I have a lot of therapists. For a therapist, this is sacrilege. They only like you to work with one. There is a spoken code that to work with more than one is a violation of each other’s professional ethics. I say nonsense.
I mean, that is in effect like saying that they are responsible for your therapeutic journey, not you. No thank you. It is as if they are denying your agency. When I was interviewing therapists to replace the wonderful kook, but slightly too odd, therapist I had that I had to let go of, I came across several who would only work with me if I would work with them on an exclusive basis. More double standards.
“Are we going to be monogamous, then?” Scoff. That’s as absurd as saying to a professional dominatrix, “I’ll be your only client, then.” Well, you might say, “I will pay for your time, all of it.” And gosh, from time to time you see on the Twittersphere, various dominatrices retiring with clients through love. This, then, is marriage!
Back on point. I have a core group of therapists, each of whom is very different in what they do. Meet the posse:
- My “favourite” is one who specialises in hypnosis and rebirthing, reparenting, and healing the wounds of the inner child. She’s taken me to places and helped me process things that I didn’t know were there. She’s the one who gave me permission to suck my thumb in session one time, and who helped me identify and understand how my need to bake and eat cake was a healing response to issues around intimacy, bonding, and breastfeeding.
- My main talk therapist is a somatic therapist—finding how we store traumatic and stressful experiences in the body. She’s the one I suspect of kinky leanings, and she is the one who coached me towards exploring slavery.
- There is a cranio-sacral therapist who is quite extraordinary, and she combines this work with talk therapy. She has a worldwide reputation, and my sense is that it is deserved. She’s the one who made me cry on the plane to a movie. I haven’t written much about our sessions as I see her less often (she is busy and also kinda expensive, so I save up the juicy stuff for her). She was also the first to define me as the opposite of a narcissist–that I have trouble protecting my own boundaries.
- I included the dominatrix in this mix in the past, but currently that slot is open, and I am not even sure if it is a slot anymore anyway. My gratitude for what she has catalysed is immense, but in the end being with her went from being fun to hurtful–and it puzzles me to be simultaneously grateful to someone whilst also not wanting to see them again. I wonder if I will ever feel that particular kind of delicious submission that we started with again.
- The “blind” Reiki Master who sees so clearly in the spirit world but barely sees in the physical world.
- I have others who do body work with me, but this is quite catch-as-catch can…I mentioned the Rosen Method in a previous post, and I have had a handful of sessions with a practitioner of this approach, and it strikes me as a more effective version of cranio-sacral than I had originally done. It is a gentle approach but fabulous at stimulating a connection between brain and body. Rosen is also interesting because other branches include how we speak, dance, and art as therapeutic venues.
And just like a posse of old, hunting down the baddies, you bring together a group of people who are a team managed and led by your own need for therapy. You are the sheriff on your own journey to self-love and wellness.
But none of these therapists are specialists with transgender issues. One of them even professed to not even know what the terms were. Even with the dominatrix, who I credit with helping me to open the door to let this part of me come out, we never once played within the gender sphere, never even talked about it, but this was something of great consequence that emerged because of it.
I have relatively recently added one more to the mix, and her contribution has been to become the therapist with whom we really focus on gender issues. She has been extraordinarily insightful, helping me to find words for things that have been eating away at me since childhood. She moves really fast, and it is a pleasure to work with her. She uses the Socratic Method at times to push me to think about things. I know all therapists ask questions like, “why do you think such and such?” and generally believe that we should figure things out for ourselves, but this therapist pushes much harder.
“What is the opposite of shame?”
“How in your life do you express openness?”
“By revealing me, by going out dressed in a feminine way.”
What is the opposite of Rejection?
“Yes. Good. When we are in community, we are embraced as we are.”
“That’s what I have been looking for.”
“It’s also where you will find it.”
“A dominatrix I had lunch with a few weeks ago said the same, only she said, ‘not find, but create,’ she believed that we all create our own communities.”
“That’s what I was hoping for with a dominatrix I was seeing.”
“What did your friend say over lunch?”
“That we create our own community.”
“I get it.”
“How do you define love?”
“Love is about listening, about serving, about responding to the other person. Even more so when that might come hard.”
“Yes. A dominatrix friend of mine, a different one, says that giving, generosity, should hurt. That if it doesn’t sting a little, it isn’t really giving. A cynic might say she is self-serving, but I’ve always felt this way. I feel this way about giving to charity too…it takes on more meaning when it hurts a little.”
“What do you get in return.”
“Love. To be loved for love is sublime. When you love someone and you do things for them, there is nothing more beautiful than that they land. That your acts of service are relevant. That they are meaningful. That they are received and appreciated. That in itself is love.”
Talking about My Fear of Breasts
If and when I start hormone therapy, breast development will follow soon after. It is inevitable. In my case, it is about taking the good with the bad. That is absurd, I know, and perhaps my attitude will change, but I like being flat-chested, I don’t know what breasts, even small ones, will look like on my frame.
My “favourite” therapist and I talked about my fear of breasts…that they were undeniable—they become very hard to hide. She has also asked me whether taking hormones is arising in my mind or in my heart. Given that I’ve been thinking about this since I was little, you’d think I would have figured it out by now. But I also like being able to hide, to be selective, to be a chameleon. Once the breasts are there, there is no more back and forth. I can’t think of any trans people I know who get surgery to have their breasts reduced, but I would.
It isn’t that I don’t like them. Actually, I love them, and loved that old Steve Martin joke, “if I were a woman and had breasts, I’d never get any work done…I’d just stay at home and play with them all day.”
But what do I want most from hormones? What it will do to my mind. What it will do to my skin. What it will do to my muscles. How it will help to change my shape. I worry about how it will also make me gain weight, and that is in part why I have been preparing my body with exercise for these past years. I learned that if you have fat, hormones won’t move it, you have to lose it and then gain it again for it to move.
I couldn’t answer my therapist other than to say that it would be difficult to hide. I can hide everything but that, so can go to work and nobody will know, but once there are breasts, that’s it. And I can’t be sure that I will like how they look, but I can be sure that having breasts might be inconvenient.
So I picked up this baton with this new therapist—she is a somatic release therapist, and with her I feel I have made some real breakthroughs. After, I process the breakthroughs with the posse, considering each of the things I learn from different angles.
Finding comfort with the masculine
In discussion with her, I realised that my man hate is triggered in part by the way women look at me. When a woman looks at me and sees a man, I can see it in her face. Whether fear or expectation, it is there to read. When I am presenting as ambiguous, non-binary, or female, there is a different reaction, but women do not look at me any longer with fear. There is a softness. I can see it, I can feel it. At worst, I may get looks of incredulity. When a woman sees me as I really am, then I feel good about myself. And I need them to see me that way, so that I don’t feel its opposite.
But what I realised in talking this through with her is that when I get looked at like a man, my dysphoria gets triggered. That being mistaken for a man is being mistaken for something I don’t want to be seen as. It never arises in the first place if a woman sees me.
And somehow, through this discussion, we realised, I realised, that for me to accept my own masculinity, I need to create space for it within me. And the only way I can do that is to become more feminine, to go further, to make real changes. To become a man, I need to be a woman. To accept my masculinity, my own femininity has to be so present and strong that it isn’t in the shadows, that it even has the upper hand, so that the she within me can be generous to the he within. What does this mean for me? Hormones and presentation and a way of being, need to be evident, not buried. They need to be lived.
Why does submission fit?
My North star as a male was my father, as it is for any child. But my father was abusive. I forgive him for it, as it was the result of his own trauma. I do not respect him, though, as he made no attempt to be introspective or to break the cycle and rise above it. All of my siblings bear the scars of his abuse in different ways, both consciously and not. His abuse took many forms, physical (hitting and manhandling), verbal (belittling, shouting), but I’m the only one in the family that he never struck—not once. He never even spanked me.
In session with the cranio-sacral therapist, we spoke of this. Being non-binary preceded my first conscious memories. I was born this way. I became kinky from the milieu, from things that happened, but my gender identity was forged in the womb. I wondered, however, if the peculiar circumstances of my upbringing had a hand in shaping it. I asked her about this, and she concluded that it was not the case. She described the pattern male reaction to my environment was to in turn become an abuser. She was convinced that my own reactions to him were forged in opposition, and that this shaped who I am.
My male siblings treat women with disdain. They are womanizers, “successful” at getting to bed women, but not successful if measured by sustainability. Those who have had marriage (s) have seen them end in divorce, another has never gotten that far. It is an aside, but that is part of what has kept me in a marriage with a partner who refuses to see me as me—this desire to not fail in this way.
Where did we get to in therapy? That my approach to women has all along been one of attempting to heal. It’s like I carry this congenital need to not be like other men, to show to women that a man can love them without being abusive—as if to try and heal the wounds of a patriarchal system through how I relate to women.
This has created all kinds of weird and wonderful twists along the way—how I flirt, my refusal to make the first move, asking permission to touch or kiss before I do it, being gentle. But not all women like this. A great do not. They like a “manly” man, one who takes, one who dominates. My despair as a teenager was how few women responded to me romantically—they all wanted me to be friends, many their therapist, but most wanted to be with guys who you might class as typical. Objectively I understood that it wasn’t because I wasn’t physically attractive–I was a male model in high school and college (runway, shows, hair). I remember even then thinking one time seeing a girl crying to her girlfriends about how this guy she was dating was mean in a classic guy way…and I thought, ‘why are you perpetuating the pattern?’ The social conditioning as recently as a few decades ago was still very intense. I could understand that looking the part doesn’t mean being the part.
And I see this dynamic played out still today even within the D/s community. There is the common lament amongst submissive men that there are no lifestyle Dommes. A lifestyle Domme friend who I have written about as a mentor, and who is an extremely articulate blogger, writes to debunk this myth. One could just as easily say that many of the submissive men are fakes, or that there just aren’t many submissive men out there.
Thankfully this is changing. More women are breaking free of patriarchy, refusing to accept the social contract on men’s terms. And not a moment too soon. The system we have does not work. We’re running out of time.
Being submissive makes sense. It is my way of respecting a woman, respecting the social need to heal. It isn’t necessarily sexual, though it is. It is something existential. I cannot be romantically involved with a woman or attracted to her and not want to submit to her. It isn’t asking her to boss me around, or to submit in the classic sense, and the last thing I am is a wet noodle. It is being submissive in the sense that we co-create extra space around her, that being submissive is feeling her and responding to her, being supportive.
My wife would laugh at this. She would probably say I don’t have a submissive bone in my body. But that is more a function of me responding to her in the ways that she “asked”—of being a man for her as she asked. We co-created on her terms in a relationship sense. After all, there is only so much you can do when the main shape of your sexuality is disgusting to your partner.
Curiously, when I told this new therapist that I was a submissive man, that I saw a dominatrix, she didn’t bat an eyelid, but instead said, “good,” as she quickly understood exactly how neatly it fits. I also believe that her politics are in line with my own on this topic. My wife teases me for studying “women’s letters” (I studied gender, politics, and philosophy). I rail against the patriarchal system, and it shapes my life every day in subtle and profound ways. Is it any wonder that this extends to the bedroom?
For my wife, my “feminism” is a joke. But gender politics are not funny. They speak of a horrible social injustice, and one that I feel not just intellectually, but physically and spiritually into my body, all the way to the most fundamental sense of who I am. Gender lies at the heart of all of it.
The discomfort this brings and a sense of obligation
I feel that I have an obligation to my trans sisters and brothers to be out. I feel an obligation to society, not just those who align with my politics, but especially those who don’t, to be out. I feel an obligation to role model an ease with gender fluidity. While this may have been brewing my whole life, it has only recently come to the surface with such strength.
Whatever happened between me and a dominatrix and me and my therapists has given me the strength to come out, to be out. And it is taking shape with strength in ways that I love feeling and beholding. I am surprising me every day.
I wrote not long ago about how oppressive it was to go home and be in the same house with my wife. It literally sucked the life out of me. But this time I can feel how much it costs me. Of course I have been living this way with her for a very long time, but now that I have tasted something else, now that I can finally breathe, I know how suffocating it is to live inside someone else’s expectations, to be something you are not to fulfil their image of what they wish to be.
The fact is, she is a gaslighting transphobe, and I get it. She needs to be that way because something inside her needs a man to define her femininity. And when I pulled the plug on the illusion that I’m a man, she felt her world crumple around her. It explains why she felt I was horribly cruel for telling her that she needed to find her own happiness inside of her, that she could not rely on me to be the one to make her happy. If we can’t make ourselves happy then we will never be happy. The disappointed air that hung around her has been evident for years. I can’t inhabit that space with her.
And now that I can feel the toll it takes on me physically, mentally and spiritually, I have to let go of trying to please others about the way I am. We all have to be true to ourselves. My truth may be inconvenient, but I can’t hide it for someone else’s benefit any longer. And to all of my trans brothers and sisters, so many of whom struggle with shame and humiliation, and who live in the closet, I will be out. And by being out, I hope that if you read these words, that you will find strength in them, courage, and the willingness to go out and be who you are. Cis people need to see it.
My wife told me that I was courageous and that she admired this courage the night I came out to her over Christmas (in truth, I came out to her when we first started dating, but she didn’t hear it then, she didn’t want to). This new therapist also said she admired my courage. Both times I have felt a funny relationship to the word courage. Courage implies choice. That I have made a conscious choice to come out. But how I feel about it is that I have no choice. None at all. That it is a question of survival. I can’t breathe without it. And boy, can I breathe when I am manifesting myself.
And I know that I should be careful, that some people’s prejudice is so strong that violence lurks. But I embrace the fear. One of the consequences of being feminine is being vulnerable. I have written about this, the fear that women have in walking alone, but also about how becoming physically weaker as I take hormones is something I really like, because it puts me into the right frame of mind (I took a perverse joy the other day in not being able to open a bottle).
The opposite of gender dysphoria is euphoria.
I’m doing a construction project right now, and I have not presented as female to the builders, contractors, specialists—I haven’t shown up on the job site presenting my femininity. I told myself that I needed to keep them working, that I couldn’t afford to lose them if they don’t like to work for trans people. And the other day, I was thinking that I needed to change my clothes before showing up, away from the flouncy skirt I was wearing to something infinitely more butch (never mind that all of my work clothes are also female—down to the boots), but in the end I decided that I had nothing to hide. No. I decided that if one of them couldn’t handle it, I didn’t want them working for me anyway. And so I floated in wearing a wonderful light, short summer skirt with little white tassels running up and around it like a flamenco fringe. Paired with a crispy white slim-fitting blouse, I was a picture of summer. And not one of them batted an eye. They didn’t look at me funny, say a word, they saw me as me, naturally, and it was great. One less place to hide.
And ditto it was through meetings, through my day. Everywhere I went. To the airport, on my flight, to my hotel. To the garage to get my car, with the mechanic, at my storage facility. I even bumped into a friend of my wife. I went to the train station, waited on line with hundreds of people, and not a single person said a thing. Some people looked and had their thoughts, but they kept them to themselves. And I was surrounded by a sea of people who might be thought of as the “trouble zone” white, middle-aged, conservative, middle and lower middle-income, the place where white privilege and racial prejudice seems to live strongest. The lady in the line in front of me just struck up a conversation with me, and a few minutes later I was translating a letter she had received from her Italian cousin because she didn’t speak a word of Italian. And she was telling me about her family, her history, her life. It was beautiful because it didn’t matter.
Little by little, I come out. I can credit my wife for part of my aesthetic, and for liberating me from the idea of needing to pass. Though it was originally stated as her need, it has become my own. When I told her when we first dated about this, she told me, “I won’t be party to a secret.” She rightfully didn’t want to encourage something to fester in the dark. This also extended to how I presented.
In those days I wore a wig. I played with makeup. I tried to pass. I know for most trans people, the concept of passing is one that is central to their goals. I know that I will never pass. I won’t try. I’m a good-looking man. I am blessed with a body that does not make me look like a man in a dress. At least not to me. And that’s what counts. My wife asked, “who do you think you look good to.”
“To me.” I’m not doing this for you, I’m doing it for me. The clothes make it possible for me to breathe. The cross-dresser gets a sexual thrill from the clothes; I just feel alive. So I find clothes that look good on me, not because they hide me or present me as I am not. And that is just so darn liberating.
My trans-hating wife who gaslights me
My wife told me way back then she never wanted to see me in a wig, or see me wearing anything lacy, or strappy, any negligee. She found it disturbing, and makeup and wig represented to her a mask, something which she has a primordial fear of—that people aren’t what they seem to be. The perverse irony in all of this is that she has forced me to adopt a persona that corresponds to her idea of a man. She has constructed a mask for me.
She has agonised over my coming out to her, and it has devastated her. I am sorry for her. But now she is gaslighting me—after saying she wants a separation, she is telling me that she doesn’t mind the transgender thing, its “everything else.” I guess she means kink. It’s hard to know because she isn’t talking to me. It seems awfully childish and weak to throw two decades of marriage out without even talking!
My new therapist and I talked a lot about what my wife is going through. I will hold space for her, but I won’t lie about me, I won’t hide me, I won’t bury me. I can’t do that anymore. Little by little, one by one, I will come out. And I will fight my corner. She can’t take away my need to breathe…and I earned that right when she broke into my computer, read my therapy diaries, and read this blog. I found myself thinking that the sibling I will tell first is the only one I don’t want to have know. I owe it to myself to challenge the hardest parts first…as the rest gets easy.