Hide and Seek-Part Two: Coming to terms with being transgender

This is the second of two posts about the time coming to terms with being transgender and leading up to my transition. If you haven’t read Part I, click here.

PART II

The stories we tell ourselves might as well be reality. They’re like movies that play over and over in our heads, and each time the movie plays out, it reinforces itself. My personal movies were ones of hopelessness and danger. Just a couple years ago one of my movies was, if I transitioned I would alienate my family and friends, I would lose my job, become unemployable, I would end up homeless on the street, and would soon thereafter be dead.

Transition seemed like such a selfish thing for me to do, to put everyone I loved through the trauma of having to deal with finding out that their child, sibling, parent, friend and coworker was transgender. You see, I had stigmatized that word just as much as anyone ever had. I viewed being transgender as something that needed to be fixed. Despite me knowing she couldn’t, I had hoped my therapist could somehow make me feel better about my current circumstance – that she could magically make it all go away with one piece of psychological trickery. Maybe she could fix me, I remember hoping.

What I learned from her, is that being transgender isn’t some sort of disorder or mental illness. Current thinking among medical and psychology fields is that being transgender is a “normal” phenomenon. It’s like having arthritis, or being short and having brown hair. It just is. And the old thinking that nurture was somehow involved, or that you could medicate it away or otherwise cure someone who is transgender, was pure fiction. We don’t completely understand yet what it is that makes people like me feel like we aren’t the gender we were assigned at birth, but we do know it isn’t a disorder, mental disease or anything close. You can’t make it go away, but you can help a person deal with all the things that come with being transgender, like disenfranchisement and discrimination. In some cases, you can prescribe hormones and even perform surgery to help that person become who they were meant to be.

A few other things happened along this journey of discovery. About the time I was going through counseling, retired Navy SEAL and transgender woman Kristin Beck’s book and documentary came out, and I devoured both several times. Knowing her story melted away some of my arguments against transitioning. She’s a war hero, for crying out loud! The fact that she went from fighting terrorists for two decades to what she is now, paled my protestations. Of course, it wasn’t easy for her to transition. She actually did lose some things during and after her transition, but what she gained was so much more, and it opened my mind to an alternative ending to my personal movie.

I watched the interviews she did for CNN and others, and I eventually reached to to Kristin. What I discovered was someone with a very similar history to my own. We had both joined the Navy, although my naval career was nothing compared to hers. We both had kids and had been married to women. Both of us had tried desperately to compensate for our feelings of femininity by being hyper masculine. Kristin told me that this was common. I found in her, someone for whom I had immense respect, and someone I could relate to.

Also during my counseling, Amazon’s award-winning show Transparent debuted. I was blown away by it! The entire show was a reflection of me playing out in a relatable story, and winning awards along the way! Beck’s story and Transparent were two huge trans-related events, and both were lauded. I reached out to Ian Harvie, a transgender actor and comedian who played the part of a transgender man in Transparent. Ian was open and generous with his own story, and that put me at ease. I felt I could be open about mine. He became a dear friend, and I’m incredibly lucky to know him.

Along with counseling, both Ian and Kristin proved to me that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I didn’t need to be fixed. To be sure, I felt completely broken, but I realized it was a feeling, not reality. Psychotherapy and these two amazing people helped me to see my path to transition. I slowly began to calm down and became increasingly more at peace, and more peaceful to be around.

When I finally and firmly made the decision to transition around the 2014 holidays, the pressure cooker released its remaining steam. It was no longer the bomb that would have taken casualties. It was vessel that had changed my thinking. It had changed the movies in my head from horror stories to something lovely — from the story of someone tormented, to that of someone happy and finally at peace with herself.

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Hide and Seek-Part Two

This is the second of two posts about the time leading up to my transition. If you haven’t read Part I, click here.

PART II

The stories we tell ourselves might as well be reality. They’re like movies that play over and over in our heads, and each time the movie plays out, it reinforces itself. My personal movies were ones of hopelessness and danger. Just a couple years ago one of my movies was, if I transitioned I would alienate my family and friends, I would lose my job, become unemployable, I would end up homeless on the street, and would soon thereafter be dead.

Transition seemed like such a selfish thing for me to do, to put everyone I loved through the trauma of having to deal with finding out that their child, sibling, parent, friend and coworker was transgender. You see, I had stigmatized that word just as much as anyone ever had. I viewed being transgender as something that needed to be fixed. Despite me knowing she couldn’t, I had hoped my therapist could somehow make me feel better about my current circumstance – that she could magically make it all go away with one piece of psychological trickery. Maybe she could fix me, I remember hoping.

What I learned from her, is that being transgender isn’t some sort of disorder or mental illness. Current thinking among medical and psychology fields is that being transgender is a “normal” phenomenon. It’s like having arthritis, or being short and having brown hair. It just is. And the old thinking that nurture was somehow involved, or that you could medicate it away or otherwise cure someone who is transgender, was pure fiction. We don’t completely understand yet what it is that makes people like me feel like we aren’t the gender we were assigned at birth, but we do know it isn’t a disorder, mental disease or anything close. You can’t make it go away, but you can help a person deal with all the things that come with being transgender, like disenfranchisement and discrimination. In some cases, you can prescribe hormones and even perform surgery to help that person become who they were meant to be.

A few other things happened along this journey of discovery. About the time I was going through counseling, retired Navy SEAL and transgender woman Kristin Beck’s book and documentary came out, and I devoured both several times. Knowing her story melted away some of my arguments against transitioning. She’s a war hero, for crying out loud! The fact that she went from fighting terrorists for two decades to what she is now, paled my protestations. Of course, it wasn’t easy for her to transition. She actually did lose some things during and after her transition, but what she gained was so much more, and it opened my mind to an alternative ending to my personal movie.

I watched the interviews she did for CNN and others, and I eventually reached to to Kristin. What I discovered was someone with a very similar history to my own. We had both joined the Navy, although my naval career was nothing compared to hers. We both had kids and had been married to women. Both of us had tried desperately to compensate for our feelings of femininity by being hyper masculine. Kristin told me that this was common. I found in her, someone for whom I had immense respect, and someone I could relate to.

Also during my counseling, Amazon’s award-winning show Transparent debuted. I was blown away by it! The entire show was a reflection of me playing out in a relatable story, and winning awards along the way! Beck’s story and Transparent were two huge trans-related events, and both were lauded. I reached out to Ian Harvie, a transgender actor and comedian who played the part of a transgender man in Transparent. Ian was open and generous with his own story, and that put me at ease. I felt I could be open about mine. He became a dear friend, and I’m incredibly lucky to know him.

Along with counseling, both Ian and Kristin proved to me that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I didn’t need to be fixed. To be sure, I felt completely broken, but I realized it was a feeling, not reality. Psychotherapy and these two amazing people helped me to see my path to transition. I slowly began to calm down and became increasingly more at peace, and more peaceful to be around.

When I finally and firmly made the decision to transition around the 2014 holidays, the pressure cooker released its remaining steam. It was no longer the bomb that would have taken casualties. It was vessel that had changed my thinking. It had changed the movies in my head from horror stories to something lovely — from the story of someone tormented, to that of someone happy and finally at peace with herself.

Hide and Seek-Part One: Coming to terms with being transgender

This is the first of two posts about the time coming to terms with being transgender and leading up to my transition.

PART I

Let me take you back two years to early 2014. Two years doesn’t seem like a long time, but so much has changed since then. I had to go back and look at past medical appointments and my calendar to piece a timeline together!

I came to CNN in June 2013. I’d been having sleep issues for years. Without medication, I woke several times a night and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was torturous. As a result, I’d been taking Ambien for several years, but wasn’t aware of the long term adverse effects the medication caused. It’s been linked to losses in short term memory and other issues. My doctor thought anxiety was the cause of my sleep issues, so referred me to a psychiatrist.

It took a month to get in to see the psychiatrist. She agreed with my primary care doc that it was likely anxiety causing me not to stay asleep at night. She prescribed anti-anxiety medication and referred me to a psychologist. It took another month to get an appointment with her.

A lot of people confuse psychiatrist and psychologist, so at the risk of insulting your intelligence, I’ll explain the difference. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes on the brain, and a psychologist, often called a psychotherapist, typically has a master’s degree or PhD in psychotherapy. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication, whereas people typically see a psychologist for counseling and therapy.

During these two months, I began to think about all the things which caused me anxiety. As I’d moved up the ranks of journalism and into management, I’d taken on more and more stress. Coming from local news to a network added to my own pressure to live up to the high bars I set for myself. I’d experienced work conflicts with a few co workers in various newsrooms, and CNN was no exception. I was always wound up tight. Little things easily frustrated me, and it was easy for me to snap at people.

More than anything, one theme was constant. The anxiety about my gender. I was always aware of not feeling male, and went through decades of hiding my gender issues so I didn’t have to deal with it. Even though I had told select friends that I wasn’t male inside, I rarely used the word transgender. I had become like a pressure cooker, and I did everything I could to let just enough steam out so that I didn’t really have to come face-to-face with it. In the back of my head was a fear that if I dealt with it at all, a dam would break and I would be an out-of-control cork in a storm at sea.

For instance, I shaved my legs very few times over the years, and it was glorious! But each time I did, it was harder and harder to come back to the reality that there was nothing I could do about my gender. I made decisions each time to never allow myself that pleasure again, because it was torture trying to pull myself back to reality. Transgender people call this purging. Some people do it with clothing. They will dress in clothes that more closely resemble who they really are, but then throw them out when they feel they trapped. For many, it happens repeatedly.

From my early thirties on, I would have transitioned in a heartbeat if there wouldn’t have been consequences, but I could never see a path to where I am right now. When I tell people now, whom I didn’t know then, that I was living miserably, I know they can’t possibly grasp what I mean. I’m so different now. I’m much calmer and happier.

So when I was sitting in the waiting room at the psychologist’s office, I had spent weeks going over in my mind what I might say to her. I knew I had to tell her about my gender issues, but I thought that if I could gloss over that part just enough, maybe I wouldn’t have to confront the real reason I was there. I thought I would say something close to, “Being a journalist is stressful! Being at network only increases that; and by the way, I think I’m a girl — but I think the pressure at work is my real problem.” It didn’t happen that way when I was called back to her office.

Most of that session is honestly a blur to me. I recall being in there only a short time before the dam burst. Through sobs and sentences that were so fast I’m surprised she was able to keep up, I spilled my guts. Years of not dealing with the one thing in my life that had caused me so much pain, came spilling out like Niagara Falls. I remember her looking down at her notebook and asking, “So…am I seeing you for this or for sleep issues?” I nearly yelled back, “I DON’T KNOW!” I’m sure anyone near her office was probably concerned about her at that point. I don’t remember anything else about our session.

I had to come into work after that session, and I was still in shock. When I walked into the newsroom, my sweet friend Mary instantly knew something was wrong. I told her that I felt like the word QUEER was stamped onto my forehead. I was experiencing a full-blown panic attack. My heart was pounding, my breathing was shallow and fast, my peripheral vision was gone, I felt dizzy, and it was obvious to others around me. I think my boss suggested I take a walk to gather myself. In Mary’s words a year later, “Oh, you were a mess!”

I somehow made it through that day and a few more, until I had a second appointment with the psychologist. Each time I went, it was like another small burst of steam was released from the pressure cooker. I was still a mess, but each time I was a little less of a mess than the time before. I began to take my gender issues out of hiding and confront them. My psychologist began to gently challenge the notion that I was trapped. Before counseling, I felt I was too far along in life and no longer had the option of a transition. I had kids and responsibilities, and I would surely lose my job and end up homeless.

I know. It’s all a bit overwhelming, isn’t it? It was for me too. It’s a good thing therapy sessions are only an hour! Too much of this would be…well, too much. So, I’ll save the rest for the next entry. Don’t worry. It won’t be too long before I post it.

Hide and Seek-Part One

This is the first of two posts about the time leading up to my transition.

PART I

Let me take you back two years to early 2014. Two years doesn’t seem like a long time, but so much has changed since then. I had to go back and look at past medical appointments and my calendar to piece a timeline together!

I came to CNN in June 2013. I’d been having sleep issues for years. Without medication, I woke several times a night and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was torturous. As a result, I’d been taking Ambien for several years, but wasn’t aware of the long term adverse effects the medication caused. It’s been linked to losses in short term memory and other issues. My doctor thought anxiety was the cause of my sleep issues, so referred me to a psychiatrist.

It took a month to get in to see the psychiatrist. She agreed with my primary care doc that it was likely anxiety causing me not to stay asleep at night. She prescribed anti-anxiety medication and referred me to a psychologist. It took another month to get an appointment with her.

A lot of people confuse psychiatrist and psychologist, so at the risk of insulting your intelligence, I’ll explain the difference. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes on the brain, and a psychologist, often called a psychotherapist, typically has a master’s degree or PhD in psychotherapy. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication, whereas people typically see a psychologist for counseling and therapy.

During these two months, I began to think about all the things which caused me anxiety. As I’d moved up the ranks of journalism and into management, I’d taken on more and more stress. Coming from local news to a network added to my own pressure to live up to the high bars I set for myself. I’d experienced work conflicts with a few co workers in various newsrooms, and CNN was no exception. I was always wound up tight. Little things easily frustrated me, and it was easy for me to snap at people.

More than anything, one theme was constant. The anxiety about my gender. I was always aware of not feeling male, and went through decades of hiding my gender issues so I didn’t have to deal with it. Even though I had told select friends that I wasn’t male inside, I rarely used the word transgender. I had become like a pressure cooker, and I did everything I could to let just enough steam out so that I didn’t really have to come face-to-face with it. In the back of my head was a fear that if I dealt with it at all, a dam would break and I would be an out-of-control cork in a storm at sea.

For instance, I shaved my legs very few times over the years, and it was glorious! But each time I did, it was harder and harder to come back to the reality that there was nothing I could do about my gender. I made decisions each time to never allow myself that pleasure again, because it was torture trying to pull myself back to reality. Transgender people call this purging. Some people do it with clothing. They will dress in clothes that more closely resemble who they really are, but then throw them out when they feel they trapped. For many, it happens repeatedly.

From my early thirties on, I would have transitioned in a heartbeat if there wouldn’t have been consequences, but I could never see a path to where I am right now. When I tell people now, whom I didn’t know then, that I was living miserably, I know they can’t possibly grasp what I mean. I’m so different now. I’m much calmer and happier.

So when I was sitting in the waiting room at the psychologist’s office, I had spent weeks going over in my mind what I might say to her. I knew I had to tell her about my gender issues, but I thought that if I could gloss over that part just enough, maybe I wouldn’t have to confront the real reason I was there. I thought I would say something close to, “Being a journalist is stressful! Being at network only increases that; and by the way, I think I’m a girl — but I think the pressure at work is my real problem.” It didn’t happen that way when I was called back to her office.

Most of that session is honestly a blur to me. I recall being in there only a short time before the dam burst. Through sobs and sentences that were so fast I’m surprised she was able to keep up, I spilled my guts. Years of not dealing with the one thing in my life that had caused me so much pain, came spilling out like Niagara Falls. I remember her looking down at her notebook and asking, “So…am I seeing you for this or for sleep issues?” I nearly yelled back, “I DON’T KNOW!” I’m sure anyone near her office was probably concerned about her at that point. I don’t remember anything else about our session.

I had to come into work after that session, and I was still in shock. When I walked into the newsroom, my sweet friend Mary instantly knew something was wrong. I told her that I felt like the word QUEER was stamped onto my forehead. I was experiencing a full-blown panic attack. My heart was pounding, my breathing was shallow and fast, my peripheral vision was gone, I felt dizzy, and it was obvious to others around me. I think my boss suggested I take a walk to gather myself. In Mary’s words a year later, “Oh, you were a mess!”

I somehow made it through that day and a few more, until I had a second appointment with the psychologist. Each time I went, it was like another small burst of steam was released from the pressure cooker. I was still a mess, but each time I was a little less of a mess than the time before. I began to take my gender issues out of hiding and confront them. My psychologist began to gently challenge the notion that I was trapped. Before counseling, I felt I was too far along in life and no longer had the option of a transition. I had kids and responsibilities, and I would surely lose my job and end up homeless.

I know. It’s all a bit overwhelming, isn’t it? It was for me too. It’s a good thing therapy sessions are only an hour! Too much of this would be…well, too much. So, I’ll save the rest for the next entry. Don’t worry. It won’t be too long before I post it.

Trust me, I’m a journalist!

You won’t see much, if any, opinion in my writing. It’s a conscious decision. I do write about my own experiences, but I try to do so in such a way that it doesn’t create a conflict of interest for my journalism. I don’t claim to be without bias. We are all a product of our environment and upbringing. As a journalist, it’s not my job to be unbiased. It is to recognize that bias and compensate for it. Sadly, my profession sometimes seems hijacked in this regard.

Even as recently as two decades ago, viewers could reliably take the things television anchors said as fact. But back in the 1990’s, something began to change. With the advent of entire cable channels and radio networks to deliver news with a slant, audiences tune in to seek validation for what they already believe to be true. People are consuming, in large part, to reaffirm their thinking.

A good portion of the people you see on cable news shows are not journalists. Surprising? Not if you’re in the news business. Often, you’ll see commentators invited onto a show to help us understand the news, put information into context, or to clarify the position of a politician. Sometimes, even the host of a show is not a journalist. They aren’t there to give balance to the thoughts and ideas guests speak. Think Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, MSNBC’s Al Sharpton and Joe Scarborough, HLN’s Nancy Grace and Dr Drew. As much as we love them, these people are not in journalist roles. These hosts and guests can often be heard giving opinions. Some viewers are turn on “news” cable channels to learn news and fact, but they’re presented with something less.

It’s no wonder trust in journalism has eroded to an all-time low. In a recent study by Media Insight Project, just 6% of those polled say they have a lot of confidence in the media to get it right. To this journalist who deeply values the trust of the people she serves, that is the most alarming thing I’ve read since last year’s poll. I began this career with dreams of informing people through facts, which when put into context would allow them to make informed decisions when they vote and make other decisions in their daily lives.

The second most alarming thing I’ve read lately, was earlier in the week when I read this post from Eric Newton. In a nutshell, it says journalists have far less power now to be able to go to court to force government to hand over documents and information we feel is in the public interest. You might think that’s a good thing, but it’s not. Sure, there are many things published these days which serve curiosity, not the public interest. But there’s something very important at stake.

If you’ve been a young journalist who’s been mentored by me, you’ve heard me say these words, many times. “Our first priority as journalists is to hold elected, appointed and powerful people accountable for what they do and say. Ours is the only profession specifically protected by the Constitution.” Admittedly, we now do a poor job of accomplishing that lofty goal, but the responsibility remains and it’s up to real journalists to hold people in power accountable, including those in government and guests on shows.

Many times in my career, I’ve fought doggedly to obtain and confirm information that was, and is, incredibly important to the public. There have been times when I spent days, weeks and months badgering gatekeepers to get information that is important, and to which the public has a right. Knowing that the entire industry is less likely to go to court to enforce open records and meetings laws and the Freedom of Information Act, is frightening for many reasons beyond my own career. Those laws allow journalists to accomplish my number one goal.

So why don’t people trust us? The poll says it’s accuracy. Quoting the Associated Press story I linked above, “Nearly 90 percent of Americans say it’s extremely or very important that the media get their facts correct, according to the study. About 4 in 10 say they can remember a specific incident that eroded their confidence in the media, most often one that dealt with accuracy or a perception that it was one-sided.”

Print newsroom staffs have been cut in half several times in the last 15-20 years, and television newsrooms haven’t been spared either. There is a constant fear in many newsrooms of coming into work and being called into a meeting with a box of tissues on the table, the sure sign that there’s a reorganization or round of layoffs in the works. Business is business, but how can a small percentage of the journalists who used to fill newsrooms seats possibly accomplish the accuracy for which we used to be respected?

The state of our journalism union is dire! I see far too many young people being hired, no longer to the intern positions they would have been just two decades ago, but with the responsibility for writing and editing news. In many cases, they haven’t even graduated. I see too many of my competent and experienced, but now disillusioned colleagues leaving for public relations and communications positions. The very people who would have mentored young journalists 10 years ago are no longer around. It’s left our profession struggling to stay afloat under the weight of an expectation that has only increased with the dawn of the digital age. Gone are the days of Woodward and Bernstein. How sad is it that such a tremendous staple of our history can’t possibly be maintained? Investigations of the likes of Deep Throat are now dusty relics relegated to the back of the museum.

If I sound really, really depressed right about now, I’m not. I’m very concerned, but I’m also excited for the possibility to gain back the trust of the American Public. We (journalists) must do better! We have to convince our bosses to be willing to go after corrupt public officials who refuse to give the public information it has the right to see. And journalists have to be willing to fight harder to get that information. I have to be willing to fight harder. Yes, the finger is pointed squarely in my face. I am passionate about what I do, but sometimes I’m just as guilty of letting life get in the way of my calling. Knowing that 94% of the population has no trust in what I write is a not-so-gentle reminder that I, we, need to rededicate our journalist selves to fighting the way we used to, in order to accomplish that which sits solely on our shoulders.

The political season is in full swing. Investigative reporting on candidates is almost nowhere to be seen. There are a few print and web outlets that are doing good work, but I haven’t seen anything similar on television. Yes, I’ve seen a few hosts briefly attempt to nail down candidates on exactly where they stand on a specific issue, but it’s not enough. Nearly always, the attempt is hampered by the next commercial break that looms mere seconds away.

Why aren’t we digging? Why aren’t we holding these major candidates accountable for what they are doing and saying? Trump confines journalists to actual pens at events! That’s unprecedented, and many in the general public don’t know it. He commonly tells those who attend his events that the media is biased and dirty, so attendees think it’s only right to keep us at bay. Hillary isn’t allowing opportunities for journalists to ask her hard questions, or to even witness fundraising speeches, where even President Obama allows journalists to sit and listen. At least Trump calls into morning shows and exposes himself to possible scrutiny.

There are many things journalists could be doing that we’re not, but there’s a flip side. I alluded to it earlier. On the other side of the camera/web site/newspaper, sits the public. Don’t they want the truth? We’ve all heard the phrase “perception is reality.” The public itself has to do its part — to be open to facts that aren’t congruent with their deeply held beliefs. Can we get through to them? The first step is to try.

Why does is bother me so?

Has something ever bothered you and you didn’t know why? That’s my current situation. I’m not completely sure I know why this certain thing bothers me, or that it should bother me. If I can’t explain why something bothers me, do I have a reason or right to be bothered? Here’s a better question. Has anyone ever referred to you as the wrong gender? Maybe you’re a man and you’ve been on the phone, but because you have a high voice someone calls you “ma’am” instinctively.

For me, it’s the other way around. I’m on the phone a lot at work, and it’s a given that because I have a low voice people assume I’m Danny instead of Dani. I tell myself that their mistake doesn’t mean anything about me. It doesn’t make me any less female. But, I do get a frustrated when it happens, and it happens daily. It’s not their fault. They can’t possibly know if I don’t tell them.

It’s a little different, though, when the person should know my gender, like when I’m on the phone with my bank, credit card company, insurance company or doctor’s office. It’s a little harder to swallow the attempt to soothe myself, and that their mistake makes me no less female.

I’m really conflicted over when it happens face-to-face with people I know and am around frequently, but I don’t know what it means. Was their mistake out of habit, without thinking; or because their brain and the way they see me hasn’t quite caught up to what’s happening? This is called misgendering — when you use the wrong pronoun.

When I came out to my coworkers, friends and family, I told them they would make mistakes. I knew then, that gender is the first thing we recognize about someone else. Even before hands shake and names are exchanged, we make an assumption about another person’s gender. When a child is born, or during an ultrasound, the first thing parents are told is that their baby is a boy or a girl. Knowing that gender is so deeply a part of what we think we know about others, I knew it would take time for those around me to change the way they see me — to change the filter through which they view me and the things I do and say.

So when a friend recently used a male pronoun and said, “Thank you, sir,” as I turned to leave, I didn’t flinch or change my stride, and I didn’t correct them. Before I came out, I made a promise myself. I promised I wouldn’t correct family, friends and coworkers when they misgendered me. I didn’t want them to feel as if they had to walk on eggshells around me or worry about making a mistake. I wanted to have normal interactions with people, unencumbered by fear or discomfort.

As I continued to walk away, I thought, “I’m presenting so feminine lately, and they still see me as male. When is it going to kick in for other people? Will it kick in?” It happens so often, and I quickly brush away the frustration and hurt feelings by reminding myself, “Their mistake means nothing about who I am inside.” But for the first time, just a minute later, I asked myself why it bothered me so much. I didn’t have an answer. I was aware enough to know that I was bothered, but not aware enough to know why. And because I couldn’t answer the question of why, I wasn’t sure if I even had the right to be bothered.

As I got into my car to drive away, I assumed I would come up with the answer before I got home, but I didn’t. I thought I may just need to talk it out with a friend. When one called a couple hours later, I did. I explained what had happened and my thoughts about it, but I still couldn’t figure out why it bothered me. I thought I would surely figure it out if I wrote about it.

Maybe it’s because it’s become a big pile of little annoyances, or because I’m still insecure in my femininity. Maybe every woman is, but since most have high voices they don’t get misgendered. Maybe they experience their insecurities in ways I haven’t yet.

My friend Mary and I had dinner Saturday. Mary is one of the best sounding boards I have. I can always count on her to tell me things I don’t typically think of. I told her I was thinking about blogging this, but I was afraid that if people I am around all the time read it, they would feel badly or guilty about misgendering me. She said, “Yes, they will — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about it.” I was puzzled. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

I can’t remember Mary’s exact logic or words back to me, but for some reason she didn’t feel that hurting people’s feelings was necessarily a good enough reason not to write about it. I still don’t have an answer to my question. Maybe it’s the death from a thousand paper cuts, or that it will take time to be secure enough in my femininity that being misgendered won’t bother me. Maybe that last one never happens, or it’s something else I haven’t discovered. Whichever it is, it’s part of my experience and that’s what this blog is about — what it’s like to be in my high-heeled boots.

If you give them an inch…

 

transgender trans gender video news
Artemis book-ended by producers Janelle (left) and Madeleine (right)

It was never my intention to interject myself into any public conversation about being transgender or gender issues. I don’t seek limelight. It’s much more rewarding for me to see someone’s eyes when I’m talking to them. Maybe I’m touchy-feely and enjoy the feedback from what I’m saying, or it’s insecurity and I’d rather risk being ridiculous to one person instead of a bunch. So it’s no surprise that when my boss’s boss, Melanie, suggested I write about my life and pitch it to CNN’s web team, I balked at the idea. My response was, “Like my whole life ‘life story’? That would take a blog series, not just one article!” After some conversation, and more thinking on my part, we compromised at focusing on coming out and my transition. I could see the value in that.

It was something that friend Ian Harvie, a very successful comedian and Amazon’s Transparent actor, has told me a couple times, “Storytelling is lifesaving.” It’s true. Hearing his story, both on stage and personally, had made a real difference in my life at a particularly vulnerable time. Ian is a down-to-earth, loving, successful, intelligent, funny, talented and well-adjusted person, who also happens to be transgender. Being able to see that one CAN transition without losing everything, allowed me to begin to see that possibility for myself.

transgender trans gender video news
Mary and I talking during a shoot in the park

Before getting to know Ian, I could never visualize a path to transition for myself. The stories we tell ourselves are like movies that play in our minds on a loop. They may as well be our reality, unless and until something happens to knock the film off track. My conversations with Ian allowed me to see that transition was realistic. So when I considered Melanie’s suggestion to write for a potentially large audience, I realized I had a unique opportunity in front of me — I even had a responsibility to take it up. I thought if I could help even one other person, the way Ian had helped me, it would be more than worth the effort and discomfort of writing about myself.

In the time leading up to my decision to transition, the stories I had told myself for years were incredibly intense. The more I considered transition, the louder the stories seemed. It was an intense battle. It took a toll on me, and also on the lives of everyone with whom I came into contact. I was so stressed, so riddled with anxiety, that I snapped at people. I tell people now, that I was living miserably. I wasn’t just miserable, I had a miserable effect on others around me. As my thinking on writing about this difficult period began to evolve, I saw it as a sort of letter to old myself — my opportunity to help someone else who might be dealing with the same thing.

transgender trans gender video newsI wrote tentatively, at first. The more I wrote and refined, the more I found myself willing to disclose. When my editor read what I had written so far, she became really invested. She saw the possibilities, even when I didn’t. She suggested some things which, at first, I didn’t want to write about or even think I could. She has a graceful way of drawing out the best in a story, for which I’ll be forever grateful.

We got to the point in editing, where both my editor and I thought the story was nearly ready to publish, and she suggested video. “No,” I thought! I’ve spent so much time writing and refining, I want to get my baby out! Yes, I was a nine-months pregnant mother impatiently ready to deliver a enormous infant. But I listened, and agreed to meet with CNN’s Original Video team.

Over the couple days before our scheduled meeting, I remembered something else Ian says, “When we see ourselves reflected in media, we are validated.” I really started to feel the gravity of the new opportunity in front of me. Remember my original reason for even writing the story? I have the advantage of being a trained journalist and can communicate effectively. Not every trans person who is reflected in media has that.

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My beautiful, sweet, loyal, honest and the truest of friends, Mary

In a conversation, you see facial expressions and hear the other person’s voice. You connect in a different way than when reading words. I agreed to the video portion so that another person struggling with gender can see an alternative to the transgender people we typically see reflected in media — so they can see there is hope and possibility for themselves.

Then I took a trip to Australia. The country and her people forever changed me. I felt accepted for who I am, by everyone I met there. I spoke with Australians about, and pondered myself, the current culture in America. I realized more than ever, that the general population needs an education about who we are. The LGBT group GLAAD says only 16% of Americans know or work with a transgender individual. How can they possibly understand or empathize with how we navigate life?

I’ve found that when I’m talking to people one-on-one or in small groups, they begin to realize that what they previously thought and knew about transgender individuals, changes over the course of our conversation. With this video, I have the opportunity to help a portion of the nearly 85% of Americans who don’t know that being transgender is just another aspect of our lives, like being a journalist or a parent. Both are admittedly big parts of my life, but they don’t define me.

transgender trans gender video newsSaturday, we began shooting this video. My friend Artemis and I got manicures and pedicures while we talked about the transgender part of my life. My other friend Mary and I reflected on the changes she’s seen in the five years we’ve known each other. The two producers on the piece, Madeleine and Janelle, gave me a sense of security. After talking with them about the project, there’s no doubt I’m in good hands. They are as invested in making the most out of this video as I am. Having two incredibly close friends to talk to, helped me share some very uncomfortable things. I’ll be honest, there were a couple times I got very emotional, and nearly stopped the conversation. I’m glad I didn’t.

transgender trans gender video newsSo now this pregnant mother has been turned away from the emergency room and to go home to wait. We have several more things to shoot, like a few other of my friends and coworkers talking about what it’s like to be around and work with someone who’s transitioning. Shooting will take another couple weeks, and the really hard part begins! The two producers will really dive in and decide what to include in the final product and how it can best go together for an effective story. How intimidating! I can sit here and type all day long and use a few writing tricks I’ve gathered over the years to tell a story. But to take hours of video and different pieces of information, and somehow make it fit neatly within a couple minutes to tell the whole story? That’s talent!

I guess I’m now waiting to birth twins!