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ESSAY 09

JANUARY 10, 2017

WORDS BY: JASE CANNON

ILLUSTRATIONS BY: JULIA BASSIRI

 

I haven't picked up a pen in months. It's hard to even remember my last journal entry, for time seems to be moving ever more quickly, and the scenery is definitely changing! Though my world is practically upside down from what it once was, which is only naturally accompanied by some fear, I am mostly excited to be involved in the creation of a new world. I am more strongly rooted in the understanding my inner self reflects my outer environment, and all that is needed is the continued act of stepping aside, surrendering, and allowing myself to be vulnerable.

 

These are, of course, easier said than done! But my first big act of surrender last summer opened a huge door after which letting go of my old paradigm has become easier and easier. The vulnerability part is the most challenging--putting myself out there and opening myself up as an object of other peoples' perception. There are instances that remind me that I'm different from society's standard of "the norm." On good days it simply puts a bigger smile on my face, but on others I put my head down when faced with judgment. I'm reminded of my reasons for hiding behind a mask of "normal" for so much of my life, to avoid criticism and to attract admiration and ultimately love. But I was spending such an exhausting amount of energy in the pursuit of something inherently false, running on a treadmill that would eventually wear me out. So, having to learn a new framework to living my life might sound like a lot, but compared to the inefficiency of my past, it's a piece of cake.

 

Speaking of cake... my weight and my eating habits had never been much of a concern, but suddenly I find my body reacting very differently to the same diet I once treated as fuel for my male metabolism. My doctor mentioned that estrogen could cause some weight gain, and he was not joking! After being on hormones for one year, I've literally gained 45 pounds. I've noticed the steady accumulation throughout the year, and for the most part it hasn't bothered me too much; I'm keeping my eye on the prize, which is my ideal feminine body, a Marilyn Monroe complete with voluptuous curves in all the right places. Though I'm informed that my physical transition is moving perfectly and that I've never been more healthy in my life, so much so that I've already been approved for the surgeries I couldn't be more thrilled to be working toward, I'm also realizing that eating my old diet of "comfort foods" is no longer serving the new me. It's not that I don't love the way I look--don't get me wrong--my hips and breasts might not quite be where I'm envisioning them, and my arms and belly might be chubbier than they necessarily need to be, but I never bemoan my physique in any of its stages of being. More than anything, I want to give myself a lot of credit for taking the action of a lifetime and stepping into this long and complicated journey. I've only taken the first of many steps, and at the age of 39, I feel extremely proud to be walking my own truth no matter how I may look along the way. To be undergoing a second puberty all over again at this age is indescribable and mindblowing, in ways you might expect, but unexpectedly without the struggle, without the edge that caused me so much pain the first time around. My amazing medical team has helped me gradually start undoing the results of a lifetime of testosterone and it's nothing short of miraculous. I may need to change my eating habits, but I've never felt more like me!


It's when I go to mainstream clothing stores, Club Monaco, J. Crew, Zara, etc, that I wind up spiraling into unhealthy territory. Often their biggest size is a 12, and usually a small 12 at that, and though I am sometimes a 14, I still attempt to find something that works with my body, and I'm there in the fitting room stuck in a dress having a mild panic attack wishing my body was smaller and proportioned differently and I know that my size doesn't define who I am but-- it's all OK. I may have limited choices for now in terms of fashion, but knowing that I'm strong and healthy and true to myself means I'm perfect the way I am, and sometimes that just requires more reminding than others. We all know that the average woman has self-image issues caused by a warped culture misinforming us about gender and beauty standards, and major design labels playing into that are not any exception.

 

One major aspect of "playing the part" of a woman that I've been patiently waiting to participate in, is the world of having hair. My natural hair is long gone, so I've been rocking the bald head for some time now. But some situations more than others make me feel uncomfortable without the option at least. For instance, in March I was invited to a charity luncheon. Imagine the most upper-east-side society ladies event you can, and there I was, the day before, trying to pick out a wig on my limited budget at Wigs and Plus. Now, I'd had my eye on a wig this entire time, it's not that I simply couldn't choose one, or didn't want one; I just couldn't afford it. Well-made wigs that actually look real are not cheap, and I'd rather have no hair than look like I'm wearing a wig.

 

But this was a different story. All of a sudden, I felt like I needed some hair, that I'd stick out like too much of a sore thumb otherwise. Coincidentally, my bestie Lune was visiting the city for the day from Hudson, where she owns the cutest salon, and I knew she was my girl. Together we must have gone through almost every wig in the entire store, and none of them were me. Disappointed, I didn't want to acquiesce for any of them, when Lune convinced me to try one more on. So far, they'd all been straight wigs, since I feel most natural in something sleek, but this one was curly. Somehow, it almost worked, but it was not going to be acceptable until it was re-shaped, which Lune was insistent on doing. Her living over two hours away and the luncheon being the next day, there did not seem to be a feasible solution, but fast forward to several hours later, when she picked me up from my last yoga class and whisked me upstate to her salon. We turned on the lights at 11pm, she gave me my first haircut in a very long time, we had the briefest of slumber parties, and I hopped on the 5am train back to NYC in time for work the next morning!

 

What I didn't realize was just what a big step it was for me to have hair on my head. The wig looked fine, I got dolled up, put my makeup on, and took a cab uptown. On the way, I got increasingly nervous. I felt as though I was forcing myself too far ahead in my process in order to fit in and look like everyone else. By this time I felt comfortable as me, dressing in women's clothing, even wearing 4-inch heels, but somehow the wig was suddenly too much. I didn't feel like me. Hair is so important to one's self-image, and this hair didn't feel like it represented who I was inside. The moment that I walked into the club, I felt all eyes judging me as I'd never felt before, and I became so uncomfortable that I left the event early.


Not fitting a prescribed physical mold bleeds into all areas of my life, particularly that of sex and partnership. Early on in my transition, I believed that love and intimacy couldn't manifest until after all my surgeries. I've never doubted that I want the full surgical nine yards; it is my deepest truth. Yet, I'm coming to terms every day with my present moment and my present truth, still a whole version of myself despite having specific goals, and no less a woman. To say that I can't experience sexual intimacy with a man until I look a certain way is to say I can only be happy when I reach point B, which is simply never the case. Insecurity with my body is one thing to own, but giving its power away to a future event is always an illusion.

But still, I hear voices telling me I'm not attractive or desirable until I no longer possess both male and female parts, that the fact that I have both breasts as well as a functioning penis will be repulsive to somebody, that I'm not deserving yet of the kind of relationship I yearn for with all my being--yes, it takes up a huge amount of internal space this longing for true love, at the risk of sounding cliché. But it's true, like most humans I crave connection on a deep level, warmth and exchange of tenderness and loving touch, the sharing of energy that transcends a sense of separate self.

 

One of my biggest saviors during this time of transition is therapy. To have someone who listens to my concerns, joys, confusion and emotions on a regular basis is crucial for me to be able to work through all the issues from my past that are coming up. From the trauma of childhood sexual abuse to the processing of the guilt I hold onto for not accepting myself all those years, the ability to voice it all in a safe space and work through it with someone I trust is a huge relief and one of my week's best hours.

 

Despite all the conflicted thoughts and feelings regarding my body, I am optimistic about the future of what is considered "normal" with regard to gender and sexuality, as younger generations continually impress me with their level of comfort in expression and acceptance. I am captivated with the term "fluid" to describe a dynamic and non-binary identity that can encompass one or more genders depending on the circumstances. Sometimes I feel like a grandma, with old patterns of rigid thinking influencing my beliefs of what could be possible, and am learning that there are all types of people out there with non-traditional sexual preferences beyond what I've ever imagined. I know that the day will come when I am comfortable with exactly who I am in the present moment, and that I will attract a person or people who not only accept that but desire and love it for what it is.

 

My relationship with sex and intimacy has never been one I'd call "healthy." In the past, as Jason, I needed to be loaded up on drugs to even get close to someone, and sex, though very physical, became something essentially disembodied. I recently had an opportunity to come full circle and heal some of those deep wounds that have been shrouded in the darkest corner of my memory, when I visited Montreal on a work trip.

 

Let me fill you in if you don't know about this period of my life. The last time I set foot in Montreal was five years ago. I was addicted to crystal meth, and somewhere during my escapades throughout which I became increasingly lost, I contracted HIV. When I was clearly incapable of loving myself, I was fortunate to have friends who still loved me, and frankly they saved my life by rallying to send me to rehab. After rehab, they put me on a train to NYC, where I started the next, sober chapter of my story. Though I've been sharing this story with my community for years, nothing could have prepared me for the experience of re-visiting the city that was the backdrop for so much pain. The amount of trauma I'd been storing in my body relating to that period of my life created a lot of anxiety on the plane ride there, and lasted as a pit in my stomach the entire time until my return home. I held simultaneously the opposite experiences of dreading every moment and reconnecting with people I love and who love me. It was paradoxical and it was beautiful and incredibly freeing. To walk the same streets again where once I wished for self-destruction and death, to feel that pain all over again, let it come up through me and then to let it go...I feel lucky to had the chance to honor this part of my past for what it was, and to treat those gaping wounds with the salve of self-love. The weight I'd been carrying around of the years of suffering and self-hatred, is gone for good.

 

Allowing myself to visit Montreal and to open myself to triggers such as the smell of my old yoga studio, has allowed for another layer of Jason to be put to rest peacefully. I have a stream of tears running down my face as I honor Jason's death on many levels, and am so grateful to the self that has always been me, from the child to the man who harbored my soul until it was ready to blossom into the woman I am now. This acceptance of all that has come before is the most loving action I can take towards myself, for in forgiveness we release our attachment to anything being any one way, and we can simply exist as the multidimensional beings we truly are.


My family of friends, in particular those with whom I've grown so much at Modo Yoga, have been incredibly supportive, and I have endless gratitude for the kindness I've been shown in the past year. One such act of incredible generosity has come in the form of my dream wig! Guillaume, Dina, and Becca, my angels from the studio, surprised me recently with a gift certificate to Helena's Wig Shop, and a month ago I actually purchased the wig I've known I wanted since I first ever saw it. The moment I sat down and tried it on, my face lit up like I've never seen. I flashed back to the luncheon from months earlier when I couldn't present as someone other than myself. I flashed back to the time I screamed on my therapist's couch, "No, I can't dress up like a woman! I'd be a freak!" And yet, day by day, despite how big my beard once was, and how hairy my entire body was, or how bald I may be, I've chosen to surrender to the judgment around me and allowed the true me to come to the surface. When I wear my new wig, I feel like that me is being crowned, and the love I feel within my being is expressing itself even more radiantly than ever. It is this love for myself that is my love for others, and it is precisely this that makes somebody beautiful.