Impostor Syndrome

Sometimes, I think transgender people lead the ultimate life of Impostor Syndrome. I spent the first 30 years of my life (well, maybe except for the first ten or so) hoping nobody would ever figure out that I wasn’t really a guy.

And since transitioning, I’m constantly worrying that people will figure out that I wasn’t always seen as a woman.

Every time someone calls me “Ma’am,” I wonder how they would react if they knew I used to be addressed as “Sir.”

Intellectually, I know that I’m not an impostor. I’m living my life the way I was always meant to. If anything, the old me was the impostor.

But still, I can’t shake the feeling that’s not how other people always see me.

I’m sitting in a lounge at the Minneapolis airport typing this out. To get here, I had to pass through security. I have TSA Precheck, so thankfully I don’t have to pass through the body scanners that sometimes identify trans people as “anomalies” because they don’t have the right kind of bulge (or lack of one) between the legs.

My identity documents, though, don’t match my appearance yet. They still say “Male,” still have my “male” name on them. They’re a reminder that I’m not exactly what I appear to be.

I got to the airport about 3 hours early, just in case there was any problem at security; just in case someone questioned if I was really the person whose name is on my boarding pass.

Thankfully, nothing happened. The TSA agent looked back and forth between me and my ID just as briefly as she did the person in front of me, and said “Thanks, have a good day!”

I breathed a sigh of relief, put my bags up on the conveyer belt, and proceeded through the metal detector into the concourse.

But that’s just the first of three times today I have to present a document with the “wrong” name on it. There’s the gate, where they scan your boarding pass, then once more on the plane, where they look at it again to direct you to your seat.

I know everything should go fine, but I still can’t help but worry a little bit. And even if nothing happens, I still have to look at the document. I still have to remind myself that the name I use and the gender I project are not the ones I was born with.

It’s an insecurity that’s incredibly difficult to overcome. Even when someone treats me like who I am, in the back of my mind, I wonder if they can tell, and that if so, does that mean they’re just showing pity for the “confused” man in women’s clothing.

I know I’m not confused. I know I’m not an impostor. But I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the feeling that there will be other people that will always see me that way.

MN HF 3396 (The Bathroom Bill)

What? Two blog posts from me in less than a week? 😉 Shocking, I know.

This morning, I attended a hearing of the Minnesota House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee on House File 3396, a bill that would require transgender people in the state of Minnesota to use bathrooms matching their genitalia, rather than their gender.

I live in Minneapolis, and the committee meeting was over in Saint Paul, so I spent the the light rail ride between them furiously typing on my phone what I wanted to say if I got to give testimony.

I was so intent on thumb-typing, that I missed the stop for the Capitol building by two stops. I ended up arriving a little late, so I wasn’t able to get on the list to give testimony.

Everything I wanted to say was covered by those who did speak, but I thought I’d post what I wanted to say on my blog anyway:

Madam Chair and Members of the committee,

My name is Amy Lane, I live in Minneapolis, and I’m here today in opposition to House File 3396.

This legislation would put thousands of transgender people in the state of Minnesota in an impossible position: that of choosing between their safety and using the bathroom.

I am a transgender woman. That means that while I was assigned the “male” gender at birth, I am actually female. This is not something that I am “confused” about. The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, two mental health professionals, two medical professionals, the Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles, the Minnesota office of vital records, and–more importantly to me–my coworkers, friends, and family, all recognize this as true.

This legislation, put simply, is a solution looking for an problem. Its proponents would say that by requiring everyone to use restrooms and other facilities based on their genitalia, rather than their gender, they are safeguarding the safety of all Minnesotans.

They worry that if I were allowed to use restrooms, changing rooms, and other facilities intended for women, that it would leave open the possibility that a non-transgender man could use it as an excuse to dress as a woman in order to go into a women’s room and sexually harass women and girls.

This is simply not true.

At least twelve states already have laws in place that protect the right of to use public facilities based on gender identity. Since those laws were passed, there has been no evidence that they have led to an increase in sexual harassment or abuse of the other people using those facilities.

Our own state of Minnesota amended its Human Rights Act in 1993 to prohibit discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations, including bathrooms. More than twenty years after that amendment was passed, Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said in an interview that sexual harassment and assault as a result of the amendment had been “not even remotely” a problem and that the notion “sounds a little silly.”

Should we ban gay men from using men’s rooms, for fear that they might molest young boys? What about lesbians? Or bisexual people? Should they be banned from all public restrooms?

What about Republican lawmakers? More of them have been arrested for sexual misconduct in bathrooms than transgender people. Tell me, where is the law to protect us from Republicans in bathrooms?

If that sounds ridiculous to you, know that it sounds that way to me as well. It’s just as ridiculous as requiring trans women to use the men’s room, or trans men to use the women’s room.

The proponents of House File 3396 also say that this legislation is intended to safeguard the privacy of all Minnesotans.

However, if it becomes law, it would be nearly impossible to enforce without a serious invasion of everyone’s privacy.

Security guards, police officers, facility managers and others would be placed in the position of checking identification if there is any question about the gender of someone trying to use a gendered facility.

As an example, last week in Hull, England, a cisgender teenage girl was thrown out of a McDonald’s restaurant because the manager didn’t believe that she was female. Age sixteen, she didn’t have an ID with her, and so police were called.

In closing, Madam chair and members, should House File 3396 come to a vote, I ask that you please consider all of the ramifications that it would have if passed into law.

It would have exactly the opposite effect that its proponents say they intend; that of putting thousands of Minnesotans in an unsafe situation, and leading to the potential invasion of privacy of every Minnesotan.

Instead of legislating thousands of Minnesotans into an unsafe situation, perhaps we should make laws that make sense. It should be illegal for people of any gender to commit voyeurism in a public restroom or other facility. It should be illegal for people of any gender to enter a restroom with intent to harm or injure someone else.

Oh wait, I forgot. It already is.

Madam chair and members of the committee, thank you for your time.

There’s little chance in the bill actually passing. The committee sessions have already closed (this was an “informational” hearing only), so the only way it could end up passing is if it’s added as an amendment to another bill.

The Democratically-controlled Minnesota Senate will likely block any such amendment anyway, and even if they don’t, our Democratic governor would veto it.

Even so, I just wish these lawmakers would stop worrying about what’s in my pants.

Missing out

One of the things I’ve had to come to terms with is that I never had a girlhood.

I haven’t had–and in many cases, will never have–life experiences that are associated with growing up as a girl, or being a cisgender woman.

I never got to do all of those stereotypical things girls usually do.

I never got to go to an all-girls slumber party. I never got to have a high school romance. My trans feelings made me way too socially awkward to date anybody, even if being known as gay (because I always knew I wasn’t attracted to women) would’ve been acceptable in my school at the time. I know it’s foolish, but I’ve always wanted to have someone sweep me off my feet, even if it ended in heartbreak. At least then, I could say I’d loved.

Heck, I was too socially awkward to even have a lot of friends. Most of my friends were girls, but we never really had that close “girlfriend” kind of relationship that you see in teen dramas on TV (are those even anywhere near accurate depictions, anyway?).

When I was a kid, and even through my teen years, when I was struggling with feelings of “wanting to be a girl,” I believed what society and my birth certificate told me–that I was a boy. Even if I’d been able to articulate to myself that I actually was a girl, other people would’ve still seen me as male.

I’ve always longed to have friendships with other girls/women that I saw them having with each other. But more often than not, I would just come off as weird, even creepy.

I wanted to tell them, “I’m one of you! Please, be my friend!”

But those words never came, and they probably wouldn’t have helped anyway.

I’ve never had (and most likely never will have) a period (though, at least that means I was spared having that talk with my mom)–nor will I be able to get pregnant. I don’t even necessarily want to have kids–my favorite part of having two young nieces is handing them back to their parents when they get cranky. 😛 But knowing that I’ll never have the option–at least the usual way–can be hard.

Even now, it’s hard to talk about this stuff. When I do, I’m often reminded that not all cisgender woman have all of these experiences either:

I never had sleepovers as a kid.”

“Not all women have periods.”

“Oh, and you should be glad you don’t. They suck!”

“There are lots of women who can’t get pregnant.”

“You can always adopt.”

That doesn’t really help, though. Most women do have the experiences I mourn never getting to have.

Even though I know it doesn’t make me any less of a woman, for better or worse, I have to deal with the fact that, for most of my life, I was seen and treated as male, which colored my experiences. No matter what I do, how I dress, or even whatever surgeries I have (or don’t), I will always be different from most other women, because I had those experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ve missed out on a lot of bad experiences, too. I didn’t have to deal with misogyny being directed at me. I didn’t get left out simply because of my perceived gender. I didn’t have to worry about walking home from work late at night, because I might get raped.

But even with the prospect of having to deal with all of that, if I could go back in time, and change all of my Y chromosomes to X chromosomes, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the uncertainty of who I was. I’d put up will all of the bad things that girls/women normally have to put up with, if I could go back and prevent the bad things I had to deal with. I’m proud of who I am, but some days, being transgender just sucks, and all of the weight of who you’ll never be presses down on your shoulders.

Yeah, in a lot of ways, I’ve missed out. In other ways, I’m still missing out–whether it’s because my life experiences have caused me to be an introvert, thus making it harder to form close friendships (and don’t even talk about dating), or because my genetics mean I just can’t have certain experiences.

It’s just something I’ll have to deal with. Everyone is different. Everyone, even other transgender people, have had life experiences that differ from mine. Everyone has things they missed out on. Everyone has to deal with it in some way or another.

I’m privileged in a lot of ways, too. I’m white. I have a good job. I have family that loves me unconditionally. I live in a city where being transgender is nowhere near the death sentence that it is in a lot of places. Everyone in my life that is important to me accepts me as who I am, no questions asked. I lead a pretty good life.

Even though I will always be “different,” there will come a time in my life (hopefully, anyway) where society has seen me as who I really am for more of my life than it hasn’t. In the meantime, all I can really do is try to make the most of my own experience, and maybe use it to do some good.

So what happens next?

So now that I’d come out to myself as transgender, what was I going to do about it?

Well, I knew that I wanted to do something about it, and that was this thing called “transitioning.” but didn’t really know how to go about it.

So I sat down, and did some research. Reddit can actually be a very useful tool for this like of thing. In 2014, when I was looking into traveling the world, the travel subreddits were an invaluable source of information.

In my research on Reddit, I learned that there are actually a few different kinds of transitioning:

Emotional Transition

The hardest part of transitioning is accepting yourself. A lot of transgender people suffer from impostor syndrome. It takes a lot of time and introspection to be able to accept yourself, and not feel like you’re a fake, or just pretending.

It can be hard to see yourself as you really are; in my case, it was hard for the longest time to actually call myself a “woman.” The only thing that really helps with it is time.

Medical/Physical Transition

This is the part that everyone always has questions about. What medications do you take? What do you do about body/facial hair or your voice?

What do you do about…down there?

I’ll write more about all of that stuff in future posts, but suffice to say, medical science has come pretty far, but there’s definitely still room for improvement.

Social Transition

This is perhaps the most visible form of transition. This is where you actually put who you truly are out there. It might start with telling a few people, but eventually, you have to go through that awkward phase where you’re trying to present as one gender, but being seen by at least some other people as the wrong gender.

Social Transition is tough. You spend a lot of time explaining to people (who often just don’t understand) why you’re doing it. You deal with a lot of people who are ignorant, or just plain transphobic. I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with a cocoon of accepting people, but I still run into people who look at me sideways, like I’m some sort of freak.

It’s called transitioning because, at least hopefully, there is an end to it. Eventually, everyone in your life–family, friends, coworkers, even strangers–sees you as who you know you are inside.

I haven’t gotten there yet, but I know I’ll get there eventually.

So how do you actually start?

When I decided I wanted to transition, I found out I had a few of options for starting:

WPATH Standards of Care – WPATH, or the “World Professional Association for Transgender Health” is an international organization of doctors, therapists, and other medical professionals that gets together regularly to make recommendations for how transgender people should be treated, mentally, and medically. Their guidelines are all in their “Standards of Care.”

You can read the full SoC if you want (currently on version 7 when I write this), but essentially, they recommend therapy to determine a diagnosis of “Gender Dysphoria,” which is essentially the mental anguish associated with having a different “gender identity” (or “brain sex”) compared to your gender assigned at birth, which was determined by a doctor based on what genitalia you were born with.

It takes several therapy sessions, but eventually the therapist does or doesn’t diagnose you with Gender Dysphoria, then writes a recommendation letter to a doctor (usually, but not always, an endocrinologist) to start hormone therapy.

Following the SoC is the best path for people who are still questioning whether or not they’re transgender, or whether or not they want to go through with actually transitioning medically (and/or socially). Therapists who are well-versed in gender identity issues can help to determine what the best path forward is.

The down side is that there are a lot of therapists out there who aren’t well-versed in gender issues, have out-dated ideas of what it means to be transgender, or will down-right try to prevent you from transitioning (that’s called Gatekeeping).

Informed Consent – A relatively new phenomenon, Informed Consent skips the step of requiring therapy. Essentially, doctors who agree to prescribe hormone therapy under the “Informed Consent” model will do so as long as they’re fairly certain you’re sane, and that you understand the mental and physical ramifications of what taking hormones does to you.

Informed Consent is a great option, when available, for people who are pretty certain that they want to transition, and don’t need or want therapy to delay starting on hormones.

It can be as simple as talking to your family doctor, and asking them to prescribe hormones (as long as you’re in a country like the US where they’re allowed to do that), but more and more, Informed Consent Clinics are opening up that specialize in providing transgender medical care.

DIY (Do it Yourself) – This is the most risky way to transition, because you’re doing it without a safety net. Technically, it’s not illegal to order hormones from an online pharmacy and import them into most countries (including the US), but you pretty much have to guess, even with doing a lot of research, what medications and doses to take.

You don’t have a doctor checking your blood levels, so you don’t know if you’re on too high or too low of a dose, and you don’t have anyone monitoring things like liver and kidney health.

If you’re generally healthy, do your research, and occasionally consult a doctor for blood tests, the DIY method can be viable, especially if there aren’t any other options for you.

I won’t recommend it or say you shouldn’t do it, but it’s best to only consider it if you don’t have any other options, and if you’re comfortable with doing the medical research to make sure you stay healthy.

So which method did I choose?

When I first decided I wanted to transition, I was about 80% sure; not sure enough, in my opinion, to actually put hormones in my body just yet. So, I decided I wanted to start with therapy.

The problem was, I was traveling around the world at the time. I was in Australia (not the best country for transgender care, though certainly not the worst), and I was moving around from city to city every month.

But I also didn’t want to wait. So, I found a gender therapist who did sessions online, and within a few days had my first session with him over an online chat system.

The first couple of sessions were basically just the therapist asking me questions about my childhood, teenage years, how my parents treated me, how I felt around other kids, etc. He was essentially just trying to get an understanding of who I was.

In later sessions, we talked about what transitioning would mean for me, how I planned to come out socially, and making sure I understood all of the ramifications of of going on hormones, and all of the other parts of transitioning.

It only took a few sessions for me to be 100% sure that I wanted to transition. After eight of those weekly sessions, he wrote me a letter diagnosing me with Gender Dysphoria, and recommending hormone treatment.

Unfortunately, I was still traveling. I wasn’t able to find a doctor in Australia that would start hormone therapy with only a couple of months left in the country, which I was then leaving to head to India, then travel around the US for a couple of months for work.

That meant that at that point, I was looking at at least 6 months before I could get hormones from a doctor. I just couldn’t wait that long.

So, I made the decision to order hormones online. Like I said above, I can’t recommend for or against it for anyone else, but for me, I just couldn’t see waiting that long, now that I knew it was the right decision to go on hormones.

Through Reddit, I found links to resources for standard dosages, and where to order medication from, and in a couple of weeks I had hormones.

By the time I got back to the US, I decided that I wanted to see a doctor, though. Partly because my insurance would cover it then (which cut the cost in more than half), but mostly because I felt I would be safer having medical supervision.

In Minnesota, where most of my family lives, I found an Informed Consent clinic that was able to see me fairly quickly. I think it helped that I told them I had been taking hormones on my own already, so they wanted to see me sooner rather than later.

I had some blood tests, they adjusted my dose slightly, and things have been rolling on ever since.

I’m probably a rarity, in that I’ve got perspective on each of the methods of starting to transition. All three have pros and cons, and everyone needs to decide for themselves how to proceed.

Anyway, that’s how I got started. It’s been working for me so far, which has helped me to be a happier person overall. And that’s the primary goal in all of this.

Coming out to myself

I spent most of my twenties in denial about being trans.

“I just like fantasizing about being female,” I would say to myself silently. I convinced myself it was just a fetish, or that transitioning wasn’t something I could ever do.

So what changed? Why was 2015 the year that I was able to break through all of those barriers in my mind?

It wasn’t Caitlyn Jenner coming out. Love her or hate her, she did a lot to bring trans issues to the forefront of public discourse, but she’s so incredibly rich that there’s no way I’d be able to transition the way she did.

No, it was someone else who made me realize it was possible.

On January 1st, 2015, a former coworker of mine came out as transgender on Facebook. The problem was, I missed it at the time.

I’d spent New Years suffering from migraines, so instead of going out and enjoying the festivities, or surfing the internet, I was laying in bed, keeping the room as dark as I could.

By the time I was back on Facebook, my former coworker had changed her name and started using a profile image from an anime, so I didn’t really realize who it was.

So for months, there was this person on my timeline who was talking about transitioning, but since I didn’t really realize who it was, I didn’t pay much attention to her posts.

Then in June, she posted a picture of herself for the first time (that I saw, anyway). I almost skipped past the picture, like so many posts before it, but something caught my eye:

“Who is…? Is that who I think it is?”

So I went back and looked at some of her earlier photos, and sure enough, it was who I thought. I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled, and finally, I got back to that post she’d made on New Year’s Day.

I sat there reading–reading all about how she’d never felt right in a boy’s skin, about how she’d felt knowing that she was a girl, but not being able to do anything about it.

I sat there and I read through all of her posts from the previous six months. By the end, I was curled up in a ball, almost in a panic.

I was panicking, shaking, because I was scared at how much I identified with what she had written. It was like a dam had burst, and all of the emotions I’d been keeping back for years started flowing out of me.

“I’m transgender,” I admitted to myself, saying those words out loud for the first time in my life.

And, finally, I started feeling like the person I was meant to be.


Being different

When I was a kid, I was different.

I was shy, introverted, geeky. I was emotional. I was bullied for being different, even though they (and I) couldn’t really articulate exactly how I was different.

Some transgender people know how they’re different from a young age. From the time they can talk, they say things like, “Mommy, I’m not a boy; I’m a girl!”

I wasn’t one of those kids. I always felt different, but I never knew how or why. I thought I was just a shy emotional kid that got bullied.

I remember one time, I had a dream about being pregnant. I must have been maybe 9 or 10 years old. I spent the next several nights stuffing my PJs with a pillow, hoping I would have the dream again.

But even that wasn’t enough to make me really start questioning why everyone was calling me a boy.

However, when puberty hit, I knew something was wrong. Hair started appearing where I didn’t want it to. My voice started dropping. Stuff like that.

I remember seeing boys and girls changing differently, and realizing that I wanted to change in the way girls were changing–that I hated the way I was changing.

My teenage years were…rough. Even though my mom was supportive, and tried to help me, I still felt internal pressure that how I felt was wrong. Boys don’t want to be girls.

I was angry at the universe for making me this way, and I just wanted it to stop. I took my anger out on the people around me; the people that I loved.

As you can probably imagine, Gender Dysphoria (the disconnect between your internal gender and your external appearance) is  really hard to explain. It’s like trying to describe color to someone who has never been able to see; you don’t have any experiences with a similar frame of reference.

I like this explanation from Reddit:

Imagine you’re driving a friend’s car home. You know cars, and you know how to drive, so you can operate it adequately. But the seat’s a little too high, the turn signal is in the wrong place, and the acceleration is always just a little too slow. It does the job, but it never feels quite right.

Sometimes, you don’t notice the differences, when you’re just cruising along. But sometimes, you need the car to do something more than just operate, and then there’s a moment of dislocation as you reach for a lever that isn’t there.

Dysphoria is kind of like that, but instead of your car, it’s your body. And you can never get out. It’s always there, nagging at you. Sometimes, it’s a small irritation. But it scrapes at you over time, until what started as a small pain becomes torment.

We don’t yet fully understand why some people are transgender, but the current consensus is that it has to do with hormone levels during pregnancy; that gender development has much more to do with hormones than it has to do with genetics.

The going theory is that if a baby with XY chromosomes (“genetically” male) doesn’t get enough testosterone during pregnancy (or if an XX child gets too much), the brain gets wired differently. You literally have a body of one gender and a brain with another. Your brain is wired to expect one set of hormones, while your body is pumping out the other set, because of the anatomy determined by your genetics.

This is a way oversimplified explanation (and doesn’t take into account people who are non-binary, gender fluid, etc.), but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

So how do I know that I’m transgender? It’s hard to articulate, but I just do.

Throughout my twenties, I managed to convince myself that I wasn’t transgender. That being female was something i just liked to fantasize about, but I was still happy being male.

And it seemed to be working, too. I definitely wouldn’t say I was unhappy. I had friends–a few, but ones who were loyal to me. I had family that loved me. I went on adventures. I explored new (to me) places. I took a trip around the world.

I was a fairly happy person.

But through it all, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was different. Then, last June, circumstances colluded to make sure that I couldn’t hide from it anymore.

But, I’ll talk more about that next time.

In the beginning…

Hi! My name is Amy Lane. I’m transgender (specifically male-to-female). This blog is about my journey of self-discovery; of my transition from identifying as male, to identifying and presenting as female. It’s a place for me to collect my thoughts, and maybe help other people understand what it’s like to be transgender at the same time.

My journey is my journey, not anybody else’s. Nobody who goes through this has it easy, but I’m incredibly lucky to have friends, family, coworkers, and a community, that not only tolerate or accept, but celebrate me just for being who I am.

I can’t pretend to know what every transgender person is going through. Every journey is different, and mine has probably gone more smoothly than most people in my position.

But I hope that by reading this blog, you might learn something, whether it’s about me or about yourself.

I’m transgender

Update: Since a few people I know have asked for it, I’ve created a new blog as a space to talk about my transition. Check it out.

Many of my friends already know this now, but for those of you who don’t, I have something to share with you:

For a long time, I’ve been dealing with issues surrounding my self-identity. It’s taken a long time, but in the last half of this year, I’ve come to the realization that I can no longer hide who I really am, from either myself or anyone else:

I’m transgender.

This means that while I was assigned the “male” gender at birth, I identify as “female.”

Surprising, I know (except maybe for those of you who know already). If you’re not transgender, it can be hard to understand what it’s like to know that your body just isn’t right.

I know this may be a sudden change for many of you, but I’ve been coming to terms with it for years. As a teenager, I was deeply depressed and angry at the world because I couldn’t reconcile my feelings with who I felt I was expected to be on the outside. As an adult in my twenties, I managed to convince myself that I could accept being the gender I was assigned at birth, even if it didn’t make me happy.

But now, at age 31 (I thought it was fitting to make this announcement near my birthday), it’s come to a point where I can’t hide that part my myself anymore, from myself or anyone else.

Back in August, after talking with a therapist for a few months, I started taking female hormones. Within about a week, I knew it was the right decision. It was maybe the first time in my life when I was truly happy. Since then, things have only gotten better.

So let me (re-)introduce myself:

Hi! My name is Amy Lane. Starting today, that’s my new name. It won’t be my legal name until sometime in the summer, but I’m going to start using it publicly now. I also prefer the pronouns “she,” “her,” and “hers,” which I’ll ask you to respect, along with the new name. I’m going to leave my name as is here on Facebook for a few days, just so everyone has a chance to see this, but after that “Amy” is here to stay.

I won’t go into all of the medical details here, but I’m happy to answer almost any questions that you might have—as long as they come from a place of genuine curiosity, respect, and trying to understand. Feel free to comment here, or message me privately if you prefer.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by family, friends, and coworkers that not only tolerate or accept, but celebrate and champion LGBT people of all stripes. If you don’t feel that way, I understand. I just ask that you keep any negative comments to yourself or, if you feel the need to, go ahead and unfriend me now. I won’t mind.

Even though I’m making a huge change in my life, I’m still the same introverted, awkward, sarcastic, geeky, over-enthusiastic person you’ve always known. I’m lucky to have encountered each and every one of you in my life, and I hope those friendships can continue without much interruption.

Thanks for reading,

Amy Taylor Lane

PS: Wondering where the new name comes from? It took me a FREAKING LONG time to decide, but it turns out looking to my geekiness was the answer. Amy is short for “Amelia,” or the “girl who waited” on Doctor Who. I thought that was an appropriate descriptor for me, too.

The middle and last come from my mom’s grandmother, who she called “Nanny,” a moniker that she now uses with my two little nieces. I wanted a family connection with someone that had an influence on my life.

I never met Nanny. She was born in the late 1890’s, and died long before I was born. But even so, I wouldn’t be who or where I am without her. Her influence turned my mom into the thoughtful, caring, accepting parent that raised me. Nanny probably wouldn’t have understood all this “transgender” stuff, but my mom believes that, in her heart, Nanny would have accepted would have accepted me for who I am, just like my mom does.

Leaving on a jet plane

I don’t know when I’ll be back again.

The moment I’ve been waiting for has finally arrived.

Today’s the day where I leave my friends, family, country, and well, basically everyone and everything I’ve ever known, behind.

Today’s the day I fly from LAX to Fiji, the day where my safety net becomes a little further away.

There are so many emotions running through my head that I don’t even know where to begin to express them.

Am I scared? You bet.

Am I excited? You bet.

I have absolutely no idea what awaits me over the sea, but I can’t wait.

And thankfully, I don’t have to any more.

5 tips for introverted solo travelers

Traveling as an introvert isn’t always easy. You’re awkward. You find it hard to insert yourself into conversations. You’re worried you’re going to spend all of your time alone–or worse, sitting alone in your hostel doing nothing for the whole trip.

Traveling with someone would be ideal, but as an introvert, it’s hard to find someone who you feel comfortable being that vulnerable with. At least when you travel alone, you can go somewhere else when you start to feel uncomfortable.

I won’t pretend to be an expert or that I’m never uncomfortable when I travel. I struggle with being an introvert everywhere I go. But I continue to travel because I want to learn more about the world.

That being said, I have found a few things that help me overcome the instinct to wrap myself up and shut out the world:

Get in the habit of saying Hi to other travelers.

One of the hardest parts of being an introvert is starting conversations. We tend to listen into others’ conversations, and wait for a point where we have something to contribute. But that might take forever, and then you feel awkward for not talking for so long, and then you stumble over your words because your mouth is out of practice, and then…well, it’s a cycle.

I try to say Hi when I sit down next to someone. If they’re an introvert, too, it might lead to nothing, since they might feel as awkward ad me. If they’re an introvert, it might lead to a conversation. The point is, if you don’t try to talk to people, if you don’t make yourself available, you’ll never talk to people.

Have a purpose for talking to people.

It’s hard to start up a conversation when you feel like you have nothing to say. Sometimes, I find it easier to start off with a question. That gets the other person talking for a bit, and gives me time to work out what to say next.

If it’s coming up on lunch or dinner time, I might ask, “Do you know a good place nearby to get some food?”

Or I might ask someone who’s been in the area for a few days, “What do you suggest I go visit today?”

Sometimes, they might just answer your question and go away, but it might also lead to a conversation, or even a companion for the day.

Take advantage of group activities.

There’s nothing like an activity that makes you talk to…well, make you talk. Most hostels have lists of activities, like tours, pub crawls (though I’m not always in favor of those), etc. One hostel I stayed in ad a fire pit in the back yard, and I found myself teaching fellow travelers from France and Argentina how to make s’mores.

Group activities pretty much force you to be social. Plus, they usually have someone leading them, and if that person is good at their job, they’re doing what they can to keep everyone involved.

Have something to focus on.

Usually when I travel to a new city, it’s for a WordPress conference. That does two things for me:

  1. It instantly gives me something in common with everyone else there. We’re all geeks about the same thing.
  2. I automatically have at least a couple of days of activities planned.

If you were to ask anyone I’ve talked to at a conference over the last few years, they would never believe that I’m an introvert. That’s because I find it easier to insert myself into conversations when I have something in common with everyone else.

Start a project.

Preferably a project that other people can see you doing. I keep a notebook that I fill up with stickers for each conference I go to. At the last conference I went to, I asked everyone I talked to to sign it. For one, it made them feel important, since I was asking for an autograph. Secondly, it was a great conversation piece.

You might do a photography project, where you take pictures of every street sign you see, or ask everyone you meet to write or draw something for you. Once you have a few, people will start asking about where you were when you got “that” picture, or who drew “that.”

Bonus tip: make time to be alone.

Remember, you don’t always have to be seeking out conversation. Introverts gain energy from within, so you have to make the time to recharge every once in a while.

While this might mean just taking a day surfing online or watching TV at the hostel, I like to find somewhere interesting to lounge about. When I visited Paris a couple of years ago, I got there on a Monday, when it turns out all of the museums (save the L’ouvre) are closed. I found myself reading a book on a bench along the Seine for several hours that day.

Even though, I was alone, it was in a great location. I could sit there reading, and be inspired by being somewhere exotic.

I struggle with it all the time

Like I said, I won’t pretend to be an expert on overcoming introversion. I do my best to be approachable, but sometimes I just want to hide. I sometimes have to force myself to get out of bed before noon.

But I try to follow at least one of these tips every day, and not worry if I fail. There’s always tomorrow.