Being Dana… Good Grief

“Good Grief!” for many who are old enough this statement brings to mind the Peanuts character Charlie Brown. It was used mostly as his catch phrase to show disdain with a situation he was in. Sometimes it this was due to something minor that happened or to something someone said. This article is not about this kind of grief. This article is about the differences in how I experienced loss and grief before and after beginning my gender transition.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Content Warning:

This article details loss and grief regarding the deaths of my parents, and my brother(two of which are covid-19 related). I do mention portions of how my family accepts me as the transgender woman I am. It is a bit long but it is what I need to say.

Mother:

During the winter of 2014/15, I was still attempting to show the world the gender I was assigned at birth. I don’t remember if I had my biker’s goatee and moustache or not. I would go through phases of being so irritated with facial hair and how I looked that would grow it out and shave it off frequently. I would also wear my feminine clothes in private to help put my mind at ease when stress situations were high.

My mother was hospitalized and diagnosed with congestive heart failure. It was not know at the time how long she was expected to survive. I traveled with my wife from Denver to Ogden UT expecting to say a final goodbye. I remember being emotional and crying quite a bit, but I refused to cry in a public settings. I felt an immense pressure to “be the man”, and to “be strong”. I wanted to weep and grieve for a mother not yet lost. I could only do this when alone or with close family members.

A surgery was suggested with a high possibility that she would not survive. A decision was made for her to be released and enter home hospice care. As her body began to fail I still refused to show emotions publicly. Instead I hid behind a smart alec’s wit and humour. I hid behind the comfort of knowing she had lived a full life and we were nearing her time. I visited a few times, and called some.

Mom would survive until April 21, 2017. On the flight to see her the night she passed I cried, publicly. I remember being both embarrassed & relieved that I shed tears for her. I arrived at her bedside near eleven pm. I was the last of her eight children to say goodbye. Again, I would force myself not to cry, even as I held her hand, told her I had made it, and that it was ok for her to go. She left this world with her hand in mine. Still I dared not cry. I had to be strong. Later that night, when I was alone in my brother’s camp trailer, I cried. I sobbed. I sought refuge by wearing the few articles of feminine clothing I had brought with me.

I continued to show my strong male persona as much as I could through the coming days and her service. Each time I slipped, I felt a false sense of embarrassment at showing my love for her. I refused to show my true emotions. I was completely shattered at the loss of my mother, but I couldn’t show it. I withheld because of incorrect social norms. Strong men do not show emotions. Emotions are weaknesses.

  • Did I experience grief?
    Yes.
  • Was it healthy or good?
    No.

I visited my mother’s grave on August 31st of 2019. I spent about an hour there. I came out as a transgender woman to her. I expressed my deep love for her. I apologized for not letting her know earlier that she actually had three daughters. This began a long period of me grieving her loss again. This time as her daughter. I cried off and on the entire length of my journey home. I was approached a couple times by other women while I waited on my flight. As I explained that I just came out as trans to my mother’s grave, they shared in my grief. One went so far as to tell me I was a good daughter.

I recently recounted my experience along with memories of mom to a good friend. During the discussions I noticed a whole new flood of emotions that were now available to me as a woman to experience. We discussed the care mom took in teaching me how to cook. Specific foods I remember helping prepare suddenly took on a whole new dimension of flavor. I even reached out to my sister’s and others for recipes which have been in the family for generations.

I prepared some of these foods and each step of the way I also remembered mom. I was finally experiencing good grief. I now understood that embracing my loss and the many emotions that came with it was a health thing to do.

Father:

I came out as a transgender woman to my father on July 31st of 2019. I don’t think he really understood even though I spent a day explaining to him. I expected this. He was after all in his eighties. I had been seen as his son for 52 years.

I began calling him weekly. Partly because his health was declining, and partly because I finally felt like I could have an emotional and satisfying relationship with my father. We mostly spoke of common things. Every now & then he would surprise me with a question about how my transition was going. I was so eager to tell him everything, but I limited my answers so he wouldn’t get overloaded with information.

Covid-19 came into our lives in early 2020. The conversations I had with my dad took a more inquisitive turn. Many times he was unsure of how the virus could affect such a large number of people. I would search out answers to his virus related questions during the week and discuss them at the beginning of our calls. I felt a strong urge to ensure his spirits were lifted by our calls. I feel this was one of my more feminine desires of wanting to be a caretaker being realized.

I asked him frequently to recount stories from my youth. As he relayed certain stories, I explained to him what I was feeling during those times. Many instances came to my mind where I felt distinctly female, but never had the words or ability to express what I felt or who I was safely. We shared many emotional times on the calls. I felt the comfort I imagine a father would give to his daughter.

Dad’s health began to fade. He began to use feminine pronouns to refer to me while on our calls. I still longed for him to call me Dana or his daughter. My brother, who lived with and cared for dad, told me that around the house he did use my name. At least one time he even corrected someone, telling them I was Dana now. My heart rejoiced, but also sank. The longing to hear him say my name turned to a craving.

Dad passed away due to old age November 1, 2020. We found out he was covid-19 positive the day he passed away. This was at the height of travel restrictions due to covid-19. This meant I could not travel and grieve his loss with the rest of my family. I was so struck with grief that I did not really leave my bed for a few days. In that time I cried my way through at least two full boxes of tissues. I had the local support of only my wife.

The day of the funeral, I did my hair and put on a black dress, then watched a poorly executed internet live stream of his services. I co-ordinated & recorded a Zoom video call of the shorter graveside service. I noticed that I was feeling many different emotions and feelings all at once. I had rage, love, longing, loneliness, grief, and happiness. I felt I was finally “allowed” to feel. My dad’s loss was the first I experienced as a woman undergoing transition. The range of emotions I had was new to me. They were overwhelming.

I slipped into a depression. I have know depression most of my life, but this was different. I had grief. I had memories of a rekindled deeply emotional relationship between father and daughter.

  • Did I experience grief?
    Yes.
  • Was it healthy or good?
    Yes, I believe it was.

Brother:

This section is about my parent’s the fourth child, my brother. I have five brothers and two sisters the order of the family runs:
Brother
Sister
Brother
Brother
Brother
Sister
Me (Dana — Sister — YAY!)
Brother

Shortly after our father’s death and funeral, our oldest brother began his duties as executor of dad’s estate. Emails and text messages were exchanged. A Zoom video call was scheduled to go over estate business. Once the details were discussed, I asked if we could spend time listening to how we each were processing dad’s passing and how life was hopefully getting back into a routine.

My 4th brother discussed his liver health. He had been battling a condition which he didn’t discuss much with other family members. My 6th sibling, sister, is a nurse. The two had obviously had more conversations regarding his health. soon the rest of the family was up to speed. My brother was in dire need of a liver transplant. Preferably from a living donor from the immediate family.

I immediately began wondering if my health was sufficient that I could be his donor. I already knew we had the same blood type. The next business day I reached out to my doctor, who had no concerns with my being a donor. The following day I began the selection & testing process. I scheduled a couple calls with my brother to discuss the situation. I was fully prepared to give my brother part of myself so he could have years added to his life. The only question I had in the decision was if I was healthy enough to help.

A couple weeks went by. The transplant center stated my brother was no longer on the live donor recipient list. I called my brother to find out the details. The doctors had said they needed additional testing before allowing him to be active on the recipient list. Before the final test could be performed covid-19 entered our family’s lives again. Our brother’s family of five had been exposed and all but one had tested positive.

Our brother was soon admitted to the hospital, intubated, and passed on December 17th 2020 taken by a combination of his liver condition and covid-19.

While still in the midst of the deep depression following dad’s death, I had to again face the same feelings. This time I added to my list regret. I wish so much that I could have also rekindled an emotional relationship with my brother. Perhaps if that had happened he could have had part of my liver sooner. Perhaps then he could have had at least a fighting chance against covid-19.

I allowed myself again to feel all the emotions and feelings. Grief settled in to it’s still warm seat quickly. I mentioned regret joined this time. Hatred also followed. I absolutely had no room in my mind or heart for those who tried to minimize the virus or it’s impacts. It had taken two of my family. It has kept me from completing the mourning of my father. It was now preventing me from mourning my dear brother.

He was always the quiet but supportive one. He offered me counsel many times in my life. His example of serving others because it is the right thing to do is one of the most admirable traits I hope to someday have a portion. These are only some of the things said of him in the internet live stream funeral.

  • Did I experience grief?
    Yes.
  • Was it healthy or good?
    Yes, I believe it was even with the addition of regret and hatred.

Summary:

I am so grateful that I am now able to feel emotions. Previous to beginning my transition, I would have not felt much. Yes, I knew some grief but the range of emotions that are available to me to fully express and experience have made living my life so much more worthwhile. I would have never allowed myself to even know what these feelings were let alone even embrace them. I now know what it means to have good grief.

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Being Dana… Another year passes by

I have just turned 54. Here are some of my thoughts.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

My birthday this year has hit me in ways I did not expect.

  • I have grey hair but I’ve had that for a few years now.
  • I have body aches, also present for some time.
  • Wrinkles? Yes, I have a few.
  • AARP? Yeah that age was 4 years ago.
  • Colonoscopy, scheduled again.

These are all things I expected. What I didn’t expect was how strong my craving for being complete has become. All through my youth something was missing. I would catch a brief sense of what was missing from time to time but it never lasted. Was it happiness? Yes but at the same time no. I’ve had many times of great happiness through my years. These times have included friends, family, children, and both my marriages. Still a portion of my sense of self was missing. Sometime in my 51st year I began a search in earnest for what I lacked. Those who read my articles and know me are aware this missing component was an accurate sense of my gender identity.

Since accepting that I am a woman I have been on a steady and rather rapid path to correcting how I present to the rest of the world. The first portion of my path went by so quickly, I often felt though as if the changes could not come fast enough. Rightfully so, I had 50+ years of being female to catch up on. This past year I have reached a slow-down section of my path. I changed jobs, and moved across the country. These two things resulted in a change of insurance, finding new affirming health care providers and more. Then the Covid-19 Pandemic reached the United States. Suddenly I was at a stand still on my path. Or was I?

I found myself searching for how I could proceed in my transition when most all services around me were being placed under operating restrictions. I had found a new electrologist for hair removal, but due to the pandemic I could not schedule an appointment for months. I had found the local transgender support group (Transfamily Of NWPA) and attended once in person before restrictions limited attendance. My only visible progress could only be seen in our finances. I had taken the new job as a way to prepare for the rest of my journey. This journey is not only my transition but also my journey through life. I felt as if ALL of my progress had halted. Only recently have I begun to understand that merely existing as Dana was still progress.

The months passed. Eventually restrictions lessened and I was able to resume Electric Stabby Hair Death (electrolysis). During the months of tight restrictions I had made a decision. I would change the focus of the hair removal to my genital area. While I’m still not 100% sure I need surgery, I do feel strongly that it will help with or even fulfill my need to feel complete. My progress had resumed. One hair follicle at a time. Due to the location of the hair my progress is only visible to myself & my electrologist. This results in quite a bit of anxiety regarding my visible progress.

Anxiety for me translates into doubts about how valid my path is. Should I continue? Is it worth the pain? Is it worth the excruciatingly slow pace? Will I be prepared before most surgeons would refuse to operate on a person of my age? I know I have a few years left before I reach this point. My birthday is just another reminder that a clock is ticking down. I spend many hours a week debating these questions and realities in my mind. The process almost always results in asking myself these two questions.

  • Am I happier presenting as the woman I am?
    Most definitely yes!
  • Would I want to go back to how I was existing?
    I do miss some components of who I presented but no, I do not wish to go back to a partial existence.

I will trod along, ever so slowly, one birthday at a time.

707 Words

Being Dana… Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) 2020

Opening and closing remarks given at TransFamily of NWPA’s Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) Virtual vigil Nov. 20, 2020

OPENING REMARKS:

Good Evening Everyone,

Thank you for attending this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil.

We will be recording this call. We request that you keep microphones muted and video disabled. If you start your video it will be stopped. Violation of this request will result in removal from the call.

Over the last 8 years TransFamily of Northwest Pennsylvania has been actively supporting the transgender and gender non-conforming community in Erie and the surrounding area. Most recently we have been able to provide micro-grants to assist with legal name changes. We hold monthly peer support group meetings for transgender or gender non-conforming folk and their allies. We have participated in and helped plan yearly events such as Pride, the summer picnic, transgender day of visibility and this event.

The original day of remembrance was started in 1999 because San Francisco resident, Gwendolyn Smith showed her love, grief, and anger at the tragic loss of a murdered a Boston transgender woman, Rita Hester. She organized a candlelight vigil in San Francisco and Boston on the 1st anniversary of Rita’s death. This murder is still unsolved. Tonight, 21 years after that vigil, we continue the tradition of remembering those members of our family lost due to violence.

Last month the TransFamily board of directors discussed this event and if we should have an in-person vigil or a virtual one. Our biggest concerns hinged around fears. Fear for the safety of our community. Fear of possible civil unrest due to the outcome of the soon to be held election. Fear of the effects caused by restrictions the community may be under due to the pandemic. It is because of these fears and others we have chosen to hold this year’s event virtually.

Each of us have fears. Some are widely varied, and some are specific like the ones just mentioned. As I read the following fears, ask yourself if you fear these things also?

  • Will the world hate me for living as I truly am?
  • Will I be bullied because I look or dress differently?
  • Will my own brother shoot and kill me in a rampage?
  • Will the person I just went on a date with shoot and kill me?
  • Will my date return and continue shooting me even after I am already dead?
  • Will my friend and I be found burned to death in a car?
  • Will I be stabbed repeatedly and then set on fire to obscure my identity?
  • Will I be run over by a car while protesting for the rights of our fellow humans?
  • Will I have my legs severed and my body dumped in a river?
  • Will my partially clothed body be found, wrapped in a tarp, lying on the sidewalk?
  • Will my name be on next year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance list?

The people we are gathered to remember tonight experienced these fears as their lives were brutally taken.

CLOSING REMARKS:

45…
Just in case you were not counting during the presentation.
45…
The United States’ share of the estimated 350 reported deaths worldwide of transgender and gender non-conforming people due to violent acts.
45…
This number does not include those who have been driven to suicide by the way society views and treats transgender and gender non-conforming people.
45…
This number may be even higher because the police, the press and even our own families sometimes will not respect our identities, even after we are dead. Many times, this happens because the path to obtaining an updated ID such as a driver’s license contains roadblocks. Other times it is because society and family refuse to acknowledge our identities or existence.

When preparing this year’s presentation, I wanted to show you more than just a name, a date, and a cause of death. I wanted to show you glimpses into the lives of these people. They were family, mine, and yours. The search for this information was a daunting task. I spent hours poring over report after report which detailed the deaths, sometimes in gruesome detail. I searched news agencies, police reports, obituaries, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In a few cases the friends and family were very loving and kind about their lost loved ones. I was so happy when I found family members who were accepting. This meant I would more than likely be able to choose from several phrases to describe the people we mourn tonight. Some were much harder to find information than others. In one case I prepared the statement based on my impression from photos posted on social media with no descriptions, captions, or context.

I ask you to take a few things away from this evening:

  • That person you see when walking down the street or while at the store is just like you. They are trying to make the absolute best with what they have, help them by being kind.
  • Our human family comes in all colors, genders, orientations, sizes, and sexes. None are superior to another, help those who are having the most difficulties first.
  • Get involved with organizations that help, not hurt.
  • Urge your elected officials to support laws that ensure equality for all.
  • Most importantly love and support each other.

In closing TransFamily understands that tonight’s presentation has been difficult for many in attendance. Please take care of yourselves. Talk to a friend or loved one. If you do not feel you can talk to the people you know, please reach out to one of the resources listed on screen.

938 Words

Being Dana… Dana and the Dilemma of the Two Way Light Switches

Have you ever flipped a light switch expecting a light to turn off only to have it instantly turn back on because another person, using a second switch was also trying to turn off the light? What do you do? You flip the switch again and Voilà! the light remains ON. It is usually at this point when one person concedes and no longer attempts to flip the switch.

Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

A little over a year ago I flipped a switch which turned on a myriad of lights. Included in these is one light which can not be turned off. It shines on a truth that I am Dana, a female, and a transgender person. Among the other lights which turned on are ones representing pretty much every aspect of how I experience life. Each light uses a specific amount of my energy to remain lit. I will discuss this energy source a little later on. Some of these lights are easy to turn off. For example; I feel the pain of a pin prick, the person at the other end of the switch circuit does also. Together we agree that we can turn off this light. There are thousands if not millions of lights that we, together, can turn off.

The dilemma comes into play when I find a light which shines on an aspect which has a unique variation and impact for a transgender person. Here is an example of such a situation.
Here is a partial listing of the lights which are on this particular circuit but have multiple switches.

Today I am resuming one preparation step for a possible GCS procedure. I am doing this while a pandemic still rages across the world. I can not begin to explain to someone who is not transgender what this statement means to me. Even another transgender person will not understand how I see this preparation step. This is because each of us have negotiated to have different lights turned off while others remain on. This changes my view.

Where does the energy to power all the lights come from? Self care, a good night’s sleep, maintaining my overall health, support from allies, etc. All of these things replenish how much energy I have to deal with everyday issues. if anything is left over it is stored in reserve for the times when a sudden surge of additional lights are turned on. The action of addressing each light expends energy. My thoughts of how I feel about each can either add or subtract energy from my reserve. Successful communication of these thoughts to others expends a great deal of energy. This energy is seen by those who witness it’s expenditure. Sometimes the energy is collected, nurtured, multiplied and returned. We call this person a true ally. Sometimes an ally returns the energy with a well intentioned gift; lights. This additional gift of lights which are usually lit and not noticed by the ally. This is because an ally can not, as much as they try, ever experience something the way a transgender person can. Allies, rest assured, we transgender people see your intentions. We accept the returned energy and quickly turn of any lights we have already determined are not needed.

Transgender people also expend energy sometimes in the wrong places. Our intentions are well meaning. Some of us try to engage with as many people as will listen to our plights. We attend rallies, push for social change, or any number of other actions. Those of us who do this are considered to be activists. This is not to be confused with being an advocate. In my mind there is a distinction between these terms. In simple terms if I advocate for something, I say it is favorable. Very little energy is expended on the advocate’s part. If I am an activist I not only say the thing is favorable, I actively take action(s) to promote it. I expend a great deal of energy doing so. One thing that has become much clearer to me is that my reserve of energy can fluctuate very rapidly due to these activist actions. I can be very well prepared for and event of even a discussion and during or after end up completely drained or even left with my reserve overflowing. I am quite sure this is the case for anyone.

To any allies who are reading this:

Please continue to learn from those you support. Do not get frustrated when your transgender friend makes a comment such as “You will never understand.” This comment can hurt, but it carries a truth.
Even a partial understanding yields better results than a lack of understanding. You may help turn off lights for a transgender person but always check to see if your friend is at the other switch.

To any transgender people reading this:

They are your allies. They are willing to learn, teach them. While you may be very eager to attempt to explain everything trans, this will take from your energy. Be sure to check your reserve level before beginning such a thing. Continue to check your energy level as you progress through it. Look for the ally at the other switch, communicate with them. Create boundaries for which lights are yours alone to turn off.

897 Words

Being Dana… Do I need a vagina? And other questions.

  • Do I need a vagina?
  • Will I survive the procedure?
  • Will I survive/thrive not having the procedure?
  • Will I finally feel complete?
  • Will I still be discriminated against?

These questions are ones that form in the minds of nearly all who identify as transgender female. A few of these are often questions that we don’t allow others (those who are not transgender) to ask or have much input on. This is because they are of a very personal nature. Why does the general public or anyone outside of my partner(s) and medical providers need or want to know what my genitals look like? The short answer is THEY DON’T!

Through my transition process I have become a very open person. I am choosing to share with you information that deals with the very core of who I am. I’m going to try my best to answer these questions. I’ll work from the bottom of the list up.

Will I still be discriminated against?

Yes, I will be.
This question, unfortunately, is somewhat rhetorical in nature. Until we as humans learn to treat each other with love and kindness, those of us who are different for any reason will be subject to discrimination. Specifically I feel I will always be judged as I enter women only spaces. This is mostly due to my stature. I am over six feet tall. Yes, I know there are many cisgender women who are tall. These other tall women do not usually have the more masculine features that years of testosterone have cursed me with. The ones which make people wonder things like… Does she have an adam’s apple? Is that a beard shadow I see?
I want to also draw attention to the recent US Supreme Court case which made it illegal to discriminate in the workplace against transgender people. While this is a huge victory it is only one part of the problems we face. An administration who actively attempts to make rules to limit our basic human rights is still in power. I fear these actions will continue to escalate as long as this administration is in place.

Will I finally feel complete?

I have chased an elusive feeling of being complete for most all of my existence. In my youth before life got in the way I tasted it briefly. It was in the few times I played in typical feminine gender roles. Now as an adult transgender woman I live closer to this feeling now than I have ever before. However, I’m not sure I will ever feel complete. I do hope to feel content with myself and my body. One area I doubt I will ever feel complete is with my lived experience as a woman. The fact that I was not born equipped with female genitalia and the accoutrements has limited my experience as a woman.

One example of this limitation is that I will never truly experience a monthly cycle. I do, however, have some monthly symptoms thanks to my hormone replacement therapy regimen. I am also of the age where most women my age are entering menopause. I will likely be on female hormones for the remainder of my life. If I remain on my current dosages it is possible I may never experience menopause. Many cisgender women think this may be a blessing. I, and a number of transgender women, see this as a curse.

Another example is that I was not socialized as a female. I do not have the experience of my older sisters or friends teaching me how to do makeup or how I should act in a specific situation. While I have learned a great deal regarding the safety concerns all women face, their importance will never have the same bearing on my actions. I also have missed out on the multitude of the smaller things which shaped younger girls into the women they are.

Will I survive/thrive not having the procedure?

Wow! Is this a loaded question?!

I began hormones over a year and a half ago. Shortly after that time I began presenting as my true female self. The differences in how I feel on a day to day basis are astounding. I no longer suffer from extended periods of depression. I do feel down from time to time but the extremes are nowhere near as severe.

The part of transition which I now despise is dealing with dysphoria and dysmorphia. That is the anxiety and distress I have knowing that my mind and gender are not congruent with my body. When I first began transitioning, my two largest sources of these were the existence of facial hair and the nonexistence of breasts. Hormones are slowly taking care of the breasts for me. The painful process of electrolysis is taking care of the facial hair. Not worrying about these being incorrect for my mind has left an opportunity for another source to take more processing cycles in my brain. Enter genital dysmorphia.

This is a relatively new thing for me. In my male history, I never really had an issue with the ownership and use of a penis. I do know and understand I over sexualized a great many things in my youth. Some people including my therapist have suggested this was an overcompensation method I developed to block out my dysphoria. If I constantly made sexual jokes from the male perspective that I would convince myself I was just a regular guy. I find myself thinking that my anatomy is incorrect. These thoughts are so pervasive that I am unable to look at my male parts in a mirror, while showering, or when I am naked without discomfort. These feelings are intensifying every day. Will they reach a similar level like those that forced me into depression cycles before I came out? I am of the belief they will. Would I be able to manage these levels? Should I have to?

More and more the answer I am finding to this is no. I should be allowed and encouraged to take advantage of a medical method that may relieve my mental anguish.

Will I survive the procedure?

A gender confirmation surgery is a major surgery. There are the usual risks associated with any major surgery. Am I healthy enough to survive? I think I am. I try to eat well and exercise some. I have lost quite a few pounds since coming out and beginning hormone therapy. Many of my transgender sisters gain weight when on hormones. I have had a history of heart conditions, specifically AFIB and SVT. These are both heart rhythm abnormalities. I have not been diagnosed with or had any symptoms of these for a few years now. I am now 53 years old. It has been proven that in general older patients do not fare as well as younger ones. Barring any unseen events or conditions I would expect to make it through surgery successfully.

Do I need a vagina?

There are so many factors to consider on this answer. Here are only a few I’ve considered. Will it be covered by my insurance? Will I be eligible for FMLA leave and have a job to return to? Which one of the many variations of the surgery do I want and why? Do I want to have the medical upkeep of dilation? If I don’t would I be satisfied with a zero depth procedure? Will I be able to really select the surgeon I want?

Since I began thinking about the possibility my surety rate has only increased. If I had to answer this question right now I would say I am about 95% sure I do. This percentage varies with the day and my current mental state. Usually it climbs to near full commitment then slides back to my holding pattern level of 95%. My current circumstances afford me a little time to make my final decision.

Do I need a vagina?
Yes;
Definitely;
Well Maybe…

1,342 Words

Being Dana… I Woke Up Trans Again!

What is a gender dysphoric trigger?

To understand what a gender dysphoric trigger is, you must first understand what gender dysphoria is. There are many long and drawn out descriptions of what gender dysphoria is and what it isn’t. It is also important to note not all transgender people experience dysphoria. Here is one of the simplest definitions of gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is the distress a person feels due to a mismatch between their gender identity and their sex assigned at birth.

Ok so what does that mean? The very core of my persona is female. Most of my body’s sexual characteristics are currently male. I say “most of” and “currently” because I am on hormone therapy to bring my physical body into alignment with my gender identity. When I experience something that many females do not, I sometimes feel discomfort. The discomfort can range from mild to very extreme. It can also be somewhat disturbing and trigger fears of certain circumstances either real or imagined. Below is a list, in no particular order, of my more commonly occurring dysphorias and a brief explanation of a simple trigger for each.

  • Facial hair growth.
    Yes, at one time I had a beard. This was a phase I went through in an attempt to feel more manly. Recently I have been known to shave two or three times a day. Some men may say this can be normal with a heavy beard. Those who know me know mine is anything but a heavy beard. My growth of facial hair now triggers a fear of being accused of being a man in women’s clothing, a pervert and even fear of being assaulted and killed.
  • Wearing of clothing that even remotely evokes a masculine appearance.
    If I have to wear a crew neck t-shirt, a men’s style dress shirt, or men’s business slacks I begin to have a panic attack. Obviously this wasn’t always the case. I was able to wear pretty much any typically male clothes until I began to express the person I truly am. Now I experience a fear that I will be forced back into hiding. This fear is debilitatingly intense and is accompanied by thoughts of never being able to express who I am again.
  • Size or lack of female breast tissue.
    For nearly my entire life I have wanted breasts. The hormone treatments I am on are now allowing my body to develop as a teenage cisgender female would. I worry that my developing breasts will be seen as man-boobs, that they are too small for my body frame, that they are not shaped correctly.
  • Genital mismatch.
    This is to difficult to explain in a few sentences. I’ll most likely write a separate article on this topic alone.

This list is fairly common among transgender females. The list of triggers and fears is extremely brief. Unfortunately I have quite a few. A trigger in general can be something I see, hear or physically feel which may be related to one of my fears or anxieties. This morning I experienced an odd trigger for the first time.

  • Pride in being transgender.

How can having pride in who you are trigger dysphoria? The answer is below.

I assist with running multiple Facebook groups which support both the LGBT+ community at large and the subset of transgender or gender questioning people. I am also a member of of multiple groups similar to these. Within one of these large more inclusive groups, a meme was posted. The image was a simple rainbow frame around bold block rainbow lettering stating “I Woke Up Gay Again!” This meme gets posted to the group quite regularly. Today I felt inspired by my pride to create a meme to match for the transgender population. I searched Google for “Trans” in bold transgender pride flag colors. One was easily found. Then in a meme creation app on my phone, I set out to create the meme “I Woke Up Trans Again!”

It’s a simple image with quite a proud message. I am truly proud that I wake up every day as a transgender person! I hid for so long that I now want people to know I exist, that I am human, and that I wake up every day just like you.

I post my newly minted meme in response to the “I Woke Up Gay Again!” meme. A few seconds pass and my meme begins to collect good reactions. Satisfied that I showed some pride in being transgender to the greater LGBT+ group, I then post the image to the smaller transgender support group. The image again begins to collect good reactions. All is good in the world. I am feeling my pride swell.

Then it happens. My bi-weekly calendar alarm goes off. Reminding me which of my thighs will be the target of a prescribed dose of Estradiol. Instantly I feel anxiety due to the fact that I have to force my body to match who I am. The tears fill my eyes. I begin to shake with hatred that I for whatever reason was born a female with male physical sexual characteristics. I collect my medication and the injection supplies. I am now nearly filled with anger, anxiety, fear, and jealousy. I take a break and perform my calming ritual to recompose myself. Twenty or thirty minutes pass, I am now calm enough to administer my medication.

I return to my post in the transgender support group and make a small comment.

“WTH dysphoria!?!?
When I first posted this I was proudly claiming my trans-ness.
Then my reminder that today is E shot day went off and all of a sudden this image is a reminder that I have to force my body to be what I need it to be.

Lately I have been trying not to focus on my dysphoria because so much time and energy is wasted when I do. I decide that today I will not be ruled by dysphoria, instead, I will own it! I go about the rest of my morning routine and begin my day. Tomorrow, I will Wake Up Trans Again!

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Being Dana… Get Your Label Here!

I’ve recently seen many labels being debated in the LGBT+ community.

Some claiming one is more valid than another. Is this really true? I say no!


To explain my position let’s go grocery shopping for someone else. Here is the abbreviated list of items you are tasked with buying:

  • Apples
  • Milk
  • Bread

You decide to go to your favorite store because you are familiar with it and you feel confident you can buy the items needed there.

As you walk into the produce section a dilemma, unbeknown to you, begins to form. There are 4 bins of apples. Red Delicious, Fuji, Gala, and Granny Smith.

Which apple do you choose for the person you are shopping for? You choose the classic Red Delicious without even really thinking. This process continues and you choose your favorite varieties of the items on the list.

When you drop the items off to your friend you can easily see the disappointment on their face. What did you do wrong? You purchased everything on the list.

I’ll explain using only the apples as the example.

Sure you purchased apples but not ones usually used when baking a pie. The label you chose did not fit the purpose.

This is an over simplification of how and why labels have so many variations. Each label has a specific purpose. Does choosing one label over another matter? Yes! It matters a great deal. Does your choice or belief in how a label fits you invalidate how another person chooses their label? Absolutely not.

A label someone chooses is as unique as that person. Some people change labels based on how they feel at the moment they are asked to provide one. Others rarely choose multiple labels.

All labels are equally descriptive and valid.

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Being Dana… Joining The Circle of Womanhood

This article is much shorter than my others and comes with a small amount of homework. You can choose to do the homework or not there will be no grade given by me.

First the homework. The assignment is to read Circle of Stones; Woman’s Journey To Herself by Judith Duerk. It being a short 70 pages makes it a quick read and it contains a great message. The book deals with the self discovery of one’s place in womanhood. It speaks many times of a circle or gathering of women who counsel, comfort, and console each other, with the younger women joining the circle as a rite of passage into womanhood. The title is intended to be a metaphor where the circle of stones are the women in the group. Strong and steadfast in their knowledge of self and their place in the world.

Swinside stone circle (Lake District of Cumbria England) Image from https://jooinn.com/img/get
Swinside stone circle (Lake District of Cumbria England) Image from https://jooinn.com/img/get

Throughout my life I have had “stones”. Strong women who have helped me when I was going through the worst feelings of sadness and depression. I found comfort in their company, in their guidance and in their examples. My mother is the first of these. She worked tirelessly to support our family and the people she cared for, rarely taking any time for herself. Over the years I have collected other “stones”. Sisters (both by blood and chosen), teachers, and friends. Some have come and had small influences in my life, while others are nearly as large a figure to me as my mother.

The book talks of younger women joining the circle when it is time. When they have found their knowledge and wisdom. I have been on a journey collecting knowledge and wisdom. Throughout much of my life this knowledge came through masculine means. i.e. “This is what it means to be a man.” This type of pattern always felt to me as if it weren’t enough. There should be more meaning, more connection to life. It has been through my journey of transition that I am finally finding what was missing. I have been living now for nearly a year as a woman. Do I now know a lot about womanhood? No, far from it. Each little bit of womanly knowledge I am finding is filling a void in me which I never could fill previously. I am becoming a more complete person.

Many of you know I have moved across the country from Highlands Ranch CO to Erie PA for employment reasons. The timing of this move in relation to my transition is amazing. I am starting life again in a new city where very few if any will ever know my old name or identity. My opportunity to grow as a woman with this change is immense. I may still be seen as a transgender person and this is more than acceptable to me. The idea of being me and only me from the start in a new place is so exciting. I will bring portions of the old me along. Those experiences made me who I am. I can not abandon them. While I leave behind some of my “stones” their impacts will always be in my heart.

I have been through my sadness and my depressions for long enough to finally emerge as the person I truly am. I have grown, as a woman, so much over the last year. I am ready to join my sisters in the circle of womanhood.

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Being Dana… The struggle of being myself

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

I’ve struggled with writing this article multiple times. OK eight times. Each of these times the article tried to deal with only my emotions. There was so much disappointment, hatred and anger that I could not bear to publish any of those versions. Much of my anger was directed toward someone I love very much, my youngest son. I also was the target of my own anger. In this version I will detail more of what happened and leave most of the emotions in my rough drafts.

Earlier this year I had come out as a transgender woman to my family, friends and finally at work. Many of the discussions I had during this time were so supportive and helped me grow so much. Discussions of my feelings which I had locked away for so long were finally common place. My many fears of rejection, embarrassment, and not being accepted as myself were being swept aside. In September I came out at my workplace. The last place where I was still wearing the costume of who I thought I had to be. Things were going well for me. Things were going well for my son also. Near the beginning of September he and his girlfriend made the announcement that they were engaged. The wedding was to be on the 14th of December.

My son had been quite surprised by my coming out news. When he shared his happy news, we discussed that I would like to be in attendance at his wedding. I felt as though I expressed that I, Dana, would want to be in attendance. More discussions followed. I could feel the hesitation at having me attend their event. It would be the first time many of my family would be able to meet me as Dana. We both felt this may take away from the celebration of the happy couple. It was suggested that I might be able to attend for a short period of time and excuse myself if anyone started to shift the attention to me rather than the attention being on my son and his bride. Even this did not seem to sit well with him. Eventually I made the suggestion that I might be able to to attend as the old me. This was my mistake. I should have never made this offer. How could I have suggested that I go back to being the person I had worked so hard to stop being. I had found such joy in finally being myself. My only answer to this is I made the suggestion based in the love I have for my son. I did not want him, his wife or the family members to become uncomfortable with me. We decided that he would take all the information I had given him about my situation and they would make a decision of who would attend his wedding, Dana or the old me.

I figured my son and his bride to be needed at least a week to make this decision. The first week passed. I got busy with something or other. I’m sure they were very busy planning and making arrangements for the wedding. Two weeks go by, we again did not reconnect.

During this time I had discussed the situation with my therapist. We discussed the many feelings I had about being part of a wedding. Among the many questions I came up with were these.

  • If I attend as the old me, how would I be seen by those who knew I was now Dana?
  • If I attend as Dana, how would I be seen by those who did not know?
  • Would I be asked to be in photographs regardless of my gender expression?
  • Would there be dancing?
  • Would I be asked to dance with my son or new daughter in-law?
  • Would I have to attend as the old me?
  • How long could I wear my old clothes?
  • Would I have to be intoxicated to cope with the stress?

I spent pretty much every waking moment obsessed with variations of these questions and many more!

I also discussed my situation with my wife, with the peer support group I attend, and with my friends. I received varying degrees of suggestions on how I should handle the situation. These ranged all across the board. Here are the basic four categories the responses fell into.

  • Not going and cutting off communications with my son who appears to only partially supports me.
  • Going as me and drawing attention to the fact I have changed and will only be seen as Dana now.
  • Going as the old me and when the stress level reaches its peak, changing into Dana.
  • Going as the old me and only staying until the stress level reaches its peak.

Putting aside the emotional and dysphoric factors these four categories it seems quite simple, anyone should be able to perform any one of these. Oh were it that simple! I have always been an emotional person. Add on the fact I have now been on hormone replacement therapy for 9 months and the situation becomes extremely complicated. Add on my dysphoria and the scale becomes exponentially complicated.

The reason I am undergoing hormone replacement therapy is to treat gender dysphoria. I am a woman who just happens to have male sexual characteristics. The hormones will finally help my body and mind come into agreement with this simple fact. Along the way my body will take on a more feminine appearance. As it does, I am also becoming much more comfortable expressing myself as a woman. One of the recent changes I made in this expression is to rid my closet of almost all my male clothes. I kept only a couple pair of pants and a couple dress shirts. I did this in case I would be asked to attend the wedding as the old me.

The removal of male clothes from my wardrobe was so freeing. I began to wonder if I would ever be able to present as male again. As the decision regarding my attendance was being made, I decided to try on my old guy’s pants. I built up my mental strength. I told myself it’ll be like wearing a costume. I stood in my closet staring at the pants. Putting one foot into the pant leg didn’t seem to be to bad. Then it hit me. I shuddered with anxiety, and a new fear came over me. I feared that I would have to hide being myself again. I would never be free to be me. The tears instantly flowed. I sat in the closet sobbing with my guy pants in the corner in a heap. When I regained composure I reached for my favorite skirt. Putting it on brought back the comfort I had searched for my entire life. This is me. I am a woman.

A few days more passed. My son and I finally were able to catch up and speak to each other. The call came as I was parking my Jeep before a scheduled therapy session, how convenient. The phone call was with him and his fiancé. A decision had been made regarding my attendance. The news was relayed and I was crushed. They had discussed the situation with a few older family members and they all had decided I should be the old me for the wedding.
They all decided! THEY ALL DECIDED! How could they do this without reaching out to me to understand the situation fully. Am I also not a part of the decision? I provided information to my son about my situation. This was conveyed with much emotion which the others did not have the benefit of experiencing. This was how my first onset of my rage began. The second was that I became furious at myself for even suggesting the option. I plead my case one more time on the call. Expressing how out of place I would feel, and not knowing if I could even do what was being asked. My reminder alarm for my therapy appointment went off. I had to end the call and go.

I walked from my Jeep to my therapist’s small office in her backyard. I was holding back the tears the best I could. The instant her door opened I began to cry. We discussed only the decision for the entire session and then some. Over the next few weeks I attempted to enlighten my son. This went nowhere. I had to come up with a plan and a few options which I could live with.

  1. I would not attend the wedding festivities at all. I felt this would hurt or relationship. Perhaps even instilling in him more misunderstanding of what it is like to be transgender. This could be overcome with time and education.
  2. I would attend as Dana and defy their wishes. This would definitely harm the relationship and perhaps forever drive a wedge between us which I feared may never be removed.
  3. I would attend for as long as I could as the old me, while maintaining a small token of my femininity intact. Perhaps jewelry, keeping a fabulous manicure or having my hair done.

Having my options in place, I set out to make my decision as to what I would do. A month went by. Knowing I would be overly stressed as the date approached, I had a made an appointment with my therapist for the Wednesday the 11th before the wedding which would be on Saturday the 14th. I began the session by explaining where I was in the decision process. I had still not made a full decision. I would already not be allowed to see the actual ceremony, as it is a religious one and I am not found worthy in the eyes of the religion to enter the building where weddings are performed. I had decided I would not attend a family dinner as I know I could not present as the old me for very long, if at all. That left the reception. I was holding out on this decision until the last moment. Perhaps even until I walked in. I did not realize it but my stress and anxiety was showing in my voice and mannerisms. My therapist had me stop everything and examine where I was mentally, emotionally, & physically. Mentally I was a mess, all over the map. Jumping from one train of thought to the next with little or no warning. My emotions were not much better. I was filled with rage, remorse, sorrow, empathy, and love all at the same time. The combination left me physically tense. My body so tight that I was in pain. I was shaking, and wringing my hands.

Have I mentioned I LOVE my therapist! She is capable of seeing exactly what I need and helping me to get there. With her help. I was now realizing the state I was in. We knew something had to be done. Discussion of meditation was brought up, including vagus nerve stimulation.

I had heard about this previously but never really understood it. All I knew was it was part of some meditation techniques. One of the easiest way to stimulate the nerve is through breathing. Deep breaths in, slow controlled breaths out (trying to exhale for a count of 6). I would also slowly focus on relaxing portions of my body, my hands, arms, legs, etc. In addition to this I was to find a pleasant memory to focus on. Some time in my life when my gender dysphoria was not as prevalent a force.

OK lets think about this for just a moment. Many months previous to this appointment I had finally accepted I was gender dysphoric and truly a transgender woman. It was then I began to examine my entire life. Trying to find the point where I “knew”. The searches I had performed of my life were extensive. I spent months sifting through my memories. Replaying the situations and examining them. the results I had found so far indicate I have always been dysphoric. I just didn’t have the words or the knowledge to label it.

My search for a time when I was truly happy with who I was and not concerned with my gender was difficult. Locating my pleasant memory took a little time, but I finally found one. As a child my family regularly went camping at Meadow Lake, near Gilmore ID. We would climb the mountain across the lake at least once during each trip. My memory was of one of these climbs. A storm was passing while we were near the ridge. We knew how to take shelter from storm especially if there were a chance of lightning. As the storm approached each family member found a small crevices in the boulder field which would provide the shelter needed. We would remain in shouting distance if someone needed assistance but we, in essence, were alone on the mountain. It was in the solitude of this memory where I found my comforting image. The mountains and valleys around me were being blanketed by the sheets of rain from the storm. The vantage point I held allowed me to see the storm, a rainbow and the sun shining among the rugged beauty of the mountains all at the same time. It is at this point in my life where I found solace in being alone, knowing a storm was raging nearby, but that it would pass and I would soon feel the calming warmth of the sun.

Armed with my memory I began the breathing technique. At first I struggled and gulped for air. Soon with my therapist guiding me I was beginning to calm down. The entire process took quite a while. I may not have this much time to devote to calming myself at the wedding. My therapist knew this and suggested I talk to my physician about a prescription for Xanax, which I did.

I was prepared for the reception. I had my best & favorite supporter, my wife, going with me. We decided our puppies would also provide me comfort, so they came along also. I had supportive family members who would also attend the reception. I had a calming meditation technique. I also had pharmaceutical help.

It was Friday Dec 13th the day before the wedding. We began our drive from Denver to Salt Lake City. We decided to drive I-70 through Vail Colorado instead of I-80 through Wyoming due to high winds being forecast. Travel in Colorado during the winter is always interesting. One moment can be clear and the next you could be engulfed in a blizzard. We made it over Vail pass just before it was closed due to snow. Upon arriving we settled into our hotel, ate dinner, and I began my breathing meditation. It didn’t take long and I was calm, so calm I was asleep.

The day of the wedding had its minor ups and downs. Trying to find a dog park that was open, arranging some name change processing at my bank, etc. We ended up at my dad’s house before the wedding. My very supportive older brother was there. He was so very excited to meet his new sister & I was excited to meet him as myself. Another brother and his family arrived to attend to my dad’s social needs. Soon it was time to begin dressing for the wedding. I took my Xanax, and began my meditation. I slowly began to feel at peace.

The bathroom. So many times in my youth I hid in the bathroom and wore my feminine clothes. I was being forced (partly due to circumstances of my own making) to hide my femininity once again. I took off my leggings & blouse. I stood there in my bra and panties, looking myself in the mirror. I saw the woman I am looking at me, desperately pleading to not be hidden. I did another round of meditation, reassured myself it would only be for a very short time. With tears running down my cheeks I hid. I hid my makeup, my bra, and tried to hide my breasts. I let myself wear dangly earrings up to the parking lot. I also kept my necklace but wore it as a bracelet. I did this to show myself I am STILL Dana. I am a strong woman who loves her son so much that I would willingly hurt myself for his benefit.

The feelings I experienced when hiding myself were not over yet. I remembered our puppies would be in the Jeep with my feminine clothes. I would have to hide the clothes under the seat to keep them from being chewed. The very thought of this brought me again to a near breaking point. I offered a quick explanation to my wife of how I felt I was hiding myself again before asking her to hide my feminine clothes for me. I felt awful. The dread of having to ask someone else hide my secret which should not be a secret anymore was tremendous. I attempted the meditation again on the ride to the reception. Let me just say meditation while riding passenger in Utah traffic is not advisable. I did meditate some more in the parking lot before going into the church building. When I believed I had again found my calm, my peace we went inside.

It was not long until the feelings I was experiencing were showing signs of returning. I was so focused on hiding myself and the anxiety it was causing that I didn’t even notice if any of my hundreds of other fears about the reception were coming to pass. The level of my discomfort was rising. I sat with family who is supportive, still it rose. We discussed topics of family, work, and enjoyable activities, still it rose. I noticed I had begun to wring my hands. I was realizing I had reached a point where I needed a break. Not knowing if I would be able to return, I cut in the receiving line and called out as I did “Parental Privilege!” I said my hello to my son and daughter in-law, gave them hugs then retreated to the Jeep and our puppies. The family I was sitting with followed. My nephew and his wife were among them. They happen to have a weimaraner puppy also. We talked for a few moments then I decided I had experienced enough and needed to leave.

As we left, my wife asked if I needed to change. YES! Into a gas station we went. Straight to the bathroom I dashed. Within seconds I was again looking more like myself. Before leaving the gas station my wife asked what I wanted to do with the guy clothes. A short discussion ended with the clothes in the trash.

I made it through! I did what I thought would be a near impossibility. As I look back at it now I understand a few things better.

  • I should have never offered to present as the old me, something which I had a doubts I could accomplish.
  • I have many people who love and support me.
  • The time and effort I spent in thinking through the hundreds upon hundreds of scenarios was utterly wasted. When it comes down to it I may have only though of one thing that I could have been prepared for. I should strive to only live in the present and not try to forecast how my presence will affect any situation.
  • Self care is extremely important. If you can not be there for yourself then you can not have the presence of mind to ask for help.
  • Asking for help is a good thing. No one does anything alone.
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Being Dana… Whirlwinds of change

Photo by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya from Pexels

I’ve felt the wind most all of my life. There have been days when the gusts push my body backward, to the side and even in some cases forward.

Over the past two years my winds have changed. They became stronger. Strong enough to topple many ideals I held to be true and unchangeable. These winds have also caused many whirlwind effects in my life. Whipping around me as I struggle to find their source. As soon as I found the source it would shift location.

Try as I may, I could not resist twisting and turning to face away from the source, to look in the direction the wind was blowing. I tried to stand my ground, was it really mine? It felt like mine, I had claimed it through my actions. The ground felt familiar but strangely foreign. The wind continued to howl and strengthen. I found myself taking steps with the gusts to my back, pushing me forward. I realized I was resisting the push of the wind less and less.

One gust was pushing me onward to again seek help with my struggle. I determined that even though this one was strong, I should let it push me to help. I searched online. I read books. Many were biographies of people I didn’t think were like me. I was drawn to the struggle they detailed. The winds the authors faced were similar to mine. I began a factual search of the source of my author’s winds. I turned my face into the wind to see if the source of my wind was similar. As I did, my wind swirled wildly pushing debris in my face. When I recovered, I knew the source was similar. As I turned, facing again with the gusts, I found myself willingly taking steps forward. Somehow my understanding of the source of my winds seemed to weaken the gusts.

I now know where and what my wind’s source is. It is the drive to live fully as myself. To no longer be satisfied with anything less. I felt great about identifying the source. I thought my storm would die down. Oh my, was I wrong!

Oh, the stress I encountered from knowing my source was too strong for me to cope with alone. I sought out a therapist. Her help provides a welcome respite from the ever changing winds circling around me.

How do I accept what/who I am?

What steps are available to me to withstand the wind?

How do I discuss my winds and their sources with those around me?

Will the person I thought I was be obliterated by the wind blown debris?

What/who will be left?

I’ve spent a many months in the shelter my therapist provided. Together we developed a plan. I came up with the actions I would need to take to abate my winds. She provides shelter as I figure out the priorities. She also assists me on my thought process. When I felt I was ready to face another gust I would discuss it with her. I also discussed each step with Becca, my wife. I also enlisted the help of a local peer support group and a few online groups too.

Many times the wind felt to strong to withstand. Each time my support team would provide the assistance I needed.

My winds reached hurricane strength in July of 2019. I had reached the point of needing to be myself full-time. I informed my family of my plan. It was now time to inform my employer. I came out as transgender to my on site manager on July 11th 2019. The tornado of stress and worry had reached it’s peak velocity. There is a phenomenon with storms. Some have forward momentum but seem to stall. A few storms will fall apart at this stage. Mine did not, it’s winds held their strength until September 19th 2019. This was my first day of work. Yes I had been working my entire life but never as my true self. It was on this day that Dana withstood the winds. I eagerly took steps forward with the winds I had fought for so long. (Those steps were in strappy black wedge sandals accompanied with a black lace skirt, a cream lace top & burgundy pullover sweater.)

I have now been walking with my winds for a month. I do still experience gusts, from family with their acceptance of me, from members of the general public with a judgmental look, from the processes I have to follow to recreate myself as who I should be. All of these gusts now seem more manageable. Yes, some gusts have more strength than others. Most I can now bear alone. There are some which in my view blow me back a step or two, especially gusts from well meaning family. In reality I have not been blown back. Perhaps a little to the side, or held without forward movement for a time. But like the winds I have already faced. These will also pass. I’m hoping they will eventually turn in direction and be at my back, pushing me forward.

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