Monday, November 24, 2014

Miserable People: What I'm Learning

"Cry Baby" By DixieLeota

A friend and I were driving around running errands the other day and chatting about mutual friends and things that are going on in our lives.  She asked me about a friend of ours who had been through a recent break-up and who had been texting/calling us to share the pain of the split.

I told my friend about how it had been over the past few weeks - there had been numerous conversations and text exchanges and solicitations for advice that I dutifully answered.  I was trying to pull from my (limited) experience with heartbreak and encourage her that it gets so much better with time. However, nothing seemed to help and each time we talked, she did the opposite of what I advised and was more miserable than ever.

I said, "I feel like there are just some miserable people in my life who just want to be a victim.  Sometimes, they may ask for my advice, but they never want to take the advice."

My friend said, "Most miserable people don't take advice.  That's why they're miserable."

I sat at the traffic light feeling like I just stumbled upon a really profound statement - the kind I know will turn into a post.

Like so many other profound statements that people make, I tested it out in my mind on all of the miserable people that I could think of and, yes! - none of them like to follow any advice.  

They like to be the victim and are looking for validation.  If you offer ways to alleviate feeling a victim, they'll always give you a reason why they can't or change the subject by telling you another reason why their life sucks.

I remember a few years ago when I, at age 43, had my first broken heart.  A lot of people go through this several times as teenagers and they get these lessons early on.  I had no such experience to draw on so I made a lot of bad decisions about how to handle the break-up, including allowing my ex to stay in contact with me which just fed into the drama on a daily basis.
 
Of all the advice I got, the most unanimous was to stop communicating with her.  They told me how hard it would be for me to move on unless I stopped all contact.  I ignored it and most of the other advice that was given to me that had to do with actually taking steps to move on with my life.  And as you might expect, I paid dearly for it.

It was after learning the hard way why I should listen to those people who I love and respect and who love me.  I know they would never try to steer me wrong and they want to spare me pain the same way that I want to do this for my children when I offer them advice.  It's not for my benefit, it's for theirs.

My motto now is "I'd rather learn from your mistakes than my own."

A word of advice to miserable people: When you are offered advice, especially the same advice from people you respect, take it.  They might be able to see patterns in your life that you are blind to.  They might have had a similar experience or dealt with a similar personality before. 

If you don't respect them enough to take their advice, realize that you are not a victim - you are a fool who wants to sit in your negative thought patterns like a toddler sits in a dirty diaper.  

"...Fools despise wisdom and instruction." - Proverbs 1:7  

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Thought My Dad Was A Superhero (and still do)


I was talking to a friend the other day about how my dad used to take me to this park while we waited for my brother, Chuck, to get out of kindergarten.  Dad and I had picnic lunches by a pond at the park and would feed the ducks.  He would push me on the swings and play with me - he wasn't the typical dad who has other things to do.  He was very interactive and attentive.  I really felt like he was my best friend.

I also remember one time when he was playing catch with my brother and I and he hurled this ball really, really high into the air.  I lost sight of it and waited for it to fall back down.  But it never did.  My brother and I marveled at his strength and prowess and from our bunk-beds at night, we discussed the possibility that he might be one of the Super Friends whose stickers adorned our metal closet door.


As a playmate, Dad was the best!  He would instigate the best hide-n-seek games whereby my brother would commence the counting and Daddy would hide me in the craziest places, like in the dryer or on top of the refrigerator.  My brother could never find me and it delighted me to elude him in a way I could never seem to when I chose my own hiding place. 
 

I also remember one time when he took me out into the courtyard of our apartments in Decatur, GA.  He had a folding lawn chair that he laid in to work on his tan while I played with toys nearby.  As I was playing, I noticed an odd sensation that my 4-year old self had never felt.  My shorts were kind of vibrating.  I went to him to report the suspicious activity in my britches.  He pulled back my elastic waistband and a ginormous furry bumblebee escaped.  My hero!

(Daddy still likes to call me "my little girl with the bee in her pants.") 


Not long after, I remember Dad in my room crying and scraping our Super Friends stickers off the closet door.  I asked him why he was crying and he told me that he wasn't going to be living with me anymore.  I really had no idea how much my life would change when my mom would marry the sociopath she was having an affair with and move us to New York, far away from our dad. 

He would not be there to rescue my brother or I from being woken from a dead sleep at 3am by being yanked straight out of bed and slammed down hard on our feet.  He wasn't there to stop this guy from spinning us around in circles until we cried while telling us he was rescuing us from a bad dream.  Dad didn't know this nut was forcing us to run invisible bases in our basement (like we were at a ball game) in the middle of the night.  And the madman told us that if we told anyone, including our mom, that he would kill us, then our mom and then himself.


A lot of years have passed since those days and I am happy to report that I only live about 8 miles from my dad and his wonderful wife, Gail.  He has resumed his heroic place in my life - helping to ease me out of the closet and being one of my biggest cheerleaders as I put myself through college.  And, as you might have read in my blog over the last year, he is currently kicking the ass of a brain tumor that threatens his life.  Dad is still my best friend and a complete and total hero - a Super Friend of the best kind!




Monday, November 10, 2014

The Story About Getting My Gay Feet Wet


Yesterday, my girlfriend and I were downtown dropping off 3 little dogs that we watched for some friends of ours who were on their first anniversary trip.  My throat started to hurt so I suggested we could go to a nearby Caribou Coffee for something warm to drink.  

This shop is located in Atlanta at the corner of 10th and Piedmont, also known as the corner of Gay and Gayer.  This is the unofficial center of homo-culture in Atlanta. 

When I stepped inside with her to order, I started looking around at the familiar surroundings and the memories came back to me.  Without thinking, I started to tell her the story about getting my gay feet wet here.

Back in my former life where I was married to a man and trying to pray away my gay, I didn't even know a gay person.  I had no idea how they met, where they went or what they did together.  


I can't remember how I found out that the corner of 10th and Piedmont was the hub of homosexual but when I became aware, I couldn't get it out of my mind that I finally knew something about the gay community in Atlanta. 


One day, I left my suburban home for a doctors appointment downtown.  I decided to go to this intersection after my appointment to see what it was like.  My heart raced a little as I drove past the corner going in one direction, then circled back and turned right.  I got a little down the road and non-nonchalantly came back the other way.  I spotted the coffee shop and pulled in. 

At the time, I didn't even drink coffee but I ordered a hot tea and settled at a table by the window to observe.  I saw Outwrite, a gay bookstore with rainbow flags flying across the street.  I saw several gayish bars and restaurants.  I saw many stereotypical gay and lesbian people walking around.


This was the first step I ever took towards joining the gay community.  I imagined myself knowing many of these people, perhaps living in a loft nearby and having a lot of gay friends that lived around the corner from here.  I pictured the girl I would date - a sweet little feminine girl who would take our shared dog for walks around Piedmont Park. She would host amazing dinner parties and we would enjoy our little gay community together.

I was taking the gay lifestyle for a test drive to see how comfortable I would feel being a part of all of this.


Of course, I could not have known that I wouldn't actually live anywhere near downtown, or that I only know one gay couple that lives near the coffee shop (the anniversary couple), or that the sweet femme that I date would be allergic to dogs, hate to cook and be a raging introvert.  

For me, a married, stay-at-home mom living in a fundamental evangelical environment, I found it exhilarating to be sitting there - at the corner of Gay and Gayer, sipping my tea and having a secret moment of accepting my sexuality and taking mental steps toward the authentic life that I dreamt of since seeing Oprah do a show about it years earlier.  

None of the patrons in this coffee shop had an inkling that they had all been conscripted to serve as my honorary gay family until I actually met and made friends with my own one day.

I went back a few times before coming out of the closet.  Maybe it was to summon more courage, or to strengthen my resolve to actually come out.  Maybe it was just to prepare for the transition from my church community, who I knew would pray for my death and toss me out, to my LGBT community.  


I never spoke to anyone or told anyone why I was there or how I was covertly connecting with all of them in my mind.  I just made them all my brothers and sisters and trusted that they were going to catch me when it was time to fall.


As I told her about my secret visits to that very coffee shop, I was feeling nostalgic (and also PMS-y).  I could have never guessed that 7 years later, I would be sitting in that very shop with my beautiful girlfriend, drinking coffee and sharing a story with her that I am just now realizing was incredibly profound. 

As we got up to leave, I looked around at the rainbow flags hanging in the windows and the people seated around the room.  These were still my people and although I don't know them and they don't know me, they were here for me when I needed them and for that, I will always love them.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Story of My Rotten Sunday School Class



God, Oprah... my life is full of favorite quotes I heard on your show.  One that I heard that became a mantra for me was "Expect nothing and appreciate everything"

The thing on my mind right now is the trouble that unmet expectations cause in the fucking up of relationships.  

Yesterday, I awoke to a text from a new acquaintance who expressed disappointment in me not pursuing a friendship with her more aggressively.  She had expectations of me that I had not met and she wanted to talk about that.  As I thought about her pain and tried to evaluate how much I had caused by my not being as attentive to the new friendship and how much she caused herself by expecting me to behave in a certain way, it got me thinking about unmet expectations that we can have for each other.

I recalled an example from my own life many years ago during my church days when I was trying to pray away my gay and thought it might be good to share.

The Story of My Rotten Sunday School Class

I was pregnant with Lindsey and in a close-knit group of young adults that made up my Sunday School class.  We did a lot of social events together.  Many of the women were stay-at-home moms like me and we had many opportunities outside of Sunday School to fellowship including Bible study, couples bowling, attending our husbands' softball games together, etc.  I threw several baby showers for women in this group as well as remembered birthdays and took meals when someone was sick. In many ways, we were like a family.

It hurt my feelings that my due date was upon us and nobody had offered to throw a baby shower for me.  I didn't say anything.  However, Lindsey was born on a Sunday morning just before church and it was announced in our class that she had arrived safely.  I had expected a few visitors or calls after church.  When they didn't come, I was really hurt. 

In fact, I only had a single phone call from Mona, one of the women that I thrown a shower for.  She offered to bring a meal later that week.  Other than that, I didn't get a call, a visit, a card, a gift - not any kind of acknowledgement that my daughter was born.  


Each week, I sat in class silently stewing about it and looking across the rows into the faces of my classmates and silently singing "Fake Friends" by Joan Jett in my mind.

I fantasized about standing up in the middle of class and telling them all what hypocrites they were.  Here I was a lesbian, not being a lesbian because I was being a good Christian woman, and they were acting like inconsiderate assholes!

I wanted to laugh out loud when our teacher taught about loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself.  I found it more and more difficult to get up on Sunday mornings and go to class because I was dragging this incredible burden around with me.  I couldn't even pay attention to what was being said because it bothered me so much that they were all so unaware of the pain they had caused me.


I was withdrawing from activities and stopped participating in things as a way to protect my heart from further hurt and, as weird as it seems, as a punishment for them.  I was divorcing myself from this family.

I had this expectation for them to have the same love toward me that I had for all of them.  When they didn't show me love the way I wanted to see it - an acknowledgement of my daughter's birth, it cut me to my core.


All of those times I was so bitter and angry and wanted to lash out and call them hypocrites would have never reached their hearts because I would have delivered it in an attacking way.  Whenever you attack, it is a natural response to be defensive. 

After several months of me feeling so badly about this and wishing to just quit church all together, I finally had some relief.  It happened this way:


Our Sunday School class was growing and our teacher suggested that we use a class to organize and put certain people in charge of tasks.  Couples were assigned as "care group" leaders - they had 4-5 couples in the class that they were to be sure were ministered to and, if they stopped coming, were reached out to.  

The teacher suggested a few women volunteer for some spots such as organizing meal delivery for families who were in crisis, and perhaps someone to make sure that all babies born to a class member were welcomed with either a shower or a diaper drive.

Mona, the woman who called me to offer a meal, spoke up and said, "We don't need anyone to do that.  We all take care of that."

The teacher said, "We don't want anyone to fall through the cracks, though.  I think we need to have a woman be in charge of making sure that doesn't happen."

She said, "Nobody will fall through the cracks."

Without even realizing it, I found myself rising to my feet.  I looked into the faces of everyone staring at me and I said, "I fell through the cracks."

The room was silent except for the pounding of my heart.  I could peripherally see my then husband look down at the ground, probably praying that I didn't embarrass him.  

I looked at Mona and said, "Mona, you were the only person in this class to contact me when Lindsey was born.  Other than that, I did not get a call, visit, card, or any type of acknowledgement that we added a new life into our family."

Heads began to hang in shame as the realization that other people didn't step in and do what should have been done - so it didn't get done at all.  Even the teacher looked away.

My voice began to tremble as I tried to keep those hurt feelings, along with my tears, from spilling onto the floor of that room at First Baptist Church of Woodstock.  

"I had an expectation that because I have loved you all, invested in your families, wished you happy birthdays with cards, attended funerals with you when you lost a loved one, prayed for you each week when you shared your requests and lovingly prepared meals for you when you had a need - I had an expectation of you that you would do the same for me.  I apologize for holding you all in contempt in my heart and for the bitterness I have felt toward you all since then.  But we do need someone to step up and make certain that nobody falls through the cracks again."

With the weight of the world now off my shoulders, I sunk down into my chair to settle my heart back to normal speed.  I felt my husband's hand on my leg giving me a pat which may have meant "Good job" or may have meant "That's enough" - I don't really know.  Probably "Please, God, give me another wife that can just let shit go!"

I don't even remember the rest of the meeting because I was just thinking how perfect the circumstances for me to unload my burden.  The woman that needed to be addressed in the discussion was the one that I could deliver my pain to her without making her feel attacked because she was the lone person that actually did what she should have done. I got to say what was in my heart in a way that was helping everyone see the need and I got to say it in a way that was not angry or bitter so people received it in a way that allowed it to do its motivating work.

The lessons I learned from this experience:

  1. Don't assume someone else will take care of it.  If you become aware of a need, go ahead and accept responsibility for it.
  2. I should have expected nothing and just appreciated so much the one friend who cared enough to call.
  3. I should have let the anger and bitterness go long before I did.
  4. I trusted the universe to give me a way to unload it and I waited patiently and it was sublime when I was finally able to let it go - it was my first time not just unloading what I was feeling but thinking before I spoke.  It was a great feeling to know that if I need to get it off my chest at all, I should wait for the best time to do it, not just when I first feel it.
Expect nothing and appreciate everything, my friends.  Don't burden your family and friends with expectations of how they should behave.  Just appreciate whatever they bring, no matter how big or small.  Life is too short to let small offenses caused by unmet expectations ruin our relationships.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Becoming (An ethnographic exploration of the transgender community)



Unassuming.  

This old, grimy, stacked stone Methodist church with dirty, cracked basement windows on the south side of Atlanta is not where I would expect to find this.  Tonight, I am meeting a group of women who were born as genetic males.  They meet once a month here to support each other as they try to straddle two worlds and find a place to belong.

“Atlanta Gender Explorations” is the name of the support group and the president, a petite little redhead named Ashley, meets me on the side of the building by the double red doors.

She identifies as a transsexual; a person who has had surgery to correct what they feel was a birth defect.
I was asked not to record or photograph anyone.  Privacy is zealously guarded here.

Ashley strikes me as shy and reserved.  She is dressed with meticulous care.  She has a navy top with a pleated red skirt.  Her nails are well-manicured and she looks every bit the lady.  There is no question that if I met her on the street that I wouldn’t think that she was born as a biological woman.

I am ushered upstairs to a shabby room filled with chairs that look like they were donated from a variety of living rooms instead of going to Goodwill.  Another woman sits with a book.  I introduce myself and find out her name is Michelle.   Others may also know her as Bob but here, she is Michelle.

Ashley disappears, giving me a chance to speak with Michelle alone.   She is an attractive woman in her mid-sixties and identifies as a cross-dresser; someone who has not taken the steps to have any body modifications but who wears clothes of the opposite gender and presents themselves as someone of the opposite gender.

Ashley reappears and she seems almost embarrassed that nobody else has shown up.  “Maybe they are having a party without me” she nervously offers.
We agree to get started and the ladies are gracious enough to allow me to sit in on their support group and ask questions. 

What I really want to know is how did it all begin?

“I enjoyed being a boy until I was about eleven and puberty started to hit” says Ashley.  “After that, it was really confusing and I hated what was happening to my body.”

Michelle remembers that it began when she was two years old.  

“I found a baby doll in my mom’s closet. I held it and was playing with it. My mom came in and asked what I was doing. I told her, ‘I’m a mama and this is my baby.’ 

I remember her telling me, ‘Bobby, you are a boy and boys can’t be moms.’
I told her again around the time that I was six that I wanted to be a mom and she told me again that it wasn’t possible. It alarmed my parents and they put me in Boy Scouts thinking that it would help. It didn’t.”

Childhood was also difficult for Michelle. 

“I was the neighborhood sissy. I got beaten into a pile a number of times. The kids called me ‘Roberta’. I remember going to bed each night and just hoping that I would wake up as ‘Michelle’. I decided in my heart that I would become ‘Michelle’ when I was ten.”

When Michelle was sixteen, the local Boy and Girl Scout troops got together for a banquet and fashion show.  The girls needed a boy volunteer to be in their show.  

Michelle explains, “I jumped at the chance to wear a dress and have make-up on. When I told my mom, she asked, ‘Are you ready for the whole town to see just how much of a girl you are?’ and I asked her, ‘Are you ready to see just how much of a girl I am?’ She said, ‘I don’t know but I guess we’ll find out.’

“The girls got me all dolled up and I wore a beautiful pink dress. I felt like a queen. When dinner was over and people were dancing, (I’ll never forget this), my dad came walking over to me. He asked me if I would do him the honor of dancing with him. He told me that I looked beautiful. I cried and I cried.”

Touched by this beautiful story, I cried, too.

Michelle is clearly emotional when she recalls the love of her parents back in the early 1960’s.  It was a rare thing to find acceptance like that and the memories of her parents, both deceased, are still very loving and warm.  

Ashley had a different experience with her parents.  

“My mom caught me wearing women’s clothes when I was thirteen.  I was eighteen when I told her that I was a woman and I was in my thirties before we could have a discussion about it comfortably.”

Michelle reflects a lot on her past and Ashley seems to be living in the present.  One curious thing that I noted about them both was that they consider themselves lesbians.  They are women but they don’t want a man.  They are attracted to women.  

“I’m a lesbian” says Michelle. “But my wife does not consider herself as a lesbian, although she loves me more as ‘Michelle’ than she does me as ‘Bob’. When she needs ‘Bob’”, I am ‘Bob’ but otherwise, I am ‘Michelle’ and she sort of acts like the husband.”
“When you got married, were you ‘Bob’ or ‘Michelle’?” I ask.

“I was ‘Bob’ for legal purposes but I was wearing a white wedding dress. It was something that I have dreamed about since I was a child. It was the most memorable day of my life” Michelle explains.  “I’ve attempted to live with one foot in one world and one foot in the other. It’s so hard. At one point, I thought I would have the surgery but a condition of my wife marrying me was that I not have the surgery so I didn’t. But if anything happens to her, I would do it and never look back.”

These ladies both knew they were women although they were born as males.  They each took a different path that worked for them and they seem to be able to offer support to others who are taking this journey.

Meeting with them has deepened my sense of compassion.  Being a part of their support group showed me that when people go through difficult situations, they value their experience enough to want to offer themselves up to others to share and help however it may help another.

As I drive away from that dingy church, I wondered about the other side of the coin?  What is it like for individuals who were born as genetic females but who identify as males?  I wanted to know and decided that my best chance of speaking to some female-to-male people would be at the Southern Comfort Conference (SCC) in Atlanta.

Southern Comfort

The SCC is the largest annual transgendered conference in the country.  It brings the transgendered community from all over the country together for a week of support, workshops, products, services and camaraderie.  

As I drove up to the Crown Ravinia hotel near Perimeter Mall, it struck me what a different venue this was from the United Methodist Church on the south side of Atlanta.  When I entered the lobby, I was greeted by lush plants, an enormous atrium and flowing waterfalls throughout.  It was like an indoor tropical paradise, not an old, neglected building with weeds jutting through the sidewalk cracks.

Milling about the lobby were guests of the conference sitting in overstuffed chairs and sipping on Starbucks while they talked with old friends they haven’t seen since last year’s conference.  

The reflection of cascading water dances overhead and the echoes of high heels can be heard from any place in the atrium.  Here, the women are hyper-feminine and the men are hyper-masculine.  

Some of them pass as the gender they feel that they are.  Others could not pass in a million years.  There are male-to-females here that still have the walk of a linebacker.  Nobody seems to care at all.  They all exude confidence and seem to know and love one another.

I start to mill about the conference hall to see the offerings.  There is an entire room of wares for sale.  As I move up and down the rows, I see things crafted especially for this crowd: make-up, jewelry, wigs, women’s clothes and shoes in mens sizes, photographers offering a sort of “Glamour Shots” shoot, fake boobs and special bras to put them in, corsets, and even a table called “Boi Swag” that sells prosthetic penis products that female-to-male people can wear under their clothes or for sex with their female partners. 

In addition to the products for sale here, there is another room of vendors.  There are doctors that specialize in surgeries, skin care places that offer laser hair removal, medical practices that specialize in transgender care, lawyers who can help navigate changing a name, birth certificate or other necessary legal procedures to secure rights and benefits.  

Particularly fascinating to me was a “voice feminization” product that teaches biological males how to retrain their voices to sound more like women. 
I am impressed that there are so many organizations that see this market and want to cater to it.

I meander back into the main atrium and take a seat in an overstuffed chair.  One couple comes off the elevator and I ask them if they are here for the conference.  They are and agree to sit down to speak with me.

The man, Trey, is wearing a camouflage baseball cap with a large fishing hook through it.  He has a full beard and short, cropped hair.  He has a red t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.  He’s wearing a manly sports watch.  His wife, Sarah, has a Kentucky shirt with jeans, heels and a purse.

They hold hands and sit down in a faux living room area.  I want to know how Trey’s journey began.

“I started out as what I thought as a normal lesbian.  A big dyke.  I used to pretend I was a guy from about the time I was seven years old.  Where I’m from in Mississippi, you don’t have that option (option to change genders).  

Once I learned about it, I got excited about it but also worried about the threat of losing family and friends.  I wanted to hold that part of me back and be kind of accepted rather than not accepted at all.  But one day, I just had enough and had to be who I am.” 

“It’s crazy because people who love you can support you in every other area but when you make the decision to have your body match your brain, they push you out of their lives and shun you.  You can’t mix with the straight crowd.  You can’t mix with the gay crowd.  You’re not the same as any of them so you’re pushed to the side.”

I ask, “How did you two meet?” 

Sarah looks on lovingly at him and replies, “Through mutual friends.  He was already a man and I didn’t know him any other way.  Everyone has been cool with it but not everyone knows.  My dad and brother are against everything so they don’t know.  I was a ‘lesbian’ in my past life and they had no contact with me at that time.  Now, they think I’m straight and they are happy about that so why rock that boat?”

I know that unaccepting family hasn’t been his only challenge.  I recently interviewed the director of the Atlanta Health Initiative.  She said that one big problem that they see in with the female-to-male transgendered people is a total lack of healthcare in the biologically female areas.  These men do not like to acknowledge that they have vaginas, ovaries, a uterus and a cervix.  I ask Trey about it.

“As part of the conference, they provide some of us with free lowers.  I had one this morning and it was the most awkward experience of my life.  It’s part of you that’s not supposed to be there.”  

A “lower” is the term that trans individuals use to refer to a gynecological exam/pap smear.  

“You want that area to be private even to you.  It’s a reminder of what you’re not.  A part of you that’s never going to be what it should be.”

“How was the doctor who gave you the exam?” I ask.

“The doctor was okay this time.  But some won’t even treat me.  They don’t know what to do with me.  The doctor I saw today was set up for me through the conference and he was great but there’s still that initial moment where he says, ‘I’m sorry but I’ve got to put my hand inside you…’ – it’s not something that is at all comfortable.”

In addition to the actual exam, Sarah and Trey mention other medical problems that arise.  

“The forms that you fill out,” says Sarah, “are always asking questions that you either have to ignore or qualify.  They wanted to know when the last time he had a menstrual cycle.”

Now, I want to know when the last time he had a menstrual cycle but am a little scared to ask such a personal question of this strapping country boy.  

Thankfully, Trey chimes in:  “When was the last time I had a menstrual cycle?  I don’t know.  It was before I started taking ‘T’ (Testosterone, a male hormone).  Two, three years ago?  I don’t know.”

Sarah chimes in, “There are doctors that he regularly sees but there are no forms that are for him.  All of his forms want to know what birth control he’s using.  It’s degrading.”

“I have had two check-ups in the last three years and before that, I was fourteen.” Trey adds.

“Wait.  Wait.  So specifically, you don’t pursue medical care for yourself because it is just an overall very uncomfortable experience for you?” I ask.  

“Exactly” he replied.  “The one I had (PAP Smear) a couple of years ago came back abnormal.  They said you can come back for a re-test but I just couldn’t do it.  It’s too much.  I gotta call and make an appointment.  ‘Hey, my name’s Trey Davis.  I need another PAP smear.’  

Click. 

“‘Hello?  Shit…’”

“Every person that we came in contact with, we had to re-explain it.  Every nurse, every receptionist, every person taking blood.  We’ll say that we are here for a ‘Lower exam’ and nobody knows what we are talking about except the doctor who doesn’t alert his staff” says Sarah.  “You go through it again and again and hope that each person will be professional about it.”

It makes me wonder, “Can’t you find a doctor in Kentucky to do this?  Why wait until you come to Atlanta for the conference?”

“We looked but I had to call around to a lot of doctors and would ask, ‘Do you do lower exams for trans-men?’ and most of them had no idea what I was talking about or didn’t want to mess with him.  It is just impossible to find someone with any experience in this area where we live.  It’s easier to just take care of it when we come in for the conference” replied Sarah.

My mind is reeling.  Healthcare shouldn’t be this complicated.  What else do these people have to go through?  What is the biggest challenge that they face as a couple?

Sarah answers without skipping a beat. “Legal.  I just started working as a teacher and I am getting insurance for him but we have had to go through a lot of things with the insurance company about whose legal definition of a gender is the correct one?  If he’s a man but the insurance only covers PAP smears and things like that for women, can he get treatment?  Will they drop him if they find out he has a vagina?  Our marriage is legal so they should cover it?”

As she speaks, she wrings her hands and peers into the future with apprehension.  “If they dropped him or refused to cover him, I think that I would have to pursue legal action.  It scares me because it’s a new job and I work for the government.”

Frustrated, Trey makes it clear: “I’m a man.  Why does everything need a special label?  Trans-sexual this, trans-gendered that.  I’m a guy.  It’s that simple.”

It should be that simple, I think.  After all, nobody at this conference has made it complicated for each other.  They see people, introduce themselves, and are fast friends.  

While I ponder this, I notice a very handsome man coming off the elevator.  I am surprised that he stops to look at the posted event schedule.  Inquiring minds want to know so I ask, “Are you here for the conference?”

He smiles and comes over to me.  Wow – if I weren’t a lesbian, I’d be all over this guy!

Rugged, athletic, clean-shaven and with a drop-dead smile, I am happy to have a chance to talk to him.  His name is Victor.

“What are you doing here at Southern Comfort?” I ask.  

“This is my first time here.  I moved here about a year ago to go to Georgia Tech.  I’ve heard such good things about this conference that I thought that I should check it out.”

“What are you hoping to get out of it?”

“Information.  I’m still just learning about the community in Atlanta.  I know people here are from all over but there are a lot of people from Atlanta here as well.  I want their perspectives… I want to know what Trans people think of themselves and also what they’re interested in sharing with other people about themselves and their experiences” he says.

Ah.  Makes total sense.  A guy from Georgia Tech coming over to do his own ethnographic research on Atlanta’s transgendered community.  To confirm, I ask, “So you are here in a research capacity because you have an interest in the transgendered community?”

“Oh, I’m part of the transgendered community.  I’m trans myself.”

Shut the front door!  This sexy man was born a biological woman and he is passing as a man with flying colors.  I try to pay attention as he continues.

“I come here even though I no longer need support.  It’s important for people like me, who are post-transition, to remain and show support for people who are just starting out to look to for advice.”

Victor, ever the gentleman, was happy to share his experience of transitioning from female to male with me.  

“I always knew that I wanted to be a boy – that I was a boy.  There was never a realization – it was always my reality.  I started actively talking about it in my last semester of undergrad.  I knew that it was my reality but what do I do about it?” 

“Ultimately, I decided to transition.  I was working so I transitioned on the job.  My co-workers were supportive.  There were a few people in the church that I was going to who weren’t cool with it but everyone else was.  That was two years ago and I’ve completely transitioned.  I came in as Victor but that’s how everyone here knows me.”

Hmmm.  I pose a burning question to him: “So when do you tell a potential love interest, if anything, that you used to be a girl?”

“I actually am not interested in dating, to be honest.  Dating and having an intimate physical relationship is never something that I’ve ever been interested in.  I don’t think it’s a trans thing.  It’s just like those wires in my brain never crossed.  I don’t think about it.  In a way, I’m fortunate that relationships haven’t been a complication for me.”

“Telling someone that you plan to transition is different than telling someone that you did transition.  It’s two different types of coming out.”

“When you did transition,” I ask, “did you have the full surgery?”

“I had the top surgery (breast removal).  I’m not really interested in having bottom surgery.  It’s just not a big deal to me.”

We chat for a while and then I ask Victor the same question about medical care.  He shakes his head in shame like a guilty dog that just got caught chewing on a slipper.

“I have not ever had a lower.”

Never?

“No.”

The mother in me comes out.  This beautiful young man needs this care.  I ask, “Did you know that The Atlanta Health Initiative will pay for you to get one?  And they work with places like the Atlanta Feminist Health Center to provide lower exams to trans-men.  They will even sedate you for the exam.”

“One of my fellow trans-guy friends is a nurse.  We were talking about this not too long ago.  When I was in my early twenties, my primary care doctor tried to do that exam.  It was so excruciatingly painful that she had to stop.  She told me that I wasn’t in a high enough risk category to warrant the kind of pain it is causing me.”

“My friend was telling me that I need to do this.  Honestly, I think I will solve the problem by having a hysterectomy but I know I will need some kind of exam before I do that.  I will have to be drugged for that to happen.”

My heart breaks.

Something as simple and routine can be so traumatic for someone else - traumatic to the point of not getting basic healthcare.  

These men and women deserve better.  

We owe them better parents.  We owe them better doctors.  We owe them better laws, protections, products and support.  They have not asked for this burden to be placed on them but they bear it with dignity and grace if they can bear it at all.  

They are still “becoming”…