Wednesday, March 30, 2011

First Choreography--Part 2

"I want one," cooed one of the other girls in my class as I tied my red tribal belt on after we had completed our warmup stretches. Immediately, all the other eyes on my side of the classroom turned to see my belt, and I could feel envious eyes. I wanted to tell them, our instructor last week told me to wear it.

"I got it at the South Valley Art Fair," I informed my curious audience.

The teacher gave us a pop quiz on Figure-8's, to discover that she had never taught our class that move; so we spent the next several minutes learning the move, because she intended to put it in our routine. Then we got to work.

The pace at adding new material was frustrating. As I got close to figuring out the transitions, she would add 3 more moves to the sequence. With no note-taking, trying to remember the move sequence and struggling with the transitions, I was rapidly losing confidence in myself; yet determined that I would keep trying anyway.

The list was daunting. In 20 minutes, she added no less than 8 fundamentals to the choreography: Basic Egyptians, Egyptian 2, Choo Choos, Hip Locks, Ribcage rolls, Chest Lift/Drops, Bitch Walks and Figure-8's. I think that's the order and I can't remember if I'm leaving something out. Because of the transition moves, I am going to have to make a little space when I practice this week.

After class, when I told her it was coming awfully fast, she said that she wanted to "put it out there," so we could work on it. Then she asked, "What are you doing Tuesday?"

I paused for a moment. "Coming here."

"After class. You should come to The Depot. The group that does our piece will be there and they have a couple of belly dancers." The group she was referring to is Beats Antique. I received their latest album earlier this week to help practice the choreography.

Then I told her about the charity event I'm emceeing at Jams this weekend and invited her to come.

Other than that, I've been battling secondary bronchitis for almost a week now, and noticed a couple of days ago that my weight has dropped now to 198. I would go into thrillingly more boring detail, but I see I've run out of time for this post.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie Jean

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Learning My First Choreography

I think the name change notifications go on forever. With my divorce decree in hand, I called Capital One for the loan I agreed to pay as part of our settlement. I had a very long conversation with the receptionist, that went something like this:

"Hi, my name is Elena. How can I help you today?"

"Hi, Elena. I have several things I need to do. I had a name change and a divorce and I need to put the account in my name..."

"You want to take over the account?"

"That's right."

After providing various account information on request, she asked, "And who am I speaking to?"

"My name was Robert. Now it's Sophie."

"Okay. I need to speak to Robert, Sophie."

"How can I make this a little clearer? I have been going through a gender transition for the last three or four years. I changed my name last year, and now am divorced. I live in Utah now so I need to change the address, too."

"Okay, ma'am. What's your new address..." and the rest of the conversation went incredibly smoothly from there, with "Is there anything else I can do for you, Ma'am?" "Yeah, do you know what the current auto loan rate is?" near the end of the conversation. Of course, she gave me a number to fax my name change order to, which I did via the computer right after I hung up.

I have 50 days until surgery and what am I doing? Learning my first belly dance choreography. I would probably lose you on the movements, but they consist so far of Mayans, Taqsims, Grapevines, Undulations and 3/4 of Inner Hip Circles (IHC's) to Battle by the Beats Antique at 176 beats per minute. Were going to add on more next week. I just now stopped my practice after downloading the song.

I remember a time when I thought I could never possibly learn a choreography, because it looked like too many things in succession to learn, but I'm doing alright. In fact, it's rather fun.

Hugs and Blessings,

Friday, March 18, 2011

Emotional Suppression

I began my fight with emotional control somewhere around age 8. I have always been hyper-emotional, but as a developing boy I was expected to control the expression of those emotions. Having been off of hormones for the last week, I have gained new insight into the relationship between hormones, particularly testosterone, and the ability to suppress the expression of my emotions.

My testosterone production, once I reached adulthood, just barely qualified for male levels, and stayed there. I know several trans women whose testosterone production was significantly below that barrier, but mine, in an effort to confound my life, stayed at that barrier, allowing the doctors to declare me normal, but in a concerned way.

I remember tears streaming down my eyes, blinding me, over and over again from age 8 through 16 or older. My father stared at me, expecting me to stop the flow of tears and the sinus drainage that accompanied it, accusing me of deliberate tears. I wanted to stop crying. I wanted to stop the butterfly feelings or at least the expression of them, but I couldn't. As he shouted about giving me something to cry about, I felt deeply ashamed.

Then slowly, over the next 10 years, I started discovering how to, at first, suppress the emotions enough to find a private spot to let them out. As I got older, that ability to hold back the expression of emotions enabled me to endure for longer periods. I still however felt the emotions. I could cry at movies, but I had to let myself cry--give myself permission.

Then three years ago, I started hormone treatment, and with it, I was losing the ability to suppress emotional expression. When butterflies welled up, I couldn't stop the tears. When something was very poignant, I cried again. It seemed that I started to cry at everything. But I also found I couldn't suppress joy at seeing a friend, and found myself becoming bubbly and talkative. Eventually, I reached out to be with others in their emotional pain and joy.

Then 7 days ago, I stopped taking the testosterone blocker in preparation for surgery. The anxiety in my mind is building up as the animus--the outwardly sensing and expressing part of my mind--is taking on male aspects from time to time, completely at odds from my emotional self--which is distinctly feminine. But I am noticing that the ability to suppress the expression of the anxiety and several other emotions is back.

I strongly doubt that women are more emotional than men, that men do not have a lot of emotion. But what I have seen with myself is that sex hormones, testosterone in particular, changes how one is able to suppress the expression of one's emotions.

Hugs and God Bless,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Shimmy Shimmy

My belly dance class has moved on to a concentration in shimmies.

Tuesday night, we first reviewed hip locks, and then were shown a better way to learn downward pulsing hip locks.

Then we moved on to shimmies. That night we covered four types of shimmies: tribal shimmies, Egyptian shimmies, gluteal shimmies and 3/4 shimmies.

First we drilled the tribal shimmies. From proper belly dance posture, the movement comes from slight knee bends and we progressively did those faster. My instructor made a glowing comment to me as she came by: "You could shimmy all night, couldn't you?" "Quite likely," I replied, not missing a beat of the shimmy.

Next we moved on to the Egyptian shimmy. You can find all kinds of videos and different methods for teaching this on the web. We began by sitting on the floor and slapping our knees backward in a regular rhythm to get the feel. Then we proceeded to drill it standing up. For this movement, we broke posture, putting our weight on the balls of our feet, leaning out until you can only see a breast shelf when you look down and proceeding to rythmically pop the knees backward.

The next shimmy is even harder. We sat down on the floor again and proceeded to start squeezing our butt cheeks one at a time. This is the gluteal shimmy. Again we returned to standing position to drill it. It is incredibly hard to isolate my gluteal muscle. I keep engaging my upper thigh just to try to feel the thing.

Finally, we moved on to the 3/4 shimmy. With a pause on every 4th beat, it reminded me of Balboa; but instead of pausing on beats 3 and 7, we paused on beats 4 and 8. We started from a slow tribal shimmy and gradually progressed in speed. Right-left-Right-Pause-Left-Right-Left-Pause-1-2-3-pause-1-2-3-pause. Then we traveled back and forth across the room with. Our instructor showed us what it will look like when we get the count up to about 150 beats per minute. It is absolutely cool, hypnotically arresting the eyes at what looks like sudden slides.

We went through our cool down, and the instructor announced another performance this Saturday. When she personally invited me we no one else was responding, insisting that I was going to like it, I agreed to come, even though I have other plans with someone from work I need to split the time with.
Since the scale now says 208 pounds (and the mirror says I'm trim), I am going to do as many daily practice sessions as I can. Yesterday, before working on taxes, I turned on the radio, stripped down to a bra and shorts, slipped on my tribal belt, and proceeded to shimmy through all the moves, twice--a workout of about a half hour. This morning I feel great!

Hugs and God Bless,

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

CT Scan

I had a CT (Computer Tomography) scan of my pelvic region done today. I've been a bit worried because for the last few months. Since I've started intramuscular estrogen injections, the cyclic pains in my left groin have been more acute, more like menstrual pains.

In reality, I have had the bloating part of the sensation periodically for as long as I can remember. I remember telling my wife that "men have periods, too," because every month I would feel a little bloated and have an embarrassing intestinal purge. I knew when she was about to start her period, because I would hurt, too--on the left side. At the time I wrote the pain off as simply sympathetic pain, maybe some psychic bonding or connection--and this was happening before I had my first estrogen pill.

Once I was on hormone replacement therapy, I continued to blame the pain as just that--until I saw the physician and in the middle of my pain in the lower abdomen, he told me I had an undescended testicle.

Sure enough, the testicle had gone missing and was deeply nested in my lower abdominal region. It, of course, came back down, and I started blaming the "menstrual pains" on the times it traveled "back home."

February of last year, it made one of its journeys and came back down, leaving me in constipation with a very sore testicle for over a week. It took a round of very potent antibiotics to make the pain go away. I was also called in for a testicular ultrasound a couple of days later and informed by the doctor that everything looked normal.

I asked my mother how long this had been going on, and she had told me since I was about 8 or 9 years old and she thought I had appendicitis, because I was complaining about abdominal pain. After rushing me to be doctor, it was the first time that she recalls hearing the word "undescended testicle" with regards to me. Her husband, my Dad, was born with bilateral cryptorchidism, so I guess you can say I inherited the predisposition. Anyway, the doctor did nothing to correct the problem, and told her that if it comes down it will be all right.

This is about the same time in my life that I was sent to a specialist at Wright Patterson Air Force Base for an operation because I had a distended bladder causing urinary incontinence and was taken advantage of by an older boy in the swimming pool locker room because I wanted to know what it was like to be a girl.

When I got my operation, I was told that a tube was going to be inserted through the tip of my penis to pop open the bladder so that it wouldn't be blocked anymore. When I woke up from the anesthesia with a burning sensation whenever I tried to pee, I noticed the cloacal line on my penis was stitched up. The surgeon said that they had to open me up there for the procedure.

You would think that if a 9 year-old boy presented with multiple urogenital problems, you would want to do a scan to see what was actually going on. This was 1974. There were no CT's, MRI's or sonograms. The best the doctor could do was get me to drink a chalky fluid so that he could x-ray the shape of my bladder, which led to the previously mentioned operation.

Once I switched to one intramuscular estrogen injection every two weeks, I noticed the menstrual pains got more severe and regular. They would last 4 to 5 days and follow within a few days of the injection. I also noticed that my undescended testicle could no longer be blamed for the problem. And this didn't make sense, because technically you're supposed to have a uterus (or endometrial tissue) to have menstrual cramps.

So over the last year and a half, off and on, I tried to find something that made sense. I finally began my probing experiments, saw an intersex counselor, and got a referral to a urologist with whom I spoke yesterday. The urologist ordered a CT scan. In one image, to the left of my bladder and behind the inguinal canal, you can see a significantly sized low-density mass that does not have a counterpart on my right side. In another image, you can see a long lateral object in front of the pelvic that is larger on the left as well. These masses correspond to where I am feeling the periodic menstrual pains. All that's left is the urologist's interpretation of what these particular masses mean. I'm to call back in a couple of days after he's had a chance to look at the results.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie Jean

Monday, March 7, 2011

New Focus Found

Maybe it took postponing doing my laundry on Friday until later today, which is the next available moment, but I found something new to focus on, to get past the now what  blues I was experiencing. Or maybe, I should say I returned to something I was focused on before I got distracted by my move to a new job and establishing my support channels.

A couple of weeks ago, before Spring Break at the college, we had just finished reviewing what we had learned the week before and the teacher, Kelsey, had started us on hip locks and shimmies. She mentioned that she was going to be in a performance this last Saturday at the Belly Dancing festival at 10:45 AM. The festival ran from 10 AM to 10 PM.

I had told my friend Robin about it, and asked if she would like to go with me. She thought it was a great idea. I even invited Deborah along for company as well.

Then last week, Robin quit the company. She opted out of going to two performances at Plan B with me, saying let Deborah have the tickets, and then on Friday, in her malaise, she said she was going to be packing for a trip to San Francisco to unwind for a week. She's there now.

On Saturday, I plugged in Utah State Fairgrounds into my Android phone, and it faithfully took me to Utah County Fairgrounds. I got there 10:28, except I was in the absolute wrong location. Where I needed to be was the State Fairgrounds, which searching the web on my phone proved to be about 30 minutes North of where I was.

The music when I got there was an absolute draw. As I got through the ticket line and further in the building, I had to fight to not be the only spectator dancing. When I could finally see the stage, I saw a troupe of women belly dancing with scimitars poised on their heads.

Between performance sets, I wandered the aisles looking for a top for my red costume I have been putting together. I saw shimmering red on one of the hanging racks and found a tribal bra suspended from it. The proprietor, a dancer herself, had made the bra, and the cups were perfect. When we went to try it on, we discovered it was only 32 inch waist band. She and I started discussing a custom made bra, when she remembered that she had a sequined half-shirt in the same material, which I tried on behind a curtain set up especially for that near the ladies room. Now that no one was watching while I was trying it on, I let myself dance.

From that point on, everywhere I had a private moment I would start to dance the few moves I had learned to date. I went back and had a seat until the next show.

About 2 PM, I was hungry and had made it as far as my car before Deborah called. She was on her way. If she had called a moment later, I would have already driven off the Fairgrounds calling it a successful day. I went back inside.

After Deborah joined me, the announcer came over and introduced herself, saying she knew everyone else in the room. As we talked, Kitty told me she was an instructor in Ogden, and that she would find a teacher for me to continue with after my class at the college completed.

When I took Deborah to see a beautiful Tika set that would perfectly match my outfit, the woman said that I looked familiar, and had I been to The Wild Grape on February 13. I had been there, but not that day. Meanwhile, she introduced herself to me, giving me both her stage name and her real name.

We were at the festival until 8 PM. Before we left, we were making another round of the tables when I saw a gorgeous lavender tribal belt nestled among many. When I finally got to where I could touch it, I tied it on and did hip locks and shimmies right on the spot. As I took it off and was folding it up to place on the table, the woman selling them asked if I was a dancer. When I told her, "Not yet," and explained about my class, Mecha invited me to join the beginner class that she teaches at the hostess's school when my class lets out and to stop by sometime to observe. 

At church, Elizabeth, whom I had met selling jewelry, walked in the door and finally realized where we had met--right there at South Valley Unitarian. She invited me to sit with her family, and told me that she was in Mecha's class and asked if I would be interested in joining her beginner's troupe, because they had lost a few girls. I told her, absolutely.

Mecha's class is on Thursday evenings, which would mean I would be back to making the weekly Transaction meetings and missing the biweekly adult support group, exactly the thing I was considering the best candidate for trimming.

Anyway, I'm running a little bit behind schedule and need to get to work.

Hugs and God Bless,

Friday, March 4, 2011

Need for a New Focus

Something has been troubling me, the closer I get to surgery and especially with my friend Robin quitting her job to find fulfillment. It's been really difficult these last days to identify the "what" that is missing.

I come home, I have no interest in playing games, reading or writing. It seems like my life has suddenly become a nebulous gray cloud and I had lost all interest in it. I come home and I nap until I have someplace to go. I am sure the dreams are significant, but I don't remember them.

It's not my job that is the problem. I am currently doing more and more leading of the team in preparation for a shot at being one the team leads in 6 months.

It's not the surgery either. I'm content and looking forward to certain impediments being cleared up.

My friends are great. I have wonderful relationships with them.

So if it's not my friends, my job or my impending surgery, what is it?

And it finally broke through, what my dreams were trying to tell me I needed. My life has gotten off balance. Like an unbalanced wheel, too much weight has drifted toward one spot, and my direction is wobbling out of control.

I just want to be me, who I am, growing and learning. But the wheel has focused my life on trans issues, trans support groups, trans friends, trans panels, trans activism, trans, trans, trans...stop! Enough! These are all good and great things, but it's too much for me. They are all sucking at my teat, and I have given in...but I am dry. I have failed to leave room for myself among the litter, to balance out who I am...but who am I?

I need something more. I need something not trans to hold on to, to learn, to love, to be. Trans needs to be only a spoke on the wheel, not the hub. I need something more substantial to be the center point. So for now, I will be spending a little time trimming the weight, adding more centering activities, so that I can find a purpose that is not so draining.

Hugs and God Bless,