Beyond Physical Transition

One of the toughest things I have had to struggle with since beginning my transition is getting past the “physical”. I doubt I’m alone in this – this shared obsession with our appearance and gender presentation stem from our absolute need to pass within society. Newcomers to the transgender journey typically begin with making some drastic physical change that, for them, makes them feel more comfortable in their skin. Whether it be wearing a ton of makeup daily or cutting one’s hair or binding, we all subconsciously know that “passing” is what’s going to help mitigate confrontation, dysphoria, and, ultimately, keep us alive when out and about.

As of my birthday in early August, I’ll be three years into my transition. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and who I was always meant to be. I deliberately put myself through the ringer of suffering through minimal makeup encouraging seemingly incredulous stares, wore clothes that weren’t what I believed aligned with my gender identity, and forced myself to experience the shame of not belonging wrapped in crippling doubt and fear of being outed by other females. These painful hardships cultivated the rock-solid foundation of the woman I am now. For the first time, I’d like to attempt to break down my process to achieving self-love and self-acceptance.

One of the first, and most transformational, mindsets I had to own in overcoming my obsession with portraying a “hyper-feminine” appearance was remembering that no matter what I changed on the outside, the “mental” and “emotional” transition was where I needed to keep my focus. Conceptually, this sounds simple, but then you remember that those two aspects of our personality are actually quite fickle & can’t be as easily controlled. When doubt and low self-esteem has already rooted that you won’t be truly “seen”, it’s difficult to just let go, love yourself and be you.

Right around when I had begun transitioning, I was also starting my third contract at WebMD – my first time working any job as “Nina”. I knew that the time would eventually come where I would need to be comfortable with going natural (or at the very least not spend literally ninety minutes on it daily). So, like with any fear or bad habit, I weened myself off of makeup gradually. Also, to take the focus off myself, I added another layer by treating this as a social experiment; I would track the responsiveness of the people I encountered daily. Starting on Monday, I’d gradually wear less makeup as the week progressed until I was only wearing cover-up of problem areas and some eyeliner.

The results led me to a number of observations about society and a clearer understanding of myself.

  • People don’t care as much as you think they do. The people who do will act.
  • Fuck attention or stares. You have no one to impress.
  • If cisgender people are still who they are without society’s validation, you too are valid.
  • Your masculinity/femininity is defined by you and you alone.

These realizations began to empower me and, as a commuter into NYC, thickened my skin in a way that put me in full control of my femininity & gender identity. I was starting to understand what it meant to love myself and embrace the imperfections of my physical appearance that created the chemical to slowly erode away the presence of body dysphoria. This was the beginning of my mental and emotional maturation as the female I needed to be and the acceptance of the intense, outspoken, confident girl who filled this blog in secret during my college years…

This entry was getting too long. I will continue this subject of lessening the emphasis on the “physical” transition in my next post. As always, thanks for reading.

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More than just a pretty face

Yesterday, on my break, I overheard an older man flirting with what I perceived to be a fairly pretty woman. If this was just  any man, I wouldn’t be writing about this. Given his voice and choice of words, I quickly realized that he was the same man who had flirted with me just under a month ago in the same establishment just as I was about to leave.

He began his flirtations just as I was receiving my food on her opposite side. I’m not going to go into detail about what he said and did, but he used the same level of persistent charisma as well as his “I work here” line before ordering her a slice and drink. All the while not noticing that the not-so-put-together woman next to her – almost incognito in a way as I was wearing glasses, no noticeable makeup & had my hair up – was the same very put-together woman he tried to give his number to.

Not all cis males are like this and being a transgender woman makes this really easy to accept. However, being a transgender female is exactly the reason why it’s important for me to remain vigilant and aware of my self-worth and intuition. This does not apply to just me, but to other humans like me. Cisgender or not.

With regard to my personal narrative, transitioning later in life as I have seems to come with a lot of baggage. For example, lack of self-love, body dysphoria, low confidence levels on most fronts, self-doubt, etc. We typically want to be “seen” as a form of validity in our fear-mongering society. The best way to achieve that? Grabbing the attention of a person within our sexuality’s alignment. Even if that person isn’t someone we particularly are attracted to, we’re so hungry for that attention and validation that we typically wind up settling for just about anyone who will accept us at the risk of being outed, deemed “damaged goods”, or, in the very worst case, assaulted.

That lack of awareness and self-worth is what “chasers” look for. They settle and never grow in their strength, relying on the honeyed flirtations of the cis population to make them feel like they’re worth something. This is the most dangerous path for anyone, not just transgender people, to end up on.

As the fight for human rights and transgender/queer equality continues to rage on, I wish to remind my transgender siblings to seek not the approval of everyone. That is an exercise in futility. Rather, become the best version of “you” possible through building your own foundation of self-worth, self-love, and self-confidence. The pattern is obvious; selfishness for the sake of your own survival is necessary. When others refuse to hear you or see you, do not allow their actions or words to have power over you. Take control of how you believe others should acknowledge you by consciously making daily decisions to value yourself – how you look, who you are, and what boundaries won’t be overstepped.

The “younger” me, fresh into my transition three years ago, may have fallen into the emotional trap of allowing myself be so easily affirmed by that man to the point of having my self-worth of him “seeing” me as a woman to be stripped away. Thankfully, the only affirmation I received was knowing my intuition to use the “my significant other wouldn’t approve” line when he offered me his number was right on the mark. And the only thing I gained from him was being momentarily irked he didn’t offer to pay for my food like he did with his new flavor of the week.

How I Am Fooling Everyone By Fooling No One

neru-rizekamishiro
Rize Kamishiro (Tokyo Ghoul) by neru

“Going stealth”. For many transgender people just starting out, this is often seen as the holy grail of one’s transition. Finding a job, romance, etc. all seem to ride on the hope that no one ever know our past. I would surmise that this is due to the fear that coming out as trans usually requires resigning one’s self to sacrificing much of the lifestyle and benefits we once had previously in favor of living authentically. That or the very real possibility of avoiding winding up murdered on a street corner.

However, being able to live within the confines of our truest identity without anyone being the wiser still does not make us impervious to the losses we may incur to attain that level of comfort. At the end of the day, only those who are blessed to have a job within an LGBTQ-friendly organization, an immensely loving partner, open-minded family/friends, etc. seem to make it out with enough still in tact to not need to literally begin from zero. Then again, some may deliberately wish to begin from zero, starting anew and completely erasing everything that connected them to a past life that now seems nothing more than a dream.

Though I’ve never been confronted with this inquiry of my personal stance, I’m almost certain that many would consider me to have succeeded in living under the radar as a woman. The truth is I decided early on that “going stealth” was not a goal that I should pursue in my personal narrative. To quote myself from January 2014:

All that’s left to do is embrace who I am becoming. All the consequences. All the hardship. All the doubt and the love and the pain. I know now that hiding my past won’t do my future any good. Though I still hope and pray my accomplishments and failures were not for naught.

I subjected myself to the process of reintroducing myself to many people I’ve known for years, worked with people who knew me pre-transition and, in feeling open with someone who I have connected with, have openly admitted to being a transwoman. I also have made it one of my life goals to establish myself as a voice of encouragement to support those who are struggling in their transition and educate people who have questions about me and the transgender community. Basically, me being a transgender female is no secret to anyone within my circle of friends or those who were in my professional network pre-transition. On the other hand,  those who I meet in passing are none the wiser nearly 100% of the time.

To some, it may seem like I achieved the ideal transgender lifestyle: Striking the coveted balance between being almost dangerously open, yet “passing” within society. In truth, this balance is merely a mirage brought about by cautious preparation and sheer willingness to face my self and reality head-on. By completely embracing my past and, from the very start, relinquishing everything and everyone who could affect my future – friends, family, career, etc. – in favor of prioritizing my very real need to start actually living, I was able to achieve a level of free-wheeling self-love akin to those famous transgender figures like Janet Mock or Laverne Cox. Though seemingly flying in the face of self-preservation, not hiding who I am among my circles of influence (and having their support) allows those on the outside the opportunity to avoid viewing being transgender as a threat or an anomaly.

None of this came easily for me, and yet I am one of the more fortunate ones. For many the living space to work out their future, or a lack of computer to help navigate their trials, or makeup or razors not being readily accessible to them is a very real issue. Many transgender people across the gender spectrum are unable to even come close to achieving a meaningful balance which places them in even more danger on the streets solely due to their appearances. What’s worse, even beautiful trans girls who have achieved some semblance of stealth are still murdered. This is why I am of the belief that “going stealth” – essentially benefitting from the good fortune we’ve been met – is using self-preservation as an excuse to remain passive while our brothers and sisters struggle, become assaulted victims, or commit suicide.

To stand by and watch should make anyone furious. Not just me.

When it comes to the trans community – especially those who identify as female or queer – none of us are safe. That is why I speak out as one of the fortunate ones. I refuse to be so irresponsible to only simply benefit myself as I admit time and time again how blessed I am to “pass” pretty much 100% of the time even with minimal makeup. Whether achieving the illusion of balance as I have or completely erasing one’s former life, “going stealth” is not inherently misguided. Being among the privileged, ignoring those who are suffering for being unable to achieve basic comforts within their gender identity…is simply deplorable in my opinion.

There’s no better time than now to speak out and show the world just how prevalent the “T” really is.