When I was a kid we took a trip to Lake Chautauqua in Western New York. After lazily lying by the lakeshore for a couple of days, we headed to a small amusement park in town. While the other kids were excited, I was not.
There was a children’s rollercoaster that was probably no more than 50 yards long and 50 feet tall, but I steadfastly refused to climb aboard. My friends thought I was being ridiculous. I knew otherwise. I was saving myself from imminent peril. I do not like rollercoasters.
I was sharing my last couple of weeks with my therapist (yes, we therapists usually have a therapist) and she said, “You do realize your life is an ongoing never ending rollercoaster, right?” To have someone speak the words aloud was both comforting and frightening. “Oh! So there is a reason I feel like I’m flying up and down and flung all around! It’s because I am!” Let me illustrate.
Through the generosity of delightful a new friend, last week I was in meetings with some amazing corporate leaders. When the afternoon was over I was in a rather melancholy mood. I felt I could have done better in my presentation, and I was feeling inadequate. It was the first time since I transitioned that I have been in a room with people at that level of corporate leadership. Paul had no trouble fitting into those environments. Paula struggled.
On my way home, as we sat on the tarmac waiting for the ramp to reopen after a thunderstorm, I called my co-pastor, Jen. She talked me off the little ledge on which I had placed myself. Later that night she wrote these words: “Unfortunately I think your level of frustration and pain is commensurate with the level of comfort you felt as a powerful white male. I’m not sure how to comfort you other than to say you’re doing very important work and I’m really excited to see where it will all lead.”
I don’t walk into any room with a leg up. First, I arrive as a woman, and every single day I am reminded that women have far less power than men. Second, I am transgender, and even those who are supportive are usually a little wary upon first meeting a transgender woman. My degrees, my 35 years of non-profit leadership, my breadth and depth of experience – once people know I am transgender, they are all discounted like a penny stock.
I have been toppled from my perch in the rarified air of white male power. I have no doubt that cisgender women say, “Uh, huh. Now double that and you might understand my experience.” People of color might suggest I triple or quadruple it. All of this is appropriately humbling, but it is still a rollercoaster. And did I mention I do not like rollercoasters.
The fall from the peak of male privilege to being rejected by those you loved and worked with for years is gut wrenching. No amount of harnesses or lap bars can keep you in your seat. You hang on by your fingertips. And then it keeps happening time and again.
With over 1.5 million views, my TED talk has been popular beyond my wildest dreams. I receive wonderful emails from all over the world, followed by terrible emails from all over the world (well, mostly the nasty one’s come from the United States.) In the past week I’ve been answering between 10 and 15 emails a day. (I do not answer the nasty ones.)
My son’s book is done. The book is entitled, She’s My Dad. It’s Jonathan’s book, but I wrote responses to five of the chapters. It’ll be out by the time we speak together at a big event later this fall. I got the final edits last week. It is so raw, and difficult, and painful and beautiful. I had to read it in small snippets. There were just too many emotions.
If you are transgender and trying to figure out if you should transition, be careful. It is a road full of fallen branches and stones, and you must traverse it in the middle of a massive storm on the darkest of nights. It is not a journey for those who have not been called.
I suppose narcissists can travel it without too much trouble, because they don’t give a shit what other people think. But if your heart is easily broken, then prepare for it to be broken into a million tiny pieces. Then, as you ride the transgender rollercoaster, those pieces will be thrust up into your throat and then down into your gut and then up into your throat. Over and over again. And did I mention, I do not like rollercoasters?