It’s a Very Busy Pride Month!

Pride Month is always a busy month for me, but even more so this year. It began in late May at the TLDEF Annual Gala fundraiser honoring Laverne Cox and Edie Windsor, where I made the welcoming remarks to the 300 attendees of the event.

June started on a very high note as the featured speaker at Novartis’ Pride Month event on June 3rd. My talk, entitled the “(R)Evolution of the Transgender Workplace Equality Conversation” was very well-received and will help the company continue to shape a fully inclusive workplace and culture, building on their already sterling record of LGBT workplace equality.

The month continues with my being featured on a Diversity Best Practices web ex for Macy’s, were we will continue the conversation about “Getting the Language Right” with respect to properly and respectfully communicating with transgender and gender non-conforming employees.

I have also been invited to speak at another Pride Month event, this time for PECO – an Exelon Company, which is the primary utility company in the Greater Philadelphia area. There I will be presenting a more comprehensive program wherein I outline the “before, during and after” story of transitioning on the job in Corporate America. The session will taped and edited into segments so that they can be used for training and orientation purposes afterward.

Stephanie Battaglino with Laverne Cox

Stephanie with Orange is the New Black star and transgender activist, Laverne Cox, at this year’s TLDEF Annual Gala where she was one of the organization’s honorees

Mother’s Day . . . Redux

Nearly a week has passed since Mother’s Day, and I must admit that it has always been a rather strange and sometimes difficult day for me.  But before you start thinking that it has something to do with my status as the parent of my son not being “officially” recognized as “mother” after I transitioned, let me put that notion completely to rest right here and right now.

From the very beginning, I have never attempted – not for a nanosecond – to get my son to think of me as his “second mother.”  Just think about that for a moment.  How incredibly confusing and potentially damaging that could have been for the 10-year old mind to attempt to process at the time!  How selfish that would have been of me.  What I essentially told him was the following:  “I am not your mother, I did not give birth to you.  I’m your Dad – and always will be – sure, I might look a bit different, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love you and will be there for you.”  I went on to point out that I wouldn’t suddenly forget how to throw a baseball or a football, I would still love going to baseball games with him and would yell at the television every time my beloved New York Giants would make a bonehead play, which of late has been much too frequent . . .  but I digress.

At that point in time, he needed to hear that.  He needed to know that he was not losing his father.  He needed to know that outwardly I might be looking different, but that inside I was still the same when it came to my parental responsibilities as his father, and making sure he had whatever he needed growing up to realize his dreams, whatever they may be.   Oh, and lest I forget – that I am happy.  Happier than I had ever been in my life.  And you know what he got it.  Why?  Because he saw it first hand in how my demeanor changed.  A couple of years later he came right out and told me so.  He said that before I transitioned I was miserable and seemed mad all the time.  Go figure.  I will admit to being a bit surprised by that revelation because I had always thought I hid that very well.  Guess not . . . .

Make no mistake, we have certainly faced challenges as I moved forward with my transition.  I was “freak show dad” for a while, but somehow we made it through because we kept working at it.  I kept working at it by doing the hardest thing a trans person who is in the throes of transitioning can do:  slow down.  As Neil Young once said when introducing Stephen Stills, “. . . we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re still playing together.”

Today, as a 19 year old young man who has just finished his sophomore year of college and is home for a couple of weeks with Mari and I before he goes back for summer session classes, I can say only one thing about him:  he is my hero.  He is laying the foundation for the rest of his life on his own terms, guided (I hope) by the values that his mother and I have instilled in him.  As a parent, I have embraced the fact that, as we transition (there’s that word again) from the active parenting phase of child rearing to a more “consultative” phase (which, I hasten to add, still includes some measure of financial obligation!), we have to let them go, to find their way and create their own individual reality confident in the notion that we’ve done all that we can to enable them to embrace their dreams and face their future with determination and a zest for all that life has to offer.  I’m very proud of that accomplishment.

Individual Acts Of Courage

Baseball and Running.  Running and Baseball.  For those that know me well, these two things are major aspects of my life.  Important and interchangeable.  They color my world in many different, yet positive ways.  They create spaces of childlike joy, relaxation, contemplation and spiritual introspection.  As I write this, on the morning of Patriot’s Day and the 118th running of the Boston Marathon, I find that in the past week there has been an interesting convergence of the two.  Permit me to explain.

Earlier this past week, Jackie Robinson Day was celebrated across all of Major League Baseball.  For those of you who may not follow baseball very closely, or perhaps do not consider yourself a fan, it is a day when Jackie’s life is honored and celebrated:  not only as the first African-American to break the color line in baseball, but of more importance to me, of how he dedicated his post-baseball life to advocating for the equal rights of Black people, at a time in our country’s history when the civil rights movement was, arguably, in its infant stages.   But that didn’t matter to Jackie.  He used his celebrity to convey a message of equality for all wherever and whenever he could.  In short, he put himself out there to create a better world.

Not so suddenly, his accomplishments on the baseball diamond were moved to the background in the pursuit of what he firmly believed was a much more noble and important goal.  The quote attributed to him that will always resonate with me is the following:

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

What I admire so much about this quote is that Jackie felt he had a higher calling.  I believe he knew his place in history.  He didn’t just embrace it, he ran with it – and in so doing he changed his world – and the world we live in today.  An individual act of courage – repeated over and over again – that transformed him into a catalyst for the change that was so desperately needed in our country and in our society.

Speaking of running, there’s this little race in Boston that happens on the third Monday of April for the past 117 years that many people have anticipated with great fervor since last year’s tragedy.  It was difficult, neigh impossible, to avoid the stories of courage that permeated the media leading up to the race this entire week – and rightfully so, as far as I am concerned.  Services highlighted individual acts of courage and inspiration amongst the victims, first responders, runners and spectators alike.  We know the stories, we remember their faces.  They have filled our collective consciousness in the year that has passed.  One more touching and moving than the other.  “Boston Strong” personified over and over again before our very eyes.   Multiple acts of courage and humanity repeated over and over again that I hope have become a catalyst for change in our society.

To my way of thinking, there is much we can learn about our humanness from the inspiring stories that emanate from Boston and from the man who proudly wore number 42 and batted second for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The parallels to me are very apparent. The victims and their families, didn’t complain.  Neither did Jackie.  It would have been exceedingly easy for both to embrace the victim mentality and say for all to hear:   “woe is me” – and most of us wouldn’t have batted an eye.  But the fact is they did not, they picked themselves up and got on with their lives.  They endured.  They did the hard work when no one was watching.  They grew stronger.  They thumbed their noses at the challenge put before them and persevered – no, make that – triumphed.

As I finish this piece, watching the coverage of today’s Boston Marathon in the background on television the feelings of joy, triumph, perseverance and healing that are projected from Boylston Street and along the entire route are palpable.  It’s time to move on: we’ll never forget, but it’s important for our spirit and for our soul that we turn the page, take a deep cleansing breath and perhaps, just perhaps, approach those we encounter in our lives – however different they may seem than ourselves  – with dignity and respect.

My Journey Through the Gates – Revisited

For my first blog post from my website – I wanted to share a piece that I originally wrote back in 2005 when “The Gates” installation was in Central Park.  Some of you who lived in and around New York City at the time may recall them.  They received quite a bit of coverage in the media – both good and not-so-good.  Nonetheless, for where I was  at the time – eight months from my coming out at work and being one hundred percent “out” as my true and authentic self – their presence moved me on a very metaphorical and visceral level.  They prompted this essay, which after reading it through for the first time in years, is just as relevant (if not more so) today then it was when it was written nearly nine years (what???!!!) ago.  It is my Easter gift to you and I hope you enjoy reading it and, hopefully, taking a piece of it with you. . .

 

I came upon “The Gates” today, almost by accident.  I had seen the grand unveiling on television a week or so before, and quitehonestly had forgotten all about them since.      Although impressed by the sheer enormity of the physical display, I was even moved more than I could ever have imagined on a much deeper, more visceral, level.  It’s as if Central Park has been bathed in a bright shade of saffron at every turn.  As I entered the park at Columbus Circle the lunchtime crowd of business people and tourists overwhelmed the grounds at the foot of the Maine Monument, but I soon noticed that this teeming mass of humanity flowed easily up, down and across the park’s paths as they gazed, gawked and otherwise absorbed the sheer enormity of the spectacle before them.  It was an unusually warm and pleasant winter day.  You could actually feel the first hint of spring in the air, and everyone that I passed looked as if they had embraced this temporary break from an otherwise bleak winter season with refreshing joy.  I thought that perhaps all of Manhattan had taken a collective deep breath, as if to purge the winter doldrums with one mighty blow.

It is against this rather festive backdrop that I find myself at peace for the first time in my life.  No delusions, no self-convincing, but honest to goodness serenity.  Imagine that!  After what I had endured in the past year and half, well, it’s actually more like four decades and a half; I am finding it difficult to absorb the notion that I may actually be at a place of inner peace.  Is this what my future holds?  Can this long-elusive congruence truly be everlasting?  Suddenly, a swirl of feelings coursed through my entire body.  Pulses of energy jumped from vein to vein inside of me. I had to stop myself in mid-stroll and brace myself against one of the gates themselves. Is this what being “my true self” really feels like?  I had read many an eloquently written account of this phenomenon by other transgender women whom I admire, but none of that could have properly prepared me for this moment.  It was as exhilarating as it was overwhelming.

In an instant, this deeply personal and introspective moment captured the essence of a lifetime of self-imposed pain and anguish.  The guilt, the shame, the denial, the lies and half-truths all came crashing together in one giant swell of emotion.  As the intensity of my realization strengthened its grip I began to cry from behind my sunglasses.  As my tears turned into sobs, my vision became blurred and I glanced all around to make sure I wasn’t making a complete spectacle of myself.  It was then that I was stricken by the immense metaphor of my surroundings . . . The Gates . . . The Journey . . . My Journey.  Must I pass through every gate to ultimately embrace that which I have always known myself to be?  Are there rules for such things, or is this something you just feel?  Could this be what I am feeling now?  I quickly found a nearby bench so I could sit down and allow myself a few moments of composure to reflect upon the enormity of my epiphany.

If I truly accept the notion that it is my destiny to live my life as the woman that I believe God intended for me to be, am I prepared to deal with all that it changes in my life?  For I have learned that being true to one’s self, in my case my womanhood, not only effects me but also those around me—my son, my siblings, my friends, my colleagues—just to name a few.  The simple fact of the matter is that when a transgender person decides to transition, all of those people who are a part of his or her life are also being asked to transition as well.

As you might imagine, it is difficult–-in some cases next-to-impossible–-for them to grasp the fact that the person whom they have known for all these years will be fading away, never to be seen again.  But is that really true?  I owe a debt of gratitude to my former male self for helping me shape the woman I am today.  I feel that there are many positive facets of my personality that have come from him – my wit, my sense of humor, my business acumen – just to name a few.  It would be inappropriate of me to just blatantly toss them aside in my quest to become more female. Besides, women possess many of those same traits, don’t they?  While my outward appearance has most certainly undergone a rather dramatic change, the fact remains that the essence of me remains unchanged.

Why does embracing one’s innate gender identity have to be so complicated – so controversial?  I just want to be myself.  What’s so wrong about that?  My transexualism has never been a sideshow act of the sort one sees with disturbing regularity on Jerry Springer, but rather a deeply personal and introspective journey.  One that is very different for each person that embarks on such an odyssey.  But to be sure, the entire concept of gender is so engrained in our culture, so polar at its very core, that the slightest divergence or variation has many people running for the exits screaming this simply cannot be.  Well, I’m here to tell you that it most certainly can.  Think about it for a minute.  At the moment of your birth the doctor slapped you on the butt, took a peek between your legs and – voila! – declared you either a girl or a boy . . . how tidy. . .

To be sure, I’ve had people say to me, “but you’re giving up your male privilege, doesn’t that bother you?”  Maybe it’s just me, but I’d much rather have doors opened for me, be allowed to get on and off elevators first, and order first in restaurants.  Frankly, much of the chest thumping, backslapping false bravado I encountered as a guy is simply not where my head is at anymore.  Actually, it never really was there to begin with.

You know, all I ever really wanted was to be a member of the sorority—the sisterhood.  As my own personal journey of transition progresses and I am out and about in the world as Stephanie, I can feel myself embracing the unique relationship that women have towards their surroundings, those they come in contact with, and each other.  For example, many of the women I encounter on the streets of Manhattan always have a smile or a knowing glance for another while they are checking out the outfit you’re wearing!  I have found this perspective to be vastly, and refreshingly (thank God!) different than that of men in our society.  When I pass by a group of ladies outside a restaurant that have just finished their lunch together, it’s all about warm hugs goodbye and animated conversations all around.  It’s so obvious that they truly embrace each other’s lives, and most importantly, their friendships – their connectedness – with one another.  

I am truly blessed to have girlfriends such as these in my life– both transgender and genetic females.  With all of them, especially my genetic female girlfriends, it has never been about my gender identity, but rather about the whole person that I am.  They possess that perhaps all too rare combination of sensitivity and insight to see past the outer me and embrace the inner me.  I am eternally grateful for their love, support, understanding, and acceptance.

I lived the first 40-plus years of my life as a man, with all the roles society places on men in our culture—husband, father, brother, manager, breadwinner, alpha male.  But it was all a charade, a finely orchestrated act, because I was too petrified to confront my innermost feelings—feelings that I experienced each and every day of my life that kept saying in a not-so-subtle way that I was different.  It became a constant drumbeat in my brain, day after day and night after night.  I tried to run from it, to bury it and lock it away in a continuous series of macho endeavors—and I became good at it, really good at it.  Step right up and receive this year’s lifetime achievement award for successfully pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.  No one, and I mean no one, had a clue.

After all, this was what I was supposed to be doing at these various stages of my life anyway, right?  This was what everyone was expecting of me.  It didn’t much matter if I felt like the proverbial square peg in a round hole, feeling like a woman deep down inside wasn’t normal!  So, I fought the good fight and kept up appearances because I didn’t think I had much choice.  But one can only do that for so long before it begins to take a psychological – and physical – toll. I reached a point where that little Pandora’s box in the deepest, darkest recesses of my brain, the one where I had successfully compartmentalized my true self all those years, was about to fly open – never to be closed again.

Once it did I thought for sure I faced nothing less than total Armageddon . . . my life is over . . . everything is crumbling around me . . .there is no tomorrow.  For a while I felt as if I was perched on the edge of an enormous cliff, so high that I could not see the canyon floor below.  It is hard to put into words, but when one locks something away like that for so many years and further buries it with almost constant doses of shame, guilt and denial – and then lets the secret out – well, I think you get the idea.  It calls to mind a lovely passage my therapist shared with me from noted author and diarist, the late Anais Nin:

“And the day came when the risk to remain

tight in a bud

was more painful

than the risk it took

to blossom.”

Having sufficiently composed myself enough so that I could once again watch the passersby come and go, my mind continued to race trying to process the flood of my past, my struggles.  I allowed myself to ponder the vision before my eyes—the multitude of gates that seemed to encircle the Sheep Meadow.  Perhaps the gates do not represent where one is headed, but rather, where one has come from.  A gate (actually three, to be precise) that represent my failed marriages.  My valiant, yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt at trying to live a “normal” life and purge myself, once and for all, of what I believed at the time was a dreaded disease.

But the point is I have passed through them and continue to move forward – to becoming the woman I always knew I was.  I feel as if I have finally mustered up the self-esteem and self-confidence to face the world, once-and-for-all, on my terms: as a parent, a friend, and a sister.

I have reached a place where I thank God each and every night before I go to sleep for making me the unique person that I am.  I consider myself immensely fortunate to have been given the gift of a life in two genders.  I pray that those who may take issue with who and what I am will one day recognize the rather obvious and compelling fact that I have felt all along – I am happy.

If you haven’t already figured it out by now, I consider myself a very spiritual person.  I believe that one cannot embark upon a journey of this magnitude and not possess the belief that some sort of higher power guides their daily life.  For me, it is exactly that spirituality and the daily presence of God in my life, which has everything to do with my progression as a woman.  Their comforting and reassuring embrace has combined to create a perpetually burning flame within my soul that propels me forward on my journey to become my true self.  It is that flame, that feeling emanating from the center of my being, which tells me this is where I must go, where my destiny lies.

Finally composed, I stood up and immediately felt a warm breeze blow back my hair and encircle me.  The sunlight seemed to shine directly through the curtain of the gate I was under, as if to illuminate only me.  I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled as if to let go-for the last time-the demons of self-doubt and anxiety that had taken up residence inside of me for far too long.  Suddenly, a broad smile came across my face as I thought to myself, “it’s going to be okay, I will never be alone.”

As I turned and found my way past the Tavern on the Green and headed out of the park to face my future, I made certain not to re-trace my steps through any gate I had previously passed under.  I will not go back from where I came.  I will remember and not forget, but more importantly, I will learn . . . and grow.

A Question of Velocity

My friend Rachel and I were running a few weeks back along the top of the parking deck next to the hotel we were staying in for one of the meetings we were conducting and, as we always do, began to catch each other up on our lives since we hadn’t seen each other since before the holidays.  As the conversation unfolded we talked about our holidays and time spent with family – or not.  I shared the story of what it was like on Christmas Eve at my sister’s house with her and my brother in-law and my two brothers and their wives.  We had a nice time, especially since my son was home from college and accompanied Mari and I.  It was good that he could spend quality time with all of his uncles. 

But I was quick to point out that it wasn’t always that way.  Truth be told, I was estranged from my brothers for a few years because they were having great difficulty coming to terms with my transition.  That meant not seeing them at all over the holidays.  It took time, but I explained to Rachel that it was not something I could completely control.  “Everyone in their own time” is what I have taken to saying, as I explained they have now reached a point of acceptance of my true self-in terms that work for them.  Do I think they completely understand me?  Heck no.  But I do believe they have progressed past the point of calling me by my former name and using the wrong pronouns all the time. I do believe – make that I know – that they love me, and I love them back.  Thank God. 

My experience with my brothers has taught me a valuable lesson.  Try as I might, I could not control their path to acceptance of me as a woman.  Lord knows I tried, but at the end of the day it had to be on their own terms and, in their own time.  But that said, I remained steadfast in my sense of self and who I am throughout that entire period.  I had an advocate in my sister, but she could only influence them so much.  That’s why I chose not to go to the family Christmas Eve gathering during those years because I had to stand up for myself.  It was the only way I knew how to make my point.  To perhaps influence their feelings towards me given that it was impossible for me to engage them in a one on one conversation about what it is like growing up in the wrong gender and running from it at every turn.  Did it contribute to them final coming around?  Perhaps.  Maybe one day we’ll actually have that conversation.

For many transgender and gender non-conforming people of my generation there exists a conflict between themselves and those that transition with them about its velocity.  For many, it cannot happen fast enough.  Decades spent in the closet have come to end, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle and one’s mindset becomes “now everyone simply must adhere to my schedule – period.”  It’s as simple as that.  It’s all about me.  Well, it’s not – really.  Wrong answer.  Thank you for playing.  We have lovely parting gifts for you.

All too often, at the moment of coming out, blinders seem to go on preventing the individual from seeing the impact that their transition is having on those around them. Soon one finds that life does not occur in the vacuum they have created for themselves – or at the same speed.  I have had many an interaction with transwomen at this point in their lives and the conversation was entirely about hormones, testosterone blockers, electrolysis versus laser hair removal and who’s the best surgeon for their gender reassignment surgery (GRS).  I try to be understanding, really I do, but is there nothing else going on in your life that you’d like to talk about?  Do you have any other interests? Hobbies?  “All Trans, all the time” is one dimensional and can be just plain boring – bordering on tedious. 

Honestly, I can see where this can happen.  It happened to me.  I completely miscalculated the impact of changing one’s gender can have on the uninitiated. A prime example of this is how I initially handled things with my son – which was a lesson in how NOT to do it. For example, I actually thought that by having pictures of me as my true self with my girlfriends scattered about my apartment would some how create an opportunity for me to have a dialogue with my then 11 year-old. What was I thinking?

I recall my therapist giving me quite a well deserved tongue-lashing when I shared that with her.  She read me the riot act – and I deserved it.  At best I would be confusing him, she explained, and at worst he could be frightened by what could only be seen as very strange images to him.  I distinctly remember her saying:  “He has an 11 year-old brain, which can only process information at a certain level – certainly not as an adult!”

I came away from that near-miss very shaken.  After some much needed reflection and discernment I arrived at a different and, dare I say, more enlightened state of mind.  I needed to ask myself this simple, yet very tough question, “Who do I want in my life after I complete my transition.”  And, I needed to answer it honestly, because the answer would not only guide the tactics of my transition, but also its speed.  I would, more than likely, have to do the one thing that is perhaps the hardest thing for a transitioning trans person to do:  slow down.  Put my foot on the brake, kick it into a lower gear and really, really be honest with myself.  My emphatic answer to that question was “my son.”  To live my life as my true self and not have him in it?  To not share all the moments of his growing up?  To not witness his development into a young man with his own ideas of what he wanted to do with his life and the impact he wanted to make on his world?  That was patently unthinkable.  
 
So I did slow down, I did find a therapist that would see both of us, I put away the pictures and I let go of the focus of “all me, all the time.”  It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, surpassed only by when I told my son that his mom and I were getting divorced. 

The moral of the story?  For me, it underscores the importance of keeping balance in your life and putting the needs of others closest to you before your own.  In so doing, I believe one can develop a greater sense of self and be in a much better position to advocate on behalf of our community – or be a better parent to their children, or a better sister or brother, son or daughter, or a better friend or colleague. But it doesn’t just magically happen. You have to keep that focus day in and day out.  They’ll be days when it’s easy to do, and they’ll be days when it’s the last thing on earth you want to do.  But as my dear friend Terri puts it, it is the “inside work” – the work that no one sees but yourself – that may be the hardest you’ll ever encounter, but bears the sweetest fruit.

It creates perspective, it creates context for one’s life.  As I have said many times, I am doing a horrible disservice to myself if the only thing I lead with is that I am a transwoman.  Sure, there are times when I need to lead with that because I am in a situation that warrants it – not to mention I am very proud of that distinction.  But I also believe that I bring much, much more to the table, so to speak, as a business professional, a partner, a friend, a parent, a sibling, a contributing member of society – a fully human being.  

Because after all, who really wants to live their life in a vacuum anyway?