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.

transgender trans gender video news
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!

Advertisements

The People of Australia

On the last night of a three-week vacation to Australia, my friend of several years and the IMG_8423reason I made the trip, Steph, and her mates came together for a barbie. For my American friends, there were no shrimp involved. That’s not a thing there. In fact, they call them prawns, not shrimp. The Aussies in attendance were an excellent representation of everyone I had met in Queensland — congenial, funny, interested, interesting, intelligent, and accepting people.

Before I left America for Australia, a moment of fear struck me. What would happen if someone complained about me using a women’s restroom there? It’s something I deal with every day. Every time I use the restroom at work or in public, I’m nervous about being confronted.

I quickly Googled “Australia transgender anti-discrimination” and learned that the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1991 protected me. “Wow,” I thought! “1991? What were the protections for transgender individuals here in America in 1991?” There weren’t any that I knew of, and still aren’t with the exception of some larger metropolitan places, like New York City and San Francisco. If you’ve watched the news lately, you’ve seen the slew of so-called “bathroom bills” being filed in several states recently, and you probably know why I was initially worried.

There are so many differences between the cultures of America and Australia! The people I found there react differently than most Americans to anything that could be considered alternative or out of the norm, and they told me that it was the nature of Australians to be accepting and non-judgmental. During my entire three weeks in Australia, I encountered ZERO discrimination. I was not misgendered, even once. I was seen as a woman and treated as a woman.

Since I began my transition, I’ve felt that my being transgender is an elephant in the room, when meeting new people. I know they can tell there’s something not completely feminine about me, especially when they hear my deep baritone voice that I try to hide. I know whomever I’ve just met must have questions, but they’re likely afraid of asking the wrong question or offending me, so I always bring up the subject to break the ice. In Australia, I discovered I didn’t really need to bring it up. It was more comfortable for me to bring it up most times, but it wasn’t necessary. People there weren’t hung-up on it. Once, after referring to my trans status, someone said, “Oh, that’s interesting. But tell me more about working at CNN!” I was genuinely shocked, several times, at how little it mattered to our conversation, or to them, that I was trans.

One woman asked me if I was “changing,” during our second conversation. I acknowledged that I was transitioning. She told me that at first, she had no clue I wasn’t just another woman, but that she had noticed my voice and realized I was transgender. She had worked for a plastic surgeon who catered to transgender patients, so she had some experience interacting with trans individuals. She told me that I shouldn’t consider facial feminization surgery. I was a little puzzled, because it’s something that I constantly fret about, having the facial bone structure of a man who had experienced the effects of testosterone for many years. When boys go through puberty, they develop slightly more prominent eyebrow bones, different cheekbones, longer and wider jaw lines, wider noses and more space between their nose and upper lip.

This lovely woman told me that I was a perfectly attractive female as I was, and that I didn’t need surgery to correct anything. Hearing this made me very emotional, to the point that tears welled in my eyes. Here was a woman who had been exposed to many transgender people in the past, and hadn’t noticed, at least right away, that I wasn’t a cisgender woman! Cisgender simply means that your gender identity matches the gender you were assigned at birth.

There were other conversations in which my transgender status did not come up, but it did during my last night in Australia, at the barbie. I typically look for a humorous or lighthearted opening to breach the subject, to signal to the other people in the room that they’re safe in talking with me about being trans, or in asking me questions they might have.

At the barbie, a plastic bag sat on the table at which we were all gathered. Kyle, my host and chef for the evening, was ready to set the table with plates and food. He asked, “Who’s bag is that?” I quickly asked him, “Why are you being so nosey? Those are my tampons, okay?” Everyone laughed, and I said, “See? I can joke about it.” It broke the ice.

One of my new friends, Henry, told me about a person at his work who had recently begun to transition, but she had filed a complaint because people were misgendering her. He explained that she was inconsistent in her presentation, that one day she would present as a woman, and the next as masculine, so some people were legitimately confused. He wanted to know how he could help that situation. I explained that she was probably trying to find her comfort zone, with regards to feminine clothing. I told him that I was still rapidly changing, and that the first time I had ever worn a dress was in Australia.

She may also have had some unrealistic expectations about how other people would react to her transition. At first, it’s very difficult for people who have known you as a male to simply switch pronouns and not make a mistake. I knew this ahead of my transition, and told my coworkers that they would make mistakes, but that as long as they were trying, I wouldn’t be offended by a simple slip-up.

The discussion at the table turned to the bathroom bills that had begun popping up in American state legislatures. My new friends were genuinely appalled at the notion that someone would care which bathroom I used. The subject had come up with other people I met in Oz. One Aussie asked why a politician cared about what was in my underwear, suggesting that anyone who did care, must be a dirty old man.

At some point, I offered to let Henry and another new friend, Caitlyn, read the draft of a piece I’d written about my transition. Henry took several breaks from reading, looking up to say “Wow” or “Oh man.” This big, burly, manly man was getting emotional about my story. He really is the sweetest, most tender man I’ve ever met!

My new friends had not only accepted me on the surface for who I am, but had shown me an unconditional acceptance. It was the same acceptance and love that I had felt during my entire time in Australia.

As I sat on the plane, returning to the states, I silently reflected upon my time in Oz. I was very sad to leave my friend Steph, who is like a little sister to me, but sad to leave my new friends, the beautiful country and the culture of Australia.

I returned to America, knowing I would face discrimination. I knew I would encounter people who genuinely feel as if I’m doing something wrong, or that I’m in need of psychiatric help. I know what’s needed is education. In a Harris Poll released by the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD in September 2015, only 16% of Americans report knowing or working with someone who is transgender. The nearly 85% of Americans who have never knowingly met a transgender person, are left to assume what we’re like based on a gross misrepresentation in media.

To make matters worse, we’re often confused with flamboyant cross dressers and drag queens. The most well-known transgender person on TV is Caitlyn Jenner. Her reality is far removed from that of “normal,” everyday transgender individuals. Often in media, we see transgender people, especially women of color, who are forced into dangerous situations to survive because they face employers who either don’t understand what it means to be transgender, or because of an unfair bias.

The transgender people I know are just like me. I’m a normal person who has normal hobbies, and am gainfully employed with a flourishing career. I have normal friends, coworkers, and family members who love and accept me. Unfortunately, I am not what most people picture when they hear the word transgender.

Because of the amazing people I met in Australia, I left with a new sense of self-worth, and a new understanding of what it is that makes me female and beautiful. I left Australia empowered. They say that you always leave a piece of you, wherever you go. This time, rather than leaving a piece of me, I believe I took a piece of Australia with me — a gift of love and acceptance for myself, for who I really am.

Out With the Old

I bought some new clothes in Australia. It’s what girls do, right? I bought new clothes while on holiday! So much so, that I had to “borrow” a huge luggage bag from the Burtons, my amazing hosts. The new bag is as big as the one bag I checked when I went to Australia. You get the point — the credit card bills aren’t going to be pretty!

My second full day back, I began to unpack the new clothes. Heretofore, I hadn’t much feminine clothing. My “look” has changed a lot in the six months, since I came out to everyone as transgender. Add in that I hadn’t yet experienced summer as a girl, and I naturally needed new clothes.

As I began to hang my new tops AND DRESSES (I can’t believe I got FIVE dresses in Australia), I quickly ran out of hangers. My closet was still full of a lifetime of boy clothes, mainly because I have been so focused on the new me that I hadn’t taken the time to throw out the old.

FullSizeRender (2)As I began to take my old boy shirts and fold them to free up hangers, I started really looking at them, trying to imagine myself in them. I couldn’t. I couldn’t picture myself wearing them now. So I began to remember memories in the shirts. I remembered where and why I purchased them, who I was with when I last wore them, or a significant life event or emotion during which I last wore a particular shirt.

I became emotional, and even started to cry. It wasn’t a bad cry with sobs or heaving. It was just — a cry. It’s hard to explain. Girls know what I’m talking about.

It occurred to me that part of what I was experiencing was mourning my old self, and I became very aware of what my family, friends and coworkers must be experiencing. I thought of why I hadn’t seen or heard any of them mourn the old me, and wondered if it was because some of them aren’t with me and experiencing the rapid week-to-week change, or whether they had been mourning and were saving me the pain of knowing I had brought them pain. I felt that guilt.

I noticed that I had different types of shirts, and I began to put them into piles of dress, casual, work, etc. I saw a trend in purchases I’d made over the last 18 months, and how I had tried to move toward expressing myself more and to enjoy my clothes more. I saw a definite and clear trend in what I had purchased, and wore, as I got closer to making the decision to transition, initiating that decision and post decision.

Oh, what a symbol of the change I’ve continuously made! In the three short weeks I was in Australia, I had evolved into something that more closely matches my femininity. I haven’t arrived yet, but my coworkers and friends certainly noticed that I had immediately worn tops I hadn’t yet been comfortable to wear before my trip. Part of that may have been the opportunity to stretch myself more than normal in Australia, because I was in front of a whole new set of people there. I felt freer to be myself, hence the five new dresses!

Confession — I just stopped writing to go peek into my closet and admire my new additions. I can’t put into words the sheer joy I just experienced.

If you saw the pictures and video I posted to social media while in the Land of Oz, you may have noticed that I was presenting more feminine than the last time you saw me. I’m definitely enjoying the new, freer, more honest me. Trans people often refer to this as the pink cloud.

Wait, did you catch it? The word in that last paragraph — honest. That’s what this transition is all about. For so many years I held myself in, terribly afraid of someone discovering my secret. I hid what I call the Mask of Masculinity. I felt as if I wasn’t enough, especially for the women in my life, but also for my family and friends.

I’m enough, now.

Who I Am

I’m 49, although I’m told I don’t look or act my age. I take that as a compliment. I have a love-hate relationship with labels, but I think they can often be helpful. Labels come with a lot of loaded information, and are filtered based on YOUR experiences and information you’ve received. Despite that risk and sometimes my own distaste for the confusion surrounding them, I’m going to throw around a lot of labels. In this case, I hope they will help you get a better idea of who I am. These labels are in no particular order or importance or weight.

I’m a journalist. I work at CNN’s Worldwide Headquarters in Atlanta. My title is News Editor, but if you’re not in television news, you probably don’t know what that means. I typically spend my days taking in information and deciding where it needs to go and how. Sometimes, I change other journalists’ work to help it fit within certain standards and format. It’s a rewarding job, sometimes stressful, and very interesting (to me).

I’m a parent, a sibling and child. Those labels should be self-explanatory.

I’m transgender. This means nothing about who I find attractive. Gender is not sexuality. Gender is how you see your femininity and/or masculinity, whereas sexuality is the gender to which you’re attracted. Here are a couple basic rules to help you understand the difference: gender is between your head, sex is between your legs; and gender is who you go to bed AS, where sexuality is who you go to bed WITH. I transitioned late in life. It’s only been about a year for me, and I only came out to the majority of the people in my life about 6 months ago.

I’m a friend to a wide variety of people! I don’t have a lot of close guy friends. Most of my close friends are women, and most of those are either gay, bisexual or gender variant. That’s because these are the people with whom I most closely identify. I’m a woman and a lesbian. I’ve exclusively dated women. I’ll never say never, but I can’t see myself dating a guy. I’m also single, by choice. I have been for several years, and for a number of reasons, most recently because I was focused on myself. That’s not a bad thing! If you find yourself focused on you, it’s probably a good thing to be single.

I’m a wannabe musician. I studied opera and play (to varying degrees) several instruments. Music is a big part of my life, and I have a wide range in taste, but I’m no expert on any one genre.

TinCanBay
Me and Steph on the beach of Tin Can Bay in Queensland, Australia.

I love to learn! Because of ADD, I did poorly in school. I flunked history, for example, but love learning about history and cultures now! I just returned from a 3-week trip to Australia where my friend Steph lives. I stayed with her and her family outside of Brisbane, so I feel like I really got to experience Australia better than most visitors. It was definitely one of the most lovely experiences I’ve ever had, and I’ll be writing more about my time there, soon.

Those are the highlights. There is a lot more to who I am, but that should be a decent introduction. If you have any questions, or want to share something you found interesting in this post, please leave a comment below! I promise I’ll read it, and will reply as best I can.

Not Just Another Trans Girl

I’m not just another trans girl, but I don’t believe anyone is. We’re often painted with a large brush, and typically with assumptions based on an exposure to media with a narrow focus. I’m not Caitlyn Jenner, or any other transgender person you’ve seen or met. That’s not to say that Cait or another trans girl/guy is any better or less than me! But I’m an individual with unique characteristics and experiences, just like you are. We all are the sum of our experiences, and are unique.

Now that we’ve established that I’m unique, I hope that you’ll get to know me with a clean slate. If you can, you’ll find that I don’t embody many of the traits you’ve been exposed to elsewhere.

I’ve been encouraged by countless people to write more – typically about myself and my experiences – so, this is my attempt to accommodate the many requests. Some posts may be short, some long and involved. Some will be trivial, some weighty. It’s my intent to share some personal experiences and helpful information – helpful whether you’re just an average person who wants to know more about what it’s like to be transgender, or you’re a transgender or gender variant person who wants to learn about someone else’s experience and understand your own a little better.

It’s very important to remember that I do NOT speak for anyone other than myself. I don’t speak for my employer or any other gender variant person! With that in mind, I’ll begin sharing some experiences and thoughts with you.

I hope you’ll leave me some feedback! I believe I have things to learn from you! I hope you’ll help me grow by telling me what you think.

Dani