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Well Done Riley

Riley Curry

Riley Curry

The media went crazy Tuesday night when Steph Curry brought his daughter Riley onto the podium during his post-game interview.  And by crazy, I mean overreacting to a two year old livening up what would have otherwise been a boring interview that we have all seen countless times before.

The major complaints from a few uptight sportswriters was that adorable Riley took away from the integrity of the post-game interview, causing distractions after an MVP caliber type performance from the overlooked and then scrawny kid who played for Davidson back in 2008.

I saw the whole interview take place live, and not only did Steph Curry continue to answer questions, but he did so while keeping the corner of his eye on Riley to ensure she didn’t fall off the stage when she went under the skirt of the table to wave hi to the folks in the media.

Derrick Rose, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, and many other NBA players have brought their kids to the press conference after games.  Although I don’t recall any of their kids going under the table and laughing and yawning during the interview, there is obviously no rule that states players aren’t allowed to bring their kids to the microphone.

But what caught my attention the most wasn’t that these sexually frustrated sportswriters were so uptight about what happened.  I do understand they had deadlines to meet and that Riley was a bit exploratory in the interview room.

What bothers me is the fact that we, as a society, have totally lost our ability to appreciate moments like the one from the other night.  An unscripted, unplanned event, unfolding in front of millions of television sets across America, featuring one of the hottest families in major sports today.  Coming off an MVP season, in the midst of the Western Conference Finals in the NBA, Steph Curry is about to become a father for the second time as his wife Ayesha is far along into her pregnancy.  Curry has shown nothing but humility throughout his professional career thus far, striving with dedication and passion to show the world his perfected craft of shooting, which also helps elevate his teammates level of play to the point where they dominated the regular season and the playoffs so far.

Then we add the adorable aspect of a toddler who is two and a half, exuding curiosity and showing us our continuous common humanity.  She reminded us of what is really important at the end of the day.  Win or lose, as a player or as a fan, we always have our loved ones and cherished people in our lives that make it all worthwhile.  She shed light into areas of the Curry family that are usually unavailable for the public to see.  If those members of the media who complained were a bit looser with their sphincters, they would have seen that the story being revealed was perhaps a rare sight to see, and they would have treasured it more. But instead, they were too busy feeling like their needs weren’t being met: they didn’t get the predictable cliché answers offered by every star athlete after games.

Riley spiced up the interview in unprecedented ways, creating all sorts of photo opportunities and quotes for the media to feast on, yet these select few sports journalists had such tight sphincters that they had to soothe their egos from the break in routine by hiding behind and over-exaggerating the importance of their roles as medial folk.

Are we that disconnected from the tenderness and playfulness of childhood that we look down and preach about the little negativity or distraction, if any, that transpired during the interview?

Me?  I think there was a key lesson here for the sportswriters who were uptight and complaining.  We don’t always get what we want, and instead of complaining when we don’t and throwing tantrums, perhaps there are nuggets in those unexpected moments where we can extract a different story and leave with gems we didn’t expect to come across in the first place.

Well done Riley.

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Fatherly Authenticity

Authentic_FatherFrom as early on as I could remember, as soon as my brother and I clearly understood the concepts of race and culture, my dad clearly emphasized that we would always be seen, no matter what, as Chinese or Chinese Americans at best, and never as American as Caucasians are seen.

“And that applies even to very open minded people who see beyond your race and just as the human you are. We are visual creatures, we will always use cues in our language and culture to label and categorize what we see, even if it’s done to people unintentionally.”

He was right. He continues to be right.

It is impossible to come from a completely objective stance, as we are all products of our culture, and everything we learn is serial, interwoven and complex.

“That is why I think it is so important you know your ethnic history, and speak the language, so when you are lumped as Chinese by close minded people, you can own that part of yourself.”

My brother, being more of the “Twinkie” between the two of us, having self identified as very Americanized in most ways, found my dad’s lectures annoying.

“I’m born here in America, I am American, it’s not so important to be immersed in Chinese culture and language,” he would often retort.

“You can have a good balance,” said my dad, “but I always want you to remember where you came from and understand that you will always be Asian, visually at least, and be seen that way to some extent.”

He paused, and then said something I will never forget:

“Always be proud of who you are, never dismiss who you are and be ashamed of your roots.”

My father’s wisdom, those clear words of pride, ownership, and authenticity, came in handy in the summer of 2011.

It was mid-July, and I had just began to live fulltime as my authentic self, a woman in my gender presentation, for a mere two weeks.

The choice to come out as authentic and start living my life with a new narrative was very difficult, and I was at my friend Lou’s house. He was a self proclaimed crossdresser who actually struck me as someone who wanted to go fulltime, but was too scared to do so.   He was also the father of two girls who were both in junior high school. The girls weren’t home that day.

We were hanging out in the kitchen when the fact that I went fulltime really sank into his head. I could tell he felt he was losing a guy friend, a “bro” he could hang out with and grill burgers with in the backyard. He was in a state of shock.

I was pretty sure that in his mind, he didn’t think someone as convincing as I was in being a guy could possibly be a transsexual who needed to go fulltime as a woman.

“Well, I guess this limits our interactions,” he said.

I immediately tightened up and realized the friendship was probably going to end. But I gave it my best shot in trying to keep the connection alive, even though I knew where this was going. I did my best to stay calm and receptive.

“What do you mean? You talk as if our friendship is ending.”

“It’s not ending, we just have to find a different way to go about it.”

I looked at him and implored him to elaborate, without saying anything.

“You can’t come by anymore when my parents visit and when my kids are here after school and on certain weekends,” he said.

“You are basically saying I don’t pass,” I said. “Because if I passed in your eyes, this wouldn’t be an issue. You’re afraid I’ll out you by being obviously transgender to your family members,” I said.

“Yes, I’m basically saying you don’t pass.”

I was hurting inside. How could someone who had so many transgender friends and crossdressed for so many years be so unempathetic and cold, lacking compassion towards a friend?

“So what is the most obvious feature or thing about me that gives me away,” I said with as much gentleness and tolerance as I could, trying to hide my hurt. I wanted to leave that very second, but part of me, to be honest, wanted to see how much of an ass he could make out of himself.

He didn’t disappoint.

“You’re face, the way you dress, your voice, your looks, everything dude,” he said with all seriousness.

He continued, not even noticing how much he was hurting me.

“It took a long time for me to perfect my look. I have fans on Facebook and fetish websites who like my photos. I’ve been dressing up and going out for years. Give it more time and practice and maybe someday you can be passable too,” he said.

I was absolutely shocked. And now I was getting angry.

“You let Mika come over to see your kids, she doesn’t pass.”

“Yes she does, more than you anyway,” he said defensively.

“Once you get breast implants, facial feminization surgery, and work on your wardrobe, then you will pass. It takes work, it doesn’t just happen overnight. Keep your feet on the ground and don’t delude yourself,” he said, embellishing his words with a corresponding facial expression that contained subtle disgust: disgust towards his own self, his own inability to face his internal issues, his internalized transphobia.

It was easier for him to kick me around than to process his own feelings.

“I’m really tired,” I said all of a sudden. I got up and gave him a hug, and left.

I was so pissed and furious, I went home that night and wrote him a letter.

After I poured my heart and emotions out on that letter to clarify on the fact that what he said wasn’t only hurtful to me, but incredibly judgmental towards all transgender women (including himself if he was going to explore his crossdressing further), all I got in response was “I understand” in a reply email.

I considered our friendship officially over, permanently, regardless of future circumstances.

I clearly recall my father’s advice immediately sprung up shortly after I received his email response to my letter.

I wasn’t transitioning so that I could hide my boy side. I wasn’t ashamed of the 31 years I spent in the wrong gender presentation. Wearing cute outfits and living fulltime was about being authentic and expressing myself as such; it wasn’t about looking cute, it wasn’t about turning on men, and it certainly wasn’t about reshaping my body so that I would fit what current society deems as physically womanly.

My father was right, I realized. All those year my brother and I found his parenting annoying actually came in handy in a moment of distress.

I was being myself and proud of my authentic core, my heart, being seen by the world. It wasn’t about molding and modifying my outer shell to fit some stereotype or social norm. It was about me embracing who I always was, a transgender woman. It wasn’t about hiding that truth and trying to pass as cisgender with all the invasive plastic surgery Lou was talking about.

I knew that no matter how much I did to plasticize and alter my body, that I would always be transgender. It’d be easier to own that fact and live with authenticity and pride, than it would be to spend thousands of dollars on invasive surgery, risk my health, all to hide my history.

Just like being Asian was something I could never hide, being transgender was just another facet of the same cube.

I knew I was on the right track, and I knew I had made the right decision in terminating our friendship, as I had worked too hard and loved myself too much to compartmentalize and edit myself to fit into his hidden life schedule of not being out.

What a day for me that was. Looking back, I am so proud of that choice I made in dropping our friendship.

It was honoring those types of boundaries that have given me the courage and fuel to propel me in the last three years to get me where I am today, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to stand up for myself in that way.

Thank you dad. Your fatherly lessons have been invaluable.

Equal Attention Discrimination

donald_sterlingAs soon as TMZ released the alleged tape Donald Sterling’s racist remarks towards his girlfriend V. Stiviano for posting pictures of herself hanging out with Magic Johnson on Instagram, the African American community immediately issued statements requesting Sterling be removed as the Los Angeles Clippers owner. All of this coming at a very bad time during a playoff battle against the Golden State Warriors en route to a possible NBA championship run for the Larry O’Brien trophy that now, very few people want to see the players on the Clippers earn for Sterling to hoist.

First I must say the African American community has always responded quickly to ignorant, divisive, and racist remarks towards these types of social issues. They are incredibly cohesive, organized, and collaborate so well. When Trayvon Martin was shot to Rodney King, and even towards the reactions of OJ Simpson and the jury’s verdict, the African American community always reacts fast and shares their opinions on sensitive social issues regarding other high profile African Americans or affiliates.

But the teamwork and cultural awareness didn’t happen overnight. People paid in blood sweat and tears for centuries as dignity was hard won and fought for before others were able to arrive at equal treatment, to eat at the same table at restaurants and attend the same schools.

Even now there still remains ignorance and hidden discrimination amongst the American population. But at least backlash is immediately imminent when people voice their discriminatory views.

Yet, if this were a transgender situation with the same backstory except the one minor difference of substituting a famous transgender woman in place of Magic Johnson, I assure you the results would have been quite different: muted, ignored, and dismissed.

I could have guaranteed there would have been very little comparative public outcry.

Why is that?

Is it because people erroneously assume w are making a sinful choice when we present our true selves in a gender non-conforming way? Is it because we are fragmented as a community? Is my friend Callan correct in saying our disconnect as a community is because we lack allies? Because we are so busy pinpointing who we aren’t instead of focusing on who we are, finding out actual presentation and identities?

I think it’s a combination of all of these factors, and the fragmentation really hurts us as a community. In addition to having no default group of individual to represent us, we have so many in the community who play crabs in the barrel with one another. Forget the fact that drag queens, transvestites, crossdressers, and transsexuals pick on each other and segregate themselves. Transsexuals are very ticky tack amongst themselves. It’s very common to hear comments as “That’s not her real hair” or “She isn’t fulltime, what does she know” in sneering and condescending attitudes.

And finding a group or individual to represent transgender people is very difficult, if not impossible, due to how fluid the nature of gender really is and the many ways on the continuum in which we can authentically choose to express ourselves.

So what are some steps we can take to increase acceptance and inclusion within our own community? I think it is very important to stand up for other transgender people. But in order for us to do that successfully we must first learn to stand up for ourselves and embrace our own individual differences. If I can’t accept, love, and stand up for myself, then I certainly can’t do it effectively for others in my community.

We must also show inclusion for those who fall on different parts of the gender spectrum; empathy for those who face ostracism from family upon coming out; and patience for those who are at a different stage of transition than we are.

We must embrace our queerness, and reject the binaries and judgments associated with being different and, rather, see ourselves as who we truly are: unique.

We must start forming alliances of allies where, through our cohesion of loving self and other transgender people, we then start being heard.

And then, and only then, will we hold enough clout and attention for respect when discriminated against in a similar situation by the Donald Sterlings out there.

Akai Swim School

akai_logo_smIn 1985, I attended Akai Swim School with my brother. It was that summer when I learned how to swim, learned how to change my breath and keep a sustained stroke, and also the same summer where I now wish, in retrospect, I could take some of my actions back.

The first one being that I made fun of my brother for beating him to the punch in learning how to swim first, despite being 2.5 years younger than him. He quickly followed suit and also learned how to swim.

So naturally, on weekends, we would beg our parents to take us to the pool.

On the last weekend of our summer membership, a kid named “Go” was there. All the kids made fun him, including my brother, and I felt the peer pressure as I joined in with the teasing. All the older boys picked him up and threw him in the pool repeatedly, and bullied him all under the premise of making fun of his name.

Although I secretly thought he was cute, I was almost “relieved” in a sense to see that some other poor little boy was being bullied for once instead of me. But during the rare moments when he was left alone, I approached him and we talked. He seemed very nice, and didn’t comprehend my two-faced behavior.

A sign of betrayal and confusion washed over his face as I would befriend him one minute and retreat back with the crowd of boys in the next, all in order to avoid being ostracized myself.

To this day, I still feel terrible about that, and I wonder if things would have been drastically different if I had already come out to my family and was living as a girl. I envision I would have defended him, and stood by him because I would have had firsthand knowledge of standing up for who I was and being authentic, and the whole social dynamic would have been different.

Perhaps, with the wisdom of transition having begun in my life, I would have more likely chosen to connect with my heart instead of connecting with the judgmental voice which didn’t think I was worthy of being present; the same voice that didn’t think I was worthy of befriending a boy; and instead of connecting with the bullying voice of fitting in, of fear, of harassing the boy, I would have instead embraced what I really wanted to do: make a friend and not care what others thought about my authentic intentions.

But I can’t do anything about it now. And I often wonder what happened to Go.

************************

Fast forward to Summer of of 2014.

I signed up for a month long membership at Akai Swim School to rehab my hip. Very little has changed physically at the facility, but I’m drastically different as I enter the grounds. Not only has 29 years passed, but I’m also undeniably stepping foot at Akai physically presenting as a woman in a bathing suit. I’ve freed the real self inside me for the world to see. I freed Natalie, the same hidden girl and spirit that wanted to free Go from being bullied. The empathy I felt for Go was the same empathy I felt for myself, but I was too scared to help him, just as I was too scared to help free myself from living in the wrong gender.

As I was mulling over the parallels, my head was spinning from the fact that I was standing there at Akai as my true self. While lost in my pondering, the woman from the front desk who had let me in walked by me as I entered the pool.

The water was just as warm as I had remembered it from 30 years ago. But the next thing that happened warmed my heart.

“Nice swimsuit Natalie,” the lady said. “The skirt is adorable! Where did you get your swimsuit?”

“Thanks,” I said. “I got it online. I can give you the website if you want.”

“Sure,” she said.

I wandered deeper into the water, in a daze.

I wish I could have shared that moment with Go.

If Your Uncle Jack was Stuck on a Horse, Would You Help Your Uncle Jack Off?

My uncle visited my mother’s house the other week on his way to LAX. His goal was to bring some vitamins and clothes back to China for my dad, but he didn’t expect to see me there.

uncle jack

Uncle Jack

Although he knew about my transition since 2011 when I had informed the entire family about my fulltime status of living as a woman, he had never seen me in person……and I knew it was going to be very difficult for him, to say the least.

From the moment he walked in, he kept looking down or away, never making eye contact. He briefly waved at me and said hi, and quickly resumed packing and rustling through all his baggage. He was flustered and had “ADD” the whole time, and kept shifting conversation topics towards Taiwan politics or other issues my mom felt passionate about so that she would chime in and help him avoid being stuck talking only to me.

I was a bit disappointed that he never really acknowledged me or listened to what I had to say the entire time he was there. I wanted to pout, and politely and firmly finish what I was saying before I was interrupted in mid-sentence each time, but I let it go. I recalled my newfound receptivity and feminine tactics and social graces, and I further reminded myself that I could learn from the experience and do better next time. The goal, I realized, wasn’t to fix the situation and penetrate further with insistent conversation, but rather, to let him take it all in, the new me, the regendering of me of which he needed time to process.

I was proud of my response, as I could see the recent growth I was owning.

But after he left, my mom said with a smile: “He found you attractive, and didn’t know how to react!”

I agreed with my mom and we both shared a laugh.

My uncle certainly had his way with attractive, tall, well-dressed and sexy Chinese women in the past, and the thought had crossed my mind while he was there that my looks played a big part in his discomfort.

But I didn’t fully believe in it. Part of me resisted acknowledging to myself that I could possibly be in the same category as his ex-girlfriends. After all, they were all cisgender women, ready to settle down and start a family with him, and the only thing that stopped that from happening was my uncle not being ready at the time, still womanizing and playing the field.

So was it possible? Could I have really measured up to those other women? Did I dare compare myself to other attractive cisgender women? Could I transcend all the shit and stigma and shame from being trans, and just see myself for who I was, just another woman who was worthy of being seen as beautiful, inside and out?

It was troubling to me that I had so much difficulty accepting that I was seen as attractive. I just didn’t have what it took that day to fully believe in myself, and my shortchanging of self was very disconcerting.

As a woman, feeling attractive oscillates: some days come easy, some days are just brutal. I have had countless days where I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum: going to work where I felt like a million dollars, and my energy radiated out to compel other coworkers to compliment me, contrasted with the days where I felt hideous and my nervous energy drew negative attention towards me before I even gave myself a chance to breathe and start the day. But what bothered me this time was that I chalked it all to being a transgender woman, and my internalized transphobia got the better of me before I even started my interaction with my uncle.

It was one of those moments where I didn’t trust in my feminine heart, and paid the price of missing what was right in front of me: the beauty and awesome feeling of being seen as a pretty woman and being appreciated for it. And nothing more.

My initial reaction after he left, was that I wanted to power through the uneasy feelings with my old outdated methods with brute force and avoidance, being more adamant, fighting my way through without even considering surrender and serenity.

How quickly was it that I completely forgot about all the times I’ve turned heads and gotten compliments from all sorts of women in public, and the amazing question of “are you a model from the USA?” asked of me when I was in Shanghai just last December.

It was these types of scenarios that clearly reminded me that I had the power to choose what aspect of each scenario I wanted to focus on, and how I could let the lessons and blessings from my Mother In The Sky increase the size of my vault of wisdom.

It reminded me of the fact that surrendering to the situation was where my true power was; that I couldn’t speed up the regendering process he was going through; that my uncle needed time to examine the new me, and that he had to relinquish the old image he had of me that was associated with all the precious times he shared with me during my childhood; that it was a great moment for me to show him compassion and patience as he regendered me in his head; that he needed the time to see me flow and interact as a woman to provide him new context in which to see me.

And most fun of all amongst all the craziness, was that he was flustered because he found me attractive.

That was definitely worth the price of admission!

Stifled Life

stifledI had the privilege of receiving a call from Garrett last night, and working through a few things on the phone. Specifically, issues regarding my ability to “find my passion” and purpose in life.

I told him about an ESPN story with Penny Hardaway going to a middle school in Memphis to help out his childhood friend who got cancer and could no longer coach the boys basketball team. After Penny took over the coaching duties, his friend still pushed himself physically to the limit to be present courtside, when possible, despite doctors warning him to rest.

The interviewer asked him: “Why do you insist on being courtside, when doctors have ordered you to rest, when it takes so much out of you?” Penny’s friend answered: “Because it also gives so much to me too,” implying that being there was keeping him alive.

I then proceeded to tell Garrett that I needed to “find” my calling, something to devote myself to, something to serve. He told me I had it all backwards. That I didn’t “need” anything. That living my life was all I “needed” to do. To live my life with passion, to make everything in my life important, and the purpose or service would naturally reveal itself.

“You’ve lived stifled and subdued for so long,” he said. “Everything you approached was done with a lack of passion. You never fully committed to anything because you were always waiting for the next best thing, always having one foot already out the door, in case something “better” came along. That’s why you never “found your passion.” That’s why you struggled so much with deciphering if your activities were passions or addictions.”

He then explained how one does not “find their passion.” Rather, people live life with passion and the hobby or thing they enjoy doing naturally reveals itself.

“Start brushing your teeth with passion. Inject passion into everything you do. Live like a terminal cancer patient, with passion for going to the toilet or waiting for a daily afternoon visitor. Fill your life with passion and live it with passion and something naturally will reveal itself in due time.”

Just like Penny’s friend choosing to make the middle school basketball team a priority of importance, I need to value, cherish, and take care of what is already in my life and what comes into it. And to do it with passion.

I need to stop looking for activities and events that illicit blips in the radar for me, because those temporary emotional states where I feel passion are external. It’s time to start bringing passion into a once stifled life, and see what my passion from within brings forth to my future.

I need to light the pilot in my heater in order to heat the house. I need to light up my soul and spread this new enthusiasm and spark towards everything I do in my life, especially what I consider the mundane.

I must say though, it was depressing realizing I chose, by conscious or subconscious reasoning, to live a subdued and stifled life. Many of those causes were because I am transgender, and my transgender history was filled with denied opportunities and dismissal.

But the encouraging news is that now I can choose again.

And this time it’ll be different.

Feminine Heart to Heart

heart_to_heartA few weeks ago, I remembered I had a hair appointment and was running late. I was a bit flustered in traffic, and I still had unprocessed emotional tidbits leftover from a social encounter earlier in the day as I rushed over to see my German hairstylist, Marlies.

Needless to say I didn’t want to be late.

I was totally not present, and just walking through the motions of being in a new location, but mind somewhere else. But then I remembered to remind myself I had a perfect opportunity to regroup and recover by bonding with the other women in the salon, and that serenity was right around the corner if I were just to stay open to it.

Marlies was running slightly behind schedule that day, and that irked the shit out of her. So she had her assistant, Jessica do the shampooing.

I had seen Jessica a few times before in the salon, but never officially met her. She had dyed her hair an amazingly bright red color, which fit her look really nicely. I complimented her on her hair, and she asked me how I was doing.

Instead of just trying to power through my day with fake smiles and shield myself from intimate conversation, I decided to listen to my heart and take a chance. I told her about not feeling heard and seen when my uncle visited, but also shared that I empathized with how busy and overwhelmed he was during his short stay.

The catalyst was set and we embarked on a nice conversation, where we both shared about our work, our horoscope signs, her kids and dogs at home, and my travel situation for work. We even had some time to talk about eyeshadows and makeup before Marlies took me back to her chair. I was calmer, enjoying myself, and having a much better time being present and in the moment.

Then today, I had to renew my driver’s license at the DMV. Despite being ill prepared, running behind schedule on my errands and hence not wearing any makeup, and frustrated with the long wait, I seized another similar moment as I did at the hair salon to bond with a DMV worker who had gorgeous hair. I genuinely complimented her on her hair, and we struck up a nice conversation for a short while. She even gave me a reference to a hair salon she enjoys frequenting, and she said I could re-take my photo if I visit her again on Monday when I return for my written test.

Then on my way out, still sparkling from my conversation with the DMV gal, I bumped into a mother who was carrying her 15 month old son, and I shared with her that her son was adorable, and showed her pictures of my 18 month old nephew on my iPhone. At the same time she was waiting for her adolescent son who just got his license, I realized he was the same boy who helped me pick up my forms earlier after I dropped them when I first arrived at the DMV. I thanked him for his earlier gesture, and the mother smiled and said she’s glad her son helped. “Look at her cute nephew,” she said to her son as he looked at my phone before they left. It was a nice and warm exchange.

Both times I left the salon and DMV feeling like a million dollars, and it was due to the fact that I entered these situations by connecting and sharing with other women, through feminine heart to heart.