Ass/u/me

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“Separate checks?” Inquires our server.

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“Are you wanting 2 beds?” The hotel clerk asked. She knew she was down to a king room and was afraid we wouldn’t want it.



 I knew when I decided to transition that I would be treated differently than when presenting as male, but I forgot to think about how Debbie & my relationship would be perceived.

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 Seeing the world through not just females eyes, but from a lesbian perspective is quite enlightening. I never thought about all the assumptions that people make on a day to day basis. Two women having a meal must just be friends and checking into a motel, well, they have to just be traveling companions.

 The thought that we might just be a couple is the last thing that seems to come to mind.

 My daughter has joined a book club and after a few gatherings she explained to them that I was trans. First question was ‘how do you work custody of the grandchild?’

 My son-in-law explains me to his coworkers and they want to know if the divorce was friendly.

The explanation that we are still married is always met with a look of skepticism, after all how could that be?

 Society is certainly much more acceptable to the fact that there are LGBTQI people in the world. And the majority of Americans agree that we should be accepted.

 They just have not yet figured out how to adjust their assumptions away from a strictly hetro-binary norm.

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 I love the look on faces when we hold hands, kiss or talk about our grandchild, it’s always accompanied by the sound of cobwebs popping from somewhere inside their brains.

Queer

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“You’re such a queer” the bully slurred. 

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“I think he’s a queer” whispered one girl to the other.

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“Don’t wear THAT, people will think you are QUEER!” Came the fashion advice from your friend.



Queer, the word, that one time label of shame. Insecure boys wielded it like a sword in public schools across our nation. Status seeking girls used it as to control who their click could socialize with. It was hate speech plain and simple.

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 A few years ago Debbie and I participated in our very first QueerBomb party/march is Austin Texas. Before the march Debbie was enjoying the company, the food, drink and music. We eagerly took our place in line and started down the streets of downtown Austin, Debbie smiling from ear to ear.


 Then it happened, the crowd started chanting  “We’re here, We’re Queer! Get Used to it…”, 

Debbies smile disappeared. She had to declare, out loud, she was queer and in public! It was hard for us both.

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We grew up in the 1960s & ‘70s where you never used that word if you were one on the ‘nice’ people. It was a slur, and a bad one.

Since then we have grown more comfortable with the word, and will tell you proudly it applies to us. We have learned to embrace and relish being queer.

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 Recently I was listening to NPR on the radio. I don’t remember the show but it was one of the interview shows. A woman, the interviewee, was speaking and introduced herself “ I’m queer, middle aged ….” There its was, on National Public Radio, the word.

 This woman used the term no different from if she had said she had brown hair, or owned a dog. And this was not the only place I have seen and heard it.

 My news curation app is filled with articles about people identifying as queer, with media being judged for how much or how little queer content it has. 

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 TV, movie and book producers are working overtime to insert queer people into their media. The internet is filled with memes of people expressing how queer they are, many just applying the term to any everyday activity (there are always those wishing to capitalize on a popular trend).

 So how did this happen? 

Years and years of activism, legalizing same sex marriage, the removal of the mental illness diagnosis for gay and trans people all played a part, but it was the cascade of people proudly standing up to come out as gay and trans that really tipped the scale.

 You see it’s hard to use a term against people when they openly and proudly embrace it.

We could not take the hate out of people, so we took it out of the word.








We’re here, We’re Queer…and we aren’t going away!








Ouch

Ouch

Transitioning is tough no matter when you do it, but the longer you wait the harder it is. For trans women this is especially true, your bones grow too big, you beard too thick and many suffer balding.

 Nothing can be done about your bones, hair loss repair is a dubious industry at best, but the beard can be tackled.

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 While laser can be somewhat effective given perfect circumstances, it is electrolysis that is the proven cure. A treatment that involves inserting a tiny probe into each hair down to its root and applying enough electrical current to burn the hair follicle dead. This process is repeated many thousands of times on your face alone.

 It’s a painful experience to say the least. Most treatments is done in short sessions on small areas. I chose a technique that used lidocaine to numb my face, allowing longer sessions and larger treatment areas. At the beginning I had two technicians working on me for up to 6 hours at a time. The lidocaine injection is also quite painful and does not mask the electrolysis completely. It took almost 4years of treatments to get me mostly clear. You gain a new perspective on pain tolerance.

 Yet every time I saw in my calendar that an appointment was coming, I felt happy, excited. Every treatment left me feeling better than before, in spite of the pain. 

 When my daughters were young Debbie & I discussed when to get their ears pierced. Many of the kids in their daycare sported pierced ears as babies. We thought then, and still think that you should never impose this kind of thing on your child without their consent. We decided that they would get pierced ears when they were old enough to tell us clearly that they wanted it.

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 With Alexandria that time came quick. At 4 years old, she repeatedly asked to get her ears pierced. After a few months of her requests we agreed and took her to the mall, it was the 1990s and that was where you found ear piercing places, tattoo & piercing parlors were yet to be widespread.

 Up in the chair she went, big smile on her face. They used the ‘gun’ to do the piercing. ‘Clack’ went the first stud, piercing her tender little ear lobe. It puffed up big and red and a single tears strolled down her pink cheek. The tear found itself crossing the lips of that big smile, now ever bigger.

 I have often wondered how she could have been so happy when something that painful was taking place. My first electrolysis appointment imparted that understanding in a big way.

 

 

Back again

I know, I know. This blog has been neglected for too long. Well, I’m back and I have a years worth of experiences to share.

When I last blogged I was the lucky recipient of the Bohnett Fellowship, a great honor bestowed on me by the LGBTQ Victory institute, sending me to Harvard university’s John F. Kennedy school of Government.

Stories from there? Of course, but today I want to talk about a more recent adventure, again thanks to Victory, Bogota Colombia.

I would like to invite you to join an influential group of U.S. LGBTQ advocates, corporate leaders, and policymakers on a special trip to Bogota, Colombia” the email began.

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Bogota?, Bogota!” Alexandria exclaimed, questioningly. “ It’s a trick, they just want to get you down there so they can kill you” . I love that my daughter is always looking out for my safety, and now also wanting to ensure her daughter grows up with her Gigi (me). 

I’ll admit that I also shared an outdated view of Colombia. Thoughts of ‘Romancing the Stone” and ‘Narcos' came to mind. But I trusted Victory, and they were sending Annise Parker, their CEO and former Houston Mayor too, so it had to be safe, right?

An early morning flight to Miami, then on to Bogota found me in line at Colombian immigration. I approach the agent, a man in his mid 40’s. He looks at me and asks the standard question “are you here on business or pleasure?” , “Well, I’m here for a conference” I reply. Without batting an eye, he asks “You are here for the LGBT conference?” I respond “Yes”.

This strikes me as a bit odd as Bogota is a city of almost 10 million population and surely there are many, many conferences going on. Then of course, my brain tells me that I am an obvious transgender woman, but still how did he know about the conference?

My passport is still in my hand as he looks at his computer screen and asks ‘Are you Jess Herbst?’

Now I’m really confused, I know there is no way he personally knew who I am, so what was on that computer screen? I brace myself for the worst.

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Now he takes my passport and asks where I am staying, a standard immigration question. I give him the name of my hotel and he looks confused. “That is not the hotel the conference is being held” he replys in a confused tone.

I start to explain that my hotel was arranged by the Victory institute, but again his computer screen seems to provide the answer, “Oh I see you are scheduled to meet with congress,  your hotel is much closer to El Capitolio Nacional de Colombia” Switching to a thick Spanish at the end of his sentence.

He then stamped my passport with a smile, welcomed me to his country and wished me a pleasant stay.

Off I go to find my ride and explore a fascinating city.

I have since given this incident much thought and am pretty sure I can explain most of it.  Because I was scheduled to spend time inside the national congress building, I had to provide my passport information well in advance. This, I think, accounts for the computer screen with my name, probably my passport photo and the information about my appointment with the congress.

But the fact that I was also attending an LGBTQ Political leadership conference was not something I’d shared. Maybe the powers that be just made the assumption, maybe the immigration agent was LGBTQ himself and knew of the conference, I’m still unsure.

Looking back, it was a very pleasant experience and one that will long be remembered. I’m also aware that as comfortable with my womanhood, there is still that little panic voice lurking in my head. It’s always seeking the opportunity to say “See, they know you are Trans”.

 But fortunately, I don’t care anymore, I love who I am, and that’s what really matters.

Reminder

I’m in Cambridge MA attending a 3 week course at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. There is much to blog about, but little time to blog.

 An interaction with a couple of my classmates sparked this quick note.

When I finally made to move to living full time as my true self, I was delighted to be able to keep my nails painted. I could do clear, but red is my passion, and being able to finally do red in public was a great day for me.

 By now I have kept my nails and toes a bright red continuously for over 3 years. Long enough for it to be something I hardly notice.

 One morning on the bus to class one of my classmates asked me if red was my favorite color? Pointing out my red lipstick, nails, phone cover. Another classmate spoke up and added toenails. 

 I had on sneakers that day so she could not see my toes. But I had, on several occasions, worn sandals to class. She had noticed the red toenails another day. I really don't notice that they are painted, they just seem normal.

I have come to normalize things that initially seemed so risky het brought me such delight.

Reminder

As I write this I find myself embarking on a new journey. I am on my way to Boston Massachusetts to attend a class at the Harvard Kennedy school of Government.

At 59, it has been over 3 decades since I attended an actual university, and never one of such prestige and reputation.

 But as I make my way to this adventure, I am painfully reminded of my other journey, the journey of becoming my true self.

 I am no stranger to air travel. Pervious jobs regularly sent me around the globe. Presenting as a man brought unrealized advantages. When traveling in the middle seat, as I am today, the issue of my neighboring passengers occupying space beyond their given area was never an issue.

 One stern look and they would suddenly become adept at making themselves fit completely within the confines of their seat.

 Today I'm reminded that women do not quite add up in a male world. My neighbor traveler, a man in his 40's (I think),spreads out overlapping into my seat to the point where his body is in contact with mine from shoulder to waist.

 I can't go any further the other way without taking space from the woman on my other side.

 I give him the same look that worked like a charm before. I get a smile and a 'Crowded isn't it?' but no attempt to move.

 I do not think he was a bad guy, I really think it just did not occur to him that I deserved equal space. 

 The point is that before I transitioned this never happened. Maybe it was guy on guy contact that was found unacceptable before, maybe it's just misogyny, Does not really matter, life is different now...

  

Apology


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I want to personaly apologize to every citizen of every country on this Earth, for the unspeakable thing said January 11, 2018 by the president of the United States.

I want you to know that Mr. Trump does NOT respesent the American people. He is an embarrassment to the vast majority of the country, and we find his behavior unacceptable.

Most Americans respect and honor every country, every where,  and the people who live in and love them. 

We made a horrible mistake. We thought we had a system that would only allow us to elect a qualified individual to our highest office. We were wrong, and we installed an incompetent, racist, irrational man to the office of President.

Please forgive us.  

July 2019 Update- A year and a half later I find that rather than getting better, Mr. Trump continues to go further and further into racist, racist territory. Sadly, there is indeed a portion of the American public egging him on. I can only hope that somehow we will survive him and his supporters, and I recognize that they have damaged the reputation of the U.S. irreparably.

Jess Herbst

Near and Dear

It's interesting how seemingly random disconnected events can effect ones daily life.

Event one: When I was in my twenties, my father was diagnosed with skin cancer on his nose. It was caught late and removing it cost him his entire nose. This was a difficult thing, but it was far better than the alternative.

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They fitted him with a prosthesis, a remarkably real appearing nose made of a special rubber like material. He attached it with medical adhesive tape.

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I remember many early mornings, seeing him carefully cut and place the tape on his nose, then carefully putting it into position on his face.

 

My Grandfather (With Cigar), his brothers and my oldest brother, and me!

My Grandfather (With Cigar), his brothers and my oldest brother, and me!

Event two: When I first discussed being trans with my doctor, she asked me if I wanted to transition. A fact I neither hide nor discuss, is that I have the same male pattern baldness gene that my mother’s father and uncles had.

I told my doctor that, yes, I wanted to transition, but that I never could.

"Why?", she asked.

"Because I have no hair", I replied.

She gave me an expression that is best described as 'The Stink Eye' and said "There are many women who have no hair, do you think that stops them from living their lives?".

My eyes were suddenly, and finally opened to the possibility of actually being me.

I wear what is closer to a prosthetic than a wig. It's natural blond human hair, not dyed or processed. It is attached to a silk cap that is made specifically to the dimensions of my head. I attach it with the same medical adhesive my father used for his nose.

Whenever I'm cutting and carefully placing the tape on the lace, I can not help but to think of my father, and his nose, and how sometimes your connection to your parents come in unexpected ways. 

My Dad, Dr. John Raymond Herbst with my brothers Phillip and Fredrick.

My Dad, Dr. John Raymond Herbst with my brothers Phillip and Fredrick.

My dad passed away about a decade ago. He never got to see the real me.