As I write this, my fingers are swollen from jet lag and lack of sleep. I’ve been in Canada 24 hours and some change. It was exactly the 24 hour anniversary of my arrival when I woke up at 2 am. My insomnia seems fuelled by hauntings from my old life; shouldn’t I be doing something my mind worries, and yet, there isn’t much to do. I have 80 days of summer ahead. However, there is one monumental challenge that stands at the beginning of this reprieve from work and worries: clothing. It is not only garb but the process now of externalising my personality. Though in Korea I could do this in controlled bouts, I was never totally free to express Mina, there was always the ghastly spectre of running into students, colleagues, or ajima stares. And indeed, all of these things happened—expat bubbles are dreadfully small, even in a city of 20 million.
Now there is almost a sense of desperation to my desire to be recognized as female. I took scarcely more than a few gender neutral H&M t-shirts from Seoul: all of my other clothing was trashed. Therefore I need to shop, and yet this seems daunting without Jenny (she is in Kansas). And yet, each moment I do not, I risk being constantly misgendered. Though I think I am verily pretty and most of my facial hair is gone, I still read as male in a t-shirt because of my height. I’ve entered the stage where I feel I have to try and present as feminine as possible for fear of being read as male. On my first day back I even put makeup on to drink beer with an old friend, even though I was in my pyjamas. I will say that his customary directness was, on this one occasion, very welcome as he immediately exclaimed how much my body had changed since the last time I saw him. Most people are too polite (at least I think that’s what it is), or too close to my transition to notice. In the latter case, only when presented with photographs do they notice the not insubstantial changes. Of course, the average person doesn’t assume you are trans. They assume my 38 B chest is merely fat, this is confirmed in their minds by my bigger butt. The lack of facial hair, where once there was a thick dark bed of black moss, seems out of place to these people, but they cannot connect the dots. A woman I came out to at the end of the year party on my last day at my school said she had suspected something and showed me a text her husband had sent her with a picture of the two of us together two years ago. She said she wanted to confirm that I was indeed the same person from two years ago, she was right to suspect something.
I desperately want external validation of my gender identity. Being misgendered feels more and more like shrapnel. And now I have simply to wait to gauge the reactions of all the people I haven’t seen in a year or more. In a way, I hope their reactions are as explicit as my aforementioned friend’s. Of course, clothes will help in this. Now I just have to go to the shop. You know the old adage, “The clothes make the woman.”
I’ve travelled a lot, this isn’t a boast, but merely to establish my credentials. I travel to approximately nine countries a year, or more. However, lately, since about March, I’ve been having problems. It started in China, both on the way in and out. I got through the Philippines and Japan, but on my exit from Korea, the man balked at me. He asked straight up, “Is this you?” I smiled and replied that I was letting my hair grow out. By the time I got to the States to transit through SFO I felt like I was going to puke.
I am in a strange position. Though Canada makes it relatively easy to update identification, including passports, there are a few factors to consider, in my case. Perhaps most important is that I am only nine months into my HRT, I hope I change more. Also, I don’t bloody live in Canada. And, I’ve registered for my program and residence visa in the Netherlands under my dead name. I had no choice. Another potential issue is that if I want to teach again, job hires start in January, again, I’ll have to use my dead name, which would be weird as I would not present as male at any future job interviews. Thus, I almost have to stop everything and change my ID at some point.
Well, the world got smaller and harder to pass through. Here’s to hoping they let me into Canada, sometimes they can be the biggest dicks.
I wrote the following on May 2nd
Being outed sucks, especially when the instrument of that outing is this blog. Recently my blog has been marked as private in order to try and regain control of my own narrative. I am not sure how, but a few weeks ago this little outlet of mine started to make the rounds at my work. I am, as you may know, an international school teacher and I work in a bubble, an expat/teacher microenvironment. For obvious reasons, I wanted to remain in the closet to work people until my tenure at this fine institute is over in June (today!).
Now I hear what you are going to say, “It’s the internet, of course you were going to get caught.” I felt very secure that no one was ever going to find this, how could they? I don’t get enough blog traffic to be Googleable. But it did get found. I am not sure how it happened really, a leak from a colleague, or maybe an instagram fuckup and a hypercurious colleague did some research? Water under the bridge. What does concern me is the danger people place trans people in by outing them. Besides making my work an incredibly uncomfortable place to be for several weeks—the break down I mysteriously had in front of my boss—outing LGBTQIA people is really dangerous (trans people experience disproportionately more police harassment, workplace discrimination, physical and sexual violence, and suicide rates: the later likely based on the former. Especially in a place like Korea. Look at next week’s election, none of the candidates support LGBTQIA rights, save Sim, and she ain’t gonna win.
On top of that, this blog has been my window to the community outside of Korea, and that has been essential to my sanity this past year. Because as supported as I’ve been, and as many privileges that I have had this past year, coming out and transitioning in a foreign country, one often hostile to your existence, is not easy. It has been lonely, scary, and really, really, hard. And my blog, this blog, has been a way of escaping part of that isolation. This experience has somewhat soured this source of catharsis and outreach. However, this post is my attempt to take back control.
Takeaway: statistically you may not meet or be aware of many trans people as you go through life, we are 1 in 3000. I understand that we are interesting and question some fundamental assumptions about human nature that can only increase the curiosity factor we incite in some. Just know that for all of the curious out there, there are legions of people who feel threatened by our existence, and they are not curious, but hostile. So, think before you out someone, because it just might cause them more pain than you realise.
My blog will return in June.
*Jenny Part 3:
The next day was our school summer fair. Everyone was there, including our exs. Treading the gauntlet of newly developing affection versus the fear of observation, we were immediately confronted with the potential for social catastrophe our relationship could cause. Due to the way the housing system at our international school works, Mina was still living with her ex, and she would be for the next few weeks. This, coupled with an understandable desire not to hurt anyone unnecessarily, until we were more certain what we were going to be, meant a prolonged period of secrecy. I felt swamped by guilt. Even though I knew both our exes were over the relationship and had been for some time, I didn’t know how they would take it. I didn’t really feel that my ex was my responsibility as he had made it clear we were not friends, but Mina’s ex had confided in me a lot about the details of their relationship and it’s break-up; I was worried she would see it as a betrayal. And thus, my life working at an international school became just like an episode of Sunset Beach. But without the sunset. Or the beach.
So over the next few weeks, we snatched moments on secret shopping trips to make-up stores and dog walks. Part of me was pretty confident that Mina’s feelings for me extended beyond ‘just seeing what happens,’ and I was happy to wait for her to catch up with her own emotions, but another part of me started to feel increasingly insecure. I told myself I was just being paranoid, but whilst she often responded to me in waves of affection, at times there seemed to be an almost indiscernible current of resistant. We touched, but I felt like I had to let her initiate it. We kissed, but she was always the one to stop first. We had sex, but alcohol seemed to be necessary foreplay.
One evening, a few weeks into ‘just seeing what happens,’ we went for a walk on the hill near her apartment. We stopped on a bench, kissed and just when I thought she was indicating it should get a little more heated, and responded in a way I thought she wanted, she became clearly uncomfortable. I was confused, but I tried not to let it bother me too much. We went back to the car, and she tried to explain herself. I only remember snippets of what she said, which went something like…she didn’t necessarily want to have sex straight away… she needed to feel emotionally comfortable… how her sister (whom she had just come out to as well) said she felt the same and that maybe her attitude towards sex was a more female one…. This made perfect sense to me, as I felt the same way. I digested the information calmly, but as I biked home that evening I found I was becoming increasingly upset and I couldn’t quite work out why.
Maybe it would have been easier, but this wasn’t the first time I’d had a partner with issues surrounding sex. At the beginning of that relationship we were talking about it, so at first I thought it was something we could work through. But over time, our level of intimacy became less and less. I tried both confronting this and ignoring it at different points in our relationship, but somehow it became harder and harder. Thus I entered a downward spiral of non-communication, feeling guilty over having a desire for sex and feeling increasingly afraid of discovering I wasn’t really wanted. This dynamic was ultimately fundamental in the destruction of our relationship.
So, although I logically understood what Mina was telling me, emotionally I felt rejected. Past years of feeling neglected and undesired suddenly caught up with me. Shouldn’t a new relationship be filled with unbridled passion?. Why was I entering another relationship where that wasn’t the case? Even though she was telling me it wasn’t, it was hard not to, once again, feel the nagging question, is it me?
My cis partner (I am a trans woman) has been spending time on “My Partner Is Trans” subreddit. For the record I am gay so my advice applies directly to girl/girl relationships and oh course, this is only based on my own meandering experiences. Though I am sure it can apply broadly to other trans spectrum people.
- Am I a different person now?: One of the first issues I think that I have experienced, perhaps not with my partner, but other people, is the perception that I am a fundamentally different person (I wrote about this here). There are several facets related to this issue. The first is how we perceive gender and organise our relationships around it. And though I may not see myself as different, many people will simply because of how they gender relationships. And that’s totally normal. The other side of it depends on the trans person. Many of my friends have told me I am not different, other than how I look and that I am more explicitly feminine in my gesticulations, but I was already halfway there. I am sure some people are completely guarded against people knowing they are gender nonconforming and they hide it better than I did (to be clear I always read as male, just not a bro-dude). This could create problems in relationships when the transitioning partner becomes seemingly more feminine or masculine. I would say that said hypothetical person is probably not really different as their fundamental characteristics will be the same. I still like mountain climbing, space, and Zelda. I still have the same interests and values. But at the same time, I know that this is a complicated issue and there is no straightforward way to deal with it. Also, give your partner or friend time. It is likely that they are swinging far to the side of the gender binary they identify with and will probably tone it down. We can overcompensate in order to deal with a lifetime of being forced to appear as something we were not. I’ve been crossdressing since 10, so I’ve had lots of time to think about my female side. Many don’t.
- Emotions: I don’t know if I have anything to say here save some wandering impressions. Sometimes friends who are completely supportive ask me why I am being so emotional–usually girls. I suppose they’ve been dealing with it for awhile, right? But I am going through an accelerated version of puberty and it is not always easy to deal with. It’s great, it is what I want, but I am sure it is hard to deal with from my partner’s perspective–I get super emotional. From my point of view, the emotional changes are what I want. It feels great, even if it’s total chaos at times. I’m paraphrasing here, but someone once said this, “FTM partners go from having complex nuanced emotional reactions to four: horny, happy, angry, and sad.” This works the other way around for MTFs. But if you don’t expect those types of ranges from your partner I suspect it can be difficult. I guess dating a trans person takes patience as we can be self-involved and narcissistic, but also insecure. So insecure in our identity.
- Sex: Know that figuring this out for both parties is going to take time, even if you are open to whatever. This is a major issue and it takes a long time to figure out how this works for us. It is a lot like the process we all go through the first time, only us trans people have some pretty heavy baggage in this department, even if we didn’t know it until transitioning. The first few months of HRT are all over the place. And then when we start to figure out how our bodies work it can be very affirmational, but then there are massive waves of dysphoria; sometimes I am okay with my anatomy and then other times I need them to be gone. That’s not easy to navigate and still feel you know, switched on. Finally, I’ll say that I don’t even fully understand what gets me going anymore as it works much more as my preferred gender ie, I don’t get turned on by just physical touch and that is a whole new language to learn.
- Space: Give us space. My gf and I got together based on my coming out. And though I am happy we stayed together, it is hard to focus on two people at once, especially when you are starting to transition and everything is changing so quickly. It takes time, like all of these issues, to figure out. Also, for me, I felt that I had to be someone my whole life that I didn’t want to be. It can be difficult to want to give space to others.
- Communicate: This is hard but necessary. There are a lot of misunderstandings that can fly around in these types of relationships. You have to talk. It can be hard for us at the beginning because, if you’re like me, you feel embarrassed. You are trying to express yourself against forces that have kept you contained and in hiding for a long time. Coming out is hard and confusing, but talking about what you need, want, and feel can be even more daunting. My gf and I would have never made it if we didn’t have many awkward conversations. And these were prompted from both of us.