Overcoming Anxiety: An Introduction to Seymour

I was drawn to Maestro Seymour Bernstein immediately when I first saw the Ethan Hawke documentary Seymour: An Introduction. He was 87 when he allowed the actor and documentarian, along with several cameras into his life. He’s a kindred soul: tortured, musical, and an anxiety-sufferer.

I was trying to find the film to watch it once more when I stumbled across this Youtube video in the Peter Hobbs series, of Seymour being interviewed by Zsolt Bognár. Seymour spoke about the stage fright which, in part, ended his performing career at age 50, some 37 years before the documentary was made.

In this interview with Zsolt, Seymour said something which struck me so much so, that I immediately stopped and transcribed what he’d said. More on what exactly he said later.

It was the end of my day, and my mind raced as I tried to fall asleep after watching him speak. Here is a man who, because of (at least in part) crippling anxiety, left his profession without telling anyone at the very pinnacle of his career, when he was 50.

I left television for good earlier this year. There are several interrelated themes, but anxiety is at least one of the main reasons I’m no longer working in a newsroom, or anywhere else. My anxiety took the form of agoraphobia, which I’ve since discovered is common among those with Panic Disorder.

Indeed, I don’t even leave the house most days. This is not how I want to live. But as a result, I have become a burden on my family and I’ve no doubt disappointed many who believed I was “brave” and all the other words people have applied to me, including “invincible.” How can one even live up to being labeled invincible?

Seymour recalled how Ethan had asked him to perform for his theater group. “Oh my god,” he initially thought. “He’s asking me to go back to the life that I gave up.”

As he arrived on the day of the performance, he looked through the picture window of Steinway’s rotunda in New York City. He saw the piano he’d chosen bathed in “sunlight” with microphones being installed and he freaked out.

Bernstein said, “I’m going to die. I’d made up my mind. I’ll just have a heart attack and die. So I said, ‘Alright I’ll go into Steinway and I’ll die there.’ What better place for a musician to die?”

When it came time for Seymour to take the stage, Ethan wanted to talk more. “Seymour hasn’t played in 37 years. He can wait a couple more minutes.” Seymour said he was dying there.

“All of a sudden, in the middle of his talking a calm came over me,” Seymour explained to Zsolt. “All the anxiety went out of my head. I couldn’t believe it. Now it’s time, I’m going to the piano. I’m going to play your recital.’ Deathly calm.”

“So now the next day I said, ‘Now how is this possible? Here I think I’m going to die one minute and I’m successful the next.’ And I said, ‘I know why I did that.’ I was not going to leave [sic] Ethan down. I realized when you do something for someone else, it temporarily distracts you from your own vulnerability. That’s what it does. You do it for someone else. The ego ceases to exist. You’re not important. ‘Ethan is important now. I’m not going to let him down.’”


Could the answer to my own issues with anxiety and PTSD be this simple? The concept certainly rang true, which is why it struck me so.

I’ve always believed in a similar ideal: “One of the best ways to increase your own happiness is to increase somebody else’s.” So when I heard him talk about “doing it for Ethan” I knew it might have application in my own life.

“I don’t know of any great performer who hasn’t suffered terrible stage fright,” Bernstein told Zsolt in the interview. “The greatest example of this was Vladimir Horowitz. It got so bad that he had to retire for 12 years. Performers don’t like to speak about it, because we’re ashamed of it.”

The interviewer then asked, “This sense of struggling with nerves, was that there from your earliest days and your earliest performances?”

“Not when I was a child,” Seymour replied. I didn’t experience it at all. But as I got older and got responsible, and realized what I was doing, I was recreating these masterpieces of minds – some of the greatest minds that ever walked the face of the earth – what a responsibility?!” After a pregnant pause, he added “That’s when I started to get stage fright.”

I immediately thought of the imposter syndrome I’ve battled my entire life. Yes, I’ve accomplished some pretty amazing things, but it’s been despite some significant failures that left me feeling inadequate.

Bernstein recounted several stories about trying to understand and cope with stage fright. One was an encounter of having been just outside the room where the famous pianist Vladimir Horowitz was selecting a piano for a performance while his wife was feeding him chocolate. Bernstein downed several chocolate bars before a performance and promptly got “sugar shock.”

Another story was about hearing of a violinist who’d had issues with sweating palms, for which she used egg whites to absorb the moisture. When Seymour tried rubbing his hands in egg whites before a concert back stage, the stage hand had to clean “the omelette” off the keyboard after the first 15-minute piece.

Ethan had confided to Seymour that he also had suffered from stage fright. Seymour told him about a violinist who was afraid he was going to drop his bow during a performance. During a performance, the violinist stopped and threw down his bow. He picked it back up and went on with the performance, realizing he was still alive, and that cured him.

Ethan, who was afraid he would stop talking, later had a memory slip on stage and let out a blood curdling scream, then went on with his dialogue. People thought it was part of the performance. It had cured him.

“You see, he did it on purpose,” Seymour told Zsolt. “He acted out the very thing that he was most afraid of.”

We’ve all experienced anxiety. If you are self-aware, you’ll be able to recall your own. Every circumstance is unique, and I think it’s irresponsible to think one solution will fit all.

I do not think simply forcing myself into my nightmare scenario will cure me. For me, the danger is physical. And real. My fear is that I will be attacked because I’m transgender. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of transgender people being attacked in public.

So what’s the answer for me? I don’t know. Yet. But you can bet I’ll be thinking about this interview for a very, very long time trying to figure it out.

Don’t Put Me on a Pedestal: This is What Happens

My friend Ashton encouraged me to do this. “This” being honest and forthcoming, and breaking my silence about a couple things affecting my life.

I first objected, saying certain people would be disappointed in me for struggling. I shelter people from my life, these days. It’s been a rough ride, this transition from living life acting like a dude to living as me. I’m still not sure I’m doing it right, or that Im even fully me yet. The last two years, as some of you are partially aware, have seen tremendous change, difficulties and growth.

CURRENTLY: I’m employed only part-time as a freelance journalist, have no savings or retirement, have no transportation and no housing lined up. I’ll be moving out of the place I’m in very soon. I’m telling you this now because I’ve been told it’s not fair for me to hold back the more difficult parts of my life from YOU – the people who are my friends, as well as the ones who observe me through social media and this blog.

Let’s begin with the few people I’ve told so far. There are a handful of people I’ve met recently, who are very intelligent, highly-capable people who have each been through their own struggles. I felt safe telling these people because they don’t rely on me for encouragement. They are people who were doing just fine before my influence. This told me I had something to learn from them, and learn I have! Each lesson has been more enlightening and worth learning, than the previous.

I’m not going to list everything I’ve been though the past four years (this would be a book, not a blog post), but one major factor in ANYONE’s ability to live a fulfilling life is being fully employed. I’ve only been employed full time for half the time since my transition. I made some decisions that caused a lot of chaos in my life, some of which spilled over to affect the lives of people I care a great deal about.

But that’s always the way it is, right? Many times, my wise mother reminded me that “No man is an island.” I’m apparently STILL learning the lesson that my words and actions can negatively impact the people around me. There are lessons from these past four years I will be learning for the rest of my days on Earth. Details here wouldn’t contribute to this discussion, but they are very difficult lessons involving tremendous pain.

When I began my [very privileged] transition, I was in a similar place as Caitlyn Jenner. I had isolated myself from other trans people. I was intimidated. I hadn’t been strong enough to live my truth. Indeed, I never even cross-dressed before transition, because I was so deathly afraid of being discovered. Like Caitlyn, I didn’t have anyone to help guide or inform me because I hadn’t exposed myself to other trans people. I had preconceived ideas about what it meant to be trans (based entirely upon my LACK of exposure), and even what my life would be after transition. I hadn’t considered it, because I believed I would never be able to transition.

The past four years have brought MUCH new information about myself and other trans people alike. Like any community, we are widely varied, in every respect. Because we’re individuals, one size definitely does not fit all. Because of this, I’ve learned the difficulty of finding and keeping employment when others are as uneducated as I was. Not every company is accepting, and even then if you do get hired there are as many personalities, misconceptions, and belief systems to navigate as there are employees.

Many people simply have an axe to grind or turf to protect. Trans people are an easy target, because most people don’t have any understanding of what it’s like to be trans. Indeed, nearly 85% of Americans have never met a trans person, much less truly considered what life must be like for trans folk. So, when an established employee doesn’t like you, they have a lot of power to start complaining about things like company culture. “The way things were before you got here” becomes an easy measuring stick.

Yes, I’ve been suicidal, and recently. No, I haven’t attempted or put together a plan, but for some reason minds like mine and others’ are too quick to want to take the path of least resistance, without considering the admonishment from my mother – what we do affects others. There’s no way around it, and I’m not willing to leave my family and friends changed in such a way that they will never fully recover from, or understand, the sudden loss of my presence on Earth.

As I’ve told a couple people the past week, I’ve been here before. Over my life, I’ve been knocked down plenty, and I’ve always been able to pull myself up again. The difference now is, everyone else knows I’m transgender (and they come to the table with preconceptions that are difficult to disburse); I have no car; I have no income; and I have no place of my own to stay anymore. It’s going to be more difficult this time – but not impossible.

I keep a journal, in several places. Between a leather-bound journal, my laptop and my phone, they create one account of my life. Here’s a recent entry:

June 9, 2019

It’s Sunday evening. I’ve been texting Lacey. We were talking about my employment and options. I mentioned Elysabeth suggesting radio, but was explaining my relationship with my voice. Referencing my accident, I mentioned it was hard to let go of that part of me, and in some ways I hadn’t completely let go. I was still mourning its loss. This is what Lacey sent to me:

“It’s the one thing we all struggle with. We all live in the past in some way, but Dani… the you you’re holding on to is gone. Basically dead. You can’t hold on forever… and holding on is only hurting at this point and I can’t be a friend and watch you hurt yourself.”

Then she asked if I’d had a funeral/memorial service for Dave.

“He’s worth remembering but would be so much happier now knowing you’re finally living; it’d make all his years of pain and persecution worth it.”

Friends like Lacey give me unfiltered advice and feedback, and it’s been invaluable.

Another friend, Missy, is also unemployed (for very different reasons) and she’s been a great comfort, knowing she can relate to me in many ways. Other friends have offered couches and rides, for which I’m eternally grateful. Yet other friends have simply kept me company. You know who you are, but you’ve no idea you’ve helped me so immensely. Even the simple act of texting to check on me can make a huge difference in my day. One stray comment can send me spiraling.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I know a couple things are true: I’m strong and fragile; I’m content, yet ever-searching; I’m both capable and weak; I’m broke and rich; I feel loved and hated; I will not go hungry, nor will I go without a roof or transportation. This too shall pass.

I referenced this up above, so I made it the title of this post, but sometimes it feels as if I’ve been put on a pedestal. It makes me incredibly anxious, because I worry I’ll be a disappointment. I often feel that I have been a disappointment, or that I haven’t lived up to what others expect from me. One reason for this is likely the handful of friends who have separated themselves from me in the past two years. I’ve never before experienced a friend telling me things like, “You’ve changed,” or “I can’t be your friend right now.” I perpetually carry with me the ways in which I’ve let you down.

I will get through this, and hopefully with a modicum of grace as I go about righting my proverbial ship and plotting out a new course for life. Godspeed, light and love, if you’ll join me. Shall we begin?


You may have seen the latest salvo from the federal government on transgender Americans. This time, it’s the administration protecting healthcare workers who refuse medical care to transgender individuals.

I’m not only going to argue that transgender Americans need protections. I’m going to give you examples of why. I’ll share stories, shared with me, of people who have sought care. Some of them are outright horror stories. Some of them will, hopefully, shock you and give you information that may help you look at the issue differently. I’m also going to argue a point which I don’t expect will change your viewpoint, and you may not agree with. But it’s the stories with which I hope you’ll learn something you didn’t already know.

Firstly (here’s where I don’t expect I will change your viewpoint), I argue that healthcare is indeed a right. It’s a right given by our creator. If you’re a Christian, surely you will remember the stories where Jesus referred to children as “the least of these” and where Jesus surrounded himself with people who were disadvantaged, and sometimes outcast.

Jesus never wavered in his intent to heal those outcasts. In many ways, he was the first “do no harm” healer. He never asked for money, or anything else, in exchange for giving these people their health. If we are truly to be Christians, or followers of Christ, each of us are called upon to heal those around us, without compensation, in any way we’re able.

The medical community in American differs widely from those outside this nation’s borders. In a nutshell, it’s much easier (and much, much less costly) for people to obtain healthcare elsewhere. Much of the healthcare expense is from huge corporations who care only about making a profit. The shareholders of these corporations care little for individuals. They care about profits. They invest their money in hopes of gaining the largest profit possible. There is NOTHING wrong with making a profit. But I believe Jesus would have something to say about making a profit at the expense of others.

Secondly, there are the many stories of people who come to me with outright horror stories of trying to obtain healthcare. In many cases, this care is desperately needed, and ordered by their healthcare providers. Insurance companies are largely to blame here for denying claims, but so are hospitals and other healthcare entities who employ healthcare workers.

You may or may not believe gender dysphoria is real. I lived with it for way too many years. BUT IT’S CURABLE!

You read that correctly. Gender dysphoria is a treatable, and even curable condition. I received psychological and psychiatric care that helped me reduce my gender dysphoria symptoms. Is it all gone? No. But there are things I haven’t yet done to alleviate the symptoms completely. I know what they are, and I hope to receive the care I need.

There are transgender individuals who desperately need the care I’ve received to be whole and live happy, productive lives in society. They literally can NOT get to that point, unless they receive proper care. Every individual is different, with unique circumstances. This care needs to be individualized for each transgender person. I know of many, many transgender people who can’t find mental healthcare because they can’t afford it, or can’t find a provider who has experience treating transgender persons. Some end up going to a provider who says they treat transgender people, only to find out they have an agenda to use incredibly harmful conversion therapy to convince a transgender person they can be “normal” and live as their assigned gender, if only they try hard enough.

Believe me, I tried harder than I’ve ever tried at anything else in my life, to live as a man. But I was never male. I’ve always been female, and no mere mortal is going to be able to change my mind into that of a man. I’ve heard ALL the arguments offered, in an attempt to dissuade me and other transgender people, from obtaining peace. I even believed them for a time.

I’ve heard from many transgender people on Medicaid who can’t even get their hormones covered! I would not be alive today, if it weren’t for the right hormones coursing through my veins. Having the correct hormones, at the right levels, helped me regain control of my life, as well as a sense of peace, security and productivity. I can’t imagine what would happen to me if those hormones were snatched away from me.

I’ve heard from trans women who can’t get their insurance to pay for hair removal. Can you imagine my face with facial hair still? I needed painful hair removal (and it’s ongoing) to keep me from having to shave every day. It’s degrading and embarrassing to have to shave, if you’re a trans woman.

There are women who desperately need gender confirmation surgery. Again, everyone is different and not every woman needs these procedures! But some desperately need it. That they can’t, is clear proof that we have our morals confused in this country. Some vile people, many of whom claim to be Christians, are loathe to hear of taxes going, in any way, to facilitate these procedures and care. Many of these same people would rather wipe me and others from the face of the Earth. They have the misconception that we’re a danger to others, or that we will hurt society in other ways. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Finally, I will share with you that I have been humiliated, on more than one occasion, in my pursuit of basic healthcare, simply because I’m transgender. I’ve even been placed in danger when seeking care. I’ve had doctors simply refuse to care for me. I’ve been deliberately humiliated because I sought care, and have been treated like a second class citizen and worse. I’ve been deliberately misgendered, in a open waiting room, and otherwise have been outed. What would have happened if one of these unscrupulous villains would have been present? I would have, most assuredly, been assaulted when leaving the facility.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I lived in fear of being hurt. It got to the point where I couldn’t think of anything else. I received threats from people on social media who vowed to hurt me. It paralyzed me, and I wasn’t able to even walk down the hallway from my apartment to empty my trash. My friends helped me. I certainly wasn’t able to leave my apartment to go to work or out in public. It was a very dark time, and it took several professionals working together to get me to a place where I felt safe again.

So, the position of this government that transgender people’s protections mean less than a few people who would actively do us harm, is unethical at best, and immoral in practice. We need to come back to our roots as an accepting and loving nation. We used to be. We welcomed foreigners who wanted to settle here and contribute to our society. We also used to open our arms widely to care for neighbors less fortunate and in need. Let’s return to those values and guarantee people the care they need to be productive, happy, and secure citizens.

How George Michael became Japanese art to me

The passing of George Michael hit me hard, at least when it sank in.

Most everybody hates their voice when it’s recorded and they hear it played back. Despite spending a decade in radio, then doing voice over work for nearly three, I’m no exception, but it wasn’t always that way.

I used to sing opera. I had, by all accounts, a beautiful baritone voice that could sing bass and tenor parts, alike. I sang at weddings, funerals, and with the occasional glass of wine could be persuaded to sing a Latin or Italian aria in someone’s living room, which thrilled them and me both.

My radio career was successful, too. With the passing of George Michael, memories of an

Dani and Stacy back in the day

old flame came rushing back with such force, I couldn’t stop crying in the newsroom last night. This old flame, Stacy, was so in love with George Michael, I used to thrill her with dedications of his songs while on the radio. “This song goes out to ‘Stacy Mashburn’ of Iberia ( I used to record you on the radio as I went to bed) I still have all those tapes in a box. I’ll have to get them out and we’ll listen to them together sometime,” she texted today.


I’ve recently hated on my voice for a reason that may or may not surprise you, depending on how well you know me or how much you’ve hung out with me lately. That deep baritone creates a dichotomy that most people can’t wrap their heads around. It sounds unnatural coming out of an otherwise female face, and it causes me to have to come out as transgender to people, on a nearly daily basis.

I’m not alone. Many transgender women are bothered by the same thing. Their voices don’t match their feminine exterior. Many pursue “vocal feminization” from voice coaches, and some have corrective surgery to raise the pitch of their voice. Admittedly, I’m considering surgery, as well. It’s not a done deal, but I am considering it. No doubt this will cause some of my ex-girlfriends disappointment. Many of them laid their heads on my chest while I read, talked or sang them to sleep. It’s an intimate experience, and if you haven’t tried it, you should.

But I digress. My voice, especially when I get misgendered by someone on the phone, creates a frustration for me that can sometimes ruin my entire day. Indeed, with going through this sort of transition, many things have power I wish I didn’t hand over so readily. A well-meaning piece of advice from one person, or a slip of the tongue from another, can send me into an emotional tailspin.

If you’re a transgender female, you can relate. If you’re a transgender male, you may not be able to relate as well, at least if you’ve been on testosterone for long. The male hormone is incredibly strong. It’s what causes a young boy’s voice to change. If you were a soprano as a child like my cousin was, it’s painful when your choir director tells you you’ll no longer be able to be a part of the boy’s choir you love so much. Unfortunately, female hormones do not have the opposite affect. No dose of estrogen or progesterone will raise my voice. Without some sort of action or medical intervention, I’m stuck with the deep, resonate voice I used to take pride in, and which many others celebrated.

Dani and Stacy at a call center where we met

When word of George Michael’s passing came in a phone call from a coworker last night, I was initially fine. This coworker needed help conforming his death. At that second, it was just another item of news we needed to confirm, then put into context with reaction from the musicians and stars who knew him, posting to social media. When it became apparent we were ready to report and confirm his death, my mind rushed back to that radio booth from which I sent dedications of love to Stacy. I sent her this text, “His last Christmas 😢,” a reference to the Christmas song he wrote, produced, and released while he was still part of the duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1984.


Stacy’s response was filed with emotion, and remembering it s I write this, has brought tears to my eyes once more. He meant so much to us. He was a huge part of our history.

Recently, I followed Maddie Kelly on Twitter. She’s a brilliant young Aussie, and in her profile she’s linked to a TedX talk she gave called “Kintsukuroi: finding beauty in a broken world.” In her TedX, she talked about the Japanese art, also sometimes called “Kintsugi.” It’s a wonderful tradition where the Japanese take broken pottery and use lacquer filed with gold to glue broken pottery back together. The philosophy is meant to treat the repair of broken pieces as a history of the object, rather than to hide it.

I don’t yet know if I’ll try to alter my voice to match my exterior or mind, but I’m applying Kintsukuroi to the part of my life that is broken, with the passing of a pop icon who forever glued Stacy and me together.

It’s not just about you!

“It’s not just about you.” It’s a mantra I repeat in my head, almost daily, still. It’s something I knew I needed to keep in mind before I came out to family and friends as transgender. And it’s something I tell people who are just coming out, or are considering coming out to family and friends.

When a transgender person finally works up the nerve to transition and live authentically, it’s like an overdrive kicks in. We finally feel free from the bonds which have held us captive, sometimes for many years. All we want to do is finally move on with living our lives. It’s easy to get caught in the euphoria of living your life for yourself, after living it for other people for years.

I spent several months in psychotherapy before I realized it was realistic for me to transition. I told myself all sorts of lies, to keep from having to deal with my gender dysphoria. I told myself I would lose the love of my parents, my sister, kids, extended family and friends, that I would lose my job, that nobody else would hire me, and I would end up homeless and on the street. I told myself that my four sons would question themselves, to see if they had the “something wrong” with them that I was always trying to fix in myself. I decided long ago that it was selfish for me to transition, because it would cause so much pain for everyone around me.

What I hadn’t allowed myself to hear was how much my gender dysphoria was affecting the relationships I had with everyone. I hadn’t allowed myself to consider how miserable I was, and how there was a chance I wouldn’t live to see 50. I wasn’t being honest, because I was chicken. It was easier to tell myself all the reasons NOT to transition, and none of the reasons TO transition. It would take a near meltdown and extreme despair for me to realize how close to the edge I was, ready to fall off into oblivion.

When I did realize how dire things were, I had to consider the risk of losing relationships with people I loved, if I were to transition. These people meant to world to me. These were people I yearned to have real relationships with, with whom I longed to remove my mask of masculinity. I thought about whether it was fair, whether I was selfish, whether there was any way I could live authentically and still maintain a relationship with my sons, father, sister and extended family. I ultimately realized that while I could have some affect on my relationships with these other people, it wasn’t all up to me. I didn’t have ultimate control over the outcome. I could only do my best.

I reasoned that while there was a risk of losing people I loved, I wasn’t being the parent, child, sibling or family member they needed me to be. I realized I wasn’t giving them my best, and that was robbing them of the very essence of who I was. I was robbing them of the person my closest friends loved so dearly, because I was myself around them. This theft of my personality was more unfair, more selfish, and less honest for the people who needed me most. After many, many years of living a lie, I decided in December 2014 to transition. This decision lifted the weight of the world from my shoulders. It was like letting all the steam out of a pressure cooker. I didn’t have a timeline. I didn’t know when I would begin transition, or how long it would take. I only knew I was finally being honest with myself. The next step was working up the bravery to be honest with everyone in my life, not just a select few.

My mother passed away in April 2015, 31 days after being diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. This sort of sudden and unexpected life-event tends to put a lot of things into perspective. I was fortunate enough to spend those days with my mother, by her side as she melted away. While driving back to Atlanta from Missouri, after her memorial services, I reflected on quickly life seems to pass by – how my kids seemed to grow up overnight – and just how little warning we can have when it’s our time to go. I thought of how my years had flown by, without me. Without ME. Someone else was living my life for me. Some dude. Some character played by me, an actor. It wasn’t whole. It was incomplete. I had already begun to grow my hair out. I needed only to make the decision to proceed with female hormones and start the medical transition.

All these many months in counseling, I considered the risk and how I could minimize it. I knew the news would come as a shock to many people. I knew they couldn’t be expected to immediately understand what I understood, to know what I knew. I had a responsibility to educate them and mitigate as much of the damage as I could. I played each conversation over in my head, a hundred different ways. I imagined how the conversations might go, and what I might say in response to a question or heated reaction. I considered the shock and misguided responses I might receive, and how I could help each person understand what was really happening.

But there was one thing I knew I needed to provide for each person, other than information. I needed to provide safety. I knew they would have fears, and if I addressed these fears on the front end, they would be much more open to really hearing me, and would have the best shot at understanding.

I also knew there would be bumps along this road. I knew the people who cared about me the most, had the most to lose, and vice versa. I needed to provide a soft landing, and gentile guidance as we all proceeded forward. This is where a lot of people mess up. They don’t realize that everyone around them transitions, as well. It’s not just my transition! It’s not just me navigating these waters. We’re all in this thing together, and we all need to support each other. We all have questions, and fear the unknown. I simply had my questions answered first, because I knew there were questions before anyone else.

I planned constantly for how to come out to each immediate family member. I also planned for how I could be supported along the way. I made sure I was capable of dealing with the needs of those around me, before I placed them in jeopardy by giving them information without context – without helping them understand and feeling safe about it.

Has it been perfect? No way! Have I been perfect? Of course not. I’ve made my fair share of assumptions, mistakes and missteps. I’ve been selfish when I needed to be unselfish. I’ve been thoughtless when I needed to be thoughtful and considerate. But I try to be as patient as possible with people who just haven’t had the opportunity I’ve had to process difficult information. And I’ve reminded myself each step along the way, that it isn’t just about me. It’s about them too. They’re the reasons I waited so long to transition, because I was so afraid to hurt them and alienate them. How much more important is it now to remember, it’s really all about them.

How a transgender woman loses male privilege

My coworker Kelly said, “When I first saw you, I thought you were a woman, but then I said to myself, ‘I think that might be a man.'” I was thankful for her honesty. She came to Atlanta only 8 months ago, so I was only about three months into my transition when we first met.

Every time I’ve said something about how feminine I appear to others, my friends all say something similar. “You’re so pretty! You totally look female.” These reassurances do chip away at my doubt, but I don’t believe the doubt will ever leave for good. It will only be pushed further away.

I’ve vacillated for weeks about whether and how to write about this subject, but I knew I needed to write more in depth about the changing way other people see me and interact with me. While some of those changes have made me feel much better about myself, and secure in my femininity, other changes have increasingly bothered me. But I wasn’t sure if I had a right to complain. After all, I’m the one who began to change my appearance and declare to the world, “I know you thought I was a man, but I’ve really been wearing a mask this whole time, and I’m female!”

Kylie on tour of CNN in Atlanta

So, I asked the woman I call my trans twin if I could write about her experience. After meeting online and getting to know each other better, Kylie and I discovered we began hormone therapy just a few days apart. We have so many things in common, from being transgender, to having similar childhood experiences, to experiencing many of the same things in real time as we transition together, despite being separated by half a country, she in Colorado and I in Atlanta. How we met, and how our paths merged, is fora future blog entry. This entry is about one experience we’ve shared.

“To experience the male privilege and then to lose it, was a huge…I mean it hurt, but at the same time I don’t let that define my own self-worth anymore. It’s made me stronger, and no matter where I end up, I’m going to show them what I’m about – how hard of a worker I am. Male privilege means nothing. It’s just about me as a person and what I can bring to the table,” Kylie told me as we sat eating gelato on her first visit to Atlanta.

Kylie went to work at a roofing supply company in Colorado before she came out as transgender. Nobody guessed she wasn’t another male employee. She was quickly promoted to a supervisory position, overseeing technicians who would install commercial roofing and gutters. Before her transition, she was lauded with praise, in part for creating a system to track sales, work, equipment, and man-hours needed for a job. While in her position, her team was second out of five is sales performance.

About nine months before she quit the company, she came out to her employer, who’s first worry was legal liability. They were afraid Kylie was going to sue them if they, or another employee, said or did something wrong. She explained to owners of the company in a meeting, there was no chance of that. But the owners’ concerns were not abated. They sidelined Kylie and took her out of the field and away from dealing directly with customers. The company’s owners were afraid of losing business as a result of Kylie’s transition. After removing Kylie from liaising with clients, one customer nearly left because of issues Kylie would have normally handled. Kylie was placed back on that job, and not only saved the customer, but sold an additional $30,000 in supplies and services.

Even this stellar performance didn’t appease the company’s owners. At an all-employee meeting, each department was called upon to talk about their sales and status. Each department was applauded. But Kylie’s team was skipped. She complained to HR that her team felt robbed of their moment of glory, to be recognized for their efforts. HR told Kylie that the owners would talk to her about it, but that conversation never happened. Kylie felt so badly for her technicians, she went out and bought a gift card and wrote a note to each employee.

I asked Kylie about other women in the company. Was their work also marginalized? The emphatic answer was, “No.”

This change in the way the company owners interacted with her, was only three-and-a-half months after coming out. In that short timeframe, Kylie went from being lauded to sidelined. She would stay on another six months before realizing the changes were permanent.

Kylie’s story is not unique. The loss of male privilege is swift, and it can manifest in various ways. Unless a transgender person transitions very early in life, they’re socialized as the opposite gender. Even though Kylie was always female, she was socialized as a male. She had certain expectations, based on what she was taught growing up, of how life would be and how others were expected to interact with her, and what was expected of her in a male role. She learned everything, including her patterns of speech, based on presenting as male. It’s all she ever knew before transition. But post-transition, things she said were taken differently. Accomplishments were minimized, and her concerns ignored.

My loss has been more subtle than Kylie’s in some ways. But when we sat down to discuss our personal loss of male privilege, I recognized many of the things Kylie spoke of, even though I hadn’t experienced my loss as severely.

We are a culture parted down gender lines, dominated by males, and that gender line is stark and bold. I knew I would end up surrendering my male privilege when I transitioned, and I was very wiling to do so! But I didn’t expect it to manifest in the way that it did.

I suppose I didn’t know what to expect, but I assumed I would be spared the worst case scenario. After all, I work for a company with intelligent and compassionate coworkers who love me. Surely they would all self-regulate. Surely I would retain the respect I earned from years of journalism and management experience, right? For the most part, I did, especially from those I work with closely. But there are times when I’m  treated differently, intentional or not.

The thing that hurts Kylie and I most is the lost trust. Kylie and I trusted the people who knew us before transition, to respect us in the same manner in which they had before we came out as transgender.

But not all hope is lost! Both Kylie and I are doing something with our experiences. We’re working toward educating others about the dangers of treating trans employees and coworkers differently.

We’re the same persons, with the same brain and the same valuable contributions, so the argument for awareness is an easy one to make. We’re still experienced, talented, compassionate, intelligent and capable people. None of that goes away with the knowledge that we’re simply a different gender than others thought.

I’ll leave you with this. Not every change in privilege is a loss. There are a few changes which have their benefits. Kylie, who is a beautiful young woman, constantly gets chatted up by handsome men who want to buy her drinks and flirt. No matter than Kylie is happily married to the same woman she fell in love with 10 years ago. Her wife, who only learned Kylie was transgender a few months before her transition, loves her more than ever. In fact, their set to renew their wedding vows in just a matter of days in Hawaii.

Kylie and Dani, just before taking Atlanta by storm

Now, I haven’t had those same men chatting me up, and that’s just fine by me because I’m not attracted to men. But, I did have an experience during Kylie’s visit to Atlanta. She was only here for a few days, so I took her out to some of my favorite places. On the Saturday night she was here, we got dolled-up and strolled confidently into a crowded bar. As we retrieved a couple beers from the bar, Kylie led the way toward the bak of the bar, where it was less crowded. I suddenly felt a firm hand on the right side of my waist, then a voice very close to my right ear. It was too crowded for e to turn around to see the source of the voice, but he said, “Damn girl, you know you look good in that dress!” With that, his hand slid down and gave my butt cheek a squeeze.

Now the feminist in me wanted to turn and deck him! But a half-second later, I realized a man – a straight man – saw me and thought I was attractive enough to flirt and grope me. Even though it would not have even worked with a woman groping me, I’m going to take that as a win!

What are you willing to give up?

What are you willing to give up to get what you want? Imagine you have a diamond in one hand and a fist full of gold in the other. You’re sitting in the sun on the hottest day of the summer, you haven’t had anything to drink all day, there’s a glass of water right in front of you, and you’re surrounded by people who each have a glass of water. Are you willing to drop the diamond to pick up the glass? What about the fist full of gold? You can sit there until you die of thirst; until the others around you lose hope or get bored and move along; or until you can give up something to save yourself.

In some ways, life really boils down to making choices of this sort. At some point, you have to make a choice about what you’re willing to give up or how long you’re willing to wait for circumstances to change, before you can move forward. Maybe it’s a compromise with a spouse, or time spent learning to make yourself more marketable in your career. Something has to change before other things can happen. The glass isn’t going to raise itself to your lips, unless you know some magic I don’t. Yes, you can wait to see if the circumstances change, but there’s no guarantee anything will.

I’m sure you can imagine your own scenario. Maybe you want a promotion, but aren’t sure what to do to get it. You won’t get promoted until you figure out what you need for the promotion, and then devote the time to improving a skill or learning something new. Of course you can simply wait for a new position to open up, but there is no guarantee a better candidate won’t come along and leave you sitting in the same salary bracket.

Maybe you’re stuck living somewhere you don’t like because of a job or family. If you don’t want to wait for some change in your circumstances, you either need to make some choices or you will sit there until someone else makes the choices for you.

For me, the glass of water was transitioning from male to female. Throughout years of conditioning from society and and me repeatedly confirming my own fears, I convinced myself I would lose everything if I transitioned — my children, parents, sister, job, career, home, then end up on the street, forced to do horrible things to survive. For me, this was reality. They were myths, but they were my truths. I wasn’t about to let go of any of those valuable things to pick up my glass of water! They were all too valuable to me. A chain of events had to take place for me to get into a different mindset where I was willing to risk those things to transition.

One of those events in the chain was me hitting rock bottom. I was in a dangerous place. I began to flirt with the idea of ending my suffering in the most selfish of ways. I never attempted suicide, but there were times when it seemed like a viable option. Ending my life, I reasoned, would be easier on my family and friends than for them to see me as miserable as I was. I was guided into counseling by my physician, and I decided to be honest with my therapist during my first appointment. The actual therapy, the process by which I began to see the elements of my life from a different perspective, was the next logical event in the chain.

Another set of events were me seeking out other transgender people. I didn’t know any in Atlanta, so I reached out to the ones I was exposed to through media. One was Kristin Beck, the retired Navy SEAL. CNN aired a documentary on her and I read her book. Another trans person was comedian, actor and all-around renaissance man, Ian Harvie. I began to read about Kristin, Ian and others. I began to see these people, like the incomparable Lavern Cox, as success stories. Transition hadn’t been easy for any of them, but they each did it and were still living, with families, successful in their careers and in life. Learning about these people began to chip away at the wall of excuses I had built around myself like a protective shell. They were excuses I made thousands and thousands of times over, each time I thought about the possibility of transition.

Last night, I told a friend that I estimated there were tens of thousands of times when the possibility of transition popped into my head, but would then remind myself of all the reasons I couldn’t, not the least of which were my kids. I knew I could never forgive myself if I lost my kids by making, what I saw at the time to be, a very selfish decision to transition. My friend asked if I’d ever written about it. I’ve alluded to this before in writing, but I’ve never explicitly written about how tough it was to know I needed to transition, yet would consistently convince myself it wasn’t an option. It was a near-daily occurrence, and some days more than once. I was tortured by having to live a lie, but I thought my only other option was to lose everything.

There were other events in the chain, but I finally got to a point in December 2014, where I had debunked enough of the lies I used as excuses, to pull the trigger. I had begun a few months prior to seriously consider a transition. The more I chipped away at the wall of excuses, the faster the wall seemed to crumble. By the end of that December, I was willing to risk it all. I was finally in a place where the possibility of risk was dwarfed by the positives of living an authentic life. I began to have an increasing faith in the people who loved me — my kids, other family members and friends. I began to believe, even though there was a chance I would lose them at first, they would eventually come around.

I wish I could say it was completely perfect. There were hiccups. It was so incredibly difficult to tell my loved ones about the changes ahead of us. I was terrified of hurting, disappointing and alienating them. Some of them were surprised, some confused, some had questions I could easily answer, while a couple are still left questioning.

I was also still afraid of losing my job. Turner Communications, which owns CNN, has a non-discrimination policy. While there was a lot of comfort in having that policy in place, there is no law in Georgia that would have kept them from firing me for being transgender. Most people believe lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people are protected from being discriminated against or fired for being LGB or T. Most people are wrong. While there are some local protections in larger metropolitan centers and a handful of states, no such protection exists on a national basis. The law is different in each state. In most states, an employer can look you in the eye and say, “We don’t employ people who are gay or transgender.”

I was lucky enough to have support around me in the form of amazing coworkers who accepted me and all the changes that came along with my transition. I was lucky enough to have a direct manager with whom I felt comfortable to confide in before coming out, and who helped me to prepare how we would tell my coworkers, other managers and clients about my transition. She also helped with emotional support and encouragement during the time when I was very scared about how everyone would react. She made it clear that she was in my corner. I’m eternally grateful for her efforts, leading up to the big step.

Finally, I had an amazing support system around me. I’ve often said, “I have many friends who are fiercely-loyal and protective.” It’s not an understatement. Most people are lucky to have one fiercely-loyal friend in their lifetime. I consider myself incredibly fortunate and lucky to have many, many close friends upon whom I can lean and rely. They helped me through the thousands of times I bounced off my wall of excuses, only to pick up my bruised and wounded body and flail myself against the wall again. I hope they feel I’m there for them when they need me.

In my case, I only became willing to drop the gold and diamonds when my optics changed. In December 2014, when I looked at the contents in my hands, then at the glass of water and the circle of people around me with their own glasses of water, I saw something different than I had for years. It was as if I were seeing with a new pair of glasses. The pair of glasses I now wore represented all the things I had learned. They were the experiences I’d had as I went through life, learning how pointless it was to keep that wall of excuses around me.

I made the decision to transition, only after I looked at my surroundings with the new glasses and saw the faces of the people around me and recognized my friends. My fiercely-loyal friends were gathered around me to make sure my glass didn’t stay empty when I drank the water. I let go of the objects that no longer held the same value and took a long, quenching drink of the waters of transition. It tastes so good!

How to compliment a transgender person

How do you compliment a transgender person? On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve found there’s more psychology involved that you might think. Recently, my close friend told me about a conversation she ahd with someone we both work with, who said I was looking very pretty lately. My friend told the coworker, “You should tell her.” Our coworker’s response initially surprised my friend. When my friend told me, I was surprised as well.

The coworker confided to my friend that she hadn’t been sure if she should compliment me on my dress, because she thought it might make me uncomfortable, or make me feel singled out. Our coworker was on to something. It is true, that most trans people just want to blend in. When we first begin transitioning, we feel we already stick out enough. We’re self-conscious about our appearance. We feel the stares of people who have clocked us (realized we some features that are inconsistent with the gender we’re presenting), and it’s uncomfortable when we feel their eyes from across a dining room at a restaurant or other public place. Sometimes, I’m tempted to turn to them and say something immature, like “Why don’t you take a picture next time?”

Our coworker’s instinct was based in reality, although I didn’t understand it until my friend also passed on our coworker’s explanation. It got me thinking about the fact that many people are afraid to say the wrong thing to — or ask the wrong question from — a transgender individual.

I definitely understand that. When I first began to meet other transgender people, long before I even considered a transition, I felt uncomfortable speaking with them and didn’t know if I was saying something insulting or embarrassing. Most people are afraid of overstepping boundaries, in general. I asked a couple coworkers to pretend they didn’t know me as well as they do, then tell me what they might want to know about me, but be afraid to ask. The responses were enlightening:

  • “What’s the process of your transition, like how long does it take?” (I’ve been asked “How do you know you’re done?”)
  • “We’re reporting on bathroom laws and policies every day now. How do you navigate the bathroom issue, and which bathroom do you use?”
  • “Why did you wait until this point in your life to transition and what triggered it?”
  • “Have you had surgery…you know, down there?”
  • “You were married to women. Are you attracted to guys now?”
  • “When did you know you were transgender?”
  • “What steps did you have to take to get your name and driver’s license changed?”

When I first came out to my tight-knit group of coworkers, word spread pretty quickly around the company. I think people were very proud of me, and wanted to share the news with others. Several people with whom I’d never had a conversation, wrote emails or came to me in person to say how brave and courageous I must be, or wish me well. A couple people prefaced their encouragement with, “I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but…”

I’m forced to be more open than some transgender individuals. Because I’m a journalist with my name on stories that live on the internet, and because I deal with some of CNN’s 1,000+ affiliates every day, I realized long ago that I didn’t have the luxury of transitioning under the radar. I understood early-on that I would have a public transition, and that I would never live in “stealth mode,” under the radar of most people. Some transgender people are able to have very private transitions, where only the people closest to them see the process.

Because of my very public transition, I felt I had a responsibility to be as open as possible, and to help educate others about what it means to be transgender and what’s involved. I told people when I came out to them that I understood they would have questions, and I hoped they would feel comfortable is asking me to learn more. I also decided I would write about being transgender, what it means, and about my transition. I feel it is my responsibility to be a source of information for the public, and a source of information and encouragement to other LGBTQ people. This public role isn’t for everyone, and not every trans person should feel obligated to fill it. But I have the gift of communication, and I can explain things in a way, at least I hope so, that puts others at ease, and allows them to feel safe asking me things they wouldn’t someone else.

Since my own CNN story published, I’ve had many people reach out to tell me their own stories of transition, of still being closeted, or simply to say thank you for writing it. I’ve been helping a few of them by giving them guidance, counsel and encouragement. I’ve shared my own detailed experiences and stories with them. I’ve answered many questions, about nearly everything you can imagine a person would want to know. Being able to help these people has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve felt more gratitude the past few weeks, than in the entire sum of my life up to this point. I’ve always found it rewarding to help others, and and when I can put smiles on faces. I’ve been able to do that on an industrial scale, and I’m forever thankful for this experience.

My first reaction when my friend told me about her conversation with our coworker, was feeling flattered. It made me feel really good for someone to notice that I had begun to wear dresses, and appear more feminine by getting better at applying makeup and matching outfits. The surprise of hearing her hesitance was followed by flattery. It made me feel more secure in how I appear to others, and of course I understand her not wanting to offend me, or even make me feel uncomfortable. But I was very happy, when just a few days later she looked at me and said, “Wow, you’re really looking great, Dani! Look at you, all dressed up and fancy!” That’s how you complement a transgender person. You just do it.

The changing faces I see on elevators

I’ve been passing more and more, lately. That’s what transgender people call it when people see you as the gender you are, not what you were assigned at birth. When we don’t pass, we call it getting clocked. Passing is good, getting clocked is bad.

It occurred to me week before last that people look at me differently now, than they would have before before my transition. I’m not just talking about the fact that they see a female now. I mean the looks on their faces are different, and so is their body language.

I had just been to the grocery store and was exiting the elevator in my apartment building while a young woman was waiting to board, obviously headed to the pool. I’d never seen this woman in the building before that moment. I was wearing a cute sundress and sandals. As our eyes met, she politely smiled as we passed just outside the elevator door. It was a brief instant in time, but it was a significant moment for me. I had just passed. I had not been clocked.

How could I tell what was in her mind? Her facial expression didn’t change as we passed. But more on that in a moment.

Something happens when a woman enters an elevator or room with only a male already there. In places where danger could occur, like an elevator or a parking garage, most women present themselves differently when encountering a woman than they do with a man. There’s a higher level of awareness. Not fear, but women act differently than they do when there’s only another woman present. When it’s another woman present, there is less trepidation. The way in which they hold their shoulders — their entire body — is more relaxed.

After I got my groceries put away, I sat to reflect on on the experience. My mind went to other women I’ve encountered very recently, and the way in which the experience is different than it was two years ago. Then I thought about the experiences I’ve had when encountering men over the past year. As long as I can remember, I haven’t been comfortable around men I don’t know. That hasn’t changed a lot, but interestingly, I do find myself slightly more comfortable now. The way they present themselves around me has changed considerably, though.

Men no longer immediately divert their gaze away, out of instinct, to ward off any potential face-off that naturally occurs between men positioning to be the alpha. Before my transition, most men would size me up with their peripheral vision. Now, they look more in my direction and politely smile in an attempt to put me at ease. After a quick smile, their gaze typically falls elsewhere, only occasionally back towards me, unless there’s conversation. The diversion of their eyes is relaxed now, no longer with intent to avoid eye contact. I don’t think any have found me attractive, but that’s perfectly alright with me! I am not attracted to men.

Something else has been happening. With less frequency, the looks on these faces change, ever so slightly. As people approach me, they sometimes begin to look away, then their eyes snap back toward me and narrow a bit. I can see the wheels turning. They may not be able to put their finger on it right away, but they can tell something isn’t quite 100% “normal.” That’s when I know I’ve been clocked. As soon as they know I can see them looking at me, trying to figure me out, they snap away and try very hard not to stare, but stealing glances to ensure their eyes aren’t playing tricks.

When I do pass now, I get clocked as soon as I open my mouth. There’s a recognition for others that my baritone voice is male. Their ears tell them that what their eyes have seen doesn’t match what their ears are hearing. Probably, in nearly every case, it’s the first time they’ve ever come face-to-face with someone who is transgender.

I told two trans friends about this blog post to see what their experience had been. A close trans male friend told me that now he tries to over accommodate when he’s in a space, room or on the street with women because he doesn’t want to seem predatory. With other men, he says there’s a lot of posturing going on that he didn’t see before his transition. He says other times they try to “bromance him real hetero style and bring me into their circle. They think I’m one of them.” We agreed that his experience is similar, but in reverse to my experience.

My other friend Kylie, the one I call my trans twin because we started on hormones just days apart, knew exactly what I was talking about, as well. She hadn’t put as much thought into her experiences as I had, but everything I told her about my thoughts rang true for her. This happens with us a lot. Once of us will share an experience and the other will know exactly what they other is talking about. Ours is a special sisterhood.

Something I shared with both of these friends, is that we feel blessed to have experienced both worlds. We certainly didn’t enjoy life before transition, but none of us would go back and change anything substantial. We realize that we are the sum of our experiences. We simply wouldn’t be who we are today, had we not experienced everything we have, especially the hardships of discovering we were transgender and dealing with all the baggage that comes with that, then making the decision to transition. It wasn’t an easy road to go down, but we’re in a special club. Not many people can say they’ve experienced life with everyone seeing them as one gender, then the other. We feel fortunate to have experienced everything we have. We’re stronger, more learned and have unique experiences we can apply to living life. For that, we’re very grateful.

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