Speaking About Transgender Realities at the University of Rochester

This past Saturday, March 22, 2014, I had an opportunity to speak about transgender realities at the University of Rochester. It was my 6th time talking publicly about transgender awareness and education.

A long time ago, in a hospital far, far away…
I start by telling my personal story: from birth to where I am today. It’s limited to key points in my life as they pertain to growing up different (trans) in a world that demands conformity and punishes those who fall outside “social norms”.

Some rather painful and emotionally devastating moments are shared. In contrast, I incorporate humor to keep things fresh, fun, and prevent the audience from loosing interest.


Talking to Teens and Coming Out to Mom

Gabrielle and MomLast week, Thursday was a day of teaching, personal growth, and another adventure in coming out. It started out with an early morning SafeZone presentation at a local high school.

Along with two other speakers, I was deployed by the GAGV, to educate teenage students about LGBTQ realities, share our personal stories and struggles, and answer questions. The school’s health teacher requested the presentation. There was a complete lack LGBTQ coverage within the standard curriculum in my school days (back in the 1980′s). This is, unfortunately, still pretty much the standard today. It’s promising to know there are such forward thinking teachers working hard to offer more of a real-world and well rounded education, above and beyond the status quo.

Talking, sharing, educating
Matthew (not his real name), a well spoken and very stylish gay man in his 30′s (who runs a local gay youth group) started out the presentation with a general overview things, and then we each told our personal stories. I went first, followed by Linda (not her real name), an attractive 30-something lesbian, and then Matthew. Having only met Linda and Matthew for the first time only minutes before the presentation, it was really interesting to hear their stories.

After sharing our personal stories, Matthew did a superb job explaining aspects of LGBTQ people that are often confusing to “straight” folk. The social structure in high school can be pretty brutal and restricting. As a result, teenage students may be reluctant to ask questions (verbally, in front of the class) out of fear of ridicule by their peers. We asked them to write down their questions on a piece of paper and place it in a basket that was passed around the room.

Getting shy teenagers to open up
During our first of two presentations, very few questions ended up in the basket. For the second presentation, I added, “I’d like everyone to please write down something and place it into the basket. If you don’t have a question, then write down the name of your favorite band.” That seemed to work better now that every student was expected to write something. There were several good questions submitted by the second class… and a few favorite bands.


“What the Hell Was That?”, He Asked His Friends, Referring to Me

Gabrielle's New Year Portrait 20142013 was a year filled with beautiful new experiences, new friends, personal growth and important life lessons. In 2014 I plan to continue working toward my goal of living life (full-time) as a trans woman and fostering much needed, positive trans awareness in society. Among other things, it includes taking every opportunity to attend to public aspects of life in my female form; as my true self (Gabrielle, not my man-facade).

The photo (upper-left) was taken just before heading out to make a few purchases from a local grocery store, and meet up with a friend at a local coffee shop. I ended up wearing a faux leather hat, which my wife, the Fabulous Mrs. H., recommended just before leaving the house. You can see the hat here in my Flickr photo.

Continued positive public experiences
I’ve gone grocery shopping several times over the last few months (in my female form) without a hitch. I’m happy to say it’s almost become routine and boring. Almost. I still experience some fear in doing so, but I know that the fear is a lie, and I choose not to listen to it. With an “I don’t care what people think of me” attitude, I just go about my business, and things tend to go very smoothly. No one has laughed at me in public in quite some time.

More often than not, the grocery store cashiers seem to be a little shy around me, or perhaps slightly uncomfortable. It’s an understandable reaction in dealing with a trans woman, which is something they probably don’t encounter in day to day life, and so may be filled with the usual misconceptions. Even though they’re a little quieter when dealing with me, and often make as little eye contact as possible, they’ve been nothing but polite and professional, and I’m pleased with that.

I’m a person, NOT a thing
As I approached the grocery store this past Saturday, a group of four teenage boys were making their exit. They stopped talking immediately upon noticing me, and made no effort to disguise their stares. Just as we had passed by each other and they were now behind me, I clearly heard one of them comment, “What the hell was that?!”, referring to me as the “that”.



Trans Sci-Fi Geek Humor In Vader

Gabrielle and Darth Vader

A few days ago, while hanging out with some trans friends of mine at a local coffee shop, I got into some rather geeky sci-fi conversation. It’s really awesome to not only have a growing number of trans friends, but also (at least one) rather geeky friend: a trans woman who can actually speak some Klingon!

I don’t usually do impressions, but…
Star Wars and Darth Vader came up during the conversation. Jumping on an opportunity to get a chuckle, I did a quick impression of Darth Vader saying a line from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. In my best Darth Vader voice I said, “Obi-Wan never told you the truth about your faatherrrr.”

Everyone within an earshot stopped talking and looked at me with wide eyes as their jaws dropped. Whoa! Awkward silent moment!


First Time Talking LGBTQ Education in Front of a Live Audience

Gabrielle, Dec. 12, 2013In late November, I attended a 2-day SpeakOUT Workshop to learn how to be an effective public speaker. It was just the first step in my ongoing training. Last week, I was given an opportunity to put my training to use for the first time.

An opportunity
Jeanne Gainsburg, a straight alley, Outreach Coordinator and Education Director at the GAGV, asked if I would be willing to assist with a 2 hour SafeZone presentation for the staff of a local halfway house. Delighted and honored, I agreed to help out.

The GAGV SafeZone program was created to “develop, enhance and maintain environments in workplaces, schools and other social settings that are culturally competent and supportive to LGBTQ individuals, as well as straight identified people who care about diversity, equality and inclusion.” Providing real-life perspective with the “T” end of things (transgender), was myself and a trans man I’ll refer to as “Brad” (not his real name). We took turns telling our personal life-stories and struggles involved growing up trans in a non-trans-friendly world. Even though I only met Brad for the first time just minutes before the presentation started, we made a rather effective tag-team during the Q & A portion.

Most of the presentation was handled by Jeanne. She did an excellent job presenting information, including the audience in group participatory learning activities, keeping things moving along at a good pace, and answering questions along the way. She’s been at this for 10 years and I enjoyed observing her in action while taking mental notes to learn from.

An interesting observation
While Jeanne was giving the main presentation, I stood several feet over to her right, visible to the halfway house staff. My focus shifted back and forth from observing Jeanne’s presentation and observing the counseling staff, curious to see what I could read from their facial expressions, in regard to how engaged or not engaged they were. My eyes met with many of the staff members as I scanned the room. Interestingly, they quickly looked away, breaking eye-contact.


Getting Out and Speaking Out

SpeakOut Certification

On Saturday, I completed a 2-day SpeakOUT training workshop. SpeakOUT is a program offered by The Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley. Its purpose is to improve the skills of graduates so they may effectively educate about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their allies.

The need to “speak out” in outreach programs
The reason I chose to take this workshop is because I feel a calling to get out and educate people about the realities of being transgender. There are many complex issues to cover, but perhaps the most significant point is a very simple one – the fact that trans people are far more similar to cisgender (non-trans) people, than we are different.

The SpeakOUT workshop was just the first step in many training workshops and activities I will need to take part in before a final graduation of sorts. If/when I pass the requirements necessary, I may be deployed to various organizations, companies, medical training centers, schools, etc. to tell my personal story, educate about trans realities, and answer questions.

It’s hard to explain, but I almost have a need to get out there and educate about trans realities and issues. This has been brewing within me for quite some time – especially after certain personal realities were realized.

The desire to go full time
My life is very busy and often rather hectic. There are never enough hours in the day to manage everything I need to do, let alone things I want to do. Many interesting things have been playing out in my life that haven’t been shared here due to lack of time. One of which is the realization that I’m more of a trans-woman-in-progress, than a crossdresser. These days, I only feel like I’m “crossdressing” when I’m at work (or wherever) putting on my “man act” to appease a world that expects me to be “a man”. I posted a very brief update this past July, to one of my more rushed writing jobs, that offers a little insight: Crossdressing Myth #2. There’s much I could write about this, and why it took so long to figure out. If time allows, I will elaborate in future updates.



Our Different Journey – Transgender Realization Stories

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Our Different Journey

The word “transgender” encompasses a very wide variety of gender variants that don’t conform to “social gender norms” based on one’s reproductive organs.

Many of us (trans folk) realized at an early age that we identified, at least in part, with the gender typically associated with the opposite sex, and grew up thinking that we were the only one who felt like this. We experienced confusion, struggles, fear, pain, and many of us eventually learned to accept being trans, and find much joy in it.

There are some general commonalities among trans folk, however there are also plenty of differences – from how we started out to where we are today, and everything in-between. Transgender people are as varied and different as non-trans people.

I’d like to bring awareness to a website dedicated to archiving and sharing the personal journeys of transgender people: Our Different Journey. This site is the brainchild of Lynn Jones, author of the long-running and frequently updated Yet Another T-girl Blog.

There are 16 unique, personal stories shared on the site as I write this. Among the journeys shared, you will find entries made by the founder herself: Lynn Jones, Petra Bellejambes (of “Voyages en Rose“), and my own recently shared experience: Gabrielle Hermosa.