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May 30 2015

House of Cards

DISCLAIMER: This post is very long. I looked for a way to break it up into two but nothing felt right.

I have not blogged with this kind of frequency since high school. My blogs have also not sounded this whiny, emotional, complaining, and ‘woe is me’ since then either. I somewhat regret that, I somewhat do not. In some ways I am sorry you all are reading this, yet at the same time it is a look into a mind going through puberty, which is valuable to some people. This particular girl in puberty can write as well as an adult, a rare thing, it seems, these days. My body grew into a man. However, my heart, my soul, and in my ways my mind, stagnated at this pre-pubescent girl just waiting to get her own life. This article may also sound a little like a rant, but I have been writing primarily to heal myself I publish because the things going on in my head may help others. Honestly, I hope they do.

In a recent article, I touched on how building my personality was an elaborate house of cards. At the time, I meant it was about the idea that it was a fake, and weak, construction. It collapsed when I started to realize that there was another me buried under this fake shell of a man. A couple of people saw it in me before I did. I am not sure how they managed that but they saw my secrets, and when I came out, embraced the person that was underneath the surface. For others, it has been harder to accept and adjust. It is honestly a transition for all of us. Every person I know has to relearn how to interact with me. To many people Joseph is dying and they are meeting a new person named Josephine. I use the full names intentionally mainly because I do not think the difference between Joe and Jo is clear enough sometimes. In many ways, that is what is going on in my head as well; however The House of Cards analogy is appropriate for many reasons. The house used to look quite small and have poor construction, holes all over the place and the glue holding it together was weak, but visible… Much like this:

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To quote the article I recently wrote, “Now, only a table and a pile of cards are left. I will start building myself again. However, this time it will be with what is truly on the inside.” I realized that I could not have been more wrong in the way I phrased the ending of this line of thinking. It should have come out like this “Now, only a table and a pile of cards are left. I will start building again. However, this time the house will be built in such a way to show all the cards, not just the ones I wanted to show.” I still have the same deck of cards to build from I am just going to build it in a different way. In the end, I imagine it more like this:

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I am also going to take the analogy a step further to a real house. When you build a house you can sometimes hide things you do not want seen behind bushes, in a wall or various other places. That is all I did with my house of cards before. I lead people though the house that represented myself in such a way to distract them from the things I did not wish them to see. If they glimpsed something, I would quickly rush them out of the house and do whatever patchwork I needed to do so they, and nobody else, would ever see it again. I could never let anyone be alone in the house that was my soul. There was only person allowed to roam freely. That person was not even me.

Now, I am finally going to open the front door and say, “Welcome, please make yourself feel at home.” I want people to explore. I want people to ask about what they see. A decoration of the house is a decoration of the soul. In years past, I would paint my house in dark blues, reds, and blacks. Now, lavenders, teals, pinks, and bright colors would fill my home. I will cover the walls with posters and pictures, each showing a different meaning to me. A poster of the neighborhoods of Chicago, in years past, would show a city subdivided by race, creed, and socioeconomic status, a picture of pain and divisions happened within me. That same poster now shows a map of how diverse people can live together under one name, Chicago. It shows a city where by crossing a street you can walk into another world sometimes. A city where you do not have to go far to see how ‘the other half live.’ In my case, it happens to be the other half of gender.

Chicago is the city where, as you cross the street, you can appreciate where you live, and can understand other countries and places that do not have it so well. It has become a poster of how I am many pieces, some very painful, some very pretty, and I have grown out of the love and teachings of many people… No matter which neighborhood you live in, even if it is a suburb, Chicago is home. No matter where the person came from, or how they came into my life, I am a combination of everyone I know. Each neighborhood represents a different person that has touched my soul.

Chicago-Neighborhoods-Map

However, I cannot welcome everyone into my home yet. I have no home. It all collapsed. In the teenage years, I worked to build the house that would cover up the things that I would not want shown. A house that would proudly display the things I wanted shown. I wanted people to look inside and say, “Well, he is a well-adjusted young man.” For many years, a majority of people did. However, as cracks started forming in my walls since late 2013 year I did not work to cover them up. Once you have a small crack, the littlest things can split it wide open. The walls could not carry the load the cracks had become too large, my self-identity, self-esteem, and self-worth collapsed during summer 2014.

I spent the next month writing everything I could remember from every bit of my life. That is when I found a pattern. I finally had an answer… Since then, I have been rebuilding, but it is so hard to rebuild something like this. It’s a house of cards, a gust of wind, in this case a simple mistake in pronouns, can blow over anything that is not stable and nailed down. No matter how much I struggle to construct, the construction materials are still very weak. For a while, I have had what amounted to a front door and a foyer. The hormones built that for me. I had a place to welcome people into my life. I could say, “Hi, I’m Jo, I’m a Transgender Woman.” However, that it is all I have. Behind that, if you keep walking into the foyer you will find a collapsed pile of cards. I had used them to build a shell of a person that I could present to the people around me. How do I rebuild all that? I lie in tatters. When I look at the pile feels overwhelming.

So, what do people do when they build a house? They start with a frame. I need a living room, a place to sit with people and talk. I need to find some interests, and qualities about me that can start conversation. I am smart! I will use that quality my intelligence and all the random facts can form some of the frame for this new living room. I am starting to look pretty, to me, when I look in the mirror, finally. I am starting to feel happy with myself. I am starting to see the color in life that I have not seen since childhood. I use that to form some more of the frame. I enjoy video games and board games, conversation topics. That can form a nice wall of this living room. Another wall can be for computers and technology. In addition, I can form empty walls ready for new experiences in fashion and design. This room can have as many walls as I want, I can even add walls later! Construction is not hard!

Then an intrusion happens. This is not someone I have chosen to interact with and invite into my home. This is someone that I am forced to interact with to do my job. “What’s his name again?” Is she talking about me? “His name is Joe.” The other security guard responds to his partner while she fills out the documentation needed for me to get a key I need for part of my job. Damn it they are talking about me! Maybe when they look at me, seeing me will be enough to remind them of the e-mail they got announcing this transition… “Here you go, sir,” he says, as he hands over the key to me staring at my neck. What is worse? Their boss introduced me to both of them as a she. I am instantly demoralized. A large wind comes and blows out the frame of cards holding up my beautiful new Living Room… The Foyer is fine, that is secure, but what I have built today has collapsed again.

This quick conversation, a small error in pronouns, by people I do not really know, should not bother me. However, I am trying to build self-esteem. I am trying to build a self-image. I see myself as a she. Why can nobody else? Are we so stuck on appearance that if I have an Adam’s apple I am instantly a man and therefore no longer pretty but I have to be handsome? I want go back to thinking that fake house was real. Why can I not go back to living my old life? My entire self-image and self-esteem construction falls apart in a heartbeat even to go so far as to think, “Am I smart?” I have to start over.

Please, just give me the life of someone else… It was so easy to be the person I was; I just had to hide certain things about me… This train of logic sometimes comes to one final thought… I am my own worst enemy, because sometimes, for a moment, I want to cover myself back up and go back to what I was.

However, that thought only ever occurs for seconds. Instead, I remember that my body is changing; it is going to fit my image. Yes, I am smart. I have always been smart and I always will be smart. I am now standing on top of a pile of cards and I have to go back into the Foyer. Wait, the foyer is still there. If that had gone away I might try to go back to being what I was a weak shell of a man. Instead, I stand in the foyer powered by the only permanent construction of my house right now and I can scream, “I am a strong Transgender Woman! I will build a home on this rubble!” I do not have to hide who I am anymore!

Hormones helped me make quick progress for me mentally for about the first month or so. Since then, a constant struggle has occurred within me. My life has become a struggle of construction, happiness, intrusion, invalidation, destruction, resolve, and reconstruction. The intrusion comes in all forms, but it usually shows itself as certain words that cause dissonance in my mind. For transgender people the English language is a horrible place to be, although it is better than languages like Italian. I would much rather be Japanese. So many words, in English, have, or imply, gender even ones you do not expect. It really is a struggle and quite a bit of work for me to be a “she” in this language.

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All the singular third person pronouns have gender. Those include, He, She, Himself, Herself, Hers, His, and many others. ‘Pretty’ is for females, ‘handsome’ is for males, but mean the same thing. “Strong” or “Muscular” is for men, but women are “Toned.” Strong is strong. It does not matter what gender you are. However, since women on average are not as strong we get the word “toned.” When someone is talking about emotion or excitement, Men are “passionate,” Women are “emotional.” When people get to do something they may not want to, Men are “cunning,” Women are “manipulative.” When someone sleeps around, men are “players,” women are “sluts.” Many of these are just plain sexist but they just examples of words that change based on the subjects gender. These are the most common examples there are many others that are, and are not, sexist at this point. My goal here is not to decry the sexism in language. That will take much more change than I think the world is ready for… Our sexist language has existed long before us and has eroded over time, but will remain after we die. If you are interested in this topic, please see the Gender Neutral Pronouns Experiment.

My point is that these are some of the words, which cause dissonance, in my mind. That dissonance makes me feel isolated and alone. I do not choose the result this is just what happens. Sexism is a powerful thing. Sexism is so ingrained in our culture, and language, that if someone says I am ‘cunning’ now my mind will automatically replace it with ‘manipulative.’ Regardless of your thoughts on this fact, it happens. That gives me a moment for pause it feels different – but it is validating to me. If that shift does not happen, the words become invalidating and I start to question everything about myself again, just as I did when I was just starting puberty, the first time. The pronouns are the most powerful at this. I am not a “he.” I am not an “it.” I am a she. When people mess up these words, it can cause one of two results. The first result is that my mind will autocorrect it like a phone when you type “im on my awy hmoe.” The second result is far more common, and much worse, it will cause this odd occurrence in my mind where I feel invalidated. I begin to feel like a thing not a person. Most people will have that if you refer to that person as ‘it’ but for me it also happens with ‘he’ and ‘him.’

Orig.src_.Susanne.Posel_.Daily_.News-human.robot_.lovelace.turing02_occupycorporatism

When I was younger I used to take offense when people thought I was a girl, it was a semi-frequent occurrence, then became less and less as I got older. It was especially frequent when I was speaking to someone on the phone, which continues through to today, thank god! However, my offence was not because it was invalidating; it was because I was angry. Could they not see I was a boy? I was trying so hard to be one it should have been be obvious. In the last five years, it naturally went away that I was no longer angry when people called me miss, ma’am, or she, but that only ever happened on the phone. It would make me smile, and I did not understand why. Before I got my first job in technology, I worked in a call center. About half the time, the people I was talking to thought they were talking to a woman. This was more common among men. This was before I came out… being called she was already making me smile. I did not understand this shift in my mind. When did this happen? Why did this happen? I do not know.

In retrospect, they were the ones that right. Some people would say I am now ‘living as a woman.’ Some people would be a little more sensitive and say I am now living ‘as my preferred gender.’ The Ideal phrase in my mind is that I am now living as myself. Now that I am living as myself, I no longer have to try to be a man. I am finally able to relax and not analyze everything I do, everything I think, and everything I say to figure out if it was too feminine. I can stop trying to be someone; I can just be me. However, when someone talks about me and I hear “he’s done a good job today,” I feel like a robot. I feel like just another thing in this universe. To me, it feels like someone has just said “it’s done a good job today,” which I presume would hurt most people. Using the word, ‘he’ has begun to undermine my entire identity as a person. I am trying to grow and I feel confined into a gender role that does not fit me.

It has been so long since I have been open with myself. It has been so long since I have been true to myself. It has been so long hiding, so long putting on fake smiles, so long building fake ‘personas.’ It has become an instinct. Hearing ‘he’, ‘him’, or any gendered male word kicks in that instinct just like the female ones used to kick in anger. I hide anything I had recently exposed and bury it deep into myself again. I demolish any construction I had completed on my ‘house’ because I perceive that it was not accepted. All of that happens before I even have a chance to think about it. Anything positive I had added to my self-image is gone in a heartbeat. It still happens often enough that I feel like I have made no progress in now two months. Somehow, I know I have… but it just does not feel like it.

I want to start jumping on people and saying “No! I’m not a man!” Now that I have seen validation, now that I have seen acceptance of my true self, even in the littlest bit, I am hungry. It is not all the time, but I am finding times, I am finding solace. I am finding relaxation where my mind is at ease; it has not been this way since childhood. When I was, a child gender did not matter. I am hoping I can get to the point again where I am comfortable enough in my own skin where gender does not need to matter again. Yet, right now, it rules my life. It is usually near the top of my consciousness, simply because of the discordance of how I am see myself and how the world around me perceives me. I am not sure it is something non-transgender people can understand but I try to say things in such a way that those that are not in my position can at least imagine. I hope I can do a good enough job. The reason I strive to inform is that understanding leads to acceptance.

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I had a feeling recently of déjà vu. It was a very odd experience. It was the strongest feeling like this I have ever had in my life. I feel exactly like I did in May 1998, except, there are a couple of weird reversal. I had spent a school year (6th grade) feeling extremely out of place singled out, alone and afraid. I was bullied all though the year and I had little to no sense of self. I could not escape doubts of self-worth; I could not escape fear of everyone staring at me. I could not escape the feeling that I belonged to no group. When I was ending 6th grade I felt it was possible to fit in for the first time in a while. I was going to build a fake person; I was going to play an act and pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. I was going to find a way, anyway, to fit in. I already had a foundation for that, in the kind of person they (my parents, my family, my friends, my bullies) perceived me to be. In retrospect, I could have chosen, at that moment, to be true to myself. I could not bring myself to do that. I chose the route I thought would be easier – fit in at all costs. That was the beginning of testosterone flowing into my body. That was the beginning of my body’s male puberty.

Is this the beginning of a second puberty? Of course it is. My hormones are changing again, from male to female. The same year before puberty happened again. The last year has been a year fraught with fear, loneliness, and anger. Yet, there was something not there before, resolve, and confidence. Although, this time it was a little different, the year, as a whole was very much the same. After rereading my old blogs, they do sound sexist.

Please note that I have been sensitive about names for a very long time. Joey is the name I used until 6th grade. Joey is the name represents my childhood, and expresses the time before gender mattered to my life. For me this name died that year and hearing it since has caused pain. However since I came out, my adoptive mom has reverted to using this name and I have loved hearing it again. In my mind, Joe and Joey are diminutives of Joseph and Jo is a diminutive of Josephine.

(CHANGE NARRATOR – Out of Body Experience) If Joe was the fake shell that came out of Joey’s resolve to fit in, Jo was Joe’s bully. Josephine tore Joseph apart and left only shreds. She was mean, devious and rejected everything he stood for.

(CHANGE NARRATOR – Jo) I felt like anything that related to being male had no place in my life. That feeling has since changed. It was a tactic to convince myself that this was real, even though that convincing was unneeded.

If the second puberty is as difficult, and as long, as the first one it is going to be a terrible six to nine years. However, this time, I am ready. I know what I am going to experience. I am in for the struggle of my life. I am not building a life I can ‘live with’ just to be accepted anymore. I am not building a shell. I am not building a house anymore. I am building a home. I am building a happy place for myself to live, for the rest of my life. I am building a sense of self of which I can be proud.

I hope to stay strong over the next couple of years. I hope to remain standing and sure. I do not know how well I have managed to get some complex feelings across. I do not know how I am going to feel in a year. When all this started, I had no idea where I would be now. I am staggered. The amount of people that reached out to help me, it is a blessing. I cannot imagine trying to do this alone, and so many people in my situation have to. The first one that comes to mind is poor Leelah. That is what I did not have last time. Last time I went thought this I built a shell, which was all I could manage alone. This time I have the support of everyone around me. I will need every bit of that support. Was that what prompted me to make some of the decisions I did that may have seen risky or rushed? Was it trying to shore up the support I had to build the life I wished to build? I feel weaker than I have in many years yet I feel I have taken many steps in the direction of being stronger than ever before.

I do not know where I am going. I do not really know why. I know it is going to be hard. I know I have support. The fact that I am on the right path is a huge deal. I know I will come out on top… However, I am still afraid… I am still so vulnerable… In addition, the English language hurts so much.

When I originally wrote this post, it was the beginning of the week and it ended with the line above “In addition, the English language hurts so much.” I had no video to end the post. That was very abnormally for me. The video is a statement of where I am at the end of the post, kind of like a measuring stick for me. I scheduled it for release Saturday morning with the post feeling incomplete. Today is Thursday and I find myself concluding this post in a different way…

I was a million different people. All of them were subsets of my qualities showing only some of myself to each person I met. I would change myself based on feedback from people; I would hide more, or show more depending their reactions. However, because it was not all of me, I felt immune from feeling pain and happiness. I was immune from emotion. I was a million different people and if any one of them bumped into someone on the street or caused someone pain he would stop and change himself to make sure it did not happen again.

Now, I stand as one complete person. I feel happiness, but I also feel pain. I have realized that I have a mold. I am one person, not a million. I cannot change that mold, I was just hiding parts of it. Parts that people around me did not really like… Now, I will walk down the street. If I bump into someone, I do not need to change. I will still apologize, but I am the person I am. Now I feel happiness and pain. The good always comes with the bad.

Life is a Bitter Sweet Symphony.

About the author

Josie

I’ve never been good at writing about myself. I’ve never been good at ‘talking up my strengths’ but at least I should try…

I am a 30 year old (gasp), woman. To me, it is just that simple. My life is slowly coming together into a form where I can be proud to call it my life.

Who am I? I’m a strong, loving woman that was assigned male at birth and is finally correcting that egregious error by biology. For most women if they have an urge like wearing a sundress, they just do it. For my first 29 years on this planet, that wasn’t a possibility.

I write to heal, then publish to inform. I hope my journey can make the journeys of people that come after me just a little less painful.

I also have a ‘day job’ as a Data Center Technician. I do an incredibly physical job lifting fixing and moving servers. I daily, walk into and then maintain ‘the cloud.’ Servers are still quite a bit larger and heavier than your desktop at home. So much so that I am the only woman on my team of 20 and one of 5 in the entire building of about 75. Technology is without a doubt a male dominated industry. Which makes me quite sad.

I wish I could better express who I am. I don’t feel like I’ve done justice to my history, my life, and my story, but for now, this will have to do. To me the most beautiful thing in the world is understanding and empathy. If we can have only one thing for each other person on this planet, I choose empathy.

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