Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Archive for September, 2009

I don’t want to “choose” a pronoun

Everywhere I go I am seen to be the woman that I am. People “ma’am” me, and “she” me, and “her” me, and “lady” me. I am always assumed to deserve the pronoun that was denied me for so long.

I am really comfortable with the gender binary. Do I favor equality between the sexes? Of course. Do I think that there is lots of bullshit stereotyping that goes on? Definitely, in both directions. But I never really had a problem with acknowledging the differences between the sexes, my issue was being on the wrong side of the fence.

I’ve been engaging in some very light actvism and outreach for the Transgender cause lately. I feel more like an ally than a member of the team, as I do feel like one of “those women” who passed through the Transgender community on her way to just being a post-corrected woman. But I’m a pretty staunch ally, staunch enough that I don’t get my panties in a wad if people lump me into the “Transgender Umbrella.” I don’t think it’s accurate, but I also don’t freak out about it either. Hell, I’m bringing a group from my church to march in the New England Trans United Pride Parade in Northampton this Saturday.

Whatever. I’m just me. The world pretty universally sees me as I see me (I can’t remember the last time it didn’t).

Except when I enter transgender/genderqueer spaces. ~Then~ I need to explain my gender. I go to the Post Office and it’s “Can I help you ma’am?” I go to the diner with my mom and it’s “Have a seat ladies.” I perform and I’m told that I drum pretty well “For a girl.” Even in straight spaces where my history is known, everyone accepts that I’m just a woman who was born with the wrong body. But in queer (specifically transgender/genderqueer spaces) I must verbally claim my pronoun of choice. I don’t like it; it’s what I fought so hard to ~not~ have to do.

Here’s an oh-so politically incorrect thing to say: “Look at me! Isn’t it obvious I’m a she? Just go by how I look for God’s sake.”

[Yes, the hypocrisy of this statement is not lost on me, because for so long how I looked was exactly the problem. People are complicated, what can I tell you? I’ve been ~through~ transition, that’s sort of the point. How I looked used to get me bludgeoned with the wrong pronoun, I don’t think it’s all that horrible to ask that how I look finally get me the accurate pronoun.]

*sigh*

Here’s where I get called a name, or accused of being insensitive, or of being an essentialist, or of creating a hierarchy, but I’m doing none of those things. I understand how for some people being assumed to prefer a certain pronoun is problematic at best and deeply painful at worst, yet I find it just as disempowering to have to claim a pronoun that I feel should be obviously bestowed upon me (and it ~is~ everywhere ~else~). For me it’s validating for the world to look at me, speak with me, interact with me, and call me “she.” ~Asking~ for the pronoun defeats so much of the work and effort and struggle that my journey has been about.

I have absolutely no idea what a good compromise would look like, at this point I’m just mentioning that having to ~ask~ to be recognized as the woman I am feels annoying. (I was recently in a room where we introduced ourselves and stated our “preferred pronoun.” I felt uncomfortable about it, but I got a good chuckle when a woman who had clearly lived her entire life being perceived as female said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been asked what pronoun I prefer before.” I loved that, because even though I had to fight for the pronoun that now is “me,” I don’t have to fight for it anymore, it just is, just like it’s always been for that other woman.)

I’d still be fine with a gender-neutral pronoun, but it seems like the vast majority of English-speakers have answered that request with a big fat “no thanks.” Maybe someone will come up with a gender-neutral pronoun that doesn’t suck. Maybe. Someday. Until then I’m fine with “she” and “her.”

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Hostessing My Ex’s Baby Shower

So, today was my ex’s baby shower. She’s due toward the end of November. As you might imagine, it was a very interesting day. I am exhausted, but I wanted to write while so much is still fresh in my mind.

First off – ~*WOW*~ I.Want.A.Baby.

There were three babies there, and they were all absolutely adorable. I got to hold my ex’s nephew for quite a while, who is about four months old, and even fed him twice. My very first girlfriend, way back when I was 18, had a one month-old when we started dating. We were together for about seven or eight months. I changed more diapers than she did, and I was the one most often relegated to middle-of-the-night duty. I’m out of practice, but wow holding a baby is just about the most incredible thing there is. I’m aware of the messy and sleepless parts of the process, and God I miss it. Feeding my ex’s nephew just reinforced in my head how special all those little people are (as if I needed to be reminded). I would give anything, ~anything~, to have a baby of my own. If I could trade my drumming for a baby, I wouldn’t even think twice. Anything.

It was great to see my ex-mother-in-law. She and I had a really nice talk and it was amazing to interact with her as a not-depressed person. I haven’t seen her in over three years, and talking with her just made it so clear how much I’ve changed. We were talking about before my transition, when my ex and I were still together, and she said that she knew I was a very confused person (yea, to put it mildly!). I’ve been wanting to see her for a while now, because I always thought she was cool, and I missed her, so it was great to see her. [My ex-mother-in-law has the distinction of being the first person to ~really~ realize that I needed to take hormones and fully transition. It’s sort of ironic, that…]

So, yea, my ex is having a baby. And it’s awesome. I’m trying hard to see the other side, and feel the sadness at the fact that she and I never had kids together as well as how sort of front-and-center my best friend’s pregnancy sort of forces me to consider my own infertility. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m exhausted, or I’m lost in the joy of the day, or because I’m smart enough to realize that it’s probably just as well that my ex and I didn’t have kids together (it only would have ~really~ complicated the divorce – even though I’m not saying it’s not a “loss,” if my ex and I had managed to have  kids, they would have been an amazing blend of genes and would have kicked serious ass), and I also seem to be able to really ~get~, at this moment, that just because my best friend is about to have a baby, that doesn’t mean that I won’t have a baby at some point.

Am I jealous?

Well, d’uh, right?

And yet, I’m also about as happy for her as I could be for anybody. As long as I’ve known her she’s wanted to be a mom about as much as me (it’s one of those things we always had in common – lol!). She is going to be an absolutely stellar mommy, of that I have no doubt. So, how could I possibly feel “bad” about my ex being pregnant? Like I said, she’s my best friend. Hell, I was the first person that she told that she was pregnant. I think it’s about the coolest thing ever. Well, maybe the second coolest thing ever – cooler will be when I’m bringing my baby home from the hospital. 🙂

I’m not sure what else I can say about the day. It was amazing to see my ex’s little brother and niece, as it always is. We roasted marshmallows by the fire last night, and just had tons of fun talking. Being back in my ex-in-laws’ house was a little strange after three years, but they were wonderful and made me feel incredibly welcome. I think the house looked great (of course, I did supply most of the decorations), and the food was awesome. I hope my ex thought the shower was nice, because I thought it was really lovely, and she deserves the best.

Will I wake up tomorrow feeling powerless in the face of my infertility? Will I sob on my boyfriend’s shoulder tonight as I tell him how much I want a baby? Will I rant and rave at the unfairness of having been born without a uterus again in the near future? Maybe. But I won’t for one second fail to celebrate my ex’s pregnancy and childbirth. I can hold both of those realities just fine.

What an absolutely amazing day.

My ex is having a baby!

Hooray!

Only been? Already been?

I think it’s pretty clear that since my divorce I’ve been struggling, to greater or lesser degrees, to figure out what the heck “love” is. I talk my friends’ ears off about it; I read advice columns; I listen to Dan Savage; and I blog (a lot), and I feel further away than ever. I feel as though the more I learn, the less I know.

I am starting to think that trusting myself has got to be part of the equation. It was so easy back in the day when I thought that “love” was either/or. When I was looking for my “one true love” it was a lot less complicated. I didn’t have to reevaluate anything; once I was in “love,” I just ~was~. Nothing could dissuade me, because I had found my “one and only.”

Ah, the innocence of youth. Ha.

 Now that I more fully understand human relationships, with their ups and downs, and compromises, and gives and takes it’s so much more complicated. It’s more magical in some ways, too, though, because now when I’m with someone it’s a conscious choice. It isn’t some mystical hand of fate pushing me to be with this ~one~ “special” person – it’s me, myself, and I’s experience and wisdom ~choosing~ to spend my time and energy with another soul. It’s sort of more complicated and more simple at the same time. It’s sort of more wondrous and more banal in the same instant. Ah, more gray area.

Something that caused me to write this post today was that I was reading an advice column. A woman wrote and asked when it was okay to say, “I love you.” She wondered whether the woman is “allowed” to say it first and why her boyfriend hadn’t said it yet. She’s been with her boyfriend for five months. And one commenter said, “It’s only been five months.”

only five months

My ex and I were engaged after about three weeks of knowing each other (it was after three ~days~ of us being a “couple”). I think my marriage was an unparalled success, even though it ended. Sometimes you “know” almost instantly and sometimes it takes a while. When I was younger and life seemed to stretch forever I was much more likely to throw caution to the wind. Falling in love within a few weeks didn’t seem “quick” or “rushed” or “forced,” it felt perfectly natural. Now that I’m knocking loudly on the door of turning 40, everything seems so much more serious; every glance, every decision, every pronouncement has so many more consequences than it once did. And I’d be a big fat liar if I didn’t admit that my desire to have a family has made me consider the “big picture” much more than I ever thought was appropriate when choosing a partner in the long-distant past.

Way back when, “love” was all that mattered; if I “loved” someone, everything else would work itself out. It had to, right? That’s how “love” works, isn’t it? “Love conquers all” and all that.

Egad, I believed everything Disney and all such fairytale peddlers tried to sell me.

*sigh*

And so now that it “matters” more I feel paralyzed. The answers to questions that before flowed so easily are now inscrutable puzzles.

One thing I’m certain of is that there are no “time limits;” there is no schedule to how fast or slow love should or does flow. It happens when it happens. Or not. So for some people “five months” would be much too quick to even consider being in “love,” while for others, if they weren’t in “love” after five months they would consider it a sure sign that the relationship had no potential. We’re all different, and so is the way we love and fall in love.

As I grapple with this whole concept, I am gradually becoming more comfortable with the unknowns and uncertainties of the process. It is scary to know that at anytime whatever you have can vanish, but it’s also empowering to know that I have control over my own decisions. Of course, the corollary is realizing that I have no control over anyone else’s decisons. Damn two sides to every coin. :-p

Probably the scariest (and most amazing) part of everything is that I control my own choices. I have a hand in making my dreams come true. At the end of the day, what I choose is my own. I can seek advice, but I must seize the day and move forward as I think is best. I must trust myself, which is something I’ve been working on a lot lately in many areas.

I must trust myself.

“only five months”

“already five months”

Who cares how long it’s been? (I’m not even exactly sure how long I’ve been seeing my current boyfriend – a couple months, I guess. Maybe three?) It’s right when it’s right, and nothing so simple as ~time~ has any say in the matter.

You know when you know.

Ya know?

😉

…and he made me dinner

[the title of this blog is a variation on a story that a friend told me, even though that friend probably won’t read this, I don’t care; I think it’s funny, and even if most of you don’t get it, oh well]

😉

So, my boyfriend called me while I was at work yesterday. I told him what a cranky and mopey mood I was in, and he offered to come over and make me dinner after work. He brought over chicken and all sorts of veggies and made awesome roasted chicken leg-quarters with toasted sesame seeds and rosemary and a neat veggie stir-fry.

It was just what I needed last night. It really made me feel good.

Then we watched the first “Clone Wars” cartoon (the ones that were done before the Clone Wars movie and current TV show), and I laid with my head on his lap (I ~love~ watching TV and movies like that).

It was just really sweet and it made me feel very special and cared for when I ~totally~ needed it. Just thought I’d brag out loud a little.

Privilege. Who, me?

I have lots of privilege. Truth be told, most of us do. Sure, there are varying degrees of privilege in this world, but every time I see or hear privilege being discussed I think of the old saw that goes: “I cried because I had no shoes until I saw the man who had no feet.” It’s not to minimize the concept of privilege, or to deny that some people clearly benefit from not much else than the luck of their birth. I guess what I’m saying is that for me the concept of privilege is most useful when I’m examining my own advantages. I find that if I worry too much about anyone else’s privilige I can quickly get caught up in divisive language and attitudes. So when it comes to privilige in the sociopolitical sense, I’ll examine my own, but I probably won’t talk too much about anyone else’s.

So, yea, I’m a pretty blessed lady. I spent a long time being pretty depressed, and then I spent some time being pretty caught up with my disadvantages. It was only a few months ago that I started realizing how blessed I truly am, how much privilege I have. It’s true that I have worked very hard to get my life to the point where it is, but I have had help and blessings along the way. And now that I am where I am, I have blessings and privilege that I never imagined would be possible.

The first is this thing called “passing privilege.” Simply put, it means that when I walk around, people look at me and interact with me and see a “big girl.” Very few (if any) people are able to discern anything about my unusual history unless I choose to reveal those details. This is something that most people take for granted; most men and women never have to give a second thought to being seen as the man or woman that they are. With people with similar histories and life struggles as me, though, this is not always the case. For many people, being seen by the world as one wishes to be seen is a constant struggle. I knew I was ready to give up trying to be something I wasn’t when I knew that even if the world always thought of me as transgender, I had to live an authentic life anyway. It was almost shocking when I realized that the world sees me as the normal woman I always wanted to be. I work everyday to not take that for granted, because it would be so easy to, and I know how hard I worked for it, and I know that it will never happen for some people.

Passing privilege carries a lot with it, and it sort of piggy-backs with “heterosexual privilege.” When people ask about my ex-spouse, unless they know about my history, they ask about my “ex-husband” (depending on the context I correct them or not). When I tell people I’m dating they assume I’m dating a man (and I am). People ask me about having kids (which touches on one of my burdens, my infertility, but it’s still part of straight privilege).

I’m realizing that there’s a lot of overlap here. People make assumptions about me because they perceive me to be a heterosexual woman. I am, which means that those assumptions are correct and validating. But those assumptions could just as easily be wrong. This is one of those things that makes privilege such a sticky concept. Back in the before time, one could make an argument that I possessed “male privilege,” but I never wanted it, I tried to disavow it whenever possible, I tried to never benefit from it, and I found the very fact that I was ~assumed~ to possess it incredibly invalidating.

Anyway, onward…

I could afford surgery. I guess I’ll call it “surgical privilege.” This is a big one here. Yes, I have a mortgage on my home solely because I needed to finance my surgery and other costs of transition (I think the total is probably around $70,000 at this point, and I’d say I’m basically “done”). I certainly don’t think of myself as well-off financially. In fact, I joke about being poor and broke quite a bit (and I’m not really joking). But when it comes down to it, I have financial advantages that lots of people don’t have. I have health insurance, yet treatments for transsexualism are ~specifically excluded~ from coverage under my health insurance plan (as they are from most plans). Even though I was able to fund my surgery, this is one of those pet issues for me. Sex reassignment surgery should be covered by insurance. I’m pretty adamant about that. I do not consider it elective or cosmetic any more than surgery for a cleft palate is cosmetic or elective. This is a surgery that is medically necessary for some people (and it’s a vanishingly small percentage of the population) and it should be covered by insurance. But, back to the point: the fact that I could afford SRS is a huge privilege, and I am very cognizant of that fact. [I didn’t even touch on the fact that surgical options for women seem to still be much more advanced and less costly than they are for men, which certainly grants me some privilige.]

I’m not sure how to word this one, but I have “support privilege.” I am horrified that so many transsexual people seem to lose their families and/or friends and/or jobs simply because of their medical condition. Society seems to be working its way toward understanding, but there are many who think of this as something wrong or evil or sinful or hilarious. Parents turn their back on their children. Employers fire their best employees. Friends stop calling their best friends. People lose people because of this condition, and I think it sucks. I don’t understand, and I may never understand. I do recognize, though, that I am blessed beyond words in this category. My grandmother, who messed up my name and pronoun until she passed away (at 94!), loved me and kept trying to get my name and pronoun right until the day she died. She would introduce me as her grand daughter. My mom has said she always wanted a daughter, and I am that daughter. My extended family has been amazing and loving. My friends have been, simply, my friends, always. What more can I say. Then there’s my church. My church gathered around me and layed their hands on me and prayed over me the day before I left for surgery. My church has encouraged my spiritual growth. My church has helped me to find my voice as a leader (a process that continues). My church has been the hand of God in my life (it’s funny how that’s works, eh?). There are so many other ways in which I’ve experienced support privilege. Even something silly like living in Boston, which has such a plethora of support options for transsexuals, is not lost on me.

There are a million other ways in which I’m privileged. One of the ones I’m sure that I don’t pay enough attention to is “white privilege.” But there are scads more. I think the most dangerous ones are the ones that go unnoticed.

Anyway, yea, I’ve got lots of privilege, who’d’ve thunk? And I think it’s important to examine my privilege. I probably won’t go around pointing out other peoples privilige, because I have found it unhelpful for me. I find the concept of privilige most useful, as I said earlier, when I’m examining my own.

What am I doing here?

So, I did my first sort-of actual outreach this evening. And, it’s funny, because the outreach that I did was as a Christian. Life is weird. I’ve expected for the last few years to be doing outreach to straight and vanilla folks about Trans stuff. Now I find that I ~am~ straight and vanilla and I’m doing Christian outreach to queer folks. It makes my head spin.

I’m glad my first Christian outreach is over – I haven’t been that anxious in probably three years. I couldn’t breathe before I spoke, and I spoke very briefly. I think it was pretty obvious that I was terrified, but at least it’s over. It gets easier now.

Someone asked why I’m still hanging around in queer spaces and why I’m volunteering at MTPC. I’m vanilla and straight, right? I just said so. And I don’t identify as “trans” – anything anymore. So, what gives?

Well, the easy answer is that I’m an ally to the GLBT/T community.

But I’m an ally with a unique history, right? I’ve never been one to not talk about my history of transsexualism. I sort of have a unique credibility that the average straight vanilla woman doesn’t have. I’ve lived this. I don’t define myself around my medical issues, and my identity is pretty much “typical straight woman.” But I have lived a life that most 39 year-old women have not lived.

Sometimes I worry about my credibility in queer space. I picture folks wondering what I’m doing there. Seriously, what does this boring little old lady have to do hanging out in queer space? The truth is that I’m not sure I have a great answer for that other than: “because it feels ~damn~ important for me to be there.”

I’m amazed how many parallels there are in my world. When I first started therapy, the woman at the clinic doing my intake said that they “find people where they are” and give them the treatment that they need. When I first attended my church, one of the first people I spoke to (a gay man in a kilt) said almost the exact same thing, and every week Rev. Steph makes it clear that The Crossing is a safe and welcome place for everyone, no matter where someone is on their spiritual journey (and I guess it goes without saying no matter whether someone is any sort of queer – or not). That’s the kind of person I want to be; that’s the kind of outreach I want to provide, both in the Christian sense and the Trans sense. I want to go and find people where they are, and provide the outreach/help that is needed.

So I guess the fuller answer as to why it’s important to me to engage in outreach in queer spaces is that I feel very connected to that community. I have lived a transsexual experience. I have had sex with men and women. I have dabbled with polyamory. I had a wife. I was almost the “other woman.” I fooled around with a trans woman friend. I dated a man who crossdresses.  There’s lots more, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though I now feel pretty definitively straight and boring and normal, I hardly see any of those things as superior to gay or bi or poly or trans or queer – they’re just different. I was quite surprised myself by my boringness. I don’t believe it needs to affect my credibility in queer spaces.

I believe the world still has a long way to go in its acceptance and understanding of queer and GLBT/T issues. I want to help the world grow in that way.

I also believe that people have tried to steal Jesus from queer folk. I want to help people know that Jesus is love. If anyone tells you that Jesus doesn’t love you, they’re doing their Christianity wrong.

And that’s why I’m still here. I’ve been exceedingly blessed. My family loves me; my friends love me; my church is out of this world; I have the best job in the world; I find love around many corners; I even have an amazing cat. I want to give back. I want the world to be better for the next generation, whether that generation is younger or older than me. I want to be a part of the world’s positive growth. It doesn’t matter what label I call myself, or what label anyone else calls me. Call me an ally, a tranny, a queer, a freak, a woman, a Bible-thumper, a Christian, a breeder, a whatever. ~I~ am here, and I want to help.

Before and after the Pageant

So, yeasterday I went with my boyfriend and an old friend and a new friend to see the Miss Trans Northampton 2009 pageant in Northampton, MA. I blogged about the event separately here. I wanted to write about the before and after, and sort of felt like it made sense to keep the thoughts a little separate.

Anyway, I had decided the other day to go to the event, which I guess is sort of a big deal. I’ve never really done much in either the GLBT community or the T community. It didn’t feel “safe” before, and now in some ways I feel like I’ve moved beyond the GLBT or T communities – it’s weird. I’m just a pretty boring woman with a moderately interesting history. Yet, I do understand how important it is for me to be open to being connected to the T community to try and make the world better for T people, and really ~all~ people. Because I firmly believe that T people are exactly as important as everyone else, but are so easily marginalized by society. I guess what I’m saying is that just because I’ve found my little slice of heaven doesn’t mean I’m going to run off into the sunset; there is still so much work to be done legally, societally, and interpersonally when it comes to all things T, and I will be part of that. I am still connecting with my own power and voice and story and figuring out how best to do that, but it is very important to me, and I will be a part of it.

So, I decided to go. lol

Yesterday morning, my boyfriend basically came out and asked if he was invited. I had decided not to invite him, not because I didn’t want him to come, but because I thought it might be overwhelming for him. He’s very open-minded in lots of ways, but I wasn’t sure if this would be the best thing to expose him to as his first trans event. Needless to say, I was wicked happy when he asked if he was invited, and instantly said yes. This man continues to just blow my mind. Just, wow.

I picked him up after teaching and we headed out on the two-hour drive to Northampton. We chatted about everything on the drive, as we always do.

We got to Northampton and met up with a couple friends. As my boyfriend and I were at the pageant, we talked about some stuff about my history, and some stuff about the pageant itself. I am so impressed with his open-mindedness (and I mean that in a very general way, not just about trans stuff), and his clarity of thought. It’s just really neat to talk to him about just about anything.

As we sat there I found myself thinking that not just every straight guy would come to the Miss Trans pageant with his girlfriend. He’s really pretty special.

Anyway, after the pageant, my two friends, my boyfriend and I wandered around town for a little bit before deciding to have dinner before heading home. We ended up at the Northampton Brewery. It was amazing. We sat in the outdoor seating, which is essentially on the roof! The four of us chatted and laughed and had a wonderful time. I got a burger that was great and a cookie covered in ice cream for dessert. Yummy. My boyfriend got a beer that I tried and I thought was good (my boyfriend said that it was “nutty,” which makes sense, since I always say I don’t like hops – I usually say I don’t like beer). Perhaps the most amazing part, though, was the sky. The moon was full and the night was just gorgeous. It was a magnificant night to be dining under the stars.

After dinner we said our goodbyes and my boyfriend and I headed home.

What a magical day and night.

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