Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hair: Some asssembly required

Just a quick post.  I bought a wig today and thought I'd post a photo:
I tried on a wig at the local mall yesterday and went back today to make a purchase.  It was a fun experience.  I wanted a shortcut to longer hair, but I think this wig helps out my jawline.

As this is my first experience with a wig, I learned a few thing along the way.  I purchased a good quality synthetic wig - real hair was above my budget.  The saleswoman was good enough to show me how to fit the wig to my head.  Underneath that wig is a net cap, which is used to hide my natural hair, and helps hold the wig in place.  She added a few hair pins to help anchor the wig to the cap.  The saleswoman demonstrated several different hairstyles with the same wig using barrettes and clips.  The hair can also be curled (but not heat-styled).

I got a good lesson on wig care.  Wigs require a specific wig shampoo and conditioner. The synthetic hair needs to be combed with a metal pick (no plastic).  Wigs are also susceptible to something like split ends, and require periodic trimming every few months to restore the look.  If the split ends are extensive enough, the wig can be cut into a completely different hairstyle.

Anyways, I was really happy with the look and felt more feminine.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

First image

Okay, I thought it was time to post a picture of myself en femme:
Unfortunately, I do have a fairly masculine jaw, but I do the best  I can with what I have been given.  The picture was taken after only 3 days of hormones, so hopefully the magic will happen as time passes.

I am exploring makeup.  While I do have an occasional mishap, I feel pretty good about my progress.  Today, I learned that it is best to brush your teeth before applying lipstick!  I haven't made heavy use of Youtube yet, but I have been frequenting Sephora and asking lots of questions.  I find the girls at Sephora to be very helpful and kind in light of my gender expression.  They are more than willing to demonstrate.  In any case, makeup is an adventure that I am enjoying, and I try hard to look my best.

I do have one open makeup question:  Does anyone have a reasonable approach to skin care?  I've been hearing  a lot about it lately.  I'm convinced that I need to take better care of my complexion, but I have seen a number of very expensive products that I simply cannot afford right now.

First days full-time: Acts of grace

When I first decided to transition, I  was worried that I would be dis-owned by God.  A devout Mormon, I was conflicted over my fate.  I knew from my personal feelings that I would continue to suffer ever-worsening depression if I didn't transition.  Yet, I practice a religion that protects a conservative view of the family.  Within the church, having same gender attraction is okay, as long as it is not acted upon - a difficult view that sentences homosexuals to a life of celibacy if they wish to remain faithful.  While no official doctrine has yet been released on being transgender, the policy is likely to be similar to that for homosexuality.  The situation could produce some very real, serious consequences.  I knew I risked having my religious covenants invalidated.  To take matters further, my wife views the transition as a very real risk to the upbringing of our children.  In order to transition, she wanted to move out.  As she views herself to be right (with me being in the wrong on this matter), she claims to have authority over all matters concerning our seven children.  Visits are to be conducted on her terms (at her house, under her supervision, with me presenting as a man - wearing "Dad" clothes).

At times, I have enjoyed feeling close to God, and I credit my religious faith with some of the happiest moments of my life.  I also have a deep love for my family, particularly my kids.

So, transition, for me, is not a decision lightly taken.  I worried about my religious well-being and my access to our children among several other factors.

On the other hand, I worried about my health if I did not transition.  I have personally struggled with severe depression for the past year.  At times, suicide seemed like the most attractive option.

In this context, I finally took steps to move out of our home in order to begin a more sincere transition on Thursday afternoon.  For me, it was an act of faith and hope.  With some trepidation, I hoped that God would not leave me alone.  I hoped that I would be able to find the same peace in my heart, while finally feeling right about my gender identity.  I also had to hope that my own children would not find me repugnant.

So, I wanted to write my initial spiritual impressions after my first day of living full time as Rebecca. 

My apartment is in a town called Worth.  It was a Craigslist find, a small one-bedroom place in an old 6-flat.  I liked the location - on a dead end street, with a rear deck that looked over a creek.  It was smaller than I initially wanted, but I thought the peaceful location would be helpful.  I saw myself a little cramped, but enjoying the rear deck on days when the Chicago humidity was not to present.  So far, I see two blessings in the apartment.  First, there is plenty of space for everything.  I furnished the apartment with second-hand furniture before I moved in.  I simply bought what I thought I needed to live somewhat comfortably, but I had no feeling for the dimensions of the apartment.  For example, I bought a couch without having measured to ensure that the door openings of the apartment were wide enough to move it in.  Yet, everything made it in, and the place is furnished about just right.  I'm not having to return anything.  Second, I have the best of all possible neighbors.  As a transgender person, I never know how people will receive me.  Yet, "Missy" has a graduate degree in gender studies, and she was actually excited to have a transgender woman move in next door!  We talked for an hour last night, and I think we'll get along really well.  I thin she will be a big help.

On Friday, I spent my last day in the outpatient program at the hospital.  This is the conclusion of my most recent hospitalization for depression.  I was hospitalized twice over the fall, but my longest hospitalization is this most recent stint.  I spent three weeks inpatient, followed by five weeks in daily outpatient therapy.  I was a little nervous to leave the hospital.  However, I do feel very different leaving this time.  After my previous hospitalizations, I was somewhat more stable, but I knew something was still very wrong.  During this hospitalization, I was open about my gender identity issues for the first time, and I worked through the difficult process of deciding to transition.  I made that decision while in the inpatient program, and counted on the staff and patients in the outpatient program to help me through the early stages of my transition.  I open attended all but three days of my outpatient therapy as a transgender woman.  To my surprise, the patients and staff were very supportive.  I felt okay about myself, and felt love from others for the first time as a female - not romantic love, but the kind that carries you through difficult times.  I first felt that there was something really beautiful about being transgender in the hospital. Leaving the outpatient program, they have something of a small "graduation" ceremony.  The other patients in the program are given a few moments to comment on those who will be leaving.  When it was my turn, I was really touched by the things that were said.  People spoke about respect and courage and beauty.  I was really touched.  Personally, I felt a little pride in myself.  I know that I have grown in unexpected ways - I've always had a passive personality, but I've finally demonstrated the courage to stand up for myself in the face of something difficult.

On Friday, I went out to have something of a celebration.  It was my first day living entirely as a woman - no changing back to a man.  I wore a long maxi dress and sandals - comfortable wear for a humid Chicago day.  I flat-ironed my hair.  I wanted to do something feminine, so I went to have my eyebrows arched, and got my ears pierced.  While at the mall, I also stopped for a bra fitting.  I present well as a female, but I know I am still read by many people.  I remain very much a work in progress.  However, I was touched by how kind everyone was that I met.  At one point, I stopped in at the pharmacy to pick up some medication.  The pharmacist is a woman we have frequented for the past few years, and we've seen a lot of each other as I have been treated for my depression.  The pharmacist kindly asked if she could change my name in the computer so that my prescriptions would come in the name of Rebecca!  We talked openly for the first time about my transition, and she wished me luck on my journey.

So, I have written about some small things.  Yet, these are small things that help me to feel that God has not left me entirely alone.  I do see unexpected blessings in my apartment, and in the kindness of others.  I also see the Lords hand in my personal growth as I have found previously unknown reserves of courage within myself.

Anyways, I have a long ways to go.  I still have work to do with my immediate family, and I will likely be working through a divorce with my wife.  Yet, I feel as if I will not be forsaken by God while on my journey. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

On coming out: It does get better

Coming out to friends and family can be one of the most difficult steps when one begins to identify as transgender.  I wanted to write some about my experience coming out, in hopes that it might help others.

Before coming out, I first had to begin to identify as being transgender.   This sounds like an easy step, but it took me a long time, and the help of a very good therapist. I grew up with the desire to be female always in my mind.  While I've said before that I kept those feelings buried, they were actually fairly close to the top of my mind.  The desire to be female was always there, and it surfaced constantly.  I just did my best to ignore it.  For years, I prayed it would go away.  It took a bought of severe depression and a skilled therapist for me to admit to myself that I wanted to be female, more than anything else. In a sense, my therapist helped me come out to myself first.  For me, that first step was a huge relief.  I finally realized that my feelings had a name, and there were a lot of other people like me. With this realization, came a lot of self-acceptance, and the desire to transition.  Before telling anyone else, I spent the next few weeks talking privately with my therapist.  She wanted to make sure that this was a real identity issue, and not just a passing desire to wear women's clothing. 

Coming out to those close to me is where the story becomes more dramatic.  I came out to my wife two weeks later.  We actually had the discussion in the therapist's office, and the therapist proved to be a big help.  After I told my wife that I wanted to be female, the therapist as there to encourage discussion and to listen to my wife.  For me, that was the right setting; I tend to get quiet and wrap up in myself when I feel that my words might hurt someone.  It was great to have the therapist there to step in and encourage discussion.

So, telling someone is only the first step in coming out.  In the case of my wife, it took several conversations over the next few months before she began to be accepting.  The therapist explained to me that my wife would go through a grieving process, and we talked frequently about the 5 stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  I've seen most of these phases with my wife.  She was initially in shock that something like this could happen to her.  There was a lot of denial, mixed with anger during the first few weeks after my admission.  4 months later, I've started to see some bargaining and acceptance. The tone of our conversations has changed recently.  My wife has begun to ask me friendly questions about being transgender.  We've decided to separate, but we're able to have good talks about how life will be post-separation. I'm optimistic that we'll come through this with a pretty good friendship.

So, here's my advice about coming out boiled down to a few bullet points:
  • Realize that coming out to one particular person is a process rather than a single event. For those closest to you, it will take a several conversations as they work through the grieving process. You can notice the stages of the grieving process in the conversations you have with them.
  • The friends who work through the grieving process are most likely to remain friends through your transition.
  • You may have some difficult or uncomfortable conversations with friends while they work through their feelings.  It's best to not avoid these conversations.  I've found it helps to reassure friends that this is a decision that you have made, and one that you are happy with.
  • You will undoubtedly have some personal ups-and-downs as part of the process.  I've had a really good experience coming out at work, where people have been very accepting (I'm the only transgender person at the lab where I work.  My friends and close co-workers have been very supportive.  Others are good enough to respect the lab's anti-discrimination policies.).  I've had a harder time with closer family members and friends who may disagree in principle with my transition.  I had a difficult purge after a particularly challenging day with my wife.
  • Look for  a support network.  A good therapist helps.  You can also find help from LGBT organizations in your local area.  If you cannot interact with a local group for whatever reason, look for online support. My family situation has kept me from attending support groups in person, but I have found friends by contacting other online bloggers through email.
  • Be patient with yourself and others.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Good Week

Transitioning has it's ups-and-downs, but this has definitely been a better week for me. A lot has happened.  Some good experiences and some bad, but definitely all teaching moments:

  1. Clocked!:  I was out as Rebecca when I stopped at a thrift store for a quick look.  We have a large family, and it's important for me to stretch the wardrobe dollars as much as I can, so I usually shop at thrift stores.  Anyways, I passed two pre-teen girls, and I think they read me.  They were staring, and switched positions to get a better look, and were talking excitedly.  I acknowledged the attention with a glance. This was the first time that I felt like I was a spectacle.  Being transgender does require some practice.  Some people can practice in private and arrange everything perfectly.  They have the luxury of transitioning once they are passable.  In my case, my wife won't let me dress at home, so I have to practice in public.  I honestly don't mind the feedback; I just wish I had stopped to talk with the girls for a moment.
  2. New counselor: The medical group through which I receive all my mental health care recently hired a new counselor who has experience with LGBTQ care.  We had our first session yesterday morning and I appreciated the difference right away.  While the previous counselor helped me come out as transgender, I was her first transgender patient.  I valued our relationship, but I think I disappointed her as I dealt with the ups-and-downs of the early stages of my transition.  The new psychologist feels much more affirming.  I went to the appointment dressed as Rebecca, and she asked right away if I had a preferred name.  The one question I wanted to ask was if she would help me to become a woman. She answered, "We'll get you to where you feel you need to be!"  I was happy with her reassuring nature.  To top it off, she is also named Rebekah!
  3. Hair:  While I have generally hated my hair for most of my life, I suddenly find myself receiving some flattering comments as a woman.  I have really curly hair.  As a man, I would cut my hair short so I didn't have to deal with the curl.  I began growing my hair out ~ 7 months ago, so it's getting long and curly.  Most days, it's an easy feminine look to wear my hair curly; I use a little hair gel to help with the curl definition, but my hair does just about the right thing on its own.  Yesterday, I was checking in at the psychologists office, and there was a Hispanic woman behind me in line.  I suddenly heard the lady ask, "Okay, so what product do you use on your hair?"  I initially didn't think the question was for me, but glanced around and there was nobody else within earshot.  I turned around and we began a brief conversation about naturally curly hair. The woman had wavy hair with a lot of volume, but wanted it to look more curly, and expressed some frustration with her hair.  I firmly believe there is a inherent beauty to being female, so it was easy to tell the woman that she looked beautiful.  I appreciate the frankness of women; I love the feminine culture of giving and receiving compliments.
  4. Transition timeline:  So, my wife and I have agreed to separate so I can live as a female.  I've written some in past postings that she doesn't agree with my transition and wants me to move out.  We were planning that I would move out in October after we had paid off some financial obligations.  We recently had some investments mature, which will allow me to move out sooner.  The new date I'm working towards is August 1.  I'm busy trying to find an apartment and furnishings.
  5. Shopping by committee:  Ever since it warned up in Chicago, I have wanted a light colorful outfit for the summer.  I finally managed to go shopping yesterday.  I have to admit that I had a blast.  I found a skirt I liked, but had real difficulty matching a blouse.  I asked the store employees for help, and soon it became a competition between the store manager and her assistant.  Not long later, several patrons became involved.  At one point, I had 5 ladies offering their advice on how to pull together the outfit.  In the end, I found something that worked, and had a great time doing so.  I'm excited to wear the new outfit tomorrow.
Anyways, a good week.  I am looking forward to August 1 - I plan to go full time on that date and start hormones.


Sunday, July 3, 2016


 Over the last few days, I have been thinking over the process that has brought me to where I am.  From my own experience, I realize that there must be others out there that were raised as religious conservatives who now identify as transgender. Coming to peace with a transgender lifestyle often means setting aside long-held religious convictions.  In my case, I have been a strong member of the Mormon faith all my life.  At times, some of happiest moments have come because of my faith.  For example, I served for two years as a Mormon missionary in Quebec, Canada in the mid 1990s.  For those not familiar with Mormonism, it is common for Mormon youth, typically ages 18-early 20's, to spend 2 years spreading the word.  Missionaries are assigned to a place of labor somewhere in the world by Church leadership, and are frequently required to learn a new language.  The missionary also pays his own way.  I realize it's often seems inconvenient when the Mormon missionaries show up at your door, but the missionaries are sincere.  The work can be very hard - in my case, there was a lot of rejection, and rudeness.  However, the work does grow on you in incredible ways.  The spiritual growth I experienced, far outweighed any negative experiences.  I learned an incredible amount about my faith, and also myself in what became an incredibly short 2 years.  Indeed, I was last most happy while a missionary.

So, now I am middle-aged, and recently came out as transgender.  I have struggled with gender identity all my life.  Once I admitted to myself that I was transgender, much of those internal feelings I have had for years began to make sense.  In some ways, I am grateful to finally know who I am, and I count myself fortunate to be transgender.

The biggest conflict that I now have is to resolve my new gender identity and my faith.  While the Mormon faith has not yet made policy on transgender members, there is a good chance that I could be disciplined or even excommunicated as I proceed with my transition.  It's difficult, but a choice I've already made.  I've begun to live a a female in certain settings (work, in the community), and I finally feel right as myself.  I do feel that God has had a hand in my recent self-discovery; it has probably saved my life in light of my struggles with depression.

So, I wanted to make an open appeal for input on this issue:  What has your experience been with long-held religious beliefs and your gender identity?  For those of you from more conservative faiths, how have you resolved the obvious conflicts?

Please try to be sincere.  This is a sensitive topic for many.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Simple Pleasures

To speak frankly, depression is a serious condition, particularly for those in the transgender community.  The pressures on a transgender individuals are very real and can be scary.  For me, being male has always been painful.  This is a concept that is difficult to explain to those who are secure in their gender identity.  Despite trying to bury the the feelings of wanting to be female, the desire was always there as the background noise of my life.  As much as I tried to ignore the feelings and desires, they surfaced consistently.  Sense of identity underlies one's health and well-being, and a transgender person can live with an uncertain identity for decades.  More than just a feeling, I felt a true desire to live as a female.

On top of the drive, there are a unique set of pressures that begin to pile up.  I lived in fear of being discovered.  Religion, family values, and peer pressure are common examples of stimuli that can contribute, but a transgender person will have a unique set of pressures as individual as they are.  The combination of a strong drive for something forbidden, pain fear, and stress easily add up to depression.  If the attempted suicide rate identified transgender individuals is 45%, THE RATE OF DEPRESSION MUST BE MUCH HIGHER.

I am 41, and hold a PhD. in physics.  I work at a national lab, designing specialized x-ray detectors for a synchrotron light source.  I've been struggling with depression for approximately 1 year. When the depression got strong enough that I felt like taking my life, I have always had the presence to find help. I have a history of self harm, but I have always stopped short of a serious suicide attempt.  I count myself as one of the fortunate ones.

Having said that, I have missed 14 weeks of work over the past year.  I have been hospitalized for six weeks, and spent another 6 weeks in outpatient hospitalization programs.  There is a cost to my lab in lost productivity, and approximate insurance costs for hospitalization have been in the ballpark of $100,000.  Out of pocket, we have personally spent in excess of  $6,000 for individual therapy with psychologists. The dollar numbers do not reflect the costs to myself and family.

So, why do I want to write about simple pleasures?  Simply put, I am thankful to be alive right now.  I  was discharged from the inpatient program 10 days ago.  I have not yet been cleared to return to work, but am participating in a "partial hospitalization program," an intensive outpatient therapy program.  I currently spent 6 hours at the hospital daily, 5 days each week.  The day is comprised of 5 hours of group therapy, with an hour break for lunch.

The good part of this arrangement?  My depression has abated somewhat, and I have been able to attend  my therapy sessions as a female.  I initially attended outpatient therapy as a male, but switched to female clothing after a few days.  I came out as transgender to the therapy group late last week.  The response has been positive.

It's hard to express how relieved I feel as a female.   The depression abates, and the extra stresses disappear.  There are simple pleasures.  People who use my female name (Rebecca), or gender appropriate pronouns (she/her).  I was using the lady's room yesterday when an elderly woman entered and complemented me on my blouse.

I've become friends with some of the female patients in the program.  Today one of the other women braided my hair.  Luckily, my hair is naturally curly, and I've been growing it out for about 7 months.  I normally just wear it curly, but was flattered to learn it was long enough to braid. 

Simple pleasures....