© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2014
© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2014
“Hearts, Not Parts”: Breaking the Cycle of Biphobia-Induced Shame
When I was about five years old and my mom was pregnant with my sister, she met a woman named Nese who she then left my dad for. Growing up in a world of Ptown and same sex couples and rainbow stickers then seemed like no big deal; that was just how life was: People loved people, and it never seemed to matter whether they were male or female. At the same time, I started to “hook up” with the neighborhood girls… so even at a young age, I knew that I liked boys but also really liked girls.
It wasn’t until 3rd grade when a boy in my class told everyone my mom was a lesbian that I started to have feelings of being ashamed and like maybe it was different to have two moms. This was circa 1994, way before Ellen and Rosie. There was no media to look up to and tell us such feelings were totally ok and shouldn’t be hidden. So when we transferred to a very prestigious and wealthy high school, my mom’s beat up old jeep with a rainbow sticker was the last thing I wanted to be seen in. And it wasn’t until I graduated high school in 2004 that I felt comfortable enough to express to others – including my mother – that I felt like I was bisexual. And surprisingly enough, the one person who took it not very well was my bisexual mother, stating, “Being gay is just such a harder lifestyle. I just wouldn’t choose for you to be a minority.” She of all people told me it was just an experimental phase and that I would get over it.
Well, it’s 2014, and after completing my Bachelors in Science in sociology and taking majorly enlightening classes about gender and sexuality, I’ve realized there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. And I wish I could have known Kinsey; I would love to just make out with his face for creating the Kinsey scale. Even the media has opened my eyes with shows like Nip Tuck and The L Word and Queer as Folk. I spent time living in Hollywood, and WeHo is the most amazingly accepting and beautiful place. Even the cop cars had rainbows on them. I had never felt so comfortable being exactly who the fuck I was. In fact, my first night In WeHo I had so much fun dancing and being me, I woke up the next morning in a pool of my own pee! God, what a great night!
But aside from all of it, there is one way I know I am completely and totally gender neutral toward lovers: My dreams. When I dream, I have the most explicit sexual fantasies about both men and women equally. When I am attracted to someone, it’s their soul I want to be close to. The body parts are just perks. I have better sex with girls, definitely, and can only truly get off with them. But when it comes to dating and being in actual relationships, it normally tends to be with guys; they are just simpler and less dramatic. Also, I think part of me knows I was meant to end up being in a lesbian relationship … I just feel more authentic in the gay world.
My mom is now dating men and has been since I was 13, saying woman are just too emotional and too much work; she is 58 and still single. It’s so funny with the stereotypes these days because everyone always tells me I “look straight,” and that my little sister, who is as straight as the day is long, “looks gay” … and I’ve always thought, “What the fuck does that even mean?” People are also constantly telling me to “pick one or the other already,” and I’m just so sick of it. Lesbians think I’m greedy, and straight people think I’m confused. But I’m not confused; I simply reply with, “There are so many flavors of ice cream in the world, why would I eat one for the rest of my life?” Fortunately, I have never been one to care what people think of me especially those that can’t understand me.
I still keep in close contact with my other mother Nese, and she is the only spouse of either of my parents that I still feel a connection with. I am very thankful to have been raised in a very liberal and open-minded world, even though it was more difficult at times. It has made me who I am: a very bold, loving, honest (sometimes too honest), accepting person. I may not have a career or ridiculous house or car, but I have the ability to love and take care of people around me. I make friends everywhere I go with all kinds of people. I am wholeheartedly passionate about people and traveling and seeing things that can open my eyes and my heart. My ideal job would be to open and run some sort of LGBT center for anyone seeking help or guidance as a life coach … maybe someday!
© Mallorie Ruston for Acceptance Revolution, 2014
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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
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Evolution Revolution: From Finding Acceptance Within Myself to
Finding Compassion For All Living Beings Without
Growing up, as soon as I had a say in what I wanted to wear, I chose the gender-neutral or more masculine options. This was accepted as I was considered a tomboy. But it didn’t change the fact that, throughout my childhood, I was made more uncomfortable with the regretful apologies from strangers who made the “mistake” in referring to me as a boy. “Oh, I’m sorry… It’s the hat you have on, but now that I can see your face, there’s no way I could ever mistake you for a boy! Such a beautiful face you have!” There was also the insistence that I would grow out of it. I never thought I would. I never wanted to. I never did. Sexual orientation was unknown to me. Since I was a girl, I thought my only option was an attraction to boys. I dated a few and had a relationship with someone who was 6 years older than I was. He was my older brother’s friend and paid attention to me. I liked him. I was interested in these boys, but not in the “attracted to” way. It was more a longing to be like them. Things between us ended after 2 years dating on and off. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that someone presented me with the possibility that my lack of romantic interest in boys was due to the fact that I was attracted to girls. My entire world opened up, and my body responded in ways I had never experienced when looking at boys.
It was the summer of 1996 when I came out to my family as lesbian. I was 16 and decided to break the news at a family reunion. First, I told my cousins individually and without incident. Then my Aunt Katherine, who knew I had something I wanted to talk to her about, asked me about it in front of everyone. I figured since I had already told everyone but her that it wasn’t a big deal to just come out to her right there. She wasn’t exactly closed-minded, but made sure I knew she didn’t believe that I was old enough to make such a “decision.”
About a week after the reunion, I received a letter from my other aunt, Amy, who was unable to attend the reunion. Katherine had filled her in, and Amy felt it necessary to express her opinion of my “inappropriate” announcement and make a point to say that, even though she knows gay people, none of them ever go around announcing their sexual orientation. Not to mention, of course, neither has she. Being heterosexual is assumed to be the norm. The only reason for coming out is if you don’t “fit” the norm. She wasn’t even there to truly know how my coming out to the family played out. Over the next few years, she’d make comments about my fear of men due to my having been in a relationship with a 19-year old when I was just 13. Yes, he did take advantage of me and it was not a healthy relationship. It wasn’t until 10 years after the fact that I realized he did, in fact, abuse me.
Over the last few years of high school and well into college, I struggled with the loss of my parents. My mother died suddenly, but not unexpectedly, from a prescription drug overdose when I was 14. Three years later, my father died of pancreatic cancer right before I started college. After my mother was gone, my aunts (my mother’s sisters) tried to provide guidance as they thought my father was unfit to raise us properly. He proved them wrong in time, but it was a tough road for him to raise three kids alone. My aunts’ guidance did not go well as they saw my behavior, lack of social grace, and not fitting in as a problem. I didn’t want to fit in. I wanted to be ME, and if they couldn’t accept that, then that was their problem. Not mine.
My father’s side of the family is more old-fashioned, and my Uncle John almost insisted I wear a skirt to my father’s funeral out of respect for my father. I refused and wore a shirt and tie, which I tied myself, just like my father taught me a couple years earlier when I was 15 and he took me to buy my first suit.
Once I was in college, my aunts eased up on me and saw that being in lesbian relationships was where I fit and that I wasn’t going to change. They even welcomed the few girlfriends I brought around once in a while to family gatherings. Everything was going well on the outside. Within me, another battle ensued.
For 4 out of the 5 ½ years I spent in college and living with my grandmother during breaks from school, I was a complete mess. I didn’t fit in anywhere, and my body was a prison. My involvements with women went on, but at some point, I shut down. I didn’t want to be touched or viewed as a woman. It felt so foreign. I felt like a freak. An unlovable freak. Gender expression for me had always been masculine. Always. At work, I was consistently referred to as “Sir” and with masculine pronouns. Of course, once I would turn around, half the people would profusely apologize as I rolled my eyes and tried to shrug it off. Most of the time I didn’t care, and I actually came to prefer the masculine pronouns. My name tags always had a shortened version of my name which made it gender-neutral. It would be whenever I went home to be around family that the deeper issues came to light. With each use of my full given name, I would cringe. Any reference to me as a girl, woman, she, her… it all didn’t fit. It was as though everyone saw something else when they looked at me. I saw something else too. It took me 2 ½ years to come out to myself as trans. It would be at least another year before I came out to my family.
Once I graduated from college, moved out on my own, and had a job with health insurance, I took the necessary steps to make me feel more comfortable living in this skin. I started testosterone in April 2003. My name change was finalized the following August. It was in October that I sent a letter to every member of my family. They all received it the week before a family gathering celebrating my grandmother’s 80th birthday. To my surprise, nearly everyone came up to me with open arms and acceptance, and a few even had no trouble calling me by my chosen name and referring to me as their nephew and using masculine pronouns. It was incredible! I felt more a part of a family unit and felt genuine love and support from nearly everyone. My aunts asked me about my transition and wanted to be reassured of my physical and mental health. Of course, my grandmother and a couple uncles couldn’t see past my past and break their habits. I tried to be patient, but after so many years, it felt like they never cared to try. One year, one of my uncles gave everyone cell phone charms. Mine was a very feminine butterfly. After seeing my reaction to it, he explained that the butterfly was a symbol of metamorphosis. I politely thanked him and never spoke of it again. Some people aren’t worth the energy.
Since my grandmother passed away a couple years ago, the pronoun and name slips have nearly vanished. Her insistence on using my given name and assigned pronouns were most likely the influencing factor.
Fast forward a bit to 2010. With my new comfort in my own skin, I found myself curious to explore my sexual desire to be with male-born men. After a time of getting used to the unfamiliar territory of being social with gay men, I found myself in a relationship. I mentioned the possibility of my dating men, and no one in my family that I shared this with batted an eye. I felt safe knowing my family is incredibly supportive and open-minded… but are they as open-minded when it comes to something outside of gender and sexuality?
I had been vegetarian since before coming out as lesbian, and this was never an issue. There was always food prepared that I could eat whenever a family party came around. In November 2010, I began volunteering for a sanctuary that rescues farmed animals from the food farming trade/industry. It wasn’t but a few weeks when I made the compassionate choice to no longer contribute to such unnecessary suffering and went vegan. I expressed in a blog post on Facebook that, on December 1st, I was going vegan. It was shortly before Thanksgiving, and I knew I had my family dinner to attend and wasn’t going to make anyone go out of their way for me. Again, to my surprise, they had prepared a Tofurky Roast dinner just for me with veggie sides without any butter. It was amazing! I couldn’t thank them enough for making the effort to include me, and I again felt support and love.
Over the past year, my involvements in veganism, activism, outreach, and animal rights have increased since I first went vegan, and my posts on Facebook have been a little hard to swallow for my meat-eating family members. Not once have I invited a debate. My only intention is to spread awareness of the plight of animals raised for food and what people actually pay for when they choose to eat animal products, all for the purpose of enabling them to make their own informed choices. It didn’t take long before the arguments, confrontation, and blaming me for making them feel like “a soulless bastard” for eating animals were expressed. Their denial and defensiveness for their choices only bring to light the questions they should ask themselves: Why do they feel this way when they see the truth of where their food comes from? What is it within themselves that makes them feel like “a soulless bastard?” And so the blocking of my posts from Facebook newfeeds and retaliatory posts ensued. Relatives I felt close to were now pitting themselves and their immediate family members against me in online debates. Family parties became awkward as people would hesitate to talk to me. What are they afraid of? I have also noticed the increasing lack of options for me to eat with each party I attend. Before going vegan, there were always 3-4 options that just happened to be vegan. These options continued to be a staple at these gatherings. I never went hungry. It was after the debates on Facebook and my “militant activist” posts that things changed. A baby shower called “Beach Babyque” in August had a large spread with only one vegan dish along with cut up raw veggies and chips. I was in a dark place emotionally, and my Aunt Amy noticed. When she asked me about it, she said it was good that I forced myself to come out and that she was happy to see me, but she couldn’t leave it at that. She had to make a comment about me needing more dairy in my diet to help with the emotional darkness. She laughed and again told me she “isn’t on board with the whole vegan thing.” I know she isn’t. She doesn’t have to make it a point to tell me numerous times.
Just last December at the annual holiday party, even vegetarian options were scarce. All they had for me was cut up celery, carrots, radishes, orange slices and grapes, and tortilla chips. The always-safe quinoa salad had feta cheese in it this time. Also, when talking to my vegetarian friend who I asked to come with me as a buffer, Amy talked about a friend who is a chef and made a phenomenal meat-based meal. Amy considers herself a non-meat-eater. She stopped eating red meat decades ago. She doesn’t equate meat with poultry and fish and calls herself vegetarian. Last I checked, neither fish nor chicken and turkey are vegetables.
So, my family has been able to accept and support me through coming to terms with my sexual orientation, to my transition from female to male, to my recent dating history with men… but when it comes to my vegan lifestyle and beliefs, they scoff and avoid conversation with me. Never have I felt so ostracized and alone among those I love and who claim to love me. I feel like I am the 500 lb purple gorilla in the room no one is supposed to acknowledge.
With all the horror stories I’ve heard about people being disowned and disrespected for their “choices” in terms of gender and sexuality, I considered myself extremely lucky to have a family so supportive and without judgment. It never occurred to me that my choice to abstain from the eating, wearing, and exploiting animals would outcast me farther than I have ever been from a group that is so open and accepting of everything else. No one can choose their relatives, but everyone can have a chosen family, and I have found the most acceptance and support within the animal rights and ethical vegan communities.
© TylerJaik for Acceptance Revolution, 2013
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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
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I remember watching Luminous (the seventh episode of Showtime’s The L Word, circa season two) and really relating to this one particular scene where the character Jenny Schecter goes off on an impassioned diatribe over the way a guy in her creative writing class has portrayed women in his latest piece: “Because … you basically turn them into these nameless, faceless, body part whores… Your main character, Jasmine, she, like, opens up Madelaine’s world by giving her the best fucking orgasm she’s ever had, which, I don’t know if you know this, is the primary sex act that two women can actually have! And then you go ahead, and you belittle it by turning it into pornography, and I think that the reason why you’re doing this is because men can’t handle it, the fact that these women can have this amazing, fucking, beautiful, mind-blowing orgasm, without a fucking cock!”
This is the season where Jenny’s character is first coming out, and – as clearly evidenced in that monologue – she does so in a completely balls to the wall, in-your-face manner… and it made me smile, because when I first started exploring my own attraction to women in my late teens, I was exactly the same way. Growing up with my hardcore religious mom and feeling like I already fell short of her expectations anyway, just by being me, I went the rebellion route with a lot of things, and my coming out was very much that in-your-face display of defiance against both the pain of that rejection and my upbringing in general. I talked about it constantly, read every piece of lesbian literature I could get my hands on, and engaged in mixed company PDA’s with my girlfriend for the sole purpose of sparking double takes and reactions. And of course, eventually I outgrew that behavior… but in the interim, when I was so defiantly focused on inciting the response, it either left me immune to or, perhaps, simply didn’t leave room for the feeling of being on the receiving end of those outside perceptions and judgments that I think many people struggle with during their coming out years.
Later on, I experienced outside perceptions and judgments to a degree when I initially felt the need to justify to a couple of girls who asked me why my ex and I were at the gay bar if we were “straight” that we were cool and still “belonged” there because he was FtM . But with the exception of that one incident, the majority of outside perception and judgment was pretty nonexistent when I was with him. I was still open about who I was and who I loved to a certain extent, researching and writing on trans issues for several school assignments, and sometimes (though not quite with Jenny Schecter level flair, force, and fire) taking it upon myself to put makers of exceptionally ignorant or intolerant remarks during class discussions in their place or to provide mini sex and gender education 101 lessons to the occasional, curious cisgendered guy who wanted to know what I had against “regular” dudes like them.
One subject that came up a lot in my research were stories of partners of transpeople struggling to renegotiate their own sexual identities after their partner’s transition – and true, maybe I would have felt differently had my ex transitioned during our relationship rather than the several years prior to our having met, or had I been exceptionally attached to a lesbian identity – but renegotiation wasn’t an issue for me. Though I wasn’t in-your-face about it this time around, the incident with those girls in the gay club solidified for me that I had nothing to apologize for or justify to anyone; this was who I loved, that love came by sheer merit of who he was as a human being, and I was proud to have him by my side… and at the end of the day, that was all that mattered. And at the end of the day, having him by my side also meant that I became a recipient of heterosexual privilege… and I think privilege in general is a really easy thing to get used to. Soon enough, I hardly gave it a second thought, quietly blending in, privately enjoying my favorite dichotomy of appearing one thing and being another, yet no longer feeling the need to broadcast it to anyone and everyone within earshot.
The other thing about getting comfy with privilege is that, in a way (or at least for me), I think it can sometimes negate the need to really think too deeply into things (or at least the need to think about them as they apply to you personally)… and there’s a world of difference between feeling empathy and compassion over seeing someone else coming up against adversity and facing it head on yourself. Because I never directly felt the impact of any negative repercussions as far as how I was perceived by the outside world, I simply never thought about it beyond this abstract thing that happens to other people… and while I feel for them and speak out on their behalf, I realize it’s still never really touched me. One ex-girlfriend of mine blogged about an experience we had where a random woman came up to us in Target to tell us how cute we were together, and where I had simply smiled and thanked her, my ex described a very different experience of tensing up in anticipation of a confrontation when the woman initially approached us before exhaling in relief when her comment wound up being positive. Add to that the fact that, with all the strides made towards equality, it can be easy to get lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that things have gotten so much better, that maybe society is finally progressing, becoming more open and accepting over time… and I was legitimately thrown by the ignorant comments of my classmates during my undergrad (not to mention learning that my knowledge of gender and sexuality was more current than that of a few of my professors, a couple of whom I wound up filling in on the stigmatizing nature of the word “hermaphrodite” for intersex people).
To an extent, yes, we have made strides toward equality… but there’s still just as much hate and intolerance to be found too, and I sometimes forget that until it smacks me in the face. And, fast-forwarding to present day, the fact that I’ve been primarily dating transmen for the better part of the last four years also means I’ve now enjoyed the appearance of heteronormativity for as long, strolling hand in hand with my man of the moment with no one around us batting an eyelash. So when I found myself on a date with a woman again not too long ago (and wasn’t incorporating the shock value factor this time around when we held hands or shared a kiss in public) for the first time ever, I was fully aware of the stares and double takes from the people around us… and I wasn’t really prepared for it, honestly. I mean, it wasn’t like we were out in the Midwest somewhere; this is a North Jersey town about a half hour outside of New York City, and last I checked, it was the twenty-first century. But apparently some of the passersby in the park where we were walking hadn’t gotten that memo. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like people were throwing rocks or admonishing us because their children were present or anything like that… but it’s also not like we were engaging in any sort of heavy PDA either, and had I been enjoying those initial “getting-to-know-you” moments with a male, no one would have given us a second glance. As someone who’s always been so matter-of-factly open and outspoken about such things, that sensation of “don’t look at me!” discomfort was a brand new one for me. All of a sudden, I was experiencing that hyper-awareness and self-consciousness that just about everyone else confronts when they first come out… and while it’s certainly not something that would ultimately deter me from exploring a connection with someone, it was enough to make me feel a little of that discomfort that I had initially escaped.
As a result, I started really noticing and becoming sensitive to a lot more; a few weeks later at a Halloween party, I overheard a guy commenting on how “freaky” it was “not being able to tell who’s a guy and who’s a girl” as I passed him with an adorable gender fluid friend of mine (she happened to be dressed in boy’s clothes that night, but all he really had to do was look at her delicate-featured, obviously feminine face in order to render his irritating and ignorant remark completely unnecessary). I settled for shooting him a dirty look over confronting him, but I was pretty pissed off on her behalf until she shrugged it off and talked me down, pointing out that, as far as she was concerned, his insecurities were his and obviously had nothing to do with her… pretty much, if she wasn’t losing sleep over it, why should I? And yeah, it’s awesome that that was her attitude about it. It used to be mine, too, if I really thought about it… but apparently feeling suddenly conspicuous after all these years had put me on the defensive… and even as I’m writing this, I can feel the residual defensiveness coming through in portions of the retelling. However, it also helped me cultivate a whole new level of awareness and understanding… as well as a renewed appreciation for how fortunate I’ve actually been to walk through the world feeling as safe and comfortable in my own skin as I do overall; I know not everyone is as lucky. But I also have to acknowledge that these challenges are real and they’re mine, too… I’m not just here to empathize with and ease things for other people. If I should, at some point, happen to connect with a woman on a deep, significant level again, there’s a very real possibility I’ll also eventually wind up having to revisit all that “mama drama” a second time around… and while I can hope my mother may have mellowed with time all I want, I can’t know for sure unless or until that happens, and the uncertainty is a scary thing to sit with; she’s gotten as used to my heterosexual privilege as I have, if not more so. The one thing I can be sure of, though, is that, whatever obstacles and challenges may be part and parcel of it, whatever rearranging and renegotiating might need to take place, as long as where any of us ultimately end up is in a place of being true to ourselves and our own hearts… that’s what makes it all worthwhile.
© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2012