Hidden Chains

Oh! the futures I abandoned by staying chained to the past with a manacle of fear wrapped ‘round my throat. Thoughts of flight would bring a lump to my throat, tightening the collar I willfully wore.

The links holding me fast and in ruin were forged by ghosts of the living that haunted me from near and far. Had I but the breath to puff them away they would have melted like mist on a summer’s dawn and I would have been released to seek new fortunes.

But no, no matter how bright and gay the future could be compared to that ever-present cold and grey slog, my duty to those ghosts kept me rattling in my bondage. Even in my ecstasies with sweet or sour lovers and liars the collar would pinch as those ghosts gibbered at my fantasies of flying from their drear arrest.

Until I was pleading for help to a friend to assist my escape and was discarded for it because their collar heretofore unseen by me began to strangle them did I also see the collars of the ghosts. Like bones revealed by x-rays, their yokes showed the infinite spiderwebbing regress of their hidden, tangled reins, created by the yanking and pulling of uncountable other spirits towards the long-dead future hopes and dreams of their pasts.

As it has ever been, the now-impossible futures of the past only truly die when the heat of the fires that forged our chains fall cold and we remove the chains and collars now roasting us in frozen time.

So I huffed and I puffed, and blew it all into the building wind that will carry me to warmer futures, while bidding adieu to the ghosts left behind rattling in their hidden chains.

Adieu! Adieu!

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

Posted in gender transition, LGBT, random, self-acceptance, transgender | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Noisy Silences

The noisy silences of my life are filled with the rhythmic ticking of clocks tocking away on their cogs and the burbling waters of aquarium filters dancing above motor hums, and the more erratic and punctuated clinks of silverware upon flatware, the slosh-slosh-slosh-whir-slosh-slosh-slosh-whir of the washer and the random metallic clinks of zippers and buttons banging within the dryer drum. The radio blares, or whispers, or grinds, or croons, or talks. My guitar wails in distorted harmonics or sweeps in and out of phase as electrons drive down the silicon mazes I send them to before jumping from plate to plate in a vacuum while amplifying the radio noise of the universe and my household electrical grid sixty times a second.

In these silences not a word is spoken, sometimes for days. There is nothing to say and no one to say the nothing to. At times, I may mutter to myself to break the spell; it feels transgressive, like I’m talking out of turn and I hold my breath, awaiting a rebuke, but none ever comes. I am alone.

Even in winter I hear birdsong when outside, chatterings from bush to tree and understory to sky. I have nothing to say to them. I hear but don’t see the whirring wings of the hummingbird, so I paint its iridescence in my mind’s eye: a momentarily hovering body, the wings a blur, a head cock or two, and it’s off!

The trees rub against each other in the wind, clacking or groaning, as if they’re arguing just to talk because they know they’ll make up in the spring with gentler, leafy caresses.

How many caresses did I take for granted? I push that question from my mind. My past is a hummingbird that’s zipped away.

I try to luxuriate in my silence so I can hear myself. But even I don’t want to talk to myself. I’m embarrassed by much of it—the ignorance, the previously unexamined prejudices and privileges, the fear, the greed and venality, the sexism, the misogyny, the transphobia and other social phobics I used to wield as sword and wear as armor.

It’s just best I don’t say much. I’d like to stop adding to the cringing things I’ve said list. My lifetime of malapropisms almost bring me to seizure from shame. There’s no unsaying them.

I can only chew and swallow my words if they stay in my mouth. So I’ll just be quiet, unless and until there’s someone to say something to, and even then I may bite my tongue to blunt it’s ignorant sharpness.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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The Transition Roller Coaster

My transition has been a roller coaster and I realized last night that the ride so far has been pretty darn close to the Gartner Hype Cycle, so I took a crack at visualizing it:

The Transition Roller Coaster, A graph based on Gartner's Hype Cycle, showing an upward slope to a peak of expectations that falls to a trough of disillusionment, and then slowly heads back up to a baseline. ©2018 @cistotrans

The Transition Roller Coaster, ©2018 @cistotrans

Once I realized I was trans, my expectations were low. I didn’t know what to do with it and it felt like I was stuck in a place I could never escape. It was a dark place and I spent increasing amounts of energy trying to deny or hide I was trans.

Once I realized I had to get out of that hole and get on with deciding to transition, it felt like a rocket ride up, up, up, until I hit the point of maximum expectations, where I thought everything was going to be great. I could do this! I could be myself! All! The! Time! It was going to be and was great!

Transition came and went and then, like a sugar high wearing off, reality set in. Divorce. Kids shuttling between houses. Misgenderings. Never-ending name change hoops. Dating while trans. Why can’t I find jeans that fit me? Self-doubt crept in. Why did I blow up my life? Will I ever find someone to be with again? This sucks. I was deep down in the trough of disillusionment.

But slowly, things got and are getting better. I still have moments, hours, or even days where things feel like they have in the past and I cycle through the whole experience all over. I think I’ll likely have the same ride around surgery.

My life isn’t perfect, not by a country mile, but after almost five years of continuous HRT, three years of living my life as myself, and all of the emotional ups and downs to get to where I am today, things feel mostly stable. I feel like I’m approaching a realistic version of my life where most of the peaks and dips around transition are behind me.

©Heather Coldstream

I’m on Twitter @cistotrans

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

Posted in coming out, gender transition, HRT, observations, opinion, personal history, self-acceptance, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Do Cis People See Gender Counselors?

Do Cis People See Gender Counselors?

A trans man friend of mine is planning to come out to his extended family as part of a brief holiday visit over Christmas and he’s getting a case of the nerves. He lives in California and his family lives in Florida. To avoid having to deal with expected family fallout, he’s only planning on being there for 36 hours before turning around and flying home. I don’t blame him.

I’ve met his mother, and she’s the type of person who is unwilling to accept their mistakes. She misgendered me twice at dinner once and both he and I corrected her and she didn’t even acknowledge it. I don’t think she did it intentionally, but I do believe there’s a direct line between intentionally misgendering someone and not inherently accepting the gender of the person in front of you, even if you’re being outwardly polite.

The good news is that he has a lesbian cousin there who practices LGBT counseling–a built in ally. I suggested he come out to her before he goes so she’s mentally prepped to help run interference if it’s needed with the rest of the family.

The better news is that he came out to his daughter, who lives in the Northeast, and she was fully supportive. This was a huge relief to him and I could hear the happiness in his voice.

But still, he’s anxious, and he told me he was having second thoughts about coming out and maybe even transition. I reminded him about my journey and misgivings, and how it delayed me by decades.

Everyone’s transition and coming out is different. There is no universal script to follow that works for everyone. If there is a universal experience, the arc is pretty much the same for all trans people who transition: self-awareness of being trans, which leads to steps to transition, which leads to coming out, which leads to transition.

I asked him to consider the following questions*:

  • Do cis people have internal gender conflict?
  • Do cis people see gender counselors for internal gender conflict?
  • Why would cis people see gender counselors for internal gender conflict if they’re not trans?
  • Do you think you’re that type of cis person given your long-term expressed desires to live as a man and start taking testosterone?

Occam’s Razor cut to the truth.

After that, I told him he gets to decide if he transitions and set the timetable for any steps in that direction.

He’s still going to go to Florida to come out to his family, and he’s still nervous, but he at least sounded more resolved about it.


* (The intersectionality of race, class, and privilege framed these particular questions for him. A more generalized version would be: Do cis people have internal gender conflict? Do cis people transition? Why would a cis person do that? Are you that type of cis person?)

©Heather Coldstream

I’m on Twitter @cistotrans

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

Posted in coming out, family, friends, gender transition, LGBT, observations, self-acceptance, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pussy Pondering Produces Penetrating Perception

She moves towards me, seeking my warmth and skin. My heat, a low simmer, moves closer to a full boil and it is almost too much. Almost.

How has this beautiful woman come to be in my bed? It seems impossible, too good to be true, but here she is, straining to be closer to me. I trace the line of time that leads to this moment as I trace her curves from chin to crotch and it seems so absurd I almost laugh out loud. I channel it instead into a cross between a moan and a growl. She moans in return and presses against my hand.

She has something I don’t yet have and for a moment I am unsure of myself because of it. Worse, I feel I have entered a temporary delusion and I struggle to ground myself. Like a turbine, the steam in me drives these unbidden and unwanted thoughts, and my desire wanes as thinking overtakes feeling.

Am I woman enough now? Will I feel emotionally different after my anatomy changes? How will what I feel with my body change? Will things be better, or worse, or the same, or all of them? Will I feel more womanly to this or some other partner in the future?

There are so many questions I ask of myself about the future. It’s folly to expect they’ll even be answered but I still ask. And right now the answer to a question I’ve had for decades is at my fingertips and I almost laugh again when it hits me that its been the wrong question all along; I’ve been looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

The dysphoria and misogyny of it is monstrous in its implications. It shatters some beliefs I held about myself and I bifurcate into before and after realizations. But the now demands my attention. This is no time for reflective contemplation. This woman deserves and demands my presence.

Later, when my fingers and mind are not frenzied but lazy and float randomly where they will, the shape of the real question emerges. They’re really two questions.

What do I want? and, What will I do with it once I have it?

The first is the straightforward question with a ready answer: a vagina. It’s a simple matter to concretize with money and insurance though either isn’t simple to attain.

The other question defies an answer.

Everything? Nothing? Something in between?

Being trans for me has been an almost-continual stepping off into the unknown. When I still thought I was a cishet guy, things were clear in a way. There were scripts I was given on how to act and what the expectations and possibilities were. I was told what I was expected to desire.

But there was no script for this closeted trans girl who couldn’t reconcile her body with her fantasy desires. Being of small imagination I couldn’t see beyond the cishet narrative. I was the fish who didn’t know they were in water.

Dimly, I knew there were other scripts but it took years, hormones, and talking with and reading others to realize we can write our own, stealing from the masters as we please and rejecting whole canon if we so wish. Or, just hang the script and go improv.

When I was young, I fantasized about being the woman in the heterosexual and lesbian porn I saw. I wanted to be the objectified woman who was desired and dispensed pleasure and had big tits and a picture-perfect pussy and had toe-curling orgasms.

I didn’t learn about the male gaze and how ridiculously far from reality all of that was until I was older. And it wasn’t until recently I realized those distortions, even though I knew they were ridiculous and had seen, and read, and had experienced other scripts, still influenced my thinking.

Of the many thoughts and fantasies I’ve had through the years about what I’ll do with my own pussy after I get it, it turned out most were still centered on the male gaze, no matter the equipment of the partner I imagined. I elevated how it would look and feel to others as Most Important and how it would feel to me as Least Important.

How silly in retrospect! How sad in a way. But I’m free now. Free to feel instead of think. Free to fully enjoy the person I’m with and I am. Free to go back and re-write my scripts, putting me at the center. And all that feels good.

©Heather Coldstream

I’m on Twitter @cistotrans

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

Posted in dating, gender transition, LGBT, observations, personal history, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


To be broken is to have been intact at some point, and I have no memory of being whole. I have memories of brief periods of time when I felt put together, but never have I not felt flawed. Maybe it’s a universal human condition; maybe it’s not. I can’t tell from my perspective.

A therapist once told me I experience a different reality than most people and her explanation of why resides in a blind spot of mine. It is as seemingly inaccessible to me as feeing unbroken.

I used to think that being trans was my major flaw, that its jagged edges were what kept me from fitting in. I poured so much energy into sanding those edges down to help me fit into the world, little was left to pull the dysphoric shards from my body, and that happened almost too late.

It turns out the pain of dysphoria prevented me from recognizing even deeper pains because my survival strategy of compartmentalizing psychic pain away was a catch-all mechanism and not a specific response. It just seemed specific because my gender dysphoria was so acute and consuming, like late-stage cancer ravening a body.

Post-transition I’ve been able to demobilize my compartmentalization and mix the contents of each recess with the broader whole and it turns out the whole is a goddamn mess. It’s messy because of the sewage poured into my head when people thought I was a guy. Maybe for a guy that stuff is nourishment but for a trans woman it was waterboarding.

I don’t get the benefit of the doubt because I’m a woman. I don’t get respect because I’m a woman. I don’t get second, or third, or fourth chances because I’m a woman. I don’t get slack because I’m a woman. I don’t get to be heard because I’m a woman.

All the stuff I heard about hard work, and applying myself, and speaking up, and being assertive was so wound around white male entitlement and privilege I’m still untangling it. The preparation I had to be a woman in a man’s world? Zilch. And the two combined have made the task of putting my broken self back together feel like I bought a life on discount at IKEA only to find parts from different lives jammed haphazardly in the box along with instructions I can’t read and pages obviously missing.

But it is a life, and for all its fucked-up-ness it is still better than the one I had before. I also still have hope I can become whole. I just hope I can find all the pieces.

©Heather Coldstream

I’m on Twitter @cistotrans

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

Posted in gender transition, LGBT, mental health, observations, personal history, self-acceptance, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

At the Corner of Impostor Syndrome and Internalized Transphobia

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was raised as a boy. She was told she was a boy, told to act like a boy, and was teased and bullied when she acted like a girl. As the girl grew up she came to realize she was a girl, not a boy, but didn’t know how to live as a girl. This made her very sad.

One day the girl, now a young woman, discovered there was a path to living as a woman and started down it even though she was very afraid to follow it. She walked and walked until her feet were tired. She had to stop and rest many times but she stayed on the path.

Sometimes she would pass people and they would tell her things. They would say things like, ‘You’re on the wrong path. That path is for women, not men,’ or, ‘You’re not a woman, get off of that path!’ This also made her very sad and she wondered if she was on the wrong path. But she kept going.

After many years on the path she began to pass people who would just wave and smile at her or talk about the weather. She realized fewer and fewer people were telling her she was on the wrong path. This made her feel like she was on the right path and going in the right direction. This made her feel happy.

She met more people as she walked and most everyone was friendly. Most of the time this made her happy. But sometimes it made her wonder if they were just being polite and not telling her she was on the wrong path. She was thinking about this as she came to a corner.

On the corner were street signs and a building with mirrors for windows. The signs said Impostor Syndrome and Internalized Transphobia.

‘Uh oh,’ she thought. ‘Am I on the right path? I should stop and ask for directions to be sure.’

As she approached the building she saw her reflection. From a distance, she was happy with how she looked. She thought she looked like any other woman out for a walk. As she drew closer to the door she examined herself in more detail.

She didn’t like how broad her shoulders were, or how she walked, or her forehead. She hated her forehead. And her voice, now that she thought about it. By the time she reached the door she felt like an imposter and almost turned around when she saw a sign that said ‘Women’s Entrance’.

She was afraid someone would see her and kick her out by saying, ‘This place is for women only! Why are you in here? Get out!’ Trembling with the fear of being discovered, she took a deep breath and entered.

At first glance, the lobby looked full of people. But to her surprise, she realized the lobby was a maze of mirrors and half-mirrors, and the people she saw were either her reflection or her reflection blended with the reflections of different women from other places in the building.

Some of the women were so beautiful it made her heart ache. They also made her feel envious and like she didn’t belong. Some of the women looked more like men than women and they made her feel self-conscious.

‘I look like that, too,’ she thought. ‘I don’t belong here.’

She tried asking the half reflections she saw in the mirror the way out. While she could see her superimposed lips move over their mouths to ask the question, there was never any answer. They just stared at her like she had never spoken. She gave up trying to talk to them and started to look for an exit, but the mirrors made one hard to find. She walked and walked.

Eventually she tired and sat down to rest. She didn’t mean to, but she fell asleep. When she awoke it was dusk and she was surprised to find she was outside on the corner and leaning against the street signpost. Where the building had been was a small grove of trees. Their leaves murmured in a gentle, evening breeze and lightning bugs traced streaks underneath the branches.

‘What a queer dream!’ she thought as she stood up. ‘I must have dreamt there was a building.’

She began walking on the path again. It was starting to get darker and she realized she was hungry. She saw some lights up ahead and was pleased to see it was a restaurant, so she decided to go in and get some food.

As she entered she caught her reflection in the glass door and was startled to see that the surface of her face was mirrored. Before she could step back to take another look the greeter asked, ‘How many, ma’am?’

Not knowing what to say because she was confused why the greeter didn’t say something about her mirrored face she replied, ‘It’s just me.’

‘Right this way, please,’ the greeter said with a smile as she grabbed a menu and then led her to the table.

‘Thank you. Where’s the bathroom?’

The greeter pointed to a nearby alcove, ‘Right that way.’

‘Thank you.’

Before sitting at her table, she went to the bathroom so she could look in the mirror. Once in front of the mirror, she was shocked to see the face of a beautiful woman. It looked like one of the faces from inside the mirrored building in her dream.

‘That’s not me,’ she thought, and as the thought completed her faced changed to one that looked more like a man. Horrified, she thought, ‘That’s not me either!’ and her face changed to an even more masculine-looking one.

Just then another women entered and she turned her head to look at her. She was afraid she was going to be told to get out of the women’s room. To her surprise, the other woman just nodded at her before entering a stall. She looked back at the mirror and saw her own face had returned. This made her happy.

‘Maybe the face I see is different than the face other people see?’

She decided to test this and set about refreshing her makeup while imagining she looked more like a man. As she expected, her face changed. The other woman came out of the stall and made small talk with her about the food at the restaurant while she washed her hands like nothing was amiss. The woman dried her hands, wished her a good evening, and left.

‘How about that?’ she thought as her face shifted back to her own.

©Heather Coldstream

I’m on Twitter @cistotrans

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

Posted in fiction, gender transition, LGBT, self-acceptance, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments