I’m an Anthropologist?

This morning after my yoga class, I stopped at a nearby coffee shop for a cup of tea and a pastry. It’s become my comforting little routine. As I waited to order I saw another lady who had just been in the studio with me, and who frequents my yoga classes, waiting for her coffee. We both smiled and said “Hi” across the shop. We crossed paths a minute later as she was getting her cup and I was taking the table she had been waiting at for her to go order. There was a moment of small talk, and then I asked if she often stopped here for coffee after yoga. She commented it was her little ritual.

It’s funny how a word or an action can start a train of thought, one that in an inspired moment connects with some other stream of thought and the confluence of the two becomes something greater. I had one of those moments.

I’d woken up this morning feeling questionable about my body, my visage in the world. Feeling that maybe I wasn’t enough of a woman. Too fat, too butch, too much of too many things to be accepted. Yoga helped that some, quite a bit in fact. It brought me back into myself, but the underlying awareness of self doubt was still there. The worry I carry in our current cultural and political climate of being accepted as who I am in the world.

As often happens for me, the combination of being alone in public, a hot cup of tea, and reflecting in my journal gave that confluence a push down the road into awareness. The stream of writing in my journal brought me back to a realization I had a while back.

Women smile at each other as a warm greeting.  When women smile at men, it’s often something very different, and very intentional. I got to thinking about rituals, how rituals are something we do, but often don’t understand the true purpose of. Yes they are comforting because of the routine, but there is often an underlying reason the ritual exists. Like my classmate who has a ritual of getting a coffee after yoga as a reward, the women’s social smile has a purpose.  Connection. Shared sisterhood. Solidarity. acknowledging each other in a world where there is often a simply because they are women. In a world where a simple connection with a man could have all sorts of strings attached.

As I’ve transitioned over the last year, I’ve marveled at the women who smile when their gaze meets mine. Walking into a women’s restroom and crossing paths with another woman walking out, usually results in a kind smile. Standing in line at the grocery store, or at the coffee shop, crossing paths in the mall, in all sorts of fleeting non-verbal meetings, women smile at each other. At me. It’s an amazing little system of micro-connections that happens so automatically I doubt there’s even awareness of it.

I’ve picked it up myself without thought or effort. After I got past the initial surprise, it became part of who I am like I’d been born to it. In a way I suppose I had, it just took a while for me to pick up that bit of socialization. It feels good to fit in and become part of this little system of solidarity and connection. To be able to draw strength from it. Acceptance from it.

That’s where it all flowed together. If I was seen as an invader, as an other, as a male, that smile wouldn’t be there. I know I’ve been lucky in my transition to be relatively well accepted, but now I’m feeling downright joyous. Every day in a slew of small interactions I’m being accepted. This means far more to me than the overt displays of acceptance, because those are often done with intent, and maybe not indicative of someone’s true feelings. The action of a ritual is automatic, without thought, and comes from subconscious assessments of what triggers it.

So every day in small ways women all over are showing they reflexively accept me as one of their own. That feels good in a way I couldn’t possibly have expected.

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TDoR

As I sat watching the news coverage on the night of Nov 8th, 2016 my mind wandered across the future. I knew I was at a point in my life where I was going to transition. I’d already decided I couldn’t see another birthday pass now that I really knew who I was and how I needed the world to see me. That I needed to feel comfortable in my own skin, to be whole. There was excitement, since I *knew* I would be emerging into a world that was progressively moving forward and becoming more accepting.
That all changed by the time I woke up the next morning. Suddenly everything I felt had bright and good about in my future started to dim and dull. Mild deep seated discomfort about how I would be treated solidified into outright fear.  I started to question my plans. Not who I am mind you, just my plans. I began to fear for the future of our culture, of our country. Was kindness and courtesy dead?
Weeks and then months passed. Suspicions about the world around me became reality. The distant discord of political voices stopped being a far away thing. They became terribly personal. It was no longer about a distant somebody else, an acquaintance, a friend, a coworker. It was about me. I didn’t know who might hate me just because of who I am. Who might be mean to me at any moment, or even when I might be in danger. It seemed to be everywhere I looked.
And yet I put one foot in front of the other. Day after day I kept doing the smallest thing I could to move forward. I kept reminding myself — courage isn’t the absence of fear, no, true courage is being terrified of what’s in front of you and stepping into it anyway.
And my world didn’t end. The person I cared most about, my son, took a minute when I told him. Well… OK – maybe a couple of minutes, but really, truly only a couple. The he took a step forward too. All on his own the first question he asked was what I wanted to be called. He keeps taking steps forward.
A few months after I first told him, he came with me to Talbots when I needed to make an exchange. The sales lady said “Sir, how can I help you.” It didn’t feel good, but I ignored it and made my exchange. After we left the store my son was clearly upset, when I asked why, he told me “What she said to you bothers me. She called you sir. Can’t she see who you are? I want to help but I don’t know what to do.”
My heart swelled.
He’s become one of my strongest defenders. When someone asks a question like that now, *he* responds. “Oh, I don’t need any help – but she does.”
I worried about my job. I’m fairly visible in the community of the university I work at. I’m visible in the larger community of my profession as well. This is a huge band-aid that needed to be ripped off. Yet I took another step.
On August 28th I told 300 people in one day. I told the people that work for me first thing in the morning, then I told the class I teach, and finally an email went out to several hundred people at lunchtime. I did a lot of breathing in and out, and putting one foot in-front of the other that day. I left early. Then I came back the next day as myself… trying to be prepared.
And it was OK. Most people took it in stride. Adjusted to my name, and didn’t make a fuss. It was actually better than OK. Quite a few people from all of my home unit and other places on campus offered their support.
Then one day recently I overheard someone talking about me, something I had asked them to do and they were explaining it to someone else. Neither knew I was there just around the corner and could hear them. And then I heard “that’s not what *she* wants, let me explain so we get her the result she needs.” It was natural, without hesitation. Completely authentic.
In that moment I could tell, most people want to do the best they can, they care about being kind and respectful. I looked back over the last few months and realized that the kind and respectful experiences have outnumbered the bad 10-to-1, even 100-to-1!
Realization dawned. The world has already changed. It’s just been hidden by the loud noises of those unwilling to accept it.
Yet it’s there all around us if we look for it. My hope for the future is growing bright again.

Changes

I’ve heard parenting described as abject terror interspersed with unexpected moments of sheer joy. In a way this the last few days have mirrored that for me.
You see, I’m transgender, and I’ve been transitioning in my personal life for a while. After a month of preparation, yesterday I came out to my students and my colleagues. All in the course of a single day. Much to the surprise of many it would seem.
Until the last couple of days I didn’t realize I had so many people I have connections to at my university and felt I wanted to tell in person.  I’ve caught myself over the last few weeks wishing for more time. I find myself thinking that even though I know with my head relationships are important and I’ve been working to build them over the years, suddenly it is right in front of me just how many I have built. Just how much I’ve come to rely on them.  We are not often forced to stop and actually reflect on the web of connections we build through our lives. Confronted with the prospect of a public transition at my uni, my list of people to share with kept growing, until suddenly it sunk in as a deep understanding — I have actually built a network of relationships I rely on. These people matter to me and I want them in some way to be a part of my process. I only hope they can accept who I am and how I need to go about being that person.
So, here I am only one day in with presenting as the real me in my work life, and it has been an amazingly positive experience so far. I’ve received offers of support, encouragement, and even admiration for my courage both from people I know well, and others I might only cross paths with twice a year. It’s a humbling experience as it has shown me a depth of compassion and caring under the surface of busy people trying to get their job done, trying to simply get through their days and weeks. I feel it has brought out the best part of the culture where I work. Showing that people truly care about those around them. It’s something that often gets lost in the flurry of the next email, the next deadline, the next problem to solve.
In this moment I can see the good around me, when all I was afraid I would find was the bad. I know it won’t always be easy, that the rainbows and sunshine will give way to darkness at times, but in this moment I have hope. That is what matters, for…
“Where there is hope, there is life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” — Anne Frank

Waving through a window…

I must admit, I’m a bit of an Owl City fan girl. Adam’s music speaks to me in a way other music doesn’t. Now don’t get me wrong, music is a huge part of my life, I played in the band in high school and college. I often feel music deeply, in fact it helps me feel things much better than almost anything else. I’ve had some near out-of-body experiences to music (I’ll write on those another time) but I’ve never known an artist whose music has hit me so deeply on such a consistent basis.

Anyway – the other day I was looking for new music by checking out artists marked “You may also like” on Apple Music. After several “I want to like your music, but just don’t” moments, I wandered over to Owl City’s page to check out the “You might also like” entries there. I had one of the best moments of my week to find there was a new Song of Adam’s I’d not hear or even heard of.

It started playing before I could take a breath and suddenly my breath was swept away. I listened to it at least a half-dozen times in a row. There were feels, overwhelming emotion, tears both sadness and joy at the same time.

The song has become a staple in my life already. And then… there is always an “and then” in my stories… I looked up the song to learn more about it and discovered it’s a cover of a song from the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” The writers said they pitched the music and story in part by saying Owl City was playing on the radio in Evan’s room.

So I sit here waiting out a 3 hour delay for a flight to my home away from home… and I’m looking out the window listening to the lyrics.

“We start with Stars in our eyes…” We have starts in our eyes, and in our soul. But what has been sticking in my mind is:

“When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around

Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?”

It’s the same question I’ve been asking myself – does the world know I exist or even care? If I shouldn’t exist, if I’m impossible, doesit even matter that I exist?

If there’s nobody that really experiences me as who I am, do I really exist?

I feel like I’m waving through a window to the world, and almost nobody sees me.

How is it that Adam knows what I’m feeling, even if he’s not writing the words?

Inner Infinity

I am a Unicorn.

A creature who doesn’t exist,

so rare nobody has ever seen one.

That makes me invisible and unavoidable.

Probability says each part of me is improbable on its own,

adding them all together makes for impossibility beyond measure.

A million, billion impossibilities rolled into one.

I shouldn’t exist.

Therefore I don’t exist.

Yet here I am.

People see me,

though I don’t feel real,

I am not real.

I am someone else.

Hiding in plain sight.

A shell for others to see,

they look through me hidden inside as if I’m not there,

because I’m not.