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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Ch-ch-ch-ch Changes – one year on hormones

I’ve been on HRT, hormone replacement therapy, for one year. These are some of the changes I’ve seen.

I’ve seen a lot of changes over the past year. This past Sunday, in the words of my friend Bella, was my one-year “tranniversary.” I began HRT, or hormone replacement therapy, in May 2015 to block the effects of the testosterone that had poisoned my body for many years. Testosterone does many things to humans. It’s what makes facial and other body hair grow thick. It helps form male reproductive tissues during infancy, promotes bone mass, it changes specific characteristics in the facial bone structure as males age, it lowers the voice of adolescent males, and even helps males develop muscles faster. Did you know testosterone is an anabolic steroid? I’ll be honest, I didn’t until I began researching for this post. It’s a really powerful hormone! But hormones in general are more powerful that people realize.

Women produce small amounts of testosterone, but men produce about 7-8 times the amount produced by women. Just like testosterone, estrogen helps in the development of female reproductive tissues while in the womb. Males produce estrogen as well, but in much smaller amounts than women. Estrogen is really complicated. In fact, there are three different types of estrogen that women produce, and each has a much different potency and function.

The earlier a person is introduced to higher levels of these hormones, the more it changes a person. If hormone therapy is introduced at age 10 or 11, the changes are much more significant than at age 30, or in my case at age 48. My friend Kylie and I began hormone therapy one week apart. We call each other our trans twin. Kylie is 27, exactly 21 years and 364 days younger than me, so the changes she is experiencing have come faster, and are more prominent than my own.

For years, I fantasized about transitioning, but didn’t believe it was a possibility for me. Only with counseling and learning, did I began to see my path. I made the decision to transition around the end of 2014. I didn’t have a timeline, but the decision was made. I had already begun to let my hair grow out.

I typically think about big decisions for a long time. So once I make a big decision, there is rarely a need to look back. When the end of 2014 rolled around, I had devoted a ton of brain power to my decision to transition. When I verbalized it to my psychologist, it was as if the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. Almost immediately, my overall mood improved.

My psychologist was also convinced I was ready to transition, and wrote a letter to an endocrinologist (hormone doctor) in January 2015 to verify that I had been in counseling, and that it was appropriate for me to begin HRT, or hormone replacement therapy. Not everyone agrees that a person should be forced to receive counseling before proceeding with hormone therapy. I see both sides of the argument, especially where there is a financial barrier, but I believe a person should see a professional counselor who is knowledgeable about gender before proceeding, and should never proceed without being prescribed hormones from their physician. I certainly wouldn’t have had the confidence in my decision-making without counseling, but there’s also the risk of underlying health issues, which demand a physician’s guidance in proceeding with hormone therapy.

I met with the endocrinologist and he agreed to prescribe gender-changing hormones. I wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger just yet, though. I had made the decision to transition, but coming up with a timeline was challenging. I had to consider the effect it would have on every aspect of my life, and on every person in my life. What would I say to the people closest to me who didn’t know? I not only had to figure out what to tell them, but when and how. I was absolutely terrified to tell my family. I didn’t know how each one of them would react, and whether I should tell them separately, and if not separately, who I would group together for the difficult conversation.

While I was considering all of this, I was also recovering from an unrelated spine surgery to repair some disks in my neck. In March, my mother became suddenly ill and we found out she had a brain tumor. She passed away 31 days after being diagnosed. Some brain tumors can be incredibly aggressive, and mom’s was. Because I was on medical leave from work, I was able to go immediately from Atlanta to Missouri and spend those days at her bedside, and I’m eternally grateful for that opportunity. It was a special opportunity to show my mother how great my love was for her, and to make the most of the time she had left.

Driving back from the two memorial services we had for her, I was struck by how quickly and unexpectedly our lives can some to an end. I remember looking at the cars next to me on the interstate and thinking that any of our vehicles could malfunction and cause us to lose control. I realized that every day I waited to begin my transition, I was wasting a day of happiness. Despite my fears and trepidation, I knew I could not wait any longer.

I got back into town and told the endocrinologist I was ready. I picked up my first prescription on my way into work, May 15, 2015 and took my first dose in the parking lot of the pharmacy. As I walked into CNN, I snapped a selfie and posted it with the caption, “Why the smug look? Because today is the first day of the rest of my life.” We often hear people say that phrase, but this time the statement carried a greater weight and was especially meaningful.

My attitude and outlook began to change when I made the decision to transition. People at work had begun to take notice. After a couple weeks on hormones, I noticed the mental and psychological changes. As weeks turned into months, people began asking me if I had lost weight or why I was in such a good mood.

I began to notice that my emotions gradually felt more normal to me. As I told different people what was going on, they often asked what it was like to be on hormones. I explained that my emotions were no longer muted. I didn’t cry any more or less than before, but when I cried it felt full and normal. I still struggle to find the right words, but “muted vs. full” is the best analogy I’ve come up with. I felt like my emotions were muted before, and I feel like they’re full now. When I cry, it feels like I always imagined it should feel. When I laugh or get upset, it’s the same. It just feels normal. Hormones have allowed me to experience life in a much more meaningful way.

The changes have been both psychological and physical. Estrogen has caused breasts to grow, and I’ve seen fat cells in my face and the rest of my body begin to redistribute. My hips have a little more cushion and my skin is much softer! I’ve also experienced the ability to display a femininity, that I’ve always known was there, in ways I never dreamed would be possible. If you had asked me 6 months ago whether I would feel comfortable in a dress, my answer would have been categorically, “No!” But now I love putting on makeup, doing my hair and wearing dresses.

For years, I was tormented by knowing I was female with no option to do anything about it. I felt that I had to hide behind a mask of masculinity. I literally lived a double life. I was the “real me” to a few select people, and someone entirely different to everyone else.

I am less frustrated – no longer boxed-in and angry about it. I’m no longer tormented and miserable. I am so much happier. But most of all, I’m at peace.

About parents of young transgender children

A friend recently asked me how parents of transgender children support them. She had recently had a conversation with someone else about parents who allow their children to transition at a young age. She said she struggled with whether parents should allow this. After sharing my thoughts with her, she realized these situations are a lot more involved than supportive parents simply making one decision. We both decided this should be the topic of a blog entry.

Let me state right off the bat, I am no expert on transgender children or being the parent of a transgender child. I can only give my perspective based on my own experiences and observations. I will also tell you that I’m not going to give you my opinion on whether a young child should receive hormone therapy or drugs to stop puberty. That said, here is my perspective, which may or may not be correct, accurate or right – whatever those loaded words mean in this set of circumstances.

When you think about it on the surface, it’s easy to imagine that a child one day tells their parent they’re the opposite gender, and the supportive parent immediately begins dressing them in opposite clothing and pumping their young bodies with hormones to change their gender. I don’t think it’s ever happened that way.

It’s nearly always confusing and traumatic for a parent, when their young child declares they are the gender that is opposite to that which they were assigned at birth. There are fears surrounding what to do, who to tell, what people will think about them and their child, and where to get help.

Some well-meaning parents battle it out with their kids, at least for a time, forcing them to present as the gender they were assigned at birth, often in hopes that it’s a phase. Some parents Google. Some talk to their pediatrician or religious leader. Nearly all try to find out information to help them understand and deal with their new struggle. I can only imagine it would be terrifying for a parent, to have their first exposure to the transgender world be their own child telling them they are a different gender.

The results of a study released late last year revealed only 16% of Americans say they know or work with a transgender person. Most parents could be forgiven for not knowing what the word means, much less how to deal with a transgender child. For you newbies, a person is transgender if they believe they are not the gender they were assigned at birth. I was assigned male at birth, but knew from a young age that I wasn’t.

Me and my younger sister, Easter 1972. That plaid jacket, though!
Me and my younger sister, Easter 1972. That plaid jacket, though!

Let me clarify. I knew from a young age that I wasn’t male. I also knew I wasn’t female, because I was told as much. I could plainly see that I wasn’t dressed like other girls, but I knew I wasn’t like other boys I saw. At 5-years-old, I didn’t have the language or understanding to communicate that I was transgender. I also knew that the people around me reinforced that I was a boy, so I fell into line. I was afraid to let anyone know I felt differently. As I grew older, the differences between male and female became increasingly evident and took on new meanings.

How I viewed gender was constantly changing because of my experiences and the people around me. I learned boys were supposedly stronger than girls and that boys weren’t supposed to cry. I learned that boys were supposed to play outside in the dirt with dump trucks and wanted to be police officers and firemen when they grew up. These were the answers I learned to give when asked. I learned that there was a clear line between masculine and feminine, and somehow I got the message that it wasn’t right to have any ambiguity. I resigned myself to live with a secret.

In talking with and learning about other transgender adults, it’s clear that most knew at a very young age they were different. Some knew without any doubt they were the opposite gender. Some were not as clear about who they were. As a child, I felt increasingly confused and afraid about why I felt differently. It’s common to hear from transgender people that they recognized they were different around 5-years-old. Some report knowing a little earlier or later. “Children as young as 2 can present with gender incongruence,” wrote Dr. Jack Dresser for the Washington Post. Jack Drescher is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, past president of the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry, a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and a Past President of APA’s New York County Psychiatric Society.

So what’s a parent to do when their 3-year-old girl or boy declares they are the opposite gender? The advice from most psychologists and pediatricians is to support the child and not fight them. Most of the time, that simply means letting the child wear the clothes they want to wear and play with the toys they like. If the child is already in school, the choices become more difficult, but experts say the child should be supported and that parents should never tell a child they are wrong or try to correct opposite gender behavior.

Often, it’s not only the transgender child and their parents who have to navigate these waters for the first time. Sometimes it’s a first for the child’s school. More and more administrators are bringing in experts to help them decide how to proceed. Jay Maddock goes to schools to help administrators form plans of action for transgender students, other students and to train faculty. “You know, whenever you’re pushing for change, in an area of something that people don’t understand – sometimes the worst comes out in people when they’re afraid,” Maddock told Kate Wells of Michigan Radio.

Fear is a strong motivator. It drives people to do unspeakable things, or nothing at all. Fear drives our “fight or flight” instinct. We act and speak more quickly out of fear than from any other cause. Most often, we say and do things out of fear that we later regret. It’s certainly difficult to reserve judgement, hold back acting on something, or take the time to learn when we’re afraid.

But back to our original question – how should parents with young transgender children move forward? The answer is slowly. If the parent does seek out help from a medical or psychological professional, there is usually a lot of counseling in store for both parents and children. Parents often have time to learn before they form ideas on how to move forward in any permanent way with their transgender child. After the initial shock is over, the biggest worry is typically the public. People, both other children and adults, can be pretty mean when they are uneducated.

After my story published on CNN last week, one mother wrote to thank me for the piece. She told me her transgender child recently came out. “I’m amazed at the support especially from unlikely people and disappointed in the lack thereof from expected people,” she wrote.

Education is the biggest hurdle, for everyone involved. Education is also the biggest hurdle for everyone not involved. Lately, a lot of public policy has been put into action without education. Lawmakers have been acting on what they think they know. People have a way of seeking out information that agrees with what they already think they know, but sometimes people do take the time and effort to learn. A wise person once told me that people don’t change their minds. They make new decisions based on new information.

Hopefully more people like South Dakota’s Governor Dennis Daugaard will leave themselves open to new information. When first asked about then-pending legislation that would have forced transgender school children into bathrooms based on the gender they were assigned at birth, he said it sounded good to him. When the bill was passed, Daugaard initially declared he would not meet with any transgender individuals before making his decision on whether to sign the legislation into law. After a great public outcry and a whole lot of media attention, he agreed to meet with some transgender people. Afterwards, he vetoed the legislation. All it took was him leaving himself open to new information.

Again, I digress. I have a bad habit of that. Parents who eventually allow their transgender child to medically transition, do so after a lot of time and preparation. Puberty-blocking drugs are not typically introduced until age 10 for female-bodied children and 11 for male-bodied children. I do not know of a child who has undergone medical transition before this age. I’m not saying they doesn’t exist, but I don’t know of a case.

That means that nothing irreversible happens until age 10 or 11, except when parents choose so-called conversion or reparative therapy, which has led to long-lasting psychological damage and even suicide. Given the anecdotal evidence that transgender children who declare they are an opposite gender, do so at an early age, we can safely assume that many parents have time to learn and adapt before a child is given hormone-altering drugs. That hardly seems rash to me. God bless the parents who have these decisions to make. God bless the parents who face ridicule from others for allowing their children to medically transition. God bless the supportive parents of transgender children.

I have a new home!

Dani Stewart blog has moved! Because so many of you have reached out to let me know you like what you’ve seen, I decided it was worth it to upgrade and purchase a new home for this blog. I’m basically upgrading from renting to owning.

Dani Stewart blog, or Dani’s Blog, is now here http://danisblog.com. In fact, there’s already one post that isn’t here! I hope you’ll come visit my new home and stay a while. You’ll be able to subscribe to my new blog home so you won’t miss any posts, and follow me on social media.

Dani

Choosing Happiness Over Misery

Four years ago, I found myself spending a weekend with unlikely friends in a small Kentucky town, 11 hours from where I was living at the time. A few years before, I had come to Kentucky from Oklahoma City with my friend Heather to meet her twin sister, Ashley. Ashley played soccer at Union College nestled between the Daniel Boone National and Kentucky Ridge State forests. This was one of several spur-of-the-moment trips Heather and I loved to take, and as they usually did, this one changed my life.

While there to meet Ashley on homecoming weekend, I met several other girls, with whom I fell in love. These girls adopted me, and I them, and I kept coming back with and without Heather to see them. I still go back, years after they’ve graduated, because I continued to meet new soccer girls each new year, and the process of making new friends repeats itself.

The trip four years ago, last week, was another of those reunions. It was a low key weekend, and we spent most of the weekend cooking, playing typical college drinking games watching movies. I loved my time with these girls. They knew who I was, and even though I sported a goatee at the time, they could see my female heart and mind. They accepted me as one of the girls.

In the moment, I thought about how fortunate I was to be in the company of young women who really saw ME. I was grateful for them and their deep love for me. I thought about my gratitude. At the time, I felt so trapped, and was miserable with what I saw as a no-win situation. I knew there was nothing I could do about being female, but not being able to express it. This feeling of gratitude because of my girls, was a stark contrast to the misery I otherwise felt.

At the end of that weekend 4-years back, I was feeling philosophical about what I saw as a choice to focus on the positives in my life, rather than the negatives. Indeed, I chose happiness simply by driving hundreds of miles to surround myself with positive friends. I wrote something about this juxtaposition and posted it to Facebook.

I’m going to take a short break and let you read it, because I think you can better see what I’m talking about:


I have had an amazing weekend with four amazing friends. We are unlikely friends. We live 11 hours away, and two are here from other countries. In thinking about how much I love these girls and how much they love me, I wondered how we became friends at all. We met over two years ago by chance of a decision I made to visit my friend’s sister whom I had never met at her college. Why are we such great friends despite only meeting a few times? Facebook and Twitter have something to do with it, but very little. In part, it’s because of shared interest and quality of character.

We all know people who are miserable. They are the ones who don’t have any real friends, because nobody wants to be their friend. Who wants to be around someone who is miserable?

Like most people, I’ve had reasons to choose misery. Like most, I have suffered loss and tragedy. I won’t bore you with details. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been sad, or even depressed. It means I didn’t let sadness and depression take hold. In each situation where loss or tragedy occurred, I made a conscious decision to make the most of the circumstances and simply move on.

I apply the same thinking when I make a poor decision. I’ve made much more than my share! When I realize I’ve messed up, I just make the best of it and move on.

Because of these conscious decisions, I believe I am happier. I believe people enjoy being around me, in part because of these decisions.

Despite loss and tragedy, I am the most blessed and fortunate person I know. It’s because I have the most amazing friends. Far too many to name. Friends I will cherish as long as I live. And I don’t hold back saying as much. Sometimes, I think they are taken aback by this unbridled announcement of love. Soon though, they accept it as just who I am. I truly do deeply love each one of them too.

Happiness is a decision. When bad things happen, I believe people choose between misery and happiness. Fortune follows those who choose happiness.


Here’s where the meat of this post begins. In the past two weeks, the themes of gratitude, happiness, frustration and “chips on shoulders” have come up with surprising frequency in conversations with various friends and coworkers.

Last night, a coworker remarked about how differently I come across to people I meet than other transgender individuals she’s seen on TV or met. She said she’s noticed that some trans people seem to have a chip on their shoulder or an axe to grind. It’s true, there are some who do seem that way. But I reminded her that my life was different than that of so many other transgender people. I have, not just a job, but a fulfilling and rewarding career. I also have an outlet with this blog, and with what I do in my career, that affords me the ability to educate people. Rather than feeling like I have no control over what my life is like, I feel like I can affect the outcome of my life.

Many transgender people feel both discriminated against and disenfranchised on a daily basis. It’s difficult to go through life when you feel like you don’t have a fair shot at it – when you are judged for simply being the person you are. Throw into that mix the lack of being able to do anything about it, and you get frustrated pretty quickly.

The conversation brought me right back to the choice between happiness and misery. I have to come clean. It’s not in my nature to be positive all the time, it’s something I’ve learned over time. There have been times in my life when I’ve been miserable. I was especially miserable when I believed I couldn’t do anything about being transgender. I believed it would be a selfish act to put my family and friends through the pain of even knowing I was transgender! How much more selfish it would be to actually transition!

Even post-transition, I get down in the dumps. Yes, I am thankfully employed by a company that fully supports me, but I experience discrimination and disenfranchisement outside of work. People say some nasty things under their breath in the grocery store. Some use male pronouns for me, deliberately. I’m in much greater danger of being assaulted because of my appearance. I am on the receiving end of mean comments on social media. I see several new negative things about being transgender in news stories, every day. If you focus on it, it drags a person down.

I’ve been fired before, my heart has been broken, people I thought were my friends have taken advantage of me, people have been downright mean to me, and I’ve been physically assaulted numerous times. I’ve experienced, and still do, things that would cause many people to be bitter and to hold onto anger. But several years ago, I discovered I had the ability to choose either happiness or misery.

Believe me, I’m not great at making the choice, still. I’ve had to practice. Also, I’ve surrounded myself with certain friends who simply will not allow me to throw a pity party. I’m talking about you Mary, Marisa and Artemis, among several others. These ladies won’t even give me a chance to complain, sometimes! Well, not much of a chance, anyway. These are the best friends a girl could have. They hold me accountable and don’t let me simply complain, without a solution.

Here’s where I get preachy, but believe me I’m preaching to myself, too. Admittedly, I spent decades in misery, feeling trapped, without seeing any way to transition. And it’s easier to make the choice to be happy with some negatives, than with others. There’s a big difference between focusing on happiness when you stub your toe, than it is when you lose your home to a natural disaster or a loved one to violence. But eventually, we recover to the point where can choose happiness.

I truly believe every single person has the ability to make this choice. Some are much better at it that others, like this writer. It’s not an easy thing to simply choose! And sometimes it’s really difficult to see any positive upon which to focus your energy, but I promise it’s there. Growing hurts, and learning is hard. Difficult things will always come our way in life. The one thing in our power is how quickly we decide to force ourselves to seek happiness and make that choice.