The Mask He Wore


29 October 2018

Have you ever heard of The Moth?

They are a group, community, organization… that promotes live storytelling. Based in New York, they have events throughout the United States.

I wrote a piece for a Moth story telling event that occurred in Milwaukee on October 25th, but it conflicted with a trans support rally and I thought that my feet on the ground and my voice in the air was going to be more effective at the rally, so I’m presenting my prepared piece for you here.

The storytelling event was held at one of our local coffee houses and the topic was “Disguises.” The event description, taken from their posting, reads as follows:

DISGUISES: Prepare a five-minute story about your undercover self, about obscuring the real you- with a fake mustache, a nurse’s uniform, a cloak, a girdle or a giant hotdog costume. Mental disguises, like the Ph.D. you earned to appease your mother; or the “sensitive guy” persona you put on to get with the ladies. Undercover cops and chameleons. Pranks and mistaken identities. Wolves gussied up like lambs and lambs tarting-it-up to pass as mutton. The Trojan Horse, The Mighty Oz and now you!

I wrote the following:

The Mask He Wore

I used to know someone who was born in the last year of the sixties, the year we landed on the moon.

The second youngest of 7 kids he was raised in the south suburbs of Milwaukee. He was an inquisitive kid. He walked to school, played an instrument, loved Star Wars and wore a mask every single day of his life. He pretty much fooled everyone around him including himself.

You see, when you’re convinced that you are what you appear to be, you think that you only have one pallet to paint from, one store to buy from, one buffet to eat from…

A mask can hide your identity so well that you may not even know what you really look like, especially if you’ve never taken it off.

Sometimes though, there are hints. Sometimes you can feel the elastic holding the mask on your face like on one of those 70s vacu-formed masks.

Sometimes, in the mirror, you can see the thin rubber of the forehead move because there’s an empty cavity between it and your real head as if you are wearing the best Don Post rubber “life-like” mask, that claims to look “realistic” but somehow doesn’t look that real.

Sometimes you can see the shadow around the eyes, revealing that the mask is hovering above the face of the person within.

But the eyes are real.
The eyes are the tell.
The eyes are revealing.

They can’t hide the joy, or the fear, or the uncertainty.

They can’t hide it from you and they couldn’t hide it from me.

I lived with that mask until I was 46. Most rubber or plastic masks would have cracked by then, and I guess mine did.

You know how when you’re building a puzzle, and you’re looking for one particular piece, and you kind of think you know what the piece looks like? And when you finally see it you know that it’s right.

That’s what it’s like to remove a mask you didn’t know you were wearing. You don’t know that you are oblivious as to who you are until you are who you were meant to be.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

I finally removed the mask “he” wore and under that uncertain boy was a beautiful person, a woman,

who finally knew who she was,

knew what she liked,

and loves who she is.

I saw that there are infinitely more pallets to paint from,

more stores to buy from,

and more buffets to eat from.

There’s a part of me that wishes I would’ve been able to remove that mask sooner than I did, but the journey I took is what has allowed me to eventually take it off.

I hope everyone that wears a mask can know what it’s like to remove it; that “A-ha!” moment of finding the right piece of the puzzle,

and letting the sun shine on

and from their face.

– Tiff

Are you, by chance, pregnant?

22 October 2018

I experienced my first mammogram three weeks ago. My wife and close female friends had been warning me about the negative aspect of this test, the only positives being that it was quick and was a necessary part of screening for breast cancer. I know that this latter point is debated among some people but I’m not going into that here.

I was a little concerned about this test only because it was my first time. I have had other procedures that in retrospect are far more painful, such as laser eye surgery for diabetic retinopathy. And while not something I look forward to, I am so familiar with them that I can calm myself before having them. But for this simple procedure I was a first-timer. I can hear the faint calls of “Virgin!” from the Rocky Horror crowd. I read up on the procedure so that I was somewhat informed not only of what would happen but also any possible preparatory instructions.

Since my facial feminization surgery last March I’ve wondered whether new people I encounter see me as a woman or a man. I know that when I look into the mirror I still see Tom, but what about others?

In the past 6 months, since the facial surgery, I have had a few medical appointments for this and that, and legally I am a woman and my medical charts indicate that fact. Usually with lab visits I am asked a series of questions and for this appointment it was the same but the difference is that during this appointment I was able to find out how I am perceived by people that I meet for the first time.

One of the first questions I am asked now is if I am pregnant. It’s usually twisted in it’s asking though.

“You wouldn’t by change be pregnant?”

I had thought that it was being asked in this way because they know I’m transgender and there is no way I could be pregnant, but it was from the second question that I now understood several things.

“Have you recently had a hysterectomy?”

Ummmm, what?!

A hysterectomy?!

They didn’t know! My medical chart says I am a woman, not a transgender woman. I suddenly realized that they ask if I am pregnant in that manner of supposing that I’m probably not pregnant because of my age, not because I’m outwardly identifiable as transgender. I will be 49 in two weeks, and generally woman do not have children at 49.

I responded this second question with a with a delayed, “I’mmmmm transgender.”

“Oh! Okay then!” The nurses demeanor changed to a wonderful conversation about if I’m getting top surgery and when. Am I on hormones, which lead to my unfortunate experience with estrogen and my mini-stroke. She was very helpful and explained everything to me like a new member of the club.

It was such a comforting and nurturing feminine experience, the kind that I had lacked so many times throughout my life when I was grouped with the boys, but would rather have been included in all things “girl.” I’ve missed out on all of those firsts that girls learn and master at each stage of life; having one’s ears pierced, learning about nail polish, how to appropriately sit while wearing a skirt, training bras, and of course the others that don’t and won’t apply to me because no matter what I do the biology is still different.

And while twisting myself into a slouching knot to have my chest pinched and x-rayed wasn’t the wonderful experience of getting one’s first prom dress, it was still pretty wonderful to find out that I am perceived as the woman I identify as, and then be welcomed and accepted as a woman instead of judged and mocked.

We all want to belong and be accepted, and we all want to be loved.

– Tiff