Around My World in 365 Days

Around365

July 27, 2018

This past Wednesday, July 25th, marked my one year anniversary living as my true and authentic self. It wasn’t just a lap-marker for my journey as a transgender woman; it also fulfilled one requirement, an important requirement, in the medical transition of a transgender person. W-PATH Standards of Care (V.7) state that:

“Genital surgery should not be carried out until…patients have lived continuously for at least 12 months in the gender role that is congruent with their gender identity.”

Similarly, my insurance company’s guidelines for gender confirmation surgery require that a potential candidate must:

“Complete at least 12 months of successful continuous full-time real-life experience in the desired gender.”

So this is monumental in my journey to become my authentic self and in feeling normal in my body. But it’s not just a light switch date. Like all good things it’s a process and a journey. Like any other journey, the journey of marriage or the journey of education, or the literal journey of a trip, it’s filled with activities and events that help get you to that point, and I’ve had my share of activity this past year.

One year ago I traveled to visit one of my “Besties” in California. It was a two-fold trip to see her and also to solve a major problem with being able to begin living full-time as a woman. About 10 years ago I started suffering from the common problem of hair loss. I have the all-to-familiar “widows peaks” and a thinning crown. With a buzz-cut I could play a monk very easily. Not a very feminine look, Sinéad O’Connor jokes aside, so I went to visit my friend and also find a hair solution. She asked a friend of hers who is a make-up artist in the entertainment industry to recommend wig salons. We hit a jackpot with the first one we visited, The Wig Shop on Wilshire Blvd. I walked in, explained my situation, and a wonderful woman named Amber helped me with the perfect crown topper that matched my hair color perfectly. She set me up with shampoo and conditioner and details on how to care for my new purchase. I was so elated that I wore it out of the store and I felt so much better about my appearance even though I was presenting make that day. The next day I went to my friend’s stylist Sara for a trim and style to blend my new hairpiece with my actual hair. It was perfect! It is what I wear today and is virtually undetectable. It was exactly what I needed to feel comfortable presenting female full-time. I flew home the next day ready to begin the first step of my new life.

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July 25, 2017 was my first day living and working as Tiffany. I hadn’t had my official name change yet but I was finally living full-time, 24/7, as a woman. At that point I had only been through half of my laser facial hair reduction sessions. I was going every 4 – 5 weeks to have the 15 minutes procedure performed. Because I still developed a “shadow” when it got close to my next appointment it meant I was wearing a pretty good coverage of foundation. I continued the laser sessions until February of 2018 at session 11. I had to cease the treatments prior to my facial surgery, but all-in-all I have achieved about 95-98% reduction in facial hair growth. I still shave every morning with an electric razor but only to catch the minimal growth which amounts to about a dozen or so hairs that pop-up. Now, unless I am going to a formal event, I don’t even wear the foundation makeup or even powder. I’m pretty confident in my appearance.

I remember feeling nervous and excited that first day at work. Everyone at my job had known for months that I was going to be transitioning so it was really that anxiety of doing something for the first time that was making me nervous. There were even a few work parties previously that I had attended as Tiffany. I survived that first day of work, and the next, and the next… It has taken some getting used to. My strength has steadily decreased as the Spironolactone has been working on suppressing my testosterone. That part has been an education for everyone. Using the women’s room was also an anxious event for me at first. The medication I take is a diuretic so I make trips to the loo quite a bit. But that too was no big deal. I had been accepted by my coworkers already and everyone was wonderfully supportive.

In October of last year I had my legal name change. It’s not an easy or quick process. There’s the usual paperwork to be submitted and a court date that is scheduled in the near future. The most ominous part is having to publish the court date in the newspaper for three consecutive weeks declaring that you are changing your name. It makes you feel like you’re the bride or groom at a wedding when the officiant says “if anyone has reason why this union should not happen…” and everyone holds there breath and looks around. Those three weeks I felt like someone was going to come out of thew woodwork and declare a reason why I couldn’t change my name to better align with my identified gender. It also makes you feel like you’re under the microscope because in the newspaper it clearly states that you (male name at birth) are changing your name to (female name that aligns with your preferred gender), and it makes you feel, well it made “me” feel, like I was going to be put on a list of “those” people, the “transgenders.” But I survived and had my court date. On Tuesday, October 17th I sat in a court room, just the judge, the court clerk, the court reporter and me (my wife was travelling out of the country and couldn’t attend). The session is very legal and formal in nature. Everything is recorded. Your voice is amplified by a microphone which you need to speak clearly into. It feels like a senate hearing and you’re the one on trial. After the legal part was over the judge said, off the record, “That’s such a formal process for such a momentous event. Congratulations” I cried. Later that day I was able to get my new Driver’s License with a corrected name and gender. It was a little more involved with Social Security. For that I had to obtain a letter from my Doctor stating that I had satisfied specific requirements for him to declare me legally female even without surgical procedures. According to my endocrinologist, more and more transgender people are forgoing gender confirmation surgical procedures. There is more acceptance in a person keeping themselves biologically intact while still identifying as the gender opposite to which they were assigned at birth. The amendment of other records have different requirements based on the state in which you live. For my birth certificate to be amended with the correct gender I have to wait until I have genital surgery. This is the State law in Wisconsin. I do have an amended birth certificate with my new legal name but the gender still states male. That’s OK. Baby Steps!

In March 7th of this year I underwent facial feminization surgery or FFS. The procedure[s] involved having the most prominent and telling male characteristics of my face softened so that I would not be misgendered. For this I traveled to Beverly Hills, California to the skilled hands of Dr. Toby Mayer of the Beverly Hills Institute. I had researched several plastic surgeons who specialize in FFS, but I really liked Dr. Mayer’s work. He seemed to be able to keep a person looking like themselves but softer. I think a lot of people thought that I would come out looking like a completely different person, but I still look like me. I certainly don’t look like the person I have lived as for most of my life but I still look like the person I was born as. I look like the female version of myself.  I had my brow ridge shaved down and eyebrows raised to place them into a more feminine place. My nose was re-contoured and straightened. And my upper lip was lifted and augmented with fat from my thigh. I am extremely pleased with the work that was done. I do have some other features that I would like softened but I need to wait a full year from the first surgery so that the changes that were made are fully healed. In the future I want to undergo a scalp-hair transplant to “fill-in” those thin and bald areas that are requiring me to wear a hair piece.

In mid-April I had a visit with a plastic surgeon in Madison, Wisconsin at the University Hospital. Not only is she a surgeon but also faculty at the University. She focuses on gender affirming surgeries from top and bottom surgery to facial feminization. I really like her and am proceeding with my plans for gender affirmation surgery before the end of this year, which brings me full-circle to the beginning, specifically to the point that I “have lived continuously for at least 12 months in the gender”  in which I identify.

And so I continue on my next 365 days and the continued alignment of my body, mind and heart. Thank you all for listening and encouraging me on my journey. I hope that my openness to present my transition helps demystify and humanize the transgender community. No matter if we are male, female, black, white, gay, straight…we all want to belong and be accepted.

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Thanks! – Tiff

The Boys Club

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July 14, 2018

The other day I was reflecting on the fact that for 46 years while I was presenting “male” I held a certain amount of privilege. Not white privilege, which I whole-heartedly acknowledge exists, and which I’ve witnessed first-hand. I’m talking about the privilege that exists between male versus female.

When I was younger I used to watch a black and white television show called Our Gang, later known as The Little Rascals. It aired from the 1920s thru the 1940s and featured a young group of kids and their adventures. In one episode the boys establish the He-Man Women-Haters Club. It was a cute plot device and I would jokingly flash their club sign, a hand brought up to the chin with fingers extended and wiggling, almost like a comedy beard fiercely waving in the wind, to some of my friends over the years. It was one of those things you do or did, like a catch phrase or goofy hand shake. But the fact is that I’m no longer entitled to that club, to be in the “boys club.” I mean, I’m really fine with that, but I never realized the unspoken privilege of being a male.

In a week and a half I will have completed my first year living as a women. In that year I’ve experienced some of the less savory aspects of attitudes, spoken and unspoken, toward the female gender. I’ve been whistled at from a passing car. I’ve been followed closely from behind at the grocery store, a little too closely. I’ve received a d*ck pic through social media. I’ve been looked up and down by men like I’m being graded by the USDA. There was one occasion when I accompanied my wife to a conference where she was the keynote speaker. I was wearing a very pretty black and white polka-dotted dress that admittedly showed a little leg. While walking through the large conference center hallway toward her presentation room I observed several men eyeing my legs and not one of them ever looked up at my face. Sure it was a little flattering and a bit affirming that I was perceived as a female, but also very revealing to me as to one of the things that women routinely experience.

You know, while living as Tom I guess I just never had to feel like I was in danger too often. Or have to assess any situation I was entering whether it be a conversation, meeting a new person, or where to walk, or park my car. I’m acutely aware now of the change in some people’s body language and demeanor toward me, at least now that I am an “out” and transitioning transgender woman and no longer a “man.”. In some circumstances I’m no longer engaged in conversation the way I used to be. And in some I’m not even “allowed” into the conversation. Is it because I’m now seen as a woman or a transgender person? Often I find that I am left standing to wait until I am addressed or until I perceive that it is appropriate for me to speak. That’s fu**ed up! My thoughts and ideas are just as brilliant and valuable as they were before I was Tiff, possibly even more so now that I have had the chance to exist in both gender roles.

Honestly and sincerely I’d like to say to all of the cis-gender women that I’m sorry if I have ever “mansplained”, or talked over you, or didn’t acknowledge you. When the #metoo movement began and many women started speaking out about there experiences I had pause for reflection as to whether or not I had ever been inappropriate as a male. I asked my wife and several of my very close female friends if they had ever recalled instances of my doing so. They’ve all assured me that to their knowledge I never had. I wonder if it’s because I never really felt like a male so I never acted that way. I also think that my Dad was a good role model and teacher for how to act toward another person, not just the opposite gender.

It’s been an eye-opener during this Freshman year as a woman. I do feel fortunate to be transitioning during this empowering time for gender expression and gender-fluidity. There’s a great bond not only within the groups of L, G, B, T, etc… but also between them. Knowing that someone has your back even if you don’t know them is a pretty awesome thing. It’s like being a card carrying member of an exclusive group with millions of friends that you’ve yet to meet.

It’s not like I always feel like this powerful female or empowered trans-woman though. I certainly don’t feel like a male, but there are days when I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. Like I don’t exist as a man or woman, or even gender non-binary. But, that’s a rabbit hole that I don’t let myself fall down. It’s too dark and full of snares. But I do struggle daily with my identity. I’ve been assured that I outwardly appear female, something that is very important to me. Not all transgender people want to “pass” but I do! It’s important to me. There are days when I look in the mirror or see my reflection while passing a window and think, “I look good! I look feminine.” But most days have me wondering if everyone I meet views me as a male. It’s all a journey.

Perhaps that journey of transitioning physically and legally from male to female is just one aspect of the journey and not the entirety of it. I have been under the impression that once I’m done, I’m “done.” That after gender affirmation surgery I’ll be a woman. But I think the journey that I’m on, that we’re all on, to find ourselves, transcends self-discovery at the gender level. For those of us open to it, I guess we’re all still figuring out who we are as a people. The greatest hope is that one day everyone can be enlightened to themselves and to those around us regardless of gender. And that maybe then none of us will be made to stand waiting to be accepted into the conversation.

– Tiff

I Had Help

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July 7, 2018

I get comments all the time like, “I wish I could do makeup as good as you do.” or “Where did you learn how to do your makeup?”, or “Can you help me with my wardrobe?”

Frankly, I’m doing the basics for makeup! I couldn’t do a glam eye if my life depended on it. And for clothes, I am buying what I like and what I know fits my body. I’m working against the lack of some things that cisgender woman have like natural hips and bust, but I’ve learned what to do to make myself look and more importantly feel like the person I want to be.

But here’s the thing, I didn’t arrive at the point where I am by myself. I had help! I may not have learned that I was transgender until I was 46, but I have been mimicking and learning things about being a woman for at least 30 years. I had been crossdressing, if you can even call it that, a very long time. I mean, clothes are clothes. In the early days it was a bit of a thrill to get dressed up and maybe go for a drive just to feel what it was like for other girls. And on my first outing to an lgbt+ club I was very nervous. I had tried the trick of gluing my eyebrows down with an Elmer’s glue stick, applying thick foundation on top and then drawing thinner ones back on. Within an hour they were popping up looking like plants sprouting in a garden! I also wore some Aldo almond toe black patent wedges. I teetered from the car several blocks away down to the club and flashed my “male” I.D. It wasn’t for a few years that I learned about heel placement on a shoe and which tall pumps are easier to walk in, something I see young girls downtown haven’t learned yet. That one is a small personal triumph in my effort to catch up!

Even in those early years I had help. When I met my wife we were just friends. We had both come out of difficult relationships and neither of us was looking for a partner. I had found out through my past failures that honesty was best, so even as friends I told her that I had a feminine side. She admitted to me that she had had previous relationships with both males and females. So we knew that we were cool with each other and each others pasts and presents. She helped me out and supported me when I would want to try a piece of clothing or buy a pair of shoes that I would only wear around the apartment. She is so important to me and my development as a woman. We really do have a “partnership” and I think that neither of us could be as successful in any of our endeavors without the other one.

My wife, self-admittedly, is not the girlish of girls, and our styles a very different. She likes baggy clothes, long tees, Doc Marten boots, most of it all in black. She’s very much into the Lagenlook, and her style fits her perfectly! I am much more “girly” in my style. I love heels and short skirts and dresses. I have an entire drawer dedicated to tights and leg coverings. I enjoy form-fitting attire, and I LOVE the color pink! But I certainly didn’t come by this style on my own. I had help.

When I was 35 I had already been working at a summer festival for quite a few years. and I had met this young 18 year old girl who had just graduated high school and had come to perform for the summer as a fantasy character. My job was to apply her makeup using an airbrush to paint her face. We spent hours every morning talking and getting to know each other. She had a maturity unlike anyone I had met at her age. She had a compassion and understanding. And she had a brightness to her. Not just her face and demeanor but her soul. through our morning chats we learned about each others histories, our hopes and dreams, and our plans for the future. It was easy to confide in her and we just “clicked.” She was the one to tell me that I was OK, that there was nothing wrong with the person that I was. This person 17 years younger than me normalized and validated me for “me.”

She became a frequent friend year round for my wife and I. While in college she spent a lot of time talking with my wife and I about life and the future. We would never “tell” her what to do. When she would ask our advice we would always respond by telling her what we did at that age and in that situation. It was important to us to let her be her own person. Over the past 13 years she has grown into a very important friend for us and now so too is her husband and her family as well. They’ve become the larger family that we’ve found in addition to the families that we were born into.

She is the one who has helped me immeasurably. She has been the one to teach me makeup tips. She was the one to accompany me the first time I went out in public as Tiff. And she was the first one to refer to me as transgender. She told me that she had been talking to someone and referred to me as her transgender friend. After telling me about this conversation she asked, “What do you think?”

Wow!

Transgender.

Was I?

It was after that that I began looking into therapy and learning what it meant to be transgender.

But here’s the thing, if I hadn’t met her I don’t think I would’ve ever started on this journey and would have just lived out my life with all of the stress of not living authentically. Early in my relationship with my wife she would ask if I ever thought about “transitioning” but I never equated it with being transgender. In those days my understanding was that a male went through sexual reassignment surgery and then lived as a female. I didn’t understand that I may have been assigned male at birth but my brain and my identity had been female my whole life. This young woman who was almost two decades my junior in many ways was my savior. Without her help my quality of life would have continued to be stressful and in a quiet sort of way, sad. I’m very fortunate to have both her and my wife as my confidants. They both have helped me. I certainly could not be who I am today with out their help and support.

I also don’t want to forget my medical team who has been so wonderful and work together for my whole health. They have helped me very importantly. After I had started on estrogen and had a TIA within a couple weeks, my endocrinologist, who monitors both my transition and my diabetes, asked me about the idea of continuing hormone therapy. He didn’t “tell” me to stop, even though he knew that continuing on estrogen would probably lead to more and possibly worse strokes, he “asked” me. And I knew the answer. I knew that restarting the estrogen would be a huge gamble with odds that weren’t in my favor, so I stopped. That was a very difficult decision. It took me over four decades to figure myself out and I had to abandon the course of treatment that would finally allow me to be who I was supposed to be. I still have permanent damage from that mini-stoke. It would have been easier for him to make the decision so I could complain that it wasn’t my choice, but it was my choice. And he allowed me to make it. To be clear though, I’m a good patient and I’m not just tooting my own horn. I have a journal that I keep for my medical visits. I know when each appointment is or was, with whom, where, and an after visit update. I also have most of my test results for lab work either graphed or I have access to them. That’s my responsibility. But again, I couldn’t be where I am or who I am without their help, from my family doctor to my therapist.

So I had help.

Not being able to progress along the traditional route of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) narrowed my choices for transitioning. Estrogen not only begins the process of breast growth among other things, but also softens the skin and redistributes body fat in the mid-torso and more noticeably in the face. It helps sculpt the face into a more feminine form. Having this option closed for me guided me toward Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS). When I started looking into this procedure, or procedures, I quickly realized that they were beyond my reach. Insurance does not cover facial feminization claiming that it is “cosmetic.” A dear friend suggested that I start a crowd funding campaign to help me get to my goal. I was reluctant at first but she convinced me that people would want to help. And they did! I was able to raise 50% of my surgery cost. Loans helped me cover the rest. But again, I had help, from those that donated to my campaign to the bank loan manager who was extremely helpful in finding creative ways for me to achieve my goal.

I continue to have help. When I look in the mirror and the voices in my head say that I look that same and that no one is fooled my wife is there to help. When I have to confide in someone about my fears my therapist is there to help. When my medication levels need adjusting to keep my diabetes in check and keep my transition progressing my endocrinologist is there to help. And when I need to ask advice on experience with this whole process of becoming the “real” me I have support groups to help me.

So don’t be fooled by what you see. I didn’t get here alone. I had help!

– Tiff