Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Transition Just Keeps Going

A lot of stories about transition end with the protagonist starting life as their new gender and living happily ever after. There's this assumption that once you've crossed that finish line you're done. Right? Isn't that how it works.

At this point I have crossed a lot of finish lines. I've come out at work, come out to most of my family, I've completed my long name-change checklist. My drivers' license and passport both officially list me as a girl.

If the State Department says it, then it has to be true.

Transition over I guess. Well, not so much. The thing is that I still don't quite feel complete. There's a number of reasons for that. Mostly it's my hair. It's still growing out and I even dyed it reddish and a little darker but I still don't pass well with short hair. So I'm still on wigs and that makes me feel sort of fake still. I'm still lazy in my presentation at home and on weekends. While I call that look androgynous who am I kidding? People will see me as male. Although certainly not a manly man. My voice still needs work and though I'm getting more practice there are some days when I swear I can't pull it off. I want more laser. I might want electrolysis. I might want surgeries. I'm not finished yet. 
Girl life loading....
So have there been any actual changes now I'm that I'm out and full time? Well, there has been one major one but it kind of took me a little bit to even notice that it had happened. To make sense I have to explain my own experiences with gender dysphoria. 

Some of my earliest memories involved what I would later come to understand as gender dysphoria. I wished I were a girl. It was an obsessive thought that always hung around the corners of my mind, refusing to go away completely. It would quiet sometimes but always come back. I'd lay awake in bed at night (my parents always put me to bed way too early) and dream up complex scenarios that would magically enable me to become a girl. I prayed to the Christian god and promised I would behave if only he could grant my one biggest wish.

When I was older I dug through the musty card catalogs and found the couple of library books that mentioned transgender topics and read them all. Later the internet happened and I started reading everything I could; transgirls' blogs, hormones, surgeries. I watched videos, followed blogs, read every story I could. 

In my twenties I spent many a train ride with a marble composition pad where I'd write out complex plans to transition. I'd write timelines and budgets and draft coming out emails to friends and family. Then I'd get frightened and back off from my plans. Getting a therapist or HRT was a daunting maze to navigate and I was quickly overwhelmed and frustrated. I worried that if I transitioned I'd lose my job, lose friends and get disowned by my family. I worried I wouldn't pass and would be throwing my life away.

I remember thinking "Sure, I wish I were a girl. But it's not realistic. Like, how I also wish I could fly, but that's not realistic either."

Then I would get depressed about how I hadn't transitioned and start considering myself a failure. I'd grow jealous of the people who had transitioned successfully. "I wish I were a girl" would start echoing through my head and I'd daydream elaborate fantasies where I had transitioned and thus the whole process would start all over again. 

Well, that's done now. And because the process tended to be cyclical, it took me a long while to notice that my dysphoria was gone. I'm not feeling depressed about my failure to transition and I'm no longer obsessing over a possible future where I do transition. The endless echo of "I wish I were a girl" has gone away. 

Pictured: The author living in the future.
And because I didn't notice that right away transition seemed at first to be such a non-event. Like I wasn't super happy or super sad or anything. I was just normal, just me. This was just me living my life only I'm a girl now. Then the epiphany hit me. I'm not feeling that constant nag to transition or that constant low feeling of not transitioning. I am just me. I'm probably more me than I've ever been in my entire life and I can't believe I didn't realize it. It's like it wasn't until the uncomfortable shoes came off that I really realized how uncomfortable they were. 

So now this is just my life. And I love my life. The good members of my family support me. Work accepts me. Most importantly my partner supports me. I'm being more creative than I have been in years, I'm having fun adventures, I'm being politically active for the first time in my life and I am developing a sense of transpride. Plus by not having to wear boy clothes ever I've cut my wardrobe costs significantly, so there you go. 

More money for NYC Ballet tickets.
Sure there are frustrations I have with life. But doesn't life always come with frustrations? But there are also good things in life too. And transition has definitely been a good thing. I really wish I could go back to me in my 20s and have a frank discussion about how transition really won't be a big deal at all.

But then I remember not too because you don't want to go back and mess with the timeline. That's a bad idea. 

Friday, February 17, 2017


Back in the day I was super goth. I loved the styles, was friends with all the fetish models on Myspace, wore fishnets, boots with tons of buckles, corsets, gobs of black eyeliner, deep purple lipstick, shopped at Trash & Vaudeville, went to Black & Blue Ball and listened to industrial music. They were good times.  

Here's me a decade ago, maybe not at my most gothy, but fairly close to it. 

And here's me at work the other day looking the like the mousy nerdy girl character who finally loosens up after she meets the guy who teachers her to carpe all the diems. 

Well, today I got a surprise day off work thanks to 10" of snow. Actually I'm not even sure why they closed the office because, I mean c'mon it's NYC. Ten inches of snow is something we can all handle. But, hey, free day! 

With a day that I was going to spend alone (my partner still had to report in) and mostly inside, I was left to try and figure out what to do with eight whole unexpected hours. Yeah, I had the internet and sure I have various video games and yes, there's a large DVD library and all of Netflix at my disposal. There were also some cleaning chores that were tad overdue. Well, those things are all fun, but I thought what would be most fun was playing around with gothy makeup and getting dressed up all dark like I used to!

Apparently, doing goth makeup is easy, provided you actually know how to apply makeup. Thankfully, the past ten years have taught me quite a bit about makeup. Mostly it was the last five, after I discovered /r/MakeupAddiction which really helped me step up my game. I've learned how to do my brows, how to contour and how to do eyeliner for a hooded eye. I'm still trying to master the proper eyeliner wing technique but I'm getting there.  

For my goth makeup, I started with my usual foundation then did my contouring. Only instead of my usual super pale flesh-tone powder I used for the highlights I used white eye shadow. I figured that would give me the proper deathly pallor. It did, though it required a lot more blending than usual. The white I used is actually the Wet & Wild white which is surprisingly high in pigment despite costing only $0.99.
Best makeup deal out there. 
Next I did much darker and thinner brows than I normally do. Then I did a heavy smokey eye in purple with a lot of blending. If I'd have had dark red I might have used that but I felt purple was sufficiently royal and deep. Maybe next time I'll try a red or a black/silver and see how that looks. I did a nice heavy black eyeliner and actually did black eyeliner on my lower lids. Normally I do a beige on the lower lid, which they say makes your eyes look bigger. This time though I definitely wanted some dark black. Plus I did a dramatic wing which included an inner wing. I did some white highlights below my eyes and in the inner eye. Then I finished my eyes off with some fake lashes. Believe it or not I even managed to mostly get the fake lashes on correctly. Mostly.

For lips I did a super dark, almost purplish red. For a while I tried to go more normal with lip colors in my daily wear before deciding that darker reds worked for me. Luckily I have a few in the collection. I did some central lip highlights with a pale, pale pink and then I was set. I threw on some black clothes (again easy) and I was set!

Look at the girl. Not the clutter.
And of course in my apartment there's also now the question of light. My old place go great light and this place...not so much. Granted, I like my place. It's cozy. It's in a nice area. It's convenient to mass transit. But it doesn't quite have the best natural light.

If you don't have light - Instagram filters are a reasonable facsimile.
Honestly, I have to admit that I really do like the goth look. It's like a power look for me, it really is. I guess because in my more formative years I was heavily influenced by 90s musicians, some of whom merely veered into gothic style, some of whom dove right in. Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, Stabbing Westward and others rocked long back clothes, boots, pale makeup, silver jewelry and buckles and a healthy embrace of the darkness. 

And angst. You need a healthy dose of angst. 

The world is so cruel. Death is neat.

Ugh. My suburban life sucks. I wish I lived in a cemetery.

Ask me about Wicca.
What was it that appealed to me about the goth look and persona? Honestly, I think it what really appealed to me was that it involves voluntarily placing yourself in the "other." When you dress totally different than the norm your whole look says to the world "You don't want to accept me? Good. I don't want to be accepted!" That's probably why so many trans girls are drawn to the goth sub-culture. It's the total "I didn't want to sit at your stupid lunch table anyway."

And the truth is, we're not being contrary or going all sour grapes. We really don't want to sit at the normals' lunch table. We know in our hearts that we're different and odd and weird and we don't want to be ashamed of it. We want to shout it from the rooftops, we want to show it off. Yeah I'm weird. Yes, I like it. Yes, I like being weird and no, I don't want to be like you.

And really being goth isn't actually about being depressed either, I mean, not really any more than any other subculture. It can be fun, really fun, to embrace being The Other. It's incredibly freeing to openly declare that you're not going to try and fit in, you're not going to keep up with the Joneses and as far as you care the Joneses can fuck off. There's a great deal of power in that too. You're taking the reigns and announcing ownership of your person and your destiny. There's nothing dark or depressing about that.

And a part of all of us loves the power that comes with being the villain. We all love a good villain We love the Emperor in Star Wars or Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Carabosse in Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty. We love those dark villains who are smart, evil and get to break the rules. A goth persona gives you a bit of that same power of wicked malevolence. People see you differently and you can let your natural dark side creep out just a little bit more. It's a lot of fun to be wonderfully wicked and weird.

So why then am I dressing all mousy and normal these days? I guess partly because age mellows you a bit. Partly also, you do have to show up for work. And partly you realize that you your weirdness can transcend what you're wearing. You can be weird even in normal clothes. And you can find your weird crowd and have a grand time of things together even if you're not wearing fishnets or a corset or insane amounts of dark eyeliner.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Snow Queen Has Come for Your Souls...

A few weeks back, I had a random co-worker tell me that I looked exactly like the witch Melisandre from Game of Thrones. She was like "Oh my gosh, you look so much like her!" Not being a Game of Thrones viewer myself I had to google her.

 It made me a really, really happy girl to hear that! I made a mental note to put a Game of Thrones disc on my Netflix queue and to maybe think about doing some Melisandra cosplay this Halloween.

Well, during the last snowstorm, I had an unexpected snow day, so I thought it would be a fun time to play around with some dark, evil looking makeup. After a whole morning inside I started to get cabin fever and decided that I was going to go for a walk. Below freezing temperatures, 40mph winds, snow and ice be damned. This girl was bored!

On my walk I snapped a few selfies, because of course I did and then uploaded a few to my Instagram. For one in particular, where the snow was whipping all around me, I ran a few filters to try and make it look all wintery. Here's the result:

 Honestly, I didn't even think Game of Thrones. I was going for a winter wonderland and instead snapped a shot of the evil Snow Queen bringing frozen fury to the land. Of course as soon as I put it up on Facebook all my friends started making Game of Thrones references. My pic got a lot of love. Heck, even my mom said she liked it. It's a great feeling ot know that my mom looks at my girl pictures and likes them now. That makes me pretty happy.

Well, running off the evil winter queen thing, I decided to try a few more evil pictures with some various filters in Photoshop. You'll have to let me know which one is best.

Looks like I am going to have to watch Game of Thrones and put together a Melisandra costume for Halloween.

Friday, February 3, 2017

My Two Front Teeth

For years and years I did not smile in my pictures. Seriously, you can look back at my photos and there's ten years, thousands of pictures, where I didn't smile. There were a few reasons for this. For one thing I thought I looked cute when I was pensive, brooding or evil looking. Blame the goth aesthetic I loved. But you can also blame the fact that for years I had bad teeth.

Bad teeth would make anyone brood.
The reason I had bad teeth was because I didn't go to the dentist for maybe eight or ten years. Why would someone neglect their poor teeth this way? Well, first off I didn't have dental insurance (thanks, utterly broken American healthcare system) and also because I was deathly, deathly afraid of dentists. Deathly afraid.

In fact, I was so afraid of dentists that I remember once watching TV with a friend and there was an innocuous scene featuring a dentist and I had to leave the room. The reason I think I was afraid of dentists had to do with a terrible dentist I visited when I was sixteen years old. But let's go back in time a bit.

When I was seven years old I got my front tooth knocked out in a fight.While I don't remember exactly what the fight was about, I do remember it was with one of my good friends. We had some sort of disagreement on the playground and he bopped me one. I barely remember it but he broke my front top tooth which forced me to get a cap.

Nine years later that cap literally split in two one day randomly. I guess my other teeth were growing and exerted too much pressure and I was left with the friggin' Liberty Bell in my head. That was bad enough. Then my dad took me to his awful dentist. I don't remember how my dad found this dentist but I assumed my dad based his dental choices on which dentist was more anti-abortion than the others. My dad was seriously like this. He would choose insane evangelical Christian businesses regardless of their quality of product.

So I sat there in this dentist office and without warning, without anesthetic, he takes a tool and rips the cracked tooth right out of my mouth. No apology, no nothing. It freaked me the fuck out. That was a part of my head! I'd had nighmares about teeth falling out and here's Christian McDentist turning those nightmares into reality. I still shudder thinking about it. I got my new tooth at least.

Well, thanks in part to a coworker who once introduced me to a dentist who specialized in treating people with odontophobia, I eventually overcame my fear. While I still don't like dental visits, the mere thought of them no longer drives me to panic attacks. One problem though was that while my normal teeth were bright and shiny, my fake tooth was not only too large but it was also the wrong color and stuck in at an odd angle.

But, I learned to smile in my pictures at least. As you can see in this other classic photo from some time in 2012ish.

Yay! No longer brooding.
Recently though, I finally got around to getting my big, ugly, discolored, misaligned tooth fixed. And I got myself a bright shiny new tooth that fits my mouth, is straight and is the same size and color as the others! Yay! I finally have good teeth!

So in celebration of good teeth I got home from the dentist and did what I always do. Took lots of pictures. Here's the first picture of Faith DaBrooke with normal teeth!

And here's the first weird picture of Faith DaBrooke with normal teeth. 'Cause I'm a weirdo.

Okay, and I also took some normal pictures because I'm not that weird. Okay, who am I kidding? I am pretty weird and always have been.

The fun thing was that I wasn't yet out to my dentist. I had just started at a new dentist due to some insurance things with work and had only had one visit with him before I came out full time. As I was fairly exhausted with coming out and didn't want to deal with it, I actually dressed down as a boy for my tooth fixing visit. It just made things easier. Granted, I wore girls' jeans and a girls' hoodie and had a girls' coat and probably a bit of eyeliner, I still went in relative boy mode. Then of course, I got a call a few weeks later from the dentist. There was an issue with my insurance because Boyname DaBrooke doesn't have insurance any more. Everything is under my new legal girl name. So, I ended up having to come out to them anyway. Ah well. It was bound to happen.

Well, be sure to check back for lots of new smiles in my pictures. Maybe even some normal, non-goofy ones.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trainspotting: A Transgender Girl's Thoughts

Trainspotting is one of my absolute all-time favorite movies. For some unknown reason my Republican, Evangelical dad took me to see this movie in the theater. Maybe it was because he was a bit of an Anglophile and I guess Scotland is part of the UK so he took young teenage me to go see a film with insane amounts of drug use, nudity, swearing and dead babies. Well, this movie blew my mind. It redefined for me what a movie could be. 

In its initial US theatrical release it played in one theater on the other side of town for exactly one week. I ended up going back and seeing Trainspotting five times that week. By this time I was deep into my film connoisseur stage and was an unabashed fan of Tarantino, Kubrick and Scorsese. But Trainspotting blew me away. The music, the shots, the relentless energy, all of it compounded by the rapid dialogue delivered in heavy accents. The film, the story, the characters - all of it. I remember leaving the theater and thinking "I didn't know a movie could do that!" 

So when I saw that the new Alamo Drafthouse here in Brooklyn was showing Trainspotting for one night only I bought tickets as soon as I could. Yeah, I've seen this movie on DVD a hundred times, with commentary and without, but it's been twenty years (Wow. Twenty years) since I'd seen it on the big screen. And with the trailer for the sequel looking really good I was super excited to see this movie again. 

But, this isn't a movie blog. If you want info on Trainspotting you can find it all over the internet. As a transgender woman though, I think I can bring a unique perspective, especially having just seen it again on the big screen. Though the movie doesn't have any LGBT themes, Trainspotting does have a brief scene involving either a transgender woman or a crossdresser (it's not made explicitly clear how this person identifies - more on that later). For brevity I'm going to simply refer to her as a transgender woman. Because of this scene I think transgender people will come away from a viewing with a slightly different perspective than would a cis person. 

The scene takes place after our hero Mark Renton has moved to London to try and get away from his self-destructive lifestyle and the friends that encourage it. Unfortunately for Mark, his violent, quick-tempered, drunken asshole of a friend Francis Begbie shows up on the run from the law. After Begbie ends up winning big on a horse race, he and Renton go out to celebrate and visit a busy club in London. There Begbie meets the transwoman on the dance floor, then goes back to her car to hook up. As they're making out and petting heavily, Begbie discovers that she's not a cis woman and freaks out. Later, back at home, Mark kids him about the encounter and this causes Begbie to threaten him with a knife.

This scene actually has some really positive, forward thinking things to say about gender. During these scenes, Mark's voice over explains his thoughts:

Diane was right. The world is changing, music is changing, drugs are changing, even men and women are changing. One thousand years from now there'll be no guys and no girls, just wankers. Sounds great to me.

You see if you ask me we're heterosexual by default, not by decision. It's just a question of who you fancy. It's all about aesthetics and it's fuck all to do with morality. But you try telling Begbie that.

I love this because it's so prescient. I feel like society in 2017 is ever so slight edging towards the point where this type of conception of gender is becoming the norm. In the twenty years since Trainspotting came out our ideas of gender and sexuality have evolved to the point where it's fairly normal to accept that both exist on a continuum and that there is a heck of a lot of grey area. We're not all just wankers quite yet, but the idea of a rigid binary between men and women, straight and gay, is in the process of breaking down. And it does seem great, at least to me.

I distinctly remember watching this back in 1996, before I really knew what it was to be transgender, and I remember loving the line about how in the future there'd be no guys and no girls. It was a great thing to hear in a movie for someone who knew they weren't comfortable in their gender role but didn't yet have the tools to really be able to articulate that yet.

Yeah, so while there are some positives, I have to say that there are quite a lot of negatives when it comes to this scene. Firstly, it plays off the tired old stereotype of the transgender woman who's out to "trick" straight men into acting gay. The underlying idea to this trope is that it's shameful to want to hook up with a transgender girl because it makes you gay. Yes, and of course it's shameful to be gay, obviously.

Now, there does remain the question of whether or not Begbie is in fact gay. Actor Robert Carlyle has gone on record as saying that he played the character as a closeted gay man who was desperately trying to bury his feelings and lashing out at anyone who threatened that. Author Irvine Welsh has stated that Begbie's sexuality was written to be a bit more ambiguous. But even the character is secretly portrayed as gay doesn't mean the audience (who's likely not in on the actor's motivation) fully understands this. This is especially true when the "gay" character is party to the all-too-common transgirl tricks the straight guy moment.

Gay or straight, this scene is told specifically from a male point of view. And it's the male character in this scene whose feelings are what the camera focuses on. Whatever his sexuality may be, this is Begbie's experience and the movie only follows him as he reacts to the transgender woman. This is again, all-too-common a trope when trans women are portrayed in media. They are presented as objects whose existence is there to be remarked up or reacted to by the cis male character.

Now, another question arises. Does this scene work to establish Begbie's character? I think it does, but not really in any new way. We know full well that Begbie is a psychopath. As viewers we've had lots of scenes thus far that illustrate this. He's starting fights with random unsuspecting people for no reason, he's robbing people, he's threatening his friends. We know he's a violent pyschopath with a hair trigger temper. All this scene adds is that, for whatever reason, he's also transphobic and homophobic. Now, t's certainly within character for Begbie to be a transphobic and homophobic asshole. It can add some complexity to  his character, but this attribute of his personality is never brought up or addressed again throughout the film.

It is interesting though that we've seen Begbie violently assault people for non-existent offenses like eating crisps too loudly in a large pool hall. Yet, when he realizes that he's making out with a transgender girl, we don't actually see him assault her. There's a shot where he seems to realize what's going on, a shot of her confused and slightly worried reaction. Then the next shot is Begbie outside the car freaking out. This is an absolutely psycho character and it's telling that we don't see him actually harming this woman. That's curious. Perhaps he's angry with himself? But again, if this is a situation where this scene is supposed to establish that he's a self-hating closeted gay man, this never resurfaces again in  the movie.

Ultimately I think the issue can be summed up by asking what is the point of this scene?Unfortunately I don't think this scene was written in to provide insight into Begbie's character or as a means to allow Renton to get philosophical on the nature of society and gender. Ultimately, I think this scene is there for a laugh. We as the audience get to see the asshole Begbie end up in a situation that embarrasses him and we as an audience get to laugh at him. Mark Renton, our protagonist and the character we are led to identify most with even makes the jokes for us.

But to set up this joke the movie has to express the ideas that it is shameful and embarrassing for a straight identified cis man to fancy or hook up with a transgender woman, that doing so makes that cis man gay, and that being gay is a undesirable state. These aren't great ideas to espouse. Ideas like these normalize homophobia and transphobia and that normalization can negatively affect the lives of LGBT people either through marginalization or even through legislation.

Even with the negatives, I still love this movie. Yes, I think this one scene could have been cut without really changing the narrative of the movie. I think now, two decades later, this type of joke really wouldn't fly in a movie, at least not without people calling it out for what it is. Yes, Trainspotting is a classic but even classic films carry the baggage of the culture that produced them. Another of my absolute favorite movies, Casablanca, makes me cringe when Isla, a young white woman, refers to Sam, a middle aged African-American man, as a "boy." Movies are a product of their time and this sort of joke was okay in 1996. Thankfully we seem to be moving away from that now.

When I was sixteen and watching this for the first time, my internal transieness perked up during this scene. Like any media that presented a transgender element, this interested me. At that age I was still insanely confused about what it meant to be cis or trans or gay or straight, but I knew I identified with and enjoyed male-to-female elements in media, even if they were rarely positive. This scene made me think "hey, crossdressing in this film! That's so cool." Plus I thought the transgirl's stockings were cool. I'd like to write about how this scene reinforced my own internalized shame at feeling transgender, but I don't remember it doing that. Mostly, I think, at sixteen I just thought it was cool that there was a transgender element in the movie at all.

At age thirty-six this scene affected me rather differently. I had braved a nor'easter with pouring rain and 70mph wind gusts (not exaggerating) to get to the theater after work. I was soaked, my wig was blown around and I felt and looked like crap. I was sure I didn't pass. But, I took a quick trip to the bathroom to clean up and I felt a little better. Still didn't feel super passable but at least I no longer looked like something the cat dragged in. 

Watching this scene on film in a crowded theater really made me feel like I stood out to everyone in the audience. As though I might have blended in before the movie but that scene put the idea of transwomen in the audience's heads. Now when they saw me they would be in transgirl-spotting mode.I felt like that scene put the idea that transwomen are bad into people's heads and it might have made them view me as a joke, like I was some ridiculous person. It was like a spotlight shone on me and it made me uncomfortable. Thankfully it's not a long scene.

Like I said, I still enjoyed the movie a great deal. It's still one of my absolute favorite movies and I'll watch it again and again. I'll see the sequel on opening day. Trainspotting is a good enough movie that I'll forgive it this scene. Unlike say, Breakfast at Tiffany's which is not a good enough movie for me to forgive its racism. Movies are products of their time and for great movies like Trainspotting, I'm still willing to enjoy it and enjoy the heck out of it, even if it does have a small bit of 1996-era transphobia in it. 

Oh, and there was one other reaction that I had as a transgender girl watching Trainspotting. Diane's dress in the Volcano Club scene. Damn! That look redefined the very concept of sexy for me. Damn, When I was sixteen I wished I had that dress and could look that good in it. And now at age 36 I still wish I had that dress and looked that good in it.

Damn. Damn. Damn. Rock it, Kelly MacDonald!

What girl doesn't want to look good in silver. Well, even as I was getting some screen-grabs for this blog (two days after watching this movie in the theater again), my first thought was, dang, I totally want to watch Trainspotting again. So I think I will. And let's hope T2 is good too.