Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Question

The most interesting conversations happen with your partner and sometimes other dancers during a contra dance. Most revolve around the quality of the band or of the dancing itself. During one of the swings of a dance, I was asked something that cannot be answered in the space of two twirls. The question was, “How long have you been transgendered?” This was someone whom I’ve thanked for being welcoming from day one. So I did not have a problem with her asking. My answer was, “All my life.” I realized though that may not have been what she was asking. As we met for each “balance and swing,” I tried to fill in the gaps best I could. I thought of each of the various iterations of the questions. Perhaps this was a chance to add a bit more to my back story as a transgendered woman.

How long have you been transgendered? The literal answer to this question is the one I gave: all my life. I was born this way so I have always been transgendered. My identity (i.e. what is in my brain) has always been hardwired to female. I don’t know how or why. I just know it is. Over the years, even with the effects of testosterone and male social conditioning, I still identify as female. That tells you the brain’s wiring of gender identity is pretty strong.

How long have you known you were transgendered? I have known I was different since a very young age… probably since age five. I know I had dreams where I was a girl at that age. I have also shared the story of watching my grandparents ballroom dance at age nine and being entranced by the women in their beautiful dresses. However once I stepped out for the first time en femme in broad daylight… only then did I know for sure. I knew this was right. This is who I was. Only in recent years have I begun to understand the full extent of my female identity in that it goes beyond the clothes.

When did you start acting on your transgender identity? This may have been the real point of my friend’s question. When did my life and my outward presentation begin reflecting my inner being? I put this in three stages. First was my exploration period that began in college and up to time of being discovered by my church friends and then chatting on the internet. Second was actually going out en femme in public with Kappa Beta beginning in February 1998. For several years following that first public outing, I thought it was just the clothes. That began to change around 2005 as I realized my feminine being was much deeper. The third and most recent stage is my involvement the last couple of years with mainstream and LGBT efforts. These activities (Civil War reenactments, contra dancing, community event planning, etc.) have solidified in my mind my feminine identity.

On another note, this week has been an especially hard one with the loss of two of our own in the transgendered community. Heather Ramsey was the technical coordinator at Southern Comfort Conference for the last several years. She died in a car crash a week ago Saturday (Nov 21, 2009). I volunteered with the tech crew for a couple years and was able to see her work first hand. She was as talented and committed an individual as I’ve ever seen. She also taught me something about being myself. There is a huge hole in our community with her passing that will not be easily filled. I am only glad that I left her with a hug at the last SCC. You can see her memorial page at the SCC site. RIP Heather. You will be missed.

I am also saddened by the report of the apparent suicide of L.A. Times sportswriter Mike Penner/Christine Daniels. We never met, but I was moved by her transition story in May 2007. It was announced in October 2008 however that she had de-transitioned and returned to being Mike Penner. I wrote at the time that I believed that she did not stop being transgendered. Her circumstances, whether it was job, family, or something else, forced her to return to her male role. Over a year after that de-transition, she made the ultimate decision. Depression to the point of suicide is common in our community. That’s why support is so vital. Only a week after the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we have a name to read in 2010. Mike/Christine was an immensely talented writer. I pray for the families of both Heather and Mike/Christine that they may be comforted.

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