My Current To-Do List:
Fixing Family, Changing Name, Finding Friends, Fighting Transphobic ‘Allies’
Editor’s Note: This is the seventh installment of “The Transchick Chronicles,” an on-going series of essays written by newly-out transgender journalist Stephanie Haskins, as she chronicles her transition. Parts one and two can be found here. Parts three and four can be found here. Click here for part five, and here for part six.
BY STEPHANIE HASKINS
First, dear readers, some really good news: I’m not going to say one more goddamned thing about my facial feminization surgery.
It’s done, and over, and healing, and enough about it.
So, as I hear you muttering, “shut the fuck up about it, already,” I say yes, I hear you. I promise.
(Stephanie makes motion of zipping her lips. Plumped, enhanced, and sensuous that they may be. So ready for kissing. Anyone. Anything. Mostly any mirror right now, though. Any volunteers?)
The past few weeks have been almost chaotic for this transchick.
So many images, so many feelings. All a blur. I’ve felt enormously sad, depressed, and yes, sometimes almost suicidal. I know that sounds very heavy and over-dramatic, but you have to understand that I’ve been ideating about not being in the world since I was very young. Eight or ten, maybe. I’d lie on my bed, and create scenarios about how I did not exist.
Or how to not exist any longer. Who would care? What difference would it make? Where would I be? Would I be sentient? With my dead relatives? Or nowhere at all?
See, I always thought my life, at best, was a zero-option deal. I could take (and would take) just so much sadness, cluster-fucking and self-hatred until it’d finally be time to cash in my chips. I almost reached that point several times, but something (cowardice?) always pulled me back from the edge.
I came really close to following through once. It was 25 years ago, I felt totally alone and desperately afraid, and I tried to gas myself in my garage. JUST as I was about to fade to black, I pulled myself back. I really don’t know why.
And so, to this very minute, I occasionally spot death at the far end of the spectrum of daily life. The good news is that I see the other end as well. I often also feel incredibly happy, excited, ecstatic, even euphoric.
Trans euphoria. Feeling wonderful about who you are. I feel that way sometimes.
What I need to figure out is how to live in the middle of both extremes somewhere.
So, where am I right now, as I write this?
In a pretty great place, actually.
I’m truly excited that I’m rebuilding my relationship with my immediate family, whom I miss more than I can tell you, my lovely readers. It’s been a two-year process, but we’re talking and texting and even goofing on each other again. My soul is refreshed. I SOOO hope I can hold all of them in my arms again.
And no: I’m not going to identify any of them, even to the point of saying how they’re related to me. But I love and cherish all of them more than I can possibly say. They were so important to me for so many years when I was an almost-desperate, phony-assed presenting male who had only THEM to hold on to. And my heart breaks that my transition over the past two years caused them such large helpings of shock, anger, and feelings of betrayal—all unbelievably painful.
But look, I suffered too. I didn’t mean to hurt them, but I did. It’s a very sad truth that the process of coming to terms with one’s authentic being is almost ALWAYS a PTSD-inducing process. So much pain. So much terror.
Such huge portions of loneliness and aloneness and longing for times past, all mixed in with such a desperate desire for serenity and acceptance.
I’ve missed my family so fucking much. SO FUCKING MUCH!!
And I so much want to put all of that sadness behind me.
I want them to love me again, and I sense that might be possible. That it indeed is happening.
Do you know how important this healing process is? How fortunate I feel?
And how rarely it happens for trans people? I’ve only known of ONE young trans man (female to male) who has a loving, adoring relationship with his mother.
I saw it with my own eyes awhile back.
He was obviously the most important thing in her life, as I watched them hold each other, laugh with each other, gab with each other, and be joyous with each other. And I felt so privileged when he introduced his mom to me.
I felt like I had witnessed a miracle.
And I may have, because up until then, I hadn’t encountered one single other transgender person who doesn’t have stories of incredible sadness to tell about their own hateful and mind-blowingly hurtful family dynamic.
My heart breaks for each of them. Even as their hearts break for me.
But think about what I just told you: I know of no other trans person who has a loving, accepting, supportive relationship with their closest family members.
It is to weep. So many of us thrown away. Sometimes forever. Parents who will never see their lovely, desperate kids again. Siblings who’ve been permanently torn apart.
All of the sensory overload (transition stuff) over the past year or so has really started to do something to my rather fragile psyche the past few weeks. As I said, I’ve often felt disconnected, anxious, more lonely, and way more needy.
Maybe all the surgeries this past year took more out of me than I imagined. I’m not sure what’s going on, exactly. Maybe it’s the realization that I’m a lot closer to the end of my transition than I EVER imagined I would be just a YEAR ago.
Lots and lots and lots to think about and consider.
Another possibility: Maybe I’m way more fucked up than I thought possible.
Are you curious? If so, read on, dear ones…
* * *
Recently, I legally changed my name to Stephanie Grace Haskins. And while I’m over the moon about that, I discovered that I couldn’t get a new driver’s license, for example, until the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) updates its records and issues me a new Social Security card.
Only then can I get a new driver’s license that shows my new name and gender.
The clusterfucking that I’ve gone through just trying to figure out the information I had to provide, in order to submit my application to the SSA, drove me to the edge of insanity.
All SSA offices are now closed to the public because of COVID. Of course! That means no contact with anyone in any office. So, the SSA website says to MAIL in all necessary identity documents—including my driver’s license.
Huh? Last I heard, I still need my license to drive. It can’t be in two places, meaning it can’t be in my car with me if the Social Security Administration is, um, “administrating” with it.
So, I called the toll free SSA number and waited, for what, an hour? Finally, a human voice. After I explained that I’m a trans woman and needed to change my Social Security records and wondered how I could give up my driver’s license for a week or two and still live my life, the chick on the other end of the line (who was sympathetic) then said I had to change my name and gender in PERSON. Not by mail.
“Call your local office,” she said. She even gave me the number to the Sacramento (where I live) facility that would handle my application. OH GOD. A dreaded phone tree. Again.
But, what the fuck. I called the number. Full of hope. Press this number, press that one, Wait. Awful music. Then: “You’re being transferred to a representative.” I was elated. Then the automated voice said, “Thank you for calling. Good bye.”
This happened five more times. My stress levels began to skyrocket. I seriously started getting chest pains. Then I had a really bad attack of my inflammatory bowel disease—the last fucking thing I needed.
I know I’m hardly the first person to endure a bureaucratic nightmare like this, but I just started to sob. Believe it or not, for an hour. I just wailed. I felt totally alone and totally frustrated and totally, royally pissed.
Finally, I pulled myself together, got in my car, and drove to the Social Security office, a few miles away. The place was almost deserted. I got to the door, where an armed guard took pity on me, and checked with a manager about whether I needed an appointment or not. The manager said that, no, I needed to MAIL in my application. And NOT see someone in person. I also asked about having to surrender my driver’s license for a week or two, and he told me no, they’d also accept a passport.
So the lady on the phone was totally full of shit.
Nice. But, well…
So I went home, put everything together, went to the post office, and sent in my application. By certified mail. $27, thank you so much.
And off it went. To the very same Social Security office I had just visited. From a post office that, I kid you not, is located right across the freaking street from that Social Security office.
All’s well that ends well, however: I just received my new Social Security card! Once again, my emotions took a turn. This time towards the happy end of the spectrum.
* * *
The Sacramento, California LGBT Community Center
A few weeks ago, I volunteered—for the first time—for two events at the Sacramento, California LGBT Community Center. This would be the first time, believe it or not, that I’ve ever allowed myself to proclaim, in person, my transgender identity to other people who (hopefully) wouldn’t be surprised or angry or hateful. Other LGBTQIA+ people, in other words
To clarify: Yes, I’ve met a lot of people over the past couple of years in my various transgender therapy groups on Zoom, and I’ve gone to clubs and watched other queer people from a distance, but I’ve not really much engaged with anyone. I just assumed THEY assumed I was queer because I was there among them, but I didn’t make much of an effort to put myself out there.
Why has it taken me so long? Fear, I guess. Fear of being rejected. Fear of not fitting in—mostly because of my age, I guess. I mean, I’m older than most of these people, and I sometimes feel like a total outsider among them.
But then, I discovered something huge. No one seems to care. They’re just regular people—albeit queer—with their own problems.
And they’re just like me. Mostly. Sorta.
And…guys are starting to flirt with me. Hit on me, even. (We’ll get into THAT in a later chapter.)
And you know what else? I feel like I’ve finally found the almost mythic queer community I’ve ached for my whole life. People who are like me. Who are just as wary of straight society as I am. Just as distrustful. Just as lonely as I am.
Who SEEM happy to see me and welcome me.
I was frankly frightened to death initially because of all the other usual internal terrors—that I’m not trans enough, that I’m not cool enough, that I’m not attractive enough.
All the usual, imagined bullshit. I guess.
It was kind of a magical weekend. The main event was a transgender awareness march and rally; again, people of all shapes and sizes and ages who came together for a few hours to commune and be with each other. I met some people I really liked.
Interestingly, NO media coverage at all. No television, no print. I wasn’t much surprised.
Maybe the event wasn’t well publicized, or maybe it’s because of all the letters in the LGBTQIA+ acronym, trans people are the ones most easily marginalized. We truly are the most complicated because we tend to be shapeshifters who deny our birth-assigned bodies, and are almost continuously assaulted by our innate sensibility of otherness—which in turn is driven by cultural dynamics that demand sameness
The cues are everywhere. We are the complete outliers, the oddballs who often want to “mutilate” our bodies so we can “become someone else.”
Men become “women.” Women become “men.”
Ewww, as “they” say.
Breasts are lopped off of trans men. Breasts are tacked on to trans women. Some trans guys get new penises. A lot of trans chicks have their penises repurposed into vaginas.
It’s all too fantastical. It’s too complicated to explain, so the media pretty much stays away. Mostly, not always.
But here’s the truth: Transgender reality isn’t easily explained in five-second sound bites.
Except for the most flamboyant of our cohort, transgender people are pretty much invisible. We want to make the changes we feel are necessary for our own inner peace; we want the rest of the world to see our outsides as whom we know ourselves to be inside.
As a result, except within our own tribes, there’s not much of a record or a cultural sense of our everyday lives, ordinary lives. Many of us fit in so well that many cisgender people have no clue that we’re there—here—and that we look like, well, how do I put this—like THEM!
And even, sweet Jesus, like YOU!!!
Stop and think about that, dear readers: You might know a transgender person, without having any sense that they might NOT be whom you think they are.
Blending in and “passing” —or “going stealth”— isn’t just about feeling good about ourselves—it’s also often a matter of survival. It’s not always easy to gauge exactly how much societal antipathy there is for us transgender folk.
Here’s a recent example; North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson—a Republican, of course—is under fire for referring to people in the LGBTQIA+ community as “filth” during a recent, unhinged rant about how America’s kids are supposedly being inculcated about “alternative lifestyles.”
So, we are filth?
OUR VALUE AS HUMAN BEINGS IS FILTH?!?!
Yes, this otherwise unknown politician, who has less power than a solar panel in a hurricane, considers people like me to be sewer sludge. Comparable to human manure, to be plowed into a barren cotton field somewhere where my remains can perhaps be useful.
Needless to say, according to LGBTQ Nation, the always-unhinged “Christian” loon and evangelist Franklin Graham then chimed in and praised Robinson for “having the guts to stand up and tell the truth.”
North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson and Evangelist Franklin Graham
Robinson made his initial comments on an early summer Sunday in a church. That didn’t appear to bother any of the fine, charitable congregants—you know, the all-White, gun-toting bubbas who proudly wear their greasy, unwashed MAGA hats at all times—-even inside churches.
Fine people, all. So respectful.
And just to make sure the worshipers (all baptized under the seal of Christ, I assume) got the message, Robinson went on to reiterate, “And yes, I called it filth. And if you don’t like that that I called it filth, come see me about it.”
A really fun Sunday in North Carolina. Getting the definitive word out about, in Robinson’s words, “homosexuality and transgenderism.”
And then, as sort of a transphobic coup de gras, Robinson clarified his comments to WRAL-TV—a station that used to be owned by another lovably hateful guy, the late Republican U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, who pretty much single-handedly derailed and delayed any sort of meaningful federal response to the AIDS crisis back in the 1980s. A real peach of a dude. He always sounded like he was talking with a mouthful of marbles, as well as portions of his lunch or breakfast that he hadn’t yet chosen to swallow.
Anyway, Robinson drooled to the WRAL reporter, “We will not be intimidated. We will not back down. We will NOT change our language.” Just in case you figured that Robinson was a one and done kinda guy.
The South. Where decency and what used to be called “American values” have gone to die. Who knew that so much hate could be compacted into one part of the country? Oh, wait—a few generations worth of enslaved African Americans knew. They definitely knew.
* * *
As some of you may know, I’m a contributor for the questions-and-answer website Quora. I write mostly about transgender issues, and the last I checked, I’ve answered more than 3,000 questions—more than 750,000 page views— for enquiring minds.
A few weeks ago, I came across a question that really pissed me off. Here it is, verbatim:
“I’ve never met a transgender person who was passable over the age of 15. How do transgender people feel about the lifelong continuing development of their genetic nature?”
Again, the question is verbatim. The writer’s first sentence seems to exist solely to outrage trans people like me. The second sentence is more unclear. I assume it’s meant to suggest that we’ll never look good, that we’re always pathetic, and that we’re perpetually struggling to fix something that’s unfixable.
“What probably pisses you off the most,” I responded, full of enraged snark, “is that we pass TOO well, TOO stealthily. You can’t tell whom we are in many cases, and that really fucks with your fetish.”
I then pointed out to the writer that I see photos of absolutely beautiful, perfectly feminine young, PRE-OPERATIVE trans women every day on various websites I frequent. Many of them have flawless skin, knockout bodies, and breasts created by little to no hormone replacement therapy (HRT)—mostly estrogen. They’re simply beautiful young females in and of themselves. Which totally knocks me out.
So let’s explore this issue a bit. Let’s face it, these young trans women I’m describing are teenagers, or in their early twenties. Their skin hasn’t been exposed to years of unprotected UV rays, lousy diets, too many late nights, too much booze and/or drugs.
They’ve learned about makeup and fashion, and when they finally decide to come out, they know how to put themselves together—and they’re fucking gorgeous. There’s no way they don’t “pass” as totally feminine humans under any and all circumstances.
But there are also trans females who are in their late 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s who ALSO easily pass. And I mean EASILY.
Ok. I’ll come out and say it.
Perfectly. And I’m one fuck of a long way from 15.
Look. Many trans women, like me, are older, and we have to work harder to pass as cisgender, straight females, and we also have a tougher time passing.
BUT WE PASS.
WAY, WAY beyond the age of 15.
Look. I’m very freaking lucky. I have a slim, fairly curvy, somewhat athletic body, and a face that’s suffered little sun damage over the years (although not from the lack of trying).
I measure out at 43-28-38. NOT a Tom Ford model, exactly, but hey, I was born with a dick
I also love makeup and stylish clothes, so most days I present as a rather attractive woman of undetermined early (!) middle age. A few weeks ago, a couple of media people I hadn’t seen for a few months—not since earlier in my transition—were astounded when they saw me.
One, a cisgender woman, said I looked like I was 40. Was she pulling my chain? Bullshitting me? Maybe. The other person, a male video producer, was also very flattering.
To my knowledge, I’ve spotted as a trans person twice. Once in a bar in Napa, California, when I didn’t look my best, and the other time two and a half hours south in Monterey —also in a bar. This one was filled with elderly real estate salesmen with white shoes, and their overly lacquered leathery-skinned wives who looked like they were having a tough time hitting their mouths with their lip gloss.
One old barnacle stared at me relentlessly until the guy I was with went over to her and glowered back. She scurried away like a cockroach in a spotlight.
But consider this: I’ve also been privileged to undergo several major surgeries to fix up the pieces and parts that haven’t aged so well. Many older transwomen simply don’t have either the resources, the opportunity, or the necessary health insurance to help them transition so flawlessly.
And perhaps, they never will.
But they are some of the bravest people I’ve ever known, because they work with what they have, and go out every day into our brutal, transphobic culture as their essential female selves and live with whatever reaction they might get. Almost always, there are smirking stares and whispered comments or, at the very worst, sometimes brutal and cruel insults. And yet, YET, they are so happy to celebrate their own womanhood inside that they do what they have to do. Including being laughed at in public.
And even when incredibly judgmental women like that woman on Quora try to dismiss and marginalize them. Yes, that writer was a woman. A cisgender woman. Who identifies as lesbian.
I assumed she would just slink away after my response. But no. Turns out I hadn’t started to spar with your regular dumbass bigot. No, dear readers. Nononononono.
I’d engaged with a full on, unapologetic TERF—otherwise known as a “Trans Exclusionary Radical Female.”
I’d heard of TERFs before. Most notably, JK Rowling, the billionaire author of the Harry Potter books. Almost two years ago, for no apparent reason, she started to dump her toxic load of shit about trans women here and there in public appearances and in her writings. For example, she linked her Twitter followers to a shop selling anti-transgender items, such as badges that say “F**k your pronouns” and “Notorious Transphobe.”
The literary world was stunned, and her increasingly nasty and uninformed comments about transgender women infuriated all of us ultra-liberal members of the LGBTQIA+ community. It was hard to accept this from the chirpy, oh-so-Brit mother of the Potter clan.
But now, I had my very own TERF. And it wasn’t pretty. She responded to my response with more phobic rantings and identified herself as an older lesbian woman who lived in San Francisco, of all places. I was astounded at the unscientific and mean-spirited garbage that fell out her dark soul—and big mouth.
Here’s more of what this chick wrote:
“All you are saying is you are weak and beg for people’s approval because you can’t find what you want internally.”
“Feminism created a world where we (finally) don’t have to live in stereotypes but you hide away under them because you are too cowardly to look within for what you seek.”
I responded by telling her I was really sad that another member of the LGBTQIA+ community felt compelled to go after us transgender people with such vehemence.
That comment REALLY ticked her off
“I am not here to coddle you,” she wrote. “I’m here to express how this (transgender male to female person) affects me. The way I see it is that biological females have to deal with very unpleasant things in our patriarchal society. Girls are taught to serve men’s needs first.
“Enter the stereotypical caricature of ‘trans women,’” she continued. “After a financially successful career benefitting from male attitudes and privilege, and usually taking the male role in family life as well, as a trans ‘woman’ transitions later in life after likely privately crossdressing since puberty, and demands (in a masculine way, naturally, because that’s who he is) that everyone take his gender seriously and put his needs first.
“Feminism has no time to coddle the stereotype-indulging trans-‘women’ or crossdressers who want to be female because he’s into fetishes of femininity. This is not being a female. He has a paraphilia.”
OK, hold up here for a moment. “Paraphilia” is defined by Webster as “a condition characterized by abnormal sexual desires, typically involving extreme or dangerous activities.” The TERF had now turned my gender identify into a sexual kink.
Oh but there’s more:
“Why is it trans women feel their rights depend on being recognized as women? When gay people lobbied for rights, we didn’t insist heterosexuality be redefined to include attraction to the same sex.
And so, we went ‘round and ‘round and ‘round. I was astounded at her hatefulness and anger, which she refused to acknowledge.
Yet finally, FINALLY, she admitted that she was also furious because the more recent efforts by trans people to achieve equality (and just a basic sense of safety) had somehow detracted from what she felt was a proprietary ongoing struggle by the larger gay community to continue its decades-old drive for acceptance and a more unified homo/hetero culture.
I’m guessing she feels there’s only so much struggle to be had, and that gays and lesbians can’t afford to share. Certainly not with trans folks.
* * *
Someone on Quora also asked me if I believe that transgender people suffer more discrimination and bigotry than anyone else on the queer spectrum.
Yes, I answered. I do believe that. We’re surely the most misunderstood, and I suppose I get why.
As I’ve written in this space before, we’re seen as the oddest of the odd of our queer community. The very concept that many of us want to, in effect, redesign our bodies is sort of thermonuclear in concept.
And of course, our culture still conflates sexuality with gender. The fact that I’m a trans female affects not one iota whom I’m attracted to. Who I am within my soul just doesn’t play into that. At one point, In thought I was primarily a gay male, who was attracted to some females. So, I guess I could have been identified as a bisexual trans feminine person. If I were a cisgender male, I would STILL be a bisexual person.
But wait. There’s MORE.
In recent months, as I’ve actualized my desire to have my penis repurposed as a vagina, I find myself MUCH less attracted to cisgender men. At this point, I would much prefer to have an intimate relationship with other trans women, trans men, or lesbians. And maybe, I guess, gay males. But certainly not ANY cisgender, STRAIGHT males. The thought of THAT actually makes me nauseous now.
So, again, if you haven’t figured this out yet, trans people are…different. We’re seen, at best, as “exotic” with internal wiring so different from the “norm” that almost no one—and I mean NO ONE ELSE, not even other people on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum—”gets” us. We’re the escargot on a cultural menu of well-done burgers and soggy fries.
We’re easy to hate. To dismiss. To diminish. We inspire laughter and ridicule from comics like Dave Chappelle and his freedom of speech-claiming acolytes. I actually heard a Black talk show host discuss Chappelle’s recent anti-trans Netflix special with another Black comedian and decide that, all in all, it was better that he be allowed to say whatever he chooses about trans people (and LGBTQIA+ folks as a whole) than try to censor him.
Decency as censorship.
Huh. I wonder how these oh-so-progressive First Amendment cats would react if a White comedian said the same sorts of things about another cultural minority: namely, Black people.
I guess they didn’t consider that at least 46 trans people have been murdered so far this year in the U.S. The most ever, by the way, and that most of THOSE victims were Black trans women.
Candidly, I’m really fucking tired of trying to justify my existence to people—tired of trying to change the level of discourse in this sad-sack, “us vs them” country of ours.
We will always be “trannies” or “shemales” to them—sluts and whores and dudes without dicks.
What a shame. What a goddamn shame.
With each passing day, I withdraw even further from the White, cisgender, straight male patriarchal culture. I’ve finally started to find my community—people who are like me. Queers. Of all kinds.
We’re so fucking smart, and funny, and cool, and beautiful, and have so much soul, that well, I’m completely happy and content having almost no contact with others in the outside world— ones who pretty much detest me anyway.
Yes, so many emotions. As I wrote at the beginning of this, chapter seven, so many feelings. Some of them euphoric. Many of them depressing.
But I am, and we are, still members of the human race. And we are NOT going away.
Deal with it, America!
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