Thursday, November 7, 2013

November: What I've Lost

November, the month that brings both Transgender Day of Remembrance and Thanksgiving, is a time for reflection.  It is also my anniversary, which this year marks year two since the public announcement of my transition at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.  It is a good opportunity to take stock of what I've lost, what I've gained, and what has remained the same.

What have I lost?  Compared with too many persons who pay with their lives, I've fared remarkably, almost miraculously well.  Still, viewed from a cisgender perspective, the perspective of someone who has not spent a lifetime confronting the reality of being transgender, the price has been high.  In financial terms alone, I have lost a year's salary, most of my life savings, and almost all real estate and physical property of value to the divorce that immediately preceded my transition.  The medical price tag for counseling, hormone replacement therapy, electrolysis, voice therapy, gender confirmation surgery, and facial feminization surgery amounts to almost another two thirds of a year's salary.  The financial picture for a person whom social security views as age 55+ is bleak.

I have also lost considerably in terms of career advancement.  If one views my move from Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) to the State Department as a first step on the transition road, that was already a big down step.  At CSC I was a Senior Computer Scientist, the equivalent of an FS-01 on the State Department's scale.  I joined State in 2004 as an FS-04, the rough CSC equivalent of an MTSB/A but the highest level at which it is possible to enter.  I received tenure and was promoted to FS-03, the equivalent to SMTS at CSC, in 2007, the shortest possible time for tenure and promotion at State.  

I have been frozen at that position for six years now and see no prospect for further advancement for at least another 2-3 years.  Why?  I detoured from the career path in Romania, doing a down stretch to an out-of-the-way, nearly invisible FS-04 technical position.  This was a logical step for someone who was about to transition and who was worried how her transition would be perceived.  The fact that I later did significant human rights reporting on LGBT issues is scarcely visible to the blind promotion panels that meet annually in Washington.  My current position is at-grade FS-03 but is one that is widely seen as having little promotion value.  It's career virtue to me is that I could get the position at all after having committed career suicide in Romania.  It gets me reasonably positioned to put me back on the career path in the few years that are left to me in this career.

That career price is the direct sum of the costs of the individual decisions I took along the transition path.  Each cost is almost physical, tangible, but there are no regrets.  The decisions were my own.

Other costs fall into a misty area of gray.  Am I seen differently post-transition?  Are my abilities evaluated differently?  For example, in 2004 I tested at 4 in Russian on a 0-to-5 scale.  In 2007 I re-tested at 4+.  This year I tested again but was awarded only a 3+.  Had my Russian fluency slipped during two and a half years in Romania?  Probably.  By that much?  I think not.  Could the fact that I was wearing a dress and speaking with a very different voice in 2013 have played a role?  Perhaps, but we are in the realm of the unprovable, the intangible.

Male privilege.  Perhaps I rarely or never exercised the options that came with it, but male privilege lay upon me like an un-sensed cloak.  Only now that it has been removed do I know it was there.  My auto insurance rate went up.  Not by much, but it did go up.  My softer, feminine voice does not automatically command the same respect from strangers.  If I am with a man in a restaurant, the waiter pays attention first to the man.  At a restaurant last week, our waitress walked away after taking my partner's drink order, completely failing to take notice of my presence.

Personal freedom is not what it used to be.  I fight this, but even so, I know there are places I should not go, places where I should not be alone, especially at night.

Physical strength has changed.  I still have the strong legs of a bicyclist, but young men now routinely pass me on the road.  Upper body strength, never very great, is diminished.  Rings and bracelets that were tight when I began transition now fit well.  Some are even loose.

Friends and colleagues.  To my delight I have lost very few, but there have been some.  A friend who chose me to be best man at his wedding in 1982 dropped contact in 1990 when he learned my secret.  A NASA friend did the same in 2011.  Most of all, I regret the loss of a Russian colleague with whom I worked closely as a historian.  "I will never be able to accept this," she replied when I wrote to her of my transition two years ago.  She still has not.  I remember her fondly when I look at publications and even a short documentary film that carry both our names.

November, a month for reflection.  As the leaves fall, I think about what I've lost.  As the autumn chill deepens to the white flakes of winter, my thoughts turn to what I've gained.  I'll write about that next time.  (See November:  What I've Gained.)

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