Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Archive for March, 2009

Transgender Day of Visibility

   So, apparently today is the first “Transgender Day of Visibility.” I say “apparently” because when I google for the phrase, I have very little success in finding anything remotely official or organised-looking. I’ve seen it mentioned in a few places, including on Facebook, but it seems very underground. That’s fine, I guess sometimes I just think that there are more transfolk than there are. I was hoping there’d at least be a domain dedicated to the day (you know: “www.transgenderdayofvisibility.com”) or something. But, whatever, maybe that just proves the point of why a day like this is important. What could be a better example of transfolks’ invisibility?

   I struggle with this sort of thing all the time. I’m pretty comfortable identifying as a woman nowadays, with no prefixes or suffixes, and the rest of the world seems pretty happy with that as well. I didn’t ask for the physical anamoly of my birth, nor am I particularly proud of the fact that I’m transgendered (I’m not the slightest bit ashamed, either, mind you), yet it will always remain a part of the history of my life. That’s one reason I really dig the phrase “woman of transsexual history,” because it puts the fact that I am a woman front and center, but also acknowledges my history. But for most people that I encounter during my day, I’m “just” a woman.

   So, how do I work on my “visibility” as a transperson?

   The real answer is that I’m not sure. I’m out to pretty much everyone who knows me, I blog very openly about things, and I’ll answer even the most prying questions from relative strangers. But I still usually think I could be doing more. I guess today when I went to Walgreen’s I think I was supposed to wear this shirt proclaiming my transsexuality for all the world to see. I can’t help it, when I go about my everyday life, everyone sees me as a woman. As I said in a recent post, I’m not trying anymore, it just is what it is. I don’t know how I could ~more~ visibly trans without handing out business cards to everyone I meet, and I’m not going to do that.

   I think this is one of those issues within the trans-community (such as it is): the folks who integrate and blend well in their “target gender” tend to just sort of recede into the woodwork, so the folks that are left to be “visible” are the folks that have trouble integrating into their target gender, or the folks who have less interest in blending anyway (genderqueer people, androgynes, and the like). Women who are like me seem to be much less visible, especially post-surgery. Sometimes there’s an argument in the trans-community that in the popular vernacular most people think that “transgender” and “transsexual” are synonymous (they’re not). I am both transgendered and transsexual, but one can be transgendered without being transsexual (my boyfriend, as a crossdresser, would be an example of that, actually). But, lots of people think that since I’ve had my surgery I’m not any sort of “trans” anymore (I’ve had a few of my cisgendered friends ask me that, actually). For the record, I will always have a transsexual history, so I still include “transsexual” in the littany that is my identity (“woman” comes before “drummer,” and “drummer” comes before “transsexual,” and “transsexual” comes before “Swedish,” and so on). It gets so confusing, so many folks that are visible as transgendered people are visible only because they feel they have no choice, and many people that can blend just do (wouldn’t you? it’s pretty tiring sometimes being the “visible transperson” in a room full of cisgendered folks).

   And I have mixed feelings about women like me being totally invisible when people think of transgendered folks. Most transfolk I know are just everyday folks, going about their lives, but in the popular imagination transfolk are the extremists of gender transgression. Sometimes I feel invisible both as a transsexual living in a cisgendered world, but also as a very gender-conforming woman in a world which considers transgendered folks as gender-rebels. 

   Huh.

   This seems like one of those posts wherein I ask a lot more questions than I find answers. I’m never sure if I’m visible enough. I’ll talk to almost anyone about my life and my story, but I don’t run around screaming that I have a transsexual history in crowded restaurants either. It’s a very fine line. I just want to live my life; I’m a woman with a fairly interesting history, and I’m part of a very small and very misunderstood minority. I guess I just do the best I can.

   Happy First Transgender Day of Visibility.

   🙂

The Never Ending Outing

So, I got outed today, which is a weird thing to be able to say since I’m pretty much as out as I can be. At the same time, it’s not like I make sure everyone that comes into contact with me knows every aspect of my history, including the fact that I’m transsexual. I usually don’t make a point out of telling people anymore, but it comes up sometimes as I get to know people just because it’s an integral part of my history and it has a lot to do with me being me.

So getting outed is weird and sort of pointless. I don’t really want to detail who outed me and to whom, but I’ll just say that the person that outed me doesn’t even know me, and they outed me to someone that I haven’t met yet but am planning on meeting very soon. The bizarre thing being that I felt like this person should be told, and I was planning on being part of telling them as soon as our first meeting (if not sooner). So the “outing” really is just goofy in the grand scheme of things.

And yet, why do people think that they have the right to spread my personal details around? Yes, it’s very true that I live my life as a ~very~ open book, but when someone goes out of their way to tell someone something about me (and it’s always that I’m a transsexual, it’s never that I’m Swedish), it kind of rubs me the wrong way. How about letting me decide who I share my details with? Is it really relevant to anyone but me and my boyfriend what’s in my panties? (which, ironically enough, is now ~A VAGINA~! {yes, fine, I love saying that}) I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business; I share as much as I do because I think it’s important to have as many transsexual “success stories” floating around as possible. I went through my share of hell; I know that being transgendered can feel like an impossible burden to carry; I want people to see that you can turn things around and succeed in the face of it all.

It’s been a very long time since I got outed, which I think makes sense considering how open I am about my life – it’s pretty hard for anyone to find someone that ~doesn’t~ know that I’m a transsexual. And I guess I naively thought that after surgery I was beyond being outed. Nope; apparently as long as I have the history that I do (which obviously will be forever) I have the potential to be outed.

All this does is make me want to scream from the rooftops: “I AM A TRANSSEXUAL, AND I ROCK!”

“Bad” words

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of things written by transgendered folks about the word “tranny.” It’s made me think about “bad” words and political correctness and the context of language and ideas and how we conduct ourselves in a polite society.

First a disclaimer: I don’t mind the word “tranny” when applied to transgendered folks (and specifically me), it’s always struck me as cute and playful (and anyone who knows me knows that I’m cute and playful). I use the term “tranny” fairly often myself, though less often than I once did. And yet I certainly don’t approve of hateful language directed at transgendered folks (or any group, for that matter).

So where’s the line?

I often like to say that context is more important than specific words, but there are words that I find offensive in any context [“she-male;” “he-she;” and “chicks with dicks,” for example], so there must be more than just context. Or perhaps there are words that simply carry so much baggage that they bring such a specific meaning as to have their own context that is difficult or impossible to alter. Words must have meanings, after all, or communication becomes impossible.

Should we “outlaw” certain words? If not by law, then by social contract? That’s how we ended up with the “n-word.” Is that really a good idea? I don’t think so. I’ve even heard people say that “tranny” is transgendered people’s “n-word.” I don’t want an “n-word;” I don’t think that’s helpful in any way.

What seems to make the most sense to me is to encourage people to use a careful heart when choosing their words. Words are powerful and they should be chosen deliberately. I don’t think it’s a good idea to jump on someone just for using a certain word, but by the same token I think people have a responsibility to use emotionally-charged words in a way that is consistent with what they mean. There are people who want to say provocative things, even people who choose to knowingly say patently offensive things; I’m not saying that these things shouldn’t be allowed, but I am saying that you should be aware of what you’re saying, and use those emotionally-charged words carefully.

Perhaps the philosophy that I find the most troubling is that “trannies” are allowed to use the word “tranny,” but “non-trannies” aren’t allowed to use the word “tranny.” I think that is absolutely ridiculous; talk about the very definition of segregation. I’ve been around transgendered folks who have used words in ways that I have found incredibly reprehensible, and I have been around cisgendered folks who have used supposedly “us-only” words in ways that were respectful and made perfect sense given their context. I find the entire concept of words that only the members of a group are “allowed” to use as completely antithetical to any sort of community-building; we’re either all in this together or we’re not. I’ve always hated any sort of “us vs. them” mind-set, this is no different.

So, don’t chastise people for using specific words, ask them to clarify their thoughts. Be patient with each other. Be careful with each other.

Each to their own journey

I was talking with a friend earlier and she said something about being “behind the curve” in an area of her life related to other people. My response was to say that there is no curve because we’re all on our own journey.

It got me thinking about my own journey…

Lots of transgender folks live their lives wishing that things had been different. I went through a pretty interesting path myself, including an extended period of denial and repression and then a few years when I got lost in my own regrets and bitterness.

And then I got better.

I’m still not sure when things turned around. I know I had been working very hard at it for several years, and it seems like everything came together last summer. I guess it, like everything, was a process. And so, of course, it’s an ongoing process.

But this morning, after chatting with my friend, I realized that my journey has been special and magical. I could get caught up in thoughts of how my life could have been better, but I don’t have time for that. My life as it is has taught me lessons that most people could never dream of. I have learned to value simple things that most people take for granted. It’s easy to see your journey however you want to color it; almost everyone’s life has painful hardships and untold blessings – which ones you focus on really give your life its flavor. I choose to count my blessings; I choose to see my personal journey as something unique and special; I choose to believe in things I can’t see.

I have learned to see my way around my obstacles; I have learned to take pain in stride; I am happy with what I have accomplished and yet excited to do more. My transition was part of my journey that was particularly arduous, but it was incredibly rewarding; how could I possibly wish that it hadn’t happened?

Of all the surprises of my last few years, the fact that I have become so resilient is one of the biggest. Just a couple years ago I felt weak and powerless. Now I feel strong and happy and peaceful. My journey has been difficult at times, but it has taken me past beautiful vistas and amazing relationships.

Everything I have seen leads me to believe that my journey gets more amazing from here …

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

🙂

Sinking In…

I have a vagina.

I have a vagina.

I.

Have.

A.

Vagina.

It’s been three weeks since ~the surgery~ that transformed my body into what it should have been all along. It’s gradually sinking in that I have the correct parts. Having spent 38 years with parts that were just wrong was exhausting. One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed since surgery is that the noise in my brain is gone; there was always a gnawing, nagging awareness deep down in my soul that something was very wrong; it has just evaporated. It’s been interesting getting used to this feeling. I can’t think of an analogy that feels right; I just feel ~right~, calm and peaceful in a way that I never have before.

Before surgery I tried to keep everything in perspective; I knew that surgery in and of itself doesn’t really change your life. And yet it seems like if anything I underestimated the importance of surgery. Now that I’m on the other side it’s surprising how different I feel. I look at my body and I can just smile. The change is more profound and inexplicable than I could have imagined. How many different ways can I say that having the correct body feels amazing? And the interesting thing has been that having a vagina feels wonderful, but ~not~ having a penis feels equally good. Yay.

As far as healing, it goes well. The swelling has gone down gradually, though my left labia remains larger than the right. The suture line that opened on my left labia seems to be healing from the inside out, which is pretty much what I expected it to do; there is very little blood or discharge. My clitoral area is still very numb, but seems to be healing well. Dilating is easy but boring and takes forever (my therapist joked that I’m making up for all the tampons I never had to use – ha!). Overall, considering that surgery was almost exactly three weeks ago, I think I’m more healed than I expected to be at this point.

I have a vagina.

Wow.

I had to work really hard to get here, but I was right: having the correct crotch is something truly special.

I.have.a.vagina.

Hooray!

Redux: Penny’s Excellent Adventure

[This is part of my ongoing diary about my SRS experience in Trinidad, Colorado with Dr. Marci Bowers. See the main page here: Penny’s Excellent Adventure.]

So, I’ve been home for a week, it seems like I should do a little wrap-up of my wonderful trip to Colorado that I dubbed, in my inimitable style, my “Excellent Adventure.” It was everything I had hoped it would be and more. It was truly the trip of a lifetime.

I am so glad that Jayme was able to be with me for as much of the trip as she was; it was amazing having my mom and Alana and Wendy and Sarah with me as well. Before surgery I was able to have so much fun with Jayme; climbing Capulin Volcano with Jayme was one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life. I had never been in that part of the country before, and I was blown away with the beauty I saw. The Garden of the Gods was magnificent.

Everything about my surgery was about as perfect as I could possibly have expected. My surgeon was wonderful, her office staff was brilliant, the hospital was great, the nurses were beyond amazing, the Morning After House was warm and cozy, and the town was sweet and lovely. I would recommend Dr. Bowers to anyone considering GRS without hesitation. The whole package that I got was more than I could have imagined. I had some misgivings about having such a major surgery two thousand miles from home, but having been through it, I would make the same decision again in a heartbeat.

My healing goes well. There’s still more swelling than I’d like, but there always is when it comes to my body, and it gets better every day. There is basically no pain. Dilating is fairly easy, though very boring.

I wish I had some brilliant way to wrap-up this whole experience, but it seems beyond words. This was my wish that I never expected to be fulfilled, and yet here I am, after the fact, writing about it. It happened. It was as incredible as I thought it would be. When I got home, the first time I saw my whole body in a mirror (seeing my face and my vagina in the same “picture”) it was an incredibly moving experience. I am whole.

This adventure of mine was indeed most excellent. And the neat thing is that I have a feeling that my journey isn’t over, but that it has only just begun.

Correcting the Errors

I’ve jokingly said in the past that I considered my having been born with a penis as similar to someone being born with a cleft palate. It’s very clear to me at this point that I’ve always been female, I was just saddled until recently with a very interesting quirk of my birth. Just as a cleft palate doesn’t have anything to do with the gender of the person with the birth anomaly, having the wrong genitals doesn’t imply anything about one’s gender (the saying in the transgender community is that “sex is what’s between your legs and gender is what’s between your ears”). So, I pretty much considered my GRS as a matter of correcting that physical issue of my genitals not matching my gender (that’s why I don’t mind the phrase “Sex Reassignment Surgery,” because my gender has always been female, it was my genitals, or sex organs, that needed to be corrected).

Anyway, today I corrected another error that had been made at the time of my birth. Because babies are gendered based on visible genitalia (which works for most folks, though it leaves us trans-folk completely unrecognized), and I had a penis when I was born, my birth certificate mistakenly recorded my birth as that of a boy. Today I was able to amend my birth record to correctly list my birth as that of a girl. (I sat and stared at the damn thing for a while after I got it – seeing the space: “Name of Child: Penelope Jane Larson” was just mind-blowing.)

I think I’ve pretty much corrected all the errors surrounding my birth at this point. There may be one or two small ones left, but it feels really, really good to have official documents recognize who I truly am; and who I always was.

Yay.

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