What I Learned This Year

Sometimes you just need help with a problem.

Sometimes you just need help with a problem.

I started this blog a year ago because I needed to think through whether I was butch or transgender and to get a better understanding of the interplay between my sexual identity and my gender identity. Like a truck trying to get out of the mud, I’ve spun my wheels and dug myself deeper in. That’s OK, it’s where I belong. I’m still both. I am not getting out of my rut, I am getting more comfortable in it.

If I could do it over, I would have started this process when I was twenty-five. I’d rather be twenty-five right now. If I was, I probably would be making different choices. At twenty-five, transitioning might have been the right choice. I’ll never know. In middle-age, it seems less appealing.

When I was twenty-five I had just fallen in love with Donna, and I was trying to figure out how to be in a relationship. I was a stone butch, but I didn’t want to be. I was ashamed of it. I thought I should be enjoying sex. Everybody else was. I knew something was wrong, I still wanted to be a boy, but I couldn’t admit it to anyone. Not even my therapist. I tried and I ended up quitting therapy (only to start up again with someone else I couldn’t talk to about it for a very long time).

On the surface, everything was fine. I had a partner I loved, an interesting job with health benefits and a pension, I was politically active,  and I had a social life. I suppressed wanting to be a boy, and only let myself think about it in fantasy. My sexual identity was butch and my gender expression was butch. I created a pretty good life for myself. I was only partially present in it.

I regret waiting for so long to deal with being transgender. I regret being on butch auto-pilot for all those years. I regret the shame. The unspoken repression was hard on Donna; she could not know why I was often disconnected. I’m more present now, but the flip side of acceptance is that it opens up a lot of questions. Donna is apprehensive, first I wanted to change my name, then I started flirting with binding and top surgery, then what? I tell her I am not interested in socially transitioning to male or taking testosterone, but I can understand why she doesn’t trust me. When you are transgender anything is possible. Ideas that seem pathological one day seem normal the next.

I’d rather try to be a middle-aged queer bodied butch than try to be a middle-aged straight guy.

I have a lot more empathy for mid-life crises than I used to. I’ve seen a lot of the guys I work with go through them. They’ve bought red Cadillac sedans with embossed leather seats and Bose sound systems. They’ve divorced and remarried. They’ve bleached their hair and gone surfer-style (with a beer gut and sciatica). I used to think they’d lost their minds. But now I understand that they’ve been on auto-pilot too. I’ve got more in common with them than I thought.

Marlon Brando with his grandmother's dachshund Kurtze Beiner (1949),

Marlon Brando with his grandmother’s dachshund Kurtze Beiner (1949),

I’d like to be one of those people who sail through life without regrets, but I have them. I can either learn from them and move on, or I can obsess about whom I might have been if I’d made different choices (“I coulda’ been a contender“). I can still wish I looked like the young Marlon Brando.

I’ve learned a lot during the year. I am grateful to WordPress.com for providing me with a platform for my writing, for giving me an opportunity to participate in the blogging community, and for supporting my work by selecting it for Freshly Pressed (thank you Cheri Lucas Rowlands).  A special thank you to timethief and her “one cool site” for having the answers to all the questions I thought of asking, and for telling me what I didn’t know I needed to know about blogging.

And a happy new year to the bloggers and readers who subscribe, comment, like, lurk, follow, and heel alongside me and Gracie. You keep me writing. Thanks.

21 thoughts on “What I Learned This Year

  1. rimonim

    Another great, thoughtful post. I relate to your journey in a lot of ways. I id’d as a stone butch for a time, and it’s an experience that informs my masculinity as a guy. I felt a deep conflict between my straight male and queer butch identities, and I also used blogging to sort that out (that blog is no longer up). Post-transition, my body is the manifestation of my transcendence (heh, transcendence) of that conflict. My body is male, androgynous, queer and butch at the same time.

    I’m a young person (24) so I can’t say I understand your experience re:this gender journey in middle age, but I hear you. For me, transition and growing up were one process, very interrelated. Being on the precipice of adulthood was a huge part of my choice to medically and socially transition. So what you say makes a lot of sense.

    I think it’s beautiful how you have embraced the journey totally.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      The amount of discussion about being trans and the resources available through the internet have made the process much more accessible. None of that stuff was available (no internet at all) when I was coming out and very few people spoke or wrote about it (or about being a stone butch). It is a very different world. Even at that, I don’t think it is an easy decision for anyone to transition.

      However, some guys did manage to transition back then, and I tip my hat to them for being able to figure it out and go for it. I just wasn’t thinking that way then. Peace and a happy 2014.

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      1. rimonim

        Yes, this a moment of unprecedented information and communication for trans folks. No way I would have figured it out without a lot of examples of other people choosing a variety of paths.

        Happy New Year to you as well!

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  2. RonaFraser

    Ya – I’ve been thinking about the mid-life crisis too and I think that it maybe happens like this because it takes most of us that long to be think more about what we truly want and care less about doing what we think is expected. I often wish I’d woken up sooner, thinking that I could have already been at the point I “want to be at”, instead of still being at the “want” stage. However, maybe we needed to learn other things and adjust to other ideas, in order to get to where we are?
    And something else I was thinking while reading your post, is that some people (me, for sure, and possibly you) tend to look for answers by thinking… whereas perhaps the answers we seek are to be found by FEELING. I don’t seem to be able to do that much these days… I’ve gotta work on that. I think some of us are so used to thinking things out that we can hear arguments for both sides of a question, which both make sense, so we are undecided… but maybe if we allowed ourselves to feel how we feel… we’d have our answers.
    Anyways… Happy New Year!! And I’m glad you decided to blog!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m glad I decided to blog too! I’m much better at thinking (and writing) than feeling. I could cop out and say that it is a masculine trait, but I think it more about how I was raised and my family being very concerned about how things appeared to be rather than about how things really were. A lot of false fronts in my family, and very few hugs.
      Writing about all this stuff has helped me look at my family, my childhood, adolescence etc. and try to understand what signs were there, what my family saw that made them uncomfortable, how they dealt with my queerness, what was unsaid, what I hid or thought I was hiding, and how I tried to compensate for their disapproval. Never would have gotten to this if I hadn’t started to write.

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  3. urbanmythcafe

    I have enjoyed your thoughtful posts, although I did not realize that I had only been reading them for a year. 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Yes. I am still wet behind the ears. But I get why a lot of people start blogs and then quit. It is a lot of work, and if people don’t read and respond it is disheartening. Round about way of saying I appreciate your reading, liking, and commenting when something hits you.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks! I’m not the resolution type, but I’m aiming for general joy. Acceptance and self love are a tougher goal. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep mustering up the posts.

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  4. micah

    Happy New Year! It also serves to say Happy Old Year, because while it was not all entirely happiness, you managed to find some in there, and brought us along the ride.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m definitely looking forward to 2014. The last couple of years were very bumpy, and it would be nice to have a smooth year. I was very impressed by your tales of getting your birth certificate and new ID paperwork all completed; hopefully you’ll get to relax and enjoy 2014 (and travel for pleasure).

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  5. timethief

    Dear Jamie Ray,
    I’ve been down with a head cold and not doing much online. That’s why I just read this and when I did I was impressed as always with what I read. When I got to the last paragraph I wept. I love your authenticity and I want you to know that I embrace you just as you are. I We are all a cauldron of conflicts inside and finding our way in this world is not easily done. I have no idea what it’s like to be you and your don’t know what it’s like to be me. You are strong stuff and so am I which is why I can recognize that in you.

    The more “different” we think we are and the more “different” others try to convince us that we are the more removed we become from our own humanity. That’s where the danger lies because viewing ourselves as misshapen, broken or incomplete yadaa, yada, yada is a soul killing choice. We are all whole and worthy of both our own respect and the respect of others. As Brene Brown says:
    “When you lose your capacity to care what other people think, you’ve lost your ability to connect. But when you’re defined by it, you’ve lost your ability to be vulnerable.”
    “Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.”
    “When you get to a place where you understand that love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and not something you have to earn, anything is possible. Keep worthiness off the table.”
    http://thistimethisspace.com/2013/12/05/practice-gratitude-and-experience-joy/

    Yes it’s harder it is to move forward if we aren’t meeting our own expectations and when we don’t “fit” into the pigeonholes others want to stuff us into but forward is the only direction we can move in. You have moved past the societal barrier that being pigeonholed presents. You clearly have a gift for overcoming fear with courageous self-honesty. You have become a powerful and influential voice in the blogosphere, who I am honored to follow. No matter what 2014 holds for you – blog on! with confidence knowing others will draw strength from your writing.

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  6. bloggingpioneer

    Have been meaning to leave you a comment, but I either got ahead of myself or behind (don’t know which)! I hope you had a Happy New Year (and a Happy Birthday too!) I really enjoy your blog, and hope that is not weird for you that a little old housewife from the Mid-West is a fan and avid reader. While I cannot completely relate to every experience you have, I can honestly say that I feel I can relate to you on the most important level. We are all people, and I think that we all want mostly the same things, to be loved, to be accepted, and to feel secure and wanted by someone. That is why your writing really strikes a chord with me, and I wish you all the best in the coming year.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      When I started writing I thought I was writing for a very small niche (me and a few other butch lesbians struggling with recognizing that they are transgender at a point in life when that is not what you really expect to be thinking about). That would get me about 12 readers across the nation. Instead I have found myself writing for a slightly bigger niche of people (men and women, various gender and sexual identities) who are struggling to make sense of their life and to be authentic despite the consumerist and conformist mind-numbing and dumbed-down society that we live in.

      There are thousands of ways to be a straight female in the Mid-West raising kids and keeping a home, from Suzie Homemaker to Hippy-Dippy-Granola but the issue is to find the way that feels good, and to not be drawn into having to be a “type” or into ways of being that feel “other”.
      In NYC people are constantly trying to “re-invent” themselves, often in ways that are more like Procter and Gamble marketing strategies than trying to live a real life. It is a relief to escape that- so I enjoy reading your blog too; we are in different places but dealing with similar issues.

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      1. bloggingpioneer

        So true! I never actually fit into a category growing up, and reading your works reminds me that there is so much more out there. It is wonderful to get a larger picture when looking through another person’s eyes.

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  7. Jays-Heaven

    To say ‘thank you for blogging at wordpress.com’ 😉 seems almost like an advertisement but I sincerely mean it. In the country where I live, (The Netherlands) there are not that much people I know who consider themselves to be butch and trans. It is always an either. You are either this or that and you can’t be both, at least so it seems. By reading your blog I came to the realization that you can be both and that I am not the only soul on this planet who feels that way. So thank you again for sharing. 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m glad we found each other’s blogs.
      I think there are quite a few of us out there but most do not talk about it. Partly because of the shame, and partly because it is usually set up as an either/or and to admit to being neither is difficult.

      Also, at least in the USA, there are a number of transphobic butch bloggers – transmisogynst towards trans women (particularly lesbian trans women) and angry at trans men for “leaving” the lesbian community. I think it serves to silence some butches who are genderqueer or trans* identified (and don’t want to deal with the argument or potential attack).

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