Friday, October 21, 2016

Callen-Lorde Events

Though I never once thought of myself as any sort of activist or socially conscious person (more a scoundrel really), I think it's just fate that I would end up being active in the transgender community. After all I'm kind of a loud mouth too. Plus I grew up being bullied and so I have a well developed desire to fight against bullies and stand up for the more marginalized people. Of course, don't let me get ahead of myself. I'm not Gandhi or anything. I'm still pretty much on the side of scoundrel. But, I have found myself getting more involved in the the trans community and yes, I've had fun doing so.

Okay, it actually started with a something I saw on the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center Facebook page. Those of you who are regular readers may know that I get my hormones from Callen-Lorde, They are such an amazing place and honestly I can't sing their praises enough. I love the place. When I saw that they were having an open call for a photo shoot I couldn't resist. Seriously, how could I miss that? Professional photographers with professional lighting offering to take photos of me? Hell, yeah! Plus they'd put me on all their brochures and website. I'd be the face of Callen-Lorde! I'd be famous!

It was super fun, I must say. Mostly because I love being a model. Well actually it was a little nerve wracking at first. This is because I've got a fair degree of social anxiety, so going into a random room full of strangers tends to make me quite anxious. Luckily I had my phone and could tap on that. What did we do before smart phones?

Luckily though I was one of the first people there so I got to start with pictures almost instantly. The photographers came over and asked for a couple of people to do a group photo and I figured why the hell not? After all it was either being a model (which I love) or sitting there nervously playing on my phone. So, yeah, pictures!

They paired me up with another transgender girl (way prettier than me, but it's not a contest right?). The photographer took a first shot of us holding up our name card and waiver, then proceeded to start posing us, making us run through a few different poses including serious and fun ones. They even had us pose with toothbrushes for some dental health promotion they'll be running.

Then they actually had us pretend to be a couple, which was a little awkward. And I thought to myself, yep, that's gonna be the picture they use. My girlfriend is gonna go to the Callen-Lorde website and the first thing she'll see is me with some other girl! And of course the photographer then broke out the condoms and was like "Okay, now you're sharing condoms with each other and you're excited about that!" Yep. Ah well. That's modelling. It's like acting. I bet Kate Moss doesn't even use Rimmel London mascara.

There were some solo photos too and some larger group photos. It was pretty fun and I ended up meeting some really cool transgender girls (and some annoying ones too who kept sharing way too much personal info. I get that we're all trans, but I do not need to hear about your genitals or sex life, okay). All in all though, it was a super fun experience and I'm so glad I did it. Can't wait until I can do it again.

Plus I got recognized! Seriously, someone was like "I read your blog!" How cool is that? I'm semi-famous with a very, very small niche group. Hey, that counts. And maybe when Callen-Lorde Community Health Center starts putting me on their promotional materials I'll be even more of a major celebrity.
Coming soon to a brochure near you. 
Though I just know that they're going to end up using an ugly photo of me on their website at some point. I like having complete and total control over what photos of mine get released. That's why people think I'm pretty. Trust me. I take lots of ugly photos - I just make sure people never see them and thus people think I'm prettier than I am. It works. 

The photoshoot was so fun that when Callen-Lorde announced their Transcendence event to celebrate the transgender community, I immediately bought a ticket. And then later that afternoon got an email letting me know that I was on the guest list. I could've gotten in for free! Ah well, I'm happy to spend money on a good cause. And Callen-Lorde Community Health Center is an amazing cause. Seriously, they do so much good for the LGBTQ community.

Well, the party was packed. It was so packed that it was actually hard to get around. But it was a lot of fun. Though, my partner and I are both introverts, so we have a really hard time mingling. It's a skill we both wish we had. But unfortunately, our skill sets don't quite cover chit chat. Seriously, we're so bad at it! All we do at events is talk to each other, then we feel bad that we're not mingling, so then we spend a bunch of time strategizing different ways to start mingling and trying to develop a plan to begin mingling. We even try to identify the best people with whom we could start mingling. But we never do. Ah, the life of an introvert. 

At least I had my fake girlfriend to hang out with.
Now, we did manage to sneak into a few other people's photos, so when they posted up the pictures we got to play a fun game of "Where's Waldo" looking for ourselves in the backgrounds of other people's pictures. 

It was a fun night and it actually felt great to be out with people from the LGBTQ community. A large part of me still carries a lot of residual shame about being transgender. It's true. It was something that I had to spend most of my life burying and hiding from everyone I knew. But, the idea of actually being part of a community is going to take some getting used to. Either way, I definitely want to go to some more events and see. Between being out in the community, my blog and podcast, maybe I'll accidentally find myself being an advocate. Well, if I do, I'll promise to try and not be preachy about it. 

And I should add one more quick thing that all these photos are by Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Female Role Models: Clarissa Darling

Seriously, I was lucky to have grown up in the 90s. It was an amazing time for empowered, smart, creative women. If the 90s were your formative years you had so many great icons and role models; singers like Kathleen Hanna, Liz Phair or Shirley Manson, and even fictional characters like Xena, Buffy, Scully, and of course Clarissa Darling.

Chances are if you grew up in the 80s and 90s you know this show. And chances are that if you were a straight boy or a gay girl Clarissa was your first real crush. I know she was mine. Quite frankly, ten or eleven year old me didn't quite exactly understand what it was that Clarissa made me feel when my stomach got all squirmy while watching the show. All I knew was that I certainly wasn't about to tell anyone about it.

Luckily it didn't matter because boys could watch Clarissa too. She was cool. She was actually a cool enough girl that it was okay for boys to like the show too. In fact, my sister and I watched the show religiously. I even remember one year we were at my grand parent's house and had to sneak away from a family event down the TV in the basement so we wouldn't miss that week's Clarissa Explains it All. It was the one where her and Ferguson are contestants on Double Dare.

Okay, before I get further into this, let's slow down just a minute for those of you who grew up without cable or lived in Mongolia or some other country where American pop culture isn't the only topic of thoughtful discourse. What the heck is Clarissa Explains it All and who the heck is Clarissa Darling?

Well, let me start by saying simply "na na na na na."

Okay, yeah it was those neon years of the late 80s and early 90s.

Clarissa Explains it All was a basic family sitcom that centered around a fourteen year old girl as she navigated school, crushes, career aspirations, family, friendship, jobs and life. Clarissa would often break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience in little asides where she would give her thoughts on the episode's topic. She was smart, sarcastic, rational and witty, but also anxious too. She tended to overthink things and obsess over worst case scenarios.

There was also her pet alligator, Elvis.
As star Melissa Joan Hart wrote in her memoir Melissa Explains it All, "When Clarissa was set to debut in March of 1991, it was nicely positioned to make an impact with a new audience. The creators hoped the teen sitcom would appeal to boys and girls by casting a clever, compassionate, free-thinking female lead."

What really made Clarissa stand out, and I think what really had an impact on me, is that she felt real. She wasn't a "type." You know, a type. Like how quite a lot of shows, especially kids shows, try to create characters in easily marketable categories based on a single characteristic; the smart one, the funny one, the jock, the artist or the posh kid. Throughout the series Clarissa was all of those things, or at least dabbled in them the way that we all really do. She was smart and creative and anxious like Lisa Simpson but also funny, irreverent and scheming like Bart. She was a three dimensional character. I think that's why people liked her. That's why I naturally liked her too.

How could you not like those pants?
You see, what I was used to, what was marketed to me growing up were those simple categories of characters like I mentioned above. Only I left one out. The other category was "the token girl." As a young, confused boy who knew that I identified with girls, I wasn't quite sure what to make of most of the 'girl' characters that were being marketed at me. They were lame, one dimensional and only existed to be sidekicks or to be rescued.

That's why Clarissa was such an important character for me. As a young transgender girl still trying to figure out this whole gender thing, I had found a show that was cool for a boy to watch and that featured a cool, smart, well-rounded three dimensional girl as the star. It's still amazing to me to think that this even existed.

I knew I wanted to be a girl but wasn't sure quite what being a girl meant. Luckily, Clarissa was there on TV for me to see. She showed me that girls can be funny and sarcastic and outspoken. They could be weird and creative and design their own video games. Girls could be smart and being smart didn't mean that they couldn't also have a cool fashion sense. Girls didn't all have to like the same thing.

You could be a girl and have your own taste in clothes or music or TV. It was okay for girls to be ambitious but it was also okay to be anxious too. Most importantly, Clarissa Darling taught me that being a girl meant that you could be yourself and it was okay, even if you didn't quite know who you were yet. It's okay to just be yourself.

You might think I'm exaggerating by trying to say that this silly little cable sitcom from the early 90s was important, but it was. It broke new ground in kid's entertainment. Before Clarissa Explains it All, shows with girl protagonists were exclusively marketed to girls. After this show they were able to market those shows to boys too. 

And for me, as a gender confused boy that was a huge thing. It meant that I didn't feel ashamed or wrong for watching a girls' show and that meant that I could tune into Clarissa and enjoy stories about a well written, well rounded, smart, ambitious and funny female character. It provided me, and lord knows probably lots of other transgender kids, with a really cool example of what it can mean to be a girl. It showed me that being a girl was actually pretty cool. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

My Trip Through The Central Bureaucracy: Legally Changing Your Name in Brooklyn

A few weeks ago I started the process of legally changing my name here in King's County, New York (that's Brooklyn to those of you outside the Empire State). I say "process" because it really is a process. Five visits to window 906, ten stamps, six different forms of ID, a judge playing on her cell phone, and, as I write this, it's not even done yet. So let's take a fun spin through the processing of legally changing your name in Brooklyn,

The first step involved going to the King's County Civil Court website and seeing what they said about what proof you needed to bring and where to go. If you're planning on changing your name in Brooklyn.

Don't go to the website. It's wrong. Not only did they send me to the entirely wrong building, but they also neglected to mention several key pieces of ID that I had to bring. Luckily, the correct building was only a couple blocks away (you can't swing a cat in Downtown Brooklyn without hitting at least three or four court buildings).

So, after my first failure, I headed over to 141 Livingston Street, went through another metal detector and found a directory telling me to go to Room 908. Up to the 9th floor I went. Only there is no Room 908. It's actually Room 906. Luckily for me there wasn't a line, so it didn't take me longer than ten minutes to be told that I didn't have the correct documents. Here's what you actually need:
  • Driver's License or state-issued ID. 
  • Social Security Card
  • Birth certificate
  • Proof of address by way of a government letter mailed to your address. Can't be a Time-Warner bill. Has to be government. Luckily I work for the government, so I regularly get healthcare and pension updates mailed to me. 
  • Notarized copy of your Adult Name Change Petition (check out this website which will guide you through the process of creating one). I got mine notarized at the UPS store for $2.00. 
Now it gets complicated. Of course it does.

I do not have a birth certificate. Okay, I did at one time. But decades ago, my hoarder father decided to put all my documents somewhere for "safe keeping." He claims he knows exactly where they are and will send them to me this week. He's been claiming this since 2002. My birth certificate is gone. And the military base where I was born is closed, which is fun because the DOD website says to contact the base hospital for a copy. My next bet is to pay the State Department $50 so they can see if they can track it down via records the army might have issued to the German government. No guarantees. So, yeah, I have no birth certificate. Luckily, as I marked down that I was born in Germany, they accepted my passport as proof of birth. Yay!

Next, when the clerk at window 906 (it's a really a window not a room) asked if I was married, I said "Oh, I have a domestic partnership." Oh so because of that, she gave me another form for my partner to sign and notarize verifying that she was aware of, and approved of, my name change. Yep, can't do something legally without my spouse's approval - it's like I'm a woman already! So, my partner would need to do this, and bring in her ID to show the clerk and we'd have to provide a copy of of our certificate of domestic partnership.

Now, knowing this meant I was pretty much done for the day. I was gonna have take another day off, my partner was gonna have to take a day off and then we could try again.

Attempt number two went better. I got a lot further this time. In a way it's kind of like playing a video game I guess. See how far you can get before having to start over.

Well, at least this time I knew which window to go so I was able to go straight there. We had all the right documents and and it was going smoothly until the clerk saw that we had brought a photocopy of our certificate of domestic partnership instead of the original. Ugh oh. I was seriously worried that it would mean going all the way home, getting the paper and bringing it all the way back. Luckily though, all my paperwork was good! So, they sent me down the cashier on the sixth floor to pay. 

Bring cash and bring exact change. $65.00 exactly. They won't take cards and they won't make change. Don't you just love these guys?

Okay, I paid. Got the cashier to stamp my forms a few times and then went right back up to 906 again to get the payment stamps verified by the clerk so she could add some more stamps to prove those stamps were genuine. Stamp away, lady, stamp away!

The next step was to go up to 11 and an actual court room! It was the dumpiest court room you could imagine. The judge was an old lady who was sitting there playing on her phone while the clerk and the bailiff shuffled people up to the bench, gave them paperwork and sent them on their way.

What they do is they call you up, hand you paperwork that you have to read over and approve. If it's all good, then they stamp it again and send you back down to 906 for more stamping!

When I got called up, the clerk was like "Oh, I need one more piece of info - what are your parents' names?" So I told here. Then she printed out the paperwork for me to approve and it said I had to do the following things in order to get to next phase of my name change: 
  • Publish a notice of my name change in a specific Brooklyn newspaper. 
  • Send a certified copy of the order to Homeland Security. 
  • Send a certified copy of the order to Immigration and Citizenship. 
  • Send a certified copy to the Social Security Administration 
  • Send a certified copy to my parents. 
And I was like "What the fuck!" Not literally. But internally. What I literally did was go up and say "My parents? I'm thirty-six years old, I'm not beholden to my parents."

"What if you have kids?" the judge asked, looking up briefly from her phone, "There could be inheritance issues."

"I understand." was I all I said and they took it at that and removed my parents. Thankfully. While I do want to come out to my mom, this is not the way I'd like to start that conversation. Plus it just irked me that as an adult they expected me to have to inform my parents. I'm a grown up. I pay my taxes. I am not beholden to my parents, thank you.

Having won that point I didn't even want to ask why a natural born citizen would have to inform Immigration. But I had won the major battle. I can pay $2.50 to mail a letter to a government office where I'm sure they'll promptly throw it away.

Well, my first time ever being involved in a court of law now over, I headed back down to 906 one more time. Why not?

The clerk at the window looked over my paperwork and was like "Oh, you got that judge. She always makes people send notices everywhere." Chalk it up to bad luck I guess. She explained that I had to bring in the little green Certified Mail notices once I had them. I'd also have to go to the paper and publish my notice and the paper would send me a certified note of publication or something like that. I'd need to bring those in and then I would get the chance to buy certified copies of name change order ($6.00 a piece - buy at at least ten) and then my name change would be official.

So, I figured that since I had the day off, I'd head over to the paper. It was in a fairly nice office actually and I soon realized that they were one of the those companies that published like eighty different "neighborhood" papers that were 98% ads. You know the kind that you've seen but have never read? Yeah, no one else has ever read those either. They basically exist so people with birds can line the cage and so people who move can wrap up their wine glasses.

Well, they had a form ready for a name change notice, and  I paid them $55.00 (what a racket, right?!) and then waited about ten minutes. They came out with the ad copy that I had to approve. I approved it and went on my merry way. 

I still need to send out my certified letters. That's not so bad, just a trip to the Post Office which I can do on lunch. Then the paper will mail me my certification and then I can go back to Room 906 once more. 

All in all, it wasn't so bad. It was silly and bureaucratic, but at least there wasn't like a crazy line or anything. The court part took about two hours all together, once I had the right paperwork that is.  

And it's still not official, but at least the hardest part is over. Then I just have to do the DMV, a new passport, a new social security card, and lord knows what else. Every time I think I've listed everyone that needs notice I think up two more. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Gender Rebels Podcast: Interview with hte Minnesota Trans Atheist

So, for those of you who don't know, my partner and I have a weekly podcast. There's in the link in the sidebar. I was previously doing full blog posts about each episode, but as it's a weekly podcast there's just too many of them. Going forward, I'm just going to start doing a mini-post of the player only. Do enjoy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Reality Hits You Like a Ton of Bricks

Oddly enough what gave me a panic attack wasn't my first meeting with HR about coming out at work. It was my second meeting. This time it was with the head of my department and the head of the legal department. I mean, don't get me wrong. It was a good meeting. Both of them said the organization supported me, they had my backs, etc. etc. etc. But what really smacked me in the face was the reality of the situation. Coming out at work and being a woman at work is no longer something I just think about or hope for. It's a reality and it's coming pretty darn quickly.

The reality of it hit me like a done of bricks.

Suddenly my brain started spinning a twisting, twirling web of fear. Was I really going to do this? Was I really going to put on a wig, and a dress and makeup and walk into my office, sit down and start working? What would my coworkers think? Would everyone mock me endlessly? Would they mock me behind my back or to my face? Were the women of my office going to think I was some sort of pervert because I was gonna be in the women's room? Would anyone take me seriously?

Then the real doubts started to weigh me down.

Did I take myself seriously? Was I really transgender? Was I sure? Am I maybe just a crossdresser who dressed up for the fun of it and not a real transgender person? It's not like I would commit suicide if I had to live as a guy. Did I have the courage to live every day as a woman? Did I have the energy to live every day as a woman? Did I have the financial means to live every day as a woman. Was I making a huge, career destroying, bank account destroying, friendship destroying, relationship destroying mistake? What the hell was I thinking?

My partner tried her best to calm me down and pointed out that dysphoria can wax and wane in its intensity but will never disappear. And I was just in a waxing point. Or a waning point. I forget which is which. But the bad one. My dysphoria would return.

I tried my best to remember that I had been down this road before (though not nearly this far) and had chickened out once. And though I do very much like where my life is now, I still regret not going through with transition back then. I lament the lost years that could have been spent as me.

It's tricky this whole thing, transition. It's hard. I worry that I don't pass at all and that I'm ridiculous. I'm a naturally anxious person and I'm one of those people who, as soon as their head hits the pillow at night, start letting their imagine run wild with all the horrible things that could happen.

For a couple days the knot in my stomach got tighter and I grew more anxiety ridden and depressed. This happens to me from time to time, but luckily it had been many, many years since it had gotten this bad.

Then I felt better. I felt better because I got dressed up, looked in the mirror and saw myself. I saw her. I saw me.

And instantly my mind snapped right back and my brain said to me "You can do this. You were born to do this. This is who you are. This is what makes you happy. Every birthday candle and coin in a fountain your whole life, you have wished for this. You can do this."

Right now I still have boy mode and girl mode. I work in boy mode and I still struggle with finding my makeup free, wig free, lounge around the house in yoga pants girl mode. I don't feel like a girl when I'm not done up to the nines. I might have on yoga pants, a girl's cut t-shirt and a girl's hoodie but I don't feel like I'm in girl mode. That's kinda when I get down. But then when I glam up to the nines I really see her and I feel wonderful. Hopefully I can find a way to reconcile those two feelings. 

Because I love feeling wonderful and would much rather feel that way all the time. 

Well, 42 days till full time. And in that time I'll get a get the paperwork I need for a new legal name and new legal gender, I'll have two more laser sessions. my hair will grow a little over half an inch, my fingernails will grow another couple millimeters. Hopefully it'll be enough that I can go to a salon, get my hair cut and styled in such a way that will hide my hairline. If so, I'll get my hair done, get a manicure and then that's it. That's me. That's my presentation. I'll toss out all my boy clothes and then that'll be that. I'm full time.

If my hair can't be styled, then I'll be wearing wigs until it grows long enough. Maybe January or February we can see. I remain, as ever, hopeful. Terrified and hopeful. 

Watch the first 49 seconds of this video. That's exactly I feel right now. 

Wish me luck.