Sunday, March 25, 2012

Finding her voice

We hear this phrase a lot-

"I didn't have a voice."

Often it refers to a law being passed without a person having the right or ability to weigh in on the decision.  Sometimes, a person may mean it literally-like my father, God rest him, after his laryngectomy.    And of course, he didn't say that, nor did he write it, but he acted it out daily in those first weeks post surgery, nearly until the day he died nine months later.

Interestingly, two minutes ago, as I started to write this entry, I planned on going in a different direction with it, but being reminded of my father's frustration at literally losing his voice seems a more apt place to start.  Once again, I will take the liberty of imagining what it must have felt like to be a person I've never been, that is, one who had literally lost his voice.

My father had always been a forceful person in many ways.  He was direct and intelligent and we all agree that his gift was words-both written and spoken.  He was first generation Irish American and therefore was fluent in sarcasm;  he has since passed on his bilingual abilities to all three daughters, and so far, to both grandsons.  Flying Pig's children are too young too have absorbed that fine language, but I look forward to the day when I can hear the sarcasm drip off of their little tongues!!

When my father had his vocal chords surgically removed in an effort to save his life from the cancer that ate away at his larynx, I can only imagine into what world he had been plunged.  He had literally lost a barrier to germs and anything that didn't belong inside his body as he now bore the mark of his surgery in the form of a gaping hole at the base of his neck.  Anything could get inside him that could fit in that hole, and no words could come out.  Like the only cat I've ever had declawed, he was stripped of one of his major abilities to defend himself and exist, and it left him fearful.  His fear, just like my cat's, manifested itself as extreme cantankerousness and some timidness as well, which make for very strange bedfellows.

I leap from the literal loss of voice to the figurative next.  DJ, the previously fearless trailblazer,  has spoken of losing her voice, or feeling like she just didn't have one.  Well, it seems only natural that when one is invisible during the majority of her waking hours one would be likewise voiceless.  And that is how she felt this past fall when she began to struggle in earnest.

I try to imagine how small one must feel if they are not seen, nor heard.  Experiencing either of those would be frustrating, to say the least, and likely enraging.  Think of it:  You are to meet a friend in a crowded park or on the beach.  You tell your friend where you will be and you watch for her arrival. You see her when she arrives, but in spite of you telling her exactly where you'll be standing, she does not see you. What do any one of us do when we are trying to catch someone's attention?  We begin to wave our arms madly until the visual disturbance catches that someone's eye.  And why do we wave madly?  Likely for two reasons:  we really want to be seen and we are frustrated that we somehow aren't visible.  We are attempting to control our world.  If you can't see me, fine, I'll make sure you can see me by gesturing wildly.

In this day and age of cell phones, we are infuriated with dropped calls.  We will be in the middle of telling someone something that is important to us, only to realize after who-knows-how-long that we have been talking to no one except ourselves and the perfect strangers within hearing distance, because our cell phone call has been inadvertently disconnected.  Being heard is SO important to us, the ability to communicate is SO crucial to us, that mobile phone carriers will tout their low percentage of dropped calls as a means of enticing us to take our business to them.

If I lose my ability to see, or to taste, or even to hear, I don't stop BEING; but it can certainly seem as if I've stopped existing if I cannot be heard or seen.  So, DJ felt as if she was invisible, AND lost her voice too.  How frightening would that be?  I've experienced one, or the other, but not usually both at the same time for any significant length of time.  Now, part of this was her decision to NOT talk to people who wanted to listen and we will continue to work on that, but much of it was not a decision she made, but was more like she was surgically excised from the hallways at school, or from the classrooms.

She's getting her voice back now and sometimes it's hard to hear what she has to say.  She is, after all, a teenager!!  We've been encouraging her for months, nay, years, to speak her mind and she is taking it to heart.  She can get snippy and for the first 500 milliseconds, I feel stung by her words, but then I realize, "Oh yeah, this is what teenagers do when they actually feel like they have a voice - they sometimes mildly abuse the privilege!"  And not only is it ok, I actually kind of want to cheer for her!!

Last week she saw Dr. Carla Enriquez in New Jersey.  This woman is an awesome doctor.  She is a neurodevelopmental specialist for kids and has great experience treating ADD, ADHD, OCD, depression, bi-polar disorder, as well as gender dysphoria, and probably much more beyond that.  She had counseled DJ on the importance of realizing that she had to look out for herself and sometimes it was important to say, "I just don't give a shit" when people were out of line.  And that is a direct quote. So, when she disagreed with DJ's decision to be on progesterone, citing that her hopes of future breastfeeding were next to zero and therefore not worth the risk of side effects, DJ responded kindly, but assertively, "Well, it's important to me to try and if it turns out you're right, I'll just have to say, 'I don't give a shit.'"

Dr. Enriquez roared with laughter and approval.  So did I.  Our girl's got her voice back.  It must feel glorious to her.  We can give her some wiggle room.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Flying Pig strikes again

We LOVE Flying Pig, once again.  Well, we always love her, but we feel a particular spike in our affection for her since she is one who likes to share knowledge and she has shared two VERY important links that I have added to our resources.  Please check them out. 

It seems Cyndi Lauper has been blazing a trail for GLBTQ youth.  And in true Lauper fashion, one of her causes is called "True Colors" (PERFECT!!!) and the other "Give a Damn" (Equally Perfect!!!).  Both support GLBTQ youth but the first specifically provides resources and housing for young folks whose families have deserted them.  The second  is addressing the political aspect of inequality for GLBTQ people in general.  Please check out the links.  There are supportive messages for those of you who may need it.  You take one look at "Give a damn" and you'll know there are BIG name folks and regular folks who are batting for you and we're swinging hard.

Flying Pig, as always, you are the best!!!

And also, thanks to Anonymous, for sharing a link for those Transgender folks who want an accurate passport.  I added that to the link, as well.  Check it out.

The Author

Monday, March 19, 2012

Oh lordy, she's driving!!

Yes, it's official.  Drivers in Virginia-be sure to fasten your seatbelts because DJ earned her driver's permit today.  It is glorious seeing her succeed in another area of getting her life back on track. It is not so glorious rubbing Ben Gay on my neck after she stalled the standard shift pick-up truck about ten times trying to master getting it into the elusive first gear, however.  Actually, I don't mind at all.  She did a great job for her first time ever behind the wheel, not counting the tractor, of course.

High five for DJ!!!

For another reason:  her driver's permit/license reads with her legal name and her gender is identified appropriately as F- yes, that's right. FEMALE.  And in the incredibly conservative state of Virginia, no less.  I never would have though it possible but Virginia has made it possible for pre-operative, or post-operative transgender folks to have their gender correctly identified on one's Driver's license.  My wording might be a bit confusing:  one does NOT have to be in the process of attempting surgery, only that it allows folks who are trangender without having surgery to obtain the license correctly AND it also allows folks to change their license if they obtained it bearing the genetic gender, had surgery, and want to change it post-surgery to accurately reflect their insides, and outsides.

Those of you who live in Virginia-this is how you do it.  Go to your DMV and ask for a Customer Medical Report form.  It's possible you can get one by going online to  Follow the instructions and complete the form.  The drawback is you will need a healthcare professional to confirm that you are being treated for Gender Dysphoria.  You then submit that form to the DMV in Richmond.  We also submitted letters from the therapist and DJ's surgeon stating she was under their care.  I will scan a copy of the letter DJ's surgeon wrote.  Feel free to use the wording.  Disc Jockey came up with it and we copied and pasted it and sent it to DJ's surgeon where she could put it on her letterhead, sign it and mail it to us.

The Medical Review Services committee is supposed to make their decision in two weeks and should send you a letter granting you permission to have the gender with which you identify noted on your license.  You take that letter to the DMV, along with other documentation to include any legal name change paperwork, your birth certificate, even if it's in your previous name, as long as you can show provide the paperwork that it was legally changed, your social security number, and if you're a minor, your parent's driver's license, along with their signature.  Hopefully, you will have your parents' support, or even just one parent's support, in this.  If you have trouble, the phone number for the Virginia Medical Review Services desk is (804) 367-6203.

If you don't live in Virginia, consider looking up the medical guidelines for the department of motor vehicles in your state. 

Remember, however, in most states, as I understand it, your birth certificate gender will remain as the gender identified at birth based on your physical presentation at that time, until gender confirmation surgery in most states.  But, once you get a legal name change through your local court system, then it's a matter of filling out an application and sending a check for about $25 to have your name legally changed on your birth certificate too.  Yes, passports are issued based on birth certificate information, but if you have not had gender confirmation surgery, but do have a driver's license with the appropriate gender identified on it, then when you apply for your passport, have your picture taken as you normally live and present.  While the passport may not reflect the correct gender, the picture will, your driver's license will and hopefully you can avoid disaster at the airport.  But just to be safe, carry a copy of the letter from your therapist or healthcare provider, a copy of which I will provide below, that you can present to any official who is questioning the fact that the gender on your passport does not agree with your presentation and/or your driver's license.  You want to stack the deck in your favor to make traveling by air as stress free as possible.

Whoda thunk The Commonwealth of Virginia would provide a way for non-mainstream folk ?  Not this author.  Virginia, I applaud you on this one. 

Please find below, at the very bottom of the screen, on a brown backdrop, a scan of a "carry letter" that Disc Jockey recommended for DJ to make use of when necessary. Do not include what is in parenthesis in your letter.  I don't think I should have to mention that, but you never know what people are thinking if they're anxious for success. I recommend you have your therapist or healthcare provider print it on  his/her letterhead, and have at least a couple of copies bearing his/her original signature and a number of photocopies.  Keep one on your person if you feel like you may ever need it.

Can't say it enough-educate yourself.

DJ is home.  I say that happily and with tiredness in my cyber voice.  Bulldog and I are so glad to have her home, and she is glad to be home.  When she was discharged from the Reflections unit (the eating disorders unit) her therapist ended our last session by saying:

DJ, what I'm about to tell you is not a canned speech.  A lot of girls come here and leave because they don't want to be here; others leave because their insurance won't pay.  Some girls leave because they need to be in a long term residential care facility to manage their eating disorders.  You are leaving because it's the right time for you to go and that doesn't happen very often.  We are all so proud of you and you did so well.

And yes, she did.  She is religious about following the program in spite of putting on the required weight, which is mentally and emotionally tough for her.  But she is one tough cookie and is motivated by her upcoming gender confirmation surgery.

However, there was, is, one significant drawback of DJ's hospital experience.  In spite of their treating her appropriately in the emotional sense on being informed that DJ is transgender, I have to say, in my opinion, that they fell a bit short on the psycho/social/medical aspect.  They admittedly had never treated a transgender patient in their facility, and took it in stride.  They kept her on the girls' floor, and did not divulge DJ's history and supported her when she chose to share her history with the other girls, who, by the way,  were champs.  Not to steal their thunder in any way, but of course they were champs-DJ is so obviously a girl and they had no preconceived notions.  But I still am grateful for people who can take my daughter's word for who she is without needing to inspect her original birth certificate or her underwear.

But back to the facility-when DJ experienced certain symptoms of stress, which is normal in the transgender person, they instead, wanted to label her.  And they did, which we will have to fight to get off of her medical records.  They viewed DJ as a person with anorexia and anxiety disorders, who also happened to have gender dysphoria.  But DJ is a person with gender dysphoria who is experiencing anxiety, and anorexia, as a result of her gender dysphoria.  And there is a difference.

I'm not doctor, but I'm a very experienced paramedic.   When someone's heart is racing, we must determine why before we wantonly apply electricity and shock our patients.  (The word is actually "cardiovert" for people who have pulses; I want to be accurate for any of you who have medical backgrounds.)  For example, a rapid heart rate is a normal finding in patients who are running a fever, are anxious due to fear, or shock, and is common in people who have experienced blood loss, or are having a seizure...the list is pretty extensive.  So, when DJ manifests certain symptoms that can be indicative of 10 different issues, it seems reckless to me to apply the worst case scenario diagnosis based solely on the one symptom.  It's like saying a person has a heart condition because their heart is beating rapidly after getting pulled over by a cop for speeding.

For those of you who were born in the wrong body, who are experiencing gender dysphoria, and for those of us who love our gender dysphoric relatives, please educate yourselves on what is considered "normal" in the gender dysphoric patient.  It's common for people with Gender Identity Disorder, another name for Gender Dysphoria, (although I prefer the latter since it literally means "unhappy with (genetic) gender") to experience any of the following:  anxiety, depression, OCD, tics, suicidal ideation, low self esteem, and in DJ's case, eating disorders, which are not terribly uncommon either, in the gender dysphoric patient population.  These are called co-morbidities in the medical world.  No one is surprised that a child with an upper respiratory infection also has an ear infection-they often go hand in hand.  However, an ear infection without a typical underlying cause would be more concerning.  The same can be true of the common co-morbities that can accompany gender dysphoria.

The reality is, as far as this person can possibly understand it having been born in a body that matches my identity, that gender dysphoria is probably one of the biggest psychological, social and physical challenges a person can experience.  And yet, people experience it every day and are NORMAL in spite of having co-morbidities.  They adjust, they adapt, somehow and some way, and overcome the challenge of having a "birth defect" for which no mainstream organization sponsors walks or telethons to raise money for treatment.  It's one of a handful of medical conditions that many health insurance companies will not cover and so the folks who thrive, in spite of their medical condition, must also bear the brunt of expensive medical costs to manage their conditions.

So, do not let medical people saddle you with an inaccurate diagnosis.  Do not let someone wantonly label you.  To quote a doctor I know, "Doctors like to pathologize".  And more importantly, do not label yourself.  Yes, you may need support, and therapy, possibly anti-depressents, or other medications to manage your comorbidities;  continue to get whatever care you need, but it does not necessarily follow that you are abnormal, or sick.  Try to find doctors and therapists who are experienced with transgender patients.  They will likely not be surprised at the other symptoms you are experiencing because of the stress and fallout of being born into the wrong body in a hostile world.  Again, check out the links to the right of the screen.  Laura's Playground has a listing of doctors and therapists by state.  PFLAG has support groups.  Go to the people who understand your condition and aren't in a hurry to slap a label on you.  My guess is you've probably experienced enough struggle and discrimination and certainly don't need the trouble that comes with a label.

Monday, March 5, 2012

My "guess" at DJ's reality

My Aussie friend has been more enlightening than I can possibly express.  In many ways, she shares more about her personal struggles than DJ will, and thank goodness because her thoughts give me insight into DJ's struggles.  Granted, DJ is not Miss Aussie's clone, but they both are young women attempting to lead full and happy lives in the face of adversity that takes the form of being born into the wrong body.

I often try NOT to think of how DJ must be feeling about many of the disappointments of her condition because it's too painful to contemplate.  For instance, the deep pain at knowing that one will not be able to reproduce children in the "normal" way because your body, even post surgery, will NEVER be able to function like that, must be ever present.  People are capable of amazing things, including living with bone-deep disappointment and loss of possibility, but transgender people must be incredibly accomplished at overcoming so many obstacles, it boggles the mind if one were to really put some thought into it.

Imagine you are 3 years old.  You feel how you feel.  You know how you see the world, and respond to it, and somehow, some way, you know you're a girl.  How did I know I was a girl? I have no clue-I just did.  Luckily for me, my body reflected that and so the world tended to treat me in a manner that was consistent with how I viewed myself, for the most part, anyhow.  When you're three, maybe you start to realize that you identify more with your mother and that she and you have some differences that you can't explain.  She has breasts and you don't, but you understand on some level that small children, whether they are boys or girls, do not have breasts, so it doesn't matter.  But you have a penis where she has her vagina and perhaps this just doesn't make sense.  However, you engage in the activities you like and maybe it's tolerable, this difference from your mother, for now, anyway.

You enjoy playing with your brothers, whom you adore, and can play with Legos for hours, and when you feel like other activities that seem to hearken to your more nurturing side, you can, because Santa brought you a kitchen set and Aunt Bean bought you an Easy Bake oven.  And otherwise, 3 years olds tend to enjoy similar activities outside of those, such as running around, playing in the sandbox, swinging on the swings, so maybe this nagging feeling of something not being right just isn't that prevalent.

But you get older, and you start to attend more mainstream activities on a regular basis-namely school.  The division between boys and girls is glaringly sharp and now you really start to understand, if you didn't before, that you MUST act like the other people known as "boys" because you've been told you're a boy, you have a boy's name, and after all, you have a penis, so it must be true that you're a boy.  But it doesn't feel right.  You may start to realize that somehow you just know you're not a boy but the die has been cast and it seems like you have no choice;  maybe, just maybe, you question yourself and think you MUST be wrong because, after all, you have the parts and the name that say you're a boy, so you do your very best to act the part because at this age, you put more stock in your parents' opinions than your own.

You get older and that feeling just won't go away and you really know that you're a girl and have no clue what to do about it.  You spend more time alone in your room because at least you don't have to pretend there.  You have lots of friends who are knocking on the front door asking you to come out and play-sometimes you will; many times you won't because you get tired of acting like someone you are not.  Halloween and birthday parties come and go and dressing up like a knight just isn't that fun, but you try to act like it is.  Picking out clothes is a drag, because what you really want to wear is not even on your mother's radar, and you can't possibly tell her how you really want to dress.

You're a happy person outwardly because you were made that way and that helps dispel some of the darkness of having to pretend you're a boy, but you would be truly, bone deep, happier if you could just stop cutting your hair and start wearing pretty colors.  You make some last ditch efforts at "being" a boy by joining a football team, but this "mega" form of "boyness" is just too much, and fortunately, your parents let you quit partway through the season because it's apparent how much you dislike it.

Childhood wanes and adolescence begins and it's horrifying. Yet, it's socially acceptable for boys to grow out their hair at this age, and you do.  You are old enough to be left at home now, so when no one is there, you try on "female" accessories and it feels so right.  You know you are supposed to be a girl and are increasingly tired of pretending otherwise and so you make other attempts at appearing female that you explain away.  Male athletes shave their legs for various reasons, so you do as well, and offer what seems like a hairbrained explanation, but your parents just shrug their shoulders, "Kids will be kids, at least he's not going Goth."

Then you meet a special person and experience your first feelings of romantic love and believe you can trust this person with your deepest secret.  She takes it well enough, so it gives you hope that others will take it well too.  So you tell your other closest friends who you have been hanging out with since you were six years old. They want to be cool, progressive teens and they seem to accept your newly shared "truth."  You are so DONE with being this fake guy, and these recent successes make you feel hopeful about telling your family, so you work up all your courage and tell them.....and it's stressful as HELL, but it actually goes fairly well.  You expect to be able to come out in full force and immediately start outwardly appearing and acting like your true self, but your parents don't put as much stock in your friends' acceptance, or your peers' acceptance, as you do.

You start your transition in earnest and are so full of happiness and hope, you practically glow.  You are home schooled for awhile to allow you to get used to your new meds and for your parents to assess the safety of your wish to return to school, full time.  You are so certain that they are overreacting.  They don't know your friends and how awesome they are.  Parents always overreact to everything.  It will be fine, and besides, even if some people act like jerks, you know who you are and you feel certain you can shrug off any non-acceptance or biting remarks.

Luckily, the nasty remarks are infrequent but it's because most people don't even acknowledge that you are even in the room.  You went from being universally loved-you are used to people running to you from down the hall because you are so well liked by so many people that they rush to you-to being "invisible."  You don't exist to them and you start to feel nonexistent.  You now become sure the reason people avoid you is YOU.  So you go to great lengths to be prettier and thinner, thinking that will make them "see" you again.  When that doesn't work, you find a way to "feel" real. When you scratch yourself with something sharp and see the scratch become red, you "know" you exist and it gives you a small measure of peace.  "I am not invisible."  Invisible people don't bleed.  Thin, beautiful people get noticed too, except you don't.  It's not working. You're desperate and just want the hurt to end and like many people who feel hopeless, you see only one way out and hope that no one will notice if you take your brother's pain medication following his wisdom tooth surgery.

Call it self preservation, or wanting to live, but you tell your best friend your thoughts of wanting to take all of your brother's pain pills and she, luckily, does not keep your secret.  But you've already fallen off the cliff, or more likely, were pushed by your reality of invisibility.  You are clinging madly to some obscure crag in the cliff, however, and your parents are practically weepy with relief, which irritates you because you feel responsible now for their pain.  And let's face it, you aren't worthy of their love and attention.  Somewhere along the line, you "bought" someone else's reality about yourself-that because you are "invisible" you don't matter.  And if you don't matter, then you have no business causing your parents their worry and taking their time and money.  Hell, you are not even sure you "deserve" to eat and have anything good in your life.  Somehow, your experience has placed you outside of the bubble of rightful existence in the world.  You must fight your way past the wall that someone else erected and convinced you is actually there so that you can believe anything good about yourself. And it's a hard climb up that cliff, often on a minute- to- minute basis,  and on many days.

But there is a hopeful situation on the horizon-surgery to remove your horrifying male genitalia, and to build what should have been there all along.  You look forward to not having to wear long shirts that cover your groin and to being able to wear a bathing suit without wearing shorts over it so that the "telltale" bulge, in spite of the "special" panties, won't show.  And oh my god, the hormones are working and you're actually growing small breasts and it's wonderful.  The surgery won't fix everything, but it will solve many problems.  Your birth certificate will be changed to the truth, you can fly on an airplane without fear, use a women's restroom without fear, be allowed to stay in a girls' dorm in college.....the list is endless.  But the most important thing-that "it" will be gone.

But you will never bear children and somehow, you must learn to live with this too.  You will always be transgender no matter how you look.  This will be your truth that you must share with whomever you choose to love and hopefully he/she will accept you.  So, while the surgery fixes quite a bit, you still have the reality of having to deal with other people's issues about how you started this life for possibly the rest of your life and this casts a shadow on your hopes.  You start to wonder if people really do accept you, or are they just faking it to not hurt you.  Maybe your parents aren't even really buying it.  Some days it seems like you are surrounded by signs of non-acceptance, even from the people who say they love the "real" you.  And when they don't get it, or drop the ball of acceptance, you feel responsible AGAIN.

This is my best guess at what DJ and my lovely Aussie girlfriend experience, or have experienced, to varying degrees.  Family, friends-if we are not willing to truly love the person and treat them and SEE them as they see themselves, we are a noose around their necks.  If we project our feelings about how they should act and feel and present, we are tightening the noose.  If we stall our acceptance and put conditions on our love, we are figuratively and maybe even literally, digging their graves.

We are connected to each other.  We each have the ability to help others achieve happiness and unfortunately also have the ability to hinder their happiness.  We must not ever take that lightly.  There is nothing, NOTHING, more important than truly loving each other.  And love is accepting the persons in front of you EXACTLY as they are.  Not just tolerating them, but embracing them, because of their uniqueness and not in spite of it.