Taking the T out of LGBT

It has taken time, but now the public has more appreciation for what the T in LGBT stands for. They may still have some way to go in understanding what it actually means to be transgender, however considerable progress has been made. We can partly thank Caitlyn Jenner for expanding that conversation and allowing the T to be equally relevant in the line up of letters. Yet I would argue that the T doesn’t belong there at all.

The L, G, and B are about sexual identity; the T is about gender. Lumping the four initials together only enhances the misperception that they are interchangeable terms. They are not.

I am a transgender woman. In my 40s I stated recognizing feminine feelings that I couldn’t ignore—but I was still attracted to women. I was questioning my gender yet my sexuality remained unchanged. Only later in my transition did my sexuality change in tandem with my gender—like orbiting planets that never meet. However the sexuality of transgender people (which may or not change) is the most irrelevant factor in our transitions. We are not coming to terms with being attracted to same sex or different sex people, it is the correctness of our assigned gender that we are figuring out.

Of course I admire and respect lesbian and gay campaigners over the years who have laid the groundwork for the level of acceptance that there is now, but I am neither gay nor lesbian. I am a straight woman—with a past.

As part of an often discriminated against sector of society, there is solace, appeal, and leverage in being part of a group. Not, however, if the alignment blurs the picture. I would gladly be part of an ‘I hate kale’ group (very easily in fact), though I wouldn’t be comfortable in an ‘I hate fruits and vegetables’ conglomerate if that was the only other option. I’m sure I’d be reassured that others disliked different vegetables, though to be assumed a fruit hater would be skewing my association and not helping the public perception that it really is OK to dislike kale. (I am actually quite fond of broccoli.)

Does it matter? Perhaps the route to self-acceptance is relevant. I accepted the unexpected truth about myself, transitioned, and now live my life as the woman I am. In that respect, I am complete, done. I appreciate that I will always be a transgender woman but that’s no reason to wave a flag about it to remind me of my gender past. It was an anomaly which was corrected; bigger than removing a scar, not as invasive as a bone marrow transplant. My sexuality, meanwhile, is irrelevant.

Unlike Groucho Marx, I am happy to be part of a club that has me as a member. I go to an LGBT health clinic in New York, I advocate LGBT causes, and I visit LGBT-friendly venues, so thus I am part of the LGBT community. I certainly have plenty of gay friends (possibly more than if I were not transgender) and just like those people, I had no choice in being what I am.

Now is the time to clearly separate and differentiate gender and sexuality: transgender understanding can advance better by severing the suffix from LGB. And to be clear, I would be delighted to be part of the TKH community—Transgender Kale Haters.

Call me woman

After Caitlyn Jenner unveiled herself in lingerie for Vanity Fair, reaction has predominantly fallen into two camps: visible support for her as you would earthquake victims in faraway lands (lest you appear heartless), or label her as sassy for showing too much leg. Cut through the media sensationalism and celebrities falling over themselves to support her, and I’m struggling to find the voice of reason.

Above and beyond my own transition, I have always tried to clarify one of the biggest misunderstandings about being transgender: that sexuality and gender definition are two distinctly different things. And so a provocative image of Jenner in a bustier for a magazine front cover has done nothing to enhance the public perception of those differences. We don’t need to come across as frumpy, but this was a few inches of skin too far. Caitlyn herself must be delighted with the images as she looks stunning, yet for the rest of us trying to explain that transgender women shouldn’t be perceived as vampish, it was a retrograde step.

There is also a growing presumption that we need to re-write history as a consequence of Jenner’s transition. I appreciate that pronouns are tricky (I still get friends and relations calling me “he” by mistake, even though I have been “she” for several years) but the things that I did as a man were done in that gender. That past I cannot change. Should the medals that Jenner won as Bruce now be revised as successes for Caitlyn? No, Bruce won those accolades, not Caitlyn. There are many things that I’d have preferred to have done with the benefit of hindsight as a woman in my 20s or 30s but I can’t—I was a man then.

This redefinition seems to be growing into other areas too. In Texas and Tennessee a debate has started regarding changing street names celebrating Bruce Jenner—should these be updated with her new name? This is slightly more acceptable as the renaming is supportive of her transition though doubtless there will be detractors to argue that the names should stay, or even changed to something else altogether. Thus, there needs to be a balance between supporting who Jenner is now and the desire to change the facts to fit with our revised sensibilities.

I also see an unnecessary backlash. I have read of the premise that transgender women are less female because we didn’t grow up with vaginas. (New York Times June 6th, 2015 “What Makes A Woman” by Elinor Burkett). There, the author claims that feminists and transgender activists are on some sort of collision course. I refute that.

To be clear, I wasn’t a suffragette in 1920s Britain fighting for equal voting rights, nor was I a part of the feminist movement in 1960s America. Does that negate my sense of self that I am a woman? Try telling a black activist that they are somehow ‘less black’ because they didn’t march from Selma to Montgomery and you’d get laughed out of town. And rightly so.

I know I was not born the way I am now, but just because I didn’t go through puberty as a 16 year old girl, or deal with monthly reminders from my updated body, or suffer gender-based discrimination in the workplace, doesn’t make me any less able to call myself a woman. I accept that I have fewer accrued experiences in my true gender but that doesn’t lessen their worth. So, please, let’s move away from the “I’m more of a woman than you are” claims—it makes us sound like men.

It is undoubtedly positive that Caitlyn Jenner has revitalized the transgender conversation, and to see a person at peace with themselves as a result of this change is empowering. She has found balance, the rest of us now need to do the same.

The Second Coming (Out)

In one week’s time, my book “Tea and Transition” will be hitting the shelves. Actually it will be slightly longer before I get physical books-on-shelves coverage in Barnes & Noble and the independent booksellers but it will be available on the virtual shelves of Amazon.com from that date, and in multiple formats too. Among the stress and worry of getting the logistics working in alignment, there is another strange additional emotion I’m experiencing too. I’m not quite what it is, but I think it’s about losing some of my anonymity. Of course I want the book to be a success, so why should I not feel the excitement that other people say they are feeling about the impending release? I put it down to The Second Coming (Out).

It was about 5 years ago that my day to day life started in female mode. I suppose my transition began some time before that and then continued long afterwards too, but in these last couple of years I have felt simply at one with myself. No other surgery to do, no further name changes to worry about, everything had been completed. I’d had all of the awkward (and not so awkward) conversations with friends and family, and everyone (with one or two exceptions) who I knew in my ‘past life’ accepted me as Nicky, and not the guy who came before me. I even stopped caring as much if people saw me as a transgender woman or a woman woman. People simply knew me as Nicky (or Nicola if I am being formal) whether or not they were aware of my previous incarnation. So my past was behind me. I was complete.

Writing the book almost happened by mistake. It started when I began experiencing emotions and feelings that I knew would never happen again. It began as a journal, something for my own benefit that I could use to remind me of the evolution that I was a part of. And yes, sometimes I didn’t quite know what was going on, it just seemed to happen. I got caught up in my own evolution as a natural part of who I seemed to be and what I appeared to be becoming. It was only after several months that I wondered if these scrawlings could become something larger, though I had no idea if anyone else would like to read them. I still don’t.

Completing the book made me think more about what I had been through, though as the time line stopped around 2 years ago, I was actually somewhat disassociated from what I had written. Now it was all about the editing process, how to polish what I had written, and of course, getting it out as a real, physical book. Although everything really did happen exactly as I described, I viewed it more dispassionately as a project I was seeing through to completion and not a baring of my soul to the media. I was still proud of the book – and I am, immensely – but I hadn’t appreciated that with the promotion and distribution of it, I would need to come out all over again.

Of course I am grateful that I am being asked to write pieces for the media to tie in with the book release, and now I am working with a wonderful publicist, I am hoping those requests will gain momentum so that I can bring my story to a bigger audience. However with that comes the need to explain myself again, to have to go through all the emotions that I felt several years ago, and to talk about a period of my life that is essentially over. I know, I get it, that’s what the whole dang book is about and I truly do want it to be a success! But with that comes the personal reminder that I am a transgender woman after all.

The working title for the book for much of its writing period was “The Woman I Was”. I liked the slight ambiguity of the wording and felt that it reflected the concept that I was probably a woman before I realized it myself. But book experts advised me that such a title would be too confusing and might even imply that I was a woman before and am now a man! Jeez, I didn’t want to have that association! Besides, the link with tea is far more appropriate.

One of the broader aims that I have is that, in time, we can do without labels and definitions. Society is getting there and these days we rarely say the (black) actor, the (lesbian) actress, the (gay) runner – because there is simply no need for those added words. Yet still we tend to say the transgender actress. Not always, but often there seems to be the need to qualify that the actress is a transgender actress. Having said that, how would I like to be introduced if I am giving an interview? The transgender author? I am that and so it does make sense – especially as that is what the book is about.

Still, I return to the flux of now having to come out again. I really hadn’t expected to do that a second time, but maybe this is beyond that. Perhaps this is the true finishing point as I lift the final veil of transparency.

Perceptions… before and after the Bruce Jenner interview

Will America be hanging on the every word of Bruce Jenner this Friday?

No, probably not, but it is one of the biggest profile transgender interviews that will appear in the mainstream media. And that means we have to accept the trashy media talking referring to “gender-bending” (a term that makes most trans people roll their eyes at, I know it does me) within the broader discussion of being trans. So I know I should welcome this discussion on US prime time TV but the court is still out on whether this interview will help a broader understanding about what it means to be transgendered, or if it will marginalize opinion. That all depends on how the interview is conducted (Diane Sawyer is likely to have done a very professional job there) and the sort of answers that Bruce gives.

I have wondered about some of the questions that could crop up during the 2 hour special (whittled down to less than 90 minutes I expect, once advertising breaks and needless repetition is taken into account) and these could be quite helpful in making others understand our situation better. Obvious topics like if he is / will be changing his name, whether he presents as a woman all the time, and so whether “he” or “she” is more appropriate, will be asked, but naturally mainstream America also wants to hear the tabloid edition too: Is he taking hormones and will he be having gender reassignment surgery. Those are the knee-jerk questions that Joe Mainstreet has in mind and it will be interesting to see is Diane Sawyer ventures down this road (she probably has to) and in which case, how Bruce answers.

Those were the questions that people asked of me in my early days of transition and although I didn’t take offense at being asked, I also tried to get the point across that these are extremely personal questions and so basically nobody else’s business! Still, those generally are the first questions that outsiders have, and so perhaps maybe this key interview will help get that message across that those topics are rather too intrusive – especially at this stage of a transition.

It certainly can’t be easy transitioning so much in the public eye and you have to empathize with Bruce in that respect. Everything he does in becoming a she is under intense scrutiny, and while you might shrug that off as being all part of the Circus Kardashian Roadshow, the comments and criticism of being so much under the media microscope will be significantly tougher to absorb for Bruce. Some will really hurt. Yes he has got a very sympathetic ear with Diane Sawyer and as such he will be able to control the interview on his terms along with having a platform to express his wishes and concerns, but I suspect that this will just be the first of many inquisitions from the media. Some will be intrusive (that happened as soon as news of some sort of transition came out) but I can only hope that others will be more sympathetic and might just help public perception of what a transgender person has to go through.

Whether this interview will help the overall acceptance and understanding of matters transgender, or whether it will be seen as a side shoot of Kardashian craziness has yet to be seen. I guess we’ll know that answer by 10.00pm this Friday.

Dating issues for transgender women (Number #73 of 648…)

I never imagined that it would be easy dating as a transgender woman, but sometimes the turns of events surprises even me. For a start, once upon a time I was a heterosexual man and dated women. Now I am a heterosexual woman and date men. That’s probably the biggest surprise of all to me throughout my whole transition. Honestly, I never really expected that. However the reactions of men who I date – or at least try to date – now are far more complex.

I know, I get it. There are a whole bunch of emotions and feelings that any straight guy has to confront and deal with if they are to embrace (figuratively and literally) a trans woman.

“Oh my goodness! I like someone with a Y gene, so that must mean I’m gay!” (So therefore I must stop dating them immediately.) Yes, that really is a sentiment that trans women have to deal with; the perceived suddenly-I’m-gay aspect of someone who likes them. And usually, if the guy thinks that way, then it will be pretty hard for them to get beyond that. However recently I had a different experience that at least showed another aspect of the male mind that I’d not considered. First, let me set the scene…

I had been out on two dates with a guy I had met on Match.com. And I should add that although I don’t specifically say that I am trans on my Match.com profile, there is a great big paragraph that alludes to it. So my thinking is that if a guy has read through the profile and absorbed even most of it, then they should have a clue about my gender background. But of course men focus on the pictures, and not on the “specific gender history that may scare many away” that I mention in my profile. So perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised when guys skip over that paragraph and just look at the chick-pics.

Anyway, these first two dates had gone pretty well. The first was dinner at a nice restaurant in Chelsea, the other a trip out on the Staten Island Ferry followed by noodles in Chinatown. I felt easy and relaxed about this fellow though I wasn’t sure how I felt about him physically and personality-wise too. Some guys I can really fall for, this one I wasn’t so sure about. But I know I have to be more open to guys that I might not normally think of as “my type” (and I’m still honing what that is) so I really wanted to not be too shortsighted too soon. But how did I feel about date #3?

In some dating circles, date #3 is the sex date. Come on, don’t deny it! Sure, not for every new couple (especially the ones who got hot and heavy before #3) but it certainly is the time when that conversation has to happen, even if not the act. On the first couple of dates he (and let’s call him “Bob” for the sake of argument) had wanted to hold hands with me (as I did with him) and although there had been a little kissy-kissy, nothing that involved tongues (which I kind of feel is a declaration of intent) we’d not even touched on the metaphorical physical. So when he offered to come over to my neighborhood in Queens for date #3 I thought nothing of it.

I chose a Greek diner in my ‘hood which ended up being far worse than I remembered it. Still, ever the gentlemen, he paid the bill but I offered to take him somewhere else for dessert. (And I’m meaning actual dessert, not the metaphorical kind again.) Conversation up to this point had been flowing but somewhat uninspiring too. But there are only so many ways to skirt around my history, especially when I also need to talk about what I am doing now – getting my book published. I think I often feel some sort of need to unburden too, like the freedom of not having to keep a secret anymore.

As has happened with others before him, he could also sense that something was on my mind. However the decision to let him – or anyone – into my circle of understanding is really only something I can do, nobody else. This is not something that can be discussed in committee. It is I who has to decide on the right time, and figure out if that announcement might come with an adverse reaction. And if so, might I even be in danger from that unburdening. I’d already figured that “Bob” was unlikely to throw a left hook at me if I told him the news, but I still wasn’t sure what his likely reaction would be. And once spoken, there really is no way to take it back. And the choice for when and how to break the news can only come from me.

After some probing as to what was on my mind, I figured I’d try the easy slide in.

“I wasn’t always this way.”

He seemed confused and didn’t get the gist. With a more graphic flowing of my arms to signify a change from top to bottom, I repeated it again with a slightly different intonation.

“I wasn’t always THIS way.”

Maybe it as the combination of the intonation, repetition, and visual aids, but I sensed that the penny was dropping, if not completely on the floor. Strangely though, I didn’t feel much emotion in delivering this message. My record to date when I have done this is of total rejection. 100% with no exceptions. With this guy I imagined it would be the same, but I didn’t mind so much as I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to see him again anyway.

“It seems like you were putting yourself up to fail” he said.

“Well, my record at these moments is not good. Rejection is a given.”

“But it needn’t be.”

He was right, perhaps I had downplayed my prospects and assumed that rejection was obvious. But then he added that I really should have preempted my disclosure by saying that regardless of what I was about to say, I still wanted him. He was afraid of having his feelings hurt.

“So I should have told you differently so not to hurt YOUR feelings?!” I found this logic totally bizarre. “I’ve just told you the single most important thing in my life, and you are afraid that I’ve hurt your feelings?”

The conversation was two nudges off becoming acrimonious and my defenses were up. It seems that he had also come over to my ‘hood hoping for the next stage – even if that didn’t necessarily mean a roll in the hay. We tossed around other options and I felt strange reassurance that the conversation was at least continuing. He hadn’t known anything about my past, and still he was somewhat interested in me – physically – even after that revelation. But that didn’t mask my own feelings of indifference towards him. I just didn’t think he was my type, regardless of me knowing what that type is. I was open to having another date with him if only to disprove that, but it seemed he wanted to hear that I felt passionately close to him, rather than that I was interested in seeing where this series of dates went and so we should try one or two more.

“Lots of couples around the world sleep together, even though they may not be sure whether they are The One” he added.

True, but I still didn’t want to invite him back to sample my bedlinen.

We left the restaurant (after two over-sweet Greek pastries and custard that was downright disappointing) and cowered under one umbrella as the rain fell all around us. We kissed. More passionately than we ever had before. That tested my resolve. It surprised me too, but maybe emotions were heightened after emotional upset. Perhaps I should give him a chance on the horizontal? No, my apartment was a mess and I had work the following morning. So we parted on rather uncertain terms and I walked home.

I didn’t hear anything for the next week, and so to avoid the loose ends I dislike in relationships (even ones where I’m not even sure if they are relationships yet) I texted him. “So I’m guessing we’re done, right?” I didn’t feel anger, though I was frustrated that a guy who seemed to think that my past wouldn’t be an issue, then realized that it was.

Th following day he called me. That was a surprise. He had been trying to come to terms with my situation. That part was understandable. When you think you know someone, only to realize you don’t, well that does take some re-acclimatization. But I valued that he wanted to talk with me.

“Maybe you should date bisexual guys” he suggested.

“What has that got to do with it?” I countered. “Sexuality and gender are two different things.”

“But if you were once a man and are now a woman, then wouldn’t that work better?”

I tried to explain that I was attracted to men and I was a woman so that the bisexual angle was totally irrelevant, and it was rather skewing his understanding of the situation.  I also tried to explain a far more tricky thing: that I really wasn’t that attracted to him. There are only so many ways you can do that politely, and so I tried to explain that the balance of our affections was not quite in sync. We said our goodbyes, and he mentioned that he’d like to continue the conversation sometime. As yet (a week or so on) that hasn’t happened, and it’s probably best that it doesn’t.

I have never liked being rejected, but I found the prospect of openly rejecting someone else even more daunting.

Bruce Jenner and the Marketing Empire

Let me state for the record that all matters Kardashian have zero interest for me. In fact, beyond that, I really see no point in celebrity-ism for the sake of celebrity-ism. The fact that the Kardashian siblings have captured media interest over the years – and that so much of America buys into that interest – is a first rate example of marketing a product that has no intrinsic value. Part of that savvy business sense is the ability to shock us, amaze us, and titillate us at every turn, so that none of us lose interest. When there is even a hint that The Public might be getting bored with one aspect of their family life, they throw in another factor. Like getting married for 24 hours, or a week, or however long it was that Kim was married first. So when I hear the news that Bruce Jenner was transitioning, I wondered if there was more to this announcement than met the eye.

Look, I am a transgender woman. I have transitioned. I support wholeheartedly all others who have questioned their gender, or are in the process of that questioning process. It is not something that any of us would chose to do if we didn’t feel it was integral to our well-being and who we absolutely and intrinsically are. It takes fortitude and resilience, and many of us have stumbled at many hurdles along the way. I know I have. So in that respect, Bruce, well done.

For anyone in the public eye, questioning your own gender must be incredibly difficult; following through with those decisions even harder. So for Bruce – the Olympian and athlete – the process of personal acceptance, followed by a likely process of transition (whatever form that takes) is as big an achievement as his gold medal. So why did I feel such skepticism when I heard the news? It is the Kurse of the Kardashians.

Because I mistrust the superficiality of The Kardashian Empire, I fear the spin that is (and will be) associated with Bruce Jenner’s gender situation. But equally, I feel that the courage that he must have had to actually get to this point of self-realization and admission is probably even greater than it would have been had he been in any other area of the media – bearing in mind the celebrity family that he wed into.

Whatever the path that Brice Jenner takes, whichever choices he makes, I truly do wish him the best. Nobody transgender makes these decisions easily, and so they do need the support from those around them. I just hope the rest of the family don’t see this as another marketing opportunity. That would be the saddest crime of all.

A Gender-Neutral Glossary (c/o the New York Times)

This is quite an interesting list of definitions. The article from the NY Times doesn’t state the origin of the list, other than that “students have compiled it.”  In a way, it is self-defeating to have any definitions when the subject is like a palette of infinite colors, but this is still helpful. Heck, I still get confused about gender definitions, and I’m as integrally involved as anyone! I’ve never thought of adding an asterisk after my own trans-ness though. Maybe I should. Nicky* is kind of cool…

Thanks to author Julie Scelfo for this list, which was published in the NY Times on Feb 3rd, 2015.

SEX Classification as male or female or, rarely, intersex (not exclusively male or female). Sex is usually assigned based on external anatomy but is determined by characteristics like chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs.

GENDER Roles, behaviors and activities that a given society considers appropriate for males or females. “Sex” and “gender” are often mistakenly used interchangeably.

GENDER IDENTITY Internal, deeply held sense of one’s gender.

GENDER NONCONFORMING Expressing gender outside of conventions (clothes, behavior) typically associated with masculinity or femininity. Not all nonconformists are transgender.

TRANSGENDER Umbrella term for any gender identity that differs from the one associated with the sex assigned at birth.

TRANS* Short for transgender, with the asterisk meant to indicate the wide range of identities beyond the norm.

GENDERQUEER A gender identity that falls outside of the male/female binary. A third gender.

PANGENDER Having a fluid identity. Might be expressed as both male and female, or shift from one gender to the other. Under the umbrella term genderqueer.

CISGENDER Possessing the gender identity commonly associated with one’s biological sex. “Cis-” is a Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as.”

TRANNSEXUAL Out-of-favor term for those who alter their bodies hormonally or surgically to align with their internal gender identity.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION Romantic, physical attraction, be it homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, asexual, polysexual, pansexual.

About the publishing process

I’ve been having great interactions with the publisher on all types of formatting and cover design for the ebook, soft back edition, and hard back edition. Initially I was disappointed that I would not be going the traditional publishing route and choosing the self-publishing route instead. Having had these great interactions about fonts, graphics, images, cover designs, and goodness knows what else that goes into the publishing process, I am really delighted that I am self-publishing in this way. No traditional publisher would give me such artistic freedom to be involved in the creative process so much, and I thoroughly like being “hands-on”. The other upside is that the ebook, softcover, and hardcover editions will be out this spring. If I went with a traditional publisher, then it might not even hit the shelves in 2016. I can’t wait that long!

There are many do’s and don’t’s when it comes to self-publishing, and I don’t claim to know all the answers, but working with a strong editor is integral to the process. Thankfully I found a fantastic one, who has really brought out the best in me. Thank you Lori! Also the team at Telemachus Press are coming up with some excellent results in the publication process.

After about 5 years of writing and filtering down what I wanted to say, I am now ready to tell my story.

“Tea and Transition” is on the way!

Publishing day is getting closer!

About five years ago, I started writing a journal, or a diary as us Brits more often say. I was transitioning and although I didn’t know and certainly couldn’t foresee what was ahead of me, I knew that the path I was taking was unique, and something that I would never do again. Of course every life is unique, and the transitioning of every transgender person likewise, but I wanted to log feelings and experiences as they happened to me. That journal eventually evolved into the book that will will be published in spring 2005 through Telemachus Press.

The book is called “Tea and Transition” and will be the subject of future blog posts, and has a dedicated website too, that I am putting the finishing touches to. That will be found at www.nicolajanechase.com.

The process of writing – and now publishing – a book is a mix of exciting, daunting, exasperating, and thrilling. It is also a little unnerving as I prepare to tell the world many of the intimate and personal details that now are only mine but soon will become public knowledge. But the time is coming, and I am ready to tell the world of all the experiences that have happened to me. Of love, the human spirit, and how one heterosexual man became one heterosexual woman.