Of course, “passing” is a given goal for most transgenders. This is, of course, where the “T” part of the LGBT alphabet spins off to its own separate category, with double asterisks. Let’s face it, if you are “simply” gay, coming out “just” means that now you can be yourself. It usually does not mean you are changing your appearance, other than maybe sporting a new tattoo or three, or perhaps a tight new tee and some absolutely-to-die-for painted-on pants. But if you are TRANS, and if you’ve gone the distance of facing up to your gender identity issue—with all of the accompanying therapy, heartache, loved one disappointments, and societal adjustments—at the very least you want to be able to dress and appear as your true gender. In my case, that has meant growing out my hair—and it is a true blessing that I still have hair to grow!—hours and hours of electrolysis and laser hair removal (waxing was OUT!), and hundreds of dollars of cosmetics—not to mention the skirts that I’ve bought, and the shoes, and the bras and panties…
All of this—even becoming a “stunning” woman, visually—would be great, except for one problem: my voice. Puberty gave me a deep, commanding, male voice, with the kind of pipes that allowed me to intimidate witnesses simply through inflection and tone. It is a “radio voice.”
“Isn’t it true sir that you knew the light was red but you chose to drive through it, possibly quite intoxicated and with your eyes closed, anyway?” Great for a trial lawyer seeking to win cases; not so great for a 53-year-old transgender trying finally to “pass” as a chick.
And so I started on a long course of speech therapy at the University of Iowa Wendell Johnson School for Speech Therapy, working with a great instructor and a series of grad students. With their help, I have been able to finally get my pitch up to just the lowest range for women: the Lauren Bacall, Kathleen Turner range—and that, only after an hour of practice. Since I cannot reasonably do an hour of voice practice every day before my first, “Good morning!” my voice still gives me away. Such as the time when a parking garage attendant said, “Thank you sir,” as I handed him a tip. I was made up, wearing a skirt, boots, jewelry, and had my hair curled. I mean, really!
Or there was the time when I was driving to visit Dr. Z for a consult and stopped at a McDonald’s for breakfast. I asked the man behind the counter if there was a fork in the sack; and he quickly responded, “Yes sir.” I mean, God, if there was any doubt about having plastic surgery, my experience at McDonalds took care of that. Thank you, Ronald McDonald.
We are a visual culture, far more than we are auditory. My hope is that if I can undeniably present as a woman in terms of my facial features, the voice will become secondary and be far less problematic. People may hear a deep, husky voice, but if they see a woman, the “yes sir” stuff should stop. Or so I tell myself.
What is it about our society that makes gender so ingrained in us that someone has to refer to me as “him” when clearly I am trying to present myself—I in fact identify myself, to the point of wearing the appropriate clothing, hair styles, and even makeup—as a woman? This is not simply an Ellen Krug issue, it is one that all of us deal with. Hey, butch lesbians out there, you know what I’m talking about, sir. Hey, guys with high voices who get “yes, ma’am” on the phone, you know what I’m talking about, too.
It is as if gender is the GPS for our societal navigation—that different expectations and roles arise depending on the perceived gender of the person or people with whom we are dealing. None of this is news, but let me tell you, I’m living what seems to be an extraordinary experiment, one in which the stakes are pretty damned high—since my happiness seems to be dependent on whether I can pull off this “successfully-switch-your-gender” thing.
All of us have self images that are exceedingly important to our well-being and our ability to make our ways through the world. We see ourselves as masculine or feminine or somewhere in between, but our self-image is fundamental to who we are. When society tells us our self-image is not working—that is, that the image we have of ourselves is not “passing”—great grief can ensue. Go Google “Christine Daniels” and see what it brings up (a story about a Trans sports writer for the LA Times who transitioned from male to female and then reverted to her boy role in part because she was not passing). You will find the words, “Suicide, Thanksgiving, 2009” associated with her name. All of us in the LGBT world (and yes, I am now including ALL of the letters) know this acceptance stuff is damned important—some would say essential. We have the right to live our lives AS WHO WE ARE. It is that simple. And that complicated. All at once.
My totally unsolicited advice: go forth, be yourself, and don’t worry about some dork in a parking garage or some ditz at McDonald’s. Those people have not walked in your shoes and have no clue about the courage and guts it takes to be YOURSELF. Be happy that we can do this.
Most of all, be genuine and true. It is the responsibility you owe to yourself. It is also a responsibility we owe to those who will follow us. Even if you are a 53-year-old chick with baggy eyes, who for the previous 52 years looked like a man every day.
But hey: Those eyes should not be baggy for much longer. Stay tuned!