An End!

Friends, my adventures in Asia have come to an end.

After seven wonderful months in Thailand and Singapore, I’ve come to roost (temporarily, at least) in England with my girlfriend Lizzie.

Thailand is a beautiful country full of wonderful people. The metropolitan areas have everything you could want, if you come from western civilisation, and the rural areas are charming and surrounded by lovely countryside, mountains, rivers, lakes and jungles.

I found the Thai people to be very hospitable and friendly, although there is a gangster element that you should be aware of should you go there – but generally speaking, if you don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with you.

Thai women are, to my eye, incredibly beautiful and full of love. It’s unfortunate that many poor Thai women are raised to believe that their lot in life is to sell sex – either openly via brothels or as massage ladies or bar girls – or by attaching themselves to wealthy foreigners.

That being said, it is not difficult to find great massage shops that are not fronts for brothels, nor is it difficult to find honest Thai women who are looking for love and companionship without an ulterior monetary motive. They’re out there, but if you’re a single male with a decent bank account, you should be aware that there are some Thai women who will try to cozy up to you just for your money… not that that’s always a bad thing – maybe you’re okay with that.

All of that being said, I’d love to go back to Thailand someday, either as a tourist or to stay. The friendliness, culture and Buddhism are all appealing to me, and despite the low-level scams that happen more frequently than in the west, I find the people to be genuine in their hospitality, and that goes a long way for me.

Sawadee khrap!!

The Price of Transparency and Living with Inconsistency

In 2010, I made the decision to be very open and transparent about gender transition.  The reason for this was twofold:

First, the amount of shame that I felt about myself as a person – as a transgendered person – was overwhelming.  I thought about the thousands, tens of thousands, maybe millions of transgendered people who had spent their entire lives miserably trapped in the clothes and lifestyle dictated to them by society based on their genitalia.  How many people turned to alcohol… how many to suicide over the decades and centuries of strict gender enforcement. 

I felt like I owed it to them to make my transition a public one.  I wanted people to understand what it meant to be trans, what transition felt like.  I wanted people to know the good and the bad, and maybe not be so afraid to accept themselves for who they were… to not be afraid to question, and re-question who they needed to be.  Transitioning in public – blogging about it, speaking about it, joining panels, joining organizations – this was my way to help prevent the next kid from growing up ashamed of what they felt about themselves inside.

Second, I had already spent a lifetime keeping secrets, and I was through with it.  I needed to be open for myself – to cleanse myself of deceit and forgery.  I owed it to myself to be honest, and since I’d been keeping the truth from myself and the world, I felt it was important to me to share the truth with myself and the world.

I don’t regret it.  Any of it.  But I’m paying a price.

While I was presenting female and living as a transgendered woman, life was very difficult.  The comments, the stares, the sudden stopping of conversations when you walk in the room.  The verbal threats and very real potential for violence.  It’s not something I would wish on anyone.  Transgendered people – both male and female – face a very difficult struggle for acceptance in a world still largely populated by people who grew up being taught that trans folks (generally referred to by much more offensive names that I won’t repeat here) were freaks, perverts and often child molesters.  They were unwanted, and if they got beaten up, it was their own fault for going against the grain and they should fall in line with everyone else.  

That was the mentality for a long time, and for many people it’s still the way the world works, although as is the case with racism, homophobia, etc, people who harbour hateful views of transgendered people are beginning to learn to keep their bigotry quiet (aka “in the family”) for fear of social backlash.  That’s a good step for trans rights, but it does still meant that – again, like outdated views on interracial marriage or homosexual relationships – we simply have to wait for a certain number of people to die before society’s level of acceptance moves significantly forward.

That is… in western culture.  Bigotry is still widely accepted in eastern culture, which is starting to cause me some trouble.

I’m currently living in Thailand, and looking for work somewhere within a couple hours flight of Singapore.  I’m competent in my career and have a lot of experience.  While I think I did ‘okay’ at my last job, I admit that I was struggling with gender transition and the abduction of my children, which sent me into a pretty grave depression.  I still managed to get quite a few things done at work, though, and am proud of what I accomplished.

The trouble that I’m running into is that the price of being open about the struggles of life is that one appears completely unstable when compared to the dozens of other job-seekers who keep all of their problems private and put on a perfectly happy, problem-free and undoubtedly inaccurate public face. 

I *know* that sharing my struggles with gender identity and depression have helped people.  I know people whose lives have been saved by reading what I’ve written – by listening to what I’ve said.  I *know* that sharing those struggles was and continues to be the right thing to do for me – for who I am and what I am able to give the world.  I *know* that my life has been saved by the people who have read what I’ve written and have come to my aid when I needed it most.  If it was not for speaking out, for blogging, for utilizing Facebook to find the help I needed, I wouldn’t be here today.

So I don’t regret it, and I wouldn’t take any of it back… but it means I will continue to be judged; continue to be seen as unstable, unreliable, unpredictable and generally not someone who should be hired or depended upon for anything.

Perhaps that’s a fair assessment.  My life has been chock full of unpredictable twists and turns.  I’ve struggled greatly with depression, and it has impacted my ability to consistently operate at my full potential.  It frustrates me more than anyone.  I have great ideas that get stuck forever in a notebook.  The times to work on them never come.  The discipline isn’t there.  A new idea comes and shoves the last out of the way before it gets anywhere.  It’s always been this way.

I know that I will be excited about something for a short time, and then bored with it.  If it’s something I *need* to do, I will feel not only bored with it, but imprisoned by it, and I’ll find a way to escape.  It’s the way I’ve always been.  It’s part of the reason why I never finished school.  It’s the reason why I don’t finish projects.

Life is a series of challenges, all but one of which we find ways to overcome.  Somewhere, there is a good job for a guy who has to deal with bouts of crippling depression and who gets bored with things very quickly.  What job?  I have no idea… but I think it’s going to be hard to find it in Asia, where folks are openly less forgiving of individual weaknesses and take pride in pretending to be 100% every day, even when that’s not remotely possible.

 

More on Gender, Hormones and Sexuality

I received a comment on a previous post that generated a response that was detailed enough to warrant a blog post of it’s own.  

The comment/question received was:

“I’ve been reading your blog, and also about your transgendering, with interest. I find your description of how you felt like a female interesting. It makes me wonder if those feelings were in how you identified your gender or did they also include wanting to have sex with men? Wouldn’t you say these are possibly two separate things? Seems like some transgender people are also gay, although it all seems very confusing to me. I’m not sure how people can sort it all out for themselves.”

My response:

You’re absolutely 100% correct in that biological sex (what physical body a person was born into), gender identification (which (if any) gender a person ‘feels like on the inside’), gender presentation (how they choose to look on the outside), and sexual preference (who you want to sleep with) are all separate things… none of them are completely dependent upon the other three.

Some possible examples:

– Someone born biologically female, feels that they are ‘wired’ to be a female, chooses to dress and live in the world as a woman and is attracted to men would be a “straight, cisgendered female”.  My mom is a good example of this.

– Someone born biologically female, feels that they are ‘wired’ to be male, chooses to live and dress externally as male, and is attracted to females would be a “straight, transgendered male”.  Chaz Bono is a good example of this (whether or not he chose to have surgery).

– Someone born biologically male, feels that they are ‘wired’ to be male, chooses to live some of the time expressing themselves as male and at other times as a female for entertainment purposes and is attracted to men would be a “gay, male drag queen”.  Ru Paul is a good example of this.

– Someone born biologically male, feels that they are neither wired particularly male or particularly female (or possibly both, together or separately), chooses for convenience to present to the world as male, and is attracted to women would be… probably best described as a male-presenting genderqueer person who is attracted to women. I’m pretty close to being in that bucket, but you can start to see where trying to apply labels gets a little bit tricky.

I gave a keynote speech once at the annual general meeting of Options For Sexual Health group in Vancouver, BC.  In that talk, I outlined what I see as the reason why our peculiar need to categorize people into groups is going to become increasingly difficult in years to come.

Most of us are born with a penis or a vagina, and a body that without any external influences (operations, hormone supplements) would naturally develop into a recognizably male or female adult.  Historically, we’ve decided as a society that people therefore belong naturally into two groups: male or female.  

But if we look beyond genitalia (which is sometimes necessary, as there are people born more often than you’d think with either both sets of sexual organs or neither), it gets trickier.  Testosterone and estrogen, which are primary influencers on both physical and emotional development, are produced naturally by both men and women.  Each individual has unique levels of testosterone and estrogen… but society and the media have historically told us that men *should* have a lot of testosterone and very little estrogen, and that women *should* have a lot of estrogen and very little testosterone.

Until recently, we’ve been put under a lot of pressure to conform to those guidelines.  We remember the comic-strip advertisement of the big guy kicking sand in the face of the little guy and taking the woman away.  The little guy then works out, gets bigger and whoops the big guy, taking the girl back.  Women are encouraged to pretend they have no body hair, even though we all know otherwise.  Small, sensitive boys get teased and bullied.  Big, strong women get mocked and ostracized.  All because they were born with hormone levels that didn’t conform with the social ideal.

As a person (one of few) who has had the opportunity to live in a body dominated by testosterone in addition spending time living in a body dominated by estrogen (AND about 8 months in a body with very low levels of both hormones), I can say that my experience is that a lot of our “natural” driving instincts are dictated to us by hormones.  

When I have a testosterone-dominated body, it is easy for me to become territorial and possessive.  My body prepares itself for combat when in the presence of aggressive males, and I am highly attuned to situations that could develop into a fight.  When a fight is brewing, I will be ready to either fight or escape, depending on who is around and what the vibe is.  I also have found that I’m lazier in a testosterone-based body.  I will work hard when I either enjoy the work or feel that part of the reward of working is winning a workplace competition (getting recognition, or a promotion or a bonus), but if I don’t see the purpose in doing the work, I generally won’t do it.  I am much more competitive in a testosterone-based body.  I had a high sex drive and was attracted primarily to women.

When I am in an estrogen-based body, there are some similarities to my testosterone-based other self.  I am territorial.  I am attuned to potential fighting situations, but my instincts are more to protect than to dominate. There are also differences.  I am far more productive when I am on estrogen.  I want to get things done because they need doing… not necessarily because I’m going to benefit directly from their completion.  I was not satisfied if my apartment wasn’t at a level of organization that was sub-standard, and my standards were higher than they are when I’m driven by testosterone.  I had a high sex drive and was still attracted primarily to women.  Although I could understand the desire to have a “manly” person in my life to give me a sense of security and acceptance, I did not find myself particularly attracted to men sexually.

The most interesting time of my transition was the early period, when I was taking spironolactone to block testosterone production, but before the estrogen supplements had built up an influential level of estrogen.  During this period of time, I felt very much like an alien who had come to earth to observe life.  I could go to a bar, for example, and watch the interactions between other bar patrons with amusement. I did not have any sex drive to speak of, and therefore did not feel like I was a part of the sexual competition that was taking place on some level in most bars I was at. It amused me to watch women turn some guys down and show interest in others.  I watched guys encourage each other to talk to girls.  I watched girls pretend to ignore guys, then check them out when they weren’t looking and discuss them with their girlfriends. Everywhere I went, I felt like I was watching a documentary on the human species, because I simply didn’t have any hormones telling me that I needed to participate. 

From all of this, it may seem like I’m saying “Men are aggressive and lazy, and women are hard-working and organized”, but I can only speak from my own experience, and the only thing I’ve touched on so far is that there are physical differences as well as behavioural differences (for me) between testosterone and estrogen… and the thing that makes the human race interesting to me is that hormones are not a zero-sum game.  If someone (a man or a woman) has, say, Level 9 Testosterone (I’m making up a measurement system), that does not mean that they have Level 1 Estrogen, for a sum total of 10.  There are people in our hypothetical measurement system who are Level 5/5, Level 8/3, Level 1/2, Level 10/7, etc..  Some women have lots of testosterone and lots of estrogen, some who have low level of both, some who have a medium level of one and a low level of the other, and so on.

So, we have a lot of combinations of ways in which a person’s body and behaviour can develop, depending on how much testosterone and how much estrogen their body naturally produces.

But – and here we start to get to your comment – there are also many ways in which the hormone differences did NOT impact me as a person.  No matter what hormones were or weren’t coursing through my body at any point in time, these things were constant:

– I loved following the Washington Redskins

– I loved playing video games

– I loved food that was bad for me

– I was significantly more sexually attracted to women than I was to men

– I enjoyed driving

– I loved playing guitar, and listening to Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, etc

– I talked a lot, and too loudly

So you are correct – my sexual orientation (who I want to have sex with), wasn’t linked to either my gender identity (how male or female I felt in the inside), my biochemistry (what hormones were in my system influencing my behaviour) or my gender presentation (whether I dressed/presented/lived as a male or female on the outside).

As a bonus, and since I’m in the writing groove, I’ll explain a bit more about the theory I shared with Options for Sexual Health (OPT).

Society is beginning to expand upon it’s previous strictly at-birth-genitalia-based definitions of men and women.  Chaz Bono is a well-known example of a man who was born with female genitalia.  There are many more examples, but most are not well-known outside of the transgender community.  There are some traditional expectations of men… men should be strong, hold down jobs, not like floral print, not wear pink, be attracted to women, be aggressive, etc.  Women have been asked by society to be small, thin, attractive, well-behaved, interested in raising children, attracted to men, keep a clean and attractive home, not be interested in sports, etc.  Recently, women have also been pressured to be financially successful, even though they are still also expected to raise families without a lot of help from men (good luck, women!). 

But in the last 5-10 years, we’ve begun to accept that there are significant numbers of women who are interested in sports.  There are significant numbers of men who like to keep a clean and attractive home.  There are large, strong women and small, weak men.  There are women who were born with penises.  Men born with vaginas.  Bi-gendered people who sometimes feel and present male and sometimes female.  

The world is starting to recognize these “new” (not really “new”… these people have always existed, but were never able to safely reveal their feelings) types of people.  In Australia, genderqueer people can get passports and birth certificates with an “X” for gender, indicating that they are not strictly male nor strictly female.  Young transgendered people today can go through hormone treatments during puberty, dramatically altering their physical and behavioural development into adults.  Many high schools today have “cliques” of genderqueer or gender-non-conforming people whose presentation (hair style, clothing, etc) does not conform to traditional expectations for their gender.

What all this amounts to is the fact that the percentage of people in the world who consider themselves “male” or “female” is dropping.  It’s dropping slowly – but it’s really only been in the last few years that anyone has been allowed to think outside of the “gender binary” (the idea that there are two and only two genders, and that everyone must be one or the other).

Since this is a very new change in society, we are only beginning to see the first steps of what I believe will be an increasing trend of people choosing not to identify themselves as strictly male or female, but as an individual that prefers not to be associated with all of the expectations and pressures that come with being lumped into one of those groups.

So if we accept the premise that the percentage of people who neither identify as male nor female will grow, we must also accept that the percentage of people who DO identify as male or female will decline… and it’s that phenomenon, I explained, that will make it more and more difficult for us to categorize people as gay, lesbian, straight or bi.

If you have fewer people who claim to be “male” based on the presence of a penis, then you have fewer potential mates for women who identify as straight, or men who identify as gay.  Fewer and fewer “females” makes it less and less easy for straight males or lesbians to find partners.

I don’t expect this to have any significant impact on the dating scene anytime in the near future… but it was not that long ago that interracial or inter-faith couples were socially prohibited.  We are currently seeing a social evolution toward the acceptance of gay and lesbian couples.  In gender development, we’ve seen women progress from property to partners, and from homemakers to entrepreneurs.  Expectations on men are changing as well, albeit slowly, as society begins to accept the idea that perhaps stay-at-home Dads are not simply lazy, or failures as providers.

These changes are happening now, and the advent of the internet and social networking does nothing if not speed up the sharing of ideas and quickens the spread of messages that encourage the acceptance of our differences and the discouragement of bullying and discrimination… so I really do think that we’re looking at maybe two or three generations before all of us who grew up believing in a strict gender binary have died off, and kids are being raised in a world that sees people more as individuals with differing genitalia than as “men” and “women” with specific expectations and roles based on the presence of those genitals.

Catching Horses & How I Entered Transition

In the United States, we have a saying – “Get back on the horse.”

Like most American sayings, it’s probably actually a British quote in origin, but the idea behind it neatly encapsulates the spirit of perseverance that defined America during it’s rise to prominence.

During my time in Thailand, I’ve had the opportunity to meet dozens of expatriates (expats) who have left their home country, determined to create a new life for themselves in Paradise.  These entrepreneurs are usually white, usually middle-aged, and usually have had some financial success elsewhere that gives them the opportunity to buy cheap in Thailand and launch a new venture.

I’ve always had a bit of an entrepreneurial streak in me as well, and occasionally find my mind skimming across business ideas as I drink my coffee and watch Thais and foreigners alike walk the streets in search of something to do, or something to buy.

Many foreigners open up bars, massage houses or small hotels (guest houses).  My guess is that they do this because these are the things that drew them to Thailand in the first place.  Every Thai city of reasonable size has a tourist industry that revolves primarily around alcohol and beautiful women and requires accommodations, so it makes sense for vacationers who want to make the permanent move to invest in what they know best – vacationing.

Naturally, Thailand has many other amazing things to offer – beautiful, serene Buddhist temples, exotic animals, breathtaking landscapes and an ancient and loving culture – but these are not areas that foreigners have expertise in, having by definition come from elsewhere.

But let’s get back to horses, for a moment, and the idea of getting back on one after you’ve been thrown.

From the mid 1990s till about 2006, I was a dynamic, effective, successful young man.  I had a ten-year span when I was able to consistently exceed even my own expectations of what I could accomplish.  I showed promise in my career.  I delivered.  I was rewarded.  I met a beautiful girl who was out of my league – but she loved me, we got married and started a beautiful family.  The raises and promotions kept coming.  Opportunities were grasped and capitalized on.

From 2006-08, I had a series of setbacks.  I interviewed for a job as a producer, but was offered (and accepted) a job as a project manager instead.  I didn’t make a very good project manager, and was let go.  My next job had me doing more project management and doing some web code adaptations.  I’m not a coder.  I was let go from that job as well.

After that, I got another job producing, and was very pleased with how it was going – but the company turned out to be part of an illegal investment scheme perpetrated by the guys at the top of the ladder.  When the economy collapsed, the company folded.

I spent 2009 unemployed – but despite the previous setbacks, I was still determined – supported by my wife – to make a go of it.  Enlisting two friends from the failed company, I headed up a small team that designed and built a very effective football statistic algorithm generator.  We were able to project fantasy sports statistics with greater accuracy than ESPN, FOX or the NFL.  In fact, I struggled to find anyone whose stats proved to be more accurate than ours.

Unfortunately, we had no funding, and while I was able to find a few small mom & pop fantasy sites that were willing to host our generator, I couldn’t close a deal with any established brands.  I like to think that the reason for that was that the economy was in shambles, and people were hesitant to invest in anything new, but the reality is that the tool – while effective – was based on mathematical concepts that were difficult to explain, much less understand.  The people I was pitching to couldn’t easily see that the product worked as promised.

Another thing that happened in 2009 was therapy.  I’ve struggled with depression most of my life, and am no stranger to therapy – but for some reason, in this particular year, I could not shake the fact that I had been repressing an inner femininity that I was too ashamed of, too afraid to acknowledge.  

I began to resent the fact that men are held by society (particularly by straight women) to a very narrow definition of acceptable appearances, behaviours and familial roles.  After struggling the past few years to keep food on the table and a roof above our heads, I was angry that the difficulty I was having in my career translated in the views of my more financially successful in-laws that I was not a good husband, not a good father.  Not a good man.

It bothered me that after growing up watching women successfully fight for the right to break the social expectation that they should be nothing more than homemakers and mothers, I was still locked into one very rigid set of requirements to be considered a good father and husband.

Make money.  End of story.

Many men, when they are unable to find or keep steady work, turn to alcohol to combat the feelings of failure.  Some turn to drugs.  Some womanize.  Some get violent, or unapproachable. These are not conscious decisions.  No man says “I can’t find work… I should probably become a raging alcoholic, so that I don’t feel pain.”  It starts as a friend trying to help out by taking the guy out to a bar and getting him drunk, so he can forget about things for a while.  Then it happens again, and again.  Soon enough, it’s status quo.

This wasn’t the case for me.  I didn’t turn to alcohol to battle back my perceived inadequacies as a man… I stopped being a man.

This was no more a conscious choice than in the case of the newly-minted alcoholic… I didn’t decide that the best course of action was to start seriously questioning my gender identity – it’s just how my brain decided to handle things.  

I’d always held women in extremely high regard.  While there are many obvious examples to the contrary, in my mind, women are smarter, more attractive and more determined than men.  I’ve been fascinated with women since I was young.  I was jealous of girls in high school – they had the freedom to try to make themselves look as good as possible without being teased or bullied about it.  They could wear beautiful, amazing clothes if they wanted to – or they could throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.  During my high school years, it was common for teenage girls to go to school wearing boxer shorts and a tank top if they felt like it.

They spent a lot of time trying to look sexy, and to my eye, they were largely successful.  I, however, was skinny and geeky (this was well before “geeks” were considered cool). I wasn’t popular at my school.  I ran with a crowd of boys with weird body types who, like me, preferred to live in make-believe worlds where we were strong, popular and powerful. 

One day in 2008, I decided to stop trying so hard to be “the ideal man”.  I bought clothes that felt breezy and loose, rather than my standard outfit of jeans and an opened button shirt with a t-shirt underneath.  I wore stripes instead of solid colours.  Cotton linen pants instead of denim.  Loafers instead of sneakers.  

My wife was pleased with the result – she thought I looked handsome and sharp… but in my mind, I was taking a brave step outside of a very firmly-defined set of fashion safety restrictions that had forever protected me from being accused of looking gay or girlish.  Once I was outside that box, there was a whole new world to be explored.

It started with fabric.  Wearing loose linen trousers made me feel free.  I liked the way they felt against my legs.  I liked the way they would brush my skin.  Everywhere I went, I felt like I was sauntering on a beach in a light breeze.  My movements became less restricted… less safe.

I have a natural tendency toward “girlish” movements.  When I run, my arms flail out to the sides, instead of pumping along like pistons.  Crossing my legs in a “manly” fashion has never been as comfortable to me as the way women are taught to cross their legs while wearing skirts.  My wrists err on the limp side.  If I dance like nobody is watching, I’m mocked if someone’s there to spot me.

My wife was a very good referee in this regard.  Later, she would tell me that she and her friends frequently commented on the feminine quality of my movement.  Sometimes, she would tease me about it, and I’d get self-conscious.  When we were young, my brothers and I were always mocking each other good-naturedly about appearing too feminine, and again, I’d become super-aware of how I was perceived.

When I allowed myself the soft feel of cotton, the feminine movements returned, and they felt good to me.  They felt more natural, more *me*.  I began to question seriously for the first time whether or not I was transgendered, though I’d never actually heard the term before in my life. 

One night,  I simply could not shake the question.  It was burning in me, and I couldn’t think of a way to find the answer without putting my entire identity at risk.  How does one answer the question of their true gender identity?  

I turned to the internet, and began to research.  In 2008, there were not a ton of resources online for trans people or, more accurately, the trans-curious (if that’s not a term yet, it should be).  Most sites were poorly designed collections of links maintained by people who had gone through transition themselves, and wanted to offer resources to those who followed, but most of the links they had were to sites that no longer existed, or that wanted to help trans-women with makeup tips or voice training.  

I wanted to know who I was.  

I found the COGIATI test – a test designed by a male-to-female (MtF) transgendered video game designer to help people determine whether or not they are MtF trans.  I knew that a simple online test could not accurately answer this question, but I took it anyway, and the results were completely in line with my suspicion that I was transgendered… not a cross-dresser, not a fetishist, not gay, but full-on transgendered woman.

The next day, I told my wife Karen that I felt like I needed to talk to a therapist who understood gender identity, and why.  Karen took the news in stride, to her credit, and agreed.  I told her that I wanted her to come with me, so that we could learn what this was together, and so that she could help provide another perspective to the therapist to complement my own.

Karen and I met with the therapist (a very nice woman) several times over 2009.  The therapists assessment matched that of the COGIATI test.  In her opinion, I was as female “on the inside” as any cisgendered woman (that is, a woman born with a female body).

The news came as a relief to me.  I was not losing my mind.  I was not crazy.  I was not the first person in the world who felt this way.  

To Karen, the news was a crushing blow; an ultra-humiliating death knell of her marriage and future with me. 

While we remained together until 2011, our breakup took place in 2009, shortly before my mother’s untimely death at age 59.  The exact words were, “I can be your best friend, and we can be roommates, but I’m not a lesbian – I’m not attracted to women, and I can’t be married to a woman.”

My heart was shattered.  In my mind, I understood her logic, but my heart couldn’t understand.  Yes, maybe I was a woman – but I was the same person she’d been in love with and married to.  I was still me – how could she stop loving me?  I was finally going to have the chance to embrace the life I was given and live uninhibitedly as myself.  I felt like the changes I would be going through were superficial, and that we had shared a connection that ran deeper than how I presented myself to the rest of the world.  I thought that we were partners, for better or for worse.

That was the day I was thrown from the horse.

I had taken a huge risk in having the courage to share a very private battle with my wife, and I’d lost her as a result.  If I’d stuck with jeans and sneakers, continued to stress myself out over my feminine movements and buried my curiosity behind a facade of masculinity that was never really there, then I’d still be married to the amazing wife and mother that I was lucky to have met in the first place.

But it didn’t happen like that.

I was thrown from the horse, and with the cat out of the bag (apologies for the metaphors), there was no turning back.  She knew me for what I was, and had made her decision.  The only path forward for me was to put my best foot forward and give it a try.

My transition itself and subsequent decision to present as male once again have been well-documented elsewhere (several elsewheres), so I won’t go through all those details again.

The salient point of this blog post is that I’m still trying to catch the horse that I was thrown from three years, three countries, two jobs, two suicide attempts and two gender identity changes ago. 

I am a better man for having gone through transition (twice).  I have a better understanding of myself, and a far better appreciation for the challenges faced by the LGBT communities.  I have made a lot of friends and earned a fair amount of respect.  It has come at the cost of anonymity and a loss of respect from people who view trans people as social anomalies whose lack of “stability” is best avoided.

While I feel that I’m going to come out of this period of my life stronger and better prepared for the future than I was going into it (that which doesn’t kill us, etc), I grow impatient with the wait.

I long to return to the levels of productivity that I had prior to 2006.  I want to create and produce.  I want to contribute.  I want to be a good father – someday a good husband again… but I’m still not ready yet.

Some people like to say “Time heals all, you’ll know when your’e ready”.  Others say “Nobody is ever ready, just start and it will come to you”.  Both views are valid, because every situation is unique.  There *is* an amount of time needed to heal… and it’s also true that if we wait for conditions to be perfect, we’ll be waiting forever.

I want to get back on the horse… but I’m still rubbing my bruises, and the horse isn’t quite in reach yet.  

I think that relaxing in Hua Hin, Thailand has a healing quality.  Being close to my children is a component as well.  

I feel that in the next few months, I might be ready to catch that horse and hop back on.

Gulf of Thailand, Psychic Peeling, Buddhism and Original Sin

I’m writing today from a rooftop “garden” in Hua Hin, Thailand.  The guesthouse that I’m staying at has three floors, so I’ve got a 4th story view of Hua Hin.  There are some buildings here that are taller than the one that I’m in, but I still have a couple of views of the Gulf of Thailand through the telephone poles and wires that serve as a canopy to the shopfronts of the small sidestreets (sois) of Hua Hin.  The sun is so bright that I can barely see my laptop screen.  It’s probably 84 degrees, Fahrenheit.  The salty breeze is welcome, and reminds me how much I do not miss the stagnant, dirty air of Chiang Mai.

I made it down to the Gulf today.  The beach was like none I’d ever seen.  Clean, soft white sands.  Nearly clear greenish water.  The water temperatures were perfect.  I never felt a single rock or shell under my feet.  The water was calm; the swimmers old.  It was very pleasant.  It took me 10 minutes to walk back to my guest house (going the long way), and I was completely dry by the time I arrived.  A reminder to drink plenty of water, because the sun takes it out of everything here, quickly.

As I bobbed around in the salty water, I thought back in time about my family and my childhood.  

During the past few years, I’ve been dealing with parts of my life that I’ve not fully understood, one at a time… peeling back layers of my past and learning about them.  Learning about myself.  I did not realize until this week that I was undertaking a personal excavation of my psyche, but once it dawned on me, there was no denying it.  

We are all born innocent.  The Catholic view that we are inherently born sinners as a result of Original Sin is a myth that lacks evidence and breeds guilt.  The mother that dies in childbirth is not the victim of a murderous newborn. The baby that causes her father to bleed from the bridge of his nose when she hits his glasses is not guilty of assault.  

Babies need food, protection and love.  If they get these three things, they will survive.  At some point in their development through childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood, they must learn to provide these things for themselves if they are going to be happy and independent people (this is not to suggest that people who cannot feed themselves cannot be happy – I’m speaking in generalities).

As life goes forward, babies learn to be afraid of things.  Sometimes, this is very helpful… we should be cautious around stoves, some animals, other people behaving aggressively, etc.  At other times, this is hurtful.  Some children are taught to be distrustful of westerners, or poor people.  Children are taught to fear ‘God’, otherwise known as the disapproval of clergy, and to do as Grandma says, whether or not Grandma is a hateful bigot.

More often, though, the lessons children learn are taught through action, not through words.  While some families teach racism and homophobia explicitly via words, it is much more common for a young white boy to sit in the front seat of the car and watch his father walk past the group of black men sitting outside the shop in order to go in and ask the white man inside for directions.  The lesson is subtle.  

The lessons I learned were nearly all positive, in my view.  Both of my parents had progressive, liberal views.  Both were politically active.  Both worked to help the underprivileged.  Still, they weren’t perfect and didn’t come from perfect families.  

One’s tendency is to start at the beginning – or before the beginning.  We want to look at the history of our families and identify the defining moments that shaped our parents, and ultimately ourselves.  Maybe with the right therapist, this method can work.  What I am discovering, though, is that I need to start with today, and work backward.

Why am I here?  How did I end up on the roof of a guesthouse on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand with a laptop, a bottle of water and the key to my room?

Why did I lose my job at EA?

Why wasn’t I able to focus and execute the way I could earlier in my career?

Why did I lose my family?

Why did I need to explore my gender identity?

Why did I hide that need for so long?

Why did I need to hide it in the first place?

All of these questions are just one thread to unravel… one onion to peel.  There are other questions that come to me as I explore this foreign land and culture.  Why did I have so many violent outbursts as a child?  What was missing that I craved so badly?  Am I still looking for that mysterious missing piece?  Where am I looking for it?  How honest can I be with myself?  With others?  

Is it possible to feel fulfilled in life without ignoring all of my instincts and trying to buy into one religious message or another that I don’t find any legitimacy in?  How do so many bright, capable, intelligent people also buy into the latest popular deity myths when so many myths have come and gone over the millennia?  How can they have such strong faith when all signs point to the notion that when the current batch of civilizations crumble and the next batch rise up, they will come with a whole new set of gods and myths?  Do they seriously believe that today’s popular religious mythology is somehow more viable than a popular one from 2000 years ago, or whatever is most popular 2000 years from now?

Do you know what year it is in Thailand?  It’s like 2557.  It’s not 2014 here.  Sure, they use 2014 a lot of places for the convenience of it, but mostly, they consider the year to be 2557, which I believe is the number of years since the death of the last Buddha.

What?  Their calendar is based in Buddhist myth?  That’s just silly.

We all know it’s 2014.

2014 years since… umm… something.  

Separation of church and state, indeed.

 

Bobbing in the beautiful, calm water of the Gulf of Thailand, I think about these things.  How many layers will I peel back? Will they be enough?  Can I unlearn some of the lessons I learned about shame?  About trust?  About responsibility?  

All I know right now is that i am blessed to have the opportunity, strength and courage to be here today.  I like the Buddhist philosophy of living in the moment fully – but I also realize that living in a state of ongoing present meditation also can be used as a way of avoiding the past.  With enough practice, one could conceivably learn to whitewash their problems with a coat of continual meditation, finding a state of appreciation and learning that causes one to appear to the rest of the world as a hypnotized zombie.

Does that monk find true inner peace without confronting the lessons/demons of their past, or do they encounter and address these issues as each begins to interfere with their learning & meditation?

If they do come to a peaceful resolution with all of their trauma, do they eventually reach a state of nirvana?  Are they still blocked from ultimate consciousness by Original Sin?
 

One Night To Bangkok

There are are some experiences in this world that people dream about for their entire lives.  Visiting the Eiffel Tower, for example, or swimming with dolphins.  

 

One experience I’ve always fantasized about is taking an overnight train to Bangkok.  In my mind, there’s something classically romantic about train rides, and while the western world’s iron horses have become high-speed, air-conditioned comfort lounges with free wi-fi and all the privacy one could ask for, the overnight train from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Bangkok featured such amenities as ladders and a hole in the floor to urinate through.

 

My friend Ann and I both needed to travel from Chiang Mai to Bangkok at the same time.  I suggested we take the train together, that it might be a fun and quaint experience.  Ann, born and raised in Thailand, chose to pay more and take the airplane.  I was to have this experience alone… except that it turns out nothing really happens alone on the overnight train to Bangkok.

 

My ticket read Car 3, Seat 10.  It was theoretically the only air-conditioned car (my pampered, first-world self was not ready to have THAT much of a Thai experience in 90 degree weather).  I was bringing far too many things… a small “overhead bin” sized luggage, a backpack, a guitar and a duffel bag.  Four things is too many things, in my book, but they let me bring it all on anyway, which is nice, because these four items now represent the sum total of everything in the world that belongs to me.

 

The seats are arranged in facing pairs.  That is to say, at any point in time, if you are standing in the aisle of the train, on your left will be two seats that face each other and share a window, and on your right will be the same.  Once you are sitting in your seat, there is a wall behind you, not another seat.  Against this wall is a luggage rack with a ladder that leads to the ceiling.  Above each pair of seats is an overhead bin that stores… people.

 

I put my luggage, guitar & duffel on the storage rack behind Seat 10, and was preparing to sit down when I noticed two young women struggling to get their overstuffed backpacks up into the luggage rack.  I helped them out.  One of them (Emma, 22, from Bristol, UK) ended up sitting across from me in Seat 9.  Sitting in Seats 9 & 10, Emma and I were forced to have a polite, friendly conversation about whose feet would go where, and how to arrange our legs in such a fashion that we could both be reasonably comfortable without giving anyone the impression that we were engaged in an ancient wrestling ritual… or to each other.

 

As we sorted that out, Emma’s traveling companion (conveniently also named Emma, also 22 and also from Bristol, UK) plopped down into Seat 11, opposite the aisle from Emma 1.  Emma 2’s first act was to stretch her legs across to the empty Seat 12 in front of her in an exaggerated fashion designed to make Emma1 and I jealous of the bonus space she was getting.  The gesture was successful.

 

I waited for either of the Emmas to make what I thought would be the obvious suggestion that Emma 1 join Emma 2 in Seats 11 and 12, since they were travelling companions and friends.  The fact that they were both small women and good friends would have made the leg/foot logistics infinitely simpler.  

 

No suggestion came forth, however, and the train started to move… and then it quickly stopped.  Apparently, we nearly forgot Joe.

 

I’m calling him Joe because I have no idea what his name actually is.  Joe is a Thai man, aged approximately 70 years.  Joe’s belongings consisted of two cans of Leo beer, one of which he managed to drink before the train got started again.  The second was gone shortly thereafter.  

 

Joe was deposited into Seat 12, much to the horror of Emma 2, and to the delight of Emma 1 and myself.

 

When the lady came around to sell everyone more beer, she greeted Joe as an old friend with a big hug and gave him more beer.  Before passing out, Joe managed to communicate to us that he gets his beer for free on the train. Oh, good!

 

In addition to his ability to rapidly consume alcohol, Joe became well-known on the train for making wild gesticulations and sudden outbursts… while sleeping.  Emma 1 and I were greatly entertained.  Emma 2 made herself as small as possible while Joe’s passed-out form slowly slid from his chair to occupy the floor space between Seat 12 and Emma 2’s Seat 11.

 

When traveling in Thailand, the single most important item you must possess is not money.  It is not a passport.  It is not a cell phone.  The most important thing you need to have is a sense of humour, because you will encounter a great many situations that can either ruin your day or cause you a tremendously satisfying belly laugh – it all depends on how you see things.  Luckily, both Emmas (and Joe, for that matter) were of the belly laugh variety.  Emma 2 had a fantastic case of the giggles as she continuously repositioned herself from the slowly migrating form of Joe.

 

Before dinner was served, Joe’s friend the Beer Lady came around to set up everyone’s table.  The tables are giant pieces of steel that reside below the luggage racks.  The Beer Lady hauls them out and affixes one end of the table to two slots on the wall below the window, between the seats, while a metal support fits loosely into a depression in the floor.  The table Emma 1 and I shared did not fit properly into the wall, prompting the Beer Lady to tear up a paper menu and jam it into one of the wall slots.  This did not stop the table from sliding out of the slot, but it made Beer Lady feel better about it.  She assured us everything was fine.

 

Dinner consisted of sweet & sour chicken, pineapple, cabbage soup, curry pork and a big bottle of Leo beer, which I finally accepted after 5-6 requests from Beer Lady that I buy one.  I felt someone needed to keep Joe from drinking alone.  As we were eating, the two ladies sitting in the seats behind Emma 2 had their table fall out of the wall.  I helped get the table off of them, and grabbed some ice out of Beer Lady’s bucket (she wasn’t around, herself) to help keep the swelling down on the leg that the enormous piece of metal had fallen upon.

 

Dinner was horrible, and it cost me 440 Thai Baht, which is roughly $13-14 USD.  This struck me as an enormous ripoff.  I couldn’t figure out how much the beer must have cost.  Beer is extremely cheap in Thailand.  I asked the Emmas how much their meals were.  Emma 2 paid 180 Baht.  Emma 1 hadn’t been asked to pay yet, so she wasn’t sure.

 

We didn’t see Beer Lady again for another hour or two, when the girls flagged her down to buy cookies (in addition to a name, age and home city, the Emmas shared a craving for chocolate).  When Emma 1 asked for her cookies, Beer Lady asked if I wanted my own cookies, or if we were going to share?   No, no… I didn’t need any cookies, thank you.  When she brought the cookies, I was informed that they cost 50 Baht.

 

What?

 

That’s when I realized – my meal wasn’t 440 Baht.  Beer Lady assumed that Emma 1 and I were a couple, and had charged me for both of our dinners (men are expected pay for everything in Thailand).  We assured Beer Lady that we were not a couple, and that Emma 1 was capable of buying her own cookies.

 

After dinner, a very nimble little man came around to set up the beds.  This was fascinating to watch.  He started by forcing us out of our seats.  Next, he flipped the seat cushions around to form a bed, which he put sheets and a pillow on.  Finally, he hung a curtain across the seats.  Lower bunk, complete!

 

The man then climbed halfway up the luggage rack ladder to open the overhead bin, which dropped down to reveal a second bunk, held loosely in place by leather straps (I assured Emma 2 that the chances of Joe accidentally closing her up in her bunk while flailing around in his sleep was at BEST 50/50).  

 

I was glad to have the lower bunk, because it had a window, it was close to the only electrical outlet on the train, and I had no interest in trying to negotiate the ladder.  Leave that to the 22yr olds.

 

I did not sleep well on the train.  This is partly because I have been very clearly informed in virtually every cohabitational sleeping arrangement I have ever engaged in that I snore.  I don’t just snore, though… I snore LOUDLY, and I stop breathing very frequently.  Not only do I wake up everyone around me, I plant a seed of doubt in their minds as to whether or not I will actually survive the night.  

 

To alleviate this, I try to sleep on my stomach, which helps with the airflow, but does not actually result in me falling asleep.  Eventually, I slept, but I woke up many, many times throughout the night.  According to the Emmas, I did not snore that badly.  Ahhh, British manners do still exist.  Thank you, Emmas.

 

Breakfast was stale ham and and cheese sandwiches with french fries that you could actually snap in two.  No attempt was made to disguise the fact that this was yesterday’s lunch meal. I was not impressed, and didn’t eat it.  It cost 120 Baht.  Laugh it off, it’s Thailand.

 

I arrived at Don Muang Airport in one piece.  Tired, but in good spirits.  The Emmas and I had enjoyed the trip.  They stayed on the train to Bangkok proper, where they will spend 2-3 nights before heading to the next leg of their adventure in Australia.  

 

I was able to get a little bit of sleep on my flight to Singapore.  I’m writing from the Perak Hotel in Little India, which is where I stayed when I last visited Singapore in January.  

 

In a couple of hours, I will see my three boys again.  Clayton, the eldest, turns 11 years old next week.  I would choose to cram myself into an overnight train to Bangkok to spend time with them over visiting the Eiffel Tower or swimming with dolphins any day.  It’d be the easiest decision I was ever asked to make.

The 6am Super Bowl

I was tossing and turning last night at 1:30am.  This always happens when there is something I’m not looking forward to the next morning, and in this particular situation, that something was waking up at 5am to make it to the Empress Hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand to watch the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos play in Super Bowl XLVIII (Super Bowl X-Love the 3rd, available on DVD in most adult sci-fi bookstores).

I’d already showered the night before.  In Thailand, where people start sweating within 4 seconds of exposure to the sun, anyone not visibly perspiring through their clothing is considered to have an acceptable level of hygiene, so brushing my teeth and splashing my face with water was an appropriate pre-game morning routine.

I left my hotel at 5:30 with plans to walk to the Chiang Mai saloon, with the caveat that if I encountered a taxi or tuk-tuk (motorcycle rickshaw) before reaching the saloon, I’d head to the Empress, where a fellow expat blogger had mentioned there’d be a party.

Sure enough, about a block before I reached the saloon (I love the idea that there are still places called “saloons” in this world), a backfiring tuk-tuk coughed up beside me, and the driver asked if I wanted a ride.  We agreed on a 100-baht fee (way too much, but not totally out of line), and I folded myself into the backseat.

The Empress Hotel is a classy place, and looked very popular.  Given a choice, though, I’d still pick a hostel, guest house or cheap hotel, just to get a richer, more authentic Thai experience.

Watching the Super Bowl is by no means an authentic Thai experience, no matter where you are, but every now and again it’s okay to embrace the culture you come from and indulge in the familiar.

This years “Big Game” was hilarious for anyone who is not (or is not married to) a Denver Bronco fan.  The Broncos botched the first play of the game, resulting in 2 points for Seattle, and by the end of the match, everyone would agree – that was one of their better plays of the night (or morning).

From a competitive standpoint, the game got boring very quickly.  Denver never amounted to much of anything (as predicted by it’s high school guidance counsellor).  For most people, this is fine, because they are at a Super Bowl party with friends and alcohol and BBQ – or they are at home and can giggle at the commercials.

Not us!

The party was sponsored by ActsCo Printing – which turns out to be a Christian organization, meaning there was no alcohol, but there was an opening prayer and some promotion of a charity organization that takes young girls out of the Red Light district and gives them non-sex-work jobs (one guy in the audience booed – way to keep it classy, buddy!).

So… great food, good company, prayer, no booze, no young prostitutes, and nobody making plays for Denver.  I did have a much better time than it sounds, though.

Another tuk-tuk ride back to my hotel leaves me feeling satisfied and quite tired by 11:35am, at which time I shall publish this post and take a nap.

Goodnight, folks!