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?”
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!