Saturday, April 21, 2018

Cis-Het Normalcy and Closeted Decisions (part 1: 1970-1996)

Since last Friday, I have had some major positive events which encouraged self reflections and revelations about the initial reasons, meanings and resultant actions with regard to the decisions I have made at every point in my life. These revelations would never have been possible had I remained closeted [-for those of you new to the game, I am a woman who is transgender and have lived with Gender Dysphoria my entire life,. The hidden stress and pain of which remained throughout lifetime: treating it with pious religion, stoic buckling down, cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressants -- none of which worked as I was constantly questioning the why rather than investigating the Truth in reality of nature. My dysphoria only dissipated when I finally made the decision to live openly in my true female gender which I publicly revealed on December 1, 2017. ] This post begins on Friday, April 13 (my lucky number!) when I attended the 14th annual Transgender VoicesFestival hosted by One Voice Mixed Chorus, and enhanced with what became a brief impromptu gathering of four transwomen over 45 at Crooners Lounge this past Thursday night. 

In both of these experiences, as I have been discovering since coming out, is that conversations are free and I am able to include authentic emotions and reactions in my face-to-face interactions. Gone is the constant guarded shell under which I concealed my true self. As a now 48 year old (who first joined the Internet at the age of 26 (as one of 16 million people around the world at that time) and got her first cell phone at 37) I have to say after being surrounded by so many younger trans women, men, and gender non-binary individuals, I came away feeling both excited and proud, but also more than a little envious of the loving support many of them have through the benefit of peer-reviewed resources, knowledgeable healthcare professionals, and open communities that has only been made possible with the advent of the Internet in the mid-late 1990s. 

Some of the hi-lights were singing in a room with about 25-30 other trans and gender-non binary singers. It was a completely cis-gender free space where we could just sing our voice part regardless and not feel uncomfortable. I also attended a choral reading session. This was the first time since the death of my wife, that I sang legit repertoire during a reading session of new music. Quite a bit of overwhelming emotions. 

As I registered, I did not recognize anyone. I mean, I was hopeful I would run into Jane, the artistic director of OVMC. We were in graduate school together, and I nearly came out to her back in Spring 2001 in our Early Music study group, but decided against it. We saw each other once again years later when my children were very young. It wasn't until the very first sessions that we met again, this time seeing me for the woman I have always been. Later in the day we caught up with each other. And then Venus de Mars and I found each other. She had been one of my friends and confidants for the past 20 years, so we hit the morning sessions together. - (Venus founded her band All The Pretty Horses in 1994 and is currently presenting speaking engagements for her up coming book on the Trans Roots of Punk.

Xenia and Venus
Friday, April 13, 2018
Before that reunion, I got myself a coffee and invited myself to a table of about 5 other attendees a mix of cis-het artistic directors, trans and non-binary individuals. All of whom were about 20 years younger than me save one, a trans woman who served in Viet Nam and had come out just a few years earlier. As I took it upon myself to pull everyone out of their isolated cell-phone texts, We made introductions the younger attendees related mostly positive experiences regarding their affirmation. Contrasted to older transwoman who recounted a painful and isolated experience, divorce and rejection from her son after coming out 2 years ago. This is really all too familiar a story from those of us of Gen Xers, Boomers, and older generations. We not only have to contend with our own upbringing where there existed no information regarding our Identities, but also the biased social constructs held by our peers and older generations.

And this is a really important distinction to make. In hindsight for those of us who are older, it is really easy to wallow and get angry with our loved ones and society who were then not supportive, rejected us, ignored us, didn't help us. No one had the language to describe our experience. I myself am naturally inquisitive so rather than just living as the woman I am, I constantly questioned, "Why is it that when I sleep, I always appear in my dreams as a girl…and as I grew older - a woman?", "Why am I attracted to women." "Why, if I have male parts, do I feel removed from them, why am I frustrated that my body, my form isn't developing into a woman? Will I ever get to experience bearing and caring for my own child?" etc.

There was no information out there for me to find, and I was far too scared to ask an adult. So the fact that I had no information to help me, How could anyone who does not have these feelings, thoughts and experiences even find a starting point to help me understand?
The thing about being closeted for so long is the insidious effect it has on creating depression and its unseen impact upon every decision one makes to align with Cisgender-Heterosexual normative societal expectations. Even 4 1/2 months out of the closet, I still found myself being mindful of the cis-het normalcy of others, when I should be focusing on what is right for me. 

Michaela, Jendeen, and Xenia
What I have discovered is that I made many decisions in my life in a state of clinical depression, but I did not recognize I was depressed until very late. Unlike my experience now where I don't really care what people think about my appearance, my attitude then was that Passing was a necessity. I never wanted anyone to know I was assigned male at birth (AMAB), I just wanted to be incognito live, congregate and be free as the woman I am.

When I applied to colleges in 1987, I knew I needed a break from my past, so I began using my given middle name, "Christian" which for a time I shortened to "Chris" because of its gender neutral implications [I began using the traditional abbreviation Xn or X-ian from which I ultimately derived my true name Xenia]. I also remember nearly checking the Female box on my enrollment forms. Ultimately I relented and checked the male box because I didn't want to confuse anyone or cause problems the very first day. I also made the decision to live in Ylvisaker Hall which would ensure that I only had 1 roommate instead of Brandt which even though it was right next to the Music building, I would have to live with 3 other male roommates, and I didn't think I'd be able to handle that stress well at all. [* my senior year I got a single on 3rd Floor Larsen - this helped greatly!]

Then came the decisions surrounding my degree choice. After being awarded a music scholarship from the Iowa Arts Council and having a pretty good music pedigree as both a vocalist and instrumentalist, I had initially intended on getting my double major in Music Composition and Philosophy with a vocal performance emphasis as an operatic lyric baritone. While I did not care for the way my vocal coach was treating my voice, I also had some severe dysphoria regarding the fact that I could never realistically live as a woman and have this baritone voice, and I didn't have the courage to say, can we work on developing me as a countertenor because I didn't want people to think I was gay (this was 1988 after all). So instead of focusing on music I decided to switch to Classical Languages. I am actually glad I got the degree in Classics because I would never have learned them anywhere else.

I also cut my hair short the day after I turned 19 years old-- thinking for a time, okay I am 19 I am just going to buckledown and focus on being a guy.---I cried the very next morning realizing what I had done missing my hair and looking very much like a guy. The very next weekend was the first time I got drunk (in someones room on 5th floor Dieseth on 2 Coors Lights and who knows how much Mad Dog 20/20 -- I will never touch either ever again ;) ). In hindsight I abused alcohol as a means to alleviate the pain of gender dysphoria. And decided I would never ever cut my hair short again.

So I grew long hair under the guise of being a Heavy Metal musician. I didn't care at all for the pop-metal on the radio (Poison, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, RATT etc), but at least by adopting their appearance I could pass off myself as a metal musician and thereby protect myself from abuse. (At the time there wasn't an understanding of what gay was let alone transgender--assumptions of either would get the shit kicked out of you, ostracism and far worse…). At least this way I could still hang with women, even if they thought I was a guy and they could still find me attractive even if I adopted a feminine appearance. That was pretty important to me because I am in no way attracted to men. I am a lesbian. 

In other circles I would explain my hair as channeling my ancient Celtic Warrior Spirit which I named "Grianeala" or "Solar Swan." (Eala / Ella) for short. What I didn't say was that the warrior spirit I was channeling was based upon Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni who led a revolt against Roman forces in Britain in 60/61 CE after the Romans stole her land, beat her and raped her 2 daughters. I began writing a Heavy Metal opera on her life and struggle as a high school student in 1987---its undergone a number of revisions and I still have yet to finish it--30 years later.

Finally in Spring of 1991 I was living in Nottingham, England and decided that I would return to the states, leave Luther College, get a music degree from UNI and then high tail it out of Iowa, leaving everyone I know family, friends et al. and make a new start in Northern California so that I could affirm my true gender where no one would ever know that I was ever a guy-- I did not want people ever to look at me thinking I was some sort of freak -- for a long time this was a major contributing factor as to why I didn't transition for so long. As you know the story goes, that didn't happen, I returned to the states and ended up in a 26 year long relationship with my beloved late wife

The older I got the less realistic I could imagine my appearance ever passing as female, and friends, relatives and new acquaintances would all build an impression of me as a guy. So long as passing was my focus, the likelihood of me transitioning to affirm my true gender would be impossible.

When I began therapy in the 1990s there weren't any physicians or therapists who understood gender dysphoria. One therapist whom I saw suggested that my dalliance with gender variance was fine for college but now I am an adult and need to grow up and put this behind me. Another one indicated that my need to present as a woman was an obsession and I should find other pursuits that would distract me from it. 

I mean looking back on it there wasn't ANY realistic public information readily available to the reality of the transgender experience. The prevailing thought by many was that this was only about clothes…a mere "hobby" to dress as a woman-- or that it was some sort of "fetish" designed to illicit some kinky misogynistic fantasy. And if in the movies or TV shows you needed a socio-pathic killer, what better scapegoat than a "confused man wearing a dress." Or played for laughs to get a Section 8 so they can leave the Korean War.

Then came the advent of the Internet In my first web enabled computer in 1996...

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