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A Short Story About A Long Trip

robyn001In 1991 I was a pretty young transvestite and wanna-be drag queen in San Francisco, exploring my gender and sexuality. I called myself Robyn. I was very happily “out”, I had lots of fabulous friends and support in the queer community, but also had a punishing, self-destructive, and addictive side that eventually won out.

1991-92. I am 23 years old and weigh 145 pounds. I am happy for the first time in forever. Happy to have found a place in the world that feels right. But I am addicted to alcohol and tobacco and marijuana and prone to depression and isolation.
1991-92. I am 23 years old and weigh 145 pounds. I am happy for the first time in forever. Happy to have found a place in the world that feels right. But I am addicted to alcohol and tobacco and marijuana and prone to depression and isolation.

By 1996 I was an angry and lonely fat man, imprisoned by self-esteem issues combined with alcohol and food addiction. The shame and sadness I felt about losing my beautiful and feminine self was life threatening. I fell into addiction and isolation and self-loathing for many reasons, but shame and confusion over sex and gender was a big part of it.

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In 2001 I entered 12 step recovery and lost 175 pounds and got totally sober. One cannot overstate the life-changing effects of such a profound transformation. It was like coming back from the dead. A massive rush of joy and delight at being in the world. It was also a total reset moment–Who am I? Who am I going to be?

I emerged determined to be as “wholesome” as possible. I was happy to be alive again and just wanted to be “normal”.  I tried to give my identity a good hard look through therapy and 12 step work and I felt like I was on the right path at the time. I wish I had looked closer at re-visiting my feminine side with clear and sober eyes, but I was dismissive of it. I think I blamed and resented Robyn for “making me fat.” The damage my body suffered during obesity resigned me to thinking about my body as male.

 

JUNE 2000 350 lbs
JUNE 2000 350 lbs
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June 2002 180 lbs

In 2004 I fell in love and soon entered into a straight, monogamous marriage. I was open with her about my previous life, but I insisted that my gender and sexuality issues were a thing of the past. In retrospect I was dismissive and in denial and was unwilling to admit how much being Robyn had meant to me.

We had one wonderful child, and for that it was all worth it.

But there was always something a bit off, and no matter how great my life was I just didn’t LIKE myself very much. I had put myself back into the closet, assumed an identity that didn’t feel right. I was a grumpy and unhappy husband a lot of the time. We had a lot of good times, too, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not what this story is about.

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Over time, I found that my bisexuality was harder and harder to ignore. In opening that question to exploration I becoming increasingly honest about myself…with myself…and with other people…

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I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that I was (and always had been) transgender. (I can and will say much more about that later. For now…yadda, yadda, yadda…TRANS!)

Releasing myself from decades of deep denial I have found a truth that brings me both incredible happiness and heartbreaking loss.

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The famous Robyn wig…when I first put it on I recognized myself again. A 47 year old version of Robyn. I don’t use it for day to day life, but it was the bridge to transition for me. It showed me what was possible, and that for all of the superficial flaws and imperfections there is a fundamental joy within me that must be allowed to exist.

It’s not convenient for anyone that I am transgender, myself included.

But it’s the truth.

So. I’m not going to spend another DAY on this planet without being who I want to be.

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Spring 2016: Hair going out, hormones beginning to take affect, and happily living openly trans full time. Miles to go in transition, but the joy and confidence I have carry me smoothly through daily life.

Update, August 2017: The last year of living as Robyn has been pretty wonderful. I love who I am and each day I am joyfully grateful I get to be who I am. I have many advantages to be sure. White privilege, passing privilege, even a fair degree of pretty privilege, plus enough resources and social capital to live in the educated liberal oasis of the San Francisco Bay Area. While my marriage is dissolving in a loving and conscious manner I have the love and support of my child, his mother, her family and our community, which is my most valuable asset of all. My own family is estranged and while that is a source of some pain it is not something I dwell on or fight against. When we accept who we are and choose to follow the path of transition we know that there will be loss along the way. There are consequences to living openly as yourself, including causing distress to people you love, which is never easy. There has been heartache and loss along the way, and at times my life has felt like it is completely on fire, but at the center of it all I feel grounded and true. I am always happy that made this choice.

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Feminine Icons Series

Laura Dern in Wild at Heart

I loved this performance and the insane romance with Sailor. She was someone I wanted to be.

LauraDernBork-2003-pier

Bjork came to play her greatest hits at Pier 30/32 in San Francisco in 2003 and I decided to go by myself. I had never paid her much attention, I don’t know why, but it occurred to me that I should be the sort of person who liked Bjork. I went to art school, I used to be a fabulous weirdo, what the hell is wrong with me that I don’t like Bjork? So I bought several albums and got into her so I was ready for the concert. I stood alone in the crowd and her power just washed over me. The ringing chorus (…state of emergency…) from “Joga” exploded along with with pillars of fire and I felt like I was soaring. I recognized that her energy, her spirit, her art spoke to a feminine part of my heart and I reconciled that I could still be an interesting and beautiful person even if I was just a normal guy in dumb Gap clothes. I don’t know if that makes sense. I was opening a door and letting some more light in. It was really good to be alive.
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Sinead O’Conner Nothing Compares 2U. (Released on my birthday in 1990, fun fact I learned today.)

Her vulnerable, honest, emotionally profound performance spoke to my young, exceptionally dramatic personality. The greatest breakup song ever written came out around the same time my relationship with my art school girlfriend ended in disaster. The relationship itself did not warrant this kind of heartache, but it’s ending left me emotional and traumatized after questions about my sexuality exploded spectacularly. (More about that another time.) The song resonated for me and I always associate it with that time in my life when I began to explore and reshape my identity in the months after.

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Yoko Ono is one of the fiercest woman on the planet. She took a lot of shit with grace and intelligence and never stopped being herself. I always wanted a love story like that with a creative partner.

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Georgia

As a child of New Mexico, Georgia O’Keefe is someone I have long known and admired. I read her biography in high school and was inspired by her individuality, rebeliousness and deep artistic purpose. The quote is from Joan Didion’s “In Praise of Hard Women” essay.

Invisible Men

Invis2

Invisible Men was story I did for the Prism Comics “Alphabet” Queer Comics Anthology edited by Jon Macy and Tara Madison Avery. I started the story when I was still in the midst of struggling with what it means to be a bisexual married man and to give some feel for the discussions and conflicts I had with my wife. By the time I finished the story I was already into transition and moving into a completely different category of person which I do not address. I leave my character in his life as bisexual cis-male and wish he and his partner luck and peace whatever they decide to do. I think the story does a great job of distilling most of my thoughts around being a bisexual man in a monogamous relationship and in the society at large. I’m proud of how the story is structured and how the characters are revealed. I am glad to be out of that particular closet and gender, but I am a big believer in bisexual liberation and in bi-men in particular being more visible and seen with honesty and compassion.

Read the PDF story here and please consider buying the Anthology, it’s filled with work by amazing queer artists. I was flattered to be asked to contribute by my longtime friend Jon Macy. It dragged me out of retirement from queer comics and I am hopeful I will manifest some new stories soon.

Sexuality In A Nutshell

Social media can be useful sometimes for boiling down complicated thoughts like this one on the question of how my gender and sexuality work together. A recent comment I shared in a discussion:

This has been the great struggle of my life, sorting this confusion out. Functionally, I am very bisexual, but I had a very hard time connecting romantically with men as a young gay man. I concluded I was mostly straight because I easily ended up in long, complicated, emotional relationships with women including a recent 12 year marriage.

I NOW understand my overall attraction to women has more to do with wanting to be like them. Since transition I have chosen to date only men as I feel that is where my truth lies. I certainly prefer them sexually, especially now that my body makes sense to me. I am learning the puzzle of being emotionally connected to them, which is still not so easy but I am open to it now in a way I was not before.

I prefer being a woman who loves men, however difficult that may be.

What Happened?

When I came across this sketchbook page I gasped out loud and almost cried. It’s a document of me struggling with holding onto Robyn 1.0. “Remember what you were. Remember ROBYN.”

RememberRobyn

I have a lot of this sort of thing: Sketchbook pages and writings where I’m bemoaning my lack of productivity and focus and trying to berate or inspire myself to some bold action. It’s really very tedious. It all boils down to “NOT GOOD ENOUGH”, a character defect I would identify and drumbeat all through my 12 Step years. Nothing’s ever good enough so you stop trying and let it die. And then you REALLY have a problem.

I wish I had learned to be okay with Robyn’s limitations, to be okay with being an imperfect artist, an imperfect person. Just keep at it and get a little bit better until before you know it everything has changed. And my gosh, being pretty at 25 ain’t no trick. I just couldn’t couldn’t get out of my way. Negative thinking dragged me down, alcohol and overeating damaged my body and I became to too depressed to do the work it took to be Robyn. “Shave Honey” he says….and then some!

I wish I had known more about hormones and had the easy access to them we do now. A good testosterone blocker would have taken care of most of those cosmetic problems. But in 1994 it was a harder road and I didn’t have the will to fight that fight.

When I started transition at age 46 I had so many limitations and the first thing I told myself was to do the best I could with what I had and go forward and be an imperfect woman. It didn’t matter because I was so happy to be free at last. Any little glimpse I saw of the Robyn I felt inside made me swell with joy and I was surprisingly able to ignore all of the features that gave it away.

Then I just started chipping away at it: Hormones were so easy to get  you could skin your knee and they’d hand you a script for estradiol. Laser hair removal cleared my beard shadow rapidly and permanently while testosterone blockers thinned the carpet of masculine hair on my body. My hair slowly grew out, I got better at my style and within six months I was living full time without much trouble. In my estimation I was a funny looking woman, but THAT’S TOTALLY OKAY to be that.

After a lifetime of being so fucking HARD on myself that nothing good could happen I was simply letting myself BE as imperfectly as I could and wondrous things happened. I’ve had a lot of resources and advantages to have a successful transition, I’ve endured multiple surgeries and hours of painful electrolysis to make myself more what I feel I should be, but I’ve also been very happy at each step of the way. I am privileged and  haven’t had as many negative consequences in coming out as some of my trans peers, but I am still really grateful that I just kept moving forward and cherished each step along the way.

Two Year Tranniversary

TBT, Tranniversary* post.

Two years ago this week I first used the word trans to seriously describe myself. It’s breathtaking how much changed from that day forward, but it doesn’t feel at all to me like things moved that fast.

I had been circling around it for awhile. Mainly I was bothered by my sexual orientation, but the more open I became the more was revealed. It was like unpacking a very large trunk and discovering buried underneath the denial and regret and rationalization there was this whole other person waiting to be reborn.

I thought “Well, maybe I’ll do some cross dressing, have some fun, play with that again”. I chose a cross dressing event to go to in the city, Halloween themed, I did modified Red Riding Hood. My wife helped me find an amazing red sparkly dress on Haight street, and I had picked up a decent wig at a local shop. I got ready at my friend Amy’s salon in the city. It was the first time in 25 years that I’d put myself together en femme.

The event itself was kind of unremarkable. A few nice people in various states of feminized disrepair. A tall trombone playing cross dresser, a short fireplug-shaped truck driver in an overly lacey babydoll nightie, and a married guy I had corresponded with online with who maintained a stunningly complicated life as a closeted cross dresser.

It certainly WAS NOT the kind of event that leads one to completely upend their life and declare themselves to be transgender.

But there was a moment. A very sweet transgender woman noticed me looking at myself in the mirror and she said “You are just the cutest thing”.

And just I said, “Yeah. I know…”

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I thought Robyn was DEAD. I had killed her. Suffocated her under 200 pounds of weight gain and an ocean of alcohol. And then miraculously I had become someone’s husband and father and that was amazing and all was forgotten.

And now here she was looking back at me in the mirror. And it wasn’t “Oh, this fun. Oh, this is sexy. Oh, this brings back memories.”

It was like finding out your lost love or your best friend or your twin sister had come back to LIFE. I can’t overstate how happy I was to see her and how heartbreaking it was to remember losing her to begin with.

The next day I began to seriously question whether the answer to years of discomfort and unhappiness were due to being transgender. Each day after that the answer was yes and yes and yes even as it set my life on fire and burned everything to the ground.

It’s awesome, and it’s terrible and it’s hard to believe, but it’s the truth. Once you finally know the truth what else can you do but try to live it as best you can?

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*I got some blowback about the term Tranniversary. I think it’s a witty and apt description of the event. I also believe Tranny is our term, not “theirs”.

Ladies…

Yesterday I finally got the nerve to join a gym. I’ve had this vision of taking a spin class. All very ordinary but not at all. Presenting female while sweating and not being able to rely on hair and makeup…I did fine, it was really fun.

Everyone was very nice, so nice, in fact, the ladies invited me to take their extra ticket to the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir Holiday concert and join them. The spin instructor is a member of the choir and she insisted I come.

So I went! Me and 4 cis women plus two husbands had dinner beforehand and it was quite lovely….and my mind was continually blown away by how I am perceived and I am worrying a lot about the appropriate way to introduce myself to people with dignity and integrity.

I always assume people know I’m trans but that doesn’t seem to be the case mostly, but you can never tell. I certainly don’t start conversations with that disclosure and yes, of course it’s nobody’s business, but it doesn’t take long before it gets sticky.

So last night I had a conversation about our kids with a woman who had no reason to think I hadn’t borne mine. She was telling me how much she loved being pregnant and could
assume I could relate. I didn’t find a natural way to set her straight, I don’t know how to even construct that sentence? But I need to work on it because it comes up. I punt and later casually mention that my son now lives with his mother but I’m not sure that registers and even if it does I’ve now outed myself as a
lesbian when I am not. That’s a whole story I don’t want to get into with her. But I guess it doesn’t matter because she forgets and later asks me where my husband is. I don’t have a husband. That was an easy one to answer! But she looks a little sad for me that I lost my husband. Oy…

It all feels very validating of my femininity. Holy shit, I’m successfully passing as an adult woman and I didn’t think that would happen. That’s fun for a minute but then it starts to feel scary, like I’m going to get called out for being dishonest or pulling a fast one. One lady in the party seems like she’s maybe clocked me. Kind of a funny sideways look. Maybe she just thinks I’m odd, maybe she suspects I’m trans. What’s that conversation like after I leave? If she points out I’m trans do the people who didn’t realize that feel violated or something? I hope not. I’d really like to be friends with this one lady.

Given time and opportunity I’d happily tell her. But then that makes me sad too. I like blending in and being one of the girls. I’m a Piedmont Avenue lady (which is as much an illusion as anything else with my funky in-law apartment and deluxe hot plate stove). But getting to know me is tricky. I have all these years of life that don’t jibe with the person in front of them and the simplest conversations skate on the edge of a lie and a casual question can lead to a whole messy and confusing biography that isn’t required.

I just am trying to figure out the right way to play all of this. I’m not a stealth transperson, but I don’t have to inform everyone I meet either.

I’m really glad they invited me. It felt really good. I really like who I am but I guess I’m still grappling with feeling like it’s not okay to be who I am, one way or the other. In the extremes I’m either a fraudulent liar or an honest freak. The truth is I’m a good person navigating a complex situation and trying to do so with some dignity and integrity.

Meanwhile the concert was nice but there was an air of doom as America is rapidly spiraling to the ground. I’ll figure myself out just in time for the end of the world.

Ladies Attend Bridal Showers

I had such an amazing weekend visit to Los Angeles. Another step on this journey I’m on, filled with simple kindnesses and connections that feel wholly new. Grateful for a ride from the airport, a place to crash, and at one point a shoulder to cry on from a guy friend. A fun and inspiring reunion with newly transplanted Angelina trans-girlfriend and a lovely brunch with my mother-in-law. Feeling very lucky and full.

The trip was to attend the bridal shower for the incomparable Mela Lee, and to be included on her guest list of 20 beautiful and talented women was SUCH an honor and a gift. After losing touch for 25 years Mela has been one of my sisters and mentors in this last period in my life, providing me a warm welcome to the feminine, spiritually and materially as she simply UNLOADS her closet on me while dispensing advice and girlfriend philosophy.

Certainly this was my first bridal shower, and for a relative newcomer to the circle of women it was an opportunity to experience many feelings of inadequacy and being an outsider. I am grateful that I mostly declined that opportunity and simply showed up as myself and lived in the moment and enjoyed every single connection fully. Finding ways to be useful always helps, so I dived into helping decorate the space.

I went a long time without mentioning to anyone that I’m trans, which feels increasingly important to me. The further away I get from who I used to be the less comfortable I feel about disclosing it. Not because I fear rejection but I just want to be in the now as I am and not be reminded who I was and how I got here. But oh my goodness, I am still astonished at how far I’ve come in such a short time and how completely HERE I am.

Telling stories about my life is complicated. I come off as a straight woman and that’s mostly how I feel now. I have been intentionally using gender neutral terms to refer to spouses and past loves, because speaking about my ex-wife implies I’ve been in a lesbian marriage for 12 years, which is not quite what that was. But then I get thrown off when they ask about my husband and old boyfriends. Just talking about growing up is tricky. I can’t invent a girlhood I never had.

A conversation about how I met Mela and what that relationship was like just lacked the proper context before I explained that I had been a boy, so I disclosed, which led to a wonderful and extensive conversation about my life and experience. I sometimes fear that this will always be the most interesting thing about me. What else is there to talk about? I talk about my kid and they ask about his father and I just have to laugh.

So I’m still working that out. What are my stories. It’s nothing to worry about, and I’m now creating new stories.

This was a good one.

On National Coming Out Day

National Coming Out Day still feels weird to me. Globally I think it’s great. If it’s safe to come out and it’s your time to do it, fantastic. I got your back.

Personally, it’s hard because for me finally coming out was the end of a long string of lies, deliberate and unintentional, that I told to myself and to people I cared about. That’s no way to live a sane happy life, but telling the truth comes with consequences, especially this case if you have been a man in a heterosexual marriage as far as everyone knew. Nobody wants to be THAT person, but it’s a fairly common story, hopefully one that will become less common if antiquated ideas about sexuality and gender recede.

It took me a LONG time to figure out and accept who I am, and I’m sorry for all the people who I hurt along the way in all the pain and confusion. Sorting out my various attractions and gender identities and how they work together seemed hopeless. I attempted being a gay guy, a bisexual cross dresser, an obese closet-case, and eventually went with being a straight cis man because that’s what I thought I was at the time.

Now here I am two years after coming out as trans. Effectively disowned by my parents. My 12 year marriage is over by mutual agreement and our house has been sold. I am living alone and co-parenting my son.

I’m in a rapidly changing body with a new face.

And I’m learning to date men as a transwoman, which is challenging on fourteen different levels.

After all is said and done it seems I’m destined to be a straight woman, more or less. That’s a very difficult answer to get to. It’s one of those “after you’ve eliminated the obvious possibilities the most preposterous remains as the final answer” kind of deals.

At least I think that’s the final answer.

If not I guess I’ll get back to you on some other Coming Out Day.

Sheesh.

“Did you feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body?”

Photos by Bob Fischer, Oakland, CA January 2015/June 2017•Scott/Robyn•Demon/Angel

I hate that question, because to me it feels preposterous to say “Yes”, but if I say “No” it feels like it invalidates what I’m doing. So I say, “….Sort of…?”.

I didn’t spend 30 years wishing I could change genders. If so I’d have eventually given in. I had my moments when I was younger, I have the stories I can tell, but for the most part I refused to entertain the possibility and I made myself forget about it.

But I WAS really, really uncomfortable in my own skin, and I really disliked who I saw in the mirror. I just dismissed it as low self esteem.

Finally, when all possible explanations were eliminated I was left with the most preposterous one. So I stepped back into it and I immediately felt better, and every day since then I’ve felt better and stronger and happier. Even when it feels like my life is on fire I love who I am.

I didn’t know this was the answer until I let myself ask the question.

There’s been a lot of talk this past week around the “transwomen are women/no they are different” thing. I don’t have the words to have it all make sense to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s feels like a lot of pressure, having to prove your womanhood, especially when it’s barely a year old.

I shouldn’t have to.

I don’t have to.

It just is.

I know this much: If you took it away from me now, I would die. Does that help?