My Transgender Life: Learning to Say Thank You

There is always another stretch!

I learned this from many of the growth seminars I attended over the past decade. Certainly, transitioning gender was a mighty stretch for me, my friends and my family. In many ways this is now old news, and each day is a new adventure, which provides another chance to stretch and grow.

Last Saturday night was a grand time at The Tiffany Club of New England's annual BBQ. TCNE is one of the oldest transgender support groups and for over 30 years has provided a facility where gender variant people can come and meet others like themselves for friendship and support. With weekly open houses it is fairly unique in the transgender community, and over the past three decades has made a difference in many lives, mine included.

After I was finished grilling up the burgers, dogs, chicken and veggies for close to 30 people, I had a chance to get some food myself and then chat with some of the folks present. It was then that a new learning entered my awareness.

One of the club's newer members, Shawna and I started to chat.

She kindly said, "Grace, you really look nice tonight. You look nicer than usual."

I froze! Have you ever had that moment when you are not sure whether you were receiving a compliment or maybe getting some kind of passive aggressive "diss?" I am pretty aware with all the hiding and protecting that I have done for so much of my life it has been almost impossible for me to take in complement, and even if I could take it in, what in the world would I do with it or respond to it? That freeze moment that I experienced, which to the outside world may be one to two seconds, internally seemed like hours and hours of internal debate.

"What did I hear?" one of my internal voices cried out. Another voice yelled that she heard Shawna say that she thought I usually look pretty bad, while another was pleading everyone to slow down and stay present. "She said you looked nice, just stay with that," the voice continued.

I have been through these internal conversations so many times before and most often that angry and pissed off voice usually did not wait for any other thoughts and lashed out with "Oh, you mean I usually look bad," comment. But not this night! The voice pleading to slow down seemed to get heard and what came out of my mouth was a real and sincere, "Thank you so much!"

While this only took second or so, I was focusing inside me, and I did not notice the similar look on Shawna's face that indicated that she too had frozen as soon as she spoke to me. Once I said thanks, she looked right at me for a second and shared that she immediately felt that she said the wrong thing and there was an internally dialog going on in her head and was so hoping that she did not hurt my feelings by indicating that I did not look good previously to this evening. She said she did not mean to say anything negative but just wanted to compliment me. I shared with her that my internal voices immediately went to that negative space but perhaps for one of the first times in my life, I was able to slow down the internal conversation and actually process the compliment. We then had an incredible conversation about how easy it is for us to go to the dark places rather than the ones that shine.

I don't know if this is the socialization that is different between boys and girls growing up, or socialization of people who may be hiding parts of their true selves from everyone around them, or something else entirely. I do know that for most of my life I would live in the paradox of wanting acknowledgments and compliments and if they ever came my way -- and I do know that many have, I would instantaneously reject them in such a way that would make the giver of such sorry that they even bothered. My desire to want to belong, want to be seen, wanting and needing to be valued and valuable, was triggering the don't dare get too close to me parts that would react without thinking and push that giver as far away as possible.

Since my transition it has still been hard to work with these parts, and letting them know it is OK to receive a compliment and just say thank you. Whether people say I am brave or courageous, or just look nice it has been hard to take in. It really is!

However, this Saturday night I became aware of something new. There are no other hooks or commitments involved. I am open and free and pushing other people away in fear of finding out who I truly am, no longer has any purpose.

At long last I am learning to say thank you. It is actually pretty cool.

Now, on to my next stretch.

How about you?

( Oh, and a big heartfelt thank you for reading my blogs.)

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Grace Stevens is a transgender woman who transitioned at the age of 64 and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a father of three, grandparent of two, athlete, advocate and author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman. Grace is available for speaking about authentic living with Living on-TRACK, and Gender Variance Education and Training. Visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .