Category Archives: health

Making Faces.

MakingFacesfavA few months ago I talked about body shapes, and the gendered differences between them that lead us to conclude “That’s a man,” or “That’s a woman,” when we see someone for the first time. “Sexual dimorphism” is the technical term for these differences.

This time I’m going to talk about sexual dimorphism in faces, and what it means for transgender people. There’s more to talk about here, because the differences are less obvious until you get in close. Bodies are unsubtle in their shapes; faces are all subtlety.

I’m an expert at reading faces. We all are, unless we suffer from prosopagnosia (face blindness). Almost all of us have a powerful ability to distinguish one face from another. It’s probably humanity’s most amazing talent. Look at these two faces:


It’s obvious these are two different faces. Most of you will recognize the individuals in these photos as movie stars Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck—or at least, since Affleck’s more famous, you’ll recognize that they’re Ben Affleck and someone else. The two co-starred in the same super-hero movie blockbuster this year.

There’s very little difference in looks between the two men. Both are Caucasian and have short dark hair. In these shots, both have a little stubble. Neither has a distinguishing scar or mole. They even both have clefts in their chins, although you can’t see Cavill’s very well in these shots. If you walked up to both men with a pair of calipers and a ruler, the dissimilarities you’d be able to document, before they pushed you away and called the police, would be measured in just millimeters, at most.

And yet, even when their characters weren’t in their iconic costumes, I’m certain no moviegoers had any trouble telling one from the other. It’s how we’re wired. Our brains devote significant processing power to the task of telling one face from another. Those tiny distinctions in shape and features add up to an enormous gulf in recognition.

You can test yourself on this ability. Go to and look up the cast of a movie you’re familiar with. Even if you cover up the actors’ names on your screen, you’ll be able to identify most of them just going by the tiny thumbnail images of their faces. It’s really an astonishing ability. Those thumbnails are only a handful of pixels wide, and yet we can both tell the actors apart and usually identify them by name. It’s really an astonishing ability we have, when you think about it.


Not a face on Mars.

We aren’t only good at spotting one face from another; we see faces everywhere we look, even when there’s no face to see: in coconuts, in light sockets, and in a colon next to an open or close parenthesis symbol. This phenomenon is called pareidolia, and it’s why some idiots think extraterrestrials have been building monuments on Mars.

In addition to identifying individuals, this super-power lets us tell other things about people, too. Age, for example. We can look at side-by-side photos of a person at 20 and the same person at 30 and 40 and usually tell which version is which, even if the person has aged pretty well and we can’t point to any specific differences among the faces. The same goes for spotting familial relationships, and sometimes even a person’s ethnicity.

And it’s especially true for determining the gender of a face. When we see a face for the first time, dozens or hundreds of small indicators flood into our brains through our optic nerves, and they add up into a conclusion that’s usually “male” or “female.” Our brains are resistant to concluding “a little of both,” or “possibly neither,” and despite our best intentions, will try to reject any data that conflict with that initial conclusion.

This is a source of consternation for transgender people, and for well-meaning allies. Most transgender people work hard to make our faces match our gender identity; to look “cisnormative,” for reasons of safety as much as for vanity. But it’s often very difficult, even with surgery. Here are some of the major ways male and female faces look different that most people never realize, or even think about:

A man’s eyebrows are usually lower, closer to his eyes.

In profile, the septum of a woman’s nose usually describes a right or obtuse angle with her upper lip; a man’s septum more often points downward in an acute angle.

Men’s faces are wider, and their heads are larger in proportion to their bodies than women’s.

A woman has a lower forehead, and her hairline is more like the top of an oval. Meanwhile, a man’s hairline (if it hasn’t begun receding) is shaped vaguely like a capital “M.”

Men’s upper lips are flatter; a woman’s lip is likelier to have a “bee-stung” appearance.

Women have more vertical foreheads, while men’s foreheads slightly slope back.

The most obvious difference, the one that most bedevils trans women, is the beard shadow. It’s the single most powerful indicator of gender, and it’s almost always visible—no matter how light in color are the whiskers and no matter how recently and close one has shaved. And when people see a beard shadow, their brains tell them they’re seeing a man. No other indicator of gender is so powerful.

It sort of works the other way for transgender men who haven’t developed facial hair, but it’s usually more understated and therefore unconscious. People don’t realize they’re not seeing a beard shadow, specifically, but it does seem to them there’s something feminine about the face that they can’t put their finger on.

It’s why I was willing to spend thousands of dollars and endure dozens of hours of painful electrolysis having mine removed; it’s why I never even considered presenting as female full time until it was completely gone. Nothing gets a transwoman “clocked” like a beard shadow, and when a transwoman is clocked, her life is in danger.

Think about this post the next time you look in a mirror. What is the face you wear saying about you?

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Gender dysphoria is nothing like anorexia.

NotAnnNoTextYet another piece of … writing, this time by Moira Fleming at right-wing blog The Federalist, has tried to compare gender dysphoria to anorexia. In making this particular argument, Fleming’s post joins a tall stack of similar half-assed blog posts and position papers from transphobic “pundits” in recent years. Here’s the crux of Fleming’s piece, which is headlined “Why Is Transgender An Identity But Anorexia A Disorder?”:

The certainty that one is a woman despite being born a man sounds awfully similar to the conviction that one’s body is overweight even when body-mass index is at starvation levels.

You can almost see the wheels turning in the minds of people making this argument: “Anorexics think they’re fat, even though they’re really thin; transgender people think they’re women, even though they’re really men.” And everyone who says this seems to think it’s some brilliant revelation, and they’re the first to ever think of it.

Fleming, like former doctor Paul McHugh, Fox News contributor Keith Ablow, the Witherspoon Institute, and many other “experts” who have asserted this gender dysphoria = anorexia correspondence, makes a critical error. Ablow even goes so far as to assert that gender dysphoria is an “exact parallel” to anorexia nervosa (the clinical name for the condition).

The type of anorexia these “pundits” are describing (the condition presents differently in different people) is the delusion that the sufferer is fat or is at risk of becoming fat, when she (they’re almost always women) is actually thin. She looks at her body in the mirror and sees something that is at odds with reality.

Transgender women (Fleming doesn’t seem to be aware of transgender men) are not delusional. You may deny that our gender identity is really what we say it is, but that is not the same as saying we’re delusional. When we look

You may deny that our gender identity is really what we say it is, but that is not the same as saying we’re delusional.

at our bodies, we see them correctly as being biologically male, not female. Indeed, that’s the problem. If we truly were delusional, the OEM genitals and contours wouldn’t be a problem, because we wouldn’t recognize their maleness. We’d believe we already looked like Marilyn Monroe, or Beyoncé, or whoever our personal ideal of womanliness happened to be.

To be transgender is to be acutely aware of our biological birth sex, and to be sufficiently unhappy about it to want to change it.

Now, the difference between how an anorexic woman sees herself and how a transwoman sees herself could conceivably put down to semantics. Maybe the people making this equivalency are talking less about self-perception and more about outcomes. What happens when an anorexic’s belief about herself is indulged and supported, versus the result when the same is done for transgender women?

In a sense, it’s not a fair fight, because I’ve never heard of a woman with anorexia whose loved ones and friends told her, “yeah, totally, you’re fat! Let’s take some pounds off,” while it’s the standard treatment paradigm to accept a person’s well-diagnosed gender dysphoria and recommend they embrace their gender identity.

But there certainly have been many people with anorexia who persisted in their beliefs and continued to shed weight, despite the efforts of those around them. Here are some famous examples.

Karen Carpenter
The singer of the 1970s brother-sister duo, The Carpenters, lost a dramatic amount of weight and died of related heart failure at the age of 32.

Christy Henrich
Henrich was a world-class gymnast in the 1990s. Her weight dwindled to 47 pounds before she died of multiple organ failure.

Michael Krasnow
Author of the memoir, My Life As A Male Anorexic. The 5′ 9″ American weighed 64 pounds when he died at age 28.

There’s another case, which is looking to turn out better than those three; that of Rachael Farrokh, a 5′ 7″ actress in her thirties whose weight dwindled to under fifty pounds. I’m not linking to any of the stories about her, because most of them contain some shocking photos of her ravaged, wasted body. You can Google her forewarned.

Ms. Farrokh is on the road to recovery, but only because she managed to break the hold her disease had on her and began gaining weight. She was on the brink of death before then.

Now, here are some transgender people whose self-perception was validated:

Jennifer Finney Boylan
Boylan transitioned over ten years ago. She is a respected novelist, college professor, and New York Times columnist.

Laverne Cox
Since transitioning, Cox has become a motivational speaker, activist, and an Emmy-nominated actress.

Jamison Green
Green is an academic, activist, and author.

All three of these individuals are affirmed and respected in their gender identity, and all are thriving, by any objective standard. Yes, this is an anecdotal list of names that I selected myself. Yes, you’ll be able to find transgender people who haven’t done this well after they transitioned. Poor outcomes include detransitioning and suicide. But the evidence is overwhelming that transitioning makes the vast majority of transgender people happier; in almost every case where it hasn’t, the reason is likely to be transphobic persecution, which originates outside the person, or that the person was misdiagnosed with gender dysphoria in the first place.

But finding transgender people who haven’t thrived isn’t necessary for the analogy to fail. If even one transgender person transitions and does well, it’s bullshit to compare gender dysphoria to anorexia, because anorexia’s sufferers always, 100 percent, grow weak and sick. Either they overcome their disorder, or they die. Every single time.

Show me even one verifiable counterexample of a person with anorexia flourished after she came to believe she was overweight when she wasn’t, and I’ll start taking this claim seriously. It’s not going to happen.

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Autobiography: Hallowe’en 2006, Part 2.

This s Part 2. Find Part 1 here.

Hallowe’en fell on a Tuesday that year. I woke up much earlier than usual, and for the first time in my working life I dressed in a way I would one day dress routinely. I put on black tights, a black pencil skirt, knee-high black boots with a moderate heel, and a red turtleneck sweater. I took my time applying my makeup; it was complete, but understated. I didn’t carry a purse; I was already in the habit of bringing my essentials to work each day in a messenger bag I’d received from WABE 90.1 FM during a pledge drive, so I just stuck with that.

I looked as professional, as normal, as ordinary as any other woman working in the Office of Legislative Counsel. No one would have looked twice at me outside the work context.

When I was ready to leave the house I realized I’d allowed much more time than I needed, so on a whim, I drove to the Krispy Kreme on Ponce and bought two dozen doughnuts for my colleagues. It wasn’t the first time I had brought doughnuts to work. I’m not sure why I did it this time. I guess I was a little nervous, so maybe I hoped they’d be a distraction. “Good morning! Yes, it’s me, Glenn, dressed as a girl. Hey look, a fresh hot glazed!”

When I got to the Capitol I passed the first hurdle. Obviously, my “costume” didn’t look like a costume—I looked like a woman, as I did every day outside the workplace. But my employee badge had my photo on it, and I didn’t look like a woman there. And the state troopers at all the entrances check badges. I didn’t know how to play it.pumpkin-157050_960_720

I decided just to motor through. I clipped my badge to the bottom edge of my sweater, shouldered my messenger bag, and took the doughnut boxes in my arms. Just inside the basement entrance, I confidently strode toward the troopers, bypassing the conveyor-belt scanner which non-employees are obliged to use. The troopers looked at me, nodded, and let me on past. Maybe they recognized me and realized I was in “costume;” more likely, they saw my badge but didn’t bother to examine it, and just assumed I was an employee because I had a badge and acted like one.

I usually climbed the grand marble stairs up to our office. This day, since I was carrying precious cargo and wearing heels, I took the elevator. This put me half a floor too high, since our level was a mezzanine, but it was easy to walk down a few stairs than to walk up twice as many. Make gravity your friend whenever possible. I live my life by that maxim.

Once inside the office I went to the kitchen/break room to drop the Krispy Kremes on the dining table. Two of my coworkers were already there. Jimmy, one of the attorneys, was making the morning coffee. He wasn’t in a costume. Barbara, a legal secretary, was putting candy on the table. Barbara was in costume.

Barbara was wearing a voluminous black dress, a pointy witch’s hat, and a witch mask—one of those cheap ones with the elastic band they sell at Target and Party City. She was really camping it up, too. I want to say she was carrying a broom, but I wouldn’t swear to it. She definitely was making with a manic wicked-witch cackle of a laugh, and threatened those present with various fearful transformation spells. She really committed to the Hallowe’en spirit.

Sort of like this one.

Sort of like this one.

She and Jimmy both failed to recognize me until I told them good morning. Then they both knew it was me, and both laughed. Jimmy’s laugh sounded a little nervous, but Barbara was delighted and praised my look.

I headed on back to the editors’ office. Eugie was already at her desk; she was almost always there first. Today she was also in costume. Like Barbara, she was wearing a black dress; unlike Barbara, Eugie’s dress was fitted, and she was also wearing what appeared to be a pair of black rabbit ears.

She looked up in delight when she saw me enter the office. I’d told her about the plan, and she thought it was a good one. And she liked my outfit. I complimented her costume, then asked her what kind of rabbit she was supposed to be.

Turns out she wasn’t wearing a rabbit costume. She patiently explained to me that she was a phouka, a mischievous spirit from Irish folklore, like the title character in the Jimmy Stewart movie, Harvey. I accepted the distinction with a nod. Eugie was nothing if not idiosyncratic, and she reveled in obscure cultural references. I knew I wouldn’t be the only one who made that mistake today.

The workday began normally at 8:30. I should mention that Beth was out sick that day. Over the next couple of hours, several other coworkers (most of them secretaries, but a couple of the attorneys as well) ducked into our office to take a look at me. None of them seemed freaked out or disapproving; the general take was amusement, or even admiration. “He makes a better woman than we do!” said one of the secretaries, all of whom were women.

Eugie looked nothing like this. Source:

Eugie looked nothing like this.

I should note that most of the around 30 people who worked at the Office of Legislative Counsel were not in costume that day. There was no strong tradition of wearing Hallowe’en costumes at the Capitol. But several of us were in costume, and there were no official rules against wearing costumes on special occasions.

There were no rules whatsoever, for that matter. The OLC had no employee handbook. There was no dress code. No code of behavior of any sort, and no human resources department to vet such a code if it were ever created. As I’ve said on many other occasions, the OLC was like an office out of the 1950s, where traditional values and conformist behavior were simply presumed and counted upon. In the short run, this lack was not a fact that favored me.

Around 10:30 Sewell Brumby walked through the door of our office. As I noted before, he never did this. Ever. Inside our department there were many stairs and a long hallway between his office and ours, he was a chain smoker, and he was rumored to have a heart condition. In all the time I’d been there, he’d never found it necessary to enter the editors’ domain.

Yet here he was, striding straight across the room to my desk, glaring at me through narrowed eyelids. He stopped at the corner of my desk, and without any preamble, said, “Glenn, the way you’re dressed is inappropriate, and you need to go home.”

I was dumbfounded. My mind had trouble processing the presence of Sewell in our office in the first place; adding in his state of such extreme agitation at such a small provocation, and I didn’t know how to react at all. My mouth gaped.

[T]he way you’re dressed is inappropriate, and you need to go home.

I blinked and glanced over at Eugie, who looked every bit as shocked as I felt. Sewell followed my gaze over to Eugie, then turned back to me, the anger in his face unchanged. He must have taken in Eugie’s costume, but he gave it no thought at all.

“Are you serious?” I finally asked. He was obviously serious, but it was all I could think to say.

“I’ve never been more serious in my life,” he said back, and I don’t think he was being hyperbolic. “Go home.”

He turned around and stomped out.

I knew better than to defy him. I gathered up my things and left.

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Autobiography: In Therapy, Part II.

That first session wasn’t actually the commencement of our “talk therapy;” I spent the whole first hour with Ms. Smith (still not her real name) filling out forms and discussing treatment goals and taking care of other such administrative matters. It wasn’t until the second session on the 26th, also a Wednesday, that we got down to business.

I drove down to her office after work, as before. I was excited. I’d been taking steps toward transitioning for several months, as I mentioned last time; these steps had consisted mainly of superficial things like learning about makeup and women’s clothes, although I was also enduring my excruciating first sessions of permanent hair removal via electrolysis.

That’s as much as I felt I could do on my own, but I was impatient. I wanted to receive an official, medical diagnosis, in accordance with the Standards of Care (SOC), so I could begin taking official, medical hormones. Ms. Smith could do this for me, just as she had done, she’d reassured me during our first session, for many other patients.

In her office for that second session, I eased down into the chair opposite her desk and shifted my weight around, finding the most comfortable pose. This was a historic occasion; I wanted to be as completely at ease as possible when I began sharing these thoughts I’d never spoken aloud before.

Ms. Smith sat at her desk chair and picked up a notepad and pen. I nodded in recognition informed by 142 reruns of The Bob Newhart Show. Yes, psychotherapists use notepads and pens. This seemed legit.



She wrote something at the top of her pad, probably my name and the date, then drew a horizontal line straight across. Then she spoke.

“So tell me,” she said, “When was the first time you remember feeling a sexual attraction to another man?”

If I were a filmmaker, and indulged in clichés, here’s where I’d add the sound effect of a needle being dragged across a vinyl record. My jaw fell open.

“Uh …” I said. My eloquence failed me. I was astounded. If I’d made a list of twenty questions I thought were likely to be the first thing my gender therapist asked me, this would not have been one of them. The question practically dripped with ignorance.

If I’d made a list of twenty questions I thought were likely to be the first thing my gender therapist asked me, this would not have been one of them. The question practically dripped with ignorance.

Nothing else she could have said would have filled me with more dismay. I’d embarked on this relationship confident I was putting my fate in the hands of an experienced professional, and with her very first question I realized she didn’t know shit about gender dysphoria or transgender people.

“I, uh …” I continued. Seriously? I thought. She’s really asking me this question?

Maybe some of my cisgender readers don’t understand what the problem was. Probably not many of you, if you’ve been reading this blog for long, but I’ll explain. “Gender dysphoria” describes an individual whose gender does not match the sex he or she was assigned at birth. “Sexual orientation” refers to whether a person is gay or straight or something else. Put simply and universally, “gender identity” is who you want to be, while sexual orientation is who you want to be with.

So a person assigned male at birth, but who is transgender, may be attracted to men, like heterosexual women, or may be attracted to other women, like lesbians. I don’t know the percentages, but they’re not important. What’s important is that sexual orientation and gender identity don’t track with each other; one doesn’t predict the other. That’s a Transgender 101 fact.

Ms. Smith’s question revealed not only that she was unaware of this, but moreover, she took it for granted that, as a person raised male who was seeking treatment for gender dysphoria, I must naturally be sexually oriented toward men. And that this “fact” was somehow so basic to my nature and so necessary to a diagnosis of my condition that it was the very first thing she asked me about.

“Never,” I finally answered. “I’ve never felt sexual attraction toward men. Why would you ask that? That doesn’t have anything to do with my gender identity.”

Now it was her turn to look shocked. “Uh …” she said.

Inside my head, I was spiraling into dismay. Since the epiphany I’d experienced the previous summer, transitioning was all I could think about. I was impatient to begin the medically sanctioned component of my transition. I wanted it done yesterday. But the SOC was both gatekeeper and keymaster—without an official diagnosis, there would be no Dana (or Vandy Beth), only Zuul. It was almost February now; if I left this “professional” and sought out another therapist, it could delay me another month or more getting the help I needed.

Gratuitous Ghostbusters references are always in order. Source:

Gratuitous Ghostbusters references are always in order.

“I thought you said you’d treated this kind of condition before.”

She nodded vigorously. Her tone of voice was defensive. “I have, yes! And, I—you mean to say you’ve never been attracted to another man?”

Oh, brother, I thought. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

I decided to keep seeing her rather than start the process over again, but we didn’t have the therapeutic relationship I had expected. I spent most of our sessions explaining the transgender experience to her instead of the other way around. In addition to the gender identity/sexual orientation blind spot, she admitted she’d never even heard of the SOC. I ended up printing out a .pdf of the latest version I’d found online and giving her a copy.

Of course I was irritated. I understand the need for “gatekeepers;” a gender transition wreaks great changes in a person’s life, and while it’s uncommon for a person to misdiagnose him- or herself, it does happen. It’s valuable to have an infrastructure in place like the SOC.

But that’s just it: the procedure is badly flawed, if therapists who don’t really know what they’re doing, like Ms. Smith obviously didn’t, can advertise that she has expertise in these matters. It can ruin lives.

Still, I got what I needed from her. About a month and a half after our first session, after four or five sessions total, she wrote what’s called a “referral letter.” This was a letter addressed to my primary care physician, printed on her letterhead stationery, confirming my self-diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” (which, again, is what it was called at the time).

We finished that session, and I was done with her. I would resume psychotherapy some time in the future, but never again with Ms. Smith. I would only see her one more time, and that wasn’t for psychological reasons.

Links to other excerpts in this series are gathered together on this page.

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I Get Letters.

I recently let it be known on social media that I welcome questions about the transgender experience, and that such questions can be anonymous if that makes correspondents more comfortable. Among other responses, I got an anonymous email from someone who says we’re acquainted on social media, but aren’t friends otherwise. The question the person asked is reproduced below:

I cross-dress. In the last several years, it’s dawned on me that, in part, this predilection stems from a childhood incident wherein I was sexually abused.

How would I determine if my crossdressing is just a fetish or if I’m farther along the spectrum?

You can probably guess that I’ve paraphrased the language of the question a little to further preserve the individual’s anonymity. Normal people, unlike me, don’t use words like “wherein.”

Below is my reply. I hope you readers may also find it helpful, or at least informative:

You say you believe you’re a crossdresser, in part, because you were molested as a child. I’d be interested to know if you have you been told this by a therapist or psychologist. I’m not a mental health professional myself, so I don’t state this with any sort of authority, but it’s my understanding that such a one-to-one correspondence between a childhood trauma and an adult paraphilia is a myth. In other words, if you crossdress, that’s probably just something you happen to be into—the way you’re wired. I very much doubt that your crossdressing is related to what happened to you as a child, even if that was a part of what happened to you.

(And by the way, my sympathies over having had that experience. That shouldn’t happen to anyone, and I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to go through that.)

As for whether your crossdressing is “just a fetish” or if you’re elsewhere on the spectrum, I don’t know if I have much to tell you about that either.

For starters, I wouldn’t say anything is “just a fetish.” “Fetish” isn’t even the right word; the technical term for this behavior is a “paraphilia,” if you want to do an in-depth search of the psychological literature. But

whatever you call it, it’s a part of who you are. A small part or a larger part (TBD), but it’s valid either way. There’s nothing wrong with it, it doesn’t make you dysfunctional or bad, and you should embrace it. And celebrate and acknowledge it, if you can do so without putting your safety or livelihood in jeopardy.

To your question about whether you’re “farther along the spectrum”—well, the spectrum model has its uses, but sometimes it’s better to think of the variety of gender identities not as a spectrum, but a road. Let’s say Point A is a gender dysphoric person who lives full time in his or her sex as assigned at birth, never crossdresses and has taken no outward steps toward transition.

Point B would be a gender dysphoric person who has legally changed his or her name and the sex marker on all legal documents, lives openly and full-time in the gender they were not assigned at birth, is on a regimen of hormone replacement therapy, and has availed him or herself of all possible transition-related surgeries and medical procedures.

Very few transgender people reach Point B. Point B is a long way from Point A. Most transgender people don’t have the resources they’d need to get there. But here’s the point too many people miss: not everyone even wants to get there. It’s an arbitrary goal, and one that doesn’t define us.

Therapists and pop culture tend to assume we all want to go to Point B, and it’s common to internalize that assumption. But you can stop and pitch your tent anywhere you want along the road. Returning briefly to the spectrum model, you’re trying to find your personal wavelength.

If occasional crossdressing satisfies you, then be satisfied with it. If you decide later that it’s not enough, and you want to spend a larger percentage of your time presenting as the other gender, then go with that. If you later come to want people to call you by a name more associated with the gender other than your birth sex, do that too. Etcetera. Maybe you’ll reach a place where you’re completely comfortable and don’t need to make any more “progress.” That’s fine, and it’s a process that all of us have gone through.

There’s no wrong way to be transgender. Look at Stu Rasmussen, the mayor of Silverton, Oregon. His journey doesn’t in any way resemble the iconic model of “transitioning” put in our heads by the likes of Renee Richards, Jenny Boylan, or Caitlyn Jenner. But Stu seems happy with who he is, and that’s the only standard he or you or I ever have to meet.

Put simply, don’t overthink it. What matters in your transition is that it’s your transition. And you are transitioning; by occasionally crossdressing, you’ve already left Point A. Your eventual destination is entirely up to you.

Links to other excerpts in this series are gathered together on this page.

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The Thousand Days.

I’m a big fan of the BBC period TV series, Call The Midwife. I particularly like the 1950s slang and Britishisms spoken by the nuns and nurses[1] on the show. There’s one that I hear a version of approximately eleventy times per episode: “every day God sends,” or “all the hours God sends.”

I like the thought behind this expression; the idea that the day after this one isn’t guaranteed; it’s instead a fresh packet of time, constructed as-needed by the Creator and sent down to us so we can get on with the next little bit of the future. It puts me in mind of a locomotive chugging down a track that’s being built right in front of it. It can’t go forward another length of rail until the next pair of rails has been laid.

I began a daily running streak on February 17, 2013. I’ve blogged before about the reasons why. Since that date, running every day has become an essential part of my life, and I no longer feel any angst or worry about breaking the streak due to laziness or fatigue, or simply forgetting. It’s easy to plan my days around my runs, to find the minimal motivation required, and to deal with the unforeseen. When I get busy with some project, or am called out of town, or have a medical emergency (as over the summer, when I broke a finger), I find a way to accommodate the daily run. I’ll do it. Every day. #RunningEveryDay, if you follow hashtags.

Where all the magic happens.

Where all the magic happens.

Yesterday I reached a minor milestone: Run 1,000. It looks like a bigger deal than it is. Yes, I’m now in the quadruple digits, and it took a long time to get there (999 days, to be precise), but it really wasn’t so hard. According to the United States Running Streak Association’s Official U.S.A. Active Running Streak List, any streak under five years is still “Neophyte” level (some of the runners on that list are in the quintuple digits). And while people often use “a thousand days” as a synonym for “three years,” this milestone isn’t even that; my third anniversary is still three months away.

Still, I’m going to take some pride in this. I’ve loved running most of my adult life, but there isn’t much that distinguishes me, among all the world’s runners. I’ve never been very fast, and these days I’m embarrassingly slow; thanks to age and estrogen, it’s rare that I get below a ten-minute mile anymore.

And the time of long-distance runs appears to be behind me. I logged a marathon many years ago and have lost count of all the half-marathons and 10ks I’ve run, but these days it’s very uncommon for me to reach ten or even eight miles. I’d love it if I could run another marathon one day, but I don’t think it’s likely. I no longer have the juice.

So I do slow, short runs (although never less than three miles anymore). Nothing special, nothing to impress. But I do it every day. That’s my thing. I run every day.

I know that eventually something will break my streak. That’s inevitable. I’ll break an ankle, or have another medical emergency, or get trapped in an elevator, or some other crisis will befall me. It’s only a matter of time, whether it’s in a month or 10,000 days from now: eventually, the streak will be broken.

So I don’t take it for granted, ever. When speaking of tomorrow, I always say “if I run,” not “when I run,” because I can’t be certain the run will happen, and someday it won’t.

Until then, I’ll continue to get up each morning and only plan to run that day. Every day God sends.

[1] New role-playing game!

A Wasted Life

Fred Phelps, the 84-year-old founder of Westboro Baptist Church (that’s the Wikipedia link; I find it distasteful even to type the WBC’s actual website name), is at death’s door. He may already have died by the time you read this.

It’s fair to say he won’t be missed by the general public. Under his leadership, WBC has been a single-issue activist group, and that single issue was its hatred of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people. The church’s antics, most infamously including picketing military funerals with hateful, homophobic messages on their signs, are sufficiently well-known that I won’t detail them here. They’re nasty people, and especially nasty if you’re LGBT. They’re so nasty that even mainstream conservatives, themselves openly homophobic, disavow them.

Phelps was excommunicated from the WBC, which he founded in 1955, last year. I’ve seen it speculated that he was kicked out because he has softened his views and was calling for the church to take a “kinder approach.”

That’s not accurate. According to Nathan Phelps, Fred’s estranged, atheist son, Fred was calling for church members to be kinder to each other, after a power struggle that ousted his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper from command (I don’t know how Nathan came by this information, estranged as he is, but the church members themselves aren’t talking, so this is the best information we have.). We don’t have any reason to assume Fred isn’t still hatin’ on the gay people just as hard as he ever has.

At least two Facebook groups are preparing to celebrate Fred’s passing. I strongly condemn such actions. Death is a horrible thing, and I don’t think anyone’s death should be celebrated. For one, while it’s a cliché to say that would bring the celebrants down to the level of their antagonists, it’s also true. Yes, it’s not easy to take the high road with such an odious person. That’s why it’s called the high road. If you’re opposed to the beliefs and tactics of Westboro Baptist Church, you should actually be the better person you think you are.

For another, the death of a human being is also the death of learning. Any chance that Fred Phelps ever had to see the wrongness of his beliefs and repent will die when he does, and that is something to be regretted, not celebrated.

Phelps’s legacy is more complicated than most people realize. Yes, he’s an icon of homophobia. However, as an attorney in the 1960s, he also played a significant role in several civil rights advances. He fought against racial discrimination and sex discrimination, and in the 1980s opposed sending an ambassador to Vatican City on separation of church and state grounds. He and his law firm even won commendations and other awards for this work.

When I first learned about Fred’s past prosocial work, I wondered if he might have had a “Phineas Gage” experience. Phineas Gage, a nineteenth-century railroad worker, survived the passage of an iron rod through his brain. In popular lore, it reversed his personality, changing him from a hard-working, kind man into a shiftless, quick-tempered drunk. The truth is more nuanced than that, but similar things have happened to other people. Might Phelps have had an undetected stroke or aneurysm that caused his shift from tolerance to hate?

In interviews, Phelps has claimed there’s no dissonance between his homophobia and his support for racial and gender equality. Certainly, he wouldn’t be the first clergyman who managed to thread that needle with his theology, and in any case, Phelps’s church has stood behind him the whole way, so unless every congregant has suffered the same traumatic brain injury, we probably shouldn’t assume any such thing.

Westboro Baptist Church’s mischief continues without Fred Phelps, so when he dies, it won’t end. So that’s not another reason for anyone to cheer. There’s no reason for anyone to cheer.

Running Every Day

I’ve been a runner, off and on, since the year I began college. Originally, and still mainly, I guess, it was for fitness and weight control. Those aren’t the only reasons; I’ve also experienced the “runner’s high,” and the time when I’m running is a great time for me to listen to podcasts and to think. I’ve never meditated, but I imagine running does for me what meditation does for those who do that.

I wrote “off and on.” The “off” has been for many reasons. I had a knee injury that sidelined me for a couple of years. I didn’t have a consistent schedule, or a track of a decent length, when I was in the Navy on a deployed ship. Before I owned a treadmill, it was easy to convince myself it was too cold to go out and run. That sort of thing. I could let myself fail to run, but I always felt bad about it.

February 2013 was the busy period where I worked at the time. I worked long days and frequently arrived home, exhausted, after 8 p.m. or even later. At such times it was even easier to let myself off the hook and skip the run.

Around mid-month I realized I was doing this more often than not, and I was only logging one or two runs a week and feeling rotten. I decided to do something about it: I pledged to run every single day, at least until March or April with the busy season at work wound down. This, I hoped, would take away all excuses. At the end of the day, if I hadn’t run yet, I’d better run, or risk breaking my streak.

I set some rules. I’d never run less than 20 minutes, and never slower than 12 minutes a mile. I figured this would give me plenty of leeway if I had to run while sick or injured.

It didn’t matter if I ran after midnight, as long as I hadn’t been to bed yet. Yes, this meant I sometimes went more than 24 hours without running, but also sometimes I ran late at night and then early the next morning, so I figured it all averaged out in the end. I could’ve gone mad worrying over trivial details like that, so I didn’t.

I also resolved to report each day’s run to Facebook and Twitter (#RunningEveryDay), so my friends and followers could get used to it and grow to expect it. Knowing they were expecting this would help hold my feet to the fire. Er, to the treadmill.

Day 1 I ran for over an hour, and felt pretty good about it. But one day of running is a singular accomplishment; it’s not a trend. If I’m brutally honest, I didn’t have much confidence in myself. I’d made pledges like this in the past and never kept them.

On Day 10 I broke double digits, and for the first time began to let myself think I might be on to something.

By Day 100 I was mainly just worrying that I’d twist an ankle badly or have some other injury that forced me to miss a day. I started taking elevators more often and being much more careful when climbing down stairs in high heels.

Sunday, February 16, 2014, was Day 365. It occurred to me only then that my anniversary wouldn’t actually be until the next day, Day 366, but whatevs. I ran that day too. I’ve kept running. I’m into the 370s now, and I don’t plan to stop. The streak is real. The streak abides. I run every day.

I ran the day work became a long, dreary slog and I didn’t get home until midnight.

I ran on March 5, the day my dear cat Jack died after a long battle with cancer. I ran on November 14, when his sister Piper died of liver failure (they were both very old).

When I had a raging flu last summer, including a fever, runny nose, and whole-body aches, I took some DayQuil, stumbled through my minimum run, then collapsed back into bed, once each day, until it had passed.

Four days in Las Vegas last July? The casino’s treadmill. Four days at Dragon Con last August? The hotel’s track. The need led me to the means.

I made many fewer “minimum” runs than I’d expected. As little as I wanted to run much of the time, I discovered that once I was on the belt and my heart rate was ramping up, I often wanted to keep going once I’d hit the minimum distance. I logged over two hundred hours through the year, and well over a thousand miles.

I’m fitter and slimmer since I began this, but the greatest dividend has been psychological. Before the success of Running Every Day, I’d have told you I wasn’t capable of this sort of dedication. Now that I know differently, I’m wondering what else I’m capable of.

Running every day is not for everyone, and of course anyone starting a new exercise regime should always consult with a doctor first if they aren’t sure they’re up for it. But this is working very well for me.