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Friday, March 6, 2015

A Special Visit with Ally

Dinner at The Vortex
This past weekend, we had the great honor of welcoming our friend Ally (Shybiker in the blogosphere) to Atlanta for a visit with us! Ally and I have known each other for six years and have some mutual friends in common. We’ve been exchanging mail, gifts, emails, and phone calls for a long time now. 

In case you aren’t familiar with her blog yet, Ally is transgender. She is a woman through and through, although she might be dressed in male clothing sometimes, and I have truly never thought of her as anything but. 

She knew she was a girl as early as three years old, but despite a loving relationship otherwise with her parents, she was never allowed to live as a girl. As my mother-in-law put it, it would be like telling a child with brown eyes to have blue eyes instead. But a lot of people in Ally’s world don’t see it that way, which is unfair, but it’s what she learned to live with growing up and even sometimes as an adult. 
Lookin' lovely. What fun to do her makeup.

In the last few years, she’s started finally giving HERSELF permission to be who she really is (because that’s the only permission any of us really needs, right?), and her blog has chronicled that journey beautifully. She’s learning all about clothes and makeup and all the other things she always wanted to do but didn’t feel she could, and she’s going a great job. 

She is also very, very shy. She doesn’t like attention drawn to her in big groups, although she can rock a courtroom like nobody’s business. I was hoping I could convince her to present as female in public here…trust me when I say you can do that in Atlanta without people batting an eye. There’s a very strong trans community here. She just was not ready, though, and I respect that too. People have to do things on their own time. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep nudging her about it, though. ;) Presenting as female would not mean she became more female, however. She is who she is regardless of how she might be dressed at the time. I just want her to someday have the joy (and, yes, excitement and butterflies too!) of knowing what that feels like. I think one day she will, and we will have a party to celebrate. 

Thrift sto' checkout!
The shoes!! Wish we'd tried the white boots.

We were able to go thrift store shopping one afternoon, a fave pastime for both of us. I loved seeing how she was totally comfortable looking through all the women’s clothing and buying it. That wasn’t something she would even entertain when we first met because she was scared, and it was beautiful to see her nonchalance about it in person. We also did a photoshoot of her in the backyard after I did her makeup, and that was tons of fun! (I’m really looking forward to seeing the outfit posts she comes up with around her thrifted finds - she got some good ones!)

My best friend came over one night so we could just enjoy girl talk, and she LOVED Ally and is still talking about what a great energy she has. She said she felt like Ally was another aunt for us, which I think fits perfectly. Ally was exactly like I thought she would be in person.

One thing I have to point out publicly so Ally knows I am serious - and it’s not to embarrass her. But she, for some reason, feels like our friendship scale is tipped. She feels like I’ve always been a better friend to her than she’s been able to be for me. This baffles me completely. Throughout the last six years, she’s listened to countless emotional outpourings, donated money for sick dogs when we didn’t know how we were going to afford their treatment, and generally allowed me to be myself with no judgment. That is priceless. Even wonderful people in your life don’t always “get you” 100%, but there is never that feeling with her. Being allowed to be MYself and her being allowed to be HERself…well, that sounds pretty even to me! She even cared to hear about my old high school insecurities and seeing my letter jacket…and just having someone who delights in all the things that make you YOU is very special. 

Here are some of the other highlights!

Things I “regret” (event though I don’t really regret anything from this visit!):

Vintage BMW bike at The Vortex since she's a biker! 
The waiter took a selfie on my phone.
Which I'd think was a flirting attempt,
  • Forgetting to offer fresh towels and a basket of fluffy towels and fancy soaps. At least I remembered to put some yummy bubble bath in the bathroom and even washed the towels…for a mom of a toddler, that’s pretty good.
  • I wish we had had more dress-up time! But I’m thankful for what we got. I’d have been so sad if she’d gone home and we didn't have that. 
  • I wish we had taken a walk somewhere. Especially after all the incredible meals we had (none of which I can take credit for, unfortunately.) But it was pretty cold and/or rainy.
  • I wish we had watched a movie at some point. I really wanted to introduce Ally to The Babysitter’s Club, heehee. But we had plenty of talk time, which was way more important.
  • We forgot to buy so many things from the grocery store! We practically had nothing, including toilet paper, even though we had just shopped. How does that happen?!
  • We never introduced her to okra or grits - two true southern staples! But she was introduced to fried zucchini at an Atlanta restaurant called The Vortex. I’d say that’s a win because we both decided there was crack in the batter. Atlanta might not represent what traditional “southern” means, but we still love our southern food. 
  • I didn’t much like the saying goodbye part either.
BFFs with my dawg.
Highlights of the visit (obvs, just a handful because there was so many!):

  • Seeing Ally’s face when she looked in the mirror for the first time after I’d just done her makeup. That was such a priceless moment. You don’t even know. She just looked at herself in amazement. (Although she doesn’t give herself enough credit for her own makeup skills.)
  • Just seeing her presenting as female at our house in person was priceless, even more than all the pictures I’ve seen over the years. Watching her entire face and posture and the way she carried herself change as soon as she was donning a dress was so amazing and made me want that for her 24-7 even more. It was a visceral, dramatic transformation, even though all I ever see when I look at her is a woman, regardless of how she is dressed, whether she has a wig on, and what name she chooses to introduce herself with to various people. Again, it wasn’t that she “became” more female by putting on the dress. It’s that seeing her relax into herself was nothing short of beautiful, as was (is) she, inside and out.
  • Hearing that the room she stayed in was indeed the girliest bedroom of her childhood dreams. I didn’t care what any other room in the house was like as long as that one was just right for her.
  • When she said how clean our house was, that it was beyond just cleaning for her and that we must just live that way. Boy, we sure have her fooled.
  • How well Ally and my husband hit it off. That was not surprising in the least, since they can both talk to anyone and pretty much get along. But they really had a great time talking and had a lot of things in common. I especially enjoyed when Ally would ask him something really deep…he’s not one to volunteer a lot of emotional-type things on his own, but he will when prodded. It was really interesting to hear the answers he gave to some of the questions and made me love him even more. 
  • Seeing my three-year-old daughter give Ally a kiss when she was saying goodbye. She is still talking about her.
  • Seeing how much my pets adored her. Not a surprise since I already how much she loves animals. But one of my dogs in particular is pretty resistant to strangers and very barky, and it took her almost no time to warm up to Ally’s gentle, patient, and loving nature. Most people are put off by my loud and exuberant dog, even dog-lovers. But Ally wasn’t taking no for an answer when it came to friendship. They really formed a special bond.
  • All of Ally’s questions are so poignant and really make you think. It’s always been that way, in all our various types of correspondence, but even more so in person. Although sometimes when she asks something like, “What kind of furniture do you want for your new house?” you wonder if she’s just curious or really plotting to buy you an entire houseful of furniture. (Ally, we don’t need anything!!!)
  • I loved proving to her that people in Atlanta truly don’t care what your gender is and how you present it. We ran into other trans folks just about everywhere we went. Even though we didn’t talk to them, I think just seeing them was a comfort and inspiration to her. 
  • It was initially going to be a Friday through Sunday deal. Getting to the airport for her flight home on Sunday, only to find out it had been canceled and she could stay with us one more day, was awesome!
All in all, it was a wonderful visit, still felt too short, and will hopefully be repeated sooner than later. Thank you, Ally, for gracing us with your presence and for being such a wonderful friend!
Saying bye at the airport. Our smiles belie our real feelings. :(
If you'd like to read about our visit from Ally's perspective (she has a beautiful and touching writeup), check it out here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Where I'm at Right Now in My Self-Love Journey

No makeup, no filter, no self-loathing.

I love the present-day self-love movement. I like to think I was a part of it way back when, when I first started this blog with my best friend. Social media has made it so easy for amazing organizations like So Worth Loving, Operation Beautiful, and Raw Beauty Talks to spread the message. I love all the self-love-themed songs that keep coming out - I even wrote my own (which I’ll happily post once I copyright it), and my current favorite is Colbie’s “Try.”

My own self-love journey has been one of winning lots of battles here and there but maybe never truly winning the war. Maybe that’s just a part of being human and experiencing ups and downs in life? I go through phases where I absolutely adore myself inside and out…and then something might trigger a downslide into a mini depression about it. It might be a picture of myself that I didn’t think was flattering. It might be comparing myself to another girl. It might be the way my stomach looks that day. In fact, it’s probably my stomach. I seem to feel good about myself as long as I like the way my stomach looks. When it is bigger from a meal or at the end of the day, I can get very self-conscious about it. Sometimes I sneak looks at it a billion times a day to see how it’s “holding up.” It doesn’t change the way I eat very much; I love to eat, and I still think if I want a donut, I’m gonna eat a donut. But how much of my day am I spending thinking about my stomach when I could be thinking about so much more worthwhile things? I mean, really. It sounds so unimportant when I spell it out in words. It feels so important at the time when we’re caught up in it, though, doesn’t it? Why do I easily and truthfully believe that all body sizes and shapes are beautiful...for everyone but myself?

I’ve gone through times when I embraced myself (stomach included), only to sink back again into worrying about it. I’ve gained and lost a little weight a few times. But I’m always me. My me-ness is still there, and my happiness with myself shouldn’t rely on my weight or appearance. Why does it sometimes? It’s not right that I love myself so easily when I’m at the weight I want to be and not as much when I’m not. Now, I do have a weight range that just feels best inside my body. I have more energy there and feel less sluggish, and my clothes that I love so much fit better. But it still shouldn’t be the end all, be all. That number is actually higher than most people’s my height, and it took me a while to realize that a number on the scale really is unique to the individual. It helped when nurses weighing me at the doctor’s office would do double-takes at the scale and say they thought I would be ten pounds less than that - as shallow as it sounds, it helped me see that my number looks fine on me. I don’t know if I just have heavy bones or what, but I’m good with it now. When I was in high school, I thought I was supposed to be 115 pounds. I didn’t realize then how vastly different that number looks on different bodies. If I were to actually go down to 115, people would start worrying about my health (they started worrying when I was only two pounds below the low end of my ideal weight). I know people making comments about weight either way can sometimes be destructive, but I’m glad they did in this case, because my own image of myself in the mirror had become skewed from reality.

So what do I believe in my core, even when I do things that go against my beliefs like Stomach Watch 1991-2015? I think healthy (or at least semi-healthy) eating is kind to your body - and I also believe indulging sometimes is kind to your spirit. I believe in exercising or dancing or doing some kind of movement to keep your body healthy, strong, and fluid even as you age - whichever one resonates with you the most or a combo. I also believe in not taking it to the extreme for the sake of being thin or pushing your body too hard. I love makeup and clothes and actually am sort of addicted. I’m not going to say none of that is for the sake of impressing people by looking good. But most of it is just because I really enjoy it. I also finally got to the point a few years ago where I didn’t have to have makeup on everywhere I went. Most of the time, I can now feel just as good about myself in pajamas and no makeup as I do in a great outfit and my face done. I like that I can experience both of those things without going to one extreme or the other. I don’t begrudge anyone who’s at either end of the spectrum, though; a balance of both is just what feels right for me. I believe you should change your appearance if you want to and leave it be if you don’t. If you do, make sure your motivations are in check. Outside validation feels good; it just does. But it can’t be the main source of how we view ourselves. Most likely, you’re already great exactly the way you are.

I have a three-year-old daughter. I don’t want her to catch me sneaking stomach peeks. And do you know that even when kids don’t see us doing those things and don’t hear negative self-talk from us, they know when we love and embrace ourselves and when we don’t. They pick up on it. I know because I picked up on it from my mom. No matter how beautiful and perfect she thought I was (and told me), I knew she didn’t think she was. And that sends a powerful message. She passed away before she could ever experience true self-love, and it breaks my heart every day. I don’t want that for myself or my child. It’s crucial to me to guide my daughter into keeping the same self-love she has now at three for the rest of her life - because I think most kids start out with it, only to have it slowly evaporate over time. I hope I’m giving her a good foundation to build on so that she can see herself the way I see her. And I want to see myself the way my mom saw me.

Think of whatever girl or woman tends to trigger your negative feelings about your appearance the most. And then realize that even she has those feelings about herself sometimes. Victoria’s Secret models get nervous and self-conscious - and don’t roll your eyes and say, “Boo-hoo for them,” because we’re all human, with insecurities, doubts, and fears. Everyone on this earth can always find in someone else some quality they wish they were more like. And someone’s looking at you the same way, trust me. Sometimes I have poise and confidence as I walk through town; sometimes I trip on a crack in the sidewalk or over a table at the coffee shop (true stories). It’s a beautiful gift to be able to laugh at yourself and realize that everyone else in the world feels what you feel at one time or another. It’s not until we start talking about it with each other instead of hoping no one notices - and thereby knowing others actually relate to us - that we can start freeing ourselves of our self-set traps. Simply talking about it or writing it down to share with someone automatically releases some of the power your insecurities have over you.

Something that also helps me, which I learned through coaching, is to visualize going inside your body into the area that causes you grief. Describe what it looks like - what color it is, how it feels (warm, cold, texture), how it makes you feel being in there. You can talk to it and tell it you love it - or tell it why you don't love it but that you really want to learn how to. This isn't a once-and-done exercise, at least for me, but whenever I make time to do it, it helps me. Visualizations where you walk up to your childhood self (or whatever age you were when something happened that changed the way you saw yourself) and tell her you love her and want to heal her are also really powerful.

I’m actually miles ahead of where I used to be, and I’m proud of that and thankful. I don’t want to beat myself up for my off days either, because that’s still questioning my own worth. I’m no longer trying to achieve perfection in my self-love journey or in myself. I think if I can truly love and embrace myself inside and out the majority of the time, that is something to celebrate.

Conversation with my daughter today...

Her: (singing "Try" while building Legos)

Me: That song is about loving yourself and being happy with yourself.

Her: (gleefully shouting) I LOVE MYSELF!!!!

Me: I am so glad to hear that. I love myself too. 

Her: Does everybody love theirself?

Me: Sadly, not everyone does, even though they should. I hope you always love yourself as much as you do now.