I am a Survivor

As I do every morning now, I tie a black cloth to my wrist. I repeat my daily mantra,
BlackWristtaking deep breaths between each sentence, “I am a Survivor. It’s over now. My abusers can no longer hurt me.” I close my eyes and try to let it sink in before starting my day. I am coping with PTSD from childhood abuse and bullying, and this routine helps to keep my demons at bay. Throughout the day, as things get too heavy or I realize that I am taking life too seriously, I try to consciously look at my wrist. I walk away and repeat my mantra. I’ve left many conversations open-ended, projects unfinished, and chores incomplete.

I will not go into the details of the abuse in this post, but would rather prefer to share with you some of my experiences with PTSD. Maybe you are suffering or know someone who is. If nothing else, I hope to help remove the stigma around mental illness.

My day begins at around 1 am. I wake up once, sometimes twice a night with feelings of extreme Guilt, as if I have done something horrible. I have been moved to write apology emails, text messages, and many letters at this time of night. I have apologized for not greeting someone at a restaurant. I wake up with intense Fear, believing I would be evicted, the utilities would be turned off, we would run out of food, or that I would be run out of my neighborhood or killed. I also wake up with inexplicable Sadness and Pain. Waking up in tears or screaming and having no idea why, I have been moved to believe that everyone hated me and was going to leave me. For much of my life, this was normalized to such a degree, I had no idea why it was happening. Now when I wake up with these feelings, I journal about them and return to bed. It is still almost every night.

I tie a piece of black fabric to my wrist and remind myself that the bad times are over, that I’m a survivor. I continue on with my day. I am a perfectionist and have dealt with high anxiety. I believed the excuses and blamed myself rather then accept the fact that those who sought to break me were doing just that. As a result, I served impossible standards. It was my fault for being weak, being emotional, being frail, being different, etc. Years later, I’m still chasing the same demons. I’m still hunting myself down for being too weak, not good enough, not going the extra mile. Even when I deliver a perfect product and a customer is thrilled, it is a hollow victory. All I worry about is how could I have done better.

Like Pavlov’s bitch, I still react long after the stimulus has been removed. I flinch when telling people I’m trans or in crowded rooms. My social anxiety is off the charts. I repeatedly ask how I look before leaving the house, because I believe I am unable to dress appropriately. In certain circumstances, I seek approval. In other circumstances, I lash out knowing that if it is not good enough, we will all be found unworthy, be beaten, and/or deserted. I believe that at any moment, my family will walk out the door and leave me. I believe that if we become friends, you will abandon me. I believe I am completely unworthy of the people that surround me. I know how it all sounds.

I meditate. I have meditated for years. I make art, write, listen to music, do yoga, and drink tea. I have days where life is fine, and I go about things as normal as anyone else, I imagine. Then I have a day where I sit on the couch, cry, and journal all day long. The memories come flooding back, so I write them. I am overwhelmed by emotions. I cry, I laugh, I cry some more, and I write. Sometimes, a conversation brings back a memory, a television show, a commercial. I hear song lyrics and am reminded of something a bully once said or father’s words. The emotions are a tidal wave in my brain, and I am there, running for my life, alone, waiting for it to be over.

I now face an uncertain future as I cope with PTSD as a trans woman. I now take everything one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time. I am receiving help in the form of a therapist, family, and friends. My transition has helped immensely. It has allowed me to deal with things, to move forward, and to finally begin the process of discarding my abusers’ truths so I could live as my own authentic self. My truth is that this bitch is a wolf, and that I’m a survivor. And that means learning to accept that it’s over, and it’s time to let go.

WolfbyTeo
Wolf by Teo

Love to you all,
River Sunfeather

If you know someone with depression, PTSD, or mental illness and is having a hard time, talk to them without judgment. Listen to their feelings. Ask them why they feel this way, and hear their story. If it is serious, get them help. Don’t ignore it. People with mental illness don’t need prayers and memes. They need the support of those around them without judgement. As a good friend put it, “Judge others less, love them more.”

Trans Lifeline – 877-565-8860
Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-8255
Further Reading: Book on Shadow Relationships

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Throwing Out Expectations

It’s now been over a month and a half on HRT(hormone-replacement therapy). Many mundane, yet miraculous things have changed. My face has feminized so much, I am called “ma’am” at stores. My body shape has changed so much, I no longer fit into men’s clothing. My mood swings are mood roller-coasters. My breast development now requires the wearing of a bra. But something far deeper and more important happened. I let go of my expectations.

I had all of these grand ideas about how transition would go, what kind of woman I would be, and what I would look like. Not watching reality television, I was not lured by glamor or beauty. Instead, I had done a lot of research into feminism, women’s rights, and gender constructs. I would not be the stereotypical woman, overly emotional and concerned with fashion. I would not give into the pressure to “look good.” I would be conscientious to prove I was hardworking and concerned with the things that matter most: the environment, helping others, and of course, women’s rights. I would refuse to be oversexualized, put people with male privilege in their place, and would never settle for anything less than equality.

Right…. LOL!!!

While I believe we do get to choose our Path, I also believe our Path also chooses us. I have two daughters, who are probably more emotionally stable that I am right now. I am moved to tears by the word “kittens” and or even thinking “happy thoughts.” I’m also the most fashion-minded one in the house. I have heard the women in my life make terrible comments about their bodies. Body acceptance isn’t easy, but I feel it is crucial. Feeling comfortable and taking a little care in how you look is such a huge confidence booster. I’m still interested in things like the environment. Whether it’s making a purse out of an old jacket, a skirt from tattered bandannas, or a standing garden table out of an old box spring, I love to reuse things. It cuts down on waste.

I still do what I can do help others, but I’ve become so involved with transition that I honestly have become somewhat self-absorbed at times. I have found that it is typically better to wait until someone asks for help, and so that is what I do. I’m too busy trying to fix me. And though I still consider myself a feminist, it is for very different reasons than going in. I just want equality and realize I am now on the outside looking in, asking for/demanding it. I can now see male privilege in certain people. And when I try to point it out, I see male guilt. The situation is way more complex that I ever could have realized, and I am only just learning.

Things are so far different, I think I have become my own Shadow. The only emotion that has stuck with me, through it all is gratitude. I am grateful to be here. I am grateful for my supportive wife and her guidance. I am grateful for my bewilderment, for my disappointment, and for my letting go of who I was. I am grateful for the fact that I am still changing, and I have no idea who I will end up next. It’s time to throw out expectations like an old pair of ill-fitting jeans and embrace the new individual in the mirror.

Love and blessings,
River

MensWomensJeansSizeConversion

HRT Begins…

I have known for a while that hormone-replacement therapy(HRT) is something that I wanted as part of my transition. The wait time to get see this particular endocrinologist was many months. After research, emotional and psychological work, I got myself into position to see her. She is one of the few endocrinologists who specializes in transgender hormone-replacement therapy in North Carolina. Finally on Monday, the 10th of April, I went to my first endo appointment.

My family and I drove several hours to her office. It was an emotional journey for everyone. I had a thorough discussion with the doctor about what the therapy entailed and the risks and benefits of the medications. I would be placed on a testosterone blocker as well as estrogen. Labs would be taken frequently and dosages would be adjusted until I was in the normal range for a typical female. I would also be tested for other things to ensure my safety.

What surprised was a comment about my life expectancy. She cited a few studies about introducing estrogen to post-menopausal women, but noted that there were no studies yet on trans women, as no one has really been doing this long enough or with enough numbers to know how it will impact life expectancy. Having a similar mentality to mine, she mentioned I “could be hit by a bus tomorrow. We just don’t know.” The quantity of life is completely irrelevant if the quality is crap. If you are depressed all the time and hate a major part of your life, good health is not something to be grateful for.

The hormones would slowly change certain aspects of my body. We went over what some of these changes would be. We also spent a good bit of time on what would not be changing. There are certain traits that I could eliminate through other options if I needed to pass or if those traits caused dysphoria. The entire appointment gave me a lot to think about and was quite a learning experience. It really gave me something to think over.

During the course of the conversation, she mention I would begin to see more colors as the shape of my eye changed. I decided to do some research into this and found the shape of the eye is different between men and women, allowing for a completely different perception of the world. If not only has my body been male, but an essential part of my nervous system, then perhaps being transgender is actually a miracle. All of the input I have been receiving about my body and even the world around me has been coming in through male filters, yet something deep within has still said, “No, I’m not listening. This is not who I am.” I feel like being trans is kind of like having evidence of the soul. And as I continue on my journey, I gain more confirmation…and acceptance of who I truly am.

Love and blessings to you all,
River

ButterflyBelieve

A Lost Rite of Passage: Earning Your Name

In many tribal and ancient cultures, people faced a rite of passage into adulthood. One aspect was being given a name at birth by a person’s parents. One carried this name during their childhood. They were allowed to make mistakes, to learn, to discover who they were and what they wanted to be. They would spend time being raised by every mother in the tribe and learning a bit about each path as they grew. They were allowed to play and make time for themselves, be as children are.

Finally, a time would come when they would have to face a great rite of passage. After the rite, they would be failures and face meditation and more lessons, or they would enter into adulthood and full accountability for their actions. Along with that, they would be expected to contribute to the tribe/village. There would be no more time of questioning and wondering, as they would now know who they were as a person, who they were in the tribe, and who they were going to be in the world.

In some cultures, part of this trial included a new name. The individual would choose or find their name. This was a symbolic way of stepping out of your parents’ shadow. Our parents do not decide our fate, what we do with our lives, nor do they choose who we are to become. One’s path rests between the individual and the Universe; that is their own contract with whatever energy or karma they may believe in.

After much meditation, the name River Bastet Morrigan Sunfeather-Fealtman was chosen. It represents many things and one thing all at the same time. It is the elements, it is dual-natured Truth, it is forever just River, and the emotional chaos. As I looked into changing my name in North Carolina, I found that it would be quite an ordeal. While some states required a form or two, the great state of North Carolina required four separate affidavits, two of which require character witnesses, a large filing fee, background checks, and more. This was to be a rite of passage.

During this rite, I learned much about friendship. I realized who I could and could not count on. I also learned that many individuals support what I am doing. I have the backing of my community. I was able to raise the filing fee myself, independent of anyone else. There were more lessons than I can list here, many deeply personal. But I have finally stepped from my parents’ shadow and claimed my own self. It is time to make my own way in the world now as the individual I was meant to be.

Love and blessings,
River

Of Warriors and Faeries

Bravery does not feel like being courageous. It feels like being terrified.

I have reached that awkward stage in my transition. I am doing things that are “traditionally” female, yet I have a body that is still recognizably male. This makes many of those around me, especially those with traditional values, uncomfortable. By being open about my transition and talking about transgender issues, I can alleviate some of their fears and worries. I will not lie. Every time I speak on the issue, I feel a tinge of my own fear rise up.

When I first came out to my closest friends, I was terrified. I expected to lose them. I expected to be judged and ridiculed. When I told my family, I expected the same. Though there was some pushback from family members, my being transgender has not cost me friends or family members. I have been lucky. Though it has put some distance in certain relationships, it has brought others closer. I am aware that many trans individuals are mistreated and many have sacrificed to get us to this point. I am under no illusions I also take a certain amount of risk, and I am grateful for everything I have. But it was not my awareness of other trans folks and their sacrifices that made me afraid but my awareness of gender constructs. It was the social programming from friends, family members, and even complete strangers. All my life, I had been told, “be a man” and been made keenly aware of the consequences of letting people down in that regard.

To me, one of the greatest battles we fight is not the one where we fight for our rights or even the one for normalcy. Though those battles are important and must be fought, it is in my opinion, a far more important battle that is waged in the mind of a trans individual. For us, one of the greatest trials is overcome simply anytime we tell someone. It is the battle we win every time we explain what we do and the details of our transition and our life. If someone comes out to you, they just won a major conflict. Be supportive. Show encouragement. Thank them for sharing this part of themselves with you. And if you know someone who isn’t out yet, do not shame that person. You have no idea what kind of demons that person may face every day of their life.

I believe the ultimate battle that anyone must face is for self-acceptance. That initial knowing and accepting of oneself is crucial. One must face their darkest fears and find self-love deep inside. Either one accepts themselves for who they are, and they are willing to fight, OR they give up, saying something or someone else is in the way. But contrary to what we learned in English, “accountability” begins with the letter “I” and accepts no excuses. This life is about you and no one else. Are you and your dream worth it? Are you willing to fight to make your own wishes come true? It is never too late.

Blessings,
River ♥
May all your wishes come true.

blue-fairy

Coming Out

Just to let you all know, I am a trans woman. I know many of you are family and friends with questions about this journey. So I have put together this FAQ, based upon questions I have been receiving from you, the family and friends. I understand that this is not just a transition for me, but for everyone in my life as well. Please, remember I write this with all the love in my heart. ♥

Q. Are you and Laura staying together?
A. Absolutely! Laura has been supportive as I have gone through this exploration of self. As it turns out, she has done some self-exploration as well, and I have been supportive of her changes. We believe people evolve and change, and that it’s what it means to be human. We are still very much in love and still hope to grow old together.

Q. What about your daughters, Lilly and Aiyana?
A. We have taken steps to ensure they have support as they adjust to the changes. So far, they seem to be doing just fine. In fact, they both seem happier with the new me.

Q. Does that make Laura a lesbian?
A. Yes. Though according to this article, most women have been attracted to the same sex. It’s really nothing new.

Q. What do I call you? What pronouns should I use?
A. Thank you for asking. I prefer to be addressed as “River” and the pronouns “her” and “she.” I am going to work on changing my legal name at some point, but it is a process for many trans folk. Perhaps we can make a deal. How about I practice patience while you adjust to my new name and pronouns, and you practice patience while I go through the process of changing my legal name?
Name change and pronouns can be important for some trans individuals, as it helps them adjust and become comfortable, as they transition into their new lives. Little things like this also help them to see that they are supported by the people around them.

Q. What steps are you taking?
A. Transition is not a straight line, but rather a long check list of gender-affirming activities and actions. Some of these things one individual might deem necessary while another does not. And a few of these things may be easily attainable for some, while out of reach for others. “Transition” is the process of going through one’s personal list and getting all the things they feel necessary for them to fit their target gender. It is a process that usually lasts years, if not a lifetime for some. It can include hormones, voice training, electrolysis, relearning social queues, counseling, name changes, surgeries, and much more.
I began with meditation, counseling, and then electrolysis. I try not to think of what has to be done, but rather what is being accomplished. Otherwise, it can be rather intimidating. For instance, the electrolysis will take 18 months or more. If you wish to stay updated on my transformation, simply subscribe to this blog.

Q. Have you always felt like this?
A. Answering this is not simple. When I was younger, I knew that this was who I was and what I wanted. For years, I longed for it. But because of certain circumstances, I felt that I had to take this part of myself and bury it. I did not feel I could survive and still honor my female self. All I can say is that I grew up in a harsh environment. Many years later, I began meditating and these feelings came bubbling back to the surface. So for about two years, I have explored various gender energies in meditation. At the same time, I have reconnected with those old parts of myself that were buried so deep inside. Meditation is a wonderful way to heal old wounds. Now in order to continue, I must live authentically and be who I was always meant to be, instead of what was wanted for me.

Q. What prompted this?
A. When I peeled back enough layers to see myself for who I really was, my dear friend and teacher, Alfred Willowhawk put a figurative mirror in front of me. It was then that I realized that I had been chasing everyone else’s dream for me. I had never truly pursued what I wanted for myself and had to become what he calls a “spiritual warrior.” We all have a tendency to do this, and this applies to things other than gender. To learn more about this kind of thing, please visit his website, Warrior. He has a radio show, devoted to such topics as becoming a spiritual warrior and your authentic self. It can be heard here, The Cauldron, Fridays at 9 pm eastern.

Q. Does this new life make you happy?
A. It feels like being home after a really really long grueling day. I am unsure of how else to phrase the feeling. It is similar to the feeling of wearing your favorite jacket on a chilly day, or one of those days that makes you realize how grateful you are just to be alive.

Q. I miss the old you and don’t want you to change. How can I express that?
A. By speaking with me. You can tell me exactly what you miss and why.

Q. Are you getting the surgery?
A. That is between my wife and myself. I love you, but I don’t ask you about your plumbing, as I see it as being irrelevant to my life.

Q. Is it true that once you join a pride movement, there’s a musical number?
A. LOL This is my choice. Here is Laura’s. Enjoy!

Q. I have more questions!
A. If you are curious, try googling it and doing some research. If you have personal questions or would like to know more, just ask or message me. If you are interested in seeing my transformation, please just follow the blog. I am also working on a resource page with a list of transgender internet resources. If anyone has more sites to add to the page, please let me know. Thank you!

Thank you and blessings to you all,
River and Laura

Early Electrolysis Results

If you are considering electrolysis, do your research. If you are considering doing electrolysis at home, do a lot of research. It cannot be said that my path is the best, good, or even decent. I will not say it is has been bad either. I can only vouch that my path has simply been mine. You need to find yours.

I’m not an expert, but I will share what I have learned. There are a few methods of “home electrolysis,” but only one is permanent. It is also dangerous. It involves inserting a needle-like probe into your pore, along the hair follicle. It passes a light electrical current through the root of the hair, killing or weakening it. It is like an electrified mosquito bite. You then tweeze the hair, plucking it from your skin. It is not a pleasant experience. Afterwards, your face looks like you were attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. Then redness and swelling pass after a number of hours. Other people have reported a day. I am using the lightest settings on the electrolysis device. If you were to have a professional do it, it would be the same technique but more efficient and with better training. There would also be someone to be held accountable if/when there is a mistake.

There are many other details I am leaving out. One may have to retreat the same hair numerous times, due to it not being in the right growth stage. One has to make sure everything, including your skin is disinfected. It could take 18 months to clear a beard. The purpose of this post is not to inform you on how to do it, so much as to inform you of how I have handled it.

I am going to post a link for the device I use for those curious or interested. That said, I urge you to do research first. You are taking your own skin into your own hands. If you have the means, go see a professional. Here is the device on Amazon:  https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B00011JN5G Please read some of the reviews for tips and hints on using the product.

And this is the fantastic-feeling tea tree cream for applying afterwards: https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B000HZVS2M

Shaving is a rite of passage for many boys on their way to manhood. For me, it was an awkward moment. I’ve always hated shaving, not just because it was a chore but because it felt strange. I never did get used to it. But electrolysis can be just as bad if not. I will admit there were days I cried about it in the beginning. This is not just taking bad-tasting medicine. This is Harry forcing Dumbledore to drink water that tortures him in order to get to a horcrux. Many report taking tylenol before sessions to deal with the pain. I use meditation and deep breathing. It has now been a month’s worth of working, every three to four days for an hour at a time. Recently I stopped at a store with a friend and used the restroom. I looked in the mirror and noticed I appeared differently. It took a minute to figure out the difference. There are now small patches on my face that don’t fill in. When the changes become a little more noticeable, I will post pictures. Yep. Totally worth it.

There are really great resources out there on electrolysis. The following pages I found to be helpful starting places. I have also learned that some dermatologists offer electrolysis. If anyone has other resources, feel free to post them in the comments. I will post them on my resources page. Maybe I will give electrolysis and hair removal its own section in the future.

http://www.tsroadmap.com/physical/hair/index.html

http://www.electrology.com/