Monday, January 5, 2009

Seda's Coming Out Story, Part I: "I Had To Transition or Die"

For the New Year, I'm going to try to re-vitalize my Coming Out series of posts and invite more people to tell their stories on my blog. If you'd like to contribute feel free to email me. I believe that coming out stories help other LGBT people become more accepting of themselves, and help our opposition better understand us.

When I invite people to write guest posts in Fannie's Room I'm always a little anxious. I'm very protective of my friends and family and I know that telling an immensely personal story puts one in a place of vulnerability. It's always my hope that even if commenters don't agree with everything that a guest blogger writes, they will at least be on their best behavior.

Today and tomorrow, I will post Seda's story. Seda is a transwoman who I first noticed commenting on a blog that opposes LGBT rights. What struck me was the gentleness of her voice and the respect with which she carried on conversations with those who disagreed with her even when these folks sometimes failed to show her the same respect in return. I'm honored that she agreed to share her voice on my blog. Not only is she a model of civility, but I think she can help all of us better understand what it's like to be a transwoman. Even within the LGBT community, confusion and ignorance exist with respect to gender identity and transgender issues.

So, here we go, below in italics, is Seda's story in her own words. I've divided this post up into two parts and will post Part II tomorrow:

Any coming out story is composed of three parts. First, you come out to yourself. Second, you come out to friends and family. Third, you come out to the world.

On the night of April 3, 2003, my dog woke me up, scratching and whining. Our duplex had caught fire. Flames shot thirty feet into the air out the next-door window. My partner ran outside with our sons, two years and six weeks old, while I called 911. It was a traumatic event that brought my mortality and the preciousness of life to an instinctive awareness.

I grew up on a ranch in Wyoming, about 25 miles outside of Laramie. My neighbors were the last of the old-time cowboys the Marlboro Man was modeled after, and I grew up in a macho subculture that made very clear, very early, and very often, that it was not okay for boys to act like girls, like girl stuff, or show any feminine desires or characteristics. I had no concept that transgendered existed, and didn’t even hear of homosexuality until I was sixteen. I learned at a young age to hide myself, and when I was teased for throwing like a girl or walking like a girl, I studied the boys and practiced until I could do it like them. I blended in and became invisible, in appearance just like the boys I knew. But I knew I was different. I didn’t fit in. As I grew older, I loved to steal my mom’s and sister’s clothes and wear them in private (and I was careful enough that I never got caught). By the time I graduated from high school, I was incredibly lonely, I’d never had a date, and I was doing drugs and alcohol at an alarming rate. Desperate to feel like the man I wasn’t, I joined the Marine Corps.

Over the next twenty years, I tried therapy, several religions, commercial fishing, logging, copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, marriage, and, finally, parenthood in an effort to feel congruent with my male body. Even after all that time, I remained in denial. By the time I’d been married 13 years, I’d cleaned up the booze, and I guess it looked like I had my life put together. But underneath that fa├žade I felt a growing turmoil.

Three months after the fire, Kristin [Seda's partner] took the boys on a two week visit to her mom. As soon as she drove away, I ran out to a series of used-clothing stores and bought a bunch of skirts and blouses and other women’s clothing. I planned to spend all the time I could at home by myself, dressed in drag.

One evening, three or four days after Kristin left, I was dancing down the hall when I looked down, saw the skirt swishing around my calves, and realized, “This is me!” It was a moment of stark clarity, peace, and beauty. At the age of 42, the scales of denial I’d worn for over 25 years fell away. For a single moment, I felt a euphoria more intense than any I’d ever experienced before. It was the moment I came out to myself.

The next instant, I remembered that I had a wife and children whom I loved, and who loved and depended on me. I thought, “I need help,” and the next day I scheduled an appointment with a therapist picked more or less at random from the phone book.

I could not hide an event so momentous from Kristin, and told her about it as soon as she arrived home. She took it pretty well – it wasn’t a complete surprise to her, as she knew I’d crossdressed before – and I began what became almost two years of therapy. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a therapist who knew anything at all about gender dysphoria, and, though I dealt with childhood trauma issues quite successfully, at the end of that time I quit, hoping that my desire for crossdressing and being a woman would just go away. Even though I had told Kristin about my gender dysphoria, I was still trying to overcome it and live as if I were a man, so though I’d come out to her in one sense, in another, I hadn’t, because I hadn’t made any commitment. I got rid of my women’s clothes (“purged”), and together Kristin and I bought a house and moved into a new neighborhood.

Despite my efforts, gender dysphoria continued to grow, and by the summer of 2006 I was growing quietly more desperate and suicidal. It was at this point that an event of incredible good fortune occurred. Kristin took the boys on another long trip, but this time she went to the Parent Peer Leadership Program (PPLP) family camp, sponsored by BayNVC, where she spent two weeks in intensive training in Nonviolent Communication, including giving and receiving empathy, and building a network of trusted friends.

While she was gone, I grew increasingly desperate. I had started my own design business following my former employer’s retirement at the end of 2005, and I was becoming dysfunctional. I couldn’t concentrate on my work. Most of my waking hours were spent in either researching gender transition or plotting a suicide that would appear to be an accident and would never cause my boys to believe their daddy had killed himself on purpose, along with how to arrange adequate resources through insurance to ensure that my family would have enough. At that point, I realized I had a choice. I could either transition, or abandon my family by suicide, nervous breakdown, or alcoholism. I contacted a transwoman on the internet, via Lynn Conway’s “Successful Transitions” website, and began a relationship that became instrumental in guiding me through my own transition. When Kristin returned home, I came out to her again, but this time with the news that I was not a man, and I had to transition or die.

This story will continue tomorrow.

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