What the hell am I doing?

One of the most annoying — but most necessary — parts of this whole gender transition trip of mine is what I call the mental speedbumps.

I get to a certain point in the journey when everything is going wonderfully, it seems, and from out of nowhere, a voice inside yells out:

“What the hell are you doing?”

It seems to happen just as I’m about to take a big leap of some sorts.

Like next week.

The first big speedbump was the night of my epiphany about the gender thang that evening in early January 2008.

I was sitting at the foot of the bed and just absentmindedly, randomly looked over at my spare closet, and the inner voice hit me out of nowhere:

“Can you do this?”

That was it. Totally out of nowhere. The voice sounded quiet, still, creepy — the best way I can describe it is HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” (If it had called me Dave, I really would’ve been freaked.)

I was alarmed. I’m sure I had a look on my face that could be interpreted as dumbfounded and/or scared. And the knee-jerk voice shot back immediately, “What are you, fucking nuts?!? You have a respectable job, you’re an editor at a newspaper and you work with kids, and all it’s gonna take is one parent equating gender, homosexuality and pedophilia …” (That’s not a stretch in this huge red state of a valley, with lots of entrenched right-wing religious intolerance.)

But a more impassioned voice of reason shot right back, and they call the voice of reason the voice of reason for a reason, y’know?: “Look, you’re 46, you’re more than halfway past your life expectancy and you should be dead already. So are you gonna find out for real or are you gonna be fat, miserable and in the closet the rest of your life?”

A calm came over me and I started setting to thinking about how I was gonna make this work.

The next speedbump I can recall was September 2008 — the Saturday night I went out to the Million Elephant, the Thai restaurant in Fresno’s Tower District, as my femme self for the first time.

This came in the wake of a huge swell of confidence. I had just come back from three weeks home in Connecticut that Monday, Labor Day. During the time home, I came out to several of my closest friends, including three ex-girlfriends. The reactions ranged from “Well, it’s about time!’ to “Well, good for you!” to “I’m so happy for you!” to “So what took you so long?” to “Well, we kinda knew, but …”

This was a biggie; up to that point, the only person I’d let in on the trip was my friend Heather out here. And if I was gonna build a foundation of support — not to mention a surrogate family, in case my real one disowned me — I needed the people closest to me to be on board. This was a booster rocket.

This particular Saturday night, I was lounging around, just doing nothing, all sweaty from a bike ride, and I sat down to watch a movie on TV. Around 10, I jumped in the shower just to feel human again. When I got back to the bedroom, I started playing around with my still-formative girls’ wardrobe. It was just a series of things: I tried on a red top with black paisley, I threw on a new pair of black Capris, a pair of black fishnet knee-his, and I tried on a new pair of shoes I’d bought on eBay: blood-red patent ankle-strap Mary Jane platforms. Something was coming together.

“You’re going out,” the voice said.

“Are you crazy?” I said?

“Come on — you’re going out.”

The adrenaline thrill of taking the girl out for a spin outweighed the fear of what would happen. Besides, I had just bought my first real wig — a brown one, so this blonde could hide in plain sight — right before my vacation. And I was going to the Million Elephant, where I already knew the waitresses and got along with them very well. plus, they were open till 3 on the weekends. I figured this would be a safe haven for me.

I left the house around midnight and drove down to the Tower. My worry was being stopped by a cop for some horseshit reason in a city where the cops do a lot of not-so-good things. But of course, the rational half of me told myself that the whole world wasn’t staring at me driving and saying “That’s a man!” — everyone else was looking at the road, too — and that I wouldn’t be stopped unless I did something stupid. And a couple minutes later, I pulled up right in front of the front door.

And then I froze.

I can’t go in.

Naaah, go in!

I can’t! I’m scared!

So I had a stalemate with myself in front of the Million for about 20 minutes, then drove away for about 10 minutes, then pulled up to the front door again. Twenty more minutes.

By this time, it was 20 to 1, it was getting hot in the car and I was getting sweaty.

“OK, girl — shit or get off the pot,” I told myself.

OK. Deep breath.

One of the longest walks of my life was the 10 feet from the curb to the door. Open door …

Kit, the first waitress to see me, was “Hel-looooo, baby!” Big hug. “Look at you! I love your lipstick! And I love your shoes!” Her cousin, Vanhsy, also working that night, came over and gave me a big hug and asked me about my makeup and shoes as well. And Christine, the other waitress, who I had met the fall before when she worked at a vintage clothing shop downtown, also had a hug for me.

I sat at a table and ordered some rad prik tofu. And as I sat there, a woman from the table of four at the door came over to me.

“I just wanted to tell you you look beautiful,” said Cynthia, an actress in a production at 2nd Space Theatre, the next block down. “Who did your makeup?”

“Me.”

“Really?” Yes, she was surprised. “You did a wonderful job. And where did you get your shoes?”

“eBay.”

“Really!” Even more of a surprise. “How do you buy shoes on eBay?” Meaning, “How do you know they’re gonna fit?”

“That’s where I get most of my shoes because a lot of stores don’t have my size. And most of the time they fit me fine.”

In 20/20 hindsight, why did I take so long to take those first steps?

The “What the hell” question would pop up again and again.

I heard the question a little over a year ago, when I started going to job counseling at the San Francisco LGBT Center and making the decision to interview as Fran instead of Fran. What the hell was I doing? Did I really think I could pull off being a woman in the working world?

One of the counselors, David, told me that if I was going to interview as a woman, I better own it. Within a month I pretty much owned it. I could definitely be a woman in the working world — if I could just get someone to hire me in the first place. It felt right.

The closer I got to coming out to my family a year ago, the question reared its ugly head again: What the hell are you doing? I had had so many great experiences coming out in Fresno and San Francisco that I was on a roll. I was even daring to feel sure of myself, something I really hadn’t felt very often in my life. But coming up against the dragon in the room — the family reaction, whatever that would be — brought me back to earth.

Also, the week I came out to my youngest brother — the week before I had the talk with my parents — was the week I started gender therapy, the first step toward hormone replacement therapy.

I seriously started to ask myself, “Do you really think you can live as a woman? Do you really think you’re a woman? You don’t feel like a woman.” And I would contemplate it for a few minutes, maybe an hour, maybe a day, and the answer would always come back as variations of the same thing:

“Well, I don’t feel like a woman, but I sure don’t feel like a guy. I’m much happier as a woman. I feel great; I look great. I’m really not much of a man, when it all comes down to it. I’m a very fat, depressed, ugly, miserable guy. There’s no upside to me being a guy.” And then I’d settle down and get back to transitioning.

The speedbumps would appear every time I came to a milestone change that would mean a leap forward in my progression and less chance of turning back.

They returned again at the beginning of March, when I made my first visit to the doctor handling my hormone therapy.

Then they came back in late April, as I was nearing my first hormone shots, which truly seemed like a point of no return.

They revisited over the summer as I started to go through the slightest of physical changes.

They reappeared again in August as the good ship Frannie roiled in a sea of storms of anxiety and stress and depression and anger related to my prolonged unemployment.

And they reappeared late last week in anticipation of next week’s big step forward.

On Thursday (Sept. 16), I have my court date for my legal name change. After the judge signs off on the nominal transition from Francis to Fran, I can go to DMV and get a license with my new name, photo … and gender. The doc filled out the gender change form for me on my last visit. Which means I’ll be able to fly as female, get a passport as female, and every state will recognize me as female. One small, mundane trip to the courthouse; one honking, gigundous leap for frankind.

This truly feels like no looking back, like finality; the only thing that would be larger than this would be having the full sexual reassignment surgery, which I’m not planning on.

And so the speedbump came back to haunt me once again early last week:

“What the hell are you doing?”

I really pondered it this time. After all, this is such a huge leap forward on a couple of levels. I mean, I forced myself to be my femme self and not fall into the old cycle of depression. After all, early last week is when I broke down and bought potato chips for the first time since the winter.

But this time, I had a little help. As fate would have it, I had conversations with three different women — all very much women, in both the genetic and spiritual senses — who essentially told me the same thing when I expressed my concern that I sure didn’t feel like a woman.

Norla, the wife of Jim, one of my Landmark pub quiz rivals, told me, “That’s natural. I have days like that.” I hadn’t seen her in years — I had met her and Jim about four, five years before at one of our old pal Al’s Sunday barbecues at his scooter shop. We had a very long, very girl-bonding chat a week ago Thursday on the Landmark patio. It was wonderful.

My favorite bartender, Miriam at the Landmark, told me, “Oh yeah, Fran! For sure! I certainly have those days when I’m not feeling it.”

The next night, yet again on the Landmark patio, I met Celesta, a classmate of the birthday girl du jour, Bernadette. She and her husband, Blake, moved to Fresno from Texas and both were working on their doctorates in psychology at Fresno State, taking the same classes.

She’s an absolute doll — we were sitting next to each other, and we bonded because we both were wearing bob hair (hers brown, mine blonde), short black sleeveless dresses and Mary Jane heels, and because she loved my makeup. (She rocked it much better than me; her dress and her bob were strictly flapper.)

But beneath the cute exterior lay a tough personality; she spent four years in the Coast Guard after high school, put up with a lot of shit from the guys and can swear like an enlisted man when she has to. And when I told her how I was feeling, and how I found it hard to believe that genetic women could have days when they didn’t feel like women, she scoffed: “Are you kidding me? I have them all the time!”

And in a strange way, they made me feel better. And then my inner voice finally shot back, as it has all along:

“Well, you may not feel like a woman, but you sure as hell ain’t a man. Besides, you’re much happier as a woman. And you’re beautiful. And people truly love you for who you are. And for the first time in your life, you’re really feeling that.”

Bring on the speedbumps; I’ll bring the answer in return.

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10 Responses to “What the hell am I doing?”

  1. Miriam Says:

    I don’t feel very girly at this moment but I know I am. You know you are too Fran!

    Btw, Blake and Celesta are two of my personal favorites…

  2. Jackie Predmore Says:

    If I had a penny for everytime I didnt feel very feminine… Id be a rich girl.

    Every stage you seem to go through I can associate to a time in my own life.

    Becoming a woman for ANY woman can be a difficult time. Welcome to puberty….she can be a royal insecure awkward BITCH at times! Hang in there sister, things will even out. 🙂

  3. Barbara Says:

    Hey Fran! So, it’s September 16… how was the trip to the courthouse?! how are you MISS FRAN!!!

  4. What’s in a name? (Name Day, Sept. 16) « Franorama World Says:

    […] Franorama World The wild, woolly world of someone who's in between two worlds. Strap in — it's some ride … « What the hell am I doing? […]

  5. Sheryl Says:

    Fran… You know I had cancer 2 years ago…. I had a complete hysterectomy. Equipment-wise, you and I have exactly the same girl parts. (Of course, you are the girl with something extra…!!!) Know how with dogs and cats, once they are fixed, they are called “Spayed females” or “Neutered males”. With dogs and cats, once the parts are gone, so is their sexual identity. Sometimes I feel like a “spayed female”. Trust your friends when they tell you: some days you just feel like “a person”, not woman. And then I put on a dress and heels and lipstick… and I like what I see. It’s normal. What’s important is that you LIKE who you are!

  6. blake Says:

    Sounds like a lot of people love Fran.
    —as no less a confused and beautiful soul as Ray Davies once sang………”Life is Soooooo COMplicated”.

  7. It’s a girl! « Franorama World Says:

    […] voice saying “What the hell are you doing?” was making one last desperate assault on Fort […]

  8. Michael Barone Says:

    Fran Fried, It’s been about THIRTY YEARS since we met. I can’t even remember where we actually met. Was it at the old Pheonix Records upstairs from the card shop in downtown Waterbury OR was it at Rhyme’s Records (or whatever it was called) in Waterbury? All those years go by and I never had a clue about the inner turmoil that you were going through and you probably have little clue about my lifetime of anxiety, depression, low confidence and terribly poor self esteem etc.
    Well, I went to a sort of spiritually based camp in Rowe, MA this summer called Kindred Spirits with the woman I have been seeing for the past few years and much to my shock and surprise, who do I see there? Fernando Pinto! In conversation he mentioned to me that Fran Fried had become a woman. I thought he was pulling my leg and never took him seriously. About 2 months later Craig and Claudia Bell mention the same thing to me and send me the link to your Franorama blog. I have to say, after getting over my initial surprise, that I felt extremely positive and very proud for you that you had the courage to make this radical transition. I love your photographs. You look great. I believe that you will be a big inspiration to many people. Fran, not that you are asking for it, but I want you to know that you have my full support and respect in what you have chosen to do. I know all too well what it feels like to have been born a man who is sensitive to a fault, has had no strong male role model or programing while growing up, who has little to no interest in the things that most guys are into etc. Hell, I have 0 interest in sports either! I’m not certain what I’m trying to say here Fran except that you are an awesome and strong individual and I wish you the very best of everything and I’m glad that you are feeling happier these days.
    Sincerely,
    Michael Barone ( Former President Of The Dimmy Dimwit Fan Club) 🙂

  9. franoramaworld Says:

    Michael,

    Thanks so much for the kind words. (Didn’t know Fernando knew, either, but hey, grapevine started getting around the old circles a year ago.) And we actually met in the spring of ’79, when I was just getting out of high school and you were working in the record department at G. Fox in the Naugatuck Valley Mall. You were the only guy selling Dimmy Dimwit records for miles … or galaxies …

    It’s true I’ve always been sensitive to a fault, but I did have a strong male role model in the house. From my father, I got much of my common sense and, having seen him work three jobs at one point after my youngest brother was born, a strong work ethic (which makes the unemployment that much harder to bear). Plus, the folks celebrated their 50th in February.

    And I did have an interest in sports all along — I was a sportswriter for six years, and I still follow the Yankees, Saints and Giants (both football and baseball), but my interest has been waning of late. And it’s not the hormones …

    But

  10. franoramaworld Says:

    Well, before I was so suddenly interrupted by a glitch …

    I was gonna say I have found some reserve of inner strength I never knew I had. Some days it’s not enough, though. But once I get a job, I’ll know for sure that this dual trip of career and gender transition was the best thing that ever happened to me. Anyway, Mike, thanks once again for your support. Don’t be a stranger …

    best,
    ff

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