Beth 'pidge' Flanagan's blog. Open source queer.

A letter to the next generation of trans women..

“A sure sign that something is seriously missing in a society is a generation gap. If the younger generation does not take pride in becoming like its elders, then the society has lost its own continuum, its own stability, and probably does not have a culture worth calling one, for it will be in a constant state of change from one unsatisfactory set of values to another.

If the younger members of the society feel the older ones are ridiculous, or wrong, or boring, they will have no natural path to follow. They will feel lost, demeaned and cheated and will be angry. The elders, too, will feel cheated and resentful at the loss of continuity in the culture and suffer from a sense of purposelessness along with the young.”

The Continuum Concept: Allowing Human Nature to Work Successfully by Jean Liedloff

This was the sign on the door of the surgery of the first surgical clinic ever run by and for trans women, THI, 2002-2004


My name is Beth. You probably don’t know me. I’m substantially older than most of you, transitioned longer ago than you did and frankly, spent the past decade kind of out of trans circles fixing my life up a bit. If you were involved in trans/queer feminism about 12-18 years ago, you’ll probably know who I am. If not, go find someone who was involved in that stuff from that era and ask them about me. They’ll probably know who I am. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here.

Back? Good. I asked you to do this because I think it’s important to know something about me before you continue reading this. That this letter comes to you not out of anger or malice but out of love. I know the past few weeks have been a bit low on the love side all around, but, please believe me, I’m writing this out of love and respect.

That said, I think I know who some of you are, at least what your tweets and tumblr posts say you are. I’ve even talked to a few of you. But mostly, I’ve sat in the back, mostly quiet for the past decade, watching you and this new community of trans women grow. Sometimes I’ve silently rolled my eyes at you. Sometimes I’ve wanted to twist your ears and sit you down and wag my finger at you. But more times than not, I sat there, proud of you and of what you’ve accomplished.

So, that said, I’m going to ask you to take a seat for a moment. We need to have a talk. A heart to heart. A come to Jesus moment. But before we do that, I have to tell you something.

I’m sorry.

See, this whole fucking mess the past few weeks, with RuPaul, terminology, Andrea, Calpernia, Parker, everything… it all exists, in part, because my generation failed you. Please, don’t think I’m letting you off the hook over what has happened the past few weeks or siding with one side or the other. I’m not. Frankly, the two critiques I somewhat agree with about your part in all of this is that this whole thing smells very privileged and that many of you lack a lot of historical and cultural context of North American trans culture. The former issue is something we all need to own. But the latter? That you lack this history, this context, is, in many ways, not your fault. It’s ours.

It would help if you understood what life looked like for most trans women in the States who came up during the late 80s to late 90s. It was the time of HBIGDA and the DSM-III. It was a time when being an out trans woman wasn’t possible in most cases, outside of the gay and drag communities. If you wanted to survive, it meant being quiet. Hiding. Disappearing. If you were privileged (pick one. White. Middle class, urban, etc), you *might* have some protection, but not a lot. You might have had access to communities outside of the gay and drag communities. Access to #transgen on EFNet or to USENET or the AOL rooms. If you lacked that access you most likely came up through the gay/drag communities or through the gender groups/clinics.

I tell you this because this narrative is in many ways, far different from what many of you experienced. I can’t fully explain what it was like back then in a way that will make you understand, and to be honest, I don’t *want* you to ever have to understand those times. They were horrible and awful times in a lot of ways. We lost a lot of friends. To HIV. To drugs. To depression. To the streets. To insanity. To poverty. To murder. To suicide. That’s not to say this stuff still doesn’t exist. It does. But in many ways, things are better, especially for those of you who are able to access some form of privilege. Many of the women who are your contemporaries, who are working class or trans women of color or rural women, may recognize some of what I’m about to talk about because many of these women still come up through these communities.

I would say that a tragicly large percentage of the women that I knew from the drag/street queen communities back then are dead now. The ones in the internet communities survived. I still look those women up from time to time, living stealth lives, making it through life the best they can. I love them. I love them in their imperfection. I love them for their ability to survive and to make a life, no matter how imperfect it may be to most. But I don’t miss them as much as the women I knew from the drag communities. I miss those women the most. For their courage. For their resiliency. For their carrying on of a culture of trans women that is decades old, that has it’s own in jokes, it’s own customs, hell, it’s own language (fidaga ouyaga eakspaga agaey enthaga ouyey ownaga utwaye iaga eanmaga).

I’m not going to patronize you by spending an entire letter telling you that we had it worse. Things still suck. I think all of us can be honest with each other though and say that each successive generation has had it, generally, a bit easier than the last. We all stand on the shoulders of imperfect, fucked up giants.

I tell you this, at the risk of becoming a bit nostalgic and seeming silly to you, not because I want to tell you about how I had to trudge through 10 feet of snow, up hill, both ways, to visit the hormone doc. I tell you this because I think that it’s important for you to understand the women who transitioned 15-25 years ago. To understand our cultures and histories in context. Understanding this is vital to understanding exactly how we failed you and how we move forward.

I know a lot of you may see us as retrograde dinosaurs, not able to grok “your” theory. As binarist assimilationists. You’re right. A lot of us are. Many of us didn’t have a choice. We became what we needed to become in order to survive. And a lot of times, we get angry at you because a lot of the theory you espouse is stuff we hashed out over a decade ago (seriously, I’ll be more than happy to show you the archives if you don’t believe me).

Our biggest failure is that we failed to give you a culture that you could enter into when you came out. A culture that welcomed you and cherished you and made you feel safe and gave you a sense of history, a sense of place, a sense of being part of a community. That was beyond our ability. I’ve cried about that for years. I don’t know how to make that right and the most I can offer is that I’m sorry.

We left you to fend for yourselves. Instead of raising you up, we allowed some of the crappiest places on the internet to do what we should have been doing. We really can’t complain when you look upon us as silly old trans women, backwards in our thinking, hold overs from a fucked up era. We never gave you a place in what communities we had, so you went off and created your own.

I wouldn’t say we tried very hard to create those communities. We couldn’t. Most of us were too caught up in just trying to survive or too caught up in believing what the shrinks told us we had to be in order to help with that. Or, we became insular, distrustful of this new generation, trying hard to heal our wounds, but at the same time, jealous at what we perceived as your calk walk through transition. It’s bullshit, right. But it’s bullshit that we created because of our damage because we were trying to protect our broken selves.

I know that it’s little consolation. In fairness to us though, the damage done to us by a trans misogynistic society reverberates down through the years. You see it in many of the women who are my contemporaries from time to time. In Andrea. In Calpernia. In me. We’re damaged people, hurt and angry. We spent our 20s, the time when people are supposed to be living their joy, on a constant war footing. We’re mean to each other, we’re mean to you. We lash out. In a lot of ways, it’s not too different than a lot of people who experienced serious oppression. A generational divide that in reality is a chasm created by trauma.

So, now that I’ve fully impaled myself on the sword, it’s time that I twist your collective ears a bit. I do not disagree with you about hurtful language. About the T word. About the S word. I’ve always hated those words, BUT, I will be the first to admit to ingroup use of them. It’s important for you to get where a lot of us came from. I straddled the internet and street queen communities, but, when push came to shove and I lost my biological family, it was the trans drag queens who took me in, fed me, and made sure there was a roof over my head. As imperfect as they are, I will ALWAYS love them. Without them, I would not have survived my 20s.

When I had no place to go, it was my adopted trans mom and her drag queen roommate, Garry, who took me in. When Garry died, it was his old roommate, a trans woman drag queen, Joanne, who gave me the most comfort. We sat upstairs in his room for hours, tossing shade at the ragtag collection of internet trans women downstairs. These people gave me a sense of community, a place to feel safe, love and most of all, they gave me a backbone. And yes, we were fucked up in oh so many ways.

I’m not proud of how I acted back in those days. It’s a bit too easy for me to say “welp, that was the way it was”. In my defense, though, we are all molded by the culture by which we were surrounded. But how do you fight against that when none of us really controlled those cultures. A lot of drag culture was and is run by, or at least heavily influenced by, cis gay men. We were what *they* wanted us to be. Fierce. Bitchy. Mean. With tongues so sharp they could peel the bark off an oak tree. (If you really want to see an excellent movie about that culture, even if it did predate me by two and a half decades, go track down “The Queen” from 1968 )

Or, if we came up through HBIGDA style groups, we were what the medical establishment wanted us to be. 50s housewives. Assimilationists. Hiding in the shadows, cut off from any community in order to at least appear “normal”. Perpetrators of the primary/secondary load of holy horse shit we were fed. And honestly, we had to be. When you do not control your own medical destiny, you jump through the hoops, you get indoctrinated or you don’t get treatment.

When we did have some continuum to prior generations, it was sporadic. Remember, we had just been through a decade where AIDS had killed a large portion of the trans women who could have carried on that continuum. I’d love to quantify that number for you, to give you a sense of what *that* horror looked like, in real numbers, things you could understand, but the fact is, I can’t. Those women were listed as MSM (men who have sex with men) and are lost to us, a data point in CDC statistics. And it’s still happening.

I’m sorry. I knew this letter would ramble a bit, but thinking about what we were back then and seeing you and where you are now, makes me want to get a time machine and fix all of our screw ups or at least bring you back to those years so you can understand why we are what we are, so you don’t make our mistakes or maybe so you understand us better. I guess the point of all this though is a request? Cut us a bit of slack, OK? Be gentle with us. We are wounded and hurt and scarred. Many of us carry anger over situations that fortunately are much rarer these days. (And my dear contemporaries. Don’t think you’re off the hook here either. A preview of my letter to you: Stop acting like a bunch of cruel jerks.)

You may see us as binarist assimilationist dinosaurs who are backwards and screwed up. And you’d be partially right. We are. But we’re also the strong, tough, self-reliant women who fought tooth and nail to make sure you didn’t have to go through what we went through. That fighting, that constant, never ending battle, took its toll on us and because of it, we’re broken in ways I hope you never will be.

We are your history and you are our futures. If I could have one thing out of this entire mess, it’s that we all use this as an opportunity. For you to understand us better and for us to understand you better. To work together to make a healthy community, that includes all of us, from no matter who we are or where we came from.

We need to start this work now. Not for us, but for that little trans girl, who is secretly crying herself to sleep every night, praying to whatever god she believes in, to somehow make this either go away or make it not hurt anymore or make her not wake up at all. When she’s old enough, she will need a space, a healthy community to recover in, a place to feel safe and loved and to know our history. If we all don’t work for that community, right now, I’m afraid that one of you will be writing a letter like this to her in 10 years, begging for her forgiveness.

With love,


This is a two part post. The second post “A letter to my contemporaries” will follow up when I have the time/energy/know exactly what I’m going to say.

On writers block. Now with Choose Your Own Adventure!

I’ve been walking a lot recently. I walk mainly to think, to process, to figure out things. The past few weeks have been me walking and thinking about this unending stream of topics I want to write about. As I walk (like a NJ/NYer, which means, two speeds, fast or GTFO of my way!), I think, fleshing some of these things out a bit. I end up telling myself “Oh, that would be something people would care about! File that away!”

And I have some real winners too. About the pitfalls of dating as a dyke identified trans woman. About how I almost died from a botched surgery. About the time I had to deal with 40 Philadelphia vice squad cops. About the for and by trans woman health clinic/surgery I helped start. About really personal things, some funny, some sad, all of them honest and (hopefully) interesting.

So, I sit down to start banging away on the keyboard and I realize that I don’t know where or how to start. How do I begin to even write about some of this stuff? Written words can’t even wholly express some of it. How do I put on paper what will be, in a few years, some of the more colorful parts of half my life? Maybe I should just say “Fuck it” and do what everyone else does and write about current events, just to avoid trying to figure out how to fit part of a life into an easy to digest blog post?

I guess part of why I’m so blocked up right now is because of Edward dying. I know, maybe I’m blaming everything on that of late, and I KNOW I haven’t really gone into that whole bit here and I should. But not right now. I can’t even pass a Burberry store (He *loved* Burberry) without crying.

When someone so close to you in age dies suddenly from a health complication, your thoughts are going to naturally turn to one thing; you’re next. I think that has something to do with what’s going on. I think I have so many things I want to get out of my head NOW, that I’m clogged up.

There is this story I want to tell about all these really awesome trans women (shout out to y’all, you know how you are) who I’ve come across in my life. These women literally transformed what it meant to be a trans women in this world, changed how the world related to us and how we related to the world. I can’t even begin to describe how different things were 20 years ago and how these women literally changed it. Every time I try to begin to explain *that* history, I just don’t even know where to start. But. again. I don’t know where to start because stories like that are just. so. big. So, I guess I’ll just start a bit smaller. But that begs the question. Where?

I’m going to be lazy and just leave this up to you. I figure that if I’m assigned a topic, I’ll feel a bit of pressure to stick to that topic and not wander. So, have at it folks. I’ll pick whichever is in the lead when I get a bit of writing steam going again (a week or so, probably).

P.S. I know, I haven’t written much about my Europe trip. I’m processing. I will, I promise.

On chosen family

I really dislike making New Years resolutions. However, with the whole “forgiving the family” post fresh in my mind, I’ve got to kind of temper my being an overly understanding doormat with me being a little bit of a killjoy.

When you lack blood relations, you make due with the people who come into your life. Sometimes, those people fill the void. Edward, who, for lack of a better word, was my adopted brother, was one of those people. My life was so much better for having known him. When my ex broke up with me, it was Edward whose shoulder I cried on. When she moved out, it was him who was with me when I came back into a half empty house and it was him who drove me around to find silly things, like a can opener.

My roommate. She’s the same. She’d probably take a bullet for me if I asked her to (although I’m tempted to ask her to, I don’t want to stretch the limits of our friendship). My friends B and C. The same. These are the folks who on those rare moments when I need something, they’re the ones I call.

And then… there’s the other folks. The folks you’ve kept so long because, well… you just have. They call you when they want something, but other than that, you don’t hear from them. When you need something, they’re never there. Or, they do fucked up shit and refuse to either own it, or when called on it, deflect. Yes, I’m thinking of two specific people in my life within the past year, who, if they aren’t dead to me at this point, they’re certainly in the “lost their phone number, ain’t calling anytime soon” section.

As an orphan, you keep those folks in your life out of some sense of… I don’t know, duty? Maybe a sense that if you do get them out of your life you’ll be left with nothing? Conceptual scarcity? I don’t know. But you do keep them, even though when they do interact with you, they basically get to make you feel like crap, and you let them do it, consequence free. And you take it, because, heaven knows, if you didn’t you’d be… alone? But, then there are those other people… oh… yeah… right…

So. Here is my New Years resolution. It’ll be the first one I’ve ever made in my adult life. I will no longer waste what precious time I have on people who don’t treat me, somewhat consistently (I mean, hey, we all have bad days, right?) with anything less than dignity, integrity, and honor.  Because life is too short to spend wasting it on people who treat you like crap.

A letter to my biological family

“So, did you get the presents I sent?”
“Well…. did you open them?”
“No. We threw them out unopened.”
“*sigh* Should I even continue trying with you?”
“Probably not.”
– Last discusssion I ever had with my father, over the phone, Christmas 1996

Dear biological family,

I’ve hated Christmas for years. I didn’t use to hate it. In fact, it use to be one of my favorite holidays. For years it was the day that I mourned being told to stop trying; that I should give up hope on ever being part of the family again. These days though I usually try to spend today alone, in quiet contemplation. Doing so over the years has transformed it for me, into a different kind of holiday.

You know, over the years, my perspective on this has changed dramatically. The first 5 years after I was declared “Dead to me”, I spent the entire holiday season in a deep despair or angry at you. Now? Almost two decades after escaping the toxicity of being in the family, I’ve moved through being angry about it to now being kind of indifferent. Because, really, you gave me the best Christmas present ever.

By not having you in my life, I was forced to grow into my own person. Without having the support people normally get from their families, I had to make due and figure it out on my own. If anything, this made me a vastly more interesting person and certainly a stronger one.

When you removed me from the family, you also cut off the pipeline of guilt and self-loathing. This, I think, is one of the better gifts from all of this. Because I didn’t have you tsk tsking, I was able to have adventures you could never dream of. I was able to live my life answering only to me, without guilt, without apology. Thank you for that.

I know you don’t think of what you did as a gift. I know, to you, it was punishment. Punishment for breaking the rules. Punishment for speaking out. Punishment for saying this is who I am, if you don’t like it… door. ass. try not to let one hit the other on your way out. And while I *know* I’m not entirely blameless for how things went down (I was awful and a kid and under a hell of a lot of pressure from multiple sides), the fact is, I’m much older now (and much grayer) and I realize that being mad at how you handled my transition doesn’t help anyone.

So, biological family of mine. Thank you. For two decades of freedom from you. For two decades of quiet holidays. For giving me the space to find my chosen family, those who love and cherish me (even if they’ll never quite get why I spend this day in my lab, working). For giving me space to heal from the damage that exists in our family, that you inherited just as much as I inherited my damage.

I hope that this time away has given you some of the same healing. I know none of this was easy for you and that you, like me, were navigating without a map, muddling around in the dark, damaged, blind, people walking about on rough terrain.

In closing, I was reminded of a valuable lesson this year. Life is really fucking short and can be revoked at any time. I lost a few good people this year. Some I knew very well and not having them around during this season pains me. Some, I hardly knew, but people I cared about did and seeing the pain their deaths caused was yet another reminder. Life is fragile and fleeting and being reminded of it so often this year, has given me the kick in the ass that I should probably say some things before it’s to late.

So, Mom, Dad, Sister, and yes, even you my Brother, who I’ve hated for so many years, I give you on this Christmas day, the only gift I can from so far away. My forgiveness. Because, no matter how much you wish it wasn’t true, I am your daughter and sister and my imperfections are a reflection of yours and without forgiveness, well… what can we ever hope for?

And while I have no overwhelming desire to have you in my life again (I may be able to forgive you, but trust is something that has to be built), I do want you to know that this last present is one I hope you open.


I punch the first person who says anything about Pink Floyd.


Caution: Discussion of personal trauma. Abuse, physical and otherwise. Also, cliched thoughts about walls and me being a dork in general.

Read more of this post


“Hey, I have, I dunno, a weird question. It’s about your blog.”

Oh shit. I’m on the phone with a friend of mine. One of my “open source friends”. They tend to be the group I discuss being trans with the least, mainly because, well, it just never comes up. I think “Oh crap. This is going to be ‘THE OP’ question. I know it. It’s going to have something to do with cut off penises…”

“Okayyyyy…. shoot?”

“So, this whole Bradley Manning thing….”

“You mean Chelsea…”

“Yeah, Chelsea. Do you think they’re just doing this to get an easier time in prison.”

I stifle a snort and couch my next words carefully, wanting to really make him understand it.

“Um…. the likeliness of her being treated well in a men’s prison during transition is highly unlikely. I mean, you do realize that she’ll most likely be kept in a guys jail and denied medical treatment for this. If she’s “lucky”, she’ll get some limited medical care and they’ll put her in adseg which means she’ll be a little less likely to be raped but she’ll be in a cage, alone. for 23 our of 24 hours. If she’s unlucky, well… it’s genpop, which increases her risk of violence, but she’d at least have time out of cell. I wouldn’t imagine anyone wanting to do this expecting better treatment. She’ll likely get much worse treatment.”

“Oh…. ok. I didn’t realize”

We continue our conversation but this part of it sticks into my head. This is not a non-intelligent person I’m talking to but the simple reality is, the lives of trans women are so far from what the dominant culture even thinks about, that cisgender folks just have no clue about our lives. Here is this really smart guy asking me a question that I’ve known the answer to for 20 years because what the general public knows about our lives is limited to what sensationalistic crap they catch from TV or from cisqueers using our lives for entertainment fodder (yes, I’m looking at you Hedwig. And you Ticked off Tr*****s.)

The reason I bring this up is because this week is both the Trans Day of Remembrance and apparently, Trans Awareness Week. At least 238 transwomen were murdered this year. This is only the murders. Not the assaults. Not the rapes. Not the suicides. Murders. Considering that there aren’t a whole lot of us floating about, this number is appalling and it is probably at the low end. I’m sure many more have been killed this year, that they’ve been lost to the count either through non-reporting or misgendering. The vast majority of these women are poor and/or women of color  That’s not to say that violence doesn’t happen to white trans women. It does. But white trans women tend to be shielded from the worst of the violence.

TDoR is old news for me. I went to the memorials for a few years and stopped going when I watched some transdude mispronounce Gwen Araujo’s name. I never went back to another one. It was almost always something that seemed run by and for female cis queers and trans dudes, even though they aren’t the ones being murdered. It seemed to be a way for white cisqueers and trans guys to make themselves feel better for not giving a shit about trans women during the rest of the year. “Hey, for one night a year, we *care*. Just as long as you died a horribly violent death.” Yeah, I’m cynical.

For me, it was insulting. The people most effected should be the ones taking center stage. So they can mourn. It’s their communities being decimated by violence. So, I mourn TDoR in my own private way and try to avoid TDoR memorials (or, ugh, dance parties? REALLY? Who came up with that bright idea? Certainly not a trans woman.)

That said, this week is also something called “Trans Awareness Week.” I didn’t get the memo on this from the Cabal of Trans Folks until late, but apparently, we’re supposed to a. Let folks know we’re trans and b. Give folks 24 hours to ask all the stupid questions they could want without fear of us ripping their heads off. Personally, I can see letting folks know you’re trans being important. Like, if you’re friends with one, you’re less likely tosay, vote in favor of restricting the bathroom use of transkids in California schools.

Or murder us. I mean, hey, I know some of the folks who follow this blog, but maybe there is some craphead out there who goes out on a date, and after finding out his date is trans, thinks that the appropriate response is to murder her. Who knows, right? It’s the internet after all.

The second part of all of this I find kind of silly. Like, there is no universal trans chick experience. It’s not like we have a hive mind, so really, you ask 10 of us the same question, you’ll get 20 different answers. And, to be frank, I hate being Google for stupid “What do they do with the penis after they chop it off?” questions. It all feels horribly self-absorbed and my desire to participate in it is very limited. Besides, I would hope that I’m approachable enough that people felt ok with asking me questions.

But… that said. 238 women. My sisters. Women like me. They will never wake up, never see another sunrise. All because someone refused to see their humanity and passed a death sentence on them. Guilty of being some trans thing. So, if people needing to ask the “dumb questions” helps them, then sure. Fine. I’ll answer whatever dumb or not dumb question people have about my life if it means that person will make me a promise.

Here is the cost of me answering questions. I want everyone who reads this to do something to make the lives of trans women better. It could be as simple as saying something when people say transphobic shit or as complex as saying that you won’t consider the trans status of your dating partners or as obvious as saying you’ll fight for trans inclusion in your work insurance policies (many places do not include treatment for trans issues in their insurance policy, at least in the US).

Because I’m tired of seeing people like me get killed.
Because I never want to see another Rita Hester.
ecause I never want to see another Angie Zapata.
Because trans women of color are at an insanely high risk of being the victim of violence.
Because over the past 7 years, about 1,300 trans people have been murdered in 59 countries, the majority of those women being trans women of color.

Because this needs to stop.

Girl and a half.

“Hrmmm…. that doesn’t quite feel normal?”

I don’t want to hear this right now. Out of all the things I could have wanted to hear as I lie there while some guy I’ve just met not 20 minutes ago gropes about my breasts, that short phrase knots my stomach even more than it already is.

I’m in my new doctors office. I have to go to get my refill of estrogen and do the whole annual checkup. I always kind of dread going to a new doctor, especially when they’re not specifically knowledgeable in trans health care.

“When was the last time you had your period?”
“Uh, I never had one.”
Look of shock “Uh, why?”
“Because I lack a uterus…”

Then comes the whole explanation and then I have to do the 30 minute “Trans Healthcare for Doctors” spiel. Yes, I need breast exams. Yes, I know my estrogen intake.

This new doc was actually pretty ok. He admitted he had no clue. Ok, that’s a good start. We go through the standard questions and then it’s time for the once over exam. Yeah, sure, breast exam, whatevs.

“Yeah… I don’t think this should feel like this. Do you have a history of breast cancer in your family?”

Oh fuck. Oh shit. No, this isn’t happening to me. “Uh, not that I know of? I don’t speak to them anymore, so, I don’t exactly know what we die of other than black lung disease, alcoholism and emphysema”

“Well, I’d feel better if you get a mammogram. You’re a little young to start them, but with your estrogen intake, I’d rather be a bit cautious. Plus with your supernumerary nipples, there is evidence of a slight increased risk for breast cancer, even though this is probably just a cyst.”

Ok, don’t panic. It’s probably the same “hormonally active breasts” your last doc found…. it’s ok… probabl… wait. superwhatisit nipples? I sit there trying not to panic, trying not to think of having to have the breasts I spent years growing slashed off in a blink of an eye as I scan my 25 year old, little used Latin. Super…. numerary. Wait, did this doc just tell me I have extra boobs? What. The. Hell?

“Uh… supernumerary nipples? What do you mean by that?”

“This mole. And this one, right there under your armpit. They’re extra nipples.”

“Now, this lump is probably nothing to worry about. It’s most likely a cyst. But, I’m going to write you a script to go get a mammogram.”

We go through the rest of the exam, with my head bouncing between absolute panic and being somewhat amused. Extra boobs. I can’t help but imagine that I’m the dominant part of an in utero twin absorption. Does this make me the good twin or the evil twin? Will my now absorbed twin, one day try to regain control? For fucks sakes, please, don’t let this be cancer. Cool, it’s like being a character in geek love. Or a dog. How many nipples do dogs and cats have? Fuck, if it’s cancer, I don’t want to go through that. Not now. Please. Fuck, not one but two extra boobs. I’m like super girl and a half or something. Fuck. Cancer.


I end up trudging out and going to work, ignoring the script in my bag. I’ll deal with it later I tell myself. Like, never. Because if I don’t get it checked out, then it can’t be cancer, or something like that. Don’t ciswomen get the whole breast health thing drilled into their skulls? We don’t. I’m kind of surprised that more transwomen don’t die of this. Oh, right. Too busy getting murdered or not having health care.

Besides, this is probably just the foot of my absorbed twin that he’s feeling. Yeah. One day, this little version of me will twist herself free from my breast and I’ll have a mini-me. Or, I’ll have cancer and then will get my boobs lopped off. Or I’ll have cancer and die. Or. or.

I’m bad at taking care of myself sometimes. Ok, a lot of the time. Doctors and dentists and the health care profession in general stress me out and when I can avoid them I will. I refused to go to the hospital when I broke my collar bone and dislocated three ribs (popped the ribs back in place myself and slung myself with the collarbone). But shit. Breast lump. Fuck fuck fuck.  I mention it on facebook. And then disappear into work. A week later I get a message from a friend of mine (we will call her S. )who knows me all too well.

“Did you go get your mammogram yet?”

“Uh. No, got busy.”

“Beth, Don’t fuck around with this.”

“Uh, I won’t. Swear. I just got busy.”

“By next week… ok?”

“Ok, mom.”

Fuck, don’t make me deal with this, S I just want to write code, get my release out, maybe go out for drinks. I don’t want to think about dying. I don’t have the bandwidth. I just dealt with Edward dying, I don’t want to deal with this shit. I know. I’ll think about the damn extra nipples, because then I can at least say I’m thinking in the general bodily area and maybe then I can squirm up the courage to go to the boob squishing van.

A week later.

“Did you go yet?”

“No, the mammogram van is coming next week.”

“Beth, dammit, just go!”

“I will, I will, I swear! I’ve made an appointment”

I didn’t. But shit, if I don’t go now, I’m lying and I don’t lie (I take it as a matter of pride that I don’t lie, except during poker and practical jokes). I make the appointment, dreading each day until it comes.

The day of the appointment, I drive the motorcycle in. There it sits. A bus sized, pink ribbon monstrosity. The thing that is going to tell me if I live or die. I eye it, like the thin letter a high school senior gets from that university they applied to but don’t think they got accepted to. Fuck, I just won’t go. Then I’ll never know and none of this will be real. I head into work, knowing that the bus in the parking lot has an appointment with my name on it. I head down at my allotted time. Squish. Zap. Done. Ok, that didn’t suck nearly as bad as I thought. And then I wait….

A week later, the doc calls. I go in again, trying hard not to vomit. It’s going to be cancer, I know it.

“Good news, it’s a cyst, like I thought. I still want to do an ultrasound to make absolutely sure, but, yeah, it’s just a biggish one”

I breath a sigh of relief. And then go back to thinking about this kind of weird thing I’ve now found out about my freakshow of a body. I decide that I like the absorbed twin explanation and that I’m going to name her after that friend of mine who rode my ass to go get my mammogram. I think she’d appreciate the humor.

Oh Dublin… I may have been wrong about you….

So. Dublin.

I was hating on you for a while. I really was. Somewhere within all my grumpy dislike for you, I wanted to like you, but I couldn’t find a reason. Then, I went to this party… and there was this woman… and a conversation… and now my heads all spinny and getting Dublin (and her and our conversation) out of my head has been difficult. So, let me tell you the story…

Friday, my last day in Dublin, I actually hopped in to go visit the local work office and talk to the locals. It was typical work and I headed on out of there, planning to go to the one thing that night I thought that I *might* have fun at. The local anarchist space was having a queer zombie dance party. Like, ok, right there, you’ve pretty much hit the head on what can drag me out of my shell to go socialize. Zombies? Queer? Anarchist? I’m there. You could call it an anarchist queer zombie root canal and I would be the first in line.

And I pretty much was. Like, suuuuper early. Oh, crap, I forgot. Queer standard time. People show up 2 hours after things start. Oh well, I’ll be social, drink tea, smoke, and chat. And I did just that, which I’m pretty proud of myself for doing. A lot of times, I’ll find a corner and read, just to be around people, without having to have too much interaction.

A few hours in, I’m hanging out when in walks…

ok, let me back up here. I apparently have a “type”. My adopted family and I have discussed how I really do have a type and it’s not like this standard, boring, “type”. It’s very specific and I don’t even try to make excuses for it. It just is what it is. And no, I’ll not be describing my type, because it’s really not a hard and fast type, it’s more a tendancy…. anyhow…

In walks my type. But, zombiefied. I, being the sauve bitch I am, immediately run outside to smoke and get as faaaar away as possible. Yeah, that’s how I roll! I run away. Introverts FTW!

I spend the night avoiding her, because well, it’s my last night. What’s the point, right? I can just convince myself that she’s vapid and I would hate her if I talked to her, because, hellllo, airplane, 12 hours?

I’m hanging out with someone, smoking cigarettes. Everyone is fascinated by my pre-rolled American Spirits. I end up chatting with this woman I lent my lucky 2 dollar bill to, when who walks up? The cute zombie woman. Oh. yeah, of course they’d know each other…. Ok, Beth, don’t panic. Remember. Vapid. She’d probably not going to be someone you’d be interested in. And then the worst thing that could possibly happen, happened.

She started talking with me.

I’m not a shallow critter. I don’t care if I find you attractive. If you can’t hold my interest (which most people can’t), pft, not interested, even remotely.  We started chatting politics, specifically the diaspora. We talked about cultural trauma, plastic paddyism, RD Laing…. She explained “the Gathering” which I’m still 20 shades of “eww” over (I have a lot of thoughts on this, but nothing coherent yet). We talked about language. We talked about food politics. I think I stunned a few folks in that I had more irish language competency than they would have expected an american to have. We started talking irish politics. Ok, ok, now I’m kinda interested. And then, like, the most awful thing happened ever….

We started talking early irish law.

Those of you who know me well, in real life, know, that all you have to do is start discussing early irish legal structures and, hell, you could be the corpse of Richard Nixon and I’d sit there starry eyed. It’s intellectual foreplay for me. (I’ve been looking for an original copy of Corpus Iuris Hibernici for YEARS.) And here is this… this… zombified, adorable woman, talking about one of the few subjects I rarely get the chance to dork out on (believe it or not, I don’t have a lot of chances to discuss early irish laws surrounding property rights during a divorce with beautiful women… I know, surprise, right?).

I stuck around for the rest of the night, just so I could listen to her, just so I could hear every single damn word out of her mouth, just so I could drink the last few hours of Dublin in and maybe have it make up for the past few days. I ended up getting back to my hotel at 4:30 in the morning, barely awake, hopping a flight, getting to my airbnb place and sleeping 13 hours the next day. I still don’t know if she was single, or queer, or interested and not a damn bit of me cares. For a whole of 5 hours, I got to listen to someone I found insanely attractive make my brain light up with talk of early irish caste systems.

So, Dublin. I’m still not sure what to make of you. You’re kind of like that ex of mine who I thought I hated but I ended up adoring. I’m willing to give you another try. Especially if I get to hang out with her again.

Ah, Flanagan, is it now?

I know I should start this post with a big backstory on why I’m working remotely in Europe for the next few months, but a few of the reasons behind it are still a bit painful. Long, complex story that I’ll tell one day in full, is that one of my chosen family, someone I loved very deeply, died, very unexpectedly at 43. At 42, that kind of thing gives you a kick in the rear. It just brings up that whole line from Shawshank Redemption “Get busy living or get busy dying.” So… I’m living out of a suitcase for the next few months.

The one bit of backstory that I guess is relevant is that I’m thinking very hard about moving here. As I’m a dual citizen (UK/US), this is less of a problem than it would normally be. So, I’m off trekking about, airbnbing it, looking for places that I could reasonably live without going nuts. I know a lot of people find this awesome, and I do as well, but it’s absolutely terrifying to me. Nerd+introvert+transwoman (remember. extreme social anxiety.)+being outside of my comfort zone == I’m being a bit of a nervous wreck right now.

So, I’m in Dublin on a bit of holiday right now (look at me, dropping articles like I’m in Europe!) after having a week of tech conference in Edinburgh and a glorious but oh so short tour of Cumbria.

Being in Dublin is kind of a brainfuck as an Irish/British/American. For example. I hate hate hate St. Patrick’s Day in the US. It is foreign to me. In my family I always got the impression that it was a celebration of depression with a heavy undercurrent of PTSD and a feeling of being somewhat lost and away from home. The orgy of green beer swilling Americans who lack the cultural context to really grok why it became an important holiday for the Diaspora annoys me so I don’t take part in it. I hide in my house, drink by myself and more times than not, try to write code I’ve been wanting to catch up on.

The most common conversation I have during the weeks prior to the holiday, often occur at a market, when I show my credit card to pay for stuff.

Counterperson: (fake brogue) “Ahh, Flaaaanagan, is it now? A good Eorish name.”
Me: “Um, actually, it’s the Polish variant. They changed it.”

At that, the shopkeeper normally blinks, says “Oh, wow. I didn’t realize there was a Polish version.” and continues the transaction. I roll my eyes and continue on my day, reminded that I’ll be hiding in my house from stupid drunks fairly soon and then have a whole 11 months before I have to deal with this shit again.  My ethnicity being reduced to a drunken, Lucky Charms box cover aggravates me to no end.

Here, in Dublin though, the implication of “Ah, Flanagan, is it now?” feels different. It feels like this weird “Ah, an American coming back to look for their roots.” tone. A kind of sideways insult, that feels like it means, “Well, you have the last name, but you’re not REALLY Irish.”

Part of me wonders if I’m internalizing that Irish American sense of “not being good enough”. It’s endemic in my family and in others I know. It’s my mother’s disease, the thing that drove her to ride my back when it came to schooling like I had a set of handlebars installed on my shoulders. There is this nagging in the back of my head when people hear my thick New Jersey accent here. “Ah, Flanagan, is it now?” feels like it really means “pft, plastic paddy who probably can’t even name the Taoiseach.” (I can, Enda Kenny, Fine Gael, and a right tit, who has helped drive the ROI economy into the shitter. Also, his support for the removal of Irish language competency in leaving certificates really boiled me. Yes, I follow Irish politics. I’m a dork.).

My family is screwed up and broken, a brokenness with very real life results that I can count back for at least 4 generations. A VERY large part of that brokenness is due to a kind of cultural PTSD from my family having little choice but to leave this island. This brokenness has real consequences in my life. My biological family is a mess of feuds. This person doesn’t talk to this person. This one doesn’t talk to this person. Don’t mention X subject to this person as it’s painful. Don’t do this or you’re dead to me. It’s little wonder I’ve tossed them all out of my life. That’s part of my brokenness, an inability to form tight familial bonds with people I don’t necessarily like.

But the biggest way this damage has effected my life is that I don’t feel at home anywhere. My sense of  home has always felt forced. I’ve moved over 4000 miles in my life, looking for “home”. New York/New Jersey felt in some ways like that, despite it being a few million people living on a toxic waste dump. My last name wasn’t an oddity. There was a steady influx of Irish to make you feel a part of your community. But I hated it none the less and have spent the last 20 years of my life wandering.

Delaware. Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Montana, Washington, Oregon…. none of them quite felt like home

The other day I hung out with a co-worker who lives in the UK and we took a tour of the backroads of Cumbria. Way up in the hills. He asked me “So, is this what you expected?” I couldn’t really give him an answer, so I gave him kind of a bullshit one, that I’m going to now revise a bit. Standing in the mooshy hillside, looking over sheep, 1000 year old walls, ruins of Roman forts, for the first time in my life, allowed me to feel *almost* a sense of home, a feeling I had long given up on having. So, the answer is “No. I had never expected to feel the kind of deep connection to a place that I felt that day.” So, maybe my brokenness in that regard at least can be repaired. One can hope.

More later.

Look kiddo, I’ll give you something to worry about!

“Life is the expectation of the unexpected – the things you worry about rarely happen. Something new, the unexpected, will usually come from outside the ball park. You’re all nodding as if you understand but you really don’t. What I’ve said are just words to you. I want you to go to your private cubbyholes and think for the next four hours. Try to remember all the things you worried about during the last years and whether they ever happened or what did happen – and then we’ll talk about it.”

Saul Alinksy Rules for Radicals

I am a natural worrier. Part of me thinks that it is because many transwomen generally carry around a big knapsack of anxiety. Most of the time, though, I realize that it’s because I just spend way too much time trapped in my skull over analyzing “stuff” until I’m genuinely anxious about it. I tend to worry about the most insane things.

I once worried myself into a panic attack in fourth grade over the annual school inspection. It had nothing to do with me, of course, I just had a picture of a stern nun inspecting our fingernails for the slightest bit of grime and flunking the entire school because *I* was the one who had a slight bit of nail goop. I worry about jelly bean color (blue food. YECH!) I worry about whether that weird vibration in my car’s front end is just the grooved road or is my tire about to fall off and send me slamming at a high speed into an oncoming bus, killing me and the bus full of orphans in a painful fiery crash. Most of these are just micro-worries. Things that I worry about for a few seconds. Little illogical things that are entirely nonsensical but make my thoughts a little more entertaining.

Worrying is how I make sense of this world. It is how I can sit there and pick apart fairly complex systems, both technical and social and come to a better understanding of them. Follow the path long enough until you find something to worry about. Back up a bit. Follow another path. Worry about it. Pick it apart. Worry about the parts, the connections. That is how the cracked out hamsters in my head work. Pure, unadulterated, Acme Brand Worry.

These days, my worries are mostly about work, a much more important worry in my opinion. Every software release period, I end up obsessing over the build to the point where I sit there not sleeping, watching my 3-7 hour build like a hawk in order to ensure that nothing went south. It almost never does, and I essentially ramp myself up into a nice case of insomnia or even worse, a migraine. But none of those worries can compare to the state I was in a few days ago.

Four days ago, I was in a blind holy hot white panic of worry that I hadn’t seen in years. I had to call a friend of mine and have her list the reasons I should post my coming out post. I was about to free information that once out there, I couldn’t go “HAHA Guys. TOTALLY KIDDING!!! JOKES ON YOU! PSYKE!”* I had a few ideas about how people would react and all of them included some really lousy stuff. I know quite a few transwomen** and I’ve seen a lot of them transition at work, but not a lot of them had actually navigated a post-transition coming out of the closet.

We just RARELY do this it seems. I had few folks whose experiences I could really go. No one I know of in open source. Like, a few who transitioned during their time in open source. A few who are out in open source. But… I couldn’t think of anyone in open source who actually came out as a transwoman, who I could ask “er… how do I do this? What do I have to worry about? Patch rejections? Trolls? Martians?”

It’s kind of too early to give any real data yet, which I am compiling, but, what I can say is this. My worries seem to be unfounded so far. Everyone I generally deal with on a day to day basis has pretty much said the same thing. “Great. Can you get that bug fixed now?”. No, really, folks have been amazing and I’m grateful that my worries were unfounded. I spent a few moments on Wednesday tearing up over some of the heartfelt comments I received. To everyone who sent me kind words, words of encouragement, irc messages, phone calls, emails, etc. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Your support and kind words have meant the world to me. I can’t thank you enough. Especially to the other transwomen out there, both caged and uncaged. I love you for all the love and support you’ve given me the past few days.


* Although, I must say, the joker in me was tempted to try it.

** When we transition, along with the lifetime supply of estrogen, the insanely awesome sense of humor, and a fruit basket, we also get a subscription, similar to the old MSDN subscriptions. Once a month we get, on 24 CDs, a complete list of all transwomen the world over. This is why, when people find out I’m a transwoman and they ask me “Oh, do you know so and so.” I always say “Oh! Of course I know so and so! I saw her a few weeks ago! She was saying some awful things about you the other day *tsk*”. It’s because we really do know each other. I promise! And like my old MSDN subscription, the CDs end up stapled to my ceiling and walls of my lab. It’s like living in a freaking disco ball sometimes.

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