Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Biggest Decision I've Ever Made

"This is life,
What a f***ed up thing we do,
What a nightmare come true,
Or a playground if we choose,
And I choose."
 -- Offspring, I Choose

Transition has been one set of objectives after another... hair removal, various stages of coming out, therapy, hormones, bathroom issues, work. My life has turned in to a strange series of stepping stones, which I think the rest of the world calls "goals". I have no clue how "normal people" go about their lives like this; I have no idea how I've done it for the past year, but it has definitely improved things for me.

With the bulk of work transition successfully behind me, the next life steps I'm looking toward are marriage, and a legal name change, but I keep asking myself, "What's after that?"

I guess I don't know why there has to be a next step, but it feels like there should be, and I never really planned this far out. Suddenly the road forks in big ways, and I don't know which forks to take.

I hate decisions, especially big permanent decisions. When I was a kid, I came up with all sorts of rationalizations for why my decisions were not important, just to make it through the day without anxiety attacks. Some day I'll write several posts just about all the life "rules" that I came up with during my teenage years, and still use, but for now I'll spare you by sticking to the ones about decisions:
  • If I can't decide between two or more options with a reasonable amount of information and time, then all options must be nearly equal, and I may as well just pick one.
  • If time and space are infinite, then my decisions are infinitely unimportant.
  • If a decision can be undone, and doesn't cause permanent harm, it's ok to try it just to try it.
Unfortunately, the decisions I need to make now are bigger than anything I've dealt with before. Especially with regards to "the" surgery. Rule C above doesn't apply, since it can't be undone. B isn't much comfort now that I'm emotionally invested in my own future (I know, what a weird concept, but it is surprisingly new to me). And A, well, it somehow doesn't seem appropriate to flip a coin or Rock-Paper-Scissors for this one.

Don't get me wrong; if Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) were cheap, with safe and predictable results, I would do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, surgery is expensive (around $15,000-$20,000), and comes with many risks and possible complications. For a young and relatively healthy person such as myself, the risks are lessened, but extremely scary nonetheless. This is a major surgery, after all.

There's also the timing issue. Due to the Standards of Care, I can't have SRS until I've been living "in role" for at least a year. Shouldn't this make the decision less urgent? It would, except that $20,000 is not pocket change, and I've failed to save more than a few thousand in the last year. If I want to do this, I'm going to need to start saving aggressively, and even selling a lot of the nostalgic junk I've held on to over the years.

It would be nice if insurance covered any of the cost. The American Medical Association's House of Delegates passed several resolutions in 2008 asserting, among other things, that Gender Identity Disorder is a serious medical condition, that treatment is not "cosmetic" or "experimental" but is medically necessary, and that denying coverage is discriminatory. Most insurers however, go right on with their blanket policy exclusions, or statements that GID is a "pre-existing condition". Of course, I know that's not why most insurance companies don't cover GID. They don't cover it because they don't have to, even though its low prevalence means that paying these costs would likely be much less impacting to their bottom line than most seem to think.

Most reassignment surgeons are also booked anywhere from six months to a year out at any given time, which means I need to know whether or not I'll have all the money quite a while in advance of when I actually have the surgery.

want the surgery. I know that it would make me feel a lot better about myself, despite the fact that it may only ever matter to me and one other person. In the end, I have to acknowledge that my fears are the biggest thing stopping me, and flying in the face of those fears has gotten me too far to stop now.

I decided a couple of weeks ago that I will definitely be getting the surgery, it's just a matter of when and how. As much as I hate to, I will probably eventually have to ask for some help. For now though, I'm going to see how far I can get on my own.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Work Transition: My Birthday Present to Me

"So if you think it's scary, if it's more than you can take,
Just blow out the candles, and have a piece of cake!
Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday to you!"
 -- Weird Al Yankovic, Happy Birthday


All opinions posted here are my own, and not necessarily representative of the company I work for

On Monday I transitioned at work. A few people have asked me what that means, and each time, I suddenly remember that this isn't all self-explanatory. Outside of work, I've been dressing how I like and going by my new name and female pronouns for a few months now. At work, however, none of these changes had happened yet.

I came out to all my coworkers in November, but so far, I had decided that I wasn't quite comfortable enough with the new me to make the transition leap at work. I continued wearing a sports bra, baggy t-shirts, androgynous earrings, no makeup, and talking in my old voice. About a month ago I decided I was finally ready, and that pretending to be male was getting a little bit too awkward.

I informed my supervisor and started meeting with HR and management to plan it all. We created different communication plans for my local teammates (one meeting a few days beforehand to prepare them), the local center (a top-down communication to all leadership, so they can be prepared if any rumors or concerns surface), and the various other teams and people I work with globally (basic communication from their leadership). We planned for a new name tag, badge, preferred name in the system, etc. When it came to the bathroom issue, I told them that I was worried about it because I know it can be a very sensitive issue for a lot of people, but they reassured me that it was no problem and that I would probably just use the women's.

A couple of weeks before transition, the HR rep met with me and told me she would be meeting with legal the next day to review the plan. She wanted to get a clear idea of my thoughts on the bathroom issue so she could represent them properly while discussing it with the powers that be, so she asked, "What if, for some legal reason, they say you have to use the men's room?"

Anxiety set in. After a pause I choked out, "I guess... I wouldn't transition at work."
"Then how would you continue your whole process?"
The tears started, "I guess... I would have to leave the company."
"Wouldn't you have to face this kind of thing at any company you work for?"

We talked some more and she reassured me that she just wanted to clarify my feelings-- that nothing had actually been decided yet. I tried desperately to calm myself down. I felt pretty stupid, but she was really sweet about it, and asked me to come talk to her first thing the next day since she was meeting with them earlier in the morning.

Thankfully, the next day, she told me that the meeting had gone well and that I would be using the women's restroom. They decided that there would be more questions/complaints/awkwardness if I were using the men's room, than if I were using the women's. Yeah, I could've told you that. =P

Day 1 (Monday)

On Monday, April 5th, I went in to the office as myself for the first time. I met up with the HR rep, who sat me in a meeting room to give me time to breathe and make sure I was ok. I think I was shaking. When I was ready, we went to the security office and got a new badge printed out, complete with new name and picture.
When I got to my desk everyone was very natural and easygoing about it, which helped a lot. One of my awesome female coworkers gave me a necklace, because "Every woman needs a black necklace that can go with anything."  So. Sweet. =3

There were a few slip-ups with the name, but I never got a chance to correct anyone before they did it themselves. I was still terrified of the bathrooms and avoided going for most of the day. At around 5 hours into my shift, I finally decided that it wasn't worth a bladder infection and convinced myself that I'd have to get over my fear eventually. I decided to use the upstairs bathrooms, to hopefully avoid seeing anyone I know. I actually didn't end up seeing anyone at all. On the way out I decided that I looked pretty good, and that I should've gone a long time ago just to see myself and boost my confidence.

Day 2 (Tuesday)
On Tuesday, the internal systems finally updated with my "preferred name" and new picture, so that people can look me up or email me using Vivi. Partway into the day my boss's boss called a random meeting and brought in Birthday cake for me and my supe, whose birthday was on the 4th.

"Happy Birthday Michelle and  Vivi"

I was worried about my voice for most of the day, so I kept talking really quietly, and trying not to cough. The bathrooms got easier to use, especially since there was never anyone else in the ones upstairs.

Day 3 (Wednesday)

We had a team meeting early Wednesday morning, which I decided to call in to from the comfort of my pajamas. The whole meeting, I kept thinking about how much I hate my voice, and how the more afraid I am, the worse it sounds. On the drive in to work, I used my phone to repeatedly record and playback my voice, to reassure myself that I don't sound that stupid. Shortly after getting in, a co-worker randomly told me that my voice sounded good, and that he didn't recognize me on the call at first, which made me feel a lot better.

A few of the women on my team sometimes take breaks together to go on walks or over to the gym, and they invited me. A social activity and forcing myself to work out? Sweet!

I used the bathroom a couple of times without too much anxiety, but I know I'll tense up the moment I finally see someone. Everything else is already starting to settle back into normalcy. My boss's boss commented on how it was as if everything had changed, and yet nothing was different. I couldn't agree more.

In other news, today is my birthday! After 28 years, I'm finally free to be myself. Oh well, better late than never I suppose. =)