June 17, 2013

The Invisible Gorilla

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:31 pm by Michael

In “The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways our Intentions Deceive Us” by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, the authors describe a test where they ask test subjects (college students) to watch a short video (about a minute) of two teams of basketball players and count silently the number of passes between the one of the teams (excluding those on the other team or between teams). During the video a person in a gorilla suit comes onto the court, thumps her chest (as gorillas do), and walks off. At the conclusion of the test, the subjects are asked for their count, and then asked if they saw anything unusual during the video. Surprisingly, about half of the test subjects don’t report the gorilla. This phenomena is known as “inattentional blindness”.

I am the gorilla.

I didn’t think I was the gorilla, but let me tell you my true story.

Over the last six years, Anh and I had travelled to many places, had many meals out (and many drinks), and in the course of our travels had met a ton of people. We were memorable. Anh would comment that people remembered me (I thought it was my sparkling personality) – maybe it was the fact that we were outliers as well. (I am pretty tall).

I had been very curious what would happen as we went back to these places post my re-transition. Two patterns have developed. One case is that the people will say “You cut your hair!”- followed by some combination of “Wow, you are gray!” or “I like it better!” or “When are you growing it out again?”. Others simply recognize us, and move on.

Only two times has there been any recognition that I was previously “Megan” and now “Michael”.

One case was with our dry cleaning lady – we have been going to the same local place in Seattle for the past six years. The first time I went back in to pickup, she said hi to me, and without giving my name she went to go get our order (I was by myself). I paid, and was about to leave, and she said to me, with a little wry smile and laugh – “You look different, and a different name too!”. She knew.

The second case was a restaurant in Vegas where we’ve gone at least four or five times a year, and got to know the staff by name. We were back last month with friends and they also had figured it out. Mrs. Wallent was now Mr. Wallent.

Back in Seattle, Anh and I were having a drink at a bar that we go to at least once a month. We had chatted with the bartender a bunch previously (because I have a sparkling personality) and talked to her a bunch about her wedding, their company softball game, and other mundane stuff. She also really wanted to know *why* I cut my hair. If the place is loud, and its not really possible to get out the whole story, I’ll usually say “Long story” and leave it at that. I gave her the “Long story” answer and we went about finishing our drinks. We got up to left, and almost were at the door, and she came up behind me and said “No, really – tell me why.” I gave her the 30 second summary – trans, sick, retransitioned, short hair, etc. She looked at me and said “Are you growing it back out?”.

The gorilla said no. Even when told exactly what to look for – she missed the gorilla.

I play pickup volleyball at a local club. I had started to play again last summer regularly, but then I broke my finger and then was sick and hadn’t played again till last month. One of the women that I had played with (co-ed), and who I had known in a passing way at work was there last week. Toward the end of the night, she said to me from across the net – “Megan! Hi, I didn’t recognize you with the short hair. Good to see you!”. I said hi back, and we went on playing. I had never thought that this was a likely outcome pre-re-transition. And, while I started to hear the haircut comment right away, after two months and tens of occurrences, I can add to the case history of Invisible Gorillas.

I don’t there is any meanness or lack of tolerance to any of this. More than anything, it’s an example of how people see what they are expecting to see. There is not expectation of gender fluidity – and people don’t see it when it happens.

Last year with the whole broken finger saga – the exact opposite was true. I had some sort of splint/cast/wrap on my hand for four months. People saw that immediately – and asked what was wrong with my hand.

One other anecdote – one of the last things that I had to update was my Nexus card (which is a trusted traveler program to go back and forth from Canada). To do this, I needed to go to the Customs and Border Protection office at Boeing Field. The agents who work in the office were the same people who were there two years ago when I went originally. When I went in to meet with them I had to tell the agent my whole story – I lead with “I have to do a name change – and updated passport, license and some other stuff.” After I told her the story, she said “I would never have guessed, I couldn’t tell that you were ever female.”

April 25, 2013

Transition Day

Posted in family, friends at 2:29 pm by Michael

headshot

It’s been a busy couple of days. Tuesday night was haircut night (had to work late). Yesterday was name change day. Today was implants out day. The implants have now left the building. (We are back from the 11am process.)

Tomorrow will be take a nap day.

Doing name and gender change stuff is much easier today than it was six years ago. The WA DOL has a very clear process on changing the gender marker on your license.

http://www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/genderchange.html
The US Department of State has an even clearer (and more kind) process for changing the gender marker on your passport. Basically, you need a letter from your doc, saying that the process is complete, and without any additional passport approval they will issue you a new passport with the proper gender marker.

http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_5100.html

I’ll get those docs tomorrow from my doc, and finish that up too.

Two companies through this process that have stood out. FirstTech Federal Credit Union and Alaska Airlines. Both were kind and quick.

I feel so fortunate to have the support of friends and family, but also to live in a time and place where not this isn’t normative but at the same time won’t get you harassed, jailed or worse.

More to come on the answer to the question: “How are you feeling?”

March 28, 2013

News

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:33 am by Michael

I’ve counseled virtually everyone I’ve ever worked with that when delivering news not to bury the lede (* – thanks Hillel for the typo fix. MW) . Taking my own advice then, I have some news. I’m transitioning back to Michael at the end of April.

Yes, really.

The pragmatic view is that I am unable to take the hormones that were helping me with my transition, and as a result, I’m unable to continue my transition in the way that I had intended.

The few people that we’ve talked about asked how I feel about it – given that back in 2007 the drive to transition was inescapably strong. I feel fine.

Three things –

1) Taking the meds. Here’s the math – the general risk of a blood clot for someone with my genes and taking the meds I was on is something like .25% (lifetime). My risk is 100% – it happened. The mortality rate is between 20-50% (depending on how you count). So, for me at least, even trying to stay on meds and moderating with blood thinners seems untenable. I wish the numbers weren’t what they are – but they are – rain falls down (or sideways sometimes) – physics is the law, not just a good idea – F=ma – e=mc2 . I believe in the facts of this, and the result is clear.

2) Because the math is what it is, I don’t have an issue coming off the meds. Melancholy – yes. Angry or sad, no.

3) And the result – transitioning back. Here’s the deal, I know the hormones were doing a lot for me – less fur, hair loss, skin, etc. I know because those things are changing back already. I went all in on my transition – FFS, implants – because I didn’t want the fact of my transition to be the first thing people saw about me, either at work or at large in the world. I realize this position may not be shared by all, and that this may not be popular. Some might ask – “Isn’t it more important to be true to yourself, rather than to care what others think?”. Good point – but – I’m still the same person inside. All that will change is how people perceive me on the outside. They don’t define me, any more than the people who call me “Sir” today define me. I’d argue I am being true to myself. (Net net – everyone gets to define what being true to themselves means.)

As someone I used to work with has said – this will be a “Full Round-Trip”.

To all of the people I’ve met, and friends that Anh and I have made in the community – we are still the same – I’m still the same – and we still stand with you.

One additional note about work…. Microsoft has been *amazing* – both in their support of me as I transitioned, and how people have responded as I’ve told them about this chapter. I could not have asked for more kindness, understanding and straight up humanity.

I have no regrets.

November 24, 2012

Bridges

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:14 am by Michael

That’s why I couldn’t be happier
No, I couldn’t be happier
Though it is, I admit
The tiniest bit
Unlike I anticipated
But I couldn’t be happier
Simply couldn’t be happier
(spoken) Well – not “simply”:
(sung) ‘Cause getting your dreams
It’s strange, but it seems
A little – well – complicated There’s a kind of a sort of : cost
There’s a couple of things get: lost
There are bridges you cross
You didn’t know you crossed
Until you’ve crossed

And if that joy, that thrill
Doesn’t thrill you like you think it will
Still –
With this perfect finale
The cheers and ballyhoo
Who
Wouldn’t be happier?
So I couldn’t be happier
Because happy is what happens
When all your dreams come true
Well, isn’t it?
Happy is what happens
When your dreams come true!

 

Wicked, Glinda sings “Thank Goodness”.

I love Wicked in a way that I can’t really explain. It touches me deeply. It covers so many important ideas – from real motivation, to the complexity of people, to scapegoating. One line that I’ve thought about a lot is highlighted above: “There are bridges you cross you didn’t know you crossed until you’ve crossed”. This one really touched me – to think that big things happen – massive things – and you don’t know its either coming or has came till you can’t get back.

I’d like to tell you about the last six weeks, and the bridge that I’ve found that I’ve come over, and how it starts M() section 3 (like I knew that there was a section 3).

Back in October (11th), I woke up with sharp pain in my right chest. It felt a little lung-y, but it was right over where my gallbladder is. Being still young (no comments, please), I ignored it. That following Monday – October 15 was important for me. That was the day that the pins in Broken Finger were being removed (finally!), and I would be getting on there. A few days went by (to Saturday), and it felt worse. So much worse that I couldn’t lie down comfortably (the pressure on my back was more than I could take – either flat or on my side). I ended up going to the ER at about 4pm at night, and they tested for gallbladder. It wasn’t my gallbladder. They gave me some pain meds and sent me on my way, with an instruction to follow up w/my regular Doc if it got worse. Honestly, I felt sheepish. This hurt like hell, but I interpreted the diagnosis as “There is nothing wrong with you. Suck it UP!”

I went home, ended up having pin removal surgery on Monday (oh, in retrospect this was IDIOTIC more on that later) – which was fully out w/anesthesia, etc. Later that week, I did in fact feel better on the right, but the left started to hurt, and by Sunday I was winded and in significant, shortness-of-breath causing radiating pain on the left. Monday the 22nd I stayed home from work, with the diagnosis of “Feeling Shitty”, but yet I so deeply thought that I was malingering that I didn’t want Tina my EA at work to “Banner” my day as a sick day. I’ll snap out of it I thought.. Anh promised me to see Dr. Gromko, which I thought would be another snipe hunt. Mid-morning, they squeezed me in to see Mary Anne Maxwell, one of the ARNPs there saw me, blood pressure, heart rate (110), O2 sat of 95. This caused them to look ashen, and say they were calling 911 unless I got a ride to the hospital poste haste. Mary Anne didn’t like the idea of me driving home (5 blocks), but let me when I promised to stay connected to Anh the whole time. Mary Anne wasn’t sure what it was – but said it could  be “Blood Clot” – or some other heart ailment.

From our house, Anh drove to Overlake ( not that there aren’t great places in Seattle – they had my medical records there). The whole time there I was thinking this was a snipe hunt, and that I was somehow being a frequent flyer at the hospital. I don’t want to be dramatic, I don’t want to be fussed over. I didn’t want to waste their time.

I almost passed out just walking from the car, and they immediately got a bed, a big IV, some O2s and a bunch of wires to make sure I could be monitored properly.

I started to get a lot worse. My normal resting HR is 60 – I was at 110, and only 80-85% saturated on room air, with 95-100% with a goodly dose. They started w/the testing, including a D-Dimer test. The D-Dimer test came back positive, which means that you MAY have clots somewhere, and they need to do more testing. They then looked for clots in my legs w/ultrasound (nothing), in my lungs with a CT/CTA – contrast test – and a chest x-ray. Both the chest x-ray and CT/CTA showed a “shower” of pulmonary embolism, lots of fluid over my lungs, and areas where my lungs (esp the left) were damaged due to a “pulmonary infarction” (no blood). It wasn’t at all clear what the source of these clots were.

This Wikipedia art has a very good coverage of this area.

Once they found all this, they increased the O2, admitted me, and gave me a Lovinox shot, followed by Cumadin (Warfarin ) tablets. These are fast and slow ways to get your blood to not clot as much (but yet not zero clotting, because that would be too much.

 

My very basic understanding of this is that clotting/clotting breakdown is a very complex process that happens in your body all of the time. Usually, if there is a clot that happens somewhere in your extremities  (because of a broken bone, or that and arm or a leg doesn’t move for an extended time) and the clot has gotten too big and not broken down – it can break off and float back to your lungs, where the clot can get jammed in one of the many branches of your lung, and cut off the supply of blood to the lung (infarction, pain) as well as reduce how oxygenated your blood is (low O2s, out of breath).

There are dysfunctions that cause more clot to be formed. E.g, I have Factor V Leyden (heterozygous-ly). Also, as part of my transition, I was taking 6mg of estradiol a day (and had been taking that for more than five years). Estradiol slows the clots that are formed. These are all small risks in the abstract. The general risk for PE in the general population at my age (this baseline risk increases every 10 years) is only 0.02%. The Leyden risk is 6x, and the hormonal risk is 8x. If you calculate that all up, it’s still only 1.08%.

Uh, I can tell you what my risk is for PE. 100%. Without some positives, there can be no mathematical description.

All of this scientific explanation is masking the real issue that’s at the heart of this. Which is…. I’m off Hormones. Period. Not interested in any path on that going forward. The general mortality rate of a PE is north of 52%. I am damn lucky that after having a PE for more than 10 days, and being anesthetized in the middle of that I am not dead. I also don’t want to be lifetime anti-coagulated, as there is 1-2% yearly bleeding risk on that, with the biggest issue being uncontrolled head injury from things like skiing (check), rock climbing (check), volleyball facial (check), general head/bleeding injury in the middle of nowhere.

This has a real and immediate impact on how I look and how I feel. I am working out the life implications of that going forward.

My clear priorities are:

- Staying alive

- Being with my wife, kids

- Leading our life, experiencing much (sports, travel, food, wine+)

I had no idea I had crossed this bridge when I did on the 22nd. It’s crossed. There’s lots of country to discover in the other side of the bridge.

January 26, 2012

Ma, October 7, 1936-January 26, 2012

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:56 pm by Michael

Hilda Dorothy Wallent “Ma” (nee Ward) 75 passed away today peacefully in Hercules, California after 74 good years and one really tough one. She was the beloved and eternal wife of more than 50 years of John Wallent who passed away in August 2006. She is survived and remembered by so many, including her daughters Sheila, Nancy and Megan, and grandkids Holly, Joni, Peri, John and Daniel; and also great grandkids Emily, RJ and Malachi. Ma was also the beloved virtual mother to a number of others, but not without special mention Keith, who always brought a smile and tear to my mom’s lovely face.

Ma was born in Mansett, Maine to Malcolm and Margaret, and also survived by her siblings Sis, Wayne and special little brother David. She lost her eldest brother Malcolm Jr. too early to remember, and 2nd eldest Charlie a few years back.

As a youth she moved to Abington, Massachusetts (but not her accent, which was always from Maine) where at the tender age of 14 she met the future Mr. Wallent who was a troublemaker from the start, and love was kindled. When she was 16 (and Mr. Wallent was 18) they were married (’51), and true mayhem ensued.

They moved in rapid succession through hurricane and snowstorm through Colorado and New Jersey, through the Army and then back to Massachusetts where their big family then began to bloom. In ’58 and ’59 Sheila and Nancy were born, and then later after nearly ten years of eventful life (kidneys and brains!), in the age of aquarius in ‘69, Michael was born (that’s me, Megan, but that’s a whole other  story).

After a couple of years more in Abington, Hilda and John (not yet Ma and Pa) moved again furtively from Long Island through Alexandria (Virginia), and then to Mystic in ’74, to a house on a long road that Ma really loved. On the way there Ma taught her kids about bike rides, and peanut butter, and the value of love and working hard.

While in Mystic, Hilda became Ma. Ma loved babies. All babies. And she wanted to help them. So she and John (also known as Dad or Pa) decided to become foster parents. Every few months it seemed like there was a new little voice in the house, that would get fed, changed, sang too (she loved them all a Bushel and a Peck), and then they would move on to a family that would love them forever. There was one catch though – Ma loved them forever too. Sometimes the birth moms who had the right idea – that they needed to love by letting go – held on a little too tight – and they couldn’t let go. Then there was Benjamin. Benjamin was in our house for a long time…. Ma loved him like all of us.

Finally, Benji’s birth mom let go, and Benji became part of an awesome family who’s name I can’t remember. (Benji, you are out there somewhere, and you are a 36 year old man who likely has a whole life that’s awesome. Ma still loves you: Do great things.)

That was hard. John’s commute was hard. Change was needed. After Sheila and Nancy were all set with high school they moved with Michael to Wickford, Rhode Island. Ma hated the house on Stonegate, but it became her, and she was there for more than 30 years.

While in Wickford, she walked (how many thousands of times around the block), and she and Pa again became foster parents, and the sounds of nighttime feedings filled the house. Then again, there was a problem. One of the kids that she loved so much couldn’t be let go. Keith…. You are her youngest son. My youngest brother. It tore her heart out, but finally he was let go and caught in one fell swoop.

While on Stonegate, Ma perfected so many things: Green Christmas Tree Cookies, Baked Beans, Babca (God’s food for the first Pa), flat chocolate chip cookies and more than anything, loving all little hearts that came through the door.

Keith was the end of the foster period, and in the early 80’s Ma started to do day care, which was really an excuse to have kids in the house all the time, and she again grew her family. I am not even going to begin to remember all of the names, but Ma would. Morgan, Derek, Emily…. Was it 50? She knew them all, and it became her.

She and John began to travel, enjoying the time they had together. Cruises, Vegas, even a Thanksgiving in Europe! They had a full life.

Ma and Pa retired in the late 90’s from making stuff and managing rooms of children (Ma and Pa respectively), and started to travel even more, but after a few years of the good life John’s kidney cloud returned and from 2002 to 2006 it got hard. John got sick and passed away, and in the interim Ma was the do-er of the stuff that needed to get done. It was wearing.

The Stonegate house went a few years back, and Ma moved to Niantic to be near Nancy.

Last spring she decided that a walk in the back yard with her beloved brother David would be fun, but a bit of the stubbornness that was her hallmark came out and she didn’t need help (when she really did), and she took a tumble, and everything tumbled from there.

Over the last nine months, Ma became at peace with her world, had some more Long Island Ice teas, went to Disney one last time and gave a few more kids a hug.

Today was the end of her breath but not her heart.

That lives on.

August 10, 2009

Finally!

Posted in life at 6:30 am by Michael

Yesterday, for the first time in almost 23 months, I flew. I had forgotten how much I loved flying, but it all came right back.

Why so long?

Well, busy for one… too much time on the road for work, too busy at home, too busy to even keep up here (my bad).

But, the other more nagging thing for me is that I was avoiding it. Avoiding it because I didn’t want to deal with “telling” all the people who I needed to deal with – and there were a lot. (The maintainence people, the FBO (parking) people, my flight instructor, the other pilots at the FBO, the FAA). So, I was avoiding it.

But, last week Anh and I went to a wedding up in the San Juan Islands. Getting to the San Juans from Seattle in the summer, you have two choices – drive about 90 mins, wait for a ferry, and take an hour ferry trip – or – fly. The flight is around 30 mins. The ferry/drive may not sound that bad – but in the summer, the “wait for a ferry” part might be between 1-4 hours. So, we asked our friend Alex, also a pilot, if he wanted to fly up.

Sitting in the copilot/front seat passenger seat – I felt super lame. Why on earth did we need to ask for a favor when I should have been able to do it myself?

That was it…

Last week I dealt w/everyone (except the FAA), more on that later…. and I flew w/my instructor yesterday.

I feel like a pilot again!

I also have the weight of one more “thing” off my shoulders – and that feels even better.

May 12, 2009

Jennifer Finney Boylan On Trans-Marriage

Posted in family, life, transgender at 9:03 pm by Michael

Fascinating NY Times Opinion article by Jennifer Finney Boylan.

Here.

Jennifer’s book – “She’s Not There” was super helpful to me and my family, and was a great support to me in coming to grips with the duality of being transgendered and still wanting (deeply) to stay married to Anh.

In the opinion article she discusses the complexity of marriage laws for transgendered folks and the insanity that can sometimes ensue.

Society benefits when people are co-dependent on each other, and not just on the larger society. Marriage codifies that. (Yes, I realize that marriage started as a patriarchical institution that effectively made women property of men. I’m not advocating that type of relationship, but rather a true joining of equals.)

The situations that Jennifer describes are clearly complex… worth a read! Maybe even deliver an (anonymous) copy to your favorite co-worker, neighbor, or government official who may be thinking about this issue in a less-than-open way.

Anthem?

Posted in life, transgender at 8:50 pm by Michael

Last Friday, I got into my car to go to work, and the radio popped on (surprise!). A song came on that I had remembered – but never knew who sang it, or what the title was. Through the magic of Digital Radio (not as cool as the Magic of the Internet – but still), the radio told me that it was “The Middle” by “Jimmy Eat World”.

Catchy… like it.

Never really understood the words…. Caught a few….

…It just takes some time.. in the middle – in the middle

That night when I went home, I got it from Amazon MP3 Download (love the service – no DRM – plays everywhere). Here’s the link if you want to play along.

I listened to it a few more times over the past week… liked it more. Started to understand the words…

It just takes some time,  little girl you’re in the middle of the ride
Everthing, everything it’ll be just fine
Everything, everything it’ll be alright (alright)

This morning I was running in yet another hotel on yet another treadmill (interesting image, huh?). Was in the last two minutes of my run, and it came on again. I turned up the speed (6.5, I’m slow!), and ran out the song (extra quarter mile!).

I really listened this time.

Hey, don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out
Or looked down on
Just try your best, try everything you can
And don’t you worry what they tell themselves
When you’re away.

It just takes some time, little girl in the middle of the ride
Everything, everything will be just fine
Everything, everything it’ll be alright (alright)

Hey, you know they’re all the same
You know you’re doing better on your own (on your own)
So don’t buy in.
Live right now
Yeah, just be yourself.
It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough
For someone else

It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride
Everthing, everything it’ll be just fine
Everything, everything it’ll be alright (alright)

It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride
Everything, everything it’ll be just fine
Everything, everything it’ll be alright (alright)

Hey, don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out
Or looked down on
Just do your best, do everything you can.
And don’t you worry what the bitter hearts, are gonna say

It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride (over, and over)
Everything, everything it’ll be just fine
Everything, everything it’ll be alright (alright).

It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride (over, and over)
Everything, everything It’ll be just fine (over, and over)
Everything, everything it’ll be alright (alright)

This song…. it’s pretty connected to how I feel about my transition.

And, it made me run faster (maybe to get out of the middle?)

April 30, 2009

Yuk

Posted in life at 11:22 pm by Michael

Tonight is the last night of MMS 2009 (Microsoft IT Management conference) in Vegas. To *celebrate*, I was playing blackjack at the Mirage. (Shoe, stay on soft 17, surrender)

Well, a guy, probably in his late 20′s, and D-R-U-N-K sat down in the seat next to me. First hand I lost (20 to dealers drawn-to 21), he says:

“You want a backrub?”

Me: “No thanks.”

Couple more hands….

“It will be relaxing.”

Me: No reply.

“Really”

Dealer: “Hey, She’s Married!”

“Backrub’s ain’t cheatin’”

YUK!

April 28, 2009

Vegas Taxi Price Guide

Posted in life, travel at 3:31 pm by Michael

I’m in Vegas this week for the Microsoft Management Summit – our yearly IT confab related to the stuff that I work on day-to-day.

You learn so much at conferences – about customers, your competitors – but this year, I learned something in an area I wasn’t expecting – how much it costs to puke in a cab.

Now STOP! I’m better than that, I did not in fact puke in a cab. However, we did hear firsthand from an expert – our cabbie last night – about the suggested price schedule. Nancy from Western Cab was full of fun facts.

She was complaining about a group of drunken girls she picked up the night before – with one of them having set their alimentary canal in “two way” mode as opposed to the more normative and societally acceptable “one way” mode.

“She wanted change. Up the strip, and wanted change for a $20. Unbelievable!”.

The fare was about $10 – so, we established that the cleanup fee should have been $10.

However, she didn’t puke “in” the cab – but on the door.

What about inside, what’s appropriate for that?

Nancy says that depending on the degree of offense, the fee for that is between $50 and $100.

When Anh and I were in Paris at the beginning of April, in the cab from the airport downtown, Samwich lost it in the cab. He had had some suspect milk, the traffic was stop and go, and the diesel fumes were bad, and he didn’t make it. Most of the damage hit both him and me, but some hit the seat. We cleaned it all up with wipes, but I still gave the driver $50.

I told Nancy this story, and she said:

“You are such a bullshitter.”

“Who, me?”

“Yes, you.”

From the backseat – “No, that’s Joe Biden”

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