Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Unexpected Changes

I knew I should expect social changes during the transition process. Some of these changes were expected, others came as a complete surprise. The ones that shock me the most are not the ones that I expected or even the ones that cause me to fear for my safety. The most surprising changes are the ones I did not expect. Because I did not expect them, I did not prepare for them in anyway. Some of these changes involve learning the unwritten social rules that govern behavior between women, and others involve me learning new vulnerabilities.

The first type of incident occurred several weeks ago. Even though the current summer has barely reached the 90s, I’ve still gone to the local lake on days where it’s particularly hot and humid.  I departed for the lake at the local park early in the day, hoping I would avoid the crowds that came later. The early departure provided the opportunity to get some swimming in without bumping into other people. Sure, I could go to the local pool or use the facilities at the YMCA, but locker rooms still scare me.

Although I managed to perform some cardiovascular exercise, people eventually started trickling into the area.  One woman struck up a conversation. She asked me about my children. This conversation did not involve any discomfort, because it is a normal conversation topic. When I replied that I don’t have any, she offered her sympathies. (If she actually met some of my younger relatives and my parents, she might understand my reluctance to produce younger versions of myself.)   The awkward part of the trip came as I prepared to leave. While I was walking out of the water to return to my vehicle, another woman asked me to rub sunscreen lotion on her back.

My brain went into a form of shock.  If a man had asked me that question several months ago, it would have led to violence. My body activated its own fight or flight mechanisms. I remained there.  The woman repeated the request.  Although the discomfort I felt remained, I did as she asked.  Not a single thing I feared happened. My hand got greasy and she gained sunburn protection.  I asked others if this was normal behavior later. Women have much more relaxed attitudes about this type of contact than men do.
Another incident that caused me to realize that my societal rules were changing occurred this winter.  I ran out of gas as I was driving to work. When my Chevy Astro started sputtering due to a fuel-starved state, I pulled alongside of the road.  I took the gas can out of the back and headed toward the nearest gas station. A number of drivers asked me if I needed help, and a few drivers offered to give a ride.  One person even told me that I could trust him.

Every word in the sentence was familiar, but the context was foreign.  Why would he need to tell anyone that was trustworthy? Wouldn't his actions let others know if he was worthy of their trust?  I experienced an epiphany. The complicated relationship between men and women made him feel that this statement was necessary.  Thousands of sexual assault stories began a woman accepting a ride from an unknown man.  The man wanted me to know that he was not one of those creeps.

I did not accept his offer despite the cold temperatures. It was my first encounter with a new-found social vulnerability.  I realized I needed to worry about sexual assaults far more than I did before.   This incident occurred a few months after I started transition.  I knew the increased risk on an intellectual level, but it never occurred to me on an emotional level.  As someone who knows the statistics, I usually carry pepper spray with me in case I have to incapacitate an attacker.  However, I started carrying this out of fear of physical assaults. (I did this before I moved to small city.  Carrying this item became a habit when I lived in a town of 7,000 people.   Anyone who has traveled to Shamokin, PA and met its inhabitants will probably have the same reaction I did.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Hey, Girl!" And Other Random Annoyances

While I was out walking tonight, I heard someone shout, “Hey, Girl!” from a car. It is not the first time I have heard a similar phrase. I've also received wolf whistles, car honks and other forms of cat calls.  As a trans woman, I have mixed feelings about them. I am happy that others see me as the woman I am, but I also find the unwanted attention disconcerting.

If someone has seen my more recent pictures, they can easily figure out why I've started to have this experience. It’s something all women go through.  The first few times someone directed a catcall in my direction, I assume they were directing it at someone else. When I realized that they were trying to get my attention, I had assumed they were being sarcastic or blind. Eventually, I realized that many of the people who sent this attention my way were not being sarcastic.  They were being immature jerks.

As a latecomer to this particular form of interaction, I know cisgender women learned to expect this from men long before I did.  I also know of transgender women, including one Vice columnist, enjoy the attention for the reasons I mentioned above. I imagine there are even people who have met romantic and sexual partners through catcalls, wolf whistles, and car horn honking.  Just because I have never heard of such a story, it does not mean that it does not exist. On the other hand, loud catcalls are often scary and disconcerting. 

I have referred to the people who do this as immature jerks.  I should admit I have not developed a sophisticated response to this particular problem.  Sometimes I just walk on and ignore the responses. If the offense has been more egregious, I extend my middle finger as a form of greeting. Neither of these responses are sophisticated, but they give the offender an indication of how I feel about their unwanted attention.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Letters for My Sisters: The Sinister Porpoise Appears in Print

Several months ago, the artist who draws Closetspace, asked me to read the letter she was writing for this book. I'm not sure why she asked me. She knows my editing levels are inconsistent, but I went read it anyway. What I read was a painful letter of a transgender woman who was giving information to her younger self.

The artists, whose name is Jenn Dolari, told me why she was writing the letter, and she sent me a link to the project page for this book.  After reading her letter, I decided to undertake the project to myself. What would I say to my younger self?  Would I give practical advice about all the things I've learned during the transition process that surprised me? Would I focus on the more negative aspects of my life.  I certainly would not tell myself that things get better. I would certainly tell her that things would change greatly once she finished high school.

Instead, I chose a mixture of informing her about her future and offering words of encouragement. There is an almost Mormon element to my contribution, as I tell my younger self to hold on and rely on her own inner strength.  My younger self certainly wouldn't have thought she'd have been one of the first reporters covering asexual issues in the United States. (Fortunately,  younger self and older self maintain a healthy and unjustified ego.)

This will be the second time my name appears in print. It would also be the second time I had no intention of doing this. The user can find the book on Amazon.com  You can click on the image above to order, or you can use this link.

However, I'd ask anyone who chooses to order it to wait until July 12.  I'm not getting paid for this, unless you use my affiliate link. If you do order it on July 12, the publisher wants me to tell you you'll get a copy signed by me.   I don't see this happening unless you live in West Central Indiana.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

A semi-yearly update.

I've had a long-standing policy of never posting pictures of myself on the Internet, but I have been forced to reverse that policy. Of course, I never wanted to do this before for obvious reasons. I worked for a few sites that forced me to have an image of myself. Most of these sites have know gone under.

Here is a fairly recent picture. It was taken outside of my current home in Terre Haute, Indiana. For those of you who may wonder why I'm in Terre Haute instead of the Keystone State, that is a long story. It is better not told here. For those who wonder what I've been up to, I've been working on other projects. I've also dabbled in a bit of journalism. Over the past year, I've got to interview a film maker, talk to the head of NASRO, and attend press conferences held by Indiana's attorney general. I'll post some links to the other projects as soon as I have them worked out a bit more.