30 Things I’ve Learned

Date posted: September 1, 2013

Hey Everyone,

I’m excited to announce that I have my Gender Confirmation Surgery a month from now!  It’s been a long road to get here and now it’s just a few weeks away.  While certainly not everyone needs to have GCS, it’s a big milestone for me and something I’ve been working towards for a VERY long time now. In honor of that, I thought I would post some things I’ve learned from my transition thus far. I hope to post one thing every day up till the day of my surgery. So here goes:

 

#1 I HAVE AMAZING FRIENDS/FAMILY!!!

Thank you to all my wonderful friends, co-workers, cousins, aunts, uncles and especially to my brother, Step-Mom, Mom, Dad and Wife for all of your support & acceptance of me the past 8 years as I have gone from the guy I was to the lady I was meant to be. I could not have done this without all of your help. You guys are the best!!!

 

#2 TRANSITIONING IS LIKE A TRAIN

My therapist told me this the first time I saw her way back in 2001.  At the time I wasn’t sure how far I wanted to take this whole “feeling like a girl” business.  She said I could transition as much or as little as I wanted to.  It was up to me.  That was sort of freeing to hear.  At the time I wasn’t quite ready to ride the gender train, but eventually I was, and I haven’t looked back since.

 

#3 GENDER ISN’T A BINARY

A lot of people assume there are only two genders to be: boy or girl, male or female, man or woman.  The fact is that gender is a spectrum.  Life loves diversity, and this is true for gender identity just as it is for almost everything else.  It would be much more freeing for us all if we didn’t have to choose between pink or blue, or try to fit in one box or the other.

 

#4 GENDER IDENTITY VS SEXUAL ORIENTATION

If there is one question I’ve gotten more than anything else with regards to my transition it’s, “Does this mean you like guys now?” or “Does this make you a lesbian?” A: I don’t know, and probably.  Regardless, someone’s gender is not the same thing as whom they are attracted to.  Gender is how you see yourself; the other is who you’re romantically into.  A lot of folks get this confused since transgender is tacked on to the LGBT alphabet soup.  It doesn’t really fit for the same reasons as the others, but they’re all marginalized.

 

#5 COMING OUT

Trying to tell someone you care for, the person they think you are is incorrect is hard.  As trans folks we are often taught through our culture to be ashamed of our transgender identities.  People fear change & things they don’t understand.  The first time I told my high school girlfriend I liked dressing as a girl it took me 3 hours of agonizing and crying before I could work up the nerve to get the words out.  As more and more people found out, and thankfully took it well, it got easier but it was always a stressful moment.  It’s exposing your deepest emotions and vulnerabilities.  Also it doesn’t help when you come out through email to send it around April Fool’s Day.

 

#6 HORMONING

Before I started taking estrogen, I read online from other trans-women about how wonderful it was.  Colors seemed brighter, sounds were clearer. It sounded like turning into a vampire in some YA paranormal romance.  That was all bulls**t. In reality, my body hair thinned, my fat moved to new locations, I got breasts, and my skin softened…all changes I was hoping for.  As an added bonus, what little acne I had at the time cleared up.

However my voiced cracked from speaking in a higher register and there were mood swings, hot flashes and insomnia.  One of the most interesting things I noticed about being on estrogen was an increased sense of smell. (Note to guys: That why girls dig dudes with good hygiene habits!)

When I recently went off estrogen for a few months, all those wonderful girl attributes started to reverse themselves.  More body hair, acne, my skin became rougher feeling, more mood swings and hot flashes.  It was like being a teenage boy puberty all over again complete with an embarrassing overly active libido.  I’ve never been so glad to be back on estrogen again.

 

#7 A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME

On December 12, 2005 I legally changed my name.  It was a huge moment for me. When the judge decreed, “From this moment on I order your name hereby be changed to Ashley Katheryn Altadonna. Congratulations.” I could hardly believe it! It was a very surreal moment, but it felt great too. I was legally me!

Trans folks deal with a lot of identity issues.  We have added stress of trying to make sure our licenses, ID’s, social security & credit cards match our gender identities and presentations.  I’ve had a relatively easy go of this, but from time to time it has caused some confusion and anxiety when voting, getting married, getting my passport and applying for jobs.

 

#8 TRANSITION HAS MADE ME HEALTHIER

When I was ready to begin my hormone replacement therapy I hadn’t been in a doctor’s office in nearly a decade.  Now I go at least once a year for my annual check up, though part of that is to keep my HRT prescription.  I knew I wanted to take my hormone treatment seriously.  I quit socially smoking, and cut back on my drinking due to estrogen’s effect on the liver.

Since going fulltime I’ve also tried taking better care of myself in other ways. I exercise more often and try to eat better.  Being female and paying more attention to my appearance, I also take better care of my skin and have tried to improve my posture.  I’m not always successful at these things, but I have noticed an overall improvement in my general wellness the past few years.  Sometimes it just takes the right motivation.

 

#9 OVERDOING GENDER

From my own experience and from other’s transitions I’ve witnessed; a lot of trans folks tend to overdo it when it comes to the gender presentation choices they make they begin to transition.  I look back and cringe a little when I see some of the outfits and make-up decisions I wore early on.  I think the reasoning for this is two-fold.

  1. I was trying my best to signal to the world “I AM A FEMALE NOW!”  So I picked the most stereotypical feminine over-the-top outfits available.  I’ve also seen a lot of younger trans men who express their newfound masculinity in a parade of suits and muscle tees along the same lines.
  2. I believe a lot of this is because as trans people we base our gender presentations on what media and society has deemed a male or female person to look like.  If you are basing your wardrobe/hair/make-up choices off TV, movies and magazines…you’re going to look a little off.

It takes a bit before we become comfortable enough in our own newly established genders to start expressing them in more realistic/traditional ways.

 

#10 THE PROBLEM WITH PASSING

“Passing” is a term rife with complications and innuendo.  Originally “passing” was a term used to describe gay or lesbian persons who didn’t seem to “act homosexual” (whatever that means). For trans folks “passing” means to be seen as socially/physically as cisgender (i.e. non-transgender).

I’m fortunate that I tend to “pass” fairly well.  People read me as female when they meet me and as a result I tend to have an easier time (i.e. less harassment, humiliation, discrimination) than many of my fellow transgender brothers and sisters. However, not everyone is able to pass due to physiology or lack of access to HRT and other costly aesthetic procedures.

The problem with passing is that it implies that there is a “correct way” to present as either male or female, and that this ideal is cisgender.  It also suggests that transgender individuals are somehow attempting to fool or trick people into thinking they are cisgender.  This sets up an “us and them” situation with trans folks on one hand and cisgender folks on the other, and those who pass are like spies in the house of gender normativity.

There is no right way to be male or female.  At most, some of us tend to look/act in ways that we as a society deem as “feminine” or “masculine” most of the time.  Trans people who don’t live up to that standard shouldn’t be penalized or victimized for not living up to our culture’s false standards.

#11 PRONOUN TROUBLES

One of the most annoying things I noticed with my transition is how easily and often people slipped up on their pronoun usage.  Instead of using “she” and “her”, people often referred to me as “he” and “him”.  I was never quite sure if this was an intentional slight or an accidental reflex, like muscle memory for your vocabulary.  Most people eventually switched over, but some folks still made/make mistakes years after I’d been fulltime.

Acknowledging someone’s preferred pronouns is really about acknowledging their gender identity, plus it’s just the polite thing to do.  Some trans & gender queer folks prefer to use non-gender specific pronouns like, ze and hir.  If you’re not sure what sure what pronoun to use, “they” is a safer & more respectful way than mis-gendering someone.

 

#12 GATEKEEPING

“Medical gatekeeping” refers to the Standards of Care put in place by medical and mental health professionals to monitor/evaluate and to control a trans person’s access to healthcare.  For transgender persons this means a series of hoops we have to jump through in order to be prescribed hormones, be “cleared” for surgeries as well as effects our ability to obtain certain legal documents, identification, and change our names.

Many people argue that these checks need to be in place in order to assure that a trans person has been properly informed of the effects of transition before proceeding with HRT or irreversible surgical procedures, thus supposedly protecting trans people from themselves, and the medical providers from litigation.  This is often done through psychological evaluations and therapy.

The issue with a lot of gatekeeping is that the therapists and medical professionals overseeing a trans person’s transition, is that have their own expectations of what a transgender person should be.  The “traditional” script for trans women says she should be feminine (wears make-up, dresses and jewelry) and hates her penis and want Gender Confirmation Surgery.

This flies in the face of real life trans women and even cis women (again, there is no right way to be male or female).  As a result transgender individuals often must lie or act the part in order to be granted access to the care they need to deal with their gender dysphoria.  Also gatekeeping is based on the premise that we must assume someone is not really the gender they claim to be and that it is the responsibility of mental health and medical professionals to determine whether or not an individual is “really” transgender.

 

#13 BATHROOM BIGOTRY

When I first came out to a former employer of mine, I naively assumed they would be supportive of me and my transition.  Instead, a member of the Human Resources department was brought in to talk to me.  The big concern they told me was the issue that I feel like I hear the most when it comes to trans people: What bathroom should we use?

I can’t begin to overstate how which restroom a trans person uses, can cause so much panic, confusion, and outright anger in some cisgender individuals.  This issue really comes down to the fear of men being in a space typically thought of as women only (Nevermind the matter of transmen using the men’s room).  There is also the subject of Trans women in “Women-Only spaces”, but I will address later.

The thinking goes that if we allow transwomen to use the ladies room, it will open the door to men posing as women to infiltrate the “sanctity” of the female public restroom, and do God knows what to any unfortunate woman who happens to be taking a powder.

While I’m not trying to downplay the very real fears and concerns of women and girls who have been victims of sexual assault and harassment, the reasoning behind not allowing transwomen to use the ladies room is ridiculous.  It disregards our gender identities as female and assumes us to actually be some sort of deviants out for perverted thrills or malicious intents, rather than the reality of the situation, that we are simply people who need to go just like everyone else.

I cannot even count the number of news articles and reports I have read/seen of transwomen being forbidden, harassed, shamed and humiliated for simply trying to use a public facility.  In some instance, transwomen have even been viciously assaulted for trying to use the bathroom they felt matched their gender identity.  And while I have long since stopped trying to keep track of how many times I transwoman is discriminated in this way, I have not once heard/seen a report of a man dressing as a woman to assault someone in a women’s restroom.

I understand the need for some people to feel protected in a place where one is already in a semi-vulnerable situation like going to bathroom.  But discriminating against an entire group of people because of the fears of what a minority of deeply disturbed individuals “might” do is wrong and needs to stop.  Of course until society begins to see transgender individuals as the men and women they are, this issue is not likely to change anytime soon.

 

 #14 TALKING TRANS

Of the few things I kinda miss most about being a guy is my voice.  Our voice is often a huge signifier of our gender.  Before transitioning I read a lot online about how to create a feminine voice.  I was also a singer, which I believe helped immensely with developing my vocal chards. Regardless, I took a couple of voice lessons with some Speech Therapy students & faculty at a local university.  I was the youngest transwoman in the group and the other ladies viewed my apparent vocal aptitude with a fair amount of scorn and jealousy.

From what I’ve read, transguys have a slight advantage when it comes to vocal presentation.  Testosterone helps many transmen’s larynx grow and develop a deeper and more masculine sounding voice.  Transwomen who don’t take estrogen before the onset of puberty have already had their voice drop and must work to create a more feminine pitch.  Estrogen helps to some extent, but I believe not the same effect as testosterone does for transmen.

A lot of trans women starting out, talk in a Mickey Mouse type falsetto that sounds unnatural or in a softened whisper.  While I understand the difficulty of attempting to create something that sounds natural unforced, we need to be able to speak in a clear and audible tone. I created my female voice primarily by carefully listening to how women speak and trying my best to emulate them.  Yet I still have to work at this myself, as people do always understand me especially when I am addressing strangers.  I no longer have the vocal range I did when I was a guy, but I do sound more feminine.  It’s a trade off I guess.

 

#15 DISORDER OR DYSPHORIA

This past May, the American Psychological Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  The newly released manual, which serves as the authority for the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, made some significant changes to those in the trans community.

Chiefly the new version has changed the term of “Gender Identity Disorder” to “Gender Dysphoria” to attempt to be more accurate and less stigmatizing to those diagnosed.  This is a huge development for those who felt the old diagnosis was debasing and prejudicial. The new revisions also created separate criteria for children, adolescents and adults, and removed subtypes based on sexual orientation.

Like any sort of policy change, this has led to disagreements over whether or not the changes have gone too far or not far enough.  Some feel that, like homosexuality, transgenderism or “Gender Dysphoria” should be removed from the manual altogether.  Others feel that changes will limit the ability of trans people to obtain healthcare options and insurance coverage.

So far this last point has not be my experience.  I have been able to obtain my hormone treatments and be cleared for surgery.  Slowly, I believe more and more medical and mental health professionals are recognizing the need for treatments for transgender individuals as transgenderism becomes further accepted socially.   In fact a growing number of health organizations like the American Medical Association, have expressed their support of the trans community.

Clearly trans folks are not mentally ill.  Given the proper respect and ability to take control of bodies, as we see fit, we thrive and succeed.  If medical professionals and insurance companies deprive persons of that ability then they are shamefully off target.

 

#16 TRANSGENDER CELEBRITIES

I think like a lot of people initially dealing with gender dysphoria, I felt alone.  Growing up I never met anyone who was transgender, and it wasn’t something that was ever talked about.  So I found it fascinating the further I immersed myself in the trans universe, the wealth of transgender role models.

Sure, there are a lot of transgender celebrities…Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, Ru Paul, or Thomas Beatie (aka the pregnant man) just to name a few.  But what I found more exciting were the transgender activists, authors, artists and musicians I might not have heard of had I not transitioned. People like: Julia Serano, Susan Stryker, Kate Bornstein, Leslie Feinberg, Joelle Ruby Ryan, Morty Diamond, Jenny Boylan, Meghan Stabler, Clair Farley, Ladys Victory, Helen Boyd & Rachel Crowl, Phillipe Lonestar, Jules Rosskam, and too many others to name that have motivated and inspired me.

I am fortunate enough to have met and worked with a lot of these incredible individuals.  Thank you all for the amazing things you do guys!

 

#17 THE WAY THE MEDIA TREATS TRANSGENDER

Far too often in the past several years I have read heartbreaking accounts of trans men or women being discriminated against, humiliated, attacked or even killed.  What makes these stories even worse at times is the deplorable reporting with which the media uses.

Often transgender individuals are referred to by their birth name and gender despite guidelines by the Associated Press Stylebook, which states:

“Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”

On screen depictions of trans people are rarely much better.  Trans women are typically depicted as either sex workers or killers or as the butt of jokes again invalidating our gender identities and reinforcing the stereotype that we are merely men trying to deceive ourselves and others. On the other hand, representations of trans men are hardly shown at all.

To make matters worse often times trans characters are depicted by cisgender actors.  I feel it’s completely fair for cis actors to play trans characters but, it is the frequency with which non-trans actors are cast rather than trans actors that I find upsetting.

In the realm of reality tv and documentaries trans folks fair a little better, but even here our trans narratives are often presented with cliché formulas.  Depictions of trans women putting on make-up and feminine attire are frequently sexualized and fetishistic.

Slowly, trans folks are receiving better treatment in the way media presents us.  Transgender characters like Laverne Cox’s Sophia on “Orange is the New Black” feels novel & exciting because she is a more fully formed transgender character, but then again she’s still a criminal.

 

#18 VIOLENCE AGAINST TRANSGENDER

Despite all the other topics I have already mentioned, the most pressing and alarming issue concerning the transgender community is the violence and harassment that far too many of us face.  In 2012, 53% (over half!) of all anti-LGBTQ homicides were transwomen. Trans women of color are routinely more at risk against violence.

Trans folks frequently face violence and harassment from a variety of sources including home, school, work and even by the police.  Trans youth are often abandoned by their families after coming out, and make up a significant portion of homeless populations. Housing and employment discrimination leave trans folks with limited resources and at disproportionately exposed to violence.

Despite the well-documented prevalence of transphobia, a lot of the violence against trans folks is not considered a hate crime.  In fact only 16 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws that cover transgender identities.  In 2009 President Obama signed the Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.  This expanded the former hate-crime law to cover gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, yet every year there dozens of transgender murders (that we know of).

November 20th is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance to, “memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice”. Events and vigils are held in cities around the world.  Until the day comes when trans and gender-variant people are recognized as human beings and not as disposable, I fear there will too many days of remembrance to come.

 

#19 ONE OF THE GIRLS

People sometimes ask me when I knew I was transgender.  Usually I say around the time puberty set in and the differences between me and the girls I knew began to become more apparent.  I can recall wanting to play with the girls as far back as elementary school.  However, the girls at recess didn’t have much interest in an awkward geeky boy hanging around.

I have always considered myself a feminist.  By feminist I mean someone who believes women are just as equal to men and deserve the same rights and respect.  As I began to experience my own womanhood, feminism became even more important to me.  I am very fortunate to have some seriously stellar lady friends in my life that have been instrumental in my development as a female.  These inspiring women go all the way back to high school and have helped see me through college and my transition.

With all this awesome girl power and female bonding going on around me, I was seriously taken aback when I learned that there are a number of women and radical feminists who refuse to recognize transwomen as women. What is confounding about many of these women is that while they don’t believe that “biology equals destiny”, yet they judge transwomen on what we have/had between our legs.  They claim that we were raised with male privilege and no amount of hormones, electrolysis, or surgery will make us “real women”.

A big matter of contention among this crowd tends to be the issue of transwomen in “women only” spaces.  By their reasoning transwomen are invading (and some…ahem, Janice Raymond…have gone as far as saying “raping”) women’s bodies, safety, and comfort when transwomen dare to be part of female groups and activities.  Yet a lot of these women will welcome trans-masculine people openly into their organizations and events.  This is trans-misogyny plain and simple.

Transwomen have a lot to offer feminism and indeed it is crucial that transwomen be part of the feminist conversation.  Those who denounce transwomen as fake and refuse to recognize our femininity are like those girls elementary school who wouldn’t let “boys” be part of their game.

 

#20 TRANSGENDER PEOPLE DON’T REINFORCE THE GENDER BINARY

I have read that some individuals take issue with trans folks because we supposedly “reinforce the idea of a gender binary”.  Their view is that through our transitions trans individuals are somehow trying to fashion themselves into an idealized image of what a “real” man or woman should be, and therefore supporting the notion that men and women should look and act a certain way.  This is notion is flat out ridiculous.

While it is true that for many trans folks attempting to gain access to hormone therapies and surgeries, portraying themselves as overly feminine or masculine is a means of dealing with gatekeepers.  This does not mean that we are reinforcing the gender binary. Instead, this is an unfair burden placed upon trans folks to work within the restrictions imposed by the Standards of Care.

What really debunks this concept is that it holds trans people to a higher standard than cisgender individuals.  If a transwoman is reinforcing the gender binary by wearing make-up and a dress then by the same thinking ANY woman wearing make-up and feminine attire would be reinforcing the gender binary.  Any man who chooses to sport a tie would be reinforcing the gender binary as well.  In other words, if trans people are reinforcing the binary, then we all are.

 

#21 TRANSGENDER IS AN ASPECT

Back in 2006 I made a short film entitled, “Whatever Suits You”.  It was the first film project that I had made after going fulltime as Ashley.  Shortly after the film had made it’s screening I was invited to be part of an art show involving members of the LGBT community.  The night of the show I was noshing on cheese cubes and drinking the free wine, when a friend of mine & fellow artist questioned me about how I felt about being known as a “transgender filmmaker”.  At first I didn’t get what she was asking me.  She wanted to know whether I would rather be known as a filmmaker or “transgender” filmmaker.  At the time I didn’t really see the difference.

Being a member of a minority in the art world is sort of a blessing and a curse.  On one hand it allows you opportunities that you might not otherwise have.  I certainly hadn’t be accepted into as many film festivals and art shows when I was living as a cisgender white male, but I also wasn’t pigeonholed as one type of artist or person either.

One of the things I did not expect from transitioning is how much my trans-ness would be brought to my attention.  Over the past several years I have frequently been asked whether or not I have seen a certain program if it contained a transgender character or knew about some trans-related news event.  I bring this up not to embarrass anyone who has done this to me.  I actually enjoy discussing trans issues with people (obviously)!  But it does illustrate how sometimes one aspect of a person’s identity can be latched onto by other people who want to connect with that person.

Being transgender is a big part of “who I am”, but so is being a filmmaker, or a songwriter, a wife, a sibling, a daughter, a booklover and so many other things.  My interests in feminism and politics are just as important to me as my gender identity.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably the first person to bring up transgenderism in a conversation, but my point is that being transgender is merely a part of who we are as transmen and transwomen.

I am proud of my trans identity and if that’s what people associate with me first and foremost then that’s cool.  I know there’s more to me than the fact that I cross tradition gender norms.  I don’t mind being a “transgender” filmmaker because there is still a need for trans role models and if I can do that through film or music or whatever then that trans label is worth it.

 

#22 TRANSGENDER KIDS

For a lot of transgender folks, they realized they were trans at a very young age.  I’ve heard numerous accounts about children as young as 2 or 3 claiming they weren’t the gender they were supposed to be.  That wasn’t the case with me.  I didn’t begin to have issue with my gender until I was about thirteen and even then I didn’t realize I was transgender.

Transgender children deal with a unique set of issues than trans adults.  Because they are typically still dependent on their parents or guardians for food, clothing, housing…pretty much everything, it presents extra challenges when considering and dealing with gender dysphoria.  I’m sure it is difficult for any parent to know how to initially feel about their child being transgender, regardless of how open-minded they might be.

Because many our culture perpetuates the idea that being trans is sick or wrong, many kids remain closeted for long periods of time.  When they do come out they have fewer options if a parent or guardian is against the idea of them being trans.  Many transgender children and adolescents are kicked out of their homes with limited resources to turn to.  They also face greater intolerance and harassment from their peers.  While many schools are trying to deal with an epidemic of bullying trans kids are still routinely singled out for ridicule and abuse.

Additionally, transgender children and adolescents face difficulties when it comes to obtaining therapy and medical treatment for their gender issues.  Many doctors and therapists still refuse or are not legally allowed to treat young people who are transgender.

And while puberty is a trying period for everyone, transgender youth may have an even tougher time coping with changes they see as disastrous.  While many doctors cannot prescribe hormones to younger transgender patients many can provide drugs that slow or halt the effects of puberty.  This treatment can be vital for young trans boys and girls who want to prevent their bodies from developing in ways counter to their gender identities.

Another positive development I have seen is the willingness of caring parents to allow their sons to be and explore their femininity.  While girls are often allowed to be tomboys, boys are frequently still prevented from expressing themselves in ways traditionally seen as girlish.  One of the coolest things I have seen recently are camps where male-bodied children can play dress up and be feminine are available for the first time; and schools are allowing transgender students to be homecoming kings and queens, and participate in sports and activities of their intended gender.

 

#23 MALE PRIVILEGE

Back when I was a guy playing in a band, some female friends of mine were organizing a feminist rock show at the local university.  Being a feminist, and a shameless self-promoter I suggested my band to play.  My friends thanked me but insisted that the show should feature women only acts.  At the time my fellow bandmates (all guys) felt slightly rebuffed.  As a feminist I wanted to help support these women and of course as a band we wanted another chance to perform.

What I realized later after I transitioned was why women have the need for their own events, spaces and activities.  And the rejection I (and possibly my fellow band members) felt was a subtle blow to our male egos & privilege.  Male privilege is far reaching enough that whole books could & have been written on the subject.  It is something that as a feminist guy I was aware of possessing but not really understanding what it meant.

In my time living as a woman I have realized much of what I have given up, like the relative security and safety of masculinity.  As a female I have been frequently harassed and objectified by strange men, made to feel uncomfortable, insignificant or ignored.  I have had my looks, my dress and my personality and emotions questioned.  I am still amazed when complete strangers tell me to smile or that I should be happy as if my feelings were not my own to control.  This never happened to me as a guy.

Society and culture constantly dictate to women how we should act & behave and how we should take care of our own bodies.  Granted society does this to men too, but not to the extent that it does to women.  As a male I cannot recall people telling me how to dress (except for maybe my parents in my teenage years) and they certainly didn’t shame me or demean me for what I wore.

I had read enough feminist lit before transitioning to be aware that women still make approximately 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, that men historically and culturally hold more positions of power then women.  I was cognizant of the fact that while women were working more, they were still doing more of the child rearing and housework than their male counterparts.  But there is a difference between knowing something and living something.

I don’t write to imply that men are terrible, or that they have it so easy.  I also know the pressures of being a man (or at least a young man).  I’m fortunate to know a lot of really great men who are kind & wonderful partners to their ladies, or boyfriends and are great friends.  Many of these guys are aware of the privilege they have as men.  More than one asked me why I would want to, “give that up?”  All I can say is that I’m female, and I know where you’re coming from, and the power that you hold.

 

#24 THE PRESSURE ON WOMEN TO BE ATTRACTIVE

Of all the things I have learned since transitioning, this one has probably been the most difficult and perhaps most painful for me personally. I was aware as a man that women’s appearances were held to a higher standard than men’s but again knowing that and living it are two different animals all together!

The pressure on women to be beautiful in our society is overwhelming in its scope and reach. Depictions of women as young, thin and pretty in television movies, magazines, books, the internet, billboards, fashion, art, music, and pop culture constantly create a matrix of “supposed beauty” in nearly every aspects of our lives. Even the foods we eat tell us we should be lean and lovely. The beauty industry makes billions of dollars every year off women trying to fit some unrealistic ideal of what a woman should be.

As a man, I cared about my looks, but there was nothing remotely close to the societal stress I have experienced as a female. To be fair some of this is self-manifested. I mean who doesn’t want to feel attractive? Even as a feminist I knew that a lot of this was utter bullshit, but it is difficult to rise above a message so all encompassing.

Dealing with body image issues and feelings of inadequacy have been a big part of my transition. I think for transwomen it can be an even tougher to learn to love & accept ourselves. As transwomen our bodies may not conform to standard definitions of beauty and femininity. Some of this may be genetics, the age in which we began to transition or because we lack access to means of transitioning.

I think a lot of transwomen end up feeling poorly about their appearances because we have struggled so long with our bodies, that when we finally do start living as female it harder to believe we can be beautiful. I can’t say for sure, but I would imagine with the more widely accepted view of masculine attractiveness it may be easier for transmen to feel better about themselves and their bodies.

Transwomen and women alike need to recognize that the beauty norms we face as a society are arbitrary, and that we are all beautiful in our own way. And as a society we need to allow for more than a narrow definition of what is considered to be attractive.

 

#25 THE DEAL WITH WOMEN’S CLOTHES

One of the great things about transitioning was finally being able to women’s clothes. Women’s clothes have much more variety in styles and colors and patterns. The right outfit can make you look amazing and of course clothing is a huge cultural identifier of one’s gender.

But for many trans folks clothing can be both a blessing and a curse. Recreating an entire wardrobe can be a huge financial burden. I had a lot of generous female friends who initially gave me different items to wear, but eventually you’ve got to buy your own stuff.

Shopping for female clothing, when you still presenting as male can be very stressful. Granted you can buy online now, but if I’ve learned anything about women’s clothes, it’s that you have to try them on to know if they will actually fit. Labels and sizes mean NOTHING!

I was super anxious and aware of the odd looks I got from customers and sales clerks when I started buying my own female clothes. I had to keep telling myself that these people probably didn’t care that I was buying clothes as much as I imagined, but that didn’t make it any less stressful initially.

A big part of transitioning is learning how to dress as the other gender. Buttons are reversed, things fit differently, the art of walking in heels, the difference between straight leg and boot cut or bikini and hipster…it’s kinda ridiculous.

There have been dresses I have tried to put on that seemed like a demented riddle of straps, belts and zippers. I am lucky if I can find more than 3 pairs of shoes at a store when I go shoe shopping, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand the purpose of faux pockets.

One nice thing I’ve seen recently is the increased production of female clothing for male-bodied people. There is lingerie for transwomen and cross-dressers available now as well as make-up for men. Hopefully designers will continue to create clothing that is as accessible to trans folks as cisgender bodies, as transgender people gain more acceptance.

 

#26 DEALING WITH INSURANCE

Transitioning has taught me a lot about insurance companies. I know more about co-pays and deductibles and network providers than I ever wanted to. I’ve learned about claim forms and gap exceptions. I’ve learned that as with most customer service call centers the people manning the phones are often robots. I’ve learned that you have to follow up repeatedly, and then follow up again.

Many insurance companies don’t deem gender confirmation surgery to be a necessity, instead claiming it to be “elective”. Medical and mental healthcare providers constantly have to “work around” the system to get treatments covered for their transgender clients. Many providers I’ve worked with tell me that they will not deal with insurance companies because the bureaucratic hoops they must jump through. This often leaves the complicated and frustrating process of dealing with insurance companies in the member’s hands.

I am fortunate that my employer fought for a policy that covers gender confirmation surgery. Not many trans folks are afforded this luxury. Even with this blessing, it has been a hassle and a headache to make sure my medical and therapy needs are covered. Obviously, there is a lot of debate about healthcare in this country. We need to find a better way to provide affordable care to everyone and especially to marginalized groups who often need it most.

 

#27 FREE TO BE YOU & ME
*Guest Post by Maria Altadonna*

When Ashley first came into my life, I was in my early twenties. In those days I had certain idea of what my life would look like in tens-years’ time. I was Co-President of the College Feminists, majoring in Sociology, and hanging out in bars every other night with a great group of friends. Everything was going as planned, except for my romantic life. One cold February night back in 2004, I was introduced to Kyle Altadonna. Here’s a good looking dude, who calls himself a feminist, is in a rock band and he’s interested in me. We started dating and in many ways he was what I had always wanted in a boyfriend, except for one small thing.

In “A Clash of Kings” George R.R. Martin reminds us that, “when we speak of the morrow nothing is ever certain.” I had lots of ideas of where I thought our relationship was going. I hadn’t predicted that a few months after dating, Kyle would tell me that he was transgendered. Since I claimed to be a feminist and open-minded person and had strong feelings for Kyle, we continued to date as he became Ashley. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Ashley showed me the importance of being our true selves and not living up anyone else’s ideas of who we are.

Watching Ashley transition from male to female, she has undergone both mental and physical changes that were very challenging in those first few months. As Ashley was coming out to her friends and family, I too had to come out to people that I was now in a lesbian relationship. I remember having to tell my parents that my boyfriend was now my girlfriend. I am only child and had been the shy and good daughter that really never rebelled or caused too much drama growing up. There we were eating Chinese food and for the first time I am challenging their image of “shy-straight-Maria” and the expectations they had for me. I couldn’t blame them. This was not the life I had planned for myself. I had never thought I would be with a transgender woman, but I was in love.

I have encountered other folks who have transitioned and these are not simple choices people make over-night. Ashley struggled with this choice, but she was brave enough to follow her heart and watching her become her true-self challenged me to figure out who I was. People usually described me as “shy sweet Maria” and I tried to follow this role, because I believe that is what others expected from me.

By being honest with people about my romantic life, I was force to speak up and be braver. If Kyle could transform into Ashley I felt I had more freedom to explore who the real Maria was. This is a question I am still trying to answer, but I no longer stress about living up to other people’s plans for me. I may not have transitioned my gender, but I have become more open to playing around with ideas of gender, being more adventurous, willing to take risks, and a happier person overall.

 

#28 YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYONE’S EXPERIENCE

In the years since I have transitioned, I have found repeatedly that when I thought I finally knew or understood something about being trans or being a woman, something or someone else would come along and mess with that view.  There is no one right way to transition.  Just as there are many ways to be a man or woman in the world, each person’s gender journey is their own.

I have met so many fascinating and wonderful people who experience their gender in a multitude of interesting and unique ways.  This is what makes our world an incredible place.  My experience being transgender is completely different than anyone else’s.  Because of this, I try not to make assumptions about someone’s gender identity or their thoughts & feelings about gender…or sexuality or race, or religion or whatever.

Being transgender has offered me an exceptional view of the world and how all of us, male, female or somewhere in between can fit into it.

 

#29 BEING A TRANSGENDER ALLY

While it is true that the transgender community has made many strides in the past several decades, we cannot create a world where everyone is free to express their gender identity without the help of our friends, families and our local and global community.  Here are some helpful ways to be a trans ally:

  • Use the trans person’s preferred name & gender pronouns.  If you don’t know what those are, ask them. If you accidentally use the wrong name or pronouns apologize subtly.  If you see others using the wrong name or pronouns speak up & correct them.
  • Don’t ask trans people inappropriate questions you wouldn’t ask a cisgender person like, “What is your ‘real’ name?” or what type of genitals they have.  Don’t ask trans folks how they have sex, or what surgery or medical procedures they’ve had.
  • Know the difference between “gender identity” and “sexual orientation”.  Trans folks are gay, straight, bi, poly or asexual just like everyone else.
  • Don’t assume all trans people want to have surgery or go on hormones, or that all trans people struggle with their gender identity.  Not all trans folks feel like they are “trapped in the wrong body”.
  • Understand that there are a whole spectrum of gender identities available and that many trans and genderqueer folks may choose not to identify as either male or female.
  • Don’t assume that transmen can’t be sexist or misogynist just because they were female-bodied at birth, and realize that transwomen face sexism and transphobia.
  • Don’t tell a trans person how they should “properly” demonstrate their gender identity (ex. That transwomen should be feminine).  We all express our gender in different ways.
  • Realize that being transgender is an aspect of who we are.  Don’t assume we are authorities or spokespersons for the trans community.  Don’t expect us to teach you about what it means to be trans.
  • Stand up against transphobia wherever you see it, just like you would for any form of oppression.  Realize the privilege you have as a cisgender person.  The way you talk about trans issues may carry more weight than when a trans person does.
  • Lastly realize that transgender individuals are human beings who deserve just as much love, support and respect as anyone else.

 

 #30 MARIA…MARIA MARIA MARIA!

For the past eight years I have been fortunate enough to live as the woman I waited so long to be.  Many people have helped along my journey from doctors and therapists to friends and family.  But the person who has had the most profound impact on my transition and my life in countless ways is my incredible wife, partner and best friend, Maria.

My wife has helped me through so much with regards to my transition it is impossible to try and list them all here.  She has been my shoulder to cry on, my sounding board and confidant.  When I was first coming out as transgender she made me feel beautiful and helped give me the courage to move forward with going fulltime.  She has been there for all my ups and downs.  She keeps me in check and lifts me up.

It is so vital to have support when you are going through something as life changing gender transition.  I can’t imagine where I would be without my best friend helping me along the way.  I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today without her love.  I owe so much of my happiness and success to her.  Again I am blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life who have helped get me to this point.  I know that her and my many friends and family’s encouragement I will get through this surgery and the next phase of my transition.

A lot of people often assume that a trans person’s main goal is gender confirmation surgery; that it is the end of a long journey that we trans folks are on.  To me, this surgery is just the icing on the cake.  It’s correcting one part of my body that hasn’t matched the rest of me for so long now.  I don’t expect it to fix everything or cure my “gender dysphoria”.  I really don’t feel like I have dysphoria about my gender anymore.  I know I’m a girl.  I’m proud to be trans.  And I know I wouldn’t have gotten here without Maria by my side!

 

POST SCRIPT:

Thank you to all of you who have been following along with me this past month.  Thanks for all the comments and shares and likes.  I will be posting here over the next few weeks and months I go through this process and recovery.  And a BIG BIG thank you again to everyone who has helped me afford this surgery by donating to “Making the Cut”!

xoxo

Ashley

4 Responses to 30 Things I’ve Learned
  1. Pingback: TIL: Ashley Altadonna’s Top 30, Part 1 – en|Gender

  2. 'Lana Leitova says:

    I’ve just finished reading your article now because a FB friend just posted it. Thanks for taking the time to write and post it. I live full time as a TG woman and have been doing so for three of the six years since beginning my transition. I agree with everything you’ve said. I was particularly pleased to hear you say that TG woman who don’t (or can’t, for health or financial reasons) get SRS are nevertheless “women”. Also, I am an actor so I fully support the efforts of yourself and others to include more TG roles and cast more TG actors in those roles.

  3. Pingback: 30 Things Someone Else Has Learned | Ellen's World

  4. Zoë Blade says:

    This is one of the more articulate and succinct articles I’ve read that covers so many aspects of what it’s like to be transgender. Great work! I hope many more people read it. :)

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