Mistaken Identity

 

Growing up trans, I dreamed of transformation. I imagined all sorts of ways that I could instantly become female. Like a caterpillar emerging from it’s cocoon, I would be a new and different person.

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These feelings are shared by many transgender people, and they are flawed.

I know transgender women, who long to transition, but expect to become this new and different person. Many are held back by the mistaken belief that they must become a completely new person.

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 Friends and family of transgender people go through a mourning for their lost loved ones. They believe the man or woman they knew is gone, replaced by a gender opposite new person.

 My wife went through this process, mourning the loss of ‘Jeff’. Then one night she said ‘ You have not changed, not really’.  I smiled and said ‘I’m still me’.

Transitioning does not mean you become someone else, you can't. Your mind, you concisness, your thoughts, hopes & desires are still the same. If you loved hot dogs, batman and bicycles, you still will. You can not, and should not try to, escape who you are.  

Transitioning just means showing the world who you are, and always have been, on the inside.

My Birthday

 

 

 I threw a cocktail party to celebrate my birthday this last weekend. (Really it was Debbie, Alexandria & Andrew that did all the work).

I had around 70 people. Family, Friends, Town government, work colleagues, Debbie's work colleagues, Alexandria's friends, and of course my transgender friends. There were  CIS, Trans, straight & gay.

There were people of all colors, some from as far as Senegal, and as close as down the street. It mattered not. 

Most people had nothing common besides knowing me, but they got along like old friends.  It was an amazingly diverse group, and everyone had fun.

 People who had never met a transgender person before were engaging them in conversation. People who never spoke to a politician before were exchanging jokes with them. 

  This is what the future of our country should look like. 

The world is a better place than many believe.

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And then there were two..

You will find a new addition to this site. 'Alexandria Speaks'.

Alexandria Hull is the older of my two daughters. She recently took on the job of my personal assistant , so she attends events and travel with me. and she has decided to write some of her observations and experiences. 

Not just about me, but about her two dogs, husband, political advocacy the LGBTQIA community.

I think you will find her voice quite different than mine and I think you will like it.

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Confession

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Forgive me father for I haven’t blogged. It has been 92 days since my last post. (That is your cue, internet audience, to suggest my penance.)

I am suppose to be logging my experiences as a transitioning trans woman here for the world to see. You would be well within reason to think that nothing has been going on, based on my latest reports. Fortunately that is not the case.

My last blog dealt with my official name change and I am happy to report It went very smoothly. Say hello to the official ‘Jess Helene Herbst’. The judge did not bat an eye when he granted my request and I got a couple of ‘Congratulations’ from people in the court.

 

 So now I have a new Social Security card, Drivers license and Passport. I’ve updated my bank, medical and insurance records. There are a few more records to update, but for all practical purposes, Jeff is history.

 It’s been 8 months since I came out to my town, and inadvertently the world. I am called ma’am when I'm out and when I’m with my wife, they say ‘ladies’. It feels weird to have wait staff always ask if we want the dinner bill on separate checks or one. I was used to the assumption that we would always be paying together.

 We struggled for a while on how to identity each other. My Wife did not like ‘Spouse’ or ‘Partner’, she found them a little too impersonal, having been together 37 years. She surprised me one day by casually introducing me as her ‘wife’. I really like it and I think it shows how far she has come with her acceptance, not of me, but of how our relationship appears to others and her role in it.

 I have gotten used to most of this, but sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not just dreaming. 50+ years of keeping my identity a secret make it hard to get used to letting it all out there for the world to see.

 I joined with hundreds of other LGBTQIA in Texas and took up the battle against the states attempt to create discriminatory bathroom laws. It was a struggle that involved many trips to the state capital in Austin. Testifying three times before state senate & house committee hearings, protests marches and rallies. I was privileged to be included in one of the most amazing alliance of rights organizations ever - One Texas Resists. 36+ major diverse groups along with dozens of grassroots organizations. We won, for now.

 It’s time to plan strategies to replace the legislators in Texas that believe discrimination is acceptable with those who know it is not. 

 And finally it is time to look at my own political future. I have a Mayoral election in the spring if I wish to keep my seat, and I do. Beyond that, the 2020 elections are coming and I think it’s time for new blood in US congress. Maybe someone with local governmental experience…

A Rose by any other name…

I have been traveling a lot lately. That means staying in hotels, a task I am well acquainted with. These days it has been a source of anguish. Why?

When I check into a hotel I am met with the standard ‘Credit card and ID’ request. I slip these two from my purse and present them. The clerk looks them over and then it happens. My smiling face is right there on my TDL along with the name ‘Jeffery Paul Herbst’. This usually causes a slight double take. Look at picture, look at me. Long blond hair, check. Blue eyes, check. Same smile, check. But of course the name and the person standing there simply don’t check. I don’t look like a ‘Jeffrey Paul’.

This has led me to pursue a legal name change, something simple in concept, but with a tedious list of steps to complete.

The obvious first, and often underestimated step is what do you change it to? When I first decided to explore my feminine side, I thought long and hard about what I was to be called. The name Jess was chosen for its simplicity and the similarity to the name everyone already knew me by. I had been called Jeff for as long as I can remember, but my name was Jeffrey. 

I believed that I would need a longer more formal form of Jess for my official name. I knew too many Jessica’s so it was out. A google search led me to Jesilyn and its various spellings. OK, I could live with that. But it was not popular with my wife or kids.

Back to the search and I found Jessa and liked it, my kids liked it and even my wife signed off on it. So now what to do with the middle name ‘Paul’? This has been the least used name I have had the pleasure of owning. Over the years I’ve often been called ‘Jeff’ or by my last name, or nicknames bestowed on me by my friends - Herby, Doctor and Mr. Wizard are a few that come to mind. No one has ever called me Paul.

I went to my family history for this task and after a few stumbles settled on Helene, my fathers sister who died in childhood. I remember him speaking of her fondly and just liked the name.

Next step was filling out the paperwork and filing it at the courthouse. This is when my wife stepped back in to the debate asking if it made any sense to have a name that would rarely be used, and only had a single letter difference from the nickname. I had to overcome the notion that my first name must to be a longer formal version of my everyday name. I was reminded that my own daughter’s name is Lauren, no long version, no nickname version, just Lauren. A little thought brings dozens of examples to mind. She was right and Jessa became just Jess.

The form is filed, and fingerprints have been sent to Austin for a background check, a requirement in Texas. So now I just wait for clearance from the DPS and get an appointment before a judge.

 When they asks the reason for a name change, I think they will do the same double take and have their answer!

The Importance of being Earnest

I have mentioned many times how lucky I am to have the love and support of my wife and kids. This has been a subject of fascination with many of the journalists I have worked with.

In the transgender community it is something of the exception to the rule. It’s not completely unheard of, but is certainly not what many consider the ‘norm’.

 

 All too often the decision to transition must include consideration of losing ones spouse, children and family. Friends and employment are party to these concerns as well.

 The frequency I read of other transgender people agonizing the loss of their whole world is disturbing. The decisions of who leaves, who will the kids stay with? Will the kids even want to see with the transgender parent? It is little wonder that the vast majority of trans identifying people never transition.

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 I am aquatinted with a reasonably large number of trans people. I attend dinners, concerts, Christmas parties and many other social events. The topic of spouses and kids comes up inevitably. Many are out to their spouse but not to their kids. Many are out to no one in their personal life and maintain a completely separate existence to fulfill their transgender inner workings.

 I have met trans women that rent storage facilities just to keep their feminine stash secret from their family. Many make up elaborate stories to explain where they will be when they allow themselves to express themselves. They are terrified of the consequences of being discovered.  

 

This behavior, while seeming a necessity leads to an ever increasing problem. It is deceit, a lie, and as time goes on, it gets bigger and bigger.

 I was very fortunate to find an understanding spouse from the very beginning. We discussed my feelings before we decided to marry. This was before I knew the word transgender, or understood that I was not alone in feeling this way.

 I read a post from a friend recently saying that when she interviewed for a job, she talked about her activity in LGBT advocacy. This eventually paved the way for her acceptance at work. My own experience was that being honest with the people I work with has been met with acceptance and appreciation.

 This is the biggest factor in my success. When I decided to transition, there was no big secret to reveal to my family. And more importantly, no big lie to justify. 

 Imagine the trans woman, I'm her 50’s, as I was, broaching this subject with their spouse of 30+ years. The fact that she is trans is going to be hard enough for the spouse to get over, but she also has to own up to the fact that she has been lying all these years. The lying becomes the bigger factor. No matter how many assurances she gives that she has come clean, the knowledge of years of deceit has poisoned the well.

 Of course it is not as simple as I make it sound, but nothing in life worth having is ever simple.

 If you are trans, and you have a spouse, you owe it to them to tell the truth. It won’t get better if you don’t, but it may if you do. 

  

 

Another lesson

I began this journey, not with a big sendoff, but a minor shift in direction. When I decided to start HRT, I was still not sure that I would completely transition. I definitely wanted the feminization that it would bring, but I had not convinced my mind that I could truly be accepted in society as a female. So I had no real timetable, no schedule, no end plan. Just take the HRT and see what happened. There was still this thing inside me that said: ‘You really can’t do this, you will be stuck in a male role the rest of your life’. 

 

That voice, the voice of doubt, I think lives inside many transgender people. It drives the fear, the self doubt, the depression. When that voice is accompanied by voices from the outside as well, it cements its legitimacy. 

 When society expresses disapproval of anyone outside of their understanding, by misgendering a transgender person, staring incredulously, or openly expressing disapproval, it amplifies that voice. It is nourishment to our internal voice of doubt. You feel like that voice is backed up by the world, and the part of you that feels trans is a lie, a mistake.

 These are things I knew, I understood. So I was expecting a big fight, not just with society, but with my mind, just to progress toward being me. No one is harder to argue with than yourself!

  If you have read my blog, you know that I rarely encountered these outside voices. Society has treated me with the kind of respect and equality that few transgender people experience. My wife and daughters have been on my side 110%. My work colleagues have been exceptional.

 For quite a while now, I hear only She, Her, Ma’am, no matter where I am. That voice of doubt in my head has died from lack of nourishment. I finally believe that I can be accepted. In reality I have been accepted in society. 

 

 

 I realized that I have transitioned, sometime back while I was still trying to convince myself that I could, I just went ahead and did.