Saturday, May 2, 2015

What I Have Lost So Far For Being Trans*

(this piece is written from my experience as a white, middle-class trans* person in Northampton, MA. I can only speak for my experience—which is an incredibly privileged one. For the most part, I am physically safe, financially safe, and am not subject to the violence of rampant racism, transphobia specific to trans-feminine folks, classism, or able-ism, on top of the transphobia that I will write about below. Even though I am beginning to understand how much opposition I am going to face in my life as an openly trans person, I directly benefit from my whiteness and middle-class status each and every day.)

Here’s what I have lost so far for being trans. The caving in of three mentor figure relationships in a 6-month period—all following this basic pattern:

              --Important and trusted role model
--Worked with and alongside for significant period of time
--I earn this person’s respect and appreciation; we have an easy, casual relationship
--Sudden and inexplicable distance occurs
--Intense and inappropriate verbal confrontations from two former mentors, confusing distance from the third; explanation for blow-outs and distance do not line up with reality; all blame for difficulties in relationships placed squarely on me
--No follow-up afterwards; all my attempts at conversation, follow-up, processing, slam against an invisible wall
--I am left utterly confused and heartbroken
--I give up because I have no cards left to play, and former mentor is giving no room for repairing our relationship; seems to just want me to get out of their line of vision as soon as possible; virtually no further contact
--Moves from a trusted role model relationship to one of mutually trying to avoid all interactions, despite all my unrequited effort  

As these important mentor relationships in my life have collapsed, one after another, I have been left grasping in the dark for answers, wondering what I have been doing wrong. It had to have been me, you see, because this pattern and these interactions were so similar and the shocked, helpless, and confused feeling that I had in each was something that I had never felt before.

Never before have I been dropped so quickly and cleanly, and without warning, as I have been dropped by these people (a mark of the privilege with which I have lived my life)—all within a 6-month period (I have been out as trans for about 8 months). I have had confrontations for sure; I have absolutely messed up in relationships in ways that have caused distance between me and a person I was close to—countless times; but I know what that feels like. I feel like shit and I feel guilty, and I know what I did (or at least, after some soul searching and some therapy sessions, I can figure it out). I have a conversation with them that is hard to have, and we get somewhere, we move on (not always forward, but we move).

These drops did not feel like this. These were quick, without warning, with seemingly no provocation that I can figure out. In each, things felt a little “off,” but nothing insurmountable, and then all of a sudden, it is as if a plexi-glass shield has been thrown up in between us, triggered by I don’t know what. Now, I am no longer funny, I am no longer thoughtful, I am no longer a hard worker. They are “worried about me,” they look at me with expressions that do not see me, they are completely unaffected by anything that I say; they are completely unreachable. Some are angry. Shut down. One thing has been made clear to me by their actions and inactions: these folks would like me to get out of their line of sight as soon as possible.

Thankfully, before these interactions became totally internalized into my sense of self and self worth, I brought them up with my gender therapist (a note on how crazy lucky and privileged I am to have a therapist that specializes in gender, sex, sexuality, and trans* stuff. Maybe 1% of all gender variant and trans folks have that?? If that??). I unloaded how rough this year has been in terms of (especially) professional relationships and mentor figures—she shook her head sadly and said:

“I wish I could say that this was something isolated to this place and this experience, isolated to you. But the fact is, that I have heard this same story from countless trans* folks.”

In a seemingly out of the blue way, folks drop out of many trans folks’ lives. The attitude being, “You are taking up too much space in a way that makes me very uncomfortable and is destabilizing my sense of order. I do not have the words to understand why you make me so uncomfortable, so I will put all these feelings generated by your destabilizing presence onto whatever problem you might be bringing to me.” (For me, this was little things, little things—like being grumpy in the morning several mornings in a row; not helping to pick up items that spilled off a shelf because I was occupied with another task; filling out a feedback form honestly and constructively. Seriously. These are the events that I can locate as the “instigators”).

At first, when my therapist suggested that these interactions might have something to do with transphobia, I wasn’t totally on board—everything that happened was so subtle that I really couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t like folks were running around calling me a faggot or tranny. It was just the way people look at me, and talk to me, and what they talk to me about, now that I am out as trans.

For example, I have talked with the administration at my school several times about the struggles I have had as a trans graduate student. Folks have all agreed to meet with me, have listened to what I have brought to meetings—all good stuff! But I leave completely unsatisfied and hollow. It isn’t until later that I realize how messed up these meetings have been. Essentially, the response has been, “We are so sorry, what can we do??” (very little action, very little talk, just sad eyes and literal asks for forgiveness).

Another example of the subtleties of these transphobic micro-aggressions: At one point, an administrator pulled me into their office during my lesson planning time to read to me the email they were going to send to the staff about an upcoming event on trans* issues (the email, of course, already written and ready to press send—so clearly actual collaboration was not desired and the only answer there was space for was “sounds good!”). At first, my response was, I mean, bad timing, and that made me feel like shit, but I guess it was nice for them to check in? And then I thought about a similar situation in a racialized context—if that same administrator had pulled one of the only Black staff members into their office while they were on their way to lesson plan to read at them an email for MLK day. Of course, these kinds of micro-aggressions happen ALL THE TIME for folks of color, are so messed up, and are a direct product of our white supremacist patriarchal system.

Trans* folks are told in so many ways to take up as little space as possible with their identities, with their “otherness,” with their variance. My reality—my life in this trans* body of mine—it’s too much for a lot of people to handle. I don’t even have to open my mouth—just my body and my voice undermines and destabilizes the gendered structures in ways that are too much. People implode (or explode) and really just want me to go away.

And if I hadn’t had this conversation with my therapist, I would never have been able to decode what has been happening in my life and in these relationships. Maybe twenty years from now, but not before it was internalized in me that there is something about me that is not work-with-able, love-able, respect-able. And almost no one who needs this trans-specific care that I have gotten has access to it!!!!! I suppose that is why I am taking the space writing this piece as the trans* person that I am slowly understanding myself to be:
(1) for self-validation of this tip of the iceberg of the losses that I will experience in my life as an out trans* person—and (2) for those trans* allies out there (and of course allies to folks of color, trans folks of color, disabled folks, poor folks, incarcerated/formerly incarcerated folks, undocumented folks, the list goes on and on, but I can only speak personally from a white trans-masculine perspective), to SUPPORT YOUR TRANS* FRIENDS/LOVED ONES!!!! Encourage them to talk to you about subtly weird shit that is going on in their lives, tell them that they are not alone in this and that it is happening to other people, and most importantly, remind them over and over again—you are validated, you are loveable, I see you, I love you, I laugh with you, I value you, I will not drop away.

Three mentors in 6 months. That is what I have lost so far because I am trans.

p.s. please feel free to write to me, share this piece with folks that you think will be interested, etc etc etc. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Life Update

Hello all, near and far, all dear to me.

I write to you to let you in on a big and very exciting change that is happening in my life. One of the reasons that I have been so out of touch this past year (but more specifically this past six months) is there have been lotzz and lotz of processing going on in this brain. To cut right to the chase, I will be having top surgery in two days (!!), which means surgery to change my female chest to a male chest. I am beyond excited. This is something that, since I was a little kid swimming at the pool, I knew I wanted. But the brain works in mysterious ways, and only this summer was I able to really come to terms with the fact that this was something I could do.

I will also begin to take hormones (testosterone) in the next couple of months. This means that my body will slowly start to appear more “male” and less female. This is another thing that my body has always wanted, but my brain only got let in on the secret a couple of months ago. I can’t even tell you what a quiet relief this is for me—it’s like setting down a huge weight I didn’t even know I’ve been carrying for quite some time. Well—I will be setting it down. Right now, I’m still in the scared-sh*tless phase of the transition—the unknown, the doubt, the fear. Coming out as trans is quite different than coming out as gay. It's a LOT scarier, a lot more unknown.

I am very lucky to have a very supportive family and an incredibly supportive partner. There have been (and continue to be) some notable rough spots in the “coming out” process—it’s a complicated thing!! And people feel pretty complicated about it!!—but for the most part, I just can’t stop feeling how lucky I am. I will be changing my name to Lee—my parents named me an “L” name, and I’ve gotten quite used to that sound. My full name, instead of Lillie Elizabeth Scheffey, will be Lee Briggs Scheffey. I was originally named after my great-great-grandmother, Lillie Briggs Morehead, and it was my brilliant mama’s idea to use her middle name as my new middle name, as our first names won’t be the same anymore. So my name will be a beautiful mix of my papa’s side, my mama's side, a little bit of old and a little bit of new.

As for what I “identify” as, that is still progressing. Do I feel like a woman? No, not quite. Do I feel like a man? Not quite that, either. I know I want to be my girlfriend’s partner, my sister’s sibling, my parents’ kid and little one, and my kids-to-be’s papa, but I’m not really sure yet. We’re just playing it by ear at this point : ) I’m not gonna be offended at ALL with slip-ups, cause I totally haven’t figured this all out yet, so just check in every once in a while! I’ve told my family that I’ll be switching to Lee pretty soon, so they can start calling me that now, or they can stick with Lillie for a bit, whatever feels good. "Lil" is also totally fine with me, as it feels pretty non-gendered for me and instead just a name I've always been called by folks who love me, and that's not changing : ) I’ve started signing my emails to random people who don’t know me as Lee, just to get used to it (like some craigslist guy selling these gorgeous natural edge pine boards that I wanted… he didn’t email me back, but whatevs).

Artie, my little pup, has told me that he really couldn’t care less about the whole process, that he’s still gonna be calling me mama no matter what my body looks like, but when I press him for more specifics, he tells me not to worry, that it’s gonna be hard for a little while, and then things will mellow out into the everyday. Except I’m gonna get to mow the lawn with my SHIRT OFF!!!! And go SWIMMINGGGGG in just my cut-offs!!!!! Quite literally a dream-come-true.

Feel free to send me an email (, message me on facebook, or not, whatever feels best and most comfortable for you. If you have any questions, you can definitely email me them, too. And be thinking of me on Wednesday at 7:30am, when I get my surgery!  

Thank you all for all of your love and support, and just your glorious selves, being a part of my life for all of these years. I am so lucky to have you all in my life.

With all my love,

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I pretty much didn't take pictures while I was in Nepal--far too frazzled--but I just developed the roll and a half that I did take. Here they are!

This was really the first and only picture I took in Nepal (the rest were only frantic snapshots on my last day, when I was exploring Kathmandu with Gyan). I took it in the parking lot of the airport, from inside the bus that would take us out of Kathmandu to the village of Dhulikhel.
This was the view (that we only saw once because of clouds) that was right outside the window of my room in Dhulikhel. If you squint your eyes you can see them: the Himalayas.

The rest of these are photos I took, while I was dazed, and stumbling right behind Gyan, on my last 24hrs in Kathmandu.

Traffic in Nepal is awesome. It's like a complicated, high-speed dance with far too many participants. While there are tons of traffic accidents, Nepali drivers are incredibly skilled and much politer than American drivers. They beep at each other constantly, which I first interpreted as impatient bullying (as it seems to be in the States), but it's actually a quiet reminder, a "Hey, I'm right here", a light hand placed on the back of a stranger so they know you're trying to sneak past. They do a light beep when they go around curves in the road, when they pass another vehicle (which they do constantly), or (my favorite) when they pass another vehicle while going around a curve (if that doesn't get you to pay attention, I don't know what will... maybe the cows sitting in the middle of the highway...). It's a thrill to watch how close your taxi can get to another car (not inches, but an inch. whoa).

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Over the past few months, I have been interacting somewhat constantly with loss. Not the permanent kind of loss that death brings, but temporary versions—of friends, of opportunities, of time.

The stages of these losses have been throwing me constant curveballs. Most days, if my mind and body are occupied elsewhere (like playing Frisbee—I just joined Smith’s Ultimate team!!), I can pretty much forget entirely the chunk of myself that is missing. I feel whole, so much so that I can jump high without looking to where I’ll land, saying an enthusiastic “yes!” to questions I don’t know the answers to.

But other days, unfortunately like today, when the factors shift ever so slightly, a switch, that try as I might I cannot find, is flicked. A chute is opened and my stomach plummets at break-neck speed down to my knees. And there it rests, in the uncomfortable sharp bends of my legs, poked every so often by large and lonely pieces of titanium, of bone.

The knee-area is not a place that my stomach enjoys. It’s not used to being so far from its comforts, and complains loudly and with so much gusto that my mind is unable to focus on much else.

I turn into that needy, insecure version of myself that we all have and are all ashamed of.

But through it all, there is that one section of my brain—the strong and weathered part—that remembers what the light at the end of the tunnel looks like. While the rest of me is clinging desperately to blurry memories of warmth and comfort, this part whips into action, grasping at straws of hope, collecting enough of them to weave together a delicate rope. When the rope is finished, this beautifully grayed Captain Call of my brain, without whom I would drown in sorrow, will pass it down carefully--past my heart, my lungs, my empty abdomen-- to my stomach, who will crawl, hand-over-hand, past the femur, the hips, back to its cozy belly-button home.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Comfort Me with Taciturn

The majority of the poundage I lugged with me to Nepal and back was made up of books-- history books, Nepali phrase books, notebooks, pleasure books... I had planned to read Travels with Charley on the plane to Nepal, and then Harry Potter once I got there, filling in the available minutes with gems from my Robert Frost anthology. I brought Lonesome Dove as well, in case I was in the mood for a manly cowboy adventure instead of a manly magical one.

However, only a few hours into my flight from Boston to London, I realized that Travels with Charley and Robert Frost were out-- they reminded me far too much of home and everything that I was leaving behind. As I flew over London spectacularly lit up at night, I couldn't help but pine for the fiery reds and yellows on the turning trees Steinbeck passes through in Vermont, the roadside stands of pumpkins, squashes, and crisp red apples he eyes near the White Mountains, and the taciturn New Englanders he sits alongside in silence at the roadside restaurant in New Hampshire (what a delightfully perfect word, "taciturn"...). Instead of the pleasantly chatty and self-acclaimed tea-addict Englishman beside me on the plane, Steinbeck finds "customers folded over their coffee cups like ferns", surrounded by a breakfast conversation that "is limited to a series of laconic grunts".

"A normal conversation is as follows:
WAITRESS: "Cold enough for you?"
(Ten minutes.)
WAITRESS: "Refill?"

"...The natural New England taciturnity reaches its glorious perfection at breakfast" (Steinbeck, 28).

Now that I'm back at Smith, one of my goals is to reign in my own natural tendency towards taciturnity. My initial inclination while walking through the library or along the pathways to and from classes is to look down at the ground or up at the trees to avoid the eye contact of people passing by. I'm really quite overwhelmed with the prospect of small-talk, a fear which makes me appear far colder than I would like. While I am head-over-heals in love with the image (and the reality) of the crotchety old farmer, that's not who I want to be. Instead of looking thoughtful and introspective, I'm afraid what I do just makes me look like an asshole. But fortunately, I'm taking a lighter course load this semester, which means I'll have plenty of time to stroll through campus and practice being friendly.

Other plans for this semester:

1. Purchase an upgrade to my faithful but far-too-heavy road bike.

2. Explore the valley with my new bike and old pentax.

3. Type up my findings once I get back to my cozy third-floor room with the big window overlooking the trees.

Off to my first Smith class of the year--Asian American Women Writers, with Floyd Cheung. I'm shakin' up my schedule a little bit by taking my first english class at Smith! Still focused on women and gender though, I'm not gonna go too crazy...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Around the World in Six Days

I am sitting in the airport eating a McDonald’s egg sandwich and hash browns. As a little disclaimer to the enormity of this statement, two of the things in the world I would NEVER do would be to eat eggs in an airport or consume anything from McDonald’s, even a cup of water. Yes, the phrase you are looking for, my dear loved ones, is “rock bottom”. When eating a McDonald's-Deluxe-Breakfast-hold-the-sausage makes me feel like a person again, I know that something is up.

Obviously, a lot has changed since my last post. I’m in the Hong Kong International Airport en route to Boston Logan, and have eaten less in the past five days than I eat in two under normal circumstances (50% of my food consumption being Cascadian Farm Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bars, which I fear I can never eat again…). I'm goin' home.

But before I get to the bad stuff, let me get a few things straight. Nepal is amazing—I cannot wait to go back. The people I met there, both Nepali and American, were absolutely fantastic and it is them that I will miss the most. SIT as a whole was wonderful. But I just couldn’t handle it altogether. I can’t explain it fully (although I’ll try), but the combination of being so far from home for such a long period of time in such a foreign and complex (and beautiful) culture while participating in a rigorous academic program was too much for me. I have never been abroad by myself, have never been to Asia (which, let me tell you, is FAR AWAY in so many ways), and I have never been in a situation in which I couldn’t talk to my family for an extended period of time—well, except for Interlocken when I was 12, but let’s not get into that now, shall we?

What this combination resulted in was a panic attack whose multitude was unlike any I have ever experienced. I have never been so scared in my life, never felt so out of control of my body, never felt so far from home. My stomach was out of control with anxiety—the only way I could eat was to pace back and forth outside my room like a crazy person, taking five to ten minutes to eat a single almond.

I was really embarrassed about how out of control my emotions (and my stomach) I was, but the other students on my program were amazing. They brought me out of my room to try and get me to eat dinner with them, rubbed my back when I cried because I couldn’t eat a spoonful of rice, and never gave me a reason to believe that they were judging me nearly as harshly as I was judging myself.

But I'm coming home. I let panic take me before the country even had a chance to woo me, and everything has happened so fast that I haven't quite had time to think. I certainly won't pretend that I don’t wish things turned out differently. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am disappointed in myself. I think that at every point during this experience, I have done the best I could under the circumstances and I am proud of how I handled myself, even when I had snot dripping out of my nose and was throwing up in the bushes. My grandfather told my mom a Faulkner quote that has really been helping me cope with these feelings of guilt and regret after having "quit"—he said something along the lines of: “It takes great courage to quit when you are behind”.

Going back to Smith for the semester is going to be really hard—I’m not looking forward to the looks of shock from my friends when they see me in the library, and the awkward explanations of why I’m on this continent. And I don’t know how I’m going to catch up on jetlag and classes at the same time, going right from my 15-hour flight from Hong Kong to Smith’s Bannerweb to sign up for classes. But when it comes down to it, I’m just so excited I’m going to be able to see the leaves change after all, and that I’m going to be able to hug my momma tomorrow, that I’m not going to think about much else.

I’ll keep you posted on the goings-on in my now very different fall semester, and I’m going to try and post some of my wonderful experiences from Nepal.

Love to you all!


Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Serious Step Lightly Taken

Yet again, Robert Frost has bailed me out of a tight spot. In three days, I'll be boarding an airplane en route to Kathmandu, Nepal, where I will be spending the next three and a half months, and have officially decided that a blog is the best way to communicate back home with the limited internet access I will have. Before I had time to stress about the title of the blog, my big black book of Robert Frost poems opened to page 334, to a poem that I had dog-eared for further reading. It's a poem that I have just started to explore, one that I have not officially gotten to know, but its title, "A Serious Step Lightly Taken", is so very intriguing.

I am a person that makes simple, everyday decisions with a great long-lasting pain: what brand of black tea will I choose, what mug I will drink it in, and what I will use as a footrest while drinking this tea every morning will occupy my every thought until the perfect solution has been found. But the big decisions, like where to go to college, what I want as my future career, and where to study abroad, I seem to make almost on a whim. Smith was the only school I applied to or seriously thought about, and from the moment I sent away my application the fall of my senior year, I can honestly say I have never looked back. One morning I woke up knowing inexplicably that I was going to be a teacher, a decision that has changed my life in a slow and delicate way ever since. And Nepal was the only country I ever really considered for my semester abroad, a certainty that came seemingly from nowhere. The only solid answer I can give to the question "Why Nepal" is it was the program that felt least like summer camp. Felt. That's the best I can do.

This blog will be a place for me to tell you all why Nepal was the choice I made as I discover the answers. Although of course I have nauseous butterflies in my stomach whenever I think of Tuesday morning at 8:50am, I feel an eerie calm as well, a calm that can only be explained as the effects of this serious step lightly taken.

Here goes nothin'!

All my love to you all,