Checking In

Its been a while since I have posted on this blog.  I’ve been busy as hell on my fashion blog but that’s not really an excuse.  There have been a few reasons I have been quiet here.  One is the RL has been very busy and stressful.  There have been some major changes at work that have impacted me more than I expected they would.  I’ve also had some family/social things that I have had to address.  With all of that, as much as I hate to say it, delving into the camera and posting on a fashion blog for SL has seemed much more relaxing.

Fortunately, the fashion blogging does help me process quite a bit too…just in a much more symbolic way.

Despite this though, its also just been hard to get thoughts and emotions into words here lately.  Diving into symbolism has been, just…easier.

So…a quick and dirty summary of some of what has been going on…

  • My sister in law still has not spoken with me.  In fact, at a couple of recent family events, she has walked away from conversations where I am discussed and has not acknowledged me or my letter to anyone in the family.  Sadly, I expected this…at least for a while.  I still hold out hope that she will accept me in the future.
  • I disclosed to my step-father who was nothing but supportive of me.  This man amazes me more and more every day of my life and I love him dearly.  He came into my life when I was a child, about two years after my biological father died, and really has loved me as though I am his own child.  I am so grateful for him and love him dearly.
  • There have been big changes at work.  My boss, who is also one of my best friends, left for a job in Texas.  Her leaving has been difficult as I no longer get to see a woman who I respect so much and has been such a supporter of me in all areas of my life.  I know our friendship will never end…but I just miss seeing her every day at work.
  • The summer term is almost done and I am gearing up for the fall term with school, which also means completing my internship and finally graduating.
  • With my boss leaving, I was originally told to expect to be promoted to Interim Director, with the possibility of assuming that position permanently.  They decided to go with someone else as the director and while I normally handle not getting jobs I have sought very well, this one has stung and has really rattled my belief in my organization and more immediately, my direct leadership.
  • Anxiety is a bitch and has led me to become a bit more reclusive as my physical appearance changes more but people who don’t know me as well still see me as the same ‘ol me.

A whole lot I could discuss today.  I think today though, I want to talk a bit about the anxiety I have been experiencing lately.  Most of those I know who have transitioned have described similar incidents, so I don’t think I am alone in this.

This whole “transition” triggers so much anxiety at times that its hard to describe it all in terms others would understand.  It’s weird…I have no problem going to work.  I have no problem going to my internship.  I do those every day without flinching.  I attend all my meetings at work without issue.  If I am asked to do things or attend events with people who know I am transitioning, I can go no problem.

It’s everything else that’s eating at me and making me start to become very reclusive in my RL.

As I look in the mirror each day, I am starting to notice subtle changes.  I am finally able to notice my hips and butt starting to develop more since starting injections.  My breasts continue to develop and are almost to the point where they will be impossible to hide.  I see more shifts in my face, particularly as my eyes and cheeks begin to change.  And my hair…the one thing everyone notices…is almost to the point where I can pull it back into a ponytail.

What does this mean?  Lots of questions and they are typically being asked in settings where I don’t feel comfortable talking about it and/or with others around who I don’t think have any need to know that I am transitioning.

So what have I done?  I have started to withdraw in RL.  I don’t go out much anymore.  I have this bubble of safety in my home where no one can bother me and my dog will help protect me.  My social life is carried on primarily through texting or phone calls with those closest to me in RL and through the digital window called Second Life, where I typically feel very safe, secure and dare I say even confident in myself.

Does this anxiety and fear impact my decision to transition at all?  Hell no.  I am doing what I need to do.  I won’t stop.  But I had shared in a previous post about how transitioning is not glamorous or easy as some people try to make it out to be.  I can tell you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is scary as hell and very isolating at times…at least at this point in the journey.

I shared these feelings last night for the first time with a friend as an intense sense of loneliness has crept into my life recently.  That’s not something I have felt in a long time.  Having said that, let me say that I feel lonely…not alone.  I know I have not been forgotten or abandoned…I just feel like I am alone on some island at times.  I know some of what is driving that feeling is my fear and anxiety.  I know some of it is my own doing as well.  I can also tell you that some of it is because of this…while some people will always stand by you, I have witnessed some who slowly disappear into the shadows as they begin to notice the physical changes.  Its one of those realities I am having to learn to accept.  Its in times like these you discover who your true friends are.

Why do I share this today?  Partly to get it out there in the open and out of my head as that it is only making it worse.  I am also putting it out there because as I am experiencing some of this anxiety, I am noticing that it is impacting how I react with others in SL too.  The one place I should have no fear of being me, I occasionally find that fear creeping in.  But then again, I have always said our real life traits do trickle over to SL, no matter how much we try to deny it.

If I get quiet and don’t reach out to you as much, please don’t take it personally because it IS NOT personal.  Sometimes, its hard to talk about all that’s in my head and so avoidance can be easier even though it isn’t healthy.  But also don’t be afraid to reach out to me as well.  I take full accountability for my own actions, or lack there of, in not reaching out to others as much as I could/should.  Its been easier to hide behind the lens of a camera in SL and to try to block those feelings out than to admit them and confront them.  So if you don’t hear from me, please know I am not ignoring you and I have not forgotten about you.  I am just feeling very overwhelmed these days with my emotions and where things are for me mentally.  I would still love to hear from you because I do cherish each of you and all of your support.

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Silence Can Be Deafening

The past couple of weeks have been rough emotionally.  There has been a lot of waiting to hear from people, both on personal issues and professional issues.  Throw in some disappointing news professionally and I admit it has been really hard to talk or write about what’s going on in my head.  This has been the first major series of events that have occurred since my estrogen levels finally hit their target.  Talk about a whole new emotional response!

LetterTwo weeks ago today, I sent a letter to my sister in law disclosing my transition.  I shared the letter with my sister before I sent it and she said it was one of the most heartfelt letters she had ever read.  Not only did I disclose my being transgender in the letter, but I also shared my previous mental health history and much of what I struggled with in my life and how important she and the kids, and relationship with them, are to me.  I acknowledged that I knew this would not be easy for her and that while I hoped she wouldn’t reject me, I would respect her wishes if she did.  I also included an FAQ of the 10 most common questions I am asked by people when I disclose.

I sent it two weeks ago and my sister in law received it the next day.  I had sent it overnight mail due to the family wedding I wrote about before.  She needed the information prior to the wedding so that neither she nor the kids were blindsided by some stray comment from one of my disapproving aunts or uncles.

Silance AnswersSo I mailed it with my hands literally shaking as I worked with the postal clerk to get it shipped overnight.  And her response?  Nothing.

When I say there has been no response, I mean no response.  She has not attempted to contact me in any way.  Over the weekend of the wedding, my sister tried to talk with her about it all to get a read on where my sister in law was.  My sister in law refused to acknowledge me at all in their conversations.  She wouldn’t say my name.  Nothing.

When my sister finally filled me on Wednesday, we both acknowledged that my sister in law may still be process the news.  I obviously dropped a bomb on her.  I directly challenged her view of many things in the world and many of her moral beliefs in that letter.  I know reading it must have been incredibly hard for her and I do not, in any way, want to take away from any struggles she is having in getting that news about me.

Silent RejectionThe wait is killing me though.  My sister and I both believe her silence and failure to acknowledge me in discussions with others as a rejection of me.  We do that not out of speculation but because that is her patterns of behavior when confronted with controversial topics.  I am trying, as many of you have suggested, to give her the benefit of the doubt.  I also acknowledge that if she is rejecting me now, as my sister and I believe, she may come around as the dust settles from my announcement.  That is pretty much what I am hoping for at this point.

One thing I have learned in life and especially in my counseling program and internship is that silence often speaks louder than words.  Silence can speak both love and support, as well as rejection and hate.

The key for me right now is to accept this silence, what it means and make sure I take care of myself through this.

The Family Wedding

Its been an interesting seven days for me.  There have been some incredible highs this week.  There has been a fair amount of anxiety.  There has also been sadness, anger and frustration.  One thing I really do love about this journey is I am much more cognizant of my emotions now than I used to be.  I also allow myself to experience and process the emotions in healthier ways.  Sometimes it can be difficult to talk about them…but that has become much easier for me as well.

I’ll get to the highs and anxieties in another post.  Right now, I want to discuss the sadness, anger and frustration.

359469e3feb05100c09581c10037ce3cIf you have followed this blog or my Facebook page, you know that in early April, some members of my family rejected me.  Some aunts and uncles on Mom’s side decided that my transitioning to live a healthier and happier life was wrong, for whatever reasons they had.  The beliefs of one aunt and uncle were so stronger, I was told I was not to attend the wedding of one of my favorite cousins.

When I met with this aunt and uncle to discuss my transition, I was told that my transitioning was going against God’s will.  I was told I was “too unique” to be at the wedding, which I interpreted to mean these family members saw me as a freak.  My uncle even went so far as to say he felt I was trying to use his daughter’s wedding as a “coming out party.”  I was also told that my transitioning was the same as someone who chooses to abuse drugs and/or alcohol.  This event with my family was the first time I had been rejected and I admit, it hit me pretty hard.

Since that happened, I have done better.  I have still been hurt and all with what my family said to me, but I decided I was not going to allow that to cause me to love them less.  I reminded myself I can be angry with them and hurt by them and still love them.  I reminded myself that their actions define them.  Their actions do not define me.  My response to them is what defines me.

So I was doing well with all of this until this weekend.  Why was I doing better UNTIL this weekend?  Well, the wedding occurred last night.

For the past week, on my real life Facebook page, I have seen post after post from family members talking about how they were so excited to have the whole family together to celebrate the wedding.  Well…guess what…?  The whole family wasn’t there.  And its not like a wedding I missed in 2016 because of a snow storm.  I was blatantly told not to attend the wedding.  I never received an invitation.  I was told I was unwelcome at the wedding because I am “unique.”

quote10Much of the sadness, anger and frustration has returned over the past few days.  I admit that last night, I sat on my sofa and hoped that my aunt and uncle, at some point during the course of the wedding, thought about how poorly they treated me.  I hoped that their actions somehow impacted them on this day of celebration by reminding them that after all the years of telling me I needed to do what I needed to do to be healthy and happy, they rejected me and told me I was not welcome after I have started down the path that has me healthier and happier than ever before.

I don’t regret these feelings.  I didn’t want my cousin to think about it.  I didn’t want anything to ruin the wedding.  I just wanted my aunt and uncle to remember that for all their talk of love and acceptance, they made a choice to not act as they speak.  I don’t know.  Maybe that desire is wrong?  Maybe not.  All I know is its what I felt.

I still love this aunt and uncle.  I don’t like their choices lately, but I still love them.  As much as I disagree with their choice to exclude me, I did make sure to respect it and all the other things they asked of me that had to do with my cousin and the wedding.  I’ve had no contact with my cousin since disclosing to her, at my uncle’s request.  I wonder if they even told me cousin they told me not to attend or if they lied to her and told her I had RSVP’ed that I couldn’t be there.  I’ll probably never know the truth but then again, I am not the one who has to live with making that choice, whichever it was.

The good thing is I know I will be ok.  That has a lot to do with all of you who support me and encourage me to “be me”  every day.  I know it is just who all of you are, but that acceptance and love of me as me…you have no idea how much it lifts me up every day.  Thank you all.

Photo Signature

 

Emerging From The Shadows

Normally when I write a post, at least for this blog, I write the post and then look for a picture that suits what I am writing about. This post…I took a picture and realized what it symbolized and that drove my writing today.

Let me start out saying that this week has just been a hard week. There are three big things happening for me. First, I sent a letter to my sister in law telling her I was transitioning. Second, I am calling my step father tonight or tomorrow to let him know I’m transitioning. Third…this weekend is the big family wedding that I was “uninvited” from and basically told I wasn’t welcome there. It has made for a week of high anxiety for me.

I was exhausted yesterday. Thanks to work, I had been up for 26 straight hours Monday and only slept like three hours during the day on Tuesday. Obviously that left me with a splitting headache and I wasn’t feeling very social. It also magnified my anxiety and emotional response to everything.  I don’t isolate often, especially in Second Life, but I did yesterday. I buried myself in my photography as I tried to work on a few posts for my other blog. I was struggling significantly to get pictures I was happy with…so I just set aside the items I needed to write about and decided to work on any other kind of picture. Something just for me. Something I could just play with to occupy my mind and distract myself.

I let feeling guide me through most of the picture…everything from the pose to the lighting to the editing. No thoughts…just instinct really. I finally reached a stopping point and I looked at the picture. I just sat there and stared at it for a moment. Do I think it was the best picture I have ever worked on? No. Not at all. But I do believe it is one of the most symbolic pictures I have ever done. The final result is what you see in this post.

So much of my life, I’ve stayed in the shadows. Sure, I socialized and made friends and took part in activities, but I never let anyone get close enough to know me. I never had let the true me out. Until last year when I started disclosing, I kept who I really am hidden from everyone due to the fear of rejection, judgement on something that in no way defines me as a person and fear of persecution.

As I have started to come out of the shadows in real life, I am finding a new me that I never knew and I love her more than I thought was possible. When I am around those who know I am transitioning and have accepted me, I am much more relaxed and natural. My hands don’t shake. I don’t get the nervous foot tap I have been known for all these years. I get to be me without fear of judgement, ridicule or rejection. I am falling in love with the person who is coming out of me and I believe it is making me a better friend, family member and human being.  Hiding in the shadows left me feeling exhausted all the time and questioning my personal values because I lived a lie for so much of my life.

As I come out of the shadows and really discover myself through this process, I have to confront every fear and I anxiety I have ever had.  Its scary at times, especially when we face possible rejection.  I find myself often being reminded of a famous quote by FDR.  You may recognize it.  FDR said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”  Thankfully, I decided living was far more important than living this lie.  

I think one of the hardest parts of this is that as exhausting as the darkness, lies and keeping myself hidden are, I don’t have to face rejection, ridicule or discrimination if I remain in the shadows.  That is part of what lead me to stay hidden for so long.  There are days, particularly when I am extremely tired, where I start to step back into the darkness instead of pressing forward with disclosing and being honest with the world.  But the more I step out into the light and show who I really am, the less I want to go back to that dark place.

Shadows are definitely one common characteristic in most of my pictures.  I have always known it symbolized me coming out from who I was pretending to be and showing the world who I actually am.  This picture though, for me, speaks to me more about stepping out into the light more than any other I have done.  My goal is to eventually have all of my face in the sun…my face turned up to the sky feeling the sun warm my skin with the hiding behind me and living in front of me.

My Mother’s Eyes

For most of my life, people have told me I look a lot like my mother. It’s true. My brother and I both resemble Mom so much there was no question who our mother was. My sister always resembled Dad more. We always had some good laughs about that growing up as we tried to figure out exactly how it happened that boys looked more like Mom and the daughter looked more like Dad.

For so many years, I always said I wished I looked more like Dad. Some thought that meant I wasn’t happy with the way I looked or I didn’t appreciate what Mom had done for me. That wasn’t the case at all. Part of it had to do with the fact I was only 8 when Dad died, so it was that idea of being able to look in the mirror and see him every day. The other part was this idea that if I looked more like Dad, maybe I wouldn’t struggle with my gender identity. Maybe I would be happy as a man if I looked more like him. I know it may sound silly, but when you’re struggling so much…you look for anything to explain away the pain and suffering you go through on a daily basis.

Now let me say, Mom was a beautiful woman. I don’t have a lot of pictures of her from when she was younger, but the ones I do have…she was gorgeous. In high school, she was a cheerleader and homecoming queen. In college, she was president of her sorority and the queen of whatever festival they had (her college was all women and so there was no homecoming). As much as I denied it to the world around me, I would have given anything to look like her.

Over time, as I tried to “accept” the fact I would never be seen as a woman in life, I started to enjoy the fact I looked more like Mom. It didn’t resolve my gender dysphoria, obviously. However, it did give me this one piece of femininity that I could hold on to as I tried to go through each day pretending all was right in my world and that I was this “man among men.” Yeah…didn’t work at all and only made things worse.

As I began my transition, there were nights I secretly prayed I would resemble Mom even more. I still want those traits of Dad that I have…but Mom was so beautiful that I just hope…every night…that I’ll resemble her in a way only a daughter can. Most days though, I look in the mirror and it’s like, “Nope…not even close.”

Now let me say briefly, it is very hard for me to see the changes in my physical appearance because I see myself in the mirror every day. Some say I should do weekly pictures…but I hate that because I would end up picking each week’s picture apart to the point it would drive me crazy.

You know what though…ever now and then, I catch a glimpse of Mom looking back at me.

The other day, I was getting ready for work. My hair is long enough now that I get those lovely tangles every day. So I was in front of the mirror brushing my hair and I looked in the mirror out of the corner of my eye and I saw it…

I saw changes. I saw a difference in my face. I saw Mom looking back at me. I saw someone much more feminine in appearance staring back at me.

I stopped brushing my hair, sat on my bed and just cried. There was a feeling of progress there that I can’t find the words to explain.

On this journey, I have cried a great deal. More than I ever expected to. Most of my tears have been in anger, frustration and fear as we have struggled with my estrogen levels and members of my family have rejected me.

Sometimes though…they are tears of joy and peace.

Sometimes…sometimes…we actually notice the changes when we aren’t looking at old pictures.

I hope I look more and more like you, Mom.

❤️, Tiff

Defining Ourselves

I can’t speak for others, only for myself. Having said that, I admit that I have spent far too much of my life defining myself by the expectations of society, family and friends and less by my own moral standards and acknowledging who I am as a person. We all struggle with this on some level. We all want to fit in and be accepted. We all want to be loved. So we would be stupid to say that it is easy to “just be you.” Let’s acknowledge that this is far more difficult to do than it sounds

img_0191When I watch children, I’m in awe of their innocence and acceptance of others. Most children, if gender identity, sexual identity, race or religion were never discussed with them, would grow up believing that differences are to be embraced and each person is unique unto themselves. Don’t believe me? Just watch a playground full of kids under the age of 8. Almost every single one of those children could care less what color your skin is, what god you worship, who you sleep with or what clothes you want to wear. All they care about is who treats them well and who doesn’t.

Discrimination, society’s standards, the fact the certain differences make us less than others is something society teaches us. It’s something our families teach us. Discrimination and a lack of acceptance is purely an environmental factor. It has absolutely nothing to do with genetics.

I will fully admit that as an adolescent, I held some discriminatory beliefs. Growing up in the south and in one of the last areas of the country to desegregate meant that society taught me that racial minorities were inferior.  Homosexuality was bad.  Not living by the gender you were assigned at birth made you a freak.  And worshiping a different religion made you immoral.  These lessons were a part of my every day life and, at that time, I believed them.  Along with these skewed and blatantly wrong beliefs altering my value system for many years, it also limited my relationships with many wonderful people over time.

Thankfully, I got out of my hometown at a young age.  Thankfully, I learned different views.  Thankfully, I learned tolerance and acceptance of others.  Do I still judge people?  Of course I do.  I am guilty of this.  But my judgement is based on how others behave and how they express their values unto the world and others.

One blessing of working the health care system for over 20 years, particularly emergency medicine, is that you have no say over who you will be taking care.  Whoever becomes your patient or client becomes your patient or client and you cannot allow personal views to skew your treatment of these individuals.  This fact teaches you very quickly what differences matter and what differences don’t.

IMG_1860I have had to learn not to be defined by the standards of a society which has not concept of what it has been like to live in my body. Whether someone accepts my transition or not, it is impossible to explain to someone what it is like to look in the mirror and want to rip your skin off.  Most cannot understand how exhausting it is to force yourself to interact with a world in a manner which truly is unnatural for you.  Most cannot understand how the pitch of your own voice can literally make you nauseous.  The good thing is, I don’t ask anyone to understand it.

It’s impossible to understand being in my place unless you have been there.  This is the same as I can never understand the African-American, American Indian, Hispanic, South East Asian or any other racial experience because I have not lived it.  That does not mean I cannot love them as they are and support them every day.  I pray I have done just that for the past 20 plus years since I, hopefully, removed my head from my arse. lol

Funny thing is, nothing spurred these thoughts other than the first meme included in this post.  It speaks volumes to how we should view and define ourselves each day.  Thankfully, the world is becoming a more accepting place.  Thankfully, individuals like myself are finding more acceptance and less intolerance.  Thankfully, those who know me best, I feel, do not see me as transgender.  They see me as a woman, plain and simple.  To those friends who view me that way, you have no idea what your love and support means to me.

<3, Tiff

A Letter of Love

I have written before about my family.  Some of them have rejected me.  Some have accepted me.  There are still some family members I need to tell I am transitioning.  I am preparing a letter to send to some of my extended family.  Its just hard to tell everyone personally with an extended family as large as mine.  The nervousness is just exhausting because I often don’t know how different people will react.

31d7e8563878da1d343e6d1d091b6437When I accepted that I had to take this path, there were four key relationships I was worried about.  First was my sister.  I knew she would accept and support me, so it was just a matter of working up the nerve to tell her.  Next is the relationship with my sister-in-law.  I still have not told her and I know that, at least in the short term, it will be a negative reaction.  My sister-in-law has been very vocal in her belief that transgender individuals are second class citizens.  My hope is that her loyalty to our family in the wake of my brother’s death and seeing me walk this journey will help change her opinion of transgender individuals.  My step-father is third just because he was such a wonderful father to me after my father’s death.  He and I have had our conflicts, but he has loved me as though I were his biological child.  I do believe he will accept me once I tell him.  I just need to tell him face to face to tell him.

The fourth relationship is with my Aunt Porter, my biological father’s baby sister.

My family dynamics growing up were, for lack of better words, very screwed up.  My mother struggled with substance abuse and depression.  Between that and my father’s death, my dad’s brother and two sisters really stepped up to be parental figures to my brother, sister and I.  My dad’s older sister was there, but we never got as close to her.  His brother and baby sister, Aunt Porter…these two truly became parental figures to all three of us.  Porter is the only one who remains of my father’s generation and my sister and I have remained very close to her.  This may sound odd, but when my sister and I hear “motherly advice” in our heads, it isn’t our mother who is speaking to us.  It’s Aunt Porter.

N148 Sea Side Raw ShotI had wanted to tell Porter I was transitioning in person.  Internship had caused a serious delay in taking that step.  As it turned out, Porter’s daughter, who I am very close to as well and shared my journey with back at New Years, decided to go ahead and tell Porter.  She had asked me if it was ok and when she told Porter, she asked Porter not to acknowledge it until I told her.  So Porter sat quiet waiting for me to try and find time to go visit.

That was until my sister told her about the events that occurred with my mom’s family back in April.  Once Porter found out, she decided it was time to put pen to paper and write me a note.

When I checked the mailbox last week and saw the distinctive writing, I knew right away it was from Porter.  When I saw that envelope, I immediately knew that my cousin had told her.

I cried as I read the note from her.  She started out letting me know that she loves me, accepts and respects my decision and that no matter what people may say, she believes that God is with me on this journey…and that she will always be there for me.  I just stood there in the middle of my driveway with tears of joy and relief running down my cheek.

0dd333ce116f6fbac6b9b116dc39b545--transgender-mtf-transgender-peopleAs she always does, Porter than took some time to give me her sage advice on how to deal with my mother’s family.  She reminded me of her own struggles when her son disclosed he was homosexual and she shared with me the lessons she learned on that journey.  While I knew most of what she shared, it helped to reinforce it hearing those words from my surrogate mother.  Aunt Porter has always had this amazing way with words and reinforcing lessons.

Her closing…I’ve actually read it every day since I received her letter.  It says simply…

“I love you- loved you before and will love you always.”

I finally called Porter yesterday and we spoke for about 45 minutes.  It was, honestly, the most open and transparent conversation she and I have ever had…because I am no longer putting up some front to her.  We cried together.  She reminded me how much she loves me.  I reminded her how thankful I am for her.  It was, for lack of better words, an amazing conversation.

Porter is one of those people who, I admit, I want to hear that she is proud of me.  That’s a direct result of the love, respect and support she has shown me throughout my life.  She IS a mother to me.  Before we got off the phone yesterday, she told me she was proud of me for accepting myself and loving myself enough to face this challenge.  I can’t even express the emotions I felt in that moment.  It was beyond powerful.

Thank you, Porter.  I love you and am so grateful for you. <3, Tiff