Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Comfort, Confidence, Coincidence

It's nice to get to a point where the comfort level far outweighs the discomfort of adjusting to a new life or dealing with the ongoing transition process.  Since I began transition I've been more comfortable than I ever remember being as a teen or adult in my "old life."  Still, there have been other sources of discomfort such as worrying if I pass or not, dealing with people from my old life, not yet being a complete woman, etc.

If there is a tipping point I'm not sure I can pinpoint where it is or was, and honestly I am still a work in progress and probably not quite there yet.  What is nice is that I've reached a stage where it's easy.  It's very natural and I'm very comfortable in any situation.  Being me always felt natural, from the very beginning, but now it's just a lot easier to be natural with little or no effort, props or even having to think about it.

Being able to simply put on a bra, shorts, tee shirt and flip flops (it is summer) and walk out of the house is sure a lot easier than having to take time to put on makeup or do anything else any other woman don't have to do.  I can just brush my hair, run my hands through it or put it up in a ponytail.  It would be nice to have a better figure, have some minor features corrected, have bigger breasts etc. and some of that may come in time but I'm finding none of that is necessary.  Just being me naturally is all I need to get along in life and be comfortable.

Communication is key and I've reached the point where I can consistently pass on the telephone or a drive through window.  My voice is not yet where I want it and I'm still working on perfecting the voice I feel I should have but not only does it not hold me back, at this point it doesn't hinder my ability to pass.

Some people don't like the term passing, but for my purposes it works here so if you'd rather, just insert your own word...

I do like to "pretty up" when I can and put on makeup, do my hair etc.  Usually I do wear light makeup and try to put a little work into my presentation, but sometimes in life you don't have that chance.  One example is when my dad fell and Mitchell and I had to dress quickly and run out the door.  As upset as I was, when I called 911 they called me ma'am on the telephone.  Then I had to spend an entire day at the hospital with no makeup and no preparation time.  This includes not shaving.  I will have to thank electrolysis for the ability to go a day, or even several days now, without shaving.

With the comfort and ease of being able to get out and be myself comes a new level of confidence.  The statement "confidence is key to passing" is tried and true and comfort and confidence feed on each other.  I'm certainly confident enough that it doesn't hinder my presentation or ability to interact with others, but while I feel I am about there as far as comfort, I'm still gaining more confidence as time goes on.  Sometimes I do wonder what people are thinking of me and although that rarely holds me back, I realize that I still need to work on allowing myself to be more confident.

Arriving at this point of comfort and confidence is no coincidence.  Transition takes time and effort although everyone's experience is different.  Some can walk out from day one and be 100% comfortable and confident while some can take years to reach the level I feel I've achieved at this point.  Unfortunately, some will never make it and I feel they are victims of an inner demon (fear) that tells them they cannot do it.  You have to believe, after all, in yourself and your ability to be yourself if you are going to make something as complex as gender transition work.  Once you start believing, the rest will begin to fall in place....

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Update: GRS, Therapy, Divorce...



Two months from today I'll be having GRS in Montreal with Dr. Pierre Brassard.  I'm cautiously excited, having been through this countdown one time before.  Last time I would always preface my countdown with the disclaimer "if all goes well" as I knew something might happen to prevent me from wanting to leave the country.  My dad's health wasn't good for the last few months and I thought that something might happen to keep me home, but I honestly didn't foresee losing him this soon. 

We are still grieving but things are much better and somewhat back to normal, well as normal as can be expected right now.  I guess I still have to use my cautionary preface, because anything could happen, but I really feel like this is The Time for me.  In the upper right side of this blog I've set up a counter ticking down the days, minutes and seconds to my surgery.  Actually, we know the date but don't know the actual time of surgery yet.  Dr. Brassard starts his daily surgeries at 7 am and it will depend on what order he takes me, but I will at least be prepped and ready to go when the ticker strikes 0.  Yes, he does about 3 of these surgeries a day, sometimes as many as 5.

I want to give a brief explanation of my cover picture at the top of this page, what it means to me.  I took this photo last winter, as a morning's snow was melting in the afternoon sunshine.  Some of the Camellia bushes were blooming because of a recent warm spell and I held the camera low and took the picture looking up through the flowers to tops of the pine trees.  To me, this symbolizes spring coming out of winter and a beautiful time of change.  This shot represents my transition and rebirth, looking up toward the light.  The flowers are slightly blurred but the focus upwards towards the light is crystal clear.  This is where I am going.  Won't you follow me on my journey? 


This week I saw my therapist for the first time since my father's death.  I knew I was going to cry during this appointment so I was extra careful and light with my eye makeup.  We actually had a good visit, I did cry but didn't mess up my makeup.  I'm going to see her one more time before I go to Montreal and maybe I will take my mom to meet her next time.  Mitchell went with me to my last appointment, when my dad was in the hospital.  I'm really glad he got a chance to meet Kimball and we had a good session. 

Some people ask me why I still go to therapy.  We never talk about gender issues now because it's not really an issue anymore.  They were only issues when I was living my life in the wrong gender.  Outside the first few appointments we never spent a great deal of time on gender stuff anyway, I had so much else going on in my life.  I'm sure we've spent much more time talking about my marriage, relationship to Mitchell and my parents than anything else.  That first year we really focused on my anxiety about coming out to my parents.

My therapist told me this week that I was extremely well adjusted and made good decisions.  I don't doubt that now but I really didn't see that coming just two and a half years ago when I first entered therapy.  I told her she should have seen the decisions I was making 10 years ago and she agreed that I wasn't making good decisions then.  I was not well adjusted then either but I did make one Big decision approximately 10 years ago. 

I was facing my 40th birthday, depressed, on drugs, and saw no way out.  I decided to finally allow myself to start letting what was on the inside of me out.  I stopped fighting the urge to dress and started working on a look that would let me get out of my box.  In some ways that meant getting out of the confines of home as a female, as myself, but in some ways it was much more.  I wanted to get out of my old body and life.  I needed that as I felt like I was dying and it was becoming a very unhappy, slow death.  I'd waited long enough.

Life has gradually come into me over this last decade and I feel the next decade will by far be the best ever for me.  My therapist says that there is a saying that women in their 50's are the wise women.  I don't know if I will be wise, but at least I will get to experience that decade as a woman, as myself.

The therapy, which includes transition, has been very effective for me.  I guess at some point I may stop seeing my therapist or at least only go occasionally.  We meet about every 4 to 6 weeks now and I suppose we will keep that interval for at least awhile after my surgery as I am sure there will be many new things to adjust to, both physically and mentally.  I am very happy now overall, often ecstatic, and most of all I have a positive outlook on life.  That is something I did not always have.

Among my trans friends, I think those that are the most unhappy and struggling are those who resist transition, resist their therapy.  Of course everyone is different but in my case the idea was to bring the body, mind and life together.  To live full time, or to be authentic as some call it, is the best therapy there is.  People just have to remove those barriers and roadblocks to get there, or there is suffering.  It's never an easy road, harder for some than others, but I do believe it is well worth it.  For me, it has made all the difference.

"We all have good days and bad days, but I try to be the most positive person I can be because that best reflects the way I feel inside."    Tammy Matthews


After my therapy appointment on Tuesday, I met Joan in Raleigh to take care of some important business.  We still had a joint checking and joint savings account, although I have since opened separate accounts in my name only.  Our business of the day was to go to the bank and take my ownership off the two joint accounts.  Joan would now have accounts of her very own.

She also deposited the check she got from her divorce lawyer (minus his expenses) into her savings account and got her own debit card.  We were in the bank about 45 minutes overall.  I am not sure what the banker thought, but she misgendered me once (calling me he) and told him one time that we were "splitting up."  Other than that she got all the pronouns right and didn't neglect to call me Tammy.  She tries.

We decided to celebrate another level of separation by going out to a nice dinner in downtown Raleigh.  The Pit is an upscale restaurant that serves old fashioned North Carolina barbecue and other southern style food.  Well, it is upscale for a barbeque restaurant anyway, and is a very nice place.  I wanted to try some of the new restaurants downtown but Joan is a lot pickier than I am so The Pit is what we agreed to.

The meal was nice but a little bit heavy, as Southern food usually is.  At least we didn't get anything fried.  Joan got barbeque chicken and I think my choice of spare ribs was influenced by knowing my dogs were sitting home wanting the rib bones, but I had been wanting to try that specialty there.  I even had a sangria with my meal.  Rare is the NC barbeque restaurant that serves alcohol but having a nice drink with my meal is something I've come to enjoy.

There is one little aspect of our divorce that remains unfinished, the actual divorce.  As I mentioned in my recent post, Separation, we thought we were going to sign divorce papers recently but they were actually just papers finalizing the separation and agreeing to a financial settlement.  I now have, in my eager little hands, the actual divorce papers that just need to be filled out and returned to the lawyer.  Of course waiting for it to get through the court system will take a little while but this the Last Step that will end the marriage.  I know my readers have been exposed to all of my angst over this divorce, but it will be Oh Happy Day when it's all over.

One part of life ends, and another begins.  It is what I signed up for isn't it? 

Leaving Joan alone and ending this marriage is my only regret in transition, but then again that freedom was something I've really wanted for a long time.  I don't like hurting someone, breaking a promise or leaving her alone but when a marriage is not working it's time to end it.  That would be the case for us, transition or not.  I'm just really happy that we remain such good friends and are involved in each others lives. 

It's been a pretty fast transition so far and I am considered a success story at this point, at least from a transition as therapy or transition as life saving process standpoint.  I'm just so ready to get on with the next phase of transition, life and relationships.  Mitchell and I meeting when we we did may just have been perfect timing.  At the time I felt I wasn't ready for a relationship and wouldn't be until maybe after I was divorced and through with or much farther along in transition.  I have to admit that all of this, especially my separation and divorce, has been a whole lot easier because I have him to love and lean on.  Besides, if I didn't have him maybe Joan would have hung on in a "friendship" marriage.  We had that long enough.

Right now, I am ready for bigger and better things....a New beginning.
Life is a beach and the future is so bright I gotta wear shades!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Real Estate Dsyphoria

My life has changed dramatically in the last few years.  When I took my real estate class last month I reflected back on just how far I've come in only 2 years.  Each year, as a part of maintaining my real estate license, I have to take 8 hours of classes.  Even though I let my active participation as a Realtor fizzle out during 2012, I have kept my license in an active status.
I started out in real estate in 2009.  I'd gotten my license the previous year primarily because my father and I were considering getting into the rental/property management business but I also toyed with the idea of perhaps practicing real estate as myself (Tammy) one day, even though I wasn't close to the point of actual transition. 

When my career job in fisheries ended (for economic reasons) with the closing of the fish farm I was managing, I began to look for some other type of work.  I wanted to do something using my real estate license but it was hard for me to imagine going to work for some company and having to relate to people in an office all day.  This feeling was primarily due to my overall discomfort with myself even though I had not yet gained the courage to make any actual changes to myself.

At the fish farm, I had to be my old self (male) but pretty much had the run of the place.  The last farm I managed had one other (Hispanic) employee that quietly went about his daily duties.  I did have to deal with the owner and customers but those interactions were sporadic.  The last 6 months I worked there I was cut to part time and during this period that I devoted myself to losing weight and stepping up my ability to make a good female presentation.  I could see change written on the wall.  This was the year (2008) that I made my debut on the internet with actual photos of myself and made my fist couple of timid ventures outside the comfort of my home.

At the end of 2008 my job ended and a position as a Realtor landed in my lap.  There was an out of town company that needed someone to list some property in my town.  They had lower operating fees than the local, established companies and I could work out of my home.  Having a home office and pretty much being my own boss sounded attractive and as I had nothing else to do I signed on with that firm.  It was a very small company, based an hour and a half away, and after a few days training with owner I was let loose on my own.  I started in January 2009.

For about 3 months I attempted to limit my time spent as Tammy and focus on building up this business.  I was not out to my spouse so everything I did had to be behind her back anyway.  When she would go out of town (about every other weekend) or go to her classes, these were My times.  For those 3 months I think I only fully dressed a handful of times but I believe that limitation of myself was ultimately counterproductive because when spring arrived I made a real push to move forward. 

By this time I had acquired several more listings and was working with a few buyers so I was in business.  The real estate crash was going on in full force here so most of these listings were lower end properties and most of the buyers were looking for cheap homes and foreclosures.  Because my company offered lower commissions than the other local firms I was able to pick up a few higher end listings but they got little interest from buyers and did not sell.  I would say I was working steadily but not quite putting in full time hours during my first year in real estate.

Starting in spring 2009 I began to use all of my free time to try to develop a look that I could feel comfortable with going out into the outside world.  I'd gotten a little help with my presentation from some friends, learning makeup and so forth, but I felt it was more of a drag type look and not something I wanted for going to the mall etc.  The fact that my friend used to be a drag queen might have something to do with that.  Because my time alone was limited, progress was slow. 

The Big decision I made that spring was that I was going to come out to my spouse, Joan.  I didn't know how I was going to accomplish this but somehow, someway I was going to come out.  My greatest fear in doing so was that she would tell my parents.  To me that seemed like the equivalent of being dropped onto the slopes of Mt. Everest in winter, with no oxygen.  The other big decision I made was to see a therapist and pursue a long, grueling road to transition.  I was hoping the therapist would help me devise a plan to come out to Joan but still didn't see any possibility of revealing myself to my mother and father. 

During 2010 I continued to work the real estate business as well as work on myself.  In October I was finally able to come out to Joan and that went better than expected.  She didn't leave right away and didn't run off and tell my parents.  I had not gotten up the courage to see a therapist but told her I wanted to.  One thing that was different in how I came out to her and how many of my friends had advised me to go about it is, I pretty much told her this is what I am going to do.  We had the "little house" in the backyard and I was going to be myself there whenever I wanted to as well as go out whenever I wanted to. 

My only concessions to Joan were that I would wait until after the holidays to begin freely expressing myself in the guest house and outside world, and that I would not stay out overnight when she was in town.  She agreed that I should see a therapist but she wanted me to see one that would help me stop and I wanted to see a gender counselor.  Nothing happened with that for another year.

2011 arrived and I was making money in my real estate business, even though the market was weak here in my town.  I won't say I was making a living because after the business expenses, advertising and so forth, there was not enough income left for us to live on so we had to subsidize our existence with our investments etc.  Basically, even though I was making a profit we had to spend some of our retirement fund in order to get by. 

In 2011 I worked with a buyer who was a friend and knew about me.  Even though I was over a year away from going full time and not out to my real estate firm, I was able to show him a few properties while presenting as myself.  He never bought anything but this gave me a taste or what it would be like to work as myself and it really felt nice.
My dsyphoria had affected my business to a degree from the very beginning and I will have to admit that was as much a factor in my bottom line as the poorly performing market.  As 2011 rolled on I began to experience for the first time the freedom to come and go as myself when not working and was free to be myself at home.  Less than 6 months after going to a mall for the first time I was going almost anywhere.  My only real limitation was going to stores and the mall in my own town, but soon I conquered that fear.  The world was my oyster it seemed and it was becoming very difficult to go back into that empty shell, practice real estate, be called sir etc.  I made my last sale in June 2011.

After that I continued on with some listings and a few scattered buyers but my heart was not into building the business much less operating it.  I'd come to that point where the dsyphoria was really affecting all areas of my life including my livelihood.  What was I going to do?

Since Joan started spending time with me as myself, getting to know Tammy as it were, she encouraged me to come out to my parents.  This started in spring 2011 and during this time something was really coming over me.  She knew I was hurting and just wanted to help me, I believe.  During that time she also began encouraging me to go full time with the caveat that she would leave me when I did.  These were prophetic conversations we had. 

Life as myself began to be something I actually envisioned doing sooner than later and no longer just a dream.  As far as coming out to my parents, I was almost hoping she would do it for me because it still seemed to me like a greater feat than ascending Mt. Everest in winter with no oxygen, no rations and a broken leg.

When 2012 arrived I'd finally entered therapy.  Soon after my second therapy appointment in early January I got my ears pierced and my mother knew something was up.  As far as the real estate business, I planned to keep it active (although it was on life support) until the end of the year.  By that time I would come out to my parents and possibly go full time.  My deadline for transition had become August 2013 but my goal was New Year's Eve 2012.

Real Estate Class

The deadline for annual continuing education classes for North Carolina real estate agents is June 10th.  I was not alone in being an agent that waits until late May/early June to take these classes as that is the period when most of the classes are given and the time most agents take them.  What is striking to me is the contrast of the last three years of my taking this course.

Late spring 2012, I went to Raleigh for a day in the classroom taking the real estate update classes.  Technically I was still with the firm I had been practicing with but my activity in the market was down to almost zero.  I simply could not stand to put on that mask, as I saw it, and go about doing business as Mr. Matthews.  Honestly, I was holding on at this point mostly as a front for my parents before I came out to them.  I'd just started hormones and had been growing out my hair for a few months so my appearance was starting to change.  Still, that year I donned my usual (male) real estate attire, went to class and answered to Mr. Matthews.  It was horrible.

May 2013, I was now full time and no longer actively practicing real estate but I did want to keep my license updated so I again went to Raleigh to take the courses.  My parents were fully supportive of me and there were No more lies or illusions in my life.  That felt fantastic.  One thing that was missing was that my name and identification had not been changed.  My appearance had changed dramatically, as I was living as myself every day and didn't need the help of a wig or makeup in order to be called ma'am.  Because of my identification and name, I had to go to the real estate class in androgynous clothes, my hair in a ponytail and no makeup.  It was a very awkward day to say the least.  When I had to go to the ladies room I tried to seek one out that would not be crowded but the couple of times I ran other women there no one said anything.  I didn't talk to anyone in the crowded class but having to answer to my old name in the roll call made the day especially painful.

June 2014, this was a fun day of class.  Finally everything in my life was straight.  In late 2013 I'd gotten my new driver's license, complete with female gender marker, and this spring I'd gotten my real estate license updated with my new name.  For class I chose an outfit for class that was simple yet professional, something I would wear to work now as a female broker.  For the first time ever, I walked into class confident and happy.  I am not currently practicing real estate so the material was barely relevant, but I enjoyed the day nonetheless.  During breaks I talked to the older lady sitting beside me and I do not believe she sensed anything different about me.

Maybe one day I will practice real estate again.  I doubt it because it's not really my cup of tea, but with my license I can get commissions just for referrals among other things.  There are many advantages to keeping it active but I'm really much more of an artistic, creative person than a salesperson.  My previous career as a fisheries biologist was not really right for me either, although I enjoyed that career and it served its purpose.  The one thing that I am certain about is that I'm not going backwards again into pretending to be something that I am not.  I can't begin to express how much easier it is to relate to people now and how much more comfortable I feel inside.  I am still a mostly shy, reserved person but I can do anything I want to, although I have to follow my heart. 

Now I am once again looking for something to do with my life.  What will my next career consist of?  We will all have to stay tuned to find out.......

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The First Capital

In my blog post, Philadelphia, I talked about my last trip north to Pennsylvania.  That awesome visit with Sophie Lynne and Linda Lewis, and a day spent in big city, was Part 1 of this early May trip.  Things got a little crazy here at the end of May when my dad went to the hospital, so I'm just getting around to writing about Part 2. 

Even though my mission on this trip was electrolysis, in Part 2 I had another fun day with friends in Lancaster and York, PA.  Of course the second half of this trip was an adventure all its own with some unexpected twists thrown in for good measure.

When I woke up Thursday morning I hadn't shaved my face in 48 hours.  I'd spent Wednesday in Philadelphia and Friday's scheduled electrolysis was the reason I couldn't shave.  I'm so glad to have made such good progress with hair removal that this doesn't hold me back from going out and having fun on these trips.

The plan for Thursday was to drive to Lancaster and meet my friends Jane and Julie for a little shopping, then dinner with Jane and possibly more friends that night in York.  I've met quite a few friends online that live in the Keystone State and when I make these short jaunts up there I try to meet more and more of them.  One day I will get to meet you all!

Leaving King of Prussia and heading on to Lancaster and York.  I remember my first trip north for electrolysis, being terrified to be seen by anyone.  Each treatment things get better and better.
My first stop in Lancaster was the Tanger Outlet Mall.  On the way over I'd gotten my first real look at the Pennsylvania Dutch country since visiting with my parents when I was a child.  Even from the busy highway this is a very scenic and rustic land.  In busy Lancaster County it is sort of like modern life meets traditional Amish culture, as silos and grain fields plowed by horses are often right next to gas stations and strip malls.
My infamous Amish man plowing a field picture.  After talking with PA natives, I decided it was ok to post this picture as the man did not pose for it and it doesn't show his face.  I post it with all due respect to a traditional lifestyle and a proud, strong people. 
Jane and Julie Ann were already at the outlets shopping when I arrived around 2 PM.  It was so great meeting both of them for the first time!  We were very comfortable there in our natural habitat and did some productive shopping, then had lunch at Subway where we had a chance to have a good talk.  Both of these girls are fairly early in their transition but I really have to admire them for going out and doing the things they want to do.  They both remind me of myself in many ways, as I was eager to get out into the world as soon as I could.  People just have to realize that today we can do anything we want to and there is No reason for any fear, other than being careful like any woman should.  Of course blending in easily like all three of us do makes it pretty easy.
Me, Julie and Jane after a fun afternoon of power shopping
At home in my natural habitat.
Unfortunately, Julie had to leave when we were through shopping but I was glad to tag along with Jane as she showed me a few more sights there in the lovely Lancaster area.  We drove through the Amish countryside, over to quaint Stasburg to see the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.  The museum itself had closed by the time we got there but we did walk around and take a few pictures by the trains and outdoor exhibits (see heading photo).  This place is very cool and I hope to go back when we can spend more time and it's open.  Jane is really into old trains and railroad history and I think they are awesome too.  In fact, there is a possibility that I might get to ride a steam train on my upcoming trip to PA, so stay tuned....

At the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum in Strasburg, "after hours"
Down the road from the museum we found the Red Caboose Motel.  This has got to be one of the coolest motels I have ever seen as each of the suites is actually it's own unique caboose.  We drove through and checked it out, but I would love to stay there sometime if I was going to be in the Lancaster area.  It's just a little too far from where I need to stay when I am in the York area, but perhaps I can arrange a trip around staying there sometime. 
Pretty covered bridge in the Strasburg area.
Each caboose is outfitted differently and is its own individual suite.

Pennsylvania countryside, Lancaster County...
Before heading over to York, we stopped in a smaller outlet center in Strasburg for the last shopping fix of the day.  Then Jane took me back to my car at the Tanger Outlets and followed me over to York.  After dropping my stuff off at the hotel we headed downtown for a few drinks and dinner.  Jane is like a party planner.  In fact, in her some of the PA groups she's been designated just that.  It is hard to arrange for people to travel from other parts of the state on a weeknight but if I came up on the weekend she will set something up and we will have a big blast!  This is going to happen before too long and maybe I can even bring Mitchell along with me. This week I'm heading back up there again and I believe Jane has arranged for several friends to get together for us.  I can't wait!!
Downtown York, PA
Holy Hound Taproom
The Holy Hound Taproom serves about different 30 craft beers on tap and is one of several happening night spots in downtown York.  I'm so glad Jane took me down there because I'd only been downtown once, to a restaurant with my friend Suzanne and electrologist James Walker.  All the buildings there are historic but many of them have been nicely restored while keeping that old timely feel.  York is so seeped in history that it has the claim to fame of being the first capital of the United States.  Back in 1777, during the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress moved the capital from Philadelphia to York for a time to avoid a threat from the British.  Yes, I can thank my tour guide Jane Reynolds for teaching me that bit of classic local history. :)

We ended up having a couple of local craft beers at the Holy Hound and then met up with another local friend, Katherine.  The three of us headed down the street to the White Rose Bar and Grill for a fabulous dinner.  The weather was so nice we ate outside but the coolest part was that we got to cook our own food!  They bring a hot stone to the table and on it we cooked steak, tuna and chicken as well as a few veggies.  Somehow I managed this without injury while Jane only sustained a small burn on her arm.  Hey, it was a small price to pay for grilling your own food on the vibrant, historic streets of downtown York at night.

Jane and I enjoying after dinner drinks
Me, Jane and Katherine at the Holy Hound
Explaining to Jane how I'd switched to wine because I now prefer sweeter drinks.
The fun night had to come to an end so Jane headed back east to her home in the Philly area.  I had a full round of electrolysis scheduled the next day but was really thankful to be able to live it up while not having to worry about not shaving for a couple of days.  The day isn't too far off where I will never have to worry about shaving at all, ever again.  That's why I tell all my friends to get on the hair removal right now, as I should already be at that point.
Here I am with Saran Wrap on my face, holding in the numbing cream used to make electrolysis less painful.
Friday's electrolysis started out with the most important area, my face.  This took a little longer than last time, over 4 hours, because this time we completely took the upper sideburn area off so when hair grows back there it won't be as thick.  This is a typical female pattern.  James, of Executive Clearance, does a great job of working fast and keeping the pain level down.  Of course, as I've said before, one of the main reasons I travel so far to see him is that his technique does not damage my extremely sensitive skin.  The fact that it's painless enough that I have been able to catch a nap while he works on my face is nice too and this is something others who've had electrolysis with someone else find hard to believe.    
Electrolysis needle inserted into the follicle, and the tweezers plucking the killed hair.
Since I travel so far to get my face cleared and it takes less than a full day, I've been trying to clear other areas as well.  This time we cleared almost my entire upper body on Friday, but the underarms are a little tricky because of the angle and type of skin skin so I had to go back to Saturday to finish one of them.  I was driving back Saturday, so I went back to Suzanne's after check out time at the hotel to let James finish up.  This only took an hour or so, but here's where the twist comes in. 

I've been making green smoothies for awhile, mixing fresh fruits and veggies into some delicious, healthy concoctions.  James takes this process one step farther, juicing the produce into an even more concentrated, vitamin filled liquid.  So Saturday afternoon when we got through with my electrolysis, James told me of a slightly used Norwalk juicer that was on sale at a good price.  All we had to do was drive back to the Lancaster area, check it out and if I didn't want it he would buy it.

Buying this juicer was a pretty big investment but I decided to go for it to take control of my health and put me in a better position to build my system up before and after my upcoming GRS, as well as keeping myself healthy going forward.  This juicer was listed on Ebay but they also had a local ad that alerted to us to this deal.

It rained all the way to Lancaster but we found the apartment and saw that the juicer was almost brand new so I decided to buy it.  I got lost on winding two lane Pennsylvania roads on the return trip but we finally made it back to Suzanne's.  I least I got to see some more of the rustic farmland and Amish countryside, even though it was a miserable, dreary day.


My Norwalk juicer at home, making fresh veggie and fruit juice.
James demonstrated the new juicer for me and the result was a couple of bottles of the fresh, delicious, green liquid for me to drink on my long drive home to North Carolina.   I finally got home at midnight Saturday after driving almost 1000 miles since leaving Tuesday afternoon.  This had been probably my most fantastic trip yet to the Keystone State.  I'd had two days with good friends touring Philadelphia, York and Lancaster.  I'd made my way closer to my goal of finishing electrolysis and I'd acquired a new tool to help keep myself (and hopefully my loved ones) healthy.  I have a lot to live for now and life is good!!!
When I got home Saturday night, my trip odometer read almost 1000 miles!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Memorial to Daddy

As a memorial to my father, I'm going to share Daddy's obituary, The Hardest thing I've ever had to write.  It took up a half page in the newspaper and Mama later thought of a couple more things that should have been added, such as Daddy sitting on the Board of Directors at Hope Plantation for a time.  I told her it might be best that we left a few things out because we can always tell people that this extensive inventory of a full life doesn't even include all of his accomplishments and accolades.  Even so, people remarked on how many things we did list and many did not know that he had accomplished so much outside of his career as a judge.

We had a great Memorial Day together.  Daddy enjoyed that meal better than anything he'd had in a year, I believe.  Mostly he'd enjoyed the family time with Mama, Mitchell and I.  We all knew this was a special day, even though we were hopefully planning for many more.  It was sort of like old times for him except this was the new family and the new me.  I was so fortunate to have this last year and half with him, after coming out, and extremely blessed to know that when he passed his away I had his acceptance.  I also had his approval of my relationship with Mitchell.  The biggest blessing of all was having a lifetime of love from this great man.  I'm going to dedicate the rest of my life as a memorial to him...

Obituary for Judge Thomas Hill Matthews

Thomas Hill Matthews, 86, passed away Tuesday June 3rd. He was born on the Nash side of Rocky Mount at his maternal grandparents' home on Labor Day in 1927, September 5th, to Edd Rubin Matthews and Corinna Parrish Matthews. In 1928 the family moved to Roanoke Rapids where his father owned and operated Matthews Grocery. His only sibling, brother Robert Allison Matthews, was born that year in Roanoke Rapids Hospital but only lived a few days.

The family moved to Washington D.C. and Richmond, VA. during the depression where his father worked in chain grocery stores. It was 1937 when the family moved back to Rocky Mount and Edd managed Matthews Grocery on Main Street. In 1945 Tom graduated from Rocky Mount Senior High where he played football for three years.

He excelled as a lineman and linebacker for the Blackbirds, was team captain, voted Most Valuable Player his senior year, JC's Best Blocker, All State, All Eastern Conference and he had the distinction of playing in the Shrine Bowl. Tom was recruited by many major colleges but chose to attend Duke University, then a football powerhouse, on a full scholarship. He stayed there for three semesters before a knee injury and operation at Duke Hospital ended his football career.

In 1946 he joined the Army Air Corps, first serving in San Antonio, Texas and later Denver, Colorado. Then orders came in to send him to the South Pacific but those orders were changed so that he could play baseball, a sport in which he still excelled, at Langley Field, VA. Another knee injury in 1947 led to his medical discharge from the Air Force at Walter Reed Hospital.

Tom enrolled in UNC Chapel Hill's business school in 1948 and entered law school there in 1949. His last year of business administration counted as his first year of law school and in 1950 Tom earned his Bachelor's degree. That summer he traveled to Europe with three friends and toured the continent on a three month adventure. In 1952 he received his Juris Doctorate (law degree) from UNC and began working for Gulf Oil on the recommendation of his former coach, Eddie Cameron of Duke.

His next job was with DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware where he worked for a year. In 1953 he returned to Washington, DC to study and work in tax law. Tom wanted to be closer to his beloved family in Rocky Mount so in 1954 he took a position in the law office of Franklin Dupree in Raleigh. He finally returned to his hometown in 1955 to become the Assistant Clerk of Nash County Superior Court. In 1956 he opened a law office in Rocky Mount. Later that year, as his career rapidly advanced, Tom Matthews was elected Solicitor (District Attorney) of the Rocky Mount Recorder's Court.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment came in 1960, when Tom married Willa Joan "Billie Jo" Works. They were married 54 years at the time of his passing. In 1968 Tom was elected District Court Judge for Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson Counties. He was very well known in that role until his retirement in 1980, being reelected many times and earning him the long standing title of Judge Matthews. He had the honor of being president of the NC District Judges Association from 1970-71. In 1980 he also was inducted into the distinguished Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Governor Jim Hunt.

Tom was as active in retirement as he had been in his honorable career. He covered many significant events as a reporter (with his daughter along taking pictures), including the first launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia, the 1980 Democratic Convention in New York and many college football and basketball games. In 1982 he was elected to the NC House of Representatives from the Eighth District.

He was a long standing member of the Kiwanis Club in Rocky Mount and served as editor of their newsletter from 1981-82. In 2000, Tom received a Certificate of Continuous Membership with the American Legion, continuing that membership throughout his life. Seaboard Coast Line Railroad made him an honorary locomotive engineer in 1978. Tom was also honored in 1990 when he was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel.

He had a mind for business, having been involved over the years in many ventures including swimming pool construction and cosmetic distribution. He was always thinking of potential new ideas for businesses to start with his daughter Tammy, family friend Leroy Phillips and others. At one point earlier in his life, Tom and his family even had a short stint in the barbecue business.

His wife Billie Jo called Tom her perpetual student. He furthered his knowledge by taking such courses as upholstery, electronics, Russian and deep sea diving among many others. At the age of 70, in 1997, he became an ambulance certified Emergency Medical Technician and also served on the board of directors of Stony Creek Medical Squad. In the year 2000 he studied banking and began serving on the board of directors of First Carolina State Bank.

Tom had a lifelong love of playing the guitar but musically he is perhaps best known for his skill as a harmonica player. He often carried a harmonica in his coat pocket and loved to play it on any occasion, especially birthdays. In 2001 he began playing with a string band, entertaining at area retirement homes. Tom loved people and playing with the band gave him more opportunities to put smiles on people's faces.

Tom leaves behind his cherished wife Billie Jo and his beloved daughter, Tammy Ann, who the couple adopted in 1964. They were always a very close knit, loving family and he included Tammy's boyfriend Mitchell Vincent as a close family member. His granddaughter, Elizabeth now lives in Asheville, NC with her husband Dan. Tom really loved his animals and was very close to several family pets over the course of his life. He was preceded in death last year by his grand dog Jumper and survived by Tammy's dogs Buddy and Nightingale.

Tammy and Billie Jo both reside in the West Haven area of Rocky Mount and along with Mitchell, spent much time caring for Tom in recent years, especially the last months when his health began to fade. It was a labor of love and they were joined this year by caregiver Nedrick Dickens, who was also well loved by the Judge and always made his day, giving him a good laugh.

When you live a life as long and full as Judge Tom Matthews did, you see many friends and loved ones pass on. Tom, Billie Jo and Tammy were extremely close to Tom's parents, aunts and uncles and shared countless good times with them before their passings many years ago. For most of his life, everywhere he went in this area it seemed like everyone knew him or at least knew of him. Even those who had faced him in court had affection for him, as he was known as both a fair and great judge. 

Even though many of his friends passed on before him, Tom was still well known and well-loved throughout the area. The family is receiving visitors at his home this week and Wheeler & Woodlief Funeral Home, 1120 N. Winstead Ave., is handling the service. The funeral is on Saturday June 7th at 2 pm and graveside services with a military burial will follow at Pineview Cemetery.

The Matthews’ were members of the First Baptist Church until recently when they changed their membership to Lakeside Baptist Church which was closer to their home and easier to attend with his failing health. Lakeside’s Reverend Jody Wright will conduct the memorial service and former First Baptist Church Minister, Reverend Bill Grisham, will sing “In The Garden”, a song often played on the harmonica by the Judge.

The Matthews' were members of the First Baptist Church until recently when they changed their membership to Lakeside Baptist Church which was closer to their home and easier to attend with his failing health. Lakeside's Reverend Jody Wright will conduct the memorial service and former First Baptist Minister, Reverend Bill Grisham, will sing "In The Garden", a song often played on the harmonica by the Judge. - See more at:

The Matthews' were members of the First Baptist Church until recently when they changed their membership to Lakeside Baptist Church which was closer to their home and easier to attend with his failing health. Lakeside's Reverend Jody Wright will conduct the memorial service and former First Baptist Minister, Reverend Bill Grisham, will sing "In The Garden", a song often played on the harmonica by the Judge. - See more at:

The Matthews' were members of the First Baptist Church until recently when they changed their membership to Lakeside Baptist Church which was closer to their home and easier to attend with his failing health. Lakeside's Reverend Jody Wright will conduct the memorial service and former First Baptist Minister, Reverend Bill Grisham, will sing "In The Garden", a song often played on the harmonica by the Judge. - See more at:
The Matthews' were members of the First Baptist Church until recently when they changed their membership to Lakeside Baptist Church which was closer to their home and easier to attend with his failing health. Lakeside's Reverend Jody Wright will conduct the memorial service and former First Baptist Minister, Reverend Bill Grisham, will sing "In The Garden", a song often played on the harmonica by the Judge. - See more at:
The Matthews' were members of the First Baptist Church until recently when they changed their membership to Lakeside Baptist Church which was closer to their home and easier to attend with his failing health. Lakeside's Reverend Jody Wright will conduct the memorial service and former First Baptist Minister, Reverend Bill Grisham, will sing "In The Garden", a song often played on the harmonica by the Judge. - See more at:
You may share memories and condolences with the Matthews family by
Published in Rocky Mount Telegram on June 6, 2014

Sunday, July 6, 2014


This post is a synopsis of the process I went through to legally change my name and gender on government documents.  I've gotten quite a few questions about it, so I thought I would compile everything into one blog entry. 

In 2010, the US State Department began allowing transgender people to change their gender on passports without surgery and in June 2013 the Social Security Administration adapted a similar policy.  These federal policies apply to anyone in the USA but driver's licenses and birth certificates vary from state to state.

The first step you should take is changing your name.  This procedure is different in every state and in North Carolina, where I live, this policy can vary from county to county.  While there me be slight differences between counties, the process should be very similar everywhere.  First, I will share with you how I came up with my name.


When I first got on the internet (~20 years ago) I chose a female name for myself based on my given first name, even though I rarely went by my first name.  Today I consider it an honor to my father, as he was often called Tommy while growing up.  My original middle name was Michelle and I chose that simply because I love that name and as a kid often fancied it as a name for myself.  I used the last name Valentine because I'd met a girl named Tammy Valentine and thought that was a really cool name.

So I started out as Tammy Michelle Valentine but when I began my transition I dropped that last name and began using my given name, Matthews.  I also dropped the middle name as I had the idea that I would ask my mother to give me a middle name when I came out.  I was being hopeful that things would go well.  As it turns out, the day after I came out to her Mama gave me the middle name Ann.  She said that she had prayed on it and came up with this name when she woke up that morning.  I thought that it was perfect!


The first step is to contact the county Clerk of Court's office and ask them to send you a packet detailing what you will need to do to change your name in that county.  I had no idea that this process would take as long as it did or be as difficult as it was, but in November 2013 I finally received the paperwork for my legal name change to Tammy Ann Matthews.  I'd gone full time on the Winter Solstice of 2012 but didn't apply for my name change until the May 2013.

The following is the link to my blog post detailing that process here in Nash County, NC.....

In North Carolina, we have to have both FBI and SBI criminal background checks as part of the name change application.  Webpages for both agencies describe the necessary steps that must be taken in order to receive these background checks and here are the links for the FBI and (for those in North Carolina) the SBI sites..


My next step was to change my name and gender marker with the Social Security Administration (SSA).   It's a good idea to do this before making changes on your driver's license because most states do check your SSA information when you apply for a change.  Also, just about everyone today relies on SSA information as the definitive source for your identity.  For the name change, I had to have an original copy (from the County Clerk's office) of the court order changing my name.  For the gender change you need a letter from your physician.  The details on that letter and how to go about this important step of changing gender marker on SSA records can be found in the following document.....


The nest step was my driver's license.  I can tell you it was awkward living full time for almost a year and not having a name/gender matching identification card (license).  Before I transitioned I went and updated my picture with longer hair and an androgynous look, so the picture was not that far off from my presentation but having my old name and gender marker was problematic.  The people at my bank adjusted quickly and in most instances where I was asked for my license Is imply told them I didn't have it with me.  That kept me from having an alcoholic drink at a few restaurants but otherwise didn't cramp my style too much.

Some states won't let you change your gender marker without a letter from a surgeon stating that you have gone through gender changing surgery.  For MTFs this would be either GRS or an orchiectomy.  I have many friends in this situation and it can be a little awkward but it shouldn't hold you back from doing anything, even getting a job.  You won't be able to be stealth, however, and anyone closely examining your license will know that you are trans.

It will be easy to change your name on your license, but the ease of changing the gender marker will depend on where you live, among other factors.  Here in North Carolina I still get varying reports on whether or not friends have been able to make this change and as far as I can tell there is no clear policy at the DMV. 

Since the SSA change in 2013 I was under the impression that we could change gender markers as I know several friends who have done so.  One friend had tried repeatedly in the past but when I told her of my success and the probable new policy, she tried again and was successful.  Recently I've heard from another friend who is having trouble with it and DMV employees are telling her she needs a specific letter stating she's had surgery, so I can't say for certain what the North Carolina ruling is.  It used to vary from office to office and with different  personnel as well. 

At the NC DMV you will need the same letter outlined above for the SSA change.  I was advised to have the doctor make one change to that letter, essentially saying that you have completed gender transition.  This advice was given to me by people who successfully changed their gender markers before the 2013 federal policy change and I will say that everyone I know (but one person) that has been to DMV after me has been able to change their gender marker using the same letter they used with the SSA.

It should be noted that for all of these agencies, the letter must come from a physician and not a therapist.  Some doctors may have problems with the wording of "completed gender change", but from most reports this is no longer necessary in NC.  My thinking was, why take a chance.  I just made my best presentation, walked into the DMV office confidently and handed them the paperwork, telling them I was there to change my name and gender on my driver's license.  While very similar to the SSA's required letter, here is the form for the letter my doctor wrote me for the DMV..... 

Letter of gender change for NC DMV:

I, (physician’s full name), (physician’s medical license or certificate
number), (issuing U.S. State/Foreign
Country of medical license/certificate), (DEA Registration number or
comparable foreign designation),
am the physician of (name of patient), with whom I have a doctor/patient
relationship and whom I have
treated (or with whom I have a doctor/patient relationship and whose
medical history I have reviewed and

(Name of patient) has completed gender transition to the new gender
new gender male or female).

I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States
that the forgoing is true and correct.

Typed Name

Note: it might be a good idea for those living states without a clear policy of gender change before surgery to get their passport first, then go to DMV to change the gender marker on their license. 


It is also a good idea to get a passport, especially if you are not able to change the gender marker on your driver's license.  You can get a passport card that looks similar to a license and is a good form of photo ID.   In my case, I am traveling to Canada so I needed a passport. 

For the name change, you do need a birth certificate and an official copy of the court order changing your name.  My birth certificate shows me as male but you also have to present a driver's license and the physician's letter, so they will know you are trans anyway.  The following link outlines the specifics of what you need to do to change gender on a passport.....

When I applied for my passport, I got a response back from the State Department stating that I needed a new physician's letter.  It seems that my doctor left out one of the important elements of the letter, in our case the DEA registration number.  There are 8 bullet points in the example letter provided in the preceding document (found in the link).  So this goes to show that those letters have to be precise and the doctor needs to provide them on paper bearing their official letterhead.  For clarification, here are the 8 bullet points for the passport change, and they differ slightly from the SSA requirements.....

*Physician's full name

*Medical license or certification number

*Issuing state of medical license/certificate

*Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) registration number assigned to the physician

*Address and telephone number of the physician

*Language stating that he/she has treated you or has reviewed and evaluated your medical history and that he/she has a doctor patient relationship with you.

*Language stating that you have had appropriate clinical treatment for the transition to the new gender (the new gender, male or female, must be stated.

*The statement must clearly state the following: "I declare under penalty or perjury under the laws of the United States that the following is true and correct." 


The last official document I will need to change is my birth certificate.  In North Carolina this is only possible with a letter from a surgeon stating that you have undergone irreversible gender changing surgery.  I did try to get mine changed when I changed the name on it (using the letter from my doctor to DMV) but it didn't work.  You never know until you try and it doesn't hurt to try.  Oh well, with my GRS scheduled for September 24th, it won't be long until my birth certificate is changed.

Some states allow gender marker changes on birth certificates without surgery and some will never allow the birth certificate to be changed.  Still others will only issue you an amended certificate that shows the old record.  Since moving won't affect this as you are issued this document at the time and place of your birth, some are stuck with not being able to change their birth certificates. 

Times are changing and states are following the lead of the federal government in relaxing policies on gender changes to official documents.  If you live in an area that restricts your ability to change the gender marker on your driver's license or birth certificate, there is hope that you will be able to do it one day.


I've outlined my experience so far with my name and gender change.  Any other input on current policies where you live or your experiences with this process would be appreciated.  Please post that information here in the comments section, as I am providing this blog as an information source for those going through this process.  I will say that life is much easier when you have the correct name and gender on all of your documents.  As the saying goes, it does get better.....