Both Sides Now By Cora Treoir Duncan: Accepting and Embracing Imperfection

One of my cherished friends in the online Transgender community recently reached a new milestone in her ongoing quest for authenticity.

She was faced with a late night run-in with a mirror, seeing herself as she really is: her (now almost desired length) natural hair without her usual wig and her unmade-up face with overnight beard growth. She had a heart stopping epiphany of self-recognition and correctly identified the moment as it signaled another step forward in her Transition.

At 64, I’ve had my own share of those “get real” gifts. Last year at this time my face was splashed on the front page of The Canandaigua Messenger Post on a Sunday and Monday. I did a half hour on a morning talk radio show and was interviewed and featured on TV-10’s weekend news. I had no choice but to accept my presentation, though I stepped up my game and enlisted a great ally and girl friend to perform miracles with my hair and make up for the TV appearance.

When I sat for photographs for the newspaper I was in my early days of learning how to apply makeup, therefore I had little experience in enhancing my strengths and playing down my short comings. I figured, “Oh well! It’s a totally honest picture of change, of my transition to Cora in public with all the left over remnants of masculine presentation clinging to my face.” I had barely been on hormones four months so any effects were non-existent or invisible.

It would take another six months to really gain even an apprentice’s mastery of makeup. I had already started coloring my hair a few months prior to March 2015 with my original hair color. By late summer I would be golden blonde, waiting for the jokes to begin. My sartorial style has evolved almost organically, defined by my identity as a person. The best I can tell, it’s a patchwork quilt of original hippie, research librarian, flamboyant lead singer, hip school teacher and what’s now labeled “bohemian”.

It’s an unlikely mix, I know, but it’s me. I embrace it, fully realizing many of my clothing choices are reminiscent of what I saw women wearing for the last 40 years. I now get to wear what I admired from afar and have been able to acquire many items recycled from thrift shops and have done a modicum of online and in-store shopping for the rest.

So here I am in the mid-60s, doing my best not to embarrass myself by dressing too far from what is appropriate for my age group. Admittedly, 60 is the new 40 (as we boomers keep saying to ourselves hoping it is true) so I can get away with more than women may have been able to in the 1960s and 1970s when cultural norms were far more restrictive. As usual, I’m pushing the envelope, but I spent time in a mall researching what most women were wearing on a busy weekend. I targeted what I thought were the classiest ladies for common choices in attire and presentation, so I am reasonably confident I’m not making a fool of myself nor attracting undue attention.

There are some inescapable truths I have to accept: a small patch of pattern baldness that’s taking its damn time filling in, the aged-based deterioration of the skin around my eyes and the character lines that have begun to permanently etch themselves on my face, no matter how many times I exfoliate, make trips to the electrolysist or apply revitalizing collagen miracle cream to my face. I could be obsessing a lot about all of these; however it wouldn’t change the reality.

I am in the process of addressing all of these shortfalls. Then (of course) there’s my waistline. I lost a quick 30 pounds in the first six months of my transition, but upon beginning estrogen, I suddenly found myself subject to unbridled binges on nearly anything edible. Oh well, it will all redistribute thanks to the hormones, right? Ah, no! Apparently only the fat you add AFTER you start hormones transmogrifies into wide hips, a shapely rear and, most desired, two beautiful breasts.

Apparently I’m going to have to do some serious exercise this year. I’m inclined to do walking and/or swimming and as much dancing as I can. My sister has offered to pay for three months of a gym membership, but I’m wary of the commitment necessary to actually gain measurable results. And of course, I must face the hurdle of changing rooms to use more public utilities.

The inconvenient truth is that I’m nearing the end of middle age, as I define it by reaching 65 years. That thickening middle was an unwarranted side effect of hitting 50 and my last partner’s Italian-German cooking, which leaned far too heavily on pasta and pastries. My prior solo living stint was notable for walking two miles a day to work and eating a lot less, primarily because I wasn’t taking very good care of myself and because of a lack of funds necessary for a healthier diet.

One of the most important things any person in transition must do is pay extraordinary attention to one’s heath, monitoring all aspects of one’s body. This is extremely important for several reasons.

One: Estrogen and Spironolactone (AntiAndrogen|Testosterone Blocker) for Transwomen and Testosterone for Transmen are prescribed based on blood tests, body weight, age and other factors specific to each individual. This will involve an endocrinologist and one’s primary care doctor depending on each individual’s current health.

Two: Medically assisted transition is a very new process considering it really has less than 50 years of practice, observation and results for diagnostic reference. Essentially as Transgender individuals we are all science experiments conducted in real time. It behooves us to be cognizant of all perceptible physical changes we experience and keep in close contact with our health care providers.

It is also crucial that we do our best to monitor and adapt to the psychological shift that accompanies our journey. Having a strong connection with your Center and a clear picture of your current mental state are critical. Far too many of those in Transition leave their demons unchecked; unless one faces, embraces and erases their toxic control over one’s feelings, a person may find themselves without an anchor, adrift on the other side of the process. I believe that all would do well to pursue therapy for their answers and acceptance moving towards Self Love and Self Care.

We have all experienced regret at not starting earlier, not being pretty or handsome enough or being confronted with obstacles designed to impede our progress. Being content with who you are, where you are, when you are, how you are and why you are leads to the freedom inherent in accepting Imperfection. With that unbridled attitude I have been able to find compassion (first and foremost) for myself and forgive myself for not living up to the unreal expectations that I once employed and still entertain. I’ve learned to move beyond that rose-colored glass filter to a clearer understanding of my reality. What was once an effects-laden fantasy is now re-framed and re-envisioned as an imprecise documentary that rejoices in every variation from what is considered “normal” as a badge of honor. With this inner peace I am allowed occasional challenges to my equanimity without dissolving into a puddle of self doubt. These days my confidence and the virtual absence of self directed sabotage have bestowed on me a life of continuous curiosity, empowered exploration and positive progress.

I am lovingly marked with the character lines of experience that reflect my inconsistencies back to me every time. Here I am approaching last great chapter of my finite life story, engaged to the fullest, reflecting on my inglorious past and highlighting all those unique things about me that have contributed to creating this vast incredible tapestry. I feel energized, ready to give it all I have and finally deliver on the promise and potential that has waited offstage for the performance of a lifetime. I have been and will always be a magnificent mess, an unapologetic outsider and an imperfect example of humanity. I celebrate my own inner diversity and laugh at my petty fails with the knowledge that we all are identified by our own fingerprints as we smear that illusion of perfection.

I am what I am; confused and questing, learning and confident, chaotic and centered, undecided and pushing the envelope, caring and indifferent, giving and taking, beautiful and disturbing, entertaining and teaching, encyclopedic and ignorant, humble and incredibly vain, numb and full of power, scarred and pristine, a blurry picture and sharply in focus, on fire with youthful passion and truly exhausted and resigned; compassionate, a social justice monster with gentle hands, complex but easy to understand, active and lazy, satisfied and yearning, nearly sane and clearly crazy, sloppy and precise, intimate and vulnerable and loving, loved and lovable.

I’ll never be perfect but I have achieved imperfection. It was easy. Honest.

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