Thursday, January 10, 2019

Cheers and Tears

Do you ever lie awake at night berating yourself for things you said more than thirty years ago?  Sometimes it helps to purge those inner demons by writing it all out. 

In sixth and seventh grade, I was kind of a jerk.  I don’t think I was a horrible person, but I was extremely full of myself, and I always thought I was the smartest person in the room. 

Let’s look at the TV show “Cheers”.  If you watch the first episode, it looks like it’s going to be the story of Diane Chambers.  She’s framed as the “Only Sane Person” in an environment full of kooks, kind of like Dick Loudon in Newhart.  When she got a job at the bar, it was like Dian Fossey doing research by living among the apes.  At least, that was my interpretation at the time.  It didn’t take the writers long to realize that the audience was identifying more with the lowbrow characters than with the intellectual Diane, who many viewers found annoying.  The focus shifted appropriately, and Diane’s intellectualism was treated more like a character flaw than an advantage.

But not for me.  I continued to identify with Diane, because that’s how I saw the world.  I was the only smart person in a school full of idiots, the only nice person in a school full of jerks, the only refined person in a school full of lowlifes.  I would use words like “au contraire” because I thought it made me sound smart, when I actually just came across as pompous.  I still remember the first time one of my classmates called me “conceited”, and while I took offense at the time, he was definitely right. 

Pop psychology often suggests boosting your child’s ego.  “You should constantly tell your children how smart they are, to build their confidence and make them more self-assured.”  It sounds like good advice, but the problem is, the kids who need it don’t get it and vice versa.  It seems like behind every raging egomaniac, there’s a parent who won’t stop gushing about how smart their child is.  My own parents ran hot and cold on me.  I can remember specific instances of them bolstering my ego (and sometimes even seeing through it as empty praise), but they (well, my mom) also tore me down a lot too.  It’s a wonder I’m as well-adjusted -Cufflinks! Nostrils! –as I am.

I don’t know at what point I grew out of my conceitedness (not that it’s completely gone of course), but I imagine the stresses over the next few years changed me a lot.  Not just the migraines and related problems, but I actually started to fail at things for the first time in my life, and it was a huge blow to my ego.  Today… well, I’m not good at self-awareness, so I’m not sure how other people see me.  Nor do I think I want to know.  But internally, my self-confidence is shot.  If I say anything egotistical, it’s either a joke or an act of self-preservation, because in my head I’m worthless.

I’ve never been accused of being the sharpest tool in the shed, but I have been accused of being a tool, so at least that’s progress.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Right Now

So this is what’s been going on in my life lately:

A few weeks ago, my wife had to get surgery again.  This is her third operation in three years.  In 2015 she had to go to the emergency room for diverticulitis (blog here).  Last year she had to get part of her thyroid removed.  This month’s surgery was for a hernia that developed as a result of the 2015 operation.

Money is extremely tight.  I am almost done paying off the medical bills from the 2015 and 2017 operations, but right now I’m getting bombarded with bills from this year’s procedure.  I’ve had to call a ton of different offices to arrange monthly payments for different balances.  Plus, of course, my wife can’t work right now.  She took a full month off work (without pay), so we’re out her income for that time period.  I make enough money to pay all the bills, but that’s about it.  We rely on her income to pay for groceries, gas, and other sundries.  So we’re going to be living on Ramen noodles for a few months.

I’ve got the bill schedule worked out, for the most part.  We’ll be doing slightly better by the end of November, and things will continue to improve each month.  By March I should have all the medical bills paid off, maybe sooner.  It’s mostly just getting through the next month that’s going to hurt.

When she had the emergency three years ago, we started a GoFundMe to help with the bills.  I’m not going to do that this time.  I’m still embarrassed about doing it last time.  But we are in just as bad shape as we were then.  I laugh it off on Facebook, but things are bad.

Finances aside, it’s been a difficult month.  She’s in terrible pain, but she’s improving.  At least this time she doesn’t have a huge open wound we have to take care of.  I’m having to do more around the house, which is fine except for the cat boxes.  My problem is two-fold:  I am allergic to the dust, and I am easily grossed out.  Sure, fine, call me a wimp, I deserve it.  But I’ve never been able to get used to that aspect of cat ownership.  I try, I really do.  But when scooping cat litter, I find it very hard not to throw up.  Combine that with my allergies, and I’m just a sniffling nauseated mess for hours afterward.

And then of course there’s the car.  One of our cars is having engine problems.  It looks like it might be an easy fix, but I simply don’t have the time, money, or energy to think about it right now.  I don’t care if it’s a $15 part I can install myself (and it might be).  I just can’t deal with it until life normalizes a bit.  I still start it twice a week so the battery doesn’t die, but that’s all I can commit to right now.  The good news is that our other car works just fine, and my wife can’t drive right now anyway, so there’s no vehicle conflicts.  Not that there would be, since she works at home.

And of course, I’ve got a few health issues of my own, that I keep having to put on the back burner.  If we can just have two years in a row where my wife doesn't need surgery, maybe I'll have the money to look into my own problems.  God I hate our capitalist medical system.

One of our cats had a stroke earlier this year.  She’s okay now, but she’s on a special diet and medication.  Yet another expense.  Also, we’ve had to separate her from the rest of the cats, so she has her own room now.  This house is small enough as it is, but one bedroom has been designated for a single cat.  I’ve had to put some of my hobbies on hold for a while because of it, due to the space limitations.  I love that cat, but it’s asking a lot.

It’s not just money, it’s sanity.  Some RPGs have “sanity points” that can be lost or gained, and going over a certain threshold can have major repercussions for your character.  When talking about depression, people often use the spoon analogy – that you wake up with a certain number of spoons, and doing certain activities costs a certain number of spoons.  When you’re out of spoons, you simply don’t have the energy to deal with anything else that day.

Changing the cat litter costs me a lot of sanity points/spoons.  I could probably get a few back if I could find some time to relax with my hobbies, but those aren’t doable right now.  The time I do spend relaxing right now is ruined by anxiety – How long am I going to get to sit here?  Do I even have time to load up a video game or get my paints out?

And then there’s everything going on in the world today.  Politics are hitting home in a way that they never have before.  I don't really want to rant about politics right now, but the government is worse than it's ever been in my lifetime.  Look, it's no secret that I'm a liberal democrat, but I used to be able to tolerate the Republican party.  For me, politics has always been about voting for the lesser of two evils.  Sometimes your party doesn't win, but life goes on.  But this administration is making mistakes too big to ignore.

Donald Trump isn't a Republican.  He's just an asshole.  And too many Republicans like him just for not being a Democrat.  If you voted for Trump, I forgive you.  But the best thing you can do right now is admit you were fooled.  If you still support Trump after all the racist, misogynist, transphobic, classist crap he's done, then I know it's for one of three reasons:

1. You're completely avoiding the news, or you're in such incredible denial that you think Fox News is the only credible source of current events.

2. You'll vote for anyone with an "R" next to their name.  Fine, be that way, but I never want to hear the phrase "yellow dog democrat" again.  EVER.

3. You are such a self-centered bigot that you don't care who gets hurt as long as they aren't a white male like yourself.

Dear Republicans:  You can still be a good Republican and hate Donald Trump.  I promise you, you can.  He is making your party look bad.  I truly believe that he's going to go down in history as one of the worst presidents ever, but the Republican party doesn't have to go down with him.

Nixon is often said to be "the most popular president nobody voted for."  But you won't be able to deny you voted for Trump like you did with Nixon, not when we can just scroll down your Facebook feed and find all your pro-Trump memes.  If you care at all about what your grandchildren think of you, withdraw your support now.

These next elections could literally decide the fate of the world.  I’ve already voted in this one.  If you haven't voted yet, please consider voting Democrat.  I don't care if you're Republican - remember, Trump isn't.  Trump is just Trumpican.  I've heard several former Republicans say variations of the following lately: "I didn't leave the Republican party, the Republican party left me."

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but if Republicans really want the Republican party to survive, they need to vote Democrat in the next few elections.   If the Republicans start losing by a landslide over the next few years, maybe they'll get the message.  Maybe instead of being so openly bigoted, they'll go back to just being what they used to be.  But they need a wake-up call first.  They need to know that Republican voters won't take it.

I promise you, the world isn't going to end if the Democrats get in power again.  Let the Republicans earn it back, by transforming their party back into something less extreme.

But that's all wishful thinking on my part. I don't know if people have changed, or if they're just less shy about their true colors now.  I see all the pro-Trump posts on Facebook, and it absolutely amazes me the things people aren't afraid to say.  If Trump were impeached tomorrow, it still wouldn't make a difference to me, because now I see the world differently.  

I am severely depressed.  This is not the world I want to live in.  These are not the people I want to think of as fellow Americans.  When did we go from "Great American Melting Pot" to "Caucasians are the master race?"  Why is it okay to appoint a rapist to the Supreme Court, but transgender people aren't even allowed to use the bathroom?  Why is bigotry considered acceptable behavior now? 

Despite all the crap going on, overall I'm pretty lucky.  We have decent medical insurance, with an annual out-of-pocket maximum that keeps us from going bankrupt.  Best case scenario, we’re currently even.  Maybe we can find the money for actual groceries, or maybe we have to eat nothing but canned beans and Ramen until Christmas.  But I’ve got the bills covered, and we will survive.

But here’s the thing:  Absolutely nothing else can go wrong until March.  I’ve used up all my backup money, called in all my favors, redeemed all my freebies.  If our primary car has suddenly develops an engine problem, we’re sunk.  If our refrigerator dies, we’re sunk.  If another one of our cats has a vet emergency, we’re sunk.  Sure, some of these emergencies could be financed, but I won’t have the money to make the monthly payments.  We are going to have to be very lucky to make it to March.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Back and Forth Hatred

Some people see the world like it’s all sports teams.  You don’t have to have a real reason for hating another group, it’s enough to know that you’re on different sides.  That kind of thing flies when you’re in high school, but not enough people drop it when they become adults.  I mean, this is hatred here, not friendly rivalry.  People are actually getting hurt, but some people only care about the ones on their own side.  Everything is Hatfields and McCoys.  So many feuds go back so far that no one cares who threw the first punch. 

We are constantly at war with various middle eastern countries.  Sometimes their citizens only know what their government tells them.  All they know about America is that we keep sending airplanes to bomb their schools.  No matter what our intentions, there is no reason in the world they should think of America as the good guys.  Their kids grow up, they hate America, they fight back.  We still call them the bad guys, even though we’re the ones who killed their parents.  It is a war fought out of ignorance.  I’m not even saying we should stop – we have to defend ourselves, right?  But we do need to step back and examine they psychology of it sometimes.  Figure out if there are any other possible solutions besides sending in more bombers.  Find ways to win over the populace, so they overthrow their own evil government, or arrest their own terrorists.

The fact is, there are bad people on both sides of every issue.  You shouldn’t judge an entire group for that.  But also, in every fight there are people who are second/third/fourth/etc generation fighters, people who don’t remember when the first punch was thrown, and only know that the other side has always been mean to them.

A white child might not know that his father started a feud by burning a cross on their neighbor's lawn.  He just knows that the black kids next door won’t play with him, so he gets the wrong impression and grows up to be a second-generation racist.  But are we really going to blame the neighbors for being afraid of letting the kids play together?

A friend once told me he didn't like gay people.  One of his reasons was that once saw some GLBT people at a protest, and they were acting angry.  He said the protestors were so hateful, and shouting so many mean things, that he was convinced they were a hate group.  I wasn’t there, but my feeling is that if they were so hateful, it’s probably because they’ve been stomped on by society.  When all you see is the response, without seeing the what caused it, you get the impression that the defenders are the aggressors.

I follow Gail Simone on Twitter.  She's one of the best comic book writers in the business, and also an outspoken feminist.  A lot of sexist male readers dislike her.  Gail is happy to humor them, and often openly debates them on Twitter.  She uses logic and class, and her arguments are sound.

But if people are rude to her, she has no problem calling them out on it.  If you act like an asshole, she will say so, in so many words.  If she is weary from debating all day and wants to focus on positive posts, she will mute the jerks for the night, so as not to distract from the new topics.  Remember, this is not her job.  She uses Twitter for fun, and she has no obligation to engage jerks at all.

Meanwhile, the jerks will post on their own Twitter pages examples of Gail calling them an asshole, or muting them, without any of the context that led up to it.  They call her unprofessional, even though she just spent an entire day debating with idiots in the most professional way possible.  Because she won't consent to be insulted by idiots 24/7, she gets branded the rude one.

I see the same thing in every debate out there.  There are enough hateful people on both sides of every debate, that either side can cherry pick their opponents' responses and pick out rude ones.  Conservatives are literally killing people with their policies, but they have no problem finding examples of bad Liberals and saying, "Look how evil our opponents are!"  Because no side is perfect.

To me, Republicans are obviously in the wrong lately.  They are doing everything possible to make sure only rich white males have the most freedom.  From my point of view, it is the party of hatred.  And yet, it's my Republican friends who keep posting memes that say, "Why is everybody so mean, can't we all get along?"  I could easily post a long ranty thread about how it's a sign of privilege to wonder why people won't stop fighting, but for now I'll just say this: Republicans don't have to fight because they already won.  To those who are in power, any challenge to that power looks like hatred.  Even if that "hatred" is just underprivileged people fighting for their rights.

I’m not going to tone police you.  I’m not going to say, “You should only protest this way.”  All I’m saying is that when you act as hateful as the people you’re protesting against, it doesn’t change minds.  It just gives the other side more ammo.  That is an unfortunate fact, but it doesn't mean you should stop fighting.

More importantly, just because you see an example of a stupid/evil/rude person in a group, it doesn't mean that side is wrong.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Migraines, Gym Class, and the Butterfly Effect

When I was a child, I suffered from migraine headaches.  Here's the story, as far as anyone else knows:

When I was about thirteen or fourteen years old, I started getting migraine headaches all the time.  I'd had them on and off for years, but this time they just wouldn't go away.  I missed a lot of school because of it.  My parents took me to all kinds of doctors and did all sorts of tests.  For the latter half of seventh grade I was given permission to take a study hall instead of PE class.  My headaches got a bit better over summer vacation.

In eighth grade, I changed schools.  This was a much more academically-focused school, and my migraines gradually returned.  After a few months, I had to transfer schools again.  Once at this third school, my chronic migraines faded away for good.  I still get them occasionally, but months apart and only for a few hours at a time.

We always concluded that the chronic migraines were brought on by stress.  A lot was going on around that time.  My grandmother died.  PE class was brutal that year.  My dad got in a car wreck.  My parents started arguing a lot, and eventually divorced.  That second school had a big workload.  When I finally found the school that was right for me, life was less stressful, and some of the other problems were gone by then as well.

But the truth is, I faked it.

Not intentionally, and not in a nefarious way.  I really did get a lot of headaches, but in retrospect I believe the real culprit was clinical depression.  It wasn't a term I'd ever heard at the time, but migraines were something I understood, something I could latch on to.

Every time I used migraines as an excuse to avoid something, I really, seriously could not have brought myself to do that something.  It would have been physically impossible to do what needed to be done - and I did try - so I would tell them it was migraines to get them off my back.  If I stayed home from school, I didn't sit there playing Nintendo all day.  I was fully committed to the excuse.  I stayed in bed, even if nobody else was home to check up on me.

It all started with gym class.

I’ve always hated phys ed.  I do see the benefit of having P.E. in schools – it helps you develop healthy exercise habits, you learn teamwork and communication skills,  and so on.  But I’ve rarely seen a gym class that was done right.  For starters, they always assume that everyone knows how to play every sport.  Those teamwork skills I mentioned?  Nah, most games ended up with the nerds being assigned positions where they could stay out of the way and do the least damage, while the jocks carried the team.  Healthy exercise habits?  Nope, they never taught us calisthenics or yoga or other exercise techniques I might use later in life.  They usually just had us play various sports.   
Most of my worst memories in high school involved gym class.  Several times I let the team down because I didn’t understand the rules, or I simply couldn’t throw the ball far enough to complete a play.  I was bullied a little, though not physically, thank goodness.  Still, every bully-related memory I have happened in gym.  To me, gym class is nothing but a big pile of psychological scars.  
Most gym classes were also sexist.  The girls got to sit in the bleachers and treat it as study hall, while the boys played basketball.  God, I envied them.  Occasionally I was in a gym class where the girls did exercises like jumping jacks, but I don’t think I ever saw girls required play an actual sport in high school gym class.  My high school did have cheerleaders and a girls’ basketball team, but that was done separately from the standard gym class I’m talking about. 
Honestly, if schools can’t do gym class correctly, I wish they would do away with them.  In my experience, the entire class is set up just to torture non-athletic students.  I suppose the actual athletes might see it as their only respite in the day, and for some students it’s the only class they don’t dread.  But for me, gym class has always reminded me of prison somehow.  I think gym class could be fixed with a little effort.  But gym class as I experienced it should be banned.  At best it’s a waste of time, at worst it scars you for life.
Anyway, seventh grade gym was particularly bad.  The coach was like a drill instructor.  Every day, he would have us line up, and walk down the line punching each of us in the stomach.  Not hard enough to hurt – I’m not saying this guy belongs in prison or anything – but just hard enough to see if we’d been toughening up our muscles.  If your stomach gave way or it knocked the wind out of you, he had you do some push-ups.  Even though it wasn’t painful, it was still humiliating, and I’m amazed that it was legal.  (I’m pretty sure the girls were spared this treatment as well.)  It made me afraid of going to gym class every day.  I seriously DREADED it. 
The incident that tipped off my migraines was pretty innocuous.  Had it not come after months and months of embarrassing gym incidents, this one would hardly have registered.  I had missed a couple of days because of a cold, during which time they had started on volleyball.  I like volleyball, and I was actually kind of looking forward to it.  After all my disastrous attempts at basketball, I was hoping volleyball would be more my speed.  Unfortunately, the rest of the class got to spend a few days learning the basics while I was out sick, so I was just thrown right in with no instruction. 
It didn’t turn out to be much better than basketball.  Volleyball mostly involved standing in place and hoping the ball was never hit in my direction.  My depth perception has never been great, but pre-LASIK it was horrendous.  I would swing my arms too early, or too late, or swing at balls that were nowhere near my zone.  But serving was the worst.  I tried to get the gist of it by watching other people, but when it was my turn, I hit it too hard and sent it across the gym.  I couldn’t take it.  I could feel my face getting hot, and tears wouldn’t be far behind.  My sinuses were still stuffy from being sick, and the result was that I started to choke on my own phlegm.  The other students saw my face turning purple, and in the end I got sent to the school nurse.
They gave me a note letting me out of gym class for a few days.  But I was so stressed out by then, I started getting migraines.  These headaches were so bad I could barely see.  With a little finagling, my parents managed to arrange it so I didn’t have to go back to gym for the rest of the year, and I went to a study hall instead.  I was a little less stressed out after that. 

After my grandmother died, my Mom came to me and said, “I spoke with the rest of the family.  We’ve decided that the reason you’ve been having headaches is because all this time when she was sick, she wasn’t in much pain.  We think that you were bearing all the pain for her.  And we thank you.  But now that she’s gone, you don’t have to have these headaches any longer.”  It was a beautiful sentiment, and I wish it had been true.

I changed schools.  My brother graduated that year, so we weren’t as tied to that school, and I was happy never to have to see that PE teacher again.  The new school was more academically-focused.  It was okay at first, but I very quickly got bogged down.  It was a bit like skipping three grades, and I wasn’t up to the challenge.  Now, understand that the previous school was not a bad school, academically speaking.  But with all the other stresses going on in my life, it was not the best time to challenge myself. 

It's a pity.  I really liked some of the classes.  They had a PE class I actually looked forward to, one that actually taught us rules and techniques for the sports we were playing.  It also had a wonderful art class.  I didn’t make a lot of friends there, though.  I was too busy trying to keep up with the classes.  I felt like Bart Simpson in that one early episode where he fakes being gifted.  I started dreading several of the normal classes the same way I’d dreaded PE at the previous school.

Soon I found myself with headaches again.  I saw the school nurse more than some of the teachers.  They called my parents a lot.  Apparently I was spending a lot of the classes with my head down on my desk.  My parents tried everything.  We went to all sorts of doctors, had all kinds of tests done.  I remember having a CT scan, wearing a rubber guard to keep me from grinding my teeth at night, going to a chiropractor, seeing a psychiatrist, and so on.  I missed a lot of school.

I also felt guilty about all the money they were spending on tests.  I remember when we got the results back from the CT scan, telling Dad, “I’m sorry it cost so much and didn’t show anything.”  But he’d been afraid I might have a brain tumor or something, and he replied, “Best money I ever spent.”  Still, I felt like their lives might be better if I wasn't around to be such a burden.

One night I tried to kill myself.  It wasn't a method that would have actually worked, but give me a break, I was a kid.  Basically I tried taking lots of pills.  I went into every medicine cabinet in the house, opened every bottle, and took about half the pills from each.  I didn't want to actually empty any bottles, because if I wasn't successful I didn't want anyone noticing I'd taken them.  But all in all, I probably took about 40 random pills.

My first thought the next morning was, "Damn.  I'm alive."  But I didn't have to go to school.   My parents told me I'd been sleepwalking all night, and they were taking me to the doctor.  The doctor gave me a drug test, which came back negative, so my half-assed suicide attempt stayed a secret.  I never told them.  

One later morning I had a really hard time getting moving.  I really couldn’t miss any more days.  My parents were like, “If you’re going to be sick anyway, be sick there.”  But I couldn’t make myself go.  I just couldn’t.  The school was like this giant block of black dread and I couldn’t in my wildest dreams envision myself willingly walking into it that morning.

In the back of the car, I was like a caged animal looking for ways to escape.  At every red light I considered hopping out of the car and just running.  I was already thinking about just hiding in the bushes instead of going inside once they dropped me off.  But I realized that wasn’t a long term plan, and missing one more day wasn’t going to make me survive the school year.  This had gone far enough.  I told my Dad, “Okay, I hate this school.”

He was immediately understanding.  We talked about it a lot about the pressure while he drove me home.  He considered taking me straight to the local public school, but then he remembered that an old friend of mine went to a different private school.  At this third and final school, things were a lot better all around.  The first school had been sports focused, so of course I didn’t fit in.  The second school was college focused, and I might have made it there if I’d started earlier.  The third school put more emphasis on religion.  It was a good fit for me, at least at the time.  In retrospect, the school had some deep flaws, and if I had kids today, I definitely wouldn’t send them there.  It’s the same school that was in the news a couple of years ago for rejecting a potential student for having gay parents.

But that was the end of the headaches.  My Dad asked me a few years later, “Did we ever figure out what was causing those headaches you used to have?”  I said it was probably just stress, and that was that.

I still feel very guilty about all the money they spent on various doctors, when it was really "just depression".  It probably caused some of the debt they had to dig out of later, and the stress I caused them may have even been a factor in their eventual divorce.

It's one of the most defining events of my childhood, and it's yet one more thing I think would have turned out differently if I'd been born female.  Yeah, I know, "I make everything about gender dysphoria.  Of course I'm going to retcon my headaches to be about it."  But a lot of trans people report similar periods of depression in their teens.

In my case, everything started with gym class, at a school that was overly focused on sports.  Without all that initial pressure to be better at masculine things, I think I would have ended up graduating at that school.

I often think about what my life would be like in that alternate timeline.  If I'd graduated that first school, I would have had an entirely different circle of friends.  I never would have met the guy who introduced me to my wife, so I wouldn't even be friends with her now.  I can almost guarantee I would have gone to a different college, which would have changed a lot of things.  As a girl, I would have had a different set of peer pressures I haven't even considered.  I might still have had migraines and/or depression because of stresses I will never know. 

There's so many possibilities there.  Would I still be a geek?  Would I still be attracted to women?  Would I still have eventually become an atheist?  My mother was so into keeping us up with fashion, I really think she would have loved to have a girl.  It would have changed a lot about my family dynamic, so I might have a completely different personality. 

One question that really haunts me is, "Would I still be transgender?"  What if "female" isn't actually a core aspect of my personality, but "non gender conforming" is?  What if "girl me" was just as stubborn about fitting in with others of my sex?  What if she gradually came to the realization that her birth sex just wasn't for her?  Is there an alternate universe where I'm an FTM?

Believe it or not, these are the things that keep me up at night.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

You Can't Make An Omelette...

In the trans community - well, at least in some subsets of the trans community - they compare potentially trans people to eggs.  If you're still in denial, you're an egg.  Whenever you start to have epiphanies about your gender, your egg starts to crack.  The moment you really realize you're transgender, your egg cracks open.  Actually transitioning is compared to a chick hatching from the egg.

So I'm working on my own personal timeline.  When did my egg first start to crack?  When was I in denial?   Just for my own edification, I'm trying to come up with as specific dates as possible.  I'm going to go over a lot of ground that I've already talked about in earlier blogs, but this time I'm going to go into mind-numbingly specific detail.  Also, a lot of it is just going to be listing fictional characters I liked to pretend to be when I was a kid.  I'll probably come back and update this a few times as I think of new things.

Anyway, this blog entry is mostly for me, so feel free to skip it.

Barbie Dolls
Totally guessing at the date, but I remember playing with Barbies with my cousins.  I was a bit jealous because their dolls had a lot more outfits than my Six Million Dollar Man dolls.  There is an old picture of me holding up some Barbie dolls, smiling.

Lunch at School
For a while in the third grade, I would sit with the girls at lunch time.  I remember one of the boys taunting me with "If you keep hanging around girls you're going to turn into one."  I replied, "That's okay, I don't mind.  Girls mature faster than boys."  I'd read that piece of trivia somewhere, and I always liked spouting trivia.  But the real takeaway here is that I didn't get the boy's insult.  It didn't occur to me why someone would be afraid to turn into a girl. I knew he was trying to insult me, but I was just like, "So?"

Ghost Manor
There was a company called XONOX who made games for the Atari 2600.  They were unique for selling these odd double-ended game cartridges, so you got two games for the price of one.  We had one called "Ghost Manor/Spike's Peak".  The ghost manor game had you entering a haunted mansion to rescue your partner from a vampire.  The cool part was that you could choose your sex.  If you picked the male, you were were rescuing his girlfriend, and vice versa.  You used the console's Color/B&W switch to set the sex of your avatar.

I always picked the girl.  This was before "Super Mario Bros" or "The Legend of Zelda", but even at the time I knew that most stories had men rescuing women.  I thought it was really fresh and unique to control a girl rescuing a guy.  It was also fun to keep flicking the switch and watch your character go back and forth between male and female.  If only it was that easy in real life.

The Cat Club
When I was a kid, I started a cat club.  It was basically GI Joe except it was cats vs dogs.  Of course we stopped playing Cat Club sometime in elementary school, but we drew comic books about it well into high school.  My first Cat Club character was male, a black cat named Midnight.  But a few years later, I introduced Midnight's sister Twilight, and I sometimes played as her.

Lizard Woman
With so many action figures being the same size, we used to combine them all in our scenarios. There was a 1979 Flash Gordon cartoon series that had a character called Lizard Woman.  I had her action figure.  For some reason, a friend and I used to play a scenario where Lizard Woman owned a space gas station.  We used the Dagobah playset from Empire Strikes Back as the gas station, and people from all over the galaxy would stop to fill up or get repairs, bringing their problems and prompting adventures.  Since the Lizard Woman figure looked naked, I used to make outfits for it using balloons.
October 1983.
I would have been in the fourth grade when GI Joe issue #16 ("Night Attack") came out.  Weird, I had been thinking third grade, but that's exactly why I'm making this list.  My friends and I were on the playground, reenacting scenes from GI Joe comics.  They wanted to do the scene where the Baroness gets blown up in a HISS tank (don't worry, she lives).  They pretended a certain piece of playground equipment was the tank, and they elected me to stand in for the Baroness.  Even though it only lasted a few minutes, and I don't think I even spoke, it stuck with me.  Something about pretending to be a woman - that it as okay to do so, and I was even being encouraged to do so - opened a door for me.

In later years, when I started buying GI Joe toys of my on, my favorites (other than Snake-Eyes of course) were mostly women.  Baroness, Scarlett, Jinx, and Zarana being my absolute faves.  For some reason I never cared for Lady J, though.

I had one friend who gave me a hard time for even buying female figures.  He thought they were a waste of plastic, and since "girls don't play GI Joe", he didn't understand why they even made them.

The Sea Prince and the Fire Child
This was an animated movie I saw as a child.  It was a retelling of Romeo & Juliet, but in a more fantastic setting.  Once or twice I played as a variation of Malta the Fire Child, when playing with my next door neighbor.  She was a fairy-like creature.

Darth Leia
Shortly after Return of the Jedi, I remember playing with Star Wars figures by myself.  I played a scenario where Darth Vader decided to try to lure Leia to the dark side, kidnapping her and teaching her the Force. I put Vader's cape on my Leia figure, making a cool black/white contrast.  The idea of an evil Lea was really appealing, and I went back to this scenario several times.

Bounty Hunters
I'm guessing 1984-1985. 
Well after Return of the Jedi left the theaters, my friends and I still played with Star Wars figures. One friend and I loved playing with the bounty hunters.  He would play as Boba Fett, and I would play Boushh.  Technically it was a Princess Leia figure in Boushh disguise, but our personal canon as that in RotJ Leia had stolen the outfit from the real Boushh, and that's who I was playing.

We had a running theme, often telling the same story over and over.  Boba Fett and Boushh met and decided to team up and become bounty hunters together.  Also joining them were G.I.Joe's Snake-Eyes, and a Cobra Lamprey (hydrofoil pilot) for some reason. In a lot of versions of the story, Boushh would pretend to be male, and eventually Boba Fett would discover she was female.  We replayed that scenario dozens of ways.

Later in high school I drew a comic book about these characters, along with comics about the video game Metroid.  This eventually morphed into "Space Stories" which had characters from all kinds of places.  I generally preferred adding female characters to the stories, and I had to force myself to make some of them male because I wanted my friends to read them.

This is where it gets murky, because I remember watching Voltron and He-Man with my next door neighbor, but I could also swear he moved away before 1984.  Anyway, we played Voltron a lot, and I liked to play as Princess Allura.  I had friends who hated her character, mostly because she replaced fan favorite Sven as the Blue Lion pilot.  I would pretend to hate her right along with them, but secretly I loved her.

I specifically remember one time we were going to play Voltron, and I really wanted to play Allura but didn't want to seem weird.  So I pretended to use "Eeny meeny miny moe" to pick my character, but intentionally fixing it so the result was Allura.  So I must have known by then that playing female characters wasn't considered normal, but it was still important to me.

The GoBots were never as cool as the Transformers.  I avoided the toys for a while, because they just weren't as interesting.  But then the cartoon came out, and we discovered the GoBots had one thing Transformers didn't (yet): female robots.  For this reason alone I bought GoBots to supplement my Transformers collection.  Pathfinder the UFO is still one of my favorite toys.  We pretended the Transformer "Cosmos" was her little brother.

One of the first cooperative multiplayer arcade games, Gauntlet was just awesome.  My friends and I put hundreds of quarters into that machine.  I always picked Valkyrie, telling the others it was because I liked her durability or whatever, when it was really because she was the only female.  The following year saw the release of two more multiplayer arcade games: Rampage and Quartet.  Again, I always picked the female character, even though one of them was a giant lizard.
Golden Dragon
My parents and I were eating at a Chinese restaurant.  I don't remember the context, but my dad said, "I believe that above all else, homosexuality is a sin.  If you can't accept what you are..." and that's all I can remember.

He wasn't referring to me, but I still felt called out.  I didn't say anything, but inside I wondered if I was gay.  I didn't really understand what gay meant at the time, but I knew I was feminine.

Literally the first thing I ever heard about Metroid was that when you beat the game, it turns out (spoiler alert, I guess) that you're a woman.  I bought it as soon as I could, and it quickly became my favorite game.  It still remains my all-time favorite game series.

Some time around 1988, I actually played outside as Samus Aran.  This memory sticks out because I would have been around 15, which is well after I had outgrown that sort of play.

My maternal Grandmother died in 1987, and at one point I was given a box of her old books to see if I wanted to read any of them.  I picked out Alien, the novelization of the 1979 movie.  Of course I liked it so much that I had to see the movie, and the sequel Aliens, and now they're two of my favorite movies.

What makes them so much better than your standard horror/sci-fi movies?  Well the creature design is part of it, but Ripley is another big factor.  In the second movie she was such a badass, even today she's the go-to character when people are trying to think of good female action heroes.

Maniac Mansion
I loved this game for the Commodore 64, along with its spiritual sequel, Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders.  Maniac Mansion had you pick a team of three characters right from the beginning, and I almost always picked the female characters. 

Migraine Headaches
For about a year and a half, I suffered daily migraine headaches.  At the time I attributed it to stress – a lot of difficult things were happening at once.  But looking back, I think it was clinical depression.  Basically I gave myself headaches because I needed a real symptom so I’d have an excuse not to get out of bed.  I can't prove it, but I believe at least part of my depression was gender related.  I will blog more thoroughly about this later.

Newsweek - Is This Child Gay?
The February 24, 1992 issue of Newsweek had an article about whether homosexuality was nature or nurture.  I never read the article, but the idea stuck with me.  I still didn't know I was trans, but I knew I was feminine, and I came up with my own theory:  Maybe scientists think there's a gene that's only present in gay people, but actually it's just found in people who act like the opposite sex.  I had the idea that maybe I had that gene, even though I was straight.

In college I was addicted to an online game called JediMUD.  But was I addicted to the game itself, or to the fact that I could walk around and be seen as the opposite sex?  Even when people spoke to me out of character, I still pretended to be a woman in real life.  I didn't know why I did that, but I couldn't stop.  I just needed to be seen as female, both in and out of character.

Because of this, one could argue that my trans issues were responsible for my poor academic performance, leading to my leaving college, and never finding a high paying job.

Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger
Two of my favorite RPGs.  Both allow you to build your own active party from a larger pool of characters, and I almost always used the female characters more than the males.  Even if they weren't always the most powerful characters.

This is one of my favorite Disney movies, even though, objectively, it's not that great.  I identify with Mulan more than any other Disney character.  The scenes where she's trying to fit in with the men remind me so much of myself trying to act male.  Also the way she's terrified of being discovered and outed, especially in the bathing scene.  The whole story reminded me of the Bounty Hunter stories I would play with my friend as a child.

NeverWinter Nights
This was the game I was playing when my egg cracked.  I bought NeverWinter Nights about a year after it came out.  I never really got into the main quest, but the online mode was fantastic.  I played on a server called "The Silver Marches", which required players stayed in character.  I enjoyed creating characters with full backstories, with well-defined (if shallow) personalities that made it easier to roleplay.

The characters I played most often:
Brynwyn Elswyth, an elf archer with a bubbly personality.
Dervish, a human fighter who was constantly trying to prove herself.
Madeline Starkraven, a former pirate with mental issues.

During this time I made an online friend.  He lived in Mexico, but in my time zone, so we were often online at the same time.  He taught me a lot about D&D and its lore.  I didn't specifically tell him I was female IRL, but he assumed it early on and I never corrected him.  After a while, we started talking outside the game as well.  We sent a lot of e-mails back and forth, and we kept corresponding even after we quit the Silver Marches.

Again, I just couldn't help myself.  It wasn't enough to be female in game, I had to let people think I was female in real life as well.  I don't know how else to say it - I simply couldn't tell people I was male.  It was a complete mental block. 

Realizing I had a problem, I explored this feeling, trying to sort out exactly why it was so important to me.  I started doing some googling, and for the first time I came across the terms "transgender" and "gender dysphoria".  This was my epiphany, the moment my egg really cracked open.  The more I read, the more I realized I wasn't learning new information - I was just learning the proper words for feelings I had felt all my life.

I did reveal I was male to my online friend, and he was very accepting.  We're still friends today.

Snopes Message Board
My first "coming out" post was on the snopes message board, in the "Letters You Wish You Could Send" topic.  It was a bit longer before I worked up the courage to actually start coming out to people I knew.

This Blog
This is when I posted my first blog on the subject. Around the same time I came out to a lot of friends and family.

To sort out my issues, I went to both a psychiatrist and a psychologist.  The first psychiatrist I went to couldn't really help me.  He was great at his job, but he didn't have much experience with gender issues, and after a few sessions he admitted I should find someone else.  So I asked someone at the support group who they use, and they gave me a name.  I saw that psychologist for about two years.  Then my insurance changed and I could no longer afford it.

This isn't the first time I left the house en femme, but the first time it was really successful.  A friend of mine did the makeup job, and she did fantastic work.  Unfortunately, I think I look like one of my aunts, who is bigoted.

I went out to a meeting of my transgender support group, and several of them complimented my makeup.  It made me happy, but I didn't go to many more meetings of that group.  It just felt depressing.   When you put that many depressed people in a room together, the depression takes on an air of its own, and it hangs like a cloud.

Nashville Pride
I dressed as a woman and went to Nashville Pride, which was held in Centennial Park that year.  I had a great time, but there was also an element that was emotionally scarring.  While I was walking from my car to the event, I overheard a child ask their parent, "Why is that man dressed that way?"  The parent answered, "Don't look at him, honey."  I haven't dressed out since.

Atlanta Pride
We made a special trip to Atlanta to go to their pride festival.  My intention was to dress out again.  My cousin offered to let us sleep at her house so we didn't have to pay for a hotel.  When I warned her I planned to dress as a woman before leaving her house the morning of Pride, suddenly they were busy that weekend and we couldn't stay.  Imagine that.

So we did stay at a hotel, but on the morning of the festival I decided not to dress out anyway.  It was too hot, and I didn't want to take the extra time to get ready.  

Dungeons & Dragons
This is the first time I played in D&D 4th edition.  I was no longer going to go support group meetings, or seeing a therapist, and I hadn't put on women's clothing in a year.  I was very close to suicide at the time, but instinctively I knew what I needed to do to save my life.  I looked for a D&D group.

I've been playing D&D semi-regularly for 10 years now.  By living vicariously through my female D&D characters, I scratch that itch that dressing up used to fix.  It's not perfect, and I'll probably pay for it later, but for now it keeps me going.  I still have my ups and downs, and sometimes I seek additional support.  Blogging helps me purge my inner demons, and I've had a lot of help from people on websites like reddit and Tumblr.

Today I've given up on ever transitioning.  Maybe if I wind the lottery or something, but right now I have to focus on other issues, like money and my spouse's health. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

ROGD vs Clues

Today I learned a new term: "Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria".  It appears this is mostly used by anti-trans people who are floored when someone comes out, because they never noticed any signs.  They're worried that their loved one was brainwashed by all the transgender media coverage lately, and is deciding to transition too quickly.

Look, I can't comment on every case of egg cracking. I'm sure there are a few transitioning people out there who aren't actually transgender, but rather having some other sort of identity crisis.  They may be grasping at the trans explanation because it seems simpler. 

But for most of us, we've had clues all our lives.  We just got teased for our femininity/masculinity at an early age, and learned to hide these traits from our peers.  Learning how to shove these traits in the closet becomes a means of survival.  Eventually you do it automatically.

Personally, when I started coming out to friends, I was amazed at how many of them were surprised.  I can't believe they didn't see any clues.  They knew I always picked female characters in video games, they remembered I pretended to be female characters when we played GI Joe as kids.  When I got engaged, I told several people: "We're perfect together, she has all the masculine qualities I lack, and I have all the feminine qualities she lacks."  Still didn't spark any suspicions.

Then again, they obviously didn't spark enough suspicions in me, either, since I didn't fully realize I was transgender until about 2005, a good 10 years after I got married.  I guess there's a tendency to take what people look like at face value, even when it's yourself.

Anyway, all I'm really saying is that what seems like "rapid" to one person isn't rapid to the trans person.  It's far more likely that there's a lifetime of clues that people handwaved away.  Parents in particular seem to be prone to denial, because they have an idealized image of who their children are.

Believe your trans friends.  Believe your trans children.  Just believe trans people.  Your skepticism is damaging in ways you will never know.

Monday, September 17, 2018


Bear with me here, I'm trying to complete a thought.  It's hard to put into words, but... I'm not trans because I want to fit in with women.  I'm trans because I have to try if I want to fit in with males.

I have a very vivid, but incomplete, memory: I was a kid - I don't know how young, but my parents were still married so it was probably before high school.  We were eating at a Chinese restaurant.  I don't remember any of the conversation that led up to it, but my dad said, "I believe that above all else, homosexuality is a sin.  If you can't accept what you are..." and that's all I can remember about what he said.

I do remember feeling a little confronted, though.  I didn't say anything, but inside I wondered if I was gay.  I didn't really understand what gay meant at the time, and I'd definitely never heard the word transgender.  But I knew I was feminine, and at the time I thought the two might be the same thing.

But it wasn't until years later that I thought about how backwards his statement was.  Realizing you're gay is accepting what you are.  Gay is your state of being.  Being gay and continuing to date the opposite sex, pretending everything is fine... that's refusing to accept what you are.

Same with trans people.  If I were to put on a dress and makeup and hang out with more women, that wouldn't be me rejecting my identity, but rather accepting it.  "Why can't you just be yourself?"  That is me being myself.  I spent my youth hanging out with groups of males, pretending like I fit in, faking that bond of brotherhood the rest seemed to have.  It's not comfortable, and it doesn't feel natural.

Transitioning isn't like moving to some strange new world, it's more like coming home.