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.......