Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Letter from Sarah

I received a message on facialbook on Monday (4:59 PM April 7, 2014 for those Joe Fridays out there)

Sarah is former coworker at the bookstore who long ago went on to bigger and better things.  She came in once in a while to say "hi" and stuff, and I'd invite her to parties, but I wouldn't say we were especially close.  I always thought she was really smart and drop dead gorgeous, and was very happy to see her find a better paying job (and her current long time gentleman).

Sarah's Profile Pic 

So I'll admit I was a bit surprised to see this in my message board.  I guess I shouldn't have been.  As I said, she's wildly intelligent. 

Her questions require answers, and, since they are such good questions, I felt that others may benefit from these answers.  So, with her very kind permission, I reproduce her letter here- unedited.  My replies to the questions will be embedded within, in italics, following ">>>" signs.  


Hi Sophie! Thank you for liking my Facebook pic of the new hair cut! I love your hair too. I wanted to reach out to you sooner, but I decided to read your blog first. First off, you are an amazing writer. The quality of your writing is fantastic and as an on again off again blogger myself, I’m impressed how you’ve managed to stay on topic year after year. I found myself very impressed by the volume of your writing as well. I know professional bloggers who don’t post as much as you do. I really have no idea how you manage to do it all.

>>> You're going to give me a big head!  Thanks for your kind words.  They mean a lot.  I write every day, without fail.  I don't publish most of it, but I'm always writing.  I try to post at least once a week to keep my readers interested and involved.  Also, the blog allows me to look back at milestones and exactly how I felt at that time. People evolve, and how I feel today is so different than I was five and a half years ago. 

Of course, you’re not just inspiring me as a writer. Since I heard your good news, I’ve thought a lot about how I can never really know what others are living with on a day to day basis. When someone cuts me off in traffic, I always try to think, “maybe they are late for an interview,” or “maybe they feel really sick.” 

>>> You're a better person than I, Gunga Din!  I curse them, their parents, etc.  ;)

But you’ve made me reevaluate the way I interact with people in the bubble between complete stranger and good friend. I’ve always been excellent with good friends, and I’ve taught myself to empathize with strangers, but I’ve never considered the people in between. I think it’s because I consider myself a decent judge of character, and when I know some of the personal details of a person, I feel as though I understand what motivates them and some of who they are. Now I understand that though my tactics may typically work, there is pain, and also uniqueness and beauty that I’m missing out on by not opening myself up to these acquaintances.

>>> It comes down to time.  We have so many people dance though our lives, especially in the service industry.  Learning about people above all takes Time, and there aren't enough hours in the day to know EVERYONE.  So we triage the people we meet, and make the time for those that may last.  I do anyway.  Until I realized I was tg, I always pushed people away, so I had few close friends.  But I have been introduced to a whole tapestry of amazing people, and there are so many of them for which I would die.  I admit that since Lisa's death, I haven't allowed myself to get THAT close to people (Lisa and I were Sisters, and were going to transition together,) but that doesn't mean the people I know aren't worthy and deserving, it just means I'm still nursing that wound.

I’m so impressed with your ability to look inside yourself and find who you truly are. So few people truly ask themselves some of life’s most important questions. I took a Philosophy of Science class once. Going into the course, I thought it would be dull and uninspiring. I find that it was one of the most thought provoking classes I ever took. Kuhn wrote that science is a process of taking a collection of baseline assumptions, pulling out one, and seeing if it matches. The search for truth in science is success by approximation, underwritten by the difficulty of huge paradigm shifts. The search for an authentic life seems to ask us to go through the same kind of practice with our identity. We need to hold up one assumption against all else we know of ourselves. So few people even try, most are not brave enough to see, but you did it. And then you were brave enough to work through the obstacles and losses that stood between you and living an authentic life. I’m really impressed.

>>> In some ways, it comes down to Maslow's hierarchy.  few people reach the highest point "Self-actualization", but I'd argue that many Transpeople do.  We are forced, by the Pain, to seek inside the deepest parts of our selves to find the cause.  During this search, we often uncover many dark truths about ourselves.  Not all of us survive this journey (Transpeople have a 41% suicide attempt rate, compared to 3% for non-trans)  But those who do understand the Truth about who we are.  And some act on it.  Only 1% or so of transpeople actually transition.  I am one of them.  Like many, it came down to "Dead man or Live woman."  I chose to Live.

I recognize that having read your blog, I’d also be best served by reading sociological materials on gender and general materials about being transgendered. But I hope you can forgive me for asking you these questions directly instead. I’m interested in your perspective on these things. Though, of you’d rather refer me to a scholarly source I’ll read away.

>>> First, a point of order.  The term is "transgender."  One doesn't refer to someone as "gayed" or "lesbianed."  Same thing.  :)  I enjoy answering questions!  For some hardcore scholarly stuff, I refer you to the entry Codex Sophie

What is gender to you? From your blog, it seems that makeup, skirts, and earnings help you feel as though your physical appearance match your inner identity. I myself have nothing pierced. For me, I consider piercings to be a form of ritualistic body mutilation practiced in order to confirm to social norms of beauty by dangling metal pendants from unhealed wounds. Extreme, I know. So for me, not having a piercing is a reminder to myself that I never need to confirm to social norms for beauty. But that being said, I do conform to too many of them. I dye my hair and paint my nails. I keep both long. I wear skirts. I wear necklaces. I wear headbands. Do those things make me feel like a woman? I’m not sure.

>>> That's the point, isn't it?  What IS gender?  Is a person defined by their reproductive organs?  Or is gender in the mind?  This has been debated by many people over time, and really cuts to the core of identity.  Is a woman defined by her vagina?  Then what of women born without them?  Chromosomes?  To many variations to even mention.  My definition is that Gender is in the mind.  Our brains make us who we are.  I was born with a female brain, therefore  I am female.  Yes, there are differences in brain structure between males and females.  I feel female.  I (now) interact with people as a female.  I never considered myself male, despite my anatomy.

As to what makes me FEEL female, yes, for me the outward cues help.  I want the world to see me as I see myself, and conforming to the feminine social norms helps with that.  Do those things make you feel like a woman?  I'll counter that with "have you ever felt otherwise?"

How would being transgendered manifest if we lived in a society where gender roles and constructs were all but absent? If clothes, mannerisms, pronouns were absent, would being transgendered simply manifest as a surgical procedure and hormone treatments?

>>>  Another great question!  I think you may be correct- hormones and surgery.  In the end, it's about being who you were born to be.  To be otherwise causes tremendous psychological and spiritual Pain.

Do you find that being transgendered impacts your vision of parenting? I know that’s a personal one so feel free to say it’s none of my business. I am really asking a few things here: (1) when you look forward to teaching your daughter things or experiencing them with her, do you find yourself more interested in typically male or female activates (father daughter dances, hitting a baseball, going shopping, talking about boys or threatening boyfriends, etc.)? (2) has your journey of self-discovery and femininity caused you to encourage femininity in your daughter or to encourage her to explore both gender roles?

>>> No it doesn't.  Wife and I agree on the direction here.  If my daughter wants to hit a baseball, then that's what we'll do.  Some things i won't be able to do, like father/daughter dances.  As to encouraging or discouraging femininity, I feel that my journey will show her that it's ok to explore her own Truth. 

Some people object to this, like MIL.  In the end, it will be patience and love that win out, not prejudice and hate.  I have to believe that.

 In college, I did seriously ask myself if I was straight. I decided I was, though I can see women as lovely or sexy. I’ve never been sexually attracted to a woman, nor have I had a crush on one. However, I came to think that if I met the perfect partner for myself and that person just so happened to be a woman, I’d get over that. No one is exactly perfect in every way; that would be dull! I don’t think that makes me a lesbian or bisexual, I thought of it as meaning I wasn’t shallow. That I could look so far beyond someone’s physical appearance that I could overlook not only an awkward nose or an age gap or a pot belly, but also a vagina and boobs.

 I’m reflecting upon that thought experiment in reference to you for two reasons. On the one side, I think that makes me more open minded than most who find themselves married to transgendered folks. But on the other, I wonder about if I’m making gender out to be purely physical when your journey should have shown me that it’s so much more.

>>> It is.  For good or for ill, gender defines us at our core.

Female to the Core

But then, if gender is more than skin deep, how big is it? Is gender enough of a part of one’s identity that really, you’re asking your significant other to fall in love with a different person all over again? I suppose there’s a wide range of ways a person can change over the course of a relationship. Some are very minor or superficial, while others are more of a change in personality, goals, and dreams. I wonder if in the cases of friends where romantic relationships survived a change in gender, you’ve seen anything about those relationships which you think applies to surviving any kind of major change? Do you think those people are just lucky to have found such love and tolerance, or are their characteristics of that kind of resilience in a relationship?

>>> Thorny issue this.  I could dodge it by saying that most marriages do not survive transition.  My therapist called being TG the "ultimate solvent.  it dissolves everything: relationships, jobs... everything."  Being TG is extremely hard to handle, and I think just as bad for the spouse.  My wife was quite clear- if I transition, we're divorcing.  We are separated now.  The hard part is that we still love each other very much, but she can't get past me becoming a woman.  Some people are lucky enough that their spouse stays with them.  Lisa Empanada was very lucky that her wife Sandy accepted her fully.  

I don't blame Wife for her position on this.  I desperately wish that it hadn't come to this, but it has.  She knows this.  She knows that it meant "living Sophie or dead Lance."  And I know she doesn't wish me dead.

 I really want to stress that you don’t have to answer this one... I think I’m correct in stating that throughout your changes, you’ve remained consistent in being attracted to women, correct? Would you consider being with someone who was also transgendered? Would it make a difference in how far they had taken their physical transformation? If you were with a women and she realized she was transgendered and wanted to physically become a man, would you be able to accept that?

>>> I'll answer this because it brings up an important distinction between gender and sexuality.  My dear friend Ally Raymond put it well:  "Sexuality is who you want to go to bed with.  gender is who you want to wake up as."  The two might seem related, but they really aren't.  They are independent of each other.  As to whom I am attracted, it's currently women, cisgendered or transgendered.  Not that who I am am attracted to matters, as I am still currently married.  As to the last bit, is she were transgender, it would be quite hypocritical for me to refuse her.  That said, I know many transmen, and while they are great people, I don't find them attractive.  

 I am very tempted to delete the whole question section. Your blog makes it seem as though you are very open to answering questions, but it still feels very invasive and nosey to be asking these things (maybe that’s the New Englander in me). I hope that you don’t take offense to any of this, Sophie. Truly, my whole email comes from a place of support and curiosity. Congratulations on your ongoing journey and recent milestone! It’s a pleasure knowing you. - Sarah

>>> The only way we learn is by asking questions.  The only way we as transgender people will ever be accepted is if people understand us.  Education brings understanding, which brings acceptance.  Someday I may be accepted as who I am, but it will be a matter of educating one person at a time.  It's a long road, but I will walk it.  

And the pleasure is all mine!  :)


  1. I like Sarah's questions. It is important to have friends and allies who are interested in learning more about who we are. I think your responses were insightful. Answering questions like these also aids our own process of self-discovery.

  2. Wow, kudos to both you and Sarah for sharing this wonderful exchange. I'm always delighted when people ask us about the trans experience (it's how we learn!), and she definitely asks some very insightful questions. Neither one of you hesitated to share some very personal things, but in my experience that's the only way to really get to the heart of these issues. An academic and impersonal anlysis is fine as far as it goes, but being trans *is* a very personal experience, and it's refreshing to see such a thoughtful exchange. Thanks again!

  3. I have said it before but I continue to be impressed and can now agree with Sarah in noting that you are a wonderful writer. Sarah has good command of the language as well.

    I like to see things well written. I also liked your use of Q&A as a format.


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