~In Oregon, when I'll start cross-living as a female, I won't have to contend with friends who knew me as a male.


CHANGING PLACES

BENT covers the
First International
Queer Disability Conference
San Francisco State University
June 2 &3, 2002

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One of the most important accomplishments of the Queer Disability conference was its insistence on obliterating false boundaries, destroying preconceptions, broadening our understanding of what it means to be queer & disabled. Angel Jaedeen, BENT contributor and frequent participant in Disgaytalk, continues the work of the conference with some candid talk about change -Bob Guter, Editor

 

Dear Friends at Disgaytalk and BENT,

I have about another week before I'll be leaving you all for just a short time. At least I hope it will be a short time.

I've been on my own and independent now for about a year, without all the nurses and caregivers that I've spent most of the last ten years living and working with while I learned to "deal" with my HIV status and its many consequences. I feel like I've lived a lot of my recent past in "stealth," trying to figure out how to respond to people who sometimes expressed very odd views of me and my impairment.

Because of that, I chose to be an undercover crip whenever I could get away with it. Sometimes it was just too painful emotionally to do anything else, since my real goal was to get on my feet long enough to transform my life in ways that have nothing to do with HIV. I've finally decided that I need to head in a new direction, free of the complications that resulted from some of the less than noble responses that friends, lovers and caregivers were exhibiting.

That's the background, and here's my Big Decision: I am moving to Oregon at the end of June, where I plan to start over, after living in California for a whopping twenty-five years. Since I won't have Internet access right away, I'll be out of touch with you for a time, so I want to thank ALL of you right now, for the limitless support, patience and concern that you shown me during all the time (years now!) that we've been e-talking. It was incredible being a part of this list and its crew. I learned so much that I'd never have learned anywhere else, and I want you all to know that you play a vital role in the lives of others who struggle with being gay and disabled. Keep up the awesome work.

The place I'm headed to is Klamath Falls Oregon, where a dear friend offered me my own room. After considering it for about a month, and trying during my last months here to find a new place of my own with absolutely no luck, I decided that this would be a good chance for me to start over without all the baggage I'd picked up here—yes, emotional baggage, not possessions!

California has been and always will be my first love among the states. It's progressive (most of the time), and the people are just darn freaky, which I like. But I really felt it was about time for me to take the big plunge and see if I can make it in a new environment. What's the big deal about a new environment? I'm excited about it because it will give me a whole new start in a place where no one knows me or my history. I'll be able to implement some of the changes I need in my life right now without people looking over my shoulder all the time, something I'm aware of constantly here.

I know I am taking a big chance, but no creature, large or small, evolves without pressure and crisis, so if it turns out that I'm jumping from the frying pan into the fire, well, I've always thrived on a hot time!

In Oregon, when I'll start cross-living as a female, I wont have to contend with friends who knew me as a male. Plus, believe it or not, there are tons more gender clinics both in Oregon and in Washington State, where I'll eventually be going when Daniel gets out of prison. Since that's only two years away, I'm getting a head start in my efforts to seek reeducation so I can work again, and find a place where we can live together (happily ever after, of course!).

Daniel is very supportive of my move and my gender reassignment, and since some of you have asked questions about the latter, let me assure you, No you're not nosy . . . just curious. I'll tell you what I know, which isn't a lot yet.

I'm still in my first year of gender therapy. Some transsexuals move fast through this stage, others don't. Right now, I'm taking it very, very slowly, learning what I need to know and talking to others, in support groups (when I can find them) and even in less structured surroundings, when I get the chance.

I didn't exactly come to the table on my transgenderism, (I probably made a faux pas there, I'm not totally conversant with the terms yet—there seem to be so many meanings to so few word), or if you like, on my transsexual status, with a happy face. I really wigged out (pun intended) and solidly refused for the longest time to even consider sexual reassignment surgery or hormone therapy, but those days are long past. I'm not interested in fooling myself any longer, but neither do I have an absolutely clear idea of where I'll be going with this.

The question of whether or not my body is strong enough for reassignment surgery is still an issue, and probably will be until treatment succeeds in boosting my immune system. And there are related issues regarding the healing afterwards.

After two or three years in gender therapy, most transsexuals begin a cross-living phase, where they live in their intended gender, to acclimate themselves to the impending change. After at least a year, often longer, the psychological and emotional shift starts in earnest, and with the help of intensive psychological and hormone therapy during the next two years you make the final pre-surgery decisions—you know, little things, like which anatomical alterations you've chosen!

Its HUGE, the process, daunting and turbulent. I'm very lucky to have a guy who loves me, knows what I am, and is both willing and excited for me to have the chance at that new life and gender. But it's a lot to absorb sometimes. How you adjust, how you deal with the difficulties, that process is intensely personal. No two people approach it the same way.

The realization that I'm about to face lots of difficult times helped me decide to move to Oregon. I need to be near friends who understand and support my decisions, and most of all, who won't freak at losing the man they've known all these years. My friend in Oregon is one such person—accepting, supportive and nurturing. All qualities I'll need in spades.

I can tell you, too, that I know my fears are not exaggerated. The town I live in now is an odd place. It's a resort, just two hours from the gay mecca of San Francisco, and a playground for the rich and terminally gorgeous! Even so, it has its share of "gender minority" folks. In fact, there are drag queens, transvestites, and transsexuals (transitioned ones and un-transitioned ones) galore. It is, for the most part, progressive where issues of gender, sexual orientation (sic), and GBLT subjects are concerned. Despite all this, I worry that my history and my candor might come back to haunt me here once I began taking steps in earnest toward transition to a female gender.

Precisely because I've been open with people, I know the resentment and confusion they feel about me, and it's caused very real difficulties in our interactions. Because I lived and worked in the GLBT world, I assumed that our culture was free of the prejudice and hatred that could be seen "outside." I was wrong. Being transsexual or transgendered puts you on the outside. You learn that you are neither one thing nor the other, and as challenging as that can be personally, it can also be confusing and frightening socially, a real obstacle for friends and acquaintances. Sometimes I think the pronoun-use issue alone is enough to confuse the most brilliant among us!

Imagine how it feels when you have to field questions from friends like, "Why would you want to cut it off?" Nothing prepared me for that question, or the hurt I felt at having my friends ask it. It was as if the only part of me that mattered was what's between my legs. During this last year I realized that no explanation, let alone the true one, that I feel "wrong" in my gender, would ever be an adequate response to those who asked that question.

In their minds they were losing someone they knew and were comfortable with, for someone they didn't know and had absolutely no idea of how to interact with. Finally, I tired of trying to explain. The gulf seemed too huge. Once I decided that I had to go through with this for my own deep reasons, nothing else mattered.

So here I am, off to Oregon, scared but resolute, knowing that I'm about to make a major life change that excites me with it's possibilities and frightens me with it's dangers. But I've never been one to shy away from adventure, even when the outcome is anything but sure.

Take care of yourselves please, and don't give up the fight!

Love,
Angel

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ANGEL JAEDANN is a transgender poet, artist, and activist.

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/July 2002