day, I was excited and anxious and called a dear friend who gave me great advice. She had a therapist once that told her, “You have to be willing to have bad sex.” So she told me that I had to be willing to have a bad debut. “The point is you’re doing this, whether or not you have a good time doing it.” We got there and Tammy asked the bartender to hold onto our purses (after reminding me to take out my lip gloss for touch-ups). Kristin met us there and Tammy introduced us to a few of her friends. A few people I was introduced to seemed to me to have bemused looks on their face, but others didn’t react at all to my looks.

The club isn’t a tranny club, or a gay club, it is a very tolerant come as you are club. It was 80s night in the club, the kind of club music I used to dance to back in my college days (when it was new). Then She Wants Revenge’s “Tear You Apart” came on. Not an 80s band, but 80s influenced. It’s a song often played at the virtual club Fracture owned by my friend Beta. It was like my Second Life**** family was with me.

I danced for about three hours. Tammy had joked that I would do nothing but spin in circles because I was so enamored of the way my skirt flared. I spun a bit more than I might have otherwise, but not excessively; though at the beginning Tammy did call me on looking at my skirt while I danced :). A few times the skirt did catch on the bottom of my boots, but fortunately didn’t stretch it out. I did find myself holding the sides of my skirt and swished them around :). An interesting thing happened with the fishnets. There was a rip in the crotch and occasionally my “manhood” would catch in it, calling attention to what many misguided people think determines gender. It was an almost ironic touch I think.

But the way I danced was not only about how I interacted with my clothes, but the freedom of expression they afforded me. Both Tammy and Kristin told me that I looked like I was having so much fun they were having fun too. Afterward I was talking to Tammy about it. I related it somehow to something that happened to me earlier in the week. I was running down the street and had the sudden “you run like a girl” fear. I learned to run more “macho” in my youth in order to avoid getting beaten up. It has never come naturally to me and I still “catch” myself and run in “macho” mode. But this time, this time I didn’t. I ran like I ran, whether it was like a girl or not. There was a similar freedom in my dancing on May 29th. I love to dance and often dance enthusiastically. Now I was dancing with abandon. There was joy, too. Pure joy.

*I don’t count my 29th birthday ’cause that was a private party, and I don’t count the Halloweens because it was Halloween. I should also mention that I did take Lumi & hir daughter out for sushi in pigtails and a lace top previously, but that was without make-up and I wore “male” pants and shoes.

**I don’t want to say “en femme” ‘cause I wasn’t trying to pass, and I don’t want to say “cross-dressing” because despite my physical form I was dressed appropriately for my true gender.

***My spouse wants me to maintain internet anonymity so I won’t post pics here. Any of my SL (Second Life) friends can IM me in game and I’ll be happy to drop a pic into your inventory :).

****A very involving 4-D (3-D graphic/real time) multi-user computer interface where I identify as Trans, but embody as female.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

TransSpiritual Manefesto

I had a vision in the jungles of Costa Rica. Life was so full and abundant and interdependent there. Every creature was part of a fabric that kept the whole tapestry alive. There were glorious colors and awesome variety. There was mud up to my ankles and trees with thorns that would dissolve my skin. Death and decay were so intermingled with life and flourishing that one could not be separated from the other. In my mind’s eye I saw a luminous globe with a smaller darker globe within. An inner voice said “God contains disease.” Spiritual disease is my inner language for what others call sin, evil or that which is apart from God. This vision told me that nothing is apart from God.

Ultimately I believe that God is a unified field, not a “person”, but I do believe this field has a presence. Something we can connect with. Perhaps the collective consciousness of the planet is what we connect to, which may be a smaller expression of this larger unified field. The Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard said, “If there were no real propensity to unite, even at a prodigiously rudimentary level, indeed, in the molecule itself, it would be impossible for love to appear higher up in the ' hominized ' or human form.” For Teilhard, and for myself, God is love. But this is a groping love, experimental, creative and expanding. God doesn’t have a plan in the sense of an end goal in mind, but rather God’s creation is unfolding in relationship, powered by the energy I think of as love.

I do believe in free will and that human kind can work against God. This is not the same thing as being apart from God. To use a Judeo/Christian analogy, the fall of humanity came when we ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (earlier in the story God said that all was good). In other words when we began to separate the world into what we decided was good and what we decided was evil we began to work against God. In this context sin would not be doing “bad”, but rather fighting against the process that is life unfolding.

Hierarchical Dualisms; right/wrong, good/evil, white/black or male/female are at the root of our society’s problems. I don’t buy the idea that male or female are the only choices we have. This is not to say that male or female are invalid choices, however. In the patriarchal cisgendered language of English, it is accurate for me to say I am a woman (despite my physical form). This is an inner sense of knowing, beyond words however. I am attracted to a feminine self expression, though I have denied myself that for most of my life.

The vision I described above began to erode my own belief in dualism. It began great changes in my life. One change is that it opened the way for me to embrace my transgender nature and begin in little fits and starts to come out of the closet. My last and longest period of denial came began when I realized that my dysphoria was unhealthy for me.

My form of dysphoria could only express my identity in the negative “I am not a man.” Another dualism, nature vs. nurture played a part in all this. My heels were dug into the nurture camp and I didn’t believe I could call myself a woman since I was socialized as a man. In this context, I couldn’t name my true gender, my identity below a thinking level, in terms of being a woman.

Another factor in all this was that I had not yet separated gender and sex in my thinking. I had concluded many years prior that SRS was not for me. Since I was unwilling to “change my sex” (in my naiveté - genitals), I couldn’t become a woman. My dualistic thinking concluded that the only “solution” to my dysphoria was to try to embrace being a male.

I tried this for nearly a decade. It didn’t really work, though. Many factors led to the discovery of another “solution.” I believe that co-operating with life unfolding is about being authentic. Starting to focus on what I am rather than what I am not was a beginning. Embodying as female in a very involving 4-D (3-D graphic/real time) multi-user computer interface awakened much of what I had put to sleep in my denial. Here I also talked with other trans-people for the first time.

My visionary call to step beyond dualistic thinking was an important factor. It allowed me to see gender beyond male or female. I see gender beyond a line with male and female at either end. I started to see gender more in terms of a color wheel, where male and female are contrasting colors rather than “opposites.” Perhaps because of socialization, perhaps because of other factors, I don’t think my gender is firmly and completely in the female color. However I do experience myself as a color right next to it, far away from the color male. However our language does not name any of the other colors. Androgynous could be seen as another color, but I tend to think that word describes anything in-between the poles of male and female on the line model.

Sex (bodily form), of course, has its own color wheel. One could think of the relationship between sex and gender as overlapping color wheels. A 3-dimentional model of the relationship between gender and sex, “Orthogendered” has come to my attention and has expanded my thinking even more.

All this thinking and theorizing, however, did not make the emotional turmoil of admitting my identity to myself or others any easier. I couldn’t have done it without the encouragement of others like myself. I had been wrestling with how to accurately define myself. I had been challenged by a dear friend to just say I was a woman. Could I do that? Could I use cisgendered language to describe myself and let it mean what I meant by it, not what others thought it meant?

I was wrestling with this one night. I was feeling very alone because every trans person has their own unique path. I didn’t know anyone (how could I) who had the same road to travel as myself. It wasn’t just a question of what to call myself. It wasn’t just all the fears I had about coming out. It was a deep and wordless struggle with my sense of self. I called a trusted friend and cried at them over the phone.

I awoke the next morning to another vision. In my mind’s eye my torso opened up like double doors. A bright light came streaming out. It was brightest at my heart. A voice said, “Open me, I’m a present.” I got the impression I was being told to embrace my transgender nature, to see it as a positive thing, as a gift. To play with it. To let my transition unfold one step at a time. Lovingly grope along and see what fits for me when.

It is my belief that because the transgendered straddle the male/female dualism, that many cultures understood them to be spiritual beings (this didn’t always lead to treating them well). St Ignatius has said that our deepest desires are God’s desires within us. Years in the closet and deep denial were not able to kill my desire to express my true gender. I believe that desire comes from God.