Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Right Jigsaw Pieces

I trained as a kindergarten teacher, it seems so long ago now. I loved my job very much.  I still miss it, but maybe it's no place for a transitioner.  Once I began my transition I rapidly found that nobody would consider me for any of the jobs I applied for. I moved on into working for a community college where I work now with rather bigger students.

These days the classroom for the very young might be far more interactive but things like sand and water play still figure very highly because of their value in helping kids discover, play together and understand their surroundings.  As a very new and inexperienced teacher fresh out of college I remember inheriting a huge collection of jig saw puzzles of varying size and difficulty from the teacher I replaced. I was bewildered as to why she had accumulated so many.  However, I had a big class and I rapidly learned the value of these puzzles in streamlining the hiccups of a day where some children finish activities before others.  There was always one great headache though, or sorrow for the boy or girl in question.  That was when there were pieces missing, or even more heartbreaking, pieces from another puzzle.  There is nothing worse.  Sometimes I could help.  I kept a small basket into which I put all the little things you inevitably find on a schoolroom floor at the end of the day.  The children called it 'the bits basket'.  There were always lots of orphan puzzle pieces in there. If a child was lucky, they would find their missing pieces there. If not they would feel frustrated and cross. Frustrated 5 & 6 year olds need handling carefully! There are often tears or worse.

Like any 6 year old I too get cross and frustrated too.  There have been lots of tears.  In transitioner's years I'm 7 now but there has been a trail of missing pieces and the wrong pieces in my life too.  As well as the obvious body parts that don't seem to fit there's been the hidden frustration of a set of pieces related to my treatment that don't seem to belong to the same puzzle at all; a gender identity clinic in a big city hundreds of miles a way; a well meaning but eccentric local doctor; an endocrinologist in one hospital skilled in treating diabetes but with little clue about how to treat GID; a psychotherapist in another in a different county altogether.  As a patient it's fallen to me to try and get these people to fit together and produce some sort of coherent treatment for me.  It's about as easy as forcing together pieces of a Taj Mahal puzzle and one of the Eiffel tower.  Even if you could force these pieces together you end up with a horrible picture :(

Yesterday I revisited the 'bits basket'.  It was yet another hospital in reality. My old endocrinologist has retired.  After protesting that nobody had reviewed my hormone regime in almost eleven months, I was offered a new one.  Considering my experiences so far, I had little faith in this.  I was nervous in the extreme at being seen by yet another practitioner.  I needn't have worried.  I was treated so considerately and listened to.  True, nobody had sent him the results of my blood tests, but I had copies in my handbag having been in that situation too often before.  It was so refreshing to talk to someone who seemed to understand my needs, who took one look at my blood results and pronounced the hormone regime I've been on for the last 6 years totally inadequate.  It has now changed from 2 x 50 microgram patches a week to 3 x 100 microgram patches and 3 monthly prostap injections.  I was shocked, I think I had gotten so used to my view of the brick wall that I never expected anything else.

At last then, I seem to have a good number of the right puzzle pieces, it looks as though this time like they might actually fit.  I have a hormone regime which might now do some good and a surgical referral on the horizon next February if my hormone levels do as they're told.  I have a psychotherapist who does something as well as listen.  It seems like that mish mash of the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal isn't as good as it gets after all.  Here's hoping, wish me luck.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving for the Ordinary

It's been a fraught two weeks, the heartbreak of losing a relative, a family funeral, grieving and beginning to move on, what on earth is there for me to be thankful for.  We've reached November 24th; Thanksgiving Holiday and the Thanksgiving weekend to come. Here in Wales, the nearest thing to they have to Thanksgiving is Diolchgarwch.  It happens in October and it's not a public holiday but it means the same.  I'm not always entirely sure what Thanksgiving is about anymore but if anything it is a time for families, returning home, celebrating safety in togetherness. Families go on being a family even when they lose someone, they're changed forever but not in their essence. A family is still a family, in all the many forms it takes.  In all my grieving and reflection and the comments made to my blog posts, I've come to be incredibly thankful of my family around me, my place as a Mom within it and the wider family of brothers and sisters out there.

With a bereavement comes leave from work, time to sort things out, to piece yourself and your family together and move on.  My daughters are back at High School and College.  My sister is back at work.  For a few days still I will be at home before I return to work.  It's been strange.  This is the first time in very many years when I've been away from work, from everyday life and the ordinary, the banal and the 8.30 till 5.00 routine of earning a living.  It's the first time I've had to reflect on what the ordinary and everyday means to me because for so long I've seen it as a necessary chore, something that takes me away from my creativity and music.  For the first time I can see it differently.

Yes it's strange I know but I'm thankful for the alarm at 6.30, for getting my daughter up, for stumbling to the kitchen to make some tea.  For the last two weeks I haven't had to rush the frantic dash to straighten my hair, put on some makeup, the indecisiveness of what dress to wear, crying with frustration that I have to spend 5 minutes sewing a button backtheory only matching cardigan or dashing back to my room because I've noticed a run in my pantie hose. I find it strange that I've missed all of that. I've even missed the hurried breakfast and the cold grey ocean glimpsed from my car window as I drive to work late.  I've missed the everyday buzz of the classrooms I work in, the frustrating students, the coffee and lunch times where I complain about work with my friends and share frustrations about dealing with the issues of guiding a teenage daughter through life.

For me, the ordinary is being a female employee in a college that recruited me years ago as a woman, the circle of work friends both fellow women and the guys I like, the students who call me 'Miss' without thought and just the sheer lack of even having to think about any of these things as being any other than normal.

Over the past few days I've read so many blogs and comments and begun to realise that what is pretty ordinary for me is a much wanted privilege or even the unobtainable for others.  For too long I've been been down over the frustrations of still waiting for GRS after 7+ years and feeling incomplete yet most people who know me everyday at work have no knowledge of any of this. I've come to realise that maybe what I have IS a privilege, something very special and something worthy of being thankful for, a real thanksgiving. I'm aware that there seems to be no rhyme or reason in why I should be in this position and not others.  I've been lucky.  I pass relatively easily, nobody forces me to use the wrong restroom or hide who I am, it could easily have been so different.  

There are others around me, both staff and students who are far more out about their gender identity or sexual preference at work.  I count some of them as my friends but am always amazed by their courage. It takes all sorts to make a world; lesbian, gay, cis, cd's, trans and the many shades of in between.  It's a continuum of fascinating individuality and colour. They happen to be all people with a personality and feelings to hurt not members of a category and I respect that. In my world where everything seems quite ordinary, it's yet one more thing to be really thankful for.

Have a great Thanksgiving, whoever and wherever you are,

Robyn-Jane xx

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Pulled Thread

I'm sitting by the fire in my Dad's old house. I've been thinking. I've been crying. I've been dreading the day of the funeral. Now it's tomorrow and there seems too little time left for anything. It's been of week of being at times quietly resigned to what has happened and horror at the unexpected twists and turns of events as a whole family prepares to say goodbye. Sister, daughters, brother in law, sister in law, nieces and mother in law all knew my father in their different ways intimate and distant. I'm sitting with a pack of small cards on the table for all these people to have tomorrow. Come the funeral in just over 12 hours, all these little cards will bear the feelings and thoughts of relatives and friends.

All these people had their own personal relationships with my father and with me as well as each other. If you joined all those relationships with yarn you would have a tangled web....and if you pull the wrong thread...a mess.

Earlier this week I discovered that one relative who really dislikes me as a trans woman had decided to be there tomorrow. I've always felt that he despised me. Since I started to transition I have watched helpless as the wreck of a once united family took place and feelings were mangled, bonds of love severed and relationships lay dying.

To those of my trans brothers, sisters, gay, lesbian and bi friends, none of this will come as much of a surprise I guess. Nonetheless, we none of us want this to happen but have it fall upon us. I have dealt with my own share of it as best I can but always with sorrow as I watched my young daughter and her nieces, nephews and so many others drift apart until the Grand Canyon seemed to open up between them. Try as I might, one by one, lights of relationship and friendship went out.

Earlier this week I wrote a heartfelt letter to my relative, welcoming him to the funeral, telling him how much I respect his views however painful I find them. I tried to explain how a lifetime of forever feeling a girl but having it bullied out of me as a child lead to me living a lie for much of my life. I asked him to try and be warm and understanding for the sake of our family.

This morning he replied. I read with tears how he felt he could never forgive me for hurting others within my family because of who I had chosen to be. I learned with sadness of an intention to appear warm in order to placate others but a promise that it would never be genuine. Of all the horrible words he wrote, the verb 'choose' was the unkindest he could have used. I never 'chose' to be like this. This is who I am. I am who I am and thankfully to nearly everyone I know and meet, who I am and always will be, is a woman.

At one time I too wondered whether it was me who had broken and wrecked my family; that by coming out I had somehow 'pulled the wrong thread' and brought about this tangled mess. If I had continued to believe that, I guess that I probably wouldn't be here now. I'll never give up trying to untangle it all using all the love and kindness I possess but faced with trans-phobia is that something that even love cannot untie?

Robyn Jane


Monday, November 7, 2011

Losing the Most Important Man in My Life

It is never easy saying goodbye is it, even when the person you love has been telling you for so long that they’re going away and won’t ever be coming back.  If you love someone enough, there is no amount of preparation that can help with coming to terms with a final goodbye.  The person I’ve just said goodbye to was a very dear friend, a great adviser and an influence in my life.  There have been huge arguments at times and periods when we have been distant but never with a finality like this.  I’ve just said a final goodbye to my Dad, the one guy that I knew I could rely on and who wouldn’t let me down.  My Dad died after a long battle with prostrate cancer.  He ironically finished his life on much the same sort of hormone regime as many pre-op transsexuals and as a man he absolutely hated it.  We had a good laugh together bout that one.


Relationships with men for a trans woman can be fraught with problems.  I still can’t tell if a guy is interested in me because he likes me as a woman or because he has some interest in having sex with a T-girl.  I still find it hard to trust men and their intentions.  In a world like that it was great to have a man who always wanted the best for me even if he never quite understood why I needed to be his daughter and not his son.

My Dad was a Mining Engineer in the days when that was very much a ‘man’s’ profession.  He loved machines, mending things, solving problems and making things work.  Early in life, he worked in many dangerous situations underground and survived to tell the tale.  During the 39-45 war he built diesel engines for the Navy.  As a wannabe girl back in the 60’s I was very resistant to being taught anything mechanical but at least I have him to thank that I can change the wheel on my car.

Dad was ready to embrace modern technology.  He learned how to use a micro-computer in his eighties, went shopping on-line and shortly before he died bought an iPod and a portable DVD player to entertain himself in his hospital bed.  He watched his last movie only two night's ago; Buster Keaton’s silent movie tribute to the Civil War: ‘The General’.  These days guys don’t impress me much.  I take a lot of impressing having once been a reluctant male myself but Dad always impressed me, impressed and influenced me.  He did what any good parent tries to do and sought to prepare me for life.  It doesn’t matter that Dad had very little idea of how to prepare a son for dealing with being cast in the wrong gender.  That was a path I had to find for myself.

Saying goodbye to my Dad has made me wonder about my own experiences as a father before I transitioned.  I never saw myself as much of a Dad, indeed my youngest daughter seems to have seen my long years ago as a second Mom.  Maybe I always compared myself to my Dad and found my own feeble attempt at fatherhood very lacking.  Latterly as a daughter to my Dad and not a son, I learned the value of having my Dad complement me on my going out dress, or say I looked pretty.  As a Mom I do that too with my daughters but somehow having Mom’s approval isn’t quite the same.  Mom liking something usually means ‘this won’t impress boys’.  All of this has left me occasionally feeling guilty about vacating a role in my children’s lives that I tried so hard to fill but failed. Looking back, it seems like my Dad ended up providing that much needed male angle in my daughter’s lives after they ‘lost’ their Dad as well as being their much loved Grandpa. 

One more thing to be glad for from such a great man.  So long Dad, I will miss you so very much.