Unmasked

In the summer of 2011, I was single and entering my second year on hormone replacement therapy. As a 28-year-old trans man, the testosterone surges offered a new sexual freedom, as well as a muscular body to explore this freedom. I was ready to indulge in the flesh. 

In the midst of this sexual freedom, I received a friend request from a woman on Facebook. We had a mutual connection, she had a cute profile picture, so I quickly accepted. Maybe she’d be open to something casual? But would I even be able to do casual? I had a history of monogamy. One therapist called me a serial monogamist. I followed one round of cohabitation with the next.

After a few weeks of exchanging daily messages, we agreed we had to meet. I found myself in an Indiana Starbucks waiting for a Russian orphan who grew up with her adopted family in Colorado. It felt surreal and adventurous, exactly what the testosterone in my veins craved. My phone lit up, “I am outside, but I look like Medusa.” I thought it was an odd reference, but I brushed it off. After all, she was attractive, and I was here for the unusual. During our conversations, we had decided to bypass mundane small talk and dive right into the conversational depths. I was curious about the darkness I’d find there.

She walked into the coffee shop with a shaggy pixie cut, just long enough to fashion herself a tiny ponytail, and a purple dress and brown boots. My assumption that she was in her early 30s were shattered by that tiny ponytail. I walked straight up to her and wrapped both of my arms around her petite frame. I had assumed that our honest conversations had created a connection, a force even, that would draw our bodies instantly together. However, she kept one arm stiffly between us leaving a gap between our bodies. I pulled away, and she looked up, exaggerated eyeliner emphasizing her blue eyes and quietly said, “Your hair … it’s perfect.” The confidence that she had through texts dissolved in front of me. She was reserved and even a little scared. I wondered if I had come on too strong. Maybe a hug was too much? But we had shared so many intimate details, not to mention photos.

We grabbed our drinks and found our way outside. On both of her forearms, she had elegant tattoos in Arabic script that led to loose bracelets. We talked about our plans for the future, each line we spoke felt full of promise. The entire time she spoke in a quiet Russian accent. Well, at least, what sounded like a Russian accent to my untrained midwestern ears. She said Switzerland was her favorite place to visit and she adored Russian literature. I believed her. I was tumbling down her ornate staircase of lies. It didn’t matter because I couldn’t be happier. My fascination with her grew with each new story spilling from her mouth.

We left the coffee shop and made plans to meet again. I drove back to my apartment with the glow of meeting someone that was both interesting and interested. I sent a text to the mutual connection we had on Facebook, “I really like her!” She responded, “She isn’t being honest with you about a few things.” A bit shocked, I replied, “Like?” “Her age and origin.” Those were a mighty few things. The first thought that passed through my mind was the phone call I had made on the way home to tell her it was great to meet her. She answered without the Russian accent. Then, a scarier thought passed through my mind – what if she was much younger than 23, the age she told me. I wasn’t angry, I was confused.

I began to think about my own life. As a transman, I told lies about my changing appearance to protect myself from nosey friends and relatives. My early twenties were filled with denials and confessions. I lied to survive. I often lied to find love. I found myself in tangled love affairs with taken women. I understood a fib or two. At this point, I think most people would have walked away from her. In fact, many of my friends were appalled that I didn’t just drop her. When I look back, I can’t say my cause was entirely noble, after all I did have a new sexual desire to conquer. A part of the reason I didn’t pass immediate judgment is that I wanted to hear her story. I wanted to know her.

When I confronted her, she quickly confessed. She wasn’t Russian. Her accent was faked. She wasn’t adopted. She wasn’t 23, but 20. The only relief was that she was over 18. She was surprised I even wanted to talk to her after what she had done. She thanked me for trying to understand her intentions instead of being offended by her actions. As she confirmed her list of lies, I could feel the coldness of betrayal, and I asked why she had done it. She explained that she pretended to be foreign because she suffered from anxiety and being someone else allowed her to explore the world. She did it often. When she was lost in an airport, she’d ask for help using an accent. She found people were kinder to her. She thrived on the kindness of strangers and the only way to receive it was to be someone else.

I knew that feeling. The way people treated me as a man was far kinder than when I was a butch lesbian. I would go into my local small town grocery store to buy a bouquet of flowers with my mohawk and feminine curves, and I’d get stares. When I went as a man, suddenly, I was being told what a good boyfriend I was and what a lucky lady I had. I was the same person with different packaging. Just like she was the same person with a different accent.

During our conversation, a deep compassion for her overtook my feelings of betrayal. I decided to try and love a flawed person because I understood her particular flaw well. A familiar flaw seemed like an easier one to navigate than an unfamiliar one. I forgave her, but looking back I probably never trusted her. But maybe you can still fall in love, or something resembling it, without trust.

Throughout the two years of our relationship, I tried desperately to know the real her. Occasionally, I’d get close and peek behind her mask. She was earthy, with a love for the outdoors. Her real laugh filled her lungs. She was funny, making bad jokes and doing impressions. When we would explore the isolated barren New Jersey pinelands and start to feel utterly depressed, she’d jump on a rock and recite some quote about despair. During these weirdly bleak moments she brought humor. Maybe because sadness is where she felt most comfortable. 

You’d never see that version of her when her mask was on. Her mask was both figurative and literal – her eyes thickly lined and her face caked with powder. I’d search for clues of who she was in old photos. If she left her Facebook logged on, I’d scrolled through the messages. Only finding out that often her words to me didn’t align with her words about me. Over time it became apparent that when the world celebrates your mask, you keep it on. The world loved her mask. Eventually, I wasn’t sure if I was in love with her or the mask. It began to feel like I fell in love with someone who wasn’t even there. This persona she had made up splintered into every piece of her. Who was she and did she even love me?

Our relationship began to slip down the mountain of lies and betrayal. I found that I was clinging to a version of her that she built during our early days together. She was no longer. She had vanished under a new disguise. She moved to another state. We barely spoke but continued to be in a relationship. Her new mask had new friends and a new job. I let go after an entire year of clinging to small pieces of her, those pieces that would call late in the night to say that she really did love me. I did not go quietly into the night. I raged because I had fallen so madly in love with a mask. I raged as “she” slipped into someone else. 

The real face of ‘The Media’

The Trump administration is attempting to portray the media as a faceless villain. When in reality, the media is a collective of truth-seeking journalists. When I was an active journalist, I sat across from these faces everyday.

The media is Keith, a watchdog reporter, exposing the local government’s corruption.

The media is Phaedra, a dedicated journalist, seeking out and telling the stories of her community.

The media is Lisa, an executive editor, giving a voice to the voiceless.

The media is Jim, a veteran reporter, finding the humanity in tragedy.

The media is every journalist working through the holidays and late into the night to provide accurate coverage. The media isn’t some nameless, faceless system set up to spew lies. The media is full of real people with a deep passion for truth.

The media is my former colleagues. The ones who haven’t posted a single personal opinion about Trump because they work tirelessly to remain unbiased. The ones I joined with around a table and debated the exact placement of each news story – to remain unbiased. The ones who I had lengthy conversations with about covering a tragic story with integrity and sensitivity.

These are people I admire for their ethics and honesty. They remain true to the story even if it is damaging to someone they love, because as journalists we do that. We tell the truth above all else, even when the truth is cold, hard and mean.

Trump is afraid because the media is full of justice warriors and justice will come.

Concussion Consciousness: The Floating L

This is L the floating square. L lived within a world within a world within a world. They would say he lived in a city within a state within a country.
But lots of times, L felt like he lived mostly inside his head. The world within the world within the world was hard for L to understand. He knew his location by heart. But what is a city within a state within a country when you don’t belong. You see, L had always been a floating square. While it seemed everyone else was a standing circle or a rectangle. And since L looked most like a rectangle, everyone wanted him to be a rectangle.

 

They tried to stretch L into a rectangle. They tried to hammer L into a circle. Every time L got close to the ground someone tried to change him.  Eventually, L stopped coming down. He’d float all day. The standing circles and rectangles would look up and talk about L. L forgot the language of his world within a world within a world. Even though the sun and birds made for peaceful company, L was lonely.

 

One day as he was floating he spotted something he had never seen: A balloon with a basket attached. Inside the basket he saw a rectangle. The balloon was flying quickly toward L.
‘Hello, L! I’m A.’ L looked at the stranger. No one had ever tried to float with L. They had always expected him to drop to the ground. ‘Oh.. uh. Hi, A. Uh….’ L stumbled over his words. ‘L, I want to know you.’ L found his words. ‘You don’t want to change me?’ A replied, ‘Never. No one else is quite like you. Who else can float?’ L realized he’d never see any other shape float. Well, without a balloon.

 

 

 

An ode to Amy

Surrounded by red canyons. I wrapped my hand around the strings of the yellow balloon and jumped. My feet lifted off the ground and I sailed through the air over a large blue river, my friends floating down it on rafts. I landed by the river bank. Then I woke up.

Amy laid beside me. I rolled over and looked at her thick brown hair and soft face. I traced her cheekbones. She is my yellow balloon.

Amy is genuinely in love with life. I’ve come to realize that’s a rare gift as we age. She seems to grow more fond of it as she grows older. She still sees the magic. But not in that annoying kind of way. She’s balanced like that.

She sees it and shows it in a way that makes you realize it never left.

You know when you were 22 and you just knew you could and would do all the things, all the adventures, all the accomplishments. Then you hit 32 and made more practical plans so you could buy a house and have health insurance.

Amy still knows she will have all the adventures and achieve all the accomplishments and she knows you will too. And she has weaved that feeling into the fabric of those practical plans.

Amy is a healer – by trade and nature. A tenderness runs through her and it washes over the wounds of those she loves. She can find the hurt and work it out. She works wrapped in calm.

She finds us broken and restless and applies the oils and lays our heads down. And we trust her. We need her.

Amy lets you be whoever, whatever you are on this day or that. That flexibility in acceptance of a person’s identity takes a courage to let go of expectations. To let go of what is tomorrow and what was yesterday.

Amy’s beauty radiates on and on. Amy is gorgeous. She is the kind of beauty you can’t bottle up. She is the kind of lovely you can’t apply with a few brush strokes. She is a beauty built on kindness and magic.

She talks me through the darkest hours with this voice that drips with honey. Placing a hand on my shoulder with a proud look on her face. She tells me to keep going. She keeps me afloat. She is my yellow balloon.

 

3 Fuck Yous to anti-transgender bills

Generally, I write my blogs and columns as a way to bridge the gap between people outside the gender binary and those living deeply within it. I frame issues in a way to create dialogue and mutual understanding. This is important to manifest true change and foster open conversations around ‘controversial’ issues. This is the nature of who I am and the style I will continue to maintain (except today).

As a person living outside the social norms of gender I’m carving out space here to be outraged at the injustice. To be pissed at the 44 bills across  the U.S. targeting transgender people. To feel a sting in my soul at The Advocate’s headline ‘REPORT: 2016 Is the Most Dangerous Year for Transgender Americans.’ I’m angry and I should be. *I will be saying fuck a lot.

So, here it goes.

  1. Fuck you! To the 26 bills trying to prevent transgender people from using public facilities that match their identity.

Ok, most of these bills deal with public restroom usage. I’m mean for fuck’s sake, do you realize how enraged most Americans would be if their bathroom usage was trying to be regulated. I want to do some public shaming here. Let’s just start with Washington. Washington has 6 of these bills. 5 of them repeal laws and regulations that protect transgender people. Really? Didn’t your parents teach you that you don’t give something to someone and then take it away?

really

I’ve got to call Massachusetts out as well. Dude, you were the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. You now have a bill that wants to require people t0 use public facilities according to their anatomical sex. Fuck you. Also, how are you going to regulate this one? The Penis Police? The Vagina Vics. BT-dubs, lots of transgender people will 100% pass your anatomical sex requirement. SO FUCK YOU!

Indiana, I’m sorry but I have to pick on you. You’re near and dear to my heart. I love you so, but frankly, it’s getting harder and harder to defend your beauty and sweetness. You’re an abusive partner that I once adored but then you keep doing crazy shit. You have two bills that say, hey, let’s use your gender assigned at birth as a way to decide what bathroom you use. Guess what???? You’re stupid. First, do you realize how ridiculous it’s going to look to try to sort by this system? Take a look at the Instagram hashtag “transgender.” Ok. How do you decide? Hmmmmm???? Who was assigned male at birth and female? Good fuckin’ luck!

2. Fuck you! To the bills that are trying to allow people and businesses to discriminate against transgender people.

Can we take a minute and realize these bills violate the simplest ideals the majority of us were taught as children? Be kind to others. Don’t hit. Try to understand some people are different from you. Yet, we have grown-ass adults wanting tstorage.torontosunhe legal ability to be dicks. Well, fuck you.

I don’t discriminate. I don’t give a fuck if you’re an extreme hillbilly in love with Trump. That’s you. You do you. I do me. It’s a simple rap philosophy.

3. Fuck you! To the bills that are working to prevent transgender people the ability to change their legal documents to their gender identity. 

I’ve kept my legal documentation all female because for me it’s a tiny bit of activism in my daily interactions. Forcing people to rethink the legal definition of female. But trust me, it’s been awkward as fuck and sometimes even caused me to avoid social situations. But this has been my decision.

However, if some of these bills pass many transgender people will be forced to carry documentation that doesn’t recognize their gender identity. This will not only be awkward but dangerous. Imagine showing your ID to buy beer and you have a beard and a female marker. There are people who will literally kill you because of this.

Let’s say you’re 5’8″ and weigh 145. You get your driver’s license and they have you at 6’5″ and 210. That’d make you uncomfortable, right? Well, take that feeling and multiple it times 100,000 and you get a hint of what it feels like for a transgender person. Fuck you, Tennessee and Virginia.

All jokes aside. Why is it so hard to accept that some people aren’t going to stay the gender they were assigned at birth? People’s decision to do this has no affect on you. Let it go.

Read all about this bullshit here and here.

Also, please show up and vote. Show up and be pissed. Show up for me. Show up at the rallies, sign the petitions, write your governor, write your momma, write your senator.

 

You are who you say you are,
– leo