As you might expect, you get some varied responses when you tell people you're transgender. Affirmations, degradations and everything in between, save for perhaps indifference. I have yet to find anyone who doesn't care one way or the other.
One reaction, however, perplexes me more than any other, and it's one of the kinder ones: Sympathy. "I weep for you when I try to imagine the pain you've been in and how difficult this must have been and will continue to be," wrote one female friend of mine.
When was I in pain? I don't seem to recall that. (Well, that's not entirely true. I got hit by a bus once while I was on my way to her house. That, however, was being blindsided by transportation, not being transgender; very different things.)
Her reaction, while the most direct, was not unique. I was perplexed. Did they even know me? Obviously they did -- and do. You couldn't ask for a more supportive circle of people to help a person through anything.
Still, I started feeling like I should apologize: "I am not a miserable person. I have never been a miserable person. I am a happy person -- always have been. Sorry about that."
Honestly, I guess it shouldn't surprise me that so many people think I've been unhappy. Let's face it, "all" transgender people are. Laverne Cox has spoken of her unhappy childhood that led to a suicide attempt.
Except that's not me; I've never been unhappy. As someone once remarked of Fred Flintstone, I've had a gay 'ol time, in the most classic sense of the word.
(Yes, you could still say "gay" in the early 1960's without people snickering. Certainly it was less nebulous than having a "Dabba Doo" time.)
I've travelled places I never thought I'd go, been paid to do a myriad of things I'd have gladly done for free, fathered a daughter that remains my picture of perfection. What's not to be Dabba Doo about?
In truth, many of us led happy lives before transitioning -- indeed, I would say most of us have.
In Brett Beemyn and Susan Rankin's groundbreaking research work, "The Lives of Transgender People," they noted that 22 percent of the study's transgender respondents reported they had "cognitive or emotional attributes that substantially affects a major life activity." This number is more than three times the national average, and I don't mean to belittle that.
What that also means, however, is that 78 percent of us are not victims of those attributes.
Indeed, one of the greatest impediments to my recognition that I was transgender was the feeling that I couldn't be, because only miserable people were. Cox, Jenner, the talk-show tropes: The stereotype of the unhappy transgender person is everywhere. It certainly makes good TV, and no one ever made a magazine cover saying, "Hello, I'm relentlessly content." Contentment is boring, and you can't build a brand on that. (Though, God help them, C-SPAN keeps trying.)
So when I looked in the mirror and asked myself who I was, more than "I'm a woman," there was, "I'm happy," and thus ended the self-reflection.
Were there times I was unhappy? Sure, there were moments in my life when I was still living as a man that I wished I was a woman. I'd occasionally lie in bed wondering what it would be like to walk down the beach near my house in a dress, just to feel my hem and the breeze tickling my knees. When I would come home from the bar after a night in drag, I'd stop off at Denny's for pancakes, just so I could stay in my dress a little bit longer.
I guess some might say that is, in fact, miserable. and I guess they're right. Denny's is a terrible place for pancakes; I'm more an IHOP girl, myself. But I dealt with it like I did when I saw someone driving a Ferrari: Sure, that would be nice, but that's not going to happen; move on. And perhaps that's what's changed: I have a Ferrari.
Actually, no I don't: But Caitlyn Jenner does -- or at least she could, because she's rich and famous. When she came out to the world she showed people like myself that change was possible. We didn't have to just wish any longer. She was my bolt out of the blue -- and that's from somebody who's been hit by a bus.
More, when I moved to the college town of Eugene, Oregon from my tiny town on the beach, I met lots of transgender people -- and many of them were just like me: Non-Ferrari driving, non-demon wrestling, IHOP-loving people. More, I wasn't alone: Profits are up this year at IHOP.
Outside the pancake house, in Beemyn and Rankin's research they found that it wasn't uncommon for the simple act of a closeted or repressed transgender person meeting someone like themselves to inspire them to change. Citing one respondent to their survey, they told a story that reminded me a lot of mine.
He moved... where he met other trans people and began to question the stereotypes and assumptions he had about transgender people. Instead of the Jerry Springer version (they were) sane people who had jobs and were happy with their lives.
Once again, let me caution: My experience does not negate anyone who's transgender experience is different. If nearly one quarter of any group feels depressed because they're leading an invalidated life, that's a tragedy. What it is not, however, is universal.
Every transgender person has a different story. Some are unhappy, some are not. Some discover their identity early in life, others later. Some come by it as a matter of process, others discover it through a bolt of insight brought on by triumph, tragedy, someone they met or even someone they saw on TV. None of us are all of us.
Some, I imagine, even like Denny's.