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Some Thoughts on Transparent Season 1

I have watched all ten episodes of the new Amazon series Transparent, a series built around the story of a trans woman, Maura Pfefferman, coming out to the world. A series just about a woman coming out would be unsustainable in the long run, though, as eventually, Maura’s going to have to become just another character living her life. So wisely, the series chooses to have Maura’s coming out be a trigger point for a whole series of events for those she loves as they live their own messed up lives.

Maura’s first coming out scene absolutely nailed it. I became a little verklempt.

And the Pfefferman children do live messed up lives. In fact, I thought all three of them were pretty reprehensible until about the fourth episode. There’s Sarah, the responsible eldest child, who decidces to let go of her domestic responsibilities and chase her passions; Joshie, the immature middle child, who is struggling to grow out of his stunted adolescent view of love and sex; and then there’s Ali, the wild youngest child, who needs to stop being defiant for the sake of defiance and take control of her out-of-control life.

The ripples of Maura’s decision to become her authentic self play their way through these three lives, each as inauthentic in their own way as Maura’s years as Mort. Ultimately, her transition becomes something of a metaphor for the changes each of the major characters experiences throughout the season. They’re all much more likeable in the end.

[Also: an Ali! Yay! Unfortunately, her's is short for Alice. ]

As for Maura’s transgender experience, I found it to be refreshingly authentic. Tambor plays her with so much subtle emotion that she really comes to life on the screen. It is, however, the story of a certain generation of transgender woman. Nowadays, so many of us aren’t waiting until the kids are grown and gone to accept who we are.  While I found myself identifying with the broad outlines of Maura’s journey, the specifics just didn’t ring true. Sneaking out to hotels for weekends en femme, attending a camp for crossdressers, trying to assuage the feelings by turning it into a sexual kink — these are not experiences I can relate to. Maybe if I’d struggled to live my lie while my children grew up I would have felt such urges. But really, those are the experiences of someone living in a different world than the one we have today. It’s okay (well, okayer than it used to be) to come out, to live authentically, and so more and more we’re doing it younger and younger. I can’t fault the show for that, though, as Maura’s experience is a perfectly valid reflection of a transgender journey and it’s handled with style.

I hope that as Maura matures as a woman, she gets a better fashion sense.

The telling of Maura’s story reflects how the series wishes to portray trans people as a whole: as human beings. For example, one subplot involves Ali meeting, and then trying to seduce, a trans man. He is never depicted as anything other than a male with male desires and male tastes; references are made to his vagina, but they don’t take anything away from who he is as a man. Another subplot involves Maura moving into an apartment with Davina, another trans woman (played by the awesome Alexandra Billings). She’s a secondary character, but Davina was one of my favorites in the series. She is the woman who made it — she lives her life like anyone else, and she’s happy enough with it, and she’s mostly unremarkable and just normal. That’s the dream, really: to just be you, only the way you want you to be.

In the end, the series ties its wending plotlines up into a decent enough conclusion that, should there be no Season 2, you’re not left with a total lack of resolutions. However, there are definitely enough plot-lines that could be picked up again if the show gets a second season. Which I think it will.

If you have Amazon Prime, watch Transparent. If you don’t have Amazon Prime … er, get it, I guess, or wait for it to come out on DVD.

Upon Further Consideration

I felt the need to follow up on Thursday’s post, if only to apologize for the poor quality of the writing in that piece. Reading it back irritates me. I’ve been told it’s a good post, so maybe I’m just overly critical, but I worked on that damn thing for three days and I just see so many glaring issues with how it plays out. I suppose I could take it down, but my philosophy is that once it’s posted it’s permanent.

Part of the problem with writing that post was trying to articulate what I can only think of as trans happiness. Which is a cheesy phrase, I know, but it’s the only way I can think of to describe the peculiar happiness that a trans person feels in that a-ha moment when, if only briefly, the dysphoria goes away. It’s like fog clearing on a sunny day, only the day is your Self and the fog is the dysphoria and the sun is the warm glow of authenticity. That’s what Monday felt like to me. There was a moment where the fog cleared and I had a warm glow of contentedness.

Damn. Why didn’t I think of that metaphor earlier? Ah well.



Ali Finds Her Self

Monday was possibly the best day of my life. And here’s the funny thing: it wasn’t even very atypical. And that was the glory of it.

It was in fact the total opposite of atypical. I woke up; I did some writing; I got ready for my first day of work; I headed to campus and taught a class; then I went home. That’s it. I did what a million people do every weekday of their lives. It was a day that I had, in one form or another, for the entire decade I was employed in my last job.

But there was one difference. Yesterday, for the first time in my life, ever, I was me.

I have been trying for days to express exactly how I feel right now. I’ve written and rewritten this a half dozen times. The above is about the best I can express it, and it sucks. In a way, nothing happened Monday. But in a way, everything happened.

Getting ready to go to work Monday was nereve-wracking. I changed outfits a half-dozen times before I was okay with how I looked, and then I spent forever on the rest of the “look”. When I headed to campus, the first thing I had to do was to get my parking pass and faculty ID. So I went to campus safety and asked for my badge.

“Last name?” asked the lady at the desk.


“First name?”

I hesitated. “Um … I may be under two different first names. My legal name in my new name, which won’t be legal until next month. And if at all possible, I’d like my badge to reflect my new name.”

Badgecropped“That won’t be a problem,” the woman said, immediately relieving a lot of the tension I had.

A few minutes later, she handed me my badge. “You’re all set Alison.” I put it on a lanyard around my neck, and in that moment I just felt invincible. I know, it’s just a stupid work ID, but it’s the most important piece of identification I’ve ever had with my real name on it. Here was something official. I was now an employee of the college – not Him but me. This piece of ID with my face on it, my name on it, was a declaration that the college itself recognized my authenticity.

I felt goddamn invincible walking into class. I had credentials. Even if the students made an issue of my identity, the college had my back.

But honestly, no one in class said anything untoward. It was just like any class I’ve taught for the last decade-plus. About twenty minutes in a student called me “Ms. Hudson” for the first time and I knew everything would be just fine.

It feels so insignificant to tell the story. Nothing really happened. But it wasn’t about happenings.

Here’s the thing: There are no more steps to take in my social transition. This was it. As of Monday, I am 100% officially living my life as my authentic self. No more hiding, no more fretting about going back and forth, no more worrying if I should be Him in this or that situation. When I started this blog last year, I called in Ali FInds Her Self because I envisioned this whole thing as a journey of discovery. And this week, I have discovered what it’s like to feel normal in my own skin.

He is gone now. I’ve found my Self. And I couldn’t be happier.

That doesn’t mean my transgender experience is over, nor does it mean I’ll stop blogging. I still have so many things I want to do for my Self. HRT continues to change me, slowly but surely; my legal name change is still over a month away; then there’s surgeries and gender markers to focus on. I still experience dysphoria every time I look in the mirror or hear my voice recorded, and that will probably never go away entirely. But for today, at least, I know who I am — and so does the rest of the world. Finally.




What is the Teacher’s Name?

I am getting nervous about tomorrow. It is my first day in front on a classroom since leaving my old school and my first day in front of a classroom as myself. I need this job and I need this moment. I have a lot riding on the hour and forty minutes I spend in front of that class tomorrow!

Things were not helped by finding out on Thursday that the IT department at the school could not (or would not) accommodate my request to base my school email address on my real name instead of my legal name. While they “masked” things such that my name will appear in the TO: line instead of my address, the email address itself is built on my old name. Added to that, anything the students access in the online network, like class schedules, will have my old name on them.

This has been causing me no small amount of anxiety and dysphoria this weekend. My hope had been to go into this job with no connection to Him. I don’t want the students to know my old name. I don’t even want them to know my old initial! There’s a horrible belief in the world that a trans person’s birth name is their “real” name. I am already going into that classroom with the expectation that some students may take issue with my gender identity; if they have access to my legal name it gives them more reason to see my real identity as illegitimate.

I can’t give an inch on this. The students will have to respect who I am or I will not have them in my classroom. That is my right. I don’t need their permission to be me!

But if I cause a stir, I’m afraid they’ll use it as an excuse to dismiss me from the classroom. I can’t have that. I need this job.

The college says that there’s nothing it can do so long as my legal name in the system is still there, but I’m suspicious of that answer. I worked at my old school for a decade and saw multiple instances where the name on the class list was not the name on file — for example, when some women were married and changed their legal names but still chose to teach professionally under their maiden names. I’m disappointed that this college lacks a clear policy for integrating transgender employees

This isn’t going to derail my first day. I won’t let it. But I think I’m going to have to break out the anxiety pills to sleep tonight, and I haven’t had to do that in a couple of months.

I’ll write about the first day after class.


Today on Skeptoid …

So it’s finally out, and so I’m finally free to say something about it: I have taken on a contract job to write and produce some episodes of the Skeptoid podcast. Not every week — more like every six weeks or so — but I’m still excited to become a part of a podcast I’ve listened to for a very, very long time. I will be writing, recording, and editing the episodes for air. Yes, that’s me you hear. No, I’m  not happy with my voice quality, but more on that in another post.

My first episode is about the Death of Rasputin. It’s up for reading or listening. I hope you enjoy it. I’d love to hear feedback (I know my voice quality is terrible).

I think it’s safe to say that I am the first openly transgender host that the podcast has ever had. But then, the podcast only had one host for seven years, so that’s not saying much! I will have more to say about this whole thing in upcoming posts. But for now I’m just happy the first episode is out there. My next episode may not be for two months, though, and then every six weeks after that. Though that could change; this one was originally scheduled for early October.


Name Change Update

This blog has been pretty job-focused the last couple weeks, and with good reason: it was the most pressing issue on my plate. But because I’ve been job-focused and not posting as often as I might, I didn’t get to tell you folks what happened recently: I got the date for my name change!

It’s October 31. Yes, Halloween. In less than two months I will be legally Alison, bringing my ID in line with my identity.

On Halloween, which is a lot of ways is the most appropriate day for it. When I was still posting incognito last year and signing up for forums and such, I would often be asked to enter a date of birth. I always entered 10/31. And now, in some way, 10/31 actually will be a birthday of sorts!

Why did I use Halloween? It felt fitting. I have always loved Halloween. Not for the obvious reasons; I mean, I love candy and costumes and pumpkins and that, but there’s a love beyond that. I am a student of folklore and folkways, and Halloween — or Samhain, or what have you — has always felt special to me. In the calendar year of my heritage, Halloween has a lot of lore, a lot of meaning, a lot of metaphor. Maybe it’s just the concept of identity; for years I wanted to dress as a woman on Halloween because that felt like the one time a year when I could actually do it. Hallloween was the night expectations were reversed. The one day costumes could go on … or come off, if you tended to wear a costume the other 364.

Well, my costume is coming off. And on Halloween I will not be in costume anymore. I can hardly wait.


Once More Unto the Jobs Thing

I’m a teacher again. Me. Not Him, but Alison. Authentically!

I have my friend Steve to thank. He’s the one who mentioned me to the associate dean at a local community college and explained my issue with the name and the transcripts and such. He’s the one that she told the name incongruency wouldn’t be an issue. So I applied for an open class at the college, got an interview … and got the job.

It’s not full time. It’s barely part time in fact — one class that meets four hours a week.  But it’s still a foot in the door. One class this semester can lead to more classes next semester, which could lead to more down the line. It’s my first post-layoff teaching position and I’m actually looking forward to being in the classroom once again.

More importantly, this will be my first time teaching as myself. The college is even working with me to accommodate the name change. Until it becomes legal I need to be Him in their files, but they’re making an effort to assure that my email address and anything else the students see carries the right name. My students won’t know who I was, but who I am.

My original plan with my old college had been to start teaching as myself in late September, as their calendar was not quite on the normal schedule. Well, this course happens to be a “late start” course at the new college, which means it doesn’t start until the third week of the semester. Which places it, coincidentally, about when I would have begun teaching anyway! It’s so weird. I thought my plan was derailed when I was let go in June, but somehow I’ve managed to get myself back on track.

“Life finds a way.” So sayeth Jeff Goldblum. Well, life — or rather transition — has found a way.

I have a big bag in the back of my truck right now. It contains the last of His clothes, the ones I held onto in case I needed to go back to work. I won’t be needing them anymore, . While my life transition is far from over, my social transition has reached a zenith. I will not be going back, not now, not ever. When I get in front of that class and I succeed — and I will succeed — I will have proven that this transition hasn’t changed who I am fundamentally.



The Jobs Thing, Again

Having resolved my inner conflict over whether or not to sacrifice my identity for the sake of work, I have begun sending out applications. I have decided that the best approach is to just own the discrepancy and to offer a quick explanation that smooths it out without over-sharing. There’s two parts to this approach.

1) Acknowledging on the part of my resume where I list my writing credits that certain publications were done “As [Him].”

2) Putting the following statement in my cover letters. I am trying to make it clear but not too wordy, something I probably need to work on.

You may note that the transcripts are issued under a different first name; you will also notice that some of my writing was published under this name. I am in the process of a legal name change, and I no longer use my old name for any professional or personal purpose. I anticipate the legal process to complete sometime this autumn, and I do not anticipate it interfering in my teaching in any way.

We’ll see how this works out. I guess I’m lucky, in that colleges, in general, tend to be more liberal and open-minded about these sorts of things. In fact, my old college was probably one of the most conservative colleges I’d ever encountered, likely a result of its positioning as a private business school. Community colleges and public universities don’t normally share such conservative streak.

I’ll of course keep posting about the job hunt as it progresses. I’ll also post about the name change, if I hear anything. Which I haven’t yet, which sucks, but I’m guessing that these sorts of routine, non-critical background checks are not top priority in the State Police Fingerprints Lab.


More Thoughts on Jobs

Follow-up to the last post: my copy of my college transcripts turned out to not be in the file drawer where they were supposed to be. So, I have had to ask the university to mail me new ones. Thus no jobs applied for, and with the school semester starting this week and next, likely not a lot of chances for me to apply for last minute openings in any case.

However, I’m still thinking about the larger questions involved in this situation. Because it’s bothering me on so many levels that society demands that I give up my identity in order to make a liveable wage. Could I really walk into an interview with solid credentials, 15 years of teaching experiences, published writing on my resume, clean and neat and well dressed … and still lose a job simply because I don’t conform to the stereotype of men and women? Sadly, the answer is “yes”. That’s the whole reason this is even a dilemma.

This is not a dilemma most people have to face. When most people show up in the interview, their identities are not questioned. They’re accepted as is, because they’re privileged by their conformance to gender norms. Sure, they have to think about their appearance within those boundaries, and even within those boundaries there are some horribly demanding expectations, especially for women. But at least be accepted at face value for who they are and who they represent themselves as, even if that representation turns out to be unacceptable for the employer.

That’s one of the reasons I have pushed back against all the well-meaning advice telling me to go back to being Him. Because that advice is coming from a position that implicitly supports the status quo. By telling me, “You should fall back on Him because that’s how you’ll get employment,” I’m essentially being told, “Your identity isn’t as important as your productivity.” And by following that advice I’m essentially agreeing. How can I insist that this transition is real, that my identity is authentic, if I cast it off in favor of making money? I can’t.

And let’s be clear here: this isn’t just about working a job I would hate. You could give me the best job in the world, one that pays a lot and demands little; but if you told me I would have to work as Him and be called Him and be known as Him to do it, I would resist just as fervently as I am now. And I wouldn’t hate teaching; I would hate teaching as Him.

Further, what if I choose to make the compromise. I apply as Him and begin teaching as Him … and then a month later my legal name change goes through. Suddenly I’m in a situation where I’m teaching under a name that is no longer my own. Do I approach my new employer at that point and then go “surprise”? That would be disruptive and would almost certainly guarantee I wouldn’t be invited back the next quarter. Do I continue teaching as Him regardless? If so, at what point does my whole life become a lie again?

My identity is not something I want to compromise. I compromised my identity for the entirety of my adult life, and I ended up on an overpass in the dark, timing the oncoming traffic. Every day since that bleak moment has been a day where I have fought to get to a point where there are no more compromises. I have had a rule throughout my transition: no steps backward. It’s part of what has kept me strong and it has given me drive to continue on with my transition even when things were hard.

Maybe this is it. This is the hill I stand or die on. So be it.

I think that when I do get my transcripts, I’m going to just apply as I am. I’ll make a brief explanation of the discrepancy in the cover letter, and then I will let the process take its course. If they want my talent, my experience, and my time, then I want something in return: I want the same respect for my identity that they offer every single cisgender employee, every single day. And if they can’t give me that, then that is probably not a place I want to work anyway.



Job Hunting While Transgender

Returning from Gen Con meant a return to reality, and that meant thinking about teaching again. Granted, I still have money left from my severance; but (a) it’s not as much as should have been because it was taxed as “bonus” pay not salary, and (b) it will run out by December in any case, and (c) teaching jobs start in cycles, and the next one won’t be until January.

I am not looking for full-time work at this point (not that I would turn it down if such an elusive beast reared its head). But working as an adjunct on a per-class basis for a community college is a nice way to score a little extra money and make that severance stretch out another month or two. Adjuncting will also afford me the time to keep current with my writing jobs, such as they are.

Finding a position in teaching in 2014 is difficult in any case. But mine is complicated by other factors, of course. This was the problem I was dreading, the one that transitioning while at my former, thought-I-was-secure job was supposed to help me avoid. To wit: I’m living as Alison, and I’m in the middle of a legal name change; but my government ID still says Him, as do my college transcripts. So whom do I apply as?

Obviously, my heart says I apply as Alison. No turning back. I haven’t spent a single day as Him in over two months. That is a part of my identity I have left behind, and every day I find another small way to scrub it from my life. I don’t pass, I probably never will pass, my height alone guarantees it, not to mention my build, my voice, and everything else; but even if I teach as an out and proud trans woman, I’d still be teaching authentically, as myself.

Practicality and responsibility say that I apply as Him and work as Him and just “suck it up and deal with it,” as someone so bluntly put it yesterday. I need a job, and in this day and age being trans is still something that carries an enormous stigma. This may be what I need to do to get by. Besides, going into any interview as Alison is likely to kill my chances in any case. That’s just the way of the world we live in. Being trans is more acceptable than it used to be, but a lot of schools aren’t  going to want to risk putting off their paying customers (the students) by putting a tranny at the head of the classroom. Why do that when they could play it safe? I’m more likely to get a job as Him.

But honestly, emotionally, I don’t know how I would handle returning to Him on a daily basis. Just thinking about it last night gave me a panic attack and reduced me to tears. That’s the curse of dysphoria. Two months of freedom, two months as my Self is all it has taken for me to freeze up at the thought of having to put on a shirt and tie again, to be called Mr. Hudson all day. It’s not me; it never was, but I was trapped in it for all my life so I dealt with it. When I broke down last year it was precisely because I couldn’t deal with it any longer. Now that I’ve had my taste of freedom, can I really go back in the cage?

I don’t know what to do. All the people in my support structure tell me to take the practical route, to suck it up, to be him. But I don’t know if I can. Every step I’ve taken since I got out of the hospital last April has been a step away from the burden of Him. I just don’t think I’m strong enough to shoulder it again.