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 :)

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