**Potential spoiler alerts for Orange is the New Black, season 7**
My spouse and I were watching Season 7, Episode 8 a couple of weeks ago, and a familiar face suddenly popped up! In Piper’s story line, her sister-in-law gets the two of them to go on a transformative wilderness retreat. The leader of the retreat, Rio, is someone I used to perform drag with!!! When I saw her, on TV, I wanted to shout, That’s Windz! But since I’m historically bad at face recognition, I waited until the credits, to confirm that the actor, Linday Coryne, was for sure the person I’m remembering.
In the scene, she is teaching Piper and a group of ladies, how to hunt with a bow and arrow. She has a handful of lines, one of which is, ““Recognize the bow as both arbiter of death and provider of life; recognize the multitude that exists within each of you; be proud of it.” She’s like, part hunter, part spirit guide.
We didn’t have a whole lot of overlap, in real life. By the time I started performing in 2006, she was moving to Baltimore (if I’m remembering correctly). But she’d come back home to visit periodically and perform with the “Muthers Boyz.” I was also there, some of those nights, performing and/or watching.
Windz was the star. Within the context of this dark and dingy gay dive bar, he seemed more like a megastar. The crowd ate it up, everything he did. I definitely felt some envy toward him, at times; I looked up to him. On the other hand though, our approaches, attitudes, and motivations seemed so far from each other that it wasn’t much use to try to compare myself to him. He was doing his thing, which was very different from my thing.
The following are just my impressions and things I remember (which might be fuzzy). We didn’t actually know each other or have many conversations…
Sometimes, he put a lot of work into his costumes, especially when he was emulating Michael Jackson, which was one of the things he was most known for. His impression was spot on. Other times though, it seemed like he went on stage in just what he might have been wearing that day anyway, business casual or whatever, with no drag make-up, facial hair, or flourishes. His repertoire of songs was small. I definitely saw plenty of repeats within the few times I did see his performances. But what he did, he had it down, and he always looked like he was having a blast up there. Really drew in individuals from the audiences, creating special moments.
I, on the other hand, struggled to connect with audience members. I didn’t particularly want to; sometimes I wished I could be doing my performances in a vacuum instead. Being at a bar, at that time, was uncomfortable for me, but I was driven by the gender-play; the opportunities to try out being someone else. And for me, it was a one and done kind of thing. Once I did a song, I never did it again. (There are a handful of exceptions to this.) Like, it was onto the next thing. I was going to learn another song, try a different vibe, try new costume elements, get the essence of the original performer or time period or mood of the song or whatever. A lot of times, for me, it was silly or it was out there, robotic or other-worldly or very much effeminate or even aggro/punk. I wanted to get the whole range of gender expressions, try it all, experiment. I also used drag to work through a lot of feelings at the time. But that’s a story for another post…
I remember one time, the two of us were backstage together, and Windz said, “Maybe you should do some Duran Duran. People would be into that.” I thought to myself, “OK, at least my ’80’s vibe is shining through, but I’ve already done Duran Duran!” Haha. In Windz’s world, maybe it was more like, you collect a handful of “signature songs,” and you cycle through them. Like a radio station. For me, it was more like I was a kid in a record store, pulling out vinyl and looking for the next thrill.
I am, essentially, a kid in a record store, pulling out vinyl and looking for the next thrill. I literally do this a lot.
These photos are not the best, but they’re all I got. This was from a time before digital photography. Do you remember,way back when, taking a photo and not being able to instantly see if it turned out well or not? And then you really have only 24 chances (or 36 if you splurged for a 36 shot roll of film), and then you’re gonna pay around $7 for those 24 pictures, and after you pay, then you finally get to see whether it’s a good shot or not??? OK, so I’m fibbing a little bit. Digital photography was a thing (this was probably 2007.) It’s just that I didn’t yet have a digital camera. I brought my Pentax film camera with flash, down to the bar to try to capture some of the performances.
Windz was very aspirational. And it paid off! Holy shit – she (the person, not the drag king) is an actor on TV and stuff!!! I was super floored to recognize her on TV! I hope to see her in lots more stuff; I want to see more gender-nonconforming people in more roles in the media, like, all the time!
It’s that time of year again! Yep, I know I’m way behind schedule with the pride festivities: I mention this every year, but yea, this really is when my mid-sized city celebrates pride, far behind the rest!
I ended up having a blast. Generally, during the days and weeks leading up to pride, I tend to think, dang, not again! What am I gonna wear? What am I gonna do? Maybe it’d be better all around if we were on vacation, and absent all together. So, yea, there’s some angst there. But as soon as I get into it, I’m IN IT!!
As far as the parade, we did something new and different – we marched with a group called “Positive Force,” which is a queer gym Caitlin (my spouse) has been training at. We didn’t know who would be there or what the group would be doing exactly, so we planned our outfits independently, on our own. I decided to go shirtless!
OK, so this is kinda a big deal. At the time I got top surgery, 3 years ago, I was known to say, “I’d never go shirtless in public though.” I’m sure if I looked through my archives, I could find multiple times where I wrote, specifically, that. BUT! Since then, I’ve changed my mind and gone shirtless a handful of times. Not right away. It took over a year; the first couple of times were when I was abroad,, visiting my brother in Turkey. I did it first in the Black Sea while my brother was preoccupied with getting a locksmith to help us with the waterlogged electronic key to the rental car, deciding that I was so far from home and the people I know so well and it’s exciting, and here I go! I did it again, on that trip, when my brother brought us to a Turkish bath, segregated by genders. I was nervous, but it all turned out fine.
I did it again a year later, at a state park all by myself with no one in sight. But also at another state park filled with people, and it was pretty thrilling. And then again this summer, at a hotel pool in Massachusetts.
Which is all to say that deciding to go without a shirt (although I did have suspenders on, to somewhat cover my nipples, because I’m not quite comfortable with them and still plan to get revisions eventually), seemed like a challenge I wanted to try. When we got down there, I was pleased to see 3 trans-masculine acquaintances already ready to go without shirts on. And a bunch of other acquaintances too; it seems like we picked the right group! It was us plus a yoga studio, and we handed out flyers and candy and chanted, on-and-off, “All bodies, hott bodies.”
Saw a bunch of people that we knew, including my mom and her best childhood friend. Another friend was camped out at the protesters’ corner, holding a sign that said, “My boyfriend is cute when he’s grumpy,” with an arrow pointing right at a protester. We got a good laugh out of that.
Then we just relaxed for the rest of the day. Watched Tales of the City (the new one, and now we’re making our way through the old one.)
The next day, Caitlin and I co-hosted an LGBTQIA+ themed electronic music show. That was a lot of fun. And then I stayed for another hour for the next radio show, in which the host and I read the piece I have published in an anthology, plus just goofed around.
More things are different than I had expected, since going off T. None of it is surprising, but it’s kind of like, when you’re in one sort of frame of mind, it’s hard to picture / remember how it feels to be any other way, even if you have lots of practice / experience being that other way. And then once you’re there, it’s like, “Oh yea.” It’s not bad, exactly, but it’s not awesome either. It’s more nuanced, layered, a bunch of stuff all at once, it’s nostalgia tied up in knots around whimsy, wistfulness, and just… more. There’s suddenly a bunch more to life. I’ve felt like reaching out and connecting with people I haven’t spoken much to lately. Music has sooooo much more depth, personal significance, and intrigue than it has in a long time. Crying comes easily and often. Remember crying?! Been a while… Also, the nature of my attraction and/or feelings of connection to people is quite a bit different.
The biggest change in my emotional landscape is that I’ve been stuck in the past for about a month now, like really deep in there. This has happened countless other times, but never for this long or this constant. And when it would happen in the past, it could be enjoyable briefly, but I’d inevitably end up in a funk, and I’d have to make a conscious decision to stop and pull myself out. This isn’t happening this time. It’s actually been super productive because I’ve been channeling it into writing. I don’t know if it’ll end up as anything worthwhile, at this point, but I already have a lot written, and I’m not showing any signs of slowing down yet! But yea, it seems like most of my spare time has been devoted to reading old zines, letters, and journals, listening to mix tapes, watching old videos, basically mining my past for nuggets to turn into stories. And I have so much that, as I said, a month has gone by, and there’s still a lot to glean.
Other changes: I showed signs of getting my period, today. Cramping and spotting. Not sure if it’ll be more than that or not, yet. (Hope not!) To be exact (I know I’ll want this for future reference), it’s been 46 days since my last T-shot. I have not thought about my hairline once, so that’s a big plus! I’m still getting facial hair at the same rate. I pluck them all out. I haven’t felt less sweaty and gross, but also it hasn’t been unbearably hot yet, so, we’ll see. I was initially hungrier, but that leveled out after a week or so. I’d say I’m now less interested in food, but still have an appetite, which hasn’t always been the case, so I’ll take it. I’ve been in more physical pain, but nothing too bad. I’m worried I’ll lose muscle mass, but so far, so good. I do feel slightly more fatigued from time to time, like going up stairs at work and stuff. Nothing too major.
I’ve had some visions of violence. One day in particular was super bad, like, constant, and I don’t know why. It didn’t last, thankfully, but yea that stuff is popping in my mind on and off, where I had been violence-free the entire time I’ve been on T.
Between the delving into the past and the visions of violence, surprisingly my anxiety has not increased at all, nor has my mood dropped. My levels are still pretty much at zero (for anxiety) and whatever number means good mood and energy, which is awesome and I hope is always the case from now until forever. Maybe I can thank my psychotropic drug for that.
Anything else? I think that wraps it up. Things have been… interesting!
I’ve been hospitalized a total of 3 times for mania and psychosis; for some reason, the anniversary of this one, this time around, is hitting me pretty hard. Every year in November, I make a post to remember and acknowledge my first hospitalization, because it was so traumatic, and it’s stayed with me even now, 20 years after the fact. These two other, more recent ones were much easier to get past / work through. In fact, I’d even say that this most recent one was even cathartic, in a positive sense (not so much for my loved ones, I know!) But personally, it helped me heal from the other two times. And the fact that I didn’t boomerang into a deep, dark depression afterward… that I was able to take as much time off as I needed and kind of come back around gradually, organically, meant the world to me.
It’s been a very rainy May so far. It reminds me of looking out the windows of the hospital; it was rainy a lot of the time then too. It was my brother’s birthday, and then Mother’s Day, and right after that, I was admitted to the hospital. The Lilac Festival was going on; there are lilacs in bloom right now. We have a lilac bush; I can see the flowers from our dining room window.
Last year during this week, I was preoccupied with a trip to Massachusetts to visit our friends. I didn’t think about the fact that we’d be away during this week. It occurred to me while we were on the trip, I think. I remember being hyper-aware of everything blooming at that time, exactly. We smelled lots of flowers while we walked around different parts of Boston and Salem. Things weren’t in bloom when we left, but suddenly, bam!, they were, when we got back.
I’ve been super stable, mental health-wise, for a long time now. I’d say I re-stabilized by September of 2017, and I’ve been good since then. Great, even. Super productive with creative projects. Anxiety has been at an all time low. I have energy. My mood is very very very even-keeled. Iike, maybe a little too much. Meaning, there’s so little variety in how I feel, from day to day. But… I’ll take it. I haven’t felt any compulsions. I haven’t been having obsessive thoughts. The only down-side to my mental landscape, in an ongoing way, is that I sleep a LOT. And I have trouble waking up in the mornings. I usually sleep 10-11 hours a day, on average. Which is most likely a side effect of the medication I’m on. (Seroquel.) But, also, as the years have gone on, I’m also realizing it just might be how much sleep is actually optimal for me. I generally slept that much, if I was able to, long before starting this medication. And I used to beat myself up about it, like I was being lazy and unproductive. And whenever I’ve had to get on an earlier schedule, such as during summers, for work, my mood, energy levels, and motivation have always suffered. Probably because I wasn’t sleeping as much as I seem to need to.
So I’ve decided to give myself a break. It works out much better if I let myself sleep as much as I tend to need to (as opposed to how much I think I should want to, I guess?), life goes much more smoothly.
Huh, I went on an unexpected tangent about sleep! I meant to write about my most recent hospitalization. Actually, I’ve already written, in a word document, as much as I could remember from my week-long stay. It was jam packed with activities; it was action packed. So maybe I’ll just cut and paste a slice of life from that time. …I just pulled it up to find an excerpt I could put here, but it’s total nonsense! No one paragraph makes any sense within itself. Also I burst out laughing a bunch of times. I think it’s not quite ready for consumption yet. But it might be, one day, as part of a larger project…
Two days ago, I abruptly hit a wall in my transition journey. But it’s more like that wall had a secret corridor that I’m now turning down, without really slowing down – just taking a moment to look back, and all around me, and then moving on in this other direction. The decision to stop T for the time being doesn’t actually mean that I’m losing forward momentum. I was expecting it all along. At some point. At the same time, it wasn’t premeditated or planned I just realized, now is the time, all of a sudden, and then I mentioned it to my spouse, and that was that.
The number one reason to stop, for now, is ongoing concerns of losing my head hair. And the number two reason is that uncomfortable sensation of feeling overheated, which is much less welcomed as warm weather approaches.
I’ve been here before. That was, specifically, January of 2016. I feel so grateful to my past self for so diligently recording where I was at, every step of the way, so that I can get super specific about where I was vs. where I am! It feels like a coherent narrative, of sorts. In the fall of 2015, I had been on Androgel for roughly a year and a half, and I had lost sight of why I was doing it and what, exactly, was it doing for me. I switched doses, I went off-and-on, and then in January of 2016, I just went off all together. I ended up being off T for one full year. And then I tried out injections, which I’ve been on now for over 2 years.
And now, again, I’ve lost sight. I’ve been worried, daily, lately, about my receding hairline, and I can’t make sense of all the numerous products on the market to help that. Rogaine, Finasteride, DHT suppressants, etc. Instead of figuring out what might help, it just makes more sense for me to go off T, until I feel differently, which I know I will, again, at some point, in the not-so-distant future.
I do not look forward to getting my period again. That is going to be horrible.
Other than that though, I don’t foresee any major issues. Mental health-wise, I feel super stable and good. I don’t expect that to change much. Oh, also, I’ll be pretty happy about not seeing more and more facial hairs popping up. Not a fan of my own facial hair! I’ll be glad if that stabilizes for a while and I don’t have to think much about it.
I predict (and my predictions have been pretty far off, historically!) that I’l be back on T by November or December. We’ll see! Oh, also I guess I’ll have to tell my endocrinologist. Do I have to go to my upcoming appointment if I’m not taking hormones?! (Answer: No.)
Hey, I have an essay in this anthology, Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity, which is finally being released by Columbia University Press, officially on April 9th, but you can go ahead and order your copies now! This has been roughly 5 years in the making, and through that time, I went through lots of different edits and re-writes with Micah Rajunov (genderqueer.me), one of the two editors. Both he and Scott Duane did tons of behind-the-scenes work to make this happen. I just sat around, for the most part, and waited to see what was going to become of it!
The time-frame was so long that I pretty much forgot what I wrote. And I was a little apprehensive to revisit it. When I first heard news of the release date, I had a mixture of emotions: excitement and pride, to be sure. But also a little bit of hesitation, like, would I still identify with whatever the hell I had written?! Would I be cool with everyone, friends and family, reading it? I decided not to overthink it; when I got my copy in the mail, I posted this pic to my social media, and just let what was gonna happen, happen. However, I still hadn’t read it! I was stalling. My spouse went ahead for me, and reported back, which helped me get used to the idea. When I first tried, I couldn’t read it linearly – I just skipped around and tried to get the gist, get a sense before finding out all the details. Then I went back and started with the anthology from the first contributor, and when I got to mine, I finally did read it all the way through. Phew. I’m almost done with the whole book now. Lots of really amazing, diverse stories.
People started ordering their own copies. My grandpa and my aunt have already read it and connected with me about it! I ordered a dozen to give to friends, my therapist, my local Out Alliance’s library, etc. It’s starting to feel real, and the excitement is growing, now that I can kinda wrap my head around it.
It’s been long-known and proven over and over that, in general, people who identify as LGBTQ are worse off, financially. Discrimination at work and within housing, along with being kicked out, disowned, or cut off from family ties, are big factors as to why this might be. Mental health also plays a huge role. There have been times when I was so deep into depression that I was not able to function at my job (or, in the past, at school). Fortunately for me, I was able to take multiple medical leaves, when I needed them, with full pay and full job security. That’s not always the story, though…
I was contacted a couple of months ago by Linda Manatt, who works for OverdraftApps.com, a company “created to increase awareness of the annual $35 billion overdraft problem in the U.S., which primarily affects the most vulnerable populations of our society. By creating content and developing tools to inform the public, [they] hope to make a positive change and shape tomorrow’s consumer finance policies for the better.”
In July of 2018, they commissioned a research organization to conduct a survey about financial attitudes and realities. 1,009 people from 46 states, aged 18- 71 participated, and 11% of them identified as LGBTQ. A couple of other factors were isolated, including renters vs. owners and income levels, but not age, race, education level, or any other demographic.
Some of the big take-aways, as it applies to the LGBTQ community were:
- While only 14% of people surveyed make less than $25,000 per year, 25% of LGBTQ people fall in this bracket.
- 51% of the general respondents reported feeling “that the system is trying to take advantage of them when it comes to financial products.” When isolating for LGBTQ people, that percentage jumped to 61%.
- LGBTQ people are 50% more likely to overdraft between three and nine times in the past year compared to the general population (18% compared to 12% of the general population.)
It is surprising how many people overall have over-drafted at least once within the past year (46%), how few people were even aware that they can opt out of over-drafting all together (39%), and how frequently over-drafting happens without their knowledge (42%). No wonder people feel taken advantage of, purposefully! As I was reading through the data, the overarching human emotion running throughout is the avoidance of embarrassment. And sure enough, there’s a quote within the article to suggest this:
Paul Golden, from Nefe [National Endowment for Financial Education], provides an … interpretation on the reasons people don’t opt out more often of overdraft protection. In his opinion, “bankers [don’t] say that overdraft protection is mandatory” but they do sell it as an insurance to one’s reputation. In his experience, this is how they are sold to consumers: “You go out to dinner with your friends or work colleagues and the bill comes up. You don’t have enough to cover it – can you imagine the embarrassment you would suffer if your card was declined?” People react: “Oh yeah, I should have overdraft protection.”
It’s like, pay $35 later for the convenience now of not having to put groceries back, in front of other people, when there is not enough in the checking account. I’d even take this a step further and go so far as to say that people who are more likely to be singled out, to be devalued, humiliated, harassed, abused, and assaulted, are exponentially more compelled to do certain things to get out of embarrassing situations, including (but not limited to, by a long shot!) financial embarrassment.
I’d be curious what types of trends would emerge if the data had been isolated even further, to account for transgender and gender-nonconforming identities, within the LGBTQ community. I can tell you right now that the picture would become much more bleak, very quickly. I’d love to hear your own stories if you’d like to share, in the comments section!
If you’d like to see the full study, it is here:
Overdrafting in the United States: Distrust and Confusion in the American Financial System
And thanks to Linda Manatt for prompting me to get out of my comfort zone and attempt to cover such a big issue, in my own, semi-personalized, way…
This past Saturday was my two year mark on T-injections, 40ml / week (this was just recently lowered, from 60 – my initial dose was 50). I still very much look forward to every injection (not the act itself, but the being-on-T part), and I still regularly think about the ways hormones have improved my life; I don’t tend to take it for granted.
My original plan was for this to be a short-term thing. But I kind of love it. I think my dose will vary over time, but I don’t anticipate stopping really, probably ever. (Of course that’s subject to change!) Not having a menstrual cycle is huge. Being seen as male 100% of the time is… well, there’s some ambivalence there, but it’s definitely an improvement. Now instead of getting confused for female, I am regularly getting confused for being very young. Which can be awkward but mostly is fine.
I’m able to engage socially in ways I really never could have dreamed of. I look people in the eyes way more. My anxiety is almost zero, where previously, I was operating regularly with an underlying sense of fear and dread. Some of these mental health changes can be attributed to finding a medication that actually works well for me, but a lot of it is the disappearance of gender dysphoria.
I’m still legally female, which is on purpose, and I still almost always go into women’s bathrooms and dressing rooms. I’ve never been stopped or questioned.
I don’t love all of it. I still daily pluck hairs out of my face because I don’t like them and I don’t want to shave. I’m pretty concerned about my receding hairline. And if I were really being honest, I liked the way my face looked before being on injections, more-so than now. It just so happens that the way it is now reads as “male,” and that works out way better for me. Oh well…
So here are the face comparisons:
In addition to the PTWC and Gender Odyssey, The TIC is a well established, long-time running, trans- and gender specific conference that happens every year at the University of Vermont in Burlington. I went once prior, in 2005, but I can’t remember a whole lot – really just attending a workshop led by DRED, drag king, actress, etc. about gender expression and clothing as play.
This year, my spouse and I decided to check it out and make a trip of it. In addition to the conference (which is packed into one day, this year, November 3rd), we, walked around Burlington a lot, and we also took a ferry across Lake Champlain into Plattsburgh, where we met with some friends.
Here’s a rundown of what I got out of the conference!
We eased into the day by going to Fluid Identities Within the Classroom and the Workplace: A Dialogue Toward Trans Liberation in Binary Spaces. It was an interactive structure where we spend time talking with the people around us and then reporting back to the whole group, and also writing our own thoughts on post-it notes that were then displayed out in the hall for the rest of the day. It was pretty basic, information-wise; what felt worthwhile was hearing about others’ experiences.
I then went to Q&A: Queens and Activism. This was a presentation led by two local, politically active drag queens, in character, which was pretty entertaining. It was framed as, “Here’s us and what we’re doing and all about us,” which could have been limiting, but they’ve been involved in so much that although it was Vermont specific, it was a great way to show both the people behind the queens, and the range of avenues to help LGBTQ people and causes, making it fun along the way. Such as Drag Queen Story Hour.
Next up was lunch, which was provided at a subsidized cost, within the same building as all the workshops. That was totally awesome!
Next I went to Take Your Top Off: A Top Surgery Information Session and Show and Tell. This was just like the show and tells I’ve been to at the PTWC, but on a much smaller scale, and with more general information provided up front. I decided pretty much on the spot that I was going to participate, which is a huge deal for me because I’ve only been topless in front of other people (excluding my spouse!) on 2 other occasions. I mostly decided I felt comfortable because is was such a smaller and more intimate group of people and because I thought I might likely be the only one up there who could show an example of the periareolar procedure. And I was right on both counts – there were about 12 people up there taking their shirts off, as opposed to upwards of 40-50, at the PTWC. And I was the only one who hadn’t had DI (double incision). Each person took a turn on the microphone, talking about their surgeon, their experience, nerve sensation, cost, and overall satisfaction. Then people could come up to talk to us individually. One person came up to me to say, “I have a consultation with Dr. Rumer [my surgeon] next week. I already paid and everything. Should I just scrap that and cut my losses?” This was based on me not having all that much positive to say about Dr. Rumer. I think I did a pretty good job talking it through with this person, trying to open them up to as many possibilities as I could, something I never really was able to do for myself. I feel like I have a lot more to say about this, but it could easily take up way too much space, so I’m going to stop here for now. Maybe a separate future blog post!
I went to Trans in the Workplace Panel. I always like to go to at least one panel – it’s a good way to just sit back and hear personal experiences from a good cross-section of different perspectives. This one featured an agender person who works in bars and also is self-employed as a sex educator, a trans-woman who is an EMT and also works in an urgent care facility, a trans-man who works for the state as an advocate for those who are incarcerated, and a non-binary trans-person who is a gym teacher and also makes and sells bow ties.
Finally I went to Transmasculine Caucus, a safe space set up in a circle, with a mod, to talk about whatever anyone wanted to bring up. I was one of the few people older than 22, it seemed, which made it tougher to feel motivated to speak up, but I did manage to talk on 2 occasions. Topics ranged from name change and being carded before a gender marker change, to always appearing much younger, sexual orientation shifts after hormones, and much much more.
The final event was the keynote, with CeCe McDonald, a transgender prison reform activist who had been sentenced to 41 months for manslaughter. (Laverne Cox of “Orange is the New Black has said she plays her character as an homage to CeCe, and she is producing a documentary about her story.) It was very off-the-cuff, informal, and full of energy.
Compared to the PTWC, this conference was much smaller, which came with a lot of benefits! People seemed much more friendly, just striking up conversations with those around them; it just had a more intimate vibe overall – I felt more comfortable speaking up, participating, and just people-watching / feeling a part of things. I’d definitely go again!