By Lisa P.
My previous essay on the logistical challenges faced by transgender women (Logistics Part II) focused on clothing, the digital world, and expenses. This time I will address neighbors and acquaintances (the other people in our lives), body maintenance, mental health, and online shopping/shipping. I cannot possibly cover the full gamut of logistical issues we face. For example, I haven’t discussed the challenges we face in arranging salon services or similar outings, or the problems created by an unwillingness to croak out a question or comment, laugh or cough in a decidedly male voice. Kandi uses her own voice, with feminine affect, but I have a very deep voice (think James Earl Jones), so I have had to alter it significantly. I have a trained singing voice, which allows me to get by passably well (although Kandi can tell you if that is true or an idle boast). In addition, we each have unique lives with challenges specific to us. For example, I am a swimmer and I micro dose HRT to address my dysphoria. That has led to my own peculiar challenge of being a legal male with some breast development who must navigate a men’s locker room by covering my top or a woman’s locker room by covering my bottom. For the record, for the time being I am generally using the male locker room, but I have used women’s changing rooms many times in the past, so I am aware of both types of challenges. I am guessing that problem is not widely shared by many of you dear readers (thankfully, you are probably saying to yourselves!), which is why I am not discussing it here. Fear not, for every challenge I have faced, I have found a solution, and I have no doubt that you can do the same. The point for all of us is that we need not give up. Being our true selves takes patience and perseverance, as well as planning and pluck.
1. Other People
Logistical issues created by interacting with the other people in our lives (specifically neighbors and acquaintances but including family members we are not out to as well) is a very broad topic even for this broad, worthy of a post all its own. One of the reasons many of us (at great risk to our personal safety, I might add) spend time out and about at night is to avoid being seen by people who may know us. I no longer go out at night on my own, except to familiar, well-lighted and well-trafficked areas, unless I am with others. Being stalked once was enough to cure me of that m’lady malady. Take it from me, nighttime is not the friend you may think it is. Much danger lurks in the darkest corners of men’s thoughts and lairs, and many of them take delight in discovering a target. Yet, I must admit that leaving home during daylight can be a challenge. When I had my flat in London it was all about not being seen by my neighbors in the lift. But I remain on edge even outside the big city because in my neighborhood everyone seems to have a dog who needs to be walked (in front of my home, no less) right at the moment I am late for a class or meeting. Scouting immediately prior to my departure generally works, but I find that I need to give myself extra time in case I need to delay my departure. One time I was late to ballet class because one of my friends and neighbors decided to engage in a lengthy conversation at the end of my driveway. If I had pulled out, he would have approached the driver’s window (friendly chap that he is), revealing Lisa in her full ballet kit. Oh, the joys of our existence.
Separately, I am wary of the “nosy neighbor” problem, as I enjoy my backyard garden space, especially in the Spring, when the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and Lisa is ready to put on a pretty dress just to please herself. At any time, a neighbor can decide to “take a quick look” to see what is happening at Lisa’s house. If you think that never happens, then you don’t have neighbors like mine! One day I was in my bathing suit (I know, it is hard to imagine, but Kandi has seen me (and I her), and we both agreed that we rock in bathing suits) in my backyard only to catch out of the corner of my eye a teenage girl climbing across my neighbor’s roof. I don’t think she saw me because of the angle, but you are probably wondering (like me) why a young woman would be walking around on the roof. I have to say I don’t blame her, however, as I did something similar when I was her age – the age of exploration….
I probably should add at some point that I have decided in my own mind that being discovered may occur, regardless of the best laid plans of female mice (I apologize for the oblique literary reference, but it just seems to work in this context), as it goes with the territory. I may not be out, but I am proud, and if I ultimately am found out, I will make my smile even bigger, stand even taller and look directly in the eye of whomever I know who has now discovered my truth. There is no better defense than knowing who you are and that you do not need to apologize for it.
2. Body Maintenance
Unless you were assigned female at birth (AFAB), you undoubtedly have many tells (see my essay “What is the Most Telling”). We all do. The good news is that most AFAB women are constantly working to improve their own feminine image, so we are not alone. Moreover, many of the products and services available to women not only are accessible to those of us who are TG/CD, but also may help us even more than they help AFAB women. For example, (i) when we get our nails done our short fingers and toes not only look prettier but also appear to be longer, (ii) when we get our eyebrows shaped, we not only get neater eyebrows but also our close-set eyes open up, (iii) when we eliminate body hair, it not only takes away an obvious differentiator for males, but also helps us look younger, and (iv) when we take care of our skin, we not only have healthier looking skin but the contrast between us and male folks becomes more stark.
For that reason, I do all the above, and more, to both look and feel more like a woman. I particularly advocate for good skin care, especially for our younger readers. About a decade ago I started seriously applying sunscreen, using cleansers and moisturizers in the morning and evening, and regularly exfoliating my skin. I can honestly say that my skin looks healthier and is in better shape because I take these steps regularly, and I can’t recommend them strongly enough. Recently, I added Vitamin C in the morning. No doubt you are saying to yourself, “that sounds complicated, costly and time-consuming,” and you would be right. It isn’t easy being a girl! Other writers on this blog have done a good job recently discussing manicures/pedicures, so I won’t talk about them (although they are one of my favorite things to do – most guys don’t know what they are missing). I won’t go into detail now on my hair elimination regimen (I have an essay in progress that I may or may not share, as my experiences may not resonate with enough of you) but suffice it to say that any serious TG/CD person must work very hard to rid themselves of unwanted body/facial hair. The process can be frustratingly slow, sometimes uncomfortable, frequently imperfect, and always annoying. In the end, we must want to be women badly to put up with all of it.
3. Mental Health
Which leads me to mental health, as the subject is rarely addressed on any forum, but is serious indeed. I don’t know a single TG/CD person who hasn’t told me about the stress, anxiety, depression and/or trauma associated with dealing with their status as a TG/CD person. The good news is that there are counselors who specialize in gender identity matters and the online therapy world has made those counselors much more accessible and affordable. Adding a counselor to your schedule, however, may not be easy (or easy to explain). I know I resisted for a long-time, confident in the fact that I was coping in healthy ways and the stress of all “this” had not yet killed me. Many allies told me I was thinking about it wrong, and I am glad that I listened to them. My therapist is a non-judgmental human being who simply listens as I talk through my concerns. She doesn’t tell me I am good or bad, doing it right or doing it wrong, living well or living poorly. I make those decisions for myself. But, having spent more than five decades desperate to understand myself, I realized that I was internalizing many of my fears and pain.
Like a good cry, putting all those things on the table is healthy for us. I know it can be logistically challenging to find someone. I spent almost a year before I found a psychologist who could properly diagnose me. After her, it took me another two years to find a good therapist who could help me sort out the “what now?” questions that have continued to swirl around in my brain. In fact, I would say that the number one question I continue to ask myself (almost daily) is “what is my end game?” If you are CD and blissfully content with your status and your ability to express yourself, then I would guess you are an outlier. Most TG/CD persons need and want to understand what it means for their life, work, and family. If you have questions like that, or if you find yourself deeply depressed, focus on resolving logistical challenges in this area first. That is my strong recommendation: figure out a way to get whatever help you need. And, because I should add a public service message in this section, let me add that if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, dial 988 (the new suicide and crisis lifeline) right now.
4. Mail Order
I originally didn’t plan to discuss buying things online. Previous comments, however, made me realize how many of us struggle to build out our wardrobe and we frequently use online shopping for the convenience, comparison shopping and relative anonymity it can provide. The primary challenge is having things delivered, but other problems abound, such as shopping accounts shared with a spouse/partner, mailing in returns when something doesn’t fit or doesn’t match the description and controlling spending (I already discussed that one at length, but there is something about the ease of online shopping and the immediate “reward” of seeing something in your basket that breeds a curious sort of shopping addiction).
I have found with online shopping that it helps to develop a history with specific brands, as then one knows the quality of the clothing as well as the size that fits best. Overall, I think all of us “older” girls would have to say that online shopping is a godsend. In the “old days” (note: the “good old days” were not that good, in my opinion, so I don’t use that term), we had no choice but to shop furtively, rarely, and often ineffectively. Today, even if we must go weeks or months without the opportunity to shop in person, we can still live as ourselves by buying clothes and makeup online and enjoying them at home. Not to mention coping during the pandemic when shopping malls and High Street stores were shuttered.
My own experiences have been mixed with online shopping, but largely positive. Services like Amazon Lockers have been very helpful, but having things delivered to work or to another address has also worked for me…up to a point. Just this month, I decided to have a dress delivered to my office from Amazon so I wouldn’t have to explain it to my DADT spouse. Guess what? For the first time (after hundreds of purchases), the mail room in my office opened my package (I must assume by mistake), so that the item inside became identifiable as female attire. The mail room representative came by to deliver it and made a cheeky comment about how he would keep his mouth shut about what I was buying if I paid him a little something under the table….I know him very well (and he happens to be gay), so I was sure he was kidding me, but still I had to fight the physical reaction of having my face turn red as I stood in a suit in my office holding a red dress! Clearly, it is an example of how things can go wrong even when you plan them out carefully!
I haven’t had any problems with returning items to a local drop off location (the convenience of which often leads me to prefer Amazon over other online retailers). If I am buying something from a “big box” retailer, it has been fairly easy to take the “pick up at store” option to avoid explaining the purchase, but then I have to traipse down to the store a second time if I have a return. On a couple of occasions I have returned an extra item that I didn’t pay for. I have usually made a point of returning it as Lisa, as I want to convey to the store that TG folks are just as honest as the large majority of non-TG people. I must add at the end, however, that although I am discussing online purchasing, I personally have a strong preference for buying things in person and trying on clothes at a retailer before buying them. There is nothing quite like getting a bra fitting from a retailer only too happy to sell a bra to anyone who wants and needs one, knowing that both the fit and look will be correct! My bottom line is to shop till your keystrokes stop (if you can afford it), but don’t let the online world prevent you from experiencing the joys of being out and about in the real world.
As I admitted at the outset, this brief series cannot possibly cover every logistical issue. Not on your life! There are problems unique to each of us, created by our specific situations. These days I call myself a “hybrid” model: I live both as a man and as a woman. “Man” when my wife, family, friends, and work need to see me or only know me as a man, and woman for the rest of the time. Without being out to the world, the reality for me is not only must I hide the characteristics of the “other,” but also, I must deal with changing back and forth a lot (physically and psychologically). I could write another series of essays on the difficulties I face threading that needle, but some of my challenges are specific to me (and while not unique are likely shared by only a small percentage of this audience). With that in mind, it is time to hear from you. What have been your biggest logistical challenges and experiences addressing them?