2 Years of Me

A family of four taking a selfie in Times Square
The Kramer family taking a selfie in Times Square.

I’ve been meaning to write this post all summer, but in the last few months life’s really gotten away from me in some weird ways. It’s September now, and I’m watching the number of days tick away till my birthday. I’m turning 45 this year, a number which is simultaneously meaningless and momentus. When I started to think about transitioning I decided I wanted to do it when I was 42. We were watching the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie recently with the oldest kiddo and I mentioned that fact when we got to the bit with Deep Thought. It doesn’t make as much sense now, just a funny anecdote, but it felt important back then. It was me making my play for a shot at Life, the Universe and Everything. Have I gotten it? Hmm.

I wrote about my first year transitioning in April of last year. The year and a half since have really just slow but steady progress feeling more comfortable in my skin, a lot of loss and sadness, work, and the joy (terror) of being trans in America (on Earth). So let’s jump in, shall we?

Life as Me

It’s a nice coincidence that I just happened to take a selfie in the same dress around the time of the last blog post update and now. The comparison isn’t perfect: The angles aren’t exact, my hair’s different and all that jazz, but there’s some change there, if you look close. I’m that girl on the right now, all the time, which is wild. Of course I still feel like nothing has changed in the last year and a half because that’s how brains work.

I’ve gotten better at being me with a year and a half of practice. I can do a red lip in like a minute now, but I still usually skip eyeliner and mascara because there’s always something else that needs doing, and I don’t think my face looks good without glasses, and I don’t understand all the eyeshadow and primer and setting spray and other products needed for a good look, and help I fell in a dysphoria hole.

So I do a red lip and throw on my just-for-style glasses and get on with it. Here’s a before and after from this morning, on the left is me with no time to get ready, on the right is if I actually get to put myself together.

I’m a housewife right now, having left my last job a month ago. I’ve achieved a bucket list goal, and it’s great, but kind of overwhelming. I know how to do a hopefully passable job at being a mom, wife, and engineering manager at the same time, but it feels like if I’m just a wife and mother the bar is higher. I’ve started bringing cold tea and lemonade to my kids when I pick them up from school, which maybe is a start.

I’m learning more about myself and my traumas and issues. One of my friends said that transition is like pulling up the carpet it an old house. Yes, that horrible carpet is gone, but now you get to figure out all the other things that are underneath. Maybe there are original pine floors, but maybe there’s plywood and awful 70’s linoleum. My plywood and linoleum are largely centered around not feeling like I was safe and understood and belonged as a kid, a fun mix of being neurodivergent, an adopted single child, and trans. I make families so I can take care of them and so someone loves needs me. That’s not healthy and I need to stop it. I need to be able to just be a girl who’s worthy of love, and who also happens to be fun and interesting and caring, too. Learning about yourself is a bear, but it’s growth, and growth is good. Hulk smash trauma!

Me and this guy, we both got problems

I’ve made some new friends since I came out, and many of my older friendships have gotten deeper now that I can be more honest about who I am. I’ve met some people in the local trans community, and more on social media. I’ve made new friends at work. I’m amazed at just how awesome and unique and interesting they all are, and that brings me so much joy. I’m trying to learn how to be a better friend, and how I can be there for people and let them be there for me. It’s a process.

I’m terrible at taking selfies with people, but here are some pictures of me and some of my amazing friends!

Jennifer and Kate, the Macintosh Librarian

I’m letting go more of the things that I used to think defined me, but things that didn’t bring me joy. I’ve been able to donate / offload a couple of chunks of my retro computer collection to the Macintosh Librarian, which makes me very happy. Kate runs an amazing YouTube channel and I know that she’ll take very good care of these relics of a bygone era. Old Jennifer had a really hard time letting things go, new Jennifer is trying to learn to accept that a cycle is important. You get things, you enjoy them, and then you can say goodbye. I’m trying to teach that to my 8 year old, too, but the lesson isn’t sticking.

A girl sitting in front of two black NeXT Station computers.
Me and some NeXt friends, now in Macintosh Librarian’s care

As far as physical changes from the last year and a half, some stuff’s different. Here’s another gratuitous selfie comparison, me in a pencil skirt in May 2021 and me in a pencil skirt in August 2022. Some of this is poise and fit and confidence, some of it is something else. You can decide for yourself how much, or if you’re trans you can ping me and I can give you the low down. Let’s just say that since starting Progesterone I’ve gained 10 pounds and it didn’t go to my tummy.

Looking at these pictures I am amazed at that girl on the left. How much confidence she had, how much she just kept plugging away. It may be a fundamental life truth, that after the fact we’re amazed at what we were capable of. I don’t think I really believed that I’d get to where I am, and lots of days I still feel awful, but today is a good brain day, and today I’m happy with the progress I’ve made.

Life in Grief

Irma and I both lost close, close friends early this year. Mentors, compatriots, supporters. Both to cancer, both in hospice, and less than two months apart. I lost Chad Neff, the guy I met when I first started working in the internet business all those years ago. Chad was an artist, a cowboy, a park ranger, and a fount of stories and humor that I was fortunate enough to experience in my youth. We drove all over San Marcos in his Toyota van connecting people to the internet. The Neffs welcomed me into their family and treated me like one of their own, and I’ll be forever grateful for that. After I moved to Austin and got busier with work and kids I didn’t see Chad as often, but our text message chats were a regular reminder of my weird, wonderful friend. I only got to see Chad once after I transitioned and before he went into hospice. COVID sucks and we didn’t know how fast he was going to decline. Spend time with the people you care about. You don’t have forever.

Jennifer and Chad Neff, sitting together on a bed.
Me and Chad

I was honored to get to give a eulogy for Chad at his memorial. It was the first time I’d gotten up in front of a crowd of mostly strangers and talked, and after it was over and I sat back down in the pew Arthur loudly whispered, “Great speech, mum!” So I guess I did ok.

Life at Work

I spent the last year and a half as an Engineering Manager and then Director of Engineering at a company called Swiftly, working on software to help make public transit better. It was really strange, being a manager at a place that hadn’t really had them before, but also coming into a startup that was starting to mature but hadn’t done so yet. I discovered that I’m prone to taking too much responsibility and I want to sacrifice to do what feels like the best thing for other people, but in the long term that’s unsustainable without really strong support. I think I did some good, encouraged people to grow, and helped make the engineering culture, organization, and technology better.

Jennifer and a few other folks in a conference room.

I was able to make some really great friends at Swiftly, and before I left I got to meet a bunch of them in person in San Francisco. I generally knew I was leaving at that point, so it was very bitter sweet, but I got to check off a lot of things off my ‘life as a woman’ bucket list. Stuff like giving a fellow co-worker who was having a breakdown a hug, being on the opposite side and having a friend watch out for me as I emotionally collapsed, closing the hotel bar down at midnight doing shots with a bunch of other girls, and navigating the city with a girl friend, watching out for each other, but also being myself in a big city and getting a yelled outfit compliment from a girl in a passing car. I’m so grateful I got to experience it.

Work-wise, I learned a ton about leading teams and making change happen in malleable organizations. I also learned about what to watch out for, including spotting traps that will drain the life from people with good intent, how the best intent can lead to dysfunctional situations, and how people are just fallible and are often helpless to do anything about it. I don’t know if I’ll want to do a startup of 100 people again, at least without good relationships with executive leadership, but I’m glad I did it.

When I left HP I didn’t miss it, and I don’t miss Swiftly, but I miss Vox Media, at least the buzzy, exciting days in Product back in 2016 or so. I think there’s something about being part of an organization that tells its own story well, that carefully curates its culture and tries to make people feel like they’re part of something wonderful that’s catnip to me. Being on the other side of that, where you’re the person at the top responsible for ensuring that culture gets crafted could be good, I suppose. Logically that’s where I would end up in my career, at some small startup that was just trying to figure culture out, but it must look different from the other side, mustn’t it? The film looks different to the director than to the caterer or the prop wrangler. In any case, that’s a problem for another time.

Life at Home

Jennifer and the kids in a store mirror

The last year and a half at home has been largely about having two kids in school during a pandemic. We’re managing the best we can. I do a lot of the traditional mom duties in our house, and have for a long time. I need to feel needed, and a house with two elementary age kids in it definitely needs someone to cook and clean and do laundry and get the kids to school.

I know it’s problematic, from a patriarchal view. I’m doing what I saw my mom and hundreds of TV and movie moms do in order to keep the house running and keep her family happy and healthy. I’m trying to work on asking for help more, but a small, scared, very sensitive to rejection part of me is terrified that if my family didn’t need me I wouldn’t have a place in it.

I didn’t care for the latest Dr. Strange movie. I didn’t like Wanda Maximoff’s heel turn, and how they used her desire to have a family to do it. She does terrible things because she wants a family to love and to care for. She uses means that the establishment consider abnormal to get it. I couldn’t enjoy that movie. It felt like a condemnation.

Jennifer and the kids in the car

The kids keep getting bigger, and it’s interesting to see how the nature and nurture aspects of upbringing reveal themselves below the surface. Irma and I’s kids are very much like us. You can pull out a trait or a gift or a quirk from us or somewhere up our family lines, and there it is. It’s amazing and weird and hilarious when they laugh at the same thing we do, or quote the same lines we used to. The older one is binge-watching shows that Irma and I watched, and now we have even more shared touchstones. It’s lovely. They’re also starting to edge towards teenagerdom, and memories of the feelings from those awful angst ridden years are surfacing. I feel every flustered, embarrassed, sobbing stomp up the stairs in my bones.

The gift I’ve gotten as a parent is to be able to be the kind of parent I needed when I was a kid. I am certainly far, far from perfect, but I am trying. When I get to tell my kids something I wish someone had told me when I was their age it’s the most gratifying thing in the world.

Jennifer and Irma in Times Square

Irma and I continue to figure out life. We both had a lot of stress this year, way more than felt fair, but we supported each other, and we have hopes for easier days ahead. We hadn’t had a babysitter since the start of the pandemic, and we both worked, which meant we had very little time together without the kids. We finally found someone a few months ago, and it’s been nice to get some time for just the two of us again.

Lots of couples where a spouse transitions don’t make it. Trans people sometimes marry people they think will fix them, or marry the people who turn out to not be accepting, or their spouse just isn’t attracted to the gender identity the trans person end up at. It’s a hard thing, rewriting your relationship story while still having all the memories and traumas and issues from before. I’m so grateful that Irma and I found each other all those years ago, and that we’re doing our best to adjust to this new normal. I’m a lucky girl.

On the fun side of things, this spring we got to go to New York for the second year in a row, which was fun. I love exploring with the family and I’m glad we can keep doing it. We’ve gotten into Only Murders in the Building so it was neat to go see the Belnord which plays the Arconia in exteriors.

Only Tourists in the Building

A Little Q & A

I asked for questions for this post and got a few, so here are some things you may be wondering.

“Are there any differences in how people treat you as a woman now?”

Yes! Women are kinder and more open or genuine, I think. They strike up conversations and it’s easy and feels natural. Sisterhood is definitely a thing. Men are often more confused or dismissive, especially when I do things like ask for a pair of needle nosed pliers at a car dealership. With a few men I feel like I’m being talked down to a lot more, or dismissed. They’ll tell me things they probably shouldn’t admit outloud, or assume they know everything and I don’t know anything any just talk at me about things I already know. In some ways it’s a relief, to not feel like I have to show that I’m smart, too, but I’m old enough and experienced enough that I don’t feel like I need to do that, and if I was younger I’m sure it would infuriate me.

People have tried to be extra nice to me in ways that start to feel insincere, which is awkward, though that may be a bit of overly performative allyship. I got an ‘I’d tap that’ comment from someone I knew professionally. I’m not young, I’m white, my style and presentation are overly femme, and I’m 5′ 10″ in flats, so I benefit greatly from the patriarchy and get a lot of respectful (presumably) “Ma’am”‘s from people.

“What I want to know is what is the most different than you thought it’d be.”

Tilly, you’re going to get a dumb answer, but an honest one.

Before I transitioned I thought having boobs for real would be amazing and I’d be constantly obsessed with them. All the magical female gender transition tropes have girls obsessed by their new cleavage, but when it actually happens, they’re just like… there. I assume it’s just like it is for other women, we may hate our boobs or love our boobs but they’re just a body part and part of life and they’re fun sometimes in the right hands and society puts a lot of value on them, but as long as they look ok, most of the time I don’t think about them. They kinda get in the way if you’re a side sleeper, I’m still envious of girls with bigger ones, but they aren’t my whole world. I will say that looking in the mirror and seeing them when I wash my hands, they are a nice reminder that I’m probably doing this transition thing ok.

“I’d love to know the unexpected and beautiful ways your life has changed! Not the big things but the tiny joys you didn’t imagine.”

I love seeing older men and knowing I won’t have to ever be that.

I love the small, spontaneous chats with other girls, like when the waitress at our local haunt showed me some cherry earrings she’d gotten that reminded her of me.

I love being able to give people compliments, and getting a ‘I love your dress’ from someone.

I love not having to pretend to be someone I’m not. There’s so much freedom in not trying to be this successful, confident, fake person you’ve cobbled together from movies and TV shows and books.

I love being sad and just feeling it, and understanding wanting to just feel it.

I love being able to let go of things that aren’t right and not being crippled by fear that I’ve made a mistake, but instead knowing that I can grieve a bit if I need to and it’s ok.

I love it when I look in the mirror and see the beautiful girl that was hiding inside for all those years.

I love not having to know everything or be perfect.

“I’d love to know more about how you found support and this glowing confidence! Did you seek any support from a mental health professional? ESP now that it seems to be less taboo.”

The confidence is it’s own mysterious force. The pain of dysphoria and living in the closet drags you forward and then you have momentum and the euphoria of new things pushing you to keep going and then your life just kinda is what it is. At least for me. I spent years and years collecting a toybox of things I loved and knew about and desperately wanted and now I get to play in it and share it with people.

As far as mental health professionals, I have a therapist who I started seeing a few months before I started hormone therapy. It’s mostly just talk therapy, but she has had a lot of other trans patients so especially in the beginning it was very comforting to have someone who could say, ‘oh yea, a lot of my patients talk about that,’ when I was dealing with new things. There’s a lot of gatekeeping in trans healthcare, so having a long term relationship with a therapist who can write me letters for surgery recommendations if I need them is really useful. I have a psychiatrist but that was for ADHD, we don’t really talk about transness.

“What are some ways people have been particularly supportive and here do you feel like people could be more supportive of you?”

I love it when people give me feedback or respond to me on social media. It can feel like I’m vogue-ing into the void sometimes, but having a group of people who encourage me and respond positively helps keep the fears away. Every once in a while someone will pop up and tell me I’m an inspiration, or they love my style choices, or something like that, and I treasure those moments. I also share when I’m feeling down sometimes, and the messages of support then may not make everything better, but they mean a ton.

I love seeing people share articles about trans rights issues, especially when it isn’t Trans Day of Visibility or Pride month. There aren’t enough of us, our allies are critical, and the fact that you took the time to read up on something or decide to share it with your likely mostly cis audience means a lot.

“Gender is part of your identity, but you are also so many other things as well. What impact if any has coming out had on other aspects of yourself?”

I’d say it has made things easier. I’ve been able to shed some baggage and some trappings of a life that I was leading because I felt I had to, but one that wasn’t real. I think I’m kinder to the rest of me now.

How should we think about there suddenly being this giant rise in trans people and our kids doing things they’ll potentially regret.

First, the statistics on gender dysphoria are pretty clear. Untreated gender dysphoria and a trans person whose gender identity is invalidated or mocked by their family will have significantly higher incidences of mental health issues and suicide than a trans person in a family where someone accepts them and validates their gender identity. Not accepting trans people or making it harder to transition or be accepted as who they are is patriarchal violence. (The only people that benefits from the enforcement of rigid, binary gender structures are the people in power in a patriarchal system. I’ll talk more about that later.)

Kids will experiment, it’s what they do, they put on identities and personas as they grow up. When a child comes to you and says that they’re actually a girl and would like to wear dresses and be called a feminine name, or says they’re a boy and never wants to wear dresses again and wants you to use a masculine name, or doesn’t feel like either and wants to use they/them pronouns, the chances are very, very, very high that that child understands themselves on a deep level and is trying to share that with you. If they do it consistently, it is almost a certainty that they have some gender issues, and the best thing you can do is support them.

The reason we have a rise in trans identification in America isn’t because it’s a fad or in vogue, it’s that the representation is finally there to the point where people are not terrified to step out of the patriarchal birth-assigned gender binary line. Everyone shares the chart of left handedness once we stopped punishing it, and it’s exactly the same. Trans people have always been here, some of us have always known ourselves, but we were terrified to speak out, either because we tried and were shoved back into the closet by someone we entrusted our secret to who wasn’t prepared or worthy of it, or because all the representation we saw was mockery.

The incidents of trans people who detransition, especially those who do so due to something other than societal or family pressure, is less than 3% and possibly less than 1% according to studies. The rate of regret from trans people who’ve had gender affirming surgeries is less than 1%, a rate lower than pretty much any other type of surgical procedure.

Transness and gender identity is a journey. The best thing you can do for someone who is on it is accept them as exactly what they say are, and assume that this is exactly who they have been their entire life unless they give you specific insight otherwise. I’ve always been a girl, the world just didn’t see me as one. If at some point in the future through learning about myself I discover that I’m non-binary, then I will have always been non-binary, I was just on a journey to discover that before then.

If you are a parent or teacher or friend of a trans person, accept and celebrate that person’s identity as much as you can without being awkward or creepy. That shy non-binary kid probably doesn’t want to stand up in front of everyone at parent-teacher night and tell a crowd about their pronouns. They just want you to use the right name and the right pronouns and see them as not a boy or a girl and not make a big deal out of it. On the other hand, the trans woman who’s constantly posting online about transness and trans joy would probably be happy to come talk to a class about gender identity and what it’s like to transition.

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