Monday, February 18, 2013

The Long Letter

I was asked to send my first counselor a long letter about what's been going on with my life and what TGSSN is.

It was great to hear from her again. TGSSN (Transcenders Global Social Support Network) is a support community that is truly global and present on FaceBook. It sprang into existence because of a glaring hole in support services. While there are many support groups that are aimed at the Transgender community, they tend to support the needs of the majority of its members who fall under the larger umbrella. A minority of individuals, those who transition from one gender to another, often can't find a listening ear or a mentor for their journey, which extends in time and space from the pre-transition days to the post-transition years. It is a place where people can support themselves by supporting one another, where someone doesn't have to be left alone with destructive emotions and can find a sympathetic air. It is also a place where information related to transitioning can be found. Because of this, the group is open to anyone who is at any stage of a gender transition, pre-, during, and post-; supportive family members; and community support givers. The latter is why I invited her to join.

Transcenders emerged from a weekly coffee meeting I was hosting in Louisville, Kentucky. I started it in parallel to one that TransKentucky was doing in Lexington. The drive between the two cities was about an hour and a half, which precluded most men and women in Louisville from attending. We discussed what kind of support services were missing on the spectrum in the area and decided that we saw that there was no mentoring or low-cost group therapy available. I had been thinking long and hard about how to structure a support network, had proposed ideas to Sienna and TransKentucky, and was about to become the officer in charge of implementing my idea at TransKentucky. The sitting president then went through a burn-out crisis because she was handling everything else alone. Meanwhile, the coffee group decided to band around the evolved idea of a support network. The core idea that had finally emerged was that each person should exchange contact information with at least two others and form a pledge of support, very similar to the buddy system in AA. I felt that single pairing was too weak because people in the trans community did sometimes disappear off the face of the earth, and that would leave someone with no one to rely on if they too crumbled. One of the major reasons for the support is suicide prevention. When I was offered a job in Utah, no one was strong enough to take over Transcenders in Louisville, and so I turned to FaceBook.

On FaceBook, I created the the new group, added the current members from the Yahoo Group, as well as people who were mentors to me. I added everyone who I felt met the criteria for the new group, and spelled out the guiding priniciples. Occasionally, I sought out new people to join who added a bit more diversity, and I added people I met in Thailand. The group truly is global. No matter what time of day that someone is struggling, there is someone else awake and pledged to be supportive in their time of need. I can't imagine how many suicides this has prevented or the number of times someone was able to guide another member to a better place. Most of the work goes on behind the scenes as friendships are formed. I know, because I am friends with some of these people and have witnessed some of their conversations. It truly is a beautiful thing to see someone unafraid to share when they are struggling and sometimes two or three people leap in to provide a supportive ear and feedback.

That's TGSSN, and I am proud of the membership there.

On Saturday, I got my first standing ovation--at a burlesque show. I was more worried that my voice would give out, because I had vocal chord tuning two weeks previously. I had been going through a process where I was increasingly being mis-gendered over the phone and sometimes double-gendered in public. I heard my voice on a recording, and I couldn't stand it anymore. So I had my vocal chords blistered with a laser on January 31, and over the following 6 weeks, my voice is supposed to tighten up as the scar tissue tightens, to about 1 note higher, which takes me away from the danger zone. The presurgical evaluation revealed a node on each vocal chord, which accounted for my voice suddenly getting tired and dropping. People have noted that my voice definitely sounds more feminine now--when I have it, and when it's been warmed up.

I met the burlesque dancers through the belly dance community. Anna, who runs the burlesque troupe, was best friends with another intersex transsexual belly dancer for many years before Candy took her life about 6 or 7 years ago. As a result, Anna friended me quickly when we met, and has been somewhat protective of me from some of the harsher elements in the community as she sees it. I didn't dance at this event. I recited a (trans) feminist slam poem I wrote in Kentucky. Last year, Jodi, one of the dancers in the troupe, organized a fund raiser for sanitation conditions in India, and one of her friends noticed that I was a poet. The event was Goddess-themed, so I recited my poem, "God's Compassion," which was a very outing poem, detailing my last struggle with my decision to transition. I was very nervous that night, afraid of how people would treat me once they found out I was once male. They cried, and Anna shouted out, "I love you, Sophie." And everyone still treats me like the woman that I am.

My experience with the Vagina Monologues (which I've done three times now), has helped me in presenting poetry in a very evocative manner. So did a few of the open mics that I did. Everyone loved the poem I did last year, that they asked me to do another presentation, this time for the burlesque show, with the proceeds going to the YWCA Women's Shelter. The women's shelter in Louisville had come to my aid in the past, so I knew I couldn't decline the request. I knew exactly which poem I wanted to do, even though it was risky and set about memorizing "Certain Other Inalienable Rights." I knew it might alienate the men in the audience, but it was a woman-empowering piece. When I paused to drive home a point, they audience responded, and oh, how they responded! I paced the stage in my red cocktail dress, black boa, garter belt, thigh highs, and cat-o-8-tails (one tail had broken off Friday night). And when I spoke, they shouted out affirmations! I graciously conceded them the space and the energy built between them and me. I blew a final kiss as the curtains closed, and couldn't make out what was being said in front of the curtains as I exited the stage. People ran up to me, gave me a hug, and said, "You got a standing ovation!" I still find it hard to believe and am walking on air. I have one more venue where I plan to audition the piece, and it's a place where models meet sketch artists.

I have started my third year of belly dancing. I am dancing in two troupes now. One is Egyptian Cabaret and the other is Tribal Fusion. Both troupes are performing at Spring Fest on March 2nd, and I'm still trying to keep a sword on my head during one of the two choreographies. I have been soloing for almost two years, and, yes, my new solo has a sword on my head :)  I also am in the middle of co-teaching a workshop to women from my church (I only have to worry about the music selection, warm up and cool down. My partner came up with the choreography and lesson). I'm thinking about maybe extending some Sunday lessons (to friends first). My goal is to be ready to enter at least one belly dance contest this time next year. I was so happy to see that someone in India had seen one of my videos and rated it 5 stars!

Speaking of which, I took the opportunity to do a spot in a handwashing video that was aired in North Indian villages by Jodi and the PlusOne India campaign. I learned how to say, "I wash my hands with soap because I am a smart person," in Hindi, and we shot my scene in a laboratory with me in a lab coat. I also did a recruiting video for my work to hire Java Developers, which has over 1500 views to date.  I am coming to learn that I am a very memorable person, and I am constantly approached by people who have seen me perform or who have spoken with me.

I was promoted last September to Development Lead at my company. I have been working one of the core strategic projects for just over a year now. Eventually, I may apply for a director position, but I have enough challenges to keep me on my toes now.

I am really excited and anxious about the position that I was offered at TEA (Transgender Education Advocates) of Utah. They want me to be their first Volunteer Coordinator because of my warm and welcoming personality. I don't know if this is a board position or not; it is certainly not a voting one, and that's okay with me. It's certainly a cause I strongly believe in.

They probably inferred the "warm and welcoming personality" from my current role as the Welcoming Committee Chair at South Valley Unitarian Universalist Association, which I've held for about a year and a half. When I made a speech on Welcoming from the pulpit one Sunday, it didn't take them long to ask me to take over the role, since I had done something very similar at First Unitarian of Louisville. Only now, I have 5th Sunday committee meetings on how to make our church more welcoming. So now I'm tasked with creating a Radical Greeter workshop.

In my personal life, things have finally cooled to a loving friendship with my ex. It's been about 2 years, and I don't think we blame each other for anything anymore.

Another contemplation of suicide brought another person into my life, as she also latched onto me and followed me home one night. She had been working on me with a steady interest for over a year. She stayed with me until she had to go back to her trucking school and I see her when she comes through town. She is part of my inner emotional circle, and I am finally accepting the fact that I am polyamorous, that there's no shame in it, and I am learning bit by bit how I need to structure my world. My trucker girlfriend, who was already part of a poly family, joined anothe lover and me as part of a core family for the moment. The other lover has more monogamistic leanings and will probably move on when she finds someone that satisfies that need for her. While Da fulfills my kinky needs, and S fulfills physical companionship needs, L (who I've only dated three times since December), satisfies my emotional bonding needs. L, though, enjoys being single. I love all three. Then in my next circle, are De, A, and J. De's really sweet and supportive, goes to practically all my events, but because I feel she was keeping something secret from a long-term partner, we no longer share "benefits." A is new and I have only been around her three times, but we had an instant connection. I tried to reconnect with her for months after we first met. I think J and I are mostly friends at this point, as I saw her in the arms of another friend at church, and am very happy for her. Then comes the circle of acquaintances, with hints of something more, playfulness and flirtation.

For a while, I thought I needed a lifetime partner that satisfied all my needs, then I thought I needed a primary partner with open bounds, but now I know it is just a want; because all my needs are met when I open my eyes. I am well and truly loved. I am blessed that almost everyone who comes to know me loves me, and I them. What I once thought was a curse is indeed a blessing. I would still someday love to have a primary partner, especially as I get older.

Is this long enough?