Category Archives: Advice

Calpernia on Cathy DeBuono's "What's Your Problem?"

Cal-pal Cathy Debuono is a prolific online celebrity and star of film and television. Her fun and informative show “What’s Your Problem?” has been kind enough to have me on TWICE, where we laugh, chat and give our thoughts on problems sent in by viewers from around the country. Cathy has put some of the episodes online at YouTube, and here are the ones featuring moi:

Travel Concerns for Transsexual and Transgender People

Air travel for trans people?
Air travel for trans people?

Gender transition is a journey, and exploring the world as your new self can be incredibly liberating. As a transwoman who has traveled extensively in this sometimes less-than-understanding society, I’ve discovered several considerations that can make all the difference in a safe and satisfying experience.

For people in transition, that first trip out the front door to the supermarket can be as harrowing as a jungle safari. Many start by seeking out kindred spirits at popular regional gender conventions and events. Southern Comfort, Esprit, FTM Gender Odyssey, Be All, Colorado Gold Rush and more are some of the more well known annual conventions, and all feature a full schedule of activities, excursions and seminars for a vacation completely immersed in transgender socializing. Whether attending one of these or simply hitting the road to leave the stress of transition behind, preparation is key to avoiding problems later on.

For someone new in transition, many of the simplest obstacles to that dream vacation in Thailand can be avoided by ensuring that your legal identity is up to date. Although most travel providers are somewhat aware of and sensitive to transgender people, you cannot count on this and presenting as one gender while carrying identification indicating another may result in the ticket agent initiating a scene with those dreaded words, “I’m going to have to call my supervisor.” The TSA’s new “Secure Flight” program will require all air travel passengers to present ID and state their legal gender, among other information, posing a particularly vexing problem for trans people whose legal identity is not up to date. Ever-increasing security concerns have prompted travel centers around the world to investigate identification discrepancies closely, and with the 2005 passage of the Real ID Act (H.R. 418) and the subsequent controversy, the United States is expected to step up identity monitoring even more with a national ID card within the next three years. A comprehensive listing at www.tsroadmap.com/id contains information on how to change your license, social security information and birth certificate in many states, especially important for passports and international travel. Once your basic identification is updated, credit cards, personal checks and medical insurance should be changed as well.

Getting there may be half the fun, but long plane rides or road trips will limit your ability to perform upkeep taken for granted at home, like facial hair removal, makeup reapplication, or chest binding. For transwomen who wear wigs or hairpieces, a simpler short style well secured and wrapped with a scarf can hold up well through long hours of sleeping and sitting upright in those uncomfortable airplane seats. For transmen who wrap or bind their chests, make sure you get it right before you get on the plane, because the tiny onboard bathroom is no place to try something new. Be aware that a man with a heavily wrapped chest may raise questions as to what he is carrying under his shirt during a pat-down, and for transmen who make packing a part of their daily routine, make sure your equipment is free of metal, clips or pins that might set off the airport detector and raise questions you would rather not answer. Don’t out yourself unnecessarily, but be ready with answers should security personnel have questions.

There are a few basic safety procedures that can greatly reduce risk for those with some form of visible gender variance traveling outside safe spaces like GLBT enclaves, large city centers and gender conventions. Going out in groups rather than alone, letting someone know where you plan to go, carrying a cellphone and keeping emergency cab money on hand are all good ideas. If you are attending a convention or planned event, investigate sponsored group outings to local restaurants and shopping venues. Many online forums allow you to connect with trans-folk who live at your destination and who can let you in on all the local hotspots, as well as areas to avoid.

More than anything else, I recommend just getting out there and having fun. Don’t let the roadblocks put in place by a short-sighted society keep you from exploring YOUR world. GLBT spaces and gender conventions are a great place to start, but one of the best parts of finally becoming comfortable in your own skin is that no matter where you go, a big smile and a good attitude will always make new friends.

MORE UPDATES:

  • International Travelers: The Immigration Equality blog has this excellent post about international travel for GLBT people, including information on HIV positive travelers. Of note: The government has LOTS of authority to go through your belongings when you travel. Be prepared.
  • Clothing: I forgot to mention, if you are new to transition make sure you have clothing that is both comfortable for traveling and appropriate for more than one situation. In other words, trans women: don’t make your first trip to New York City, where you can walk miles every day, with a suitcase full of only 4″ heels. Bring some comfy flats or boots you’ve broken in. Trans men: Your first visit to Louisiana in the summertime? Bring more than one chest binding, you will be sweating a LOT.
  • The National Center for Transgender Equality released an excellent “Frequently Asked Questions” regarding Secure Flight. If you are planning to travel by plane in the near future, we suggest that you take a look at it. http://nctequality.org/Resources/NCTE_Secure_Flight.pdf. As NCTE recommends, it is a good idea to submit your gender as it is shown on the identity document you will be using at the airport. If you have undergone a physical transition and you look different from what someone may expect based on the gender on your ID, you may choose to submit the gender marker consistent with your gender identity. This may reduce the chance that the officials you interact with at the airport will notice any inconsistencies. Regardless, it is critical that you inform people who may book your travel, such as travel agents, what name and gender to submit to minimize challenges when flying.

This article was originally written for OUT Traveller Magazine, and has been updated with new information

What I Wish I Had Known About Transition When I Was Younger

Calpernia circa 1998 (Yes, I know I looked better back then than I do now, ha ha)
Calpernia circa 1998 (Yes, I know I looked better back then than I do now, ha ha)

Transition is never perfect, never easy and never finished. But it does get better, it does easier and it does recede into the background as time goes by.

I started my transition in my early twenties, after escaping from a completely unaccepting home situation in suburban Tennessee by joining the Navy. My family’s fundamentalist religion made me feel terrible about myself, and I was the last person anyone would have ever expected to join the military. But in the Navy I was promised a ticket out of Nashville and a medical job that would allow me to take care of people and be compassionate, as long as I kept up physically and maintained a strong will to survive. I did my best in the military, taking full advantage of the training and learning self confidence that would later serve me well when I began the most difficult journey of my life: the journey from living a lie as a boy to living truthfully as a girl.

Although I had always been a feminine person who dreamed of being a girl, I never imagined it was possible to transition and I was not an ideal candidate in any case. I was tall and skinny, with bad teeth and sensitive skin that was always turning red and looking irritated at the slightest little thing. I was desperately awkward around people and painfully shy. But immediately after High School and four years in the Navy, I decided that I had to try or else I would never know whether I could ever be happy. I made many mistakes along the way, and had many bits of luck, and here I want to share some of the things I wish I had known when I began this amazing process.

I wish I had started earlier. When I was a teenager, there was very little information available, so I hardly knew that there was anyone else like me in the world. But now there are community resources like TYFA and online sites like Andrea Jamestsroadmap.com that list thousands of pages of medical, social and legal information, so people in transition can learn all sorts of things about the process before they even begin. They can learn about how to find therapists or supporters, and how to come out as trans to parents, families and friends. They can share information about what to expect with their parents and doctors, and get everyone working together to make a safe, smooth transition as early as possible. In a nutshell, young people are at an age where some of the most irreversible changes are still taking place in their bodies that will read as either “girl” or “boy” to people. Trans women who take steps in their 20′s or before to block testosterone with various medications can reduce the thousands of dollars and pain that comes with removing facial and body hair that will otherwise become thicker and more abundant as time passes. They can reduce the effects of testosterone-fueled growth spurts that result in unusual-for-women height, shoulder size, hand and foot size later. And women who start hormone therapy at an early age usually have hugely improved results in physical development, skin texture and general feminization as compared to women who start this later in life. I wish I had taken care of the legal aspects of transition sooner as well. I was very focused on getting my appearance in order, and integrating into society as quickly as possible, but it wasn’t until I encountered a sudden, unexpected legal situation that I realized how vulnerable it left me to have all of my legal paperwork still in my birth name and sex. I rushed to change my bank accounts, birth certificate, Social Security Card, Driver’s License, apartment lease, car registration and title and every other thing I could think of to reflect my new name and sex. Some things required one document to be changed before the other could be done, and it was all very rushed because I had not researched it beforehand and made a plan. You can find information on how to do these legal changes yourself at tsroadmap.com.

Aside from medical and legal transition, the very best thing you can do right now to give yourself power and freedom later in life is to study hard, get the best grades you can, and get into/stay in college or a trade school and earn a degree in something that makes money. Not comparative anthropology with a specialization in Etruscan pottery. You need a job that makes money, and to get that you need some kind of education. And it doesn’t have to be something trans-stereotypical like hair or beauty-shop, though those are perfectly fine as well. I’m talking about business, finance, accounting, medicine, nursing, and so on. This doesn’t have to be boring. Any of these jobs are what you make of them. And this doesn’t mean you must have a 4.0 GPA and get into Harvard (although that would be great!) Focus on your strengths and do your best, even if it’s the local state school or community college. You can get an education with less money than you think if you get good grades and take out student loans sensibly. Focus on your dream, visualize yourself as a beautiful, happy woman living in her own place, with her own car and a good job where she is so valued and essential due to her skills that they would have no problem accepting her past if it should ever come to light. Save your money, read up on credit and establish good credit for yourself. You will have a large credit limit sooner than you think if you are sensible and don’t take advantage of it on flat screen televisions and $400 shoes. And all this time, you can be progressing in your transition in other areas and enjoying the journey as the new you.

Along the way, you will be faced with choices that can either help you down the path to your goals, or hold you back from them. Just remember that you are worthwhile. You have things to share with people that are good, and unique and important. The choices you make should be the choices that give you the power and the strength to make your dreams happen in life. Some may be tempted to medicate the painful emotions and experiences with drugs or alcohol. Some may be tempted by medical shortcuts like street hormones or back-alley silicone injections. But look beyond the moment, to a few years down the line, and make your choices with love and hope for the future that you deserve.

As a trans person, you will find yourself fighting for respect and equality in most every circumstance you encounter where people know that you are trans. It will be easier to avoid prejudice by blending in as well as possible, and it will be easier to fight prejudice when it does come by being the most self-reliant, educated, financially stable person you can be, with a circle of family and friends who have had access to good information along the way so that they can support you with all their hearts. This is one of the most difficult, rewarding and magical journeys that anyone can undertake. As in a fairytale, by the end you will have transformed from one thing into another. You will have overcome emotional and social obstacles far beyond those that most of your friends and family will ever face. We are warriors and we are magical in the truest sense, and I encourage you all to take courage, take a deep breath, prepare yourselves and march onward. Past all the battles and those who would be your enemies, you will find your victory.

Resources:
http://www.tsroadmap.com
FREE Coming Out Videos by Calpernia and Andrea on YouTube

(This piece was originally written by request for Matthew’s Place, a website dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard. Ihave changed a few words and bolded some key phrases.)

FREE “Transsexual Basics” Video Series on YouTube from Deep Stealth!

Big News, everyone! Deep Stealth has decided to release Volume 01 of our “Coming Out” video series on transsexual basics for friends, family, loved ones and associates FOR FREE on YouTube! This decision came after much thought, because sales of our videos are one of the main things that enable us to keep our eight free websites available for the 4+ million visitors who come every year in search of information and help. Thanks to the ability to make the videos ad-supported, we have decided to try this out and see if we can balance providing what we hope will be a valuable resource to the community with the needs of our other resources. So share it around, and we hope it will be especially helpful for people who want to explain some of the basics to friends, family, loved ones and associates as they begin their transition. Here’s the codes, if you want ‘em:

Link to the playlist of all vids:
http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=125F021E3CC0E487

Embed playlist:
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Embed custom player (looks fancier, has colors and thumbnails):
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FREE "Transsexual Basics" Video Series on YouTube from Deep Stealth!

Big News, everyone! Deep Stealth has decided to release Volume 01 of our “Coming Out” video series on transsexual basics for friends, family, loved ones and associates FOR FREE on YouTube! This decision came after much thought, because sales of our videos are one of the main things that enable us to keep our eight free websites available for the 4+ million visitors who come every year in search of information and help. Thanks to the ability to make the videos ad-supported, we have decided to try this out and see if we can balance providing what we hope will be a valuable resource to the community with the needs of our other resources. So share it around, and we hope it will be especially helpful for people who want to explain some of the basics to friends, family, loved ones and associates as they begin their transition. Here’s the codes, if you want ‘em:

Link to the playlist of all vids:
http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=125F021E3CC0E487

Embed playlist:
<object width=”480″ height=”385″><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.youtube.com/p/125F021E3CC0E487&amp;hl=en&amp;fs=1″></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param><embed src=”http://www.youtube.com/p/125F021E3CC0E487&amp;hl=en&amp;fs=1″ type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” width=”480″ height=”385″ allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”></embed></object>

Embed custom player (looks fancier, has colors and thumbnails):
<object width=”746″ height=”413″><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.youtube.com/cp/vjVQa1PpcFO11S6m3jLyKPv-eyiKJnFb1mmV1CPJxuw=”></param><embed src=”http://www.youtube.com/cp/vjVQa1PpcFO11S6m3jLyKPv-eyiKJnFb1mmV1CPJxuw=” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” width=”746″ height=”413″></embed></object>