This is a Keynote Address that I gave at a banquet last night for the Tennessee Vals. I just wanted to share it with you all.
I have been asked to speak to you all and I am very honored to do so. You know, there are a couple of things that bind us together as a community. All of us transgendered individuals, of every possible variation are dealing with two separate but interconnected ideas: Transformation and Revelation. So, what does that mean? Well, one of the symbols I have seen used time and time again for us is a butterfly. I think it is a very elegant and apt metaphor for us. The caterpillar state is us pre-Revelation. We haven’t had that moment of awakening where we realize that things aren’t quite what they seem and we are not exactly who we thought we were. That awakening, that acceptance of Revelation is what allows us to become who we are. Something magical.
The moment of my actual, truly life-changing Revelation came to me in June 2000, when I was at a pain management clinic in San Antonio, Texas. They were going to help me to get a handle on my chronic pain due to my injured shoulder. The thing that made this moment truly special for me was that for a month, the length of time I was there for, I was alone. I spent a lot of time crossdressed, because there was no one there to make me feel embarrassed and no one there to catch me. I had brought my wig with me, lingerie, some clothes, all for the purpose of relaxing after going through the treatment. Even though I was certain that I was just a crossdresser, a partial Revelation that I had years prior, things did not stay that way.
During that month I came to realize something, something that I felt completely screwed up my life to that point. I wasn’t simply a crossdresser, I didn’t just get a feeling of relaxation from dressing, instead I got a feeling of rightness. Through that time of introspection, I realized that I was TS and not CD. This realization was not welcome for several reasons. One was that I was still in the Army at that time and crossdressing was tremendously illegal. Because of this, I could have been arrested, brought up on charges if they really wanted to, and tossed out of the Military. This really did not appeal to me.
Then there was the fact that I knew Fort Campbell was a terrible place to come out. In the summer of 1999, Barry Winchell was murdered on post, killed by another soldier. The feelings about that whole issue, about Calpernia, and about everything trans made things uncomfortable as hell on that base. Getting found out could result in physical violence as well. So you can see why that Revelation, that I was TS and that I had to deal with it, was completely unwelcome. This was something far more terrifying than anything I had ever faced.
As I was trying to come to terms with this and what it meant to me, my marriage fell apart. When your spouse threatens to shoot you in your sleep, it is pretty clear that the relationship is over. So right when I needed support the most, I lost what support I had. I lost my wife and I didn’t really have any friends. You know, the thing about butterflies, is that they need something to build their cocoon on, something to support the weight of that chrysalis or else the caterpillar cannot change.
However, as I was trying to keep from killing myself over this grief and my gender Dysphoria, needing something or someone to give me some support, I found the Vals. In November of 2000 I went to my first meeting. It was on makeup I believe, I’m not really sure. I felt awkward and out of place while I was on my way there and it was anything but comfortable. Marissa and Stephanie made me feel welcome and made me feel like things were okay. Through them and other members, I found the support I needed to get things started in my Transformation. I helped out with the IFGE conference that the Vals sponsored here in 2001 and I still have fond memories of playing a narcoleptic Dr. Ruth. Standing there in front of a huge crowd, which included someone who worked with Dr. Ruth, and saying, “Zho, tell me about ze penis,” and then falling face down on the floor was a hell of a lot of fun.
I also had the chance to go to Southern Comfort that year on scholarship. It was fabulous and a bit frightening. I ran into a lot of people there that I had met casually at IFGE and made friends with a number of new people. These friends and the Vals gave me a hell of a lot of support and it allowed me to sit in my cocoon and Transform myself into who I am today. It wasn’t easy but I did it.
I transitioned while going to graduate school up at Austin Peay. I got my Master’s Degree with a thesis that was a collection of poetry entitled I Tiresias. It dealt with my transition and life and I really thought it was some of my best work ever. I still think that. I am published online in a number of spots, stories about Transgirls of all types dealing with a number of different issues. I joined a collaborative writing group to write trans superhero stories set at a high school for mutants that has become popular outside of the TG community. You can look it up online if you are interested or ask me about it later.
I am an educator as well, giving talks at various Universities on Trans issues. I am even in a Human Sexuality textbook, presenting the truth about Transgender issues to hundreds if not thousands of students Nationwide. I helped my community first as Secretary of the Vals and second during the time I spent as the Special Projects Director for the Transgender American Veterans Association. Through all of this I have worked at paying my debt forward, passing on the help given to me by people like Marissa, Stephanie, Holly, Yvonne, Chrysis, Pamela, Laura Beth, Kelly Lynn, Rachell and others. They gave me more than I can ever repay. And because of that help, most recently I have been talking online with a girl who has few friends and little support in North Carolina and also helping a twenty-one year old local trans girl who has basically no support. I am paying this debt forward one person at a time.
In the years since that first T Vals meeting, I have Transformed into an entirely different person. I smile, I laugh, I have fun. All these Transformations and Revelations in my life all came about because I was able to relax and listen to my heart, and I was able to do that because I knew that someone had my back. All of us Transform, some more than others. I wore this nice dress tonight while usually I wear clothes not that all different from what I wore before when I was a guy. I wear skirts occasionally but jeans are a common clothing theme for me. I guess that just makes me an ordinary woman and I find that I am okay with that.
And at the core of things we are all ordinary people, trying to find our way in this world. There are bright spots here and there, where your true brothers and sisters are, the people who care about you and help no matter what is going on. But at the beginning, trying to reach out of the darkness to connect with someone is a scary thing. True Transformation is scary as hell and isn’t for the faint of heart. There are some of us here who only felt safe changing here at the hotel, where no outsider could see us. There are others that didn’t care, but were scared driving their car, afraid of what would happen if a cop pulled them over. All of us faced that same fear to one degree or another as we tried to take those steps out of our comfort zone. And all of us here did something amazing and something to be proud of. We are all here, despite any fears that stood in our way.
Everything Transforms, people, places and organizations, the Vals now are not quite the Vals of then, but a lot of things also stayed the same. They are still there for you and work to help support any of us who come to them. That says a lot about a group of people. The Vals have consistently been there for each other and for anyone in the community who has needed their help. I have always liked that about the group. Some support organizations don’t really support you all that much, but there is no reason to name names.
So here we are, all of us connected to this group in one way or another, a group that helps us to Transform ourselves into something more than what we were before. Crossdresser or Transsexual, Male to Female or Female to Male, Gender Queer to Drag Queen, Friend, Lover, or Spouse, we all have had a realization that our lives were not what we thought they were. We have all gone along for a while, hiding from our own truth and when it does finally come out we have little chance of stopping it. Sometimes the need is so strong that we Transform whether we want to or not. Sometimes we become ourselves despite our denials. I remember fighting against it when I was in my last few months of being in the Army. I kept saying no and things changed regardless of my desires. Hell, I remember wearing panties and a bra to work once or twice. I could have been court marshaled but like that part of me cared. I was scared each and every day that occurred and I didn’t need more stress at that time.
Our lives are not like other people’s lives. We often have problems that other people don’t. Not a lot of people have a greater chance of dying due to murder or suicide. Not a lot of people have to face severe legally sanctioned discrimination. Not a lot of people run the risk of losing their families all because of being themselves. We live in very different worlds compared to the average person. Now, not to say that it is all grim and dark, but a lot of times the loss and pain is worth it in the end when we can live our truth. We have to struggle to Transform ourselves but like with butterflies, our wings are far brighter than the lowly caterpillar we come from.
I have a number of friends who come to me for advice because I have been through hell several times because of this gender nonsense. I can relate to a number of problems because I have lived a rollercoaster of emotions and troubles. I figure that is the same with a lot of us. Our struggles with becoming ourselves give us a strength and a perspective that can help so many people if we just share what we have learned. Our support groups can help us reach higher as we have a huge range of experience to pull from. At our best, we reach out to each other and try to give each other the wings to rise up from our burdens.
I had the support from friends and chosen family to Transform my life and many of us have also gotten the support to Transform, to live the lives we feel we need to live, to let the feelings inside come out. This is true of mtfs as well as ftms. We both have some of the same roads to travel, just moving in different directions. I know there are times I wouldn’t have made it without the strength of some of my trans brothers. It’s easy to get caught up in your own issues and forget the people around you if you don’t watch it. It is easy to let the stress and pain of Transforming pull us under into darkness. It is so very easy to give up because Transforming is an experience of madness. We all are crazy at various points, staggering around until someone helps us to make it out of ourselves.
When I look around this room I realize that there is a lot of support right here, enough to help everyone to have the time and space to make their own cocoons in order to Transform. We are a flight of butterflies, dancing about to our own rhythm, pulling each other out of our cocoons and into the light. We all strive to be more than what we are, than what we were, and that is what is so amazing about our Trans brother and sisterhood. To a degree, we are all sitting in our cocoons, maybe it’s time to come out.
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