How to compliment a transgender person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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 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.

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.

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.