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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Transition Thoughts & Reflections – Guest Post #15

It’s a little strange for me, introducing this piece, since a good portion of the T-Central audience probably knows Veronica as well, if not better, than I do. She is truly the woman who needs no introduction; a constant in this community for as long as I can remember, Veronica has always been ready with a kind word or supportive gesture for anyone in need, while inspiring others through the various incarnations of her own blog. But for those of you who are new, or haven’t followed her story from the beginning, or maybe missed a few salient details along the way, here then is what we like to call “the short version”. And like so many of our other guest bloggers have shown us, it demonstrates that while our narratives have much in common, they are also entirely unique to ourselves at the same time. Enjoy.

- Renee

The unlikely transition


In the summer of 2007, when I first saw a doctor who was a specialist in trans health, he was skeptical. Shortly afterward, when I started to see a trans knowledgeable therapist, she too was skeptical. They weren't the only ones. I had my doubts as well. Here I was, 53 years old, having lived a reasonably successful life as a man, not constantly bothered by thoughts of being a woman until fairly recently. How could I be transsexual?

I didn't fit the profile. I realize now, of course, that there is no one profile of transsexualism, but there certainly seem to be commonalities that I did not share. I did not know I was a girl at four years old. I did not insist on being included with the girls. I did not try to wear girl clothes or makeup. Later, I had a fairly normal social life, and I loved sex. The only reason I was ashamed of my body was because I was somewhat overweight and out of shape, not because it was a male body. I never suffered from clinical depression, and I never attempted or even seriously considered suicide.

And yet by late autumn of 2007, I knew I was transsexual, and my doctor and my therapist agreed, if still cautiously. I began my transition. And here it is, more than halfway through 2010. I have been living full time as a woman for more than two years, and sex reassignment surgery is now more than six months behind me. I have never felt so right in my life, and I have never been happier. It's still early days, but I can't imagine having any regrets other than not having transitioned sooner. This life is so wonderful that it's hard for me to believe that I could have lived without it for so long. From such unlikely beginnings, how could things have worked out so well?

Nonstandard back-story

In fact, the signs were there all along in my life, but it took close examination to see them.

When I was around six years old, I used to do a bit of strategic tucking and look at myself in the mirror. I knew what my baby sister looked like down there. Apparently, that was what I wanted too. At the time, I didn't realize the significance of this, and before long I stopped doing it.

Lots of things seem to have contributed to pushing gender issues far into the back of my mind. I was not a rebellious child, and indeed I've been a pleaser all my life. I have always wanted to be liked and accepted. Once puberty hit, I was strongly attracted to women. Before I was even out of high school, first alcohol and later drugs became ways of taking the edge off my dissatisfaction with life. I looked almost everywhere except at my own sex for answers to why I wasn't happy: religion, philosophy, political activism, music, acting, and more. Eventually, there was resignation. "If I had another life, I'd rather be female" was the way I considered my gender issues. Dwelling on what you can't have will only make you miserable. Better to make do with what you have.

At the same time, I had outlets for gender expression that most transsexual women seem not to have had. As a child, I idolized my older sister, and although she was never quite a playmate, I tended to be included in her world until she reached puberty. I played both boy-typical and girl-typical games, and no one said I couldn't. I was told not to be such a crybaby, but I was never punished for not being manly enough. I was allowed to grow up as a nerdy, not very athletic, somewhat androgynous boy.

Later, sex and intimacy with women became an outlet. I always wanted to be close to women. I rarely bonded with men, and never with groups of men. My best friends have almost always been women, and I had a tendency to have sex with my friends. If I could not have a female body, I wanted to be as close as possible to one. To some extent, I lived vicariously through my female companions, especially my current partner (of nearly 30 years).

Music and theatre were also great outlets. I was leading rock bands during the early 1980s, when hitting the stage in eye makeup and tight jeans was pretty much the norm. I would go to clubs that way as well. Even when I wasn't being as overt, I had a spiky shock of dyed blond hair and two earrings in my left ear at a time when that was far from common among men. I often had epithets for gay men flung at me and once had the shit beat out of me as I left a club. And then there was that Hallow'een party for which I borrowed a pink and black dress and wore black tights and boots (which I still own), plus the requisite punk makeup. I looked like Aimee Mann at the time minus the cheekbones. I had such a fun time confusing the boys!

Other than that one foray, however, I rarely did any cross-dressing, and then only in secret, imagining how much better it would be if I were shaped differently. It was always a disappointment.

Even during less androgynous times, I did not behave in a particularly manly way. Thus, I never really built any male façade. I was who I was. I cried when I was moved, without shame. Many people thought I was gay, even though I was married to a woman. That's how gentleness and femininity in a man are often interpreted. My sister-in-law used to call me a "straight gay guy."

If all those coping mechanisms weren't enough, there were also ignorance, fear, and shame. I truly did not know what was possible. At first I thought that no one could change sex. Then I heard about Wendy Carlos, and I thought, OK, it's possible for famous and special people. Then I heard about Renée Richards, and I did not want to look like her. And later, I saw someone at a trade show whom I had known by sight as a man and who was now a woman, and again, her appearance and her obvious loneliness scared me.

So there seem to have been all kinds of things that helped to dissipate or squash any wishes to be female. Yet we all know that it is rare for transsexualism to stay hidden for one's entire life.

Coming out, slowly then quickly

Advancing age has a way of concentrating the mind. As I approached 50, I realized I'd let myself go. My partner and I got into watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and I went very metrosexual for a while. I lost weight, firmed up, and starting taking better care of myself. As I did this, I found myself wanting to push the gender envelope further and further, and wished that my body, as well shaped as I had made it, was softer and rounder and lacking in equipment below. That stuff had always got in my way.

The dam was showing cracks by the time I joined Second Life at the end of July 2006. Here was my "if I had a another life." I created a female avatar, of course. I never had even a thought of creating a male avatar. And in creating a female avatar, every repressed dysphoric feeling was unleashed.

Second Life was pure dream fulfilment, and its power was overwhelming. As my avatar, I went shopping and loved it. I was beautiful and sexy. I had virtual intimacies, sex but also more, first with men and later with women. Most importantly, I interacted socially as a female with other avatars whose typists saw me as female. It all fit extraordinarily well and was amazingly fulfilling. I also met a variety of trans people for the first time, people who opened my eyes to possibilities that I had thought were only fantasies. After a few months, I realized that being a virtual woman was not enough. If I didn't do something about my first life, I was going to get lost in Second Life.

I began to make up for lost time, talking with new friends, searching out blogs, and gathering information from the interwebs. I came out to my partner. I went to a support group. I went out several times with a "girls night out" group. I saw a counsellor. I wondered if I might be a crossdresser, bi-gendered, some kind of genderqueer, but none of that fit. By the time I began to undergo assessment and therapy that summer, I knew I was transsexual, but I could not yet admit it to myself.

No doubt

Then something changed radically. I read a book by Antonio Damásio called Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, and I had a huge insight. I had never trusted my feelings! And because I didn't, I never knew what I really wanted. All my life, I tried to make decisions based purely on rationality. As a result, the decisions I made were often poor ones, and I second guessed myself constantly. I ignored my heart, because I had been taught not to trust my feelings. But Damasio showed me that good decisions come from both reason and feelings, from both head and heart, not one without the other.

Bringing head and heart together was the key. The clarity was amazing. Once I knew what I really wanted, there was no holding me back. I had spent my entire life first not allowing myself to consider such possibilities, then thinking they were for others but not for me. I had denied, very effectively, my heart's desire, and I had found enough ways to keep the dam patched up that I didn't realize just how much water there was behind it.

That autumn, 2007, I started going out as me in real life, first only occasionally then more and more often. I began hormone therapy in January 2008. I went full time at the end of May. I had SRS in January 2010. Two people have asked who I went to for facial feminization surgery, so that's a pretty good indication that I don't need any (but might want some anyway). And I have come to terms, for now, with my small breasts, because at this point I simply do not want implants. Hormones, SRS, and living life were the most important things to me. For someone who does indeed love clothes and makeup and girly things, I'm much more "classic" than I ever imagined.

When I was evaluated by the two psychiatrists in the province who make decisions on whether to recommend candidates for funding for SRS, I was nervous. Still, I told them my story without hiding anything. They recommended me. They said they'd heard stories like mine. It turns out my nonstandard story wasn't so nonstandard after all!


  1. Veronica, Thank you for posting your story. The parallels with my own give me so much hope.

    Rachel X

  2. " I had never trusted my feelings! And because I didn't, I never knew what I really wanted. All my life, I tried to make decisions based purely on rationality. As a result, the decisions I made were often poor ones, and I second guessed myself constantly. I ignored my heart, because I had been taught not to trust my feelings."

    Recognise something of myself in there!

    That and a sense of worthlessness and why would help be wasted on me held me back from trying.

  3. I loved your story, Veronica. I thought I knew your story but, oh was I wrong! It is not necessarily unique, but it is honest and from the heart.

    Calie xxx

  4. You always inspire me with your honesty.
    I recognise myslef in your description of how you used to handle feelings and how they have changed.
    Thanks for a great post.

  5. Thank you for your honesty story Veronica, but then I never expect anything less than honesty from you. You are a very sweet woman and that is often reflected in your writing. I now feel like I have more in common with you than I previously thought, especially the parts about wanting to please others and not trusting your feelings. I know that in my case, my need to please to be accepted by others, and my desire to follow my feelings, often came into conflict with each other.

    I can also relate to looking outside yourself to religion, philosophy, political activism, music, etc. for personal happiness, but ultimately finding that nothing can make you happy if you aren't happy with how you have to live your life.

    It makes me happy that you are finally realizing the happiness that was missing from your life.

    Melissa XX

  6. An addendum for those who don't know (that entry was getting long): my partner of nearly 30 year and I are still together, still a real couple. A lesbian couple, you could say, and in many ways even better than before. And in some ways, it wasn't that huge a change, because I have always been her GF among other things. Now it's just more obvious. :)

    @Rachel: Thank you. I knew my story wasn't unique, but it certainly seemed unusual, at least for a while.

    @Caroline: Fortunately I did not have the sense of worthlessness. Other things kept me from trying!

    @Calie: All the entries from people whose blogs I follow contain things I did not know about them. We don't often post a "short version" of what we've been through, so it's been great for me to read these summaries.

    I probably posted at least a few things that I've never mentioned in my blog before.

    @Lisa: It's funny about honesty. That has always been part of my character, with one exception: I used to be dishonest with myself. I'm glad I fixed that!

    @Melissa: I had a bit of a reputation in my family as a "seeker," which is a big reason why everyone was skeptical when I came out. I had to prove to them (and to myself) that this was not just another seeking that would soon pass. I think we've settled that now!

    All of those things were attempts to fix the foundation of my existence, but only transition really did fix it.


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