Category Archives: Lgbt

The importance of seeing someone like yourself

Transgendered people in media
I guess it a little bit late but today I learned that in the just finished (thanx Annelie for the update!) cycle of America’s Next Top Model featured a 22-year old woman called Isis (middle picture) which has a transsexual background. There wasn’t any mention about her background in the official release but just like me she seem to think that openness is the best strategy and came out in an article in the USMagazine.

First I was happy for her just for the chance of being a model because ten years ago I have to confess that I dreamt a little about being a model. I guess it is the ultimate affirmation of beauty and femininity. I got to know a photographer back then who took at a thousand images of me and I believe doing those photoshoots and seeing all the images meant a lot for my process. Then I thought about that this meant that she actually got a chance to follow her dream just as the other girls on the show. That is really something for a group of people unfortunately used to being treated badly (read the comments on the USMagazine page if you want to see ugly comments…).

However, I wonder if the biggest things isn’t that fact that transgendered people actually are starting to see someone who are like them in the media. Invisibility is a hard thing to handle. The review from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) notes that a positive trend is that more transgendered characters are appearing in film and television. We have of course Alexis in Ugly Betty (left image) but she is played by a genetic female. In Dirty Sexy Money however the transgender character Carmelita is played by Candis Cayne (right image) who went through her transition 10 years ago. Not only a transgender character but also a transgender actress that has a successful career.

Further they noted transgendered Laverne Cox in VH1’s I Want to Work for Diddy and in America’s Got Talent Dorae Saunders, a transgender woman and Tina Turner impersonator, appeared. I had not heard about it but there apparently was a romantic reality series Transamerican Love Story which featured transgender actress Calpernia Addams as the bachelorette, and included a transgender man among the contenders vying for her affection. Read what Out&About wrote about the show.

Sure, there is always the argument of whether or not these are “good” representations of transgendered people but I guess it must not matter. It IS important to be visible and sooner or later people themselves find out that all transgendered are not the same while we shared some common experiences and problems in life. I think the future looks promising. It does not hurt that these women are stunningly beautiful either – seeing that your dream can become true!

The Land of Affirmations

I spent last week in Las Vegas, Nevada and as usual I enjoyed being in the United States again. On my way back home again last Friday/Saturday I started thinking what it is that makes me like it there. Sure I think I am more pro-US than most Swedes are and it always nice to go on a long trip – it is almost like an adventure. But there must be something more to it…

First of all I think the gender roles are a bit more accentuated in the US especially among the business (or military) people that I normally meet. It is something about how people dress I think. Women are in general a little bit more formal (during daytime) than what is common in Sweden and also in general a little bit more makeup. Match that to a style which favours sneakers (during leisure time) together with pink colors and it fits me like a glove 🙂 So I actually think I blend in better in terms of my looks in the US. All of this are generalisations of course but still. I actually feel a little less stared at in the US which of course is a big relief for me.

However, what really affects me is the constant affirmations I get everyday when I am being adressed as “Miss” or “M’am”. Lately I seem to have became more of a “M’am” than “Miss” actually I think I feel rather good about that. The first times years back I noticed this of course and became very happy but I guess I became used to it over the years while forgetting the effect it had on me. It is very good for my mind to get these affirmations when being addressed on the aircraft, at the hotel reception and at lunch. It secures me on my “pink cloud” where I feel secure and proud of myself.

Actually there are very few wrong pronouns when I am in the US also. I can hardly remember when anybody over there used the wrong one for me the last time. Here in Sweden it happened just a few weeks ago at the Headquarters in the middle of a meeting.

So I guess America is good for my self-esteem. Fortunately I am flying back there on Monday morning and will stay in the Virginia area for two weeks.

Note to non-Swedes: In Sweden the equivalents of Mr/Miss/Mrs are hardly used any more. Maybe if you get a very formal invitation from the King, otherwise it is usually done with some kind of humorous remark. It is very informal conversational climate.

Parallells with Obama and the race issue

I am watching CNN Live from Washington D.C. now and I am taken by the enthusiasm and mood that seems to be filling the city. Some expect 1 million people or more to see the inauguration tomorrow. Listening to all the comments from journalists and especially african-american civil rights activitists make me see a lot of parallells with the situation for transgendered people. The right to be treated equally in the judiciary system, discrimination, access to work and education. Comparing these statements with the viewpoint released recently by the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner makes the parallell almost scary. Just replace a few words and it boils down to the same things. People are discriminated and abused based on the way they look. Just because they look a certain way (black or unclear gender expression) makes people with predjudices assume a lot of stuff about them as a group. I am also reading Barack Obama’s book “Dreams from my father” and I immediately recognised his experiences of being black as a young person with some of the experiences and fears I had 10 years ago. It is hard to be judged so hard just because you look a certain way.

I know the US is a very religious country and that the southern parts of the country (where many african-american people live) isn’t exactly known for being tolernant towards LGBT people but I hope that people who have experiences from being discriminated can also work to extend basic human rights also to our group someday. I hope President Obama will reach out to the LGBT community and use his own experiences to make true change happen. Maybe allow armed service members to transition while in service instead of a big risk of being discharged or otherwise treated badly based on a strict binary idea of gender.

Reflections from my hair dresser…

Today I went downtown to pickup my new hairpiece (same hairdo and color as before) at my hair dresser’s and I was met by Gunilla who I think was the first I met there 7 or 8 years ago. Back then I had just moved to Stockholm and felt I needed a new palce where I would be comfortable to buy my wigs at. I had positive experiences from Carl M Lundh in Malmö so I went to one of their Stockholm stores. Today she was about to close the store and asked me how life was and how it felt to be a woman now. It is a hard question to answer other than that it feels great. It is such a lenghty process that I guess it is hard to notice all the differences and it is difficult to know why if I experience something particular. We talked for a while about how life is for transgendered people in general and how many that is probably out there but too scared to do anything about it. Then she looked at me and told me how much she thought I had changed over the years since she first met me. She thought I had become much more soft and feminine and grown into the woman I am today. It is interesting to hear these things from people who don’t really know you but see glimpses of you a couple of times a year. I talked to one of my closest friends in the evening and he also agreed that I have changed a lot since back then.

Reconnecting with an old friend

Today I met an old friend who has known me from my first years as an officer in the Armed Forces. She learned quite early about my life situation and was nice and supportive back then. However, it was before I had been able to make the decision to start the formal transition process (which I did in 2004). We lost contact after that I and was a little bit worried that I had lost her and it was maybe natural to think it had to do with the transition process since I have lost a few other friends (from the Armed Forces) who were close to me back then. Mainly I guess it was my own insecurity. However, this New Year I suddenly got a New Year’s wish on my phone and it was her. We decided to meet for coffeé (what else nowadays:) and I was really looking forward to seeing her but I guess a tiny bit nervous as well. The feeling when I saw her and the warm hug removed all of this and I was so happy to see her. We spent the evening talking about life, love and work and it felt like it was only a few months since we met. I remembered how wise she is and how I value talking about her about the experience of being a woman in the society but also in the Armed Forces of course.

Transitioning while in the Armed Forces went more or less just fine for me but there is always the past to relate to. I have found that people from Air Force that I have been working with during my early days in uniform are the ones that seem most insecure or even uncomfortable around me. It is of course a little bit strange for me because the natural instinct when you see somebody that you recognize you smile and says hello. Sometimes it seems like they don’t recognize me (which I guess is good) or they seem to be a little unsure how to react. So I usually have to wait until I have met them a few times before things starts to return somewhat to normal. This still makes me a bit nervous when I go bigger meetings where these people might show up.

Therefore it means so much to me to have at least a few people in Armed Forces who know me from before but still respect and value me as a woman. And being a good friend as well just adds icing to the cake.

About being valued

Early years
I think I have been an ambitious or even over-achieving person my whole life. I was real good at school and felt great each time I scored high on a test and when I got good grades at the end of each year. I learned to work hard and to feel the reward for that. Never went to parties where achievements on tests and grades ceased to matter that much. Had a few crushes but never started exploring real emotions and relations.

All this contributed to me being a bit socially handicapped when I started working and entered the very special environment of a fighter squadron where the social part is very important. I was confident in my professional role but did not feel interesting or valued as a person. I did not drink alcohol at all either and that did of course put even more harder requirement of being yourself and feel cool about it. I realise that alcohol often can be an easy way out when you are feeling insecure. And finally add the fact that I was trapped in the wrong body. I think what was hardest was to feel misunderstood. They never knew the real me and I was so scared of anybody finding out my inner thoughts. It is a bit hard to be myself then and it more or less rules out any personal relationships since what was most important for me was a non-topic.

This “ambitious-girl-approach” of course worked just fine at work in the Swedish Air Force as well. We were of course driven by our interest in the subject and maybe even a bit idealistic because we really thought we could change the Armed Forces. So me and my collegue worked hard and it was really rewarding at times. People respected me for the work I did, even though I had an self-image of being a bit nerdy.

Coming out
My coming out process changed all of that. Suddenly a new world of social interactions opened up both with new friends and in the LGBT-world. What I did at work did not matter that much more than that people thought I had an exotic job. I was invited to parties and got to know a lot of new people who valued me for who I was. In the beginning it was a bit hard to accept that I was a nice interesting person and not just this strange freaky transsexual person. But it is was still so great to be there, to be part of the crowd. To be invited almost despite who I was (in my mind that is). Felt a lot more proud about who I was although I was still ashamed of my body and my legal name. When I was in a situation where I had to change clothes I often had this feeling of being scared that people would not see me for who I am if they caught a glimpse of me without makeup and clothes. Sometimes you need to state your legal name and those situations was even worse. Tried to only show my ID so people could read it instead of me having to say my old name out loud. On the flip side it became an important level of trust to friends around me to let them know my legal name and see me without makeup and see that they still liked me and saw me for the woman I am.

Work was becoming a little less interesting and I really looked forward to my spare time where I could be myself and shine for a while. Then back at work feeling more and more trapped in my body and identity. Living two lives was becoming more and more difficult and I so longed for integrating my life into one. It is a bit interesting because I think that I got somewhat a change of focus then. From the ambitious person to someone who finally could show I was and got many positive affirmations of that. However, I wonder to what degree there was some kind of achievement in that. I want to believe that I started to value myself better as a person and learned that it wasn’t what I did that mattered. On the other hand I think I used my skills as reason to do things with people also. When I met my best friend of today I started out by making her a web-page for her band and volunteered to shoot pictures and video on their performances. So I guess I felt I was there to do things rather then being just me and enjoying the show.

My engagement in RFSL quickly become another comfort zone especially during the first years from 2001 to 2004. It was such a relief to have these days off from my regular work where I good put on my best clothes and head of to the RFSL office in the city of Stockholm and do volunteer work. I think people quickly noticed that I was quite good at making certain stuff happened and I of course accepted tasks gladly. Felt good that my skills was needed of course. Still it was a very happy and interesting time.

Transition time
I started my transition in the summer of 2004 which felt so good and gradually I felt better. Felt so good to finally do what I had dreamed of for so long. Life was gradually becoming less complicated and my life as one person, a young woman, started to fit together. Acceptance at work was really good and that made work feel a lot more interesting and important. I could be myself at all times at last, I coud be honest and did not have to hide anymore. Such a relief! But all of that also meant that I could not hide anymore behind some excuses that the true me wasn’ there. It was just me out there. Still there were a lot of obstacles in daily life at work because the transition process takes a lot of time and the threshold of daring to use the women’s locker room was bigger than I thought. I also think that I feel I have became more afraid than I was in the beginning. Back then I could be complely terrified of just opening the front door and showing myself to others but somehow I overcame my fear so many times and did what I longed for. I think I have become more hard on myself today to dare as much and as quickly as back then. Maybe it also has to do with a realisation that what I do and don’t do today is something that stays. Before I separated my life so that it maybe did not matter that much what I did. I guess in my mind I kind of think that I sometimes have just one chance to “prove” that I for instance look feminine even naked in locker-room. So I want that situation to be a little bit more perfect then what is realistic.

New situation at work
So being a woman and with my background naturally meant that I felt the pressure to continue to achieve to get (remain) respected for the things I did. Like most women I felt that I needed to achieve above average to be considered ok. My self-esteem was possibly even more hit when I started working with my new name and my real look. Previously I had got to know people in my private life who accepted me for who I was and felt a comfort zone around them. Now, each new situation had a potential danger and it was easy to think negative thoughts. I was of course nervous about how people would react to me and I think I was strange. The feeling of being looked down on based on you are is by far the hardest one. Somehow I don’t white straight men understand how much that can affect you. Much more hard than being looked down on based on my professional performance.

Balance and sensitivity
So in the end I guess it is about finding the balance. I like to achieve things and like to have passion to change things. That is who I am and I think if I stop doing these things I won’t be happy. The important part is to not feel sad when I fail or don’t succeed in doing things. It does not mean that I am a bad person, it just mean that I did not have enough time, was inspired enough or something like that. Then I must work really hard on my self-esteem and try to spend much less time thinking about what other people might think of me. Usually most people have enough in their own life to have the energy to think about other people. However, my whole experience of being a transsexual person have made me super-sensitive and I have a fine-tuned ability to read people and how they look at me. That is a training I really could have been without. However, I do think I have a big need to feel that people care about me but that kind of affirmations is not always easy to get all the time. Therefore I also need to care more about myself.

Interesting post about honesty

The wonderful girl Blomma Bladsdotter had posted a blog post (later deleted) where she discusses the question of honesty for people with a transsexual background. There are two possible strategies. Either be completely honest about everything and gather strength to talk about even difficult and personal stuff. The other strategy is to omit certain details of your life and background in order to be seen as the woman you are. I have chosen complete honesty because of fear of ending up in a closet again but the obvious drawback is that some people unnecessary don’t see me as a “real woman” – whatever that is.

Transitioning in the IT-business

Today I was pleased to read about Sara who now have started transitioning (male-to-female) at her work at a major IT consultancy firm called KnowIT. However, I must confess that I don’t like headlines like “Daniel becomes Sara” since I think and believe that she was Sara from the beginning. I wish her good luck in her process I hope she can continue to thrive and develop as a competent woman in the IT-business.

A name incident at work

Today at work I had a name incident. This time it was a bit strange. In the middle of a briefing I was giving the person I was briefing got a phone call and told the other person that “Alexander is giving me a briefing about the concept”. I suddenly felt rather cold and I know that my reaction often is quite obvious even though the other person might not be aware of what happened. So the question is whether or not to bring the issue up immediately or ignoring it while possibly take it up afterwards. Dealing with it immediately is something I guess is better for me because I can “get it out” of my system right away and someway get some idea why it happened and even get an apology. However, 95% of the people mean no harm and bringing it up immediately could lead to a rather tense situation where the other person won’t be able to focus on what I am saying afterwards. So I guess I have to decide if it should be uncomfortable for me or for them.

Anyway in this case the person apparently have heard someone else talking about some Alexander. The thing that bothers me is how the person could link a male name with the woman (me) in front of her. Even though I was in civilian clothes (a pink top) I also had my name tag on. So even though I was trying not to bother to much I found myself thinking about this the rest of the day. I could not help thinking about if I “did something wrong”. The way I moved, my voice, my makeup and so on.

Workplace issues abroad

Since I work in the Swedish Armed Forces workplace issues is of course of great interest for me. I think many in my situation to some degree are worried about this. Some choose to change their line of work completely and other decide to remain and need find a way to approach transitioning at work. Lately I do a lot of work with international partners and to me it feels important to know a little bit of the climate in the respective countries. I know that the risk is that I have some prejudices about how people I meet may see me but I still find it interesting.

One important recognition is that a former Army Special Former commander has won a lawsuit for discrimination. Diane Shroder applied for a job as a senior terrorism analyst at the Library of Congress but was declined the job after the employer learned about her transition.

Another is Breanna L. Speed who have experienced nothing but support in her transition while working as a database administrator. Yet another example is Christine Daniels who works as journalist at the LA Times Sports department.

I also just can’t help saying something about the young and very beautiful Kim Petras who at age 16 is having great success as a singer in Germany. She also has a transsexual background. Makes me almost as happy as when Dana International won the Eurovision Song Contest. When it comes to Kim the beutiful part is to read about the support she has from her parents.

Finally, we have the “Don’t ask – Don’t Tell”-policy of the US Armed Forces which relates to me as a lesbian woman. Former Navy Captain Joan Darrah worked at the Pentagon as an intelligence officer and reading about her experiences related to the 911 tragedy. She tells about the fact that if she had stayed a little longer in that particular room there wouldn’t have been any phone call to her partner that she had been injured or killed since now one at work know anything about her partner. Because of the law many cards of “who to call in case of emergency” have very relevant blanks. See her statement at the Congress in this YouTube clip. Even if we don’t have this kind of law in Sweden I bet there are members of our Armed Forces who not yet have told anyone at work and their cards will also have blanks.