Working Undercover

29550850_10103205720063201_1126309234_n.jpg

Working in Higher Education gives me an incredible opportunity to work with college students at such an important time in their lives. I find myself looking at ways to challenge their thinking and help them become the best versions of themselves. I appreciate opportunities to have difficult conversations with them and let them know that some of these sensitive topics are great to talk about while opening their eyes on new perspectives.

Tonight we ran a program on gender. A friend of mine who is a transman came and did a presentation on his life and his journey to find his path. His presentation was incredible. He spoke openly and frankly about his experiences and gave real life stories about the challenges that he has faced as he has worked to live his truths. He has no idea that I am transgender as well.

I was experiencing a pretty tough day gender wise and the presentation made it worse. It is always so exciting and inspiring to see others who are living their truths and finding their best lives but on this day, it was just hard. I heard his stories about the excitement of growing facial hair or how much he hated the clothes he was forced to wear and I thought about how I felt so much further the other way – I can’t stand how dark my facial hair comes in and the clothes that he shunned were the ones I felt so at home in. Every story of his successes made me question myself. It was inspiring to hear his stories – to hear that he came out as trans and the young people around him were all cool with it, the important people in his family embraced him and the ones that didn’t just didn’t matter. There are so many similarities in our stories but I’m too scared to find my own truths.

Today, I was the ally. I was the person reiterating that you could be a football loving white guy and still be supportive of trans issues. You could be the straight white guy who works out constantly and be an ally. In my community that is a valuable lesson to teach – to allow people to feel safe to come into my office and talk about these difficult things, to know that they have a safe space. We talked about statistics – about suicide, about homelessness, about discrimination – and I sat there and listened. He spoke about how the statistic about suicide speaks to him and how he was part of that statistic. The room was somber but the message was so powerful. I wanted to share that I was part of that statistic as well. But I was too scared. Instead I held back tears as we talked more openly about how difficult it is for transpeople and why programs like this are so important so that people can be more open and inclusive to people different from them and so people can understand a little more about the troubles we go through. I was commended for being willing to sponsor the program and help get the message out. Commended because I KNEW it mattered – but if people knew just how much I knew they would be truly shocked. Perhaps they would be just as supportive and encouraging as what my friend had experienced – I just don’t have that courage.

I have tried for so long to lead by example. As Ashlee, I want to change people’s perceptions and stigmas about a transperson and appreciate me for who I am and recognize that I don’t want any trouble – that we don’t want any trouble – but that we just want to be happy and be our truest self. As a male, I want to help the conversation continue – I want people to know it’s ok to talk about this and that we can use our privilege to better the world. I’ve been praised countless times for my support for the LGBT community but on days like today I feel like I’m living a lie. There is a real benefit in getting this information out there and for someone who looks the way I am currently presenting to be someone leading the charge but sometimes it feels rotten.

I caught myself hearing his stories – talking about all the little anxeities that creep up and the stresses that you feel jut knowing that things are right, that your body isnt right, that you hate who you see in the mirror. The way that it feels to be told that you are an attractive male. It’s not me. I think of myself answering some of those Q&As and how some of my answers would be similiar and how some might be so different but just how much I wanted that moment. Maybe some day.

❤ Ashlee

Inspiration of Wonder

original-3309476-3-1

I had lunch with a friend on Friday and we got to talking about infusing more kindness into the world and she shared how she had just finished a book called WONDER by RJ Palacio and how inspiring it was. WONDER tells the story of August “Auggie” Pullman, a boy with facial differences from Treacher Collins Syndrome (TCS) who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time. As we discussed the book and Auggie’s experience adapting along with those around him, I was hooked and began putting a note about it in my phone before my friend mentioned that she actually had the book in her car and would lend it to me. I don’t read as often as I should but am currently reading two other books right now: Fish in a Tree and Adult Children of Alcoholics – we’ll save that for another blog – but I was eager to add this to my list. My friend didn’t seem to need it back any time soon so I could take my time.

Walking back to the office, I thought about the book a lot. The social dynamics of the book intrigued me. How would Auggie fit into his school? My friend shared how Auggie struggled with his appearance, hated standing out, and felt like a freak – little did she know how relatable that was. Relating to his struggle broke my heart. People can be cruel and middle school can be the worst of it. I hoped for the happy ending where everyone stopped judging the book by his cover and started appreciating him for his heart. As difficult as these situations can be, I am a sucker for a good teachable moment and knowing that people are uplifted. In the LGBT community, I think of the It Gets Better Project and love the amazing stories that come through that and the many people who have fought through their struggles and have found that it does truly get better. That’s what I wanted from this book – another opportunity to believe in the good of humanity. I thought about the other two books I had at home and was determined to get through it.

I got home from work and had starred a blog that a friend of my had shared. The author wrote about her gender non-conforming son who had been bullied. Again, my heart broke for this child as their story was told in this blog and highlighted how former best friends were part of the bullying – one who had recently told them that they couldn’t be friends anymore because her family didn’t believe in homosexuality. I read more of her blog posts and came across a section where she also described her child as a wonder and went on to share about how she had gotten that from the book. I felt like it was an incredible sign – I needed to start reading it tonight.

Spoiler – the book was incredible. (There are some spoilers below for both the book and the movie) If you are looking for a good feel good story, you need to check it out. If movies are more your thing, they did a wonderful adaption starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson that is available at your local Red Box now! I read 200 pages in one sitting before I finally went to sleep around 12:30 last night. Woke up this morning, went to the gym, and came home and finished the last 100 pages – by far the quickest I have ever been through a book – ran some errands and stopped to Red Box the movie which I just finished before starting the blog. The book just spoke to me and though different, some of Auggie’s feeling were relatable. I cried multiple times at the passages – sometimes because my heart broke for Auggie, but others because they were just too real to me. I could not put the book down. I needed this book and then along came a sign that really struck.

29405426_10103197099638601_2132074783_o     29681019_10103197104174511_2127757658_o

Just months ago I was in a dark spot. Driving home after an Ashlee night a few months back “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera came on the radio. It was such an empowering moment and almost a turning point of truly embracing and appreciating myself as Ashlee. I belong here and I am worth it. This song has become an anthem for me and a great way to build me back up when I am having gender identity issues – and now here it is in this book. I hope that Auggie – and others struggling – can find that same sense of peace in these lyrics. We are all beautiful for who we are. We are the best and most polished versions of ourselves. We all have our place on this earth and we can each make it a better place. Unfortunately, this world can be cruel and this is a powerful reminder to not let those words take you down. I got such a great feeling in seeing this quote. It was a strong reminder of my own battles, my own journey, the small wins that I’ve gotten along the way. I’m finally taking control. It DID get better.

Like Auggie, I can continue to work through my insecurities, battle my own self doubt, and move towards a happy ending. I often appreciate being a positive face for the transgender community and I hope that I can be a part of those teachable moments for people. I have been lucky to feel like I’ve had positive experiences while out in the “real world.” People are genuinely kind to me and seem to appreciate that I have the confidence to be my truest self. In many instances, I do blend right in when people aren’t paying attention but if they are, they see a polite and respectful woman and hopefully some negative perceptions can change. I may be different and that’s ok but it’s pretty cool to have the people who do identify me as different treat me no different from if they hadn’t.

One of the issues I did have with the book was the entitled attitude of the privileged child in the book and the mother’s response as well. At one point, the mother works to photoshop Auggie out of the class picture so that it is more appropriate for her people. She further pushes the school board to reexamine Auggie’s admission saying that the school is not an ‘Inclusion School’ and wondering if a child that was previously homeschooled earned their spot – but make no mistake, she was being a judgy jackass.

Unfortunately, this is where the crap starts and it is disgusting that we are still here. Hate is not in us – we learn that. Many times we learn it from our parents and those people that are supposed to love us the most and show us the way. We need to be better here and do a better job to educate our young people and teach love and acceptance. This mother was a bully and her son ended up being the biggest problem child in the book and was terrible just because Auggie was a little different. The book was fantastic and the movie was great. We got the feel good moment where the kids realized that Auggie was not as different as they thought he was and they could accept him for the smart, funny, and dynamic kid he was. Allowing that made him shine and know that he had found a home.

But as great as these feel good stories are, why does it take so long? Why does someone like Auggie have to go through such chaos to get to those points? For all the great happy endings there are so many sad stories of bullying that leave lasting scars for years. We cannot allow it to continue. We need to be better and we need to work with our young people to teach them to choose the love over kindness. We all have our battles but the more we lift each other up the happier and better off we’ll all be. If you’re looking for some inspiration or just want to check out a feel good story, this book/movie has it all.  Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

❤ Ashlee

 

Letting the Light Shine

28379430_10208761735119066_2473080394301562653_n

I opened facebook today to see they celebrated my Winter Memories. I saw a beautiful spread of pictures from the last few weeks and it was so exciting to see how much I have been able to be Ashlee lately. This last stretch has been some of the most consistent that I have had which has been so great for my soul to constantly have things to look forward to. When my night ends, I don’t worry about how long it will be and with that, it feels so much more true to my soul that this IS my truest self.

This picture above was one of the memories that facebook posted and it was from a very tough time that I was having even in the thick of this great stretch. Sometimes I still struggle and wonder if I am ever enough. That night, I wrote the following…

“Struggling mightily the last 24 hours with my gender identity and my path in life. Feeling as if my identity is not valid because of the choices I’ve had to make in life and struggling with the thought that I am not “trans enough” and how others can look at my struggle as fraudulent.

I saw saw this post this morning and it brought me to tears and gave me a feeling of hope and renewed my faith to see that i am truly not alone in what I feel. I have known for a long time that in a perfect world transition would be the best thing for me personally but the world is not perfect and circumstances have made me feel that I need to misgender myself. And at this point in life, that can be ok and I can look at my progresses and committing to find more time to be my most authentic self as a huge win and something to be proud of.

I know my struggles and I know deep in my heart who I am within my soul. The struggle will always be there but it’s little things like reading this post that are a great reminder that i am not alone and it’s ok to be where I am.

Most importantly, I am so thankful for the many good people who are affirming, loving, and supportive. That love and kindness has built me up so much and helped me get to points that were unimaginable. Quite frankly, without the love and support from people within my social media circle I would not be here right now. I am so grateful for you all. Please keep putting love and kindness into this world – we all need more of it.

The struggle of not being trans enough has always been a struggle of mine. It can be incredible how some people can be so eager to police someone’s gender or their experience. Just because someone’s struggle doesn’t look the same as yours it doesn’t mean that it’s any less valid. We all have our battles and we all have to do what is best for us – whatever we think that may be. All we can do is our best. I have always struggled in the trans community with people getting angry – and some even mean and hurtful – because my struggle is not the same as theirs. One time, I was completely berated by someone who I counted on as a friend, and in many ways we started our journey together, all because I didn’t handle things the same way that she did. In her mind, because I wasn’t as desperate to transition as she was that I was a phony. My situation is different from hers – and that has to be ok. Another time, shortly after I started going out, another older woman got angry at me because I wouldn’t sign her petition with my ‘real name’ and address and phone number. She yelled at me and told me I shouldn’t come back to the club I was at because I was just some ‘faker freak.’ She told me I was young and had my whole life ahead of me so I had to transition – and when I told her I wasn’t considering that she was hateful and mean to the point that I left. I struggle going back to those clubs because of that experience.

Thankfully, I have found a great group to be a part of and have found tremendous love and support near and far. So much love and kindness is out there and people can appreciate me for me – not worry about my gender but appreciate my genuineness. When people see me as Ashlee, they see a different person and they see my truest and most authentic self. That’s what they judge me on. Talking to a friend recently who I have known for 10 years, she noted there following: i thought you were a very kind, caring, incredibly nice person before, but i didn’t know you very well. But now that i know you as Ashlee, i feel like i know you better and can see the light that you shine wherever you go!
What an observation! It speaks for the confidence and happiness coming out that I can just be truest to myself and the goodness that comes out. I can be more real and more authentic and that makes me the best person that I can be.

So many reminders are all over social media. Some can be challenging and difficult to take on but sometimes if you can appreciate just how far you’ve come, it can be a wonderful thing. Even just looking at where I was a month ago to now I have come so far and continue to embrace myself as Ashlee and appreciate the good people that will celebrate me too. Ultimately, this is my journey and I’m the one in charge of it. The negatives from others don’t matter and there is so much kindness in the world that there is so much better ahead. I don’t know where my journey is going to take me. I don’t know what I’m going to do but I do know I have good people that have my back and are in my corner. When you put out happiness and kindness it often comes back to you. Never feeling comfortable in my own skin as a guy held me back but my opportunity to explore life as Ashlee more has allowed my light to really shine and people are appreciative of it. Those are the people that matter. I may have to misgender myself more than I would want to right now but that can be ok. Because I am working at doing MY best so many people are seeing the true light in my heart. There is so much wonderful ahead.

❤ Ashlee

Reacting with Love

screen-shot-2016-02-28-3

Experiencing life in two genders can be such an incredible look at the way that we are socialized and how we are expected to act. Even the different mannerisms and cues that we each have become so different. Being someone who is trans but has very masculine tendencies these are things that I had considered when I finally began allowing my Ashlee side to live and get out there more. It can take a lot of mental thought to sit or stand a certain way that ‘Ashlee’ might do as opposed to what I have been socialized to do my whole life.

Recently, I found this hit me over the head on social media. Facebook’s new reactions have been a fun addition to the site. It can certainly cause uproar in some instances but for someone like me that really just uses facebook to keep up with people in my life it was a pretty simple addition. I have a facebook account for both my male and female accounts and on my Ashlee account I can’t hit that love button enough. Seeing other people happy is one of the things that makes me truly happy and knowing that someone is able to celebrate their wins on facebook is truly awesome, it doesn’t matter what it is. I think back to all the LOVES I’ve hit on my Ashlee page in the last week alone – a friend posts a selfie that she feels great about and you can see the confidence beaming from her: LOVE, a friend celebrates a new life change that has made her life free and wonderful: LOVE, a friend posts a loving picture with her child: LOVE, a friend NAILED a makeup look she has been working on: LOVE, a friend posts something proud of quitting smoking: LOVE, a friend posts an inspirational quote that really hit me: LOVE, a friend writes a blog that speaks to me: LOVE, a friend posts something where you can just see that she might need a little bit of love and support: LOVE – you’ve got this girl! Spreading the love is a wonderful thing – and from me it’s real. Each of those examples I listed – along with the many others I didn’t – are things that make me happy because I know that these things are making those people happy and that’s an awesome thing to celebrate and as Ashlee, it’s great to be able to do that and be real and spread that love and just send that message to the poster to say “this is fucking awesome.”

I had been on a run of LOVES on my Ashlee page and then logged over to my guy page. I scrolled through it a bit and found a beautiful picture of a friend of mine with his wife and young child and they looked absolutely adorable and so happy. I immediately hit the LOVE button….but then I remembered I wasn’t on my Ashlee page any longer…and then I changed the LOVE to a LIKE. I sat back and thought about the thought process that went into that. Just minutes ago I was loving posts left and right but the “change” in the person made me feel that I couldn’t show that same level of enthusiasm. I had to tone it down. It may be “just another like or love” to the poster and something that they wouldn’t think anything about otherwise, but I instantly felt a little bit of shame over it – like it wasn’t ok for me to LOVE this other guy’s picture. This is someone that I have been friends with for 20 years. Someone that works hard and has always been a great person – why wouldn’t I LOVE the fact that he has found a wonderful woman that he loves and has created a beautiful little family life? It’s just different for guys – and that’s kind of crappy.

As I have come out to more people, those that know me well would talk about how I always had those traits that are considered “more female” – that I was caring and empathetic and that I was more “soft” than most guys – but that I was this football player so how could anyone really expect this? Some of these things that I almost felt like I had to tone down to not be considered weak were actually points of strength and points that I should be willing to embrace and own. What a freeing feeling that realization was! As I have become more comfortable with myself and gotten that reinforcement to just be me, I have been able to allow that soft side to show more and it’s amazing the positive impact that it seems to show in my male life as well.

I really started letting it loose in the workplace. I work with college students and have always had that jock image – but more recently I have used it to my benefit to get students to think differently. If I can have a caring and supportive mindset and allow someone to be soft, then anyone would. If I say it’s ok to cry or show some emotion then people – my male students especially – feel ok and safe to do so. What an awesome power! I’ve created this wonderful safe space for my students – a spot that they can let their guard down and where they can be their true selves and not worry about that macho bullshit that they might feel they have to let out otherwise. Not only has this space been created but they come back for more and know that they can count on me. I’ve always had that knack with students but this has allowed a whole new opportunity and allows me to better do my job to support students. In my personal life, it has been a tremendous benefit as well to support my friends and allow them to be open and real. Allowing friends that have been buttoned up for 20 years to come out with their own struggles and frustrations I have been able to offer true help and support much more than the “it’ll be ok, man. You’ll get through it” bullshit that most men deal with. My friends are thriving and getting the appropriate support that they likely wouldn’t be doing otherwise – and I am damn proud of that!

It’s funny to have a sneak peak into life as both male and female and see the noticeable differences. Here’s to hoping that we can do better as we move forward – to know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, to empower ALL of our children, to teach consent and respect at an early age, to give all of our children their best opportunity to be the best person that they can be. But I do hope to continue to spread that goodness to all the people I can. To be more willing to talk about our feelings and not be ashamed of them. To know that there is a lot of wonderful in this world and the more that we can appreciate and build each other up the more wonderful it can be. I’m committed to continue to lead by example and hope that it can continue to blossom and that we can all just live our most authentic and true lives. It just feels better that way.

❤ Ashlee

30 Day Prompt – Day Six

When did I experience joy this week?

Celebration. Happiness. Joy. My whole life I have found the most joy in watching others. Knowing that I have contributed to making someone else happy is what makes me the most happy. I think it is because I know what it is like to be so sad and I don’t want others to feel that way. When I can make a difference in someone’s life, it gets me on a high much stronger than I can ever do on my own.

This past weekend I planned a birthday party for someone very close to me. It was such a thrill to see how happy they were and how appreciative that they were with everything. It is so great to see their friends and family come together to celebrate them and how happy they were in their element. The birthday party was perfection and was exactly what they would have wanted. Society and life can beat you down but for just this one day my friend could take everything in and and appreciate a day about them. It was a beautiful thing.

The feeling of a job well done is also a big high for me. It is something I struggled to get praise for because I grew up in an alcoholic family. I always felt I had to rise up and do more and no matter what I did it was never noticed or never good enough for anyone. I had to work so hard to get recognized so even still as an adult getting that praise for a job well done is so good for my soul. Friends and family were very appreciative of my work to put on a party for my friend and bring everyone together – another thing that I have always been good at as someone who didn’t really have family growing up so I had to rely on my friends to be my family. I am fortunate to have a great big group of friends from when I grew up and I am often credited with being a big reason why everyone is still so tight to this day because I am the one bringing people together and focusing on traditions and keeping the important things alive.

Doing things for others will always be my biggest motivation in life. It makes me think of one of my favorite quotes: Be the person that you needed when you were younger. I remember the first time seeing that quote and how it hit me. That it brought me to tears That I knew that it was everything I ever needed – that I had dedicated my life to helping young people and getting involved in helping college students at such a transformational time in their lives. I have wanted to be that person – I wanted to be that person who believes in people when they don’t believe in themselves. Turns out that I AM that person.

It’s been one hell of a year. There has been so much stress and anxiousness going on. I am beginning to find myself in ways that I never felt possible. I have had a tough year but I am going strong. My support and love for others is what keeps me going and continuing to push forward. Thinking over the past few days and the work that I’ve done with people it is always great to reflect on what I do for others and how I champion self care and self love for others – if now I could just do it for myself.

My self esteem has always been horrible. I have never believed in myself and question so much of my life. I have attempted suicide multiple times and have been pushed to the limits of thinking this world would be better off without me more than I can count – but thankfully I am still here. I have more self doubt than just about anyone I know which is surprising because most people think that I have it together. I don’t doubt my heart. I don’t doubt what I do for others and how hard I work to make sure that people feel loved and supported. When I think about what brings me joy it comes back to the joy that I can put in the hearts of others. When I see that I’ve made a difference in someone’s life that’s when I know I’m successful.

❤ Ashlee

 

 

30 Day Prompt – Day Five

What are 10 things that I’m grateful for?

As I have taken this blogging challenge I have been writing more on a computer than I have in a long time. Typing all these words out is much different than the physical act of writing so a simple list comes in handy today. My ten things are below.

  1. The people that love me unconditionally.
  2. Tremendous friends in real life and online.
  3. Coming to terms with who I am and letting her soar.
  4. The successes in my coming out stories.
  5. An ability to allow myself self care and reflection time.
  6. A drive to stay active and get out doors.
  7. The necessities of knowing I have a safe home, food to eat, and warm clothes.
  8. Long term friendships that never go out of style.
  9. Vacation planning.
  10. The fact I am still here.

Lists like these are inspiring and give you a great opportunity to reflect and appreciate what you have. It’s a nice reminder to check in with myself and know that I’m doing ok.

❤ Ashlee

30 Day Prompts – Day Three

What would make me happy right now?

Consistency. Finding my path.

For years I have lived a life thinking that I am stuck. Stuck as a male who cannot transition or find a true path as Ashlee. My life was a secret and I lived in such shame, not believing I had this life in me. I have lived for so many other people and thoughts that I could never truly transition and that I would have to live in this life forever. Never quite fulfilled.

More recently though, I have challenged that thought. I have looked at different options and considered a transition more than ever before. For the first time in my life it looks doable – even believing in that is such a huge piece for me. I still feel like I have so many roadblocks – highlighted by my want to live for others instead of living for myself – but for the fist time there is a true hope.

I came out to many friends that I have known for a long time over the summer and their acceptance helped me get into a groove that I had not found in 10 years. I have been able to prioritize Ashlee time and make it my own. I have had 8 straight months of at least one Ashlee night and many of those months have had multiple opportunities. I am connecting with friends – those that I knew as a guy and online friends that I have known only through a computer. Most recently, I found outings just days apart with online friends that have built me up and made me feel welcome. They did not look at me different but they looked at me as a woman. The gender didn’t matter – I was their friend.

The idea of acceptance has been a beautiful thing. There is so much growth among our society and something that seems like such a big deal years ago really seems small now – I am judged for the person that I am and nothing else. It’s all about what is in my heart. Last week we saw International Women’s Day. So many people were quick to point out the importance of including ALL women – women of color, women with disabilities, and so many more, including transwomen. While it is always great to see that represented on random posts it really meant something to me when I had friends on both ends reaching out and wanting to include me as well. I have been accepted and loved as a woman.

As I move ahead and think about what will make me happy – I need more consistency. I don’t know where these gender issues will take me but having a plan is so helpful. One of the most important things and keeping me in my groove has been to have something to look forward to each time. I planned the next outing to keep a focus and know that even at the end of the night as I have to take my true face off that I still had something to look forward to. A true commitment to loving and embracing Ashlee has worked wonders for everything that I needed. That commitment to the next time has been a huge help but as I look forward I want to have a new plan to find the consistency in my options. Is there a way to give myself a few times a month? Can I make Wednesdays Ashlee nights? Are there different ways to incorporate Ashlee time even in the busy times? Finding those boundaries and setting those goals should help me find that peace into myself and the more that I can find that peace and the more I can break those parts down, the happier I will be. So much good ahead.

❤ Ashlee