Initial Reflections on Changing My Name
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Today I got word the courts approved my name change. I am officially Jennifer Angelina Petro. I am challenged to put into words just how happy this makes me feel, but you know I’m going to try.
Imagine being misgendered for 47 years. Imagine the dissonance caused by not knowing who I really was, and that not knowing boiling subterranean in my consciousness–simmering like molten metal for decades before I knew what was going on. The dissonance permeated all areas of my life and I didn’t know what it was about. The only thing I knew was that something was wrong. What that something was however, was a mystery.
When the molten metal finally spilled over into my conscious life and sent my armor melting to bits I realized the truth: I am a woman. Always have been. No matter what the doctors said, no matter what my name said, no matter what my place in life as a parent and spouse said—I am a woman. I have spoken many times about the euphoria that came with the realization—the centeredness, the completeness, the sheer joy and utter amazement. And despite my life circumstances being rather in shambles, that certainty and joy about knowing who I am remains.
And now the courts have given their blessing on my name change. And while the happiness at this news is great—beyond great—it is tinged with melancholy. Joseph has been gradually fading more and more off stage since Spring 2015. And he has done so with class and grace. I have also written before about how much I love and respect Joseph for keeping me safe all those years. He wants me center stage. He wants living this one, wild, and tender life.
And yet as I watch him go I realize in a very real sense he was never there—not in fullness and in truth. Joseph lived a ghost-life, a phantom life—dissociating everywhere he went. And he did so to distract the world from me in order to keep me safe until the time was right and ripe for my arrival into the conscious reality of who I am as Jennifer.
So, in truth I was never male, no matter what my body looked like and the things it did. I have always and ever been female. I have always and ever been Jennifer. Joseph was a cloak. Jennifer the soul and spirit—and yes, she is the cloak too. No matter what was in my pants or what I thought I was or the world thought I was—Jennifer is the one and only reality of who I am. And it is my hope your love, acceptance, friendship, and desire to be in relationship with me isn’t conditional based upon what was or is in my pants, or what was or is my name, gender marker, gender identify, or sexual preference.
Esoteric thoughts aside, I am moved to tears as I embrace fully this next stage of my journey. Jennifer Angelina Petro can now be announced to the world. Oh, sure there is much paper work to do and forms to fill out and I am sure there will be a fair share of hassles and rigmarole, but it’s OK. I know who I am. And little by little, as all the paper work gets finished, my name—my chosen name to represent ME will become more and more accepted in the wider world.
I am grateful for the legal department at the Mazzoni Center, and in particular, Barri Friedland. She was the shepherdess who helped guide this lost soul to her true name. In a very real sense I can plug in the words “I once was Joseph, but now am Jennifer,” to the tune of Amazing Grace. Yes, I know, I have always been Jennifer, but the point is I was lost as Joseph and didn’t even know it. Barri, and the legal team at the Mazzoni Center, worked pro-bono to be sure Jennifer was found and embraced by the whole world. I am so grateful.
Thank you for loving me and sticking with me all these years.
There Is No One Way to Be Trans, or the Number Three
Jennifer Angelina Petro
There is no one way to be trans just as there is no one way to express, well, anything, even, let’s say, numbers. The number three is a quantitative value that can be expressed with three acorns, three pieces of candy, three pennies, a triangle, a tripod, and so on. It can be expressed as 3, III, or three—not to mention how it is expressed in the many different languages of the world. The fundamental value of a three does not change because of how it is written or illustrated, or expressed or in what language it is referred to in. Transpeople are fundamentally human beings who just so happen to exist and express themselves on a spectrum of infinite variety.
I could care less how “feminine” I look in some respects, in others I do, but the point is, I choose what is right and true and comfortable and fun for me. I do not base my gender identity or expression on what the world might think is most “feminine.” Three pencils and three jolly ranchers both express “threeness” equally validly, and “correctly.” I express the value of “transness” not wearing makeup just as much as another transperson wearing tons of makeup.
I have met transwomen who were trapped (or so it seemed to me) in the traditional gender binary. And this is sad. And can be tragically sad. Some transwomen try so hard to fit in to what they perceive is the “right” feminine gender norm and kill themselves when they perceive they can’t or don’t. Some transwomen seemingly buy into the same misogynistic impressions of “femininity,” that many cis-gendered people do.
This past year in which I came out, several transwomen have told me I will never “pass,” unless I fix my eyebrows. Of course, I had no idea my eyebrows were broken AND I had no idea “passing” was the goal. I thought being my authentic self was. If that includes passing, cool; if it doesn’t, still cool.
One transwoman, a few years older than myself, recently said, after looking me over:
“Have you ever heard of the uncanny valley?”
“Well, it’s the idea that some robots and zombies and aliens, etc. make humans feel eerie and uncomfortable because they appear to look CLOSE to human, but aren’t.”
“I see,” I said, while inside drifting steadily into a protective dissociative state (really).
“You just need to fit in more,” she went on without mercy, “work on your makeup, your hair is too flat, your clothes, well, your clothes are OKAY, but you can work on those too. And your eyebrows…they are way too big. You haven’t feminized your voice or your moves—your walk.”
Later, after much reflection and a healthy dose of needing to be talked down from a highly triggered state of dysphoria, I thought about just how sad it must be to be her.
She is stuck—I daresay—bound–to the belief that the task of a transwoman is to fit into “American” society’s prevailing views of what women should look like. If I would only “feminize” myself in such ways, this would, in her mind, make me look more “human,”—less threatening to the “normies.” If I would just toe the line of “traditional,” “American,” “feminine” ideals then I would find a job and a place to live. I wouldn’t be so depressed.
I also realized later on that I must be a threat to her on some levels. She was likely told and bought into the idea that she had to look a certain way in order to be a “real” woman, a woman who “passes,” or a woman who, at very least, doesn’t draw attention to herself. There are, of course, very real safety concerns for some transwomen, but I think in this case, I must have contradicted decades of, what deep-inside she must view as, her wasted time, money, and life trying to “fit in.” Turns out you can be trans and not have to look a certain way, not have to give a fuck about fitting in. Something she may never have been told. Something she cannot bear to hear.
The fact that I don’t wear makeup must fly in the face of her “traditions” about what women should and should not do. The fact that I don’t care about covering my five-o’clock shadow might make her upset for all the money and time she spent on electrolysis or expensive makeup, not to mention the time she spent shaving, and so on. The fact that I don’t care how fluffy my eyebrows are might make her resentful at herself for all the countless hours she spent plucking, waxing, trimming, shaping, or threading her eyebrows—and here I am—a whipper-snapper transwoman—who comes along and says: “Um, I’m trans, and I have fluffy eyebrows. Fuck you.”
Of course it is completely possible she looks the way she does, and does the things to help herself look the way she does, because she likes it, because she chooses it consciously, thinks it’s fun, affirming, liberating, and so on. And that’s all totally fine, totally acceptable, totally trans. And when I dress the way I dress or choose not to “feminize” myself in the ways others think I should, I am also acting perfectly, acceptably, and totally, wonderfully trans.
So let’s get some things straight, because there are some things in the world that need to be straight, and these are a few of them:
1). There is no one way to be trans.
2). There is no right or wrong way to be trans.
3). Transgender folks are human beings just like everyone else. We do not belong to any uncanny valleys. Uncanny valleys are stupid.
4). There is no one way to be a woman, a man, or genderfluid, genderqueer, asexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, a child, a dog, a puppy, cat, whale, moose, tree, or sky.
5). There is no need for transgender policing in the transgender community.
Those are eternal truths just as the number three will always and ever be a three. A thousand years from now you can hold three pieces of stardust in your hands and they will still represent the number three. A thousand years from now the idea of uncanny valleys will still be stupid.
A penis is most commonly found on “men.” A vulva most commonly found on “women.” But that doesn’t mean they are the only places for those organs to be found, and further more they do not define the gender of a human being any more than an arm, leg, nose, liver, or knee cap does. I am a woman with a penis. And I don’t like wearing makeup very much. And further-further more, I just divulged a very personal bit of information about myself because I chose to. In actuality, what anyone has or does not have in their pants, skirt, spacesuit, etc. is none of your business, and if you think it is, then perhaps the idea of the uncanny valley IS valid because it would then apply to you.
I am a transwoman with fluffy eyebrows. I am a transwoman who still likes her voice. I am a transperson who doesn’t believe in “dead names.” And I am still perfectly, wonderfully a number three, a person, a transperson, a woman who just so happens to be powerful, creative, and full of life. I am a person who just so happens to be fed up with the policing that goes on in some trans communities. A person who cares deeply about the young transfolk coming up behind us.
They need to be accepted completely and fully for who they are and how they want or need to express themselves. They need us. They need us strong, together, and smart. They need us to have their backs. They need us to look in the mirror and at one another, and at THEM, and see love—pure and simple expressions of infinite variety.
Independence Day, 2016
Radiance Angelina Petro
Fireflies riot in the trees,
I can’t distinguish them
From the moon-lit sequins
On my skirt as I stride
Through the damp grass
Into the night-draped yard.
Fireworks pop—dull, crisp—
Somewhere people on blankets
Look up, wondering how good
The finale will be (it is always so
Sudden—leaving the scent of sulphur
And wisps of smoke to dissolve
Into the sky).
Fire consumes light for a living.
I long to turn and run
Through the black hole of my life,
And plunge head-first
Into the churning mouth
Of the sun.
Please help support my transition. Thank you.
Jennifer Angelina Petro
I am not from around here.
I came from up there–the sky.
When I entered your gravitational pull
I vanished into a womb
And woke up one day
An intersexed jarble
Of cells and screams.
As I assembled over your earth years,
I tried to fit in to the norms and customs
Of this place, except my ways
Of being didn’t quite align with those
Of the people nearest me, so they tried
To chisel me down, hone
Me into something that better matched
Their perceptions of what they thought I should be.
Yes, I still possessed my super powers.
I could have melted them with my eyes,
I could have spoken the language
Of my cousins—the cicadas—and droned them
Into a pulp. I could have also lifted into the night
Like an untethered star anytime
I wanted to. But something
Kept me here, something kept me
From destroying everything in my path.
Something itched from the inside of my skin,
Something began erasing my memories
Of my other life one by one,
And it was increasingly delightful.
And even though I had morphed
Many times for the conveniences
Of space travel, this transformation
Was wholly unprecedented, and divine.
Over time, (which is what they call the experience
Of fear around here), it became apparent
That this inside being wasn’t
Inside at all—it was the whole shebang—
It was the totality of who I was,
And one day the pod cracked
And there I was, an alien unto everyone
Except myself–a sister from another planet.
And I still had my super powers.
I read minds and listened to hearts,
I learned when to hide,
I secretly saved lives in alleyways deep in the city,
Only to disappear into a puddle– lamp-lit with rain.
I could harness lightening and change entire days
Into moments of power and flame,
I could breathe finally in an atmosphere
I didn’t realize I had been suffocating in.
Now, the helmet’s gone, or at very least,
Unneeded. The space suit
I traveled in slowly disintegrates from view,
And I roam this terrestrial place
Hiding in plain sight, gradually forgetting
Where I came from,
Looking for instructions on how
To fit into this life so that ultimately,
I can remember the way home–
For now, there is no name for me,
There is no place for me to rest my head.
I am lost, found, dissolving, evolving,
And aching to be seen for who I really am—for who you really are—
For who we all are, so that one day,
When they come looking for me,
They won’t find me—and they will take you back with them instead
With the hopes of discovering why
So many wanted me gone.
Rising Up to Meet the Road
Jennifer Angelina Petro
There are poems unfinished
Waiting in the woods beneath roots of trees
And hovering, like horsetail clouds behind the moon;
There are songs unwritten
Following beside me as I walk,
Their melodies coming in snippets, like
Distant birdcalls or pieces
Of dreams, and soundbites
Of conversations overheard
In used bookstores, classrooms, and coffee shops,
Their rhythms blossoming
From the muse and the soul touching all night, all day,
Every day, when I am not able to dance
Either asleep or awake;
There is work undone
Waiting in the universe, making its way
Towards my door, opportunities
Growing, like flower gardens
Planted when no one is looking,
But they are coming, they are revealing
Themselves little by little, like
Spring in the coldest of winters;
There are people unloved
Waiting in the wings for me to release the spirits
That bind me–to make my way
Towards the light, to open
The hands of my heart
And let in those who see
And feel and know my name,
And for me to step through
The fourth wall and into their arms and lives;
There are answered prayers
Unprayed, waiting to be let loose
Into the world, like
So many fireflies, like a carnival
Of children, like a collection
Of songs and poems
Published on the wings
Of pain and healing and lifting their way
Into moonlit clouds and sunlit days,
And alighting back down as angels and
Moonbeams, sunbeams and ends of rainbows,
Petals of cherry blossoms,
Dragonflies, and cries of cicadas
And morning doves, and beings
Of all the elements, and all of this, all of this
Swirling into one, worthy to be lived
Life of one woman rising up
To meet the road.
My Nest Was Built With Little Bones
Jennifer Angelina Petro
My nest was built with little bones,
Shells, feathers, twigs, candy wrappers,
Shiny things, torn pages of catechisms, shabads,
And pornographic magazines,
It was made of moss and hair, abandoned ribbons,
Scraps of red bandannas, silken scarves,
Shopping lists, and spit.
For years I incubated beneath the hollow-boned lark,
Or was it a mockingbird?
My shell survived storms
And long stretches where only monsters,
Drunken owls, and sleepy seagulls smothered me
In the night. I learned to hide myself—
A nest within a nest—an egg within an egg;
I lived tucking parts of me away
I never wanted. Brooding memories
Filled the nest like bits of worms regurgitated,
And every now and again I caught a glimpse of a faraway blue sky.
When the egg hatched and the nest
Bloomed, I stared blindly into myself,
Wiggling stubs of wings I so wanted covered with feathers and flight.
Yet now, I live, I walk, a nest on legs, a human egg, a permanent fledgling—
Wings clipped, song raspy with rain and darkness,
And a road of eggshells spreading out before me wherever I go.
The Ever Unfolding Rose
Jennifer Angelina Petro
I weep in gratitude as I write these words. Many of you know the many challenges I am facing in my life right now all as a result of being transgender. And yet, despite these, and the near-constant struggles with dysphoria, I look in the mirror and am amazed—not at the beauty or how “feminine” I look—but that I am who I want to be. I am the person I was meant to be.
The soul looking out from my eyes is tender. She is also ferociously strong. As the years of living under the weight of an imposed masculinity, she rejoices in the freedom that is finally hers.
Today I see the wonder of who I am as a transgender woman. Imagine carrying within you the seeds of an entirely new person and then sprouting with every step. Imagine being a human, living egg, or a walking cocoon continuously unfurling and hatching as one moves through the world. Imagine being asleep all your life and then suddenly waking up to a reality that is both delicious and calming beyond compare. Imagine having amnesia all your life and not remembering who you really are until, one day, the scales fall, the fog lifts, and you remember—you are an angel, you are majestic, holy, noble—you are yourself as your soul remembers you to be.
Today I embrace the native tradition of being two-spirit. Today I embrace the wisdom thrumming through me and the insight and understanding I have of myself and of the world.
Yes, there are challenges. Yes, I am often raw with tears, and the changes I am in the midst of often feel paralyzing, but I am me—a transgender woman. And I loved. I know that. I know too, that I am love made manifest in a being emerging like a blossom in spring. Whatever lies ahead will be met by a soul living in her deepest truth. Whatever I have to face—I face it knowing I am myself.
I am myself in a way I have always wanted to be and could never dream possible. I am myself with a life and identity of authenticity that is helping change the world for the better. I am myself with an awareness of my spirit that is as profound as it is humbling. I am the ever unfolding rose. I am transgender, and this being transgender is my greatest gift.
Trigger Warning: This poem is about deep gender dysphoria. It contains references to tucking, self abuse, self-mutilation, sexual abuse, rape, and gender reassignment surgery. It is about my continued effort to sort things out, and to heal.
Thank You, I Want You No More
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Even before the abuse started
I would push you in everyday as far as you could go
And pull the extra skin over you,
Making you disappear;
I would tuck you tightly between my thighs
And hold you there hoping to make it look
Like I had a vagina.
Of course, after they gave me pornography
(Trying to make me a man),
And the other abuses—the assaults, the molestations, the rapes,
I hated you even more.
I abused you and got myself into situations
Where others would abuse you too,
And when I grew pubic hair I would tuck you away
Even more—hoping to make you gone,
I fantasized of removing you myself with a knife.
Yes, years later I got married. Yes, I sired three children,
Yes I learned, to the best of my ability,
To allow you to feel pleasure—but the line connecting you
With my heart and mind would always trigger
A leaving—a drifting upwards into the ceiling
Or else far back into time, or even deep into utter nothingness.
I know, I know, I hear people say to be grateful for what god gave me,
But I look at you like a deformity—something I was born with—
Like blindness or being unable to walk—something that wasn’t supposed to happen.
Maybe it is possible to give thanks
For one’s handicaps, but I have not yet evolved to that place.
No, I do not hate my sons, or men, or masculinity—
I simply want you gone.
And now, the little blue pills
Are causing you to retreat more and more,
And planning for your surgery is utmost in my mind.
I do not hate the idea of you–it’s just
You were never supposed to be there in the first place.
OK. Thank you.
There, I said it.
Thank you for siring my children, thank you for all the times
You let me pass urine, thank you for all you endured all these years,
And yes, thank you for letting them one day transform you
Into the parts I really want. Thank you, I want you
Please help support my Gender Reassignment Surgery. Thank you. All my love. <3
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Ravens gather in the spring oak,
Waiting, staring down;
Day after day they descend
Into the budding branches
Until their gathering becomes a flock
And their flock a swarm;
When they sense hopelessness
Fogging through my bones in my room,
As one they open the cloaks of their wings,
Drift to the ground,
And move—one bobbing, black, cawing sea
Marching towards my door.