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Personal Experience Spotlight: William (Bill) M. Alexander

I Am Who I Say I Am

    As a writer, names are a crucial step in the process of creating a good, well-rounded, believable character. Over the years, I’ve come up with dozens of characters. Probably close to the one hundred mark at this point.  And not one of them has been named by process of quick thought or random choice. I spend a lot of time thinking up their names, how they sound, and how they fit the overall sense of who it is I’m giving them to. Names mean a lot to me. That’s why I changed mine.

From a young age, I was overweight and had an overactive imagination and an assortment of oddball family members that made carnies seem relatable, both literally and figuratively. And once puberty hit, I really knew I was screwed, as when my male friends starting noticing the girls in our class, I started noticing the boys. All of this quirky dysfunction was summed up in what I considered the worst name on earth: William Allen Schulz.

My first name came from my grandfather on my mom’s side, who was also William. My middle name came from my father’s side of the family, after a distant uncle I’d never met, per a request I have an ‘A’ somewhere in my name. My last name, as it was spelled, should have been pronounced with a sliding ‘sezz’ sound at the end, but because of my family’s impeccable taste for difference, they pronounced it as though it were spelled Schultz, only without the T. I’ve had arguments, yes, actual arguments, with people on how to say my last name.

With this as my reality, I delved into writing as a way to cope. Through writing, I explored the complex and freighting scenarios the real me wasn’t ready to handle. In effect, I came up with characters that did what I could not, or—thought I could not. There was Max, the artist, who followed his dream, regardless of what others thought of him. Maris, the shameless flirt I never thought I could be. Miss LeQuesha, a voluptuous African American woman who embodied my sassy, take no BS nature. And Cassandra, a take no prisoners badass who made anyone who opposed her quiver in fear as she pressed the tip of her heel into the side of their face. And then there was Alex. Alex was handsome, funny, and sweet, balanced with a dash of nerdiness. I envied Alex in every way you could desire to be another person, most of all for his name.

The first time I heard the name Alex was in my sixth grade gym class.  It belonged to what I considered at the time to be the handsomest boy I’d ever seen. I loved everything about his name. How it was spelled (I found the x exotic), how it came from the tongue with a smooth roll, and above all else, how it sounded passing from our gym teacher’s lips to my ears. Alex was a name I associated with rugged appeal and strength. It didn’t take long until Alex Williams was born, my very first pen name. Finding some redemption with my first name, I began to sign every piece of writing I finished ‘Alex Williams,’ even toying with the idea of changing my first name to Alex and my last name to Williams. At that time, I was going through a number of changes, physically and personally. When I was twenty-two, I came out of the closest as a gay man and in the following years, I lost over one hundred pounds. I gained a sense of style and adopted a medley of wonderfully supportive friends. Slowly, I turned the focus of what I perceived as ‘wrong’ with me – namely my odd sense of humor, overactive imagination, and sexuality – into something special and worth embracing.

I realized I had come to embody many of the characters I created. It was not they who I had taken my strength from, but rather I who’d given my strength to them to nurture and protect until I was ready to carry it myself. With all the changes I had made in my life, both inside and out, I knew I no longer desired the name I was given. William A. Schulz felt like a second, constricting skin, one I willingly kept blanketed around myself in favor of its suffocating familiarity. He was a fat, self-loathing mess who’d outstayed his welcome. I came to the decision in early June of 2012 that I would legally change my name to William Michael Alexander. I came up with a covert plan to go through the process of changing my name while keeping my family in the dark. To some degree, I was successful in the operation. I researched everything I needed to do to legally change my name and only confided what I had done and what lay ahead to a few trusted friends. Shortly before my court date, I came out to my family in regards to my change and found an overwhelming response of indifference.

My favorite reaction by far since then has been when I tell someone about my name change and have them respond with a quiet concern and cautious curiosity. I’m still waiting for someone to ask me, “Who are you trying to evade?” as if I were on the run from a loan shark or had the notion to fake my own death. I suppose it’s rather uncommon for a man in his twenties to change his name for no other reason than because he wanted to, which, in my opinion, is a biased view of our society. Women who change their name, while often for marriage or other reasons, are looked upon with much less scrutiny. Even the judge for whom I had to swear an oath of truth before stared at me with a perplexing befuddlement when he asked what purpose I sought for the change and my response was, “It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.”

And that’s why I wanted to share my story. I wanted so badly to come across something while in the process of my name change that would provide a sense of encouragement, a reprieve from the linguistic legal mumbo-jumbo, and tell me in simple verse that it’s okay to change something about you if it betters you, even if you’re the only one who understands it.

© Bill Alexander for Acceptance Revolution, 2013

Interested in sharing your own experience? Click here for details!

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Personal Experience Spotlight: Lauren Dobo/Eric Ryan

My Poor Mother: Dichotomy of a Denomination

My mother grew up as a pretty, pretty princess. She wasn’t the obnoxious, bratty princess, but rather the daughter that every father dreams of having. Even as a toddler, my mother was such a proper little lady: always in an appropriate dress with stockings and carrying a small version of a woman’s purse. Tea parties with her dollies and fancy china set were common, and etiquette was always a priority. She had dreams of marrying her own handsome ‘prince’ and having a daughter who she could dress up in frilly, pink outfits, brush her long hair, and have little tea parties with her. How happy she was when the doctor told her and my father that in May, when all the pretty flowers bloom, they would be having a little girl….Then I came along. (I say that last line with great pride, a giant smile on my face, and deviance in my eyes, as well as a tiny bit of guilt for my poor mother.)
Everything in my room was pink, and whatever dolls weren’t filling up my crib were lined around the walls. My mother would take me to my paternal grandmother’s house every day to dress me in a wide assortment of dresses and take pictures. Everything was perfect for her. Well, it was perfect until my little baby brain began associating colors with gender. I didn’t want to wear light, feminine colors like my mother wore. My father always had dark color clothing like blue, green, and black, which was what I had wanted to wear. So, around the age of eighteen months, I began throwing temper-tantrums if my mother put me in a dress or anything light colored until she changed me into something more masculine or gender neutral. It was at approximately this time that my secretly gay uncle hypothesized to himself that I would be taking a girl to the prom.
Later on, I developed my first crush on the girl next door to my maternal grandparents’ house. Her name was Brandi, which I thought was adorable spelled with an ‘i’. She had beautiful blue eyes and long blonde hair. Her smile just lit up my world. She was four-years-old. I was three. (I continued to always have a thing for older women.) During the winter, she would always bring her little dolls over and we would give them rides on my favorite collection of Hotwheels cars. (Those cars used to be my brother’s until he mysteriously ‘lost’ them.) During the summer, she would sit outside while I performed tricks on my tricycle and rolled my sleeves into a muscle shirt to show off my ‘manly physique’. Oh, those were the fun days.
One of those summer days in particular, my grandmother called me in for the usual peanut butter and jelly lunch. She had made an extra sandwich and asked me, “Isn’t your girlfriend coming over?” Back then, I didn’t realize that women, especially in my grandmother’s generation, referred to their female friends as ‘girlfriends’. I had thought the term was only used to describe a member in a romantic relationship. So, being the typical little boy in denial of his feelings for a girl, my face got beat red as I informed her, “She’s not my girlfriend, grandma!” and ran off to the backroom to hide for the rest of the day. Since that moment, I have wondered if my grandmother knew I liked women. Brandi was in the picture for most of my very early life until she broke my heart when I was seven by telling me that she was moving to another town.
Shortly after, I became close with Melissa, the girl next door to my parents’ house. Melissa, my brother, and I used play our favorite game: Power Rangers. My brother was the Blue Ranger (Billy), and Melissa was the Pink Ranger (Kimberly). Of course, I was the Green Ranger (Tommy) because he was the coolest, the toughest, and the most handsome, and I wanted to be just like him. In the show, Tommy won the affections of Kimberly. I wasn’t attracted to Melissa, but I used her and the situation to develop a prime value: chivalry. My parents weren’t going to teach their little girl how to be man, so I had to teach myself from the cues of Tommy and use them on Melissa. After a while, I began thinking of chivalrous actions on my own. It was perfect because I could always use the excuse that I was just playing the Power Rangers game, and that’s what the characters did in the show. I began learning how to be a gentleman by holding the door and doing sweet little things like picking flowers from the park and giving them to her.
There was one time in specific that I gave her one of my ‘bouquets’ that became very significant. After I handed them to her, she said, “Thank you, Lauren.” Then it struck me. Despite what everyone else thought, I knew that I was a boy. I felt like a boy, I played like a boy, and now I was treating girls like a boy. I needed a boy’s name. Without thinking it through thoroughly, I ran inside to where my mother was doing laundry. Looking her dead in the eye, I said, “Mom, I don’t want to be called Lauren anymore. I want everyone to start calling me Ryan.” After spending a good twenty long seconds of silence while my mother gave me the ‘deer in headlights’ look, I realized that it probably wasn’t the best thing to say to her, so I ran back outside, and it was never spoken of again. I’m quite sure that it was at this moment that my mother realized I wasn’t just a tomboy. I was different, very different.
My mother stopped giving me dolls every Christmas in the hopes that I would want to play with them one day. Those presents were replaced with footballs, Batman toys, and my own set of Hotwheels. I started Martial Arts so I could fight like Tommy, and that was followed by joining a basketball team and a softball league. I really wanted to play hockey and football, but that’s where my mother drew the line. During the summer, I would go to work with my father, who was a plumber. I became engrossed with construction and manual labor. The guys on the jobsites and my father were all idols to me. I hoped that one day I could be one of them. I quickly started becoming the typical sport-loving boy who wanted to be like his dad and a chip off the old block.
My body started changing, too. I started developing muscles and got really excited when my voice slightly deepened as a laryngeal prominence began appearing on my neck. I thought that by the time I was an adult, I would develop into being a physical man. I started working out and trained like a Marine in Martial Arts because I thought it would help my mind and body develop into a man’s mind and body. However, the world came to an abrupt end a couple months before high school when I reached puberty. I was crushed.

Throughout my athletic era, my father became involved in everything I did and even played football with me since my mother wouldn’t let me join a team. I’m not saying that he isn’t intelligent, but it does take a little more time and effort for the mice in his head to get the wheel turning. My mother knew when I was seven. My father became suspicious when I was nineteen. It took a lot of cross-dressing and a constant playing of a music playlist that I titled ‘Gay Songs’. He started getting the hint and did something that I thought was really cute. The song Dear Mr. President by P!nk was on and after the line “What kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?” played, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Any father that would hate his daughter for being gay is a horrible father.” I became very nervous, so I shook my head in agreement and let it go.
About a week later, he stopped me as I was on my way to school. He was trying so hard to be polite, and he always has a tendency to try to sound a little more sophisticated than necessary. I really feel like he should’ve been sitting in a therapist’s chair, wearing a monocle and a top hat while stroking a long beard when he asked in a deepened voice, “Have you—ever thought about—your—-sexual orientation?” Up until that point, I had never thought it was possible to be stricken with such terror while wanting to burst out laughing hysterically at the same time. I finally let out, “Yes dad, I’m gay.” Unfortunately, he still thinks it’s a phase.
At that time, I used the word gay because I didn’t know there was such a thing as being transgendered. Coming from a Catholic household, I was sheltered from many things including cursing, arguing, drinking, partying, and sexual topics. It was like living on Sesame Street. I had only learned that a gay community existed when I was thirteen because my Catholic school wanted to protest the political topic of gay marriage. Although I was able to mildly associate with gays, I didn’t really fit in that group either. Yes, I was a girl who preferred girls, but I didn’t identify as a girl. It wasn’t until I turned twenty that I discovered the trans-community.
When I turned twenty-one, I moved an hour and a half north from my parents. It was the perfect opportunity to develop my personality. The name Eric would have been my name if I was physically born a boy, and the name Ryan was the name I had chosen for myself. I put the two together, and my new identity became Eric Ryan. I lived in a new home, a new community, and had a new life. I began making plans on the possibility of a mastectomy. I did research on bottom surgery, and I just could not bring myself into undergoing a surgery that hasn’t been performed often. The reviews I read were pretty negative, and they scared me away from the thought of that surgery. Depression started taking over because I thought I would never get to be the man I felt I was. After many long meditations, I decided to try to embrace my female body. At first, I despised it. I had a very hard time with the feminine look. After many attempts, I finally got used to it, and then I started liking it.
Gender fluidity became my new identification. I don’t fall into either polar gender, and I don’t identify as either one unless I dress in a polar fashion. If I’m in a dress, I’m a girl. If I have facial hair, I’m Eric Ryan. Usually, I’m somewhere between, but typically closer to the male pole. Living gender-fluid is amazing because I don’t have to confine myself to societal rules and guidelines. I can be who I want, when I want, and how I want with the sole definition of being ‘me’.

© Lauren Dobo/Eric Ryan for Acceptance Revolution, 2013

 

Interested in sharing your own experience? Click here for details!


Personal Experience Spotlight: Jess Farris

“But I thought you were a lesbian!?”

Three years ago, I sat in a diner across from a friend and told her that, “If me and Kate* break up for good; I’ll probably go back to dating guys.” To anyone who has spent a significant amount of time with me, Kate needs no introduction. She was my entire life for the past 4 ½ years. More than just my girlfriend; she was “the one.” I was so sure of this that I actually put an engagement ring on hold during one of our on periods… then, consequently, going and getting my money back when we were off again. This was the nature of our entire relationship; hot and cold, off and on, break up to make up. Yet, in my mind she was the love of my life, and the good times most certainly outweighed the bad. Only, they didn’t. In hindsight, I realized that during those off periods while I was missing her, I would romanticize the relationship. It was all good, and I could prove it to her if only she would give it another chance…
About 5 months ago I finally came to my senses. I wasn’t happy; she wasn’t happy. She didn’t want to put in the work and I was exhausted from working so damn hard. Mutually, we decided to stop torturing ourselves and ended things for good.

So, there I was during one of our “breaks,” eating a grilled cheese sandwich and chatting with my friend. I’m sure we were going back and forth about our relationships and how depressed we were, but what sticks out most in my mind was that comment I made about going back to men. After I blurted it out, my friend asked me, “Why?” I shrugged and said something along the lines of, “I don’t know. I just think it’ll end up happening.” I didn’t know why I had said it or why I was thinking about trying things with men again. Especially since I was still so in love with Kate, or at least I thought I was at the time. And while me and her did end up getting back together (and breaking up) for years after I had this conversation with my friend; the seed was planted. I didn’t consciously sit around and wonder about hooking up with dudes but I would sure as hell dream about it. And it freaked me the fuck out. I’m a lesbian; why am I having dreams about men?! Lying in bed next to my girlfriend, I would wake up feeling guilty and confused. I figured the curiosity, or whatever the hell it was, would just go away. And it would for a few months; and then the dreams would start up again.

I talked to my friends about it and they all pretty much had the same thing to say; maybe it was simply because I had never tried it. I did have a couple of boyfriends before I came out. We did some PG-13 stuff but nothing too heavy and never went as far as sex. So technically, I was still a virgin. I was always the type to get super annoyed at people, especially guys , when they would say things like, “How do you know you don’t like sex with men if you never tried it?” Which I would then turn that question back on them, and we would both have the same answer- we didn’t need to try it, we just knew. But now I wasn’t so sure. I was terrified to have sex with a man. Not only was there the whole “ouch” factor, but I really don’t trust men. Some shady shit has happened to me in the past, and it’s left me scarred. I don’t like to let them in because I fear getting hurt. And I’m not as comfortable around them sexually as I am with females. When I finally gave in to my attraction to girls, I thought I had it all figured out. Women are beautiful; I can trust them AND be free sexually without fear. This is great! I’m a lesbian, and I never have to worry about men in that aspect again. Yet here I was; and the seed was growing.

I just couldn’t shake this feeling. This wondering…  During my last few breaks from Kate I found myself making out with boys. I wasn’t really sure why I was doing it. I told myself it was because I was lonely and bored. And most of these kisses did nothing to excite me; I felt nothing but a mouth attached to another human being. No connection; no arousal. And then when it came time for me to “work things out” with Kate, again, I definitely did NOT want her to know about these hook ups. She would think I was disgusting! How dare I go and kiss boys, being that I was so gay. This fear of what she would think branched out further into what would the lesbian community, my community, think about me and this new found curiosity in men? I would be labeled a traitor. Not to mention feel like a hypocrite.  I myself had seen friends, and friends of friends, who were once with women exclusively and now had boyfriends or husbands.  I remember thinking, “How they hell could they just switch sides like that?!” Now, not only was I confused and fearful of these new feelings I couldn’t get rid of; I was afraid of being shunned by a group of people that in some ways felt like my family. Coming out and making friends within the gay and lesbian world makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. You feel free and proud; supported and loved. Was I going to lose all of that based on a maybe? Even if I did “experiment” with men, there was no telling if I would enjoy it or not.

Needless to say, I didn’t really have to deal with the negative backlash of the community. Once Kate and I split for good, I realized that most of my gay friends were really her gay friends. My core group of friends were straight, bisexual, or somewhere in between. And they were certainly not going to judge me for whatever the hell I was going through. After the break up, I finally felt free to explore the curiosity that was gnawing at me from the inside out. I needed a break from the whole gay scene, not to mention Kate and her friends, so I avoided the gay bars. I mean, it wasn’t hard; there are only 2 within an hour of my house. But that’s beside the point. I started doing what every newly single girl does; I went out with the ladies! I hit up the “straight” bars and clubs that I only went to on occasion before because there was nothing for me in them; I already had my girlfriend. I drank, danced, and actually started giving guys some of my attention. I was enjoying myself. I was still confused as all hell, but I liked meeting guys. Something that I felt was always missing in my relationship with Kate is what I call “feeling like a girl”. I can only describe this as a feeling you get inside when you’re with someone who makes you feel pretty, feminine, protected, and safe. Kate did nothing wrong; I just always felt like I had to have the more masculine energy and I didn’t like that. Now I was starting to get this feeling I craved by being out in the straight world.

As much as I was enjoying myself, there was still a huge amount of uncertainty and fear. But something else was weighing heavier on my mind: the fact that almost everyone I knew still referred to me as a lesbian. It’s not fair for me to be mad at them for doing so when they weren’t aware of the direction I was headed in. I didn’t want to go around telling everyone because, quite frankly, I didn’t know what the hell to tell them. I wasn’t ready to call myself bisexual because I wasn’t sure that I was. I was also afraid that people would think that the whole “lesbian” thing was just a phase. I mean, it was and it wasn’t. It wasn’t a phase in the way that the homophobes like to call being gay a phase. It’s not something I was just experimenting with or getting out of my system. No matter what gender I end up with, I will always be attracted to females. It was a phase, in the sense that that part of my life is on pause right now as I’m entering into a new phase, or chapter, of my life. I’m not sure where this will take me, but I do need to explore it.

At this point in my life I don’t want to define myself as a lesbian, bisexual or straight; I just like who I like. I personally think it’s ridiculous that, as a society, we feel the need to go around labeling people to make ourselves feel better. By putting everyone in their appropriate box, we somehow feel safer? I don’t get it. All I’m looking for is a genuine connection with another human being; gender only plays a small role in that. So yes, it gets frustrating when people still refer to me as a lesbian. Especially if there is a guy I’m interested in and I get cock blocked by someone saying, “Oh, you have no chance with her. She’s gay.” (It has happened, and it’s fucking annoying.) I no longer want to be known as so and so’s gay friend, that “hot lesbian” or what’s her names ex girlfriend; I’m just Jess.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

© Jess Farris for Acceptance Revolution, 2012

Interested in sharing your own experience? Click here for details!


Justifying My Love

I have a profile on a free online dating site in which I’m pretty much as open and upfront about who I am and what I’m looking for as I am with those I meet in person. In it, I explain that I’m really only on there because I feel that meeting new people that way vs trying to forge connections via shouted conversations over the music in clubs and bars is still the proverbial lesser of two evils in many respects. I also put my dating history out there (ie: “I’ve been with women and FtMs so please be open-minded about that and respectful/accepting of people’s differences if you want to talk to me”). And honestly, I don’t really have any major complaints as far as the overall experience goes; I’ve actually met some really cool people and developed some awesome friendships out of the deal.

I’ve gotten my share of fun bar stories too, like the guy who reasoned that maybe I’d be more attracted to him if he looked like a girl and tried to dress up in my clothes (I’m 5’2″, he was around 6 feet or more, and the result was pretty hilarious). And, not too surprisingly, there are also plenty of cisgender guys who have a million and one questions about my choice of partners in my dating history. One recent conversation I had covered the primary question and comments I get, so I figured I’d transcribe the gist here:

Random Cis Guy: What attracted you to an FtM?

Kristin: I was just attracted to him as a person, but what really made the dynamic so great and intense was that I was kinda the ying to his yang in that, where I’ve always been super-comfy in my own skin, he had to go through so much to get to that point for himself. And he also expressed to me that my liking him simply for who he was helped him be even more comfortable with himself; so that’s a pretty cool feeling, too.

RCG: Yeah, but I don’t see how this could be enough to date them. What is wrong with a guy who doesn’t have severe mental and identity issues?

K: What do you mean by that?

RCG: I guess I’m saying I would never be able to do what you did. You must be an incredible person to see past all that.

K: I guess I didn’t really view it as “seeing past” anything. The way I see it, I crossed paths with an amazing human being who’d had some incredible life experiences that were vastly different from my own, and we were able to learn from and grow with each other on an entirely different level than a lot of couples get to; that’s pretty awesome in my book.

RCG: Well, wait til you hear my experiences.

Suffice to say, based on that conversation, he wasn’t about to hold my interest as someone I viewed as a like-minded individual. And as I was never privy to hearing about said experiences,  I am merely presuming when I say that I imagine this last statement chalked up to little more than some strange variation of a pissing contest… but given how bent he got upon realizing that I was less than overwhelmed by his charms, I somehow doubt I’m that far off base.

In any event, while I “shouldn’t” necessarily  have to worry about things like being called upon to justify to random strangers whom I choose to spend my time on and why, I also don’t always mind having the opportunity to put it out there to people either. Worst case scenario, they’re rude about it, and I don’t talk to them again; best case scenario I shed some light and new understanding for someone on an issue that’s important to me. And either way, I’m reminded of the amazing people in my life and just how blessed I am to know them… and yeah, that is most definitely beyond awesome in my book.

© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2011