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Thinking more about spouses and coming out to them November 25, 2008

Posted by Tina Simmons in coming out, spouse, transgender.
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In a previous post, I made the statement “Spouses have the hardest road to travel when a spouse comes out”.  This is something I’d love to talk about for a moment, from a trans-person’s point of view (and it sort-of ties into another recent posting, “I’m Still Me”).  (Note: when I say “she” in what follows, it’s my own experience coloring this.)

When you come out to your wife/spouse/girlfriend after years of hiding, it’s a huge change for them.  So few people consider gender identity as anything other than tied to physical characteristics (okay, genitalia).  Your spouse probably has no idea what this means.  What your spouse needs is some time to understand this – not an infinite amount, but maybe a few weeks or a couple of months.

Realize that one of the things that will be hard is that she will probably not feel comfortable using her usual support system.  Most of them will have the same reference point as she does, but they will lack the direct connection to you that she has.  So you become the sole support system here.  She will want to talk with you about this, and that will be hard for you.  It’s not easy to start talking about this after years of keeping it under wraps, especially if you haven’t prepared to come out.

That’s okay.  What’s important is you start communicating.  Just be sensitive to her, and don’t get angry (hard) or frustrated (harder) or impatient (hardest).  She’s got trust issues and a lot of fear.  Is the marriage over?  Does it mean that you are gay, or that she might be gay?

When you come out, realize that if she has any reference points about this, it’s what she’s seen in the media – films, television, books, or the news.  Most of the media references often discuss transgender people as having made a “lifestyle choice” or something of that ilk, as if it’s yet another option for your life like whether you bring your own lunch to work or buy it at the cafeteria.  I know a lot of us would love it to be a choice (I used to be that way).

Another representation is common in movies – the crazed/psychopathic cross-dresser (think “Psycho”, “Dressed to Kill” or “Silence of the Lambs”).  Thankfully, this is usually easy to overcome, but it puts us on the defensive.

Another representation is the trans-person who preys on unsuspecting straight men or the transgender hooker (think of films like “Bachelor Party” or when transgender people are shown in current TV shows like “Law and Order” and “CSI”).  This is a lot harder to get around, because to many people sex and gender are tied together in one big knot. (And while there are statistics that say the majority of transgendered people are hetrosexual cross-dressers, even if true, group statistics don’t apply to individual situations).

And, finally, there’s the fetish dresser portrayal.  Let’s be honest – there ARE fetish dressers who get a thrill out of being cross-dressed when they have sex.  That might even be you.  The image of these people in the media is as perverts or wierdos, however, and it’s sad.  While this isn’t my “flavor” of transgenderism, what bothers me here is that it says a lot more about our society’s sexual and moral hang-ups than anything about the cross-dresser’s preferences or desires.  What’s wrong is that the dresser keeps it under wraps from the person they chose to spend their life with, because they’ve been made to think it makes them less of a person or is bad.

Back to your spouse – remember, she’s going through a lot.  She needs you to be at your best – caring, sensitive, loving.

Letter to a Wife November 21, 2008

Posted by Tina Simmons in coming out, transgender.
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From Helen Boyd’s Blog: Letter to a Wife

Spouses have the hardest road to travel when a spouse comes out, especially after years of hiding and denial.  I wish there was some way for spouses to be able to find one another easily, so that more could share how they cope with the situation.

(And a plug for Helen’s efforts here – in addition to running her site, she also has a separate online group that she runs for spouses of transgendered people.  Even though I cannot join, I know how important this is.  Thanks, Helen!)

Transgender Day of Remembrance November 20, 2008

Posted by Tina Simmons in transgender.
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Remember those who have died.

    Pray for their souls.

        And don’t forget the living.

Some links:

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Remember our Dead

Trans-activism for the closeted November 13, 2008

Posted by Tina Simmons in transgender.
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There are many closeted trans-people out there – the majority, according to most “knowledgeable” sources.  Let’s take that as a given.  Now consider this – those of us who are closeted are closeted out of fear.  It could be fear of losing your job, or your family, or whatever, but it’s fear, and, unfortunately, it is a reasonable fear.

So here’s a question for all you closeted (or semi-closeted) people out there – what can YOU do to help the cause?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Do not “go along” with jokes that put down transgendered people (or gay or lesbian, or any other group).  There is acceptable humor, but you know when something is mean-spirited.  If you do not want to speak out to the person, leave.
  • Find a way to contribute time or money to an organization that helps transgendered people, like a local transgender shelter or support group, or a national group, such as the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) or PFLAG: Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (a very transgender friendly organization) (and I bet there’s a PFLAG chapter in your area).
  • Does your employer have an LGBT diversity organization?  Join it as an ally, and let them know that you have transgendered friends who’ve filled you in on the issues.
  • Know the issues that transgender people are dealing with.  Read up on the employment discrimination issues, on the violence issues, etc.
  • Whenever a transgender character is on a television show or in a movie, don’t be afraid to discuss it with whoever you are with.  Don’t be afraid to call out stereotypes, and praise things that you feel they got right.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, We must all hang together, else we shall most assuredly hang separately.

“I’m still me” November 8, 2008

Posted by Tina Simmons in coming out.
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“I’m still me” is one of the most common phrases we say when we come out to our wives after keeping it a secret.  What we’re trying to do is communicate how we feel we are still the same inside even though we are telling them a big secret about ourselves.  What we’re trying to communicate is how we feel inside of us.  We know we are the same person – we’re just being honest.  Now you know everything, we think.

But think about it.  We may feel the same inside, but this is a big change for our spouse.  Our society ties sex and gender so tightly together that people don’t think about it.  By coming out as transgendered we are taking what people thought was an axiom in their logic system and showing them that we think it’s a theory, and an incorrect or incomplete one, at that.  It’s out of the understanding of many people because they don’t think about it.

To our spouse (or kids or parents or whoever) we’re different now.  It might be how we dress or look, or starting to live as a woman (or man), but they don’t see us as the same.  “I’m still me” rings hollow, and saying it could actually be interpreted as a lie said to calm instead of being truthful about ourselves.  It’s rare that they buy it.

Why did we come out?  Did we want to “come to honesty”?  Was it us trying to integrate all aspects of our lives?  Do we want to transition?  Or is there some other reason?  And now that we’ve come out, how will our relationship change?  How will coming out change us?  Change you?

Maybe you still feel the same – that you are still you – but things have changed now, and how our spouse reacts will cause us to change more.  It’s like time – time is always moving into the present, not the future or past, but the present always changes.

Yes, you are still you, but you are a different you.

Congratulations, President Elect Obama! And more… November 5, 2008

Posted by Tina Simmons in Uncategorized.
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This is a great day for America, with a small asterisk.  I am so happy that Barack Obama won the presidential election, and I congratulate him from the bottom of my heart.  I haven’t been so excited in a long time.

Listening to his speech has inspired me.  I’ve decided that I’m going to get back into the blogging spirit here, with a renewed focus on my original goal – discussing the benefits of coming out for transgender people (with a focus on spouses and coming out to your children – yes, I am out to my kids).  I want to move away from the me-orientation of this blog and, instead, write about the real issues, pro and con, on coming out – reasons to come out, ramifications of coming out, etc.  I’m also hoping to interview people about how they decided to come out.

Stay tuned.

(Oh, and the asterisk?  I’m sad about the states where people voted against marriage inclusion and for discrimination against same-sex couples.)

A long time silent July 3, 2008

Posted by Tina Simmons in love, optimism.
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This is the longest I think I ever went between blog posts.  If you read my last one, you can see that I have a lot of questions, but that’s not what I’m going to write about now.

I’m writing about depression, boredom, and being boring.

I am personally struggling with a lot of stuff – my trans-ness, depression, a bipolar child who has paranoia issues, a wife who is struggling to deal with all this and her own depression and other issues as well.  Add work and trying to find moments to enjoy life into this, and I feel so overwhelmed it’s amazing that I can find a few moments to just type this right now.

But another thing that bothers me is that I think I’m falling into a trap where everything is about me, my trans-ness, and my depression, and I think that I end up becoming a one-note woman.  And I think a lot of us trans-people fall into this trap.  The trans-ness can become all-consuming, especially once you come out to someone who is having issues with this and you decide to be patient and try to let things take their course.

The truth is that trans-ness is just a part of me.  I love movies and I love being with people.  I really do enjoy the work that I do.  I often drive people crazy with my jokes.  I love to travel and I enjoy flying a lot (even with all the security stuff you have to go through I think the concept of an airplane is cool).  If I had my druthers I’d live in Hawaii – I visited their last year, I’ll be there again later this year, and I think it’s just about the perfect environment if it wasn’t so expensive to live there and so far away from family.

And I treasure my friends, who are few and far between.  I have developed the type of personality that tends to distance herself from others – probably because I have tried to hide my trans-ness from others, but that’s just a reason, not an excuse.  I would love nothing better than to just spend hours talking with someone about whatever we want to talk about.

So here’s to all the people out there who have issues and are trying to figure out how to enjoy life despite them.  And I hope that I can catch what you’ve got.

Cheers!

Understanding Middle Path Transgenderism – Part 1 April 11, 2008

Posted by Tina Simmons in transgender, transsexual.
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What does it mean to be a “middle path” trans person? This is the first of several postings on this subject. It’s an important one to me because it relates to how I am trying to resolve my own gender identity.

Recently on the My Husband Betty community forum a person started a thread to get a roll call of people who considered themselves middle path transgendered people (BTW if you are interested in really thought-provoking discussion of transgender issues I really recommend this forum). There were people with all sorts of transgender leanings and backgrounds who said that they were – people who occasionally cross dress, gender-queer people, and even some post-operative trans women. This lead to to a really good discussion of what being middle path means and how to determine how one should be classified as middle path.

Anytime you start to debate labels and categorizing people you end up in this sort of back and forth discussion. To the credit of the people on the MHB boards, the discussion has been very good and, interestingly, both very academic and very personal (to me that’s what makes this one of the best discussion boards on the net for transgender issues – that and also the spouse-friendly atmosphere there). I think it’s really important to ponder some of the questions that have been raised here:

  • Does calling it “middle path” imply that there is a destination? Or is it, one one writer said, a path in the sense of the motion of an electron in the orbit of an atom, where we cannot determine any location or destination?
  • How much of this identification is internal and personal, and how much of this is externally driven? For instance, I call myself middle path, but I am closeted right now out of circumstance so all I end up doing is dressing at home (my wife wishes that I don’t go out and right now I’m respecting those wishes).
  • How much of what others perceive of me actually an accurate description of my identity? Do I get to chose who input I consider, or are there people whose input I have to accept no matter what? Or does what anybody says factor in?
  • Is the path the slippery slope that you can slide down if you take any step? For instance, does getting laser hair removal or electrolysis lead to taking hormones or transitioning? Or are there intermediate landing points down the slippery slope? Is the notion of a slippery slope accurate, or is it just another comfortable metaphor that doesn’t reflect reality?
  • Is there such a thing as a “middle path” or “middle place” anyway?   Or is this just a way of avoiding figuring out what your really are?

All of this feeds into the question of how important is the labeling and classifying of trans-people anyway (or people in general). A point was raised as the benefit of classifying trans-people is that it does help the non-trans community to understand us, but what is needed besides the description that we’re gender-confused? Is just saying someone is trans enough, or do we need to educate in all the different ways that trans-people feel, cope and live their lives? And do these different labels cause us trans-people to segregate ourselves (“I’m on the transsexual team! You’re on the CD team over there!”)?

In future postings I hope to discuss some possible answers to these and other questions, and I will also use this to discuss how I might classify myself (which I’m sure you can guess based on the importance I’m giving this topic)

Little acts of activism April 8, 2008

Posted by Tina Simmons in transgender.
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I had an experience where I was listening to a podcast and I heard a joking comment that was at the expense of transgender people like myself.  The speaker was trying to describe something that was an unpleasant change that was a side-effect of some software, and he likened it to “a child coming home and finding his father in women’s clothing.”  He then went on to describe this in greater detail in case the audience lost the point.

I’ve listened to this person enough to know that he didn’t understand what he was saying was hurtful, but I found his email address and sent him a note asking him to please consider this.  I gave him a brief description of my situation (being transgendered, out to my wife and kids, and trying to make my family work) and that I really didn’t appreciate the comment, but that I would still be a listener to the podcast that he was on.

What I didn’t expect was a fairly quick reply (at most a couple of hours) in which he apologized and thanked me for voicing my displeasure to him in a very clear and honest manner, and that he would be careful not to do this again.  I was happy about this.

What it made me think about, though, is that this is not the first time that I’ve heard trans-people being used as a description of something that’s bad (such as the winner of this year’s Project Runway, Christian, and his use of the phrase “tranny mess” to describe something he thinks is horrible, among others).  I’ve sat on the sidelines while this kind of thing goes on and suffered it in silence.  I think, now that I’ve had a small success, that I am going to look for other opportunities to try to change the way we are perceived in society.

So here is my call to arms: when you hear something like I did, or see something, find some way to let the perpetrator know that you don’t think it’s appropriate.  Be respectful of the person, be understanding that they do not know they are doing wrong, but make it clear that it is wrong to use transpeople or trans situations as a negative description of something they don’t like.

Little acts of activism like this can make a big difference to people.  Remember, if you can change the behavior of one person, you might actually be causing it to ripple out to others.

The Shore March 31, 2008

Posted by Tina Simmons in transgender.
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Let me flow into the ocean,
Let me get back to the sea.
Let me be stormy and let me be calm,
Let the tide in, and set me free.

Drowned by Pete Townshend

 

I’ve come up with an analogy that I think best describes my relationship with my gender issues (my therapist also likes it as well). I’m sure it’s not original, but it seems to work for me.

I’m thinking of masculine (male) as land and feminine (female) as water. For most people, they are either inland or at sea, far enough away from the other that they think about these distinctions for themselves – they are just rock or water.

Then there’s the shore, where they meet. It makes up a small percentage of the surface. To me, that feeling of femininity, of womanhood, comes rolling in various strengths, sometimes crashing in with great force, and other times it’s more quiet and subtle, but then it leaves and I am left with this odd masculine feeling (odd because it sometimes has that wetness – that feeling of being touched by the feminine in it). Sea levels change (such as the tide, or other events), and the rate, distance, or time of the different gender feelings change as well.

Sometimes we try to build seawalls to keep the water out or at least at a manageable level – trying to prevent the sea from eroding the land. You have to put a lot of work to keep the seawall whole, though, otherwise it will eventually break down and the sea will come crashing in, possibly farther and deeper than you can imagine.

Major changes can also cause the shore to change – such as global warming or a tectonic plate shift causing the shore to raise up. And you are now either inland or at sea.

I am the beach.