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Invisibility, exclusion, and the possibility of being "out"
Chordal
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Post: #1
Invisibility, exclusion, and the possibility of being "out"
I thought I'd post on this here, even though it is a fairly sensitive issue. In a sense I'd rather get feedback from peers rather than a professional community, at this point, and the board has had an issue which is abstractly relevant to this, as well.

Those of you who know me from way back, know that I have some gender identity concerns going on. That is, I look female, but my dress, mannerisms, and voice (not timbre, but intonation and cadence) are either gender-fluid or distinctly masculine (depending on what time you catch me). Recently, I went through a stint with trying to fit myself into a non-heterosexual Women's support group, which ended with my flight to a transgender/genderqueer (or TG/GQ, for short) support group. I mention this because the time I spent in the Women's group caused my personality to fragment, somewhat, into masculine and feminine halves. As things are now, it's healing...just, very slowly.

So, I've been in the TG/GQ group for a few months now. Things with them are generally fine, with the exception that I seem to be the only person who is not hormonally transitioning. I've been considering it, but it's not an easy decision -- and I don't want the actions of my peer group to cause undue pressure on myself to conform. I know that I'm not a woman; but I don't feel that I'm a transsexual man, either. (Transgendered man, maybe.) The form of my body, though, is only circumstantially related to what I'm going through at work...which is being misread as a heterosexual woman, or feeling pressured to accept the label of a heterosexual woman.

This isn't anything that's happening from the side of the guys at work. It happens more when all present are female and someone will refer to "us ladies" (completely ignoring the fact that my hair's short and that I'm dressed in male attire, and in ignorance of the fact that not everyone female feels complimented on being referred to as "a lady"), or when one of my coworkers will be talking about her heterosexual-specific dreams of getting married and chasing men -- like everyone wants to or can get married (to someone they actually desire), or talk about their love interests openly without fear of discrimination. This is also related to one of the reasons I left my last job -- because it disgusted me to be referred to, along with the rest of the team, as a "girl," like I worked in a brothel (which is how some of the male customers treated the place), or something.

The thing is, I don't feel like I can speak up in situations like these without marking myself as transgendered or as not-heterosexual. I mean, I've even brought up my career goals with a manager in private, as having to do with LGBT-specific services; and the person later referred to me to my face as a "woman" (like her) -- apparently assuming I was lesbian -- without asking me how I identified or if it was okay that she refer to me as such.

Things like this are little, but they add up. I feel that stuff like this (that is, invisibility and/or erasure) may eventually push me to physically transition, even though I know I've got a relatively good body (for a woman) now. I think that there's a possibility I've overlooked, though, in that I may eventually have as nice a body as a transman as I do, looking female...it will just take work and surgery.

And so I'm now doing some studying that I have to do for certification, and I've been thinking about this in the back of my mind. Like the issue of what kinds of items we stock and how a lot of it caters to a heterosexual clientele, and there is nearly nothing that caters specifically to LGBT customers, like LGBT people don't exist or don't come here, or we don't want them to come here, or our heterosexual clients will be offended if we let people have free access to the knowledge that there are alternatives to being heterosexual and traditionally-gendered. I've also heard related to me (only on my prompting, however) that the field I'm in is and has been conservative in nature...which means that I'm either looking at working in a major metropolitan area (which is probably where I'd be most comfortable, actually) or in the private sector.

It's seeming that I'm going to eventually have to do something about the invisibility issue before it drives me more off-the-wall; the thing is that I haven't done this before, because I haven't had a job before, because I didn't want to establish a work record as female if I wasn't going to stay female. And then, coinciding with this, I have to deal with being in training, and deciding on what level I wish to relate to others...that is, if I want to "come out" to my teammates, or if I want my interests to remain hidden (like that's going to happen) so that they don't discriminate against me and basically drag me down so that I can't get certification in my field.

I'm guessing like I'm probably sounding pretty transmale right now. (^_^;Wink My issue seems to be around coming out, and what the appropriate level of "outness" is, and how to navigate an uncertain terrain when I know that my interests lie in the study of culture and identity, and that I myself belong to a hidden and poorly-understood minority. But my interests have to do with my experience of being within that minority, and serving that minority, at least partially -- so on some level, I don't think I can participate honestly without being open. But being open will almost necessarily cut down on my employment prospects.

If anyone has some helpful experience that can speak to this, I'm listening...
2012-08-26 3:39
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Post: #2
Re: Invisibility, exclusion, and the possibility of being "o
(For the sake of everyone reading this thread, let me preface: I am a masculine-identified transgendered person. I identify as a genderqueer/agendered gay guy stuck in a female body. I'm nearly a year into physical transition, and have taken steps to change my legal ID (name change, gender change). I'm fairly certain that had I been born with a male body, I quite likely would still identify as trans on some level, and might even have tried at least partial MtF transition. I'm not happy in the binary, but I'm more male than female.)

One thing I can speak to here is the discomfort I've felt my whole life when people assume I am female. When I was younger, I lived in a very conservative area of the US. I had no concept of the LGBT community, and it wasn't until maybe 2009-ish and a move to California that I became aware there was such a thing as a female-to-male transgendered person. Up until that point I thought there were transvestites, and that was basically it. So I can't say I was ever that quintessential transman--the one who said he was a boy since he could talk and always wished he had a penis and so forth. I never hated being a girl. I was kind of proud to be a non-gender-conforming girl. I mean, I was always the only girl in any group I was in--the only girl gamer, the only girl on my high school robotics team, the only girl collecting Magic cards, the only girl playing White Wolf or D&D, and so on and so forth. I felt special because of that. I'm also what most people might consider a left-wing feminist, although I tend to consider myself a "humanist" in that I think everyone deserves equal rights and equal say in decisions about their own bodies. I felt like being male-identified was a betrayal of that feminism. I was probably kind of a misandronyst too on many levels, given that I had more bad male role models than good ones. What I can say is that at the end of the day, I was consistently very uncomfortable with being "included" as a female. I didn't like getting sort of partitioned off with the women and girls, and being expected to be a girl/woman with them and go through the motions of stereotypical female social interaction. I was much happier hanging out with the guys and being considered a guy by them. And I absolutely hated and feared and desperately avoided (on the inside) being placed in the role of grown woman, wife, and mother, even though I felt like that was the only respectable option given my Catholic upbringing and forced myself to start walking down that path.

I tried, really really hard, to do the woman thing for a long time. I wore skirts and nice bras and feminine jewelry. I hung out with girls and sort of desperately tried to acquire girlness. I got a boyfriend even though romance and sex were terrifying to me. But I couldn't cut it. It just felt so wrong, so fake, and I felt like my personality was going to fracture. When I finally learned about transgenderism, I was terrified and also "YES. SIGN ME UP." I knew that I was definitely in that category, but I avoided transition because I thought, as an atypical genderqueer/agendered person, I was better off just staying female, since I'd never be comfortable even with the best surgery and hormones in the world. But there was still, every damned day, the constant and grating inclusion in femininity.

I can't even say why it's so awful. Sometimes I think I'm entirely unreasonable for hating it so much. I mean, I am sure there are plenty of guys out there who would love the opportunity to feel included in that way, or to see what it is women get up to when there are no presumptive men around. But I hate it. It reminds me constantly that I am female in body and everyone around me thinks that's perfectly fine. It's not fine. IT'S. NOT. FINE. "Uncomfortable" doesn't even begin to describe the revulsion and detachment and self-loathing I often felt for my body because of it. It's like having your belly sliced open, and then people come over and jam things into the wound and seem utterly shocked when you protest, or make you feel selfish for not letting them prod at it more.

I don't think cis-gendered (translation=people who are not transgendered. It's a bad chemistry joke) people can understand it, even if they try. They can be sympathetic to it, but it's just not something they will ever be forced to feel. And cis-gendered people rarely realize just how incredibly, oppressively, gratingly, overwhelmingly gendered life is. I can only really speak to here in the US and to the English language, of course. There is no gender-neutral way to address someone you do not know (Sir? Ma'am?). There is no commonly-accepted, general-use gender-neutral pronoun. There is nothing that stops most people from assuming your gender for you, because they've never had to consider that there might not be a clear binary. There is usually no way to try on clothes, go to the doctor, buy anything with a credit card or that requires ID, go to clubs, or even go to the freaking bathroom without making a statement about your gender. People make automatic assumptions about you and treat you very differently based on their immediate perception of your gender, before they even learn your name or your hobbies or what you like to eat. They assume your goals for you. They assume you WANT them to do all of this for you, and treat you like a "lady" or whatever.

I hate it. I just hate it. I chose to transition because I couldn't deal with it anymore (as well as for other reasons). But I recognize that is not for everyone. I wish we had other options.

One last thing I want to say, however--I hear a lot of people say they don't want to transition because it will close off opportunities for them. Jobs, studies, relationships, family, etc. I have two things to mention on that subject.

1) I did not lose anywhere near as many opportunities as I thought I would. In the end, I feel like I gained more, because in being a more comfortable, confident person, I made friends better, interviewed better, and am better at being a good, consistent employee.

2) It hurts to close doors. It really, really does. I agonized over the decision for a long time, because the very nature of decision-making involves the loss of opportunity. Having those doors open is comforting. Closing them feels final, like you can never go back. But there is another kind of agony in being held there, in indecision, indefinitely. It's a familiar agony, one that is less threatening than new, unknown, possibly far-worse agonies. But it still hurts. Sometimes doors need to be closed in order for life to move on and for healing to begin.

This is my experience. I'm not trying to say everyone who feels a bit queer should transition. It isn't for everyone, nor should it be. I'm not even sure why I'm saying most of this, even. It seemed relevant, but perhaps it's just a tangential rant. Take what you need from it and leave the rest.
2012-08-26 10:53
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Chordal
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Post: #3
Re: Invisibility, exclusion, and the possibility of being "o
Hi Wolfsnake,

Thanks for your input. I think that something about the situation I described above has "gotten" to me -- I was trying to study today and couldn't concentrate -- I had to put the book down, and then I went to my little retreat in the bed.

What I'm dealing with, right now, is the very real possibility of coming out at work (or at least saying to the person in charge that it doesn't matter if everyone in the room looks physically female, some of us don't like being referred to as "ladies" [or "girls" or "women"]; and for clarification on the matter of what if I start talking at the workplace about people I am or have been attracted to, who are generally all some form of queer, or markedly androgynous -- do I have to be prepared for being treated differently than the person who likes to talk about men and marriage? Am I going to be defended against hostility if others start being hostile to me because of it? Amazing how our society encourages one and silences everything else, isn't it?).

I should probably calm down a bit before I do that, though.

I'm thinking that I should probably get together an action plan before I talk about this, given that time to "calm down". Thing is, on top of this I've had an offer to be seen by a gender specialist, which seems to be either something like need-based care or, alternatively, they could be my gateway person for hormones. At this point, I've had 11 years to think hormones over. I'm not entirely sure what my eventual decision is going to be, but I know I want to see this person. I've wanted to confer with someone else working on my case before doing so, however.

What I can see myself doing is not really thinking about the future so much, but going in to see this person and taking very low doses of testosterone at first. That is, the longest journeys begin with a first step. And then another, and another. There's no real need for me to move quickly. The problem would seem to come at the time when I begin becoming noticeably non-female. I believe that would be the time to introduce my name and pronouns. It might also be the time when I may have to shift workplaces. I already know my new name, and I already know my preferred pronouns. The problem is the interpersonal stress that I'm already under because people see me as a woman (and thus men [who I usually don't want] will flirt with me and etc.). But the way to take that, I'm guessing, is still just day by day and hour by hour.

Just like I'm in a Master's program, but I don't have to take all of that on at once -- I don't have to know what's in my Thesis or culminating experience today. Today I just chip away at my reading, page by page.

And it isn't as though I don't have support -- likely both at and (I know) outside of work -- and I'm making myself known as a "safe" person in my classes, which is probably going to draw community *to* me.

So my next step is to figure out what I can tell the people at work, to enable them to be more sensitive -- without making vast declarations about who I am and where I'm going, which I either may feel I can't live up to at the moment, or which may never happen.

Do you think this would work?
2012-08-27 2:54
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Post: #4
Re: Invisibility, exclusion, and the possibility of being "o
I can't personally say what will work and what won't, because I don't know what it's like where you work. I decided to come out all at once on my birthday last year. I changed the name on my facebook page, wrote a note, and set it so all my fb-friends could read it. I'd previously come out to very close family and friends during the year and a half before that.

This meant I was suddenly "out" to everyone in my class at school, and "out" to family members I hadn't seen in years. Overall, it worked extremely well. It gave everyone a written statement to read through and an open place to ask questions. It meant I didn't have to make a verbal announcement at a family gathering, or call people up on the phone, or talk to everyone individually. It meant I had a carefully-drafted position statement to present to everyone and level the playing field of knowledge. I sent out the note and let go of the anxiety I'd been holding on to for so long.

I highly recommend written coming-out statements. It is far better, as far as I have experienced, to set things down in a letter than to try to talk about it out loud when you will be stressed out, easily distracted, and potentially derailed by questions. It helps maintain a tone of rationality and reasonableness over a subject that is sensitive to the extreme.

My overall experience was positive. I haven't lost friends or family over it. I get awkward questions, sure, but I generally just answer for the sake of other trans people who won't have to answer down the line. I've had good and bad workplace experiences, but more of the former than the latter. At the end of the day though, what I like most is that it's allowed me to live more honestly and authentically. I feel like a huge barrier between me and the rest of the world has come down, and that the constant grating of being misgendered has eased, and as a consequence, I'm better able to be social and friendly and have fun with people.
2012-08-27 6:22
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Chordal
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Post: #5
Re: Invisibility, exclusion, and the possibility of being "o
Hmm...I was asking more in the line of taking things slowly and step by step, than asking if it would work out well!

From what I can see, I know at this time that I can't know whether I'll want to be on testosterone in five years. But I know that I want to see a gender specialist, now. I can't know right now if I'll like being referred to as a man (though I think I really will), but I know I want to speak to the person in charge of my workplace as regards LGBTQ sensitivity and protection, now. I don't know if I want to physically look like a man (though I'm thinking that a lot of my concept of "what men look like" is from people who don't care about their appearances), but I know that I want to be referred to with my chosen name and my chosen pronouns and as my actual gender. And I know that it will be easier for others to do this for me if I take on the physical signals of that gender.

As a kind of side issue to that, I can't know whether I'll like all the changes that testosterone would eventually bring (North African heritage means I may end up looking...North African/Middle Eastern), but I know that I'm wanting to try and take a first step toward it. That would be a very small dose of testosterone, which will help me determine whether I like the changes, how I'm adapting to the changes, and whether I want to increase the dosage. Everything else that's legal, follows after that, if I choose to remain on testosterone.

The contrast between this stance and the stance that came before it, is that before, I was scared to make even a small move in this direction because I felt like everything else would follow of necessity (or I'd be blocked halfway by financial barriers and then mired down by other people's prejudices), and I didn't feel like I could take that on, at the time. I'd also read a lot by transsexual people talking about how this path was dangerous and try every exit you can before transitioning because you have to be willing to lose family, friends, employment, housing, your safety, your life, etc. At this point, though, I'm not sure that's good advice.

What I don't want is for my relationships with my co-workers, supervisors, and customers to be destroyed, or to become a target of emotional violence like I was when I was growing up. It's only really been since I've had this job that I've been able to see that the world really isn't, everywhere, a hostile place. And it's only through interacting with others that I can see where things are grinding against the concrete. If you never drive the car, you never see what needs fixing.

What came to me on the ride back from work today is the concept that I'm not choosing between a "normal" life and a "transgendered" life. I'm choosing between a transgendered life *without* hormone replacement, and a transgendered life *with* hormone replacement. That's a different comparison, when you consider that even if you're closeted and unhappy, you're still going to be living a transgendered experience because *you* are transgendered, and there isn't any escape from that, even if it's denied by the rest of the world and denied by the self. If I take hormone replacement, all it will do in the public eye is mark me as trans. Which I was, anyway. It doesn't make me *more* trans; it doesn't mean I wasn't trans and now I am; it just means I'm exercising the options I have. And maybe it isn't such a big deal to be a small guy with a small chest, you know?

Work, today, wasn't as bad as last time. It might have had to do with the fact that the "team" today wasn't all-female. It actually got to the point where it had me thinking about what I would be losing if I used testosterone (particularly when it comes to social interactions with others); but then I had to remember that, as I said recently, I can't always trust my judgment in-the-moment. It also had me thinking that I shouldn't let other people run my life (especially when they're ignorant and don't know or care if anyone gets hurt).

Plus, there's how surreal this all seems, which is why I'm trying to break down the process into small, reasonable steps...I had something else to say, but it's long gone. <!-- sSmile --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_e_smile.gif" alt=":)" title="Smile" /><!-- sSmile --> (Possibly about seeming to be very very gay in the period between socializing as a woman and socializing as a [still pretty queer, but still largely a] man?)

Facebook won't work for me -- I'm too private, there. Family has already at one (distant) time told one half of my extended family to refer to me as "he" (without my knowledge), and there was no fallout around it. The other side of the family, I don't know what will happen. I don't have many friends, because people misread me as a woman and then expect me to *be* a woman, and I can't live up to that expectation. One of my friends is my ex-girlfriend who seems to be personally invested in my not-transitioning (which I don't need); the other close friend, I'm not sure she gets it, but I think she'll give it a shot. I came out to her (again) just recently. And then there's what can happen if I can interact without fear of being found out, because I'll be out, and that should make things somewhat easier...

Anyhow.
2012-08-28 0:20
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Chordal
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Post: #6
Re: Invisibility, exclusion, and the possibility of being "o
Chordal Wrote:...I had something else to say, but it's long gone. <!-- sSmile --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_e_smile.gif" alt=":)" title="Smile" /><!-- sSmile --> (Possibly about seeming to be very very gay in the period between socializing as a woman and socializing as a [still pretty queer, but still largely a] man?)
No, that wasn't it. It was coming to see the plurality as something I live with, but not something that defines who I am. Since the time I exited the Women's group, things have been seeming to come more together. I'm still buying clothes from the female departments, but I'm guessing that these will do for now and can be eventually phased out if or when I do go on testosterone (when my body will be changing shape, anyway). Which is relevant because I used to have a fragment that would target ultrafemme clothes, which I'd then feel uncomfortable wearing -- or which I would wear, which would then get me read as a woman who wanted to be seen as feminine and a woman, not as "a person in a mauve boatneck sweater."

But seeing the plurality as basically a condition and not a defining and unchanging fact of my life has allowed me to distance myself somewhat from the tides as they apply to my concept of my own gender. I'm still fluid, but I'm able to step outside of wherever I'm at and observe it. So I've been feeling more like a transman, recently -- especially since I've spoken with someone who said that my concerns about feeling like I wasn't a man and that I feared I'd never be one even if I did go on hormones, were extremely common to hear. I've also known a couple of people who have identified as some form of genderqueer first, who then have gone on to identify as transmen or men. So I'm getting a little bit of confidence, here. Especially since I know that for most people, sex = gender.

I still don't identify with the vast number of "men" I see, but I have felt myself to be on that scale of being masculine, in the past. I just tempered it as "female man," meaning basically a man on an estrogen-based system who was socialized to be a woman, but whose identity was clearly masculine. Which is really sounding like "transman," to me. <!-- sSmile --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_e_smile.gif" alt=":)" title="Smile" /><!-- sSmile --> It's just that instead of "channeling" that energy (as I've learned to do -- and which is too subtle for most people to notice), I'll likely also have outside help.

It would be...a bit strange if the plurality cleared up on my adopting a masculine outward identity, huh? But I've read that having multiple identities prior to transition is not uncommon among transpeople...
2012-08-28 1:24
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Post: #7
Update:
Hey there,

It's been a couple of days, and I've had some time to think things over. My supervisor knows that there's something coming from me, eventually, on the difficulties I've been having which relate to being social with other people, so that's good. I'm hoping to let them know about the process I'm going through. Without, you know, coming out and saying that I'm a man and refer to me as "he" and everything, because I've tried that before and it seems to put expectations too high (or I end up being seen as a really flamey guy).

The name I've picked out for myself is seriously masculine, but it's in another language, and since I don't look like a stereotypical member of the society which language it's in (I *am not* stereotypical, but I *am* a member of the diaspora), a major trepidation I have is being seen as someone who's appropriating the culture and language without knowing that the name I've chosen is a mens' one. When, actually, a lot of thought (and research) went into it. But appropriation's a touchy subject with me, anyway (because I am of a culture which others have tried to exclude me from, on the basis of my racial background).

I'm thinking that my first appointment with my new gender specialist might end up focusing around how to go through social transition without chemical or legal transition. I know that's not what I've said before, but I did recall something today: I have a relatively good body image now, in large part because I've worked on it, for years. Entailing things like looking at myself whenever I passed a reflective surface and trying to remind myself that this is actually what I look like, to others -- and how can I let who I am show through?

But even as a kid, it wasn't a big deal to me to be female -- the issue was, at first, more how to get my needs met, given that I had different interests from the vast majority of girls. The secondary issue, which came at puberty, was that everyone else seemed to have a definition of who I should be, what I should do, who I should love (or more appropriately, "lust after"), as a "girl", that I didn't share; and which they expected me to be, or thought they could emotionally pound me into being.

I've definitely had times when I really severely wanted to pass as male. I also have one case from my history where I realized at about the age of 14 or 15 that I couldn't write a female character who was more than a prop because I didn't know what it was to *be* a girl.

The thing is, though, I may be male psychologically (or a little more so than not), but the male body doesn't seem (in normal cases) to be preferable, to me. The messages I got from my society as to who I should be and why, never really reflected on me as something that was wrong *with me* -- a lack of acceptance of who I was by society, was always something that was wrong with society (for instance, conditioning female-assigned people to be wives and mothers and not to be intellectual and to chase after men exclusively and have that be the main aim of life). There was really one pretty strong example that I can think of from when I was 14, though -- and that was a girl who I was attracted to, constantly complaining about how she wanted a "boyfriend;" and my kind of existential despair over thinking about what if the rest of my life would be like this and I'd be attracted to straight women and they would overlook me.

I'm at the age where my body is definitely looking more "womanly," and that in itself isn't a bad thing; I currently find it aesthetically pleasing. (But again, that could be because of my sexual orientation.) The bad thing is what everyone else does, and what many expect of me, because of that information. Like that I'll want to be a wife and mother and sedentary and play stupid; and lust after and love men...when I currently don't see what's so great about the male form or why I should want it, in specific (as a lover or as a physically altered self, which will never get me all of what I want). That doesn't mean I don't want to look fit and buff -- but "fit and buff" kind of plays into manliness, and yet is a separate thing. I can have curves and soft clear skin and all my hair and be fit and buff at the same time -- it just takes a whole lot more work.

I think the problem I was grappling with earlier in the thread (earlier in life, most certainly) is the tension between being appreciated for what I *looked like* as versus being appreciated for who I *am.* Right now, what I look like often overrides who I am -- the notable dissenting example being with my supervisor, who appreciates me for the work that I do, more than she does for my looking cute. The thing is that I could probably be a bombshell if I can synchronize what I look like *with* who I am, and have them both work in my favor. But I'm not sure how to do that, currently. I do believe that I could sweep in some attractive girls if I could, though. <!-- sWink --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_e_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- sWink --> But again, the problem is seeing past the glamour (daemonic glamour?) <!-- sWink --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_e_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- sWink --> to the person underneath.

The major problem I'm dealing with is becoming brave enough to step out of the closet and say, "you know, I know that you expect me to be a certain type of person because of the way I look and sound, and statistically that tactic may often work, but it doesn't in this case. Let me show you who I am instead of your defining who I am for me." The problem of social interaction is the main problem -- that is, my being able to interact, knowing that others are seeing a cute woman and not me -- and this problem is partially the product of years and years of conditioning showing me that it's not the safest thing to be unconditionally open, especially in gender-segregated groups. Because when I begin to talk, people don't know what to make of it. It's kind of similar to passing as a man until I begin speaking and my voice is high. I pass as a woman until one starts to peel back the intellectual and personal layers, and then things aren't usual.

I make the choice to be open in some circumstances, knowing the risks; because sometimes I may help someone on my way to helping myself; or sometimes, there are no better options.

And so, to reference something I've read, elsewhere, I believe, I can't really find any clear "teams." I seem to be assimilating the tack of the first out transman I ever knew, who was the first person I felt I ever met to see who I actually was, as versus the role I played; in that just because a person looks a certain way, this doesn't necessarily say anything about who they are on the inside.
2012-08-29 23:21
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