2

Stepping Into Vulnerability

Drawings capture the person -- Cameras capture the image

“Class, this is Renée, our model for today. She is a transgender woman whose body is in transition.”

The month of waiting was over in a hurried drive to a local college campus set into the mountainside.

Privately exchanging my loose outer clothes for a lovely woven wrap, I was pleased to see no marks of the inner garments I had chosen not to wear, so my skin would be smooth for this session.

Electric with excitement, I padded into the warm studio and waited for my time — the students were there to see me, and to draw what they saw.

Nakedness implies humiliation, loss, deprivation, ignobility.
Nudity, in contrast, seems often to be the clothing of an enlarged soul, with vulnerability-as-strength, enriched and noble.

Moments later, I ascended the quilted, brightly lit dais in the center of the room.

Heartbeats later, I gracefully undraped myself, neatly laying aside my wrap.

Exposed fully, artists around me, charcoal and paper ready: I slowly danced into a series of 30-second gesture-poses to help them warm-up…Lithe as a willow, then still as a stone, silently counting the seconds, to the feverish squeaks and scratches of drawing and rustling newsprint: I planned the next position my body would smoothly rotate into.

Poses at this stage are intended to be expansive, often counterpoised, stop-action, the sorts of state that can only be held for a few tens of seconds.

My muscles quivered visibly from adrenaline as much as from being cold in the slightly-too-warm-for-clothed-bodies studio.

My degree of vulnerability took a quantum leap upward as I felt my tuck slipping.

Gestures completed, we moved into a pair of ten minute poses.

Now the artists could focus on details.

Now the model would shift into more sustainable, balanced poses, exchanging spontaneity for the much more intense focus endurance requires.

My heart settled down, and my body adjusted to the temperature.

My soul quivered into a new normal where the rest of the world seemed unexposed, oblivious, in slow motion, while I was lifted above into a keen sense of aliveness, purposefully exposed so every detail could be scrutinized, interpreted and recorded.

My sight severely restricted, my hearing, touch and kinesthetic-sense filled the resulting vacuum. At once intensely concentrating while quietly meditating, expending enormous energy to remain…perfectly……motionless……

A gentle chime: the first break. I held for a few more moments, and broke-pose when paper fell silent. The spell changed rhythm, as with practiced grace, I stood and delicately — reluctantly — re-draped my body.

To be unclothed was normal, comfortable, reassuring.
To be covered, I felt…exposed.

I walked among the artists admiring their work and chatting with them. I felt privileged to offer my myself to them, and expressed my awe and gratitude. They had known a trans woman would be among them today, and they seemed eager to hear my story.

How often do you see the spirit of another grow before your eyes?

It was a profoundly sacred time for me…now recognizing this, it seemed the session became sacred to the artists also. They knew why I was here, an exercise in personal growth, increasing my spiritual being through the paradox of extreme vulnerability, and the down-to-earth coping of my body with its flaws in all its queer glory: I am seen and now it is safe to open my own eyes to look, to appreciate, to accept what I can change and what I cannot.

Upon the dais once more, I easily undraped back into normalcy: I was nude; but everyone else seemed unclothed.

It was time for the single, hour-long pose, and knowing the needs of the class, I flowed into a form that had suddenly come to me, and together we made adjustments to light and shadow, skin and sinews.

And gentle music quietly played.

Wordlessly we began on some invisible cue we all somehow understood:

My facial expression as fixed as the rest of my body, my eyes focused on a certain point in the room, my breathing was barely perceptible.

One minute, five, ten, fifteen minutes: my vision dimmed for lack of eye motion, muscles held taut; muscles actively relaxed.

And growing pain.

My body and mind so under control that my usual responses were suspended:

SLAP!!! Something fell unseen, yet I did not startle; I was preconscious to the wave of surprise that invisibly rippled through my being.

An itch bore into me, but was swallowed by the intensity of my kinesthetic-overload.

And the quiet chime sounded at twenty minutes in the thunderous silence.

When charcoal rested, I gently asked the instructor to chalk the position of my body where it and its shadow touched the dais surface, then like a mannequin come-alive, I smoothly broke my pose as-if I had never been still.

Another short break, I stretched, re-draped and toured the studio. Marveling at the developing images, I resumed my chats with the artists; and as they learned about transgender people, they seemed to marvel at me.

The instructor remarked at how I had developed in the two years since my first modeling experience with her. She saw me as a nascent woman then; now the curves of my body, fullness of my breasts, my delicate face and soft feminine voice, en-fleshed the female soul she had met previously.

Before, some imagination was required to see me as a woman.
Now the dots were mostly connected.

Again upon the dais; again nude without thought nor qualm, I settled back into the pose I left scant time earlier. Using the marks I positioned myself, refined as my body remembered where it was, what-touched-what. My new friend, Pain, told me when I had found all the right places. With final minor adjustments from the artists, I de-animated as on-cue, their dance resumed.

I marked the time in songs, embracing the growing muscular-discomfort, I felt the thrill of a special sort of ecstasy that transcended mere pain. And warm air weighed reassuringly on my breasts, my thighs, shoulders and back: it was deliciously sensual. My delirious euphoria grew, though living stone from the outside, I seemed. I exalted in the active stillness of the pose, feeling I could go another hour at least! like twenty days into my thirty-six day fast! like the eerie calm underwater when breathless-panic subsided: I did not want it to end!

With the chime, the spell changed rhythm and transported me back.

In the final twenty minutes I felt such overwhelming gratitude to have experienced all this. I could feel myself growing. I felt like I was deep in a spiritual retreat. I felt like I was absorbing new volumes of self-awareness and self-understanding…I FELT!

Then, with the slightest sensation, my carefully pre-positioned hair fell out of place. I knew one artist at least was focusing on my face. Moving only enough to speak, I quietly asked if someone could re-position it. Immediately this simple request moved us all into an exquisite place of intimacy and vulnerability:

In formal settings, a model deep in-pose almost never speaks, and is seldom spoken to, and in a class, only by the instructor. Moreover, the model’s personal space is respected to the utmost, and nobody touches nor even approaches the model without their explicit permission.

…Unseen, I could nevertheless feel the attention of the entire room of people focus even more intently on me.

The artist closest to me, with the best view of my draped hair, reverently entered my peripheral vision, stopped-short and as-if asking for absolution, she spoke to me softly, yet clearly enough for all to hear: “may I re-position your hair please?” As my heightened sense of touch braced itself for a shock, I replied in kind: “yes, please do.” Permission granted, she delicately touched my body, gently replacing my ponytail back upon my right shoulder.

The spell changed rhythm again.

Another song…suddenly an artist whose body and equipment had been my visual point-of-reference, abruptly but quietly packed-up to leave, and in his haste I watched as he exited by a very large door, fully exposing me to the people passing by!

I was “tested” and found complete, for I experienced no discomfort, not a quiver in my pose, at this serious breach of protocol.

During some point in this growth, I had regained my lost sense of body innocence

Fourth song and probably the last, and I knew it was nearly time to come down from this special place, and with bitter-sweetness I prepared myself.

Chime!

In lissome haste, I minimally covered my body, while I asked the artists if they would permit me to photograph their work as a keepsake. Without exception, without hesitation, they agreed, and I padded from easel to easel snapping pictures with my phone as I expressed my gratitude with a giddy childlike joy.

And the rhythm changed and the spell was completed.

Whence in private, I dressed — this time with all my clothing.

And I returned to the studio to debrief.

Filling-out paperwork, I told the instructor of my intent to donate the modeling-fee to a transgender suicide prevention group, which turned our talk to what the recent election might mean for people like me.

She was thrilled with how I had developed as a woman and also a transgender ambassador, and she seemed to be pleased over the ease with which I moved through the whole modeling experience, touched by its special significance to me…

bette-for-renee-small

…With some trepidation, I asked her if I had done okay; smiling she said I performed perfectly, then asked if I could model again in a few days.

I smiled!


Tucking refers to various techniques employed by transgender women, who have not had complete gender confirming surgery, to alter the appearance of their originally configured genitalia so as to present a feminine pudendal cleft.

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2

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!!

0

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.

5

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.

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“Other” in the Spirit

Brettany Renee Blatchley (aka Hippie-Girl) 2014-08-27

This will be a long, difficult road for many of us: queer and straight…

When the “other” kind of person turns-out to be someone who is respected, liked, loved, then who that person is will collide with who that person is assumed to be. This is a God-moment when the seeds of reconciliation or more vehement rejection are sown.

…God has been leading me to connect with various Christian congregations in my area, growing and developing a godly, sisterly relationship with them. Because I live “simply open” about who and what I am, at some point when our relationship deepens, the fact that I am a married Christian woman of transgender experience will become apparent in natural, relaxed even winsome ways – in God’s time…

…Last Wednesday, at an “agape” potluck and Bible study, it was “time” – my status and authority as a transgender person became very relevant to the discussion and I gently made my disclosure, acting in great vulnerability from a position of spiritual strength…

This Sunday was a good time of worship. Much was preached, sang and prayed about how THIS church, this part of Christ’s Body was especially attuned and welcoming to people on the margins (people “other churches” reject) – we were admonished. “They will come here for Jesus’ love: be prepared!” They did not realize that I had already been among them as an “unpresentable” part of The Body. I was cautiously optimistic!

…Last evening, I again joined the “Agape” group with my spouse. We ate and socialized, when ask how my spouse and I were related, I replied in joyful truth. Moments later, I was called into the pastor’s office along with the Bible study leader in whose group I had “come-out…”

I learned that I had caused a stirring in the entire leadership for most of the week.

…It was a long and good discussion where I was very much “on trial,” my relationship with Jesus, my relationship with sin, my understanding of the Bible and its authority, my transgender nature and transition: but in the end, I was essentially excommunicated – told (without Biblical support) that being transgender was illegitimate and living (as myself) a woman was in their eyes: “sexual immorality.” I gently pointed-out the arrogance of assuming absolute correctness on the issues yet being unwilling to go to God about the possibility that they could be wrong. I also gently point-out the hypocrisy of treating my “sin” as in need of special attention, including the breaking of fellowship.

I commended the pastor on at least speaking civilly with me about this (some won’t); he commended me for my reputation there as being a very well-spoken, intelligent, honest and kind person with a gentle servant heart. His prescription for me was to “repent.” Specifically, “repent” meant for me to renounce my (God given) gender identity, live as a man, and “embrace my masculinity.” Of course to “live as a man” would require me to have a sex change, and I assured them that unless God made this demand crystal clear by the conviction of His Spirit, I would make no-such recantation…

…So we parted – I suggested that we pray together and embrace as we concluded. I led this prayer, and we left with hugs: fellow believers who nonetheless could not be reconciled at this time, maybe not on this side of eternity?

It was hard for me, building a relationship with a congregation, coming to know people and *be known*, offering myself to potentially be hurt…for them to see Jesus in me, requires significant time, sacrifice and connection. But that connection made, makes the sundering of the relationship – the relationshipS – all the more painful. That was my pain last night.

God has led me to be one of His agents of change, agents of love, as one of His “scandalous” people – His daughter, a “woman with a past” and a present.

AND there are other congregations and relationships, and more faith to grow…Dearest Lord, my Love, please give me strength – glorify Yourself in me.

Blessings & Joy!!

2

Transition in Transition

The sea is a lonely place with a beauty its own.I am now well and truly out of the Guy Club. Of course, I only ever lived at the edge of it: one foot in, one out – I never “got” guys, and they never “got” me. Just tolerated, always suspect. As a child, this was much more existential because I was ostracized and sometimes beaten for simply being me. As an adult, people gradually saw that I lived as a special sort of man – some even saw this as a good thing, but we all knew I did not really belong

…Now, I feel like a small fishing trawler chugging out of what had always been my home port. I have passed the outer buoy and out into the open sea. I know I will never return. The bittersweet feeling of sadness is due to loss of a familiar place, a space: I did not want to be there, it hurt, but it was a place to exist, and it nurtured me enough to me get here…

I have made contact with the Girl Club and have had tantalizing, wonderful, even unexpected connections here. These are becoming more frequent as I blend-in with other women my age: some women beaming at me with the “you go girl!” smile; others coming close-up to chat girl-talk in stores, in restrooms, at Zumba; being in a women-only fashion show; enjoying a coffee klatsch; sharing complaints about our bodies and bad-hair-days; hugs, touches, words, little gender-specific intimacies, even passing in the sacred-space of the women’s locker room.

These are beginnings, much as “‘passing’ in the mall” is an important early milestone, but small step in the rest of a trans person’s life. “Passing” must become “being.” The more difficult and more rewarding part comes ahead: assimilation, where chat is no longer idle, but is life serious; and of meeting people where they are in their hearts, hopes, dreams, daily grind and disappointments; of supporting one another; of loving and being loved and growing old through life together: as brothers, as sisters.

…Like some immigrants, I knew my way around the “old country” but was forced to leave because it was not really home. Will I always be an immigrant, never really learning the language, never fitting-in with my adopted culture? Will I fully assimilate and leave all my old ways behind? Will I remember my heritage, honor the good things, speak a few words with a bit of an accent, while I enjoy my new life in a new land – my heritage known to many, but my citizenship, my belonging never questioned?…

Some who want and desperately try to assimilate, are never able to; they become and remain Transsexuals. Not men; not women: other. What is a way-place, even a “summer home” for other transsexual people, becomes a kind of ghetto for them — a place of longing short of their dreams.

Some opt for “deep stealth” – they are the ones who can, and actually do, fully assimilate. They are not transsexuals, they are men, women: former-transsexuals, yet not without cost. Likely, they have lost everyone, everything, burned-away, scorched-earth. Everything is new because it must be, and there is the past to bury, constantly and always.

…I feel like a tall, gangly tomboy whom the boys have just realized: “she’s not one of us anymore,” who herself feels the feminine longing in her heart: their door gently closes behind me – the way we interact together has forever changed: I am not one of the guys; I am treated as woman in both good and not so good ways. And whatever identity or perks I had as a man (like “male privilege”), I left behind

I knew it would be this way.

…Now I come to my sisters who are “older” women, and some of them have started to welcome me; they are teaching me to become the woman I am, to mature. Many know that there is something special about me because I am a 51 year old girl-becoming-woman, and they are being especially gentle. As I approach and quietly enter their door, my body language seems to echo my heart: “excuse me…please…I don’t mean to come where I’m not wanted…I know I’m late to the party…may I come in if I’m quiet?…please?” There is a balance between crashing-in and demanding one’s “birthright” and being so quiet that one’s presence is overlooked, unmet. I need to strike a balance or I will never assimilate…

Do I want to fully assimilate? The whole goal of my transition has been to live authentically as myself. Well, myself includes my past, and it includes the parts of me that were called “Brett.” But it is equally true that I was and am a female person, now expressing myself as a woman. Somehow I am all these things. Yes, I am a woman, but my past and makeup are very different than a natal woman’s…and hers is different from mine: we are both women, but we have become along different paths. Moreover, I do not view “transsexual” and “woman” to be mutually exclusive. And I must also live with the fact that I am a husband, a father, as well as a woman. Impossible! some say. Necessary for me! I reply. I cannot escape that I am a blend of sexes and genders, but that I am most me when I express myself as a woman. Maybe embracing is better than escaping?

Perhaps I will be one of the lucky ones who are somehow accepted, embraced, by others of their gender, whilst honoring their whole selves, fully integrated, not required to hide anything, yet not exposing everything, all the time. The same and yet changed: loved and respected for all that: a unique human being…

…Now by God’s grace, I live as a special sort of woman.

Postscript: I am now nearly 55 and I have assimilated nicely; it is no longer obvious that I am a woman of transgender experience. Yet I live my life “simply open,” which for me means that in casual encounters, I am “just” a tall, boyish woman — but when people come to know me more intimately, the fact that I am a trans woman becomes apparent in relaxed, natural even winsome ways. Being transgender is one of the countless beautiful ways to be human, and I communicate that, mostly without words; I am gracefully transgender.

Postscript: back when I wrote this several years ago, I was much less aware of a larger segment of the transgender population — those who are non-binary — that is, those whose (beautifully) natural state is to be neither a man, nor a woman. Transsexuals as a rule gravitate to the opposite “pole” from where their birth assignment would suggest, but non-binary people find they are more comfortable somewhat away from the poles. And while my gender identity feels pretty fixed to me (I can trace my sense of gendered self into my early childhood and it’s always been the same), other people experience their gender as something that changes over time — sometimes over years, sometimes even daily or moment by moment. Such people are not in a ghetto when they are not at the male or female pole, they are simply where they are most comfortably at home! It’s a point that I did not understand then, that I understand better now, what with having a number of non-binary friends.


While I have left behind whatever privilege I had in being a ‘man,’ I still retain most of the responsibilities: with poignancy I recently realized that I am no longer the family “fix it” as in “the husband/son-in-law fixes things.” My spouse and her mom have turned to our young adult son in the way they used to turn to me: he is taking-up his ‘manly’ mantle and doing well. It wasn’t that I refused this duty, but I gravitated away from it. I beam with pride that our son is becoming a man as evidenced in yet another way. But it is also sad. I never had realized this was a “gender role” in our family – maybe it is not, but this change correlates with my change. It is another part of who I was that is gone; I am done with it; I am not going back.