Archive | May, 2012

I am Anna

28 May

I am Anna Renee Saunders

That is my real name. Even unconsiously I decided to use it on the internet. I plan to keep using it.

I am a woman. I am trans.

No more secrets no more closets. I have worried alot about how I look. I have worried alot about guarding myself. You know what? I am still not safe. I have decided I would rather be me and be proud of that. I don’t want to trade my closet of enforced boyhood for a closet of womanhood. I am woman. I am also a trans woman. That background is important to me. If I hide it no one will ever know me. It’s a very big part of who I am. I want to own that. I am also a woman and always have been, I don’t want to gain my chance to live my life only to have it feel confining.

Once upon a time I had a boy’s name. It was never me. Anna is me. If you ask me my boy’s name politely I will probably even tell you. Think about why you are asking though. That person was never me so why is it important TO YOU.

This decision liberates me from a lot of things. First and formost is the weight of secrets. They were killing me for years. I lived in a constant state of paranoia and that is hard to bear. It also allows me to continue to help other trans peoples on thir journeys. I won’t suddenly dissapear under the veil of stealth and living as a woman. Why do I need to anyway? I was always a woman. That isn’t changing. Just the shell. I can also finally start to not obsess about “Am I passing? How does my makeup look? Is this outfit signalling ‘boy’?” This part will take a bit longer but I need it gone. A constant state of fear is not worth it.

I know I am opening myself up for a world of violence and harrassment. Honestly, I have already lived in tht world and it isn’t that big of a change. At least I am being true to myself. I don’t say this route is safe or correct for everyone either. It is right for me though.

Anna Renee Saunders. A woman, a trans woman, a feminist, a skeptic, an anime fan, an aspiring nurse, a leftist, someone who really adores cute bunnies, a Blue Jays fan, and a complete music obsessive.

If you want to know me im here. I want to know you too 🙂

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Encouraging discourse

23 May

The main thing I like about the internet is that it gives me a chance to take part in a dialogue about issues that matter a great deal to me. Most of my life I have not had a voice and my opinions on even basic things were decided for me. Getting involved in political causes and political action has made me feel like I have at least a small degree of power over my environment. Even before I was out about my gender identity I would take part in political action; rallies, protests, committees, elections, and public awareness campaigns that were a tool for finding my own voice. The internet broadened that. All over there were discussions of issues that matter a great deal to me.  I could find discussions of trans issues and feminism, people who helped me put into words the things I knew to be true and people who helped me make sense of the things that I did to hurt myself and didn’t understand. The internet was a space that empowered me and gave me the courage to move forward with being me. I have primarly started this blog as a tribute to those who encouraged this discussion so that I could create my own little place to do the same.

I am sure some of you are thinking that this doesn’t sound like your internet. Civil discussion? Encouraging thought? Isn’t it mostly anger and rants?

You would be correct too. I had a particularily bad experience for me this week with that very thing. I had engaged in a dialogue with a couple people on the internet who I respect a very great deal. People who know me well would recognize at least one name since I babble about the influence her blog has had on my thinking fairly frequently. I should say up front I am prone to a bit of adulation of certain people I admire. I try to avoid it but it can be hard for me since I really have had a lack of role models in my life. I should also say this has been a really really difficult week for me so I may perhaps be more sensitive than usual. These factors may have made what followed more exteme for me than it would have been otherwise but I still think what followed would have been really hard for me anyway.

The discussion kind of went like this:

I disagreed with a blog post by someone I really really respect. I made a comment on it based on my experience of the issue. I then engaged in a discussion on social media with the individual in question with the sincere hope of understanding their point of view and to question my own point of view to make sure I was coming from a position that made sense. The discussion did not stay at that level for long.  As much as I tried to state that I was in no way saying I was right, or trying to make accusations or assumptions about this persons point of view, much of what I was saying was taken in that light. I ended up spending much of the discussion saying things like “No I am not accusing you of that”, “No that is not what I meant by that”, and “Please let me rephrase that”. During the discussion a few other people joined in including the other person who’s opinion matters to me a great deal and the discussion escalated. Some words were thrown around regarding my position that really really hurt me. I left the discussion feeling worn out and battered and like nothing I said was heard. Silenced.

I am quite sure this was not the intention of the people involved. I honestly think that these individuals would want to encourage not supress discussion so I tried to consider what went wrong. I thought back on various discussions on the internet that seemed to spiral out of control to varying degrees and what caused that. I am probably stating things that have been said before but this is what I came up with as a framework for avoiding the kind of conflict that encourages people to continue to participate and understand instead of making people withdraw:

1. Assume the person is friendly and well intentioned until it is absolutely clear otherwise. I aware of the trolls on the internet. They are hard to miss. I just think that most people are not trolls and are sincerly trying to engage in a positive way. We all get “troll guard” up at times and can be extremely defensive when disagreement starts. Trolls are out there but they are not really important in the end. The people who respect and want to engage are important and it is better to err on the side of feeding trolls rather than make sincere people quiet themselves.

2. If something feels attacking, stop, step back, examine it, then ask for clarification. Frequently in a debate something can be taken quite personally, I am very much prone to this. It is important to look at what was said and make sure that it was intended personally and was in fact saying what you think it said. There are limits to language and it can frequently be misinterpreted. The person may have phrased things badly or we may have read it in a manner that it was not intended. Thats why its good to read it again. If it still feels like an attack ask for clarification. If the clarification still feels like an attack put that out there in a way so that the person understands that is how it feels. That gives the other person the chance to answer and explain the intention. If you are the one being called out, stop and decide if this is what you meant and validate that you do not mean to attack if your intention is sincerly to encourage debate not just express feelings.

3. Be careful about language you use. If the person is not a troll, certain characterizations of the other persons arguments will probably be taken poorly and move the discussion into a debate about the characterization instead of the original topic. Also try to take into account who it is you are debating with and what there backgrounds and triggers may be. I will give you an example of this since I am still feeling hurt by some words that were used in my recent debate. In characterizing my arguments words like cissexist and phrases like “not feminist” were used. As a trans woman both those go right to my core identity and hurt more than I can say coming from people I respect. Even if my argument MAY seem to indict something along those lines you should be pretty damn sure you are right about what I am saying before you use those kinds of words in relation to someone with my background. This is not an attempt to stifle language either, you are perfectly allowed to say that, just understand the effect those words will have if you are truly trying to encourage debate with me and not trying to silence.

4. Read carefully what was said and ALL of what was said. It is really easy to get caught up in a  debate especially on a fast moving medium such as twitter. It feels like you have to make a point before the discussion moves past you. I have had to fight this urge myself and step back and take the time to read. People need time to formulate and express what they are saying. A persons intent and argument can be easily lost if a response is made before they are finished the full thought and have had a chance to clarify that thought. If the point of a debate is to come to understanding people need time to make a full argument. This also goes back to point two, by stopping and taking the time to make sure you understand what the person is saying both sides are likely to get to point of mutual understanding a lot quicker with less people hurt.

I am personally going to try to fully implement these ideas for myself because I am in no way immune to these mistakes. I plan to, on my blog and in twitter, use these as my first guiding principles. Debate is important. Everyone having a voice is important. I felt like withdrawing again after my recent debate and I still feel the hurt. I don’t want to inadvertantly cause that for anyone else. People are correct that the internet can be a hostile place where hatred and filth and anger prevail. I think it also has the ability to be empowering for people, especially those who are isolated. I want to work for that kind of internet.

 

The Pink Panther and Me

20 May

I thought a good subject for my first blog post would be to explain the title of my blog. It’s also a good introduction to who I am so that people will know what they are getting into reading this blog.

I am a trans woman. I have been transitioning full time since January 1st 2011. I have been on hormones for 7 months as of this post. It took me a long time to come to the point of transitioning, a really really long time.  I know for many people a later tranisiton is because they arent sure, or the dysphoria is mild till they become an adult, or they have a spouse/children to consider. For me it was none of those things.  I have no spouse, I have no children, and my dyshoria has always been acute. I knew who I was and what I wanted to be from my earliest moments but something got in the way….something stopped me from becoming the person I need to be. It all started with a pink panther.

My very early memories as a child were mostly happy. I am smiling in all my pictures  as a child. I had an insatiable love of reading, I used to look for every fact book I could and tried to show how grown up I was by learning everything I could. I mostly played with my sisters toys and would occasionaly dress like her when I could but I didn’t think anything of it. I knew Daddy didn’t like it so I just didn’t do it when he was home. I watched a lot of TV and loved a lot of music. I would pretend I was Stevie Nicks or Olivia Newton John in my room and dance around. I also had a passion for stuffed animals. Any stuffed animal.

My parents liked to go to the fairs around the region I lived in during the summers and would take me and my sister along. My sister never wanted to stay with Mom and wanted to spend her money on rides but I would stay behind and go where she loved, the games. There was all kinds of games, spin a wheel, pop a balloon, toss a big die and bet to win a cheesy carnival prize. You would always end up spending more than the cost of whatever you eventually won but you would always end up with something. Mom and I would have fun and I would walk away with a stuffed animal. My sister didn’t want them, she was older than me and was way too cool for kids stuff like that. I loved them. They were soft and cuddly, unbearably cute, and I could play pretend games where they were my friends.

I should probably add that I didn’t really have any friends in my neighborhood other than the girl next door. Even she would only be friends when we were home since I was that weird boy that no one liked. It was ok with me though, I was happy and I had my friends. By the time I was 7 or 8 I had collected at least 50 stuffed animals, probably more. There is a couple of old pictures of my in my room, sitting in my bed absolutely surrounded by them. I loved everyone of these toys I owned but my clear favorite was the pink panther. He was cute and he was pink (I love pink) and his cartoon was the neatest one I watched on TV aside from Rocky and Bullwinkle. I love cartoons too, I am still a sucker for a good cartoon. I always went to bed with the pink panther clutched under my arm and I felt safe.

I sort of liked school too. I got really good marks and the teacher liked all my silly jokes I got from my joke books. The other kids didn’t like me so much because I wasn’t very boyish. Really I wasn’t boyish at all. I tried to hang around the girls and I would say things like “I want to be Wonder Woman” when we were talking about our favorite superheroes. I got beat up a lot. Pretty much every day. A black eye, bruises, bloody nose, scrapes and lots of pain. It didn’t worry me, I could just go home and play in my room and I didn’t have to worry about them. Mom started freaking out though. Dad decided I needed to learn how to defend myself. That went badly. I didn’t really want to for starters but I did it anyway with much complaining. Eventually I just told myself I could learn to fight like Wonder Woman and I was pretty good at it too. One thing Dad didnt consider though is that bullies don’t like losing fights. They came back in groups and I ended up getting hurt worse. Dad and Mom decided I needed help so they sent me to the school guidance councillor.

This was a long time before “it gets better”; when you were bullied the problem was with you not the bullies. The guidance councillor interviewed me. He sent me to see a specialist. The two of them decided that my issue was a problem with my gender non conforming behavior. This needed to be fixed before I could be happy (no one actually asked me if I was happy btw, I sitll maintain I was) so they sent me to yet another specialist in Toronto. I am pretty sure that it was the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, now CAMH home of Canada’s most prominant gender identity clinic. A gender identity clinic with a very checkered past (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Zucker)

I was sent home and it was decided that I needed to learn to be a man. No more gender deviant behavior. It was the only way to make me happy. My toys were thrown out, I was only allowed to watch appropriate TV shows, no more playing with the girl next door, I was made to go to hockey games with my brothers and I was forced to join boy scouts where I could learn to be manly after school with all the kids who bullied me during school. That day I came home and my toys went away is one permanantly etched on my brain. More than anything I remember the garbage bags being loaded with stuffed animals. As a cried and begged to just keep one I watched as my pink panther was put in a garbage bag and taken from my life forever.

I stopped being happy that day. Before that I could cope, I could escape. I could enjoy a bit of pleasure and childhood as myself in my own room. After that I was lonely, empty, sad. I couldn’t handle the bullies anymore because there was no escape. I would hurt myself. I got fat. I cried. Worst of all I gave up. I saw no future. I tried again to transition 11 years later at 19 but I as soon as it became difficult I assumed it was impossible and I gave up. Every time I tried after that day to persue my gender identity I would either put myself in danger or I would fail and end up hurting myself. This was my life for over 30 years.

In 2010 I hit rock bottom. I was 325 pounds, unable to walk from diabetes complications, getting daily nursing care and having severe constant anxiety attacks. A couple of things happened though. Firstly, a brilliant and wonderful surgeon fixed my ankle when I thought I would never be able to walk on it again. Secondly I found an old picture book. It had a picture of a young child on a bed holding a pink panther and smiling. I remembered that I could actually be happy and I wanted that. It had been so very long but I wanted that.

Since that day I have changed my life. I have lost over 140 pounds and am nearly off all my diabetic medications. I look really good too. I look much younger than my age. I also started transitioning full time. I knew I needed to be me or I was just going to die so I came out to Mom, my best friends, and all of my family. It has been really good for me being the woman I was meant to be. I smile. I like myself sometimes. I started going back to school and am hoping to enter a nursing program in January to finally get a job and have a life. It’s not all roses. Bad things still happen. I still have nightmares. I still face crippling anxiety at times. I do, however, see a future for the first time since I was that small child. That child didn’t deserve losing the life they lost. I feel like I’ve ben dead since that day and im just walking up. In spite of the challenges and the backsliding I keep trying to move forward, for that kid no one spoke up for, and for a pink panther that deserved to be loved for a life time.

P.S. Someday I will buy myself another stuffed pink panther. No one will take it away this time.

My New Blog

19 May

One of my big hobbies is reading blogs. Out there I have found people who understand me, who say things I need to hear, who challenge me, who soothe me, and most importantly make me think. After spending a long time thinking about it I decided that I needed a blog of my own. Ther eis a lot that goes on in my head, sometimes I want to put it out there.

I am not sure how often I will update but I hope to aim for at least a post a week. I hope I can give you all something worthwhile to read.

Anna