Monday, April 30, 2012

The Real Me

 A friend just posted this on Facebook, she happens to be the student president at my college. Such a mind-blowing amount of courage. I don't know Sarah that well, and yet, I am incredibly proud.

This note has been a long time coming, 21 years actually.

Today, I ended my term as AU’s student body president. Being president has been an unbelievable privilege for me. I have learned and grown so much over the last year, both personally and professionally. As proud as I am of all of the issues we tackled together as a campus community, the biggest take away, for me, has been the resolution of an internal struggle. You see, for my entire life, I’ve struggled with my gender identity.

And it was only after the experiences of this year that I was able to come to terms with what had been my deepest secret: I’m transgender.

For me, it is something I’ve always known, but had never accepted. It’s been present my whole life, from as early as I can remember. It wasn't that I knew I was different, I literally knew I was a girl. I remember my friends dressing me up as a girl at four or five and just feeling a completeness that I didn't feel as a boy.

Around the age of six or seven, I was watching a sitcom with my mom when a transgender character appeared. Until this point, I thought I was alone and that there was nothing I could do about who I knew I was. I remember asking my mom what “transgender” meant. She explained it to me, and my heart dropped; I knew “that’s who I am” and I knew I'd have to tell my parents someday.

At the same time, I developed my love of politics. And starting at six and seven, I wrestled with the fact that my dream and my identity seemed mutually exclusive; I had to pick. So I picked what I thought was easier and wouldn’t disappoint people.

As I got older, became successful in politics, and expectations grew, the pedestal that I was on made it harder for me to come to terms with everything. As the years passed, my golden handcuffs grew stronger and stronger. I had everyone and everything telling me that I could really make it in politics. “What a privilege,” I thought, “I shouldn’t sacrifice that.” I was also scared to disappoint the mentors who had invested so much of their time and provided me with so many opportunities. 

To avoid letting myself and others down, I rationalized my decision: if I can obtain positions of power, make life a little fairer for other people, and make the world a little more accepting of different identities, then that work would be so compelling and fulfilling that it would make me feel complete and some how mitigate my own, internal struggles. I told myself that if I could make “Tim” worthwhile for other people by changing the world, that being “Tim” would have been worthwhile. I also thought that, on a superficial level, the perks and privileges of being an elected official would bring me some level of happiness that I couldn't otherwise achieve.

Then I came to AU and I became SG President. As President, for the last year, I've experienced a mock elected official experience. I realized that as great as it is to work on issues of fairness and equality, it only highlighted my own struggles. I also realized that I didn't care about the superficial things. I found no great happiness in the notoriety and the recognition. Finally, being the SG President gave me the confidence to disregard the petty things people say about me behind my back.

By mid-fall, it had gotten to the point where I was living in my own head. With everything I did, from the mundane to the exciting, the only way I was able to enjoy it was if I re-imagined doing it as a girl.  I wasn't really living anymore.  My existence was experienced through imagination. The world was passing by in front of me, but I wasn’t engaging in it as the person I knew I was; my life was passing me by, and I was done wasting it as someone I wasn't.

And with those experiences, and that new confidence, I couldn't continue to rationalize to myself that it would get better by continued concealment. It would only get better if I came to terms with everything and began to live true to myself.

After confiding in two or three friends as I struggled through fall semester, I told my family and some of my closest friends over winter break. My brothers and parents greeted me with immediate support and unconditional love. Naturally, it was difficult for them. On one level, they had believed that they would never have to really worry about me, that I was pretty much set for life. This development rocked that sense of security and for the first time in my life, they worried about my safety, my professional opportunities, my acceptance, and my happiness. And on a deeper level, they felt like they were losing me.

Since that difficult first week, there is no doubt things have gotten better. My parents have seen that the child they know and love isn’t going anywhere. My friends have been nothing short of exceptional. My parents’ friends have embraced them and me. And we move forward as a family, closer than ever.

The last several months have really shown me a lot about my life. I learned what truly amazing family and friends I have. My news has been met, 100% of the time, with love, acceptance, support, and, in most instances, excitement.

In a similar vein, as difficult as this has been for myself and my family, the experience highlights my own privilege. From day one, I never worried about my family loving and accepting me. But for far too many trans men and women, the reality is far bleaker. Coming out oftentimes means getting kicked out of your home, your community, and your family. I also mentioned that this is the first time that my parents have had to worry about my safety, my job prospects, and my acceptance. But those worries are all too common for most families. I grew up in an upper-income household, in an accepting environment, and with incredible educational opportunities.

I say this not to diminish my own struggle and experience, but to acknowledge the privilege, support, blessings, and opportunities which have been afforded to me. I also say this to emphasize that this story is my experience and my experience alone. There is no one-size-fits-all narrative; everyone’s path winds in different ways.

Today is the next day of the life I’ve already had, but at the same time, the first day of the life I always knew I wanted to lead. Starting on Saturday, I will present as my true self. Going forward, I ask that you use female pronouns (she/her) and my chosen name, Sarah. Over the last several months, I’ve begun to quietly make the transition. A month and a half ago, I started hormones. I’ve told most of my friends and have secured an internship for the summer at the Victory Fund, an organization that works to elect LGBT people to public office and one of the largest political action committees in the nation.

I’d love nothing more than to remain friends with all of you. Below is a link to my new facebook. Feel free to friend me if we aren’t friends already and, please, do not hesitate to ask me any questions. I know this is new to a lot of people and I’m happy to explain my experience in more detail.

With every birthday candle extinguished, with every penny thrown, my wish was always the same.  I am now blessed with the opportunity to live my dream and fulfill a truth I have known since childhood. My gratitude is great to my family and friends for accepting me as the person who they now know me to be, and for letting me show them the possibilities of a life well lived.


PS I now know that my dreams and my identity are only mutually exclusive if I don’t try :)

Below are some links with more information to answer some general questions. For AU students, you can also go to the GLBTA Resource Center with questions.

Still Missing You

I know I write about this a lot, but in a lot of ways it has affected me more than I ever anticipated and probably even more than I admit. I didn't lose a biological grandmother, but I lost a grandma just the same. This was a woman who loved me, and in the way families often do, I never really appreciated as much as I wish I had. Now there's a lovely little girl who doesn't get to know the grandma I did; a little girl who deserves it so much more than I did. Perhaps it hurts so much because it was the second blow in only a few months, or perhaps because we knew it was coming. Whether we were admitting it or not, we all knew. This was the second-to-last time I ever saw Fran, we were visiting to celebrate her granddaughter's birth. I remember I was kind of distracted because I had spent the morning with another one of my favorite people who I knew I was losing (well at least I thought so at the time). Then after I got there I was more exited about baby Meredith than her grandmother. I'm not trying to be that melodramatic person saying "I should have appreciated                more when I had the chance!" Sniffle. Sniffle. But, looking back, I didn't monopolize on the time I had, probably because in the back of my mind I knew it was coming to a close but didn't want to accept that. Anyway, I still miss you, Fran, and I wish I'd called you grandma more. 


It's a strange feeling and you'd think (well depending on how well you know my life) that I'd be quite accustomed to it, but almost without fail the people I love the most are the people in my life that are hurting and time and time again they are the people I can do the least to help. I have been on the sidelines of too many games of love, loss, and hopelessness where at most I can be a cheerleader and at worst I am an onlooker that only makes the players more uncomfortable and self conscious. They are always players without teams, and usually without coaches. The people I most want to support and see succeed are the people I can;t help get there. I have kept the deepest secret in the world for the person I care most about in it for over a year, have been the object of the greatest passion for one of my closest friends, and have heard stories I never dreamed of and certainly couldn't have survived from one of strongest people I know. I don't think me knowing even helps sometimes. I don't really mind knowing these things, but if I can't help I always just feel in the way, like a grumpy referee making calls that do not promote fairness but merely make the game unbearable. Yet, at the same time, I generally feel like the only way to stay close to these people I care about so much is to keep knowing and keep cheering, whatever the costs. Perhaps that's selfish. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Music. Love. Happiness?

Music gets me, and I get it. I've always felt a little silly for pretty much being able to relate and get into any song I hear (well okay, I can't really "get into" classical but I definitely like it and well, there's always dubstep, but in general). But, never fear! I have discovered an explanation for this phenomenon. Perhaps because I've had such a ridiculous, rigmarole, across-the-board love-life in the last five years, I've realized I tend to frame just about everything in terms of love. Who I love, what I love, what I'm passionate about, what makes me angry because of who and what I love. Similarly, most music is framed in love. It's quite a challenge to find a song (with lyrics) that isn't about someone or something somebody loves or used to love. Reasonably, this makes sense. These are the things people are interested in. No one is going to write and perform a song about something as mundane as drinking from a solo cup....oh, whoops. But wait, Toby says "I love you, red solo cup," merely proving my point. Unconventional, yes, but love. All joking aside, it has made me a pretty equal-opportunity music lover, which perhaps makes me indiscriminate, but at least I enjoy it. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Not Quite Lost

I've been feeling kind of strange the last few days and only just realized why. Do you ever have moments where you feel off but cannot figure out what prompted it? Yesterday was decently acceptable in the scheme of things: got lots of sleep, went to class, studied, actually finished homework for my night class. But I felt weird all day. I realized in the evening that I was vaguely uncomfortable in the dress I was wearing, even though it's cute enough and then realized I had not worn it since the summer. Then, I realized the last time I had worn it, was to the funeral of someone I cared a lot about. And I miss her, and on some subconscious level that dress makes me think of her. I suppose it got a little better after I realized it, but it will always be bittersweet. So then today I was feeling kind of funky again and this afternoon I got a text from a friend of the family asking for my mom's phone number. I didn't think much of it and sent it to him. Then, later, my mom called and asked for his wife's cell phone number (it has apparently been a rather epic game of phone tag). She said it was what would have been TC's 11th birthday. April 19th. I know the day, I've heard it before, but never needed to remember it. It's so strange that I can care so much for a person I never met, a person that only coexisted on this earth with me for 18 months before I was old enough to know what death is. And despite all of that, it makes me exceptionally sad. perhaps because I see those who were so much closer to him hurt, but perhaps just because I know I probably should. Either way it was a weird few days, with some weird signs, and weird feelings. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

One Down

Over 25 percent of my college education will be over in less than 25 days. It is strange that no matter how logical it is to me that as I get older, time gets faster, I'm always surprised when it happens. This year that only barely started is ending and I don't know if I'm pleased or disappointed. It's sad that I only have two and a half more years with these friends I've come to love so dearly, but I cannot say I'm not excited to go home and relax for a while. This has been one of the most stressful, high-intensity experiences of my life, but I don't think I'm ready for the world after that. It's so ridiculous that I'm freaking out about this being the end, when really it's less than a third over, but I am. My roommate and I started a countdown to going home today. You know it's close when there's a countdown. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

This is Why We Fight: We Fight to End the Silence

It's a very odd thing among allies, we never really feel like we belong. I want to help in this battle against the ridiculous people in the world who think some people are less than human because of who they love. But, who am I to fight this, I have been given all the privilege of being heterosexual in this world. A friend asked today (The Day of Silence) why it is that we (gay or straight) do this. I have heard several reasons throughout the years of my participation in the event: to stand in solidarity with those who must be silent about their sexual orientation, to stand with all of those who have been silent when they have been bullied, but I realized today that, intentional or not, it is designed to make you feel as alone as someone who can't be out might. That's obviously not something we allies can ever understand, but it seems similar. To their credit, my friends do quite a fabulous job of understanding what I'm trying to gesture or mouth to them, but without words, I feel very much alone. Perhaps that is because I rely so much on words to communicate. But even when I can write things for them, I cannot convey tone. The Day of Silence thus seems to be a particularly awkward event for an ally. Tonight, my school is breaking the silence with Pride Prom, but Pride Prom is not a place I feel that I belong, even though I know I would be welcomed equally. It feels so out of place to be that awkward straight girl in the movement for rights she has. It will never inspire me to stop, I still think this is one of the most important issues that will plague our country in our lifetime, but it does mean I am quieter (no pun intended). Less of a warrior, more support staff. And then I feel just as crappy for not being in it with everything that I've got. To be GLBT in our heteronormative, gender binary world is to be very alone, but to be straight in the queer community is very odd indeed. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Where You Lead...

I will follow, anywhere that you tell me to; if you need me to be with you, I will follow where you lead (Carole King). I don't know how to tell someone that has never experienced a really genuine, lasting love from anyone but a mother that they are loved, wanted, valued, appreciated. How do you communicate to someone who has never known any better they they are not disposable? I can tell you that I'll always be here, they we will always be hear, but I know you've heard that before, and I know it's been a lie. How do we teach you to trust again? And how long can I keep telling you we aren't going anywhere before I'm just a crazy broken record and you just get annoyed? I've considered everything from sending a text every day to writing a blogpost you may or may not read. But I'm realizing the issue isn't that we need to learn to say it differently, but you need to learn to hear it differently. But how can you change ears that have been hurt so much. It's amazing that you aren't deaf to everything we ever tell you. You also have the added intrigue of being a challenge and me being stubborn. You will never get rid of me, or any of us. I am determined to prove to you that we will always be there. But you need to keep us in the conversation; tell us what you need, always. I love you, and I'll always be here, and you damn well better believe I'm never going to let you forget it. 

Collateral Murder

I’m mildly embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t seen it earlier, but in my contemporary media class we watched the Wikileaks video of U.S. helicopters in Baghdad shooting down about 15 unarmed civilians, including wounding two children. We watched it in class to discuss whether information of that nature should be available to the public on the internet, but that was not the part that bothered me. Nor am I troubled that members of the American military are rampaging around Iraq killing civilians. Actually, watching the video, it is not hard to see how the camera equipment the civilians were carrying could have looked like weapons. There is no doubt in my mind that the incident, while tragic, was an honest mistake. However, what deeply does trouble was the language and attitudes of the men talking about the “targets” they were killing. Reasonably, I have absolutely no right to say anything about this. I have never been in war, hell, I’ve never been in anything anywhere close to war. I do not know what it takes to stand in front of a another human being and kill them because someone above me somewhere deems them a treat. On a logistically level, I understand the necessity to dehumanize the enemy, but I recently listened to a ex-army speaker who said that he felt the enemy had been too dehumanized and thinks that American in general needs to recognize the common bonds of humanity a lot more. And after that, I can't help to think that we are not dehumanizing the enemy, we are just dehumanizing humans. I fully understand being relieved after an attack, I can even understand feeling some excitement for the conflict, it is an adrenaline rush, but I don't think I will ever be able to understand laughing when a tank intentionally runs over the shot-down body of a civilian journalist on the streets of Baghdad. There has to be a lone drawn somewhere for who is a person and who is an enemy. To be fair, that particular civilian journalist was legitimate thought to be an insurgent with a weapon. But I think we need to decide that the second someone dies they become a human again, regardless of what they were before. When someone is no longer a threat, they deserve just as much respect as anyone else, enemy or not. And as long as we keep dehumanizing the enemy, we can keep casually walking into war. War should never be casual. Death should never be casual. Two wounded children should never be casual. Fifteen bodies littering a Baghdad street should never be casual, certainly not casual enough to run over with a tank, and laugh. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

11 million

It really bothers me when people talk about the Holocaust in the context of 6 million Jews being killed. That is, don't get me wrong, absolutely true and atrocious, but 5 million other people died, gays, and gypsies and many other "undesirable" groups. We da a disservice to all 11 million if we pretend the Jewish population was the only one that suffered. Reasonably, they suffered at far greater rates than other populations, but that does not invalidate the experiences of others. I also think that if we stop framing the issue as Germans against Jews and start framing it as Hitler against humanity, we can find a lot more ways to come together and be stronger because of the Holocaust, rather than look back on it with resentment. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

I went to my second National Young Feminist Leadership Conference this weekend (and dragged along a friend). Last year, it was the most empowering, energizing thing I had ever been a part of in the fight for women's rights (human rights). This year, however, it was strangely defeating. Last year we got to talk about progress and things that still needed to be done, but this year we were forced to discuss ridiculous issues like the defunding of accessible birth control, Personhood laws, and referendums on women and the GLBT community across the nation. The real problem is that I don't know how to fight something I can't understand. I cannot fathom how anyone thinks defunding basic health needs like birth control is a good idea. In this, freeist of countries, women are not allowed the freedom to control their own health. Nope, 83 percent men decide that for us. Abortion: I can sit down and have a reasonable discussion with people that oppose it because I can totally understand their argument. However, even when I try to read conservative stances on the birth control issue, I cannot begin to understand it. Perhaps I ought to fram this as an economic issue, because, quite frankly, I think it is ridiculous to legislate morality in any contexts. Birth control, for one year, including all of the necessary medical visits and prescriptions, costs less than $1,000 annually for one woman. A pregnancy, costs at least $8,000, assuming there are no complications. So let's pay $8,000 to deliver a baby that a woman is not prepared for, that may go into the adoption system, or is at the very least likely to require welfare, food stamps, or other assistance from the government to become undereducated (because, be real, education is NOT equal), and get pregnant young because they weren't adequately educated about sex? Pro-choice is not pro-abortion. Anyone pro-abortion is a sadistic freak. But I am pro- healthy, competent, informed, empowered women that can make the tough choices (and they are tough, no one engages in this lightly) they need to to best serve themselves and their families. I am pro- open society that is willing to talk to women about their bodies and their choices. I am pro- ending unwanted pregnancy, but face it, as long as people don't have access to birth control and comprehensive education about it, there will be unwanted pregnancies. Abstinence only might sound great to you, but it doesn't work. I know Catholic, and young, and atheists, and unmarried, and Buddhist, and single, and adult, and feminist, and conservative, and intelligent, and college-student, and liberal people, from every walk of life, having sex. We can't keep pretending that if we don't talk about it too much it won't be an issue. I met some fabulously strong women from Catholic University this weekend who can be kicked out of their university housing if they are caught with birth control on or off campus and can be expelled if they are caught having sex. Welcome to the 21st century, Vatican. Sure, It would br great if young people weren't having sex at age 13, 14, 15, 16, but THEY ARE. And they aren't going to stop. If you are pro-human, you are pro-birth control. It's high time we start accepting it.