Saturday, November 26, 2016

Teach a Man To Phish

Here's today's writing prompt:

Hitting you up here for Phish songs! 😀

- a Facebook friend of mine

Halloween 2010 - getting ready to rock with my friend Pierre (skimping pretty hard on a costume)

Done and done.  I'm actually really going to enjoy writing this.

As most of my friends would probably attest to, I can talk about Phish until I'm blue in the face.  I discovered their catalog of live music (literally thousands of hours of music) in 2005 at a time in my life where I really needed some external positivity, and I put a lot of effort into recommending them to others mainly out of an awareness of what they did for me.  That said, I never want to be that annoying person who forces their music on others, so it dawned on me that writing a blog post for this is perfect.  It's here if people want to see it and easily skipped by those who don't.

The live sets are the main reason to listen to Phish, so three of the four sets below are collections of personal favorite live tracks of mine.  The best way to look at jamming (where the band is improvising together) is to compare it to a "musical conversation" - each band member has to very much be listening to the other three in order to figure out where to take the music.  Much like a conversation, a jam should last as long as the music dictates - when they're doing it right, it means it can go on for a long time while always remaining interesting.  I purposely put a few repeat tracks in each group so the listener can compare how just how different the same songs can be played on any given night.

I also put a collection of studio Phish at the end of this for people who have a strong preference for that kind of thing.  While I rarely listen to studio Phish these days, I went through a long time in high school where I was totally in love with their first five albums.  The lyrics at the beginning of their career are admittedly kind of nonsensical - at that time, the music was always the primary focus - but as time goes on I feel like the lyrics have more and more impact on the songs.

"More tuuuunes?"  - Super Ball, 2011

Anyways, here are some tunes - all guaranteed to be very much Shelly-approved:

Setlist I:  Dec 1995  (full playlist)
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The Lizards 12/31/95  (10:38)
Tweezer 12/2/95  (15:31)
Reba 12/31/95  (14:23)
Mike's Song 12/31/95  (19:55)
You Enjoy Myself 12/9/95  (34:30)

December 1995 is pretty widely regarded among fans ("phans") as the all-time best Phish tour and all of these tracks are all-time favorite performances of some of my favorite songs.  The band is completely locked in at this point - the reason I like this era of Phish so much is because it seems like they can almost read each other's minds and completely fill the room with sound.  This is the most "rock'n'roll" of the lists.  The YEM at the end of this set remains my all-time favorite piece of music to this day.

Setlist II:  Late Nineties  (full playlist)
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Crosseyed and Painless 12/31/99  (19:56)
You Enjoy Myself 11/17/97 (23:10) (no video)
Twist Jam 4/2/98 (9:33)
Ghost 11/17/97 (21:25) (no video)
Run Like an Antelope 4/3/98  (9:47)

encore:
Possum > Funk Jam 12/3/98 (20:44) (not in full playlist)

Starting from the fall of '97, Phish started exploring past their typical 'rock'n'roll' sound in favor for a very unique and well-liked new "funk" style of jamming.  They still can rock out (C&P, Antelope) but there are more exploratory jams (Ghost, Twist) and funky jams (Possum, YEM) mixed in there as well.

Setlist III:  Best of 3.0  (full playlist)
---
Light 9/1/12  (23:45)
Ghost 12/31/14  (16:39)
Tweezer 10/28/13  (17:39)
You Enjoy Myself 11/2/14  (26:22)
Undermind 8/31/12  (15:31)

These are all of my favorite performances that came after the band got back together in 2009.  At this point, the band (being closer to their fifties as opposed to their thirties) is a lot more chilled out.  The jams, at their best, alternate between "spacey" (Light, YEM) and "angelic" (Ghost, Tweezer, Undermind).  It's really clear that the light show has come a long way at this point, as well as the overall quality of the recordings.

As mentioned in the past, the Gorge is the single nicest venue I've ever seen.

Setlist IV:  Studio Phish (full playlist)
---

Divided Sky (11:58)
Bouncing Around the Room (3:56)
Tweezer (8:43)
My Friend, My Friend (6:11)
Julius (4:43)
Taste (4:08)
Guyute (8:27)
Farmhouse (4:04)
Nothing (4:07)
Backwards Down the Number Line (5:38)
Waiting All Night (5:01)
Blaze On (4:20)

I went down the list and pulled one song from each of their studio albums (minus "Round Room" which I couldn't find a track I really liked), listed in chronological order.  I feel like I did a pretty good job of picking songs that I like that show the evolution of their songwriting through the years.  Julius was the first Phish song I ever heard, Divided Sky was my favorite song for at least a year back in high school, and Backwards Down the Number Line is lyrically one of my all-time favorite songs.

I hope you like these collections!  I really can't understate the role that music - especially Phish - has played in my life to this point.  To this day, live Phish shows are my ultimate happy place, and I intend to keep going out of my way to see them play for as long as they continue to tour.  There's almost nothing I enjoy more than introducing people to this band :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Storm Before The Calm

Monday, Nov 20th - 2a.m.

I don't know what the fuck I'm doing anymore.  There, I admit it.

One oft-repeated phrase among people who know me well is that I am "optimistic to a fault".  Sometimes, when friends are complaining about a rough situation, the last thing that they want to hear is me telling them everything is going to work out in the end, or that things aren't as bad as they seem, or that there's a silver lining to whatever situation they feel stuck in.  That's where the term "Shelly Flowerspeak" originated, and it isn't always meant as a compliment.  While I do my best to be mindful of that when dealing with people who are stressed out, I do believe in my heart of hearts that people see my positivity as a good thing.

But sometimes, I manage to do it to myself.  I'll be in a situation where I actually should be concerned that things aren't going to go well, and instead of worrying about it, I'll convince myself that things will work themselves out and try my best not to let the pressure get to me.  Times like those are where being "optimistic to a fault" starts to get dangerous, because every once in awhile it means that I might not realize that there's an actual problem until it's gotten too large for me to solve.

Cryptic enough for you?


There's a certain irony to losing sleep because I'm worried that it was wrong to follow my dreams.

In this case, I'm talking about the slow dawning realization it's going to be near-impossible to support myself financially writing.  As great as it is that I transitioned and am willing to write about my experiences - who cares?  There isn't ever enough demand for that to make a living off of it. We live in a world where literally everyone has a voice that they want the world to hear, and it was foolish of me to assume that people would pay to read mine simply because it happens to be different from what other people are doing.  There's a million places to read content on the internet, and 99% of them don't cost anything - which retroactively makes me feel like kind of a dummy for having the belief that my writing would be some revolutionary thing that would make people break out their checkbooks.

I mean, I have ideas.  I think there's a market for a transgender-centric advice column, written by someone like me, where people can anonymously post their questions regarding transitioning / dating / socializing / coming out / whatever else might be on their mind.  But after racking my brain and searching the internet, I can't come up with a reason that anyone would ever pay for that when it's so easy to find that kind of thing for free.  And that's ignoring the simple reality that the trans* market, more often than not, has a lot better stuff to spend their money on then paying me to write a bunch of words.

But now - finally - I'm starting to get to the point where my ideas no longer have that little glimmer of "oh I just know that this is going to be the one that works!" because frankly, a lot of my recent ideas haven't been working.  The dream version of my story, where my writing is so good that everyone shares it and I take the world by storm, is starting to melt away and get replaced by the reality that I probably would have been more productive with my time working a cash register at a grocery store or something.  At least cashiers get a paycheck.

I'd be lying if I said it wasn't upsetting.  If my whole idea was to leave my established life to try and follow my dreams, where am I supposed to go once I realize that what I was chasing was exactly that - a dream? There's still Misfit Cords, but there isn't enough work for me to do where I can comfortably contribute, and so I'm now left wondering what my actual Best Case Scenario is.  The only way I can think of achieve stability is to give up on autonomy and fun - and right now, I'm not even sure how to do that.

So where do I go from here?

It's not all bad.  I'm still really proud of what I've written so far, and I still want to continue to write on a daily basis because it's something that I find fun.  But at this point I think I need to give up on the fairy tale of doing this for a living, at least for now, because at this point I'm actively harming myself putting this much effort into something that doesn't provide a paycheck.

I think I thought that being a blogger was the destination, when in fact it's only part of the journey.  I still do believe that putting myself out there into the world is the right way for me to connect with the people I'm meant to connect with, it's just that I have to stop tricking myself into believing that I can do nothing but this for the rest of my life and expect to succeed.



Monday, Nov 20th - 9p.m.

Sometimes, it takes a sleepless night of stressing out about the future in order to gain a sense of clarity regarding how to proceed.  The entry above was written without my ever intending to post it - I mainly did it for myself because I couldn't sleep and needed to expel some negative thoughts from my headspace.

I don't think the issue was looking for a magical solution to my problem; it's more that I was just casting the wrong spell.

I think it did the trick, because I woke up with a certain sense of clarity that, to this point, I had been lacking. As with a lot of my posts lately, it all boils down to my Best Case Scenario.  I originally wrote it as a business plan for Misfit Cords, and then modified it as a business plan for Shelly Moonbeam - why does it have to be a business plan at all?  Why can't I just apply it to my life as a whole?

This refers specifically to "stability".  I was stressing out so bad about how to make money off of writing that I had forgotten the original reason I started blogging.  It's supposed to relieve stress, not create it!

I care a lot about helping out trans* people and plan to continue writing in a way that might help others who read it down the road.  But over the last two weeks, by putting all of my thought into how to monetize my blog, my efforts to focus on stability caused me to lose sight of autonomy.  Instead of writing about things that I found personally inspiring, I was searching for topics that I thought would help me build up readers.  Not only do I find that a lot less fun, but it made me feel bad every time I tried (and failed) to sell out a little bit more.

So I asked myself - why does financial stability have to come from blogging?  And, to my surprise, I think I realized that that was the missing piece of the puzzle.  I went back and reread this post that I wrote right before I left my job at Gentle Giant, and a particular quote stood out to me:

"Of course, the side effect of making an effort to connect with my user base was that it made walking away from the job incredibly difficult.  I broke into tears a lot on my last week of the job - happy tears, because I'm saying goodbye to something that's been a fundamental part of my identity for the last five years.  "Don't worry, I'm a professional technician" is a long-standing running joke between Kayla and I that I used to say whenever I solved a problem, technical or otherwise.  There are a ton of people at Gentle Giant that I'm going to miss seeing at work every day - and while we're nothing more than a click on the internet away from each other, there's a part of me that's afraid that I'm walking away from a good thing that I'm never going to find anywhere else."

I had forgotten how much I liked being a professional technician!

The things that made me want to leave Gentle Giant had nothing to do with the job itself.  It came from wanting to go out and test the waters to see if there was something I wanted to do more.  And while it seemed like a nice idea in my head to write for a living, I think I was taking for granted how much I enjoy having a stable paycheck and a place to go every day.  I write because I think it's fun, not because it generates income - and trying to mix the two isn't nearly as easy or enjoyable as I thought it would be.

That realization helped me out a lot.  I still plan to stick to the "new post every weekday" schedule because I want to make my blog as good and interesting as possible.  But I'm going to stop making decisions based on trying to gain financial stability from the blog, and instead look for that elsewhere in life.  That way, I can continue to write for no other reason than the pleasure I get out of it.

It's funny.  My last post was about "am I happy?" ultimately being the most important question we can ask ourselves.  I didn't even catch the irony that, by honing in on "how do I make money blogging?", I was going against my own advice.  And so as of this week, I'm re-dedicating myself to the search for financial stability, with the newfound realization that it doesn't have to be tied to my writing.  I like multitasking!

It's going to be really tough to find a work environment that was as good of a fit for me as Gentle Giant was. But who knows?  Maybe there's an even better place out here, and I've been cheating myself out of it because I was hung up on the idea on being my own boss.  I owe it to myself to at least look.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Asking the Correct Question

Today's writing prompt was a post I found on an online forum, edited for clarity:

---

Seeing as I don't know how to start this, I'll just jump into my story. 

It all began about a year and a half ago, I had previously heard the term transgender and, being a naturally curious person, asked if perhaps the term applied to me. It was just a generic question until right around last Christmas, when the question returned and refused to go away until it was answered. 

Towards the end of winter break for my school, I was at my grandparent's house while my parents were on their anniversary trip. Because of the large amounts of time I could spend in private while there, I researched the whole topic of trans as best as I could. When I came to the conclusion that at the very least I was gender questioning, I couldn't bear keeping such a huge secret alone. After some consideration, I told a close friend. Thankfully, he was very supportive and is still helping me with finding the answers to my questions. 

Move onto spring of this year. I had already been debating about telling about my parents since I contacted my friend, and after a mental breakdown, brought about by a combination of bullying and the many questions of identity I had, I told my parents about my thoughts of possibly being trans. They took it very well, and decided to start scheduling me with a psychologist. 

After about six months of therapy and comments from my parents, I've realized that the question ("am I transgender?") had been assumed as being answered ("no"). While they haven't explicitly said it, I can tell that they don't want me to just claim a label and then confirm to it, in case the feelings were just a phase. 

After more research, I have come to the conclusion that I need to do something to at least get closer to determining who I am. The problem is that I know my parents won't help and will likely hinder any attempts I make of they find out. If anyone has advice as to how to move forward from here would be highly appreciated.

- Anonymous

---

First off - I wish you all the best of luck with everything!

I think I went through a similar experience to you when I first started pondering my own gender identity.  I had always dreamed about what it might be like to be female, but I knew from an early age that that wasn't the type of thing I could just talk about with others.  Picturing life as a woman was something that I thought about constantly growing up, but I did my best to bury it at the time because I wasn't sure how other people might react.

Age 21, back when the idea of anyone finding out I wanted to be a woman was my biggest fear.

Roughly fifteen years ago, when I was 21 years old and still living at home with my parents, a friend of mine mentioned to me that he was friends with someone who was transitioning from male to female.  My ears perked up - at that point in my life, I had never known that was an option or that there were other people like me.  I asked my friend to introduce the two of us with out specifically mentioning why I wanted to meet her.

I first met Zoe (not her real name) over lunch at a sushi restaurant.  I remember being awestruck at how she felt strongly enough about how she felt that she was able to own it.  At that point in time, the popular perception of transgender women was largely negative, and so she seemed really brave for being able to transition despite all of the social and financial hurdles that came along with it.  She didn't really seem to think of it as courageous, because in her eyes, there was no choice.  She was completely sure that there was no future for her trying to live out life as a male, so it was transition, or.. well, something worse.

On one hand, meeting and befriending another transwoman was a huge relief.  Zoe became my "big trans sister" and was an inspiration to me during a somewhat confusing time in my life.  But on the other, it only left me more confused, because while Zoe felt absolutely confident that she needed to live as a woman, I wasn't nearly as sure what I wanted.  I didn't feel gender dysphoria in the way that she described it - for me, it wasn't that I was necessarily unhappy as a male, it was more that I knew I'd be happier as a woman and spent a lot of time dreaming about if that were the case.

I didn't know if that qualified me as transgender or not.  Most of my daydreams involved stuff like being born female already, or having the superpower of being able to change shapes, or making a wish and waking up the next day in a woman's body.  That way, I wouldn't have to go through the terrifying process of admitting my deepest secret to everyone in my life - I'd be able to have what I wanted without any of the scary parts. Transitioning, at that point in my life, still felt completely out of the question to me.

One of my biggest challenges, in my eyes at the time, was how to approach coming out to my parents and brothers.  I grew up in a fairly devout Catholic family, and while it was a very loving and supportive environment, I wasn't at all confident that they would take it well.  They had taken me to a psychiatrist a few years prior after I flunked out of college - I tried to bring up my gender issues, but he was more interested in my schoolwork than my happiness.  He diagnosed me with Attention Deficit Disorder, wrote me a script for Ritalin, and sent me on my way.

Age 24, when I wasn't a giant fan of having my picture taken.

I didn't end up seeking therapy for my gender questions or coming out to my parents for another five years. In the grand scheme of things, waiting that long to do so is the only thing that I ended up regretting about my transition.  That thought is what's inspiring me to write all this out :)

So with all that said, here's some food for thought:
  • Should you choose to bring it up with your parents, don't think of it as "finding out my gender identity". That gives your parents wiggle room to argue that you might be going through a phase or that you're making it all up.  Instead, think of it as "trying to live my happiest life possible", because when you frame it like that, it makes it a lot more likely that you and your parents will approach the conversation from a mindset of listening to what you have to say, and a lot less likely that they'll try and hinder your progress.
  • While you obviously know your situation more than I do - can I ask how you're sure that your parents will try to hinder you?  In my case, I thought my parents' religious backgrounds would make them object to my transition on the grounds that it was a sin - as it turns out, my mom and dad regarded "love our children unconditionally" higher than "God hates queers and they're going to hell".  Hopefully your parents will too!
  • If your psychologist didn't help you, it's probably ok for you to tell your parents the truth, at least regarding therapy.  I think that having a safe, private space to talk with someone about this stuff is a really beneficial thing if you have access to it, and you won't always find the right therapist on the first try.  It might be worth it for you to research a specialist in your area with more of an expertise on gender-related issues, and to ask your parents how they'd feel about you seeing a new therapist of your choosing?
  • If your parents don't approve, then it's likely because they want you to be happy but think that transitioning will make you unhappy.  There are reasons to think that - transitioning is a very serious decision, and coming out transgender might expose you to discrimination that you otherwise wouldn't run into.  The answer to this is to make it clear that you don't plan to rush into anything, and that right now all you're looking for is help (from them and another therapist) so that you have confidence you're making all of the right decisions if/when you choose to make them.
  • It sounds to me like you have an awesome friend, so make sure you let him know you appreciate having someone you can be honest about some of this stuff with :)  I came out to my a few of my closest friends before I told my parents, and it helped me a lot - not only did I grow more confident with each person that I came out to that accepted me, but having a network of people that I knew had my back at least helped me feel like I wasn't all alone on this.  Do you have any other friends that you think you can trust with something like this?

29 years old, less than a year after going full-time as a female.

I hope this helps.  I'm assuming that you're still young, so the last piece of advice that I'd give to you is to remember that the goal is long-term happiness.  If it takes a long time and baby steps before you feel confident making any changes - no worries, all that means is that you're putting a lot of thought into things, and that's good!

Last but not least - I have a blog post here that I wrote back around the time I came out if you're into that sort of thing.  If your parents try and tell you that it's impossible to transition and be happy, feel free to point them to me as at least anecdotal proof that they're wrong :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Access and Allies

I got another writing prompt from a friend!

Tonight's pictures are from Halloween 2005 - the first night I ever left the house dressed in women's clothes.

My local bestie is having transition issues and I'm just not sure what to make of it or what to do, though I have some inclinations.  Like, for one, he wants to stick with his pronouns, done and done. But he came out as 'gender fluid' this most recent coming out day. This was something I knew, and I'm so glad he got it out there and forced himself to talk to his family about it.

He's 35, tall and broad-shouldered, and has a bunch of stuff he WANTS to wear, but he's mortified to even try to do it without passing.  He believes that came to terms with himself too late for hormone therapy to be able to affect his development.

So like:

a) I get the distinct feeling that his feelings are deeper than he's letting on, that he's tip-toeing into this.

b) He's done so much for me, the least I can do is everything in return.  I tried to talk him through how girls go shopping for clothes, and how modeling things that suck is both a measure of trust, and also how to find things that look amazing on you because you really can't trust your own eye.  The whole passing thing is just getting him down so much, though.   He gave me a gorgeous sweater and I'm sure it's gorgeous on him, but he wouldn't even give me the opportunity to agree.

c) I want to help.  We hang out every week, and my instinct is just to bring my makeup and nail polish over, maybe buy some moisturizer for him (I know he has his own foundation) and give him the severe-light touch treatment.  But i don't know if that's over-caring, or imposing, or if that's what he'd want?   My instinct is to guss up his face just slightly enough to show him how trivial it'll be for him to pass and try to instill confidence, but i don't know how much here should come from his friends, and how much he really needs to go through in his own head first.

As long as I'm showing pictures from this night, I might as well show my bedroom with all the anime posters.

While I'd never go so far as to assume I know what your friend is going through / that our situations are the same, I think I can at least give some feedback regarding what might be going through his head based on where I was at a similar point in my life.  Of course, I ended up identifying as fully transgender as opposed to gender fluid so while I don't want to just assume that we're going through the same things, I feel like there's enough overlap that I can at least share a similar perspective that I went through way back in the day.

I know this is kind of the advice that everyone gives, but I think it's applicable here: if it's financially possible for him to make an appointment with a therapist that specializes in gender identity issues, I feel like he is the type of person who would benefit from that kind of thing a lot.  For me, it wasn't necessarily about needing to be told what to do - the main reason that talking to a therapist helped me was because she gave me a safe environment to figure out specifically what I was feeling and why.  Just being able to do that - talking about my feelings with 100% certainty that it wouldn't affect any existing opinions of me - went a long way towards building up my confidence when it came to coming out and allowing myself to be seen presenting female.

The best way to learn is to be willing to make mistakes and to not be afraid of what other people might think.

It's been almost a decade for me since I first started entertaining the notion of actually transitioning.  I'm glad that I was able to find some of those old posts because they helped me remember just how daunting it seemed at the time to even consider that I might be able to live life as a woman.  It's possible that your friend wants to live life as a woman, but is afraid of what happens when the "transgender" label is applied to him and so he's inching his way into the water.

I think the biggest rationalization that I was using on myself at the time was "things are fine now, why rock the boat and risk losing everything?".  There was so much fear in my head - of not passing, of violence, of discrimination, of not being accepted, of what would happen when people found out - that I became a master of trying to keep my gender questioning under wraps to the rest of the world.  Even to my friends who I had come out to in the years before I decided to transition, I would grow really awkward and embarrassed whenever the topic of gender would come up in conversation because there was just too much shame in my own head that I hadn't stopped internalizing yet.

As the night went on I felt less and less weird.  Having friends who care helps a lot.

The important thing, of course, is "what does your friend want?".  And, unfortunately, it might be a little while until he even knows the answer to this question himself.  Therapy is a great start, but in addition to / in the absence of that, here's what I would recommend:
  • Reiterate the truth to him; that first and foremost, you want him to be happy.  Make it clear to him that this can mean whatever he wants it to mean:  quiet support, a listening ear, fashion advice, makeup advice, an open advocate, or anything else.  Let him know that you're aware of how scary gender-related stuff is and all that's important to you is that he knows he has your support, and that if there's anything you can ever do to help him your door is always open.  It might seem like a weird conversation to bring up, but think about it - if your best friend said "I want the best for you and I hope you always know that", you'd be really happy to hear that, right?
  • Once he knows that your door is open, though, that's really all you can do.  You don't necessarily want to push him through it - because it's entirely possible that he's not emotionally ready for that kind of step and pressuring him to get there might have an opposite effect of what you're going for.  The important thing is that you've communicated your intentions with him, and that he knows he that when he starts expanding his boundaries regarding gender, he'll know that you'll be there by his side if/however he wants.
  • It might help if you offer help with makeup while not making it all that big of a deal?  Something like "hey can I try putting some makeup on you and seeing if you like it?".  If he's anything like I was, he's probably severely overanalyzing everything that has to do with gender, and it might help to take the lead on making things like "let me see how you look in this sweater?" feel a bit less scary.  If he isn't ready, though, I wouldn't push it too much further than that.
The fear of "do I pass?", unfortunately, won't go away on its own.  The first few times presenting as female in front of friends / out in public is always going to be tough, because it's a really vulnerable state to be in.  Most of us have an innate fear of rejection, and most people raised as males who are questioning their gender are taught that wanting to identify as female or feminine is something that will be seen as shameful.  For the most part, that isn't true - but I didn't learn that until I forced myself to confront that fear head on, and it took a long time for me to get there.

The advice that I'd give to your friend if I could talk to him myself is not to think of it as "do I pass?", but rather to think of it as "am I happy with my appearance, and if not, what things can I change that make me like it more?".  I went through a pretty long period of time where I didn't pass as female / got clocked as transgender, and the thing that helped me a lot was that every time it happened, it mattered a little bit less to me.

Two years later on Halloween 2007, back when "hippie" still counted as a costume for me.  My friend Lisa on the right was one of my first female friends who did things like going to the mall to shop for female clothes with me.

I thought I was way too old to transition happily when I was 27.  Thankfully, I was wrong on that - that was my brain trying to convince myself not to leave my comfort zone and risk rejection.  35 might seem like an old age, and maybe it is - but there's no "correct" age to start making positive changes to our lives that we think will make us happy, and regardless of what that entails I hope your friend can make the decisions that will get him there.  I know people that didn't start transitioning until into their 40s, and from everything I could tell it was another case of "better late than never".

Again, though, everyone is different.  I hope that therapy is a thing he can look into, because I think that was the single most helpful step for me back when I was trying to figure out what I wanted out of life.  This stuff can be downright terrifying, especially at the start.  But failing that, having a support network of friends and family members who cared about me was the thing that got me through the beginning, and it sounds like he's got a great best friend to start with :)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Transcendence

Dressing for the job I want.

As I've mentioned in the past, I've been a regular poster on the Something Awful forums for the last thirteen years.  The forums basically were the precursor to Reddit where people would be able to converse on just about any topic, with moderation to help keep the discussion intelligent (or at least entertaining).  I used to post a lot in the "Transgender MegaThread" (or TMT) - a thread that exists for trans people to meet and connect with other transpeople.  It was a really valuable resource for me when I was first starting to transition, and I stuck around for a long time after I was done so that I could pay it forward and help others.

I don't really post in the TMT anymore, but I occasionally skim it.  And one day a few weeks ago, an online friend of mine made a post in the TMT about strongly wanting to see a therapist about her gender identity that I happened to see.  I was pretty sure she knew I was trans, but I had no idea about her until I saw that post.  I reached out to her and let her know that (a) I was down to help her out with anything and everything, (b) I have a lot of information about my own transition on my blog, and (c) she sounded almost exactly like me back in 2007 when I was trying to gather my courage to come out.   Her name is Ellen.

This happened right around the time that I knew I was going to Oakland for the documentary, so the timing was a little bit freaky.  I was literally in the process of re-reading things I wrote when I first came out when she came out to me.  It strangely helped a lot at a time in my life where I was trying to figure out how I'm supposed to do something useful with my writing.

Ellen had all the fears I did when I started, mainly centered around whether or not to embrace the reality that she might be transgender.  I gave her my usual disclaimer - while I'll never tell anyone specifically what they should or shouldn't do, I'll always share my own experiences and give good generalized advice because I consider her a friend and want the best for her.

She's been going to a therapist and I think it's made her a lot happier.  She told me that she referred to me in one of her sessions as her "e-mentor" which I took as a huge compliment - as someone who sees their ideal self as a "sage", that's pretty much the exact kind of image I'm going for.

Not to be confused with "dementor".  That's the exact opposite of what I'm going for.

She's still extremely early on in the process and figuring out exactly what it is she wants.  As long as she's making decisions that make her happy, I think she's doing the right thing.   It was fun being able to talk her through things like coming out to her roommate or purchasing female clothes for the first time.  She's continuing to see her therapist, taking her time making decisions, and seems to be happy with the way things are progressing.  I see a lot of myself nine years ago in her.

Unfortunately, she lives in a part of the country that is particularly known for not being tolerant of transgender people.  And she works in a profession where it would be difficult to come out without people raising a stink about it.  That's the kind of problem where I can't really offer anything other than "I hope you manage to find a way, and you have a friend in me if you ever need help getting there".

When Trump was elected, Ellen was the person I immediately thought of.  What the fuck, America.

If there's one thing that I have always been extremely confident about over the last decade, it's that things have been heading in a positive direction for transgender people.  At no point did it ever cross my mind that things might actually manage to get worse.  Even with that stupid bathroom bill that was passed, the public backlash against it seemed to make it obvious to me that in the long run, we would eventually be able to get to a point where gender identity isn't seen as a big deal.


I understand the temptation to turn our backs on those we perceive as the enemy.

By definition, the only people that I interact with on a regular basis are tolerant of trans people.  And having only lived on the coasts, I think I might have had a skewed perception of just how many people share negative opinions of LGBT people.  To illustrate this, I'm going to share are some things that I wrote in the TMT back in 2009 regarding my thoughts on using the women's bathroom.  This was back when I was living in Boston, which relative to other parts of the country was an extremely good place to transition.

March 5, 2009  (TMT)

"When I transitioned at work, there was exactly one person that filed a complaint regarding my using the women's restrooms. I never found out who it was - we have an "anonymous questions/suggestions for the CEO" box in the lobby, and someone put in a question asking if it was right that I used their bathroom. The higher-ups in the company were firm in stating that I was to be treated as any other woman, and I never actually found out who had asked the question. Honestly, I'm glad that I never found out. These days, I'm quite universally accepted as a female, and I have no idea if anyone actually has a problem with it.

And frankly, I've learned not to particularly care if people have a problem with it. What I've found is that even when people have issues being around trans folk, they're pretty easily swayed once they see that I act completely normal in the bathroom. There is a lot of misinformation and a lot of prejudices out there that we have to work against, but that doesn't mean that trans people should just throw up the white flag for the sake of making every single person happy."

April 27, 2009 (TMT)

"For example, I used to be petrified to use the women's bathroom when I was presenting as androgynous. One day, I stopped and thought about what I would do if I saw an androgynous/female-looking person in the men's room.  As it turns out, I wouldn't do anything. I'd go about my business and not say a word, because I'd look like a jackass if I was wrong and not really gain anything if I was right.  I thought about this and realized that as long as people don't act negatively towards me and respect me, I don't really care if deep down they think I might have been born male.

I said those seven years ago, and if anything I thought the world was growing more tolerant.  I still stand by my statements and despite the election I feel like a majority of the people out there are on my side on this one.  Trans people should feel comfortable going into the bathroom that fits their gender preference, because there's no actual downsides to doing so.  And so I wanted to put some food for thought into the world regarding how I think we might make it all go away.

My goal is to teach the world a spell to make intolerance disappear.

If we're going to build a society (and for the sake of argument we can call it "America") in which all members are having their human needs fulfilled, I think that that has to be change that comes from the bottom up.  I fully understand that the election is important, but here's a chicken-egg question:

Which comes first?
  1. We elect a leader that represents the ideals of a clear majority of the people
  2. We, as a society, make an attempt to connect with others on a large-scale basis so that we can all get on the same page
I kind of feel like a majority of the internet seems to think that #1 has to come first, and I disagree.  The problem right now isn't the president, it's the fact that people are picking sides and convincing themselves that the other side is "the enemy".  Even if Clinton won, we'd have a giant percentage of the population thinking all the same things - at least by Trump winning, a spotlight is now shined on the divide and I think America can bounce back from that.

To my friends on the left - instead of writing people off as bigots, why not ask yourself if there's more to the story?  Is it possible that the transphobe that you're about to write off simply hasn't met any cool LGBT people and so they've let their opinion be formed by media / their peers?  That was almost universally the reason that people had an issue with my transition, and in almost every case people came around once they realized that I was pretty much just the same person I always was, only happier.

Next time someone spouts transphobic stuff on the internet, reach out to them privately and ask them why they hate trans people so much.  Don't do it publicly, because then the spectacle of it all will focus the conversation into destructive instead of productive.  Regardless of how wrong you think they are, ask them questions that you think might help you come to a stronger understanding of where their opinion comes from. Your goal is to see the person as more than "a bigot" - if you want them to see you as more than "a queer" or "a liberal" (or whatever) you need to show them the same respect.  

Trust me, it works, and it feels good.  I've made a lot of internet friends with people who started off with a bias against trans people simply by reaching out and showing interest in why they felt that way.  More often than not, ignorance is literally just a lack of experience on something and it's easy enough to fix if you don't judge the other person off the bat for being ignorant.

That's how we win.  Don't worry about focusing on the people who are swimming in hate, because not everyone wants to have their mind changed.  If echo chambers are the problem (and I think they are), then all that needs to happen is for LGBT people to engage intolerant people in large numbers and I think this can all go away in a few years.

You need to be able to see the world from other points of view.

Just remember - statements like "grown men want to watch your little girl pee" are objectively false scare tactics and so we should always win that argument by just telling the truth.  The important thing to think about is why people would believe that.  I would argue that social media has tricked people into taking extreme sides (by encouraging us to argue endlessly over it) and that the biggest likely catalyst towards people buying that as a valid argument was that they bonded over being shunned by people who attacked them for being transphobic.

It frustrates me when I see people make Facebook posts like "if you voted for Trump, unfriend me now" because to me the polarization of opinions caused by echo chambers is the exact nature of the problem.  I understand that people are upset right now, but you can't try and change the country if you're not willing to listen to the other side, and you can't justifiably get mad when they end up doing the same thing to you.  I feel like people need to hold both themselves and their ideological opposites to a higher standard - we should always strive for productive conversations, especially the ones born out of disagreement.

I feel confident that making allies goes a lot further in the long run than making enemies or writing people off. If we get enough people to work together for the greater good that makes everyone happy (which I believe is possible), I think things like the bathroom bill wouldn't last a week because the people would recognize it for the useless distraction that it is.

In a world that needs optimism more than ever, I can't stress enough how strong of an impact connection has.

If it helps, feel free to transphobic people that you know to me (Shelly Moonbeam on Facebook) as someone who is happy to answer questions about how transition affected my life.  It's kind of funny for me to engage in debate with people whose position is "you shouldn't have any rights and made a mistake" - more often than not I'm able to change people's mind on that one just by being respectful and asking questions.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Making Sense of It All

I have to say, I'm really glad that I opened up about my opinions on politics!  I got a good amount of feedback on it - as I suspected, I'm not the only person who feels the way that I do about Trump's election.

Some of my friends have reached out to me online recently to share their feelings. As usual, I like making myself available to help troubleshoot stressful situations for my friends.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of people I care about are feeling angry and hurt and sad and confused about the whole thing.  For the first time ever, I'm feeling more motivated to engage people in political conversations because I can sense that what I have to say is somehow helpful for others who might agree with me and not know how to say it.

I don't have any interest in selling my political opinions on anyone else.  My experiences are what form my opinions and I have respect for the idea that that should apply to everyone.  But I am most definitely down to help other people process what happened in order to find a way to channel their feelings appropriately!

"The solution to almost every problem between any two people is to Communicate Better." - me

A friend of mine gave me a writing prompt:

"I've heard/seen a lot of the sentiment that the outrage people are feeling can be channeled into causing positive change.  I've been delving into new spiritual teachings recently, and a unifying idea seems to be "what you resist persists".  In other words, meaningful change can only come from a place of love.

What can I say to people who say "I'm not interested in working with a bunch of bigots" or "I'm going to protest this election" to get them to step back and actually view this as an opportunity? Like how do you actually transmute anger into something loving?"

---

I've seen so much of this on Facebook and I think I can help. :)

The way I see it, there are two types of conversations.  This doesn't even apply to just politics, this applies to pretty much all verbal communication.  There are "productive conversations", and "destructive conversations".

The goal of a productive conversation is to connect with others in a positive way that generates solutions. Sometimes the easiest way to do this is simply to ask someone else how they feel, and then show that you care about the answer. That's really all there is to it!  In almost every case, if treat other people in a way that shows that you like and respect them, they will appreciate it and reciprocate it.  Once you establish that you care about the some of the same things, it becomes a lot easier to feel emotionally invested in how the other person feels.

On the other hand, a destructive conversation is used to justify not connecting with others in a negative way that focuses on problems.  This includes, but is not limited to:  complaining, blaming, name-calling, making sweeping generalizations about others, making threats, starting arguments, and trying to force other people to admit that their opinions are wrong.  These things almost always come from a place of feeling hurt.

It's possible to have a productive conversation even if it comes from a place of disagreement.  In fact, the best ones usually do.  I've often said that the people closest to me in life are the ones that I argue the best with!

Similarly, it's possible to have a destructive conversation even if it comes from a place of agreement.  When someone shares a dishonest article meant to manipulate people into an emotional reaction - like "10 Reasons Donald Trump Is Like Hitler" - what does that do, really?  It's not informing anyone of anything or motivating people into action.  The only reason that articles like that exist is to subtly trick people into taking an extreme stance on something, which in turn encourages people to form groups around their strong opinions. I would argue that that type of communication is extremely destructive, and I see it ultimately as the reason this election was so polarized.

The opportunity that you have here is to learn to recognize the difference between the two types of conversations, and to focus on having productive ones instead of destructive ones.  To put it simply, the key to transmuting anger into love is empathy.  You need to see the other side for what they are - complex humans who have reasons for feeling the way that they do.  The more you can do this for others, the more likely they are to do it for you.

Apologies if this post comes off as kind of cheesy. =^_^=

So why do people make statements like the ones you mentioned?

When people say that they want to protest the election, it comes from a place of wanting to protest the idea of a leader who doesn't represent their ideals.  That's a natural feeling, and I think they should feel that.  Hell, I feel that.  To them I would ask them if protesting the election is the thing they can do that will best repair the country.  If they do, I would support their decision even if I didn't necessarily agree with them because they're only doing what they feel is right.

The reason that someone would characterize all Trump supporters as "bigots" is because it allows them to internally make sense of their negative feelings.  It's a lot easier to mentally process people who would vote for Trump as ignorant than it is to stop and consider that they might have valid reasons to feel the way they do.  People on all sides do this because it's a lot easier to justify our problems as other peoples' fault than it is to work on an answer.

Try and engage people of all points of view and make a good faith effort to understand their perspectives, especially those of Trump supporters.  The harder it is to do, the more there is to gain from it!  That's how you turn anger into love :)  It's contagious, too - when your friend calls writes off Trump supporters as "bigots", they'll be more likely to listen to you when you tell them you're friends with some of them and understand where they're coming from.

If you make it all about changing other people's minds, you'll find yourself frustrated when other people don't want to let you.  Instead, make it about empathy and a desire to be able to see through every possible perspective, and I guarantee it will help you feel better in the long run. Because honestly, if you think about it - the most realistic chance we have to fixing to all of this is to end the polarization of opinions and listen to each other, and the best way to be optimistic about the future is to take part in the solution.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Worst Case Scenario

"Before you try and change anyone's mind, you have to ask yourself if they're even open at all to having their mind changed.  If they're not, sometimes the best you can do is agree to disagree."

- my brother Joe (paraphrased)

New goal: six blog posts a week.  You heard it here first!

On one hand, I really didn't want to write anything about the election in this blog.  While I have strong opinions on the state of politics today, I've almost universally found that debating about it doesn't bring me any pleasure.  I have a lot of momentum writing about Misfit Cords, and I originally didn't want to break that story up just for the sake of weighing in on the same thing that everyone else is weighing in on.  

Upon reflection, I can't really stay away from it.  Donald Trump getting elected president is a huge deal.  I believe it will end up going down as one of the most historically relevant things that I'll live through, and so I kind of feel like I owe it to the accuracy of this blog to share how I feel about politics and America today.

HUGE DISCLAIMER - all of this is me sharing my opinions and the reasons that I have them.  When it comes to debating politics, I choose whether or not to engage people on a case-by-case basis.  If I think that people are open-minded to hearing about my beliefs, I'll share mine, and more often than not I'll ask about theirs.  If not - that's fine, we can talk about other things and agree to disagree, and you're encouraged to skip the rest of this blog post.

...

I'm going to open with some videos from three of my favorite stand-up comedians, saying things that more or less overlap with my own feelings.  I think humor is a wonderful thing to embrace in times like these, and the best comics are the ones who manage to be funny while still having things to say.  They're not required viewing but I promise that they're entertaining, and while none of them is a 100% carbon copy of my opinion, I'll own the fact that I think that all of them make very valid and relevant points.

Russell Brand - Revolution

Ultimately, I think that long-term solution for America is to improve our actual systems of government rather than hoping that elected officials fix things from within.  My personal opinion is that we're entering a new era of human history where (a) anyone can connect with anyone and (b) all information is available for free, which means that (c) people, especially millennials who (more than ever) feel cheated by the older generations, are going to start to question the value of answering to an authority figure that they don't respect. Of the three, I identify with Brand's optimism and belief that a solution to all of this is possible.

Doug Stanhope - Liberty

Sometimes Stanhope can get a bit vulgar or misogynistic and he's the first to admit his act isn't for everyone, but he's made a ton of individual good points throughout this career that I completely agree with.  And he's hilarious.  His act was the first convincing argument for Libertarian philosophy that I had ever heard.  When you get down to it, America is just (a) imaginary lines and (b) a government - why pledge blind allegiance to it in a world where anyone can talk with anyone and form actual personal connections?

George Carlin (RIP) - Freedom of Choice

I heard this quote from George Carlin back when I was experiencing peak frustration with politics during the Democratic primaries of this year, and it resonated with me.  Everything got so polarized, especially on social media, and it was affecting my ability to stay positive in my day-to-day life.  The slow melt from youthful idealism into experienced cynicism was happening to me, and I didn't like it.  That was the reason I started blogging.  I'd rather focus on the actual events in my own life I can control in a direct and meaningful way, instead of the current events in the news, which I can't.

And honestly, after writing all of that out, I don't really feel like I have much more to say on the matter.  I think that Trump being elected is a bad thing, but I don't gain any pleasure out of casting blame or predicting worst-case scenarios.  From here on out, my only real contribution to the political discussion is going to be how I plan to help others affected by it.

In other words: making America great again is a little bit out of my scope.  All I can do is try to make Shelly great and encourage other people to do the same for themselves.  And I'll do that regardless of who the president is.

My friend Mikey and I seeing Roger Waters perform "The Wall" back in 2010.  Floor seats!

I'm fully aware of the impact this election is going to have on LGBT rights.  I've spent the entire time since I transitioned feeling confident in the idea that being transgender was going in the direction of being socially acceptable, and I can see where the results of this election might send the message to intolerant people that it's all right to be openly shitty to people because of their labels.  I haven't figured out what I'm specifically going to do just yet, but the last thing I'm going to do is just sit there quietly while that happens.

The original goal of this blog was to humanize my experiences to help end certain stigmas.  Now, more than ever, I see this as important work.  I began my transition back in 2007 and it was the best choice I ever made - not only did it allow me to experience self-esteem and confidence for the first time in my life, but the trials and tribulations associated with making those changes made me a much stronger person as a result.

As it stands right now I'm going to put out feelers - I am a confident, outspoken, happy transwoman who enjoys public speaking, isn't shy, and wants to help people so if anyone knows anyone who knows a person or organization who could use help from someone like me, please share my blog with them!  I'd actually love to publicly debate, either live or online, with someone who actively believes that it's sinful or harmful to be transgender.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mike Drop

The main reason I wanted my own apartment was to be able to spend my nights as a female without fear of judgement.
After sharing some old posts from my past (2011 and 2009), I thought I would continue that pattern and rewind back another two years.  These were two of my posts on my now-hidden-from-the-world LiveJournal page that I kept from 2002-2007.  Specifically, they were two of the last ones.

I've written about this time in my life here and here before, but was unaware of just how much stuff I had written back then until I went searching for it.  Behold, me nine years ago:

Monday, May 7, 2007 - my second to last Livejournal post.

This post is being posted a few days later than I intended to. If everything goes as I intend it, it will likely be the last post in here for quite awhile.

First of all - I haven't written anything for a few months now. There are a few reasons for this. I created [an account on a now-obsolete site], which I figured would be a good way to 'start over' with blogging. This didn't really catch on for me, so I started to analyze why I no longer felt the desire to post in blogs. I came to these conclusions:

  • A lot of people whose LJs I've enjoyed reading have stopped posting, which saps my desire to stay active with my own posting. 
  • A lot of the things I do on a day to day basis are neither interesting nor the business of the general public. 
  • I post a lot of stuff that I wouldn't want coworkers, family members, or random strangers reading. 
  • It no longer felt rewarding to have a daily recording of my life, nor did I feel like socializing on the internet, because I was depressed as hell. 
For those who have forgotten who I am and what I've been up to, in February I accidentally started a fire in my bedroom. This had a lot of impact - in addition to losing a majority of the stuff in my room and covering the house in soot, I put peoples' lives at risk as my landlords/fireman had to run into a burning room to try and contain it. This made me feel really bad, and was made infinitely worse when I spent the next month without 'my own' space. What this did for me was give me a lot of time to think about all sorts of aspects of my life, which at the time, was at a low point. Some things that I realized:
  • I had no plans for the future whatsoever. 
  • The thought of growing up and becoming an adult male didn't appeal to me in the slightest. 
  • There were triggers that would send me into a complete funk where I would absolutely hate myself. Basically, I was really embarrassed about wanting to be female, so anything that would remind me of my gender brought me down. Some examples included: walking past a dress store in a mall and being petrified to be seen, seeing friends happy in relationships and wondering if I'm destined to be alone forever, and having to deal with people tell their "so I saw this freaky guy who wants to be a girl" story every other month. These things all made me think of the rest of my life, where it would only get worse as time went on if I didn't change something.
  • A lot of my daily routine was an attempt to escape these triggers. I have spent a good year or more of my life sitting at home, smoking weed until I forgot how depressed I was, and then sitting in front of the computer playing Magic Online or watching downloaded TV shows or playing video games. I did (do) all of this to distract myself from thinking about where my life was going.
  • As I do when I'm depressed, I became anti-social. Unfortunately, as I didn't have my own room for that month, there were times that I was forced to be. 
  • In terms of social scenes, the Cambridge/Boston scene that I am a part of has been slowly dwindling away. Whereas there used to always been a lot of people around to do things with, I found myself doing things with more or less the same people all the time. 
  • I was horrendously lonely. I actually set up a blind date via Craigslist with a girl who seemed like she'd mesh with me, and it was pretty terrible. At no point was I really enthusiatsic about it, since a relationship pretty much means I have to be 'the guy' 24/7. I also realized that this had fact has forever sabotaged any shot I've ever had at a relationship. 
  • The way I felt was very similar to the way I felt in the months leading up to my leaving CT.

So long story short, it was a long month. Eventually, thanks to my landlords bringing help to repair the room despite the insurance company not coming through, I had a bedroom again. For a little while, I think setting it up was a nice enough distraction to get my spirits up.

At the end of March, I went to a birthday party for my brother that his wife had set up at a banquet hall in CT. I was already in a bad mental place due to the fire, but it was made much worse when I saw there was a girl's Sweet Sixteen party across the hall. Like I said, anything that reminds me of gender stuff can trigger depressive spells (and the alcohol certainly didn't help). I sat through the night, didn't really talk or socialize, and realized that I needed to take proactive measures to get through this kind of thing, because it was only going to get worse.


March 2007 - taken at Valentine on the night that I made the decision to seek gender therapy.

After I was able to fight off denial and procrastination, I finally made an appointment with a gender therapist. This was my saving grace. I got stuck in traffic and only got to see her for 40 minutes, but I learned some things, some of which was stuff I had sort of known but never really dissected:
  • I mention that, with one exception, I was petrified for anyone to see me in drag or shopping for female stuff. She asks me why. I tell her that it absolutely kills me to be seen as abnormal, and that I know people are looking at me and thinking all sorts of negative stuff about me. She asks me: "so what?"...and I realized she was right - there really is no reason to care. 
  • I tell her the exception - inhibition reducing drugs (alcohol and MDMA - the latter of which I've done perhaps 10 times in the last three years) give me the freedom to not be ruled by the fear of being judged. I would use these, perhaps somewhat transparently, to have some sort of a reprieve from what my brain was doing to me. Although it seems obvious in retrospect, she told me that the reason my inhibitions were dominating me so bad is that I was finding a workaround for my fear instead of facing it. 
  • I told her that I didn't really know how to describe myself. I've never really felt I was a transvestite, because the desire to be female goes way beyond sexual pleasure. I've never really felt like I was transgender, because I didn't feel 100% dysphoric with my body, and never felt positive about what I was. She told me that, based on what I told her, I certainly seemed more on the transgender side of the fence.. This was actually somewhat reassuring, because even to this day I've felt like it might all be in my head. 
  • I explained to her that I feel like I am always being judged or looked down upon by people at a distance. I had spent the last months convinced that people were talking about my (large list of) shortcomings when I wasn't around, and that it was breeding a full-fledged bout of low esteem + paranoia. This is something that she said we'd explore later. 
  • We made some more appointments (three more this month, in fact). I left feeling better about myself than I have in a long time. 
I started to think about how stupid it was to be to be afraid of people's reactions to my gender. The problem is that, even if I no longer feel trapped, the awkward fear would still be there. I decided to start pushing the boundaries a bit - I've started spending my time at home almost exclusively in female dress. I've started shopping for clothes (lord knows I've needed better ones, since most female clothes that I own were purchased with me grabbing something off of a shelf in a panic because I couldn't take being seen), and frankly, I don't know what the hell I was so nervous about.

I haven't talked with the therapist about my future yet. I really want to go full-time, with hormones and surgery and the like. This brings up challenges - telling my family, telling my job, finding the money to do this, working on my voice, getting laser hair removal, being able to take the fact that it could all go wrong and I could end up fucking up my body/appearance. I'm planning on telling my parents when they come up this weekend; my job will follow thereafter. If I do end up taking hormones, I will likely transition in Boston while keeping my job (since it's as open-minded a work environment as I can imagine), and then start a new life somewhere else when this chapter of my life is complete.

One last note for now - I was going to delete this livejournal, because I really don't feel connected to it anymore, but am leaving it up because there are five years of good memories in there. I am going to start a new blog at some point to document the coming year or two, and will let people know if it's the sort of thing that they're interested in reading.


Monday, September 10th, 2007 - my last Livejournal post

1. On September first, I moved to a new apartment. It's located conveniently up the street from the place ("Valentine") that I just moved out of, at the intersection of Brookline and Putnam Aves. in Cambridge. My new apartment ("Putnam") is next door to two restaurants, a laundromat, and a convenience store that sells alcohol. That, combined with proximity to my friends and a decent amount of space has made it a pretty nice location.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with it. Moving everything last weekend was a big pain in the ass, as was getting everything out of boxes and setting stuff up. There is, and probably always will be, stuff that I want to fix up or change to really customize it into a personal living space, but I'm definitely satisfied with the way it's coming so far. There's a leaky faucet and a loud refrigerator that I need to get the landlord to fix, and the blinds on the kitchen window don't close, but I can deal with it.

The biggest change is the fact that I'm living alone this time around. There were a couple of reasons that I wanted to do so. The most important is the space I gain, in both the physical and the mental aspects. From a square footage standpoint, I have a lot more room to spread my things out. At Valentine, I had always pretty much had all of my stuff in my room, and it would always get to the point where I had far too many things to place. In addition, there's a comfort in knowing that your actions are accountable to no one but yourself.

Actually, scratch that. Space is nice, but the most important thing is the change of lifestyle that I'm hoping to initiate here. I was falling into a dangerous trap at Valentine in regards to spending money on useless things, and this has given me a chance to correct those behaviors and improve my life. By moving here, I've effectively doubled my rent, so I'm pretty much forced to budget my money significantly tighter than I used to. I've started cooking meals at home, kept the apartment relatively in-shape, and stopped using money on Magic Online, so I'm on the right trail. I'm mostly just trying to take more initiative on things that I normally put off. Valentine was a tough place to try and start transitioning from male to female, because I'd always find myself worried about unexpected guests or visits from people that I had no plans of coming out to. Putnam is where I plan to actually start moving my life over to that of Michelle.



I'd go to the Dollar-a-Pound store, sneakily fill up a garbage bag with womens' clothes, and go home to try stuff on.

2. In the five months since the last time I've posted on LiveJournal, I've:
  • continued seeing my therapist 
  • come out to my family 
  • started going to BATS (a trans- support group) meetings at MIT, and enjoying them 
  • gone out in public presenting female a few times now, including shopping at the Natick Mall 
  • have probably been read (spotted as a transperson) twice, and to my surprise it was no big deal 
  • come out to pretty much everyone outside of my job 
  • been encouraging people to not worry about keeping it secret (other than at work, where one person knows) - I plan to be out to everyone at some point, and already I feel tired of bringing it up to people simply so that I don't awkwardly surprise them down the road. I know some old family friends now know, as well as some friends' parents and some friends-of-friends, everyone's been great so far. 
  • gotten a lot closer to my parents, even though they still drive me nuts sometimes :) 
  • gotten a more feminine haircut 
  • come out to my Primary Care Provider (doctor), who is cool with it, but relatively inexperienced 
  • scheduled an appointment with said doctor to discuss what services he'll need to be able to provide, and to schedule necessary bloodwork 
  • been recommended to an endocrinologist, with whom I will schedule an appointment after I meet with my doctor 
  • reconnected with people online that I had lost touch with, who have all been great 

3. I am going to go into more detail on the stuff listed above, but not here. I know it's the cliche thing to do. but I'm going to be taking my trans- related writing to another journal soon. As the days go on, this LiveJournal is going to be something I'm going to want less and less people to associate with me. I figure that I will have an easier time writing in something that isn't as tied to the person I used to be.

Whatever the new journal is, when I start it, I'm going to be writing as Michelle (with either no or a fake last name). I've already been encouraging some people to use that name/female pronouns when talking to me on AIM. I think that's easier on the computer, since both because people (a) don't see a male in front of them when they talk online, and (b) no one ever refers to the person they're talking to online in the third person anyways. I have a new email address ([redacted]) with a female name on it that I'm using more and more while using the old one less and less. Whereas I have always been conscious of the amount of people reading this journal, I plan to write the next one in the style of having comments disabled. Conceptually, it will be more of a place to record my thoughts so that I have a record of what my transition is/was like.
The blog that I referred to was the transition blog mentioned in my last post.


This is a long entry, so I'm not going to add too much more to it.  Suffice to say, when I look at the point in my life where I really started to grow up and challenge myself, 2007 is the year it all began.  Transitioning isn't an easy process by any stretch of the imagination, but nine years later I'm happy to have gone through it all because the lessons learned in the process (notably here and here) helped shape me into the person that I am today.

I constantly daydream about how great it would be to find a time machine and travel back in time to show past-me that everything turned out all right.  But when I think about it, past-me doesn't need that.  It's the people who, now, are considering transitioning and worried about all the bad stuff that might happen.  That fear is very real and can be downright terrifying at times.

Me, five minutes ago, trying desperately to pretend I'm not posing for a picture.
I can't honestly guarantee to other people that everything will be all right if they transition.  Relative to most other transpeople, I came from a place of privilege and it definitely had an impact on my outcome.  I'd never make the assumption that I know more about someone else's situation than they do.  But I can truthfully say that this is my writing from nine years ago, and that transitioning was the decision that changed me from the person who wrote the above to the person I am today.  That, and that I like the person who I am, and that I'm happier than I've ever been.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Portrait of the Past

"A life without pain; is a long endless chain; of errors repeated again and again" - Pain (band)

Nervous Tension
(written September 21, 2011)

I stopped writing in here for a long time. I’m not really sure why, but I’d say that there were a number of factors that ultimately contributed to it.
  1. Life, especially regarding my living situation, became a lot more stressful.
  2. Once I stopped, I lost momentum and no longer felt the motivation to keep writing.
  3. If I had kept writing, I think I realized that the content of this blog would have been overwhelmingly negative and I didn’t want to focus my thoughts in that direction.
Not writing was a mistake. This blog was something that had helped me gather my thoughts, and without it the negative thoughts that I mentioned in point #3 above became much more prominent. A few weeks ago, here's where I was:
  • crippling loneliness 
  • hating my job 
  • broke all the time 
  • suffering from gingivitis which hurt like hell 
  • living in an apartment with a mouse problem (I am afraid of mice) 
  • using partying as escapism and getting over-inebriated 
I think that happened three weeks ago, and life has for the most part been steadily improving. I went to the dentist and got my gums straightened out. I went to the landlord and was able to find the mouse hole that those damned rodents were entering from and eradicate them. Most importantly, I gave two weeks’ notice at my old job and put my nose to the grindstone in order to find new work. Thankfully for me, I succeeded, and I’m now about to celebrate my one-week anniversary working at a new job that is a much better fit for me. Tomorrow I’ll receive my last (tiny) paycheck from the old job, and come next Friday I’ll finally start making enough money to not only support myself but to actually accumulate some savings.

That’s not to say that everything has been all peaches and rainbows, though. There’s still one aspect of my life that I’ve been having a lot of trouble figuring out – love. This extends to both romance (which I have never experienced) and sex (which I have recently experienced but have never enjoyed). In rough chronological order:

1 – I went to hang out with an old friend – someone who has known me for more than 10 years – and he made a move on me. I slept over his apartment on an air mattress in another room. I woke up to the sound of him opening the door and straight up climbing into bed with me. He started being grabby and kissing me, and without really knowing what to do I went along with it. I spent the whole time being afraid of what would happen if he actually wanted sex. I spent the whole time essentially panicking in my head, wanting it to end, until I eventually said “no” like 20 minutes into it. This shook me up really bad.

2 – Two weeks later, I took a road-trip that involved hanging out with a friend I had met earlier this summer at a music festival. The plan was to see a show at a club, and then to take the party back to his place. I really naively assumed that this would be done completely platonic – instead what happened was that he got me really drunk, and then started making moves on me right at the club. I took him outside and told him that I wasn't born female – he didn’t care. He asked me if I wanted to have sex, and between (a) being drunk and (b) being naturally predisposed to wanting to do what people want, I told him yes despite not really having any physical or emotional attraction to him. Much like in the case above, I realized a few minutes in that (a) it was a bad idea, (b) I wasn’t enjoying it at all, and (c) I wanted it to end. After awhile, I basically told him I couldn’t continue and fell asleep naked on his bed.

3 – The next week, we went to a music festival. I had broken off from the group to relax under some trees, when a guy came over and asked to join me. Much like in the other two cases, he made his intentions clear pretty quickly as he was touching my body almost immediately after meeting me. For the first time ever, I had the stones to tell him “I don’t want to do anything besides kissing” and he obliged – but I still couldn’t shake the feeling of “I don’t want him here but am too nice/polite/empathetic to tell him no”. I kept saying things like “Well, I’m going to go meet my friends” and he would reply with “Oooh, I’ll come with”, and for some reason I couldn’t tell him that I wasn’t interested. Instead I played up my intoxication and told him that we could go on a date at some point in the future. When I got home, I realized that I didn’t have any interest at all in dating him.

4 – Last weekend, I went to another festival. It was really weird – at this particular festival, I always have had the most fun by roaming out and meeting new people. My first experience with this was by a rather large bonfire. It was freezing out, so I had taken a seat by the bonfire next to a sleeping hippie. I was with some friends and likely tripping and conversing with them – I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but the guy sleeping next to me woke up and started massaging my shoulders or something. I don’t even know what he was doing – some form of touching me without making any effort to get to know me, and I did it again – I reciprocated and gave no indication that it bothered me, and then excused myself and left the scene, and then immediately felt upset that yet another guy was trying to use me essentially to fulfill urges instead of actually trying to make a connection with me.

This hasn’t done me well. It’s been really subtle, but I’ve slowly been losing my desire to meet new people. I don’t know if it’s trust issues or low self-esteem or what, but lately I’ve been finding it really hard to expand my social circle. When I go out with my friends, I have been steadfastly staying around people who I already know and socializing with them instead. And that’s fine and all – I did that for most of my pre-transition twenties – but lately the feeling of “why aren’t I making new friends?” is morphing into “what is wrong with me?”. I’m simultaneously lonely and uninterested in meeting new people – this is a recipe for unhappiness. Worse yet, I feel like the friends that I do have are slowly growing more distant from me, and I have been at a complete loss in trying to figure out what to do about that.

I made an appointment with my therapist. I’ve been planning on doing this for awhile, but it took her a really long time to get back to me. I’m going in on October 15th, earlier if someone else cancels first, and hopefully I can square away some of the issues I’ve been having. I haven’t felt this overwhelmingly negative about “Who am I?” since probably before I transitioned, and I need to find some way to fix that because I feel like I’m losing everything in my life that I do really like. I’ve had a few friends clearly show me that they’re sick of waiting for me to get my shit together and me acting like a lost child, which sometimes motivates me but more often than not just hurts.

I’m writing this blog post write before a planned house meeting for tonight. We’ve often talked about doing this, but it’s never actually happened before. When I moved into this apartment in June, it was an absolute certainty to me that I was moving in with my three best friends. Lately, though, the level of communication in my household has been at an all-time low. I take a good amount of responsibility for this – when I don’t feel like my life is going well, I tend to withdraw from other people. This whole summer has been following a pattern of me being largely unhappy most of the time with a few moments (festivals, concerts, parties, gatherings) where I am really happy, and it hasn’t been working. I’m hopeful that things will improve after tonight but terrified that what is actually going to happen is people attacking my character and telling me how bad of a person I am. I can’t even believe that I’m writing that because a month ago I wouldn’t have thought that train of thought to be possible coming from me, but it’s the honest truth.

Now that I’ve gotten the ball rolling on this blog again, hopefully I will continue with the posting. Getting the things in this post out of my thought process has certainly helped to some degree. The concrete things in my life – such as my job, finances, health, and rodent issues are all fine – it’s just the crazy emotional stuff that has gotten out of my control. Thanks to this blog for helping with it a bit!


I showed Cody the old blog post above and he drew this picture of me dealing with mice in the apartment.

At the time I wrote the blog post above, I never intended to share it for an audience.  I've edited it a little bit, both to cut down on details and fix some grammatical flaws, but I think it gives a pretty insightful look at where I was in my life back then.  As I've mentioned in the past, this isn't my first blog - it's simply the first successful case of my keeping up with a writing project instead of abandoning it when things got hard.  It's a little bit weird for me to share that post with an audience, but I'm embracing it in the spirit of "Make Yourself Uncomfortable" knowing there's really nothing to worry about.  My past is my past and I'm willing to own it.

I was in a conversation with an online friend of mine earlier today about what my life was like before I met Cody.  We were specifically talking about dating, and I realized that anyone who has met me recently probably has no idea of just how much time I spent struggling with the idea of sex and relationships and the fear that I was destined to be alone.  I decided to search out an old blog post from that time where I knew I detailed some personal stories and share it with her so I could properly show just where my head was at. 

And then, to my complete surprise, I realized something - I wrote it almost five years ago to the day. Crazy, right?

All pictures in this blog post come from Wormtown 2011, which was also five years ago today according to Facebook.

Earlier in the week, I was given the following writing prompt:

"How does a person who loves writing get started with a proper about-themselves blog?"

I love this question.  It's never really dawned on me that I'm qualified to answer something like this.  But why not?  Best case scenario, my advice helps someone who wants to share their point of view with the world and more people embrace the idea of putting genuine effort into how they use social media.  Worst case scenario, I still think it's an interesting thing to reflect on so I'll still have fun either way.

I feel like that old blog post tells the story well enough, so I don't really need to analyze the content here.  I'll sum it up in Flowerspeak:  I was a lot lower level back then.

Here are the things that I felt after rereading that screenshot from my past:
  • I was able to recall that feeling of loneliness and self-doubt in my head, as one would expect from an extremely vivid and detailed out memory.  It's like a photograph of an emotion, and I appreciate being able to reflect on how I felt when things weren't quite as clear.  It's like reading a sad work of fiction, except I wrote it and it's about me.  For me, blog posts are like emotional photographs - even with sad ones, it's still nice to reminisce about the past.
  • I immediately reflected on the lessons those experiences taught me.  In that case, I was so scared of rejection that I was shutting down emotionally instead of taking accountability for the mistakes I was making.  It's good for me to think about that, because it's made me a much more proactive person when I feel like there's something that needs to be fixed in my life.
  • I feel nearly certain that there are people out there who struggle with similar things that I did, and I'd take genuine pleasure if the stories of my past are helpful for anyone else.  It's clear at this point that I want to make "personal growth" a theme of this blog, and I feel like the only way I can preach about it in good conscience is to show the world the path I took to get to where I am.
  • After getting the initial embarrassment of talking about bad sexual encounters, I realized that it feels good to share stories like that.  I used to have a lot of internalized shame that came with some of those old encounters, and by telling those tales to the world I feel like I'm taking ownership of those experiences.  Click the top video I link below for an amazing explanation of why this is.
So to go back and answer the writing prompt - how should someone interested in blogging get started?  To answer that question, I'm going to turn to more Flowerspeak:  "Success creates motivation, Motivation creates success".

When I started this blog, the first thing I did was to try to understand my motivation.  What specifically is it that I hope to get out of writing?  For me the answer was that I feel like I have a unique point of view and that I want to share it with the world in a way that has a positive impact.  As I grow older, I've realized that my life experiences are the thing that really make me who I am, and so I'm motivated by a desire to record and share those aspects of my life with anyone who might be interested.  I like the idea that even if something happens to me, my experiences and observations about my life can be shared and taken in and made to be worth something.

It's good to have a goal.  It's hard to move forward if you don't know what direction you want to go in.

"Dear Past Self, things are going to get better from here. Stay optimistic!  Sincerely, Future Self"
And then came the hard part.  I wrote out some blog posts and I made a conscious effort to share the link with an audience.  The actual writing itself wasn't all that difficult so much as (a) advertising my work to other people knowing that they might not like it, and (b) keeping at it during the stretches in life when I wasn't necessarily in the mood to write.  I think it's kind of by design that if you're going to create something and want it to represent an accurate picture of yourself, it should require effort and be a little bit tough to do at times.  If it isn't, you're not putting enough of yourself into it, and you can do better.

Those first few bits of positive feedback from friends who liked me work helped reinforce that I was moving in the direction of my goal.  In other words, I started to taste success.  And from there, the positive feedback loop was formed - every time I post something that I feel people respond warmly to, it makes me want to write even more.  Starting up the Patreon and being able to connect with DanceSafe have been other examples that help me feel like I'm moving in the right direction.

So really, the only advice I can give regarding how to start a blog is to just reflect on why you want to do it, and then let that motivate you to get started.  If you find it's what you truly want to do, you'll keep at it.  And if you don't keep at it, that's fine - it just frees you up to continue searching for what it is you really want to do.

That's the advice I give to anyone who wants to try their hand at blogging.  And, perhaps not coincidentally, it's the advice I would give to me five years ago:  "Fill your life with things that make you want to share your thoughts and feelings with the world, and then share them".

Thank goodness I blogged about that period of my life, otherwise pictures like this would be all I'd have to go on.

Before I end this post:

There are three videos on YouTube that I recommend everyone watch attentively.  These three videos have all made a tangible positive impact on how I approach my life.  They are:
They're going to be the topic of a future blog post and I can't recommend them enough.  I'm bringing them up because re-reading that old blog post has made me appreciate that I've grown a lot as a person since then, and I think that those three videos were all instrumental in inspiring me to keep up with this blog.