The Difference


Yes, hormones have made a BIG difference!

Building prefab furniture when I was living as a “man:”

  1. Toss instructions aside (I can do this: I’ve got a Y chromosome!)
  2. Puzzle over pieces figuring-out how *I* would design the same thing.
  3. Try to assemble furniture per #2.
  4. Something doesn’t fit. Go to step #2.
  5. Missing part. Go to step #2.
  6. Cycle through steps 2 – 5 until furniture looks about right.
  7. “Explain” extra parts to female companion.
  8. Stupid designers: I could have done this WAY better!

Building prefab furniture now, as a woman:

  1. Sigh: another thingy to assemble.
  2. READ Instructions.
  3. Inventory ALL parts.
  4. READ instructions AGAIN.
  5. Proceed to step.
  6. Double-check step.
  7. Repeat 5 – 6 until end of steps.
  8. Gasp: it looks like the box!
  9. The extra parts are just spares.
  10. That feels pretty good, let’s do another one!

One might think that this would be a “tell” of my gender identity – that perhaps hormones had altered that, but I can assure you that that is not the case (at least with me – my sense of my gender is unchanged going back to when I was first aware in early childhood), but it amazes me to realize to what degree testosterone and estrogen affect the way I think and feel.

As a “man,” I was nothing like a “world beater”, but I had much more confidence that I could overcome anything, and my sense of vulnerability was so little that I thought almost nothing of walking alone at night by myself (even though I have been attacked that way before). There was an urgency and hubris.

As a woman under the influence of estrogen, everything is “colored” differently and I am much less certain of my “place” in the world, even though I actually know myself and the world much better than I did as a “man.” There is now more patience, more humility.

It is almost like testosterone gave me an unwarranted degree of confidence and boldness. It’s a little like this: as a child, I thought nothing of climbing to the tops of all the trees I could manage in our yard. Now, I look at such things and I envision my bones: broken! I knew of the possibility of falling when I was little, but something in me pushed me to not care. Now I care! Now, I understand my need for patience and gentleness and I am more tentative because I have a much better sense of my limitations. And yet, when I apply some of my prescription testosterone (everybody needs at least a little), I begin again to feel a little bit of “chemical courage” that may or may not be justifiable in the circumstances.

Life dominated by one and then the other sex hormone has helped me to see that I am not the fully deterministic person I had always assumed myself to be – whatever my gender identity.


Growing Up

Jean-Marc Nattier: Portrait of a Young Woman Painter

Portrait of a Young Woman Painter – Jean-Marc Nattier

Q: What’s more public & awkward than adolescence?
A: A transgender person’s second adolescence.

I failed my first adolescence as a teen, and a lot of people in my life have been forced to experience me as I’ve been going through my second one.

For most people this awkward time of change happens when expected, and there are allowances for the learning, the changes, and the mistakes. When a trans person is forced into “remedial” adolescence, it’s often at a time in life when they are already (reasonably) mature and functioning adults…

…So, what’s it like to be a 54 year old adult trying to move through a kind of accelerated “girlhood” into womanhood? It’s difficult, it’s amazing, parts are fun, it’s exhausting, it’s insecure, it’s bothersome to others, it’s often embarrassing. Suddenly, I am after decades as an adult, *not* “acting my age,” because I am trying to re-process what did not go right the first time. It’s a “phase,” exacerbated by a second-hormonal-puberty, and I’m growing out of it.

What prompted me to write this is some uncomfortable indirect feedback I recently received. It was difficult in that it revealed that there are ways I’ve wearied people with “girliness” that is unbecoming of my age. Ouch…BUT it’s a *good* discomfort, because it shows that I am past the point where I need to assert my femininity, and I can just “get on with life” as a woman – I’m past the point of needing to prove this to anyone…

And I *truly apologize* to those I’ve so wearied, and *appreciate* everyone’s patience with me!

…There is a sense in which I’ve suspected this for a while, but sometimes it helps to see it in “black & white,” for someone to put a “fine-point” on the issue.

In another way, the feedback was *very validating* to me: it is a way of saying “I graduate” *IF* I’m willing to “step-off the stage with my diploma.” This work is done; the walk-beyond into “post-graduate” life is what remains.

This step isn’t so-much eliminating distracting behaviors as it’s recognizing that I’ve outgrown them. As with many trans people, my transition has been an exercise in extreme vulnerability, and for me, it is a phase that is ending. I’ve no need any longer to compensate for such vulnerability: my new wings have cured enough to fly upon…

The events of the last month or so have been pushing me through a period of rapid “tying-up-loose-ends” growth in more ways than simply the way I express myself to others. What has been revealed to me here is symbolic of what has been happening in “still waters” beneath, what is happening by God’s impetus and with God’s grace.

…The people who have given me this feedback have done me an *invaluable service*, for which I am *grateful*: they didn’t just tell me to “stop being a silly girl,” they reminded me that I can safely leave my girlish-phase behind because I’ve outgrown it as woman I have already become. I am *so blessed*, so blessed!!


Becoming Beautiful

Bathing female, sketch - Edgar Degas

Bathing female, sketch – Edgar Degas

There must be something in the water, but no, I know it’s not the water. Still when I stood before the mirror unclothed after my swim, I saw them, or rather I didn’: it’s those “lines” that run up and down the sides of some of our abdomens, demarking that layer of visceral fat that is part of everyone’s body…

…I’ve been noticing that I have been slimming over the last few months of exercising and more careful eating, but something very different has happened: the lines…are…gone. They’ve been there for so many years, I don’t remember when they weren’t there, but I noticed they were gone, because what I saw instead was a smooth gentle, continuous curve across my belly from hip to hip. In the two dimensional mirror image, it looks flat, but I know it’s not. I had been so aware of the curving line separating my tummy from my pubic triangle, that I hadn’t been paying attention to the other dimension. But there I am, in a skin-tight jumper, and it looks…right…it finally looks right…

…But there’s something else: I am beginning to become beautiful…yes, I *know* that’s a shocking thing to say … it’s more shocking for me to believe of myself because I had since childhood seen myself as ugly, but I’ve always longed to be beautiful. Now as a woman I have something of an opportunity, at least I have permission, and I’m old enough that it is not expected of me. What I have suddenly noticed with all my body’s changes is that NOW what remains of my masculine features are *WORKING FOR ME* instead of against me!! I never thought that would ever happen, nor that I would even think to say this. As my body has trimmed, I have become lithe, Tolkien-elf-like, but the curves are in the *right* places, and my height is working for me and not against me, and the angularity is working for me now…

…I am becoming beautiful in my own unique way, a way that is not strictly feminine nor masculine, but some blend of the best of both, and I am the last person on earth who could ever have seen this in me. I feel like I don’t deserve this, something *this nice* to be happening to me, for me; I am so humbled…so humbled…but in a lovely, healing, holy way…

…When you place a seed in the ground, it looks like nothing special, no more special than an ordinary pebble, and yet with time and water, it “dies” to reveal new life within, and the green shoot pushes against the heavy soil, inexorably forcing its way upward. Innately, this young plant *knows* which way to go, yet has no idea how its form will appear. And it reaches the sunlight, *so different* than the seed that once held its embryo. And tall and slender it springs upward, verdant green, nourished by the dirt of the world, but with clean water. And it grows and grows and branches and blossoms, never at any stage knowing exactly how it would be in the next. And after, because of the bloom, there comes the fruit, and the fruit is for others to enjoy, and for the amazing circle of life to continue. This is what my gender affirmation is like, and I am *so blessed*, so blessed, so blessed to *be*…

First published in LGBT Perspectives.


So why do I take so many selfies?

Bretta**, one of many selfies. **(Bretta is an endearing Australia shortened form of Brettany - they'll shorten anyone's name if they can!)

Bretta, one of many selfies.

It’s actually a relatively new thing with me: for most of my life, I hated my body (to the point of self-harming it), and it was only as I began to affirm my female gender that I began to care about it. Early in this affirmation (we call “transition”), it was still difficult to see myself in the mirror and in pictures, but I started doing both as a way to see my body in a new way and come to terms with it…

…Of course, it has also helped that female hormones have been re-shaping my body over the last (approaching) four years. And I see these changes, and marvel as my body becomes more what I have seen of me in my mind’s eye…

…I don’t want to look like some stunningly beautiful woman I might see in some media somewhere, rather I just want to be who I have always known myself to be: I will let the genes my parents gave me, under the influence of (more) estrogen, show me what my body should have been. I am not perfectly congruent (body, soul & spirit 100% matching), and on this side of God’s eternity, I won’t be, but I am *so much closer*…

…AND these pictures help me celebrate my body’s *becoming* and wash-away the years of doubt, frustration and sadness, where my body competed against me, and continually told me (and everyone else) that I am not who I really am…

…And I think if you ask other transgender people why they take so many selfies, you may find that something similar is happening with them.

Come celebrate with me?

OH!! AND I’m still in puberty, and this is expected behavior for teenage girls (even 53 year old ones)!! Don’t worry, I’ll grow out of it!!

First published in LGBT Perspectives.


When Does She Become He?

LGBT PERSPECTIVES, with Jillian Page and guests

By Brettany Renée Blatchley
LGBT Perspectives

ASHEVILLE, North Carolina — What makes a woman and what makes a man; what is male and what is female? What was once a very taboo subject in our culture, only seriously (and quietly) contemplated by doctors and researchers, is becoming dinner-table-talk with the new, greater visibility of transgender and intersex people. Perhaps a little thought experiment can add to this conversation?

Say that Sarah is an ordinary woman in respects visible and invisible. Where would she stop being a woman, a female, and what would it take to make her a male and man? Consider:

DNA: Let’s exchange one of Sarah’s X chromosomes for a Y. Would this make her a male, a man? Not necessarily. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is an intersex condition where a person’s body is unable to respond to testosterone. So their body does not masculinize from the default female-form…

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Sunday Outing

My hand

“Yes, these women’s hands” she said…

A cisgender woman I befriended at church a few months ago noticed I am unusual, but assumed that I was simply a tall woman of Scandinavian stock (which is largely true).

Sunday, I was driving her home from worship, and she made a comment in broken English saying “Renee, you did [such-and-such] as little girl?” I looked at her tenderly, shook my head as I gently said “Olga, I was never a little girl.” Her eyes widened: “What?! You boy then?!” With conviction, I spoke: “Not exactly Olga.” We were close to her house and as we turned the corner, I said “remember when I told you about my spouse and said you can ask me anything? Would you like to know more about who I am?”

Olga is a new US citizen, in her mid sixties and from Romania; she is kind-hearted, weather-beaten, deeply spiritual, and does not speak English well.

We stopped in her driveway, and I gently tried to explain, and then said, please let me show you, and I showed her my transitional video on my phone. She had difficulty understanding how this could be. As the different pictures of me changing drew closer to the present, she kept asking “is that you? Is that you?” and then about two-thirds through she would exclaim “that’s you! That’s you – I know your smile!”

…Then she took my hands saying…”don’t cry, don’t cry…”

She said “Renee! You are woman! If God not want you that way, you would not be. You still my sister! But don’t tell others, they no understand, no accept you. I will never say, this is your private life.”

It was a mind and heart changing experience for her. She never imagined that someone could change their sex, and she was grateful (and deeply impressed) that I was honest with her when she asked about my “girlhood.” (When she asked about my husband a month ago, I gently told her that I didn’t have a husband: my spouse is a woman, so she knew I was odd…and honest.) She then said that she had always had trouble understanding and sympathizing with gay and lesbian people, but now that she realizes she has a good friend who was a man and is now a woman, she believes God can do anything and it’s okay. She feels better about queer people now that she knows one personally.

Foreboding had held me as I anticipated the moment when it would be “time” to explain this part of myself to Olga. She had so much accepted me as as a sister, as any other woman (and it felt so wonderful to be accepted for myself). Would she reject me when I inevitably revealed myself more deeply to her? Blessedly it was another instance of love and mutual vulnerability sustaining a relationship.

Laughing she said “Renee! You got good boobies! You keep changing – get bigger hips and get shorter – then nobody even think anything odd about you woman.”

And still we giggle and touch as women do when we share things, and she is teaching me to care for a garden as I help her with English. She has already taught me of her compassionate soul, and we have grown together in faith.

I live “simply open,” which for me means that in casual encounters I am “just” a tall, boyish woman – but when people get to know me more intimately, the fact that I am a transgender woman becomes apparent in relaxed, natural, even winsome ways. Who I was is not dead, but has blossomed into who I am today: my past is my unique past; my present is here, and my future to come: I am a woman, a woman of transgender experience.