Tag Archive | dancing

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.

Expanded View

Wheat-Field-WomanBack when I was still living as a guy, I would often pick up my girlfriend Amy at her front door for weekend dance nights, and she would come out the door looking exceptionally beautiful and sexy.  Her fashion sense was impeccable, highlighting her artistic expression, coupled with her happy personality and desires to please me visually.

She would even smell like a million dollars, exciting me the moment she entered my car.  We would kiss and embrace, and look forward to an evening of dancing.  She was so gorgeous, so free flowing and comfortable in her own skin, that she left me feeling incredibly bitter and jealous.

She wasn’t who I wanted to date.  She was who I wanted to be, though I couldn’t yet acknowledge that, even to myself.

Needless to say, that jealousy often showed in my behaviors.   The women closest to me, especially my mom and my girlfriends, got the most wrath from the ocean of internalized anger that surrounded my suppressed feminine heart.

Although I apologized and made the amends I could after I transitioned my gender, the memories still bring back painful times from my past: a past filled with fear, wounds from being raised as a boy with hetero-normative expectations placed on me, resulting in digestion of the environmental stigma that fueled the clenched stomach pains caused by internalized transphobia.

The first few months of our relationship were used, unbeknownst to her, to fuel and stroke my ego.  I was running out of fingers as the Dutch Boy trying to hold the dam to hide my feminine heart, but I nevertheless tried relentlessly to quiet the gender chatter going on inside my head and use the glances she got all night from horny men to vicariously satisfy my suppressed heart.

The fact that people were staring at her meant I had good taste in women.  It meant my inner, authentic, feminine self, was relating somehow to the external women I was chasing and dating.  Often times, I was very aware of the fact that the physical nuances I found attractive in my girlfriends were the very same traits I wished I myself had the courage to express to the outer world.  Hence, I treated the actions of other men and women being attracted to and complimenting my girlfriend as some sort of indirect and secret validation for me.

When the excitement of puppy love ended after a few months of being together, I began to treat Amy with manipulative insults and guilt trips.  I would send her a smokescreen of mixed messages, always keeping her emotionally off balance, trying to let her guess my mood and what I was upset about.  I started “dyke” drama with her constantly, and she even told me on a few occasions that our arguments felt like the same ones she had with her best friends when they were upset with each other.  On one particular evening, after she had had enough of my mysterious behavior, she finally stopped me in the car and demanded we talk.

I pulled over, shut off the engine, and looked at her coldly, with no expression.

Silence.

Then, she blurted: “I don’t get you anymore!  It’s like there is a huge gap developing between us these past few weeks,” she said with a hurtful tone.

“What do you mean?” I said, trying to play it cool and act nonchalant.  I was deathly afraid that showing any truth of myself, my heart, would cause the whole dam to crumble, shattering the façade I held so delicately and reveal my true feminine heart to her, resulting in a shaming experience I thought I could never recover from during my lifetime.

“You tell me how much you love it when I dress up, but then lecture me and tell me how slutty and classless I am, and how I probably just want attention, like something is wrong with me!” she said, quite observant.

“I just think you should tone it down when we aren’t going out dancing, you are showing a bit too much,” I said, quickly defending myself while hoping the argument wouldn’t affect if I got laid that night.

The real issue was, though, that I was incredibly jealous she got to wear everything she did, and be who she was on a daily basis, while I chose to suppress my real self and live vicariously through observing her.  I was also seething at myself, knowing that I could be just as powerful as her if I just allowed myself a chance to be me.

I had finally reached my limit, my soul depleted.  Merely looking at endless amounts of food was never going to serve as an adequate substitute for actually eating — and my soul was absolutely starving.  I had no internal nutrients to sustain myself anymore.  I had to be me.

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

No sooner had we broken up for good, I started seeing a gender therapist and transitioned my gender presentation, living as my authentic womanly self since 2011.

After living authentically for three years, traveling to Shanghai to conduct a business meeting with clients on behalf of my job, and being accepted and seen regularly as one of the gals, I now viewed women from a totally different perspective than when I was chasing them.

I really appreciate the connections, the receptivity, the way women look after one another, and share their emotions on a deeper level.  There is a playfulness and participatory factor that is unlike that for men, where threads of life are so elegantly shared and interwoven with other women.

The real treat has been to be around women when they weren’t defended and guarded like they were in the past when they saw me as a man who perhaps wanted to sleep with them.  Instead, I am now seen as one of them, my feminine heart being witnessed and validated instead of my biology, distinctly clarifying that I am one of them, and that I am safe to share and open up to, participating with mutual reciprocation in socializing and sharing our emotions.

What a treat, to have chased after the women who wore high heels to now being the one standing in the same pair of shoes, experiencing the world from a completely different perspective, receiving gifts of incredible insight and wisdom.

These fresh experiences contain interactions that I’ve always had with women, but now in a completely new dynamic, resulting in me feeling reborn, as these new social perspectives color my life with newness.

I now see so much more to what women offer to the world.  To be blessed with having my heart broken open through the gifts of death of my former self, by experiencing loss on such a profound level that I could be reborn with new vision and perspective so that I could be receptive to the gifts of the feminine world, which now allows me to see a side of women that most men never truly understand or get to see at all.

How fabulous.

Coming Out, Brick by Brick

4opezXK-ImgurIn 2004, I was at Home Depot with my friend Salvador.  He was highly trained in Kung Fu and Qi Gong, and his goal that night was to teach me how to break bricks.

I had never broken bricks with my bare hands, despite starting martial arts at the tender age of six, and he was bothered by the fact that the skill levels I possessed as a black belt had never been translated to external measures of performance.

“But it’ll hurt, I’m scared I’ll break my bones,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” he said with a mischievous smile, as he set up two cinder blocks vertically to support one slab of brick.

“Now, I want you to focus your Qi, and when you feel ready, hit it with your palm,” he said, motioning to me by example.

We did all the breathing techniques he taught me, and I struck the brick with my hand while yelling with a loud Ki Up.

I screamed in pain and leaned back clutching my hand.

He laughed.

I looked over at the stack: nothing happened to the brick.

Without missing a beat, he said: “Now kick the brick, stomp your leg through!”

I gazed at him, doubtful of myself and whether to proceed.

“Do it!  You have shoes on!  What are you waiting for?!?” he said.

I kicked the brick and my leg went through, smashing it into two pieces.

I didn’t show much emotion.

“Well?” he said authoritatively.  “What changed?”

“I knew I had shoes on, so that it wouldn’t hurt.”

“Right,” he said.  “So what you’re telling me is, it’s really mental for you, not physical.”

“No, it’s partially physical too!” I said defensively.  “It’s obvious my leg is way stronger than my arm,” I said with an eye roll.

“Try with your hand again now,” he said dismissive of my last comment.

He carefully placed another brick in the same manner as before, and waited for my strike.

“C’mon, you can do it!”

I struck it perfectly, and held my follow-through with a confident and focused look on my face, determined and intense, as if I knew all along it would happen.

“What was different this time?” he asked.

“You made me believe,” I said.

Wow, I said to myself.  I stood there in awe, standing over the first brick I had ever broken with my bare hands.

He then laid two bricks, one on top of the other.

“Go for it,” he said.

“No way, I barely broke one!  You’re crazy,” I said.

“If you are only truly strong enough to break one, your hand will stop at the second one and we can go home, no big deal.”

I struck at the new stack.

A repeat reaction from before ensued, with me screaming in pain and clutching my hand.

He reacted to the sequel of my self-doubt with the same outburst of laughter.

“You didn’t even break the first one,” he said with a critical tone, pointing at how not even the top one broke.  “You are clearly strong enough to break ONE.  You just did it a minute ago.  My mere action of putting the second brick on top intimidated you and put your mind in distress.”

I nodded, still clutching my hand, letting the redness go down.

“Kick it,” he said.

And just like before, I broke the stack.

“Now use your hand,” he said and placed two bricks stacked together again.

I struck at the stack, this time breaking both in one fell swoop.

“See?  You did it!” he said.

We repeated the pattern and got up to three bricks before we stopped.

I couldn’t believe it.

When we left Home Depot, I said to Sal: “You know, I’ve been doing martial arts since I was six, and I never knew I could or even tried to break bricks, let alone a stack of three!  What an amazing feeling!  Thank you for showing me.”

“You had it in you all along, it was all those years of training, finally coming out.  Don’t thank me, thank your uncle for teaching you at six.   I just cleared your mind and injected confidence, brick by brick.”

******************************
I often meet other transgender and lesbian women who ask me how I came out to my family and friends, let alone managing to find work in Aerospace Engineering again while presenting in my true gender identity, as a woman.

I tell them it was a long process, iterated in steps, with each iteration containing important milestones of growth that fueled my confidence and understanding of who I was, revealing more clearly where I needed to go to be happily authentic.

The women questioning me often get irritated, and reiterate their question in ways that contain clarification statements that they think I missed: “No no,” they say.  “What EXACTLY did you tell your family, using what PRECISE words?  How did you know that during that exact morning of September of 2005, that you would tell them?”

As I continue to tell them it’s a process, and not a singular event contained in one days of work, they get upset.  They somehow believe that if they just arrange the exact order of words in an exact context and manner, similar to the way I did it in 2005, that they will get the same results.

They only want the technique Salvador showed me at Home Depot in 2004, and not to have to invest in the 19 years of training I did in martial arts that led up to the moment prior for me being able to break bricks at age 24.

They think if someone recorded my hand going through the bricks, that if they mimic my angle, technique, and strike speed, that they can do the same thing.

To an extent, they probably can.  But there was so much more to what was going on than what could be seen with a precursory glance.

It is very likely someone with no prior martial arts training, who is very angry or in a focused state, can break bricks.  However, to conjure up that strength and focus without the emotional energy fueling their actions will perhaps yield a different outcome.  And a truly well-trained martial artist can conjure up that focus and strength much quicker at their disposal than an untrained individual.

I have found that transitioning and being seen in the world as a woman involved similar processes and learning curves.  The more I practiced owning my narrative and feminine heart, the more my energy became apparent to those observing me, with my visibility as trans decreasing involuntarily while my status of being out as queer went up by choice.

Coming out, in my experience, is an extended process.  We come out every day, a bit at a time, and when the culminating event occurs, people who are present only see the end result, without seeing how much blood, sweat, and tears has gone into the preparation and accumulation.

“Practice,” my Guru always tells me.  “Practice.”

I can still recall just how much practice it took to just be able to turn the doorknob and leave the house when I first transitioned.
It took more practice to be able to go out in public and interact with people, to endure the anxiety of being a new and raw girl, visible and seen, going through an internal puberty and crash course of growth despite looking like a 30 year old adult.

It took even more practice to be able to find a job, and eventually share, after over a year and a half of working there, a written piece of mine with a coworker and not succumb to the urge to remove the word “transgender” from my essay.

It took yet even more practice added on top of the confidence gained from my former practice to be able to swim nude, in broad daylight, at Esalen up in Big Sur, in the public pool area where random guests could and did see me.

I’m so much more out than when I first started dressing up as a woman and going out on weekends at transgender nightclubs in 2001; than when I first came out to my parents in 2005; than when I first transitioned after mustering up the courage to see a gender therapist in 2011.

Yet, all of those days of practice were undetectable, invisible for those who asked me the simple question of “How exactly did you come out to your parents, Natalie?”

I turn to these people and say: “Brick by brick.”

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.

Childhoodproof

I got my name change and received my court order in the spring of 2012, and promptly celebrated at one of my favorite restaurants in the San Fernando Valley with my friend Susan.

“You now realize you can no longer legally marry another woman,” she said.

What she said hit me all of a sudden. She was right, on account that Proposition 8 was still in effect, and the moment my legal gender marker on my documents was changed to “F,” I could no longer marry another woman.

“That sucks!” I said with sudden realization of the ramifications. “As of yesterday, I still could have married a woman.”

“Shows how bullshit it all is,”” she said.

“We instead focused the rest of our afternoon on the bright side: that I had legally changed my name and gender, and that we were here to celebrate that important milestone.

We got seated at a table that was actually two tables joined together, and sat on the right side of the pair. As we ordered, the restaurant filled up rather quickly.

All of a sudden, a couple sat to our left, and moved the table about a foot over to create separation. The waitress followed suit and divided up the condiments for the now two separate parties.

I casually glanced over at the commotion as the couple sat down, literally a few feet away from me.

I jumped back in my seat, in shock that it was Chris and his girlfriend sitting next to me!

Both of them had attended my brother’s wedding reception in 2010, and Chris and I shared countless childhood memories and activities together. Our families were very close, and we grew up together playing basketball, camping, and attending Chinese school together.

Strangers we certainly were not.

“What?!?” Susan asked perceptively, noticing I was quiet. “You look pale, like you’re freaking out!”

I couldn’t even talk, I was so nervous all of a sudden.

A plethora of thoughts ran through my head: Would speaking in my newfound voice give me away? Was my pitch convincing enough? Could they clock me through all the makeup and clothes I was wearing? Surely, they must have made me already! Who did I think I was fooling?!?

Instead of noting that they glanced right at me and kept on eating without skipping a beat; instead of cherishing that I clearly passed as the woman I was inside and out; instead of prolonging my celebration of my legal name and gender marker change, I chose instead to momentarily focus on my fear of being clocked by an old childhood friend sitting two feet from me.

When our families had gone to China in 2000, Chris, my brother, and I were all hitting on girls in our tour groups. Each time we arrived in a new province, the group members would change with respect to each family and their travel itinerary.

Upon arriving in Xian to see the Terra Cotta Warriors at the tomb of Emperor Qin, the 3 of us 20-year olds were more interested in the two new Vietnamese girls that were new additions to our tour group.

I kept noting the beauty of one of the Vietnamese sisters, and my brother acknowledged I had great taste. Chris, however, disagreed.

“I guess I have really high standards,” he said nonchalantly. “No one has piqued my interest on this trip yet.”

And here we were, sitting next to each other at a restaurant, where he had made eye contact with me but retained his attention on his girlfriend.

I passed. I passed as myself, a woman, in his eyes. He didn’t recognize me, despite knowing my old presentation for the better of 20 years. With “high standards” regarding beautiful women, I looked like one in his eyes.

“Well?” Susan implored.

“See that couple there?” I pointed out to Susan.

“Yeah, not the first one I’ve seen, so what?” she said sarcastically, easing the mood for us.

“I’ve known him for 20 years. Our families are very close. I’m freaking out!” I whispered.

“No way!” she said with a smile. “You know what? We can have some fun!”

She then hunched over the table and playfully whispered back: “So you want me to tell him for you? I’m sure you have his cell phone, you should text him and say you can’t believe you are sitting next to him at this restaurant, and watch him look around for you, all confused.”

“No! Just let them leave, I don’t want to do this now,” I said.

She jokingly reached over and leaned towards their table a few times, but eventually, they left and I filled Susan in on all the back-story.

She laughed, and was in disbelief. She also promptly congratulated and shared her elation with me on how far I had come, physically and emotionally to pass with feminine appearance and energy.

“Now will you believe it when all of us tell you that you pass and have nothing to worry about? You have proof now.”

My feminine appearance withstood the scrutiny of a friend who spent his childhood and adolescent years growing up with me, and I had passed.

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!