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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Transition Thoughts & Reflections - Melissa

In today's guest post, we hear from one of the first bloggers I visited here in Blogistan. She is also one of the most honorable people I have had the pleasure to correspond with, here or anywhere else.
Melissa has lived most of her sixty-plus years accepting that there was, as she puts it, ‘something about her that was different’. Like many of us, she built the male façade in order to survive working in a world dominated by homophobic and trans-phobic men. Unlike others and myself, Melissa has never been in denial regarding the reality of her true nature.  Early on, she chose to live a celibate life, and by that choice, this tremendously caring person, with her gentle spirit missed out on the daily love and support she might otherwise have found.

Her engaging posts at “Melissa’s Meanderings” and her well-thought out comments are insightful and flavored with interesting stories.  Here is some of her story.


 Where Do I Stand On The Gender Spectrum?

Calie asked me to write a post for the T-Central blog project, about people who are in transition, preparing to transition, or not transitioning. I wasn't quite sure about this project at first, because I thought it could be seen rightly, or wrongly, as a way to pigeon hole people. I've never liked putting labels on trans sisters, for that very reason. I'm not concerned with whether you cross dress part time, full time, just for fun, or to fulfill a deep need to express the female that you believe lives at the very core of your being. To me, we are all trans, and because of that, we are some of the loneliest people on earth, and we all need each other's support.

So, in that vein..........Are you transitioning?......Oh, you're not?......But you plan to, right?.....No? As if transitioning is some kind of litmus test to determine if you are genuinely transsexual, or not. And of course it's not. Many transsexuals never transition. In fact from what I have heard, most never transition. That doesn't mean they don't want to, or that they aren't truly transsexual, but just that for whatever reason, they don't think it's the right thing for them to do, at least for now, and maybe ever. I have heard many transitioned transsexuals say, if you are truly transsexual, you will have no other choice, but to transition, because if you don't, you will commit suicide, and not transitioning and not committing suicide is proof that you were never transsexual to begin with. I think that is pretty smug thinking on their part. Not transitioning is not a guaranteed ticket to a pistol in the mouth, or a lethal cocktail of Seconal and Vodka. More likely you just live out your life, a perpetually sad and withdrawn person, forever pining over what may have been.

For the record, I am a transsexual. I didn't always realize that. From my earliest recollections, I always knew there was something about me that was different, and it had to do with my gender identity. I grew up in a family where boys were expected to be boys, and gender variance was not only frowned upon, it was strictly forbidden. I had two sisters, and every day I had to watch them freely expressing their femininity, while having suppress and hide mine. Hiding it was one thing, suppressing it was impossible. I thought about it every day, and whenever I was left alone, I would experiment with my sister's or mother's clothing, shoes, jewelry, or cosmetics.

As I got older, I got bolder in my experimentation, and one summer after high school, while living at my grandmother’s house in Pennsylvania, I got too bold. I thought that because I wasn't living under the prying eyes of my mother anymore, I could take my experimentation in feminine expression to new levels. I was working at my first job that summer, as a packing and shipping clerk in a shoe manufacturer's warehouse. It was the first time in my life that I had a reasonable amount of pocket money most of the time, so I decided to indulge in some feminine purchases. I bought some women's shoes and hosiery. I also bought a nightgown, some nail polish and a set of glue on nails. In the bath that evening, I shaved my legs for the first time in my life. I couldn't believe how indescribably good they felt without hair on them. I also couldn't believe how much better they looked. After my bath, I painted my toenails, and tried on the things I bought, then hid it all in a gym bag in my closet. For some reason or other, I thought that it would be a good idea to hide my artificial nails under my mattress. To this day, I can't remember why, but it turned out to be a big mistake. My grandmother changed the sheets on my bed the next day, and she discovered my artificial nails. They must have piqued her curiosity, because she then discovered the clothing and shoes, I hid in my gym bag. She never told me about her discovery, but I knew she found my secret things, because the sheets were change and the nails were in a neat pile under the mattress and the clothing was neatly folded in my bag. A few days later, my mother and father showed up at my grandmother’s house when I returned from work. They told me they were taking me back down to Maryland with them, and that I was to tell my boss I was quitting.

To make a long story short, when we got back to Mom and Dad's place in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC, they began to give me the third degree, over the things my grandmother found in my room. They were very hostile, and I felt like a cornered animal. I didn't know what to say. Dad was a retired Army officer, working for the Army, so he told my mother to take me to the psychiatric clinic at Walter Reed Hospital in DC. It was 1966, and the Army shrink I saw treated me like I had a perversion that needed to be cured with aversion therapy. All this did was make me feel ashamed of what I was, and pushed me deeper into the closet.

My self-image was shot, and for years after that, I believed I was one of those horrible embarrassing creatures, most commonly referred to in those days as a transvestite. It wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I began to accept the fact that I wasn't just attracted to female clothing, but that I envied everything about being a woman. I realized that I had just been playing at being a man, to hide my true desire to live as a female. It was then that I decided in a limited way, to step out of the closet, and into the real world of women. I had to be among them, dressing like them, talking like them, and acting like them, to see if I really fit in with them. It was then that I truly began to take my feminine grooming and dressing seriously. I studied women's fashion magazines, and faithfully read the women's section of the newspaper each day (yes, they really had a women's section back then).

I began to shop for clothes, with a mind to actually wearing them out in public. I went to a Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio and got a make-up lesson, and I started making appointments at exclusively female beauty salons, to have my hair and nails done, while dressed and groomed completely as a girl. It was during those trips to the salon, that I realized how perfectly at home I felt with the women there. It was not a sexual thing at all. It just felt so peaceful to be among other women, and interacting with them as one of them. The more I did this, the more I wanted to continue doing it, and I slowly began to accept the fact that I was not really a man at heart.

It was at about that time that I read Jan Morris's book, Conundrum, about her early 70's transition from male to female. I found a copy of it in the state library, because it was out of print by then. I cried throughout the entire book, and it was not the type of crying that you do when you are merely sad. It was with a profound sense of longing, and the horrible feeling that my life was being thrown away that I cried. It sent me into the deepest depression I have ever experienced. It was horrible!

I finished the book, but I could not stop crying. I continued to cry uncontrollably throughout the weekend. Just as soon as I would stop crying, I would start crying all over again. I was actually afraid I would become dehydrated, because I was shedding tears so profusely. When Monday morning arrived, I prepared to go to work, but I was still crying so badly that I couldn't. I was so scared by this time that if I couldn't shake this horrible depression, I might try anything to stop it, so I called a local mental health clinic, and asked for an emergency appointment.

I was still crying when I entered Dr. S's office. Unlike the ignorant Army shrink 17 years earlier, Dr. S was a wonderful man, who immediately put me at ease. I was able to open up to him like I had never been able to with anyone ever before. We covered my feelings about myself from my early childhood up to then. By the time my appointment was over, I had stopped crying, and I left his office with the assurance that I was not perverted, and that there was nothing wrong with my feelings. By the end of my second appointment Dr. S said something that was music to my ears. First he related a story about how a mother had brought her gay son to see him, convinced that he was a transsexual. Dr. S told her that he wasn't a transsexual, he was just gay, and that both she and her son needed to accept the fact that he was gay, and not feel guilty about it. He then went on to say that he had been practicing psychiatry for 13 years, and that many patients had come to him thinking that they might be transsexual. He said that I was the first patient to see him that he truly believed was transsexual. At last! I finally had confirmation! Now, what to do about it.

As wonderful as Dr. S was, he did not specialize in gender therapy, and knew of no one who did, and there wouldn't be a gender clinic in Richmond, until twenty years later. I only found out about it completely by accident a year ago. Dr. S was kind enough to give me the address of Duke University Hospital down in North Carolina, who he said was doing gender reassignment surgery at the time. Even though I was nowhere near ready for surgery, I wrote to them anyway. They sent me back a packet of information, telling me what was required of me to be accepted as a candidate for surgery. Mainly, that I had to be living full time as a female for 18 months, and be on HRT, and be under the care of a licensed therapist.

The elation that I experienced at having Dr. S confirm my own self-diagnosis, was short lived, when reality reared its ugly head. I had no gender clinic, or therapist who specialized in gender issues to go to. I had no money to pay for it all. I had started electrolysis, several years earlier, but had to quit after just twelve one-hour sessions, because it was putting a serious cramp in my budget at the time. $30 an hour was a whole lot of money back in 1980, when I was only making $19,000 a year before taxes, and had rent, insurance, a car payment and utilities to pay.

I was also fourteen years into a career in the maintenance department of an international chemical corporation's largest factory. That was a secure job, at a time when secure jobs were beginning to become scarce in the US, and it carried with it full pension rights upon retirement. Unfortunately it was an almost exclusively male work environment, staffed by some of the most homophobic cretins you could imagine, at a time when LGBT friendly corporate policies were just a dream. There was no way, I would ever be able to transition on that job, but I had no other marketable skills, so I couldn't go elsewhere. I tried to find other work, but when you are working full time with little time off, it's pretty hard to go job searching, especially when you want to find employment that might be trans friendly. I did take a day off from work one time, to enroll in class in doing acrylic nails. The people giving the class were in the business of selling acrylic nail supplies to freelance nail techs, and immediately viewed me with suspicion. I was the only male in the class, and they thought I owned my own salon, and was there undercover, because the cosmetology industry was lobbying the Va. General Assembly hard, to allow only licensed cosmetologists and manicurists to do acrylic nails.

Well, the bottom line is, I never found other more suitable employment, or any gender therapists, the cost of which wouldn't have been covered by my insurance anyway. So my dream of becoming a woman became just that, nothing more than a dream. I had to somehow satisfy myself with the knowledge, that I was indeed transsexual, but that I would likely never see my dream of being a woman come to fruition. The years began to tick by. I was 37 and already well on the road to male pattern baldness, when I sat in Dr. S's office crying my eyes out, and pouring my soul out to him. The thought of becoming a bald old man working in a factory until retirement, was very depressing, but a reality I was going to have to somehow find a way to live with. I did it essentially by shutting down. I withdrew from my social life, and became a recluse. I grew a beard, because even though I was balding I still had long hair, and without a beard I looked too much like a girl. I couldn't stand the way that freaked out the homophobic males I had to work with on a daily basis.

I went home each night and even though I had a beard, I still crossdressed. I had to. I had to claim whatever little portion of my life that I was left to me. I'm sure I was a sorry sight; a bearded lady, obese from smothering my discontent in food and drink. But that's how I coped. I went to work each day and pretended to be a man, then came home to my solitude where I lived within my walls as much as I could as the woman I wanted to be.

Dysfunctional? Absolutely! But I never felt like I had an alternative.

I finally retired at the end of 2007, and I've been living on my pension ever since. I'm now Melissa whenever at home, and sometimes when I go out too, depending on the venue. Because of the internet, I was finally able to discover an entirely new world for people like me. I stumbled upon blogger one day, and decided to begin my own blog. Immediately I attracted a follower in Caroline, from Scotland. She's one of the sweetest, funniest, and most intelligent and supportive people I have ever had the privilege of getting to know, and I dearly love her! Soon I had other followers, who actually thought the drivel I published was interesting reading! I had found a home. Then Caroline, sweetheart that she is, told me about a website, called Pink Essence, and I joined it. I wrote a little about myself, and told of my feelings of isolation in the area I lived in, ever since I was diagnosed as a transsexual. Soon a Richmond girl wrote back to me, and told me of her support group, and invited me to meet up with her and some of the other girls at a lesbian bar they meet at twice a week, as a prerequisite for joining the group. I dressed as myself, clean shaven and made up, and went out for the first time since 1980 that summer night last August. I'll never forget how liberating it felt to drive into that busy shopping district, park my truck in a public parking lot, get out and walk down the street to the bar in front of God and everyone, as my true self! I walked past an outdoor cafe, and passed a male and female couple approaching from the opposite direction, and even though I am 6'2" and well over 200 lbs, no one gave me a second look.

So.........will I ever transition? I will never say no, but at almost 62 years old (September 21 is my birthday), with a bald head that no transplant will ever make look womanly, and some medical complications, that are the inexorable result of years of obesity and undiagnosed diabetes, probably not. Still, I will take a back seat to no smug, fully transitioned woman. My womanhood is between my ears, not between my legs, and in full love of her, and what she has accomplished, regardless of her hormones and surgeries, so is hers.

Melissa XX


  1. Where do I send the cheque?

    Caroline xxx

  2. Halle, Calie, et al

    Really loving this series. These essays seem to me a nice old fashioned long-form journalism. Our issues are being explored here in a slightly different way, much more in depth way.

    It is a treat to be able to get a big picture view of a blogger in one big bite. Typically, you cannot find the big story in a single blog post. This is all very welcome.

    Melissa - very nice to get to know you better.

    Halle / Calie, etc, love what you are doing with T-Central. Keep it up please.

  3. Melissa.....
    I love your attitude!!!
    I feel a bit of regret as it had taken you sooooo many years to be your own true woman. However, what a woman you have turned out to be! You are a kind, supportive, person with a caring heart.
    Love your blog, love your comments, love you.

  4. Melissa, I decided to title this series Transition Thoughts & Reflections as a way to allow many to share their life journeys...whether they be post-op, pre-op, non-op, or whatever.

    Your beautiful and honest thoughts and reflections certainly are worthy of this series and I am so glad you took the time to write.

    Perhaps I should have run yours and Anne's back to back, since you are both about the same age. And, regarding that, both of you must have been avoiding the draft (in some way) during the Vietnam war. I'm curious, since neither of you mentioned this, if the War was an issue for either of you. I hope Anne reads this and can comment.

    Calie xxx

  5. @ Calie

    Thank you, Calie!

    Actually I was 19, with a draft status of 1A in 1968. I was ripe for being drafted and put into the infantry, so I enlisted in the Army to get a technical school. I spent 16 months in Vietnam, from May of 1969 to Sept. of 1970, but I wasn't a combat soldier, I was in the Signal Corps, and repaired communications security equipment. I was very happy to come home in one piece and put the military behind me. If there hadn't been a draft in those days, I never would have joined, and I'm sure my life would have taken a completely different course, since I used my background in electronics to secure my civilian job when I came home. Before I went into the Army, I was seriously considering going to Cosmetology school. I've always regretted not doing that. It would have been a far better career choice for me.

    Melissa XX

  6. Thanks for your story, Melissa. As I wrote to Stace, even when you try to read someone's blog from start to finish, you don't always get the whole story. You've written the answers to lots of questions I never felt comfortable about asking you. :)

  7. "Still, I will take a back seat to no smug, fully transitioned woman."

    You're my hero, Melissa.

    You've always shown myself and others that genuine care and love that isn't often found, let alone over the internet. I strive to be like you.


  8. Like the others, I really enjoyed this post.

    This is going to sound weird, but one of the things I like most about it is just how defensive it seems to be. Twice Melissa uses the word "smug" to allude to a sort of "transsexual elitism", and while I think it exists, I also seem to see less of it now than I did when I first entered the online community five years ago. And I have to wonder if that's because there's less of it now, or because I've refined the circles I run in, or because I'm now deep into transition myself and am perhaps blinded to the subtleties of our inter-community prejudice. I don't really have the answer, but I think it's valuable stuff to talk about...I'd love to see a totally open discussion where people talk about specific examples of things they've encountered in the online community that have either directly or indirectly felt like attacks/invalidation on/of their identity. But sheesh, we'd all have to wear our big girl/big boy pants to that conversation.

  9. Hi Melissa, Callie, Halle and all you other happy readers here. I too see a high level of defensiveness and more accurately, resentment in the tone of in your post which is understandable considering that you denied yourself that which was what you most obviously truly and greatly desired.

    I say "denied yourself" intentionally, because as you all know, I am quite outspoken and have only minimal regard as to the emotional impact of my words. Many would consider this heartless and uncaring, but I prefer to think of it as being frankly, honest.

    I am certainly not one to judge as to the validity of your reasons for making the choices that you did, but as I have posted on other sites, it is my opinion that an individual is the total sum of their genetic predisposition, their environment, (how they were reared etc.) and the decisions they made throughout their journey or evolution through life.

    It seems to me that about the time that I was in college, 1965 - 1969, my student deferrment was eliminated by gov't. fiat and replaced with a lottery. I drew a number right about in the middle, which was fortunately high enough that I was able to complete my education and avoid the dreaded military.

    I do not know what might have happened had I been forced to enlist. I honestly cannot imagine what it would have been like to suffer the mindless abuse of the cretins with a marginally higher rank. Talk about hierarchys!

    I have to agree with Renne that a discussion of the "subtleties" is important and that a suspension of emotional, angst driven outbursts would be a prerequisite to constructive dialogue. And in that spirit, I will vehemently disagree with you that my "sex" is not between my legs. While my Gender is most certainly between my ears, my sex is most definately right exactly where it belongs, most pleasantly, right between my legs.

    And as for "transsexual elitism", me thinks you speak with forked tongue since you self identify as transsexual, even though I would argue that based on your self description, I think that transgender might be much more accurate. And...just so that I am not misunderstood, I am not asking that you "take a back seat" to me, because I am post-op. However in that same vein I would ask that you not denigrate my ability to have very satisfying, hetero-normal sex with my legal husband, and were I single any healthy heterosexual male of legal age and of my choosing.

    Sorry if I sound a bit snarky but even an old tiger has tooth and claw and is generally best left unmolested.

  10. To be clear, the "transsexual elitism" thing came from me. I quoted it, but those were scare quotes, as opposed to any actual quote I took from anywhere.

    Also, before this blows up, I'd like to throw out a line I've heard a couple times and like to repeat for moments like these:

    "When I find myself getting defensive, I must be learning something."

    Just something to keep in mind as we respond to each other.

  11. @ Anne

    Re: "I have to agree with Renne that a discussion of the "subtleties" is important and that a suspension of emotional, angst driven outbursts would be a prerequisite to constructive dialogue. And in that spirit, I will vehemently disagree with you that my "sex" is not between my legs. While my Gender is most certainly between my ears, my sex is most definately right exactly where it belongs, most pleasantly, right between my legs.

    And as for "transsexual elitism", me thinks you speak with forked tongue since you self identify as transsexual, even though I would argue that based on your self description, I think that transgender might be much more accurate. And...just so that I am not misunderstood, I am not asking that you "take a back seat" to me, because I am post-op. However in that same vein I would ask that you not denigrate my ability to have very satisfying, hetero-normal sex with my legal husband, and were I single any healthy heterosexual male of legal age and of my choosing."

    When I used the term womanhood, I was referring to gender, not sex. Perhaps I should have use the word gender to be more clear, but I wanted a word that expressed feminine gender. To be honest, I'm not the least bit concerned with what bits anyone might have between their legs, nor what their sexual proclivities are. As far as I'm concerned, sex and gender are entirely separate issues.

    I don't believe I said a word, that could be construed as denigrating anyone's ability to have satisfying "hetero normal" sex. I applaud anyone's ability to have satisfying sex, whether "hetero normal" , or "homo normal".:-)

    I didn't use the term "transsexual elitism" that Renee mentioned, but it seems that your judgment of me as transgender, and not transsexual, in spite of the fact that I self identify as transsexual and have been diagnosed as such by a psychiatrist, is a perfect example of that term. The term transgender is a big umbrella, under which a host of people reside, including transsexuals. It is the transsexual elite, that seem to resent being grouped under that umbrella the most, as if being grouped with what they consider to be a lower cast, somehow besmirches the purity of their identity. Defensive?

    Melissa XX

  12. I had no issues with anything said within this blog until I read one comment; "I will take a back seat to no smug, fully transitioned woman".
    I find it sad that such a comment had to be made in the first place, and even sadder to see a few others joining in and agreeing.
    I'm not going to go on about it here, because the rest of the blog itself is a very good insight to a different perspective and experience on trans issues. That gains the respect it deserves.
    If interested in what I thought about the sweeping 'smug' statement, then you can read about it on my own blog:
    Regards, Alex.

  13. @ Alex

    The word smug was used as a qualifier for the self satisfied types. It does not apply to all fully transitioned women. I'm sorry if you found it offensive. I have been reading your blog for some time now, and I never thought it applied to you. :-)

    Melissa XX

  14. @ Melissa and the other readers here. I have a great deal of empathy for anybody and everybody who are experiencing or have suffered fron GID or GD.

    However, I find it highly counter productive to attack one another for decisions made or not made. Since Melissa has made it clear that her accusation of "smugness" is only directed at those of us who have successfully transitioned and continue to take issue with being compared, labeled or equated as being someone we are not, then I will respond to that.

    I will speak for myself, although I suspect that there are thousands of women who have paid hugely in terms of blood, treasure, loss of loved ones, family and employment to become WOMEN as completely as possible.

    A transgender has not paid that price, although I suspect that the long term frustration and angst involved in not being and living as the REAL self is in fact a higher price.

    The truth is that IF and I emphacize *IF* a person really is a real deal, classic, type I, TS then NOT transitioning fully will inevitably result in a stunted unhappy embittered person.

    On the otherhand if in fact the individual is NOT and IS in fact one or another or a wide variety of TG or GV then God Bless them, they are SPARED the trauma and drama of a full blown sex change, because that is what a TS must do.

    If you do not need a sex change to save your life you are NOT a TS. Give thanks and praise to GOD's mercy. DO NOT try, or wish to have a condition just because you or your friends think that TS has more "status" then TG.

    To put it simply, a TS changes SEX, (those "bits" between your legs). A TG changes GENDER.

  15. Thanks for clarifying Melissa. It heartens me to see I picked up what had been said wrongly.
    I also fully agree there are some very smug and horrible people out there, and they walk on both sides of the post and pre/non op fences.
    I really do hope that one of the good things to have come out of this misunderstanding, is a little more understanding of each other's circumstances.
    I do fully relate to the turmoil non-transitioning people face, because I was there myself for a very long time, until I lost the battle to resist.
    I could not stress enough how much I would not wish the horrible heartrending stuff I had to face during the transition process, on anyone else. Loved ones do NOT deserve to have to face that from any of us, and I do fully respect all of you who continue to battle and resist this horrible curse.
    I have a wide range of friends from all walks of life, and that includes the T' spectrum. A few blow me into the weeds when it comes to looking fantastic (mainly the young ones I know), and some I can clearly see have it way more difficult than me in the passing stakes. They, through their own choice, have also transitioned, and I have to say they get on with their lives without worrying too much about what other people think about them.
    The point I'm trying to make, is that this whole transition thing is very much a personal choice, and one that has to be made by the individual.......for they alone will be the person who has to face the life they choose as a result.
    For some, it matters lots how they look, and how much it affects others. For others, looks means nothing, and even loved ones cannot stop the express train ride that comes from opening Pandora's box.
    What none of us should EVER do, is judge one another for taking these very personal choices, and should instead just accept we all need to do what WE need to do to get through this God forsaken crap we sometimes have to accept as just being life.
    Whether you believe in God or not, we all have to accept we have been dealt a bad deck of cards in life, and the one thing we all have in common (no matter how we play those cards), is that NONE of us are ever going to win this frigging game!
    Just get out there and do what you feel you have to do folks......and that is about all the advice I would ever give to anyone.
    Alex. x

  16. Gosh, maybe we need to institute a policy banning the use of labels.

    From now on people will be required to describe their gender identity as hyphenates. Examples:



    Just kidding. But seriously, let's talk about this stuff, but please, try to do so without telling others what they are or are not. I don't see a huge amount of benefit in gatekeeping this terminology, especially if it hurts peoples' feelings. And Ahura Mazda* knows, we'd be pissed if a cis person showed up and told us that because we were born male-bodied, we are men and will always be men, yet that's exactly what we're doing by trying to establish ourselves as authorities over certain identities.

    This is a moderation post asking us to be respectful of each other and as such there is no need to comment on it specifically. You're free to ignore it, but please, just think about it a little.

    * As an avowed agnostic, I randomly rotate my religions, and this week Zoroastrianism is in.

  17. I'd like to see an end to this line of comments. You're all good friends of mine and I respect your opinions.

    It is more important to me, however, that we stand together as a group so that we can all get the respect we deserve from the general public. Hopefully, someday that will happen. When we publicly disagree among ourselves, however, over what someone from the "outside" might perceive to be a trivial issue, will we ever get that respect we so deserve?

    The purpose of these excellent guest posts is to help others, who think they may be TG, to better understand themselves through the thoughts of those who have been there, done that. Your essays have attracted a huge number of readers. Let's show them that we do, indeed, respect each other.

    If you all want something to think about, take a look at the next guest post....

    Calie xxx

  18. Really well done and you are so right. it doesn't matter where you fall in the gender spectrum, we all need each others love and support.


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