Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Outing to the Darling Boyfriend’s Mom – part 2

So, I’m out. Or, I guess, we’re out.

I suppose it went well, but I’m painfully aware of why so many folks with trans histories keep that to themselves and never tell anyone. The questions about growing up “as a boy” and such are just really painful. I was never a boy. I was never a guy. I was never a man. Lots of people, myself included, mistook me for those things, but I never was any of those things. But explaining that is really Trans 201 (or perhaps even 301), and so when outing to someone with not much experience dealing with trans folk, questions and assumptions like that come up. And some of them did.

We went for a bike ride with the Darling Boyfriend’s mom, and while we were sitting by the beautiful water view, we made our move. Somehow we started talking about sports. I mentioned that I played baseball and basketball – the “tomboy” sorts of sports. The Darling Boyfriend said that at the time I may not have been thought of as a tomboy. He paused, and we exchanged a look, my look basically conveyed, “Go for it.”

And oh he did.

So out he comes with, “You see, Penny was born with ambiguous genitalia.”

Wow. Really? He went right to the genitals? Wow.

Yep, ~that’s~ my boyfriend.

I curled up in a ball (as much as I could sitting on a bench), but his mom was really sweet. She patted my leg and said something about family secrets. We went through the whole thing. That I transitioned about four years ago. That I had a surgery when I was 3. That I was married to a woman. That I went to an all-boys Catholic High School. That my friends were all beautiful and lovely during my transition.

She said, “So when you were little, you were a little drummer boy.”

Ugh.

I hate that.

She also kept saying that it was very interesting. I ~hate~ being interesting because of this.

I’m not mad at her or anything for the few statements like that. She was actually incredibly lovely and understanding. We sat on the bench and chatted for quite a while. The Darling Boyfriend’s father actually went to high school with someone who went on to become one of the first “big famous” transsexuals, which was really ironic (no, I’m not saying who it was). It’s just really tiring to deal with stuff like that. It brings me back to the time when people ~did~ think I was a boy. It’s just pretty painful to remember and face. But seriously, his mom was lovely. The Darling Boyfriend’s impression was that it went as well as it could have. I guess that I’d say that I agree with that assessment.

So, our plan is to have her spread it to the rest of the family. We haven’t asked her yet, and I’m not sure how she’ll feel about being enlisted in the outing process. I think she’ll be fine.

So, I’m out to his mom, and it seems like all is well. Yay.

Outing to the Darling Boyfriend’s Mom – part 1

So, tomorrow’s the day that the Darling Boyfriend and I tell his mom (and, by extension, his family) about my medical history of transsexualism. We’ve decided that it’s time to tell them for a few reasons. Our relationship has reached a point where it makes sense for us to be planning for a potentially long life together. We’ve both starting to seriously consider the possibility of growing old together. This, as the Darling Boyfriend says, is a way of increasing our level of intimacy. There are also day-to-day practicalities. I’m annoyed that I can’t share with them the joys of the camp for trans youth that I volunteered at this past summer, or the Laramie Project panel of which I was a part, or, more so, that my ex-wife is reduced to being labeled as “one of my best friends.” As much as that is true, she is a best friend, it changes the context to know that she and I were married. Finally, and I guess the deciding element is what has been happening to Nikki Araguz. When that story broke I joked with the Darling Boyfriend that I wanted his family to sign an affidavit saying that they know about my history. I do not ~ever~ want to be accused of deceiving anyone. To say nothing of it being just in my nature to be fully open and honest about my life with the people that are close to me. I’m getting closer to his family, so it’s time.

I confess to being a bit apprehensive about this decision. This is the first time I will be outing myself to loved ones in quite a while. I out myself all the time, but nowadays I seem to be outing myself more and more to strangers, and their opinions naturally mean less than those of people I care about. So the stakes are higher than they’ve been in some time. Also, the Darling Boyfriend has never really outed himself about anything, so this is totally new territory for him. He has cutely thought that it might come up in conversation the other times I’ve visited his family; to which I’ve asked the question: “How often do your parents ask about your girlfriend’s genitals?” It just doesn’t come up,and so it hasn’t. So we’re taking the bull by the horns and doing this as an intentional act.

I expect it will go fine. His mom is a lovely and intelligent woman. His family is quite liberal and supportive of gay civil rights. They are open-minded and not bigoted in any way that I’ve seen. Blah, blah, blah. And yet, I’ve been surprised before. The thing I’ve learned through all of my experiences with coming out is that it is unpredictable. People will have their reactions to knowing about my trans experience; sometimes the reactions are visceral, emotional. The Darling Boyfriend has two sisters and a brother. Each of them have a son. His nephews are every conceivable age: 2, 12, and 18. It’s quite possible that could color his family’s reactions. Still, we have to do the best job we can of telling my, and our, story, and then let them react as they will. That is what it is, and I can’t help that. I can only be me.

It’s possible that they will wonder why we waited so long to share this news with them. I guess to that I would say that, as the Darling Boyfriend says, this is about my personal medical history, and that’s not always something that people reveal instantaneously. The Darling Boyfriend feels that now is the time, and as this is his family, I have been letting him drive the bus on the timing of this decision. It’s also possible that they will wonder why they needed to be told at all, and I guess I feel like I addressed those reasons in my first paragraph.

Now’s the time.

There is also the irony of October 11th being National Coming Out Day. We’ll be a day early.

So, wish us luck.

😉

The Project of Laramie

So, the other day I saw a live performance of The Laramie Project. It was the first time I had ever seen it in any form. I also got to see the ten-year epilogue, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Both plays were extremely moving and very well directed and performed. I cried lots. The first play I attended alone, while for the ten-year follow-up I was accompanied by the Darling Boyfriend.

I confess that I vaguely remember the play when it first was done. I certainly remember Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder, but I was still so confused and hiding in 1998 that I couldn’t fully connect with any efforts to make the world better, even from afar simply as a spectator. I was also a little old; I’ve been amazed at how many young people saw the play (or performed in it) in their high schools. Truly amazing. But in 1998, when Matthew Shepard was killed, I was still agoraphobic, repressed, depressed, and even though I at the time thought I was bisexual, I was in deep denial about being trans (even though I knew, ya know? I suppose that’s what “denial” means), and I had never connected with, or really felt connected to, the queer community. So I felt horrible when Matthew Shepard was murdered, but I didn’t connect fully with the fact that I too could be ~hated~ like he was.

Now I joke that, even though I’m a straight woman, my history of transsexualism grants me a lifetime all-access pass to the queer community. That might sound glib, and I really hope it doesn’t. But in some respects I do find it interesting that it was only after my transition that I have felt comfortable embracing the queer community. And while in some respects I feel more like a straight ally, there’s no denying that my history gives me a certain perspective. I have a place in the world that it is what it is, and for me that means a connection to the queer community that will always exist.

And so the plays hit me very strongly. Matthew Shepard was killed because he was gay. We’re approaching the Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we remember folks who were killed in the previous year in hate crimes. I feel that I live a pretty safe life, yet there’s no denying that some people are terrified by my existence. I believe that most hate comes out of fear, and that the unknown is often the scariest thing around. [That’s why, as much as I used to think I would gradually live a fairly stealth life, I’m still telling my story so often and so publicly: if folks are afraid of the unknown, I want them to know that people like me are just ordinary people, and being so open seems the best way for me to do that.] But the reality is that I could be a victim simply because of who I am. I don’t live in constant fear or anything, but it is a sobering thought.

Anyway, the first play tells the story of Matthew’s murder. We meet Matt, members of the community, and the murderers. It is a very complete picture. There are reports from the young man who found Matthew, tied to a fence, clinging to life (Matthew died six days after the attack), the first officer on the scene, and the Emergency Room doctor. The play is a dry account of the townspeople’s words, but it is anything but flat. The words weave together into a compelling narrative. Laramie is a portrayed as a pretty normal town, the proverbial “any town,” with its own character, of course, but a sense of community that is strong and vital. The play introduces us to several gay townsfolk, almost all of whom find Laramie a mixed bag of a place to live. Perhaps my strongest emotional reaction was when the play introduced Matthew’s father.

It feels impossible to give the play a fair synopsis, beyond simply saying that it tries to tell the very complex story of how two young men brutally murdered another simply for being different than them and the community’s reaction to that crime.

The follow-up play, created ten years after Matthew’s murder, tells the story of the town now. I was saddened but how much some of the town’s residents have rewritten history. There are rumors of drugs and robbery (there were no drugs found in any of the three young men’s systems – and the investigating officers were livid at such assertions). There is the sense that the “New York Media” fabricated the hate crime to push their agenda. There is a protectiveness about the town by its residents: they don’t like Laramie being known for a hate crime. The problem with their thinking, to me, is that by saying “it could have happened anywhere,” they’re missing the point that, yes, it could happen anywhere, and that’s why we need to work to end hatred – everywhere.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the second play is the 20/20 report from 2004 which planted the seeds for all the false rumors about Matthew’s murder. The circumstances of the show, it’s obvious agenda, it’s treatment of the real evidence of the trial and investigation, which amounted to ignoring facts in favor of salacious rumor-mongering and victim-blaming was just shocking. At one time I watched 20/20 pretty regularly. I was disappointed that anyone considered a journalist would so distort the truth. Really sad.

There was a very touching part of the second play, when a bench at the University of Wyoming was dedicated to Matthew Shepard, and his father spoke. He had an obviously broken nose, and he told how when Matthew had been alive the two had an informal “competition” going to see who would break their nose more times. His father said that when Matthew had died he was ahead 3 to 2, and that now he had evened the score. And oh how I cried.

Both plays were powerful beyond anything I was expecting. It is so sad that we can let our fear and our hate so get the better of us that we can be driven to such horrible acts. Just sad.

As part of the plays production there were a couple panels organized. I actually sat on one. It was called “Be Part of the Solution” and we talked about ending hate crimes and programs and such. I ended up talking a lot about the camp for trans youth that I was a part of this past summer. The panel included some real heavy-hitters (someone involved with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, someone from GSLEN, someone from GLADD, the director that put on the first high school performance of The Laramie Project, and a couple others). It was sitting on that panel, and realizing that I belonged with the heavy hitters, that I finally realized that I have indeed become an activist. It was a heavy realization.

“Penny Larson, activist for transgender equality.”

Wow.

Me and Old Photos

I’m sure I’ve written about pictures before, but it seems to come up from time-to-time. It’ll probably come up less and less, but there will always be a gigantic gap in my photographic history. At least the part I’m excited about looking at or comfortable displaying. In the last few days I’ve been hanging some pictures on the wall in my living room. There used to be a big mirror there. And then I decided that pictures would look nicer there, so I got this huge mosaic print with all these different pics of me and my ex boyfriend. It was something like 40”x60”. Naturally, when the ex went, so did the pic. Which left the wall over my couch empty. It stood like that for quite a while.

One of the things that the Darling Boyfriend has been requesting, in the pursuit of making my house more his home, has been to hang some pictures of his family on the wall. I realized that the living room wall would make a great place for pictures of important people. I can procrastinate, and I have, but I’ve finally gotten around to the project.

I’ve been hanging and sorting pictures for the last couple days. I have tons of pictures of my family from both my mom’s childhood and my grandparents’ childhoods. I have some pictures that are so far back that I’m not even sure who the people are. I have pictures of my parents’ wedding, my grandfather’s soccer team, and my grandmother’s confirmation, among lots of others. There are now tons of pictures on my wall, with a few more to be hung. It makes me feel so good having friends and family on my wall; it makes me feel as though they’re always with me.

As I go through old pictures, though, it always hits me anew: I’m really uncomfortable with lots of the pictures of me. There are pictures with my mom, and my grandparents, and my ex-girlfriends, and old friends, and my ex-wife, and even one with my dad. And I look at them all, and I feel disconnected from them in a way that just stinks. I look at the man I tried to be, and I barely know that person. I look happy in lots of the pictures, and as much as I was broken before, it’s nice to know that I did have some happy moments. But I have trouble recognizing the person in the pictures; I know it was “me,” but it doesn’t ~feel~ like me. And that makes some of the pictures feel foreign in a way that’s uncomfortable, and perhaps difficult to explain. Hanging pictures of me and my mom, or me and my gram, or me and my grampa, or me and any of my old bands, or me and any of my ex-girlfriends, or me and my ex-wife just seems wrong. Not wrong in the sense of a bad thing, just wrong in the sense that when I look at those pictures I don’t feel the connections between me and those people – I just see the pain I used to be in. I see these pictures and I wonder what could have been if I had been right all along. Maybe I would never have met some of these people, but maybe we would have had relationships that were even better. Maybe my ex-wife and I would have just been best friends all along. Maybe my mom would have had a daughter right from the start to dress in frills and bows. Maybe I’d have married and not gotten divorced and already have my family.

See?

The pictures trigger some heavy, not-entirely pleasant lines of thought.

And I’m not even really talking about how I look in those pics. Bluntly: I look like a guy.

I have some friends who can be so unabashed about displaying pictures of themselves before their transitions when they have beards and the like, but I just can’t do that. But some pictures of me pre-transition have made it on the wall. There’s a couple of me and my mom when I was very little, and my parents’ wedding picture. And I realized that it seems like facial and body hair are the biggies for me. When I look at pictures of myself when I was very young, I can see a girl dressed like a boy. I joke that I was butch, and such a tomboy, and that my mom was so silly dressing me in blue. But once my hair issues began, it’s hard to look at those pics and see ~me~. And so there are no pictures of me from when I was 13 (my parents’ wedding) until I was 36 on my wall. It’s a big gap in the “history of me.”

And I can be sanguine, and say that I do love my life right now, and I do. But I would be wicked lying if I said that those pictures didn’t remind of the way things were to supposed to have been.

And I really hate that I don’t have any pictures of me with my gram.

But the wall looks very nice.

Reclaiming the Flannel

When I was in high school, I wore flannel shirts almost every day. It was a Catholic school for boys. The dress code was pretty chill: shirts with a collar (pretty much of any kind) and pretty much any kind of pants besides jeans. I got sick of flannel shirts, but they were good at hiding my breasts, and so I wore them a lot.

I still wore them after high school, though with much less frequency.

I have not worn a flannel shirt since my transition.

Until the other day in Atlanta.

The Darling Boyfriend let me borrow one of his shirts to bring with me to Dragon*Con. He doesn’t wear flannel too much, but he let me choose from a few shirts, and this one just seemed snuggy. I wore it as a jacket on our last night in Atlanta when we went out to a pub for dinner. I had reservations about wearing it. It’s amazing how much emotional weight an article of clothing can carry. Flannel shirts are strongly associated with high school for me, one of the worst times in my life – and one of the periods when I was most trapped and repressed and shame-filled. So it was with some trepidation that I put that shirt on and wore it out.

I actually thought, at least in the deep recesses of my brain, that a flannel shirt would suddenly make people see me as a boy again. Perhaps I’m making a mountain of a molehill, but I was worried about being mistaken for a man when I put the shirt on.

But then we got to the restaurant, and it was all, “Hi ladies.” And the like. And all was well.

It’s funny that I still have worries sometimes. And yet, it’s only been four years since I transitioned, and it had been 36 years of trying to present as a man, so it makes sense that some of those fears would be deep enough to surface every now and again. Especially when there’s something that has a strong association with the Before Time.

Flannel. Powerful stuff. Who knew?

Dragon*Con 2010

So, I just got attended my first Dragon*Con. It was pretty awesome. I very much hope it will not be my last.

I got some cool pictures of the parade and some awesome costumes. I went to some super-cool panels about feminism, gender, nuclear power, dealing with police, adult themes in Star Wars, steampunk fashions, skepticism in education, G-d in sci/fi and fantasy, and several others.

Some highlights from the weekend were:

The Venture Bros. panel was cool, but I really didn’t think it was worth the hour-long wait in line. It was neat seeing all the folks being excited about my favorite show and it was very cool seeing the clip of the upcoming season. However, I realized that I generally don’t get all that worked up about seeing celebrities (with at least one notable exception below), and so waiting for this panel convinced me to not wait in similar lines for the rest of the weekend.

The Clone Wars panel was super-cool. I’ve heard the cast interviewed before, so I knew they were all just down-to-earth lovely folks. I love the show, and the discussion was fun and informative.

The Browncoats: Redemption Firefly fan movie was super-awesome. Go to the website and buy it and see (it’s all for charity!).

By far the most memorable experience of the weekend was the q&a with Avery Brooks. He spoke for about an hour and took questions from the audience. He talked about the importance of the “ing,” as in “do-ing,” “act-ing,” “chang-ing,” “liv-ing.” He said that trying to remove anyone from the planet whether for race, or oil, or gender is creating a malignancy. He spoke of making the world better. And I cried at least three times. I was inspired, moved, called, and ministered to. I had always loved Avery Brooks’ roles and acting, but seeing him speak I feel like I am now a fan of Avery Brooks the man. I even asked him a question about the spirituality of Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and how his own spirituality helped him to play that role. It was towards the end of the time, so his answer was fairly brief. He talked about simply having the spiritual grounding by just being a man. The power of his speech, the penetration of his eyes (even through tinted glasses), and the general elegance of his presence all contributed to this being an hour I will never forget.

I did buy some art, as I am wont to do at cons, because it seems like a good way to personally memorialize the con for me as a special event. I got a print by Jasmine Becket-Griffith called “Skulls and Stars” and a print by Kate Lebherz-Gelinas called “Expecting.” Both pieces are just very ~me~ and are lovely additions to my slowly-growing meager art collection.

I went with a friend, and was super-great to spend some time with her. We did lots of stuff together, but also went our own way for things. I realized that this was the first time since my transition that I had traveled with a female friend for a vacation. It was very cool. We had lots of fun and I feel like our friendship is even stronger than before. Yay!

So, yea, Dragon*Con good!

[here are the pics]

Trans Camp

So, a couple weeks ago I was a camp counselor at a camp for gender-variant and trans kids. It was a sleep-away camp that lasted for a week. I’d never really gone to a sleep-away camp, so I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. Also, it was the first time ever for this camp (or, I believe, even for a camp like this anywhere), so we were all sort of learning as we went.

I can’t begin to say what an amazingly positive experience it was for me, to say nothing of what it meant for the kids. The kids were stellar, and it was just really special to be in an environment where everyone got it, and everyone could just be normal. I swear that I got as much or more from the experience than the kids did.

I even got to teach drumming to the kids!

Just a brief note, because there is too much to say that words can’t encompass.

If you want to make the world better, work with kids. They are the next generation…

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