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I’ve always lived a different and out-of-the-box life, but in the last few years it has become even more fascinating. Since legally changing my name and gender marker on my identification documents, I’ve had fun with some everyday tasks in life.
I recently had to have a remote control reprogrammed by the geeks who drive Love Bugs; you know who I’m talking about. All of my old programming and purchases from the home-theater geeks were in the old name and gender marker. After half an hour on the phone to even get an appointment for the geeks to come out to do the job, with the phone geek struggling to look up my history, the man on the phone says, “We found stuff at your address under the woman’s name Sherry.”
Now, how should I handle this after already being on the phone for 30 minutes, with my girlfriend in the room? I just said to the guy, “Could you please take her name off of my account? That’s my ex-wife.” My girlfriend laughed out loud. I looked at her, gave her a wide smile and shrugged.
The man said, “Sure, sorry about that, sir.”
“No problem,” I said. As a transgender person in this crazy world, sometimes it’s much easier to be a ninja than try to explain it all to everyone.
Not long after starting my medical transition, but before my name and gender marker were changed on my insurance card, I had to go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. When it was ready, the pharmacist called the name on the prescription. I walked up, and he looked right at me and said, “Are you picking this up for your wife?”
I paused, took a breath, and said, “Sure, I am.”
He told me what to tell my wife about the drug, and I walked away chuckling about my zany life.
This brings us to the conversation about how many judgments we make about people by outward appearance. While campaigning for marriage equality, I found this especially perplexing. Being under treatment for gender reassignment and having my doctor’s official letter explaining that I was able to legally change my gender marker on my ID meant that I could now legally marry a woman, even though I still do not have a permanently attached penis, which too many people in our society think is what makes a man. Speaking at rallies or events for marriage equality, there were times I wanted to drop my pants on the stage and say, “I can legally marry a woman,” just to blow people’s minds and get them to see that this is not about what is or is not in one’s pants.
Because I easily “pass” in our binary-gendered society, unless I choose to divulge that I am transgender, in most of my daily life, no one would know. Some people think that “passing” gives me privilege, and maybe at times it does. But “passing” also shows me the absurd ways most of us make judgments.
When we talk about privilege, we have to ask what exactly that means. Does that mean I need to lose my true or full identity to fit in so that others can feel more comfortable?
I’m mostly open and out all the time, and as most of you know, I’m a very open activist, but when I just go to dinner, I don’t walk in and announce that I am transgender.
I’ve learned over time and with experience that there are times to educate and times when it’s best to be the trans ninja. I sometimes take a step back and evaluate how people will best receive and be open to listening to me. In my humble opinion, we can make more positive change by being warm, friendly, and respectful even to those who don’t get us right now.
This brings me to a funny story. I walked into a well-known leather shop one night. There were two guys working there, and they were chatting. After greeting me and asking if I needed help, they went back to their conversation, which was about someone transitioning. These two guys looking at me had no idea that I am trans, so they felt comfortable talking openly about this. As I was looking through the racks of leather clothing and listening to this conversation, I was debating whether to get involved in it or not. It had been a long day, and I was tired, but about that time, one of the men made a comment that I could not ignore. He said, “I can’t understand why anyone would want to take testosterone. They are never going to be able to grow an actual penis, so what’s the point?”
I laughed out loud; it just came out of me. The two men stopped talking and looked at me. The man who had said this then walked over closer to me and said, “I have a friend who is a girl and is considering transitioning, which is why I am researching this, because I am concerned about her.” I told him I educate people on sexuality and gender and asked what he was concerned about. At this point I realized that these two cisgender men would take what I had to say better if all they saw me as was the guy’s guy — to me, the trans ninja.
For 20 minutes I stayed and talked to these men about being transgender, the treatments, the effects, and what trans people have to deal with. I explained that it is important how one feels inside, not just the exterior. I went on to describe how hormones can make a transgender person feel better inside their body. I explained how the body and mind can be a better fit with the hormones.
I asked them to imagine that they never felt that their body matched who they felt they were inside. I also gave them a scenario to think about that addressed their concern that it was all about having a real penis or not: “What if tomorrow one of you were in a bad accident and your penis were mangled or dismembered? Would you still be a man or no longer a man?”
“Wow, I never thought of it like that,” one of them said, as the other scratched his head. If it’s the penis that makes the man, what about the many men who have one that doesn’t work well? Are they still full men?
I could have chastised them for their ignorance and come out in a way that would have humiliated them, but I dare say if I took that angle, their minds would not have been as opened as I believe they were by my talking to them with respect. I also believe that choosing to take the higher road of kindness, even though they said some ignorant things, brought us to a place where I could give them my card and they could actually hear me. If they choose, they could then look me up and find out from my bio that I’m a transgender LGBTQ activist.
And I hope they do. I have to admit that I would love to see the look on their faces at that moment of realization.
Be on the lookout for when and where the trans ninja will strike to educate again.
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Many transgender people have had to wait to come out. And it can often take half a lifetime for circumstances to feel stable or safe enough to transition and come out.
Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, is not alone in transitioning and coming out after 50. Caitlyn is 65.
For those in the post-50 transgender community, the reasons for waiting until later in life to transition are often the same:
1. Feeling stable in one’s career. It’s important to believe that you can transition your career along with your gender. Many people are frightened of losing their jobs, a chance at promotion or even the friendship of their colleagues. Caitlyn didn’t come out until after the Olympics, commercials and a point in her career where perhaps she felt she could continue as her true self: a woman.
2. Believe it or not, some transgender people wait until a parent, parents, grandparents or other significant family members or mentors die before coming out. Many people who are over age 50 come from an era where they don’t want to disappoint, hurt, embarrass or shame their elders. There is a recognition of the lack of acceptance they might face, and many hide in order not to hurt their families or even lose family ties. Caitlyn Jenner waited until her father died.
3. Some closeted transgender people also marry and have children. Just like many people, members of the transgender community have a desire for family. For those after 50, it may not have seemed possible to marry or have babies if they were out as transgender, so they remained hidden. Caitlyn Jenner was not unusual in that desire. She was also not unusual in wanting to wait to tell her children that she was transgender until they were young adults. There is a common fear that kids won’t understand, could reject them and even if their kids are open-minded, that they could be mocked or even ostracized in school, church and their community for having a transgender parent. Today, younger transgender people may be entering a more enlightened time, where they may feel the freedom to marry without hiding their true gender and their children will grow up seeing their parents living their lives authentically.
4. For many over 50, their religious community is a central focus of their home, school and social life. Depending on where you live in the United States or the world, coming out as a transgender individual can set you apart from everything that you know. Very few religious communities are welcoming to transgender individuals. Imagine what it must be like to have to choose between living your life authentically and your faith? Here too, many worry about being ostracized from their community, families and friends when choosing to live in their true gender. It can take a half a lifetime to find the courage and have the resources to do that.
It’s just different to be over 50 and transitioning. Caitlyn Jenner is getting all kinds of criticism and Sunday morning quarterbacking about how she could have done this better or differently than how she’s doing it. It helps to remember that Caitlyn and over 50 transgender folk come from a world that didn’t use words like “Gender Fluid” and “Gender Queer” growing up. That implies that there is an understanding of a gender spectrum or a binary system. This wasn’t even a thought in the most liberal homes of those over 50. Caitlyn Jenner grew up in a world where gender roles were much more clearly defined. It was pick a team: pink or blue – forget fifty shades of grey.
In many respects, for the younger transgender community, they are growing up in a very different world. The world is changing fast in part due to people like Caitlyn Jenner, who can command the public stage. It is good for us to remember that there are no road maps and this new breed of public transgender activists are paving the roads of acceptance and understanding with great courage. We are building new paths to understanding now, and the best any of us can do is gather around each person who is transitioning and offer them compassion, support and acceptance.
And please remember– it’s just different after 50.
You can read more from Mac on his website, betruetoself