How my gender journey impacted my career path

I’ve been asked at work to be on a small, diverse team of people from my department who will be welcoming a group of high school students for a field trip to learn about career opportunities in research and science. And as I’ve been thinking about what stories I’m going to tell, it made me realize just how much my gender and transition journey has shaped where my career pathway has led.

First off, how did I get into a career in science? I’ve always been interested in science from a young age. My favorite shows as a kid were Bill Nye the Science Guy and Kratts’ Creatures. I loved learning about animals in particular and my earliest career aspiration was to become a zookeeper; a dream I held on to for many many years.

When I was 7 we moved to a house on what was at that time the border between the suburbs and rural farming country. It was one of the oldest plots of land in the development so it came with 3 acres of 70 year old forest that used to be logging territory. That experience was absolutely magical for me. I spent most of my time as a kid running around and learning intimately how a healthy PNW forest ecosystem looked and felt. So when it came time for college, I decided that instead of studying zoology, I would go into ecology so that I can learn about the whole system instead of just the animals.

My time in college, other than my early marriage and the homophobic institution I was studying at, was incredibly enriching. I loved school (well except the theoretical math part) and I was incredibly lucky to have an amazing team of professors who were deeply passionate about their jobs and field. I got to do lots of cool lab classes and I spent about 7 weeks studying at a field station in the San Juan Islands and a study abroad trip to the Galapagos Islands.

I volunteered at the Zoo during college but by the time I graduated, I had come to realize that I didn’t have the patience to deal with a job that was becoming increasingly competitive, controversial, and underpaid. I wanted to go on to a research position in ecology but this was right after the 2008 recession and jobs were scarce. The only things I could find were “room and board” type positions in remote areas.

With my marriage being the mess that it was, I didn’t feel like I could leave to pursue the career I wanted. And I didn’t have the energy to go on to more schooling because I had so many unresolved relationship issues and identity crisis dilemmas. So I decided to turn to my other skills.

Through college, I had been supporting myself by working as an office assistant at a couple of the school departments and a local nonprofit. So after work study ended, I decided to get a receptionist job. I don’t think it was a mistake that the first job I ended up in in a highly femininized field at a vet clinic where I was the only “man”.

My 20s were a mess. While most of my classmates were off getting Masters, PhDs, and MDs, I felt stuck trying to figure out my life. I spent from age 20 to 26 in a relationship that was slowly and traumatically imploding, trying desperately to make it work. At 26 I finally realized that I was trans, but my partner wouldn’t let me come out to my friends and family so I had to stay in the closet for another few months while I worked up the courage and resources to get out.

Finally at 27, I was free and could start figuring out who I truly was without the baggage of being forced to be someone I wasn’t in so many ways. I started writing this blog when I was 28 and that proved to be really helpful to my transition and I started hormones a month before my 30th birthday. That’s when I feel like my adulthood truly started.

Back to my career though. I had a few different administrative jobs through my 20s that were mostly really good experiences where I was allowed to grow and get promoted internally. Which was great. But I still wasn’t working in science.

In 2015, shortly after I first came out as genderqueer, I joined a research study for an experimental HIV vaccine. I heard about it through an old classmate at Trans Pride Seattle and thought I might as well contribute to science and make a few much needed bucks for participating. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of inclusivity but I found myself really impressed by the study team and paperwork. It was really the first time I felt seen and respected in a clinical setting as a trans person. I had such a good experience on the study that when I finished, I decided to see if I could get a job at the company that ran the trials.

I landed a job at Fred Hutch shortly before I started this blog and it was my first professional coming out experience. It went well and even though I wasn’t working on HIV vaccines at first, I loved getting my toes wet in the administrative side of science. Eventually I applied internally and got a job with the HIV Vaccine Trials Network where I still work today.

Today I’m really thankful to be able to contribute in meaningful ways to scientific research, even though I don’t have an advanced degree or specialized technical training. My eventual dream is to find a way to work on more targeted research on the health disparities impacting the transgender and nonbinary community. Now that I’m a project manager, I hope to partner with a research investigator to be a subject matter expert on identifying the many gaps that still exist in the science around trans healthcare.

I know that was a long story but I just want to say that no matter how long it takes you to come out, you can still find success and fulfillment in your career. Sometimes life gets in the way of advanced degrees, but there are lots of ways to contribute to specialized fields like science and many paths to get there.

What have I been up to

It’s been a few months since I updated this blog so I figured it was time to give an update.

The last few months have been very busy with starting the Seattle Trans and Nonbinary Choral Ensemble (STANCE) and getting it up and running. We have auditions this week and I’m very excited to say that we hit my goal of 50 signups! After 5 years of dreaming and scheming, it is so exciting to finally see this coming together. If you want to get in for an audition slot last minute, there still a few calendar times open. Signup at www.stanceseattle.org/join_us.

The biggest hurdle so far has been getting funding. We got a great early grant from Seattle Pride and individual donors have really stepped up to raise $2,500 so far. But to really make this successful and sustainable we really need to win a bigger grant to fund the Artistic Director’s salary. I already got turned down for one of my hopeful opportunities but I’m waiting to hear back soon from the largest potential grant I’ve found so far. Fingers crossed that we get the money soon.

We did find a lovely church to host us. It hits all of our requirements in terms of accessibility and inclusivity and it was even less expensive that I was expecting to have to pay. Unfortunately the only night that both the church and our Director were available is the same night as my former choir, Puget Soundworks. I hate to compete with them but I have also been really disappointed in their lack of trans inclusivity lately. They don’t have any trans board members (I applied and was turned down) and when TERFs outed themselves in the community a couple years ago, it took them over a year to deal with the problem.

That’s part of what gave me the impetuous to finally make this choir happen. I believe strongly that there should be no communities that claim trans inclusivity without having trans people in leadership long term. Nothing about us without us.

To make a long story short, I’m so happy to finally be fulfilling my long time dream of making Seattle’s first chorus by and for trans and nonbinary people. No journey is without its hurdles but I think that I’m able to take those in stride and push through challenges much better now than I was a few years ago. I’m grateful to finally have the brain space to do things like this now that I have pretty fully transitioned. Not having to fight daily with dysphoria really gives me a lot more capacity.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way. I couldn’t do this without you!

I finally Transitioned. So now what?

Today I ran across a meme that said “Okay, you’ve transitioned. So what are you plans for the rest of your life? – I don’t know. I didn’t think I’d get this far…” and girl howdy did it resonate. Realizing I was trans AND having to get a messy divorce at the same time really threw my life off. I lost any forward momentum that I had and instead focused on getting myself a career that would allow me to transition. And I did that pretty successfully. I found people who cared about me and supported me for who I really was, both in my personal life and my professional life, and I successfully navigated the miasma of steps necessary to change my legal name and gender and get the trans affirming healthcare that I needed.

So now what?

Now I want to give back to my community. Remember 5 years ago when I tried to start an all-trans choir? Well now that I’m more stable and better networked, I’ve resurrected that plan and I’m taking steps to make it a reality. Last fall I found a friend of a coworker who is a trans choral director and together we started plotting to bring about Seattle’s first Trans and Nonbinary Chorus. In January, I formed a board and we’ve been meeting regularly to plan. Now this week, I’m filing paperwork to get incorporated as a Nonprofit Organization!

I have to admit, this is absolutely terrifying. I know I have a lot of the necessary skills for managing a small org and I’m really good at paperwork, but the idea of me being an Executive Director is still mind blowing. When I feel overwhelmed and like maybe I should quit, I think about all the trans people who are currently without an inclusive singing community and it gives me the hope I need to make this vision a reality. I want to build a place where trans people can be fully themselves without constantly having to educate cisgender allies to make that happen. A place where we can learn to embrace our changing voices and identities and find musical embodiment.

It’s going to take a lot of work to get there and a lot of support from our community. But I’m confident that this is the right next step. It’s not going to be paid work for me, but with the right donors and grants, it can be a paid job for a trans artistic director. So if you’re interested in singing or becoming a supporter, check out our website at https://www.stanceseattle.org/join_us and sign up for updates.

Trans Day of Visibility 2022

Today is Trans Day of Visibility and while not all trans people want to be visible, I am very happy that I am. A lot of people are sharing before and after photos but for me, there never was a true before and after. I have always been trans, there were just phases of my life where I didn’t have the language to access that part of my authenticity. From a young age I was very gender non-conforming and I adopted that label quietly in college at age 20. It wasn’t until 2014 though that I finally began to see myself as Genderqueer and falling under the Trans umbrella thanks to help and advice from other genderqueer folks. At that time I was still trapped in an abusive marriage so I couldn’t come out publicly. But in 2015 I finally escaped and with that freedom, claimed the first parts of my true identity openly.

My path to coming out was slower than many people because I was so scared of not being accepted for who I really was. When I first learned about trans women in college, I didn’t think I belonged in that category because I could never “pass” and I thought that to be a woman meant you had to be primarily attracted to men. I didn’t have access to the kind of tomboyish, lesbian-leaning gender and sexuality that I needed. Even when I came out in 2014/15, I was afraid of even attempting to be treated as a woman because of all the negative self-talk about my body and ability to change those features. So for many years, I kept my beard as a way to hide the parts of my face that were most dysphoria inducing.

Slowly by 2018 though, I accepted that I am a woman, even if I am a gender-nonconforming, nonbinary tomboy, and I started to take the medical transition steps that I needed. I started hormones 4 years ago this month which is one of the best decisions of my life. My body quickly began to change shape into the beautiful curvy shape I am now. And in October 2018, I finally took the scary step of shaving off my beard and facing the long uphill battle of hair removal.

Now I am nearly complete with my physical transition. I am still trying to get insurance coverage for the last remaining hair removal I need to be able to stop shaving occasionally but my surgeries are finished and my body finally reflects what I want to see. I am so happy that my face has softened and rounded out and that my breasts have filled in and give shape to my clothing. Getting here was a long hard path but now I get to reap the reward and enjoy myself more. I still have mental health challenges, but I no longer feel ugly all the time and avoid looking at myself in the mirror. I appreciate the body that I have, even if it took modification to get here.

Thank you to all the people that have supported me on this journey, both emotionally and financially. Being trans is hard and expensive at times but the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow is definitely worth it.

Me today in March 2022
Me in 2016 before my physical transition

Sex and Dating Updates

Things in my sex life have finally been going much better. I still have only orgasmed on my own the once but it’s starting to get a lot more reliable with good partners. One person even managed to give me the best orgasms of my life two dates in a row! It’s nice to not end sex frustrated and worried about when and if it is going to happen. Instead I get to have that nice satisfied feeling and all the happy endorphins that I missed so much after my first surgery.

The new orgasms feel so different than with my old parts. Before it was like climbing a mountain, seeing a beautiful view, and then coming down much faster than you went up. Now it’s more like cresting waves that build on each other until they crash on a beach and slowly ebb away. It’s a lovely feeling that always leaves me feeling so happy and contented. I’m really glad I got the revision surgery.

I’ve also continued to experiment with men and it’s really solidified for me that while I may be a little bit bisexual and it is very validating to be attractive to straight men, I really am very lesbian leaning. I enjoy dating women and enbies in a way that I just don’t get the same fulfillment with men, whether they’re cis or trans.

I’ve started doing more dating lately, still with a lot of COVID precautions in place, and it feels good to have that fun new relationship energy and to delve more deeply into existing relationships in my life. I’m really thankful to have so many supportive and loving people in my life.

Solo Adventures

I did it! After well over a year of trying I finally orgasmed from masturbation!

This feels like a major milestone for me. Sex with a partner is absolutely wonderful but it feels empowering to be able to give that to yourself when you need a release. I’m so happy to finally have gotten to this point in healing.

It’s been 17 months since my initial surgery and 3 months since my revision. It took a lot of experimentation and some fancy toys from Babeland but I finally got here!

Granulation tissue again

I was so excited to reach the 6 week mark after my revision surgery so I could get in the hot tub and have sex again. But when I reached that point and did those things I started bleeding again. I went to the doctor to get it checked out and luckily it’s not an open wound but it is more granulation tissue.

That means that I need to treat it with silver nitrate weekly until it clears up and possibly wait another couple months before having sex or hot tubbing again. Ugh.

Back home

I’m back home safe and sound now and so happy to spend time with my pets and sleep in my own bed. One of my partners came down to join my spouse and I the last week and the two of them drove me back. We took two days and stopped often to stretch and keep my blood flowing.

Remarkably, the trip was pain free from a surgical site perspective which I didn’t expect. My back hurt by the end but that’s chronic pain life for you. Now that I’m home I’m going to be weaning off of the Gabapentin and hopefully feel less out of it.

I tried to take my normal 1 mile walk with the dogs this morning and realized halfway through that it was a bad idea. My body feels so weak and it was really hard to finish. Just because I’m not in pain doesn’t mean I’m fully healed. Now comes the hard part of letting people take care of me now that I’m home and feeling mostly better. I still can’t submerge in water, have sex, or lift anything heavy for another month.

Second post op

I had my second and final post op appointment today and it was a bittersweet moment hopefully seeing my surgical team for the last time. Today’s big hurdle was the “bladder trial” where they pump me full of saline, take out the catheter and see if I can pee the full volume. Luckily this time I passed easily unlike after my first surgery. Everything else looked good other than my persistent yeast infection.

After that I hit the road and two of my partners drove me halfway back home. On Tuesday when I had a short outing in the car I was hurting a lot so I was worried but today was relatively pain free so I feel very thankful. I’m really lucky to have not one but two caretakers here with me. I wish everyone could have that privilege.

Missing home

I miss my pets, my bed, my chosen family, my chair, and my mountain. I just want to be healing at home instead of stuck in an overpriced Airbnb in a strange city just because Seattle doesn’t have trans bottom surgeons.

When we talk about trans health equity, a big part of that is easy access to care instead of driving halfway down the coast (or across the state at best) and spending exorbitant amounts on housing to get the care we need.