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.

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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 17, 2009

The Case of the Curious Customs Agent

Posted in Identification, transgender, travel at 4:31 am by Michael

We (Me, Anh, Samwich) went to France for a couple of weeks (more on that to come). We have travelled internationally a bunch since I’ve transitioned, and never previously had any challenges getting into other countries, or back to the states. (We’ve been to France, Italy and Spain (Canada too!), and I’ve been to Israel as well)

I was initially concerned that because my passport still (and will) says: Gender M; that it would raise questions or we’d be stopped for additional questioning. In fact, the only time we ever got stopped was coming back from Spain – and that was at customs, not passport control – as it seems like they additionally screen everyone coming back from Spain because of the prevalence of Ham Smuggling (I kid you not, and this is NOT a euphemism). We had no ham, just some gummi bears in that international smuggler Samwich’s backpack that under x-ray appear ham-like.

Now, I also do something a little trouble-maker-like (I know you are shocked) – I fill out only one customs form for the three of us, as we are a family, and it asks “Number of People in Your Family Travelling with You”. We are legally married, and I see no reason to do anything different.

Anyway, we got back Wednesday, glad to have gone, glad to be back. We flew direct on Air France from Paris (nice airline…. order the kids meal for your kids). When we got to passport control, I gave the passports and the customs slip to the agent, who was a late 30’s, early 40’s Latina woman. (The agent who I’ve gotten many times before, who is a big, bald, white guy was in the next booth, but we didn’t pull him. The most I’ve gotten from him before is “Where do you work?” and then a hearty “Welcome Home!”. It was not to be that simple…)

She starts….

“Where are you going?”

Me: “Home? We live in Seattle.”

“Are you carrying any food items?”

Me: “Yes, chocolate.” (And declared on the form).

She flipped the form over a couple of times, looked at me, Anh, Samwich….. paused.

“How are you all related?”

Me: (Slowly, and looking right into her eyes, leaning forward slightly) “We are legally married.”

“Is this your son?” (Looking at all three passports again)

Me: “Yes, we are his parents.”

Here’s where it went totally off the tracks. She’s now holding my passport, looking at it intently, and she clearly sees the “Gender: M” thing.

“I have to ask, because of your appearance…. Can you explain?”

Me:  “I am transgendered. I transitioned from male to female, because of the passport rules, I am still ‘Male’. However, we were legally married before, and we still are.”

“And you like it better, being a girl?”

I had no idea how to even answer that.

Me: “I am who I am.”

“And you are still married?”(To Anh) “What, are you just like best friends or something? Not really ‘married’?”

Anh: “No, we are married. Married.”

“How does that work?”

Anh: “It just does. We are married.”

“And you are ok with that?”

Anh: “Yes.”

“And this is your son?”

Anh: “Yes, this is our biological son.”

“And you just like live together now, like friends.”

Me and Anh: “No, we are married.”

“Were you like best friends or something before?”

Anh: “No, I didn’t know about this before we got married.”

She shook her head, and kind of gave us that look like “Well, Whatever”

“I have to ask.”

I’m not sure she did.

“Huh…. I’ve never seen *this* before.”

What like, heffalumps and woozles?

“Ok, thanks for telling me your story.”

Like I had a choice?

“You can go.”

Anh and I looked at each other, kind of shocked as we walked to get our bags. It felt not great, and certainly not within the bounds of normal customs practice. I’m sure the fifty people in line behind us really appreciated her intensive questioning of the trans-family.

Don’t you feel safer knowing that Homeland Security is on the job?

January 28, 2009

Where Do You Feel At Home?

Posted in life, transgender at 10:14 pm by Michael

I was back in my hometown of Wickford, Rhode Island recently for the weekend with Anh and Samwich. We went to visit my mom after I had been in Boston for work.

I’ve been back probably five or six times in the past year.

Just about every place else that I go, I have no problem at all feeling at ease – at work – out and about – whatever. I don’t feel self-conscious.

Today I was in a business meeting with a group of customers from Japan. No problem! I still know how to be culturally polite!

However, turn me loose in my hometown, where I grew up from third grade, and I’m a mess.

The local pizza place that I absolutely *love* (Filipou’s) – I even remember the phone number by heart still (401-294-4737) – I almost freeze when I call to place my order.

I went to middle school with Tim, who’s place it is. I went there all the time. I remember when my dad died, the day of his funeral I ordered a pizza to share with Anh and some of my close friends (I’ll never forget that Hillel flew out from Seattle to RI for one day to be there for us…). I walked in to pick up the pizza and Tim asked how I was.

“Well, my Dad passed away, and today his funeral.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Have a baklava. Give my best to your mom.”

It was sweet actually. You had to be there.

Back to the weekend, I call for the pizza.

4-0-1 2-9-4 4-7-3-7

“Hello, Filipou’s”

“Yes, I’d like to order a small pizza with meatball and peppers and a meatball grinder”

“Name?”

“Uhhh….. Wallent?”

(It had always been “Mike” before)

“20 minutes.” Click.

I was relieved that it was cold, and that I was wearing a thick coat when I went to pick it up. I hate to admit it. I feel like I’ve let myself down – not being honest…

I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s because I have so much history there. Creating a new identity is easier when you are less known.

We moved from Sammamish to Seattle right before I transitioned.

At work, I moved to a new team right before I transitioned.

Work is also easier because honestly, most of the time, I’m “The Boss”… power does make it easier.

Back in Wickford, I’ve got lots of history, but no position.

We’ll be back in March. Improvement is needed.

Megan needs to order a pizza.

December 7, 2008

One Year Post FFS

Posted in surgery, transgender at 9:02 pm by Michael

Enough with all that emotional stuff, what’s going on with my face? This post is probably of limited interest to most, but I figured I’d post it anyway, as a record of my process.

Today is the one year anniversary of coming back from SFO, back to Seattle. Today is better. 🙂

Here’s the compare/contrast – before, last year, today.

November 29, 2007

November 29, 2007

 

December 8, 2007

December 8, 2007

December 7, 2008

December 7, 2008

 

December 7, 2008

December 7, 2008

December 7, 2008

December 7, 2008

Ok, I admit it. I look a lot different.
The Issues.

I was most concerned with having any sort of nerve damage/sensation loss. A year later, its relatively minimal, and in line with what Dr. O predicted. Right underneath my nose (the flat spot that’s parallel to the floor when you are standing up – I’m sure there is a name for it, but it escapes me) is still totally numb. That numbness goes a bit up to the point of my nose, but not “around the corner”. It’s still cold sensitive – we’ll see how skiing this winter is. I have a bit of surface numbness on the top part of my upper lip, but it’s not bad.

On the very top of my right ear there is a little bit of numbness at the top – the right one is totally fine.

The top of my head, roughly the size of my fist, going back from my hairline is still numb on the top. I notice this most when we are walking/running and branches rub the top of my head. It just feels odd.

That’s it.

Generally, everything came out even. Skin isn’t clay or metal, and there’s bound to be little imperfections. There are three little unevenesses. On my hairline, the actual hairline itself isn’t quite even. It dips down in one direction a bit, but I think I’m the only one to ever notice.

Hairline, December 7, 2008

Hairline, December 7, 2008

Secondly, when I scrunch (technical term) my nose up, one of my nostrils is a little lower than the other one. This is not noticeable w/o scrunching. I have airbrushed out my nose-inside for the faint of heart, and also made this super small by default. Click for a bigger image (IF YOU DARE!)

Nose uneven-ness

Nose uneven-ness

Lastly, there’s sometimes a little tiny divot that appears along one side of my jaw, lust past my chin. Its a little bit noticeable in the profile shot for the right, but only when I smile. (Which is hopefully more and more!)

Unrelated to the actual FFS part, but definitely important has been facial hair removal. It’s still a work in progress. I have done two laser treatments in the past year (last December and January) to deal with the black hairs, and I’ve been having electrolysis on average 3x a month for about an hour. Honestly, my schedule hasn’t really allowed for much more. The progress here has been *slow*. Luckily, most of the black hairs are gone, with a few cropping up occasionally (Pluck!). My upper lip and lower lip are now hair-free enough so that I don’t have to shave those areas. Around my chin is 80% done, but my neck is still white hair central. I have to shave every day, and I’m still a little self conscious about it.

The Fair

My nose… hmm… it works. It’s different. Instead of being convex when viewed from the side, it’s now a little convex. Was it a big difference, hard to tell.

The chin and jaw – its so hard to say, but the shape is different. I think my face is rounder now, and that’s all about the jaw.

My Adam’s apple is way less prominent, although not gone. I appreciate the fact that the scar for it, right under my chin has basically disappeared. Not having the scar on my lower neck makes it significantly less noticeable.

The Good

I love not having ears that stick out. I *always* hated them, and now they are safely back and locked.

The combo of the hairline modification plus the hormones has left my hair in a good state. It’s thicker, and growing out nicely. I actually like wearing it back now.

My brow ridge is totally gone. Whoosh. It was relatively prominent before, but it’s not any more! I think this trait is an interesting one – it’s true that the majority of Caucasian women do not have one – however we were watching “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (Season 2)” (Yes, Anh and I can be addicted to trashy reality TV) and one of the patients – “Amber Smith” who is/was a model (with a serious narcotics addiction) has a very prominent brow ridge. You would not think she was ever a man in any way.

The Reaction

The most biased first. I went to see my mom last month when I was in Boston, and she said – “Ok, let me take a good close look at your face.” After inspecting it, she said “Huh, I don’t see any masculine features in your face at all.” I think that’s a little pushing it, but hey, she said it!
At work the other day I was having a lunch meeting w/my friend Val and another co-worker, and she was sitting next to me. After the meeting she remarked how totally gone my brow ridge is.

In terms of how the FFS contributes to passing, I think it was pretty important for me – but other stuff was needed too. The bigger issues were making progress on the hair removal, since my hair was so dark and my skin is pretty light (contrast!), and also having my hair grow out. I’ve noticed that passing has a lot to do with what I’m wearing too. With a heavy coat on, I’m more frequently “Sirred” – but without, it’s become infrequent.

In the end, I think that FFS (in combination with moderate dress – see previous post on “Passing”) has helped me to just go about my daily life, and to not stick out (as much).

Am I happy that I had it? Yes. Was it absolutely necessary? Probably not. But, I transitioned post FFS so I don’t have a reference point.

December 5, 2008

Passing

Posted in transgender at 8:34 pm by Michael

It’s not a four letter word.

I thought that it wouldn’t be a big deal. It actually kind of is.

Fitting in turns out to be even more important, and probably the most critical element to passing. What do I mean by fitting in?

The next time you are in a public place – look around. Look for the person – man, woman, doesn’t matter – who is the outlier. In Miami Beach, look for the dude w/the rad chest hair, and the shirt unbuttoned down to his navel. At Microsoft on campus, being overdressed is the exception. Jeans is the official uniform of your average ‘Softie. Even wearing shorts in January won’t get you noticed. In Washington, DC, not being dressed in business clothes (professional suit) will get you noticed.

Over the past year, I’ve learned (slowly) how to dress to not get noticed, no matter the circumstance. I try hard to not stand out with my clothes. Hey, being 6-2 gets me noticed anyway, so the last thing I need is a big frigging beacon over my head.

Now, just a few words on being remembered. One thing that Anh and I have noticed is that the “Mean-time-to-being-remembered” is now 1.5 visits to a given place. (It used to be much higher than that.) At least half the time on our second visit to a restaurant, the staff remembers me and greets us warmly. It’s a good thing we tip well.

Anyway, trying to dress appropriately, and even a little modestly has helped make my transition a smoother one. People have even commented on that. Basically: “If you showed up with tons of makeup, a dress, stockings and high heels this would have been harder.”

What’s the line between being true to yourself and fitting in? Can you do both?

I think you can, and I think that we all do it, all the time.

Every circumstance has its own dress code. Sure, you can go outside the lines, or even push them. I know and have met perfectly well adjusted people who dress well outside of those lines. I’m not suggesting it’s not ok.

What I’m suggesting is that if you are going through a gender transition, attemping to do that, and also not carefully considering the social norms of appearance for your newly presenting gender may just create more challenges that could otherwise be avoided.

September 10, 2008

Out & Equal Workplace Summit 2008

Posted in transgender at 8:56 pm by Michael

Anh, Samwich and I arrived in Austin today for the Out & Equal Workplace Summit 2008.

I’m on a panel tomorrow for the afternoon plenary session (at 3:30) with the CEO of Clorox, as well as the President of AT&T California – Don Knauss and Ken McNeely (bios). Cindy Solomon is the moderator. We are doing a panel discussion, and we each have been given a few minutes to speak up front, and then answer questions from the audience. I’ve been asked to talk about transitioning in the workplace, and I expect that I’ll be asked questions around that topic.

So… I’m a little nervous. I’m no CEO, and this is the first time that I’ve done a non-techie presentation to anywhere near this number of people (I’ve been told that there are about 3000 registered – how many show up to see us? Well see!) I still feel like a total newbie in this space. Who am I to give advice, or even think that my experience is relevant? After a lot of teeth gnashing, I’ve decided to go pretty simple – big lessons learned for me, and big lessons that (I think) Microsoft learned.

For any even semi-regular reader of this space, my big lessons are the same ones I’ve been writing about for quite some time:

– If you aren’t ashamed, don’t act like you are!

– Open to questions means that there aren’t any secrets!

– Be unconstrained by percieved limitations

– Don’t be an adjective!

and so on… Of course, each of these little bon mots will be accompanied by an anectode (I’m nothing if not anecdotal).

I can’t say that my path would be good for anyone else, but it was my path, and I’ll talk about it. Please, if you are in the audience, no snoring.

Plenary 2 – Tomorrow in Austin. I’ll be there.

(As an aside, tomorrow is the one year anniversary of me sending my “Hi, I’m coming back in January with a new name and a new gender presentation!” (No, the mail didn’t say that – I’ll post it tomorrow for reference… it was *way* more eloquent) I could not have planned it this way… Quite a bit of change in a year, huh?)

PS – If you are at O&E and are wondering where I’m going to be, drop me a comment on the “Contact” page, and I’ll see what I can do!

September 5, 2008

Megan’s First Review

Posted in transgender, work at 8:41 pm by Michael

Microsoft Campus

Microsoft Campus

September is annual review time at Microsoft (it used to be August, but three years ago it changed to September). This is the time of year when everyone gets a rating (on past performance and also on future potential), and there are raises, bonuses and stock allocations. You submit a written form, your manager comments, then you sit down and talk about it, and you are given “your numbers”.

For managers (like me), this tends to be a lot of work, as you need to do this for each of your directs (I have 13 this year), and then manage budget, and monitor the progress of the entire group (I oversee about 300 people).

I actually like the Microsoft review process. I like the regularity and the rigor that’s associated with it. I know that there are a wide range of opinions, but I’m still a fan.

All through my transition and working with my manager(s) (I changed jobs right before I transitioned), I’ve said how fantastically supportive Microsoft has been. Now, lots of people have asked “But how supportive, really?”

One way to tell is from review, and from your evaluation. Look, the process isn’t perfect, just like any human-driven process there can be bias (pro and con) at many levels.

I’ve done well at the company in my time there. I like to think that I’ve contributed, and the company has been behind me. There’s always room for improvement (in me), but that’s a good thing.

I got my review this week, and if there was any question if the company was going to back their words of support with actions of support, then the question was answered to the affirmative.

My review was fair, completely in-line with my expectations (or even a little better  ), but more than anything, completely divorced from my transition.

I wasn’t worried, but wow, its good to have that milestone behind me.

August 23, 2008

More Pictures

Posted in transgender at 11:36 pm by Michael

I haven’t posted a lot of pictures lately… so, here’s a few.

Me, August 2008

Me, August 2008

Last fall, Anh and I were in Hawaii as well, and I was wearing my normal head-garb – Boston hat and sunglasses. Here was me then.

Me, Hawaii 2007

Me, Hawaii 2007

When I was looking through the pictures that we took on this trip, I was struck by basically the exact same picture (well, different profile), but basically the same. Here it is:

Me, Hawaii 2008

Me, Hawaii 2008

I have a hard time seeing the difference.  Now, I wasn’t trying very hard – this was the beach after all.

August 19, 2008

Vacation Tidbits

Posted in family, Identification, life, transgender, travel at 12:13 am by Michael

We are on a beach vacation this week (not to be confused with Blogcation).

This presents an interesting challenge for me.

What. To. Wear.

Short answer – shorts and a UV top (no sunburn).

So far, in my experience, the more clothes I’ve got on, the harder it is to “pass”. Big winter stuff – not so much. The hardest group to pass with – kids and teens – without a doubt. Dirty (not crappy mind you) looks are highest per-capita in this group. The beach should be great then, right? Well, add in my outfit, and wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap (Red Sox, of course!), what should be easy becomes, well, less than that.

So, given that context, a few interesting bits so far on this trip:

(NB on the whole “Passing” thing. This is not my raison d’etre. I am who I am. However, I find the reaction to me to be just plain interesting. It doesn’t bug me not to pass (mostly)…)

– When we got here the other night, we were at Safeway getting some stuff for lunch. I was at the deli counter (no jokes please), and the very nice guy behind the counter was *overly nice* to me. This hadn’t happened to me before. It was o-d-d. I was not prepared for this. I was nice, and smiled, and got my turkey and roast beef, thank you.

– Peri broke a toenail today (kind of bad actually), and I went to the little nail hut near the beach to borrow a nail clipper to fix it. As I was sitting there, trimming her nail, a little girl (probably 6?) came up to me, and strated asking lots of questions:

“What are you doing?”

“Do you work here?”

When I said no, and I was just fixing her nail because it broke, she said:

“Oh, you are just her Mom, and you are fixing her toe then? Does it hurt?”

Peri and I just exchanged glances, she smiled, I smiled, and I said:

“That’s right… she’ll be ok!”

And that was enough for her! She smiled and was off.

As we were walking away, Peri said “Was I that nosy when I was that age? I don’t think I was.”

Oh yeah Peri, you were!

(NB. I’m not Peri’s mom. I am not confused on that point. Peri and John calling me “Daddy” all of the time generates quizzical looks, but that’s no biggie.)

(NB II. The little girl above was a sweetheart. She was genuinely concerned about Peri, which was super nice. I hope no one takes away anything remotely negative in my tone.)

– John was getting a Henna tatoo (fish skeleton) this afternoon, and when I went to pay, the tatoo lady was taking down my info.

“Last name?”

“Wallent”

“Ok, first name Mr. Wallent”

“Megan”

“Oh, I’m sorry… I’m a kayak guide in the morning, and with a wetsuit on, I get sirred all the time. Isn’t it funny?”

– We were at dinner tonight, and I was up, walking around with Samwich. Our server, who was a nice middle-aged lady says to me:

“Are you the grandma?”

“No… no, I’m not.”

“Oh.”

DUUUUDE!

That’s worse than asking someone when the little bundle of joy is coming and the answer is negative six months!

Needless to say, Anh has been calling me “Granny” all night…..

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